|Sasuke Retsuden: The Uchiha Descendants and the Heavenly Stardust|
|(NARUTO -ナルト- サスケ烈伝 うちはの末裔と天球の星屑, Sasuke Retsuden: Uchiha no Matsuei to Tenkyū no Hoshikuzu)|
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|Japanese||August 2, 2019 (ISBN 978-4-08-703481-3)|
Sasuke Retsuden: The Uchiha Descendants and the Heavenly Stardust (NARUTO -ナルト- サスケ烈伝 うちはの末裔と天球の星屑, Sasuke Retsuden: Uchiha no Matsuei to Tenkyū no Hoshikuzu) is an original story written by Jun Esaka and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto.
High in the mountains, just beyond the borders of the Land of Redaku, lies the Astronomy Research Institute. The Institute was founded by Tataru Janmarū, a contemporary of the Sage of Six Paths, as a haven for research; centuries later, the Institute now serves as a prison for Redaku's criminals. The aging Institute offers few comforts to the prisoners confined there, whose cells are bare of furniture, whose clothes provide little protection from the freezing cold, and who must perform gruelling manual labour regardless of their age or deteriorating health. The Institute's guards have little sympathy for the prisoners' well-being, and the food that's served has little value for the prisoners' nutrition.
A recent-arrival at the Institute - a man serving a three year sentence for murdering a family - is unwilling to tolerate these conditions any further and makes plans to escape. During breakfast, he requests help from inmate #487: Sasuke Uchiha. The man asks if Sasuke is a shinobi, explaining that he himself spent some time in a Ninja Academy when he was younger, and even retains limited control of his chakra. The man believes they can scale the prison's walls and, once they're out, forage for food until they reach civilisation. Sasuke warns the man that his chances of survival are remote and refuses to join him. The man questions why Sasuke won't at least try to escape, to which Sasuke replies that he's here by choice.
Sasuke's statement convinces the man that Sasuke is an idiot, so he abandons Sasuke to his fate. He approaches the prison's walls, firmly believing that the guards are too indifferent to their jobs to go after escaping prisoners. The only real obstacle is Menō, but the man is hopeful that the seasonal fog will conceal his movements before Menō can notice him. He begins climbing the wall, reaching the top after several minutes. The man is proud of himself, as he anticipated the excursion would tire him out much more than it has. He drops down to the other side of the wall and finds Menō waiting for him there. The man frantically tries to climb back up the wall, but Menō tears into him and he loses consciousness.
Menō, a large bipedal lizard-like creature, carries the man's remains back into the prison's courtyard. A second prisoner, believing Menō is distracted, makes his own escape attempt, but is quickly stopped by Menō. Menō makes a scene of the second prisoner's execution, as mandated by the Institute's Director, Zansūru, in order to discourage additional escape attempts. While it's true that the prison's guards do little real work and that security within the Institute is lax - prisoners' cells are never even locked - this is only because of Menō's ruthless efficiency in maintaining order.
Sasuke watches Menō while he takes a break from excavating rocks, the same daily toil that every prisoner performs. Supposedly, they are preparing a foundation for a new telescope to be installed, but other prisoners report that this has been going on for over a year with no end in sight. Gigi, a cellmate of Sasuke who he is frequently partnered with, complains about the cold they're forced to work in. On the bright side, however, it gives him plenty of opportunities to feign injuries, which he can use as a pretense to visit the infirmary on a regular basis; he reports that there's a beautiful new doctor who is apparently single, as she doesn't wear a wedding ring.
Sasuke ignores Gigi and reminds himself of his reason for being here at all: his best friend, Naruto Uzumaki, is sick. Sasuke hopes that he can find information about the Sage of Six Paths within the Institute that can used to help Naruto. He resumes his work until it's time for dinner, after which he and Gigi return to their cell. Gigi quickly starts gambling cigarettes with one of their other cellmates, Penjira. They invite Sasuke and their fourth cellmate, Ganno, to join them, but both decline. When Sasuke spots Menō passing by on his nightly patrol, Sasuke changes his mind and asks to play with Penjira. He has no cigarettes, so instead offers a gem that he secretly forms with Earth Release as his bet: if Penjira wins, he keeps the gem; if Sasuke wins, Penjira does him an unspecified favour.
Penjira agrees to the terms and they play Chinchirorin. Using Wind Release, Sasuke discretely manipulates the die so that he wins each roll. Penjira is confounded and assumes Sasuke cheated, but prison-etiquette is that anyone is allowed to cheat so long as they aren't caught in the act. Sasuke's favour is that Penjira leave the cell with him. This is expressly against the rules, for which reason Penjira is hesitant, but he ultimately agrees. As they walk the corridors, Sasuke explains that he wants Penjira to be his lookout. Penjira is unwilling to do this for fear of crossing paths with Menō, so Sasuke instead asks that he create a distraction for the guards, after which he can return to their cell. Penjira accepts this alternative and wishes Sasuke luck.
