Chapter 8

The council stood as the Hokage walked across the floor to assume his customary seat. The council wasn't a formal governing body; it existed only because the Shodaime thought it would be a good idea to have routine meetings with the clan heads in order to listen to their gripes. The practice had continued under the Nidaime and the Sandaime, but there was no law that mandating its existence; attendance was by invitation of the Hokage only.

The only members who had any real semblance of authority were Sarutobi's former teammates, Homura Mitakado and Karu Utatane, both of whom served in an advisory capacity. However, only a fool would shirk off an invitation from the Hokage to provide input into matters of village administration, finances, and security. As such, the weekly meetings, boring as they might have been, were one of the more important venues for the Hokage to hear about concerns from across the village.

The attendees waited until the Hokage had taken a seat and arranged his robes before taking their own seats, a formality that was observed supposedly to demonstrate that the proper veneration was being shown to the village's leader as required. The ninja in the room noted that in addition to the normal crowd, a masked jonin sat in the back of the room, twitching in a combination of frustration and nervousness. The civilians ignored the shinobi; the shinobi, trained to note the unfamiliar, began to speculate furiously as to what the new addition could mean.

Familiarity breeds contempt. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the way in which the merchants behaved in this meeting, addressing their shinobi counterparts as equals.

The clan heads tolerated the merchants only because they were necessary, but it would be a stretch to say they enjoyed spending time together. The group dealt with routine business as expediently as possible before issues of security, such as the chunin exams and related matters, were raised. Those without the security clearance were asked to clear the room, meaning the civilians were forced to leave as the shinobi dealt with the village security.

Once the merchants left the room, the Hokage placed his hat on the table, signaling that the discussion to follow was to be seen as discourse between equals, rather than subordinates to authority. It was an indication that Sarutobi was seeking unbiased feedback. The shinobi in the room relaxed slightly, particularly since they no longer had to be as guarded with their statements around civilians.

"With Orochimaru reappearing in Konoha, we must be prepared for the worst case scenario. To help protect the village in the face of coming adversity, I am going to reform the internal security force to ensure the safety and security of the village's civilian population." Sarutobi announced.

The Hokage took the fact that there was no immediate outcry as a positive sign. However, several of his shinobi were frowning. Danzo was too smooth to show that he was upset by the announcement, Sarutobi knew his old friend and rival well enough to read his tells. Had he not been watching for it, the Hokage would have missed Danzo's hand as it briefly clenched his cane.

Sarutobi resisted the urge to smirk. It wasn't often he caught the old goat by surprise, so he relished the few chances he had. However, the frowns he saw on some of the other faces surprised him. He had not expected Shikaku Nara, for one, to have such a visibly strong reaction to his announcement. However, Sarutobi respected the Nara clan's heads intellectual prowess immensely, and sought to draw him out. If he had objections, they would be based on sound logical deductions.

"Do you have something to add, Shikaku?" The Hokage asked.

"Our forces are stretched thin enough providing adequate security for the exams." Shikaku stated. "It makes no sense to recall our forces on missions as the revenue streams are important to the fiscal health of the village. I do not see how it would be possible to reform the force in the four weeks that remain before the finals. Standing up the force again will severely hamper our effectiveness as it will remove shinobi from the ranks of mission eligible."

Shibi Aburame spoke up. "Instituting such a program at this time does not make sense, given the points raised by Shikaku. Logically, you would not have announced this if you didn't have a solution in mind." Though it was difficult to tell with the sunglasses he wore, Sarutobi was sure his eyes glanced over at the masked ninja still leaning against the wall. "Who would lead this initiative?"

Sarutobi nodded. "All valid points. Any other concerns I should address?" The Hokage paused, continuing only when no one else spoke up. "You are absolutely right that we have no able bodied shinobi we can devote to the standing up such a force in four weeks, particularly in the face of the security concerns that have come to light. However, we have quite a number of… other assets that are currently underutilized that could still be of use to the village."

"Such as?" Shikaku asked.

"Shinobi discharged from service and academy graduates who failed to attain genin status." Sarutobi responded.

Shikaku tilted his head slightly as he considered the Hokage's statement. "Yes… I could see the advantage. We've already invested a considerable time in training them, and have a vested interest in getting something in return." He paused. "And the other concern?"

"Even though four weeks is not sufficient time to reinstitute the security force," the Hokage said, "having anything in place is better than nothing, particularly given the challenges before us. It will be messy and ineffective, but…" He trailed off.

Most of the shinobi around the table nodded as they considered what was to come.

"... as to who will lead this force, I propose that Neko be placed in that role. His talents and success rate with capture missions have been well noted. Given his track record and background, he is the most suitable candidate for such a role. Do you agree?"

Most of those present nodded.

"Neko, you may remove the mask and join us." The Hokage said. "I'm sure some of the council members will have questions for you."

Ranma did as asked. He sat down at the table, looking around at the various clan heads assembled there as they scrutinized him in turn.

Tsume Inuzuka, always forthright, asked point blank, "Why do you want this job?"

Ranma snorted. "Want the job? I don't want it. I wasn't given much of a choice, though. The old far… I mean, the Hokage needs someone to do it, and as he said, I'm the best one for it."

"How are you going to get the internal security force up and running before the finals?" Asked one of the other council members.

