The Truth Decays

By Marz

Chapter 17

He leapt to the edge of the roof and paused to breathe deeply. The air was fresh but foreign; hot and damp with the sour smells of a human village mingling with the moldering green mix of rot and growth found only in a forest. He took a moment to savor it. Dying had made him contemplative.

When Kabuto had sealed him into the scroll, he knew the day he was released from it would be his last. The sounds of battle and the burn of chakra washed over him, and his blood began to boil. Kimimaro opened his eyes and turned his head, looking for his Master's next body.

He sidestepped an ANBU and decapitated the man with a slash of his right hand. Kimimaro saw Sakon creeping away from the building he stood upon. He then saw the other Sound ninja's target: Uchiha Sasuke stood on a roof across the street, with an ANBU in a Lynx mask guarding him. The boy was bruised and dirty from fighting. Even from a distance, Kimimaro could see the boy's hands trembling from fatigue.

Kimimaro teleported to the roof behind the pair, and impaled the ANBU with a spear made of bone. The masked ninja fell twitching, hands grasping at the spear. Kimimaro saw that the ANBU could not get up, and left him to bleed to death.

"You will come with me to my Master, Orochimaru," Kimimaro said to the Uchiha.

He had been told of the boy's all-consuming desire for power and revenge. At the moment the Uchiha looked like any other quivering brat, hiding from battle instead of embracing it. The boy was obviously fighting the urge to flee. He might have doubted the boy's suitability, had anyone but Orochimaru chosen him.

"I will not," Uchiha said, his spine straightening a little, even as Kimimaro's killing intent washed over him.

His Master wanted the boy to go to him of his own free will. Kimimaro was not a skilled debater, but he made the attempt.

"You think these people can offer you more than my Master?" Kimimaro asked.

"Of course not," Uchiha said. "But they will give me what they can. Your master gives you nothing you don't already have. If you losers are his best efforts, I'm better off without."

"You insult my Master and you spit on his generosity," Kimimaro said.

He decided the boy was unworthy of his Master. He would bring the boy to Orochimaru, so he could have the eyes he so desired, but the rest was trash. A new bone sword flowed out of his right hand. The boy retreated along the edge of the roof, drawing a kunai. Between one heartbeat and the next, a man appeared between them.

Shouting came from the street and one of Sakon's sound blasts rattled the foundations of the building on which they stood. The Uchiha nearly toppled off the roof, but the newcomer's arm darted backwards, catching the boy's collar, saving him without bothering to look at him.

Kimimaro eyed the man before him, dressed in a green leotard and chunin vest, with a bowl cut that would make even the fashion-unconscious flinch. He had read profiles on all the Leaf jonin. This man was Maito Gai, the most skilled taijutsu specialist in Fire country. Kimimaro would not be fooled by clownish antics. He grew a sword from his left hand as well.

He expected the jonin to charge, but he did not. His opponent could be stalling or waiting for an opening. Kimimaro decided to give him neither. He lunged. The bone sword in his left hand cut only air. A sandaled foot struck his wrist. Had the blade not been part of his skeleton, it would have flown from his hand. He blocked a second kick, and a third, and a fourth, retreating across the roof.

As he moved, he pushed his bones out through his skin. Dozens of hand-length spikes jutted from his shoulders and back, and shorter spikes lined his knuckles, forearms, knees, and shins.

The Leaf jonin was not perturbed. He struck blows around the projections. When the jonin could no longer fit his hands or feet into the spaces between the spikes without risking cuts, he simply ripped a section of rebar from a damaged wall and struck Kimimaro with that instead.

The blows jarred him. His flesh stung when struck. He was used to pain in his muscles, but he was surprised to feel it through his bones as well. He deflected a strike using his forearm. His shoulder and spine ached. The next blow rattled his teeth. He wondered if it was a symptom of the degenerative disease that was killing him, or if the jonin was truly that strong.

He focused more chakra into maintaining his skeletal projections. The metal bar had begun to chip away at them. Kimimaro regenerated almost instantly, but he was not getting ahead. The jonin's attacks did not slow, and when the metal rod he was using as a bludgeon snapped, he simply smashed his fist into one of the crumbling walls, and drew forth a replacement.

He saw Uchiha circling the roof, likely trying to find a nearby place to watch the battle from. The boy's legs bent, preparing to leap to the next building. Kimimaro could not risk him getting too far away. He hated to use basic technique but his bunshin distracted Gai for the moment it took to close with his real target again. Uchiha darted backwards. Kimimaro's fingers were inches away when heavy slithering things entangled his legs, and he tumbled to the ground.

He felt small pinches in his skin as the snakes bit him, but the snakes did very little damage. The jutsu was familiar but its wielder was not; a purple haired woman in a miniskirt and trench coat. It took a moment to recall her from the Leaf profiles, his Master's former student, Miratashi Anko.

"Another one?" Anko asked. "Seriously, do we just not give a shit about border security anymore?"

Kimimaro changed the orientation of the spikes on his lower legs, slicing apart the coiled bodies of the serpents. He lunged at the woman, trying to strike a blow under cover of the smoke their dissolving bodies produced. His blades found only empty air. He turned and saw Anko grab the Uchiha boy by the waistband of his pants and leap from the roof.

