Chapter 13: Bonds of Fellowship

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or HSDK, or any characters or logos associated with either series. This fan story is made for fun, not profit.

The dog-like fighter had been enduring a special beating for the last five minutes, courtesy of his former teammates within Team Hebi. Several of the gang's demons were tasked with punishing him for his treason, although their leader saw it as beneath him to dirty his own hands. Guren leapt into the air and slammed her knees into his back as Loki delivered a series of quick chop to traitor's mid-section, causing him to double over in pain. Kiba vomited a mouthful of blood on Suigetsu's clothing, prompting the violent swordsman to smash him in the jaw with the hilt of his blade.

He swayed slightly from the blow, refusing to be drive to the ground as they beat him to death on his feet. "Is that all, you got? Pathetic! My mother can hit about a million times harder than that?" he screamed, knowing full well that it was the truth.

"You got a big mouth, fang-face!" Loki plunged both hands into the other man's ribs, paralyzing him as the end of a wooded sword cracked him upside the head.

Jugo came in from behind, pulling their victim into a headlock and pile-driving him face first into the hard floor of the punishment arena. Kiba screamed in agony as his attacker plunged a foot into his back, exerting all of his weight into the stomp like a man stomping an ant.

"Impressive that you're able to stay conscious after that. It's almost a shame to destroy a fighter like you." The giant replied with a sullen expression.

"That's enough, Jugo…" Sasuke raised his hand, causing the giant to step away from their prey. The others followed his order and moved away, allowing their leader to take a good look at the beaten dog. "So Kiba, would you care to explain this nonsense about quitting Team Hebi?"

Kiba tried to raise his head, but was barely able to keep his eyes open. "You… You said I had to join this team… if you could beat me." He muttered, a smile coming to his face. "No one said I wouldn't quit if the people in charge were a bunch of pricks!"

Suigetsu seized the defeat man by the collar of his shirt before wrenching him into a stand position. "I'd choose my last words better if I were you, asshole!" he shook him violently. "Got any other smart remarks?"

"Your breath stinks…" he hissed before spitting in the swordsman's face.

"Got to Hell!" the weapon-user dropped him back onto the floor and prepared to smash his head in, only for a large hand to grab the end of his sword. "What do you think your doing' Jugo?"

"His life belongs to the Devil Fist. Judgment is not yours to render." The fiery-haired brawler rationalized the situation calmly, his eyes locking with the irascible killer. "I suggest you lower your weapon, unless you would prefer to fight me instead."

Suigetsu snarled with irritation before glancing up at his superior. "So, what do you think we should do to this traitor now that he's easy pickings?"

Sasuke's expression remained impassive, almost as if the ordeal bored him. "I haven't yet decided."

"I say we present his head to the Great Serpent God as a gift and be done with it." Guren argued.

"Trash like him… He's hardly worth the attention of the master." Neji commented from his seat above the arena.

She sneered at the sound of his voice. "Anyone who defies our leader's will, deserves nothing less than death. Are you still holding onto the misguided beliefs of the Saving Fist preached by your family?"

"Don't insult me… A failed experiment like you doesn't even deserve to be called a true martial artist." he muttered before shifting his pale gaze away from the unruly woman.

The Hyuga Clansmen folded his arms and exhaled. He had personally elicited not to participate in the punishment game, finding it to be a barbaric display with no true purpose besides intimidation. Although he had defected from his family's legacy long ago, there were some aspects of his original teachings that he would never discard regardless of where his loyalty was.

"I shall not be spoken to in such a manner by filth such as you." He added snarkily.

"You speak so boldly while out of my reach. Why not come down here and say that to my face!"

Neji's eyes flashed dangerously. "Continue to test my patience, and I might consider it!"

"This is exactly why I couldn't stand being around you guys anymore." Kiba shouted, causing both of them to forget their own disagreements. "You people aren't real fighters, just a bunch of thugs trying to prove yourselves by killing off the real martial artists!"

Sasuke sat back down, his face displaying signs of amusement. "You misguided fool… We are the real martial artists. Those who do not crush the weak underfoot are only walking an empty path. To truly win, the inferior ones must die by the hands of the strong!"

The dog-like fighter managed a weak smile. "Bullshit!" he called out, causing the others to shift uneasily. "When I fought the Number One Disciple of Konoha, he respected me as an opponent even though I was trying to take his life!"

"I am well-acquainted with that idiot from my early days as a member of Konoha, and he is by far the lowest of the low… A true fool among fools."

"That doesn't mean he lacked heart, the same thing you seem to be missing!"

The Devil Fist exhaled with a hint of irritation, but remained stoic nonetheless. "That dobe was always too idealistic for his own good. For all of his empty bravado, he could never understand the true world of martial arts the way I do."

Despite his inability to move his limbs, the feral fighter remained defiant till the end. "Naruto Uzumaki spared my life when he could have killed me, and helped me realize that I was doing something that I really didn't want to do! He has my respect…"

"I see there's no convincing you, then." Sasuke shook his head disapprovingly, doing his best to hide his deep-seated annoyance.

"Damn right! You surprised that a man you considered worthless managed to make me see the truth about you… Maybe it hurts your ego knowing that the actions of an idiot made more sense than the every piece of crap that comes from your mouth!"

Rather than lash out, the Devil Fist held his temper in check. "That idiot always did have a way of corrupting the minds of others with his nonsense." His expression remained the same, but his eyes revealed a sense of inner fury. "It was one of the things I hated most about him!"

"Back to business… All your resignation got you was a world of pain!" Suigetsu kicked him in the ribs, eliciting a loud scream from him. "Allow me to deepen it…"

Loki watched with a sinister smile before addressing their victim. "I see shark-boy enjoys stating the obvious, but that's really beside the point. Personally, I'm more curious as to why you bothered coming back here. What kind of traitor announces his intentions?"

Kiba choked back to the pain, but it took a moment for him to find his voice amidst the escalating agony. "I'm not immoral enough to just run away when things get rough. Leaving without saying anything would have been the coward's way out. I'm sure you can vouch!"

"Tell me, was it really worth it?" the former Ragnarok member quipped before kicking the other man several more times.

The other Demons watched the torture continue with mixed reactions, some with glee, others with indifference, but the barrage only lasted five more seconds before it was interrupted again. Sasuke jumped down and seized Loki by the wrist, repealing him with a single motion of his opposite hand. Although he hadn't harmed the ex Fourth Fist, the display was enough to scare him into submission without argument.

"He's lost consciousness." Sasuke explained, causing the others to back off. He gestured to one of the only figure still wearing his hood. "Since you decided to sit out off the punishment games, I will make him your responsibility."

The man stepped into the light, revealing that he was wearing a high-collared jacket under his cloak that concealed most of the lower half of his face. He was wearing dark shoes and gloves, creating an air of mystery around himself due to most of his body being covered. His dark hair and pale skin was hidden by the presence of the trademark hood worn by all the demons, but the dingy light from the room's lone source bounced off of his dark sunglasses.

"Take him to the prison hold… Get him out of my sight." Sasuke walked past him without so much as a backwards glance. "You will not feed him, you will not tend to his wounds, and you will not speak to him. Am I clear, Shino?"

"Of course…" the other man replied with a subtle bow before hoisting the boy up and carrying him away through one of the arena's entry tunnels.

Everyone remained silent until his footsteps died away, but it was Guren who broke the silence. "Are you just going to lock him up like Haku, or is there something more to this?"