"I'm not." Ranma stated flatly. "I've never organized something like this in my life. I might be good, but I ain't that good. I was told I'd have six months and help to get it running. Now I learn I have four weeks and that I'm doing it on my own. Frankly, I'm not sure anything can be done in that time beyond putting bodies in uniforms."

And so it continued. Danzo, however, simply narrowed his visible eye and watched as the Ranma answered the questions directed at him. Mostly, Ranma's response to the questions was some variation of "I don't know," or "I'm not sure," because honestly, he did not know what the hell he was going to do.

Danzo left the conference room when it became clear the discussion was over, not bothering to wish the newly appointed security coordinator the best of luck as the others were doing.

Ranma grimaced as he finished reading yet another bureaucratic document and scribbled some hasty notes in a scroll lying on desk in front of him. He tossed it into a bin on the floor labeled "Administrative" before reaching out to grab yet another scroll. Before he cracked it open, thought, he looked around in despair. The source of his anguish was obvious - he was sitting in an office, behind a desk. The desk was piled high with scrolls and loose paper in giant mounds, and the office was crowded with filing cabinets filled to bursting with even yet more paper. The scroll he'd just written occupied the only space on the desk that wasn't stacked to the tipping point with papers.

Part of rebuilding the internal security forces was going through the old files and figuring out how the previous force was structured. He'd been coming here every day for the last two weeks, forcing himself to try and make some sort of sense out of the huge pile of crap he'd been given from the Hokage when informed about his new assignment. It was a daunting task, made even more so by the fact that Ranma had about as much bureaucratic instinct as his ex had prowess in the kitchen. He'd barely made a dent in the pile of documents.

The other problem was that he really had no idea how the police in his old life had been structured. Sure, he knew they arrested the bad guys so that the courts could try them, but he didn't really know anything about how they did their jobs. Most of his life was spent learning enough to stay out of their way, as his dad had enough warrants outstanding that they'd been careful to avoid drawing the attention of the police. His interactions with the police were limited to maintaining a low profile and getting away as quickly as possible.

Ranma had spent most evenings trying to remember as much as he could about the police from the limited interactions he'd had, the comics he'd read, and the television shows he watched in his old life. When he compared that to what he'd gleaned from how the Uchiha ran their force, it was apparent that the two shared as much similarity as a rock hyrax and an elephant.

Even though Ranma was a true believer in Anything Goes and his own battle aptitude, he was convinced that paperwork was the only enemy could completely crush him in mind, body, and spirit. Ranma made a note on his scroll before giving up and placing his head on the desk as the dejection set in. He'd always been a horrible student for anything that came out of books; asking him to make sense of all this crap piled before him was a simply torture.

Part of the problem was that the old internal security force had been run out of the Uchiha compound. For a number of reasons, that wasn't practical now. After Itachi had done… what he'd done, the vast majority of the files related to the security forces had been scrubbed for sensitive documents or village secrets by the intelligence agents sent in to clean up. Everything else was deemed unessential and thrown in boxes and sealed in their haste to bury the bodies and the memories of the Uchiha.

The people cleaning up after the massacre gave no consideration to what went into any particular box. Their major concern had been speed, and thus there had been no system, rhyme or reason to the way the documents had been shoved into the various boxes before being sealed. To make matters worse, once everything was ordered unpacked, some team of dumb genin had just dumped the stuff wherever space could be found in the cramped office. If there had been a logical connection between things before hand, that system had been obliterated by the packing and unpacking. Ranma had been "generously" given some office space on the bottom floor of the Hokage tower and all the papers dumped there.

The Hokage assured him it was a temporary setup until such time Ranma submitted the appropriate requisition request forms and accompanying budgetary justifications for the space requirements and physical infrastructure needed to accommodate the new force. Ranma was pretty sure he was being fucked with because the old man had smirked as he said it. He knew he was being sandbagged when Ranma was shown his new office. The Hokage had ushered him into a windowless closet barely big enough to contain the desk that was overflowing with papers. The limited floor space that wasn't devoted to filing cabinets was stacked floor to ceiling with more boxes of documents. The Hokage told him what the files were before clapped him on the shoulder and walking away with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.

Just the thought of the paperwork made him want to slit his stomach open in a ritual disembowelment. Maybe he could ask Anko to be his second, considering that she'd asked him to do the same thing before this nightmare of paperwork and filing began. It would certainly be less painful than the current situation. With a sigh, he picked up a stack of papers from his desk and began to skim. Oh joy - it was a report about uniforms. His eyes immediately began to glaze over, but he persevered due to his sense of duty. Yes, it was dry stuff, but also helped give him an idea of how much money the previous force spent on officer apparel in any given quarter.

He just wished he didn't hate it so much.

As if in answer to his prayers, Anko came barging into his office, carrying with her a few bags of dango. She was wearing her normal outfit, but instead of her normal smirk she was sporting a real smile. Her enthusiastic entrance caused some loose papers to go airborne, adding to the general sense of disarray. She slid around the desk and plopped down in his lap, arching an eyebrow at him when he gave her a flat stare. Not breaking eye contact, she pulled a stick of dango out of the bag and promptly swallowed the whole stick in rather lewd manner. Ranma chuckled and gave her a quick peck on the cheek before shifting her weight a bit to find a more comfortable position.

She was having none of that, though. She began to wriggle in his lap provocatively while maintaining an air of nonchalance. Ranma wasn't fooled. She was a welcome distraction, but before he could respond to her teasing someone knocked on the door.

