Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Street Fighter: Alright, I think I'm going to buy Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition now. The price has dropped enough to where I want a piece of that. And I didn't buy Street Fighter IV until the arcade edition came out, so I think the timing is now.

I'd just been waiting for a good enough chunk of the DLC to come out so I could get it all with the game at a reduced cost. That's just good economics, kids.

Chapter 62: Can't Go Home Again


When Naruto had taken to Oro's Senjutsu training, he hadn't expected much action. And he had been proven right, for the most part. Sure, he and Oro sparred every day to keep him in shape and used to fighting, but the intricacies of the training tended to be much more static.

It was normally all Naruto could do to sit in one place and focus, but to be fair, he was in the middle of the jungle. There was literally nothing else to do but train, eat, and sleep. Oro taking Naruto out of Japan and far away from civilization for this was clearly the old man playing 3D chess while he was set on checkers.

From what he had been told about Senjutsu, Naruto had learned that Oro's teachings revolved around two primary principles. The first was learning how to communicate with the world around him via his own energy and utilize it as his own.

The second was that there was still natural power within himself that he had not yet learned to unlock. That was harder for Naruto to believe than the first thing. He had spent his entire life learning how to use his chakra, and to hear that there was an aspect of himself that he hadn't learned about yet... it was jarring.

Oro's words were encouraging though, "You are further along in this department than 90% of the world, boy. Honestly, there are aspects of my training that you're already familiar with. Mastered, even," "Don't get cocky. That just means you're forty years ahead in a fifty year program."

The thought of staying in the jungles of Brazil for anywhere near that long made Naruto feel sick to his stomach, "There is no way I'm hanging around for ten years," He declared flatly.

"Agreed," Oro said. That much they could harmonize on. They didn't have that kind of time to begin with, "Now do it again. Go ahead. Reach out."

Naruto listened and closed his eyes, going through the practiced process of shutting out everything, ignoring his common senses and seeking beyond. It went beyond his ability to feel ki or chakra. That was just a starting point for him to move forward with.

Oro waited until it seemed that Naruto had gotten a foothold in his meditation, "Do you feel it?" He asked, tapping into the natural energy that he could sense Naruto had begun taking in, "Tell me what you feel."

What a question. Naruto didn't know how to answer it. How specific did Oro want it to be? Because that was difficult to narrow down. He could normally sense the presence of other people, like Oro. He was normally aware of the various animals in the cave and living their lives in the wilderness around them. But this was countless levels beyond that.

He could feel the jaguar several miles away crouch down, lying in wait for its prey to reach the perfect position for attack. He could feel the wind current in the air and tell when it was going to shift thousands of miles away at sea.

If he focused hard enough, he could even visualize in his mind's eye what the people he cared most about were doing. He could see them going about their lives in a place he couldn't touch them, that he had left behind in order to get the strength to fight for them. That doubt unsteadied his mind and body. Just like that, the power slipped and vanished.

The sudden shock of losing his focus left Naruto feeling empty and cold. His body shook uncontrollably for several seconds, "It's gone."

Oro thwacked Naruto on the head with two fingers, chiding him, "No-no-no, boy. Tell me, what did you feel?"

Naruto took a deep breath to calm himself and return to form, "E-Everything."

It was one word, but it was the most correct answer he could have provided.

A near toothless smile grew on Oro's face, "You had it," The old hermit said before laughing to himself, "Remarkable. I've never heard of anyone picking up Senjutsu so quickly. It took me years of study just to get to where you've reached in months."

"I lost it in like five seconds,"

"And now you'll never forget the feeling," "Five seconds will turn to fifteen. Fifteen to thirty. Thirty to one minute... and so on and so forth," "A strong body, a sound mind, and a tranquil heart. All of these things are needed in order to grow in your use of Senjutsu."

Naruto was still young. His emotions were tumultuous. As confident as he appeared to be on the surface, as determined as he could be, he could be rattled. He could be distracted from his focus. These were things that he would only learn to control with experience. In Oro's mind, it was the only thing that he lacked, but that was hardly the shinobi's fault.

It would come in time, as most things did. Both teacher and student just needed to be patient.

XxX

(Tokyo, Japan)

Ninjas were usually a well-rounded sort, but never had Ibuki been so lost as when she decided to go with Karin and see how she lived when she wasn't with the rest of them.

Ibuki, dressed in the most business-like attire she had to her name. As the chill of fall began to settle in, she followed Karin as she saw to her in-office responsibilities as the head of the Kanzuki Zaibatsu, including a board meeting. Normally, such a thing would have been crushingly boring, but there was something amazing about watching a teenage girl stare down a room full of seedy, bickering, middle-aged men and make them fall into line behind her.

Naruto had always called her 'boss lady', even before she'd usurped the position in her company from her father. He had not been calling her that to mock her, the way Ibuki assumed he had been. It was a legitimate title of endearment that he had clearly observed in her during his time as her bodyguard.

Only when they were behind the doors of Karin's office at the very top of the building did she let herself relax in the slightest. No wonder she tended to insulate herself with others like Naruto and Sakura. They were some of the few she could trust not to prey on her and take a mile if she gave an inch.

Ibuki giggled as Karin massaged her temples, exasperated by the complaining nature of her company's board, "Wow. Aren't you tired from walking around with that stick up your butt all day?" She asked, holding up her hands defensively when Karin gave her a half-hearted glare, "I'm not even making fun of you. That was impressive."

Karin let out a sigh and nodded in thanks at Shibazaki when he brought her a cup of tea, "These board members will pounce on any sign of weakness. I am young, relatively new to my station, and a woman. They detest taking orders from me," She took pleasure in the thought that it didn't matter how they felt. If they wanted to keep their cushy positions, they would do as she wanted, "Unfortunately for them, they all lack the ability and the ambition to remove me as head of the zaibatsu."

"Has your dad tried to take it back?" Ibuki asked curiously, remembering the hostile takeover Karin had secretly orchestrated to originally gain control.

Karin frowned and spun her chair to look out over the massive city before her, "No. It was going to go to me when he decided to step down. I think he prefers being retired, to be honest," She said, "He always drilled our family's motto of victory and success into me, harder than he took it himself, I believe."

"Well, you've had control for a while now. You haven't told us about anything in the company tanking," "You're doing well, girl!"

