So... I apologise for the long delay. I decided to take a hiatus to work on my own original stories. I understand completely if you are angry with me, particularly as I also promised updates on the harem version of this. So (DODGES GUNFIRE)...I should also apologise in that the first chapter after my hiatus is not the most exciting. I'm sorry, but I hope the battle here is good and there are a lot of plot threads beginning to bear fruit here.
Thanks for putting up with this long delay. I will endeavour to return to a decent work rate on these tales.
And now, without further ado, The Fourth Espada Great Winged Fox.
The spiral distortion vanished as the Suna-nin arrived, weapons drawn as they surveyed the devastation.
"What happened, Cifer-sama?" asked the leader, an ANBU.
"The attackers were led by Hatake," he replied, causing the Suna-nin to tense and many to prepare various jutsu. "He has retreated after trapping me in his dojutsu. He is far away by now."
"I wouldn't be so sure, Cifer-sama. Hatake is well known for laying various traps down on the battlefield as he flees so he can launch a surprise retaliation."
"I see. I'll examine the area. Form a defensive perimeter around the area. Keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Hatake was injured in our match. He might have dropped something."
After an hour or so, he satisfied himself that Kakashi had left nothing behind. Glancing down at his severed right sleeve, he wondered how exactly Tobi would reclaim his stolen property. He would have to wait.
Gaara examined the report, flicking through the notes, glancing at the data, asking Ulquiorra the odd question every now and then. The returning forces had rapidly compiled the required information, and the Kazekage was starting to worry over a few aspects of the skirmish. He asked Temari to go and mobilise a contingent while he finished his questioning. Once the door had closed behind the fan wielding kunoichi, Gaara began to voice his concerns.
"Ulquiorra, there's something I can't quite follow. You say he was able to hurt you with his Raikiri, but I'm unsure how that is possible. Surely your hierro should have blocked some of the damage?"
"Since I arrived I have noticed my hierro has decreased somewhat. On top of that, the Raikiri is supposedly powerful enough to slice through lightning. It is not surprising that he managed to wound me."
Gaara frowned at that before he glanced at the report again. "Ulquiorra, you could have killed him rather swiftly without much issue. There has to be more than that."
"Upon my return to this world, I made the discovery that A and S Rank foes would be able to injure me. Sasori and Deidara have been able to injure me, not to mention Tobi, while I am in my base form."
"Well then, please take this advice."
"When in combat with A or S Rank, use your Resureccion. I think that pride is of less importance than survival. And," he looked into his friend's eyes and spoke, very quietly, "I understand why you lost your cool."
Ulquiorra didn't reply, but he inclined his head slightly. He was quietly ashamed of how he had lost his control against Kakashi. He was actually worried about how he would react to Sasuke when they met in combat. He certainly wouldn't be able to afford losing control and allowing him to make a fatal strike.
"I shall endeavour to prevent another event."
"Good. Make sure to collect Kakashi's corpse when you do so." He ran his eyes over Ulquiorra's side. "Are we sure we can trust Tobi on this? He is the enemy."
"For now we serve his purpose."
"Keep the rest of the world of his back while he gets the Hachibi? I suppose you're right. Still, I don't put it past him to try something with that arm of yours."
"I won't complain if he does."
"It'll kill him."
Gaara smirked slightly. "Let's hope he brings your sword back first." He finished the report, stamping under S-Rank with his seal and placing it in his desk. "If I were you, Ulquiorra, I'd head on over to Hinata." He paused and placed his fingers together.
"What troubles you?"
"Say what you will about his being strong anyway. I still say that it is odd he was so powerful."
Ulquiorra was silent again as he thought. "I don't suppose there are any jutsu or seals of some description that increase one's power?"
"Not beyond Tsunade's jutsu's. Though, maybe the Mangekyo gave him some power?"
"Considering that the Sharingan depletes his chakra constantly, I would imagine that a higher level of the eye would cause heightened loss."
"True." A dark thought entered Gaara's mind. "Ulquiorra, Kakashi has proven himself capable of handling a foreign kekkei genkai already. Could he have been given more?"
"Perhaps. What though?"
Ulquiorra went silent. The DNA of the heirs of the Sage of Six Paths placed into one of his sworn enemies? He did not like the sound of that.
