Hiruzen heaved a sigh. "I had hoped that it would be some years yet before we had to contend with this group… alas, it seems that the ghosts of the future are already haunting is now…"
"Akatsuki – Jiraiya mentioned them before," Minato observed, swallowing thickly. "A group of S-class criminals, wasn't it? He told me it would likely be years before they could seriously pursue some of their goals…"
Hiruzen nodded tiredly. "Having the likes of them near our village could be extremely dangerous for all of us, given that they're all extremely powerful and ruthless," Hiruzen noted, narrowing his eyes. "Little to no information regarding this group's movements has been gained for months now – I had hoped it merely meant they were keeping a low profile, uninterested in antagonizing the Five Great Nations just yet; Jiraiya agreed with that. Now, though…"
"They're ahead of schedule," Minato said, gritting his teeth. "Something must've changed – something drove them to attack Jiraiya… if they are indeed by the army amassing within our borders, there must be some impetus for that…"
Hiruzen nodded in resignation. "I have some idea… the chūnin exams, we considered them a likely target due to our need to spread out our defences even more than usual – but there are other reasons one might wish to attack at this time." He gazed in the direction of the arena, where sounds of cheers could be heard. "This chūnin exam – many powerful leaders, clients and several Kage have gathered in one place…"
"You believe they're here to take them all out?" Minato whispered, his eyes wide. "They'd be insane to try that!"
"Insane, perhaps – but they are strong. There is also the matter of… the jinchūriki." Hiruzen looked at Minato knowingly as the latter froze. "If they've already taken one – there is a risk that they wish to acquire others – and unlike in their home countries, the demon hosts have no great defensive force to prevent their kidnapping."
"These criminals are responsible for… that." Minato muttered with budding rage, clenching his fists. "Was it this Akatsuki that brought me back? Are they the ones who took Naruto?" He shook his head angrily and slumped down against the wall. "Have we been chasing ghosts, tracking the enemy to Iwagakure?"
"It seems likely, unfortunately," Hiruzen said tiredly, putting a hand on his successor's shoulder. "Minato – I know you. You can't be too rash, now – too much is at stake; I need you calm and collected, capable of doing what must be done. If these Akatsuki are here, and they're the ones who took Naruto, they have Kyūbi; such a force in enemy hands could rip the village apart. We cannot let that happen."
Minato nodded despairingly after a few moments, closing his eyes and letting out a shuddering sigh. "I know, but – I can't just... If I come across one of them…" Minato grit his teeth, images of a smiling Naruto forcing themselves forward – chasing his son up the steps of the Hokage Monument, sitting together on the stone heads under a beautiful moon, laughing – that moment they'd said goodbye, having never truly met. "I'll kill them all."
"You have my permission," the Hokage said, making Minato blink in surprise. When he glanced up to his superior, the old man's eyes were hard. "Do not mistake my hesitance for a blind frontal attack with cowardice," he said sharply. "You may be among the best of us, Namikaze Minato – but you are not Kami."
"Of course…" Minato was suddenly reminded of the Sarutobi he'd first met, the man he'd ultimately taken the job of Hokage from – that, perhaps ironically named, 'God of Shinobi'. Minato looked away, a little ashamed. "I would never be so blind."
Hiruzen gave him a knowing look, but didn't comment. "What you should know - Akatsuki, as Jiraiya has described it to me, works in teams of two, with both members very powerful shinobi that tend to complement each other's fighting style; they will not be easy to take down. If there's anyone in this village that might be able to do it on his own, it has to be either of us – and even then, perhaps not." The old man shook his head tiredly. "Each of these Akatsuki members, like you, could pass for a one-man army. I don't know if they can be beaten one-on-one."
Minato nodded tiredly, eyes flicking up to Hiruzen's. "You say that I can't rush in alone – that I'll just throw away my life." He smiled thinly. "I remember sensei talking about that, once."
"Do you now?" Hiruzen asked, eyes twinkling knowingly.
"Well, I might've forgotten a bit of it – I was tied to a post at the time, after all." He smiled slightly, eyes far off. "Jiraiya-sensei wasn't a very friendly sensei, you know – he thought I was too sure of myself, too independent – as if those can be bad things." He snorted. "I learned one thing though… shinobi don't fight alone," He thought of his team – what passed for his family. "Four against two of those bastards, that's a little more fair, don't you think?"
