A/N: It's the beginning of a new arc and a new set of villains hit the scene!

How will Witchblade!Sakura and her cohorts respond to these Witchblade Hunters? You're about to find out!

Back to Konoha we go. Long overdue I know.

Before I start, I want to give credit to Peter 'Nnereus' Borsiczky for providing me the written content revolving Tenten's solo scenes and her scene up coming with Sakura. With his permission, I'm utilizing a sub-plot he's written for Tenten's metal-based power and incorporating it during this new arc! More parts of his written sub-plot will be coming in the next set of chapters. Thanks, Nnereus!

Enjoy!

xxxxx

Underground Bunker/Konohagakure/Fire Country

Just 30 feet below Konohagakure lied a network of tunnels leading through various corridors. It was here where Danzo established his base of operations, keeping himself completely out of the Hokage's sight. He utilized this method of underground networking to gather and meet with his Root organization. All the while he would move in and out of Konoha operating in secrecy with only Root and his former teammates, the elders Homura and Koharu.

Lately, since acquiring more knowledge on the Witchblade via spy networks and eavesdropping on Tsunade's conversations with Sakura, he's managed to comprehend the Witchblade's power and how it could rival the Kyuubi's terrifying brute force. With two super powers in Konoha, he saw this as the most opportune time to take both the Jinchuuriki and the wielder to win favors with the villagers, ultimately oust Tsunade from her position. However, he required outside assistance from a group of skilled and dangerous nukenin and hired assassins to engage the Witchblade wielder, using them to fight Sakura in the village.

He required not just assassins, but hunters.

And he's successfully managed to round up a group of seven elite shinobi and three young agents to openly engage the wielder.

xxxxx

Upon entering his underground quarters, Danzo was seated on a platform as his one good eye glared across the spacious dark area. With only a set of candles lighting up the room, the aged warhawk watched seven individuals stop and conceal themselves behind the thick darkness. The young shinobi trio were apparently nowhere to be found, which didn't seem to deter Danzo.

Instead, the aged man wore a grizzled and wrinkled smile, revealing his deceptive disposition.

"Welcome, Hunters," Danzo openly welcomed his guests. "Or, should I now call you Witchblade Hunters now?"

The middle figurehead, who stood behind the darkness with six extra 'limbs' dangling over his back, answered in a calm, discreet manner. "Thank you, Danzo. We're happy to oblige as long as the price we're asking is negotiable. You require us to help you overthrow the current Hokage by engaging the new talk of the shinobi world: the Witchblade wielder."

"Correct, and I'm sure all of you are well aware the Witchblade possessed the force rivaling that of a Bijuu."

The figure on the far left, a large behemoth with spikes aligned along his back, grunted deeply. "Humph, so we have to fight some scrawny little girl with a weapon? Pfft, just how threatening can she be without this power?"

"Naturally, on her own, she's an improved and skilled shinobi. She's Tsunade's most prized student. Granted, she's no threat to you I can assure you," Danzo entailed the hunters as he stood up and stepped down the platform. "With the Witchblade, the girl is a force to be reckoned with. I highly suggest you all don't take her lightly. Otherwise, be cautious. When provoked, she will draw upon the Witchblade's power."

"So, the girl draws the Witchblade's power via extreme situations," the multi-armed shadowed figure said with intrigue.

"Yes, when her life is in apparent danger, the weapon will act on its own and protect her. Thus, that immediate threat triggers her transformation."

Another figure, a man with an electrical surge sizzling around his body, promptly interjected. "Get to the chase. When do you want us to strike? I've been inching for some action."

"Be patient," a lady quipped, addressing to her 'electrical' colleague. "We'll get our chance until Danzo informs us."

"Right now, I want you all to remain low," the old warhawk suggested, walking across as the hunters stepped aside to let him through. He stopped as he eyes fell on a picture of Tsunade hanging on a side wall. Seeing her portrait was enough to boil the embittered man's blood, who has longed to become Hokage since Sarutobi Hiruzen's passing. He placed his hand on the portrait and ripped it off the wall, crushing Tsunade's pictured face in his hand. "Tsunade, to overthrow you from you seat, your prized student will be the perfect pawn in my gambit to claiming what's rightfully mine." He dropped the crumbled picture on the ground and stepped on it. "The seat of Hokage!" He turned and faced the Witchblade Hunters. "Hunters, the time is ripe. I await word from your three colleagues."

"Oh, don't worry, Danzo," the multi-armed man, who seemingly acted as the leader and mind of the group, answered with reassurance. "They're on the move as we speak."

Danzo smiled evilly, nodding. "Excellent. I await their report. I've also taken precautions and sent a few Root members to monitor Haruno Sakura's activities. Hunters, for now, you are dismissed."

xxxxx

Chapter 56

Arc V: Prelude to Darkness

Part II: Witchblade Hunters

Konoha Kunoichi Assembly! The Hunters Gathering!

xxxxx

Hospital Room #32/Konoha Hospital/Konohagakure/Fire Country

Having left Sunagakure three days ago, Team Konoha returned in an hour and Uzumaki Naruto was immediately rushed to the Konoha Hospital. Naruto's condition was reported to Tsunade and Shizune as they rushed over to assist in closing the cut inflicted by Tayuya. Although they successfully sealed off the cut, they couldn't awaken the Jinchuuriki from his coma and placed him under tight surveillance in a hospital room. Only those close to Naruto and friends were allowed to visit Naruto as he was bed-ridden for the past two days. In regards to Team 8, Shikamaru, Chouji, and others, a few of them were taken into intensive care. Kiba was forced to stay in for a day for examination after being healed by Shizune. Likewise, Chouji was placed under nurses care, but would be released in a day or two. Shikamaru, having been traumatized, refused any medical treatment and allowed himself to be discharged from the hospital, but stuck around to visit Naruto, Asuma, and Chouji. Sai, Shino, and Hinata were released immediately following examination as they suffered less injuries, which were easily treated by medical nurses.

Only Naruto was the one who received the worst of the it all and there was no telling when he'll ever recover from his comatose state.

Haruno Sakura sat beside Naruto's bed side. She placed a hand over his and resisted the urge to shed tears. She didn't waste any time placing blame on herself for not stopping Tayuya from damaging Naruto's seal and putting him in this current state. She withdrew her eyes from Naruto and coughed, covering her mouth.