Sasuke crosses from the Institute's western building, where the prisoners spend all their time, to its eastern building, the research section that prisoners are forbidden from entering; unlike the western building, this eastern building is carpeted, fully sealed off from the harsh winds, and is kept warm by a large fireplace. Sasuke suspects that Menō is a summon of Zansūru, as Zansūru's control over him is too great and Menō's around-the-clock patrols are inconceivable for a normal animal. When he finally locates Menō coming down a hallway, Sasuke activates his Sharingan and tries to capture Menō in a genjutsu.
Although Menō briefly stumbles, the genjutsu has no effect on him and he lunges at Sasuke. Sasuke dodges him, throws him into a wall, and tries to use genjutsu again, but the results are the same. Sasuke opts to leave, not wishing to draw attention to his presence by leaving evidence of a fight. He accordingly continues evading and repelling Menō, but Menō is too fast for him to actually escape from. Having no choice, Sasuke creates an ice dagger, which he uses to stab Menō in the torso. Menō roars in pain and quickly runs off, leaving pools of blood behind him. Sasuke is remorseful while he returns to his cell, as he fears he gave Menō a fatal wound.
But Menō appears the same as ever the following day, carrying out his usual patrols and having no sign of injury. Sasuke is astonished. He is soon confronted by Zansūru, who is aware of Sasuke's encounter with Menō. Rather than deny it, Sasuke attempts to use a genjutsu on Zansūru, hoping to get some of his questions answered at last. But it's only after attempting this that Sasuke notices Zansūru has a glass eye, effectively blocking Sasuke's genjutsu. Zansūru remarks on Sasuke's obvious skill, but assures him that he'll never be able to separate Menō from his control.
The prison's guards spend all day harassing Sasuke, finding any number of petty reasons to beat him with iron rods. Because he still wants to maintain a low-profile, Sasuke doesn't resist. Though Sasuke, as a shinobi, doesn't suffer much actual injury during these beatings, they are nevertheless painful, a fact he conceals so that Zansūru will not believe him weak. That night, his cellmates question why the guards are going after him so much, but he refuses to answer. At lights out, Sasuke waits for them to fall asleep and then sneaks out.
Sasuke wraps a red cloth around his wrist, the prison's way of identifying prisoners who have permission to be out of their cells; so long as prisoners keep the red cloth on them, Menō will leave them alone. As he walks the halls, Sasuke hears a sound coming from a closet. He approaches cautiously and finds an old man bound inside. Sasuke releases the man, who reports he was ambushed on his way to the bathroom and had his red cloth stolen. Because the man stands no chance of reaching his cell alive otherwise, Sasuke gives them man his red cloth. Sasuke watches the man run off just as he hears Menō approaching.
Menō lunges at Sasuke. Sasuke repeatedly dodges him, taking this opportunity to closely examine his body and confirm that his wounds from their previous encounter are completely gone. He tries once again to trap Menō in a genjutsu, this time even using his Rinnegan, but there is still no effect. After repeated attempts, Menō manages to graze Sasuke's cheek with his claws, after which he immediately retreats. Confused, Sasuke readies the sword he's concealed on himself, only to notice he's becoming dizzy. Menō charges back at him to resume his attacks; though Sasuke is able to avoid the most lethal strikes, Menō is managing to hit Sasuke with greater regularity.
Sasuke notices the rapid deterioration of his body's faculties. When Menō approaches for another attack, Sasuke slashes the floorboards beneath himself, causing him to fall to the floor below. Menō leaps down in pursuit, but Sasuke has already run off and Menō cannot locate his scent. Sasuke runs as far away as he can until collapsing. He suspects that Menō's claws are poisonous; Sasuke's body has a high tolerance against most poisons, suggesting that this is a poison unique to Redaku which he hasn't encountered before. He tries to refresh himself by drinking his own Water Release, but no longer has the strength to even lift his hand to his mouth. He hears someone approaching him and, unable to move, prepares for the end. To his surprise, it is his wife, Sakura.
Sakura carries Sasuke to the infirmary. She sets him down on a bed and examines him, theorising that the poison temporarily shuts down his chakra pathway system and, by extension, the rest of his body. Once he recovers enough to speak, Sasuke asks why she's here, if something has happened to their daughter, Sarada. Sakura assures him that Sarada is fine; she's staying with Iruka Umino while her parents are gone. She explains that she's come all this way to give a mission update, because Sasuke rushed off to the Institute without waiting for more information. As Sasuke is aware, Naruto is suffering the same disease that, according to Kurama, the Sage of Six Paths once suffered. According to intel that has since been found by Kakashi Hatake, the Sage recovered while in the care of the Institute's founder, Tataru. From searching the heavens, the Sage was able to find and subsequently capture a falling star, within which were "polar particles" that he used to heal himself.
