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Sakura turned her head at the sounds of footsteps, pulling out a kunai in case the need to protect herself were to rise. Even with the giant falcon standing by her side it was better to be prepared, especially with everything that had happened recently. The pink-haired Genin was greatly relieved, however, when instead of having been ambushed by an enemy squad, she found herself looking at the rest of Team Seven, the group having been led to her by Pakkun, the small dog that first approached the clearing.
"A dog?" she said as she blinked in surprise.
"Look, girly, don't call me a cute doggy," said Pakkun as he closed the distance between her and Sakura.
While Sakura wanted to comment that she had never mentioned the word 'cute', she opted to remain silent as the rest of her team set about catching their breaths after the exhausting run. Both Naruto and Sasuke seemed relatively out of breath but due to their competitive nature against one another, neither of them opted to take a seat so they remained standing. Naruto stayed in place, however, as Sasuke approached the giant falcon he had summoned and bowed to it, the majestic beast bowing in return before vanishing in a puff of smoke.
"What was all that about?" asked Naruto, having paid attention to the silent act between his partner and the falcon.
"I imagine since the falcon is a rather proud summon creature there would have to be some form of acknowledgement thanking one another for their time together," said Kakashi with a shrug, not truly knowing the full explanation behind the actions. At least it was better than Sasuke deeming his fighting partner unworthy, the Sage only knew how devastating such an act would be.
"Alright, we should be able to set up camp here for the night," stated the Jounin, making all three of the Genin turn to face him. "Naruto, I want you to get a few clones into gear to track us down some food for the night. I think a good hearty meal would be well deserved all round after what we've been through. Meanwhile, I want you and Sasuke to go gather some firewood while I make sure everything is alright with Sakura."
"Why can't teme make clones to get the food? He stole that from me too," said Naruto sorely, still a little put off that Sasuke had learned to summon so soon after him.
"Because I used all my chakra to get Sakura over here, idiot," Sasuke replied with a shake of his head.
"Fine," muttered Naruto as he summoned several clones into action, each of them leaping off in a different direction.
"Come on, dobe," ushered Sasuke before he disappeared into the thicket, Naruto not wasting a second before giving chase, leaving Kakashi and Sakura alone in the clearing; well, almost alone.
"I guess my work here is done," said Pakkun. "Call on me whenever you need to track something again."
"Will do," said Kakashi as the ninja dog vanished in a puff of smoke. The Jounin then turned towards his pink haired Genin. "How are you feeling?"
"Somewhat better," said Sakura as she rubbed a spot where a shuriken had pierced the skin on her arm. She'd have to remember to clean and bandage the wound along with the various others that were scattered along her body. "May be a little sick from the altitude though."
"I imagine. I don't think many shinobi can claim that they've actually flown through the air," said Kakashi. "That'll be something to tell your friends when we get home."
"Sensei, aren't you worried about the village?" asked Sakura looking up at her teacher.
Before answering, an audible sigh escaped Kakashi's lips which didn't help Sakura's feelings. "In any war, people will die. When we return home, it is very possible that people we know, people close to us, will have died. Yet during our fights today, we too killed people and those people had family and friends. Sadly, this is the world we live in, and all of our actions will have consequences, both to ourselves and to others."
Sakura's head dropped at hearing those words, even though she knew that everything Kakashi had just said was true. Today she had shown on the battlefield that she had it in her to take a life; there was blood on her hands that would never be washed away. Before she could delve too deep into her thoughts, the bushes nearby parted revealing both Naruto and Sasuke with bundles of sticks in their arms, the two of them deep in conversation.
"How many people did you manage to take out, teme?" asked Naruto as he lowered his sticks to the ground.
"Eight, can you beat that, dobe?" asked Sasuke with a smug look on his face.
"Umm…" said Naruto as he looked towards Kakashi for support, the Jounin giving him none.
"Don't tell me you didn't even manage to kill one of them," said Sasuke.
"Thirty-two," mumbled Naruto under his breath, Sasuke still able to hear the gentle words, which caused his eyes to go wide momentarily as he wondered just what he had missed when he had been reverse summoned away.
"Gaara, are you sure about this?" asked Temari, a little worried and, to be frank, scared.
"I will not feed Shukaku innocent souls any longer," he replied with a firm nod of his head, his right hand clutched against his temple as he attempted to keep the raging beast silent.
'I, for one, am not going to argue with that,' thought Kankuro, knowing that regardless of whatever epiphany Gaara had during his leave of absence, the result meant that his younger brother was far less likely to crush him with his sand. "And what about father? What do we do when he finds out about this?"
