Another chapter is here!
Without a doubt in Shikamaru's mind, the most dangerous thing present wasn't the sniper lurking in the trees at the edge of the training field. Nor the Golem that had upturned the earth and blocked off the chance to go after the original Naruto with the others. It was the horde of man-eating spiders that swarmed forward.
They could dodge the sniper's attacks. They could outpace that massive earthen Summoning. But the spiders were another story. Their numbers were so swollen they formed an onrushing tide, black waves rolling forward and blanketing the greenery of the grass. It was probably safe to presume they were poisonous too if the intention was to wipe out all witnesses after securing their target—the original Naruto.
His mind raced through options as the horde continued to move forward. The Golem was too big and heavy to try and pin its shadow down. He could, theoretically, pin down a decent portion of the spiders as they swarmed forward, linking his shadow to one of theirs and then branching out like a root system. But between his range, the way they were spread out, and the sheer numbers, he'd be overtaken swiftly unless there was a way to pin them all down at once.
All of them would. Techniques like the Rotation and possibly the Human Boulder could stave off how long it would take for them to die, but it would still be by seconds. They needed something with a larger area of effect if they were going create an opening to get away—or at least give him some breathing room to think of a better plan or strategy.
So he turned to the clones to get it. "Naruto, we need bodies between us!"
The response was nearly instantaneous. The pair of clones both created a set of five each for ten Shadow Clones that formed in front of them. That…was a little underwhelming given the threat that they were facing. Then those ten created enough Shadow Clones that their side of the field was padded out drastically.
Hundreds of clones had been called forth, only to then perform a Transformation technique and create doppelgangers of everyone there. About a third of transformed clones surged forward, running to attack the incoming hordes and Golem to buy time. The others hung back and mixed in to form groups around them to hide the real versions—senbon in haystacks and all.
Now that's more like it, Shikamaru thought before he felt a tugging sensation that signaled a Substitution in progress. Given what he remembered from the Chuunin Exams, he went along with it and was swapped from his original position with one of the clones that had changed into a copy of him. The moment he touched down in the new position, he was pulled into a crouch with the other people.
All the actual partygoers were there, crouched and hidden from plain sight in an alert state. Or unnerved, like Ayame, whose slender arms were wrapped around Konohamaru. It was an instinctive act to keep him safe as she struggled to keep herself calm at the insistence of the untransformed Naruto clones crouched next to her.
"Naruto, do you know what's going on?" Shikamaru asked the clone he designated Clone A, suspecting it was one of the original two. "This is an orchestrated attack, so there has to be a reason for it."
"They work for Kabuto," Naruto Clone A explained, which said a lot given that Shikamaru knew the gist of what happened during the failed invasion. "They tried to kidnap Karin and me twice now, first during the Finals when you were knocked out and then during that mission when the prison was broken open. I don't know how they got into the village but there's probably three of them, at least."
"How dangerous are they?" Chouji asked next, trying to grasp just how bad the situation was beyond the current nightmare.
"Jounin at a minimum, each with a bloodline ability and a Cursed Seal that makes them even stronger than that," Naruto Clone B said without missing a beat. The notion sent tension threading through their muscles. He then turned to the two toads that were sitting down. "Gamakichi and Gamatatsu, go home and see if your Dad can't get a message to Jiraiya. As for the rest of you, the clones will make an opening for you to escape. Take Ayame and Konohamaru with you and get ANBU."
"That'll be impossible as things stand," Neji said as the pronounced veins bordering his Byakugan pulsed. He was straining them to see further. "The clones are too fragile to last long. They're being overwhelmed between the number of spiders and the Golem. The sniper also looks like he's preparing something to attack over a wider range."
"And even if we escape, Lee and the others are still chasing after the original you," Tenten noted. "Lee's injuries may have been fixed, but if he's still not supposed to push himself too hard just yet. If these guys are really on par with Jounin then—"
Clone A cut her off. "Every clone that's destroyed has its memories and chakra distributed to the remaining ones and the original, so he knows what's going on and can tell the others to get away. Between Lee's speed, Kiba's ability to tunnel straight through the ground with his clan's technique, and Hinata being able to see where they need to go, all three of them should be able to get clear."
