Another Chapter is here!


The moment the ethereal feathers started falling, Naruto leapt into action. He didn't shout, he didn't announce what he was doing. He just flung several concussive-tagged kunai towards the pair of Sand siblings, with the intent of knocking them out before they could contribute to whatever was happening and getting some answers.

In a swift, single motion, Temari spun and unfurled her fan just enough so that it was a repeat of her match with Tenten. The blades of wind hidden within the gale sliced through the tags as the kunai were thrown askew before they could touch them. A surge of insects followed from behind Naruto as he formed clones courtesy of Shino, and both rushed forward in a black cloud with orange masses within it.

She immediately unfurled her fan entirely and waved it with a hard spin, wind chakra riding along the gale so densely that everything cauught within it was shredded. Naruto, Shino, and Shikamaru ducked inside of the corridor to avoid being caught within the attack, providing an opening for the Sand duo. Temari conjured a whirlwind over the exit to block it while she and her brother leapt down and retrieve their younger brother.

"Okay, what's going on?" Shikamaru asked as he watched the twister churn in front of their only exit. The near-death experience had gotten rid of all the lethargy that had permeated him.

"We are not safe here." Shino raised his hands and more insects slipped out from his coat to form a dense cloud that he sent down through the corridor. A roar of air came from the turn leading down the stairs as the insects that had gone through the narrow passage were killed, signaling they were under attack from that angle too. "Naruto, raise a barrier."

Naruto pulled out the barrier tags and used them to form a wall between the three Chuunin-hopefuls and a Hidden Sound Jounin that emerged from the staircase, having the same arm implants that Shino's opponent from the preliminaries had. The difference between Zaku and Jounin was made clear when he raised a single hand and let loose a gust of air pressure, capable of pulverizing them had Naruto not shielded them with the barrier tags. Even still, he continuously fed it chakra to avoid them being blown away.

By the time the attack had finished, Naruto was panting as he held up the primary tag. The walls of the corridor between them and the Jounin were gouged badly, stone dust floating in the air with a fissure reaching to the floors above and below in front of the barrier. Any stronger and it likely would have completely blown their section of the floor out.

The Jounin prepared to fire again, this time with both hands, when suddenly they clapped together. They remained frozen like that, along with the rest of his body. Only his eyes moved, and they looked down to where the shadow stretched across the fissure between them and connected.

"Yeah, no more of that." Shikamaru said as his shadow locked his opponent's down, holding the prayer pose. "Shino?"

More insects emerged as Naruto dropped the barrier and they flew towards the Jounin. They chewed through his chakra and clogged his air tubes, nibbling at his eyes and face without mercy. They slipped into his mouth when he opened it to scream and went down his throat to clog it as well, denying the man the ability to breathe.

Not a minute later, the Jounin was dead from either chakra exhaustion, suffocation, or a combination of the two. Most of the insects returned to the living hive. The others scouted ahead.

"We have to move," Naruto said as he retrieved the tags. The whirlwind behind them finally died. "More could be on the way and we can't let those two get away."

Shikamaru rubbed the back of his head as he rose to his feet. "I still only have a moderate idea of what's going on here. Either of you care to give me some insight into what we're dealing with?"

"In a moment," Shino said as a scouting insect landed on his the tip of his finger. It relayed its information to him. "Kurenai-sensei is on her way with Kiba and Akamaru. I imagine that she will want an explanation as well."

True to word, Kiba, Akamaru, and the Jounin Leader of Team 8 arrived to see the boys and the corpse of the Sound Jounin. There was blood on her outfit and a kunai in her hands, a far cry from when she had been lecturing Kiba in private over his performance during the match. Being escorted off was the least of their problems at the moment.

Kiba stepped around the corpse and whistled. "Damn, Shino. Sometimes you scare me."

Shino shrugged and then turned to his Jounin, who asked what happened. "We had reason to believe that the Hidden Sand betrayed their alliance with us and is working with hostile forces to undermine the village. We tried to detain their Genin, but failed. It's also very likely that Sasuke Uchiha is a primary target for being kidnapped due to his bloodline, if I am correct."

"We just saw him leave over the wall not too long ago through the window," Kiba said. "I think he was chasing after them already."

"Track them down," she ordered. "The Jounin are handling the shinobi in the arena, but with the chaos those three have slipped out and the Uchiha boy gave chase. Catch up to them and detain if possible, but otherwise focus on keeping him safe. Understood?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Kiba and Shino said. Naruto and Shikamaru, who weren't members of her team, nodded as well. They still had to defer to her given the circumstances.

Shikamaru was notably less enthused about it once she departed through the exit, sighing. "What a drag…. How are we going to even find them?"

"Akamaru and me have Sasuke's scent memorized," Kiba said. His companion barked on top of his head, confirming the same. "Might be hard with so many others around, but we can track him."

