Bleach and all related media (characters and techniques etc.) belongs to Tite Kubo.

Naruto and all related media (characters and techniques etc.) belong to Masashi Kishimoto.

All original characters and techniques belong to me. The exception is hokuto shinken.

...I am really, really, really sorry.

You'll see why.

Chapter Twenty-four

Danzo sat in a high backed chair, deep in the cavernous ROOT HQ and read the reports.

Yes of course. The Alliance navy had crushed the Teikoku armada. It was not surprising. Not least due to the fact that the ships of the southern nations were of superior craftsmanship than their northern enemies. The Hozuki boy had helped as well. Brilliant plan; attack the people with an ally who could become the sea itself. The Special Assets snapped their teeth and growled at him, their eyes livid and angry as they sat behind the bars, bound with enough seals to hold an army.

He was taking no chances. Never mind the fact that he, Kakashi and Sasuke had them bound under a genjutsu each, he knew just what these things were capable of.

As if to echo his thoughts, Subject Seven charged the bars, dashing her head on the hard steel, eyes filled with unimaginable malice.

Shimura Danzo, veteran shinobi of two Shinobi World Wars and more than a hundred campaigns, who had completed a Hokage's worth of S-Ranked missions, stood, picked up his chair and pulled it further away from the figures.

Soft, demented laughter filled the dead air.


Iruka opened the woman's throat, the Konoha kunoichi slipping to the ground, gurgling. Jiraiya leapt down from the trees above, cleaning his tanto and sheathing it inside his red haori.

"This is getting difficult," muttered Iruka. "We've barely made any progress for the last week."

Jiraiya nodded glumly. Truthfully it wasn't difficult for him. He could sneak past these guys with bells attached to his hat while playing the harp and singing passages from his books at the top of his lungs. With his eyes closed. But he was a Sannin. Iruka was a chunin. A damn fine one, but still a chunin. Not only that, but one who had selected being a teacher, and so had missed out on combat missions for more than five years. Iruka knew this as well and had twice tried to convince him to go on without him.

Jiraiya had politely refused. Iruka ran a hand over his face.

"How far to Nami no Kuni?"

Jiraya sucked his teeth. "At our pace? Around a month. Of all the times Tsunade had to buck up and do her job, it had to be now didn't it."

Iruka said nothing, dragging the dead woman and dumping her in the underbrush.

"Well, is there no other path?"

"Not unless you can fly."

Iruka sighed and folded his arms, before he froze and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"We're idiots. We could have cut through Kawa no Kuni, hitched a ferry downriver to the sea and there hired a ship."

There was a few moments of silence as Jiraiya walked over to a tree and bashed his head against it a few times before grumbling, "If memory serves we could be back over the border in two or three days from here if we ninja run without stopping."



Two days after the talk with Temari and Hinata, Ulquiorra hovered far above the desert, moving south-east, hands in his pockets. Gaara hovered beside him, sitting atop a cloud of sand. The hot midday sun of the desert beat down upon them, the wind soft as it kissed their skin. Ulquiorra's eyes scanned the horizon, the emerald gaze fixed on the horizon, smothered in heat haze. On the edge of sight, far to the east, green forests and rolling hills were visible, long winding rivers glimmering like jewels as the sun dappled them with golden rays. Up ahead, the sun dappled sea shone like polished turquoise.

Gaara's fingers moved in slow weaving patterns, glimmers of gold dust flowing between his hands, the black lines around his eyes thicker and more defined as he practiced with the gold dust.

"Can you see them yet?"

"No. When did the reports arrive?"

"A few hours ago."

"Even with my pesquisa and better sight, I'm unlikely to spot them by now. They'll have to get a bit closer."

Earlier that day, a messenger hawk had arrived, bearing tidings from an outpost near a city on the coast. A group of Konoha-nin on black hulled ships bearing the symbol of the Teikoku on their sails were approaching at speed. The city under threat was a small affair, but Gaara and the Suna council were very concerned.