So that was why they staggered the creation of the clones. It was so they'd have enough chakra to use whatever technique that they have and would keep the original aware, Shikamaru figured. The clones that were caught up in holding back the spiders had the least amount of chakra, so them dispersing only returned a trickle of chakra back to every other clone that was still out and the original.
But that trickle of chakra kept the original informed and would compound up if left unbothered. If the original gained the chakra back too fast while still being held by the person who was draining it, then they'd just keep draining him. But if the others managed to get the original Naruto free then he could create a single clone with the returned chakra and dispel it to inform the others to dismiss themselves and return whatever was left for him to use.
The clone shifted his focus down to his hands that he held apart, palms facing each other. He balled them into fist before looking up to them again and said, "I've been practicing a Wind Technique called Air Bullet that I picked up from someone else. I can strengthen it enough to clear out everything if I can get close enough to the Golem by injecting more wind chakra into it, but it'll be too dense for me to throw it and the other clones won't be able to survive it. It's all or nothing at that point, but you should be able to get away then."
"We need to shift our priorities from escaping," Shikamaru said, now able to think with the borrowed time. "While a few of us should get the non-combatants out, I believe it'd be best if the rest of us focused on taking out that sniper once the spiders are cleared."
"It's too dangerous," Clone A said.
"It's more dangerous if we don't," Shikamaru insisted. "First off, the original you is the priority target. Even with what's left of the two-thirds of your chakra returned to the original in end, if this is the third time that they've come after you then they'll have to have some way to account for being able to deal with you fighting back."
"It's fine," Clone B said, looking to the small toads. "If they were going to kill the original then they would have done it the moment they took him underground. The Toads can Reverse Summon him in time if Gamakichi and Gamatatsu head back, so what's more important is that everyone else gets out safely."
"A Summoning Contract is a two-way thing, Naruto," Gamakichi said. "It uses chakra to bridge the gap between the two points in space and then brings the summoned party to the summoner. If they block off your chakra or put you somewhere that bridge can't form, then we won't be able to pull you back."
"Which I'm sure they took into account," Shikamaru continued, riding off that explanation. "And that leads to the second issue. The moment you clear out the spiders, the sniper will flee since he can't reasonably kill us all faster than we can spread out. That means he'll likely use an escape route to join up with the other one. Lee, Kiba, and Hinata aren't exactly equipped to deal with two Jounin-level enemies on their own."
They'd die. Everyone present knew that without the words needing to be said. The other three could possibly manage to deal with the one who took Naruto, or at least get clear of him on their own. But if it became two against three in a pincer attack, then the chances of them living plummeted.
"You have rank on us Naruto, so if it's an order we technically have to listen," Shikamaru continued. "But the Leaf doesn't abandon one of its own. Hinata, Lee, and Kiba all feel strongly enough that they're not going to let you be taken as long as they can move. So that means we need to adapt around that rather than leaving their fate up to chance."
The pair of clones looked between each other silently. They nodded and asked, "What do you have in mind?"
Shikamaru looked up at the sky. "That depends. How wide can you make your Transformation?"
This is just unnecessary work, Kidomaru thought to himself as he worked the silk spun from his mouth with a practiced familiarity. He was atop Kyodaigumo as she hastened her reproduction rate with chakra to produce more offspring to send into the fray. Dozens of them had been set aside to weave a layer of silk to block off the exits around the tree line and layer the ground around it with webbing to ensnare any of the loose threads that managed to get past him.
The precaution wasn't initially part of the plan. They were just supposed to grab the blonde kid and leave the others to be swarmed and devoured. That way the kidnapping didn't tip off the village and they didn't unravel anything about what was going on by chance until it was too late. After all, if one Jinchuuriki went missing they'd definitely check on the other one they had stashed away before he could be unshackled and let loose to devastate the village.
But Kidomaru had to readjust rather quickly since Jirobo had screwed up his part by allowing the target to leave behind those two clones. Even without tapping into the monster inside of him, that blonde kid had enough chakra that the two clones had spawned numbers to rival the spiders they'd had in waiting. There were less clones than there were spiders, but the differences were that the clones could kill more spiders faster than they could kill the clones, and the rate at which they could be replaced were drastically different. And if one made it out of the training field then all of their efforts on this part would come undone.
