Chapter Twenty: Invasion! Heroes Also Fall

Tsuchi Kin grew worried when she heard two distinct puffs of smoke from where she sat, by the kitchen table. That must have meant Naruto's bunshin popped, meaning that he unexpectedly dispelled them…or he got knocked out.

The brunette's intuition leaned itself more on the latter speculation, meaning that the sneak-attack invasion had just begun, if the tight knot in the pit of her stomach was any indication.

As the senbon-bearing kunoichi sat there, she actually had some more time to mull over her allegiance to the Hidden Sound or to the Hidden Leaf. Kin reflected on how inept and in the dark her team had been placed when it came to Orochimaru-sa—Orochimaru acting of his own accord and planted a seal on Sasuke…

Then again, she did notice the swelled area around Naruto's neck in the likeness of the snake-charmer's Cursed Seal of Heaven, but how he managed to overcome the effects, let alone destroy it completely, were left to the kunoichi's outlandish imagination. 'He's stronger than everyone thought,' she surmised as she chewed on her lip in worry. 'I…have to do something…'

She realized now that, as the last person of Team Dosu, she was the throwaway ninja; the sacrificial lamb thrown to the wolves to be consumed for Otogakure's leader. The veil of illusion had been cast aside by the person around whom she began to hover, much to his other roommate's consternation.

Kin, for once in her short time on this world, thought for herself for once and resolved to gain Naruto's trust—and to an extent, the trust of his comrades, which might prove difficult, but she had to weasel her way into the stadium without being spotted by anyone, until she made herself aware to the blond ninja who, in a sense, rescued her from a meaningless end.

She stood up, walked to her rucksack resting by the side of the love seat, and fished around for a map of Konoha, ready to hatch a plan of her own.


Sarutobi Hiruzen stoically looked on as the spectators in the audience slumped over in their seats. "I expected as much…Orochimaru…" he all but growled out when he cut his eyes over to the Kazekage, who started to chuckle in hisses.

"Looks like I have been discovered," the Snake Wizard sibilantly intoned, his eyes shifting to a sickly yellow color and narrowing to slits. "I knew you were sharper than you allow yourself to show, Sarutobi-sensei." Soon after, the Legendary Ninja cast off his Wind Shadow cloak, simply because he had been found out and no longer needed it.

"You have no idea, my wayward student," the Professor cryptically retorted. Suddenly, his right hand made a discreet signal to alert his Guard Platoon. "Formation!"


Shiranui Genma was immediately on red alert when he heard his commanding officer's mandate. 'Hokage-sama, you have surely become bold…' He turned to a confused Uchiha Sasuke. "Your match is done here, Sasuke. You've already won." Before he knew it, Gaara's siblings flanked his sides, muttered something among them, and then soared to the upper levels of the stadium, offhandedly noting the limp in his older brother. "This is an invasion, and I want you to follow them and detain them for questioning. Do not let them out of your sight. Do you understand?"

"…You have my word, proctor," the brunet affirmed with a grave look gracing his face. He then saw the warped ninja blast a hole into a wall with an enlarged fist made of sand and bolted out. As soon as the needle-chewing shinobi petered out in an instant, the lone wolf of Team Seven started to trail his opponent in hot pursuit. Sasuke broke into a mad dash until a man with some sort of tribal paint across his visible cheek blocked his path, with the left side of his face covered by a limp cloth. The hourglass-shaped insignia denoted him as a member of Sunagakure. 'Probably Gaara's jounin-sensei…'

"I can't let you pass, Uchiha Sasuke-kun," the older ninja gravely stated, ready to bum-rush the kid, were it not for another Kakashi showing up in a blinding speed to intercept the man with a side-shoulder tackle. The two tumbled into a rolled-up mass as Baki kicked off the suspected clone of his instructor.

"Sasuke, you need to—" the copy of the ashen-haired assassin got cut off when the Sand jounin stabbed him in the Achilles' heel, instantly disrupting its matrices. Suddenly, the brooding brunet had to shield his eyes when a bright light accompanied the sound of electricity surging through the downed shinobi's form, causing him to writhe in pain. Not one to let an opportunity to slip by him, the Uchiha scion dashed his way up and out of the amphitheater like a speeding bullet.

In mid-leap into the dense woodland, Sasuke bit his thumb. 'No time to lose…'


Just as the senbon-chewing ninja graced his leader's presence, Orochimaru's cohorts started to act fast. Flying in at a moment's notice, the three guards surrounded the Hokage as four of the snake-charmer's loyal bodyguards started chaining together simultaneous hand seals, to which the Sandaime's Guard Platoon responded in kind as their leader erected a yellow, pyramid-like barrier around himself and his target—his fallen student who remained seated.

The three ninja Hiruzen personally summoned linked together their hands to make a conjoined set of seals that instantly transported their Hokage and one of Konoha's most infamous traitors to a nondescript location deep in the heart of the woods, long before Orochimaru's henchmen placed up their Shishienjin to trap the duo in mortal combat.

One of the four strongmen of the Snake Wizard threw down her disguise in evident anger and violent frustration. "Shit! That old geezer was on to us from the start!"

"Now, Tayuya, there's no need for all that profanity," a hefty boy around their age bracket suggested in a chiding tone, casting off his guise alongside the others.

"How about I shove a kunai up your ass crack, you fat-ass tub of lard?" the only girl of the group—a hotheaded redhead by the name of Tayuya—bellowed, completely incensed.


Once the feeling of dizziness subsided from the instantaneous warp, the wayward student of the Third Fire Shadow inwardly stewed in ire, having been duped into thinking that he would get the drop on the old man. To his mounting annoyance, that was not the case; however, he never wanted to display his initial surprise.

"Oh?" he casually observed, taking in the lush forest located far off in the remote regions of Konohagakure. "So, you want to die with some shred of dignity, Sarutobi-sensei, and not in front of your commanding forces?"

"…No," Hiruzen dully retorted. "I knew you snooped around far too closely, and despite your schemes, I sniffed you out first." With a clench of his hand to his ceremonial regalia, the Hokage shucked off the Fire Shadow mantle, displaying his simple battle uniform—black-sleeved shirt with metal underwire mesh, loose hakama of the same hue and a combat-style hat that framed both sides of his face. "I plan to go out in a blaze of glory," he reached into his pocket to show his opponent the golden-embroidered glove, "and humble you for your arrogance, thinking that you are untouchable…" With the sound of leather stretching, the hand-covering was snuggly fit on his right hand, "even if you lack a limb, which I highly doubt, knowing your insane regenerative abilities."

He was answered with a fit of hollow chuckles. "I was merely…scoping out some more talent in this rat-hole of a village," Orochimaru sneered, casually dismissing what his mentor perceived as truth. "You never disappointed me, Sensei, but your lax idealism has caused this dynasty of yours to stagnate and wither away like petals in a strong wind. You would have greatly benefitted from my research and experiments."

"…For what? At the cost of a few innocent lives?" Sarutobi quipped, eyes dangerously narrowing to slits. "Your hubris will be your downfall!" The older ninja gnashed together his teeth in anger. "No one—and I do mean, no one—gets to play God with people's lives in order to get a sick kick or two to satisfy the fruits of your labor."

"Oh, au contraire, Sensei," the snake-charmer snidely rebuked, "I merely want to watch the world burn by reigniting the flames of war again. Peace has dulled the hearts of warriors, causing them to throw down their arms to chase a fleeting dream. Besides," his eyes shrunk to a menacing stare, "you shouldn't act so high and mighty on your throne of bigotry."

The dark-skinned man's teeth tightened, feeling the direction to where his former pupil alluded. "Our ancestors have fought hard to enact a time of prosperity and no bloodshed. How dare you spit on that!" the wrinkled Hokage roared with renewed fervor.

"…Your hypocrisy sours my mood, Sensei," the yellow-eyed nuke-nin flatly remarked, despite the strained grin on his face. "It shall be sweet for me to end your life, right here, once and for all, and let you wallow in your sins."

The aged Hokage exuded a brimming presence as the very ground around them began to quake with his heightened chakra signature. "…We shall see."


"They're closing in on us pretty quickly," Kakashi blankly noted from his vantage spot with his self-proclaimed rival. He then turned his sights on his pink-haired charge. "Sakura," he called down to her from his position, "why don't you wake up Sleepy-Head right next to you? I got a job for you two."

"Got it!" she responded before placing her hands in the Seal of the Ram to stimulate her own chakra to disrupt her blond teammate's energies, in order to cancel out the effects of the sleep-inducing genjutsu. With a slight tap across the downed blond's forehead, his eyes tightened up before they fluttered open.