Tobi leant against the bark of the tall tree, his hands folded in his lap, watching a kite as it hunted a squirrel. The sounds of the forest washed over the silent man sitting in the shadows of the forests eves. Below ran a river, loud and fast, upon its banks a Konoha-nin base. He began to twiddle his thumbs, watching the kite devour the squirrel as the sun reached its zenith. Three days he'd been waiting here for Kakashi (late as usual), and most of that time had been spent calculating. He guessed it would be a few months or so before his jutsu would kick in once the boy met the Hachibi. In the meantime, they could work on Konoha's 'secret project'.
Secret. Ha! It was of endless amusement to all in the Akatsuki that the fools believed no-one had noticed their clandestine little project. Then again, they had first-hand knowledge of it. The problem was, they couldn't tell anyone about it. Not without Konoha destroying everyone else.
There was a commotion below. Kakashi had returned. About time too.
Kakashi strode up to the encampment. It was large, as it had originally housed nearly two hundred, though the battle with Ulquiorra had whittled the numbers down significantly. Kakashi was still giddy. He should have been back the day before, like the rest of the advance force, but he had decided to take it easy on himself. After all he deserv- he had chakra exhaustion. Yeah.
He raised his hand in greeting to the watchman, who raised his own in reply.
"Welcome, Hataka-taicho. Your guards are waiting."
"Sir, they are insistent on checking the…" here the guard cleared his throat.
"How do you know about that?" Kakashi's hand drifted to Murciélago, frightening the guard.
"…Sir, everyone in your division knows about it. It's so we are prepared for anything."
"I am perfectly alright," Kakashi replied, stalking off towards the command tent, which was about four times larger than the others. When he reached it, a dozen sealing masters and veteran ROOT stood waiting for him, each in long black robes with blank porcelain masks.
"Welcome back, Hatake."
Kakashi smiled and laid Murciélago on the table in the centre of the room. "Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Do you want the good news or the great news?"
"Well I beat Ulquiorra."
His guards nodded. This was good. What could top it?
"The great news is that I captured him with Kamui. We'll head back to Konoha tomorrow at dawn."
His guards began to hurriedly whisper among each other as Kakashi lay the sealing scroll containing Ulquiorra's severed arm alongside the sword.
"I'll sleep in here tonight to keep an eye on these. I suppose you want to check me over?"
The glowing blue and green palms answered that question.
Tobi stood in the dark tent, the full moon's light filtering through the cloth, illuminating the twisted pattern of his mask. His hand curled around the scabbard of Murciélago and lifted it before dropping it into the Kamui dimension. He glanced over at his former squad mate, sleeping quietly, yet alert. He would have woken him already, were not for his intangibility. He hefted the sealing scroll and released Ulquiorra's arm, which tumbled out, the stump black with congealed blood. He quickly turned the limb intangible before it could land and awake the lightly sleeping Kakashi. He examined it minutely before he laid it gently on the table and ripped off his right arm, placing the Zetsu limb beside Ulquiorra's. He lifted up the white limb and placed it to the stump of his arm. The Zetsu DNA went to work, drawing in a number of cells from Ulquiorra's limb and fusing them with his own body. He lifted his new arm and examined it carefully.
Immediately, he made it intangible and removed it, hastily cutting off another layer of his arm. The newly severed flesh fell to the ground, where it began to twist and turn, acrid smoke rising from the synthetic flesh as it was devoured, reduced to a few scraps of pseudo-flesh.
Well that was unexpected.
With a wry smile he left the limb behind, sheathing the sword at his hip.
Kakashi awoke early the next morning, yawning widely. After a few moments, he spotted the limb lying in the middle of the tent. Shooting to his feet, he cried out "Guards!"
His personal escort leapt into the tent, their hands glowing once again.
"Not me!" He jabbed a hand at the limb. "Someone unsealed the limb!"
The guards glanced at the limb before they hurried out again, and bellows and yells soon drifted through the flap.
'Who the hell could have done this? And why wouldn't they take the limb?'
