I do not own, or receive benefit, from the Naruto properties.

A Teacher's Glory: A Union of Rejects: Chapter 14

By Larry Huss

Uchiha Sasuke knew that down in the Contestants' Ready Room Mighty Guy, the Jonin, was neutralizing the last of the non-Konoha candidates for advancement. Until they could be sure of the stranger's intentions he would have to be kept in a harmless state. Two seating rows higher above Sasuke in the stands, Kankuro of Suna had been sitting, with Sakura chatting him up. From the sounds of things she had been just a little faster than the boy (originally a candidate, then a skills demonstrator, and now officially an invader) in reacting to what was going on. Sasuke heard her voice cry out, "Clear, sedative injected!" Now to figure out where they would be most useful; their action stations were undefined, due to not knowing exactly when things would kick off.

"A little help here, these damn puppets are heavy!"

He turned from his assaying of the situation, and went up to help her lug the flying and combat puppets (the ones the Suna genin had thought was so cunningly hidden in the tools and supply chest he had insisted was necessary for his between-fights demonstrations) to a utilities closet. Kankuro himself was already unconscious, wearing only a breechclout and wire-bound. Sakura had been merciful: he wasn't hanging from one of the supports of the next higher balcony. Doing that to someone wire-bound was a damaging form of torture, and when he was to be interrogated they wanted him to be in as good shape as he could be.

By the time they were done the Jonin Guy was there, with Tamura Tenten in tow.

"Youthful Uchiha, follow me. Cute Haruno, Go to exit East 2; there will be a party of politicals, civilians that need to be escorted to the emergency shelters. Important people, Daimyo's relatives. When you've done that, you're on guard post there. Tenten, report the situation to Jonin Yamanaka at the Hokage Tower. Move!"

Regretfully, Team Seven split up. At a run, Sakura ascended to her post, where perhaps a dozen richly dressed middle-aged men and women, and three wounded bodyguards, showed up a few moments later. Two of the bodyguards had heads with Oto headbands tied to their waists. That encouraged Sakura; Sensei had said it was always better to work with professionals, and not be stuck with some ceremonial guard detail. She had reloaded her right hand Quick Needle Launcher, this time with poisoned needles. Now she slipped her Quick Needle Launcher (Mark II, Type 3) onto her left hand. She checked it. Yes, those weren't practice rounds in it now. She was ready for the party to go wild.

As she led the group out of the Stadium, she glanced back. The Suna Demon was easily visible above the first few levels of seats; little crimson gnats seemed to be attaching it at ground level. The Hokage's VIP box area was enclosed behind a glassy looking violet-colored barrier. Some sections of the seating area were being evacuated in an orderly manner; others had a confused mass of panicking civilians trying to get out, and hampering their own efforts. The infiltrated slaughter-teams were either down, or being engaged by sufficient numbers of Konoha ninja; or by the several Auxiliary Militia that were scattered around the stadium. She was certain that she could almost recognize one by description, even at this distance. Time for that later, first the assignment. Haruno Sakura led her first individual mission party towards safety.

With her Byakugan activated, Hinata saw everything. He was down there, glowing like a furnace. From her position at the edge of the second level of the Stadium's overlapping seating Hinata saw His constructs slowly beating on the Demon, little static sparks of chakra scattering with each strike of their clubs. And he was keeping all of its attention on himself, his chakra-covered sword cutting and stabbing while he threatened it with more of his burning and explosive tags. It roared and smashed its waves of sand, its limbs changing length and size unpredictably, and Naruto kept on dodging, and being missed by the thickness of a leaf. He was smiling.

She saw Shikamaru. He had gotten himself to a safer position, no longer in danger of being trapped against one of the Stadium walls. He seemed to be trying to do some odd jutsu, with wide and wild motions of his arms instead of just using his fingers. When he saw he had caught her attention he began to make Battle Sign, the sign language of Konoha. Every village had their own version, taught as a basic way to do silent communication. He was signaling to her, she realized, but it was hard to see exactly what he was saying. She let her Byakugan fall away. Things were clearer then.

She sped up to the highest level of the seats… they called them the Perches, because it was said they were there for birds needing someplace to rest, after they had flown up so high. She ran on the guardrail rim until she was as near as possible to the Demon, and a few meters higher. Her arm shot out in confirmation. She could do it, she would do it! She wondered again why actual combat was so much more relaxing to her than being on display in front of Father or a teacher.

Hinata reached into the left thigh pocket of her shorts; took out the thick wad of explosive and incendiary tags Naruto had given her as a thank-you gift for helping train his teammates. She chain linked them, and set a four-second fuse. She tossed the package underhand, lofting it just a little bit, and ran up the tiered seats, and to the left, toward the exit ramp. She was knocked off her feet when the package she had tossed went off in a deafening roar. She scrambled up, not heeding the bruises she had just gained. She ran to the down ramp; she had to get at least three levels lower for her attack.

Finally at the right level, she skidded into the aisle that led to the edge of the level. When she finally was at edge she could see the kneeling Demon below. Every time it tried to get to its feet Naruto, now gleaming red with the odd chakra from behind the seal in his stomach, would hit it with a burst that would stagger it.