Karin turned back around, facing Ibuki with an honest smile, "Thank you," She said, letting the moment settle between them for a moment before she surprised the kunoichi, "...Would you like a job?"

Ibuki stared at the head of the Kaznuki Zaibatsu and then looked around at the posh office surrounding her. Despite it being just the two of them, she didn't feel comfortable there at all, "Uh... I don't know the first thing about running a company. Besides, I think I want to go to school to be a reporter, you know? I think I'd be good at it."

Karin smirked at Ibuki's intimidation at having any responsibility in such a major company, "You realize that we have a media branch with dozens of television stations, do you not?" Ibuki slowly shook her head 'no' before Karin continued, "I can still ensure that you get work after you graduate. It would be from a starting position, but you will not need to concern yourself with fighting to apply for anything."

Ibuki's mouth fell open in shock at Karin's generosity. Yes, it was years down the line, but Karin wasn't going anywhere. She would still be in charge four years from then. If she said it, it was going to happen, "T-That would be amazing. Thank you so much!"

Karin held up a hand, modestly preventing Ibuki from praising her further, but through her body language, she preened under the praise, "Think nothing of it. We are friends, Ibuki-san. After everything that you and I have been through together, providing an opportunity for you is nothing. So long as you make sure that my nepotism is supported by your own ability, of course."

Frivolity aside, Ibuki had come for her own reasons. She needed to talk to Karin, "Speaking of connections... I think you know why I came with you today."

"Yes, I do," Karin said with a sigh, pouring herself another cup of tea, and a second for Ibuki, "And I cannot dissuade you from further pursuing the Illuminati?"

Ibuki accepted the cup with an apologetic smile, "I'm afraid not. This is what I do, and this was the task they gave me. I've gotta see it through to the end."

She wasn't going to back down in regards to her investigation on the Illuminati. Even if it was extremely dangerous, which it was, Ibuki was going to complete the mission given to her. That was what she had to do as a ninja of her village.

As long as this was the case, Karin couldn't in good conscience send her friend in with nothing. She endeavored to help as much as she could, "I do not know everything about them. That is to say, I barely know anything about them. My father tried to be more in-tune with them than I."

Ibuki gave her an odd look, "So… your father has a relationship with them?" If that was the case, she could have been hitting him up for information instead of pestering Karin.

"He aspired to," Karin revealed, taking a neat sip from her cup as she gathered her thoughts, "You must understand, Illuminati only accept the best of the best. The people that see to their day-to-day activities are the premiers in their fields. Captains of industry and economics, athletes at the top level imaginable."

"So, it's a status thing," Ibuki figured. Of course. Rich people and their secret societies, 'I can't really talk though. I kind of live in a secret society.'

"Yes, it was for him, at least," Karin admitted, "In reality, it is more of a cult. The appeal is the amount of successful people associated with it. But by the time those well-to-do are old enough to hear of it, they can never gain admittance. They tend to only indoctrinate children. I assume that makes it easier for them to instill their dogma."

Ibuki nodded in agreement. There was a reason why those who wished to influence others often said to get ahold of them while they're young, "Can you ballpark the numbers for me? Like, how many people are involved? Or how much money they have to work with?"

Two very difficult questions for Karin to answer, "I cannot answer the first one with any kind of certainty. I have done my best to keep from getting involved with them, despite my father's insistence that I 'play ball', so to speak," She said, using her fingers for air quotes.

"Probably for the best, as far as you and the rest of us," Ibuki said, smoothing out her skirt, "From what Sakura says about how you used to be, I can imagine how annoying it is to have you as an enemy."

"I'll take that as a complement," Karin said with a chuckle, "But as far as the resources of the Illuminati… well, to illustrate, my own resources would still be a mere pittance compared to what they can manage. A drop in the bucket, as it were."

Karin wasn't one to exaggerate, so when she used such a metaphor, Ibuki needed things clarified, "…When you say a drop in the bucket?" Karin didn't respond, instead turning away, "Oh. That bad, huh?"

Karin had resources that could compare to Shadaloo, even before she had taken full control of her company. She had resources that made S.I.N. kidnap her in order to gain access to them. To hear that the Illuminati's assets dwarfed her own when they were now higher than they had ever been before was a scary thought.

Getting one over on them wasn't going to be an easy task. If they brought even one percent of what they had at their disposal out to deal with her, she probably wouldn't be able to endure.

XxX

(Aohura City, Japan)

Fall dragged on, with a chill starting to accompany the season. When it came to training her two unique states of higher being, Kasugano Sakura was at the end of her metaphorical rope.

The Satsui no Hadou had been the easier of the two to get a handle on, if also the most dangerous. Just catering to 'Sunburned Sakura-chan' made 'her' more manageable. The Satsui no Hadou wanted to be used. Sakura's anchor to accessing it was desire. She just had to find something worth focusing it on. The Kyoumo no Chikara was a bit more complex, as Sakura had to empty herself of emotional connection and investment. She was a spirited girl, who ran off of emotion, so this was a difficult task in the beginning, but she eventually managed to get that under her belt as well.

The problem came whenever she tried to truly achieve her goal of blending both. It had been slow-going. And by slow-going, it was almost non-existent.

"Mixing the two is impossible," Sakura complained aloud to her friends Kei and Hinata, having met with the two of them for lunch, "Trying to use the Satsui no Hadou and the Kyoumo no Chikara at the same time is like trying to jump while keeping your feet on the ground. You can't do one without failing at the other!"

Sakura was getting frustrated. It wasn't as though she expected her ultimate goal of combining the two higher states of her fighting style to be easy, but after more than half a year of training, she expected some form of tangible progress. Some way of recognizing that she was getting closer. And yet, nothing.

Hinata took a bite of the ice cream sundae she had ordered, letting the spoon hang from her mouth, "You already have to be one of the strongest girls in the world," She said around the plastic utensil, "What does it matter if you can't blend them?"

Sakura eyed Batsu's girlfriend before letting out a great sigh, "Because if I can't, I'll never be able to master myself. It's a matter of yin and yang, darkness and light. The Satsui no Hadou is just as much a piece of me as anything else."

"What's either one like?" Kei ventured to ask. She didn't know the first thing about fighting aside from what she was told, having never had any interest.