"Father won't win this battle," said Gaara as he motioned to the ongoing chaos around them. They had exited the med bay a while ago, and were on their way out of the war-zone known to many as Konoha. "Even if he were to take out the Sandaime, the rest of Konoha would crush him without a problem."
Temari nodded, realising that Gaara was a vital part of the invasion plan, and that without him, many Konoha nin would be free to fight off other parts of the invasion. "But what then? Do we head back to Suna?"
"Perhaps," replied the Jinchuuriki. "For now I would like to leave Konoha while I still have Shukaku's bloodlust under my grasp. We will return to Suna with all the speed we can muster. Shinobi from both Konoha and Suna will try and block our path, but we'll fight our way through - hopefully without having to spill any blood."
Kankuro and Temari both nodded before the three of them began their journey, the two elder siblings thinking about just how much their younger brother had changed.
"What is the meaning of this, Orochimaru?" Sarutobi asked with a stern gaze that resembled not of a Kage questioning a traitor but a teacher questioning a prized student.
"I think you can take a look for yourself, kukuku," the snake Sannin chuckled mysteriously, jumping off the roof and landing effortlessly on the earth ground. "The Leaf shall fall by the end of the day."
"Sensei, where's the Kazekage?" asked Jiraiya, following his sensei as the man chased the snake, although just knowing that his former teammate was present gave him a good idea of the Kage's likely whereabouts.
"He never came to Konoha," answered Hiruzen as he flashed through a few hand seals. "It was Orochimaru in disguise all along."
"Do you really believe that you can defeat both of us?" asked Jiraiya, choosing to not respond to his sensei in order to avoid stroking the snake's ego.
A shuriken flew towards Orochimaru from Sarutobi's extended hand. Then it multiplied several times, and soon a large wave of almost seventy different shuriken were sailing straight towards the pale-skinned man.
"Doton: Moguragakure!" exclaimed Orochimaru, sinking into the ground seconds later and avoiding the shuriken with ease. "All I see is a senile old man who has grown far past his prime, and a lecherous failure of a perv-"
"Doton: Yomi Numa," said Jiraiya without hesitation, running through the two seals with his hands before slamming them onto the ground. Almost instantaneously, the ground which Orochimaru had sunk into turned into a muddy swamp that ensnared him.
To no one's great surprise, Orochimaru's body vanished in a puff of smoke and a small log was left in his stead. Sarutobi wasn't sure whether or not to be worried or proud that Orochimaru had become more proficient with silently casting Jutsu, but he figured that in such a big battle it would have little impact on the final outcome.
"How's Gamabunta?" asked Orochimaru with a slight smirk, having reappeared metres away from Jiraiya's small swamp. "Enma is growing just as old as sensei here, and I'm sure Manda would like some kind of competition… Kuyichose no Jutsu!"
Hinata moved like a machine, disabling every enemy within sight with her Gentle Fist techniques. With each strike she grew more aggressive and struck her next unsuspecting victim even harder, only taking a few moments to blink in surprise when she found that Kurenai had captured a few in a Genjutsu. The intricate marks of the cursed seal continued to spread around Hinata's skin as she realised that every single Konoha nin that was awake was currently engaged in a battle. With roughly two opposing shinobi for every Konoha one, it was clear that they were completely surrounded.
"She's got the seal!" one of the Sound ninja called out, warning those who had not yet seen the black markings that continued to intoxicate Hinata's sickeningly pale skin.
"Why would Orochimaru-sama give it to a useless Konoha nin?" another called out, momentarily pausing his battle with some Chunin Hinata could not recognise. However, he soon crumbled to the floor yelling in pain as Kurenai crushed his mind with a particularly disturbing Genjutsu.
"Ignore them, Hinata," said the kunoichi, deflecting a few senbon aimed for her forearms with a kunai. "Just focus on staying alive and in control of yourself."
What she didn't mention was that there was a great possibility that Hinata could instead turn around and attack her. Orochimaru's wretched seal would put you into a state of mind where it was you against the rest of the world, and more often than not, that meant you had no room for teammates, as evidenced by the not-so-rare Sound ninja with his seal activated that turned on his allies. She remembered a mission from back where she was just a Chunin where Anko had struggled hard to avoid doing the same to them.
Hinata found that she was able to stay oddly calm as she fought in a battle which could end her life with a single mistake. Hands glowing blue with the chakra she was excreting from her tenketsu points, Hinata launched herself forward, hopping both left and right in order to avoid the kunai thrown in her direction. With the added speed that the seal gave her, against this level of opponent, there was no hope for them as she ducked below their fist before driving two palm jabs directly into their stomach with enough force to cause spit and bile to fly from their mouths. As they dropped to their knees in agony, Hinata delivered a swift chop to the back of their neck before eyeing off another opponent and charging forward.