Hinata wouldn't waste her chance; she sprinted back upward ten rows of seating, here just rows of open backed benches. Hopping up onto a bench she pumped chakra into her legs, and ran downward with all her speed, Byakugan activated, until from the second row from the edge she jumped, hitting her mark on the guardrail perfectly and soaring up and outward like a skipping stone going for its furthest distance. She was falling, just too long, and then the Demon lurched itself a little more upright so that her outstretched right hand could just grab onto the half-embedded boy's torn and scorched shirt, and so she stopped herself from tumbling down the steep contours of the Demon's hide. She scrambled up to the half exposed torso; Gaara shoved his right hand at her, his fingers crudely formed into a spear point. He had seen how it was done, but why would the Master of Sand have practiced that attack, and who would dare be either his partner or taskmaster at learning it? As the Demon began to send tendrils of sand out to catch and strangle her she knocked Gaara's hand aside, and took her aim. He was still gathering his wits together, while she knew exactly what she was there for, and was far faster. Her left hand shot out, touched the tenketsu point that was on the path between the brain and the heart, the path that said 'beat that I may live.' The pathway that would never again respond for Gaara of the Sands, Gaara the Cursed, Gaara the Victim.

The band of sand around her left ankle tightened, twitched, and spasmed, tossing her out and away, as something basic began to go wrong with the One-Tailed Demon Beast Sukaku's relationship to the physical world. The chakra seal that had confined, tortured, and defined it for so many unthinking years was broken. Like a sailor too long at sea, unable to control his motion when off of his vessel, Shukaku… collapsed for a moment. And then, like a balloon, its outer form burst and its inner nature jetted out into the wide world; to stay together or disperse, no living human could foretell.

Hinata fell, and hit the ground rolling, just like they had said you should in the Academy. As her body made contact with the hard-packed sand again and again her left ankle kept sending jolts of pain that made her grunt, until she finally stopped, face down in the dirt with all the breath knocked out of her.

Before her whirling head had completely steadied itself she felt herself picked up, and gently turned until her head rested like an infant's against a wide red chest, two meters above the ground.

"Move soft," Naruto said to his Oni, having noticed how Hinata's foot was unnaturally turned. "Take her to someplace safe and guard her; leave when she's in good hands.

"Hey, Hinata-chan! You've got your hero papers stamped now, taking down a Jinchuriki like that! Shika and I saw it! You floated like a dandelion seed, and then Wham! I gotta go see what mess the Old Man has got himself into this time, but I'll catch up later!"

With that he was off, with two of the red giants he had made, as the one (with its great club tucked under the thongs holding up its loincloth) carried her to the entrance to the medical center for the Stadium. For a second she saw Shikamaru's head flipping back and forth between her and Naruto, before the boy sighed, and headed off at a sprint after the blond dynamo.

Uchiha Sasuke promised himself a nice long nightmare, and a properly scheduled screaming session, when this was all over. In front of him was the charred corpse of the dutiful but rash ANBU who had tried to push through the barrier jutsu, and had been bounced out when he had got half-way in. He was all burnt clear-through, though. The Tiger mask was heat-cracked, but Sasuke couldn't make himself look at what was oozing through the breaks. He had thought he was hardened, but evidently he still had his limits. As he glanced at the Jonin besides him he noticed a slight greenish twinge to Guy's complexion. Yes, everybody evidently had their limits.

Vaguely, through the purple sheen of the barrier, he could see trees, which was weird, the enclosed area being basically a pavilion on a rooftop. Sasuke started to walk around the perimeter. As he passed he saw several ANBU attempting various techniques supposed to destabilize the roofed enclosure. At the cry of "Duck!" he looked up, and ran thirty meters at top speed. A smallish dragon-shaped form, made of translucent water, rammed itself into the purple wall he had been following. The wall seemed to wiggle and wobble a bit, but then steadied and became rigid again. A tall man with an Auxiliary Militia armband standing near an opened water main began cursing with volume and originality. Sasuke supposed the Stadium was too far from the river for a full sized Water Dragon to be raised up. A pity, that; it looked like the volunteer might have been onto something.

Sasuke continued his trip around the perimeter. When he finally came to a corner he saw someone in there, rigidly holding an open-armed pose. The person seemed to be encased in a sort of bubble of the same sort as the exterior wall of the barrier. There should be something that could be done with that. Now he just needed Sakura or Naruto to… damn. On the off chance that something harder than water would do a better job of penetration he slipped a kunai into his hand, and did his best to throw it at what he was certain was a lynchpin of the barrier structure. There was a miniscule spark of reaction as the knife bounced back. There were possibilities then, but Konoha had a valuable asset inside, and the plan A that first suggested itself would endanger that.

He felt a huge burst of Killing Intent hit, and then trail off. As he couldn't see any huge waves of sand lapping up, or giant heads peering down on the situation, it probably meant that Naruto and Shikamaru had done something useful with the Suna Demon. Good. One less distraction.