Sasuke shook his head. "We can handle the arrangements later, but for now I require your services for a much more important mission." The others tensed up, but he continued. "I would like you to find Kimimaro, I require only the best fighters to accompany me for this."

Suigetsu raised an eyebrow. "Wait… The high and mighty Devil Fist is actually leaving the hideout? Must be something big, then!"

"Care to tell us what's going on?" Loki pondered out loud.

"You needn't worry about that quite yet. Just know that I intend to make this entertaining for everyone involved." The Uchiha replied, his lack of further dialogue making it clear that the conversation was over for now.

Meanwhile…

Jiraiya walked the streets with his disciple in tow, the duo closely followed by Guy. There was an awkward amount of distance between them, because he was too embarrassed to be seen in public with him. Naruto was always easy-going when it came time to this sort of thing, but the old master had warned their unwanted guest to walk at least ten feet behind them at all times until they reached their destination. All of this aside, there was a certain level of tension in the air that even a casual observer could probably detect.

Bursting with excitement, the blonde boy finally found himself unable to contain it. "Oh yeah, I can't wait to get to Ryozanpaku to do some serious butt-kicking!" Naruto shouted, throwing his fists into the air.

"Relax before you hurt yourself… We don't wanna make a bad impression during this visit." His teacher replied with hints of amusement.

"So, what's up with you all of a sudden? Huh, pervy-sensei?" the teenager pestered his master.

"This might be a sparring match rather than an official challenge, but you can't go around acting like a doofus before the match." He replied in an unusually serious tone. "Keep in mind that you're not only fighting for fun, but also for the honor of Konoha itself."

Naruto pursed his lips and squinted his eyes like a child. "What do you mean by that? This is just a sparring match… It's not like we're challenging their dojo to take the sign."

Jiraiya scoffed at the idea. "To do that, you'd have to defeat Hayato Furinji in a one-on-one battle. That's a feat that even Hashirama Senju would have struggled to accomplish."

"Wasn't he the martial artist who founded Konoha? He was considered the most powerful man in the world until his death back when Master Hiruzen was still a kid. There's no way the elder of Ryozanpaku could possibly be stronger than him. We're talking about the man who mastered all martial arts and united some of the world's most powerful fighters under his leadership!"

"The Invincible Superman did the same thing in modern times." His master replied a note of respect. "While we exist harmoniously alongside the fighters of Ryozanpaku, there's been a certain sense of rivalry between both dojos since the latter was built in the same city as Konoha."

His disciple frowned as he placed his hands behind his head. "Big deal, so what you old timers don't get along? That's got nothing to do with my match today!"

As he said this, Guy jumped from a rooftop, plopping down beside them with an excited grin. "I remember when I was that clueless!"

"Who said you weren't?" Jiraiya muttered, resisting the urge to roll his eyes as the eccentric master did one of his signature poses. The green spandex worn by his colleague attracted a lot of unwanted attention, and yet he wasn't even aware of the stares that bystanders were giving them.

"What're you talking about, Master Guy?" Naruto questioned his karate teacher.

"When two students from different dojos engage in battle, their respective fighting abilities reflect not only the strength of the disciple, but also the teaching skills of the master." The bushy-browed teacher explained, earning a nod from their charge.

The older master noticed the blonde boy's perpetually clueless expression and decided to simplify things for him. "Let me put it this way… Basically if you lose a match against a person who represents a rival institution, it makes the rest of us look like crap in comparison because we were the ones responsible for teaching you."

"Oh yeah, I guess that makes sense!" Naruto replied with a stiff nod, pretending he hadn't just struggled to understand it.

"That's our disciple, quick-witted and always ready for a fight!" Guy slapped his shoulder enthusiastically before grinning widely, his thumb shooting towards the sky.

They continued walking for several more blocks before finally coming to a halt beside a large wooden gate. Having used the back entrance to Akisame's clinic during their previous visit to Ryozanpaku, the blonde disciple had never actually seen the main actual dojo before. Konoha's gates were considerably smaller in comparison, but the doors were marked with intricate carvings and symbols. The entry to this dojo was much more simplistic, consisting of two plain wooden doors and a high white walls with hand-finished tiling. He paused, taking a moment to stare at the gates.

"So, do we just walk inside or do we have to knock first?" he added jokingly. Naruto pressed his hand against the closed gate, but the barricade did not budge. "The door must be stuck…"

"The doors to this place are extremely heavy, and pretty much unmovable for most ordinary people." Jiraiya stated with an amused expression. "If you're a real martial artist, you should have no trouble passing through the front door."

"Don't be afraid to put a little muscle into it!" Guy encouraged with an eager expression.

Naruto closed his eyes for a second before pressing his palms into the barricade, causing it to slide open. Even though the act took minimal power, it was surprising that he had to place effort in at all. He had heard that the masters of Ryozanpaku were all hardcore fighters who practiced constantly to keep their skills sharp, but it would seem that they had found ways of weaving this into their everyday lives. If even opening the door part of this, he quietly wondered what kind of training they subjected disciples too.

The blonde-haired disciple looked around the dojo's grounds, silently admiring their attention to detail from the handmade stone paths to the neatly trimmed Bonsai trees growing near the wall. Although it didn't seem to encompass as much land as Konoha, the buildings had a simple charm to them while the ground seemed very nicely kept. Somewhere in the distance he could make out several wooden karate posts where they practiced their deathblows, and a more official looking building, quickly recognizing the latter as the clinic where they had taken Haku for emergency medical treatment.

Naruto placed his hands on his hips and grinned widely. "It looks pretty nice, but our place is still ten times better!"

Before he could say anything else, a woman carrying a sword seeming appeared out of nowhere, landing directly in front of him. The blonde disciple cried out in shock as she unsheathed her katana, thrusting it outwards to that the tip was only inches from his face. She wore a revealing ninja outfit and had her long dark hair done up in a high ponytail, her lightning-shaped eyebrows slanted in a peculiar manner. He couldn't help but notice she was quite beautiful, but at the same time the sight of the blade terrified him, being positioned too closely for comfort.

"Intruders…" She muttered in an emotionless monotone, her face betraying the signs of a cold-blooded killer. "What do you… want here?"

"What the Hell, we're not intruders… We were invited her by that perverted Chinese dude!" He choked out, his eyes wide with fear.

Jiraiya swept past him looking as though he hadn't a care in the world. "Hello Shigure, you're looking as lovely as ever. Would you care to put down the katana before my disciple wets his pants? The poor kid looks like he's about to faint."

The weapons master glanced over, blinking twice as she recognized the white-haired man. "Konoha's… pervert…" she acknowledged, her tone sounding even less welcoming than before if that was even possible.

Despite her reaction, the old master laughed and gently rubbed the back of his head. "Hey, calm down. It's not like I'm the one who takes all those pictures of you. You Ryozanpaku masters live with the real pervert, all I am is an innocent appreciator of the female body."

"You're about as innocent as a rattlesnake." Naruto muttered, temporarily forgetting about the sword positioned less than a foot from his nose.

Guy stepped behind their disciple and placed a hand over his mouth, grinning widely at their unhappy greeter. "There's no need for violence, we're just some guests here to see Kensei Ma. You wouldn't happen to know where he is right now, would you?"

"Follow… me…" Shigure slowly sheathed her weapon, her body twirling around as she began to walk back towards the main building.