She didn't make it in time, however. While she had received an incredibly invigorating surge of speed as a result of her cursed seal being activated, she still fell a few metres short. A green blur short forward with tremendous speed, catching her 'all-seeing' eyes by surprise as it instantly rammed itself into the opposing ninja and knocked him unconscious. It continued to run around at ridiculous speeds that she could hardly keep up with before she finally recognised the figure.
"Are you well, Hinata-san?" asked Lee as he broke the nose of a Sound shinobi before kicking them into the wall on the other side of the stadium.
Hinata paused momentarily at the question she was given, because if she was completely true to herself, she couldn't really say that she was 'well.' Her distraction nearly cost her, as a Sound shinobi tried to attack her from the side, kunai raised and poised to strike. His arm never descended, however, a shadow binding him and holding him in place. Hinata watched as the man moved his arm without truly understanding what was happening before driving the kunai into his own neck, blood pooling down his uniform and painting the soil beneath him before he fell to the ground,lifeless eyes staring straight at the Hyuga.
"As troublesome as it is and how I'd much rather be sitting and staring at the clouds, this is no time to be having mental breakdowns," said Shikamaru, pushing the fact he had just claimed his first life to the back of his mind for the moment. Undoubtedly, he would need to have a discussion about the meaning of life with his father many days from today, but now was not the time to be thinking about these kinds of things. "We need to rendezvous with our teammates, we're too out in the open down here. We can find some cover down in the…"
The Nara clan heir was cut off, however, as as a giant purple snake crashed into the stadium in an equally giant puff of smoke. The number of lives which had potentially just been squashed out of existence could have been in the thousands as the roof of the stadium caved in, crushing a huge amount of civilians who had still been under the Genjutsu's effect.
Gai took a deep breath. There weren't many moments that caused the veteran Jounin to realise he needed to calm down; not even the revelation that Oto and Suna were both staging an invasion had phased him. He hadn't been too worried when he'd discovered that Orochimaru was responsible for all of it, and though he was tempted to intervene in the brawl between the snake and the Hokage, he knew he would get tossed around like a rag doll in such a situation. Besides, Jiraiya was there, and while the man was perverted, he could give Orochimaru a run for his money on his own, even without the Sandaime fighting alongside him. The Taijutsu adept's services were better suited here in the stadium, which was apparently collapsing upon itself.
Whether this was another part of the Sand and Sound's invasion or an aftereffect of the S-rank ninja battle going on outside, he was unsure. The worrying thing was that there were plenty of people still in the stadium, both awake and in a Genjutsu induced sleep. It was his responsibility as a ninja of Konoha to protect those within its walls and there was no use fighting all the enemy ninja outside if over a third of its population died because the stadium collapsed.
Gai darted forward with intent, discarding the weights on his person and leaving small craters in his wake. While getting help from outside would be incredibly important since there was no way he could evacuate every spectator still stuck within the stadium by himself, he had no idea how bad the ceiling was and needed to assess the situation. Plus, once he started placing civilians outside, other Konoha ninja were bound to take notice and help out.
He got to the main area of the stands which were at about a forty-five degree angle to the now-unidentifiable Kage box. The roof over the other side was particularly bad, chunks of it dropping by the second onto unsuspecting spectators still trapped within the Genjutsu, while still being somewhat stable up above him. He'd give it about five minutes or so before it started mirroring what was occurring on the opposite side.
Somersaulting down into the arena, he crossed it in record time before jumping up and grabbing as many people as he could. The Jounin managed to get a person over each of his shoulders and attempted to get another one on his right but found that it was a little too hard to keep hold of him. Dumping the third person in a corner - where it looked relatively safe - he rushed outside the stadium, carrying the two civilians. He placed them as gently as he could on the ground, not even able to worry about the fact that they could suffer from the collateral damage of any of the surrounding battles - the one between the Hokage and his students included.
After making his way back into the stadium, he picked up the man he had previously placed in the corner and a woman close to him before getting them to safety. He repeated the process several times, pushing beyond the numb aching of his feet with each trip, before he attracted a small group of Konoha nin. Gai eagerly took charge of the group and commanded some of the physically weaker volunteers to guard the defenceless civilian bodies while he told some of the bulkier people to assist him with the evacuation.