Anko pouted, but hopped off his lap. She disappeared in a quick shushin, leaving the office an even bigger mess than before. Grumbling, Ranma got up from his desk to see what this what the interruption was about. A young ninja, well out of his teens and chunin in rank, stood on the other side of the door.

"Ranma Saotome?" The ninja inquired.

"Yeap." Ranma nodded. "What's up?"

The ninja offered up a scroll. Ranma took it, idly noting the ninja's appearance. He, like many of the others chunin Ranma had seen, was wearing dark-colored clothing under the standard chunin flak jacket and forehead protector covering his hair, making him almost indistinguishable from the rest. The ninja ranks were filled with serviceable ninja at the lower and mid-levels who lacked either the skills or the talent to progress to jonin, or conversely didn't want to get promoted. They tended to get slotted into jobs that required minimal fighting but lots of administration - teachers at the academy, assignment officers, or working as support for the ANBU and interrogation units.

They served a vital function. Because of the low death (and thus turnover rate) in their jobs, they functioned as the institutional memory and continuity for the village. Essentially, they were the civil servants equivalents in his old world, only armed with pointy things for stabbing. Ranma opened the seal on the scroll and scanned the contents briefly. It was from the Hokage, and it contained just a list of names and ranks. A vast majority were genin, though there were a few chunin sprinkled throughout the list. Nothing higher ranked, though.

"Thank you." Ranma meant it. This was a step in the right direction, as these were names of potential recruits. "Do you know where I can contact these people? I'll want to start interviewing them."

The chunin shifted. "Well, uh, I was instructed to gather them prior to handing the scroll to you."

Ranma looked up from the scroll. "Really?"

"Yes sir."

"Have you been assigned to assist me, then?" Ranma asked.

"No sir. My assignment was simply to gather the names on the scroll and to introduce you to them."

"Lead on, then." Ranma was grateful for a chance to get out of the office. He followed chunin's back as he walked down the hall to the tower's exit. It was a short walk, and Ranma saw the group milling around off to the side of the stairs leading into the tower. The chunin pointed to the group before disappearing, leaving Ranma alone just inside the tower's entrance and out of sight of the group of men clustered together at the base of the tower. He watched for a few moments, observing the way in which the men clustered in small groups of three to five chatting to pass the time. There were also a couple of women present, but they hung back and watched the others.

Ranma opened the scroll containing the names and scanned it. He didn't see any famous clan names on the register, which confirmed his suspicions. To still be genin at that age meant they were washouts. The few chunin in the crowd were easy to spot. They tended to be younger, and carried themselves as if they had seen battle. They also were sporting the kind of injuries that ended ninja careers. One was missing three of the fingers on one hand, though he still had his thumb and index finger. Another stood with one shoulder higher than the other, most likely the result of an injury that either crushed or mangled the limb beyond the ability of a medic to put it back together. One wore an eye patch, and another stood off to the side. Given the way his eyes focused on the lips rather than the eyes, Ranma assumed he his hearing was damaged during a mission.

Ranma hadn't even considered making an announcement yet that the internal security force would be taking volunteers, but apparently the Hokage wanted him to have something in place before the finals. Just because these people were ninja washouts didn't mean they'd be unfit for what he had in mind.

Ranma eventually stepped out of the tower and into full view. It took a couple almost a full minute before a few of the men noticed that Ranma was standing on the stairs watching them. They nudged their companions, and gradually a silence fell as the group all turned to face Ranma. The silence stretched for a few moments until Ranma cleared his throat.

"Thanks for coming. I'm Ranma Saotome."

He heard the whispers of "Neko" from the back of the crowd. Some of the men shuffled nervously, obviously having heard the name.

Ranma decided that if they were scared of a name, they wouldn't be a good fit for what he was trying to accomplish. He crossed his arms and stood tall before the group. "I am Neko. If you have any issues with that, I recommend you leave now."

A few of the men shifted their weight nervously, but no one left.

Ranma nodded approvingly. "Good," he said. "Do you know why you've been asked to report here?"

The silence that followed was answer enough. Ranma's amusement didn't show on his face, but internally he was already planning out the torture, err… training! that he'd be subjecting the poor schlubs to.

"You are no longer ninja, either by accident or choice. However, the Hokage wants you to have a chance to still be of service to the village, and so he's decided to give you all an opportunity to distinguish yourselves. This is a volunteer organization, but it comes with pay. It's a real job, with real responsibilities. Do well, and there are promotion possibilities. It's your choice. If you're interested, meet me at training ground three in five minutes."

With that, Ranma took to the roof and turned on the speed. The training ground he'd picked was about as far from the tower as he could pick and stay within the confines of the village. It was almost always empty, as there were more convenient ones closer to town. Going flat out, it still took him nearly four minutes to reach the training ground. He noted when he arrived and began getting ready.

It was little more than a field with a few stumps in it, but it would do for today's evaluation. The first recruit didn't show up for nearly 15 minutes, and he was panting heavily as he did so, coming to a stop with his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. Not surprisingly, it was the chunin he'd noticed earlier that was missing his fingers.

"Name?" Ranma asked. He ticked the name off his scroll when the man replied, noting that he was the first that arrived.

Slowly, the rest of the group trickled in. Ranma noted the order they came as he asked their names. Ranma noted that there were two individuals, a man and a woman, who arrived almost exactly in the middle of the pack. They made a show of breathing hard, but Ranma could tell from their posture they weren't as fatigued as they tried to sell. He marked them on the scroll as well, his discussion with the Hokage still in mind.