"Naruto, I'm sorry," she softly murmured, feeling utterly defeated for having failed to protect the man she confessed her love to recently. She stared back over Naruto's still form. Her eyes were fixated over him and she didn't turn away even for a second. All she could do was pray for Naruto's quick recovery and visit him everyday, even going as far as taking out time from her training schedule and what little free time she had to herself just to visit her fox-faced lover. As she leaned forward, she brushed the hair hanging over his forehead. "Naruto, please, if you can hear me... please... open your eyes again. I don't want to lo... lose you. I don't know what we... what I'd do if anything were to happen." She hung her face over Naruto and kissed him on the lips.

A tear fell from the girl's left eye and plopped against the Jinchuuriki's forehead. Another tear leaked from Sakura's followed by another. She slowly jerked her head away, covering her face whilst trying to conceal her tears. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't stop.

Suddenly, a knock was heard from the outside. She turned as she spotted four figures standing outside.

"Come in," the pinkette acknowledged whomever the guests were.

As the door slid open, Hinata, Ino, Tenten, and Shikamaru came barging in unannounced. Sakura saw Hinata bringing a bouquet of lavender lilies. She watched the Hyuuga princess set the flowers beside the table situated near the Jinchuuriki's bed side. Ino walked up to Sakura, noticing her friend wiping her tears. She gave her best friend and love rival a best friend's hug, reassuring Sakura she has her support and wished Naruto's quick recovery.

"Thanks you, guys," Sakura openly stated.

Hinata smiled to the pinkette. "No problem, Sakura-san. We were all thinking about Naruto and you."

"Yeah, but it's such a shame what happened," Tenten said, shifting her view to Naruto as she wore a saddened expression. "How long do you suppose he'll be out for?"

"It's a coma," Ino stated. "There's just no telling when it comes to waking up from a coma. It took me a few months before I finally recovered." Reflecting on her recent trauma, the blonde shook her head and sighed deeply. "Being in a coma is scary. Even scarier when you don't know what's going to happen to you. One's mind goes completely dark. That's I felt... trapped in darkness for a long time. I never want to wish anything like that on anyone in this village. I don't care how much I might dislike that one person."

Shikamaru nodded as he pulled up a chair and observed the comatose Naruto. He tried to get his mind off nearly being humiliated by Cloneblade Tayuya.

"Well, I thank you all for the support," Sakura said, visibly enthused with the Konoha crew pitching in to give flowers and cards for Naruto. But, Ino's words were enough to touch Sakura. "I'm sure if Naruto were awake, he'd really thank you all with his usual stupid fox grin." She tried imitating her lover's foxface with failed results. "Anyway..."

"Sakura, I don't mean to change the subject," Tenten interjected as she addressed to the Witchblade wielder. "I'm sure you've heard me and Ino training together."

"Yeah, so I heard," the pink-haired kunoichi remarked, alternating her view between Ino and Tenten. "What made you two decide to train together?"

Ino scoffed and folded her arms. "To keep myself from falling behind you. We are rivals of love after all. I'll concede with you being with Naruto, but I'll find my man. Mark my words."

"Oh, I'm sure you'll find the suitable guy for you, Ino."

"Yes, Sakura-san's right! You'll find s-someone like Naruto-kun!" Hinata happily announced, causing the others to glance towards her. She awkwardly blushed and blinked randomly. "Erm, never mind what I said."

"No, you're right, Hinata-chan," Sakura said as her smile broadened. She turned toward Ino and winked to her best friend. "You know you could always ask Sai or even Chouji."

Shikamaru groaned as he rested his chin against the chair. "Hear that, Naruto? Girl talk as usual. Let's just stick with more manly issues, ok?"

Overhearing Shikamaru's quip, Ino scoffed and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, like Naruto can hear you..."

"Sure he can. Right, pal?" he asked his comatose, bedridden friend, receiving no obvious response. A clever smirk adorned the Nara clansman's face, drawing an irked look from Ino. "See? He heard me just fine."

Ino merely groaned, turning her back to Shikamaru. "Wait until I fill you in on everything with my training, Sakura."

"Ah, but today I want to borrow you, Sakura," Tenten offered to the pinkette. "Meet me at the training grounds in two hours." She then noted and pointed to Sakura's bracelet. "And I want you to use the Witchblade."

"What...?"

"See you at the training grounds in two hours?"

"Sure, but..."

Tenten smiled as she waved to Sakura and stepped out. "See you there! Don't be late!"

"Whoa, hold on! Are we postponing our training today, Tenten!" Ino quickly bolted after her new training partner. "Tenten! Wait!"

Hinata took a bow to Sakura as she turned toward the door. "Take care of Naruto-kun and make sure he's safe, Sakura-san."

The pink-haired wielder reaffirmed. "I will. You take care, Hinata-chan. Send Neji my regards." She followed Hinata out and watched her leave. Closing the door behind her, the pinkette headed back to Naruto's bedside as only Shikamaru was left. "You're the only one left here."

"Yeah. I came here to tell you..."

"About?"

"Tayuya. She was interrogated and we were unable to get anything regarding Sasuke's whereabouts."

Sakura's face hardened, angrily furrowing her brows once Shikamaru mentioned the psychotic Cloneblade's name. She was still reeling with anger over Tayuya's reckless action in damaging his seal and the one responsible for putting him in his current vegetative state. If she had the chance, she'd bolt right into Tayuya's cell and beating the ever life out of the ex Oto-nin and former Sound Five member.

"She should've been the one in a fucking comatose state," Sakura said, clenching her fists tightly. "I'd be more than glad to knock her ass into a coma for what she did to Naruto."

"Well, she's locked in a cell. So, if you want a chance to vent out, I'd head over to the prison now."

As she reached for Naruto's hand, she grabbed it and leaned over to kiss her lover's left cheek.

"I'll be back," she whispered softly into Naruto's ear, smiling. She turned and hardened her gaze as she faced Shikamaru. "Take me there."

xxxxx

Prison Cell #33/Konoha Penitentiary/Konohagakure/Fire Country

Upon arriving in a prison corridor, Shikamaru and Sakura arrived at the front of a prison cell where the former Cloneblade was imprisoned. Sakura suppressed every urge to walk forward and break through the bars. Two ANBU Black Ops, a man and a woman with long purple hair, approached Shikamaru and Sakura as they granted them a few minutes to speak with Tayuya.

