Chapter 35: Move Out!
"Stop, Naruto! What do you think you are doing?"
Naruto snapped back at Sasuke in anger. "What do you think I'm doing? Of course I'm going to Kirigakure! From what they said, Pain must have done something to Kirigakure, and you, of all people, should have known what he can do!"
"Just calm down and listen to me first, idiot!" Sasuke said patiently, grabbing the shoulder of his friend and fellow jonin. "First, are you going to run all the way to Kirigakure on foot? The village is literally on the other side of the map! Even if you run with all your speed there, you will exhaust yourself completely before you can even do anything; not to mention you will probably have to face the most powerful member of the Akatsuki if that's the case! Do you really want to do that and throw yourself into the hand of Pain again? Besides, you really think that Pain would sit there and wait for you to come to Kirigakure to get him? Even if you managed to arrive there without burning yourself off, Pain would have already left the village long before that already!"
Sasuke's reasoning completely shut Naruto up. He gritted his teeth.
"I know, but… we cannot just sit here uselessly without being able to do anything! Everyone in Kiri is in need of our help… not only Utakata-san, but also Zabuza, Haku-chan…"
"I know," Kakashi walked towards him while pulling his hitai-ate down, covering his Sharingan up. "But I think the wisest move for us right now is to return to Konoha as quickly as possible and report this to Lord Hokage. Maybe in Konoha right now, they already realized the problem and sent other teams to support Kiri. If not… well, we would be able to let Lord Hokage know to send force for Kiri as soon as possible. Konoha is actually the village closest to Kiri geographically anyway."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
Kakashi sighed. "We have to wait for Sakura to be done with her work first. It's a person's life we're talking about here."
Naruto blinked. "Well, if you want to report to jiji… I think there is a much faster way to do it."
"Team Gai and Team Anko, reporting for duty, sir!"
Hiruzen looked at the eight shinobi in front of him with grim eyes. "Good, you are all here. I want you all to pack up and get ready for an S-rank mission as soon as possible."
The sudden declaration of the Hokage made every member of the two teams jump.
"Why such a sudden mission, Hokage-sama?" Tenten asked nervously. "And what kind of S-rank mission requires two whole teams of jonin and chuunin? Usually as far as I know, a mission like that takes at most one jonin team."
The Hokage nodded at them and said in a serious tone. "You're right. It's because this is not a normal mission. Your mission is to go as fast as you can to Kirigakure to see if there is anything happening to them. After that, if it is confirmed that the jinchuriki of Kirigakure was kidnapped, you will, together with Kirigakure force, track down and apprehend the kidnapper and rescue the jinchuriki."
Answering him was a blink coming from Karin.
"But isn't Sunagakure the village the Akatsuki is attacking right now, sir? Why do we need to go to Kirigakure if that's the case?"
Hiruzen and Jiraiya looked at each other.
"Actually, this is just what we thought of based on logic and instinct, from what Team Kurenai and Baki of Suna told us," the Hokage admitted with a sigh. "But it seems the attack on Sunagakure might just be a distraction. For what reason, we don't know, but if we don't do anything now, it might be too late."
"So you're giving us this mission because of something you thought of on a hunch?" Anko raised an eyebrow. "That's not like you at all, Hokage-sama."
"It is so unyouthful of you to doubt the instinct of someone like Hokage-sama!" Gai howled at the kunoichi. "Even if you don't want to go on this mission, I, Might Gai, the Beautiful Blue Beast of Konohagakure, together with my team, will still take it and will do our best to complete it!"
Anko shook her head. "Seriously, do you even know what you're saying? I know you're enthusiastic about missions, but going on something like that without even a proper explanation is just unreasonable!"
Fuu raised her voice hesitantly. "Um, sensei, I don't think…"
Right at that time, there was a loud knock on the window of the Hokage chamber. Everyone's head turned towards the source of the noise, and they all blinked when they saw a toad slapping its webbed hand at the glass.
"Gamaden?" Jiraiya hastily opened the window to let the toad in. "Why are you here?"
"Naruto sent me here to report to you about the mission in Sunagakure, sir!" the toad answered while jumping into the room. "The invasion of Sunagakure has been repelled, but turned out it was just a ruse of the Akatsuki to prevent us from assisting Kirigakure when their leader attacked the village!"
Shock spread through everyone in the room.
After a few seconds of silence, Anko was the one who spoke first.
"So, what are you still waiting for? All of you, go prepare and meet up in front of the Main Gate in one hour!"
After the two teams had left the room, Jiraiya looked at his teacher. "Do you think it's wise to let these two teams go like that? I mean, it's Nagato we're talking about here; who knows what he'd learnt from the loss against us after three years? Maybe I should go with them…"
Hiruzen shook his head. "I cannot let you be away from the village right now; three of the most powerful teams in the village, including both of our jinchuriki, have been mobilized. If you're away now and the Akatsuki suddenly changes their target again, we're not going to be able to defend against them."
Then the Hokage suddenly stood up from his chair. "But don't worry; I'm not planning to let them go alone."
Teuchi Ichiraku's face brightened up when he realized the man who had just walked into his ramen shop.
"Hokage-sama! What an honor! How can I help you?"
Hiruzen smiled pleasantly while pulling a stool and sat down. "Ah, what else but to have a bite of your delicious ramen? One of the usual, please, Teuchi-san?"
The ramen chef laughed. "Of course, of course! One bowl of deluxe miso ramen, coming right up!"
"Oh and by the way, is Itachi here?" Suddenly, the Hokage asked. Teuchi blinked.
"Well, yes he is; he's at the back preparing the food. Is there any problem?"