Kankurō cursed colourfully as the spiked ball of death that was Akimichi Chōji veered past at incredible speed, sharp kunai jabbing outwards and barely missing his body as he forced Karasu to deflect the quickest hits. The boy was fast and it didn't seem like exhaustion had set in yet.
"Smoke bombs!" He called out, jabbing his fingers forward as two small cannons unfolded and fired from Karasu's forearms, blasting the entire arena in a vast cloud of dark miasma. Kankurō quickly made his way to the wall, keeping an ear out for the noise of the Human Bullet Tank technique as it ground the soil; Karasu was ready in front of him, and Kankurō noted with some dismay that a second of the puppet's arms was cracked and floppy, its weapons useless.
The punch came out of nowhere – one moment Kankurō had been near the wall, the second he was against it – he bounced off and yelled in pain as he crashed to the floor, barely managing to fling Karasu in the way, its sharp blades holding off the attacker. Chōji smiled as he stepped out of the smoke, looking decidedly ridiculous; both his fist and ears were enormously oversized. The latter made him look remarkably like an elephant.
"Ow." Kankurō ground out, carefully making his way upright as Karasu served as a temporary shield. "That bloody hurt!"
"Well, that was the point," Chōji said with a chuckle, wincing; a moment later, his ears shrunk down, though his fist remained huge. "The smoke was a nice trick – the spinning of my technique doesn't really help with sensing things, so it made me dizzy. I didn't have the chance to know your position like I did with my dust cloud." He smiled widely as he waved his fist. "Still, you actually fell for the same trick twice."
"That's my boy!" Someone yelled from the stands, decidedly louder than the other cheers and Chōji blushed in embarrassment. Well, it wasn't hard to guess who that had been.
Kankurō scowled, wiping blood from his lip and shaking his arm; it was decidedly numb from the hit. He realized with some shame that he had, indeed, just gotten slammed by the exact same move as the first time; he'd assumed that his enemy couldn't track him through the smoke.
Chōji balled his fist again, ready to strike once more. "It's over, puppet guy!"
"Yes, it is!" Kankurō yelled, flashing forward, hurtling Karasu along with several blades unlocking themselves from its torso – Chōji reared back, his super-sized fist flashing out in an instant as it made its way past Karasu and straight to the puppet-master; Kankurō had but a split second to show surprise as he crashed fully into the huge fist and was stopped in mid-flight with a sickening crunch.
Karasu reached the end of its trajectory, smacking into the obese teen, though Chōji managed to trip aside and avoid the collection of lethal blades that it sported; it crumpled to the floor, its controller lying in an unmoving pile against the wall. Chōji sighed in relief.
"Are you alright?" he asked, walking over to Kankurō's unmoving body, scratching his head nervously. "Judge, I think we need a medic around h-" He gasped suddenly as a greenish fume burst around him; it took a few moments of teetering before he collapsed to the floor, eyes rolling up. Before him was not Kankurō's body but what remained of Karasu – though its limbs were destroyed and torso dented, its head was still intact and slowly it retracted a small cannon-like protrusion – a gas cannon.
"H-Hah!" Kankurō made his way upright with some trouble, located where he had landed, disguised as his puppet, wincing as he rubbed his arms and gazed at the unconscious form of his enemy. "Outdone, in the end, by Kawarimi and Henge – a pity. Still, it was a good fight…"
"Damn it!" Ino spat, gaining several curious stares from her neighbours as she ground her teeth. She suddenly noticed the attention and blushed. "What? He was doing well!"
"Chōji-san has become a potent Taijutsu combatant," Shino observed, glancing at Shikamaru. "Of the two, he was doubtlessly the better ninja – even if he was defeated. His enemy came out with far more injuries."
Shikamaru scowled as he turned to the bug-user. "Are you trying to tell me something?"
Shino pushed his glasses up with a raised eyebrow. "The difference between your match and this one was that Chōji's opponent consistently underestimated his foe's strength – in a real mission, that could be fatal. I believe you were fully aware of Neji's capabilities when you fought."
Shikamaru looked away, biting his lip. "That's not really true - I was overconfident. "He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "The fact that I won was incidental."
There were cries of protest, but Shikamaru shrugged, looking over at Sasuke. "Looks like we're up, soon."
"Hn." Sasuke got to his feet, stretching. "You'd better not underestimate me, Nara." He glanced at Neji who'd been paying casual attention, eyes fixed on Shikamaru as well. "I know what you can do, now. I won't go easy on you – that lazy attitude of yours is a front."