Half an hour after Ranma had first arrived, only about three-quarters of the original group showed up. Ranma decided he'd waited long enough.

"Line up in the order you arrived, three equal rows, first row facing me two meters from where I stand." Ranma barked. The ninja sort of looked at him funny for a moment. Annoyed, he put some ki into his voice and shouted, "MOVE."

They jumped. It took longer than he would have liked, but eventually the recruits were able to figure out where they stood in relation to the others time wise and form ranks. Ranma watched the process silently, noting how long it took and what sort of personality issues emerged during the resulting chaos.

Once the ranks were formed, Ranma walked up and down the rows of recruits, examining each one critically. Some of the older ones were able to return his stare levelly, but a vast majority simply shuffled back and forth nervously as Ranma looked them over. Once he'd finished, he stood in front of the group again and ordered them to reverse their current positions, so that the last to arrive stood in the position currently occupied by the first in the lineup.

Again, it took a bit for the ranks to reform, but it went faster than the first attempt. Watched the process carefully, noting which people took initiative and which ones simply looked lost.

"First, thanks for comin'. You're gonna be the first group volunteers for the security force I've been asked to reform. Any questions before we begin?"

The sound of nervous shuffling was the response to his question.

"Our job is not to fight, but to maintain order. The skills you learned while training will help, but they aren't the only ones that you'll need. A big focus is going to be on non-lethal techniques. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so let's get to it." Ranma said. "Okay, pair up, and we're going to work on takedowns."

The recruits shifted nervously on their feet.

"PAIR UP!" He shouted, lacing some ki into his voice. The recruits jumped into action. More than half of them sent nervous glances his way.

"You know anyone who can summon wolves?" Ranma asked the chunin missing fingers.

The chunin blinked. "Wolves, sir?"

"Yeah. Wolves. Preferably hungry ones." Ranma clarified.

"Ummm..." The chunin blanked.

Ranma grumbled to himself. With only two weeks left till the exams, he just didn't see how he was going to make this work. He demonstrated what he wanted each pair to work on, and then stepped back to watch the chaos.

As the final portion of the Chunin exams approached, Ranma desperately wished for more time. He'd spent hours each day with his recruits working on changing their minds and attitudes from ninja to something else. But there simply wasn't anyway he'd get this force even partially effective before the exam. He knew it, the Hokage knew it, and all of the ninja working with him knew it. But even still, it was equally important that his force at least be present on the day of the finals, if only to demonstrate that Konoha had the resources - and the bodies - to set up a new force on such short notice.

Ranma didn't have the ability to teach community policing. He didn't have an in depth knowledge of criminal justice procedures. But he had a vague plan and some people to throw at it. In between physical training sessions, Ranma concentrated mostly on setting up physical police stations and getting bodies in them to start building trust with the neighborhood. It was an uphill battle - civilians didn't trust shinobi, and community policing didn't exist in this world. That was doubly true of his recruits. They were washout ninja - getting them to realize that and trying to actively make connections in the community without any ulterior motive was difficult.

With only one week left until the finals, most of his time was spent troubleshooting the local police boxes he'd had set up. They were just primitive buildings, really, with nothing much in the way of amenities. A toilet, some cabinets, and the staple of any good police station, lots of blank forms in triplicate. The security force met twice daily for group training; Ranma used it as an opportunity to have them identify as a unit so they'd do their job and support civilians, each other, and then Konoha's ninja - in that order.

It would work with time, but time was a luxury he didn't have.

The hours were long. He was up before dawn and not back in bed till well past midnight. In addition to his work trying to get the security force up and running, he was meeting daily with Inoichi and keeping up his own training. He hadn't even bothered to go back to his own apartment since being given the job, preferring to stay over at Anko's, particularly since she was helping him by going over everything she could think of related to Orochimaru and letting him figure out counters in training. Anko had her own responsibilities, so outside of training and the occasional meetup, they didn't see each other as much as she would have liked. When they did get together, they'd often just collapse in a heap in her bed. Mostly, they were just too tired to have sex.

He spent as much time with Inoichi as he could spare. Frankly the sessions were a lot like meditation, though they were a lot harder on the mind walker than on Ranma. For Ranma, no time seemed to pass; Inoichi appeared drained though. A glance at the clock revealed the reason -each session took hours, and the Yamanaka had been channeling his chakra the entire time. Then Inoichi would ask him questions about cats.

It got progressively easier with each session, and the fear of the word and images of the creatures ceased to cause paroxysms. As the day of the exam got closer, the sessions with Inoichi increased, until finally the older ninja had to beg off in order to recuperate before the anticipated invasion.

The day before the exams he inspected his new recruits. He'd only had them for two weeks. They all wore the uniform, but nobody really "fit" it yet. Sure, they were growing into it and growing into a cohesive group, but he'd done all he could. He gave them the afternoon training off, and told them to be ready for the exams. He and Anko went out for lunch, then retreated into the bedroom for an early evening.

They woke up very late the next morning. Anko rolled on top of him, and kissed him soundly. "Exams are today. You ready?"

Ranma gave her a lingering kiss. "Yeah, I will be." He brushed some of her hair out of her face as he caressed her cheek. "Take care of yourself out there today. Okay?"

She nodded. "You too. If you die…" She briefly clutched her shoulder.

