Chapter 77:

There's no time. There are too many. He won't be able to hold them all back.

Naruto doesn't wait. Doesn't hesitate.

But he can take the worst of it.

He turns his eyes, looking to Tenten, and she sees his intent. Her surprise is clear, her fury spikes but before she can give it voice-

He's gone.

The world blurs around him, speed and the shunshin, carrying him far enough away.

Chakra pulses through him, coursing through his body, stretching out his Tenketsu so much it hurts.

The message is clear.

I'm here. Come get me!

He feels them, little pinpricks of light, flickering flames across his senses.

Six. Six of them burn like bonfires.

Those six come to him, along with a dozen more.

They can spare them.

The others turn to the tattered remains of Tenten's battlegroup and he can only hope he's pulled enough away to let them run, let them get away.

His chakra thrums through him, pulsing in time with his heartbeat, growing in pitch, building in intensity.

'Don't. Be. Stupid.'

Itachi's voice drifts through his mind, onyx eyes looking at him, imploring him to make her that promise.

He did.

And he has no intention of breaking it.

If he's going to win, if he's going to have even a chance at winning…

He can't hold back.

Eyes open, orange markings spread across his face. "Kuchiyose!"


Takigakure's Horoki lay down in the mud. His eyes stared up into the sky, wide eyed the red veins bulging with clotted blood, his lips purple, tongue black.

The man was very dead. And Konan knew her tenuous, fragile alliance just grew much more fragile.

"Takigakure is aware that he's missing." She drawled, voice carrying over the hiss of the ever falling rain. "Are they certain he is dead?"

"Not as of yet my lady." A jounin bowed his head low.

"We must keep it that way as long as possible. Who else knows?"

"None but myself, my men… and of course whoever killed him."

Her lips pursed. Her men could be trusted. But whoever killed Horoki would not be idle for long. More likely than not he, or she, or they were already trying to spirit confirmation towards Takigakure's leadership in some way.

She needed to head this off… fast.

"Invite Ishurin-dono to my residence."

"What reason should I give? He will not trust us with Horoki-sama missing."

"Use whatever reason you like, I don't care, just get it done."

"I understand-ma'am."

She turned towards two of her other men. "Bring the body."


It was raining.

It always rained in this miserable fucking country.

Ejiro hated it. He hated this place, the food, the cold, the constant drumming hiss that never let up, never relented, not even letting a man sleep or think.

He hated it. His men hated it too.

And he could feel it beginning to affect their performance, their awareness.

They felt tired, bone weary, felt eyes on them where they didn't exist, voices in the wind.

When they made camp it was slow and sluggish, when they broke camp it was even worse. They were well behind the distance they should have covered by now.

Even he wasn't immune.

He was ashamed to admit that it took him three days to notice.


Not a few of them either. Several. At least two dozen and in a force of three hundred that represented nearly a tenth of their available battle strength and they hadn't even made it to the enemy yet.

Not a rate of attrition they could afford.

He altered shifts, rescheduled people's daily routine, he spread his own lieutenants through the camp and sub commanderies. They wouldn't desert and they'd kill anyone who tried.

By the fifth he knew- even unaware of the red eyes following through the gloom of the dark forest

It wasn't desertion.


Too many.

Far too many.

Before the battle had even been joined Tenten knew it would be the case, hell, before they'd managed to start moving the injured that morning she'd known.

It was one thing to know and quite another to be in the middle of this insanity.

Kyofu, Naruto's teammate, had used nearly all of her chakra, just to try and even the numbers at least a little bit, summoning six spider summons, each twice the size of a horse.

Even then, they were still outnumbered almost three to one.

She swung her weapons until edges were blunted and hafts broke and splintered. The taste of blood was heavy on her tongue, stinging her eyes, the screams of men, hissing and screeching of spiders and the clash of steel against steel clamored into a cacophonous thunder in her brain

And still there were more of them.

She couldn't think, couldn't see, couldn't even breathe.