Sakura took a moment to consider how to word things for her friend who was below novice in regards to martial arts, "The Satsui no Hadou is still me, it's just more... instinctual. Primal, I guess. There's a focus that feels like burning. It's really overwhelming," She said, "But the Kyoumo no Chikara is... I've never felt so calm and clear while using it. It feels like there's a solution to everything, and it just comes to you. Like the world is a puzzle that I've got all the pieces to and all the time in the world to solve."

Hinata seemed enraptured by Sakura's explanation of her abilities, "So, if you could do both, you'd, like, spiritually have the answers to anything you'd have to do in a fight, and the raw power to make it happen at the same time," She wasn't on Sakura's level of fighting, but she knew her way around a brawl, "Wow. Would that make you a master or something?"

Sakura modestly shook her head in the negative, "No, I still-," She stopped after taking a moment to really consider it, "...I guess it would in a way."

She would have accomplished something completely unique to her. Something no one else could do. And with it would come an understanding of both aspects of what would be the final result. An understanding that she could pass on to anyone that leaned toward one or the other.

The ramifications of what she happened to be on the precipice of doing hit her like a ton of bricks.

"Whoa..." Sakura whispered to herself, considering the full weight of her friend's innocent words, "I could reunify the schools."

Both Kei and Hinata looked at each other before combining their thoughts as one, "What?" The two of them asked.

Sakura realized she was talking to herself about something neither of her friends knew anything about, "Master Gouken split from his master when he didn't agree about working with the Satsui no Hadou, trained in his own way and came up with the opposite. But Ryu couldn't master it," His personality for competition and testing himself made him lean too much toward the other side, "He had no one to teach him how to use the Satsui no Hadou. Just a selfish psychopath that only wanted him to learn it so they could fight to the death."

The more she talked about it, the more inspired to continue training Sakura became. She wanted to be a teacher. She wanted to help people learn and develop. What better way could she do that than by keeping others from going down a dark path or by helping them figure themselves out through something that she loved – the martial arts? The world never needed another Akuma again, and Ryu; just thinking about what happened to the man that had been her hero hurt her heart.

Maybe if she understood both sides of the coin through her own training, she could make a difference the next time something like that occurred in someone else? Sakura wasn't sure. But if anything, the thought inspired her to keep going

XxX

Chun-Li loved Cammy. The girl was like a little sister, more than in the way that Naruto was like a brother. When they'd first gotten close years prior, Cammy didn't know much of anything about living as her own person. To that end, Chun-Li had given her no end of advice and assistance. She had a vested interest in Cammy's continued development and happiness.

It went both ways though. Cammy had a wealth of knowledge on procedure in black ops and more clandestine matters. Chun-Li had no problems picking her brain and using her as a consultant, when she couldn't bring her along. Thankfully, Cammy worked with Naruto as a mercenary, so she could and did hire either or both of them on Interpol's dime.

Of course, sometimes, she just liked stopping in to see how her favorite minors were doing. Flying back to Hong Kong from the United States, she stopped in Japan and decided to slide by Aohura City first and visit Naruto's home as a surprise. Fortunately, Cammy was there minding the premises to greet her. They were able to spend some quality time together just relaxing and catching up.

The two women sat comfortably, watching TV in the living room. Cammy's cat rested in Chun-Li's lap while the girl herself multitasked, doing something on a tablet while eyeing the television whenever something interesting occurred.

Chun-Li thought nothing of it. Cammy split responsibilities in the mercenary business she worked with Naruto on; both corresponded with clients about requests and handled their payments whenever they had a spare moment. It wasn't anything to take particular notice of until she saw the design of a pyramid with an eye on the back of the device – a design she had seen in her own recent work.

"Cammy, what is that?" She asked carefully, wondering how much her friend knew about just what she had her hands on.

Cammy wondered what the problem was as she stopped working and scrutinized the conventional piece of technology, "A tablet. This is the last thing master gave me before he left," And it had been very helpful.

Chun-Li eyed it warily. It looked just like the one Cody had received in prison. The one he claimed was used to try and recruit him into Illuminati, "Where did he get it?" She asked.

"It was sent to him," Cammy said, "Apparently, it's an invitation to some fighting tournament. But he didn't care about that. So, I just had it swept clean and use it for myself now. It works very well."

"Do you know who sent it?"

"The Illuminati. Karin has one too," There was no reason not to be forthcoming with the information. Chun-Li had always been a close ally, and it wasn't like they'd done anything illegal.

Chun-Li palmed her own forehead. Of course, 'Why didn't I just check with them first? They're always involved. Always!' She thought to herself in annoyance. Oh well. At least now there was a chance she could move her investigation forward, "Huh?" She snapped out of it when she saw Cammy looking at her with concern.

"Are you okay?" The little soldier said, "Did I say something wrong?" She asked, self-conscious of her social interactions.

"No-no, nothing like that!" Chun-Li clarified before Cammy got to be too hard on herself, "It's just... I'm investigating the Illuminati. There's something going on, and I'm trying to figure out what's up. How long have you been involved?"

"Since a man that was experimented on by the Illuminati escaped and came to us for protection," Cammy furrowed her brow in thought, trying to pinpoint a timetable, "This was right before master went off to train. So, six weeks ago."

Chun-Li rolled her eyes, 'I really should have gone to them first,' Something stuck with Chun-Li though, "Wait, this is the second time you said that Naruto is gone?" And before then, she had just assumed he had been on a mission, not training, "Where did he go?"

At this, Cammy visibly deflated, "I don't know. He didn't tell me."

Chun-Li fought the urge to reach out and put a hand on the girl's head. She was adorable, "You miss him."

"Yes. Very much," Cammy said with no sense of shame in admitting as much, "But it's important that I keep things going here. He is counting on me."

Good. It was a good thing that despite Cammy's obvious desire to be around Naruto, she didn't feel the need to follow him. And good on Naruto. Despite the title Cammy preferred to refer to him as, he had done everything he could have to look out for her and keep her from fostering a dependent mindset.

"I don't see him being away for very long," Chun-Li said, smiling sweetly at the blue-eyed blonde, "If he left to train, I imagine he's working on something in particular. I've never seen anyone pick things up and make them his own faster than that kid."

Cammy smiled back before standing up from her seat, "Would you like to speak with Necro?"

Chun-Li gave her a curious glance, "Who is Necro?"

Cammy affixed her beret atop her head, prepared to head out, "The man I told you about earlier. The one who was experimented on by the Illuminati," She explained, "I don't know what he could tell you, but he must have something that could help."