The Hokage's eyes twinkled. "Oh, nothing. It's just that I want him to deliver some ramen to Kirigakure. A bowl of Red Moon ramen with naruto on top. The one I want him to send it to is named… Pain. There might be dangers on the way, so I already assigned two teams to go with him, but it might be wiser of him if he prepared weapons, just in case."
Teuchi's eyes also twinkled. "Oh, I'll tell him to make the delivery immediately. Here's your ramen, sir."
Hiruzen smiled, and dipped his chopsticks into the steaming bowl of noodles.
"Lady Chiyo's condition has stabilized. I extracted all the poison in her blood; she will live, but will have to rest for a while before she can recover completely," Sakura walked towards Gaara, who was standing with Naruto, Sasuke and Kakashi together with his siblings. The Kazekage gave her a bow.
"Thank you, Sakura. Sunagakure will remember your assistance."
Sakura waved him off. "Nah, don't worry about that. Helping people is the duty of a doctor, you know."
Sasuke stared at her. "You do realize that you are talking to the Kazekage, don't you?"
The female medic blinked. "Err… oops?" she chuckled nervously. "Sorry, Kazekage-sama…"
This time it was Gaara's turn to wave her off. "Don't worry about that. I don't like being called by honorifics except when being in official meetings anyway."
"All right! Then let's go back to Konoha!" Naruto declared. But before he could turn his back…
Two of his remaining shadow clones landed in front of him with two loud "thud"s. Each of them was carrying something on their shoulders.
"We managed to capture these two when the monster army was retreating," they threw what they were carrying to the ground: two tied-up White Zetsu, with seals all over their bodies which completely blocked the movement of their chakra. "They are actually the only ones we could capture alive. We already sealed their chakra up so that they can't run away; what should we do with them?"
After a few seconds of thinking, Kakashi suddenly said. "Kazekage-sama, can you allow us to take these two back to Konohagakure?"
His students blinked at him. "Why?"
"With the condition of Sunagakure like it is right now, bringing them to Konoha might be a better choice, as you won't have to waste food and drink to keep them alive, and prison rooms to keep them in," Kakashi explained. "Besides, I think every person in Suna will have to focus on restoring the village right now, so no one would have the time to interrogate them for information about the Akatsuki. And Konoha has a whole division of Torturing and Interrogation ready for that job."
"Feel free to do so, Kakashi-san," Gaara nodded. "Now, if you excuse us, I have to go find a way to bring down this dome without it collapsing on Sunagakure and crushing everything. Good luck on your trip back."
Team Gai and Team Anko were leaping from branch to branch in the forest at the east side of the Land of Fire. They had moved at their highest speed, and already crossed a fourth of the distance between Konoha and Kiri. But even with the speed they were moving right now, it seemed it was impossible for them to reach the coast, from which they would take a boat ride to cross the sea before they could reach Kirigakure, before midnight.
"All right, let's take a break here tonight. It's dangerous to cross the forest at night when we cannot see anything."
Stopping under a particular large tree, Anko said. The other members of the squad blinked.
"Isn't it a little bit early to stop, Anko?" asked Gai. "I can still go a little bit more."
Anko nodded. "I know, but the other members of the squad cannot. Besides, if we are going to assist Kirigakure in their search for the jinchuriki, we cannot afford to exhaust ourselves by running like crazy to the village. And…"
The other shinobi blinked and waited for her to continue, but no other sound came from her.
"And?" Finally, Karin asked.
"And I'm hungry!" Anko finished cheerfully, earning a face fault from the other squad members. "Now you all, go make a bonfire and find some water! We'll be here, setting up camp!"
"Anko-sensei is still weird even after three years, huh," Fuu whispered Karin when they walked away from their sensei.
"You don't know anything, Fuu," Karin whispered back. "Seriously, I always shudder when imagining if instead of Iruka-san, she went and married Gai-sensei…"
"That's a terrifying image, indeed," Fuu nodded, shuddering.
Then the two young kunoichi jumped when they heard Anko's voice whispering right next to their ears.
"Oh? Are my cute little students talking bad about me behind my back?"
They bolted in utter fear.
"You also realized, right? That's why you sent the children away."
Anko answered the sudden question of Gai with a smirk. "As much as I hate to say this, I was once a student of Orochimaru, you know."
Then without a warning, two snakes lashed out from under her sleeves, aiming at something behind the shadow of a tree nearby. And just as the jonin expected, someone jumped out of his hiding place, hastily retreating from the snakes. But there was no way he could escape from the taijutsu master; with a mere leap, Gai closed the distance between them, ready to deliver a brutal roundhouse kick to the shadow's face…
Then his feet halted their way abruptly in midair when he realized who the hiding man was.
But unfortunately for him, even though his kick was stopped, his body, flying on the air, didn't.
CRASH! CRASH! CRASH!
"Poor trees…" Anko winced.
"So why are you stalking us, Itachi?" Anko went straight to the point, after the three had settled down under the tree, next to the bonfire the teenagers had made.
"Hokage business," was the only answer coming from Itachi, making the female jonin's eyebrow twitch.
"Uhm…" Fuu asked hesitantly. "I know I'm not supposed to ask, but what is the mission you are assigned? Because as I remember, you're not allowed to take missions anymore, right?"
"Actually, I'm not on a mission."
The jinchuriki blinked. "Then…"
Itachi raised a scroll he stored in his pouch up. "I'm just a humble ramen deliverer, on my way to deliver a bowl of ramen to the leader of the Akatsuki at the request of Lord Hokage."
"I can't believe you could say that without even changing your expression," Karin deadpanned.
"Yeah. Who the hell would believe that you are delivering ramen when you're armed to the teeth like that…" Tenten also muttered. Indeed, right now Itachi was wearing his ANBU armor with his tanto strapped on his back, and two ninja pouchs full of weapons on his belt, not to mention kunai holsters tied at the sides of his thighs too.