The muscles of her arms felt like sliding razor blades, her chest burned with each ragged lungful she managed to force down, her hands shook and trembled with weakness even as she clutched her kunai and swords and still the tide of men didn't even seem to slow. He felt cuts, scrapes, burns and narrowly missed wounds across her body-too many to count, not enough to bring her down.

Not yet…

And still there were more of them.

I'm going to die here.

The thought came unbidden and she breathed suddenly like a drowning woman breaching the surface, somehow the air that filled her lungs was icy cold, and the snap freeze across her insides brought the world into sharp focus and stark clarity where before it had blurred into bloody reds and darkening shadows.

Her hand rose, a shortsword gripped in her shaking fingers as she blocked a blade, sliding the edge of her chipped, damaged, weapon straight down, too fast for the enemy nin to react, the scrape of metal on metal so harsh it sent sparks into the air as her sword sliced into the ninja's fingers, severing three and nearly tearing off the fourth.

The chuunin screamed, loud and the metal spiked knuckles in her free hand crunched into his teeth, straight beneath his nose, unconscious or dead she didn't care as she felt her heart pounding under her ribs with enough force to cause physical pain.


The shout broke through the haze of thought, and Tenten whirled around, hair flying into her face from where it had escaped her typical buns, seeing through the canopy, flames, techniques and press of bodies what was happening.

They were being herded.

The Iwa chuunin wanted them dead. There was no question.

But they wanted the Mokuton more.

Either dead or captured.

The formation was splitting, pushing them away from each other, the five S class nin had mannaged to isolate Naruto and were now pushing him further away, keeping him from any that could help him.


She didn't recognize her scream. Didn't recognize her voice, rough and choked from dust and blood, she tried to move, to press through the crush of humanity and monsters but more were getting in their way, more were closing in on them.

They're all going to die here.

They had to get away!

The thought sticks in her gut like a knife and the words catch in her throat like she's been skewered straight across her voicebox. She's choking on the order.

Then. Someone else shouts it.


And its all that was needed, the crack spreads, and the line shatters her battle group is cut down as they flee, the injured butchered where they lay. And the battle is turning to a rout directly infront of her.

She sees Kyofu pulling away, riding her last remaining summon, Ryoko with her.

The guilt twists at her gut, her arms burn whole body trembling.

But… in the end. She turns and flees, knowing she just signed his death warrant.

He couldn't win. Not against this.

Too many…

Even for him. This was too many.


Kurotsuchi knew even as she tried to find a way to help the situation that it was almost completely out of her hands.

The wolves that were nominally under her command could smell blood in the water and they moved like men possessed.

They wanted to be the ones to kill him…

"Just ahead!"

Shingen's voice sent a sharp spike of anger through her chest. She'd never felt a greater sense of hatred for her 'handler' as she did right this moment where she desperately needed the eyes of the Tsuchikage as absent as possible, his presence alone paralized her with indecision.

She sped up her run, not sure if she was trying to reach Naruto or run away from Shingen and Iwagakure behind her.

She broke through the overhead canopy of leaves to find a scene of pure carnage.

She knew, she'd always known, Naruto was strong, one of , if not the strongest ninja of their generation.

But this…

Naruto moved with speed she could barely keep up with, his whole body blurring across the range of her eyes, sheer speed, no Jutsu whatsoever involved.

The Chuunin looked like they were standing still.

His kunai plunged into one man's neck and by the time his friends turned to look where Naruto should be he wasn't there anymore, body swallowed by a forest tree, he appeared at another tree, above and behind one of her men. She shouted a warning, too slow, his neck was snapped. He was dead before Naruto grabbed his comrade by the throat, chokeslamming him into the ground, cracking his skull against a rock.

The last few of them turn, and their rewards are Shuriken severing tendons, slicing across gaps in the armor.

Then Han is there.

