Hei guys, I am truly sorry of the delay. I had another hiatus and I apologize for it.

Here is the new chapter and I will try to continue with the next chapter.

CHAPTER 76: THE MIGHT OF KONOHA 2

Haruno Maki could feel nothing for the moment, only watching the white clouds as they soared peacefully in the ocean blue sky. He could feel blood seeping out of the wound from where he was stabbed and it all happened because of his carelessness.

The moment he slit Yamui's throat, he had let his guard down. The body of Yamui was actually a piece of wood, part of the 'Replacement technique' but Maki noticed too late and Yamui grabbed hold of the opportunity.

Yamui glared at Maki's vulnerable state and held the kunai he stabbed with earlier high to deliver the killing blow. The kunai was still wet with Maki's blood, some of it dripping back down on the pink haired Jounin.

"You let your guard down and now you'll pay the price." Yamui said and then picked Maki's pouch and tossed them away, the contents of the pouch pouring over the ground. "Now you can't use any of your pesky clone kunai also."

The four clones that Maki had created earlier were dispelled the moment he had slit the fake Yamui's throat, so Yamui knew that the Maki on the ground was the original. Although it was true that Maki could create clones with blood, Yamui had forgotten the other method Maki could use to create clones.

"Release!"

The moment Maki created a clone from one of the scattered clone kunai; Yamui acted quickly and went for the kill. However Maki had other plans, immediately releasing the second seal placed on the clone and immediately swapping places with it.

Yamui stabbed the clone through the chest, not realizing of Maki's ability to swap places with the clone. The clone immediately dispelled itself in a cloud of smoke, blinding Yamui's vision. In his confused state, Maki dashed towards Yamui despite the wound.

Yamui sensed Maki's arrival and spun around with the kunai in hand. Maki parried the kunai and delivered a powerful kick on Yamui's chest, throwing the former Konoha ninja several meters away before crashing on the muddy earth.

"Impossible…" Yamui grunted in disbelief. "I got you… That shouldn't have been a clone."

Maki wiped the blood off the corner of his lips. "Believe what you want."

'At least he doesn't know about the 'clone replacement' technique.' Maki thought to himself.

"Well it doesn't matter. With that wound, you won't be able to fight at a hundred percent!" Yamui stated.

Maki made no reply but Maki knew Yamui was correct. His movements and speed would now be reduced not to mention that the longer the fight progressed, the loss of blood would be fatal. The sheer confidence in the eyes of Yamui also lowered Maki's morale.

However Maki had the advantage of having all of his clone kunai scattered across the area. With this, he could release a clone in random areas to help compensate for his injury, although he could only release one clone from each. The pink haired Jounin knew he had to end the battle quickly.

"Take this, Konoha scum!" Yamui then tossed several shurikens toward Maki.

Maki jumped out of the way and at the same time released the seals in several of the custom kunai scattered across the area, the clones immediately aiming Yamui. The former Konoha ninja growled in anger, engaging three clones of Maki.

'I can't take him lightly. Time I finish him off with a full-scale attack.' Maki thought.

Maki thus began releasing clones one after another from all the custom kunai and attacked Yamui. Although Yamui was at first able to fend for himself, soon the numbers began to increase without it slowing down and grew too much for Yamui.

Yamui destroyed two of the clones before another three came at him, one of the clones managing to slash across his chest. With blood now pouring from the wound, Yamui tried to retreat but the clones gave him no such opportunity.

With the number of clones Maki was releasing, Yamui was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. Yamui tried to evade the attacks of the clones but there were far too many before Yamui finally succumbed to exhaustion and injuries while Maki was out of harm's way, watching the whole thing.

Yamui was panting heavily while he lay on the ground, bleeding from the attacks he received. Yamui was surrounded by at least twelve clones and it was difficult enough when it was one.

"What… What is this…? What's with these numbers of clones you have…!" Yamui spoke in frustration.

"I don't always use a full-scale attack but after what you did, I don't feel like taking a risk." Maki answered. "You're good if you actually forced me to either reveal the 'Fire Lance' or a full-scale clone attack."

Yamui gritted his teeth in anger. "You're just nothing but a coward, hiding behind your clones…"

"I won't kill you since you're a Reaper… I'm sure you'll have valuable information we can draw out from you…"

Yamui screamed in anger and got back to his feet in one final attempt of attack. However Maki's clones easily disabled Yamui, a quick punch to Yamui's gut and the Reaper ninja lost consciousness. Maki sighed and prepared to assist Shikamaru. Once he had gathered all of his custom kunai and placed them back into his pouch, Maki left the area with three clones of Maki assigned to watch over Yamui.