Ranma kissed her again. "Ain't gonna happen."

There were no more words after that. There was urgency and fear in their coupling, and afterwards they simply held each other until they could no longer put off departure. They got cleaned and dressed in a flurry of activity, pausing only briefly to share a deep kiss before parting. Anko was wearing her normal trench coat, but choose to wear real chain mesh underneath, as opposed to just her normal netting. Ranma was wearing his standard combat outfit, but was carrying a much larger payload of weaponry than he normally would.

He made it a point to visit each police box that had been set up in the various districts of Konoha, quietly giving orders to each security officer that the priority for the day was to ensure the safety of civilians. His rounds complete, he had meal to ensure he'd have energy for the day ahead.

The waiting was the worst part. It was almost a relief when the invasion began. If the giant snakes breaking through the walls weren't a tip off, the ninja pouring through the gaps in the wall certainly were. Ranma knelt and used the breaking point, causing the ground underneath the ninja to explode violently. Expression grim, he marched towards the hole, intent on making entry as difficult as possible until backup arrived.

Anko worked her way through the streets towards the stadium, picking apart the invading forces as she did so. She didn't stay in any one place too long - rather, she simply caused enough damage to the Oto forces that Konoha's ninjas could mop up and move on to the next hotspot. The battles were typically short and intense, ending in a matter of seconds.

Oto's strategy was a good one. Cells of Oto ninja split off from the main force, occupying critical intersections. The invaders would then entrench on site, forcing Konoha's defenders to not only clear the route, but leave a holding force behind to prevent reoccupation. This slowly siphoned off the forces Konoha had available to respond to the invasion, meaning the response teams couldn't bring overwhelming force against the invaders. Surrender wasn't an option for the Oto forces, and they knew it. Every single battle was focused on extracting as high a toll from the Konoha forces as possible; the defenders were forced to fight to clear the main thoroughfares and into the back alleys, clearing each block street by street.

Konoha's street plan, outside of the main avenues, was defined by its very lack of one. The pedestrian footpaths and alleyways resembled the root system of a tree more than anything else, meaning that there was no logical pattern to be exploited. It was a defensive measure that gave Konoha the edge in the event of an invasion, as the locals knew how best to exploit the system. Unfortunately, Orochimaru was also familiar with it, which negated the advantage Konoha might have had.

To minimize the potential damage and reduce the risk of uncontrolled fires wiping out neighborhoods, the Konoha defenders were forced to fight in close quarters. If Oto's ninja had been more seasoned, the invasion might have turned out a bit differently. Unfortunately for Oto, at least, most of their ninja had never seen real combat before this attempt.

Anko turned a corner and nearly ran into a pair of Oto ninja. They were talking to each other face to face rather than back to back, and that cost them dearly. She pulled out a pair of kunai, and planted one in the back of the skull of one facing away from her and the other through the eye of the second ninja. She stopped only long enough to pull her weapons out of the bodies before heading deeper into the alleys in the direction of the stadium. The next block over, she saw a trio of Oto nin attempting to set up an ambush in a blind alley. They completely missed the pair of kunai she tossed between them, explosive tag lit and smoking. Two died instantly in the blast; the third was unconscious on the ground bleeding out. Anko ran past the still smoking bodies to catch up with the vanguard.

Ranma didn't even realize he'd thrown the kunai until it was leaving his palm and flying. The Sound ninja never saw it coming, his attention on the struggling civilian woman below him. Ranma's aim was true, punching through ninja's temple and causing the body to lurch to the side from the impact, slumping over and collapsing in a boneless heap, spilling a mixture of blood and grey matter on top of the unfortunate civilian. The woman desperately began clawing her way out from underneath the corpse, eyeing Ranma with a mixture of stark fear and barely concealed hope.

Ranma barely bothered to look at her, scanning the area instead for other enemies. "Get to a shelter," he commanded.

The woman took off running, heedless of the gore spattered on her clothing.

Ranma didn't have time to think about her further, as down the street another giant snake summons slithered into view. Mouth twisting into a silent snarl, Ranma ran towards it as quickly as he could. Snakes hunted by sensing vibrations, and though it could feel him approach, it couldn't turn fast enough to face him. By the time it registered him as a threat, he had already unleashed vacuum blades at the beast. The first blade removed the beast's head, and the second cut it in half, dropping the group of invaders clinging to its back to street level.

They never made it to the ground, as Ranma unleashed flurry of kunai at amaguriken speeds. Each one struck true, punching a hole through the head of each ninja. Ranma paused briefly to loot the corpses once they hit the ground in order to replace the kunai he'd lost, and then stalked off to continue hunting, working his way closer to the stadium.

He stopped in at each neighborhood police box he passed as he cleared neighborhoods. They were all empty, though for different reasons. Some of them had been targeted early on in the invasion, and the occupants summarily slain. The rest had followed orders and were evacuating civilians, having left the offices undefended.

Ranma hoped they survived. He didn't have time to look for them, though, as he had his own tasks to accomplish.

The closer to the stadium she got, the less resistance she encountered. It made sense, though. Even Orochimaru, for all his knowledge of Konoha's defenses, couldn't risk sneaking a large force into the heart of the city. His invasion forces would be forced to work from the outside in, and that took time, no matter how good the intelligence he might have. She sprinted from building to building until she reached the stadium walls, taking care to minimize her exposure in case anyone was watching for reinforcements.