"I have a few of my hive on the ones from Sand, leaking a pheromone that I can track." Shino turned to Naruto. "You can provide transportation, can you not?"

"Exactly how much did you listen in on?" Naruto asked cautiously. He didn't ask how he had heard him. It would have been a stupid question.

"Enough," he answered, pushing up his shades by the bridge as a few of his insects crawled from the inside of his collar. "Let us hurry."


The moment the genjustu began to fall over the arena, Sakura immediately went to work dispelling it off of her with Naruto's clone following suit. The clone rose up and eyed one ANBU in particular, the likely source, and then dropped the transformation to lunge at him. The clone was immediately dispelled with a hit, but it did cancel out the rest of the feathers falling down.

That pretty much confirmed who the one responsible for it was, and Ino's Sensei leapt up and cut him in half somehow. Despite that, other foreign shinobi suddenly emerged to attack anyone still awake. And there were loud crashing sounds coming from outside of the arena.

Naruto didn't say anything about a full-scale attack, Sakura thought to herself as she looked at all the fighting taking place around her. There were a lot of shinobi that she didn't recognize, but a few that she did. On instinct she went for her weapons, only to remember that she hadn't brought any, when she felt time slow as two shadows were hovered over her. Two Sound Jounins were flanking her, weapons in their hands as they moved to kill her.

Then time sped up again as she turtle'd herself up in reflex. The two of them fell at her feet, kunai wedged in their brains, and a third shadow lingered above her. It was Kakashi. "Sensei?"

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She nodded bitterly, ashamed at the fact that she was helpless again. "I couldn't do anything. Even after I said I would be better…."

"They were Jounin, that's expected." His attention spanned the arena and he made hand-seals. "Sakura, I need for you to go find Sasuke. He went chasing after his opponent and Kurenai told me that he might be a target."

He slammed his hands down and summoned the ninja-pug, Pakkun. "She's already sent Naruto and a few others to get him. They left on a bird of some kind. Pakkun will help you track them."

"R-Right…." Sakura reached down to the corpse of one of the Sound Jounin and grabbed his pouch of supplies and weapons. When she looked up, Kakashi had gone back to fighting and left the two of them to their own devices. No more safety nets.

"C'mon girlie," Pakkun said. "Let's go."


Hiruzen Sarutobi stood opposite his wayward student, trapped within a cage of violet flames anchored by four of his followers. The false mask of flesh that was once the Kazekage's had been discarded now. It was clear Orochimaru wanted him to see for himself the one who would do harm to the village.

"Did you coerce our allies into turning against us while wearing his face?" he asked as the air between them thickened, loose bits of tile rising from the sheer weight of their chakra opposing one another.

A smile stretched across Orochimaru's face. "On the contrary, the Kazekage actually agreed to the invasion of his own accord. I simply replaced him along the way here to… savor the moment, really. Tell me, Sensei… is your intelligence so incompetent that they were ignorant of the declining state of the Hidden Sand village?"

He had been aware of their Daimyo's fluctuating decisions to outsource missions. While they didn't have any spies in their shinobi forces, more than one had complained in a drunken stupor at the local pub. All they had to do was have eyes and ears there, as well as within the ranks of their paper-pushers. But he didn't think things were bad to the extent they would be willing to start a war.

"Take note, Sensei." He stretched his hands wide, gesturing to fighting going on around them and the rampaging snakes in the village. "The death, the destruction, all of this came out of one man's decision to cheapen his expenses and spurn a village. That single decision caused one of the mightiest villages in the five greatest nations to wither on the vine until they were desperate."

"Even so, I imagine that this was your suggestion to start with." He molded his chakra within his body, readying it and dividing it. The question of whether or not to unveil Jiraiya briefly came to mind, but he decided against it. Not just yet.

"Well, I may have brought it up," Orochimaru admitted. "But it goes without saying that the fact that they would ally with the relatively new village I've established meant that they were reaching the point where it would have happened anyway. I just hastened the process, becoming the wind that turns the pinwheel, as it were."

"And risked throwing the world into another Great War," Sarutobi noted. "I would have thought that you of all people, having lived through so much conflict, would understand the necessity of peace."

The smile on Orochimaru's face faltered, turning into a frown. "Peace? Mankind is incapable of such a thing, merely a moment of stagnation brought about by writing on pieces of paper. They are prone to conflict and that makes the world progress. The conflict sown here as the Leaf crumbles will herald a grand revolution in all things."

"You speak the same words as the last time." It never changed. Orochimaru continued to search for answers, to make progress, to gather techniques, using conflict and strife as experimenting tools and battlefields as his laboratories. It was saddening. "I see you are truly beyond saving."

Sarutobi acted. The opening salvo consisted of sending his chakra into the tiles surrounding him and levitating them. He took the wind chakra molded into his lungs and exhaled a layer upon them to give them a cutting edge, followed by a coat of yin chakra to hide them from view, and then sent them flying forward as makeshift shuriken. The wind-layered Tile Shuriken flew forward like invisible saws and tore gouges out of the rest of the tiles in their wake.