Shikamaru on the other hand was losing chakra at a quick rate due being forced to bind Tumako while at the same time fighting Takyu. Also Takyu already had some idea of the limitations of the Shadow Bind technique, so the Nara prodigy could not reach Takyu.

"I see you're having trouble keeping up." Takyu taunted when he noticed Shikamaru's fatigue.

Shikamaru remained silent but his opponent was right. Not only that he had to continue trying to catch Takyu but Shikamaru had to continue restraining Tumako with the Shadow Bind technique but his chakra supply was only so much. Takyu got bolder and slowly began to retaliate.

Finally Takyu went for the kill, charging towards Shikamaru. The Nara prodigy quickly went on the defensive, forming his shadows to intercept the Reaper ninja. However due to Shikamaru's exhaustion, the young Nara could not command his shadows properly, thus allowing Takyu to evade them easily.

"You're mine boy!"

Shikamaru remained calm however, not the reaction that Takyu had expected. Once Takyu was within range, Shikamaru took action and threw a fist towards Takyu. Since Shikamaru had only been attacking with his shadows, the sudden attack surprised Takyu but he was able to grab hold of Shikamaru's fist.

"I don't know what you're thinking but you've made the biggest mistake!" Takyu exclaimed with a grin.

Shikamaru smirked back. "Have I though…?"

Takyu then realized he was caught by Shikamaru's trap. He could no longer control his body and he then realized why. On the ground, he could see the shadow of himself and Shikamaru connected through Takyu grabbing hold of Shikamaru's fist. By doing so, Takyu had been caught by the Shadow Bind technique.

"You…"

"I'm not so foolish to actually risk myself without coming up with a proper plan."

Then it was Takyu's turn to smirk. "Unfortunately for you, we think alike."

Shikamaru wondered what Takyu meant and questioned why the enemy was so confident. It was then that his ears picked up the sound of hissing and the Nara prodigy reacted immediately. Shikamaru had no choice but to release the Shadow Bind technique as the exploding tag by his feet exploded, throwing Shikamaru into the air.

By releasing the technique, Takyu and Tumako were instantly released from the Shadows. Immediately Tumako charged towards Shikamaru and the young Konoha Jounin immediately prepared himself.

"Tumako, stop!" Takyu ordered from where he stood.

Tumako quickly stopped in his tracks, confusing him and Shikamaru. "...Sir?"

"We retreat now. I'm sure other Konoha fools have broken through the barrier. We cannot risk more of us getting captured!"

"But... What about Yamui?"

"That is why I said we cannot risk more of us getting captured. Now hurry!" Takyu exclaimed before he turned around and jumped away.

Although reluctant to obey, Tumako followed his superior's orders and retreated along with him. Shikamaru quickly formed a seal and his shadow raced towards Tumako but due to the injuries from the explosion and added with his low chakra, Shikamaru failed to capture Tumako.

"Damn it..." Shikamaru cursed softly, panting heavily once he released the Shadow Bind technique.

"You did well despite going against two of them." A voice commended and Shikamaru recognized it as the Replicator.

"Maki...sensei?"

Maki was on a nearby rooftop surveying the surrounding area. Despite it being a battle of tactics between Shikamaru and Takyu, the area suffered quite a large amount of damage. By this time some of the villagers were also attracted by the destruction and began flocking towards the area.

"I've got one of the Reapers captured. My clones are keeping an eye on them." Maki informed the young elite Jounin. "Shikamaru, you stay here and recuperate. I'll move on ahead and find the ones responsible for creating this Genjutsu-barrier."

"You think you can find the ones that's responsible for this Genjutsu?"

Maki merely gave a confident grin before he departed. Shikamaru groaned and sat down by a destroyed building to rest. As he sat there to rest, he looked up at the skies and watched the peaceful white clouds floating aimlessly in the blue skies. The young Jounin wondered why his life could not be like those of the clouds without any troubles.

***Elsewhere of village***

"A team...mate?"

Masura nodded in an affirmative. "In the period of war, there were rarely any solid squads and we were mostly assigned with different shinobi to compliment and synchronize our abilities for a higher success rate in our missions. I and Yamui were placed in the same group a number of times and we naturally became friends. Yamui was mostly driven by his desire to protect the people of Konoha no matter the cost. However, that day came."