On what felt like his thirty-first trip back and forth - they had moved closer to the Kage box and a few volunteers were now rescuing people on the other side of the stadium - he realised something important. While he could roughly guess where the ceiling was at its weakest, a Hyuga would be able to easily tell which spots would collapse next. And better yet, they'd be able to identify any people hidden in tricky spots or buried under debris. It was moments like this that convinced Gai that his youth shone alongside both his physical prowess and mental capacities.
Leaping down to the middle of the arena ground, he came upon an unusual scene as he witnessed a Nara of all people taking action, Shikamaru barking orders to any and all shinobi who got within earshot. Directing those who had taken some form of injury in battle to use any resources they had in order to ensure that as many people that could be saved were. This was heightened mostly by the fact that anybody capable of using Earth-based jutsu helped in reinforcing the restraints of the building as every second counted in this situation. Ensuring that these people went about their task without fail, Shikamaru was instructing those still fighting fit to protect the backs of their comrades.
"What a tremendous display of youth!" shouted Gai with his fist held in front of his torso as tears poured from his eyes like waterfalls.
"If you just want to stand there without doing anything, you can gladly take my job," Shikamaru shouted at the Jounin as he deflected a kunai with one of his own, doing his best not to lose concentration despite the overly joyous actions of the spandex-clad man.
"You seem to be faring well; your fires of youth burn brightly," declared Gai as he tossed a handful of kunai, each one striking the intended target. "I seek only to find young Hinata, as I believe that her youthful eyes may be able to assist me in rescuing as many youthful citizens as I can."
"Good luck with that," said Shikamaru as he took this moment to have a breather. "She's off fighting at the moment, and I think at this stage you'd almost have to kill her in order to get her to listen. She's got her mind set on one thing and one thing only, and that's taking out as many enemies as possible."
Gai cringed slightly at this news as he turned his head in his attempt to find the Hyuga heiress. It didn't take him long to find her, however, since only a handful of people had black ink markings across their bodies, and only one of them wore something that didn't resemble the clothes the enemy was wearing.
"Dynamic Entry!" he exclaimed as he jumped into the fray, making contact with an enemy kunoichi through his foot before pushing off her face and bury a fist into the backside of a ninja that Hinata was tearing apart.
Helping her hold off their surrounding foes, Gai found himself becoming a little concerned as he realised just how vicious the young Hyuga's attacks were. This was a matter of life and death, not some measly spar, sure, but her onslaught didn't even cease when she had knocked an opponent unconscious. It looked as though they were surrounded by the corpses of more than a few Sound ninja with an odd Sand ninja identifiable in the aftermath of what could only be described as a massacre.
The Jounin's face contorted quickly as he realised that a few of the enemy Sound ninja were beginning to undergo the same process as Hinata, in that obscure dark lines were beginning to spread along their skins. Gai realised with a jolt that Orochimaru had blessed them with his cursed seal as well.
Springing into the action, he used his superior speed to send three of them sprawling into the air. He knocked another one unconscious with a particularly powerful blow to the gut, and the final one never saw the karate chop to the back of his neck coming. He spun back to face Hinata, a weary eye watching out for the three he had previously sent flying.
"Hinata, I am in need of your youthful flames! The stadium, as you no doubt are aware, is collapsing upon itself, and the Byakugan would be an invaluable tool in our evacuation operations!" exclaimed the eccentric Jounin, only to sigh heavily when he found that the girl was paying no attention to him.
Instead, with a glazed look in her eyes, she turned towards an enemy Sand ninja with a predatory smirk. Though she was normally known to be silent, in the current situation it was incredibly disturbing. The Sand ninja could sense something was wrong and tried to fling a kunai at the girl, but she sidestepped it without missing a beat. Gai's eyes widened as he recognised the familiar motions of one of the Hyuga's techniques.
"Hakke Sanjuni Sho…. two palms!" The Hyuga delivered two consecutive strikes to the abdomen of the Sand ninja. "Four palms!" Another two palms struck the ninja.
"Eight palms!" cried Hinata, an indescribable sound of desperation to her voice, as the number doubled. "Sixteen palms!" Her palms blurred forward at speeds that could one day rival Lee's, the kunoichi hitting her target sixteen more times in the blink of an eye. "Thirty two palms!"
Although he was fully aware that most of the power behind the girl's attacks came from the cursed seal which was fueling her, Gai couldn't help but appreciate how Orochimaru's tainted genius had truly unleashed the flames of Hinata's youth. The Sand nin crumpled to the ground in such a manner that Gai was sure Neji would not be able to replicate, and the girl loosed a chilling laugh.
"Hinata, you must melt the impurity within you with your youth! We are in need of your assistance in the stadium," exclaimed Gai as he flashed her a thumbs up to motivate the girl. This time she heard him.