Shikamaru faced the prison cell, conveying disgust toward the reddish pink-haired criminal. All he could do was stand his ground and control his anger as well. Both heard a low devilish chuckle emanated from the cell as Tayuya pivoted her head and faced them. Wearing an deadpan expression, Tayuya showed little care for the pain she put the two through since they had taken away something precious to her.

"What a fitting place for filth like yourself," Sakura said, lowering her tone. "I heard Ibiki needed help straightening you out. I'm surprised you're even still breathing. Let alone alive."

Tayuya chortled as she folded her chained arms behind her head. "I've been through harsher torture than what your pussy ass Konoha interrogators can dish out. I can take whatever they can give me."

"Feh, you're not so tough without your Cloneblade," the pinkette scoffed as she walked forward until Shikamaru put an arm forward to halt her.

The Nara clansman quickly asserted. "Let's cut to the chase. Tayuya, you're gonna be spending a long time behind bars. We're only keeping you alive since you might tell us where Uchiha Sasuke's current location is situated. So, I ask again: where is Uchiha Sasuke?"

Tayuya simply chuckled in response as she stared at the ceiling. "...for a prison cell, the view isn't too bad."

"So, it's gonna be that way, eh?"

"You're not trying hard enough, Shikamaru," Sakura growled as she lightly pushed him aside and grabbed the bars. She forcefully bellowed at the former Flute Diva. "He's asking you a question! Why don't you answer him?"

"Or, what? You gonna break in here and beat me senseless?" Tayuya slowly lowered her head and faced Sakura with an unhinged look. "Come on, bitch! I dare ya to come in here and beat the piss outta me! Why do I care where Sasuke is? He and I haven't been in contact for months!"

"YOU'RE LYING!"

"I might be a sadistic bitch, but I'm no liar."

"Why you...!"

"That's enough, Sakura," Shikamaru boldly assured the pink-haired wielder, pulling her away from the bars. "Ok, so you haven't seen Sasuke in months, but you were in contact with him. Where do you think he could be right now?"

Tayuya smirked devilishly, licking her bottom lip. "You said he killed his brother just recently, right? Well, who knows? He might've joined up with the Akatsuki or something. Or, gone rogue. He's out there somewhere. Look, why the fuck should I care about the emo-prince? I never liked him."

"This is getting us nowhere, Shikamaru," added Sakura, who promptly turned away from Tayuya's cell with sheer disgust. "Sorry I wasted my time here."

Suddenly, Tayuya pulled herself off the floor and slowly paced halfway through her prison cell. She stopped as far as the chains could allow her, drawing enough strength to lift one hand. Sakura abruptly ceased any further advancement out of the corridor and slowly pivoted her head, noticing Tayuya standing in her cell. Shikamaru cautiously monitored Tayuya, waiting for the chance to beckon a signal to the ANBU guards. Tayuya aimlessly dropped her hand and sank to both knees, seemingly exhausted and lethargic. Shikamaru frowned and turned his back to Tayuya.

"So, how's the fan bitch's legs recovering...? I hope I didn't turn her into a cripple, it'd be a shame if I didn't get the job done..."

Gritting his teeth, Shikamaru suppressed every urge to retort and lash out at the scum verbally. He blocked out Tayuya's distasteful words whilst thinking of Temari and her brothers. He stayed true to his word that he wouldn't let Tayuya's hurtful taunts get under his skin. Slightly irked by being ignored, she quickly looked toward Sakura and took a verbal shot at the pinkette's pride.

"...and you? How's that idiot boy toy of yours? He ever gonna wake up? It'd be sad if he never does, but I guess... you'll never get any with him. Face it. Between Sasuke and the fox-faced idiot, you're Konoha's biggest slut. How does that grab ya, Slutkura?"

Clenching her fists and teeth, the pink-haired wielder's fury rose as the Witchblade gauntlet reacted, letting armor cover her knuckles.

Tayuya evilly chortled and laughed at Sakura's torn pride. "Kukuku, it hurts doesn't it? Ya don't got anything to say? Nothing? I kicked your ass twice and you could only knock me out after I lost my Cloneblade! You're a slut who can't even beat me! Your MY bitch, Witchblade wielder!"

"SHUT UP!" Sakura fiercely bellowed as she lunged toward the cell bars and grabbed them. As she tried pulling them down, Shikamaru and the ANBU prison guards quickly intercepted the pinkette, restraining her from the bars. "LET ME GO! I'M GOING TO KILL THAT UNGRATEFUL BITCH!"

"SAKURA! CALM DOWN!" Shikamaru roared, folding his arms around her waist. "You're only giving into what she wants! And that's to antagonize you!"

"I think it's about time you executed this piece of trash! She's no longer of any value to society!"

The purple-haired female ANBU addressed to Sakura, nodding. "Her fate will be determined soon. But, I think it's safe to say you'll likely get your wish, Haruno Sakura."

"Yuugao-san," Sakura muttered as she turned away and bolted out of the corridor.

Shikamaru and the ANBU pair watched Sakura run out of the prison corridor. The ANBU turned toward Shikamaru, who sighed out of exasperation. The stress and work following the Suna mission was finally catching up to the young man. He pulled out a cigarette from his Jounin coat pocket and lit it, soothing his stressed mood.

"Sakura, I'm really sorry for putting you through that," Shikamaru sighed, disgusted with himself for even bringing Sakura to see Tayuya. He pivoted his head and turned toward the ANBU guards. "You two make sure this trash stays confined in her cage." He shot one last scornful glare toward Tayuya and walked off. Before leaving, he stopped beside Yuugao and leaned over to whisper to her. "Could you do me a favor, Yuugao? Sakura's going through a hard time right now. On your free time, you think you can visit and cheer her up some? I'm not entitled with trying to cheer her up since I'm not good at that kind of stuff."

Briefly taken aback, Yuugao simply nodded. "Sure. I'll do what I can."