He moved to pursue the pair, but Gai blocked his path. Kimimaro activated his curse seal. Every bone in his body began to throb. A cold feeling pulsed in his chest. His time was shorter than he had guessed.

He stretched out again with his senses, looking for his "teammates". More and more Leaf ninja were rushing towards them, and large groups circled the village wall. He sensed Tayuya to the north, and Sakon and Ukon stumbling uselessly nearby. He knew he would not make it back to the Village Hidden in Sound, but thinking of the others returning home without him left a bitter taste in his mouth. What he wanted did not matter though, only Orochimaru's will mattered.

He would have to draw the Leaf ninja to himself, in order for his incompetent teammates to get away with their prisoners. He sensed a large group civilians fleeing eastward. At least Leaf ninja were easy to distract.

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When Naruto heard the screaming, he nearly choked on his ramen. He stumbled out of Ichiraku's to see people running towards him in the street, and a squad of ninja crossing the roofs in the opposite direction. Naruto ran up the nearest wall and followed the ninja. The evacuation alarm sounded a moment later.

Naruto wasn't sure where to go, so he made a few dozen clones and went everywhere. Civilians were struggling, trapped in webbing on the street. He left most of his clones working in teams to pull them loose and formed a human chain to pass them across the sticky ground to safety.

He heard a skittering noise and whirled to see a spider the size of an ox running down the side of a building across the street. He reached for his kunai pouch but before he could pull one, the spider exploded and a pair of ANBU darted past, seeking another target.

The streets were covered in rubble and drifting clouds of smoke, but he thought he recognized the way to Gai's apartment. He created another pair of clones but they exploded into smoke as soon as they formed. He felt phantom pains in his chest as they vanished, as if he'd been stabbed, but he wasn't sure where the wounds had come from. He dodged randomly, scanning the rooftops for attackers.

He was almost to the end of the block when a female ANBU crashed in a heap in front of him. She hit the ground so hard her mask popped off. She tried to get up. Blood ran from her eyes, nose, and ears, and she vomited more blood onto the rooftop.

She tried to say something, but gagged instead. Naruto caught her meaning from the direction of her gaze. He grabbed her arm and dragged her up into a stumbling run, just as a very loud something blasted apart the roof behind them.

Rubble fell all around them. Naruto dropped a smoke bomb and dragged the woman into a nearby building, which someone had conveniently blasted a hole in the side of. She slumped against him, her hands clutching at his jumpsuit as she tried to stay upright.

"…my…gh..sis..er..sorry…uh.." she gasped out, and then more blood came up and her eyes rolled back in her head.

Naruto paused for a moment trying to recall the medical training Iruka had given him. He knew the ANBU lady needed a med-nin but he wasn't sure if he should try to drag her through the streets to find one, and risk her being blown up, or bring one back to her, which would take twice as much time. He wove the seals and formed a few more clones, one of which pointed at the ANBU and said "She's not breathing."

"Crap," another Naruto said.

The original leaned down and touched her neck. There was no pulse. He remembered that he was supposed to do CPR, but he couldn't remember Iruka's instructions. The only thing he could think of was the movie Lifeguard 3: Waterslide of Doom that he had been watching on his small, blurry TV the night before.

He didn't think there was really a wrong way to do it. He pinched her nose closed and blew into her mouth. He went to push on her chest, but there was no give in her armor. He and one of his clones tried to figure out how to take the chest plate off.

"I'm going to go find a med-nin," one of the clones said, heading for the hole in the wall.

He leaned out to take a look and exploded in a cloud of smoke. The other clones tensed, forming up around the injured ANBU woman, while the original tried to start her breathing again. Naruto got her armor out of the way, and put one hand atop the other between her breasts. He pushed down and her chest collapsed in on itself with a hundred brittle snapping sounds like stepping on a bag of cornflakes.

"You pushed too hard!" one of the clones said helpfully, as Naruto jumped back, horrified.

"No shit," another clone said.

"Points for effort?" suggested a third.

"Focus!" ordered a fourth.

"Die!" a new voice said.

All the Narutos turned to look, and caught the blast full in the face.

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Ukon's sound blast cleared the room, taking out all the clones and sending the corpse and the boy tumbling into the wall. Ukon glared. He had hoped to absorb the injured woman to stabilize his body. The second stage of his curse mark was eating up too much chakra. He needed to add more mass or find his brother. Now that Kimimaro had joined the fight, they actually had a chance of winning.

Ukon charged the boy in the orange jumpsuit, but skipped back at the last moment, recognizing the demon host Orochimaru had warned them about. The boy wasn't skilled or bright, but Ukon knew better than to try to mix his chakra with that of the Nine-Tailed Fox. He wove a few seals instead and blasted the boy through the back wall of the building. They were not supposed to kill demon hosts, as Orochimaru wanted them for a future project. Ukon could see why. The boy had bounced into a building across the street, leaving a sizable dent in the brick wall. Even as the Sound ninja watched, the brat got back to his feet.