Ignoring the youngsters, Gai turned to Itachi with a serious face. "Itachi-san. You used to be in the Akatsuki; do you know about what they are going to do with the jinchuriki after capturing them?"
"They are going to extract the Tailed Beasts from the jinchuriki and seal them into a statue," Itachi answered. "After having their Tailed Beasts extracted, the jinchuriki will die, as tearing the Beasts out of their bodies is just like ripping their chakra network apart; no one can survive that, as far as I know."
"How much time do they need to fully extract a Tailed Beast?" Anko suddenly asked. Itachi pondered.
"From what Pain told me before I defected from the Akatsuki, it would take three full days to fully extract and seal a Tailed Beast. But that was when they had the chakra signal of every member there with their rings. With Kakuzu and Hidan dead, and Orochimaru and me defecting… maybe it would slow the process down. I guess we will have a little bit more time."
"Wait," Juugo suddenly raised his voice. "Orochimaru used to be in the Akatsuki?"
"Yes," Itachi nodded. "After defecting from Konoha, Orochimaru joined the Akatsuki, where he was partnered with the notorious traitor of Sunagakure, Sasori of the Red Sand. In there, he once attacked me to steal my body in order to acquire the Mangekyo Sharingan, and after failing, he ran away from the Akatsuki, taking his ring with him. I heard before joining, he also tried to take the Rinnegan from Pain without success. I think that's the reason Pain let someone like Orochimaru join the Akatsuki; he knew that someone like Orochimaru cannot harm him no matter how strong he is."
What Itachi had just said gave the other shinobi a chill to their spines. They had heard about how strong Pain was from Naruto, but if someone like Orochimaru, of all people, had to fear him…
"Still, if what Itachi said is true, we will still have some time before they can finish extracting the Tailed Beast from the jinchuriki," Finally, Anko said. "I'm just not sure if we can manage to get there before they finish…"
"Oh, we don't have to worry about that," Itachi answered her. "With their home base in Amegakure exposed, I doubt they will bring the jinchuriki all the way there to extract. And Kirigakure lies on an island far away from the mainland; there is almost no way to reach there without flying overnight or going by boat. And they would want to do the extraction as soon as possible just in case Kirigakure sends someone after them. So my guess is, they will choose a secured place not too far from Kirigakure; maybe on an island nearby to complete the extraction. And if we can reach the coast before noon, I have a way for us to reach Kirigakure before midnight tomorrow."
The hawks carrying Team Kakashi, together with their two prisoners, arrived at Konoha at midnight.
"Team Kakashi reports, Hokage-sama."
Hiruzen stood up from his chair in the Hokage chamber. "Good job, Team Kakashi. What did you manage to find out during the mission?"
"Most of the things we got were already reported through the toad we sent to you, Hokage-sama," Kakashi answered. "However, before leaving the village, we managed to capture these two, and Suna gave us permission to bring them back and interrogate them for information."
Hiruzen looked at the two sickly white creatures lying at his feet. Then he nodded.
"Good. Bring them to Ibiki; let's see what we can get from those things. Well done, you four; go home and take a rest. You deserve it."
"Wait, what about Pain and Kirigakure?" Of course, Naruto was the one who protested first. The Hokage chuckled.
"Don't worry, Naruto. I already sent two teams to Kirigakure right upon receiving your report. They are on their way to the village as we're speaking right now, and I assure you they are more than capable."
"Even so," Naruto insisted, "I'm not going to sit here to wait! Even if I cannot join the teams to go after Pain, please let me go to Kiri! I have to make sure that my friends there are all right, and help they however I can!"
Hiruzen threw a sharp glare at Naruto.
"I understand how you feel, Naruto, but I cannot let you go right now. This is not the time for a total war; mobilizing all the most powerful shinobi of the village to one location is not a wise idea. You, of all people, should understand this best, Naruto. What if the Akatsuki decides to switch their target towards us again?"
What the Hokage said was so true Naruto couldn't find any word to retort. He couldn't do anything else but nodding unhappily.
"Um… so who did you send to Kiri, Hokage-sama?" Sakura asked.
Hiruzen pondered for a few seconds. Then he smiled.
"I guess letting you know won't do any harm. The teams I sent were Team Gai and Team Anko, and I also sent backup after them, so you don't have anything to worry."
"Team Gai and Team Anko?" Sasuke exclaimed. "Isn't that Fuu's team? Do you really think it's wise to send a jinchuriki after the ones who are after her?"
"You don't have to worry about that."
Everyone turned towards the window, where Jiraiya was leaning on right now with a bright smile.
"I was the one who taught Fuu; I understand how good she is," the Toad Sage continued, still with the big grin on his face. "Trust me; Pain is not going to like what's going to hit him."
Morning came so fast it felt like just a blink of an eye to the Konoha shinobi.
Before the sun rose from the horizon, they were already on their way out of the forest, and they would reach the coast in less than two hours.
"It seems we are going to make it after all."
Itachi looked up. The sun was going higher and higher; noon was coming. And right now, they were running along the coast.
"You said that you have a way for us to reach Kirigakure before midnight if we arrive here before noon, right, Itachi-san?" Tenten asked. The Uchiha nodded.
"Yes. And we're going to get there very soon. Oh, it seems we have arrived."
The group was standing in front of a small dock. The warehouse on the dock was full of goods ready to transport, but there was only one ship there, and it's not running; no one seemed to be working to load the goods on the ship, either ("Must be because of the attack to Kirigakure," Itachi thought).
Instead of entering the dock, Itachi walked towards a small wooden house a few steps away from it. He knocked on the door three times.