Sasuke trotted back to where he had started from. He felt a little resentful. He'd have to do this without Naruto's insane lateral thinking, or Sakura's absolute intellectual acuity. Sure, there were a bunch of more experienced and knowledgeable Chunin and Jonin around. But from the way they were all standing around being frustrated it was evident that experience and common knowledge really weren't doing a lot of good right now. Dull sounds of massive combat, and indistinct shapes of powerful attacks were dimly coming through the barrier. The Hokage, from what Sasuke heard, was supposed to be all alone in there, and somehow was facing three or four opponents. It wasn't time for the Hokage to die, not now. He still had to answer some questions; he wasn't going to escape that easy. So the current mission was clear: Save him.

Naruto, and two of his Oni, arrived. Him huffing a bit. He was waving his hands around, as if to cool them off, and in fact pulled his canteen off of his belt and dribbled water first on one hand, and then the other. "Got carried away with the Flood back there, had to dig a bit too deep. You know."

Sasuke did, and winced a little. Naruto had had to use the Fox's chakra, at least a little. He didn't have perfect chakra control under the best of conditions, and having to use gouts of the Fox's evidently was even worse; there were blisters starting to swell on his finger tips. Chakra Flood had never really been a major contender for breaching the violet walls anyway. It would have meant Naruto coming into contact with them… not a good idea.

"Hinata managed to croak the redhead. That worked just like we thought it would. Kicked the Demon clear out of the arena, maybe the world, for a while. And since Shika didn't do that, he can't get any blame for the diplomatic stuff going bad, as if that mattered anymore."

One of the Oni must have become bored at that point. It swung its club as if it was trying to beat down a door. The major result was a nice smooth melted surface where the iron had hit its target, and the Oni being knocked back onto its arse. Naruto winced: "I think it lost like five that time."

Naruto looked down then, at the overdone ANBU, and got an odd look on his face. Sasuke followed his gaze. He began to talk softly.

"I must have gotten hit on my head today, and didn't notice it. I'm actually following your reasoning."

"Yeah. The guy's fried, his clothes are burnt, his mask is all cracked, but-"

"The handcuffs that he carried, because ANBU has to be able to subdue high level chakra users-"

"Are all nice and shiny-like, because it's all specially made to not get affected by chakra, or let any get used by the guy who's wearing the bracelets. That gotta be important somehow."

Sasuke dashed off to where he saw Guy talking animatedly with the Wolf and Beetle ANBUs.

"Jonin, excuse me, but this barrier is constantly being maintained by people in its corners, correct?" Sasuke asked.

Ordinarily Guy would have reprimanded a mere genin for interrupting a conversation between superiors. But he was unable to see how answering the boy's question was going to waste any more time than they were doing anyway. And in the last few days he had been reminded that the orthodox ninja ways were not the only solutions to the mysteries of the universe anyway. He nodded.

"So, Sensei, if one of the people loses their concentration sufficiently the barrier might collapse?"

Guy nodded again. Then he elaborated to the genin, instructing him in a calm and measured tone: "But the nature of this jutsu is that there is a barrier of equal strength inside that protects the casters from being attacked by those they have enclosed. You may be sure the Hokage knows at least as much about the situation as we do, and there is no way to attack and disable any of the casters of the jutsu. Still… I'm glad to see that you are thinking, youthful genin. If you have another idea, don't hesitate to let us know. I applaud that you have not become despondent under our current quandary!"

As that the Jonin turned back to the ANBU, or at least started to, Sasuke had immediately begun to not hesitate with another idea.

"If you give me all the handcuffs from the ANBU we may be able to attack one of the cornerstones of the jutsu. They must be chakra suppressing, chakra resisting, right? I mean the handcuffs must be?"

Guy, Jonin of the Leaf, had his eyes go wide for a second, then he gave a quick bow to one greatly his professional inferior and began ordering the ANBU nearby to immediately hand over their equipment that had been treated for chakra suppression. A few started to argue with someone not of their department who was trying to order them around, but their team leader (ANBU were promoted strictly on merit and performance) caught the idea quickly, quieted them, and confirmed the order. Soon there was an odd linked chain of over a meter in length of wrist-holding parts interlocked, with the pieces of chain between them giving a sort of awkward articulation.

Again Guy gave a quick bow to Sasuke.

"Please, allow me to attempt the attack, young warrior. I realize your youthful desire to carry out your idea, but I have spent some time practicing with weapons very like this, and if you do not feel that you are especially well qualified, it might be best if I take the lead at this time."

Sasuke had really wanted to do it himself… who wouldn't? But Guy was a Jonin, and a genin wasn't going to win many arguments with one of those. And, of course, Sasuke had never tried anything like this before, and Guy was well known as pretty much a master at most of the close combat styles. Sasuke nodded, trying to keep his resentment out of his face.

"Everyone, go back at least ten paces, but be ready to advance if the barrier goes down," Guy barked out. Everyone with any sense did that immediately. After a few experimental swings, to get the feel for the linkages and the weight, the Jonin began running toward the nearest corner of the violet barrier. At what he calculated was the closest point to the enemy inside the barrier he swung his weapon (flail, nunchucks, or just improvised object of desperation), the knuckles of the hand holding it barely missing the violet wall.