"Anything could help," And perhaps later, she could talk to Karin and Ibuki? She and the teenage kunoichi could help each other out with their respective missions.

"Then we'll go and see them," Cammy declared resolutely, "They're with Abel at the moment. They should be at his home."

Chun-Li looked around at the apartment they were in. It was much bigger than Naruto's old one and could have housed two more people, even if he had been there himself, "Why there instead of here? I thought you were guarding them."

Cammy frowned at the thought of sharing her home with her clients, "I am. But I don't like them. Necro and his girlfriend are very annoying."

XxX

Urien's formerly pristine bronze skin was marred with a dark scar in the form of a clawed hand. It was not a small blemish. In fact, it covered more of his face than it left untouched. Already driven by rage on what could be considered his good days, now every time he looked at his reflection, he was reminded of the last time he had been at the mercy of another – at the hands of Uzumaki Naruto.

...That made it two people that had proven their strength to be greater than his own. The second? His own brother. The illustrious Emperor, Gill. The one all others in the Illuminati fell in line behind, even him, despite his own lofty position.

The "President" of the Illuminati, normally short of temper, was near unapproachable. His wrath extended to those even giving him news. It didn't even have to be bad news he was receiving. If he thought anyone's eyes lingered too long on his face, that was it for them. The easiest way to survive was to look at the ground around him, which also served to help swell his ego.

Dressed in his normal garb of his chosen suit, Urien stomped past kneeling members of Illuminati, taking the time before their upcoming assignment to pray for strength from the man that was to be the god of their new world.

Fools. They should have been praying to him. Only he was fit enough to have that mantle. They would all see the light soon enough. Before Ultania arrived. Then they would be falling to their knees at the sight of him. The entire world would.

Until then, he needed to blow off some steam, and a village of ninja proven to be investigating Illuminati affairs needed to be dealt with. It was as good an excuse as any to vent.

...Especially since the one who most recently wronged him was the "Best Ninja in the World."

"A backwater village of worthless fools, thinking they can mettle in the business of those above them," Urien muttered to himself, "Bowing to me will not be enough to suffice. A world under my control will have no need for these rats who scurry in the dark."

One of the Illuminati members suiting up and preparing for combat noticed Urien heading to the staging area and ran to try and intercept the man, "Perhaps you should sit this out, President Urien. You should not sully your hands on-."

By the time Urien turned around to look at the individual who dared to try and tell him what to do, it was too late for the unfortunate soul to take back his words or otherwise prostrate himself for the sake of forgiveness.

Urien fired a Metallic Sphere from his fist that punched a hole into the chest of the Illuminati follower. If that weren't enough to end his life, the unforgiving bite of the pure electricity that ripped through the sphere

"Know your place. Do not think that the likes of you can consider yourself in a position where you can advise me," He said, stalking off.

This mission didn't require his presence, but he wanted a workout.

Instead, the person who was supposed to be overseeing the mission watched him approach. The detestable woman that his brother Gill used as his personal assistant. Oh, so much did Urien wish to wrap his hands around her neck and squeeze the smug sense of accomplishment she radiated out of her. At least imposing on her mission as he was would ruin her day.

She was out of her usual business attire and garbed in clothing more suited for getting her hands dirty. Urien hardly spared her a glance, however, "What is this hovel supposedly called, woman?" He demanded to know.

He could see the distaste she had for him all over her face. Fortunately, or unfortunately, she knew he was much more powerful than than her, and that only his brother's favor kept him from dealing with her personally.

Despite the unpleasant way he had addressed her, he held a higher position than her, so she answered, "The Glade of Ninjas, President Urien."

XxX

(Two Hours Later)

After a day spent shadowing Karin, Ibuki was grateful to receive a helicopter ride home to the Glade of Ninjas. Or as close to home as she was willing to allow Karin and her security detail. No offense to her, but Naruto was the only person she trusted to allow into her home. He was a ninja, after all.

There wasn't much more she'd been able to get from Karin on the Illuminati. They were past the point where Karin was being tight-lipped for Ibuki's own safety. Now it was just a matter of Karin not having enough of the details Ibuki was looking for. Oh well. Ibuki hadn't expected her assignment to be simple.

The bright orange of the sunset lit up the green treetops of the forest that concealed Ibuki's village. It was a beautiful sight as they flew, but not an entirely innocent one. A burning smell reached the girls' nostrils. Karin perked up in her seat and gazed around where she eventually saw something suspicious.

"There should not be smoke that far into the forest, should there?" She asked Ibuki, the only denizen of the area amongst them.

"No..." Ibuki whispered. It was both an answer and a plea as fear gripped at her heart. Without saying another word, she threw open the door to the helicopter and dove out. Ignoring Karin's calls, Ibuki wrapped wire around the craft's skids to aid in her descent.

The forest was a blur in her eyes as she sprinted back to her home. An attack couldn't have been happening. The only enemy she knew they had were the Geki Clan of ninja, and they hadn't been prominent enough to launch an assault on the Glade of Ninjas in years.

Whatever. It didn't matter. Someone was attacking, and they needed to be disposed of, even if she had to do it herself one enemy at a time.

Nearing the outskirts of her village, she caught sight of posted sentries watching the smoke rise from the nearby buildings. The hooded, robed figures received no mercy. Ibuki silently drew kunai from her person and hurled them, hitting her targets cleanly in the neck. They fell where they stood, choking and bleeding on the ground. They weren't spared a second glance.

Ibuki caught sight of village citizens fleeing and shadowed them, protecting them as they ran for safety. A small contingent of more robed assailants tried to attack them, raw elemental energy forming in their hands – fire and earth.

Not being dressed for combat didn't stop her from throwing herself right into the fray. Ibuki kicked the hands of the firebug before he could attempt to burn the civilians alive. She knocked his aim into the direction of his ally, setting him ablaze instead.

As one man ran about, shrieking as he burned, the other could hardly react as an enraged kunoichi placed her closed fist, brimming with ki, directly against his forehead, "Raida (Lightning Strike)!"

The ki shockwave struck his head with neck-snapping force, which would have killed him, even if the shockwave itself hadn't utterly destroyed his brain. Ibuki stared coldly at the still warm corpse at her feet before lifting her eyes to scan her immediate surroundings. The burning man had attracted attention from more of his comrades who descended upon her as their most pressing threat.