The Honō no Teikoku fleet sailed out, their sails a fiery red as the midday sun struck them head on. Each ship flew a pennant, bearing its nation's sigil, whipping left and right in the wind. The Southern Alliance fleet held its course as they sailed on towards the battle, their sea-blue sails stamped with the kanji for South. Might Guy and the former Konoha-nin chosen for combat stood on the prow of the flagship, the Mizu no Kuni vessel, 'Sea Demon'. Shikamaru stood beside the admiral and helmsmen at the rear of the ship, hurriedly outlining the strategy he had formulated to crush the Imperial forces. With a nod, the admiral raised his hand and brought it down in a swift chop. Moments later, the sails billowed as they caught the wind and cut through the glassy sea. Moments later, the ballistae fired, their heads red with flame, searing the sky with crimson sparks as they struck their targets, and the Imperial ships were set aflame. The red fleet ignored their burning comrades, sailing past the burning wrecks and the first line of ships turned, bearing the flanks to the alliance. Smoke rose from their hulls as they fired great volleys of arrows and ballistae bolts, all set alight. Alliance vessels began to burn as brightly as their own foes. The sea shone red as the fleets paired off, fire and arrows streaking through the sky. The Sea Demon drew in close to a nearby imperial ship, Guy leaping from the prow, landing amid the shocked sailors and marines. Wordlessly, his Sōshūga began to swing through the air, cracking bones effortlessly as he spun and kicked, shattering his opponents as he mowed them down, sprinting from the fore to the aft of the ship, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Lee sprinted after him, smashing apart the decks beneath his powerful kicks.
After a minute or two, the ship was cleared, save for the Green Beasts, who swiftly scuppered the vessel.
Teams Eight and Ten, barring Shikamaru and Tenten leapt after them, landing on the broken wreckage before jumping to nearby ships, lashing about with powerful strikes and jutsu. Choji landed on a schooner and swiftly capsized it with an enlarged fist, sending wooden shrapnel everywhere, before powering on into a larger ship, leaving a massive hole in the hull that swiftly sunk the ship. Ino meanwhile was using her mind control jutsu's to control a few captains of the Honō fleet into attacking each other. Asuma and Kurenai landed on a frigate, which was soon dealt with after Kurenai turned the men against each other, and Asuma unleashed his wind jutsu to cleave the ship open and dice the masts. Kiba and Akamaru leapt from ship to ship, spinning through the air and slashing about them with their claws and fangs.
Despite this, they had only sunk a handful of ships out of the armada, which was now turning its considerable wrath on the Southern Fleet, which was soon being peppered by flaming arrows and bolts. After a few minutes, a dozen blue sailed ships lay in ruins, and the red ships were among them, marines and sailors boarding with drawn blades as a great melee started, and soon the sounds of steel meeting steel and flesh filled the air. Shikamaru nodded, grimly satisfied. Everything was going according to plan.
Shikamaru glanced over his shoulder at the admiral.
"Now would be the best time."
With a single word, a trio of blazing arrows was sent to the sky, Shikamaru smiling thinly. Turning to Tenten, he nodded at her. With a twirl of the wrists, she drew her sealing scrolls and, running across the ship and aiming it at a nearby Imperial vessel. With a burst of smoke, a cloud of explosive tags soared towards the ship, striking its flank and smothering it in smoke and flame. Jumping onto an Alliance vessel, she fired another scroll at a cluster of small ships, crippling them.
Meanwhile, the ambush forces struck.
The fact was that Honō no Teikoku was not in the habit of loading ninja aboard its vessels. This was widly known across Hi no Kuni, but not so much everywhere else. Of course, after today's events, they would change that. But, with any luck, they would destroy a fair chunk of the armada, and thereby convince Honō no Teikoku to at least hold off on a naval invasion for a couple of months until they had built up a new fleet.
As the fiery bolts fell away into the horizon, hatches all across the Alliance navy swung open, revealing a horde of Alliance-nin, who soon swarmed the Imperial navy. Swinging kunai and swords, the ninja slaughtered marines and sailors in droves, sinking ships en masse with water jutsu and various traps and tools.
The Imperial admiral pursed his lips. Well, this had been unexpected. In hindsight, he should have requested ninja be put aboard his ships for this mission.
Though the battle had been only an hour at most, the admiral already knew they were going to lose. Without any ninja, they would lose the majority of their fleet to the massive joint jutsu attacks.
Turning to his aids, he issued a retreat. Provided they could get the unengaged ships away, there would still be a force large enough to deal with the Southern Alliance. As the rear ranks began to struggle in the wind, turning to retreat, he watched the trio of flaming arrows sail harmlessly into the ocean in the far distance on their port flank.