There was a sudden bright flash of light, and then the voice of Jonin Guy gone shrill and high as he, for the first time in anyone's memory, cursing a blue streak with all of his agonized strength. The barrier suddenly changed from a rectangular one to a triangle, and then collapsed entirely as the sudden uneven strain disrupted the careful balance that had sustained the almost impenetrable walls. Lying on the ground was a massive youth, with light-colored hair in a strip down the center of his head, and two others just over his ears. He was screaming something indistinctly, as there was glowing red-hot metal imbedded in his face. As Sasuke moved past him, the Oto invader's clothing started to smoke, then flare up as the steel chain that lay across his chest ignited the linen shirt he was wearing.

There was a mass of trees ahead, and as he dodged between them to where he heard the sound of combat Sasuke started to wonder exactly what was he doing there. Anyone who could keep with the Hokage was certainly going to be far out of his league. As he slowed down for a second to work things out he saw a flash of blond hair up ahead, and began to sprint again. Somebody had to look after Naruto when he did something foolish, and that's what teammates were for.

Naruto wondered why the biggest fights always seemed to find him unprepared. Or else went on too long. He was trying to prepare himself to become Hokage, and Sensei had seemed to be encouraged by how hard he was working. Was she just being nice to him, humoring him? Or was there something even worse going on; was the truth that for when things were really important nobody was ever really prepared enough? After all, if Grandfather Hokage hadn't wrapped up this fight yet, it must mean that even he hadn't been fully ready for it. That idea was scary, that every time you got better it just meant that you just moved up into the sights of a more dangerous level of opponent.

Anyway, there was the Hokage, wielding an iron staff taller than himself, trying to hold his own against two guys who looked oddly like they belonged up on the giant monument that towered over the village, and someone who was partially dressed like the Kazekage of Suna, but who's face didn't resemble the one Naruto had seen up in the VIP box before everything went even crazier than they had planned for.

One of the Oni rushed toward a stranger dressed in a style from fifty years ago only to be impaled by a rapidly growing plant that skewered it through the leg, lifting the red clone up twenty meters before the plant's growth stopped. Twenty of the plies of Chakra it was made of dissipated before the damage of that piercing was contained. Not good, not good at all. Behind him Naruto could hear the sounds of combat, and pain, coming from where the advancing ANBU came across the invaders who had set up the barrier.

The man still dressed in the remnants of the Suna robes of State held himself back from the battle, he seemed to have something to get off his chest: "Well, my old Sensei, don't think that your ANBU will rescue you. Your resurrected predecessor and his brother feel no pain, will heal all injuries, and no longer have the weakness of human remorse or emotion. My command to them is kill the Hokage Sarutobi. Don't stop until he lies dead before you, then-"

At that point a very tall man with a militia armband rudely interrupted with a powerful straight punch that required immediate evasion, and the level of talk dropped as the level of dodging, kicking and slashes with knives rose. After ten seconds, and twenty exchanges of attacks, the two were separated by five meters, and glaring at each other. Suddenly the invader opened his mouth impossibly wide, and a thick tongue, its end wrapped around the hilt of an archaic style sword came out, and tried to impale the militiaman. Naruto had to give the man credit, he was fast enough to keep the blade from gutting him, even though the end result was only marginally better. The man was pinned by the blade against the bole of one of the unnatural trees, and there was no way he was going to move without the sword being withdrawn, or losing his right shoulder.

Extensible body parts, weird foreigner… that sounded a little too familiar. "Hey, bastard!" Naruto yelled as he drew his kodachi and began to run at the man he was sure had once posed as a genin from Kusa. The invader quickly ran through a series of one-handed signs, and then began to send a message in Konoha Battle Sign: 'Kill my enemy, slave.'

Everything that Naruto had been told about the Bite flashed through his mind, and he came to an abrupt stop, then walked to the injured militiaman with his sword held high, stopped in front of the man, and charged his sword with his sharpest cutting-wind technique. He cut down with all of his strength, yelling "Got ya'!" as he sliced deep into the tongue. At this point it was only as thick as his wrist, though as tough as a hawser. It parted with a wet slurping sound. As it fell it began to turn itself into a speckled snake, but before it could even hit the ground Naruto had the point of the kodachi into its body and slashed open its belly as he flipped it away into the woods around him. Behind him Naruto could hear the high pitched and loud scream of a great beast being tortured.

Naruto whirled around, ready for an instant defense, but all that was happening was the bleeding tongue was being hauled in, hand over fist, and tucked back into the enemy's mouth. Suddenly Naruto was knocked to the side as the man he had just rescued brushed by him, with the sword that had wounded him now held in the hand of his uninjured left arm. Whoever he was, he was certainly game. Naruto shot to his feet and followed him; it wouldn't do to let a civilian go into danger while a Konoha ninja held back.

The fake Kazekage, Orochimaru (Naruto was sure of that now), dodged a lightning fast slash from the civilian, only to run into a quick kick. Not powerful, due to the lack of set up time, but that militia guy was very goodto have landed it at all. That was when Guy the Jonin showed up (with a bandaged hand) and Sasuke announced his presence by letting loose with one of his Fire Lance things, and nearly nailed and barbequed the invader. He evaded the fire by using Shunshin, chakra-enhanced speed, and his only problem was that in the cluttered battlefield that left him few options for a destination. The one he chose resulted in a collision with Naruto.