They had been half right to target her. Though half-correct, as she hadn't come alone.

"Mujin Kyaku (Inexhaustible Leg)!" As the Illuminati fighters approached, Karin intercepted them with a blinding flurry of split-legged kicks, avoiding their attacks with precise twirls and simultaneously countering by smashing her shins into anything with a robe and hood.

She felt their bodies shatter underneath the force of her kicks, yet cared nothing for them. So, these were the true colors of the Illuminati? She couldn't say she was surprised.

Just because they were all down didn't mean they were all out. Zealous in their dedication to the organization, one tried to communicate with others in the field that something was gravely amiss, "Stiff resistance..." A woman said underneath her face-concealing hood, "There are a higher number of viable combatants among the commoners-."

Karin walked over, hands on her hips, and quite displeased, "And exactly who are you referring to as a commoner?" She asked, staring at the injured woman pointedly.

The Illuminati member tried to generate ki for an elemental attack to one of her hands, but Karin casually punted the downed individual across the road through the wall of an adjacent house. These rank-and-file weren't worth dirtying her hands over with their blood. There were more coming that needed to be dealt with, but Ibuki had more important things to worry about.

She looked over at Ibuki, who clearly wanted to leave, despite preparing herself to team with Karin in battle, "You go on ahead. There is no time to waste. Check on your friends. I am more than enough to handle this on my own."

Ibuki's eyes went wide at Karin's offer to help bear the load of defending the Glade of Ninjas, "But... this isn't your problem," She said, "You don't have to do this. Are you sure?"

Karin laughed haughtily, displaying herself brazenly in the face of the pending Illuminati attack, "But of course! You and I are friends, are we not? I have learned that the battles of my friends are my own to fight as well. You have lent me aid in the past when I have required it," She said confidently and warmly, "As someone with power, I, Kanzuki Karin have obligations I must fulfill to my loved ones!"

Ibuki grinned and darted over to Karin to give her a tight, meaningful hug, "Thank you. I'll be right back. I promise."

"Take your time. I will likely find you first," Karin assured her confidently before turning to face her approaching enemies, "I do not anticipate much difficulty in dealing with this," She said as Ibuki left, "Now, come. You fancy yourselves the true elite of this world? I will show you the divide in our class."

XxX

The attack from the Illuminati had been sudden. Their fighters with elemental powers clashed with ninjas stationed in the village, but the surprise element of the attack, the nature of the Illuminati abilities, and their accompanying skill had made it tough to mount a defense, but with much grit and sacrifice, a good number of the citizens were in the process of being evacuated.

It was still necessary to cover their escape, lest their zealous enemy pick up their trail and continue to pursue them.

The bodies of over a dozen hooded Illuminati disciples littered the inside and outside of the shrine building that had served as the epicenter of activity for the Glade of Ninjas. At the feet of the man who led the sect of ninjas inhabiting those woods was a solid white humanoid being, slowly melting from a solid form at his feet.

Whatever kind of creature it had been, it was dead now. Extremely dead, as in turned to a white puddle, dead. That was not to say that the fight it took to do so was easy. Cuts of varying depth and severity littered Enjo's frame.

Walking away from... whatever the thing was, he worked to catch his breath. The battle wasn't over yet. It couldn't be. As difficult as it had been thus far, if Illuminati really wanted to throw their weight into an attack, fighting it off would be harder than this.

"Tch. Useless creature."

Those words prompted Enjo to turn toward the entrance of the shrine.

Urien walked inside as though it weren't in the middle of a battlefield, hands casually shoved into his pockets. He didn't bother regarding Enjo, instead only paying attention to the puddle on the floor, "Dr. Woo needs to improve his adjustments on the project if we hope to-."

He was forcibly prevented from speaking when Enjo took advantage of the situation and out of nowhere landed a jumping kick that hit Urien in the throat. A blow that would have killed a normal man three times over merely inconvenienced the Illuminati president.

Enjo remained stuck in place, suspended by where Urien had clenched down on his foot with his chin and clavicle. With the mere flick of the hand, Urien slapped Enjo away and into the wall of the shrine, "My body is as hard as iron, you fool!" He snapped, angrily stalking his way forward.

Enjo pulled himself up and stood ready to engage this new foe, "Are you the one behind this attack?"

Urien sneered at the ninja leader – a man clearly below his own station in life, "No, you are. I wouldn't have spared your pathetic village a second thought, until you rats were found nibbling around in my cellar. Now it's time to exterminate you."

Enjo calmly stood ready to fight, drawing a short sword from his back, "I'll have you know, every bit of harm you've brought onto our home will be returned to you ten-fold," He informed Urien matter-of-factly.

"You're a brave man. But bravery is wasted on the weak and the undeserving," Urien flexed his muscles, his iron-like body tearing it off entirely, leaving him in his loincloth as he radiated power, "Kneel, so at least you may leave this world knowing that at least you were subjugated by your undisputed better."

"I'll die before allowing a conceited monster like you to believe he has any control over the Glade of Ninjas."

"Entertain me then, vermin."

XxX

"The unmitigated arrogance!" Karin seethed as she mowed through the cloaked Illuminati members set against her, "Do you honestly believe that your status as wealthy pawns makes you the superior of tested warriors! Who have you faced? What have you accomplished outside of your own circle? Nothing!"

They had access to remarkable abilities to manifest things like fire, electricity, ice, and more with their ki, and they were vicious, experienced fighters. However, they hadn't contended with the level of competition that Karin had grown accustomed to facing down.

Her mastery of fighting and of ki itself was internal rather than external. She was unable to project, but she could use it to strengthen herself. That, and her body was hardy; capable of enduring the intense physical conditions needed to even hope to try and keep up with powerhouses and outright beasts of warriors like her beloved.

Anyone that got within her range and sight were battered mercilessly. Anyone who tried to lay a finger on her was sent flying with a broken or dislocated limb for their troubles.

Five, ten, fifteen, twenty... any number of them could have come. They weren't fast enough. Compared to what she was used to, they moved in slow motion. They weren't strong enough. Compared to what she was used to, their punches and kicks felt like pillows brushing against her guard. They fell like so much wheat underneath the blades of a thresher.

Karin sneered down at her foes with no small amount of disdain, "You are the masters of nothing. Not even your own destinies are your own," She spat, tightening the gloves on her hands, "Pathetic."