The door opened, and from inside, a giant of a man walked out. Just a single glance was enough to show the Konoha shinobi that the man wasn't just a normal civilian. His body was full of powerful muscles, but they looked different from those of martial artists like Gai and Lee; while the two shinobi were also muscular, they were still lean enough to move fast without losing any power of their hits. This man… he definitely wasn't a shinobi, but judging from his appearance, he must have been someone who spent a lot of time doing labor works… a sailor.
The man opened his mouth. Despite having such an intimidating figure and face, his voice and expression were surprisingly cheerful.
"Ha ha ha! Itachi-kun, long time no see! What brings you to the humble house of ye olde Fuku, eh?"
Itachi smiled back at him. "Yeah, Captain Fuku, long time no see. How are you?"
Karin sniggered. "A sailor named Fuku? Really?"
The old, rugged man glared at the girl. "Who is this insolent brat?"
To stop the incoming fight to the death which was about to happen, Itachi hastily stepped in. "Captain Fuku, you're not transporting anything today? I saw quite a lot of things ready to move out there at the dock."
The sailor scratched his head. "Aye… that's what I'm supposed to do, but it's kinda hard to go to Kirigakure now, huh? Not after that horrible explosion there yesterday…"
The Konoha shinobi's stomachs churned when they heard those words.
"E… explosion?" Fuu stammered. "What happened there?"
The captain shrugged. "Beats me. Luckily I managed to get out of there half an hour before it happened. But damn, it sounded like someone just dropped a nuke on the village. Wonder if there was anything intact there anymore…"
"What's a nuke?" Lee asked. Tenten glared at him. He gulped. "Never mind…"
"So, Captain Fuku, if you're not doing anything today, can I ask you to carry me and my… friends here to Kirigakure?" Itachi said, looking at the sailor in front of him. "Your boat is by no doubt, the fastest one in the whole continent; if you can carry us there…"
The captain raised an eyebrow.
"Are you kidding me? Why the hell should I put myself in danger going back to that bombing site again that soon? I still have my family to take care of, mind you!"
Well, there goes the plan.
"Then maybe you can let us borrow your boat?" Itachi suggested. "You don't need to go there with us; we can take care of ourselves."
Another head shake. "Like hell I'm letting you take my Gullwing away alone. How should I know whether you're going to return her to me or not?"
Itachi cursed in his head. Everything was going out of his control now. He decided to use the last card he had.
"How about considering this as payment for the time I saved your life? I remember at that time you said I could ask for anything from you; you would do everything within your ability to fulfill it, right?"
The elder sailor winced. "Well, I did say that… but…"
"You don't have to worry about protecting yourself," the Uchiha continued smoothly. "These people are among the greatest of Konoha shinobi; they are not going to let anything touch you on our way to Kiri and back. I can ensure you of that."
The man glanced at the shinobi. Then he sighed.
"You really leave me no choice, huh, brat. Alright! On board of Gullwing, quick… monsters…"
Five minutes later, the Konoha task force was already crossing the wave on their way to Kirigakure.
"Wow, this boat is so fast!" Karin marveled, feeling the water splashing her face. "It's the fastest thing I've ever seen traveling on the sea!"
The captain of said ship laughed boisterously. "Of course! Gullwing was made using the best technology! Who would think that such an antique like that can make a boat run this fast, eh?"
Anko blinked. "An antique? What do you mean?"
The captain shrugged. "Found a sunken boat a few years ago when going fishing near an island over there. Thing looked pretty old; rust covered the whole surface, ya know? Cost me a fortune just to haul it up from the seabed, but totally worth it, eh?"
"Where exactly did you find it?" Gai suddenly asked; his voice surprisingly lacked the usual jolly tone. Captain Fuku just shrugged.
"Near some island on the other side of Kirigakure. But don't bother; there was nothing else down there, already checked up and down. Maybe everything turned to dust already; the boat I saw over there also crumbled right after I managed to remove the engine from it… Must be centuries old, that thing…"
The three higher-ranked shinobi looked at each other. If there really was such an advanced civilization in the world, who could create technologies like this, how hadn't they ever heard about it? And if there actually was one, where were they now?
Their trains of thought were cut off abruptly when a deafening caw pierced their ears from above.
"What the hell is that?"
The three elder shinobi rushed out to where their students were staying, and saw it.
On the sky, a huge bird of prey at least the size of the boat they were travelling on was descending down their heads. Its talons spread wide; one slash from those talons could already tear the boat apart.
"Look out!" Itachi yelled, and immediately rushed through hand seals. A wall of water surged up from around the boat, and the bird crashed into it with all of its weight. A sickening crashing noise echoed through the air, and the wall managed to stand ground against the bird, but not for long. As the bird was thrown backward by the collision, the water wall also collapsed.
From the other side of the wall, the boat dashed out with a groan from the captain.
"I knew that I shouldn't have gone to the sea today!"
"What the hell is that?" Anko repeated the question, glaring at the bird on the sky, which was now making a u-turn to launch another strike at the boat. Itachi's Sharingan followed the movement of the bird, and when they reached the creature's eyes, he immediately understood what's going on.
"That bird has the Rinnegan," he said. "This must be one of Pain's summons; he set this up on our way to prevent anyone coming from Konoha's direction from reaching Kirigakure!"
"What should we do now?!" Tenten yelled. "No matter how fast this boat is, it won't be able to outspeed that freaking thing!"
Then she was nearly thrown off balance when chakra blasted out from Juugo, who was standing next to her. The man from Ryuudou clan had already entered his Sage Transformation; his body was now covered in brown skin, but different from the monstrous form he had taken before, right now it looked just like he was wearing an armor made of the substance. Around his head, there was a helmet made of the same material, and some construct which looked really similar to a jet pack they usually saw on movies protruded out of his back.