"Thanks," he replied before heading down the corridor. He turned a left corner and entered a restroom. After washing his face, he let out another exasperated sigh and tried getting Tayuya's distasteful words off his mind. He reflected back on his last visit with Temari in her hospital room.

xxxxx

Flashback/Three Days Ago

Hospital Room #7/Sunagakure Medical Center/Sunagakure/Wind Country

On his last night before departure the next day, Shikamaru took it upon himself to visit Temari and settle in to keep her company. He wheeled her out into the balcony as they watched the beautiful night skies dotted with cosmic stars. Temari's eyes lit up as she and Shikamaru counted the stars, ending with Temari teasing Shikamaru for quickly losing interest in their game. Unbeknownst to Shikamaru, the Suna princess laid a hand over the Nara clansman's, startling him a bit.

"Thank you for coming by to visit me, Shikamaru. I really appreciate it."

"Yeah, it's nothing really," he stammered a little. "Just being the cool guy I am."

Temari wore a coy smile as she pulled Shikamaru close to her face. Before Shikamaru could say anything more, she kissed him on the lips. For a moment, Shikamaru didn't know how to react... but he naturally went along with the flow. Folding his arms around her neck, he returned a kiss.

They quickly pulled apart and briefly stared into each other's eyes. There was a sudden passion between the two friends, who've just gone out of their way to express a yearning for one another. Who would've thought Tayuya of all people would draw two of Konoha and Suna's most stubborn shinobi together? A possibility like this would've been astronomical to say the least. Perhaps the recent incident was all that's required to firmly establish Shikamaru and Temari's relationship.

"Shikamaru, let's keep this a secret to your friends and my brothers."

"Huh?" The befuddled young man blinked.

The Suna princess smiled passionately. "I want them to be surprised. We'll reveal all to them when the time is right."

"If you say so, but your brothers and my friends are gonna eventually find out."

"If that has to be the case, so be it."

Shikamaru and Temari leaned forward, kissing each other again. Both held each other closely as Shikamaru nearly pushed her off her wheelchair. The Suna princess didn't care one bit for her injured legs as she and the man who she's playfully teased were locked in a warm passionate embrace.

"When my legs get better, we're gonna take this to a new level."

"I'll be ready whenever you are."

End of flashback

xxxxx

Present Day/Restroom/Konoha Penitentiary/Konohagakure/Fire Country

Taking another deep breath, Shikamaru relaxed his stance and dried his face. He stared at his reflection in the mirror and smirked, purging out every negative remark said by Tayuya.

"Yeah, we'll make our next night out worthwhile our while, Temari."

xxxxx

Tenten's Workshop/Konohagakure/Fire Country

Clang!

The heavy forging hammer struck hot metal and a rain of sparks flew as Konoha's weapon mistress brought her right arm down. Whatever Tenten was making this time didn't need any more hammering, but whenever she was worked up or frustrated over things such as training or missions, she would get rid of it by forging new weapons to take her mind off of her problems.

But, today she was even more shaken then ever and hammering kunai didn't seem to do the job either. Like sharpening shurikens or throwing them at target dummies, which always put her at ease in the past failed to bring peace to her mind. Even when some of the sparks from her hitting metal landed on her skin didn't flinch as she continued to hammer like a machine, not really paying attention to what she was doing, her thoughts wandered off, god knows where.

Words came out of her mouth, without her hearing them. "Tenonawa Tenico."

xxxxx

Flashback/A week ago

Tenten's Workshop/Konohagakure/Fire Country

Tenten was sitting on her bed reading a scroll with her mouth agape. Roughly a week ago she was in the middle of her target practice when she suddenly realized something. She threw the last kunai in her hand, hitting a perfect bullseye, as always, and ran back inside her modest sized house.

She nearly tore open one of her weapon caches and reached inside into the mass of killing objects, retrieving a small box with lots of seals on it. She had almost forgotten about it in the past years. When she was younger, she had tried to open it on numerous occasions, but the seals had prevented it. And the frustration of not being able to open it made her want to look inside all the more. She even took it to Konoha's most skilled seal masters. Of course, she knew the greatest seal masters Konoha has ever produced, the Fourth Hokage and Jiraiya would be a better choice, but since the Fourth was dead and Tenten, being wiser than girls her age, thanks to being on her own ever since she left the orphanage, wasn't really inclined to trust Jiraiya, knowing his perverted reputation. He might've asked for nude photos in return for his help.

Being a weapon carrier, Tenten had good knowledge about storing seals, but the seals on the box weren't something she recognized. Sure, she knew at once that they meant to prevent anyone from opening it, but how they did that was beyond her, so she took it to the seal masters. She suspected that inside was probably something that was for her and her only, so she talked the seal masters into letting her stay there while they tried to open it.

Hours passed without success, Tenten started to lose hope and the seal masters were losing their patience. The seals on the box were not ordinary in the least. Reluctantly at first, Tenten left the box in their care, but asked to be told at once if they managed to open it.

A few weeks passed, and Tenten visited the seal masters every day, but she was told every time that they haven't been able to open it yet. At first, Tenten thought that despite the seal masters code of ethics, they simply lied to her, but when she was shown the box intact she apologized and took it home where, not knowing what to do with it, she put the box into her weapon case and had slowly forgotten about it being there.

But now, her hopes were given a substantial boost and the curiosity she had buried inside her popped up like never before.

Something in the back of her mind whispered to her that this time it would be different.

Here she was, sitting at her table, eyeing the box before taking it into her hands and drawing out her newfound power. What was frightening was what the Witchblade showed her when grabbing her hands in her vision. It was now much more familiar. The feeling of her bones became heavier and more sturdy with metal. Tenten concentrated her chakra into her hands as best she could, a job harder than it looked given her sloppy chakra control. For minutes nothing happened and the brunette was near to the point of quitting altogether and throwing the wretched box into the sea, so she would never see it again.

But, then her ears picked up the sound of burning paper akin to a paper bomb. Tenten's eyes opened as she let the box fall on the table, seeing that the seals surrounding it started to burn away and vanish. Once none remained and it looked safe to touch, she pulled the container close and opened it.

There was a neatly folded blank scroll inside, and Tenten frowned at herself for letting her hopes go up.