The city in question was the home of a number of gold and silver mines that provided a large number of funds to Kaze no Kuni. Around five thousand ashigaru and two hundred ninja guarded the city, but according to the report, at least forty ships approached, each capable of bearing two hundred warriors and an unknown number of ninja, not even counting the hundreds of sailors and seamen that could take up arms if needed.

When Ulquiorra had questioned why such resources were being utilised on a single city, Gaara had explained the second thing this village provided. A ninja clan lived here, distant relatives to the Sandaime and Yondaime Kazekage, Gaara's cousins many times removed. They possessed the jiton kekkei genkai, like Gaara and the previous Kazekage's. They lived here for a number of reasons. A minor reason was due to a schism between the two branches of the family, but the main reason, according to Gaara and the family representative, was that these ninja provided defence of the mines and helped in the excavation due to the kekkei genkai, and were paid handsomely by the Daimyo and his government.

Ulquiorra's eyes flickered back and forth, reaching out as far as he could with his pesquisa, trying to find the city or better yet the black ships before they landed. Gaara returned the gold to the sealing scrolls on his hips, his face sombre as he examined the horizon. Ulquiorra paused and tilted his head.

"I believe I can sense them. There," he pointed to a spot in the ocean, not too far from the shore. A cluster of black dots were barely visible. Gaara shrugged.

"Let's take a look."


Swooping low, the pair dove towards the ocean, hovering a few feet above the gentle waves. The ships were long, low slung and many sailed, built to hug the coast and shallow waters. Black hulled and white sailed, the sails bearing the leaf of Konoha and the twisting flame of the Hono no Teikoku. The decks teemed with sailors, soldiers and ninja, a number of ballistae mounted along the deck, with a number of engineers and crewmen working on them, with bolts nearly two metres long being readied, alongside heavy metal balls being prepared for larger and heavier ballistae. Ulquiorra turned his head, and saw the city nearby, less than twenty minutes if the ships kept their speed.

"Shall I start or should you?" Gaara asked, his sand curling around him, gold remerging from the scrolls at his hip.

"I'll take the first shot." A moment later, a cero burst from his finger, smashing the first ship to kindling and passing through another two, sending wood, metal and bodies everywhere, smothered in flames.

Gaara eyed his friend before raising his hands, sand and gold billowing around him as two clouds of gleaming metal and harsh dust before they hurtled at the ships, smothering them, shearing men apart, stripping them to the bone or crushing them beneath tonnes of metal.

The fleet split, half continuing on to the city, the rest turning, black hulls aimed squarely at the pair. The Kazekage calmly turned his wrath on the next ship, crushing it to splinters.

Ninja sprinted across the water, running across the waves, preparing jutsu and weapons as they drew near. Ulquiorra landed among their vanguard, his hands lancing out, striking a man in the throat with each, his blow tearing their heads off. He sidestepped the fuma shiruken, catching the weapon by the ring with a finger, hurling it back at the woman who threw it so hard, it cut her and two others behind her in two. Ulquiorra sonido'd among a cluster of ninja, his leg swing round, throwing them away, snapping bones and driving some beneath the waves. Turning he caught the katana as it stabbed at his eye, snapping the blade before impaling the swordsman on his hand.

Gaara brought a fist of gold thirty feet wide hammering down on another ship, splitting it in half, reforming the gold into a drill under the waves. The twisting spike of metal travelled swiftly, rising beneath another vessel, carving a huge hole through the ship as it did. A cloud of sand formed into a replica of Shukaku's head, it's massive maw open wide as it snapped the masts of another ship. The sounds of screams and cries echoed over the sea.

A hail of bolts flew through the sky, aiming at Gaara, standing alone and in the open. A wall of gold emerged from another unused scroll, shielding him, the iron and steel tipped bolts shattering against him.

Ulquiorra turned, ripping another man apart, spinning round and splitting a kunoichi's head in twain. Blood mixed with the sea, bodies floating in various states of dismemberment as the arrancar tore through the ninja. Within an hour, their half of the fleet was gone.

All but eight of the ships were sunk, the last surrendering, collecting survivors under Gaara's watchful gaze. Ulquiorra meanwhile flew at the other ships, who were engaged with the much smaller military fleet of the city, who were taking a beating, Still, the Teikoku fleet had not yet landed, held off by the smaller ships and the war machines along the walls of the city.