Sakura believes that the tailed beasts sealed within the Sage's body somehow damaged his ability to use chakra. If they can find the same astronomical charts that the Sage used - likely located somewhere within the Institute - they're hopeful they can obtain some polar particles for Naruto, which are described only as residing in the "sky in the earth". Sasuke is grateful for this update, but still doesn't understand why Sakura is here; she could have communicated all this to him by messenger hawk. Sakura says that she tried, but every hawk she sent failed, apparently warded off by Menō. So infiltrating as a doctor has been the only way she could make contact. Nevertheless, Sasuke wants Sakura to leave, as he is concerned by Menō and Zansūru's immunity to his genjutsu. Sakura believes this is all the more reason for why she should stay and that, besides, she wants to improve conditions for the prisoners.
Sakura sends a sample of Sasuke's blood back to Konohagakure so that the poison can be analysed; if she ties a red cloth to the messenger hawk, that is apparently enough for Menō to permit the hawk to come and go. Just as the hawk leaves, Gigi enters the infirmary. Sasuke hides while Sakura treats Gigi, who claims to have yet again injured himself during the daily excavations. Gigi starts flirting with her, asking if she's a foreigner since her hair is such an unusual colour. When he tries to touch her hair, however, he is stopped by Sasuke. Gigi is surprised to see him and asks why he's here, to which Sasuke replies that Sakura his his wife. Gigi finds it strange that Sakura would work at the same place that Sasuke is imprisoned. Sakura replies that, since the prison doesn't allow visitors, being hired as a doctor was the only way she could see her beloved husband.
Sasuke doesn't think this explanation will work, but Gigi accepts it as natural for a couple. When Gigi and Sasuke return to their cell, Sasuke stresses that his relationship to Sakura must remain a secret. Gigi understands, but is still surprised that Sasuke is married, as he's never brought it up before. Sasuke asks about the fiancée that Gigi has mentioned during their talks, but Gigi confides that she left him and married someone else. Sasuke is unsettled by this. He notes that he's often away from Sakura, sometimes for years at a time, and thus is unsure about the health of their marriage. Gigi asks why he hasn't given Sakura a wedding ring so that she can have a symbol of their bond even when he's away.
Sasuke cannot articulate his complicated feelings about the word "bond", so instead changes the subject: he asks if Gigi knows of any astronomical maps within the Institute. Gigi guesses there might be something in the Institute's archives and suggests asking Penjira. Sasuke doesn't see what Penjira has to do with anything, prompting Gigi to reveal that Penjira is in charge of the archives.
Sasuke visits the archives during sunset, the only time that prisoners are allowed inside. He locates Sakura among the bookshelves and tells her about Penjira, suggesting they try to exploit his love for gambling. Sasuke approaches Penjira first and expresses surprise that he works in the archives. Penjira explains that he hopes taking care of the delicate books will make him eligible for early release. Sasuke observes that he's not doing a great job of that, as Penjira has been using one of the books as a pillow while he naps and it now is covered in drool. Penjira wipes the book clean, which Sasuke notices to be about ancient dragons that once roamed the Land of Redaku; their fossils are said to be found in the area surrounding the Institute.
Sasuke asks about any astronomical maps in the archives. Penjira doesn't know of any, but directs Sasuke to the catalog of books. Sasuke does so and quickly finds a description of a map that matches what he's looking for. The map, however, is located in the basement, which is reserved for documents too valuable to be made accessible to prisoners; failure to abide by this will lead to execution. Sakura steps in at this point, saying she overheard their conversation and is now intrigued about astronomy herself. She attempts to convince Penjira to lend her the key to the basement, but he refuses, instead suggesting a different astronomical book. Sakura suggests a wager, and if she wins she can borrow the key on the condition that she return it to him when she's done. Penjira agrees.
While Penjira retrieves some playing cards, Sasuke tells Sakura that he'll use a genjutsu on Penjira when he gets back. Sakura dismisses this idea and insists on playing normally, reminding Sasuke that she's a disciple of the legendary gambler, Tsunade. Penjira returns with a stack of cards used for Hoshinarabe, a local game wherein players try to assemble a specific combination of pictured cards; whoever has the better combination after five turns wins. Sakura briefly looks at the list of dozens of possible combinations, then announces that she's ready. Penjira is confused that she's being so casual about what is actually a very confusing game, but deals the cards regardless. The game attracts a crowd of prisoners, among whom Sakura has become much-admired.