Slow clapping alerted Karin to the presence of another person. A woman with loose, long blonde hair and blue eyes approached. She wore a black fur hat with a black military-style jacket that ended in a miniskirt, thigh-high black stockings, and fur boots.

The woman carefully approached Karin, walking circles around her, seemingly appraising her, "Well said, Kanzuki-dono," She purred in a somewhat patronizing manner, "Being born better only matters if you have the fortitude to take advantage of it."

Karin narrowed her eyes at the new arrival, "I am sorry. You seem to have me at a disadvantage. And you are?"

The woman offered a genteel, sweeping bow, "You may call me Kolin."

Karin retook her fighting stance, not trusting what was clearly an individual separate from the chattel she had been running through up to that point, "I don't know what business the Illuminati believe they have with this place, but I will say this once – leave now or be destroyed."

Kolin laughed, raising Karin's ire, "I know you are aware of us. What we are. We have been courting you for quite some time, after all. Do you really believe what you've just said?"

To be honest, no. Karin didn't. Illuminati had deep roots in society all over the world. Deeper than her own influences ran. In reality, however this ended, it was one small battle. Illuminati could afford to literally fight countless conflicts like this, win or lose. A setback here would vex them, but would barely slow them down, if it even would at all.

But what was simply a tiny event to them was something that was all important to Ibuki. As her friend, that made it important enough to Karin fight for as well.

"I am glad I always declined to join," Karin said, gesturing to the ruined village around them, "To spend my life doing this at the mere whim of another..." She trailed off pointedly, "I am no one's tool."

"Oh, Karin-dono. You would have been such a valuable member of our organization," Kolin said, before gesturing to the thoroughly beaten Illuminati members strewn about, "You would not have been relegated to the Crisis Management Units."

"Like you are?" Karin shot back. Kolin's paper-thin smile quickly faded at that, putting a smug one on Karin's face, "Do not speak as though we are of the same stature. You clearly take your orders from someone. No individual is my superior," She boasted.

Kolin had heard enough from this cocksure little girl, and formed a trail of ice at her feet to enhance her speed. Karin saw her coming and moved her head out of the way of a knife-hand strike that would have gone into her throat.

Karin's eyes went wide as she felt the chill from Kolin's hand. Turning her eyes to glance behind her, she saw a thick coating of ice trailing up a wall of the building near her back.

She turned back forward and locked eyes with Kolin before slapping her hand away and countering with a twin palm strike. Kolin stopped it with a lift of one of her knees and reached out to grab Karin's ascot, using it to jerk Karin around violently and set her up for an overhand strike.

Karin blocked with a cross-guard and swung the bottom arm of her defense under Kolin's, delivering a strong hammer-fisted blow to Kolin's body. The Illuminati woman let go of Karin's clothing and stumbled back, leaving her open for Karin's follow-up – a high kick aimed at the head.

Kolin stopped the kick with her forearm, still taking a small amount of the impact on her head, neck, and shoulder. Angered at nearly taking a critical blow from an 'inferior' fighter, Kolin grabbed Karin's leg.

A sudden sharp, frigid pain forced Karin to cry out in pain. Jumping into the air, she twisted and freed herself with a kick that would have torn Kolin's head off had she been stubborn enough to linger.

Karin landed on her feet before falling to one knee. Her leg. She looked down and saw a layer of frost over the stocking that covered the shin of her left leg. This woman not only created ice with her ki, she could freeze things by touch.

Kolin shook the pins and needles out of her arm. Karin had kicked her hard enough that even blocking injured her, "Aha. You actually hurt me a little back there. It seems you are a true martial artist after all."

"I do not need to be told that by you," Karin bantered back. She stood, despite the damage done to her leg. It hurt, badly. But she had been through pain before. Hopefully, she wasn't badly frostbitten.

Kolin sighed and pulled off one of the gloves she wore on her hands, tossing them aside, "With that, I suppose it is time to take the gloves off," She said before dashing forward, forming a blade of ice on her dominant hand, "Silver Edge!"

With a weapon to give her an advantage, Kolin pressed the offense against Karin, stabbing forward. Her hand was a frigid blur, but despite her speed, she never changed her tempo, which was a mistake against someone as adept in countering as Karin.

Waiting until just the right moment, Karin finally shot forward in a slight crouch, allowing Kolin to nick her shoulder with her ice blade. It was a small price to pay, as she was able to land an upward elbow strike to Kolin's stomach, "Ressen Chou (Violent Tipped Peak)!" With a pivot of her hips, Karin switched sides and hit Kolin under the chin with a second similar blow.

Kolin tasted blood, having bitten her tongue from the impact of Karin's wily counterattack. She flew back and smashed against a wall, leaving spiderweb cracks behind. She looked up at Karin dashing in to follow up.

The girl hit like a truck. Any clean blow she landed had the potential to cripple her. She would not get close again if Kolin had anything to say about it. Kolin lifted her leg and stomped, simultaneously releasing her ki into the ground, "Diamond Dust!"

From the point where her foot made contact, a field of ice spikes formed, jutting out in Karin's direction. She immediately stopped her assault and put her arms up, using her own ki to reinforce her body. It saved her life, keeping her from being run through, but it left her open.

Kolin used her own ice to slide to Karin's blind spot, a blade of ice on her hand. Karin was barely able to turn in time to catch her arm before she could be run through, but hadn't been able to completely prevent any harm from befalling her.

The tip of Kolin's ice blade pierced her jacket and her flesh. With great effort, Karin kept it from impaling her any farther, despite Kolin's best efforts to drive the weapon deeper into her body.

"Is this it?" Kolin taunted, pushing to end the battle and Karin's life, "And you believed it unnecessary to join Illuminati when this is the best you can do?"

Despite the pain and the cold, Karin held Kolin off. She had enough stamina to fuel her strength. Now she just needed a way out, "I feel sorry for you, following every whim of one person," She said, focusing on keeping her breathing steady as a chill crept through her body, "I would rather die free than live under the yoke of anyone else. Kanzuki Karin bows to no mortal man."

Kolin glared coldly at her target as she worked to freeze her through her wound, "Foolish girl. Our leader is no mere mortal. He is a god" She proclaimed proudly, "There is only one true ruler of this world, girl. You'll soon see that it can never be you."