'What the hell else would be inside if not a damned scroll?' she growled in her mind as she inspected it carefully, finding out the cruel truth. It was just a plain old unused scroll.

"Shit!" she cursed at some invisible prankster that managed to pull such a big one on her. Though she was always known for her patience, Tenten had enough after another disappointment and wanted to throw the scroll straight into her forge across the room, but she found herself unable to. Again, those blasted little voices bombarded her in her mind not to destroy it, and she obeyed them, dropping the scroll onto the table where it rolled out next to her candle. "I thought I'd finally learn something about myself, my family, and where I come from, but no, some jerk fucks me over!"

Still mad at the ambiguous prankster, Tenten made a mental note that after today's practice with Neji and Ino, she wouldn't let Neji go home until he satisfied her at least three times. They haven't had a chance to sleep together ever since coming home from the Star Village, due to the constant training she put herself through, and Neji being busy with Hyuuga Clan affairs. It didn't bother Tenten for some time, but after a few weeks the desires awakened at Star Village came back full force, and no amount of training with either Sakura, Neji, her newest training partner Ino, the Green Beasts (yes, Sakura managed to convince Tenten to begin training with Guy and Lee to upgrade her speed) or even cold showers could cool her desires.

So, Tenten made up her mind that tonight she and Neji would make love and everything else, clan affairs, training can go to hell. And if, by any chance, Neji said no, Tenten decided that she would give him no choice. Either he'd have interact with her willingly or she would use her chains to hold him down while she would humble him.

The weapons mistress chuckled at herself. 'I told Neji back in the Star Village whatever I said while transformed was the Witchblade's doing, but I know now what Sakura meant that he brings out your darkest desires.' She laughed out loud at the thought of Neji strapped to her bed while she mercilessly humbled him. It sounded so insanely impossible, yet deep inside, Tenten knew she would do it if Neji refused to give in to his lust. Lust for her he had already proven himself of having when they had sex after the Darkling battle. First time or not, the two didn't really take it slowly and neither have they regretted it. 'The Witchblade was right, he 'has' corrupted me to some degree, and I love it.'

Tenten felt her sour mood elevate at the thought of Neji and her making love and decided to try one more thing. Focusing her metal affinity into her hands once more she opened the scroll, but like before, nothing happened.

The armies of anger once more flooded her mind and her hand came down on the table with a loud CLANG that caused three things to happen.

One, Tenten cried out in pain. Two, the massive metal table gave in and cracked under her fist. And three, the candle on the table toppled over and hot wax landed on the scroll.

"Oh, crap!" Tenten cried out when she saw the wax on the paper and rushed to clean the hot wax off, before it burned the scroll. But nothing of that sort happened, instead ink appeared on the scroll, forming words around the drop of wax.

"Well, I'll be damned," she said as the picture suddenly became clear. Ninjas used many types of disappearing ink that only appeared under specific conditions, but she didn't expect it to be put on a scroll that was locked inside a nigh unopenable box. "Let's get to work!" she grinned at the sudden chance and rushed out to the kitchen to get more candles, so she could decode the contents of the scroll.

What she found would have been enough to shock the hell out of anyone.

End flashback

xxxxx

Tenten's Workshop/Konohagakure/Fire Country

The loud buzzing of her clock brought her back to reality, signaling that she should head to training or she would be late.

Tenten locked up and left her home, a shadow of herself.

xxxxx

Training Ground/Konohagakure/Fire Country

Two hours later.

Metal bit into metal as Witchblade Sakura attacked with her double bladed katana and Tenten countered it with her metal armbands before trying to kick Sakura in the stomach. The kick landed, but Sakura puffed into a log and Tenten had to act quickly. She knew what Sakura was plotting next and she guessed right.

With a loud roar, Sakura struck the ground, using her own enhanced strength learned from Tsunade to send a fissure at Tenten, but the weapon user jumped into the air so she wasn't hurt. Instead, she executed a quick spin and with a sudden feeling of power in her arms, lashed out at Sakura, her armbands spitting out half a dozen blades at the empowered medic-nin.

Sakura transformed her swords and the armor on her right arm into a shield to deflect the attack, but the force of Tenten's projectiles was much greater then she expected and she was blown back by the impact.

Seeing her opponent on the ground, Tenten rushed in and jumped up, positioning her left leg to deliver the finishing blow to Sakura's neck.

A loud bang was heard as dirt and dust flew everywhere, but Tenten felt that she was late and Sakura had already ducked. Her leg caused the earth to crack and crumble, not nearly as much as Sakura's punches, but it would definitely give Lee's Lotus amplified attacks a run for its money.

As fast as lightning came Sakura's counterattack, once more with her chakra enhanced strength. Tenten could only bring her armbands up to cover her face before Sakura's punch connected. The force of the blow shattered Tenten's armbands into a million pieces and the weapon user was hurled back into a large rock.

Blood exploded from Tenten's mouth as she hit the boulder, followed by Sakura's gasp as she realized what she had done to her friend and rushed in to help her.

"TENTEN!" The wielder cried as she hurried toward her sparring partner.

xxxxx

"Sorry, I didn't quite concentrate," Tenten apologized as she sat on the grass with an untransformed Sakura kneeling behind her, tending to Tenten's injuries. "I'm kinda worked up."

"Yes, I can see that. I'm sorry I went too hard, but I've had Naruto on my mind and that bitch Tayuya practically rubbed me the wrong way," Sakura said, but her thoughts wandered around Tenten's bruised back, puzzled at what her medical probing had revealed. None of Tenten's bones have been broken or fractured as they should have disintegrated when Sakura's 'mad punch' sent her flying into a rock.

Amazing. Sakura mentally noted. No broken bones, no internal bleeding, no damaged organs, only bruises and minor injuries, when that punch should have blown her insides out.

The Witchblade chimed in Sakura's mind. 'Ah, my little ex-wielder is starting to get the hang of it. Her metal affinity has solidified her bones, no wonder she didn't break her spine when that fan wielding babe beat her at the Chuunin exams. Take a look at her skeleton!'

Sakura complied and knew the Witchblade was right. Not only did Tenten's bones appear to be larger and more robust than before, but the calcium phosphate level in their osseous tissue increased, making her skeleton stronger than steel. Sakura moved around Tenten, carrying on with her examination and her suspicions were further confirmed. Tenten's ribs have gained significant mass, giving the heart and lungs a complete, all around steel protection. The weapon user's arms and legs showed similar improvements in rigidness and durability.