With a loud roar, he kicked the board of the boat and launched himself into the sky, straight towards the bird which was once again coming down on their heads. His left hand morphed into a giant fist, and when the two met on the sky, he delivered a brutal punch straight at the bird's beak. Moving at a neckbreaking speed, the bird couldn't change its direction in time, and ate the whole fist to the face. It was blown backwards with a startled squawk.
"Woo! What a youthful blow!" Lee cheered.
But Itachi grimaced. "No… attacking like this won't stop it."
Indeed, the bird had recovered almost immediately from Juugo's blow to its head. It seemed the hit only managed to piss it off. It snarled and changed its target to Juugo, who was now hovering on the air by the chakra blasting out of the construct on his back. The man's eyes widened, and he desperately made a dodge roll on the sky, right on time to avoid the sharp talons of the bird from gouging his stomach out.
"Creatures summoned by Pain can't be stopped by normal attacks," Itachi explained when Juugo blasted the bird with a beam of chakra from the cannon he had just formed on his arm, to little effect. "We need to hit it with something strong enough to take it down in one blow!"
"I'll go help him!" Fuu yelled, and from her back, a pair of wings spread out. She lowered her stance, ready to launch herself into the sky…
…before Karin stepped in front of her.
"You should save your energy until we face the real Pain, Fuu," the Uzumaki girl smiled. "Trust me; Juugo will be able to handle that."
The giant bird squawked angrily after being hit by another blast coming from Juugo.
Even before the three years of training, Juugo had still been the most powerful shinobi in Konoha in terms of firepower, only fell below Naruto, Fuu and the Hokage himself. Wielding the power of nature herself in his body, he could easily take down a village in one blast if he went all out. And as long as he stayed transformed, he would never have to worry about running out of chakra, as the infinite energy of nature would recharge him immediately without fail.
The only problem was, before, he hadn't had any control of his power. Whenever he'd tapped into his ability, his crazy, bloodlusting alter ego would have taken control and slaughtered everything in his sight mindlessly. But now, after the time he had spent in Konoha, and with the help of the Hokage, his sensei and his friends, he had learnt a lot of things.
And the most important thing he managed to learn was common sense.
No… I cannot overpower this creature with sheer force alone… it just doesn't work… but…
Juugo's eyes widened. Why hadn't he thought of this before?
Pushing himself away from the bird with a blast of chakra from his jet pack, Juugo launched a barrage of small, but precise chakra shots at the creature. The power of the shots wasn't much, but they were more than enough to attract the attention of the bird. It cawed angrily and tried to rush Juugo again, but the shinobi easily dodged the reckless charge by launching himself upward.
And with that, he had completed the setup for the final blow.
Everyone turned to Neji, who had just said those words. His Byakugan were activated at full force, and on his face, there was a victorious smirk.
"Juugo won. That bird is going down."
It's not a surprise that Neji was the one who noticed that. After all, the Byakugan has the ability to see chakra. Therefore, it's just natural that he could see the humongous amount of chakra focusing in the cannon on Juugo's left arm, which was now pointing at the bird right below him, with its stomach… towards the deep sea below.
And Juugo unleashed the blast.
The giant bird was hurtled into the sea from the sheer force of the chakra beam coming out of Juugo's arm cannon. It crashed into the blue surface with a loud "BOOM", sending huge waves of water everywhere, but didn't even stop until it reached the bottom of the seabed. The sea trembled with the terrifying collision, then stopped. There was no sign of the bird emerging again from below.
"And that," Juugo landed on the board of the boat, "shows how birds cannot fly if they're drowned in water."
Even Itachi had to nod dumbly hearing this (rather obvious) statement.
Pain's Deva Path's eyes cracked open.
"What's wrong?" Next to him, on the left index finger of the Demonic Statue, Konan asked worriedly.
"The bird I sent patrolling Kirigakure was defeated. Konoha is coming. It's the Seven-Tails… and Itachi Uchiha."
"Too bad I'm not here for real," the phantom of Deidara standing on the middle finger of the other hand sneered. "I really want to take that traitor down by my own hand… for everything, the humiliation he, and his bastard of a brother gave me…"
Kisame's phantom from the ring finger glanced at him, but didn't say anything else.
"At this rate we might not be able to completely seal the Six-Tails before they catch up with us," Konan said. "What should we do now?"
For a while, there was no answer. Then Tobi said.
"We must do whatever we can for now. When they arrive, we shall deal with them. They are not going to get through all the protections we put on this island easily."
He threw a glance at the unconscious body of Utakata, floating in the blob of colored chakra, his Tailed Beast's chakra being sucked out of him. And after all… it's not necessary to gather every single bit of chakra from the Tailed Beasts to form the Ten-Tails anyway, he thought without saying out loud.
He didn't notice Konan glancing at him with a strange expression on her face.
The moon was reaching the zenith when the boat touched the dock with a light "thud".
"Here you are! Kirigakure!"
Team Gai and Team Anko, together with Itachi, stared at the scene in front of them in horror.
"What the hell happened to this place?!"
The village was completely devastated. Houses were destroyed, and dead and injured people scattered everywhere around what used to be a very crowded and prosper shopping street within the sight of the Konoha shinobi. And Itachi could see the ruins of what used to be the Mizukage tower at the center of the village.
An injured Kiri shinobi, seeing the group walking into the village, pushed himself up from the ground and yelled while still clutching his bleeding stomach.
"Stop right there…! What do you want…!?"
Anko immediately walked up to the shinobi. "Calm down there man; we're Konoha shinobi, coming here to help Kiri as soon as we heard the news. See our headband here?" she said, pointing at her hitai-ate. "What happened here?"
