A/N: I was horrified to discover that it has been nearly a year since I updated cascading fire, there are many reasons for this but rather than make excuses I will just say that I've been… busy. This was also a hard chapter to write and I'm not hugely happy with it but I feel it should go up now rather than later. It's also much shorter than I would like but if people nag me another, longer, chapter will hopefully go up soon.
Sasuke eyed his opponent wearily, his opening statement had been cocky but just two minutes into the match he was feeling strained. The already sandy arena had been turned into a small scale desert with a motionless and apparently impassive Gaara stood in the middle, Sasuke stood just to the right of a large mound of sand; the remnants of Gaara's last attack.
For the last two minutes all Sasuke had done was jump around and try to avoid becoming injured – ok so far he was near enough unscathed but both him and the audience where getting frustrated. He needed to come up with some way past that 'perfect' defence that Gaara had but on the fly strategies where not his thing, he had always relied on his power to get by – sure he was no slouch but Naruto was much better at pulling out a strategy to beat superior odds.
'Naruto,' Sasuke realised, 'What would you… of course!'
Sasuke ran through a series of hand seals he copied in the preliminaries, "Hidden mist technique!" he declared.
Suddenly the whole area became covered in a mist so thick that Gaara would have no way to see him, ok so the plan lacked originality but it bought him time. Sasuke kept thinking desperately, 'Ok, what do I know? I know that he has a defence that can stop nearly anything I throw at him, I know that his sand is fast enough for me to need my Sharingan to avoid it… How does this help?' He was growing increasingly annoyed; anger bubbling to the surface at his own perceived weakness.
"I know your there," Came Gaara's voice, "You're not the type to run away, mother will have your blood."
Sasuke realised the ground beneath was shaking and jumped onto the arena wall, moments later he saw a wave of sand crash against the wall below him. Visible again in the centre of the arena was Gaara, unsure of Sasuke's location he had thrown sand in every direction, somehow clearing the mist in the process.
"Found you." Gaara said.
Sasuke dived again as a pillar of sand collided with the arena wall where he had just been standing, but it was late. Gaara's other attacks had been faster than that one, he hadn't needed the reaction time bonus his Sharingan gave him to dodge that attack.
A thought struck Sasuke as he jumped back to the arena floor, as soon as he reached it he ran his hand through the sand, disguising the motion as steadying himself from a bad landing. 'There!' he realised, 'That's where my mist went!'
The sand felt cold and heavy, a distinct dampness present within it; it appeared that when Gaara cleared the mist he had used the sand to absorb it. 'Judging by that last attack the extra moisture makes it heavier and slower for him to move – if I can saturate it… Argh! But I don't know any Suiton Jutsu!'
Sasuke flicked through his mental catalogue of copied techniques, 'If only I had awakened my Sharingan before we met Zabuza!' he thought as he dodged another slow moving blast of sand.
"Stop moving!" Shouted Gaara in annoyance, "JUST DIE ALREADY!"
'I could just use hidden mist again… but I would have to do it several times and he'd start to realise what I was doing,' although he felt he had made some progress Sasuke was still stuck, 'If I can't summon water I have to get it from somewhere… but where can I… Ah! Where are we?' Sasuke mentally calculated the position of the stadium in the village and recalling all the 'useless' geography they where taught at the academy, 'Hmm… not ideal but it should work.'
Sasuke made some hand seals before jumping into the air, he then proceeded to fall back to earth very quickly while spinning and, much to the audience's surprise, went straight past Gaara and disappeared underground. Silence reigned for several seconds, a light rumbling could eventually be heard, becoming louder and louder until Sasuke flew back out of the whole he made followed by a fountain of thousands of litres of water.
Gaara watched in horror as his sand became sodden and unusable, even his gourd had become rapidly soaked in the rapid flow of water. His face flickered through many feelings as Sasuke watched smugly from his resumed position on the wall – oblivious to the fangirls swooning at his dripping hair and clinging clothes. Gaara seemed to finally pick the emotion he wanted, anger, and as soon as he did his eyes changed from cool teal to a malevolent black.
Gold Iris stared at crimson as the two eyed each other up, around Gaara his sand made feeble swirling motions under what was now approaching a foot of water as it tried to move to it's masters will.