Ulquiorra landed gently on the flagship of the Teikoku fleet, sword drawn, its tip resting on the forehead of the admiral. A silence washed over the deck.

"I assume you know me?"

A swift nervous bob of the head.

"Good. I assume you know what my presence means about the rest of your fleet?"

"Y-Y-Yes sir."

"I advise you to surrender."

A shinobi leapt at him from behind. Without appearing to move, Ulquiorra spun on his heel, slicing the man in two before returning to his original position, the bloodied blade the only evidence of his actions.

With the blood and guts cooling around him, the admiral surrendered.


Hinata sat atop the roof of the watchtower, her coat flapping in the warm wind. The base was located near to an oasis, too close to the Teikoku border for comfort. She had volunteered to take part in the evacuation, helping the villagers to flee. She kept guard, her byakugan blazing as she watched the horizon.

Ulquiorra had not felt comfortable sending her off on her own, but he had not caused any trouble, simply kissing her and asking her to stay safe.

Shrugging her shoulders and getting comfortable, Hinata rolled her hands, loosening her wrists, ready for an attack. She reached into a pocket and pulled out one of her new weapons. It was a wakizashi, without a tsuba. Flicking it back and forth she froze and silently motioned for the jonin commander to approach.

"Twenty nin, two miles out, eight o'clock."

The jonin nodded, her scarred face twisting as she turned and made the Suna hand signals.

"Can you tell anything about them?"

"Chunin at most. Not too much bother if we ambush them, plus we outnumber them."

The jonin nodded. "Move down to that house there, and when they arrive move to ambush. Me and my squad will be on the roofs ready to support."


Hinata leapt down, slipping down to the house in question, right on the outskirts of the village, drawing out a sealing scroll, opening it and laying down a field of explosive tags, a Suna-nin covering the explosives with a layer of sand. The Suna-nin hid on the roofs, weapons drawn. Hinata slipped into the darkness of the house, peeking out the window.

About twenty minutes later, the ninja landed, the green of their jackets a stark contrast to the desert sand.

Scattered into a skirmish formation, the ninja apporached, the leader bearing a long sword in one hand with a pair of glasses over his eyes. His chakra felt familiar to Hinata, who frowned nervously. The leader paused and raised a hand, halting the ninja. With a smirk, the leader drew and hurled a kunai with an explosive tag at the sand between the buildings, where it struck the cluster of explosives. A burst of flame and rush of air cracked the nearby buildings, shaking Hinata the other hidden ninja.

'How did he know about the trap?' Hinata, realising the element of surprise was lost, leapt through the pane-less window, hurling herself at the ninja, flicking a kunai at a kunoichi's throat. She fell back dead. The leader leapt at her, swinging down at her with his sword. She smacked it aside with her left hand the neko-te screeching as the metal clashed. The man's left hand lanced out at her, aiming at her face, his hand suddenly glowing within her sight, the muscles and tenketsu pumping with the chakra of the Gentle Fist.

Bending her back, dodging under the blow, Hinata rolled onto her hands before powering her legs into his gut. He substitued out and her eyes widened.

'He's a jonin!'

X (Because I can't be the only one who's bloody confused why the hell everyone is shocked when someone substitutes out of an attack!) X

The art of substitution is a simple to learn and hard to master. While any ninja can substitute, the rank of the ninja reflects the skill with this art. A genin of average skill for example can substitute against a genin of the same skill or less so, but not against a better genin or a chunin, unless said genin is a jinchuriki or possess a unique jutsu or kekkei genkai that avoids damage (for information see page 345). This is due to the higher muscle power, improved reactions and greater chakra one gains as they rise through the ranks.

For example, a genin cannot hope to escape a jonin's attack, unless they are a prodigy, are under the influence of the above influences referenced further in this work, or the jonin is of a low calibre.

In summation, the art of substitution is thereby based around the power of the practitioner. The high ranking the ninja, the better at substitution they are, due to their advanced skills and bodies. This is why many find themselves shocked at the use of substitution; the false sense that so many youths possess is not reserved solely for the young.