"How can I be sure that you're not some other invaders coming to finish off our village?! Hitai-ate can be faked… Argh!"
The man couldn't finish his sentence before collapsing back to the ground from the multiple wounds on his body. Anko sighed. "Karin?"
The Uzumaki girl walked up, kneeled down next to the shinobi and started using medical jutsu to treat his wounds. Fuu blinked.
"You can heal people without letting them bite you now, Karin-chan?"
Karin answered, not looking up from the wounded shinobi. "Of course I do; I cannot let everyone bite me to heal them, it's just too indecent. Okay, done."
The shinobi looked at his body in surprise to see all of his wounds closing up quickly without a trace. He glanced back at the group wearing Konoha hitai-ate in front of him suspiciously for a few seconds. Then he sighed.
"What do you want?"
Anko nodded. "Can you take us to Lady Mizukage, please?"
The shinobi's expression turned into a grimace. "Sure… but I don't know if that would do you any help."
The two teams looked at the body of the woman lying on the bed with the same grimace.
Mei Terumi looked horrible. The natural color of her hair was red, but now it looked more brownish than red because of all the dried blood soaking it and running down her cheeks. Her skin, which was exposed to air from having her clothes nearly torn to shred, was also tainted with dirt and blood, and there were a few nasty cuts across her face. And she was in a coma. In fact, if it was not for her chest moving up and down weakly, no one would even think that she was still alive. Under the dim lighting of the medical tent, she looked even paler, even more like a corpse.
"What happened to her?"
Zabuza, sitting next to her bed with his right arm in a cast, his face, head and body full of bandage, sighed.
"When they attacked the village, they targeted her right from the beginning. She fought back so fiercely, but the attack was too sudden and they managed to overwhelm her easily. We couldn't even react; had it not been for Utakata…"
The Konoha shinobi looked at each other. Having heard the story from Naruto, Jiraiya, Itachi and the Hokage himself, they knew what the being called Pain could do.
"So did you send anyone to track them down?"
Zabuza shook his head. "Sending normal trackers after them was nothing but suicide. If only I could go… I can't even hold my sword properly now…"
Everyone looked at Karin.
"Oh come on!" she protested. "I'm not going to let an old man bite me!"
Everyone stared harder.
"Okay, fine!" the Uzumaki girl snapped. She stuck her index finger out. "Here, bite my finger! But this is the last time, understand?"
Zabuza blinked, but still complied. His mouth reached the tip of the girl's finger.
"Oh, this is gonna be fun," Anko snickered in her breath. She knew what would happen when someone bit Karin to be healed by her chakra. And to imagine that happening with an old man like Zabuza…
"Yeowch! What the hell was that for, you jerk?! Are you planning to bite my finger off?!"
Anko knew she would go to hell when she started laughing out loud.
"It… it actually worked."
That's the only words Zabuza could say when he felt his body healed up completely by the chakra of the Uzumaki girl. In fact, he felt that he was even stronger than he used to be before the attack. He flexed his arm, and the cast cracked and shattered under the force.
"Of course it worked," Karin, now recovered from the healing session, but still had a slightly blushing face, scoffed. "Don't underestimate the ability of an Uzumaki."
Zabuza blanched. "You're a relative of that Naruto brat? Damn, no wonder…"
"So, now that you are completely healed, are you planning to track down Pain and rescue your jinchuriki, Zabuza-san?" Gai asked.
"Of course I'm going to," Zabuza nodded. "However, it would take some time to find out where they are first. I doubt they could have gone far; had they gone all the way back to Amegakure, they wouldn't have left a scout around Kirigakure like that," he said, obviously referring to the bird the Konoha group had faced on their way. "They must still be somewhere around here… possibly on an island out there. It would take one or two days for us to locate where they are…"
"One or two days?!" Anko exclaimed. "That is just too long! Who knows what the Akatsuki can do in those days?"
Everyone turned towards Fuu, who had just raised her voice. On her face, there was a confident, but a bit mischievous smile.
"I didn't tell anyone about this before, but I actually have a way to track down anyone in this world."
"You're kidding me. Even Gai and Kakashi's report during the test didn't say anything about that."
Hiruzen looked at Jiraiya in surprise on their way to the Torture and Interrogation Division. Jiraiya answered the Hokage with a cheeky smirk.
"Well, a shinobi cannot show everything he can do to his enemies, right?"
The Third Hokage sighed. "Touché. But how proficient is she with it, anyway?"
The smile still didn't leave the Toad Sage's face. "I can only say that during training, we discovered the Nanabi's unknown special ability is the utmost proficiency in controlling and manipulating nature chakra."
One of the requirements for Sage Mode is that the user must "become one with nature" in order to balance the chakra of the user with nature chakra. The more fine tuned the user is with nature, the easier it is for them to access the power of a Sage. If the user contains inside them the Tailed Beasts, beings who used to be parts of the Ten-Tails, the creature born from the God Tree which holds the power of nature itself, it would be even easier.
Pfft, as if.