Before the boy could respond, a hand had been rammed into his abdomen, and the force of the blow propelled him backward, like a pebble hit by a hammer. As he flew back Naruto naturally enough folded around the fist, resulting in the kodachi (still sharpened and lengthened by the wind chakra Naruto had covered it with earlier) cutting down on the shoulder of the snarling imposter. That probably helped save Naruto from having something weird and unpleasant happen to him in a follow up attack, as the enemy twisted in pain and pulled back to get the blade out of his flesh. Before that was completely accomplished, Guy had managed to change his trajectory and piled in, feet first, onto the invader's back. The impact was more of a drumbeat than a mere thud.

As the bodies caromed off of each other, Naruto landed heavily and began to vomit uncontrollably. He missed the next few seconds of the fight; when Sasuke managed to get enough of a lead on the fake Kazekage and seared his legs, and the militiaman came within a hair of decapitating the invader. By the time Naruto was able to get to a kneeling position Sasuke was besides him, holding him up, and the enemy had seemingly decided that the locality had gotten entirely too hot and dangerous to stay around any longer.

As Guy and the civilian went off to help the Hokage in his battle, joining the ANBU who had already reached him, Sasuke pulled out his canteen to give his teammate a sip of water. Naruto just used it to slosh the bitter taste of puke out of his mouth, and spit it out.

Shikamaru was breathing surprisingly easily as he followed the nearest group of ANBU into the unnatural forest in the skybox. They were going hell-for-leather to where the Hokage was involved in bitter combat with the traitorous Suna Kazekage. Shikamaru decided that that battle was probably a bit too rich for his blood, and looked for something more manageable he could do. Ask and it will be provided; a definite foreigner with massive burns on his body, and with one eye seared out, was rising to his feet. He was bulky enough to be an Akimichi, but his skin was becoming mottled with a pattern of dotted lines, and his body was visibly gaining muscle mass.

Shikamaru checked… no militia armband showing, so the foreigner was hostile. Or at least would be treated as such.

Shikamaru pivoted as deftly as he could, and avoided being trapped in a suddenly appearing earthen dome that came entirely too close for comfort. He ran back the way he had come until he was at the edge of the changed area, then stopped and turned. Yes… the invader was limping his way in to the battle. No innocent there; he'd attacked a Konoha ninja. Shikamaru took two deep breaths, and got as calm as he could manage, then charged back into the fray, radiating as little Killing Intent as he could manage. He stayed toward the left flank of his target, the one with the damaged eye unless the strange transformation had already healed that injury.

Three long steps behind his quarry, Shikamaru pulled the last kunai out of his right-hand weapons holster, and plunged it in as he went past. Instead of it disappearing its full length into the enemy's body, it went in barely the length of a finger joint, and stood quivering, as if it had been stuck into an oaken plank.

The unexpected resistance had knocked Shikamaru off of his stride, and he took a tumble, briefly thanking whatever odd jutsu had put a layer of vegetation down over the stone structure of the Stadium. He got to his feet as the enemy finished reaching awkwardly back toward the dagger stuck in its back. Shikamaru immediately launched into the hand seals for the Shadow Imitation technique… there was more than enough in the way of shadows in this forest for that. He felt his jutsu bite; succeed in taking over the enemy's body. But there was a constantly rising tide of chakra in the target, and Shikamaru wasn't sure how long he'd be able to hold on. Seeing the kunai still loosely clenched in his enemy's hand Shikamaru tightened his own, empty, left hand.

Still lying prone on the ground Shikamaru brought his left hand over until it was right in front of his right eye, and lined it up as his jutsu made his puppet do likewise. He heard, dimly, someone shouting, "No, no!" Then he pulled his hand harshly back, punching himself in his own eye. His victim did likewise, except the kunai blade entered first. Shikamaru twisted the hand pressed against his face back and forth for a few instants, until he felt the link to the foreigner break at his death.

Shikamaru got to his feet and walked over the corpse, pulled the knife out of the eye socket, and then cut the enemy's throat, just in case. Then he frisked the body, collected a few more tools of the ninja trade (he had used most of what he started the day with, down in the Arena) and started walking in the direction of battle.

"I think we won that one," Sasuke said.

"Kusa genin," Naruto ground out.

For a second Sasuke had a blank look on his face, and then a dawning comprehension blossomed. Yes, it was very likely that they were facing the false genin from the Forest of Death, and this time it was him who was running away.

Naruto continued, getting his breath back even as he spoke, "I think he made, like, two super-zombies outa the first two Hokages, and told them to kill the Old Man. He said that they don't get tired, or messed up for long if they're hit. Got two ways to handle that, but I'm not sure if we can pull it off. Oh, yeah. Before the bastard pulled out he gave them one instruction: Kill Sarutobi. That's all. I know we can use that, but just not how!"

All right, Naruto had been hit pretty hard, landing like that it was no wonder his wits had gotten scrambled a bit. Except, the Senju clan was notorious for their use of growing plants and things. And there was a forest that hadn't been there before on top of a building. So Naruto's wits probably weren't that scrambled after all.

Naruto got his deep thinking look for a moment, the one that had made him a menace to good order and education back in the Academy.

"If I can talk to jiji for just a minute, and you guys distract the zombies I think we could do something like the Nara Gambit. Because those zombie things ain't got their hearts in this, so to speak. Oh, and stop attacking when it looks like they start winding down. That's important!"