Karin smirked, despite her predicament, "While I do see it as my destiny to stand above all others, I do not wish to rule anything. And I despise the idea of the few controlling the lives of many. Focus on yourselves."

Self-centered child. It didn't matter though. She'd had her chance to join the winning side enough times. Now that she had solidly marked herself as an enemy, there was no more need to indulge her existence, "We simply want the best for the world as a whole. And to that end, we would see the worthless aspects of society cut from it. I suppose I can safely label you as unnecessary."

Forgoing the straightforward method of running Karin through, as it was taking too long, Kolin impatiently decided to attack from behind as well with her powers.

Karin had kept an eagle eye out for any opportunity to turn the tide, and the moment Kolin lifted a leg to again use her ice powers on the environment, Karin capitalized. Rolling directly to her back, Karin shoved her foot into Kolin's stomach and kicked her off, removing the blade from her body and sending the Illuminati fighter flying into the fires surrounding their battlefield.

Refusing to give into the fatigue that came with her injuries, Karin quickly got to her feet again, 'That will not be enough,' She thought to herself.

True enough, the portion of fire Karin threw Kolin into began to weaken and extinguish. Frost crept along the ground as ice spires rose from formerly flaming debris.

Digging deep into her own mind, Karin performed a kata, exhaling deeply while pushing her hands down. As she did, a rush of energy ran through her system, "Kanzuki-Ryuu Guren no Kata (Kanzuki Style Form of Crimson Lotus)," Every few seconds it pushed out through her fingertips in the shape of yellow flames, 'I will not have long to utilize this. I must make the most of this opportunity.'

Maintaining this technique was difficult and dangerous enough when she was at full strength. But it was the only way she had found so far that would allow her to fight on-par with her friends who had greater raw power. Kolin was stronger than her, so there was nothing she could leave to chance.

If she couldn't finish things before the Crimson Lotus Kata wore off, she had no more answers to help win the fight.

Kolin rose at the tip of one of her own ice spires. Her coat was singed, her hat was gone, and her face was smudged with soot from the flames, "I have no one to blame but myself for the missteps I've made today. Sheer carelessness," She said, disgusted at her own performance, "I have had it with you wasting my precious time."

"Then shall we bring things to a close?" Karin offered, the slight flames of her ki blending with the fire in her surroundings, "I too have more pressing issues to see to at home."

There were no glaring changes to her appearance for anyone who didn't know what to look for. Unlike others like Sakura, Cammy, or even Kolin, Karin's use of ki was more internal than external. It was not visual or flashy. She couldn't project it outside of her body. It was almost never in a state where it could be seen. Of course, that also meant that when she had something spectacular up her sleeve, no one could tell without being danger-close.

Kolin couldn't see it. She leapt from her ice spire, shattering it into countless deadly shards that Karin weaved around as they fell to the ground, "Hailstorm!" As she fell, she formed an imposing ice obelisk, set on bringing it down on top of Karin.

Even if it missed a direct hit, once she collapsed the structure, she would still manage to catch Karin up in it. Sometimes casting a wide net was needed to capture and crush a pesky insect.

With a loud shattering noise, the construct hit the ground and broke apart, covering the area in chunks of ice that froze in place across the ground. Fire was swept away. Entire homes in the plaza were layered in ice. It was a frozen wasteland in the middle of a ruined village.

Kolin's boots crunched on the ground as she looked for Karin's corpse frozen to the ground underneath her ice. She saw the bodies of the previously defeated Crisis Management Unit warriors, but nothing else. As she searched, a traitorous thought poisoned her mind.

'Could I have missed?' She wondered, 'No. How could I possibly have missed?' There was no ground in the plaza that hadn't been covered. Even if Karin had taken refuge inside of one of the buildings that hadn't previously burned out, it wouldn't have helped, 'Her body must be here somewhere.'

"Is this it?"

Hearing Karin's mocking voice at her side, a paranoid Kolin turned to strike, only for her blow to be blocked by one arm. Karin stared her down, no more worse for wear than she already had been, "Controlling your opponent's strength is the first thing we teach in the Kanzuki-ryuu."

Karin mercilessly lashed out with a flurry of palm strikes, pummeling pinpoint areas on Kolin's body that she was not prepared to protect. A jumping knee under the chin lifted Kolin off of the ground, giving Karin the opportunity to grab her arm and spin her like a fan blade. As she rotated, slightly off of the ground and effectively defenseless, Karin was able to pick her spot, landing one mighty palm strike to the face.

Kolin went flying. The force of her body being shot off at the hands of Karin tore up the artificial winter wasteland in a straight line behind her before she smashed through the wall of a dilapidated building and out the other side.

"Kanzuki-Ryuu Hadorokushiki Hasha no Kata (Kanzuki-Style Stream of the Supreme Road Formula Six: Champion's Form)." She said, breathing out calmly after finishing her final combination, "Controlling our own strength is the second thing we teach."

Kolin didn't stir again. That was fine. Karin was finished with her anyway, and just in time. The Crimson Lotus Form wore off seconds later, leaving her with all of the aches and pains of her injuries suffered in battle.

She limped off, trying to retain as much dignity and poise as possible in doing so. It wouldn't do to have her look anything less than her true station in life.

Karin spared one last glance back before moving out of the frozen plaza and into the rest of the damaged village, "If you expected me to lose out of generosity, I am truly sorry."

With that, she departed. There was no more time to spare for her admittedly formidable foe. She needed to find Ibuki.

XxX

Fighting her way through the Glade of Ninjas had been time-consuming for Ibuki. It didn't matter how many of the Illuminati she felled as she advanced, stopping to protect any citizen she could find fleeing, or to assist any fellow ninja she found fighting in the street.

These were her people. Her family. She had grown up there. Watching it burn, and seeing her neighbors be harassed by the damnable enemy broke her heart, but she was forced to harden it. A battle was underway, and she needed to stay in the mindset for combat. But that resolve was shaken when she reached the shrine at the center of the village.

Ibuki ran past flaming debris and dead bodies – some being her departed comrades, some being the Illuminati interlopers – and stopped upon making it inside the ruined building.

The village leader, Enjo, lay motionless on the floor other than a periodic rising and falling of his chest. Ibuki stopped in her tracks with a sharp gasp. Blood pooled under the man from where his own sword had been driven through him.

Enjo turned his head to the side after hearing Ibuki arrive. It was difficult for him to keep his eyes open. Even so, and even behind the mask that covered the rest of his face, she could see him try to smile at her, "Ibuki. You're alright. Good."