After five turns, Penjira manages to assemble the "earth" combination, the second-strongest hand. Confident in victory, Penjira shows his hand, only to discover that Sakura also has the "earth" combination: the game is a draw. They play another game, then another and another; each time Penjira and Sakura end up with the same hand. Penjira assumes Sakura is cheating somehow, but since he can't prove it and he no longer wants to play, he surrenders their contest. He turns over the key to the basement, but warns her that the map may not actually be down there: some documents were moved from the archives to Redaku's capital, while still other documents were stolen decades ago by a visiting researcher named Orochimaru.
After lights out, Sasuke leaves his cell and meets with Sakura inside the archives. She asks if he made sure Gigi is asleep this time, as Gigi has a habit of visiting the infirmary at all hours with no signs of the injuries he claims to have. Sasuke tells her that Gigi fakes it all in order to get out of work. Remembering his previous conversation with Gigi, Sasuke takes Sakura's hand and uses Earth Release to create a ring around her finger. Sakura thanks him, but resists the urge to inquire about his obvious jealousy. Sasuke changes the subject by asking how she managed to cheat at Hoshinarabe. Sakura explains that, because of how old the cards were, they all had minor tears and other blemishes that she could identify them by. Her decision to keep tying with Penjira was based on her experiences with Tsunade: if Tsunade won a game, she'd want to continue playing; if she lost, she'd want to continue playing; but if she neither won nor lost, she'd eventually lose interest.
When they reach the basement, Sakura emits her chakra into the wall in order to check for traps. She finds none, but does notice that there's a second basement that's only accessible from Zansūru's office. Though curious about this, they set the information aside and search for the astronomical map. They find that the "map" is actually a book that includes larger copies of the pictures used in Hoshinarabe: an ogre, a bonfire, a shepherd, etc. These pictures are hand-painted, and Sakura recognises the paint as being the same type used by Sai, which is otherwise not found in Redaku; they guess that these paintings are the work of the Sage of Six Paths.
Sasuke doesn't see understand what the paintings have to do with astronomy, but Sakura suspects they represent specific constellations. If true, there's likely an order to the pictures that corresponds to the calendar, but this will require research to figure out since they're only familiar with the constellations visible in Konoha, not Redaku. Sasuke studies the pictures, but cannot shake the sense that they're familiar somehow. He finally dismisses this and closes the book, but notices a note on the back cover that includes Konoha's symbol. Neither Sasuke nor Sakura can explain why the symbol of Konoha, which has only been around for decades, is scribbled on the back of a book that's centuries old.
To pass the time in the evenings, Gigi takes to trying to predict Menō's patrols, which don't follow any obvious pattern. One night, as Menō is passing their cell, Gigi lures him closer: he uses a branch from a tree that he's seen Menō resting under. Gigi encourages the others to stroke Menō, who he insists is docile so long as nobody breaks the rules. Ganno tries it and, indeed, Menō doesn't mind. Penjira approaches as well to pet Menō, but doesn't notice that his toes slightly leave the boundary of the cell. Sasuke shouts at him to get away, yet it is Gigi who pulls Penjira back, just in time to avoid Menō's crushing jaws.
In the scuffle, a lantern is knocked over and sets Menō ablaze, causing him to run off. While the prison guards come by to find out the cause of the commotion, Sasuke busies himself reigniting the lantern. Watching the flames, he notes a certain resemblance between the fire and Kurama. Sasuke suddenly realises why the Hoshinarabe pictures were familiar to him, which he explains to Sakura when they meet the next day: the pictures are of the tailed beasts. Sakura says this is consistent with her calendar sequencing, where the picture of Kurama, the Nine-Tails, coincides with a constellation visible in September, the ninth month. With the Ten-Tails taking the tenth month, that still leaves two pictures unaccounted for. Both decide that their subjects are probably Tataru and the Sage himself.
Sakura informs Sasuke that she managed to sneak in to Zansūru's office and has learned that he'll soon be visited by a messenger for Readku's Prime Minister, a perfect opportunity for them. When the messenger, Fundaru, arrives, Sakura intercepts him, claiming that Zansūru is busy and wishes for the messenger to speak with her instead. Sakura asks what message he's supposed to be delivering, which he says is to ask about progress. Sakura doesn't understand what this might mean, so instead asks about Fundaru; his relationship with the Prime Minister and if he's met Zansūru before. Once he's shared enough information, Sakura knocks him out. She then transforms into him while Sasuke transforms into his cane.
Sakura, carrying the transformed Sasuke, proceeds to Zansūru's office; they will have the meeting in Fundaru's place, which they'll later convey to Fundaru via genjutsu so that he doesn't suspect. Zansūru invites Sakura in and, while they exchange pleasantries, Sakura discretely rolls Sasuke into the adjoining bedroom. Sasuke releases his transformation and locates the hidden door to the basement. While he tries quietly forging a key to the door out of Earth Release, Sakura keeps Zansūru distracted, using as much of the personal information about Fundaru as he shared with her. When Zansūru starts becoming impatient, Sakura broaches the topic of "progress". Zansūru reports that things are going well and that they should be able to ship out to Nagare Village whenever the Prime Minister needs.