"Tough little bastard, aren't you?" he muttered as the boy took a staggering step towards him. Ukon's shoulders itched as he sensed more chakra signatures coming up behind him, another ANBU team.

Ukon cast a genjutsu and hurried along the side of the nearest building, hoping to get a better idea of his opponents' strength before he closed with them. A kunai with a bomb tag sailed past his nose, and he teleported back into the center of the street to avoid the blast. As the smoke cleared, he found himself surrounded, not by a single ANBU squad, but by dozens of them. He stretched out his senses and found they all had chakra signatures. That meant they were real or more likely, solid clones. He decided it didn't matter and sped through a dozen seals. He slammed his hand into the ground and a shockwave of sound blasted outward in all directions.

The ANBU all leapt clear, but Ukon slipped away in the dust cloud. He cast a quick henge, and one extra ANBU stood on the rooftops, looking around for the missing enemy.

He knew they would not be fooled for long, so he crept towards the nearest one, hoping to absorb him, and stabilize before the others had a chance to interfere. The Leaf ninja was standing a little oddly, and Ukon wondered if he had been injured earlier in the battle. It didn't really matter. As long as it was not a mortal wound, it would just make the man easier to absorb. Ukon moved in, narrowly dodging a kunai that blurred towards his face. Ukon swept the ANBU's legs and dropped onto his prey. Just as his arm was sinking into the ANBU's chest, it occurred to Ukon that he shouldn't have gotten through the armored chest plate so easily.

The henge fell apart and suddenly Ukon was exchanging shocked looks with the orange-garbed demon host. He tried to free himself, to reel in his chakra and cells, but they wouldn't come back together. He pulled on his arm and the smaller boy was pulled upright with him, squawking in surprise.

"There's no blood! Why's there no blood?" the brat babbled stupidly.

Ukon didn't bother to answer, he just pulled harder. His body was held together by chakra alone. His cells should slide right out again, like a comb through hair, but they were caught. Something made entirely of chakra had caught them.

He decided he'd face Orochimaru's wrath and used his free hand to claw at the brat's throat. His host dying would probably distract the demon long enough for him to escape.

"Freaky bastard!" the brat shouted, catching Ukon's wrist.

The pair stumbled back and forth in a drunken waltz. The remaining ANBU circled indecisively, though they'd have an easy time stabbing him in the back.

"Let go! Get out!" the brat shouted in his face.

"NO," another voice said echoing inside Ukon's head, the way his brother's did when they shared a body. "COME IN." Red energy poured up his arm into his chest, catching every cell like hooked fish. "COME IN," the voice said again. The red energy reversed and his arm sank in up to the shoulder, slamming his face into the brat's.

"It's already too crowded in here!" the brat screamed in his ear.

The chakra surged again, through his heart and up into his brain.

"WELCOME."

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Orochimaru's freak show was certainly making a scene, but she couldn't find any evidence that the snake bastard had returned to the village in person. She'd heard from Lord Jiraiya that Orochimaru was still injured from his battle with the Third Lord Hokage during the invasion, and she supposed this could be proof of that. The reason for the attack was a little less clear. If Orochimaru wanted to steal the Uchiha brat, he couldn't have made a bigger, louder mess of an attempt. She wondered if it was a distraction.

Her radio muttered in her ear, letting her know the patrols had not found trouble in any other part of the village. No one had found trouble, but no one had called in a sighting of Ed. She dropped down to street level, and saw what was left of Gai's building. A Hyuga boy was digging in the rubble. She dropped the Uchiha, snickering as the arrogant genin tried to get his shorts back in order.

"What did you find, brat?" she called.

"My teammate, Lee, is still alive," the Hyuga boy hissed as he ripped huge slabs of concrete from the collapsed apartment building.

Anko turned to tell the Uchiha brat to start digging, and saw him running toward a group of ANBU that were taking out another Sound freak.

"Bastard," she growled. "Is Elric in there, too?"

"No," the Hyuga said. "But if he is dead and buried deeply, there would be no chakra for me to see."

Though she'd never tell him out loud, she actually liked Maito Gai, and she knew it would break his spandex-wrapped heart if his little clone died. Gai seemed to have that pale, bony brat under control, so she could pitch in here.

She let the chakra pour into her muscles, and felt the curse seal twitch in response, but she held it back. She pulled aside slabs of rubble, listening to the Hyuga's instructions with one ear. He warned her if certain pieces were supporting the pile, or were safe to move. She was a little annoyed at her twisting stomach, and told herself it was indigestion rather than fear of coming across the short Alchemist's corpse. They started finding ridiculously heavy weight sets, and protein-shake powder in sandy layers.

"There," the Hyuga boy said, pointing to a refrigerator.

The machine had fallen forward, pinning the doors closed, and a large chunk of roof lay atop it.

"Lift that," Anko said. "I'll pull it out."

"The rest of this wall will come down when that moves," the boy warned.

Anko nodded. "On three, then."

She pulled the refrigerator clear and leapt backwards across the street. A few more large sections of the apartment building caved in. She felt a flash of chakra, but managed not to stab the Hyuga kid as he leapt into her personal space. The Hyuga yanked the door completely off the fridge, revealing the crumpled body inside.