As the trio proceeded, Naruto suddenly realized how shallow his breathing had been. He had no idea who this woman was, but she looked younger than any of his masters and possessed an odd presence that he couldn't describe with words. He was surprised that his masters had remained so calm during the encounter, although the brief exchange from before lead him to believe that they were already acquainted with her. With a nudge from his masters, he followed after their guide.

"Sheesh, what a strange woman." he commented with a hollow expression, a slightly perverted smile lighting his features seconds later. "Although I will admit, she's gotta be one of the best-looking women I've ever seen! I had no idea Ryozanpaku specialized in ninja foldouts!"

"Don't get any funny ideas, cause you might not live to regret it." Guy replied with a cheerful yet slightly unnerved expression, a small cringe running down his spine at the thought.

Jiraiya noticed the bewildered expression on their disciple's face and decided to elaborate. "That woman is Shigure Kosaka, one of the most skilled weapons masters in the country. You'll be hard pressed to find a more dangerous master when it comes time to armed combat."

"She looks even younger than Master Anko… You're saying that woman is a master, too?"

The bushy-browed teacher leaned in closer, although he knew she would probably hear them anyway. "Shigure was a weapons prodigy in her youth, and possessed the kind of fighting talent you only see in one out of millions of people. Her rapid progression was comparable to even the most gifted martial artists like Kakashi and your father, Minato."

Naruto's eyes widened with a newfound respect. "I had no idea Ryozanpaku was that strong!"

"Try keeping that I mind when you get around to sparring with their disciple." The older master advised him, taking a moment to exhale wearily. "He may not look like much, but I wouldn't be so keen on underestimating anyone who managed to survive training sessions with these people."

Before they could say anything else, another familiar figure dropped down from the ceiling, landing a few feet ahead of them. Kensei Ma tipped his hat and smirked with a competitive glint in his eyes. "Come now old friend, you make us sound like bloodthirsty sadists."

"So, you're actually denying it?" Jiraiya replied before returning the expression.

"I didn't quite say that either." The Kenpo Master stroked his mustache gently before gesturing them into the next room. He gestured to the female weapons master. "Show them in, will you?"

Shigure pushed open a door, revealing a room where several people were already gathered and waiting. Counting the two that had just arrived, all of Ryozanpaku's masters were present, with the exception of Hayato Furinji who often left on long journeys at inopportune times. Akisame Koetsuji sat at the long table at the end of the room playing a board game with Apachai, while Sakaki was busy tending to their disciple. Kenichi was training in the opposite corner of the room sparring with Miu, testing out some new moves while she effortlessly dodged his attacks.

"You're putting too much energy into your strikes… You have to concentrate in using your power without tiring yourself out." Sakaki took a long sip of his beer, looking bored with the proceedings. "Put too much energy in and you start to slow down. Leave too many openings in your stance, and…"

Before he could even finish, Miu demonstrated the principle by smashing her palm past his arm and smashing Kenichi in the chest. Although the boy was clearly no slouch when it came time to taking a beating, the blow caused him to stagger backwards, allowing his opponent to finish him off with a flying kick. Ryozanpaku's top disciple smashed headfirst through the nearest wall, his arms and legs flailing around helplessly for a moment or two. Heaving an irritated sight, Sakaki seized his student by the ankle and pulled him out, dropping him onto the floor moments later.

"Holy crap, what did you do to him?" Naruto walked over to inspect his dazed form, waving a hand above his eyes with concern. He wasn't entirely certain what was going on, but the boy's eyes were oddly glazed over, and his tongue was hanging out at an odd angle.

Miu smiled back at her visitors. "Oh, hey Naruto! What brings you back here all of a sudden? I see you brought two of your masters."

"Never mind all that static, what did you do to Shirahama?"

"I only hit him because he exposed his weak point… He should be all right in a couple of minutes." She placed a finger to her chin and sweat dropped slightly as she saw his face. "At least, I hope so…"

Jiraiya spared a glance at Ryozanpaku's disciple before prodded him with the tip of his foot. "Sheesh, this is the kid you were talking about yesterday? You guys trying to kill him, or is passing out on the floor part of his training?"

"He may not have talent, but this boy can take a punch." Kensei quipped as he reached into his pocket, withdrawing a handful of photos only moments later. He waved them in front of the boy's face, causing him to spurt blood out of his nose before bolting back into a sitting position.

"I'm up! I'm up!" Kenichi shouted, his hand instinctively reaching for the pictures, only for his teacher to yank them out of his reach.

"We have some important company, no need to act like that in front of our guests." the Kenpo Master warned, wagging his finger back and worth like a parent to a child.

Miu tried to lean in over the Chinese man's shoulder, but he quickly tucked the photos away, only further arousing her suspicions. "Just what were you guys looking at?" she demanded with her hands on her hips.

"Never mind that now, you should really be more concerned with showing our guests in."

"Oh, you're right! Sorry about that, guys…" she muttered with a quick bow before running from the room to fetch some tea and snacks, returning only a few seconds later carrying a tray. She set down the refreshments on the table in the center of the room, gesturing for their visitors to sit.

Naruto watched his teachers take their places before addressing the blonde beauty. "Wow, you're a fast one, aren't you?"

"Hardly, we already had a pot of tea ready, and I got those snake cakes from Apachai's plate." She glanced at the Muay Thai master, who had been too busy to notice his missing food. "It's not often we get visitors here, so it was really my pleasure."

Jiraiya took a bite of one of the small cakes on the plate and nodded with a smile. "Knowing the master of Ryozanpaku, I'm going to assume you made these desserts."

"Yup, that was me! I do almost all of the cooking around here." she piped up with a bright smile.

"A beautiful young lady, a brilliant martial artist, and a world-class homemaker if I do say so myself." He replied cheerfully, snickering as his eyes gravitated towards the rival masters. "Of course, living with these guys would force anyone to learn how to cook."

Sakaki plopped down across from the older master, slamming a bottle of sake onto the tabletop as he did so. "Are you saying we don't know how to take care of ourselves, old man?"

"I'll have you know, I'm actually quite an experienced chef." Kensei added with a crafty grin. "In any case, I don't see why you have the right to criticize us. Especially considering you also lack even the most rudimentary skills in the culinary arts. I don't believe stewing up twigs and rocks while training in the mountains really counts as gourmet."

"You got me there. Although old man Sarutobi's not a bad cook, and the same goes for Kurenai and our dojo's female students. Of course the rest of us are so bad at it, that everything sort of balances out in the end."

Sakaki took a swig directly from the bottle before using the back of his hand to wipe his mouth. "If you two wanna talk nonsense or exchange your porn, take it somewhere else."

Akisame set down his winning game piece before nodding in agreement. "I believe Konoha's masters brought their top student here to have a match with our own disciple." He folded his arms and exchanged glances with the white-haired man. "That boy was originally your student, if I'm not mistaken…"

"Exactly right." Jiraiya replied with a challenging smile. "He was only recent granted the right to train in all of our disciplines, so the majority of his fighting skills are a result of my labors."

"You say that with such confidence." Kensei added with a sly expression.

"Not without reason…" the taller man countered with a similar look.

The Chinese master folded his hands and nodded sternly. "I look forward to seeing which one of our disciples has received better training. Personally, I feel inclined to consider this a match between two rival dojos, rather than a practice session amongst our disciples."

Guy smiled widely at the thought. "Enough wasting time… I say we let the kids duke it out!"

"Wait a minute, I never agreed to this!" Kenichi screamed, his pupils shrinking in outrage.