There was no resistance as she made her way to up to the stadium entrance, and only bodies lining hallways as she made her way inside. When she finally emerged into the stadium proper, she saw why. Almost all of the opposition had been eliminated or captured already, and the Konoha ninja remaining were clustered around a large purple barrier that covered the VIP box and surrounding areas.

She made her way over to the barrier. Kakashi stood in a corner, his typical slouch not present in the least. Gone was the lazy, porn reading misanthrope; in his place, the formidable battle hardened ninja that was feared throughout the Elemental Nations stood. Kakashi's sole eye was focused intently on the barrier, trying to figure out what could be done to bring it down.

He didn't acknowledge her presence beyond a slight shift of his shoulders - enough to let her know that he'd put the kunai he'd palmed back into a wrist holster.

Behind the purple barrier, they could just make out two figures - the Hokage and Orochimaru. They didn't seem to be fighting at the moment, but it wouldn't be long until they did.

"You know a way through this?" He asked.

Anko shook her head. "That's the Four Violet Flames Formation," she said. "You can overwhelm it with enough firepower, but until the four corners run out of chakra or lose concentration, it's pretty much impenetrable."

Kakashi grunted.

"At least, that's what Orochimaru believes." She gave Kakashi a wicked grin. "When Ranma gets here, Orochimaru's in for a special treat. We only need to disrupt one corner to make the whole thing will fall apart. We're only going to get one shot at this, so let's get our people together and plan."

The grounds surround the stadium were remarkably quiet after the chaos of fighting near the walls. Ranma thought he would have felt more than he did right now, given that he'd just killed so many of the invaders. But he felt… calm. Almost zen-like. If anything it reminded him most closely of how he felt when he'd released his final attack on Saffron, so many years ago, knowing what the end result would be but moving forward regardless.

It wasn't resignation. It was acceptance.

Sometimes, people had to die. Orochimaru had joined the list of people who needed to die, and his name was at the very top.

It was even quieter inside the stadium than it had been outside. The sounds of the fighting near the walls seemed to have died down completely. The stadium was empty with the exception of a group of nearly two dozen Konoha ninja who were clustered around a giant purple box that covered the roof above the stadium's private viewing platform reserved for dignitaries. Inside the barrier, they could just make out the figure of the Hokage using a staff to Orochimaru, but no sound was making it through the purple construct.

"Ranma!" Anko flew from the group and gave him a glomp worthy of any of his former fiancées. He squeezed her back, relieved she had come out of it unscathed so far. They quickly disengaged, however, and ran back to the gathered ninja. There were a few raised eyebrows from amongst them, but nobody said anything.

"Glad you could make it," Kakashi said. "Anko said you had some trick up your sleeve to bring down the barrier?"

Ranma nodded. "Possibly. I won't know till I try, though. What's the plan?"

"You drop the barrier, and we hit them as hard as we can before they know we're coming," Kakashi said.

"I can do that." Ranma cracked his knuckles. The Konoha contingent got into place while Ranma examined the barrier. The purple flames that comprised the barrier didn't give off much heat, but that meant little, particularly given the burnt corpses lying next to it. Ranma fired off a small ki blast at the barrier, which exploded in a flash of light. The blast left a small hole in the wall, which closed up quickly.

"Hmm…" He turned to Anko. "How's this thing work?" he asked.

"It's an active barrier, maintained by four individuals. The chakra cost is pretty low, given that it's only minor drain to maintain. However, it takes concentration from all four people to maintain, which is perhaps the only weakness to this technique." She pointed to the corners, saying, "The four people maintaining the barrier are in the cardinal directions. Most jutsu can't damage the barrier. It takes a very strong or unique form of attack to destabilize the matrix. If damaged, the barrier will self-repair given time at virtually no cost to the people maintaining it. However, if there's a sustained assault, it costs a lot less chakra to repair the barrier than it does to damage it. Plus, any done to the barrier is spread between the four people maintaining it." She shook her head. "It's purely defensive, but it's good at what it does. Given the forces we have available to us, even with a sustained assault, we'd be out of chakra before we brought it down."

Ranma rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Does the barrier extend underneath the people maintaining it?"

Anko shrugged. "I presume so." She licked her lips. "What are you going to do?"

"Tell everyone to get ready," Ranma said. "I'm not sure if this is going to work. If it does, the barrier might only come down for a second. They need to be ready to move."

"What will the signal be?" Anko asked.

"Pretty sure they'll know," Ranma chuckled. He briefly pulled her into his arms and gave her a quick kiss before looking into her eyes. "Stay safe."

"You too." She hugged him tightly for a brief second before slipping out of his arms to take up her own position. Ranma closed his eyes to focus and clear his mind. He couldn't afford to be distracted at this moment. Once centered, Ranma placed his palm on the ground and concentrated. He was vaguely aware of others moving into position around the rooftop, but didn't let the noises distract him from what he was trying to find.

The barrier interfered slightly, but once he found what he was looking for, he gave a savage grin. "Get ready," he shouted. "I'm going to try and bring this down in three… two… one - Bakusai Tenketsu!" Ranma channeled his ki into the breaking points located directly underneath the cardinal directions of the barrier where the individuals sat maintaining the technique. It took a bit more ki than he anticipated, but the result was all he could hope for.