"No!" Gaara cried suddenly, "mY BodY! GIVe me mY BODY!"
The audience was slightly intimidated but nowhere near as much as the sand nin watching from the competitors box.
"What's happening?" Kankuro asked his sister.
"It looks like It's trying to get out – but can't use the sand."
Kankuro looked at where his brother had begun to thrash wildly in the middle of the stadium, spraying silty water everywhere but achieving nothing.
"What will happen if it can't make it's body?"
"I don't know…" Temari replied.
To their right Naruto was watching the fight with her heart hammering, 'Sasuke…'
"OBEY ME!" Gaara was shouting at the ground around him, "OBEY MEE!"
The proctor was looking on in confusion, they had never had anyone lose their mind before – was that a win for the opponent or did it continue? He suddenly felt a Genjutsu fall over him, shrugging off the effects like any battle seasoned Shinobi he looked around to see the entire audience unconscious.
From her position in the Kage box Tsunade detected the genjutsu and immediately pooled her chakra, once coiled within her to a maddening density she released it at once with a deafening bellow of "KAI!"
A shimmering wave emanated from the aging woman immediately cancelling the effects of the illusionary technique, turning she was surprised to see Sarutobi in full cerimonial battle armour, "I see you suspected something sensei."
"As did you."
"Well, there has been a distinct smell of snake around here."
"Oh is that what it was? I thought it smelt like rat." Sarutobi replied turning to look at the kazekage.
Orochimaru growled under his disguise, with a sudden hand motion he summoned four aides that enclosed the three within a barrier. "Not as stupid as you look are you sensei."
"My dear student, if you had taken my teachings to heart you would know that deception is key… I believe most genin are aware of this." The intonation the aging man put on the word 'genin' eliciting another growl from Orochimaru as he tore away his forged kage robes.
"And what, perchance, attracted your attention to my deception?"
Sarutobi smirked, "You agreed to stay for the inauguration ceremony, I've known the kazekage for years, he loathes ceremony."
"Tch, stumbled by an idiots preferences."
"You never did learn the importance of research when disguising yourself did you milk boy?" Tsunade teased.
"Don't call me that!" Orochimaru hissed.
"Oh I'm sorry, I forget, the skin tones genetic isn't it? Poor little milk boy, teased in the playground."
"Rekka!" Orochimaru bellowed, a purple flame rapidly blasting toward Tsunade.
Jumping away Tsunade smiled evily, she always could get under his skin when it mattered, "Now, now, let's play nice."
Orochimaru glared as she landed a few meters away, further up the roof, "Eryu-Endan!"
Concentrating his fire on Tsunade Orochimaru suddenly felt the wind knocked out of him and was sent skidding along the tiles of the roof.
"Dear me Orochimaru, surely you remember some of my lessons, so easily are you distracted?"
Orochimaru fumed at his own carelessness, a muddy trail connecting him to the old fool, evidence of one of the infernal mans famous earth based techniques. Whiping the blood and some tile from his mouth he prepared himself for battle, this time ensuring he took both opponents into account.
"A lucky hit is all, I can easily take the pair of you if I am serious."
"Not fighting seriously yet snake face? I thought you kept Rekka for when you where seriously annoyed… unless your habits have changed?"
Tsunades' smug expression was driving him insane, how dare she look down on him! He was Orochimaru, strongest of the legendary sanin! Not some feeble medic who hid behind past memories… that was it! A slight change of plans but this battle was as good as his!
Running rapidly through seals he brought out his biggest move earlier than planned, "Kinjutsu: Edo Tensei – impure resurrection!"
"Shit!" Sarutobi yelled rapidly trying to run through counter seals, three coffins begun to rise from the ground, the text '1' '2' and a blank coffin rising like dark monoliths from the tiles.
A resounding 'crunch' filled the air as Tsunade kicked one of the tombs into oblivion but the remaining two opened slowly, Tsunade's expression grew blank.
Yellow chakra began to fill the stadium but no one was watching, civilians ran under the guidance of genin as everyone of Chunin rank and up worked to fight off the invading forces.