"Lee?" the Hyuga asked, his voice not quite steady.

The other genin did not respond. He did breathe, though.

"I'll get him to the medics," Anko said. "Looks like some kind of poisoning. You looking for Elric?"

"That's why I came here," the Hyuga said. "We were supposed to meet."

The kid's covered forehead meant he was a branch Hyuga, and if he and Ed were plotting, the whole village was in for it, at least if Ed turned up again.

"Good," She said, as she settled the limp body over her shoulder. "If you see the Uchiha, have him help you look. And kick him in the 'nads. You pick the order."

She teleported away. It wouldn't take her more than a few minutes to get to the hospital and back. She'd seen no sign of Elric in that mess; no strange constructs or mysterious holes, no infuriated shouting. She hoped the kid hadn't been crushed in one of the collapsing buildings, but he really did not seem the type to die that way. Of course, if he had been carried off by Orochimaru's goons, being squashed was probably the less painful alternative.

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Hinata stood with her hands raised in the basic Gentle Fist defensive stance, her eyes glued to her taller opponent. The girl wore a flowing shirt with a rope belt. Her pink hair was kept mostly under control by a black cap and white bandages. She did not have any obvious armor to protect her from a chakra-enhanced strike.

Hinata wondered if she should bare her teeth or say something threatening, but she knew whatever words came out of her mouth would be voiced in a stuttering squeak. She tried to make her stare intimidating. The Sound ninja looked annoyed rather than worried.

The first minute of the battle had gone so well; Hinata had landed what should have been a disabling strike and had snatched Edward from his captor. Now she did not know how to proceed beyond holding off the stronger ninja. No one responded to her radio signal, and no one knew to look for her here by the village wall. The Sound ninja took a flute from her belt, using the arm on the side Hinata had struck. She seemed almost completely recovered and Hinata felt her confidence fading.

The Sound ninja raised the flute to her lips and Hinata charged. Most Hyuga were adept at defeating genjutsu, but Hinata was close to certain this Sound ninja was responsible for the music that had knocked her out less than an hour ago, and she could not risk letting her opponent cast it. Hinata's right hand shot out, aiming for a throat strike, but the Sound ninja snapped the flute downwards, cracking Hinata's hand hard enough to make it go numb. The chakra she had gathered for the Gentle Fist strike fizzled out, and she dodged left as the Sound ninja tried to jab the flute into her eye.

Hinata tried to get a jab in with her left hand but the Sound ninja caught her forearm and twisted, flinging her against the wall of an apartment building. It knocked the breath out of her and the Sound ninja slammed an arm across her throat so she could not draw air in again. Hinata grabbed the arm with both hands, but was not strong enough to pull it away.

"Really?" the Sound ninja said with a crooked grin. "You're lamer than some of the civilians I've killed. At least they-"

Hinata twisted her head and snapped her teeth into the flesh of the girl's arm. The Sound ninja flinched back enough for Hinata to slip away from the wall, but the larger girl grabbed her by the collar as she tried to get some distance. The Sound ninja cracked her across the back of the head with the flute.

"You bit me?" her opponent shrieked. "What are you, five?"

Hinata struck backward, hitting the Sound ninja in the hand with a Gentle Fist strike. Her opponent hissed another curse and kicked her in the back. The blow was glancing, and Hinata rolled with it, coming up in a fighting stance, and catching the Sound ninja's ankle as she tried to follow up on her first kick. Hinata forced chakra through her hand, and though it wasn't focused enough to disable, she knew it would hurt. They hopped away from each other and faced off again. Hinata kept herself between Edward and the Sound ninja.

"If you mean to take Edward alive, you will not succeed," Hinata said. "He is bound to the village with seals. That is why he has not fled on his own."

"The mighty, moral Leaf village using enslavement seals?" the Sound ninja mocked. "What's the world coming to? It doesn't really matter. My master can do as much with a cold corpse as he can with warm body."

"That is very unlikely," Hinata said. "Edward's technique is based on a foreign style of sealing. Dissecting him will not give you any answers."

"But it'll be fun," the Sound ninja said.

She vanished in a blur of motion.

Hinata flinched and raised her hands higher, but the Sound ninja retreated to a fire escape several stories above the ground instead of charging. The Sound ninja raised her flute to her lips and began to play. Hinata threw a kunai at her, but the world in front of her waivered. The street vanished into silent, featureless blackness. She could not hear if her thrown weapons had struck their mark, but given the jutsu did not waver, she assumed she missed.

Hinata slammed her hands together and attempted to dispel, but the surrounding darkness did not waver. She tried again, scooting backwards until her heel bumped against Edward's mechanical arm. At least she knew where he was. She pushed more chakra into her next attempt to dispel.

"Kai!" she shouted.

The darkness around her rippled and wavered and then shredded apart to reveal the street. She looked around, but the Sound ninja had vanished. She realized why. Her jonin sensei and a small group of genin were running up the street towards her.

"Hinata, what are you doing here?" Kurenai asked.