Masura looked down on the ground, feeling disgust creeping up on his old past. "Our squadron was assigned a mission to protect a village in the border of Fire Country due to reports that enemy forces were on the way to seize control of it. We had to defend the village until reinforcements would arrive to secure the village... However the enemy forces were much larger than anticipated. Our captain at the time thus decided that we had to retreat and evacuate the people... And to also make sure the enemy does not gain control of such a key location for them to use."

"...So what did you do?"

Masura hesitated for a while, not saying anything. After half a minute, he finally resumed. "A few of us managed to escape and we evacuated what we could. However many more were still attempting to escape with us but our Captain ordered us to bury the village. The few who had Earth affinity committed the deed, killing our comrades and civilians of the village and the enemy along with it."

Masura was disgusted but continued on. "Yamui of course was one of the few that claimed that we actually could have saved everyone before retreating. However that would have costed more lives of our squadron and the Captain felt shinobi lives were more valuable at the time. When we returned, our Captain reported the actions of the squad and more than half of the council felt he did what was best for Konoha. A few days later, Yamui abandoned Konoha..."

Iwata stared at his superior officer and wondered how he could sleep peacefully after all these years. He had no idea that shinobis in wars would commit such an act but was considered the best course of action.

Masura sighed heavily and glared in the direction where he fought his old team mate. "I don't blame Yamui for hating Konoha. I, myself believe that what I did was wrong and I can never redeem myself but... but... but I will live my life forever shouldering that guilt and... to now do what is right."

Iwata could not bring out any words for his superior. It was simply too much for the young Jounin to take. However after imagining the guilt that Masura carried along with him after all these years was already quite a punishment on the veteran Jounin.

***With team 7***

Several explosions spread across the area, forcing Naruto and Sasuke to move away from their hiding place. Deidara laughed in glee on his gigantic clay bird as his artworks continued to blast the are while he soared in the air safe from harms way.

The battle between Naruto and Sasuke against Deidara was causing so much destruction that it forced Naruto and Sasuke to move to another part of the village. The duo decided on this to not only seperate Deidara and Sasori but also for more hiding places with the buildings that still stood intact. During the move, Naruto created several clones to evacuate the townspeople to a much safer location.

Deidara tossed another bird clay towards the duo, exploding the clay once it was close to Naruto. Unfortunately for the Akatsuki artist, it was a clone as the explosion fused with the clone's smoke. Deidara merely grinned and focused on locating either Sasuke or Naruto as they once more hid themselves from his sight.

"Are your clones done yet?!" Sasuke demanded as debris scattered around from the explosion.

Naruto merely gave a thumbs up and Sasuke took it as their turn to retaliate. The young Uchiha revealed himself from his hiding spot, forming seals in his hand. Meanwhile Naruto sprinted in the opposite direction.

"Fire release! Grand Fireball..."

"Too slow!" Deidara exclaimed, forming a seal of his own. "Release!"

A few feet to Sasuke's right, a spider clay exploded, throwing Sasuke off his feet. Sasuke grunted in pain and hoped that Naruto would attack soon. The explosion disoriented the young Uchiha's sense of his surroundings, allowing Deidara to take advantage of it, throwing a clay bomb in the shape of a ball.

"You think your Sharingan makes you stornger than me?! Well, let me send the brother of Itachi to hell!"

"Not if I can help it!"

Deidara grinned and turned to the source of the voice. Naruto was behind the Akatsuki artist with a kunai drawn. However Deidara was an S-rank criminal for a reason, expecting Naruto to attack from Deidara's blind spot. He had prepared for this and tossed a bird clay towards the young blonde Jinchuuriki.

"You underestimate me fool! Release!"

The bird clay exploded instantly, destroying Naruto to smithereens. Deidara chuckled and focused his attention towards the remaining Uchiha whom was still on the ground trying to get back on his feet. As the ball of clay neared Sasuke, Deidara gave the orders for the explosion.

"RASENGAN!"

Below Deidara's gigantic clay bird, Naruto smashed his Rasengan into the large bird. Deidara lost his balance in shock once he realized his mode of transport had been destroyed.

"Why you... That was a clone...?!"

"EAT THIS!" Naruto yelled at the top of his lungs.

In the palm of his hand, Naruto had the familiar spiraling sphere-shaped with color of blue. Deidara immediately recognized the technique and knew the danger he was in. With no time to waste, he quickly formed a small-shaped bird clay and threw them at Naruto.

"Release!"