Naruto couldn't help but laugh at the other boy's discomfort. "What's the matter, you afraid you'll lose?"

The Muay Thai Master did a series of jabs at the air before pulling his disciple into a one-armed hug. "Don't worry… If you lose, Apachai will beat up his masters and prove that Ryozanpaku is still the best in world! This way, you not feel pressure when sparring with smiling blonde man!"

"It's been a while since I've had a good fight! I might be willing to take up that challenge!" the bushy-browed karate-user squared up to him with an eager expression. He thrust his hand out and took a defensive stance. "The kids can wait, let's make this a fight between the big boys!"

Apachai let out a scream and shot forward so quickly that Naruto couldn't even follow the movements with his eyes, appearing in front of the karate master moments later. He unleashed a flurry of knees, fists, and elbows on his target, but Guy responded by extending his fingers outwards and thrusting his hands forward in a series of chopping motions, allowing him to dull the effectiveness of the blows by intercepting them with his own. The fists flew at unimaginable speeds until Akisame held an arm between them, causing both men to stop.

"That's quite enough of that…" The philosophical Jujitsu Master replied, his tone betraying subtle signs of irritation.

"He's absolutely right." Jiraiya added with a curt nod. "We didn't come here to challenge the dojo, and there's really no need to restart something that the old timers settled a long time ago."

"That doesn't mean we can't have fun with this while we're at it!" Sakaki slammed his bottle down on the table and kicked open the door. "You ready, boy?" he seized Kenichi by the back of his karate uniform and tossed him face first into onto the practice grounds.

Kenichi recovered quickly, shaking his head and wiping the dirt from his mouth. "Was that really necessary, Master Sakaki?"

Naruto waltzed past him with a fox-like grin. "Sheesh, you're more of a whiner than I originally thought." He placed his hands behind his head and leaned back with a relaxed expression. "If you thought that was brutal, wait until I start smacking you around."

"You know, I still never agreed to this." Ryozanpaku's disciple put in with a frown.

The dojo's karate master seized the boy's arm and wrenched his student into a standing position. "Enough trying to wuss out of it… We can't have you chickening out, least of all against those Konoha snobs and their obsession with blood lineage."

"You guys do know we're standing right here…" Jiraiya added with a mildly annoyed grimace.

Guy addressed his fellow karate master. "While what you said was once true, Konoha currently accepts any student willing to go the distance. My own apprentice was just an ordinary kid when we first met, but his desire to be a fighter made him just as powerful as those who've trained in the martial arts since birth."

Akisame folded his arms and stroked his chain thoughtfully. "That's precisely how is should be. A true master should have the ability to pass their skills down to any student, regardless of talent, lineage, or personal discretion."

"Here… we teach people… How to fight." Shigure stated in her signature monotone, her eyes flashing coldly. She took out a kunai and slashed the air, slicing a series of flies out of the air, much to Kenichi's horror. "They learn well… or they… die…"

"Careful Shigure, you're scaring Kenichi." Miu chastised her with a nervous sweat drop.

Naruto laughed at the expression on his prospective opponent's face, jabbing him in the side with a humorous chuckle. "The more time I spend here, the more I'm starting to like your masters!"

"You don't know what you're talking about." The brown-haired disciple paled at the thought, his body aching as a string of painful memories floated through his mind. "Try spending every day with them, and then tell me whether you still feel the same way."

"What was that?! Care to repeat it so the rest of us can hear?" Sakaki grumbled, reaching over and dangling his student by the leg.

Kenichi screamed wildly as his master shook him. "See what I mean?" he called out to Naruto.

"Why is Kenichi hanging like big punching bag? Is this a game? Wait up… Apachai wants to play too!" the Muay Thai master ran forward and elbowed their disciple in the stomach with his left arm, causing him collide painfully with Sakaki's rock-hard abs.

The two muscle-bound men took turns hitting him back and forth, the boy's eyes rolling back in his head. Naruto watched with a slightly pained expression, as they "played" with him for a few more seconds, uncertain of what to think about the Masters of Ryozanpaku. For a moment, he even began wondering if their victim was even conscious. Truthfully, he had been curious why Kenichi seemed so tough during his fight with Haku, but seeing this crazy display made it painfully clear where his endless endurance came from.

When they were done, the karate teacher dropped him on the ground, his vision spinning as he landed on his head. The blonde-haired disciple glanced down a Kenichi with a look of uneasy surprise as their gazes met.

"Just another day at Ryozapaku…" he muttered upon seeing Naruto's bewildered expression.

"All right, let's skip the small talk and get this party started!" Sakaki clapped his hands together as he led the way to the practice area.

Positioned between four wooden posts was a fighting ring, the only thing indicating its presence being a series of lines marking the boundaries along the ground. Normally they would have taken challengers inside the actual building, but for a disciple's sparring match they had already agreed on this location. The masters filed out into the yard in a group with Shigure, Sakaki, Kensei, and Apachai standing on one side, while Jiraiya and Guy stood on the opposite end.

Akisame stepped onto the sidelines and stood erect, having decided to act as the referee due to the fact that asking any of the others would not have gone over well. Most of the other masters didn't have the right temperament for the job, while Kensei and Jiraiya were currently stuck in the middle of an argument over whose disciple was more skilled. Prodded by their teachers, the two disciples stepped forward into the rectangular boundaries and took a fighting stance.

"The conditions of this match will be quite simple… There will be no time limit and anything goes short of killing each other."

"Hey Shirahama, you ready to get smacked down?" Naruto began challengingly.

A sense of amusement came to his opponent's eyes for a moment, making him look different from the gardener that he had become acquainted with. "As the Number One Disciple of Ryozanpaku, I accept your challenge."

The jujitsu master glanced between them before bringing his hand down in a chopping motion. "Ready… Set… … Begin!"

Unsurprisingly, Naruto was the first to attack, his fists flying at amazing speeds as entered his opponent's space and lashed out like a feral demon. He wrenched his right fist back and thrust it forward with as much power as he could muster, but his opponent raised both arms above his head and braced against the strike. Although neither fighter budged, Kenichi was surprised at the blonde boy's sheer physical strength. His surprise turned to shock as Naruto aimed a kick from below, forcing Ryozanpaku's disciple to retaliate quickly.

Kenichi raised his knee to block the kick with a Muay Thai move and smashing his opponent in the face with his elbow, finishing the combo by grabbing him by the ankle and tossing him with a quick display of jujitsu. Naruto righted himself in mid-air and used his opposite leg to stage a wobbly landing before spinning on his heal and unleashing a series of sweeping kicks. Kenichi did a frenzied leap to avoid the first strike, only to receive the second to the side of his head. He went skidding backwards from the blow, but managed to remain standing.

"Not a bad kick… You've definitely got some skills." He rubbed the side of his face while looking highly amused.

Naruto smiled with a slightly arrogant look. "You're supposed to be the disciple of this big shot dojo, but so far I'm not impressed."

Konoha's disciple charged his adversary and nailed him with a series of punches to the gut, looking surprised when he took each strike without even trying to dodge. Kenichi stiffened his body like a sheet of iron and took the full brunt of half the strikes, barely even flinching as he blocked half of the punches and used his endurance to absorb the rest. Naruto found this highly amusing as he hammered away at the shorter teen, his grin widening with each strike.

"C'mon Shirahama! Where's the awesome fighter that slammed Haku on the school roof?" he continued his assault with a slightly puzzled look. "Sheesh… What the Hell is your body made of anyway, solid lead?"