"I was following a Sound ninja," Hinata began.

"And what were you planning to do? Get in the ANBU's way?" her sensei asked.

"No!" Hinata squeaked. "I fought her, but she's run off. I stopped her from taking Edward."

"She probably did not want to bother hauling a corpse," Neji said, as he knelt next to Edward's unmoving body.

Hinata rushed to them. "No he was alive-"

"He's been dead half an hour at least," Neji said. "Are you really that blind?"

"You should have told someone competent and had them rescue the boy," Kurenai said.

"My radio-" she started.

"No one cares about your excuses!" Naruto shouted in her ear. She flinched. "You got my friend killed because you were trying to play hero. You know you're too incompetent to have done anything for him and now he's dead and it's your fault."

"Most things that go wrong go wrong because of you," Kurenai said. "I can't be your sensei anymore, Hinata. This is just one screw-up too many."

"But sensei-"

"You should have killed yourself after your first failure," Neji said. "If you had not been born, my father would not have died."

"There….there is still a Sound ninja in the area. We…we should-"

"Just give up, Hinata," Naruto said. "Even I'm embarrassed to know you."

She paused. Naruto stood before her in his bright orange jumpsuit. His nose was wrinkled as if he smelled something bad.

"Give up," he repeated.

She punched him in the throat.

The street rippled and swirled around her. She realized nothing looked as it should. Nothing looked solid. It was a genjutsu. She was still in a genjutsu. She activated her Byakugan, but nothing changed. She tried to dispel it, but it clung to her. Her sensei, her cousin and Naruto returned to shout in her ears. She struggled to think over the noise.

The Sound ninja has a flute. Hinata swallowed. That means it is an auditory genjutsu. If I cannot dispel it normally, that means there is another way out.

She swallowed, and then forced chakra into her fingertips. Then she jammed them into her ears. The street reappeared, as did the Sound ninja, dropping towards her with Hinata's kunai in her hand.

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The pain hung around him, buzzing like an electric field, a lightning jutsu about to strike. Of course, he didn't know any lightning jutsu. He wished he did.

Where am I? Naruto thought.

He staggered to his feet. Everything was too bright and his skin crawled. Then Sasuke came flying through his field of vision. Instinctively Naruto pounced and caught him.

Sasuke gave a pained grunt. Naruto tried to keep him on his feet, but his teammate couldn't seem to stand. His wobbly legs slid and kicked without finding purchase. Naruto spun Sasuke around and put him over his shoulder, looking for a direction to flee in.

"You fxxking, cowering little infection!" Sakon's voice hissed. The rubble shook and rattled, but Naruto couldn't pick out the source. "Where's my brother?"

"How should I know?" Naruto shouted back.

A blast of sound rushed by him, making his ears ache. His stomach heaved and he vomited. Something cracked against his teeth on the way out. He looked down with watering eyes and saw a beaded necklace in the puddle by his feet.

Oh, right, the spiky weirdo the Fox ate. I probably shouldn't mention that part.

Sakon screamed obscenities and Naruto ran. The sidewalk behind him shattered and he dodged randomly, ducking and weaving and trying not to drop Sasuke.

"What the hell is that?" Naruto growled.

He was talking to himself, but Sasuke had recovered enough to answer.

"It's a sound-based attack. If the frequency is right, it'll shatter your skeleton or pop your heart. Put me down, idiot."

Instead, Naruto kept running and dodged around a building as another squad of ANBU descended. Another sound blast struck somewhere behind him.

"Put me down!" Sasuke repeated.

"Can you walk on your own?" Naruto asked, peeking back around the corner.

The Sound nin had been forced into the open by the ANBU. He looked as freaky as the one the Fox had eaten, with crusty skin and a horn on his head. Sasuke drove his fingers into a nerve cluster in Naruto's shoulder. Biting back a yelp, Naruto dropped him. Sasuke landed on his head and flopped gracelessly onto his back. He struggled to get up.

"What's up with these Sound bastards, anyway?" Naruto asked his teammate. "Are they after Ed again?"

"They're after me," Sasuke said.

"You? Why?"

"Because!" Sasuke said.

Naruto glared at his teammate. He was such a secretive bastard. "Whatever," Naruto growled.

Sasuke finally made it to his feet. "What happened…to that Sound ninja?"

"Which one?" Naruto asked trying to sound casual.

"The one that tried to absorb you!" Sasuke said.

Naruto wasn't sure how much of that Sasuke had seen, but decided being vague was the best way to proceed. Maybe being secretive wasn't so bad.

"It didn't work out for him, I guess," Naruto muttered.

"Where did he go?"

Naruto heard the Fox snickering somewhere in the back of his mind.

"Nowhere," Naruto said, thinking of a good distraction. "The other one is still up. I was thinking high/low combo with explosive tags when the ANBU spread out again. You up for it, bastard?"

Sasuke peeked around the corner. Activating his Sharingan made his head feel like it was about to burst, but he kept it up long enough to scan the battlefield. Sakon was almost out of chakra, and the ANBU were close to finishing him off. His spiky form was oozing back into normal spongy flesh, though his body still crawled with the curse mark.