Due to the close proximity between one another, both were caught in the blast of the explosion. However Deidara had only molded a little chakra in the bird so it was only a mild explosion. Naruto grunted in pain from the burns, his black shirt burnt from the explosion. Deidara landed on the roof of a building and the upper-half of his Akatsuki cloak had been completely burnt. In frustration, Deidara removed the Akatsuki cloak, revealing what he wore and his two pouches of clay he had by his sides.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Naruto had to admit that he was excited fighting against such a powerful opponent. The thought of actually going against an S-rank ninja simply told him how much he had grown in the two years under Jiraiya's tutelage. As for his partner, Sasuke felt his battle against Akatsuki ninjas was allowing him to slowly reach Itachi's level and hopefully avenge the death of his clan sooner than later/.

"Heh, I haven't had this been fun in such a long time..." Deidara said with a grin. "But I'll make sure the both of you die in the explosions of my art!"

"You can't beat us without your huge bird to keep you safe now!" Naruto retorted.

"Hmph, even if he had the bird, he wasn't that much." Sasuke added in.

Deidara glared in anger at the young Uchiha and his hate grew tenfold upon staring into the eyes of the Sharingan; the very same eyes that had defeated him years ago that forced him to work for the Akatsuki. The young Akatsuki artist could feel his blood boil upon recalling the events and his eternal hatred for the Sharingan.

"You bastard... That arrogant look... You are definitely his brother...!" Deidara grabbed some clay from his pouch as he began forming shapes with the clay. "I will kill you and then laugh once Itachi knows that you're dead!"

***With Kakashi & Asuma***

Hatake Kakashi watched the movements closely with his Sharingan, anticipating the puppet's movements. Once it was clear what Sasori was going to do, he anticipated the movement and ducked as the high-pressured water passed by above him, slicing a building behind him in half easily. The copy ninja took this opportunity for a counter-attack, creating a Raikiri on his right hand.

Meanwhile Asuma was recovering from chakra exhaustion. The battle between the two elite Jounins against the master puppeteer of the Akatsuki was mostly a long-range battle as the elite Jounins wanted to not risk their lives engaging in close-combat. In order to do that, both Konoha Jounins had been engaging Sasori with Ninjutsu and Asuma had used far too much techniques.

'However going against Sasori with long-range techniques was a bad idea.' Asuma thought while watching Kakashi dash towards Sasori with the Raikiri. 'Sasori's flames and high-pressure water allows him to trade in long-range battle far better than us.'

Kakashi avoided another attempt from Sasori with the high-pressured stream of water, slowly closing in on Sasori. The puppeteer also realized the danger he was in and changed tactics, throwing the flames towards Kakashi. However the Copy Ninja anticipated it and began forming one-handed seals.

"Water release! Water Shark Missile!"

Without any nearby source of water, Kakashi was still able to create the technique at a high-level, neutralizing the flames thus allowing Kakashi to attack Sasori freely. Kakashi was merely inches away from landing the Raikiri when Sasori revealed another set of defensive mechanics. From his sides, he activated the set of blades, spinning wildly and prepared to slice Kakashi into pieces.

'I have to take the chance!' Kakashi thought and proceeded with the attack.

Sasori merely thought the attempt foolish and welcomed the son of Hatake Sakumo's attack. As both neared, Kakashi knew he had the disadvantaged and dived to the side, avoiding the sharp blades, his Raikiri still active. Sasori however was not going to allow the chance for Kakashi to escape and struck with the blades.

The sound of metal clashing against metal echoed loudly, Asuma blocking the poisonous blades with his trench knives. Sasori attempted to overpower the weakened Sasori but Asuma quickly poured chakra into his knives, infusing the trench knives with Wind elemental chakra, sharpening the blades. With all the strength he could muster, Asuma pushed his trench knives against the blades of Sasori, easily slicing through the blades.

'What...?! Wind Elemental Chakra?' Sasori thought in shock.

"Kakashi! Now!"

Kakashi took action immediately, moving in and thrusting forward his right arm with the Raikiri. With so little distance between the two, Sasori could barely avoid Kakashi so the S-rank puppeteer did the next best thing; he used the cables in his body to smack Kakashi. The attack failed to stop the Copy Ninja but it allowed Sasori to alter the angle of the attack, slicing through the right of Sasori's puppet body but failed to hit the only living organ he had in his body; the heart.

Kakashi managed to deal heavy damage to the right side of Sasori's body, taking the right arm of Sasori as well. As Kakashi landed face-first on the ground, Asuma also took advantage of the wounded Sasori, slicing Sasori's remaining blade away, thus eradicating any more use of poisonous blades.