Simultaneously, four explosions rang out within the barrier. The blast waves ripped through the boxes sheltering the four unfortunate ninja maintaining the barrier. Their ears, lungs, stomachs, and intestines were shredded by the pressure wave; their brains and spines were practically liquefied. The high velocity shrapnel that followed the blast wave tore through their bodies, ensuring the job was finished. By the time the bodies hit the floor, they were barely recognizable as human.

The barrier flickered and abruptly vanished. The Konoha ninja, to their credit, didn't hesitate for a second. They immediately threw kunai and shuriken at Orochimaru, seeking to separate the traitor from their leader. Orochimaru was forced to jump back immediately from the Hokage, using his preternatural agility to snag two kunai from the air, one with each hand. The kunai in his left hand he threw through the heart of the ANBU closest to him while he deflected the rest of the projectiles with the weapon in his right. He shoot forward, kicking the ANBU's body into the path of next closest ninja, intent on taking the fight to them.

He was forced to dodge a staff strike from the Hokage, who used the temporary distraction to regain his footing and leap back into the fray. Orochimaru's dodge put him within striking distance of Kakashi, who attempted to run him through with his signature lightning technique. Orochimaru's hand flashed out and grabbed Kakashi's forearm before the strike could connect, but his attempt to retaliate was cut short as Ranma stepped in, fists flashing at amaguriken speeds.

Orochimaru was fast, but even he could not fend off the assault with only one hand. Ranma's fists were traveling so fast that snake sannin's clothes smoldered upon impact as the air compressed between Ranma's fist and his body ignited. One or two blows could have been shrugged off, but Ranma hit him with several hundred in the blink of an eye.

Orochimaru was blasted back, right into the path of the Hokage's follow-up swing with his staff. The swing caught him in the lower-back, folding him in half backwards. If the snake sannin hadn't altered his body so much through his experimentation, his spine would have been snapped instantly.

He wasn't considered one of the most fearsome ninja a live for nothing, however. Orochimaru substituted himself with a corpse on the outskirts of the battle, recapturing the initiative by ripping the throat out of a nearby ANBU with his teeth. A Konoha ninja attempted to use a jutsu, only to have his arms ripped off by Orochimaru before he could complete the signs. He didn't live long enough to understand what happened, however, as a quick ridge hand strike removed his head.

"I will crush you like the insects you are!" Orochimaru seethed.

"Monologuing," Ranma tsked. "So typical."

Anko laughed at that remark, causing Orochimaru's eyes to narrow. In an instant, the fight was rejoined as Orochimaru's fingers flickered into the same one-handed seal he used in the Forest of Death which caused Anko to stiffen. Orochimaru lunged for her, but was intercepted by Ranma, who directed the strike past her and struck the traitor in the kidneys with an elbow strike.

Ranma grabbed Anko and tossed her to the nearest ninja. "Get her out of here!" he shouted. The ninja tossed Anko over his shoulder, and vanished with a flash of grey hair.

Orochimaru recovered quickly, but he was surrounded by Konoha's elite.

"There's no escape for you this time, Orochimaru," the Hokage said. "It is time to correct my mistake." He wasted no more time speaking, lashing out with his staff.

The fight brutal and focused on one thing - ending Orochimaru. There were no flashy techniques used, as it would be too easy for Orochimaru to turn them against the Konoha forces to his advantage. This was just a straight up beat down. ANBU darted in and out, slashing out with lighting fast sword strikes designed to hamper the sannin's ability to fight. Ranma engaged in hand to hand, as he was the only one with the speed and strength to match Orochimaru in a physical contest. When the snake sannin attempted to use jutsu to create space, Ranma would disrupt his attempt by hitting him with ki blasts that caused his techniques to fail. Sarutobi kept his distance, using his adamantine staff to land punishing blows that pulverized bone. Kakashi had unveiled his sharingan and was using it to cherry pick, lashing out with chidori enhanced thrusts. Although they hadn't coordinated the fight, Konoha's focus on teamwork proved its worth, as the group covered for one another and preventing the traitor sannin from escaping.

Orochimaru's title as one of the strongest ninja Konoha had ever produced wasn't mere boasting, however. One of the ANBU mistimed a strike, which the snake sannin capitalized on to literally disarm the unfortunate ninja by stealing his sword and using it to cleave through both arms the man's arms at mid-bicep before decapitating him. The ANBU that followed was stabbed through the heart. Ranma darted in before Orochimaru could pull the blade free and use it to gain any more any more space in the fight. Grabbing Orochimaru by the wrists with his left hand, Ranma delivered a crushing ridge-hand blow to the throat to make Orochimaru drop the weapon.

Immobilizing the sannin was virtually impossible as he was preternaturally flexible and joint locks didn't work, so Ranma concentrated on limiting his ability to hurt others while inflicting as much pain as possible. Though the snake sannin was unnaturally resistant to damage, even he still had to breathe. Eventually the combined efforts of the Konoha nin took their toll as Orochimaru's defense crumbled due to the sustained assault.

The snake sannin was unable to react in time a brutal overhead strike by Sarutobi's familiar left him stunned. That was the opening Kakashi needed to spear Orochimaru through the chest with a fully charged chidori, punching a hole clear through his chest from back to front. The sannin's heart was pulverized by the strike.

Rather than die, Orochimaru grabbed Kakashi's hand and twisted, snapping the copycat ninja's wrist. "You think you can beat me?" Orochimaru roared. While still holding Kakashi's wrist, His mouth opened up obscenely, and a new, fresh body began to slither out of the battered husk, covered in slime.