"The fight looks pretty much over," Sasuke said, shaking his head and taking a step back.

"You don't want to fight?!" Naruto asked in shock. He tried to put his hand on Sasuke's forehead.

"That one's finished. We should find the one who took Elric," Sasuke said.

"Ed's probably already won his fight by now," Naruto said. "You probably just don't want to be put on clean-up duty," Naruto added as he took off up the street.

"Then where are you going?" Sasuke growled, struggling to keep up.

"To find Ed, stupid," Naruto called, heading for Gai's apartment. He felt the ground shake, and wondered if Ed was already putting the badly damaged buildings back together. Naruto did not see any of the blue and gold light that usually appeared around Ed's building techniques. "Do you see anything, bastard?" he called over his shoulder.

Sasuke glared at him and opened his mouth to speak. The ground split open before him. Naruto started to call out a warning, but Sasuke was already moving. His teammate dove forward and rolled to avoid the huge white spike that burst out of the ground.

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The Sound ninja charged a group of medics and Gai rushed to cut him off. They struck and blocked with neither gaining the upper hand. Gai opened his inner gates, hoping to end the fight quickly, but each time he opened a gate, the Sound ninja's speed and strength also increased. Orochimaru's curse seal had turned his opponent into a nearly indestructible, saurian creature.

The second gate was not enough to tip the scales in Gai's favor, so he prepared to open the third gate. An ANBU rushed forward to keep the Sound ninja distracted with a chain of explosive tags, giving Gai the few moments he needed to focus. His heart hammered louder than the sounds of the blasts and his body shuddered, but when he opened his eyes he was certain he had the speed to defeat the Sound ninja, despite his blood limit.

The smoke from the explosions cleared, revealing a crater in the ground, with part of a wall collapsed into it. The entire street full of ninja held their breath in the silence. The ground gave a sudden sharp jolt.

"Some kind of Doton jutsu?" a chunin called out from his perch atop a power pole.

Dozens of spikes pushed up through the street.

For a moment the Leaf ninja froze, the oldest among them remembering the First Hokage's jutsu, which had created much of the forest that hid their village. But the spikes growing from the street did not branch out or sprout leaves. They were bare and bleached.

Spikes of bone like huge bare ribs sprang up, cracking and tilting the asphalt and sending cobblestones flying. The immediate area had been cleared of civilians, but the spikes spread out from where the Sound ninja had sunk into the ground. They were a few hundred yards from an emergency shelter, but at this rate the spikes wouldn't take more than a few minutes to spread there.

The chunin leapt from the power pole to one of the spikes, sticking to the side with chakra. The young man did not see the arm that emerged from the bone, and the sword it carried sliced his throat before he heard Gai's shouted warning.

Gai and the ANBU rushed to catch their comrade's falling body. The Sound ninja vanished back into the bone forest he had created. A scream rang out and they moved towards the sound, trying not to touch the bones. In many places that was no longer possible. They got to the source of the scream, and found a woman. She had been stabbed dozens of times and left bleeding, impaled with a bone sword and pinned to the side of a spike. Even as they scooped her up, someone else shouted.

Gai did not want their forces to split up, but the Sound ninja could move through his creation at speeds they could not match. If they wanted to save their own people, they would have to give up what little safety the large number of watchers provided. They paired off, except for Gai, and moved to extricate anyone still alive.

Frustrated, Gai grabbed the nearest spike and ripped it from the earth. It was a bit of a strain to do so, but not particularly taxing. He flung the spike back into the forest, knocking a few others down, and glared at the rest. Even he could not tear up thousands of these in any reasonable amount of time.

"You still at this, Gai?" Anko called as she landed on top of a twisted fire-escape to survey the scene. "You must be getting old."

"How hip of you to say such a thing!" Gai said as he yanked another spike up by the roots.

"How about I give you a hand?" Anko asked.

Gai was tempted to mention that huge feats of physical strength were not her specialty, but nodded. "I would appreciate that, though if you begin to applaud, I will do something very un-youthful."

Anko cackled and then hopped onto one of the spikes, sticking to the curved edge with chakra. "I knew the snake bastard was hung up on phallic symbols, but this kid puts him to shame. You know-if he had any shame."

"I had noticed, but was too polite to mention it," Gai said. "Also, you may not wish to stand there."

Anko snorted. "You think I'm worried about this goofball? He's just more cannon fodder! Bet my old sensei lured him in with his 'I see your potential' speech. Or candy. Did he offer you candy, kid?" she asked, rapping her knuckles against the bone spire.

"My master is the greatest ninja who ever lived!" a harsh voice called from within the forest of bones.

"So what you're saying is, you're so dumb you didn't even get any candy out of this?" Anko asked.

A howl rose around them and Gai tensed. He saw the bones spire vibrate beneath Anko's feet. Her legs tensed, preparing to leap away, but suddenly there was nothing to leap from. The spire fell apart into dust and she fell with it. Gai saw a shadowed, thorny figure emerge from the base of a spire below her.