Sakura asks for more specifics, but Zansūru becomes suspicious by this question. He inquires about where her cane has gone at the same moment that Sasuke unlocks the door, causing a noise. Zansūru starts to turn, but Sakura draws his attention back to her by tapping the real cane on the ground. Meanwhile, Sasuke descends to the basement, needing to complete his search quickly. Inside, he finds a few dozen live chickens and a pile of strange rocks that were excavated from the prisoners' dig site. Sasuke is underwhelmed.
A few days later, Sakura receives a message from Kakashi, who informs her that the Prime Minister has invaded Nagare Village. Prince Nanara has since decided to overthrow the Prime Minister, and Kakashi has chosen to help him. Sakura sends a message back reporting what information they've gathered so far and then visits the cafeteria to tell Sasuke about Kakashi's message. She cannot find him there, so instead sits down to think. She is approached by Ganno, who notices her new ring and asks about her husband. Sakura details Sasuke's many redeeming qualities, speaking candidly because she doesn't think Ganno knows who her husband is. Except that Ganno notes how lucky Sasuke is to have her.
Sakura does a poor job of feigning ignorance. Ganno explains that Sasuke used to spend his time staring out the very same window that Sakura is now sitting by, but that he stopped once Sakura arrived at the Institute. When Ganno leaves, Sakura looks out the window and sees a tree with pink flowers, which almost resembles a cherry tree; she smiles at the possibility that Sasuke thought of her in this way. Sakura returns to her office and begins thinking about the constellations depicted by Hoshinarabe, remarking on how arbitrary it is for humans to decide a certain configuration of stars resemble a monkey, for instance. Shinobi demonstrate the same arbitrariness with their twelve hand seals, which are inexplicably named after creatures of the Zodiac. This observation gives Sakura an idea and she leaps from the room.
Sasuke stands on the roof of the Institute with Gigi, picking fruit from a nearby tree; fruit are never included with prisoners' meals, so they assume these are intended for Zansūru. At Gigi's encouragement, Sasuke eats one of the fruit while he admires the surrounding landscape, which is difficult to appreciate from the lower areas of the Institute. While doing so, he notices a nearby section of ground that is unusually shiny from the setting sunlight. Gigi explains that it's a small lake that was formed long ago by a falling meteorite, which is so reflective as to perfectly mirror the sky above it. This gives Sasuke an idea and he, claiming a stomachache, runs off.
Sasuke and Sakura run in to each other in the hallways. Sakura shares her discovery: that the seemingly random combinations of Hoshinarabe cards are actually sequences for certain ninjutsu. The two strongest combinations, "star" and "earth", are also terms used in the story about the Sage's polar particles, likely meaning those are the relevant sequences. Sasuke reveals that he's found the "sky down to earth" where the polar particles are said to reside. After nightfall, he leads her to the small lake, which is now reflecting the starry sky. They marvel at its beauty, remarking how much Sarada would enjoy seeing this. Sasuke takes Sakura's hand, noticing her fingers have slimmed slightly compared to when she was younger. He confides that he's never worried about the strength of their bond, but that he does regret missing out on these sorts of small changes that Sakura and Sarada undergo. Sakura understands and says she feels the same.
Sakura pulls out some Hoshinarabe cards and begins performing the hand seals that they dictate. As she does so, Sasuke notices that the backs of the cards have pictures of dragons, which are similar in appearance to Menō; the dragons of Redaku are said to have been wiped out millions of years ago by a meteorite. He remembers the book Penjira had, which said that dragons' fossils can be found around the Institute, as well as the strange excavated rocks that were in Zansūru's basement. He remembers the chickens that were also there, as well as the rumour that someone named Orochimaru visited Redaku and stole important research. He remembers the jutsu that Orochimaru would have been studying at the time, which would perfectly tie together everything else: the Impure World Reincarnation.
When Sakura completes the hand seals, a bright light emerges from the lake, within which lies a container. From merely touching the container they notice it contains an immense amount of chakra, signalling that the Sage of Six Paths likely stored the polar particles within it. Sasuke is not willing to take the time to inspect the contents, eager to return to the Institute. Before they can get back, the earth surrounding the Institute starts to shake and grows distorted, from which soon emerges dozens of revived dragons.
Sasuke instructs Sakura to find Zansūru while he tries to stop the dragons from leaving the Institute. Just after Sakura leaves but before Sasuke can start going after the dragons, Zansūru confronts Sasuke. Because genjutsu won't work on Zansūru, his cooperativeness in ending the Impure World Reincarnation will rely entirely on how loyal he is to the Prime Minister. Sasuke questions what the Prime Minister hopes to accomplish by having the dragons attack citizens of Redaku, both here at the Institute and in Nagare Village. Zansūru monologues how the Prime Minister leads the country and that it therefore is at his discretion to sacrifice its citizens for the country's sake; the zeal with which he speaks convinces Sasuke that he will never be convinced to cooperate.