Sasuke was unusually lost by Naruto's explanation. Usually when he had some tactical plan they had time to thrash it out together, and eliminate Naruto's more theatrical (and often impractical) bells and whistles. But it wasn't as if they had a lot of time here, and losing the Hokage in the middle of this attack on the village would be the surest route to total confusion and defeat.

Rushing at his best speed to Guy, Sasuke managed to blurt out that they'd have to double-up their efforts for the next few minutes, there was a plan in effect to counter the strange ninja with the powerful jutsus that were attacking the Hokage. And also that when the enemy stopped, not to start up the fight again, lest it ruin the plan. He didn't tell them that it was Naruto's plan; only the team knew the real Naruto. To everyone else he was just an annoying prankster that had finally managed to calm down a bit.

Telling Guy that it was time to turn things up a notch was more effective than Sasuke had expected. Anyone else performing at the level the Jonin was would have been operating at the limit of an extremely competent master-class ninja. And then there was Guy, who seemed to have followed the ancient wisdom that the person who is able to throw the last reserve into a battle, was likely to be the victor. The man stopped for a second, muttered "Let Two Gates open," and began to glow with a purplish aura. Then he was off at an insane speed to confront and stop the attacker that looked too much like the image of the First Hokage that was carved on the cliff above the village.

Seeing this, the large Auxiliary Militiaman got a huge grin on his face and tried to take down the other overpowered revenant. They began a war of violent Water Release attacks on each other. The rest of the Konoha ninjas, even as dedicated and talented as they were, took a chance to catch their breaths. At the speed things were in the fights, going on any help they might have offered would have likely ended up hitting the wrong man. Sasuke, knowing more about what was going on, kept his eyes on the wider picture, and saw that Naruto had reached the panting Hokage, and was talking to, and half-supporting the old man.

Sasuke felt that no matter how good the civilian was, or what unexpected levels of power Guy could draw on, sooner or later something special would be needed. Even though he knew he wasn't really ready for it, he prepared to use the Mangekyo Sharingan. Scared as he was in this battle, there was an undeniable current of joy surging within him. This was what it was to be running free and without limits!

The civilian finally was a second too slow dodging a lightning Jutsu that was shot into his still building Water Dragon. He was propelled backwards as if he had been kicked by a bull. Before he landed, before the 'crack' of breaking bones had died out, Sasuke was in the path of the enemy, keeping him from closing in on the Hokage.

His advanced Sharingan twirling, Sasuke caught the eye of the merciless and invulnerable warrior, and held that gaze for three seconds, pouring all his skill and chakra in sending an illusion of fear and pain into the trapped mind. Finally, it was as much the fact that his opponent was not really a being in charge of its own will, as his own youth and limited chakra supplies, that led Sasuke to collapse, blood running from his eyes, and a loud ringing in his ears. As he passed out, on his way to unconsciousness, he heard a scream and a shout: "He's dead! My Hokage is dead!"

The creatures that wore the faces of the First and Second Hokages turned their heads, and saw a short boy kneeling besides the form of Sarutobi Hiruzen. There was blood running from the old man's mouth and ears, and no rising and falling of his chest. The long iron staff that had fallen from his hands disappeared in a puff of smoke, and a giant clothed monkey stood there, at least two meters tall on his bent legs.

"Goodbye at last, my old friend. You never faltered, or dishonored our compact. I hope I shall find a worthy successor to you."

With that the massive creature disappeared with a puff of smoke, and went back to wherever Summoned and Contracted creatures went off to.

The blond haired boy looked at the two unnatural beings left behind by Orochimaru, and stilled his rage and anger.

"You're like, risen from the dead, right?"

The one who looked like Senju Hashirama, First Hokage of Konoha, felt the iron control of his master slip a little, as the command that he had been given was now fulfilled. He nodded.

The boy asked another question, "And that's why we burn bodies and stuff, so ya' can't get called back by bastards like… that guy?"

There was another nod.

"Well then, there ain't nobody gonna do to him what happened to you. Oni! Burn old Grandpa, and take his ashes away to where they won't ever be found!"

Two red-skinned giants came forward, stepping around the invaders, and walked up to the fallen leader. They put their hands out over the corpse and began to chant in an unknown language. Flames began to flicker up from the body, and then in that vast pulse of fire and smoke they, and the corpse, disappeared, not even ashes were left behind.

All that they had been told to do had been accomplished. The victims of grave-robbing and necromancy had completed the purpose they had been raised for, and now had no orders, nothing left to keep them active, no reason to exist. Slowly they began to flake, pieces of dried flesh, no longer animated by chakra controlled by their dominated will, began to fall off. Carefully to feel no anger, only pity and sorrow, Naruto slowly walked toward them, thinking to himself, 'It coulda' been my dad that got raised too. It coulda' been him.'

The disintegration of the undead continued. Naruto began to collect their falling remnants, almost reverently. He slowly put them into piles, and then motioned toward one of the ANBU who stood off a little ways to come over. At his request Wolf-mask set the piles on fire, as Naruto continued to bring over the detritus.