If it was really that easy, any jinchuriki in history would have become a Sage. There is a reason why Hashirama Senju was the only known jinchuriki who had achieved Sage Mode in history. After all, no matter how powerful you are, the immense power of nature is not a toy. Even though the Tailed Beasts could help them access the power easier, without proper training, nature chakra would destroy the user from the inside out. Just look at Naruto to see. He'd had to practice with four shadow clones at a time during his time for weeks before Pain's invasion and still couldn't enter Sage Mode without staying still for some time. And that was still very quick, as Fukasaku, one of the Toad Sages, had said. Well, considering time flows much slower in the Realm of Summons and the Sages themselves were hundreds of years old, their definition of "quick" might be different from what we think, but still… Only after taking complete control of Kurama's chakra, and especially, befriending her, could he decrease the time he needed to access the Mode. And he still couldn't maintain the form for long without recharging it from time to time. Those like Orochimaru, who tried to manipulate nature power through unnatural means like the Cursed Seal, wouldn't be able to do it properly without their bodies being destroyed gradually from the inside. Even those who were blessed with the power naturally, like Juugo's clan for example, still suffered from their bodies being morphed into monstrous forms whenever they tapped into the power. Most of that clan was wiped out, mostly from their tendency to become ax-crazy from the influence of their alter-ego whenever they used the power anyway.
However, there was one being in this world that held the innate power to fully control and manipulate the power of nature without any drawback.
When creating the Tailed Beasts, the Sage of Six Paths gifted each of them one of his abilities. When it came to the ability to control and manipulate nature energy, which qualified him as a Sage, knowing that it was an incredibly dangerous ability which would potentially destroy the world if falling into the wrong hand, he decided to give it to the Beast holding all of his positive emotions, without even letting her or any other Tailed Beasts know about it. He hoped that, in the hand of a being filled with love and happiness, the power would not be used for evil purposes. And in the worst case, if she happened to fall into the wrong hand, without her knowing about it, the power wouldn't manifest to be abused.
And that being, Chomei, was only able to find out her true potential when her best friend, her most trusted jinchuriki, had departed on a training trip with the legendary Sage Jiraiya.
"Holy shit." Karin exclaimed when Fuu opened her eyes.
There wasn't much change everyone could see on the jinchuriki. The only thing noticeable was that her irises had turned yellow with a ring of orange bordering them, and there was green pigmentation around her eyes, extending to her temples, which resembled a mask. But a sensor like Karin could feel how terrifying the power within the jinchuriki was even without activating her Kagura Shingan; the chakra inside Fuu had become extremely dense and humongous, and at the same time, it was something else, something… different. Even with Chomei inside of her, Fuu's chakra had never become like this before.
"This is… Sage Mode," she heard Itachi muttering behind her. "But this is incredible… even Jiraiya-sama has never shown such a great level of power when he entered his own Sage Mode before…"
"The energy inside her right now is very similar to what I get when I use my power," Juugo also said. "But it's just the energy… every other thing is different. She doesn't even transform, and it's like… she's taking nature energy into her body unconsciously, without even trying… it's just like she melded into nature herself."
"Yep!" Fuu answered cheerfully. "In this state, you can think of me as becoming one with nature, and because of that I can find anything which exists in this planet! Now, let's see…"
She closed her eyes again, and reached out with her mind. Her consciousness started flying across the Elemental Continent, across mountains, across lakes, across the sea, across forests…
"Huh, that's weird."
Everyone held their breaths. "What's wrong, Fuu?" Anko asked.
"I… can't find them anywhere. I mean, I know how Utakata-san's presence feels like, but it's just like… he had disappeared from the surface of the planet. No, even if that had been the case, I should have still been able to find trace of him. It's more like… like he just doesn't exist in this world."
"How is that even possible?" Zabuza asked, completely confused. "I mean, they have just attacked Kirigakure yesterday! Had it not been for Utakata, we would have been wiped off the planet! How can he not exist?"
It seemed no one could answer this question, because following it was a long and suffocating silence. Finally, Itachi said.
Everyone turned towards the Uchiha. He nodded.
"During the time I was in the Akatsuki, I managed to find out the main abilities of every member. This Tobi… he has the power to send himself and other things to a different dimension only he can access. Maybe he also sent Utakata there for the extraction?"
Then he shook his head. "No, it cannot be. Even with that power, even if he could send other things into that dimension, Tobi himself can only stay in that dimension for 10 minutes at best… so how should he…"
"I think I have the answer."
Now everyone's eyes turned to Karin. She was smirking proudly.
"When I read the sealing book Naruto gave me as present, I found a sealing jutsu which can isolate an area from the space-time continuum. Basically, what stays in the range of the sealing jutsu would be separated from this dimension into a completely different dimension, while still staying on the surface of this planet. But if that's true, I don't know how they managed to get a hand on it; it is a very advanced fuinjutsu of Uzushiogakure after all…"
"If it is possible, then I don't doubt the chance that they might have discovered a similar one," Anko nodded. "The one we're fighting is the leader of the Akatsuki, the wielder of the Rinnegan, after all."
"If that's the case, finding where that place is is not difficult at all," Neji raised his voice. "Fuu-san, can you use your ability to search around once more and find if there is a place that should have had something in there, but there isn't one? Like, a sudden empty void, for example?"
Fuu blinked. That was an oddly specific question, as if the Hyuuga had already known something.
"I… I will try," she said, and closed her eyes again, focusing. Seconds later, her eyes snapped open. "I found it! There is something that looked like a dome about nine or ten kilometers to the north of here! But I cannot sense anything inside it…"
"As I thought," Neji nodded. "Byakugan! You're right… Even the Byakugan cannot see through that… It seems the only way is to go there to find out."
When everyone was getting ready to depart, Zabuza whispered to Gai.
"That's the Hyuuga boy who lost to the pink-haired girl in that Chuunin exam, your student, huh? Have to admit, he has matured quite a lot since then. He might have been jonin now if I wasn't wrong."
Gai nodded. "Of course! But even though I urged him to accept the jonin promotion so many times, he just didn't want to…"
The swordsman looked at the Hyuuga again. A smirk formed under the bandage covering his mouth. "Heh… Such is the power of youth… Things have become really interesting, indeed."
Every genin and chuunin around Kirigakure suddenly felt a deathly chill creeping up their spines.