Suddenly, Sakura felt herself drawn inside her mind by the Witchblade.

Whoa, you truly did a number on her, Witchblade. Sakura told her weapon in her mind. Tenten's become so much more powerful since she has been your wielder, even if she was a little sloppy today. When her projectiles hit me it was like being smashed head on by a rampaging bull.

'Yes, but thanks to your medical training, your body can take considerably more punishment than others'. I must say your time with the Sannin babe has been the best thing that ever happened to you before I came along.'

Sakura frowned and argued. Don't be so full of yourself, though. It's not like my life was meaningless before that.

The Witchblade persisted. Still, you seriously lacked any true goal in your life before you started training with Tsunade.

The pink-haired kunoichi didn't answer because she knew the weapon was right.

'Little Tenten told me in our private conversation how envious she was over you and your skills. You know, you having such refined chakra control, being adept at Genjutsu, awesome Taijutsu and medical skills and so on, whereas she felt herself being a burden and that I would have picked you over her anytime if I had the choice.'

That's not true. Sakura argued. Tenten was never considered inferior by her teammates, though I can understand why she didn't have as much confidence as she has now. With Lee's and Guy's awesome speed and Taijutsu skills on the team, and Neji's natural talents around one could understand if she felt dead weight. She thought, realizing just how many traits she and the weapons' mistress shared prior to her becoming Tsunade's apprentice. I can relate to her position all too well, which is why I feel so grateful to you for giving her a taste of your power, you surely must have felt her eagerness.

'Oh, yeah, definitely and she didn't let me in the least. I hope you won't feel bad for this, but had Chiyo not given me to you, I would have been just as content with Tenten being my bearer as I am with you. She has shown the qualities of a true wielder.'

Sakura smiled vaguely. No, of course not. It only makes sense that you would love to have a woman who has a natural passion for weapons as your wielder.

The Witchblade chuckled as a funny thought crossed his mind. 'Hehe, guilty as charged. Ever since I broke free of my father and mother I can not know what have they been up to, but if they had bore me a little brother, I'd see to it that he ends up in Tenten's possession. They would make a team as lethal as us.'

I'm sure. I hope she thanked you properly for the experience you gave her.

'Oh, she most certainly did, in ways she, herself doesn't even know. We may be no longer be connected, but I can feel her happiness whenever she uses her metal powers. It'd make my chest swell with pride had I actually been the one to gave her this gift.'

Sakura was taken aback. Huh? What do you mean? Weren't you the one who enhanced her with this power?

The Witchblade spirit shook his head slowly. 'Simply put, no. I kinda lied to the both of you. I lied to Tenten to make her more confident in herself, and to you, because I didn't know any better at that time. I also didn't know if my power would even have the desired effect.'

I'm still in the dark here. complained Sakura. You said you gave a piece of your knowledge to Tenten and this awakened her dormant metal affinity.

'Well, the later part certainly is true, but I'm afraid I haven't really given Tenten anything. That stuff I said about a piece of my knowledge was little more than white lies. And before you come complaining to me about tricking Tenten, let me be clear that while I did not 'give' her anything in particular, I did notice some sort of magical lockdown on her body while I was inhabiting it and released this lock.'

Magical lockdown? Sakura inquired in puzzlement.

'Magical as in sealed away.' The ancient weapon explained. 'Upon closer inspection I found out that it's job was to render this ability of hers inert, but to why I have no idea. The way she utilizes her weapons in combat is way too natural to be just a learned skill, and this seal she had on, which gave even me a hard time to figure out, is a truly unique piece of magic, but I cracked its secrets open nonetheless, enabling me to activate it. So, basically, I didn't give Tenten anything she has not already possessed. I merely set it free.'

I hope you made the right decision. Whoever sealed this ability of Tenten's away must have had a good reason for doing so. It may be detrimental for her health.

'Agreed, that is why I asked you to look after her. I know it is a risk, for we cannot know how it will turn out, but with the threat of Madara and the Darkness still out there, we have little choice but to take certain risks.' The Witchblade fell silent for a second than added. 'By the way, I'm also not sure if this seal was even put on Tenten with good intentions in mind, and not just to give her a handicap. With the things I've seen in this world, I would not be surprised if Tenten's seal was created for the same reason as her teammate Neji's. To keep her under control against her will, preventing her to reach her full potential, possibly to use this power against certain elements or individuals.'

Yeah, I see your point. Sakura concurred. The Hyuuga clan is one of the most rigid society I've ever heard of and who says that there can be no more like them? Naruto told me the story behind Neji's hatred for the Main House and I can't help but understand his feelings. Tenten could share the same path as Neji and if that's true, then you did the right thing in giving her back what was hers as you say.

'Yes, hers and hers alone.' The Witchblade said. But, in the remote chance that I was wrong and that seal was indeed, put on her for her own good, to prevent her power from going out of control...' he sighed and finished. '...then, should the need arise, we will have to deal with her too.'

The pinkette looked alarmed. Deal with her? As in, kill her? She asked frighteningly.

'I'm an age old being and have come to know much, Sakura, but that doesn't mean I'm never wrong. Should that come to pass, if Tenten's power becomes a danger to us, you'll have to swear to me, that you won't hesitate to strike her down.'

Sakura felt herself become nauseous at this slightest possibility. I don't know if I can, I mean...she isn't like those Cloneblades or the Darklings we fought. Though we had our differences like anyone else, she was always a close friend of mine, and after you have given half of yourself to her, she has become something of a sister to me. Sakura finished quietly. I'm not sure if I can bring myself to kill her even if it should become necessary.

'I understand your reluctance fully, Sakura. I know it would break your heart if you had to do it, but alas, you must remember, as the bearer of the Witchblade, you're required to make difficult decisions.'

Fine.

'Come on, now! Don't be so sad, this is only the worse thing that could happen and it's chances are slim at best, so cheer up!'

The wielder scowled irritably. Easy for you to say. You just made me think about Tenten becoming another victim of you and asking me to deal with her. How would you feel if you were in my shoes?