An explosion reverberated around the stadium, at it's source a mildly injured Kakashi stared at a hysterically laughing Anko, "What the hell did you just do?"
"Little technique I've been working on."
"What? Worked didn't it?"
"We're trying to repel invaders not destroy our own infrastructure!" He yelled pointing at the destroyed section of stadium with one hand and throwing a kunai threw an enemies head with the other.
"A little damage will do no harm." She replied nonchalantly as a snake shot from inside her jacket and closed its' jaws around the throat of a man trying to sneak up on her.
"LITTLE? Any more and we would have lost the whole wall!"
"Don't exaggerate, it would have required more than that, I'd say that was only about as powerful as two or three exploding tags." She watched Kakashi throw another kunai over his shoulder and it imbed between another opponents eyes, "Good shot by the way."
Kakashi shook his head, "And how much chakra did that little stunt blow?"
Anko shrugged and bent over allowing an enemy shuriken to pass over her head and be caught by her colleague, "About the same amount as making a mud clone." She replied flicking a poisoned senbon at the their attackers crotch.
A scream reverberated around the stadium and Kakashi winced, "I still think it was a wasteful technique, you've been hanging around Naruto to much… and that was just mean no matter what side he was on."
Anko smirked, "Yeah well, I'm in that kind of mood… race you to twenty kills."
Kakashi thought for a moment, "Stakes?"
Anko smirked, "My dango supplies for a week against your precious book."
Kakashi smirked, "You're on."
The chakra swirling around Gaara was growing more frantic and dangerous, tendrils whipped around and caused serious damage to walls that got in there way, the sight of a three meter gouge being burnt through the wall made Sasuke decide tactical retreat may be the best option.
"Who said that?"
'Coward, does it matter who, it's true all the same.'
"I can't fight something I can't touch or get near!"
'Itachi isn't scared of a little ginger genin from sand, he killed the whole mighty Uchiha clan, what does he have to fear from a single genin?'
"It's not the same!"
'Really? You could take this guy, you can be as strong as itachi.'
'The power you feel within you, that swirl of strength, that intoxicating feeling you got killing those Shinobi in the forest.'
"NO! Nothing good will come of that power!"
'Your words or those that have been told to you?'
"They where told to me because they are true!"
'They where told to you to limit your strength! What good are you to them as breeding stock if you are strong enough to resist? They don't care so long as they get the Sharingan!'
"No, no, no, no, no, no!"
'Run out of arguments? Just a little, it will feel great.'
"I suppose a little, to help me protect…"
'…protect? What good is protection next to power?"
"Eh, but what else do I need power for?"
"But Gaara has done me no wrong."
'He exists that is his crime!'
Sasuke shook his head violently, "Again with the stupid voices!"
"Sasuke!" Sasuke turned to see Naruto and a pair of terrified sound ninja running toward him, "you alright, this is the wrong place to be spacing out!"
"I'm fine, the seal was just acting up is all." The look Naruto gave him told Sasuke he would have been better off saying nothing, she was going to want a full explanation later. "I'm fine, really… if anything it's hold seems weaker, it didn't seem to hold it's argument so well, it tripped itself up."
"It speaks to you?" Sasuke nearly punched himself, her expression was growing more concerned by the second and he was sure that he would have to answer to everything 'Hang on' it suddenly occurred to him, 'am I whipped?'
Sasuke had little time to ponder on his revelation as the blond sand nin cut across them, "It's all well and good catching up but what do we do about Gaara?"
Sasuke looked round the stadium and then at the two sand siblings, "Aren't you an invading army – surely you don't care as long as he's damaging us?"
Kankuro grabbed his sisters back as she made to swing at the younger boy, "Listen you! Orders are orders but that kids my brother! Scary as he is he's still my blood!"
"Surely orders are…"
Sasuke was cut off by Naruto, "White fang." She said sadly.
Sasuke nodded sadly, Temari calmed and looked between the two in bafflement, "Our sensei," Sasuke informed her, "has a saying, 'those that disobey their orders are trash, those that leave their friends behind are lower than trash.'"
Temari nodded and extended her hand, "Temari."
Kankuro repeated the action, "Kankuro."
"Alright," Temari said once all hands had been shaken, "How do we deal with Gaara?"