Jiraiya noticed the smirk on Kensei Ma's face before his mind wrapped around the situation. "You knucklehead… He's baiting you!"

Kenichi's eyes widened as he saw the perfect opening in the rhythm of punches, smashing both fists forward at an odd angle. "Yamatsuki!" he shouted, using one as a feint while slamming his opponent full force with the other.

"Your disciple fell for the oldest trick in the book, and now Kenichi's using his favorite combo." Kensei explained confidently, earning a frown from the white-haired pervert.

"Don't count Naruto out of this yet… My disciple has a knack for taking a beating from his opponents before tearing them to pieces."

Caught unaware by the first strike, Naruto was sent reeling backwards. He tried to shake it off, only to be struck again as his smaller adversary wrapped his hands around the blonde boy's head and smashed him in the face with a knee strike. He tried to complete the deathblow by toppling Konoha's disciple with a Judo move, but Naruto saw this coming and collapsed on the ground willingly, flailing his legs around in a spinning motion to shake off the opponent.

Ryozanpaku's disciple yelped in surprise before rolling away from the lethal display. He leapt to his feet just in time to block a punch directed at his face. Beads of sweat formed on his brow as Naruto forced his fist forward, using his pure physical strength to punch through the other boy's guard with the force of a bullet. Kenichi cringed as the punch smashed into the side of his face, using his opposite fist to deal several more punches of equal force to the rubs and jaw. The sheer force of the blow sent his opponent crashing to the ground.

Kensei Ma stated, popping up beside the white-haired pervert. "Your disciple certainly is an aggressive one. I daresay he's almost like enraged beast in the midst of battle."

Jiraiya nodded proudly. "He may not be interested in fancy techniques and roundabout strikes, but Naruto's got a lot of physical power. Because of that, I focused his training on teaching him how to deal devastating attacks using his monstrous strength while dealing blows in succession."

"I never imagined a tactful fighter like you would have taken a Dou-type as your disciple."

"That's why I chose to teach him Shaolin Kung Fu… It was an excellent style for him because it involves a lot of strong-handed motions."

"I see what you were trying to do." The Chinese man stroked his mustache pensively. "Not only does it play off of his strength, but it was also a way of teaching him to channel his power and control it properly."

Jiraiya seemed pleased he had picked up on it so quickly. "Precisely! This style may be fast and aggressive, but it requires precise breath control. Use too much power quickly and you're bound to exhaust yourself quickly, but know how to focus your breathing, and you can fight at full strength for long periods."

"So, you ready to give up yet?" Naruto cracked his knuckles as he bore down on his opponent.

The combination of punches that Naruto used on Kenichi moments ago had become his signature deathblow back at the dojo, and none of the other disciples unfortunate enough to be hit by it in their sparring matches had ever remained conscious let alone recovered immediately thereafter. He was constantly working to increase the speed and frequency of his punches to get more shots in per opening, and had shown considerable improvement over the years.

Although it took him a second to regain his bearings, Kenichi stood up again, gently dusting of his shirt. "Hate to disappoint you, but I'm just getting started."

The other boy stared incredulously at his opponent, his blue eyes wide with surprise. "How the Hell are you able to stand up after getting nailed like that?"

"Oh, that… My training here is so intense that I find myself facing life or death situations on a daily basis. Not to mention I've been taking beatings my entire life." Ryozanpaku's disciple rubbed his head with a slightly embarrassed look. "You might say I'm used to getting the crap kicked out of me."

Naruto placed both hands behind his head while giving him a look of revulsion. "Sheesh, what kinda loser actually brags about something like that?"

"Apparently someone else thinks I'm a loser… What else is new?" Kenichi muttered more to himself than anyone else.

The blonde disciple exhaled slowly before stiffening his arms, an intense power radiating from him. "Enough talk… This time I'll make it a real haymaker!" he darted forwards in a blur, appearing in front of his opponent with a fist cocked into a striking pose. "Take this!"

"Kenichi, look out!" Miu screamed out from the sidelines.

Ryozanpaku's student instinctively seized his adversary's fist in his hand, the impact of the strike still sending a tremor down the boy's arm. With a considerable strain on his left arm, Kenichi managed to stave off the strike, only to receive a second punch to the face. Although he was struck, the following hit was considerably weaker than the first one, allowing him to ignore avoid the possible deathblow. Naruto tried to free his right hand from the other boy's grip, but it felt as though it was being crushed in a vice.

"Let me go!" Naruto used his left fist to punch him several more times out of frustration, but his lack of focus proved costly.

Kenichi performed a high kick to the boy's opposite knuckle before twisting his right arm away and slamming him in the shoulder with a well-placed elbow. Still grasping Naruto's limb, he yanked upward with a quick motion, slamming him facedown into the dirt in a single movement. The brown-haired boy back away from his opponent and exhaled deeply, realizing just how close he might have been to a very painful defeat.

"Your disciple really knows how to combine his different martial arts training, doesn't he?" Guy commented, clearly impressed by the maneuver.

"Kenichi is an unusual fighter, because he can think of many different ways to overcome almost any opponent by mixing the results of his training as one." Akisame slid both hands into his long sleeves like an elderly monk. "This distinct combination of several different fighting styles is what makes him unique."

"This isn't the first time I've encountered someone with that innate ability, only I have to say the person I'm thinking of was a lot more talented than your weakling student."

Kensei Ma's expression softened as he glanced sideways at the middle-aged master. "You speak of Naruto's father, am I correct?"

Jiraiya nodded with a peaceful sense of nostalgia. "Yeah… It's rare that I see someone with his kind of potential. It's just a pity that his life was cut short by unforeseen circumstances."

The two Ryozanpaku masters tensed up as they remembered the circumstances, but no one said anything further on the subject. It wasn't something that any of them were comfortable talking about, and the idea of saying anything in front of Naruto kept them from even considering it. Due to long career within Konoha, Guy was also aware of the aforementioned circumstances surrounding Minato Namikaze's demise, and he knew better than to pursue the subject in mixed company.

Although it took him moment or two to come to his senses, Naruto spit the dirt out of his mouth and got back up, his expression giving off the impression that someone had just announced that Christmas was coming early. It was a mix of excitement and respect, the same emotion he remembered from when Sasuke was still training at Konoha. He had rarely met another disciple who could take so many of his blows directly without fainting. Most people opted to dodge, but this guy had been weathering the storm right along.

"Man! You've got a lot of guts, absorbing my punches like a boss!"

Kenichi raised a hand and smiled, despite the pain of his wounds. "You're not half bad either, but that doesn't mean I plan on losing this fight."

"You took the words right out of my mouth, Shirahama." His opponent spit on the ground and cracked his neck after returning the sentiments. "It's been a long time since I've been this excited during a sparring match, so you better watch out!"

The two fighters simultaneously prepared to resume the battle, but Naruto's ki had skyrocketed since their previous clash to the point where it seemed almost visible. The Ryozanpaku masters looked surprised by this sudden development, looking surprised that a disciple had such a strong fighting spirit. Guy folded his arms and smiled at the sight, knowing how rare it was for Naruto to display his full tenacity so openly.

"Looks like this fight is just about over…" Jiraiya remarked with a half-hidden smile.

Kensei Ma folded his arms with a more serious expression. "Admittedly that boy has a lot of spunk for a thoughtless knucklehead, but you might be surprised by our disciple's ability to cope even the most troubling situations."