"So, let's go over everything again. Are you sure you weren't able to get anything out of them even with the Sharingan?"
Kakashi nodded at Inoichi's question. "Yes. I don't know, but… Usually with the Sharingan I can use genjutsu to look into enemies' mind when interrogating them, but… somehow, it seems these things don't even have thoughts. It's just like they don't have a mind of their own."
Hiruzen, who was standing next to him, grimaced. "That would be quite troublesome, indeed. If the Akatsuki really managed to create an army of mindless drones like these… Inoichi, do you think you can do something?"
"I will try my best, Hokage-sama," the Yamanaka clan head nodded. "But if what Kakashi said was true, it might be useless anyway. If they're just mindless zombies created only for the purpose of killing…"
"I don't know," Aoba Yamashiro, one of Inoichi's colleagues, said. "It seems pretty human-like to me; expression and everything…"
"Well, we will see when I finish scrambling his brain up," Inoichi said grimly, and put his left hand on top of the White Zetsu's head.
The Deva Path's eyes cracked open again.
"Kiri and Konoha are starting to move."
From the ring finger, Kisame's phantom glanced at Pain. "Who in Kirigakure was sent after us?"
"From what my scout saw, it is Zabuza Momochi," Pain answered.
"Zabuza, huh…" Kisame muttered.
"I know what you are thinking about, Kisame, and you cannot do that," Konan warned the shark-like swordsman. "We don't have enough time to seal up the Tailed Beast, and if you leave to fight them…"
"No, actually, just let him go."
Pain turned towards Tobi, his eyes narrowing. "And why should we do that?"
"At this rate, we won't be able to complete sealing the Six-Tails before the Konoha and Kiri force arrives here," the masked man answered. "Forcing Kisame to stay here won't speed up the process much. If we let him go, he might be able to hold them off for us for a while. And besides…" he looked at the missing-nin in question through the eyehole on his mask, "…you really want a chance to fight against that Zabuza, right, Kisame?"
The other Akatsuki members glanced at Kisame's phantom. Then, Pain said.
"Very well. But you do not have to go by yourself; it would be dangerous, as Itachi is also there. We will use this…"
After leaving Haku in charge of the village while he was absent, Zabuza, together with the Konoha task force, was now on their way to the island where the sealing process was being performed.
Right now, the group was running full speed on the surface of the sea at the coast north of Kirigakure.
"Is it proper to leave the village in her hands like that?" asked Anko. "I mean, she looks too young to handle the job of a Kage, even temporarily, you know."
Zabuza laughed. "You can believe it or not, but Haku is one of the very few people I can put all my trust in in this world. She is young, indeed, but she's more than capable of handling everything on her own. I was the one who nominated her for the position of Kirigakure's ANBU Captain, you know."
Then suddenly his voice turned into a grumble. "Although I still cannot understand where she got that habit of telling people that she's a boy from… Seriously, the first few times it might be funny, but acting like that every time she met someone new is just ridiculous. I'm sick of people looking at me funny whenever we go on diplomatic missions together…"
"So, how long does it take until we get there, Fuu-san?" Lee asked. Fuu, who was running ahead of him, nodded without turning back.
"We're half the way there! We can reach the island in about an hour!"
"I wonder if we can get there in time," Zabuza muttered. "It's already two days since Utakata was kidnapped…"
"Do not worry," Itachi assured him. "The process of extracting a Tailed Beast completely from the jinchuriki takes at least three days; they won't be able to…"
"Everyone watch out!"
The group screeched into a halt when they heard the yell of Neji. And fortunately they did that, because suddenly the sea in front of them exploded upward and would have swallowed the whole group into the deep, dark water had they not been able to stop.
"Ambush!" Zabuza yelled, and with a mighty swing of Kubikiribocho, the screen of water in front of them was cleaved in half by the shockwave coming from the sword. The shockwave didn't stop; it ran through the water screen and collided with something behind it. A loud "boom" shook the air.
From behind the water screen appeared the grinning face of Kisame Hoshigaki, holding the demonic sword Samehada in front of his body to shield himself from the attack of the opposing swordsman.
"It's been a long time, Zabuza. And Itachi."
At a corner of Konohagakure, a small snake crept up from under the sewer.
So, chapter 35!
Yes, Fuu was also in perfect control of Sage Mode. This is actually what I have planned since I sent Fuu to Konoha together with Naruto and the gang. You see, in canon, Naruto could only use Sage Mode indefintely when he had the power of all the Tailed Beasts inside him, and the justification is that the Sage of Six Paths gave him that ability. But if that's the case, what does he need all the other Tailed Beasts for? So my idea for this story is, one of the Tailed Beasts was the one who granted him that ability, and the Sage only further enhanced it, giving him the Six Path Sage Mode like in canon. And who would be the better one for it than Chomei, the one with no special power revealed so far?
And there is another interesting thing about Obito's Kamui. As Konan said during their battle, he could only remain intangible for 10 minutes. And it was proven true in canon, because he had to resort to Izanagi in order to escape the sea of exploding tags Konan sent at him. So my theory is, with only the right eye, he can only stay in the Kamui dimension for 10 minutes at best. When time runs out, the eye will automatically pull him out of the dimension no matter how much chakra he has left. And that's why he wanted Sakura to destroy the Rinnegan as quickly as possible: not because he's afraid Madara would come into the dimension, but because if she didn't act quickly, he would have to move her out of the dimension again, rendering all the effort moot.
And Juugo proved that a good ninja doesn't only need incredible power; he also needs a calm, collected head and also, more importantly, common sense.
And what is going to happen when the group finally reach Pain and Tobi?
Find out in the next chapters! Please R&R!