'Granted, but my decision to unleash Tenten's dormant power is solid. I just visioned a possible, I repeat, possible and NOT probable outcome of events. It will be up to us to make sure they turn out differently. Remember what I told you to keep her close and look after her. If the two of us remain vigilant, than we'll probably never have to worry about Tenten's power in the future. Instead, it will serve our cause as I always hoped.'

"Hopefully," Sakura said aloud.

"Huh? What do you mean by hopefully?" asked Tenten, causing Sakura to snap out of her trance. The medic quickly collected herself when she realized she was back in the real world and lifted Tenten's arm, trying to measure it's weight.

"How much do you weight, Tenten?" Sakura asked bluntly.

Tenten frowned and miffed. "I know it's between us girls, but I'm not gonna tell you. I may not be a self-loving prune like Ino, but I'm still a girl and there are issues I'm sensitive about, issues that I wouldn't even tell Neji." She said grumpily. "Besides, I don't know, I don't have a scale at home and I never listen to what they say in the annual medical exam." She faced Sakura with a wicked grin thinking what the pinkette would say if she repeated what the Witchblade had told her: that she was a little cuter than Sakura. "I don't bug you because you have the smallest breasts among yourself, Temari, Hinata, Ino, and me."

'Touche!' the Witchblade thought without Sakura knowing. 'Score one for Tenten!'

Sakura just sweat-dropped. "No, silly, I'm asking because from what I can tell, you have gained significant weight." She said, once again forgetting the double meaning of her words. A mistake due to the possibility of Inner Sakura being still occupied with her breasts. "So what? Naruto likes them the way they are! Though I truly wouldn't mind if they were at least a nice C cup."

'I'll see what I can do about that.' the Witchblade grinned pervertedly, once again without Sakura not knowing.

"What? You're implying that I'm fat?" Tenten growled back in the real world, jumping on her feet and checking herself out. "HEY NEJI!" she shouted and a few seconds later, the Byakugan user and the rest of Team Gai appeared after visiting Naruto in the hospital.

"Yes?" Neji asked a little frightened when he saw Tenten's angry face. He and the rest of Team Guy had learned through painful lessons that they should avoid their weapons mistress when she was having one of those days. Even Lee and Guy knew better than to start preaching about youth and springtime when she was in a foul mood.

Tenten marched up to Neji and commanded him. "Byakugan... ON!" she barked, and Neji's bloodline limit activated almost immediately on its mistress' command. Tenten held out her hands. "What do you see? How do I look?"

Neji suddenly found himself with an embarrassed blush, as his Byakugan eyes scanned through Tenten's clothing like a hot knife through butter and she stood in front of him as good as naked. A fact that caused the blood to flow into a certain part of Neji's body. The Hyuuga couldn't thank the gods enough that he wore loose pants otherwise everyone would have realized that he was having a massive hard-on. Still, the baggy clothes did nothing to prevent spontaneous words coming out of his mouth. "Ravishing." He blurted out, causing Gai and Lee to look at him curiously, but he soon corrected himself. "I mean you look normal."

Tenten, who didn't even notice the slight blush on her own cheek, scoffed. "I know I look normal, but do you see any change in my bones?"

Neji fixed his Byakugan, both thankful and sad that he couldn't see his lover's naked body at the same time. "Hmm..." he scanned Tenten from top to bottom before readjusting his eyes into the 'x-ray' mode.

Being Neji's training partner for years, Tenten noticed this and sent a glare at him with a clear 'look a second longer and no more sex, ever again' meaning. Neji sighed and disengaged his all seeing eyes. "It seems to me that your bones have changed. They look darker and much more solid than before. Your skeleton appears to be stronger, but you look just like the same." He stated and when Lee and Guy turned back to Tenten she could see him mouthing the words 'I love you' that caused her expression to soften.

"Okay, thanks, now could you give me and Sakura some time please?" she asked, but grabbed Neji's shoulder as soon as Lee and Guy left. Sakura could see Tenten pressing her lips to his quickly before she started walking back to her, but not before slapping his ass.

"I know it isn't any business of mine, but what's the need for this secrecy?" Sakura queried. "I mean, you two have always been close to each other. It's only natural that sooner or later it develops into something more."

Tenten smiled soothingly. "Sure, but with two overenthusiastic energy bombs such as Lee and Gai-sensei, and a whole clan of old style bigots, it would be a pain in the ass." She sat down next to Sakura and looked in the direction where Neji went. "I'm certainly not ashamed of it, and clearly I will never regret giving my virginity to Neji, we just want to take it slowly. Hoping against hope that Lee and Gai-sensei will reach a level of maturity before they realize we're an item. And the Hyuuga old timers, who would force Neji to marry within the clan to protect their Bloodline Limit, like I'm gonna let that happen." She said balling her right fist and Sakura saw the weapon mistress' eyes flash red, much like her own did when she was enraged. "Better for them if they don't cause I feel confident enough to, how do I say this, chop down the Hyuuga Elder's numbers a little should they choose to forbid the two of us being together! Neji's mine, and may Kami have mercy on those who want to take him from me for I won't!" She grinned with sadistic demeanor, just like the time when she wielded half of the Witchblade.

Sakura shared her grin. "Okay, sounds like you two are gonna have some fun tonight. Just don't wait too long for making it public or it may become embarrassing." Sakura advised and put a hand on her ex-sister's shoulder. "By the way, sorry about that."

"About what?"

"About me, punching you into that rock, I kinda lost my cool," Sakura admitted, but Tenten dismissively shook her head.

"Forget it. I should have been more vigilant. In a real battle, I would have died. I'm awfully sloppy today."

"Wanna talk about it?"

Tenten thought about it for a second than decided it couldn't hurt to share what she had learned with Sakura. "Yeah, I finally found out what my family name is, amongst other things, but I'll make it quick, I have a training session with Ino and the Beasts later today." Sakura and the Witchblade waited anxiously to hear her tale.

"Before you do, how do you feel about us forming an assembly?"

This suddenly piqued Tenten's sudden interest as she listened quietly.

"My idea is for a kunoichi assembly with me, you, Ino, and Hinata if she wants to join. I feel with Naruto in his current condition, I'd like to have some new partners to fill in his place before he fully recovers."