-The Way of the Ninja, by Sarutobi Hiruzen, 3rd edition.


Hinata being a high end chunin should have been able to strike him, but with the ease that he escaped, he was clearly a decent level jonin.

Rolling forward, avoiding the strike from the man as he reappeared behind her. As she moved, her hands moved in the gentle fist, the steel claws laced with chakra as they struck the nearest ninja in the stomach as she rose to her feet.

Time to test out her new style. The hokuto shinken was too dangerous and it damaged her too much. This new style she had been working on might work just as well if not better. Pumping wind chakra through her fingers as the claws pierced the jacket and the energy struck the nin, she watched closely and, feeling ill for her actions, saw her new style worked. Dropping the dead body, she spun, her wakizashi flicking out, stabbing into the skull of the woman charging her. Leaving the blade in the corpse, she spun, dropping to one hand, kicking out, throwing another attacker away, before flipping up, her hands moving through a few seals.

"Daikamaitachi no Jutsu!" A number of wind blades spun from her fingers, slicing a man down. Three down to her and the Suna-nin, despite losing the element of surprise, still outnumbered the Konoha-nin, and were making a decent job of dealing with the enemy. Unfortunately, they numbered only a handful of jonin. The rest were all genin on their first mission. Hinata leapt to the the defence of a young girl, shaking as a she was being throttled by a kunoichi, driving her hand into the woman's back, twisting her claws and drawing blood as she killed the woman.

"Come on, get up!" she cried encouragingly to the girl, helping her to her feet. Turning, Hinata blocked the blow of the leaders sword, swinging out a claw and shattering his glasses, revealing the unmarked brow and byakugan of a main branch Hyuga.

"Hello, Hinata-san," he murmured.

"Hello...Jin-san, right?"

"Yes. Your father sends his regards, and ill mood."

"At my marriage?"

"Yes. I'm to offer you-"

"If you survive this, tell my father 'Go to hell'."

She moved her hands through the air, swift as a hawk.

"Shugohakke Rokujūyon Shō!" She murmured, the blades surrounding her, missing the girl beside her as they moved in a whirlwind, slicing the air as the jonin dodged back.

'Now!' As the blades vanished, her back was left exposed and the Hyuga leapt, aiming with the flat of the sword. She spun, her fists surrounded with the Twin Lions. With a single blow, the sword was shattered and it powered through, striking Jin's abdomen, blood spurting from his belly and mouth.

Her shibō tatchi seemed to work, and her hands felt no pain.

The fight ended pretty soon after that. Her actions in killing the jonin seemed to put the fight out of the rest, especially when the angry suna-jonin responded to the deaths of their students. A dozen little bodies were left in the dirt, young faces twisted in pain and fear as they were gently laid together to be returned to Suna. Only their duty prevented the Suna-nin from taking revenge on the survivors.

The village empty, they left, escorting the villagers and the ninja back to Suna.


The hideaway was easy to reach. Having lived there until Ulquiorra recruited her, Karin knew the way very well. The gate opened easily for her, the sixteen Kiri ANBU flanking her, naked blades in their hands.

"There are no traps in here; the doors required certain chakra signatures. My office is on the top floor of the complex. I'll close the door when we get in."

Silently they slipped in, the gate slamming shut behind them.

Moving swiftly, they went up the stairs at the end of the corridor, hurrying up the stairs past two floors; the first a set of empty laboratories, the second an empty barracks. They reached her offices very quickly, opening the doors. It was wide and clustered with a long table with a number of ledgers and documents.

"There's a map here somewhere. It'll be marked with little snakes where Orochimaru's bases are."

After an hour of searching, the ANBU captain, a man identifying himself as One whose mask was patterned with sea green seaweed, found the map.

"Here. The nearest is...Kawa no Kuni. Near the capitol."

Karin glanced at the map and winced. "That one is much older than the rest, so there'll be a lot of traps and maybe little else."

"True. But if it's older the data we're after may be there," put in a woman with a grey whirlpool on her mask, number Three.

"Good point. I had a lot of notes here. Give me an hour and I'll get some more data and information for the Alliance."