He launched a kick that struck the Sound ninja in the center of his chest, and he heard bones snap, but the ninja retreated into the spires before Gai could judge how much damage he had done. Almost absently, he hopped backwards, caught Anko out of the air and dodged a new spike that burst out of the side of its neighbor.

"You'll have to be faster," Anko breathed in his ear. More loudly she said, "Any excuse to grab my ass!"

Gai dropped her and she vanished, using a substitution jutsu to appear on the tilted side of a building. The spikes had pushed it up off its foundation. It looked almost as unstable as the woman now standing on it.

Gai recognized Anko's strategy, provoking their enemy into an open attack, but did not like it. Not only was it un-youthfully rude, he was not certain he was fast enough to act on it before she was seriously injured or killed. He wanted to tell her to use a clone, but the Sound ninja was probably skilled enough to recognize a fake.

"So why are you doing this, kid?" Anko asked. "You must have known attacking Leaf with that little squad was a suicide mission. He holding your grandma hostage or something?"

"You are trash!" the Sound ninja called. "I will destroy you because it is the will of my master. I may die here, but I am sick and dying already! I am part of his grand dream, and his dream will live on!"

"He doesn't have a grand dream," Anko said. "He has a short attention span. You stopped being new and he moved on. If he gave a shit, he could have asked his old teammate Tsunade to patch you up. Admit it, kid. You went all-in on a loser."

The sound that emerged from the forest this time was more a hysterical shriek than a battle cry. The spikes that had pierced Anko's building suddenly moved, sinking and twisting. Her perch shredded beneath her and she hopped from one lump of shattered brick to the next, barely keeping ahead of the bones that now spun like a giant blender. She used another substitution jutsu. The trash can that took her place exploded into scraps, and she landed with a little hop in an alley, a narrow band of pavement separating her from the forest of spikes. This time the Sound ninja pursued her.

The blur of white was almost too fast for Gai's eyes to track, but he opened the fourth gate even as Anko dodged. His kick blasted the Sound ninja an entire block away from the deadly bramble he had created. Gai ripped another spike from the ground and swung it down on its creator's head. The Sound ninja brought his arms up to block. The force of the blow shattered both his bone blades and the spike. Gai's follow-up kick bounced him off the alley walls a half-dozen times before he landed in a heap.

Gai hung back for a moment, wondering if the ninja was a faking a stagger as he regained his feet, but a moment of study revealed his opponent was running out of chakra. Even as Gai watched, the color faded from the Sound ninja's skin, and the bony growths that had formed a tail were reabsorbed.

The faces of the dead civilians and the spilled blood of his fellow shinobi did not allow Gai to offer surrender. He doubted the Sound ninja would have taken it. With a final chakra enhanced kick, Gai ended the fight.

Anko stalked up to them as Gai shuddered and regained his breath. She poked the dead Sound ninja with the toe of her sandal. The shattered body was almost without flesh. Even the inside of his skull was filled with needle-like projections of bone.

"Another Sound ninja neutralized," Anko called into her radio, as she looked back at the bone forest. "Somebody find Elric. I sure as hell don't want to clean up this mess."

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Gravel pressed into his forehead. He breathed in as he tried to move and his mouth filled with dust. He managed to bring his automail arm to his face to wipe at it as he coughed. Each cough made the world flip over and sent sharp pains charging through his skull. He tried to move his left arm but it was stuck to his side. He heard the sound of flesh slapping flesh. He knew he should open his eyes and figure out what the hell was going on, but he also knew, from previous concussions, that he'd get something akin to an ice pick through his brain for his trouble.

"Die already, you snivelling little bitch!" a woman's voice said.

THUMP!

"YOU FIRST…YOU…YOU TRAMP!" shouted a girl.

SLAP! SMACK! CRUNCH!

There was a loud grunt, and someone hit the ground and rolled to a stop against his legs. Ed finally peeled an eye open. He managed not to vomit, and turned enough to see who had landed next to him.

It was the white-eyed, stuttering, back-stabbing ninja girl again. Ed knew he knew her name, but he just could not come up with it. The girl hopped to her feet again, and spat out a lot of blood and a little piece of tooth onto her jacket front. Ed suspected she didn't have a lot of practice spitting.

He shifted a little more to see who she was fighting with. The pink-haired music ninja with the flute stood a few yards away. She seemed to have grown antlers. Ed closed his eyes again. He was just so sick of all of it. Maybe if he ignored them they'd kill each other off and leave him alone.

"THE ANBU ARE ON THE WAY!" the white-eyed girl shouted. "YOU SHOULD RUN IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!"

"You seriously think I'll run off with my tail between my legs? I am not going to fail my mission, losing to a trash ninja like you!" the music ninja hissed.

Ed peeled an eye open to glare at the two ninja girls. They ignored him as they kicked and batted at each other. Behind them he saw the village wall. He was a little surprised the stupid curse seal had not gone off again. He wondered how that pain would compare to the current pain in his head.

He took a slow breath and tried to keep his thoughts from scattering. He needed to focus on the relevant things. The flute girl and a spider kid had captured him. Lee was in trouble. There was no aspirin in the immediate vicinity.