"Ugh…" Naruto groaned as he saw jade eyes looking down on him. "Sakura…"

"…You forgot the lesson I taught you in order to cancel illusions," she rebuked, a frown marring her soft features.

"Sorry," he sheepishly uttered, slowly shaking the haze from his vision. "It must have been a subtle one."

"I swear…" the rosette-haired girl mumbled, turning her vision to a sound-sleeping Lee, who had a small bubble inflating and deflating from his nostril.

"While you two are in your own little world," their mentor sharply intoned, "we got Sound and Sand-ninja converging on our position. If you find any genin that are able to fight, Sakura, then find your way to them. Tell them I sent you, and they are to report to me. Understood?"

The emerald-eyed genin shakily nodded after using a little bit of energy to stir her temporary tutor from his slumber. "Yes, Sensei." She then turned to her squad mate. "Naruto, please back me up."

The bewhiskered genin yawned, still feeling a tad groggy. "That okay with you, Kakashi-sensei?"

"Strength and safety in numbers," the ashen-haired shinobi answered, Naruto's face already catching the hint. "The more, the merrier," he flippantly added. "You know the whole shebang, but be discreet about it."

"Sakura-san?" The spandex-wearing Rock Lee blinked away the sleep. "What, pray tell, is going on?"

"Yo, Fuzzy-Brows! Rise and shine," the blue-eyed shinobi prodded, shaking him awake. "Look alive. We need your help."


Easily dispelling the negative effects of that blanket genjutsu, Yamanaka Ino and Tenten, still in their casual attire, felt ill at ease a few rows below, measuring the Oto-nin gradually surrounding them—at least four chuunin-ranked, by their estimates, as they sunk low to the cement seats to avoid detection.

Crouching with their rear ends pressed up against one another, the blonde mind-walker felt naked without any ninja tools on her person. "Damn," she cursed under her breath. "I thought I wouldn't need my weapons. Got any you can spare, Tenten-san?"

The bun-haired brunette emitted a shallow sigh. "Good thing I always come stocked," she murmured in a low voice, soft enough for her kunoichi comrade to hear amid the pandemonium all around them. Tenten whipped out a pretty thick-rolled scroll and, with a few distinct pops of white vapor, two kunai found their way into her hands. She had then reached around to let Ino hold onto one. "I expect a favor when this all blows over, and try to keep up with that."

The younger kunoichi firmly grasped the spade-like trowel in a reverse grip. "That's if we make it out alive…" she grumbled in resignation.

"…" The brown-eyed girl held back a retort, for, in a moment of shining hope, she felt two other signatures zip around them, evening the odds of their survival.

"Looks like you could use some help!" Naruto chirped, fox familiar strangely out of sight. "Good thing we found some friendlies!"

"Whiskers!" Ino cooed. "…and it's Sakura, too!"

"Huh? No backhanded forehead comments or barbs?" the third kunoichi rhetorically asked, taking point with her back to everyone else, in front of Ino, forming a straight line in between rows and the spectators' feet. "I swear, Ino, you're surprising me."

'Not as much as you have,' the mind-walker reflected with a touch of remorse. "So, what brings you two here?" she voiced, foregoing an answer.

"We're getting together some of our forces and rendezvousing with Kakashi-sensei on the top bleacher," Sakura succinctly replied. "He didn't specify how many, though, but I'm sure that he wants those able-bodied to do something. Stick low to avoid engaging combat with a more experienced ninja."

"Otogakure may be behind this little stunt," Naruto added. "Then again, I didn't get a glimpse if that snake bastard was around."

"…He went under before things went south," the green-clad kunoichi clipped, much to the blond's annoying protests that he got taken by surprise. "Anyway, I just woke up Lee-san, and he's helping up top with Kakashi-sensei and Gai-sensei at this very moment."

"Whoa!" Naruto shouted as a few kunai and shuriken clanged against an oncoming salvo, causing sparks due to the friction, and almost landing near him and punctured his foot. The blond jinchuuriki pulled out a few kunai from his brace, crawled between the narrow space between the support beam and Tenten, and gave them to the curious Ino. "Here. No extra charge, since I can manage well without them." He then wound up a ninja spade and chucked it in a Suna-nin's backside who wandered a little too close to their position, getting a yelp in surprise as he jumped high in the air, clutching his buttocks. "Heh!"

"Naruto!" Sakura chastised with a hiss. "You idiot, you almost blew our cover!"

"Sorry! He came too close!" he defended.

"Um, thanks, I guess," Ino said, pretty dazed at the situation.

"No sweat. Gotta look out for our friends!" A beaming grin broke through his calm face. "I'll throw up a few clones to sneak around and find anyone else."

"Some gnats decide to be brave before they die, huh?" an approaching Oto chuunin boldly claimed as he leapt toward a surprised Ino. Quickly shaking off her worries, she propelled a portion of her mind to shove the jumping ninja out of the sky, causing the masked man to grunt before crash-landing a few meters away…hopefully knocked out and not getting up any time soon.

"You…might want to act fast, Whiskers," the mind-walking kunoichi remarked as her butt faced him. "We have to move if they're on to us."

'Somehow, Ero-Sennin can be right at times…to enjoy the view…'

"On it!" With crossing half-Tiger seals, five copies burst to life and immediately dropped low to the ground, in search of the sounds of struggle.


Hyuuga Hinata should have tapped into her instincts. Kiba and she felt something amiss in the air, but she saw through the veil of illusion with her keen eyesight. Her teammate, on the other hand, along with his puppy companion, fell fast asleep due to its subtle effects.

Slowly creeping and keeping down her head from being spotted, the indigo-haired girl brusquely wondered if girls were more aware of illusory technique-casting than their male counterparts, mostly due to the fact that she noticed her fellow kunoichi easily brushing aside the blanket genjutsu, but the boys were about as observant as a blind man in a glass factory…

'No…' she reasoned, brushing off that seemingly condescending thought. She, of all people, knew better. 'They work just as hard as we do…' The male-dominated portion of the shinobi forces tended to have higher reserves, which meant more stamina, but lesser control on their chakra reserves, as opposed to the kunoichi population, who had better handling over their life force, albeit smaller.

Recalling the past lessons, she halted Kiba's distorted chakra, making it flow smoother and more natural, allowing him to wake up. She then followed suit with the alabaster-furred canine.

"…I got caught in a genjutsu, didn't I, Hinata?" the dog-using ninja unhappily asked, a frown marring his childlike features.

"Don't worry about that, Kiba-kun," she assured. "Just keep your head down." She tapped into her ocular gift to scout the surrounding area, even though it was not as developed as her cousin's set. "The stadium is crawling with Sand and Sound shinobi." Suddenly, she saw a familiar signature—a friendly—crawl in between the bleacher seats, around the unconscious civilians. "…Naruto-kun's clones are on their way here!"

The Inuzuka heir simply grunted his displeasure. "He acts like he wants to do it all," he dourly uttered.

"Naruto-kun tries hard; harder than anyone I've ever seen to bring himself to this point," Hinata came back with unabashed pride, in her crush's defense. "I believe in him."

"Believe in who?"

Slightly squeaking in response, the exiled heiress' face grew flush when she set her normal vision on the blond shinobi that managed to inch his way behind her. "N-Naruto-kun!"

"Yo!" the doppelganger greeted. "Word from the One-Eyed Scarecrow says that he wants any able fighters. Didn't say how many, but we're to report to him on the double."

"One-Eyed…Scarecrow?" Kiba echoed, keeping vigilant eyes around the numerous brawls.

"My boss' boss, Kakashi-sensei, on the top row of seats," the bunshin clarified. "Jeez…Did the real me knock some sense out of you in your little scuffle?" The shadow clone popped after seeing the snarled visage from the animalistic shinobi.


Another of the blond's duplicates made its way closer to the top rows, sniffing out the guy he pushed into the stadium not too long ago. Sure enough, resting on his side was a seemingly unconscious Nara Shikamaru, his back facing the blue-eyed genin's line of sight.

"All right, Shikamaru," the copy stated, "I know you're not asleep, so get the hell up." He could not say the same for Chouji, since the mild concussion sustained from his fight with Temari compounded the effects of the illusion.

"No," the bored deer-rancher lethargically replied, "I'm sleeping. Really…"

The Naruto clone gave the son of the Nara head a flat stare from his crouched position. "…But…you're talking…"

"Trained myself to get mom off my back while still sleeping."

The persistent bunshin was not convinced. A bulging vein twitched on its temple. "Liar!"