Karin returned to rummaging, finding little of interest until the newest recruit, Sixteen, a young man with a pink wave, passed her a sealed notebook. Ripping a gouge in her thumb and smearing blood on the book. It fell open, revealing many sketches of the human body, from the skeleton through to the skin.

"Ah yes...My old notes on the effects of certain experiments on chosen...victims."

The mask hid the look of distaste that she was sure the man wore.

"Here...'The effects of'...Where there any other notes with this?"

The man shrugged before turning and pulling a few more notes from the filing cabinet. No wonder she hadn't found them. She hadn't used them in years.

"Here. It says something about...Investigations into combining two people together via Edo Tensei..."

Karin ripped it from the man, flicking through the notes.

"What is that all about?" asked One.


"...We won't attack you."

"...One of my jobs before I was ordered to stop was to test corpses for genetic compatibility for post mortem fusing."

The ANBU all remained silent, glancing at each other.

"Why did you keep it?"

"I keep all my notes!" she exclaimed. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Be that as it may, how far along did Orochimaru's research come?"

"...Too far for comfort. He never did any work on it. He would need me and Kabuto to help with the surgery, and he never called for me." She flipped through the notes. "He only wanted to do it with incredibly powerful subjects."

"Someone like a kage?"

"Yeah. He never got to that point though, else he would have tried to fuse the Shodaime and Nidaime Hokage. Or others." She paused over her notes. "There's something about...oh...fuck..."


"...Nothing now. Orochimaru's dead. It was an issue with me."

"We need to know."

"Yeah. I did work on the Uzumaki bloodline. I just noticed something in my notes. It meant that I would be used in some sort of...super clone thing."


"He wanted to fuse Uzumaki Kushina, me, Uzumaki Mito, Uzumaki Naruto and as many other Uzumaki together as possible to create a permanent jinchuriki body for the kyubi, kept under his control."


"I don't know. It doesn't mention me, but I can read between the lines."

Karin shivered. "Did you find anything else of interest?"


"Then lets get out of here, please," she pleaded.


Their sleek little ship sped over the waves, powered by an engine from Nami no Kuni, the ship built in Fune no Kuni. Karin was poring over her notes.

'Could the Zetzu's all be clones from the fusing of two subjects? They look like they are stitched together and they can use Mokuton. They could be made from cloning a few strands of the Shodaime's hair or something mixed with some random jonin. It makes sense. But how? Only Orochimaru would or could come up with something this twisted. Who else would come up with the fusion and cloning of the dead. Unless...What if...'

"Oh god."

What if the Zetsu's were clones of Harishima? The ones they fought were all roughly chunin ranked. But they looked mass produced. What if they were trained or implanted with new knowledge and training? Or worse yet, the knowledge of the Shodaime himself?

One and Two glanced at her, being seated the closest.

"What is it, Uzumaki-san?"

"...We might need more Ulquiorra's."

One tilted his head curiously. "Why?"

Karin briefly outlined her hypothesis quietly. One didn't need to be a sensor to feel the worry coming off them.

"I'll send a message to Kiri," muttered Two. "One, you had better tell the others."

As One told the others of the new danger, Two sent a message to Kiri via a summoned messenger osprey.

Karin looked over the last sketch on the final page.

It showed an Uchiha fused with a Senju. Who, she couldn't tell, but it gave her the creeps.


The ships captain accepted their cash gladly, waving them onto the ferry. A crowd of people sat or stood, chatting amid themselves or silent, the three masted ship long and broad, the river water lapping at the hull.

Jiraiya and Iruka sat at the brow of the boat, Jiraiya leaning back, enjoying the spray of the sea on his hair and face as the ship moved off. Iruka reached down to his hip and pulled out a flask of sake, taking a small sip before passing it to his companion.

"Thanks." Jiraiya took a long sip. "With any luck, this wind will hold and we'll be in Nami in a few days."

"Hopefully the Alliance fleet we've been hearing so much about won't attack us on principle."