"Is it really?" Shikamaru asked under his breath. "We'll see who kicks whose ass, won't we?"
"You two are so immature," Ino muttered, suddenly paling and turning to Sasuke, blushing. "I meant Shikamaru, of course, Sasuke-kun…"
Sasuke scoffed, glaring at Shikamaru. "I'll show you the strength of the Sharingan – show it is far superior to the dōjutsu you have already defeated." He glanced at Neji with a smirk. "Eh, Hyūga?"
Neji didn't answer for a moment, and then smiled at Shikamaru, much to the consternation of his team mates. "If Shikamaru could defeat me – you won't stand a chance against him, Uchiha."
"It feels like we're back at the academy," Kiba observed, snickering slightly; then he looked down as his mirth vanished. "Of course, then it wasn't those two…" He turned away.
Sasuke shivered and nobody spoke for a moment. Finally, he broke the silence. "We should get going – they'll call us any moment, now."
Shikamaru nodded, looking speculatively at his enemy as they descended the stairs; what had that reaction been about, just now? He shrugged it off, focusing on the task at hand – it was tiring enough to avoid thinking too much of the problems facing the village at large.
The two slowly made their way over as Chōji was moved out of the arena – he was snoring loudly, his face more content than it really should've been; whatever that gas had been, it seemed it wouldn't do any lasting harm. Shikamaru's gaze wandered over the stance, realizing uncomfortably that these were a lot of people – and most of them were probably rooting for Sasuke. He couldn't find Kakashi – well, that was hardly a surprise given his penchant for being late – nor Minato, which was stranger. Shizune was probably with the medics, which accounted for her. With a chill, he realized that even the Hokage and Jiraiya weren't where they ought to be. His entire team was missing, now? Did that mean anything?
His father and mother were leaning tensely over the railing at the far end of the arena, Shikaku sticking a thumb up when he noticed that their son had spotted them. He smiled shakily in their direction, wondering what was going on. The absence of so many important people was … troublesome.
"Are you ready?" Sasuke asked, smiling dangerously as his eyes spun into the red of the Sharingan.
Kakashi sighed as he finally sped into Konoha proper; the guards let him pass without much of a check when they noticed who he was bringing with him, propped up on Bull's back; Jiraiya of the Sannin was still breathing softly, though his blood had soaked into his ride's hair and his face was pale.
"I wonder what's taking Pakkun so long," He muttered, glancing around. "Akino, can you go on and warn the hospital?" He narrowed his eyes at the rooftops; he spotted several ANBU, well-hidden as they were; he'd learned to get a good idea of their positions when he'd been one himself. In a sense, he'd never really stopped being an ANBU. "Ūhei, keep an eye on the gate, would you? Warn me if anything nasty makes its way here."
"'Course," The two dogs said, raising a paw and setting off at a faster clip; Bull could only reach a certain speed, especially with such a heavy load on his back. Ūhei headed back the way they came, his speed considerably faster than before.
It was disturbing, Kakashi thought, that the ANBU on the rooftops didn't budge, even when one of the strongest ninja in the village was brought back into town as a veritable wreck. It seemed their instructions were considerably stricter than he'd anticipated; likely only allowed to act when enemy ninja were involved.
The jōnin almost jumped out of his skin, kunai flashing out in the direction of the voice before he had fully processed it; it met another on its way, held by a bemused masked Minato who shook his head at the sharp implement inches from his skull.
"I'll take that as payback for that time in the forest," he said, cocking his head to the side as he looked worriedly at his sensei. "How serious is his condition?"
"I don't know – it's chakra exhaustion coupled with physical wounds, best I can tell; probably whoever did this didn't intend to kill him," Kakashi said after a moment, calming down a little. "Pakkun reached you, then?"
Minato nodded, putting a hand on Jiraiya's back as Bull whined about the heavy load. "Definitely exhausted – Jiraiya's chakra level is practically civilian right now; not a good situation for a shinobi, let alone one of his calibre…" He shook his head tiredly. He grabbed the Sannin by the arm and nodded. "I'll take him straight to the hospital – we have things to discuss." He looked around gingerly, rolling his eyes in exasperation. "Shunshin no jutsu!"