"Zzz…" the pineapple-haired brunet began to snore in the hopes that the troublesome blond would go away.

The shadow clone's patience started to run thin. "…Nice try, but I'm not buying it. Get up, or I'll hurt you," it warned as it nudged the lackadaisical genin with its foot.

A hefty sigh drifted from Shikamaru's frame as he started rolling to the side to stand upright. "…Fine. So troublesome."

"You heard the orders. Stay low and find your way to Kakashi-sensei." Before the snarky genin had a chance to retort, the Kage Bunshin dispelled itself, its purpose no longer necessary or required.

'I really wish I could watch the clouds after these exams…' The lazy genius maintained his hangdog look.


True to his namesake, the Sandaime Hokage soared across the snapping tree branches like a monkey, carefully avoiding the slew of serpents that his capricious student conjured. When a rather large, brown-spotted snake attempted to snap Hiruzen in two, he deftly pressed off a higher limb, swung his body upward and summoned a Kage Bunshin, which then started running through a chain of hand seals. The authentic Fire Shadow flew through his own set.

Uma. Inu. Tori. Ushi. Mi.

'Horse. Dog. Bird. Ox. Serpent.'

Hitsuji. Uma. Mi. Tatsu. Ne. Ushi. Tora.

'Ram. Horse. Serpent. Dragon. Rat. Ox. Tiger.'

"Doton: Dosekiryuu!"

"Katon: Karyuu Endan!"

The seasoned veteran's duplicate summoned forth a substantially titanic dragon that roared to life from the earth, dust and stones flaking from its sturdy construction, and collided with the snake that tried to assault him. As the two serpentines warred for dominance, the genuine-article Sarutobi unleashed a hellish flame in the form of a dragon and scorched it to a burning crisp, forcing its summoner to jump out of its mouth before its life ended.

From his position on a tree, Orochimaru's eyes grew predatory. "You haven't lost your touch, Old Man," he whispered out in his snakelike demeanor.

"You haven't seen anything, yet, my wayward pupil…"

Expertly masking his astonishment, the Snake Wizard turned around to receive a blazing, jaw-rattling left uppercut from Konoha's revered leader.

"Nintaijutsu…It's the next biggest thing on the rise, as I've heard." He allowed a confident smirk on his wrinkled face as his stance shifted into a more offensive one. "Who said that old dogs can't learn new tricks?"

Cracking his mandible back into place, the snake-charmer clenched together his teeth in mounting anger, even though he dared not to show that his former mentor managed to dig under his skin. "You'll pay for that, Sarutobi-sensei…"

"For someone who was once hailed a genius," Hiruzen nonchalantly clipped as he evaded the serpents that slithered from his student's pallid arms, "you sure have squandered your talents." He saw those wan, yellow eyes narrow to slits as he scaled up another tree branch in a defensive manner. "You were my greatest student, but now…" Biting his thumb, the Sandaime zipped through five hand seals—signs with which Orochimaru and his other students were very familiar, "you're nothing more than a petulant child who's throwing a tantrum just because he didn't get his way around here." Throwing down his hand, a chain-linked spider web of kanji clusters inked the branch upon which the wizened Hokage stood, bringing forth his personal summon in a violent burst of plumy vapors—a white-furred monkey with a prehensile tail of the same coloration, with most of his hair protruding from the sleeveless kimono, which consisted of tiger-print stripes and trimmed with off-white trap furs, and black armor mesh underneath and his pants. "It's been a while, old friend…"

The newcomer summon blinked once and hung from the dangling wood to dodge a spray of acid in his direction. "So, it has finally come to this, Hiruzen," it gruffly commented, its face souring into a hard frown as the bipedal monkey crossed its arms over its broad chest. "I would rather have had this fight and killed him many years ago."

"…I know," the grisly elder bitterly uttered, seeing his former student unhinge his jaws to draw forth the dreaded Kusanagi Long Sword, its tainted blade gleaming in the low sunlight filtering through the canopy, "but my determination has cemented itself…for real, this time. Great Monkey King Enma, please, I require your aid…"


A small task force of Oto-ninja outside the perimeter of Konohagakure's borders evenly spaced out along a rather large circle, decorated with elaborate sealing tags and an array of cursive kanji designed in the form of a spider web.

"Is the sealing array set?"


"Commence the snake-summoning ritual!" the leader grated out.


Through enough guile and evasion with the assistance of Hinata's Byakugan and Kiba and Naruto's sense of smell, the six rookies slowly crept their way to the Copy Ninja, who seemed to have delivered punishing kicks alongside the spandex-clad duo to keep them at bay.

"For youth!" Gai screamed as he unleashed a devastating knee into a Sand ninja's chin.

"To smite deception!" Lee echoed as he swung a…fiery blaze kick and waylaid into the midsection of an astounded Sound chuunin, feeling a few ribs groan and dissolve into pieces upon contact before being sent skyward and into the arena below, landing with an unceremonious thud.

'Huh…good use of my pointers, Fuzzy-Brows,' Naruto reflected in strange wonder. 'Supplementing your natural element—and kind of ironic how you keep spouting about youthful flames, no less—to boost your taijutsu…'

"Ah, good," Kakashi breathed out before gut-punching a Chuunin-level Oto shinobi, letting him slump to the floor in an undignified heap, "you all made it."

"Give us the rundown, Kakashi-sensei, please," Naruto begged. "It's like a warzone around here!" Sure enough, he had seen Konoha ninja in droves flooding around the stadium to engage in combat.

"…That's because it is," his mentor explained with a weary tone. He then adopted the aura of a drill sergeant ready to put his underlings to task. "Seems like Suna and Oto banded together to try to crush Konoha while we weren't suspecting anything. We're not sure of the exact number, but…Hokage-sama had gotten some late-minute intelligence to stem the shock factor."

'Well, that and my special lightning clone skulked about to see what they were preparing,' he mentally added.

"Well, not all of us are here," Sakura observed as she made a quick head-tally. "Where're Sasuke-kun and Shino? And Chouji?"

"Oh…" He bobbed his head in the direction of the bug-host's chakra signature. "Might as well come from around the corner, Shino-kun. I could use you."

"You need me for something," the kikaichuu-wielder evenly remarked as he stood from his crouch and ambled to the amassing squad. "Why? Because I'm vital for sensory and tracking." Acting rather unflappable, the destructive beetle-host pushed the bridge of his sunglasses higher on his nose, to prevent them from drooping.

"The big guy's out cold," Naruto regrettably answered, recalling the feedback from his dispelled bunshin. "He won't be joining us."

"Anyway," the ashen-haired shinobi continued, "as for Sasuke…well, there's a reason why I need a select few of you, since you seem to be in fighting shape."

"…So, you're dividing us up?" Shikamaru hazarded a guess, doing his best to read between the lines.

He almost missed a ghost of a nod from the Copy Ninja. "Right. Hinata, Shino, Tenten…" Said ninja snapped to attention, "you are to head to the bunkers and help defend the Academy students along with the chuunin proctors. Use discretion and avoid getting tangled up in a fight you can't win." He looked down at the shortest of the trio. "Hinata's Byakugan can help you avoid the ruckus," he then turned to the tallest, "Shino has the functions and capabilities as a strongman," he then shifted his visible eye to the other kunoichi of the makeshift cell, "and Tenten can provide support and snipe, if need be. If you run directly into any enemy ninja that get to you three…eliminate them with extreme prejudice."

"K-Kill them?" Hinata shakily asked, feeling the bile rise in her throat.

"Better them than you," the jaded veteran reasoned. "If you can somehow incapacitate without killing, if it weighs on your conscience that much, then do so. If not, then you must do what you can in order to survive, regardless of how you morally or ethically feel. Is that understood?" He was answered with a set of nods, but a hesitant one came from the indigo-haired kunoichi. "This applies to each and every one of you."

"How are you going to split up the rest of us, Kakashi-sensei?" Shikamaru inquired.

"The rest of you will tail and meet up with Sasuke," he responded. "He went after Gaara and his teammates."

"Kiba," Gai cut in, "since you are awake, you and your puppy can aid in sniffing him out."

"…It kind of sucks that my Raiton Kage Bunshin didn't have a chance to say anything to him before it got decimated," the Copy Ninja added with a touch of regret. "There went half my chakra supply…"

"That's fine and dandy and all that," the canine-themed ninja intoned, tuning out the strange jounin's mutterings, "but I don't have anything to use as a base for his scent."

"Ah…" Pursing his lips, Kakashi rummaged through his utility pouch, grabbing at what he felt was cloth. "Here you go!" he chirped, closing his eye and producing the evidence in question.