"So far they haven't committed any war crimes, plus we're clearly a civilian ship. They're more likely to take us to convert into a warship. Besides," he passed the bottle back, spreading his arms wide, "Kawa is a conquered nation. The ship might, and most likely would, surrender on principle then go back carrying Alliance forces."

Iruka nodded thoughtfully. He hadn't worn the garb of Konoha in years, and he opened his coat enjoying the warm summer air.

"You look tired," Jiraiya said, looking him up and down. "Get some sleep. I'll wake you when they make dinner."

Iruka was about to protest, but the kind look from Jiraiya dissuaded him.

As the chunin slipped into slumber, Jiraiya removed a small grey book and began to write. He had taken a hiatus from his Icha Icha writing since Naruto died. He guessed it would be a while before he could write anything that happy again.

'The Shadow in the Dust' would have to do for now.

Darkness settled over the city as Gin approached approached the palace, the body of his son hanging in the gibbet far above. His sword clenched in his fist, he walked through the empty square, the festival quieting as he walked into the light...


"Happy Birthday, tou-san!" Naruto yelled, the six year old grinning foxily from ear to ear, his knees scraped and his hands dirty as he held up his present. It was a book, rare and valuable, 'The Clan Wars: A History' detailing the hundreds of years leading to the creation of the Hidden Villages.

"Thanks Naruto," Iruka smiled at the boy and ruffled his son's hair. "Come on, it's time to go home. We need to get you cleaned up."

"But tou-san," Naruto complained, pouting.

"No, Naruto. We need to see to that mess. Come on." He sighed at the look on his sons face and muttered, "We'll have ramen tonight, ok-"

An orange blur raced past him. He laughed happily and raced after his son.

As they ran, the vibrant colours grew in intensity, until they were running through a painting, their laughter echoing through the village till they reached home. It was a little cottage, a small garden out the front, filled with peach trees, pink blossom heavy in the air as Naruto hurried to the door.

After he was cleaned up and made presentable, the two sat down to a healthy portion of ramen each. Naruto's face was swollen as his cheeks puffed out as he put a huge pile of noodles in his mouth.

There came a knock at the door. "Clean up Naruto. I'll go answer."

He opened the door.

Grey twilight surrounded the house, filled with shadows that looked like people. Formless, featureless, they stood silent as the grave, eyes like splinters of the void staring, lidless.

Save for four.

One had a pair of bloody eyes that wept flames, a second a single crimson eye that seemed sewn into it's head, spinning in a vortex that twisted at the air.

The third had eyes like green grass nearly rotten through.

The last was twisted and misshapen, like a warped statue of some primeval mother goddess.

They stood to the fore, shadowy bodies moving like fog in the wind.

Silently, voicelessly, motionlessly, as one the crowd called.

Give him to us. Give him to us. Give him to us. Give him to us.

The monotonous chant droned on and on, filling the cold uncaring skies.

He turned and ran, grabbing Naruto, racing from the house, running into the cold. Shadow people surrounded him, parting like mist as he ran, the four figures ahead of him, always ahead. No matter how fast he moved, no matter which way he ran, the shadows remained, droning on and on, never moving, always chanting, those four shadows always ten paces ahead, eyes staring at him with cold indifference and at his son with cruel malice.

As he ran, he finally reached the walls of the Village. All he had to do was pass the gate and they would be safe. They would be safe. They would be safe. They-

Traitor. Traitor. Traitor. Death. Death. Deathdeathdeathdeathdeath

And on and on. He reached the gate, the four shadows standing tall as giants, cold hands reaching out, the red eyed figures armed with splinters of lightning.



"I-I love you..."


A hole appeared in his sons breast, blood pouring out, his face smiling as pudgy little hands reached for his dad.

As Iruka held his son close he began to rot. His skin began to peel, flaking off, the slow blood flow hastening as flesh and muscle was exposed, and flies flew down and feasted on the blood, maggots growing in the meat of the child's body as he rotted, flesh turning green and grey and slimy. The meat slipped from bone and dropped to the ground, turning to slurry as Iruka tried to hold him together. Bones cracked as he held his son to him, eyes rotten to shrivelled scraps and the bones fell through his hands turning to dust and blowing away, till all that was left was a skull.