But Sasuke has become suspicious and activates his Sharingan. From doing so, he sees that Zansūru only has the chakra levels of a normal person, not a ninja, and therefore he can't be the one performing the Impure World Reincarnation. While pondering this, Menō attacks him from behind, but Sasuke notices in time to dodge. Zansūru entrusts Menō with killing Sasuke and departs. Because Menō's reincarnated body will heal any injury, Sasuke considers using Amaterasu against him, which will continue to burn him until his body is gone. Sasuke decides against this, as Menō, unable to die, would be forced to suffer pain for however long Amaterasu took to destroy him.
When Sasuke's brother, Itachi, was revived with the Impure World Reincarnation, he was able to overwrite his summoner's control with a powerful genjutsu. Sasuke doesn't have anything nearly as strong in his arsenal, but he thinks the same sort of tactic could work. Sasuke changes the tone of his voice and encourages Menō to calm down. He notices the burns Menō received a few days ago haven't fully healed yet, which he inspects cautiously, all the while keeping Menō's fangs and claws at bay with his sword. He applies water to the burns, which he then cools with wind, creating a soothing ice. This causes some of the hostility to fade from Menō's eyes.
Sasuke apologises for cutting him when they fought last time, which aggravates Menō once again. He prepares to bite Sasuke, but grows confused when Sasuke doesn't try to escape; after some visible hesitation, Menō does finally bite his arm. Sasuke does not react to this, instead sympathising with Menō for being brought back to life in a body he doesn't have full control of. Sasuke offers to return Menō to the peaceful afterlife he was taken from in exchange for Menō's help. Menō's eyes grow wide with comprehension, prompting Sasuke to try using genjutsu again. It succeeds, and Sasuke transmits some of his chakra into Menō's body in order to secure control. Menō leaps away, leaving Sasuke to wonder if perhaps he failed, but when Menō pounces at him again it is to lick his wounds.
Dragons emerge from the ground all throughout the Institute and begin indiscriminately attacking the prisoners, killing many. Sakura rescues as many of the prisoners as she can, but resists the urge to go too far out of her way, as she knows the best chance of saving everyone is to end the Impure World Reincarnation. She hurries to Zansūru's office, but cannot find him there. She starts searching the Institute room by room, guiding any prisoners she comes across to safety, yet still cannot find Zansūru. She runs into Gigi in the hall, who asks her where the dragons came from. She briefly explains and says she can stop them if she finds Zansūru, who Gigi says is in the courtyard outside. Sakura thanks him and tells him to escape.
Gigi grabs Sakura and stabs her in the back with a kunai; she quickly notices her body suffering the same effects of poisoning that Sasuke experienced during his fight with Menō. Gigi takes the container of polar particles from her and thanks her for having gone through the trouble of finding it, explaining that he could not make sense of the astronomical map. Sakura makes a struggled attempt to take the container back from him, driven by her wish to help Naruto, but Gigi kicks her into a nearby wall. He apologises for having done this to her, as he believes she's a good person who, in fact, reminds him of his lover. A giant, long-necked dragon dubbed "the Titan" emerges just outside and crashes into the building. Gigi climbs onto its head and bids farewell to Sakura just as the building falls on top of her.
Based on some of the things Zansūru said during his monologue, Sasuke has figured out that it is actually Gigi behind the Impure World Reincarnation. He and Menō return to the Institute just in time to see the last of its buildings collapse. Sasuke instructs Menō to protect the prisoners from the other dragons and rushes to the rubble of the building that Sakura would likely have been searching. He starts digging and activates his Sharingan in an effort to locate her chakra, but can detect none. Suspecting she could have been poisoned, thus suppressing her chakra signature, Sasuke's desperation mounts and he calls out to her.
Sakura awakens deep under the building's wreckage and can tell she is badly injured. She tries to speak, but the poison's numbing effect makes even that difficult. She uses what little strength she has to push off the rubble pinning her in place, but this only causes the surrounding rubble to fall more tightly around her. Fearing her death is imminent, Sakura focuses on remaining conscious, something that becomes increasingly difficult. She barely notices when the debris is lifted from her, but is relieved to see Sasuke's face when she finally finds the energy to open her eyes. Sakura tries to communicate to Sasuke what happened, but he instructs her to remain quiet while he heals her wounds. The poison's effects start to fade and Sakura starts to regain her mobility. Sakura thanks him and apologises for needing his rescue, which he dismisses as unnecessary. Sakura cries, grateful to be alive.