"Gah!" Naruto screeched, holding his hands in front of his nose.


"Blech…" Kiba's face blanched.

"Huh?" The Copy Ninja's visible eye blinked and then looked down at what he held, which drew in the strange or revolted looks. It was a pair of white underwear…his white underwear. "Oh…heh…Oops. That's my dry-cleaning stuff!" He stashed that away, not really feeling ashamed. It was a clean set of briefs. He had then swapped them out in favor of a bandage wrap that had dressed a wound on his brooding charge. "Try this, then." After handing the shaggy brunet the strip of cloth, Kakashi deftly chained the summoning seal sequence to bring forth Pakkun, his brown-furred pug and de facto head of his ninken. "I'll have Pakkun escort you since he has higher scent sophistication, just in case Akamaru, Naruto or you don't pick up on immediate threats."

"Roger!" the fang-marked boy complied.

"Shikamaru, I'm assigning you in charge of this small genin platoon." His hazel eye drifted to his rosette-haired pupil. "Sakura, in the case of his absence, you're his second-in-command."


"Understood, Sensei."



"…you and Lee are the strong arms to provide heavy collateral damage and brute force, if the need calls for it. Dosha-kun is still asleep, but that shouldn't deter you from using your nose, too, for tracking purposes."

"Got it!" the blond saluted, looking around to see his ocher-furred companion.

"That leaves Ino as a support role with her limited skill sets." He paid no attention to the purple-clad kunoichi's grumblings. "You have your orders, so hop to it!"

"Yes, sir!" they chorused.

Just as the genin began to mobilize and file out, the blond demon vessel took note of his friend's apparent worry decorating her softer features. He fell back a bit and awkwardly stood in front of the girl he could like. "Hinata-chan…are you okay?"

Whatever was on her mind blew away into surprise as she took note of the close proximity between her and her idol. "Um…" she murmured, "…no…not really…"

He saw the vacillation in her opalescent eyes; the uneasiness to snuff out a life like blowing out a candle. "I know that war isn't an easy thing to deal with. Hell, I haven't experienced it. We all haven't," he then walked up and placed his calloused hands on her soft shoulders, "but I know you're strong, and you worked so hard to get to where you are. Don't ever forget that, all right?"

Her vision turned to the floor. "…I won't."

"Be proud that you are one of us, Hinata-chan," he assured her with a sunny smile. "Be strong for your clan—your family—and they might turn around and rename you the heiress if you show bravery in these hard times."

The trembling in her frame ceased as Hinata stared up into those warm eyes, wishing that she could take some of that confidence from him and use it to weather this skirmish. Slowly, she advanced into Naruto's personal space, putting him in an uncomfortable situation as she embraced him with an unknown sense of might in those slender arms of hers, much to the hidden surprise of several.

"H-Hinata-chan?" Somehow, he could get used to hugs, in due time. It made him feel all warm and fuzzy inside, despite feeling a bit ungainly as he returned it.

Slowly, she broke the tender cuddle. "Um…Be safe and be careful, Naruto-kun."

He saw a strange twinkle in her pupil-less ocular gifts, which made his cheeks flush and thickly swallow. "Yeah. You, too."

"Grr," her teammate growled as he neared the hole in the wall to the surrounding forest. "We don't have all day to be hugging or making out, you know…"

Naruto rounded his gaze on his boisterous counterpart, giving him a death glare. "You're kind of being a killjoy, Kiba. You're ruining the moment," he deadpanned. "Can't you see that your teammate is worried?"

"That's not the point!" he bellowed back from the gaping hole. "The more time you waste here, the more distance we have to cover to find your teammate."

"Such a jackass," he grumbled under his breath as soon as the Inuzuka heir launched himself into the thicket. He tousled his quiet friend's hair. It surely felt soft. "Keep it together, girl. We'll be back before you know it."

A scarlet hue grew brighter on her face. "…Okay."

"Kakashi-sensei, keep an eye on Dosha-chan. He's sleeping near Row U in the bleachers."

"Got it. Now, go, Naruto. Time is of the essence."

With that in mind, the pointy-eared genin gathered a decent enough speed and jumped into the wooded area and vanished without a trace to catch up with his battalion of peers. 'Sasuke, you better not do anything too ridiculously stupid…like me…'


Chaos and pandemonium erupted in the merchants' quarters when the fighting boiled over into the streets and alleyways.

Within several minutes, and steering everyone with her ocular gift, Hinata, Shino, and Tenten, for the most part, managed to pass through or work around the string of fights, remaining elusive under the cover of the uproarious noises. The sides of buildings had collapsed in on themselves due to the strain of various techniques thrown by the shinobi of the Hidden Sand.

The Hyuuga maiden's heart went out to those who lost their homes in the wake of destruction, and she tried her best not to vomit upon seeing the sights of dead ninja—allied or foe—due to the X-ray vision offered to her by her innate Byakugan. Those were memories that left their mark on her mind for times to come.

'Is this…the same feeling you get when you lose someone close to you?'

Despite the drilling of the Shinobi Code into their indoctrinated minds, the indigo-haired kunoichi sensed raw emotion clawing into her soul with ravenous ferocity.

"It'll be all right," Tenten whispered, offering some form of encouragement, albeit an empty attempt, no less. She could practically feel the dark sentiments from the younger girl. "Just a few more blocks, and we'll be at the Academy, where we won't have to do much of anything."

Shino's eyebrows creased a negligible amount as they dashed in their brisk pace. "Let us hope that our path is smooth. Why? Even though I have comrades upon which to depend, I'd rather not expend energy to take down someone…bigger than us, for lack of a better word."

"…I think you're just being lazy, Shino," Tenten blandly stated. "Keep your eyes sharp, Hinata. We're almost there…"

The excommunicated daughter of the Hyuuga clan head caught a glimmer of something from her widened peripherals and blazed through a few hand seals to manipulate the water that gushed from a busted hydrant not too far from them to create a watery shield to cushion the trajectory of a kunai that whistled through the air.

"…Looks like we got company," the kikaichuu-host obviously remarked, halting in his tracks to cover his teammate.

Sure enough, from the alleyway, a nondescript kunoichi from the Hidden Sound Village—as denoted by the musical eighth-note engraved on her forehead protector—sauntered out and gauged the trio with a belittling glare behind her head-covering. "Looks like the mice have come out to play," she purred, "and what's this? A Byakugan-wielder with no cursed seal technique, too? Must be my lucky day."

'She must be at least a chuunin-level ninja,' Tenten pondered as she slowly reached for her weapons scroll.

The female ninja, however, felt some tingling sensation; like there were insects crawling all over her frame. As she glanced down at her exposed skin, tiny, beetle-like insects crept along her forearms while feeling a bit lightheaded, feeling her life force quickly fade.

"Take her out, now!" Shino commanded as he remained focused on his hive.

Shaken out of her fear, Hinata bent the water with a few more hand seals, ending on the Seal of the Bird, as a wriggling serpentine made out of the liquid launched itself, miniature fangs exposed to tear into its target.

"Suiton: Suijadan no Jutsu!"

With great intent, the Water Release: Water Serpent Missile penetrated the core of the woman's body and ripped out her heart with relative ease as it continued through her back, much to Hinata's sheer horror as she had unexpectedly killed in the heat of the moment. Just as the kunoichi began her descent to the ground below, the Hyuuga maiden gulped when she saw those lifeless eyes staring at her with their dull shade of green, now a listless, olive color, now burned into her memory like a branding mark.

She never knew the extent of power that the jutsu held, seeing that this was the first time she had used it in a combat-type situation. Naruto had no idea on the product of the concentration of boiling down the Water Dragon Projectile Technique into a streamline, but smaller, snakelike entity, mainly due to the fact that Hinata did not have the reserves to handle such a chakra-intensive Suiton ninjutsu. Evidently, the result spoke for itself.

'I…I'm a killer…'

"Hinata, stay with us!" Tenten all but shouted, shaking the girl from her frozen state. "We have to keep moving before we cause a scene! We have an objective to complete!"

Numb to the chilling scene before her, the younger kunoichi mutely nodded as she found the inner strength to press on. "R-Right…"


Once Naruto fell into formation with the cluster of genin as the center, the entire group decided to speed up in search of their fellow comrade.

"Glad of you to catch up, Naruto," Shikamaru said in a laid-back manner.

"Just had to make sure everything was good to go on that end," he relayed as his battle coat angrily fluttered in the wind. Before he knew it, he felt soft padding on his upper back and, glancing up; he saw his teacher's pug resting on his mop of blond hair, which was normally Doshaburi's custom. "Did I ask you to land on me, Pakkun?" he groused.