Jiraiya and Minato vanished in an instant, leaving Bull behind as he sagged to the floor, sighing contentedly before sniffing and whining at the large blood-red stain on his fur. Kakashi sighed, shaking his head as he coughed, the cloud left behind being decidedly less insubstantial than it should've been. Hiraishin disguised as something else, then - his teacher couldn't do anything like a normal person, could he?
Tsunade's apprentice glanced up, startled; she'd been dabbing several superficial wounds on Chōji's arms, gingerly removing the threads with kunai that were still wrapped around him and which had bitten into his skin after using it in his attacks. The boy was still out like a light, though he would recover.
"I need your help," Minato said, adjusting his mask. "Tsunade – she's not at the hospital, and we've got an emergency case…"
"Emergency?" Shizune asked sharply, stopping her work. "Who's hurt? How serious is it?"
"Jiraiya-sensei," Minato confessed. "It's looking pretty serious – Kakashi brought him in, he was assaulted outside the village… I couldn't rouse him."
"Someone attacked Jiraiya-sama?" Shizune wondered, aghast. She walked to the door, looking out with an uncertain look, before glancing back at Minato. "Tsunade-sama is here, at the arena – she snuck out of the hospital earlier and is using a genjutsu to hide among the crowds." She rubbed her head in embarrassment. "She's gotten into that habit recently… I have no idea how to find her, though."
"Can you get to her?" Minato asked urgently. "None of us are medical ninja - we need help! "
Shizune nodded seriously. "I don't know what she looks like now – it'd take far too long to find her in that throng out there. Instead, I'll head for the hospital immediately; I should be able to stabilize Jiraiya-sama. I'll have to ask someone else to take care of the genin, though – at least they're not seriously injured, so far..." She looked around, shrugging, quickly writing a note and ringing a bell – it would summon the nearest medical-nin to assist, as long as they heard it.
"Kakashi's at the hospital now – he found Jiraiya outside the village. It looks like our ideas about who's attacking were wrong." Minato grimaced. "Jiraiya found out – don't ask me how – and whatever he did in response, it got him smacked down. Hard."
"There are enemies stronger than Jiraiya-sama near here?" Shizune asked with a gasp.
Minato nodded wearily. "They call themselves 'Akatsuki' – it means 'Dawn'. A dawn of what – I don't know. Nothing good, I suspect." Minato cautiously touched Shizune's arm, grabbing his kunai. "I'll take you right to the old toad – Jiraiya-sensei's health has priority right now. I believe he knows more than me about what's going on, and we definitely need the information."
"Of course," Shizune answered, hesitating for a moment. "What about … Shikamaru?"
Minato grimaced, pacing through the room. "We can't break up the tournament – it would alert every spy in the crowd that something's wrong – if they haven't already." Minato formed a single hand seal and a clone popped into being. "I'll leave a shadow clone here to keep an eye on things – I can be here the quickest in case things wrong, after all."
"Right – let's go."
The two vanished in an instant and the clone made his way out as well, leaving the room empty when a medical-nin stormed in. It took but a moment for her to find the note left behind and he sighed. "Well, I suppose you take after your sensei, Shizune-san…"
Chōji blinked sleepily, glowering at the ceiling. He hadn't caught much of what had been discussed by the people above his bed, as he'd been far too out of it - but he did hear a few rather disturbing things - terrible things.
What was going on?
"Uchiha Sasuke," the judge stated, and cheers erupted. The man waited a few moments for it die down before he coughed, and nodded. "Nara Shikamaru. You may begin."
Shikamaru had noticed the distinctly lower volume of cheers for his own name but there were some. Several of his fellow genin were cheering them both on – Ino in particular – so that wasn't unexpected. He glanced up and noticed that the Hokage was back, sitting between his colleagues with a smile – though it was too far out to see if it was fake or not.
"Shikamaru." Sasuke stepped into a Taijutsu stance, one arm forward and his Sharingan active. "Time to lose."
Well, Taijutsu was going to be a disaster. Against those eyes, Shikamaru was well aware that he couldn't keep up. He knew how effective it could be from Kakashi's reaction time, and that was with a transplanted version of the kekkei genkai. He required a plan. He stepped back towards the wall, inside the shadows; for a moment, he'd be safe here, at least. His eyes glanced across the arena, taking in all the details – the walls, several trees, gouges in the floor from Chōji's assaults – unconsciously he brought his hands together in a gesture that at least one person in the audience instantly recognized.