Zansūru joins Gigi atop the Titan and marvels at the army of dragons, the culmination of their long plans. Zansūru instructs Gigi to join the Prime Minister in Redaku's capital as soon as he's finished killing all the prisoners. Gigi acknowledges this, but reminds Zansūru to uphold his end of their deal. Zansūru assures him he hasn't forgotten and promises that they will retrieve the body of Gigi's girlfriend as soon as they can. As they speak, Zansūru notices Ganno trying to hide from the dragons. The dragons surround him and move in for the kill, but he is rescued by Menō. Zansūru questions Gigi about this, who reports that Menō is no longer under his control; Zansūru suggests it is Sasuke's doing, which Gigi concurs with. The dragons focus their attention on Menō, giving Ganno and the other nearby prisoners a chance to flee.
Although the dragons attacking Menō are smaller than him, they significantly outnumber him and it becomes increasingly difficult to fend them off. Sasuke soon arrives to help, who Menō is happy to see. Sasuke instructs him to keep his distance, only attacking when he sees an opening. This is an effective tactic for the smaller dragons, but Menō is soon confronted by a dragon twice his size. Zansūru identifies this as an adult of the same species as Menō, and therefore assumes Menō's defeat is assured. Gigi is less convinced, explaining that the dragons gain strength from whoever controls them and that, because Menō is under Sasuke's control, he is likely to have the advantage. Menō does indeed overpower the larger dragon, and shortly afterwards Sakura joins the battle. Gigi volunteers to deal with her, leaving Menō and Sasuke to Zansūru.
Zansūru commands all of the revived dragons to attack Menō and Sasuke. As the dozens of dragons converge upon them, Sasuke contemplates quickly ending things with Susanoo, but decides against this when he notices Menō's determination to protect him. He picks Menō up and throws him towards the Titan, aiming so that Menō passes through a flock of flying dragons; behind Menō he creates a storm of lightning, which zaps the flying dragons and causes them to fall on and skewer those on the ground. Menō lands on the Titan's back and starts running up its neck towards Zansūru. Zansūru calls one of the flying dragons to him and rides it to get out of Menō's reach.
Despite being vastly outnumbered, Sasuke effortlessly fends off the hordes of dragons. Menō, meanwhile, lures the Titan towards the nearby lake. Once they reach it, Sasuke instructs Menō to cut its tendons; this causes the Titan to collapse into the water where, because of its weight, it sinks deeply into the mud, becoming stuck. Zansūru, annoyed by this, commands the flying dragons to help the Titan get free. Because Zansūru is not their summoner, the dragons can only accept one command from him at a time. As such, this new command overrides his instructions to let him ride the flying dragons: when they dive towards the Titan to help it, Zansūru falls off and splatters on the ground.
Sasuke confirms that Zansūru is dead. The dragons' instructions revert back to the last one given by Gigi (attack the prisoners), for which reason they head back to the Institute. Sasuke orders Menō to go after them just as he notices another messenger hawk from Kakashi. The message reports that Nanara has successfully overthrown the Prime Minister and is now heading to the capital to take on the duties of King; the message briefly details the battle and mentions those who helped in Nanara's victory. Sasuke pockets the message and heads back to the Institute.
Sakura persists in fighting the dragons, determined to keep them busy until the last of the prisoners can get to safety. She is joined by Ganno, Penjira, and some of the other prisoners, who repeatedly bludgeon many of the smaller dragons so that they can't heal and thus rejoin the fight. Sakura takes pity on the dragons, many of whom are either herbivores or are simply not built for direct combat. Yet they are unable to resist their summoner's commands to kill, just as they are unable to die no matter how grievous their injuries; to end the dragons' suffering she must find and stop Gigi. Except Gigi finds her first, attacking from behind with a kunai that she only barely avoids.
Sakura flings some rubble at Gigi. He blocks it, but in the brief moment that this distracts him she disappears. One of the flying dragons spots her and reports her location, and Gigi gives chase. When he finally catches up to her, he blocks her escape with Earth-Style Wall. When he starts to walk towards her, however, he finds that his feet will not move. On inspection, he notices a trap buried in the earth that Sakura evidently placed for him. On even closer inspection, he sees that the trap connects to a seal on his wrist. Gigi can't understand where the seal would have come from, so Sakura explains that she placed it on him the first time he visited the infirmary: she immediately noticed that he had too much chakra to be a normal prisoner, so placed the seal as a precaution.
Gigi tries desperately to come up with an idea to come out of this, but his thoughts are interrupted by an immense killing intent. He turns cautiously towards its source and sees Sasuke, standing with Menō; Gigi finally accepts that he's lost. Sasuke searches Gigi and takes back the container of polar particles, and also locates a vial of liquid, presumably the poison he's been using. Sasuke asks why Gigi got involved in all of this: he isn't like Zansūru, motivated by some grandiose desire to create an army for Redaku, but neither could he have been okay with the dragons slaughtering the prisoners, otherwise he wouldn't have saved Penjira from Menō a few days ago. In response to the latter, claims he feels no connection to Penjira, only that his body acted instinctively; Sasuke can relate.