Naruto's speed seemed to increase as he charged his opponent, disappearing from view one second and reappearing behind him moments later in a blur of orange and black. Kenichi looked behind his back only to be sucker punched as the blonde fighter shifted his stance and hammered the other man in face, causing blood to stream from his mouth.

Although he stumbled back in pain, Kenichi righted himself mid-fall and positioned his right hand in a downward curve, using the odd stance to redirect Naruto's next punch before it could hit. Seeing his opponent caught off guard, he moved his hands in an upward smashing motion to land a powerful blow to the blonde boy's chin. He thrust both hands forward in an attempt to finish the battle with a two-handed punch, but Naruto was faster.

"Not so fast!" Konoha's student shouted as he aimed a kick upwards, deflecting the incoming attack with the force of his own strike.

Kenichi raised his arms and began blocking and absorbing the blows as his opponent bounced back and released a volley of punches and kicks. The terrifying display reminded him of a previous battle he had witnessed. Although he hadn't fought the invincible brawler personally, Kenichi remembered watching Hermit take the full force of Berserker's fist while the latter was in some kind of adrenaline-enhanced state. The difference was that Naruto seemed perfectly conscious despite his ferocity.

"Apa! Blonde kid fights like he is on fire!" Apachai shouted with child-like excitement. "Go spiky-head, show him who is boss!"

"We're supposed to be… cheering… for Kenichi…" Shigure replied in her monotone, her eyes never leaving the battlefield for a moment.

"It's over!" Naruto screamed as he brought his hand down in a chopping motion.

Kenichi took a karate stance and blocked the strike, exerting as much force as possible. "I'm not ready to give up yet!"

Konoha's disciple felt his respect for his adversary grow. "You may be the Number One Student of Ryozanpaku… But I'm the guy who gonna be the world's greatest fighter!" he screamed with a sense of bottomless confidence.

Naruto placed his opposite hand on top of Kenichi's blocking arm, using the force of his opponent's strength to propel himself into the air. Kenichi felt his mouth sliding open, unsure what had happened for a moment.

Using the momentum from his descent, the spiky haired boy spun his entire body around before beginning his descent, dropping his heel down with excessive force. "Uzumaki… Smash!" he screamed out the name of his move.

"What the Hell!?" Kenichi took the kick directly in the face, the force the aerial attack causing him to crumple under the strain. The blow sent his entire body crashing into the ground.

"Win… Naruto Uzumaki!" Akisame declared loudly, resulting in series of groans from several of his colleagues, and a loud cheer from Guy.

The assembled masters seemed intrigued by the sudden turnaround, although Jiraiya seemed a little surprised that his student had chosen to use his secret deathblow. He had warned Naruto never to use that kind of move on someone weak, although it was clear from the fight that Kenichi Shirahama was not as fragile as he appeared. Everyone fell silent as they waited for him to recover, and after several tense moments, his limp body began to stir.

The brown-haired boy raised his head and rubbed it, using his other arm to hoist himself into a sitting position. "Oh God, I feel like someone ran over me with a boulder!"

"You were pretty good for a guy who's been doing this for less than a year." Naruto commented with a silly grin firmly in place.

"Wait a minute, all he did was knock me down! Are you saying I lost just because of that?"

Akisame approached from the sidelines to render his judgment. "The truth of the matter is, you were actually out cold for ten seconds flat."

"He's right…" Miu exhaled, looking gravely disappointed by his loss. "If you were fighting for your life, losing consciousness like that would have resulted in your death."

Naruto swept aside the notion as he extended a hand to the boy. "I gotta admit, you would have beaten me a load of times if it weren't for my endurance training. You've got a lot of guts, and I can't help but respect a guy who can take my punches without flinching and deal it back."

Kenichi blinked twice with a bewildered expression, noticing the strangely kind aura around his opponent. Despite relying on his explosive killing intent as a source of strength, the blonde teen seemed very genuine and honest at the same time. For a moment, Kenichi couldn't help but think of Naruto as a younger version of Apachai. The Muay Thai master also seemed to have a pure and kindly spirit, despite being a Dou-type Martial Artist.

He accepted his opponent's hand, who helped him back to his feet. "Thanks for the match."

"No problem…" Naruto screamed, slapping him on the back excitedly.

"Ouch, did you have to be so rough?" he screamed before covering his back with his hands.

"C'mon you big baby, I didn't hit you hard enough to break anything!"

Miu giggled as they began bickering, gently bringing a hand to her lips. "Oh, you guys~" she started with a humorous expression.

Jiraiya clapped a hand on the Chinese master's shoulder, giving him a gentle shake. "All right Kensei, looks like I won our little bet."

The smaller man nodded in agreement, but seemed undisturbed by the news. "Winning a single sparring match against our disciple doesn't make him weaker than yours. Just based on this little exhibition, I can honestly say that Kenichi's been through fights that Naruto would be unable to handle."

"I believe it, but I could tell from his mannerisms that your boy wasn't holding back."

"We never said he was." Akisame replied with a stern nod. "The truth is that it takes a real fight to bring out Kenichi's true potential. A sparring match against someone who may consider a friend is hardly enough to determine his personal strength."

Guy smiled, revealing his shiny teeth. "Not to say I disagree, but the same could easily be said for our disciple."

A sense of competitive tension radiated between the four masters, but Jiraiya quickly diverted the discussion. "Never mind all that static…" he turned to the smallest of their number and bent over. "I expect you to pay up since you lost our little wager."

"Son of a bitch…" Kensei muttered under his breath upon remembering the full terms of their agreement. He choked back the lump that had begun to form in his throat before folding his hands and nodding compliantly. "Very well, you won fair and square."

"We do the tradeoff later… I expect you to hand over your entire collection of photos, in addition to carrying out that little favor I requested earlier."

"I'm a man of my word." The small man stroked his chin craftily before grinning like a Cheshire cat. "Besides, this could prove to be more interesting than I originally thought."

Akisame Koetsuji shook his head disdainfully. "Something tells me I don't even want to know what you two are talking about."

"Trust me, you don't. I already heard 'em talking yesterday." Sakaki replied with a bored expression. "I honestly don't care what those perverted old geezers are going on about. We oughta focus on Kenichi getting his butt kicked, and what we're gonna do about it."

"But of course…" the philosophical Jujitsu master agreed. Although his tone remained even, his eyes twinkled with a vindictive sense of amusement. "I look forward to designing a new training schedule for our disciple for shaming the name of Ryozanpaku. Such an act is unacceptable."

"I'm pretty sure the old man would agree." The karate brawler replied, looking equally as excited.

Kenichi paled slightly as he had heard the conversation, instead choosing this moment to get out of the dojo as quickly as possible. "So, you were saying earlier that the Shinpaku Alliance saved your friend during a fight with Team Hebi?"

The blonde boy batted him a thumbs-up. "I never figured Lee would get pushed into a corner like that again, but this is the second time you guys stuck your necks out to save him."

"Nijima told me to attend a Shinpaku Alliance meeting today at the usual spot. If you wanna thank them, maybe you could tag along with me."

Miu frowned with a slightly confused look. "Wait a minute, we're actually going? I thought you said you hated attending those meetings." she smirked with a cat-like expression. "Unless, of course, you're just trying to get out of this afternoon's training session with Akisame."

"Oh yeah, I'm betting your masters are really steamed after watching you lose to me!" Naruto replied with glee.

"You really should do a better job concealing your ulterior motives, Kenichi." She added.