Orochimaru countered with a Wind Style: Great Breakthrough, expelling a gust that took hold of the lesser technique and scattered the makeshift shuriken about. Sarutobi overtook the C-ranked technique using Fire Style: Fire Dragon's Flame Bullet. The moment the stream of fire hit the gust of wind, the flames hungrily consumed the wind and quickly turned into a conflagration that seemingly engulfed half the rooftop and his former student, reducing Orochimaru to ashes.

The Hokage exhaled, his chest rising and falling notably. The surface of the rooftop ripped as Orochimaru sprang up from behind him with the Hiding in Surface technique and then lashed out at him with his tongue, which transformed into a large venomous snake. It sank its fangs into Sarutobi's throat and then writhed, trying to tear it out as he grasped it desperately with both his aged hands.

Then he melted into mud, which hardened into stone. With the serpent that was once his student's tongue trapped within it, Sarutobi appeared behind his student with his hand flattened to make a chopping motion, wind chakra cloaking it. The sharpened knife-hand cleaved Orochimaru's head from his shoulders in a single motion.

The stump of his neck burst as a thick, brown serpent lashed out from what should have been a corpse and drove the older man back with the threat of its fangs. It lunged again, opening its maw as wide as possible as a bulge surged through the serpent's length. Orochimaru came out of its throat whole, with the legendary grass-cutter blade in his hand.

He pierced his old mentor's heart with it, only for it to turn into mud again as the real Sarutobi came into view from a genjutsu-created veil of yin chakra, finishing one set of hand-seals and thrusting his hands forward. The mud swelled into an earthen dragon that roared before devouring Orochimaru in a surge of onrushing mire, like a mud slide come to life. It rose up in a spout and then hardened to form a stone pillar.

Sarutobi appeared in front of it with a Body Flicker as he finished another set of hand-seals and slammed his palms into it, sending fire chakra surging within to turn its core molten. The pillar-turned-molten mud collapsed in on itself as he backed away, leaving only a heated slag pile in its wake to cool. The crackling of superheated earth permeated the silence as the audience of Anbu Officers and the Sound Four watched in a sort of quiet amazement at the swift and skillful exchange.

"Kukukukukuku," Orochimaru chuckled from some distance behind the old man, breaking the silence. "Excellent, Sarutobi-sensei… Few would have been able to weather the fluidity of your techniques. Yin chakra to hide a Shadow Clone made of earth and yang chakra, water combining with it to shape the mud and control its flow, more earth to harden it, and then fire to heat it to the point of being near molten. Such impeccable mastery of control and timing, I expect nothing less from the one who was once called the Professor of Ninjutsu."

"And you remain as elusive as ever." When he slipped out of the combination of techniques eluded Sarutobi, but he knew it wouldn't have been that easy. "But that won't remain the case. You'll slip up and then that'll be the end."

"Brave words for an old man…" Orochimaru clasped his hands together, causing a pair of coffins to rise from a breach in space. They were identical, marked by kanji for the First and Second, and seeing them left a feeling of dread nestled itself in the pit of his stomach. "Let's see how long they last in the face of your predecessors."

Sarutobi was no fool. As much as he would rather deal with Orochimaru alone, he had no delusion of standing a chance against the First and Second Hokages. He flared his chakra into his shadow and it thickened, allowing for the red and white blur to be shot towards the two coffins that stood in front of Orochimaru.

Spiraling spheres in both hands, Jiraiya mercilessly slammed them into the coffins and the bodies within before continuing towards a surprised Orochimaru. Arrogant and surprised as he was at the sudden emergence of the Toad Sage, he managed to evade the blow that shattered the rooftop where he once stood. At the same time, Sarutobi breathed out a stream of fire hot enough to incinerate the bodies within before they could be put to use.

"Well, well, this is a surprise." Orochimaru locked eyes with his old teammate. "To think that you would show up now of all times, Jiraiya. I had no idea you were here. It must've been the lack of perversion that usually followed in your wake. Should I expect the princess as well?"

Jiraiya had no words. He'd made his peace with what needed to be done.

"Ah, the silent treatment." Orochimaru chuckled mildly. "I suppose this is fine as well. Dealing with you was always the plan. This simply speeds the process up."

Sarutobi discarded his Hokage robes to reveal the combat outfit beneath it. "Jiraiya, the village has been breached by summonings."

"On it." He unraveled a scroll and pressed his hand on a symbol in the center, pouring his chakra into it. The net result was that the delayed summoning seals that had been placed around the village last night were tripped, calling forth warriors from Mount Myouboku to deal with the serpents that had been summoned as well. Jiraiya then readied a kunai as Orochimaru held his sword forward.

A particularly loud explosion in the distance signaled the continuation of their battle to the death….