Sasuke states he will turn Gigi over to Redaku's government to be dealt with, but Gigi requests a favour first. He explains that he was originally a Suna-nin hired by the Prime Minister to train a private army of ninja. When he came to Redaku, however, he fell in love with a maid working in the royal palace, for whom he wanted to give up the life of a ninja. They tried to keep this a secret, but the Prime Minister found out somehow. He offered to allow their relationship to continue on the condition that he spent a year assisting Zansūru, performing the Impure World Reincarnation that Zansūru could not. Gigi agreed to these terms.
Just as his year of service was about to end, Gigi was informed that his lover had died, a casualty of some epidemic in the capital. It was at this same time that he learned that Menō was not intended to be a prison warden like he'd originally been told, but rather was the first member of an immortal army of dragons. Gigi didn't care either way since he didn't want to live in a world without his lover. So Zansūru and the Prime Minister came up with a new offer: if Gigi helped them create their army of dragons, they would track down his lover's body so that he could reanimate her as well. Sakura disapproves of this idea, even though she admits she might be tempted to do the same thing in his position; Sasuke privately agrees. Nevertheless, Sakura firmly believes that his lover, Margo, wouldn't want to be resurrected like that.
Sasuke recognises Margo's name and checks Kakashi's letter again. He reads a passage to Gigi, which mentions that Nanara was joined in his fight against the Prime Minister by a maid named Margo. Gigi reads the letter and starts to cry at the realisation that Zansūru manipulated him. Through his tears he sees a dragon sneaking up on Sakura, so he quickly performs the hand seals to release the Impure World Reincarnation. The souls of dragons all throughout the Institute are freed from their undying bodies; Sasuke scratches Menō's chin before he departs and wishes him a happy rest. The dragon that was going to attack Sakura, meanwhile, resists its passing, maneuvering closer to Gigi and slashing his throat in its final moment, taking vengeance against him for reviving it in the first place.
Sakura quickly removes the seal placed on Gigi, Sasuke supports his body, and Sakura begins healing his injury. Gigi pleas that she allow him to die, which she refuses, reminding him that he has to see Margo again. He nevertheless bids his consciousness to fade, not resisting the blood clogging his throat. Before his mind succumbs to nothingness, he reflects on how, if he'd been as strong as Sasuke and Sakura, all of this could have been avoided.
A year after the dragons' attack, King Nanara visits the former site of the Astronomical Research Institute. Nanara lays flowers at a monument to honour the sixty-two prisoners that died there and pays his respects. Nanara has spent the last year focusing on rebuilding Nagare Village and the capital city, and now would like to rebuild the Institute as well, perhaps resuming its study of astronomy or even adding a facility for paleontology. He asks one of his attendants, Margo, if she thinks his sister, Manari, would be okay with this idea. Margo speculates that Manari would complain about the potential cost, but otherwise would probably go along with it. Nanara decides to inspect the rest of the grounds and turns to his second attendant, Gigi, to lead the way.
The day after she returns to Konoha, Sakura meets Ino Yamanaka for tea. They discuss their families, with Sakura confessing that, after all this time, she still considers Sasuke to be "so so so so cool". Ino notices the ring Sakura is wearing and congratulates her for it. Sakura admires it, as it is no longer just an impromptu present: the gem contains trace amounts of Sasuke's chakra, which enabled him to find her beneath the collapsed Institute; the ring essentially saved her life. She still has to remove it regularly because it interferes with her work, but she hopes that, decades from now, when she's retired, she'll get to wear it all day long.
Sarada volunteers to make dinner that night, determined to show off the cooking she learned from Iruka. Almost all of the dishes include tomatoes, one of Sasuke's favourite foods, though he fails to notice this as he eats quietly; Sakura discreetly kicks Sasuke to remind him to compliment Sarada. When the doorbell rings, Sakura answers it and finds it is Shikamaru Nara. He apologises for interrupting dinner and hands her an analysis of the polar particles. Konoha's intelligence apparatuses are in fact investigating many lingering questions from Sasuke and Sakura's mission, such as Zansūru's genjutsu-immune eye or the Konoha symbol found in the Institute's archives, even though these aren't strictly relevant to Naruto's illness.
Sakura inquiries about Naruto, who Shikamaru reports isn't well; he's careful not to let Sarada hear them, as it's Naruto's wish is that none of the children know what he's going through. Shikamaru himself is clearly exhausted as well from taking on much of Naruto's workload, but Sakura understands that staying busy probably helps him keep his mind off Naruto's predicament. Shikamaru turns to head back to the office, confiding that, unless they make a breakthrough soon, Naruto will probably permanently lose his ability to use chakra.