Ibuki's voice shook as she slowly approached, "...You're not," She replied, trying not to burst into tears.

Enjo looked at his own sword sticking out of his stomach, "No. I guess I'm not, am I?" He asked rhetorically before turning his gaze up toward the ruined ceiling, "Oh well."

'Oh well'? That was all he had to say? He was dying and the only thought on the matter he had was 'oh well'? He was too calm about everything. It was the demeanor of a person that knew he had done all he could.

He knew he was going to die, and had accepted it.

Ibuki dropped to her knees at his side and prepared to try and move him, only for him to hold her arms and keep her from what he felt was a waste of effort, "No. It's fine. It's done. Worry about yourself. The Illuminati discovered the plot to look into their activities."

Ibuki's eyes went wide in horror. Was this because of her? "I was careful, master! I was! I hadn't even begun really looking into anything yet!" So far, she had next to nothing to show for her efforts. She had still been trying to get preliminary information. She hadn't even made it past asking Karin about what she knew before everything had gone to hell, "Is... is this my fault?"

Despite dreading the answer, she had to be certain.

"No," Enjou told the distraught girl, "There are too many possible sources of a leak to blame it on you. It's as you say; you had just gotten started."

Hearing that it wasn't her fault still didn't provide Ibuki with much relief, "I thought this was my mission. I didn't know anyone else was involved."

"There was no way that only one of our ninjas would be asked to take this mission. You were all to look into different things-," Enjo explained, "-To gather as much as you each could. We would then put your findings together and come up with a true approach once we had as many angles as possible."

That made sense. So much more sense than just sending her in to dig up all the dirt she could on her own. But it was more dangerous. The more people there were snooping around, the more likely it was that someone would get caught. Unfortunately, that appeared to have happened.

Ibuki's hands drew close to the sword impaled into Enjo, "Whoever did this to you... to us-."

"No. Do not fight that man," Enjo stopped her before she could declare some kind of vow for vengeance. There were better things she could direct her energy towards. Things that wouldn't likely result in her immediate demise, "As long as the villagers escaped, we can rebuild elsewhere. Somewhere safe. That's what matters most right now."

Ibuki understood. She had been taught as a trainee that the Glade wasn't really a permanent place, in so much that it served as their main hub, until another one was needed. But again, none of this made her feel any better, "There must be something I can do," She offered, feeling utterly helpless.

Enjo reached out and clasped Ibuki's hands tightly, "There is. If you truly feel the need to strike back, recover the G-File."

"G-File?" She whispered to herself, its significance unknown to her, "W-What is that?"

"We don't know yet. But there are too many allusions to it for there to be nothing there," Enjo said, his voice growing weaker by the moment, "An institution such as the Illuminati cannot be destroyed so easily. Battles must be selected and fought carefully. Remember that."

Ibuki nodded sadly, "I will, master," All she could do was accept the final request and the advice that came with it.

The old, embattled ninja took a deep breath, speaking what would amount to be his last words before his lungs emptied for the final time, "I am very proud of you, Ibuki. So proud. Taking you in years ago as a baby was the greatest decision I've ever made. You've proven that time and time again," Tears from Ibuki's eyes dripped down onto his mask, "Just remember, girl... you are not in this alone."

With that, the leader of the Glade of Ninjas went silent and still. Ibuki slumped over his body and began to cry in earnest. Enjo had been one of the closest things to a father she'd had.

Karin stood back quietly, leaning against a wall as she allowed Ibuki the moment with her village leader. She had arrived in the middle of their talk. It was not her place to do anything other than observe and otherwise keep watch.

It had been such a tiny village. A small place, insignificant to a group such as Illuminati, one would imagine. To incur the wrath of the larger secretive organization, the ninjas that claimed the Glade as their own must have truly stumbled upon something monumental.

Perhaps it was something that could break them? Perhaps it was something that would put a lot of people at risk? That remained to be seen. All Karin knew was that there was a time and a place for those sorts of thoughts, and it wasn't while watching her friend sob helplessly over her deceased village leader.

Karin walked over and sank down to her own knees to wrap her arms around Ibuki. The kunoichi's body shook as she tried her best to tough the entire situation out, "He tried, Karin. He tried so hard," Ibuki said, "Most of the others were busy helping to evacuate the people. Only a few hung around to fight."

Karin nodded in understanding. She wanted to say that it could have been worse then, as though that would have softened the blow of having her home torched any. Thankfully, Karin had more tact than that, "I am sorry."

Ibuki would hear nothing of the sort. Karin had done nothing to apologize for, "Don't be. You helped. You got hurt fighting for us. You don't even know us."

"But I do know you. This place is important to you," Karin said, "These people are important to you."

They were. And she would spend plenty of time crying about the fate of her home later. But for now, they were still in a dangerous area and needed to leave.

"A ninja must adapt. A ninja must endure," Ibuki said resolutely, slowly rising to her feet, even as she wiped tears away from her eyes, "Staying here won't do any good now. Everyone who made it out has already scattered. Now we just have to wait for word to meet up."

"Then we shall go as well," Karin stood as well, her injuries making it a bit more of a struggle to do so, "Do not fret. This transgression will not go unanswered."

Let it never be said that Karin didn't hold extreme loyalty for her allies. But standing against the might of Illuminati, what could be done?


And that's the chapter.

Not a lot from our main man this chapter, but there are plenty of other things afoot while Oro tries to prepare him for what cataclysmic event is to come. It's still not known what it is, where it will come from, or what will be the cause, but Illuminati is preparing too, and they don't want anyone to know what those plans entail. They're quickly making enemies of our heroes, however

For those who check comments, Vegeta the 3rd basically summed up the meaning behind most everything that happened last chapter, if you recall the events of that, because apparently it ground the gears of some people. But hey, it is what it is. We're just going to keep on going.

As a note: This would have been out way sooner, but at one point, I'd lost a middle third of this chapter to file fuckery and lost the drive to do it all over again, because I'd been pumped about what I'd written at the time. Losing it utterly deflated me, and it wouldn't have the same spirit to it if I immediately did it over. So that unfortunately made me put it down for a while.

But you don't care about any of that! You want progress! And progress we shall! Onward to the next one!

I hope you enjoyed. Until the next time, Kenchi out.