"Since you're in the center," Pakkun reasoned, "it gives me better leverage to take a whiff." He paused. "By the way, your hair smells like vanilla…"

The blond cleared his throat as odd looks were thrown his way. "Regardless," he cut in, until he heard what sounded a lot like "pansy" from behind him, disguised as a cough, "we need to keep an eye out for Sasuke and make sure that he doesn't do anything that would compromise his position."

"Wow…Naruto with a brain…" Kiba—the suspect in question that jabbed at the blue-eyed genin's manhood—intoned in a dull monotone.

"Don't get mad because I trounced you in the prelims, Dog Breath!" he hotly clipped. "I'll gladly do so again, but circumstances call for us to work together in order to keep our home from being invaded further. Now, quit your belly-aching and let's do the damn thing!"

"Uh oh…"

The deer-herding Nara heir turned his head at a profile as he led the small group. "Something the matter?"

The dog-using ninja also got a whining yip from Akamaru. "We got trouble, guys."

"There appear to be eight…no, nine ninja tailing us, and they seem to know the lay of the land with frightening detail." That sent a wave of alarm through the six ninja as they sailed through the sea of trees.

"We are outnumbered, but that does not mean we are outclassed!" Lee proudly reasoned, doing his best to keep the group morale from behind Shikamaru.

"…Sound shinobi, then," Sakura concluded in her rationale, speaking up from her spot behind her friend and rival. "Snake-Face used to live here, so it's not much of a stretch to say that they were drilled in the map schematics and village layouts."

"I'll send a disguised clone to test their level," the middleman declared as he conjured a clone to look like a Sand shinobi. "Fall back, try to stall them and pump them for info, if you can." The doppelganger lazily saluted from its orders as it broke away from the squadron.

"Good thinking, Naruto!" Ino praised from behind him. "That should give us a bit more breathing room, unless they're too crafty to think otherwise."

"I don't know. These Sound chuunin under that snake bastard seem…kind of improperly trained." He easily remembered the incident that urged him to save Kin from an unknown fate.

"Arf! Grr…arf!"

"Eh? What do you mean there's someone coming from our flank?" Kiba asked his white-furred familiar.

The chocolate-colored canine confirmed it with widened eyes. "Unknown element closing in on us from our four o'clock position!"

'And why does this person's scent overlap with Naruto's?' he tacked on as an afterthought. 'Could it be…another ally?'

Dashing into a full sprint, Kin found her way from the ground and into the tree line with the rest of the Konoha shinobi, putting all but one of them on edge.

Kiba was the first to react as he blocked her path, which made everyone else slow their paces and land on some tree branches. "You got a lot of nerve to show your face around here, foreigner!" he bellowed, growling to show his desire to protect the pack. "Your people are causing all this trouble!"

Coming to her defense, the Uzumaki scion jumped in between the two, putting up his hands in a vulnerable stance. "Now, hold on for one second and put a leash on it, Dog Breath! I can vouch for her!"

The spandex-wearing genin's face contorted into shock as he witnessed the kunoichi he soundly pummeled in the preliminary match-ups. "Why is it that you are defending her, Naruto-kun?"

"Don't tell me," Ino began, a blush creeping up her features, "Whiskers is going rogue on us by sleeping with the enemy…"

Her fellow blond's face assumed a fish-like appearance as his breaths caught in his throat, causing him to sputter like crazy. "W-What? That's not true, Ino!"

"P-Please," the brunette newcomer chimed in to state her case, "don't hurt me! I'm not the enemy! I didn't know anything about what's going on!"

"Nice try," the green-hooded rosette icily snipped, glaring daggers in her direction. "Like we'll fall for that!" She still had unfinished business with her from their little fight in the Forest of Death. Maybe she ought to pull on her hair and see how she felt after all was said and done… "I don't know why you're protecting her after what she's done, Naruto."

The bewhiskered genin, in turn, gave everyone a defiant glare. "She's telling the truth, guys." He turned to his unwanted roommate. "So, Kin-chan, why are you out here?" '…and not back at home?' He blinked, catching that thought like a butterfly in a net. Did he really want her to stay, deep down?

The former Oto-kunoichi felt an uneasy atmosphere around her from the critical gazes of the blond's comrades. "I…came to help in any way I can. I realize now that I was a mere pawn to be thrown away when I'm no longer needed." For emphasis, she had unwrapped the hitai-ate on her forehead and withdrew a kunai from her brace and, much to the shock of everyone in the secluded forest, slashed through the Hidden Sound's insignia without any hint of hesitation.

'That's…a pretty profound statement,' Shikamaru mulled over in his head, finding some reason in the madness. 'She scratched through her headband to renounce her affiliation to Otogakure's ninja forces.'

"Do you believe me, now?" she resignedly murmured, keeping down her head. "I was probably better off dead, anyway…"

"That seems rather convincing," the lazy genius spoke up, feeling the need to get going since they did have some ninja that were following them. "However, there still comes that stigma about interacting with runaway shinobi who no longer hold allegiance to anyone but their own agendas and unknown loyalties." He gave her a glancing once-over, feeling the sincerity in her dark irises and sighed. "On the other hand, I see that your intentions are true and in the right place."

"Shikamaru, do you really think it is wise to factor in a nuke-nin?" Sakura warned, still sensing a little paranoia since Kin decided to go turncoat and work for them. "She could be leading us into a trap, for all we know. How come we stopped?" Her jade eyes turned frigid. "She could also be stalling us while her buddies catch up to us."

Apparently, the lethargic deer-rancher must have let the rosette-haired kunoichi's words roll off him, or he could not care less. "I think I have a plan to spring a trap of our own. Sakura, you take charge. Ino, Kin, you're with me."

"Huh? What?" To say that the Shadow Blossom showed confusion would have proven a generous observation.

"…Do you even know of my abilities?" Kin questioned.

"…Troublesome," he griped. "Come on, you two. You can discuss it as we fall back."

Naruto's face lit up when his clone dispelled. "Oh, boy. Clone just popped. He talked their ears off for as long as he could, and they're on their way. Eight chuunin…and a jounin captain…"

"That means we must make haste!" the broccoli-green-clad splendid ninja boomed.

"Lee-san, charge ahead to locate Sasuke-kun," Sakura ordered. "You're one of the fastest on this cell, and with your speed, you should close the gap, if they continued in a straight line. Pakkun," she rounded her green eyes to the talking ninken, "that means you're with him."

"Are you sure about this, Sakura?"

"Positive," she reaffirmed. "Kiba, Akamaru and Naruto should cover your absence in the meantime. Even though their noses aren't as sharp as yours, I'm pretty sure their contributions will make up the difference."

"Way to put the pressure on us," the Inuzuka scion mumbled.

"It's called having faith in our abilities, dumbass!" Naruto chided before his blue eyes found their way to round, dark ones. "Fuzzy-Brows, Pakkun, we'll take it from here. Storm ahead, full power!"

With a crisp salute, Lee, along with a hesitant pug, took off with lightning speed. "Good luck, Shikamaru. If you can get them off our backs as we move closer to finding our teammate, then we'd greatly appreciate it." Sakura threw the monk-style hood over her head, obscuring her eyes. "Let's go, guys!"

"You better not die as decoys, either!" Naruto zealously added as he bounded off a tree branch, picking up some speed alongside his boisterous counterpart in Inuzuka Kiba. "You got that?"

Shikamaru's eyes grew half-lidded as his mind constructed a decent strategy to detain the Oto shinobi in hot pursuit. 'We'll be the bait, and Kin will be the lure as the redeemer to her former comrades, allowing me to throw down a Kage Mane to hold them off until help arrives…'

He whipped out a ninja spade and carved a bit into the available wood, immediately putting his concocted plan to work. 'Time to throw them off and make it look convincing…'


A large cloud erupted from the West Gate leading into Konoha, and from the choking miasma loomed a double-headed serpent that towered over the walls, its brown-tinted scales reflecting some of the sunlight. It slowly slithered through the forest from the summoning array, uprooting a few trees in its trail, uncontested in its slow lurching after its hearty meal of nine human morsels.

Once it reached the fortified barriers, a flick of its mighty tail sent the sentry post and the partition crumbling to rubble and debris, allowing the serpentine oddity to sway into the merchants' quarters without much of a challenge.

Hesitant ninja jumped out of the way as it progressed deeper into the heart of Konoha proper.

In the case of the poor, unfortunate cabbage merchant, who had his cart repaired a week or so ago, scrambled to safety inside an abandoned eatery stand, taking his replenished load of the leafy greens with him.