From under where the stolen form had been, the mottled flesh of the recently killed and chakra-bruised sacrifices that had been the base on which the abominations that the forbidden technique had created appeared. As he went around the bodies, recovering their remains, Naruto noticed a kunai with an attached and complicated seal tied to the shortened hilt. He paused for a moment in thought, then swallowed the lump in his throat and pulled the knife out of the revenant on the right. It dropped to the ground, a puppet with its strings cut, a corpse of a young woman made into the base for an abomination. Satisfied, he did the same with the other standing corpse, and watched it fall. At his gesture the bodies were collected and burned, while other members of the ANBU crew gathered the wounded and brought them to where medical attention could be given.

Then, at the end, Sarutobi Hiruzen slowly rose out of the ground where he had hidden while Naruto's little play had been performed by Shadow Clones, including one of his own. While waiting underground he had suppressed his own chakra signature, so that when all the Clones dispersed it would have seemed to any chakra sensitive observer that the last lingering impression of the Hokage Sarutobi had left the world. Just another little perfectionist touch of "The God of Ninja."

Akamaru trotted proudly at the front of the small band working their way toward the Inuzuka compound. There were blotches of red on his white fur, but from his springy step you could tell the blood wasn't his. A half-dozen steps behind there were four girls and an injured ninja being pushed in a wheelchair. Despite the pain of his re-injured body, Inuzuka Kiba wasn't nearly as depressed as he had been an hour ago. That was because his hands were sticky with the blood of the enemy infiltrator he had killed, after thrusting himself by arm power alone from his chair. Before the startled enemy had time to recover his wits Akamaru had latched onto his thigh with a death-grip, and Kiba had gotten his hands around the enemy's throat and beaten his head into the stone pavement until there was no hint of life left.

It was only afterwards that Kiba realized that he had automatically turned his fingernails into sharp claws as he had leapt, and had also ripped the man's throat out. Sometimes he just amazed himself.

Now he was being wheeled home by Takamori Nao. She wasn't the prettiest of the girls that Akamaru had woken from the enemy genjutsu, but when they had been attacked she had been the one to try to hit the enemy with her parasol, and hadn't hesitated to help the blood-covered Inuzuka back into his chair. Kiba liked that in a girl; a good, no-nonsense attitude.

Once they were on Inuzuka turf they would be safe. Or at least it was safer than trying to get toward the village shelters. From the sounds coming from that direction, the woods and grottos of the Inuzuka compound would be easier to get to, and they were an area where Kiba could hide them all with ease.

Kiba didn't blame Naruto for abandoning him. After all, it was obvious Shikamaru was in over his head, and it wasn't as if Akamaru and he couldn't look after themselves. Good old Naruto was just showing he knew who could handle the rough stuff, and who couldn't.

It was a slow and ragged group that Haruno Sakura led towards the refuge dug under the cliff next to the Academy and Hokage's office. She soon regretted not taking them by the short way; left and to the main avenue of the town. Instead she had gone right, and even a little away from her destination, figuring that the main avenue was the most likely site of confusion, and even assaults, by some of the enemy invaders.

Now… she was leading women in confining formal clothing, and obese government officials (along with the injured guards), and neither group was keeping station or moving at any pace but that of a most leisurely promenade. She forgave the surviving bodyguards; honorable wounds were an acceptable excuse for a lack of speed. But the result of all of the reasons remained the same; they weren't going fast enough to reduce their exposure to the battle going on around them, and there were too many of them to hide in shadows and work their way to safety in furtive advances.

The invaders seemed to be more numerous than she had been prepared for, and they seemed a bit more dangerous than she had expected. Making a decision she put henges of tall warriors on the best moving ten of her charges, and made the bodyguards look like the society ladies, carrying parasols rather than swords. It took her more precious time to explain to the party what exactly she had done, and why it was important. The bodyguards, at least, thought it amusing. Finally, a group of apparently ten professional fighters , eleven court ladies and counselors, and one trembling little girl with an elaborate kimono and jet black hair continued on, first north-a -ways, and then west down one of the radial roads that led to the fortified refugee center.

They were passing by the Yamanaka section of town (not quite a clan area as such… certainly not a clan compound, but a neighborhood where the Yamanakas, and their relatives and in-laws, had been settling for fifty years or so until they were the majority of the people living on the street and setting up the shops and businesses there) when she was surprised by the sudden appearance of perhaps a score of civilians from a shattered shop front. There was one old massive greybeard leading them, ten young men and women either forming a outer, protective periphery for the group or helping a number of aged or infant civilians. It was all Sakura could do not to lift her left hand and kill them all, she was so startled.

Luckily, she waited long enough to see that the obvious non-combatants weren't prisoners or hostages, but were being caringly escorted. And then she sort-of recognized a few of the younger civilians as people she had seen in this area before when visiting Ino or shopping. It didn't hurt that a three year old was trying to cling to the leg of a young man, and the man gently separating his leg from the desperately hugging child. Sakura was a bit more disturbed by the man leading them. Fifty if he was a day, two meters tall at least, and holding two heavy axes in his hands as if they were small sickles suitable for trimming hedges and garden borders. She noticed he wasn't wearing any Militia armband.

For a moment they stared at each other; she wondered why he wasn't paying any attention to the lady's maid she had disguised as a decorated veteran samurai. Then she noticed that every head in her party had automatically turned to her to check what their response should be as soon as the newcomers were spotted. Naruto was right, again; you really had to rehearse to get a performance down so no one slipped up. She straightened up and stopped pretending to be frightened; it was very hard to fake that with someone who was laughing in great gouts of good humored amusement.