The heiress instantly closed the gap between the two of them and, as Gai gulped, he realised that it was only the years of fighting alongside the Hyuga that allowed himself to throw his body backwards to evade the jyuken strike aimed at his chest.
Okay… Neji it was then.
Tenten smirked as she lit fire to her katana. It was a technique which she had been saving for the Chunin exams, and she had been particularly disappointed when Shikamaru had made their fight a long-range one - in hindsight, she should have expected his surprise shadow binding attack which immobilised her. As Neji would probably say had he been present, "fate" must have not wanted her to go home disappointed.
She swung her blazing weapon around with composure, instead of making a number of razor sharp cuts like the sword would have done had it been coated with wind chakra, this would burn whatever it came in contact with. In the hands of a weapon master like herself, that could easily be more dangerous than something sharp simply because of how distracting - nevermind painful - a burn was in the middle of a fight. Adrenaline often helped ease the pain of cuts and other wounds, but burns were another story.
This, however, came with a price, and the weapon mistress had to make sure that she kept check of her chakra levels, as the last thing she needed was to find herself short on chakra in the middle of a battlefield. Theoretically, she could mimic the technique by having bathed the blade in something flammable and lit it on fire that way, but for now, coating it with fire chakra would suffice, since it produced the same effect but meant she could stop it at a moment's notice.
Having trained alongside Lee and Neji, two of the fastest people she knew, made her constantly check over her shoulder for attacks that may come her way. She was relieved, however, to find that she wouldn't need to be keeping tabs on her back as somebody was already onto it. "Are you alright?" asked Chouji as he squeezed an enemy, the boy's bones crushing the opponent in a massive bear hug.
"Better now," said Tenten as she knocked several kunai to the side, showing off all her skills. "We need to meet up with a few others, we can't stay out in the open for long."
"I need to stay near here though," said Chouji as he pushed his captive away slightly before punching them in the face with an oversized fist. Wondering what he was talking about, Chouji slyly indicated towards a nearby alleyway where Tenten was just able to make out the Yamanaka heir unconscious and thankfully well hidden. "Can't leave her alone, you see."
"True that; guess we're defending this spot then," declared Tenten as she launched a couple of shuriken with her spare hand. "Let's just hope that reinforcements come soon."
"Well, if you want reinforcements, then I suggest you duck," stated Chouji as he dropped to his knees, Tenten mirroring his actions as a spiraling tornado passed overhead, barreling through a handful of shinobi that had been cautious not to get too close to Tenten's flaming katana.
"Am I late for the party?" asked Kiba, Akamaru barking alongside his partner.
"Right on time," said Tenten as she immediately got back to work, the three Genin showing that despite their rank, they were still a force to be reckoned with.
"It is futile Orochimaru," said Sarutobi, the Sandaime calm and composed as the giant summon that had been called upon was dispersed, the damage it had taken from both the third Hokage and the Toad sage too great for it to handle. "No matter what way you look at it, your invasion has failed."
The snake summoner seethed at those implications, but he couldn't deny the words that his former sensei spoke. Not only had Manda fallen, but Gaara had never even showed his face in the fight, and without the Biju wrecking havoc, the Konoha forces had been able to work as a coherent force as opposed to being scattered by the beast's blows.
"Lord Orochimaru," said Tayuya, breathing heavily. Despite having fought in her stage two form of the cursed seal, neither her nor the remaining members of the Sound Four had been able to make much of an impact against the battle of the three Kage level shinobi, and had taken a severe beating as a result. Various members of Konoha's ANBU had also intervened at several potentially decisive points of the battle, making it impossible for them to have the upper-hand. "Your orders?"
Gritting his teeth, Orochimaru knew there was only one course of action at this stage, and he knew this day would go down in history as a huge failure. "Retreat," he said under his breath so that only those nearby could hear him.
"Should we alert our forces, or should we just let them fucking die?" spat Tayuya.
"Let them die," said Orochimaru, holding no regards for the foot soldiers he had brought into battle, willing to sacrifice them like the pawns they were. "Split up and use any means necessary to escape."
"Will you be alright Lord Orochimaru?" asked Tayuya.
"Just because I've been beaten doesn't mean I still don't have any tricks up my sleeve," said Orochimaru as his tongue slithered out of his mouth, leaving his two opponents wondering just what the snake was planning.
Doton: Moguragakure = Earth Release: Hiding Like a Mole
Doton: Yomi Numa = Earth Release: Swamp of the Underworld
Kuchiyose no Jutsu = Summoning Technique
Hakke Sanjuni Sho = Eight Trigrams Thirty-Two Palms
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