"Sheesh, is it that obvious?" the boy let out a groan at the thought, but was saved from having to come up with an excuse by his former opponent.

Konoha's disciple grinned broadly "Believe it or not, I was actually planning on sitting in on that meeting anyways."

"Really!?" the other two teens answered simultaneously.

"You bet! That weird alien kid personally escorted Lee back home to Konoha after treating his wounds. He asked us all to come to the hideout tonight if we wanted, and I decided it might be fun opportunity to get to know you guys better!"

Kenichi exhaled before nodding his head in agreement. "All right, I guess that settles it!"

"So, we're going then?" Miu pressed him hopefully.

"Since we're all here and we were all invited to the same place, I guess it makes sense that we head out together." The brown-haired boy rubbed the back of head wearily. "Plus, it also makes it less likely that we'll be attacked by those Hebi thugs."

Naruto pumped his fist excitedly before turning to his teacher. "Yo, Master Jiraiya! You don't mind if I hang out in town with Kenichi and some of his friends this afternoon?"

"Well, we did have a bit of training planned for today, but I guess you're only young once." His eyes began moving towards his companions, settling on the girl for a moment.. "Plus, I wouldn't hesitate to spend some time with the granddaughter of the Invincible Superman if I were your age. I say go for it!"

"You don't mind if we go, do you Akisame?" Miu bowed her head to the jujitsu teacher.

"Master Jiraiya is absolutely right! The two or you are far too young to spend all your free time working and training." He spared a quick glance at the dojo's top disciple, causing a demonic twinkle to come to his dull eyes. "Besides, I'm certain we can always help Kenichi make up for lost time tomorrow, isn't that right?"

"It'll be my pleasure to help out, too! We let him off with disgracing the name of Ryuozanpaku, now can we?" Kensei added mischievously.

"Of course, master!" he shouted nervously, lowering his head in a humble, yet terrified manner.

Despite the soft tone with which his masters had spoken, Kenichi cringed in terror at the thought. He knew that they were planning on making his training all the more brutal in exchange for losing. This was usually how the masters reacted whenever he failed to meet their expectations, even if it was something minor like this. He saw a tough training regimen coming up as a result of this blunder.

Master Koetsuji nodded once to affirm his approval of the arrangements. "Excellent… Now I suppose you kids should get going. There's no need to keep your friends waiting right now."

Naruto leapt into the air, landing on top of one of the walls surrounding the dojo's grounds. "All right guys, what're we waiting for? Let's get going!" he called back before scooting over the side and vanishing from view.

Miu followed his example, closely followed by Kenichi, the latter of which was mush less comfortable with these kinds of acrobatics. While he had learned a lot from training in the martial arts, he was still unable to run across rope-lines and vault over walls the same way Miu did so effortlessly. With some effort, he managed to jump to their level and followed suit, the trio of disciples moving across the grounds and into the street.

Meanwhile…

Under Lee's insistence, the Konoha disciples had all agreed to attend another meeting with the Shinpaku Alliance. Hinata had timidly agreed to come, but was now regretting her decision due to the personalities of the alliance's members. Although they didn't seem like bad people, she could tell they weren't kidding about being former thugs. Shikamaru looked bored as usual as he sat in his spot, continually defeating the Shinpaku grunts at board games. He had played about four games already, and none of them had put up a challenge.

The flag bearer, Matsui, glanced down at the table in disbelief. "Whoa, that's not possible!" he blinked confusedly before fumbling with the banner. "You beat me at chess in five moves flat!"

Of all his teammates, he had been the least interested in coming to the meeting, but he managed to stifle a yawn in an attempt to be more courteous. "Don't take it personally, I grew up playing these kind of games, so I've had a load of practice."

"It was an honor facing you in battle, Captain Shikamaru!" he bowed low, earning an eye-roll from the other man.

"For the last time, I'm not a member of this club." The genius replied neutrally, running his hand through his hair with a sigh.

Matsui shook his head nervously. "Forgive me, but that's not what Captain Lee said!"

"I'll have to talk to him about that later." Shikamaru replied while making a mental note to do just that.

Most of the other people in the room were gathered around the exercise area watching the main festivities. After a few competitive exchanges early on in the meeting, the two sides found themselves in the midst of several different competitions involving their application and knowledge of the martial arts. To Nijima's joy, they had decided to settle this with a sparring match, and so far no one seemed to be winning.

Sakura ducked as she avoided a kick directed at her head, bending back and jumping around to avoid each successive attack. "You're a pretty tough cookie, and yet you don't even have a master to teach you!"

"Who needs a master, so long as you've got the guts?" Kisara performed a quick combination of roundhouse kicks and low kicks, throwing her opponent off balance. "Besides, it seems you're pretty lacking in the power department."

The pink-haired girl swatted one kick aside while using her skills to maneuver in and out of the enemy's territory unharmed. "Power's not everything when compared to skill and versatility."

Her opponent laughed with sinister look. "Says someone who doesn't have any to speak of!"

"You have no idea!" Sakura replied, reeled both her arms back, moving her weight from one side to the other, she shifted her stance quickly to avoid being hit by the barrage of kicks. Raising her hands, before lashing out with a series of dangerous thrusts.

Kisara felt a sharp pain in her arm as the opponent jabbed her in the elbow, but quickly retaliated by tripping her opponent with a sweeping kick, using the distraction as an opportunity to slam her in the stomach with a high-kick. Sakura was caught by the motion, her body crumpling for a moment as she went flying out of the boundaries and into a wall.

"That was some kick! Are you okay, Sakura?" Ino ran over to her with a look of concern, but the pink-haired girl refused to accept her help, instead stomping past her friend without so much as a back glance.

"What's the matter, girl? Does it upset you that my street-fighting made me a better fighter than your master training?" she shrugged with a small yawn. "You've got some good moves, but the Northern Mantis is a little too rooted to the ground for my liking. It looks like your teacher never explained how to overcome that weakness."

Although she looked irritated at first. "I was going to compliment you on catching me off guard, but I won't let you get away with insulting Lady Tsunade!"

"That's it, show her who's the real queen of martial arts!" Ino cheered as she the two girls began another round.

Kisara smiled with amusement and retook her stance. "That's the spirit… Come at me again and prove me wrong!"

Hinata tapped her fingers together nervously, looking slightly uncomfortable. "Are you sure that it's a good idea to let them continue. Lee said we were supposed to make friends with these people, not turn them into enemies."

The blonde girl smiled comfortingly at her new friend. "They might have a go at each other, but I'm pretty confident they wouldn't seriously hurt each other."

"Are you sure?" the Hyuga asked timidly. "For some strange reason, I got the impression that the red-haired girl doesn't like me."

"Two words… Breast envy!" her friend answered with a light-hearted chuckle.

"Wh-What did you say!?" Hinata stammered, almost falling out of her chair with a flabbergasted blush.

"C'mon, those things are huge!" she answered, causing the other girl to stare at her own chest with wide-eyes bewilderment. "That Kisara girl's about as flat as a board. It's no wonder she doesn't like having you around." She pat the other girl on the shoulder before giving her chest a playful squeeze.

Hinata jumped slightly at the feel of a woman touching her, earning another laugh from the bold blonde. She did her best to keep her composure, despite looking even more uncomfortable than before. "You don't think she's taking it out on Sakura, do you?"

Ino placed one hand on her hip with a playful look. "In the world of fighters, engaging in true combat is a way of showing respect for the other's fighting skills. Speaking of which, I was hoping Kenichi would be here."