Iruka woke with a horrified and tormented wail, Jiraiya holding his shoulders as tears of rage and grief filled his eyes.

As another wordless howl tore past Iruka's lips, Jiraiya held him close, the man sobbing into his chest.

'I swear, if it is the last thing I do in this world, I will make you pay, Tsunade!' Jiraiya swore as he stared at the horizon while a blood red sun set behind the ship.


A twisted smile slipped over Reio-sama's lips.


The Kiri scout boat slipped into the shadows cast by the mangroves of the Kawa no Kuni coast. Karin leapt from the ship, pulling her own mask on and her cloak closer about her. The mask was plain white, stamped with a small red whirlpool on the brow.

"Okay, according to the map, if we go at a normal pace we shall reach the base in a little under two weeks. If we ninja run, it's about four or five days, depending on weather or if we stop or not."

"ANBU are trained to go up to nine days without rest or sleep. As a medical officer I take it you are not?" asked One.

"No. Plus, Konoha and Hono no Teikoku will have troops verywhere."

"That is likely," put in Nine.

"So...Here." Karin laid a finger on a fine green line that wound its way through the forest to the snake symbol, nearly indistinguishable from the artistry used for the forest. "It's a secret path that Orochimaru created so his servants could travel rapidly from the coast to the base."
"How has it remained hidden? A genjutsu?"

"No. It's about thirty feet below the ground. Reinforced stone masonry keeps it up. High quality work too. The nearest entrance Twenty miles east, across the Heart River. But I don't think-"

"That's the main river of the nation. It shouldn't be hard to spot. At it's narrowest it's more than two miles wide. Is there a secret entrance?"

"...Well...You're not going to like this..."


"Well, you know I haven't been here in years."


"Well, there is a distinct possibility that the operations here are still ongoing."

"Orochimaru is dead though. Why would they carry on?"

"When a Kage dies does the village stop? No, it carries on with a new leader. The one thing Orochimaru admired in his lieutenants was ambition and skill. The projects here revolved around, as I remember, the creation of the shitai ryodan."

"The what?" One and his fellows were clearly unnerved.

"That was a pet name for them. The head of this facility, last I knew, was a woman called Yamamoto Haruka. Don't bother looking in the bingo book, she never made it in. If she did, she'd be worth around forty million at least."

"What is her brand of devilry?"
"She is a master engineer and technician, and a brilliant surgeon. She's basically a backup version of me, just with more mechanical aptitude. She was a rouge scientist when Orochimaru picked her up. Her 'brand of devilry' involves taking people apart and stitching them together with weapons for appendages."

There were a few moments of silence before Four spoke up. "Why did he never unveil them."

"The people are still alive when all this is done to them. I saw a batch once. Around six of them. The issue is that it's easy to brainwash an Edo Tensei. Not a living person. They were designed to be perfect living weapons. The issue was, they were too perfect. They were immune to genjutsu. Orochimaru ordered her to continue with the project, but keep them under lock and key until he could find a way to control them."

"I see. And this woman could still be there?"

"Yes. She never practised on ninja, save for a few. There was one guy who had wind blasters installed in his arms. Her techniques were more befitting of wholesale transformations."

"What did the subjects look like?"

"They were a siege unit, so each had their right arm replaced with some sort of cannon. Their right side was a mess of armour covering a power core that drew in and converted chakra from the body and surrounding area to power the gun. It fired a sonic blast. The air pressure a shot created was terrific. On one of the lower settings, it could rip a house down in two shots. The rest of their bodies were scare tissue and seals to help keep the cannon working and their bodies from giving out from the stress. If she's still alive, she's in charge of the base."

One turned to the rest and nodded. "Well then, we have a head to take. Do you know how to use a blade?"


"Well, I'm afraid you'll have to learn the old fashioned way."


"In battle."

Karin nodded, fingering the tanto at her hip.

...You know, it's kinda worrying that I am that goddamn comfortable writing a nightmare scene like that, but I suck at romantic scenes.

So...I am pretty damn sure a lot of you hate me right now.

So, happy moments soon. Promise.