'A signal. To whom though?'
Where the arrows landed, the waves split to form a smile.
A towering wave, easily sixty feet high and a hundred wide rose, Suigetsu at its heart, his body translucent as his form melded with the water as it sped towards the Imperial fleet. With a great rush of wind and water, it was upon them, smashing them to kindling, dragging the marines and sailors into his mass, drowning and crushing them. Within minutes, a dozen ships were consumed by the mass, and he leapt forward again, dragging more ships into the depths.
The imperial admiral flew into a string of curses, spinning to his helmsman and the signal officer, yelling, "Speed the retreat! Get us out of here!"
Suigetsu finished of the last of his targets the bulk of the rear of the fleet managed to escape, containing about two thirds of the fleet. Suigetsu smirked, his lips red tinged like the water of his form as it slowly slipped down into the depth and he leapt to the nearest Alliance ship, twirling his blade, and whistling tunelessly.
"And that makes five hundred and sixty three for me." He looked over to see Lee drenched in blood. "How many for you?"
"A hundred or so."
"Yesh. That's less than a single ship. I suppose you killed more from drowning them."
"I am not quite used to killing people yet. I suppose I need more time."
Suigetsu shrugged noncommittally, fiddling with the edge of his sword. "If ya say so. Where's the Nara?"
"Back on the flagship. I suppose he's preparing the next part of his youthful plan!"
'It's taking all my strength not to strangle him.'
Another ship, bearing the others, sailed up beside them, each splattered with blood.
"Nice work Hozuki!" yelled Kiba. "Quick question?"
"Why the hell aren't you chasing them down?!"
Suigetsu smirked before he began to cough violently. "Well, let's see you turn into water and keep it up long enough to drown a few hundred men inside you. I'm nearly out of chakra, and," he coughed up some blood, "I need to see a medic-nin."
A medic-nin leapt across and began to examine him. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"I might still have some of their blood inside me from my kekkei genkai, but I'm out of chakra so I can't transform and force it out."
"You better get back to base. I can't do much for you at present, save give you a soldier pill. You might be able to get the blood out of you. If you work quickly."
He snatched the pill from her and swallowed hard, his body flooding with newfound energy. A moment later, his hydrofied body expelled a red cloud.
"God, that hurt!" he yelled, snapping his teeth. "How long do these things work?"
"If you believe the stories, they can keep you going about three days or so. But, I'd say that twelve hours would be closer."
"Thanks." He turned to his comrades and yelled, "I'll try and take a few more down." Leaping into the water, he gathered more water and formed a new wave before he moved off towards the fleeing ships.
By sunset, he had returned, leaving the wrecks of yet more ships sinking on the far north horizon. He landed on the flagship, surrounded by the former Konoha-nin and the Alliance commanders.
"Good news, I'm now at more than a thousand. Bad news, there are still more than half of those ships still intact."
"You couldn't get more?"
"They got back to their staging point where they had some ninja. They had data on me from what we said at Konoha, so, they used water jutsu that took from my body and they used to fire jutsu to evaporate me," he explained, taking a drink of water.
"So, how many did we lose?" he asked.
The admiral shrugged and glanced over the report. "About sixty. We would have lost more if we had waited longer to implement the plan."
Shikimaru nodded. "I apologise. I thought there would be fewer ships."
"We all did," muttered Asuma. "They must have been mass producing them. Did you notice how shoddy some looked?"
The admiral nodded. "We should pull back. I'm not keen on keeping the fleet out to long. Send out boats to pick up survivors."
Ulquiorra stood in the courtyard inside the main training ground, the report of the previous days naval conflict in hand, watching Hinata practice the jutsu Temari had been teaching her. Her wounds had healed quickly, and she had quickly joined Temari learning a collection of wind jutsu, and was soon putting them into practice. Hinata had changed her appearance somewhat as well, picking out a long hooded jacket to wear over her normal clothes and light armour under her own clothes. The jacket contained various pockets which she had loaded up with kunai, shiruken and a collection of other assorted weapons and items. She had also picked up a pair of neko-te to improve her Gentle Fist. The small claws could cause some minor damage that would supplement her Gentle Fist.