"I think Naruto was supposed to fight him at Ryozanpaku today." The pale-eyed girl responded.

"Hopefully they'll crash this party soon and make things even more interesting."

Across the room, Nijima was watching another sparring match alongside Siegfried, Takeda, and Lee, although the last two looked as if he would have liked nothing more than to be in the arena. Having been intrigued by each other's styles during the previous meeting, Choji and Thor had started by demonstrating some basic moves, and had finished by challenging each other to an exhibition match.

The two combatants clashed like a pair of rogue elephants, Choji's fist movements colliding with Thor's palm thrusts as they tested two strong-handed styles against each other. Hun Gar martial arts was known as a powerful style centered on strong stances and even greater physical force, while Sumo focused largely on the same two ideas with the focus on grappling, throwing, and crushing opponents.

"Take this!" Thor attacked with a flurry of hands, but his opponent reacted quickly.

Choji braced himself for the impact and took several strikes directly, using his stance in order to keep himself from being pushed back. "It'll take a lot more than that kind of brutish display to beat me down!" he shouted.

The Sumo Wrestler frowned. "Oh yeah, let's see how you take my next move!"

Thor raised his arms in preparations of smashing both fists downwards, but Choji took the opening and clapped his hands together, using the force of both arms to drive his elbow into the larger man's gut. The Sumo groaned loudly as he felt the power of the strike combined with his adversary's stance, the pain made worse by the fact that he had ran right into it. He stumbled backwards and fell to one knee, his ribcage throbbing even though no bones were broken.

"Damn, no one's ever managed to hurt me so badly using a frontal assault before." He drew himself up to his full height, making his opponent prepare for an assault. Thor noticed this and broke out laughing before smacking the boy in the cut. "Awesome man, you gotta teach me that move one day!"

Choji's expression changed suddenly. "I'd be happy to, if you show me some of those sumo moves in the future!" he held out his hand.

The larger man accepted the gesture with a fist bump. "It's a deal, big guy! Let's become great fighter on behalf of the all the fat men in the world!"

"What did you just call me?!" Choji screamed, his face changing drastically.

Shikamaru looked up from his chess game with a weary expression. "Oh damn, you really shouldn't have said that."

The expression of cold fury emanating from his sparring partner caused Thor to jump a little. "Chill out dude… It's like I said before, we gotta show the world that being big doesn't mean we're slow and useless!"

"Really!? The Hun Gar disciple replied bewilderedly.

"Hell yeah! My dream is to mainstream my style as the greatest of all martial arts." Thor pointed his thumb towards himself proudly. "When my dream comes true, everyone will want to be trained in the art of Sumo, and the guys considered most attractive will be those with a true Sumo Wrestler's body!"

Choji stroked his chin thoughtfully, having remembered the large man mentioning something along those lines before. Truthfully it sounded a little too optimistic to be real, but at the same time he couldn't help but admire Thor for having confidence in his own dreams. He also liked that idea about big guys being considered the most handsome, although it also stunk knowing that the girls he knew would probably never buy into it. After a moment of thinking it over, he smiled.

"Good luck!" he stated holding his arm to the other man.

"You too, kid!" Thor locked arms with Choji and they shook, creating a sense of brotherhood between two men.

Shikamaru sauntered over to where they were standing and tapped his best friend on the shoulder. "So buddy, you ready to get going? It doesn't look like Naruto's going to show up anytime soon."

"Come to think of it, we've been here a few hours and it's starting to get late." The heavy built boy replied before glancing back at his new rival. "Next time, maybe we can have a rematch!"

Thor laughed loudly before nodding in agreement. "All righty then, I look forward to it!"

"Don't tell me we're leaving already." Ino shot in, glancing back at the others. "Sakura and Lee are just getting started, and Naruto hasn't even got here yet."

Glancing over his shoulder, Shikamaru watched Sakura's continued match with Kisara. Across the room, Lee was hosting a practice fight with Takeda and Ukita, the latter of which looked as if he was having trouble keeping up with the others. Nijima was standing on a table screaming about the "glory" of their new alliance, while Hinata had somehow been roped into a conversation with Siegfried. It sounded like he was talking about his musical whims again, although she seemed strangely content with listening.

All seemed fine for a moment, but the scene froze as a pair of Shinpaku grunts came crashing through the door. A sense of fear burned in their eyes that seemed to catch the attention of the others, particularly Nijima whose antennas began wiggling in panic. Jumping from his platform, he crossed over to greet his subordinates, all eyes in the room on him.

"What news do you bring? Speak you lowly peons!" he commanded, his grandiose gestures from before being replaced by a cold sense of seriousness.

"Commander Nijima… Th-They're… They're here!" one of the men screamed before passing out on the floor, his eye rolling back and a stream of drool running down his cheek.

"Who's here?" The alien shook his unconscious subordinate roughly, but the man refused to answer. Standing up, he clapped his hands together, quickly bringing the gathered people to his attention.

Ukita groaned in annoyance. "What's going on now, alien freak?"

"Chill out dude, we were just in the middle of practice!" Takeda added with an easy going look.

"It has come to my attention that we have some unwanted guests in our midst. Everyone, prepare to search the grounds immediately!" Nijima ran for the front doors, closely followed by Siegfried and several of the Shinpaku captains.

The Konoha students sensed danger, but Shikamaru was the first to say it. "Looks like I wasn't just imagining that crazy killing intent in the air." He muttered to himself, earning a nod from his friends. "Guess we might as well go check it out."

"If it's someone looking for a fight, I say they found it!" Lee shouted, as he ran after the Shinpaku members.

"Definitely!" Ino agreed before following his example

The two groups stepped into the yard, each of them gasping in shock as they beheld the incoming threat. Standing across the square were several hooded figures, each wearing the trademark drape of Team Hebi's elite fighters. At this point, nearly all of the group's young martial artists had encountered these people in some way, and those that hadn't recognized the descriptions given to them by friends.

Nijima ran to the head of the group before addressing himself to the strangers. "You've got a lot of nerve stepping into the Shinpaku Alliance's territory like this! State your business, or we won't hesitate to strike you down!"

A pair of figures parted ways to reveal another cloaked man, his presence suffocating to the weaker members of the group. "We are the Demons of Team Hebi… And I am known as the Devil Fist."

"The Devil Fist!" Ino reiterated the name, a sense of dread filling her as she remembered its significance. The blonde moved forward boldly. "Why would the leader of Team Hebi choose now to step up?"

"Hmmm…" Shikamaru bit his tongue as his ears perked up, silently wondering why the voice sounded so familiar.

The Devil Fist merely cracked his neck with a sense of cold indifference, earning a scowl from the alien. "I would like you to do me a favor…" he began, causing the enemy fighters to tense up immediately. The display of fear brought a smile to his pale lips. "Would you please die for us?"

Note to Readers: Phew, took me a while to get the motivation to write this, and it also took some time to figure out how to lay it out and what plot points to go with. Well, here it is… Hope you enjoy. Sorry as usual for any errors or typos, but I usually write this late at night. Now you know what happened to Kiba, and also got a chance to see Naruto fight. Next chapter should be a big plot development chapter if things go well. Just to let you know, this is NOT the final clash by a long shot.

If you have any suggestions for the story, please share. Even if you can drop a comment, that would be greatly appreciated. Don't forget to REVIEW! It motivates me to keep writing this story. Support's still at an all-time low, only slightly better than last time. If you wanna see more, just give me a holler.