Before he knew it, he felt a cool breeze steadily picking up as he noticed a huge shadow blotting out the sun. He frantically looked up to see a humongous toad with a twin set of extremely large katana strapped onto its back dropping from out of the sky and falling right on top of the snake's scaly hide. The large beast hissed before the amphibian unsheathed its weapons and sliced right through both heads.

The cabbage merchant felt ice drop into his gut when he noticed the path of one of the decapitated heads in the battle of legends.

The olive-clad vegetable connoisseur had to forsake his precious cargo to save his own skin, just as the serpentine cranium dropped right onto the empty stand, obliterating his carriage cart again.

He pulled on his hair as his hat drooped from his scalp and dropped to the ground. "My cabbages!" He pulled himself into a meditating lotus position and sulked. "Oh, forget it!"

Fortune never shone on the unlucky man who seemed to come under fire in the wrong place at the wrong time.


The wandering sage from Mount Myouboku stretched out his collapsible telescope from his kimono shirt and examined the surroundings from on top of his reliable, amphibious, sword-wielding familiar in a fruitless attempt to locate his mentor and the snake in the grass that was his former comrade. So far, he came up empty, with little to no clue as to where their fight was taking place. The stadium had a lot of Konoha influence, including the perimeter around the amphitheater-like arena, which was a good thing.

"Sensei, I hope you can handle Orochimaru," he softly uttered to no one, in particular, "wherever you are…"


Sasuke felt the gap in distance close between him and the trio of Sand ninja as he rode atop his wildcat summon, Kiyoshi—and he still questioned the validity of that name with its gender. He noticed the sluggish pace the black-clad puppet-user kept, which probably led to hindering the overall team speed due to the bandaged wrappings around his torso. If it came down to it, then he would get knocked off first, since he posed as the liability that held them back.

He did not have to decide, however, when the puppet-holding ninja stopped, mumbled a few words to his fellow shinobi, and then, they zoomed off.

"Out of the way, cat-man," the Uchiha scion glibly snipped.

"I take offense to that," the inverse-colored tiger growled beneath him, green eyes glinting in a predatory manner.

"Whatever," he casually dismissed.

"Not a chance," Kankurou bit back in a rejoinder. "I'm going to hold you until my siblings get away." He slung the bundle off his back and slammed it against the sturdy tree branch upon which he stood.

"A stubborn one, I see," he plainly assessed, keeping his countenance even and measured. "Well, to me, you're just a stain that needs to be cleaned up and tossed aside like a used napkin. I got bigger fish to grill." Kiyoshi, on the other hand, let loose a menacing roar that conveyed pride and power, whiskers twitching on either side of his pink nose.

"…So, you got an oversized kitten. That won't stop me from beating you senseless."

He barely registered a green blur that barreled into him from out of nowhere, pegging him in the chest cavity with a powerful, rising knee and sent him skidding off his tree branch and past a few others before the kabuki-themed ninja firmly gripped some bark to stop himself. The agony tripled, given the nature of his recovering ribs. He forcefully gulped in air, even though his lungs felt on fire from the pain.

Sasuke realized that it was that weirdo that put the smack-down on him before the start of the Chuunin Exams, and he had a winded pug tightly gripped onto his spandex, fearing that he might fall off.

"Uchiha Sasuke-kun," Lee spoke, maintaining his determined gaze at the puppet-using shinobi before them, "reinforcements are on the way. I suggest that you wait until they come to support you, instead of going at it alone. I will step in and fight in your stead if you slow your speed. They will arrive shortly." A bandaged right hand, held out flat and palm-up, subtly taunted the injured ninja.

"…I can't let him get away," the brooding brunet calmly intoned. "He and I have unfinished business, and I can't lose them, now." He then turned his eyes a small amount to take in the strange pug. "Pakkun has my scent, so he should keep tabs on me, even when I'm far out of your eyesight." The dark-haired avenger glanced down at his familiar. "Let's go, Kiyoshi."

"…As you wish, Sasuke."

"…Who am I to interfere with such drive and determination?" the taijutsu-oriented ninja rhetorically asked to himself before he gave a confident stare-down toward his opponent, who looked a bit haggard.

'I'll just leave a trail that even the dobe can pick up,' the younger brunet calculated as he applied pressure to Kiyoshi's sides, making him scratch the tree branch.

"Hey, what gives?" the tiger-summon inquired with threatening intent as he leapt away to reach his summoner's target.

"We're leaving a trail of your scratch marks for the others to identify." The world seemed to open up to the last of the Uchiha when his ocular gift activated, flooding his sight with crystal-clear definition and detail provided by his level-two Sharingan.

"You could have told me, Uchiha," the black feline ground out, "instead of trying to crush my diaphragm." Then, a vagrant thought fluttered in the familiar's head. "How do you know they'll know that I, a summoned tiger, made them, and not that Gaara kid?"

"Hn," his summoner snorted. "Good point." He raised his shoulders in an apathetic shrug before smirking in that standard Uchiha fashion. "I'll make it up as we go along."


The two leaders of their respective villages fought for dominance in the realm of their strong suits—kenjutsu, in Orochimaru's case, and boujutsu in Hiruzen's. Once thought to have the upper hand in reach, the wizened Hokage's initial theory had to get thrown out since that damned Grass-Cutter longsword had the ability to extend its already impressive length.

Enma, the Great Monkey King that had since transformed into a black and gold staff among seventy-one other permutable combinations, felt uneasy, since the Kusanagi could cut him if his wielder lost his focus or attention.

Aside from labored breathing, the only sounds in the forest came from the grinding contact of adamantine meeting imbued steel in a test of will and might.

The snake-charmer had gone for an overhead strike, only to have the wrinkled veteran capture it with a perpendicular parry of his personal summoning familiar. With the strain from the unnatural strength of his wayward student, his arms started to sink from the pressure, opening him up for a quick, extended sword jab that grazed across his right shoulder.

'Got you right where I wanted, Sensei,' the Densetsu no Nin haughtily mused. Inwardly, though, due to a lack of available guinea pigs to fuel his special kinjutsu, he was forced to resort to bare-knuckle brawling with his former mentor. 'Your fate is sealed…'

Finding the inner strength that empowered him, and all the while masking the pain with a slight grimace, Hiruzen pushed off the gleaming blade and retaliated with a twisting poke of his sentient baton to Orochimaru's sternum, following up with a critical chin strike to gain a bit of distance to facilitate his recovery time.

"Enma, I feel that it is time to combine our power into one," the seasoned Fire Shadow cryptically commented.

He could feel the trepidation in the way the Great Monkey King twitched in his gnarled grip. "It's been many decades since we have used that. I don't think your body can handle it now, compared to back then, Sarutobi."

"My senses still haven't dulled, old friend. I'm still in fighting shape," he allayed to his years-long fighting partner with a witty smile. "I could still use the small boost, anyway."

"…As you insist," Enma relented, twirling himself into a spin before dispelling his staff form and converting back into the anthropomorphic simian, "but we need to create a big enough distraction for it to work."

Tossing a few smoke bombs and propelling himself with a short burst of speed courtesy of the Body Flicker Technique, Hiruzen managed to zoom out about one hundred meters away, along with his primate familiar.

"Ready?" He assumed a stance with his arms stretched out to the right and standing on one knee.

"On your mark, Sarutobi," Enma responded, mirroring his summoner's actions.

The two figures swung their arms like pendulums before the tips of their fingers touched, feeling their chakra signatures resonate in a brilliant flash of light.

"Shinrei no Higi: Enjin Kyuushuu!"

Emerging from the dazzling display of power was neither man nor beast…but a combination of both. The perfect fusion adopted the receding hairline of the man assimilated with his old-time friend. Now brandishing an elaborately decorated staff, the dark-skinned entity spun the bronze weapon with deft hands, its prehensile tail swaying to and fro from the opening in the blended garb.

"Orochimaru must pay for his crimes…" the figure thundered with the two distinct voices that made up the sum of the simian-human merger. The wrinkled simian-like combatant launched off a tree branch, splintering it with incredible force as it zipped along the canopy to make a hasty return to the battlefield.

While meditating in the mindscape that surrounded them in peaceful serenity, the two souls incorporated to create the blended warrior sat down together, across from one another in lotus-style, and with their hands held in a conjoined Seal of the Tiger. The two exchanged their internal life forces to channel the power to fuel their secret technique.

"We have ten minutes, Hiruzen," the Great Monkey King spoke, his voice a booming echo over the mountain landscape littered with scented flowers and abundant fruit. "Make every second count."