Fortunately, as long as the others who came to the party were there, the clones would focus on defense. That in mind, he used the head of an arrow he forged to cut through several lines of spider thread that were tied together, each one acting as a sling-shot with chambered kunai nestled within them. With the tethering lines cut, a barrage of kunai were flung forward and sliced through the air onto the battlefield.
They mowed through the army of clones that stood strong, impaling their fragile bodies and dissipating them en masse to thin their numbers. The first line of defense had fallen, allowing the spiders to continue their advance and clean house. The rest of the groupings dispersed to reinforce the line before they were overrun, with the exception of one.
With his third eye open and the rest of the clones no longer hiding them, he could make out that it was the real group. Several of them had taken up defensive positions, putting themselves between the civilian and tiniest shinobi there, who looked as though he was trying to mold more chakra along with the insect-riddled Aburame.
He nocked his bow with two arrows and prepared to take out the two main clones as he witnessed the chakra within them being tinted with the coloring of wind. He wasn't sure what they were planning, but he wouldn't let it get pulled off. But no sooner than he let the arrows loose did the Hyuuga move to intercept them.
In an instant he'd gotten to the front and spun around, exerting his chakra to form a spiraling barrier. The Rotation deflected the arrows, their sharpened points being knocked aside before he came to a stop in the center of a small crater from where the technique had dug into the ground. Then a collection of three clones, all of whom had dropped their Transformations now that the deception had been revealed, raced out past him.
One of the three made hand-seals as they gathered right in the path of the Golem that had been crushing everything that moved around it. Another Transformed into a Demon Wind Shuriken. The remaining clone grabbed the makeshift weapon and then flung it in a manner that sent it flying upwards and forwards as the first let loose the wind technique to give it additional velocity, allowing it to get high in the air above the horde.
The aerial clone then resumed his normal form before changing again. This time into a giant cloth that stretched far and wide, a canopy to blot out the sun. Everything beneath it was covered in shadows as the Nara's own curved and snaked into the larger one.
The horde was frozen in place. Every spider that entered the massive shadow stopped moving. Even those that crawled over the frozen counterparts were trapped, like they had been caught in a sticky trap.
"Now!" he shouted, voice strained as the two original clones rushed forward and the Akamichi swelled in size so the others could take cover behind him. The two primary clones ran forth, unhindered as they ran through the shadows towards the Golem. One supplied an immense amount of wind chakra while the other maintained a chakra casing to hold it all between them.
The moment the distance shrank to zero, the clones slammed the sphere of condensed wind into the Golem. Everything contained within the membrane spilled out at once. And the world trembled as a wall of wind was unleashed with a deafening roar.
It expanded, sweeping up the earth, crushing the spiders caught in its wake, bellowing with a thunderous rumble that drowned out all sounds nearby. Kidomaru could only brace himself as the resulting turbulence swept over him even from his distant perch, threatening to throw him off the Summoning that he was mounted on until the winds died down.
When he opened his eyes again, the spider-user found himself staring out at the crater that had been formed. The Golem had been blown to pieces from being at the nexus of the attack, but it could pull itself back together as long as chakra was still present. The spiders, on the other hand, had been effectively wiped out, unable to flee as their bodies were crushed by the force.
The only benefit was that the remaining clones had been cleared out by the attack. It was indiscriminate in who was caught up in the pressure wave it unleashed, with the other partygoers having been spared by distance and using the bulky Akimichi expansive form as an extra shield while anchoring themselves to the ground. But now nothing stood between them and escaping, even if the Golem managed to repair itself.
No sense in sticking around now, he decided. Reasonably speaking, there was no way to block them from escaping if they scattered and there was no telling if the webbing he'd put into place hadn't been torn apart by the winds. Not to mention Sakon and Ukon hadn't returned or sent out a signal. Better to play it safe and make a tactical retreat while we still have the objective.