Ulquiorra watched her closely as she and Temari began to spar, Hinata attempting to get into close range, while Temari dominated the match at long range. Hinata was still in the Hyuga mind-set, preferring close combat above everything else, so she had some difficulty applying the various techniques that Temari had taught her. He watched as Hinata substituted out of Temari's signature Kamaitachi no Jutsu, landing behind Temari and launch a strike at Temari, who managed to block with her fan before releasing another blast of wind, knocking his wife away before Temari unleashed a second Kamaitachi no Jutsu, sending her away to land on the far end of the sandy arena. Ulquiorra folded the report and pocketed it before walking across the field to Hinata, his eyes gliding over her sand-covered form.
"Hinata, you should start with a wind jutsu. Knock her back then leap in with a melee strike."
She gave him a look before nodding and gingerly smiling at him.
As he watched her leap into the battle he thought back to their first proper argument. She had not taken his actions with Kakashi well, calling him out on his reckless behaviour. Since then she had been a little off with him. He understood and did not begrudge her. He knew he would have reacted worse with her.
Hinata glared at him as he entered her room, Temari standing beside her. While he had been away, she had gotten well enough to stand on her own, though with a slight limp. Temari glanced between them before she left, giving him an odd look as she closed the door behind her.
"I take it she told you about-"
She slapped him before she grabbed hold of him and drew him close.
"What the hell were you thinking!?" she demanded.
"The same can be asked of you. You were badly hurt when you last struck me. Give me your hand."
"You intend to leave your hand untended?"
"To punish you."
Ulquiorra's pupils narrowed.
"Ulquiorra, why were you so stupid? You could have easily killed him and saved us a lot of time and effort. You lost your sword, your arm and were barely able to escape." He did not correct her on how he got away.
"I apologise. I lost my cool and grew angry. It won't happen again."
"Yes it will. The both of us will go berserk when we meet those bastards again." His pupils narrowed again at her language. She never swore except when enraged or impassioned. "I'm going to rip Sakura's lungs out given the chance. What worries me is that you've promised me time and time again you would be careful. You swear that you care about me and about us, but the one time where it would make sense for you to unleash your full power you try and fight normally, nearly dying in the process. You promised me that you would be honest and true and here we are. You've…"
Ulquiorra was silent, watching her closely. Eventually she let go and sighed before she left the room.
Ulquiorra stood silently as Hinata and Temari continued to spar, his eyes lingering on his wife as her hands moved through a collection of seals.
A stream of razor sharp air bullets spat from her mouth, which Temari expertly substituted out of landing behind Hinata.
Hinata smirked. A moment later, she spun her hands around as the blunt force of the fan descended, her clawed fingers gracefully moving through her signature Shugohakke Rokujūyon Shō. Temari couldn't escape in time, and soon was covered in shallow and rather harmless cuts and bruises as she was sent flying across the arena.
Looking up at him, Hinata noticed a cold glow in Ulquiorra's eyes. He seemed proud.
Temari smirked and congratulated Hinata. "Nice work Hinata. If I were you I would seriously consider taking the Jonin exams after all this is over with."
"Temari, may I have a word with you?" he asked.
She gave him another funny look before nodding. "Okay. Hinata, take a little break for today." Hinata inclined her head and left, removing her neko-te as she left, pocketing them.
"What is it, Cifer-san?"
"Why did you tell Hinata about what happened?"
"Because…I know you care about her but I knew you would downplay what happened. You don't want to scare her."
"So why did you tell her?"
"Because she deserves it. Ulquiorra Gaara cares about you, so I care about you, so I have to care about Hinata. The both of you have gone through so much. Do you really want to lose everything because you were captured or killed?"
Without another word she left, leaving Ulquiorra standing alone.
He knew Hinata had every right to be angry, though it hurt him more deeply than he cared to admit that she was angry with him. If he were in her place, he would be just as upset if not more so. They had promised each other many times since they had been married to be careful and not be stupid. And here he was, having broken that promise. He could have simply entered one of his Resurrección and taken the liberty of torturing Kakashi to the brink of madness before peeling the information they needed from him. He had been a fool.
"Trash." For once the comment was directed towards himself.
"I hope I'm not intruding."