Before Asuma could and any more attacks, Sasori hopped back with the help of the cables and created some distance between the two elite Jounins. Despite not sustaining any injuries throughout the ordeal, both Kakashi and Asuma were down to the point of chakra exhaustion, greatly fatigued and panting heavily.

"We can't... keep this up..." Kakashi said through heavy breaths.

"We almost... have him... We need... perseverance Kakashi!"

"It took so much... to just scrape him... and with low chakra and stamina..."

Meanwhile the former Sunagakure ninja analyzed the current situation. He knew he could defeat the two Konoha Jounins but he wondered if the cost was worth it. With the damage he had sustained and the destruction of Hiruko and the 3rd Kazekage, he had paid a heavy price. Also he doubted the mission would last any longer and he felt that retreat was currently the best option.

Kakashi however recognized Sasori's intention and quickly formed seals with great speed. "You're not getting away! Earth release! Earth-style Wall Technique!"

Behind Sasori a large wall erupted from beneath the ground and raised up to ten meters in height. Sasori looked behind him and realized in his current condition, it would take too much time to climb the walls before Kakashi or Asuma attacked him.

"You must be fools trapping me here." Sasori remarked.

Asuma grinned tiredly. "You should assess the situation more thoroughly then."

Sasori was confused for a second before he realized what the Konoha Jounin meant. Behind the two elite Jounin, Haruno Sakura had arrived along with Chouji and the entire team Eight fully healed and recuperated.

"Well... I did not expect my poison to be nullified that easily." Sasori stated nonchalantly.

"Heh, then you have not met me, Haruno Sakura and apprentice to Tsunade!" Sakura said with a clenched fist.

Sasori narrowed his eyes, not surprised now by the answer. Tsunade was considered one of the best healers of the current era and if the young pink haired girl was the Sannin's apprentice, he would expect no less. Normally the legendary puppeteer would welcome the challenge but in his current state, he felt he was outnumbered.

"Time I pay you back for what you did to me!" Kiba said followed by a bark of agreement by Akamaru.

Shino shifted his sunglasses, looking at his team mate. "Don't be so reckless Kiba."

After considering the situation, Sasori realized he had to resort to his final ace-in-the hole. The red haired puppeteer reached for a hidden scroll he had on his back and revealed it to the newly arrived ninjas.

"I have never been pushed so much to the limits to be forced to use this. I admit, you young ninjas truly put up a remarkable fight but I will not lose to you, not on this day! Allow me to introduce you the Secret Technique that allowed me to take over a country!"

***Elsewhere of the village***

The two cloaked figures stood on the rooftops and continued on with the final phase of their mission, watching the people enter the gateway they had created. Once they had gathered everyone or enough that was needed, they could release the seal and begin their retreat.

The villagers all walked into the gateway mindlessly like as if they had no control of their actions. The two cloaked figures found it amazing how much villagers they had been able to gather before Konoha finally acted. The same goes for the other four Mighty nations.

"...Takyu and Tumako have already retreated..." The figure on the right stated.

His partner nodded. "It's okay, they and the Akatsuki have already bought us enough time to complete our part of the mission."

"...Should we retreat now...?"

"Not yet..." The figure on the left responded. "We are almost done however. Once the civilians of this section is collected, we can retreat as well."

"...What about the Akatsuki?"

"They are allies but they are not of our concern. They should be able to take care of themselves."

The two were so engrossed in their mission that neither of the two noticed their enemy approaching. Haruno Maki spotted the two Akatsuki-cloaked figures and quickly tossed several of his Clone Kunai's, prepared to release all of the clones at once.

However the figure on the left finally sensed Maki's attack and formed two seals, creating a sort of shield around them. Once the Clone kunai neared them, all of them disappeared and a second later, appeared on another rooftop.

'What the...?!' Maki thought in shock upon witnessing such a technique.

"Continue with the operation." The figure on the left commanded of his partner. "I will deal with him."

Maki glared at the two of them. The cloaked figure that was still resuming with the technique, Maki recognized it. It simply confirmed his suspicions of the Genjutsu barrier technique. The other figure had blue, spiky hair with black eyes. The man smiled at the pink haired ninja, actually opening his hands wide as if to give Maki a welcome hug.

"Haruno Maki... It is an honor to finally meet you!" The figure spoke, his voice low.

"...How do you know me?"

The blue-haired man smiled once more. "How could I not...? Your teacher, Namoto Shuya, have spoken of you many times. It is of no surprise that we would finally meet one day."

***Chapter end****

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