But before he could take off a blur came into his third eye's view. Instinct kicked in. He reflexively abandoned his perch on Kyodaigumo, lunging for the tree trunk opposite of it and landing just as the wet and crunchy sound of the giant spider's body being blown open reached his ears.
Whipping his head around as she fell to the ground below, the Hyuuga was already moving to attack him again with another Gentle Fist strike. The blow came mercilessly quick, with Kidomaru barely able to force out Sticky Gold silk through his pores an instant beforehand to harden into body-armor beneath his clothes. The palm-strike and chakra discharge that followed immediately sent him rocketing towards the ground.
How'd he get here so quick? That thought flickered in his mind as the hard-packed and root-strewn soil broke upon his Cursed-Seal tempered backside. There was only minor pain, which was a fair trade-off considering he still had a heart, judging by where his shirt had been torn from the blow. Then he remembered how the Hyuuga had blocked the previous arrows he'd shot.
I got it. He used that same technique to block the pressure wave as it passed by him for a split-second, while the others took cover. Then ran behind it as passed through and cleared everything else in his way.
Realizing that, he then retaliated by spitting out a casting net of webbing to pin the Hyuuga down only for him to cut through it with his bare fingers as chakra danced along the edges. The subsequent attempt he resorted to spitting out a sharpened lance of golden webbing instead, to gouge out his opponent's heart.
The Hyuuga dodged, ricocheting off the nearest tree trunk to lunge for another attempt on Kidomaru's life. It came as fast as before, but this time he was ready, secreting his Sticky Gold through the pores of his left arms and used them to intercept the strike. At the same time, he brought his right arms around to bash in his skull.
Yet, the Hyuuga used his extended hand as a springboard to flip over him and then thrust out with the other palm. It would have caught him in the back his head, certain death, had Kidomaru not flung himself forward in a flip of his own while spitting out another net of webbing that was aimed at his opponent's feet. It was blown away by a discharge of chakra from the tenketsu there, but served its purpose in preventing immediate retaliation as the Sound Four's sniper got his feet under himself again.
They chose their vanguard well, Kidomaru decided after that exchange, as the bits of his hastily formed body-armor clattered onto the ground. Even if the blows of the Gentle Fist couldn't penetrate it, the moment he let his guard down or tried to retreat was the moment that he would get a killing strike somewhere that wouldn't be protected.
If he was going to escape, the Hyuuga had to die first.
Jirobo huffed he exited the tunnel he'd created into an underground base that belonged to the subverted faction within the village known as ROOT, knowing he had been followed. He could hear the shouts through the tunnel for the blonde kid who was slung over his shoulders. The boy was drained of chakra with his wrists and ankles in stone cuffs, while a sealing slip was placed on his forehead to prevent him from molding more or accessing his demon.
The Sound Four's earth-user slammed his hand against the wall and then discharged the chakra being used to stabilize it. The rumble of the earth closing into the tunnel was short-lived as it collapsed under its own weight quickly. It was sealed off from anyone else using it in an instant, burying those within it to be crushed by the earth.
"You won't… get away… with this…" Naruto said, his voice hoarse and soft. Tired.
"I thought I'd taken enough chakra to put you out," he said, before tightening his grip and sapping the remainder of the chakra out of Naruto's body. Because of his bloodline ability, Jirobo could take another person's chakra to use as nourishment. But the kid had a ton of chakra to eat and he was almost full at this point, which was saying something.
That being said, he didn't mind the top off from the boy going limp and silent as he lost the dregs of chakra he had. His target sedated once more, Jirobo then proceeded to follow through with the escape plan. He would meet up with the others outside of the village through the network of underground routes established by ROOT to get in and out of the village, unnoticed by their little detection system.
However, the moment he was about to leave the room, the silence that haunted the chamber was shattered by the sound of earth rupturing beneath the force of a spiraling drill of flesh and bone. The Inuzuka came out of his Passing Fang with stone-dust trailing after him, landing in front of the exit thanks to the momentum and blocking it. The other two emerged from the burrowed-out entrance and flanked him.
Surrounded on three sides, a frown formed on Jirobo's face as he allowed his Cursed Seal to unfurl over his skin. "This is just going to make me hungry again…"