"Gotta do something about that," he muttered, wincing as the sound of his own voice made the backs of his eyes hurt.

Ed rolled around enough to reach the frayed spiderwebs that bound his left arm to his side. The light created by the deconstruction drew the music ninja's attention, and she tried to dodge around the white-eyed girl, but the girl slapped her leg with a glowing hand and the music ninja fell on her face as the limb suddenly gave out. The white-eyed girl tried to jab the glowing hand into her back next, but the music ninja smacked her wrist with her flute and rolled away. The white-eyed girl scurried back to stand between the music ninja and Ed.

"Hinata," Ed muttered, finally recalling the girl's name. "Any idea when your backup is gonna get here?"

Hinata ignored him. She also seemed to ignore the crash that came from the center of the village, though she shifted her feet slightly when the ground rumbled a moment later. It took Ed a second to realize she was deaf. He supposed that happened a lot around music ninja.

"Damn you, Kimimaro," the music ninja cursed. "Looks like I won't be able to do this quietly."

The music ninja bit her thumb and bent towards the ground, but Hinata charged her and kicked her hand before the music ninja could press it to the ground. The two girls struggled in a blur of arms and legs. Ed wasn't sure if any of the blows were actually connecting, but Hinata was desperate to stop the music ninja from putting a bloody hand print on the ground. Ed gritted his teeth, struggling to concentrate enough to transmute.

He pressed his hands together and then slammed them to the ground. The music ninja knocked Hinata aside in the same moment, and the smaller girl tumbled away. She was back on her feet a moment later, but too far away to catch the music ninja. The other girl knelt with a smirk.

The music ninja slammed her hand down on the side walk, but even as the blood dripping from the wound formed writing, the asphalt under her palm crumbled away, taking the words with it. The music ninja let out a pained hiss as the failed technique backfired.

It didn't take her a second to figure out Ed was the source of the error. She jumped at him, her right foot aimed at his face. He was too dizzy to stand, but Hinata caught the larger girl's ankle and twisted her out of the air, and head first into a wall.

The music ninja got up, brick dust coating her hair and antlers. She bit her thumb again, and opened her mouth to say something. She snapped it shut again as a kunai sunk into her stomach. Ed hadn't even seen Hinata throw it.

The music ninja dodged a second blade, and Ed realized help had finally arrived. Two men in creepy white masks dropped into the street between them and the music ninja. Gai had pointed out the ANBU to him earlier in the week and asked him not to start a fight.

"THEY ARE ANBU," Hinata shouted needlessly in Ed's aching ear. "VILLAGE SECURITY."

Hinata and Ed backed up as the masked men attacked. The music ninja cursed and tried to bring her flute to her mouth, but the masked men never gave her the chance. Every time she got close they threw a kunai or a shuriken to distract her. She tried to flee then, but the ground beneath her feet melted and the masked men lunged. Ed could hear the dull, hollow thumps as the music ninja's head bounced between the men's kicks and the wall.

Finally she fell, and the horns vanished back into her hair. Her skin regained a normal tone. Ed could see her hands twitching slightly as the ANBU rolled her over and bound her.

Another ANBU dropped from the roof in front of them. Hinata bowed to him.

"SHOULD I ESCORT EDWARD ELRIC TO THE HOSPITAL NOW?" she asked.

"We will take him," the masked man said. "Radio in for a search and rescue assignment."

"I CANNOT DO THAT AT THE MOMENT, SIR," Hinata shouted. "I HAD TO SHUT OFF MY HEARING TO GET OUT OF A SOUND-BASED GENJUTSU AND IT HAS NOT RETURNED YET."

The man in the mask stilled for a moment and then made a gesture. Another ANBU blurred forward. Ed called out a useless warning, but it was too late and the girl was still deaf.

The ANBU's sword slashed across the back of Hinata's neck and left shoulder. A hazy blur of chakra erupted from her skin, deflecting some of the force of the blade. She was not decapitated, but blood gushed from the wound and she fell on her face in the street. The man with the sword raised it again, but the other ANBU halted him with a gesture.

"The eyes can be harvested," he said.

Ed managed an entire step before they caught him. One got him in a choke hold, and the other two grabbed his arms. He supposed they didn't want to risk caving in his skull with another blow to the head. He focused on the array in his foot.

He stomped it down and the street rolled in on itself. The ANBU dodged, but he wasn't quick enough to snatch Hinata's body before the ground swallowed it up.

"ANBU patrol incoming," the one holding his left arm murmured.

A hard blow to the chest knocked the last of the air out of his starved lungs, and the red-edged world faded to black.

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Author's Note: Blarg! This chapter did not have much Ed in it. I acknowledge that failing. Also again, the battles ran on way too long. The next chapter should be calmer, but more angsty, followed by more battles. Also it took me over a year to get it posted. Sorry about that, I …uh…I've been digging my way out of prison with a spoon Shawshank Redemption-style and haven't had time to type? No, wait. I have a better one. I've been working undercover to break up an Amish heroin-smuggling ring and I couldn't use a computer or they would have made me. Yes that's it. That's the lame excuse I'm going with.