Ranma didn't wait. He launched himself at Orochimaru and unleashed devastation upon the emerging sannin while kicking Kakashi free of the corpse his hand was lodged in. Ranma refused to let up, increasing the pace and force behind his punches until the emerging body was pulverized before it could emerge.

Orochimaru's body exploded, accompanied by hurricane force winds, which threw Ranma and the rest of the Konoha forces away from the remains. Orochimaru's battered body began to shift as his human form sloughed off until and in its place stood a colossal eight-headed hydra.

Sarutobi looked at his former student in shock. "What have you done to yourself?"

The beast simply roared in response.

Ranma popped to his feet, taking in the appearance of Orochimaru. "Huh. I'd like to say I've never seen this before, but fortunately for y'all I actually know how to fight dragons." Ranma turned to the Hokage. "Things this big are much easier to hit. Tell your men to open fire."

Technique after technique were unleashed. Though Orochimaru dwarfed the surroundings, the number of Konoha ninja and his sheer size made it easy for them to stay of the way while unleashing their most destructive attacks. Even if most failed to do any significant damage, the sheer quantity had a quality in and of itself.

Ranma, for his part, quickly retreated and found an out of the way location to close his eyes and sink into a meditative state. If there ever was a time to unleash the fruit of his efforts with Inoichi, it was now. Deep within the recesses of his mind, Ranma found a caged tiger thrashing its tail. With a smile, he unlocked the cage and unleashed the Neko-ken.

Ranma opened his eyes. He'd never been in control of this technique before. Everything felt… slower. Whereas before he was a kitten batting at butterflies, he could finally bring his finely honed battle senses to this state. For the first time, he could believe this really was an unstoppable technique.

Ranma flexed his hands and felt as invisible claws of ki sprung into existence. With a dark grin, he stalked forward on all fours, very much the picture of a confident predator. With yowl that caused the Konoha ninja to pause, Ranma leapt into the fray, invisible claws lashing out as he ran around the body of Orochimaru, leaving behind gaping wounds of parallel slashes a meter deep that were completely unhindered by scales, muscle, and bone.

The wounds might not have been enough to stop something of Orochimaru's current size, but they certainly were enough to catch his attention. All eight heads swivel around to focus on Ranma, which is exactly what he wanted. Orochimaru's heads lashed out with strikes faster than the eye could track, but each head reared back afterwards missing large chunks of flesh or eyeballs as Ranma deftly weaved around the strikes and retaliated with his own devastating attacks. The pain only made Orochimaru strike with increased frequency, as he'd long since given up rational thought simply to crush the bug causing him so much frustration.

The Konoha ninja watch in awe as Ranma weaved through the attacks untouched, circling the behemoth nearly three times. On the final revolution, Ranma waited till the last moment to strike, shouting out his signature attack.

"Hiryushoten HA!"

The tornado that sprung into around him existence was more than just wind. Ranma saturated it with his ki, and sharpened that ki until it resembled the claws of the neko-ken. Inside the funnel, the beast that was Orochimaru was lifted into the air, and much like an orange in a blender, began to get ripped apart into increasingly smaller chunks.

"Add fire!" Ranma shouted, somehow making his voice heard over the roar of the wind. The ninja complied. Fire techniques hit the funnel, turning it into a fire devil. Ranma fed more ki into the technique, causing the funnel to greedily suck in as much oxygen as possible, turning the flames from red to white hot. Ranma sustained the funnel until he started to get tired from the exertion, allowing it to die after nearly a minute at full burn. He stood in the middle of a glowing crater, right arm held up into the sky, as flaming chunks of Orochimaru burned to ash as they fell, littering the ground around him with sooty stains.

After a pregnant pause, ninja across the battlefield began to celebrate. The Hokage cut the celebration off quickly and ordered the ninja to assist mopping up the invasion force. Soon, it was only the Hokage, Ranma, Kakashi and a few ANBU remaining. Sarutobi removed his hat and covered his face with his hands. Eventually, he removed his hands and stood up straight, his face grim. The soot and tiredness made him look older than ever.

"You've done a great thing, Ranma." The Hokage said.

Ranma was about to reply, when he realized something. "Where's Anko?"

"Tell me again how we let this happen?" Ranma asked in a biting tone as he raced along the treetops, following Kakashi and his summoned ninja dogs. The few ANBU that could be spared from the clean-up efforts brought up the rear.

Kakashi just shrugged.

"This way!" One of Kakashi's summons took off, following the scent of the grey-headed ANBU that was last seen with Anko. They had been following the trail now for several hours. Given how sure the dogs were getting, they must have been getting close.

Though it seemed to take hours, it was only fifteen minutes later when the wolf led them to a cave. Ranma didn't wait, running in on all fours, just in time to witness Kabuto shouting something about unsealing and a large white snake emerge from Anko's neck.

Ranma lashed out with his claws as fast as he was able. Kabuto had enough time to register shock before he and his returned master became bloody confetti on the cave floor.

Kakashi stumbled in a fraction of a second later, sharigan unveiled. He took a few seconds to look over the scene.

"Well, that was anticlimactic."

"I've already done the epic battle thing. I learned a long time ago to stop playing nice with people who kidnap my girl." Ranma scooped up Anko. "Can you clean this up?"

Kakashi nodded.

"See you back at Konoha."