"…Rest assured, old friend, that this is the finale."

"I hope you're right…" Enma trailed off. "We're using mostly my body to fuel the physical aspect of the ambient chakra that surrounds all of us, while you use your will to steer and guide the body to your heart's content."

"Worry not, Enma. The seal I have on me kicks us out after the time limit has elapsed, so we won't permanently end up as that form." His eyes opened from his trance. "You haven't forgotten, have you?"


"Good. Now, let us focus and permute our special weapon, shall we?"

The primate's face contorted into a small grin, his eyes still half-lidded in his meditative state. "…With pleasure, Hiruzen."


The band of Sound shinobi maintained their distance from the little shrimp of a genin squad from Konoha, despite the…distractions from this rather oblivious Sand ninja.

'Yeesh…what a chatterbox,' the jounin of the tracking team reflected with a weary sigh. From the weather reports to meaningless gossip about many different things, the leader could never get in a word edgewise, until the bumbling idiot scrambled away.

Regardless, the band of nine shinobi managed to recover their trail, which then slightly veered to the northwest.

"You lot, scout ahead," he commanded his juniors, "while I keep a bit of breathing room, should anything suddenly happen." Like the typical ingratiating brownnosers, they complied with gusto and picked up their speed to identify the trail.

The team leader's suspicions nagged at him to lag at the rear as he vigilantly scanned the direction of possible pursuers.

Much to the masked man's dismay, his cell got trapped in a diversion. "Why are their…shadows linked together?" Sharpening his senses, he saw three, little ninja, seemingly held at knife-point by another small fry in their ranks before a slithering shadow slung out and connected with the others, binding them in place. "I knew it! A trap!"

'I knew that pawn of a bitch would go runaway on us!'

"You dropped something…"

His meandering, vocal thoughts halted when he felt a tap on the shoulder that preceded the new voice, only to receive a solid left jab straight in the face, promptly knocking him out.

Sarutobi Asuma, chain-smoking jounin instructor of Konoha's Team Ten, shook out his hand to ease the tingling sensation. 'I'm on the way, Shikamaru. Just hang in there.'


"…Are those claw marks?" Naruto observed as they gained ground to meet up with Sasuke.

"Yeah, and there seems to be a note left behind, too," Sakura answered from her spot behind the blond shinobi.

The dog-using genin took a whiff. "It has Sasuke's scent all over it, so it must be from him."


"Oh, and Akamaru said that the smells behind us have stopped in their tracks."

The blue-eyed enigma followed suit for cross-reference. "Huh. I don't smell anyone else behind us, either."

"That must mean Shikamaru and the others have successfully detained them with his plan," the only girl remaining reasoned. 'And I hope to the gods above that Kin-san didn't betray us or sell us out to those Oto-nin…'

Once he paused to read the note, Naruto's fingers tightened around it, making him snarl. "The nerve of that guy!" he growled.

"Huh? What's wrong, Naruto?" Green eyes confusedly blinked.

"It says: Dobe, follow my breadcrumb trail. It's so easy that even an Academy student can pick up on it. Sasuke." The bewhiskered kid's vulpine features turned murderous.

Kiba snorted from his position as the front spot before laughing out loud.

"At any rate," Sakura intervened, bouncing off a flimsy tree branch, "we should keep moving."

Naruto kept mumbling to himself in a fuming ire, promising pain to his teammate the next time they saw each other.


The pursuant brunet felt a tickle hit his nose as he stemmed the oncoming sneeze with a quick press of his index finger to his nostrils.

"Is something the matter, Sasuke?" his tiger summon inquired as he maintained consistent altitude in the treetops.

"No, Kiyoshi. I'm fine," the boy sniffed.

Charging in full leaps, the brunet's feline summon saw the two fleeing ninja ahead of him.

'So close…'


Easily pinpointing the heinous chakra pouring off the snake-charmer, the fused being deftly flipped over several tree branches to pick up the pace.

Suddenly sensing a looming figure over its head, the assimilated being hurled its bronze staff like a boomerang in an upward motion, clubbing the serpent summon with a staggering blow dealt to its nose. The strange cane found its course back to the furred hand of the humanoid ape, twirling it this way and that.

"So…I see that you also have secret arts at your disposal, Sarutobi-sensei," Orochimaru casually remarked from his hiding spot, his fabled sword dreadfully gleaming in the available light filtering through the tree line, "but how long will you last, I wonder?"

The creature before him had Enma's height and battle attire, but a bit of his old mentor's face managed to show through—a thinning beard and hairline etched across its weathered features, in addition to the metal arm and shin guards on his battle uniform.

"Let's find out…" In an instant, a golden light emanated from the special rod before it assumed the form of a two-pronged, pincer-like halberd with magnificent cutting power akin to a crab's claw. Using its gripping feet, the simian-like effigy hurled its bulky form downward to avoid one of the enlarged snake's maw, only to come up from the momentum on the limb to cleave a long line into its scaly carapace, causing it to hiss out due to the lancing pain on its underbelly. With the polearm still lodged inside the venomous snake and under its chin, the Hiruzen-Enma fusion tossed the vile serpent high over its head and over the high canopy.

Shucking off the blood from the snake-charmer's familiar, the weapon in the being's hands warped again, but this time, assumed a bladed boomerang before cutting its dark eyes in the direction of its opponent. "Your intent is palpable…" Winding up, the fused enigma launched the newly created, bronze projectile as it fluttered through the tree leaves, in direct route to uproot Orochimaru from his vantage point. Breathing in deeply, the Sandaime Hokage, in his Ape-Man Merger secret art, unleashed hellish flames from his mouth to incinerate his wayward pupil, boosted with the power of Enma and his shared body.

'So…he does not require hand seals to operate Katon ninjutsu in that form…' the Legendary Ninja mused to himself as he swapped places with a log that was going to burn to cinders. '…Interesting.'

He wished he had enough men to fuel the Nidaime's dreaded forbidden technique, but it seemed as though his manpower got stretched thin a little bit. There was only one way to end this foiled invasion…

"My, my, you haven't lost your knack for combat, old man," he sneered. "It seems you still live up to your name." He sensed the elder ninja's agents quickly converge—just perfect for him to throw in the last jab to bring to light his master's humiliation. "It's just a shame that, for all your power, you failed where it counts the most…"

"Bowing out gracefully, I see…"

"Oh, not at all." Orochimaru's eyes narrowed to mere slits as he slowly warped himself into the tree branch on which he stood. "Your men will soon know that you couldn't stop all of us from abandoning you and this cesspool, you let Kushina live like a practical prisoner behind your wife, Biwako, and then, when she and your precious little Minato died to stop the Kyuubi…"

"You will hold your tongue, Orochimaru!" the form bellowed as it soared to the retreating ninja, only to arrive too late.

"…You let them become reviled and hated as I had been," the snake-charmer's disembodied voice echoed all throughout the clearing. "Truly, I applaud you for sacrificing all your heroes to appease the masses." A vacant fit of chuckles rang clear in the fused form's ears. "You and Danzou truly are a couple of peas in a pod, aren't you?"

In a dazzling flash of light, Enma and Hiruzen had separated from each other, both with equally morose looks chiseled on their visages. Once broken of the jutsu, Hiruzen clutched his shoulder in pain, the agony erupting with full force. "Argh! My arm!"

"Hiruzen!" his long-time companion shouted, worry crossing over his features as his summoner knelt down. "All right, you vile snake, what did you do to him?"

"Oh, by the way, you don't 'win' this time, Sensei, so don't celebrate, just yet," his whimsical student haughtily claimed. "You see, my Kusanagi…its lethal poison circulates through your bloodstream as I make my tactical retreat. Enjoy your next few weeks!" The chilling laughs that roared through the winds came and went as Orochimaru of the Legendary Three Ninja was no longer sensed by all in the glade.

Hiruzen could do nothing but growl.

"You let him escape again, old friend," Enma gravely intoned.

"…His comeuppance is nigh, Enma," the seasoned warrior confidently claimed from his crouched position. "I assure you of that." He felt his ANBU squadron surround him, offering quick apologies and asking him if he was unharmed. "Not all pedestals are meant to withstand the tests of time."

'…Not even his.'


Temari felt far under pressure to elude their trackers as she held Gaara in a supportive manner. It did not help when her little brother began his transformation into the beast that dwelled within him.

'Damn it,' she mentally cursed. 'I'm out of time…'

She decided to stop running to engage the enemy in order to bide some more time for their hidden weapon to unleash itself. 'I have to stop him…' Unfolding her war fan, the Desert Flower leapt up and let loose a close-quarters windstorm to thwart the Uchiha's progress.