"Tobi. Out of curiosity did you try-"
"To use your arm? Yes. I decided to leave it for them. It will be amusing to see the results on the poor fool they graft it to."
Ulquiorra did not turn round, easily catching Murciélago before sliding the weapon into his belt.
"Think nothing of it," murmured Tobi as he vanished.
Ulquiorra quietly drifted away, moving towards Gaara's office. He needed to have a word with the Kazekage.
Now that Hinata had recovered, the two of them had been given a room in Gaara's mansion, overlooking the small desert garden and beautifully carven fountain. It was a simple but aesthetic room of panelled red wood and soft tatami with a number of cupboards and dressers. Ulquiorra walked in to see Hinata sitting on their bed dressed in a pale silver kimono, reading a slim…green…book…?
"Hinata, is that an Icha Icha?"
Hinata went bright red and hurriedly tried to hide it. "I thought no woman read them. They tend to react with violence when they are mentioned."
Hinata made a soft embarrassed garbled noise before she spluttered and regained her composure.
"T-T-T-Those are the more outspoken demographic and the women Jiraiya peeks on. They're not just p-porn; they have complex characters, comedy and tradgedy."
Ulquiorra's eyebrow rose somewhat as he tilted his head slightly.
"…I'm not lying!" she cried, more embarrassed than before.
"I know. Hinata, I'm sorry."
"…I know. I just don't want to lose you again."
"Neither do I."
"Yes." And this time he vowed to keep to it.
Mei looked over Karin's post autopsy reports of the Zetsu Clones from a few weeks before. Due to further issues in the war preparations and ninja operations leading into the conflict, the meeting had been postponed, leading to Karin becoming more and more agitated. Mei trailed through the report.
"They biodegrade within minutes?"
"Yes and no."
"Well, Mizukage-sama, it seems that this is a rare occurrence; I have tested another of the bodies and have discovered the issue."
"Yes. Look at paragraph six on page two."
"Paragraph six…" Mei went silent for a while before she glanced up at Karin. "They degrade when you try and get at the DNA? How is that possible?"
"It seems to be an automatic defence protocol. I imagine that there is some sort of jutsu placed on the bodies that identifies when something like that happens."
Mei looked back at the report. "You said these things all had the Mokuton from your examinations. Does that mean they are…?"
"Yes. I'm afraid that is the only logical hypothesis. Orochimaru had acess to the Hokage's graves and their corpses. He is the only one capable of creating these things."
"So, Akatsuki commissioned these things while he was with them."
"Either that or they stole them from him between his invasion of Konoha and his death, or after Ulquiorra killed him."
Mei paused before she looked up at Karin. "If he had these all along, why didn't he attack Konoha with them?"
Karin's eyes went wide and her jaw dropped. "Oh shit…They must have someone as smart as Orochimaru still in Akatsuki."
Karin began to hastily go through her memory, trying to think of who might be able to pull this off.
"…I-I don't know of anyone with that skill, Mizukage-sama."
Mei rose from her seat dropping the report to her desk before she turned to Karin.
"Karin, I am promoting you to a Squad Commander."
"Understood, Mizukage-sama," Karin responded nervously, pushing her glasses up her nose. "What are my orders?"
"I'm assigning two squads of ANBU to guard you for your SSS-Ranked Mission."
Karin went white as a sheet.
'Two squads! SSS-Rank!? This is the sixth recorded mission of this importance! Oh Reio-sama, I'm doomed!"
"You are to go to all of Orochimaru's bases that you can to see if you can find anything on anybody capable of this."
"…Including the ones deep in Hono no Teikoku?"
"Yes. That's why you have two squads."
Karin took a deep death before nodding. "I understand Mizukage-sama. May I have some time to instruct the labs on some of the military projects we've been working on?"
"Yes. You leave tonight."
"Understood." Karin bowed and left and hurried down into the labs. She had a bad feeling about this.
Okay, a few points.
First: Again, I'm sorry.
Second: Neko-te are actual ninja weapons.
Third: In a previous chapter, I was informed that Honō no Teikoku is the correct phrasing for Empire of Fire, not Hi no Teikoku, hence the name change here in this chapter. In a month or so I'll go back through the previous chapters and edit it to match throughout the story.
Now, I hope you enjoyed this chapter and as always have a pleasant day...Because I'm back and that means that a lot of characters are about to suffer.