A fairly weedy-looking youth, seventeen or eighteen perhaps, suddenly made a fist and pumped up into the air. "Yes! Yes! Sensei saw the shadows were different from what was casting them!"

Sakura blushed; even the face she was wearing at that moment did. The disguises she had placed on her little convoy had been meant to fool direct vision. They weren't a true transformation by any means, so the old man had seen the shadows of serving maids as those of tall fighters with swords. And the shadows of the apparent samurai guards had shown rotund councilors and delicate maidens.

"We're heading to the Shelters… under the cliffs. Do you want to merge forces?" she asked.

The man nodded to her question: "Yes, young lady. Already we are too many for stealth. We might as well have enough numbers to intimidate the more faint-hearted who approach us." The answer came in a strangely accented and slightly sing-songish bass voice. It was somehow not silly-foreigner amusing; it struck her more as… a comforting rumbling sound, like (perhaps) the voice she'd imagined, when she was a little girl, would have come out from the stuffed animal that was still on a shelf over her bed that had protected her from bad dreams so well. She laughed to herself then, and let the disguise that covered her drop. She was pleased at the slight widening of his eyes as he saw her real form, and the quick respectful nod of his head. Evidently one of her fans.

Wow, she had fans!

The youth currently being called Shiro had to admit that dressing in his current rough manner at least cut down the number of men trying to get a date. Most of the girls that became interested instead were a bit less forward, though he had to be very delicate in how he handled his rejections of them. The number of married or widowed women who became very bold, however, more than made up for any gains on the other end. Still, a wandering ninja had no right to become involved with a girlfriend (and especially married women!).

Shiro looked down as he stood on top of his handiwork, a simple semi-labyrinth in front of the entrance to Shelter 3. It was made of ice, and at strategic points were the Demonic Ice Mirrors, which he could, once he exercised his bloodline talent, move between with almost the speed of thought. He had let a constant stream of civilian refugees in, and been in the forefront of beating off two probing attacks from hostile ninja with some of the oddest bodily modifications and special talents and skills.

Currently he was doing overwatch as the bodies of three of the Oto infiltrators were being cleared from the path in toward the shelter. Leaving them there would only discourage honest civilians from trying to reach this particular shelter. There, three streets away, he could see a largish band of people scurrying and hobbling (there were wounded among them) their way to the shelter. He alerted the other guardians, two genin that had managed to survive into an inactive middle age, that a bunch was incoming.

Now he could see that there was a moving battle going on some twenty meters or so from the rear of the fleeing group. Two figures were retreating, but facing their enemies. One was a stolid mass of a man, bigger even than Zabuza-sama, using a katana in one hand as if it was a willow wand and not a sizeable sword, and a tree-felling axe in the other. The other defender was unmistakably Haruno Sakura, her pink hair sweat-plastered to her head as she darted back and forth, a deadly hummingbird partnered to the body-shattering bear that guarded her flanks. In the distance he saw houses falling, the pattern heading in their direction.

The party they protected finally reached the entrance to the maze. Shiro used his Ice Mirrors to get down to where the other guardians were leading them down the proper path.

"Yoshio-kun, Emi-san, get these into the shelter, and stay there, prepare to seal the doors. Something big is coming, and I doubt we'll be able to stop it. Hurry!"

There was the distant sound of firecrackers being set off in a slow string of explosions.

Three of the last group of refugees stood for a second, as the others made all the speed they could toward safety. Two girls and one young man looked at each other, and drew a deep breath. As they set their shoulders and started to turn back out toward the battle Shiro grabbed the arms of the male and one of the girls. For the first time that he could remember he actually snarled at someone.

"Get to the Shelter, don't look back. Argue with me and I'll cut you myself!"

He gave a sigh of relief as they stumbled off. They were already exhausted, and some of the stains on their clothing had been their own blood. All the willing heart in the world wasn't going to be much help if he wasn't mistaken about what he had glimpsed for a second from the top of his maze's walls.

The rear guard came into view around the last bend in the street. Haruno-san was evidently hurt; she was holding one of her hands in the other. The big old man was huffing and puffing, but he still dodged those attacks he couldn't deflect with his weapons and proved twice, while Shiro was running up to support Haruno, that he had a longer reach than his opponents had thought.

A home collapsed a street away when a vast scaled flank brushed against it too hard.

When Shiro reached Haruno he was glad to see she wasn't too badly injured after all; she had taken up again her short sword and dagger. Before she could speak he gave a flippant salute, and took the initiative.

"Today I'm Shiro, my gentle captor. We must get out of here as quickly as possible. One of the enemy's bigger weapons is closing in, and I doubt that we can stop it out here in the open. The maze may slow it up, and offer us better opportunities."

She thought for barely a second, then yelled, "Old Man, fall back fast and follow us. Shiro here knows what he's doing."

They were barely inside the paths of chakra ice when the giant head, held a man's height above the ground, came around the last corner. Its forked tongue flickered out and caught the scent of hundreds of terrified humans, the feast it had been promised. It slithered forward…