It would have made direct contact had it not been for what looked like a crystalline mirror-like rectangle blocking the majority of the burst.

"What in the world…?"

As the Konoha shinobi urged his familiar to soar over the reflective block, the sandy blonde felt a sudden throb in her right kneecap when a stray senbon found itself superficially embedded into it. A numbing sensation overcame her leg as she crumpled into a sloppy kneel.

She saw the bizarre-looking prism shine a bit from the available sunlight as it flipped around and, emerging from the foggy crystal on the other side, was, in Temari's opinion, the one who crafted it. Her chocolate-brown eyes, normally warm, adopted a frosty edge as she glared at the now-crippled Sand kunoichi.

"I have orders to detain you, by any means," the brunette female ninja softly uttered as her battle kimono ruffled while she slowly hopped from branch to branch. "I don't want to hurt you too badly for invading my new home, but if you resist, then I will be forced to take action."

"…Who are you?" the incapacitated kunoichi inquired, running a few scenarios and contingency plans through her head.

"You may call me Haku…" the peculiarly dressed girl before her introduced, "and it is my sworn duty to protect the home of my new master."


Blue eyes with slit pupils glanced around as he picked up that familiar peach-smelling fragrance dead ahead…along with another foreign scent. 'Haku-chan?' Naruto wondered as the scents got stronger. 'Why's she's all the way out here?'

"Hey, Kiba, you smell that?" he asked as he cut his eyes to the left, staying mindful of low-hanging tree branches in his peripheral vision.

His fellow tracker whiffed the air. "Yeah, I do. Two girls…dead ahead!"

"Looks like it's time to help the friendly."

"You mean," Sakura intervened, "there's another kunoichi that's possibly on our side?"

"Not possibly," the blond answered with a confident smile, "because I know it without any doubt in my mind. We know her, Sakura. It's Haku-chan!"

"Well, let's help her out, then!" the cerise-locked kunoichi chirped.

"I'll shoot her a clone or two to ask if she's got it covered." With that in mind, the scourge of Konoha summoned a pair of doppelgangers, not even having the need to order them around as they sprung into action. They increased their speed a slight amount to scout in front. "If she needs help, then my copies can provide support."

"…Not gonna lie. That's a pretty handy jutsu," Kiba muttered with a twinge of envy.

The one-man army known as Uzumaki Naruto shrugged his shoulders. "Meh…It has its ups and downs. Either way, we gotta try to save enough of our strength for what's about to go down soon…"


The two Naruto duplicates sped up, critically taking in their surroundings among the sea of trees.

"See anything?" the rightmost clone inquired.

"Yeah," the other replied. "I see some of Haku-chan's ice mirrors, so she must be fighting an enemy."

As the two approached, they were stopped by one of the ice-conjuring kunoichi's own copy, but made of water. The crystalline prison obscured who was caught within his roommate's special art.

"I'm fine, Naruto-kun," the Mizu Bunshin hastily commented as it phased out of the icy prison of mirrors. "Sasuke-kun is northeast from here! Hurry!"

"Well, let's go, then!"

"All right!" The two leapt into action and charged forward, nimbly tapping against tree limbs with adrenaline-fueled celerity.

"Oh, dear…" Cold dread coated its insides. He felt the strange sensation that permeated the air like suffocating a person with a thick blanket.

"What? What's wrong?"

The copy to the left simply pointed. "Look."

The blond on the right sharpened his vision by focusing his eyes past the tree line to a narrow squint. Said blue eyes widened in shock.

Rising above the canopy was a mound of sand that began to take shape around a small speck that appeared to be a ninja on a type of mount.

"…Looks like someone knocked over that kid's sand castle," the observant duplicate deadpanned.


A/N: Now, before I finish out for this chapter's AN, I ask that you leave me a review. I'm pretty sure that, among the staggering number of alerts I have for this story; I have many readers creeping around in the background and behind the scenes. Where are you all? Drop me a line and show me you're not a bot! And yes, I'm pointing you out. Show me some love! Let me know what you think! =)

I also enabled anonymous reviews again, but be mindful of what is typed. Anything offensive or obscene will be deleted on the spot.

Nevertheless, I'd like to give props to my go-to fellows for this update: EliadS, Dalxein

Only two people managed to find the required two references from last chapter:

Daniel Lynx, Tempest of Reach

What were they, you might ask? Well…in order of appearance:

One: Man on Fire ("A life for a life…") – Excellent movie, by the way!

Two: Star Wars ("Order Sixty-Six" on the Uchiha)

Three: Star Wars ("Search your feelings, for you know it to be true.")

Four: Iconic Internet Troll Meme ("You mad, bro?")

Five: Halo 2 – variant of the inspired quote from the Heretic Leader, Sesa 'Refumee to the Arbiter ("The Hyuuga [Elites] are blind, Neji [Arbiter]. [But] I will make them see.")

Six: Halo 3: ODST – corrupt police officer teaming up with the Rookie as they venture deeper into the Data Hive to rendezvous with Veronica Dare ("Don't worry. We all got secrets.")

Like I mentioned, some were pretty obscure; others, blatantly obvious.

There aren't any Easter eggs for this chapter, sadly. At any rate, let me know what you think of the fight scenes (or glances into them). Am I doing a decent enough job to introduce compelling battle choreography?

Just saw the most recent manga chapter…

The names being released for the tailed-beasts made me sigh in dismay.

Anyhow, I promise to you that I will refurbish the past chapters (Four to Fifteen) when the time permits. And, in good faith, I decided to postpone the climactic battle until the next installment. I wanted to get the invasion in its entirety, but due to pressing time issues to get it under the once-a-month update; I felt the need to post what I had already written.

On that note, ladies and gentlemen, take it easy, enjoy your day (or night, depending on your time zone), LEAVE A REVIEW and I'll see you all in the New Year. Seasons greetings and happy holidays to you all!

The looming shadow of war has broken to the light of victory, but, regrettably, some souls never returned from the howling darkness. Lives were greedily consumed in the war machine, forcing the sole survivors to march on in remembrance of their fallen comrades. In the meantime, extenuating circumstances force the wizened Fire Shadow to abdicate his position and find a worthy successor to the Hokage mantle, but it becomes a race against the clock as he withers away.

Jikai (Next time…), on Birth of a Legend: The Fox Druid…

Small Victory: Race against Time

Romaji/Jutsu Guide

Shishienjin (Four Violet Flames Battle Encampment): B-rank supplementary mid-range barrier ninja technique; this special barrier technique requires at least four people; standing in a square formation, the performers are covered from all sides; the faces of the barrier are made from purple flames, and the barrier does not allow anyone to enter or exit so long as the ninja are unharmed. The body of anyone touching it will immediately be engulfed in flames. In addition, there is no way to destroy the formation from inside the barrier, since the four people also have a barrier on the inside protecting them. Breaking out is extremely difficult. (Narutopedia)

Doton: Dosekiryuu (Earth Release: Earth and Stone Dragon): unknown rank offensive long-range ninjutsu; the user creates a dragon made from the ground to attack the opponent (Narutopedia)

Katon: Karyuu Endan (Fire Release: Fire Dragon Flame Bullet): B-rank offensive short- to mid-range ninjutsu; the user kneads chakra into flames, which are then manipulated into a genuine-looking dragon. Since the art of having the flames obey the user's will is outrageously difficult, its mastery is restricted to a limited number of skilful shinobi. The flames are divided to launch a left side, right side, and frontal assault in all three directions at once, turning the enemy into ash in a matter of seconds. (Narutopedia)

Nintaijutsu: ninja body techniques; simply, the use of integrating elemental ninjutsu into taijutsu

Suiton: Suijadan no Jutsu (Water Release: Water Serpent Missile Technique): High C-rank mid- to long-range ninjutsu; allows the user to create a serpent out of water to launch at the opponent; lower form of Suiton: Suiryuudan no Jutsu (Water Release: Water Dragon Missile Technique) (created)

Kenjutsu: literally, "art of the sword," "fencing," or "sword techniques"; catch-all term for practitioners of the bladed arts

Boujutsu: literally, "staff techniques"

Shinrei no Higi: Enjin Kyuushuu (Spiritualistic Secret Ceremony: Ape-Man Merger): unknown rank, classified secret ritual; little is known about this particular technique, but observations have concluded that it entails the user assimilating with a personal summoning familiar or assuming the characteristics of the animals the user has sworn to protect through mysterious methods; in this case, this secret ceremony has been speculated to be specific to the monkey-summoning Sarutobi clan (created)