Sasuke's attack was sudden and swift – he rushed forward so quickly that Shikamaru could only barely dodge as a fist crossed where he'd just been; before he could even think about catching him in shadows, he was gone again, back into the sunlight.
"That removes half my plans," Shikamaru muttered darkly, narrowing his eyes. Slowly he walked forward, keeping his eyes on the mocking smile that the Uchiha was giving him. He was testing the waters. Clearly he was unwilling to fall into a trap as Neji had. Well, Shikamaru figured – that could be facilitated.
Sasuke snapped forward again, fist crossing just past Shikamaru's face before he managed to even react; it glanced off his cheekbone and he winced, jumping back as he forced chakra into his shadows – they obeyed his whim, though their sudden jabs towards Sasuke were easily avoided, the red eyes never strayed far from their mark. Taijutsu fighting would quickly get tiresome. Sasuke was clearly a lot better at it, and had the advantage in reaction time as well.
"Kage no Chiiki!" Shikamaru exclaimed, spreading his chakra's shadow out as he'd been practicing for weeks now – it wasn't really a technique, really. Still – the psychological effect of Sasuke believing it was a move with unusual abilities would be invaluable – especially since in a sense, it was true. The blob of shadow around him was technically no larger than his own shadow would have been - the total area of his shadow could not appreciably be increased without adding other shadows to it - but it did look like it, because it was, in essence, diffused – capable of snapping back to a full shadow at even the slightest touch. Still not very quick – but fast enough to catch an ill-timed step.
"New techniques, eh?" Sasuke wondered, smirking. "I have a few of my own, you know – but I'll see what you do with this one, first… Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu!"
Shikamaru dropped to the ground the instant Sasuke finished, rolling over to the side to avoid the blistering heat of a gigantic flaming projectile that burst from the boy's lips. A smell of burning cinders was left behind as it passed, part of the wall collapsing and shining oddly, as if the stone was turned to glass. His gaze snapped back to the Uchiha, who was grinning proudly.
"Not the largest I've seen, but it was okay," Shikamaru smiled lazily as the Uchiha sent him a disgusted glance. He put a hand in his pocket and retrieving a small pack of notes. "Come on, then… let's see what you can do."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes as he noticed the notes in Shikamaru's hand. In an instant his hand shot out, grasping for the sealing paper. Shikamaru threw himself out of the way forcefully, his shadow field suddenly shrinking as it was moved. Sasuke didn't spend any time messing around, his kick flying out and catching Shikamaru in the hand – he cried out in pain. His shadow field vanished and its owner stumbled back, panting.
"Ah, so it's that kind of technique," Sasuke muttered softly, smirking as his foe got upright, having lost more than half his notes across the floor; he'd only barely managed to hold on to them. "Shikamaru – give up. It's clear that you are outmatched here; you will not have the chance to use your little fūinjutsu tricks here."
"Screw you, Uchiha," Shikamaru responded, grimacing at the ruined pack of notes in his hand and dropping them to the floor with a sigh. Well, at least it'd served its purpose as a distraction - none of the notes were marked, as he hadn't gotten permission to use the experimental seals from his first match. "Troublesome."
"I admit, Nara – your defeat of Neji impressed me." Sasuke smirked. "I always thought you to be the lazy kid in class – unwilling to train, unwilling to even consider putting some actual effort into things – I often wondered why you were even in the school."
"Wondered the same thing," Shikamaru muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Tell me then: Why were you chosen? Why, out of all people, you?"
Shikamaru frowned, not certain he liked the jealous gleam in Sasuke's eyes, the anger smouldering close below the surface. What – oh. He should've figured out this much. The idiot was jealous about the team he was on. "I was not the one who thought that up, Sasuke. You'll have to ask Kaeru and Kakashi why they recruited me."
"I've met this 'Kaeru'," Sasuke said, scowling. "He is a powerful shinobi – likely one of the best of this village – and yet he wears a mask and hides himself from all. A student of the Third Hokage, and he asks you? For a time, I believed he must've been from your family."
"He only wears the mask around strangers," Shikamaru noted, shrugging. "Besides - he came to me, I swear. He had some reasons for asking me. I've never really bothered finding out what they were, it would be a drag." He shook his head tiredly, slowly backing off in case Sasuke would suddenly lash out again. "I suppose the easiest way to put it is that it's because I'm supposed to be a 'genius' … whatever that means."