The weapons' mistress added, nodding. "Count me in. I'll ask Ino."

"I'll go and ask Hinata, but only after I go visit Naruto."

"Is this to determine which of us gets to be Naruto's fill-in for future missions?"

Sakura replied. "More or less, but I'd be happy if you three formed a partnership with me. I'm going to need a team to help me prepare to fight the remaining Akatsuki and the Darkness."

"Well, I'm in."

"Good, then it's settled," Sakura said as she extended a hand to Tenten, who firmly shook her hand. "Let's make this worth our while."

Unbeknownst to them, two Root members observed the kunoichi from afar, concealing their presence with near perfection. The two masked man nodded to each other and faded through the background. Danzo's men were already on the move and making close observations over the wielder's latest activities.

xxxxx

Naruto's Mind/Dark Corridor

As if they had been traveling for days, Naruto and Excalibur were seemingly out of the Kyuubi's range. Each time they were closing in to the demonic fox's vicinity, the Kyuubi would relocate himself to make things more stressing for the duo. Nonetheless, they pressed on through the universe within Naruto's own mind. Naruto fiercely looked around as he tried sensing the monster's demonic chakra. Excalibur probed the abyss and tried tracing the Kyuubi's current location.

'That fox is damn good at concealing his presence. I have to give him that much.'

Naruto groaned. "It's been days. I just want to find that damn fox and get my soul back in my body! My friends are worried I'll never wake up!"

Excalibur gave a nod of reassurance to the teen. 'Relax, Naruto. We'll both get out of here in no time. Wait...'

"What is it?"

'He's near, but quickly relocating!'

An eager Naruto quickly demanded. "Where did he move to now?"

The armored man pivoted and pointed toward the northwest direction. 'There and he's moving fast!'

"All right then! Let's get a move on!" The blonde-haired teen adamantly declared, putting his game face on. "Here we come, you sneaky jerk!"

xxxxx

Disclosed Vicinity/Outskirts of Konohagakure/Fire Country

The two Root members arrived to report today's discreet observation of the Witchblade wielder's activities. Sitting across a dim room was a large round table with seven seated individuals facing and acknowledging the two Root agents. The head figure of the Witchblade Hunters pressed both hands together and listened to their report.

"...and we last left monitoring her training with Tenten the kunoichi member of Team Gai," the fox-masked Root member publicly issued to the Hunters.

The multi-armed leader barely shifted from his place and initially responded. "Very interesting. The wielder is attempting to assemble a team of kunoichi to assist her in forthcoming missions." The extra arms hovering behind his back reached out and touched the ceiling of their underground base of operations.

"She plans to up their ninja stats and improve their abilities to better secure our village. The wielder is doing this to ensure Uzumaki Naruto's protection."

"The Jinchuuriki containing the legendary Kyuubi? If there was any reason to protect him, the wielder has made a bold move," the leader added as a calm smile adorned the man's face. From a closer view, the leader resembled a middle-aged man with short brown hair and wore shades, perfectly concealing his eyes. He pivoted toward his five colleagues, all of whom offered their views on the matter.

The behemoth with the spikes grunted, blowing smoke through his nostrils. "One of us must be dispatched to test this wielder's power. Which one goes? I nominate myself."

"Awfully greedy today, aren't you?" An older-sounding gentlemen, whose arms resembled bird's wings, quipped. "I should go."

Suddenly, the 'electrical' individual angrily snapped. "Butt out, old timer! This one's mine!"

"Boys, boys, no need to get huffy about something so simple," the only female member of the Hunters chimed in, acting as the 'voice of reason' toward her colleagues. The tone in her voice sounded akin to a seductress.

One member, wearing what looked like a globe-shaped mask, added, his voice sounding muffled. "We already have our three agents heading forth to Konoha in short time. They should be there no later than tomorrow."

The tallest figurehead of the Hunters stood up and openly spoke. "I suggest we establish a rendezvous point with our three agents at the location where a merchant cart is supposed to deliver a shipment to Konoha village. I've made certain they'll meet us at the designated point."

Turning his chair forward, the leader's half-dimmed face conveyed satisfaction. "All is going as we hoped. You two are dismissed and tell Danzo our agents will be heading for Konoha soon."

With that, the Root agents were formally dismissed and bolted from the underground vicinity. The leader rotated his chair and stood up, beckoning to his colleagues to depart. Then, in the blink of an eye, the seven Hunters vanished from their quarters and headed off to meet with their agent scouts, initiating the first phase of their first attack against the Witchblade wielder.

xxxxx

To be continued...

Next time

Chapter 57: Tenonawa Tenico, the Metal Princess! Ino's Resolve to Surpass Sakura!

xxxxx

A/N: We open to a new arc and new goals are being set for some of the Konoha crew. With Naruto out for a while, the four kunoichi are going to be grouped together with their male colleagues to combat these Witchblade Hunters. But, first, Tenten, Ino, and Hinata must resolve to improve themselves before being capable of being Sakura's partners. Between Tenten's forbidden 'metal-based' power and Ino aiming to become Sakura's equal, the Konoha crew are stepping up their game before the bigger conflicts coming (the Darkness and whatnot).

Despite the lack of Naruto and not a lot Witchblade Sakura action, please understand I'll be moving forward to some good fighting after the next chapter. In the meantime, I want to dedicate this time to developing Tenten and Ino's power upgrades.

Anyway, the Hunters' names and appearances will be unveiled in full soon. And yes, in this arc, the Darkness will meet his 'meat puppet' (the long-awaited meeting) and the fate of Jiraiya will be revealed.

Update 12/23/2011: I know it's been nine months since the last update. Tell you the truth. This can be due to writer's block. It's also because of lack of interest of the Naruto manga/anime this past year. I've veered my creative direction to my other fanfics (namely Digimon Fusion Kai and YuYuGiDigiMoon series). Those have been keeping me occupied that I've pushed this story to the backburner. I know this isn't a popular decision. I've decided to put this story on indefinite hiatus. I apologize to those who've waited for an update and have stuck through all 56 chapters.

When will I return to writing this fic? I don't know. I'd say once I regain full invested interest in this story and the Naruto series. I can't make promises I might be end breaking. Please understand. Until then, see you until the newest update (when that'll ever come to pass).