Sasuke scowled. "You, a genius? You, who sleeps through your classes?"
"Academic achievement is not necessarily an infallible indicator of intelligence," Shikamaru noted, unable to keep a self-satisfied smirk from his face at the alliteration. "Whatever others call me is of no importance: Kaeru and Kakashi and even the Hokage thought I could be an asset. I'm a shinobi, like you – if the Hokage asks me to do something like this, who am I to say no?"
Sasuke lashed out, his foot impacting Shikamaru's shin and knocking him to the ground, though the Nara was up in an instant, his shadow possession jutsu slashing at Sasuke's retreating shadow in futility.
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "Besides, you can't whine – you got to join a genin team even though your team was failed on the first day." Shikamaru pointed at the crowd. "I think I saw Sakura out there, somewhere – she's still an academy student, you know; still waiting to get on a team. As for the third member of your original group – well, I think you can't complain."
Sasuke growled, three shuriken suddenly embedding themselves in the ground inches from Shikamaru's feet as he jumped back in quick hops, back into the shadow of the arena walls. Sasuke followed decisively, his Sharingan focused. "What would you know, Nara?"
That dōjutsu was a pain – it could see chakra build-up which was probably how he was avoiding the shadow possession jutsu – he could simply move out of the way of the chakra trail he was seeing, and any normal shadows would look decidedly different. It was only a matter of time before the Uchiha would tire of this little interrogation and he had to be ready beforehand. Hopefully, one of his plans would be successful.
Sasuke smiled confidently as he noticed Shikamaru's nervous backtracking, shifting back into his Taijutsu form for another attack; the Uchiha ran forward once more before springing up with a devastating combination of kicks, smashing Shikamaru to the ground and knocking him on his behind.
"So far, so good," Shikamaru whispered softly, already preparing to apologize to Shizune for what he was going to do.
"Not much has changed here, it seems…"
"Would you stop being so cryptic all the time?" A second voice muttered. "Seriously, what's up with you anyway? You've been nothing but melancholy and talking to yourself for days now." The man sighed as he slumped down to the ground, dropping his sword beside him. "What is it, are you nostalgic?"
He got no answer from his companion, who stared over the village, eyes fixed on the arena that was just visible from this position. They dared not get too close due to the huge number of ANBU and other ninja that were patrolling the village and arena; not yet.
"So, just wait for the signal here, I suppose?" The swordsman sighed, gazing up at the sky. "I would've liked to spread a little mayhem already – being observers is boring. If I wanted to see people do people stuff, I'd go hang out in a bar or something." He turned and shrugged. "How about you?"
"Please, be silent."
"Ah, c'mon Itachi, you can't say you enjoy this."
Uchiha Itachi gazed at Hoshigaki Kisame emotionlessly. "This is our mission. Whether you prefer it or not, it is what we will do." He looked back upon the town with Sharingan eyes. "We are to observe, not to interfere. Not until there is the signal."
Kisame muttered something uncomplimentary, sighing deeply. "Fine, but why can't be do some kidnapping? Maybe some butchering? Sharks have to eat, you know." He tapped his sword, Samehada, and smirked. "Can I at least kill that pathetic excuse for a spy you have running down there? Come on, the others already had their little run-in with a ninja from this village..."
"Be silent." Itachi said, contemplating the village below with his mind in turmoil. In the arena, he knew, his little brother would be fighting – trying to win the Chūnin Exams. He glanced at Kisame for a moment and then back to the arena, narrowing his eyes. "This will all soon be over, Kisame. You can babble all you wish, afterwards."
Author's Note: First bit of the Shikamaru/Sasuke fight – it won't really kick off until next chapter though, which is also where a few other things go ape-shit.
This chapter's got development of a bunch of things, but I didn't think I could get away with adding more scenes here without royally screwing up any semblance of an order to events. As such the next chapters will likely be a sort of multi-part chapter in that each is less self-contained and several scenes just span multiple chapters, particularly combat ones. I think nobody's surprised that Akatsuki's dynamic duo is in town already. :P
Upcoming things include Kakashi and going after the Danzō/Root connection, Minato involved in tracking the Akatsuki as he can escape the easiest, as well as Shikamaru's fight, obviously. Aside from that we also get some POV from Shikaku, Hiruzen and Choza regarding various relevant events.
Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu, Fire Release: Great Fireball Technique, forms giant fireball.