The monstrous Jinchuurikki drops from the sky above. The kick he delivers would be enough to shatter a building, Naruto's arms cross, taking the full brunt of the blow, he falls onto one knee and from that knee striking the ground two lances of wood burst out, twisting and coiling and then goring the surprised Han through the thigh and stomach, shoving him off and spearing him to the ground.

The Gobi's chakra shroud bursts around him and suddenly, the world shifts ever so subtly and Naruto is there, but different, shrouded in chakra, familiar markings on his face, two small toad summons on his shoulder.

Sasori, Deidara, Fukuro, Shingen and Han surround him, the last of the Chuunin that had come with them backing away, realizing they'd stepped into a fight much too high on the food chain for them.

Naruto's strange eyes shift between them, stance low and guarded.

She doesn't think he'll win.

She doesn't think he can…

But she can admit she's never seen him like this either.


She hears him long before she sees him.

Takigakure's leader, Ishunin is a fool. Loud and brash, arrogant and too prideful by half.

"I've had quite enough of my time wasted here Ame. Now either produce your commander or I will simply leave and I'll take my men with me!"

Konan took a breath, reminding herself the man was necessary, for now anyway.

The sliding door opened, and allowing her to find the man standing before one of the servants.

The servant is bowing on hands and knees, forehead to the floor. A young woman, she'd likely been the one to deliver the still steaming tray of tea in the center of the room.

"Do not be a child Ishunin, I'm here." She drolled.

"Its about time." The man snarled, he had a flare for the flamboyant, dressed in bright silks, a golden mask over his face, two of his Anbu guards stood at the back of the room, ready to defend him, the half drawn windows sliding rain water off their edges. "What have you called me here for! I'm a busy man."

Best not draw this out, her patience was wearing thin.

She reached into the folds of her cloak, paying no mind to the two men who tensed in sudden preparation for a weapon.

She pulled a file.

Tossing it, the pictures scattered across the floor at the man's feet.

He looked down, and she saw him stiffen in surprise.

"Your man's dead." She said, voice flat and uncaring. "Strangled."

"You whore!" Ishunin snarled, fists clenched, his body trembling with rage. "I'll have your head for this!"

"Hn, not my work. If it was, believe me, you would never have discovered it." That much was true. For his sake, he'd best believe her.

He didn't.

Ishunin turned to his men, pointed in her direction. "Kill her!"

His guards moved to draw their weapons.

They were dead before their hands even brushed the hilts.

Two of her own men threw themselves through the open windows, kunai blades at the ready, one going through the back into the kidneys, the other drawing across their throats before they could scream.

Ishunin was suddenly, very very alone.

She would give him credit. A brash fool he may have been, but he didn't cower. "Takigakure will attack you in full force once they hear of this, Konohagakure's threat be damned."

"Then I'd best be sure they never hear it." She answered blithely.

She looked to the men in the back. "Kill him if you would."

Ishunin's hands flew into a rapid series of seals, something loud no doubt, loud and large, certain to cause a scene and get men to search.

Nothing happened.

"W-what!?" Now she heard the fear in his voice.

"I didn't delay this confrontation for nothing." She opted to explain. "That 'steaming tea' you've been breathing in. A neurotoxin. I'd be surprised if you can even feel the chakra in your body; let alone mould it. It takes a bit to kick in."

The man moved to draw his kunai blades- too late.

The two Anbu rushed forward, and the gold masked leader of Takigakure found himself with a sword through his throat.

His body hit the floor hard, gurgling as he drowned in his own blood.

Konan nodded. "Clean up this mess. Winter contingency is in effect as of now."

Her men nodded, bowing once where they knelt as she turned and marched out of the room.

There was much to do and, now, because of this, a lot less time to do it in.


Fukuro knows battle. He knows the taste of it, the feel of it. Right down to his bones.

He learned long ago when to feel his being in danger.

It had served him well… kept him alive, let him win fights he shouldn't have.

That's what he felt now…

Ever since he stepped into this battle.

The Uzumaki knew he wouldn't be able to escape, not this time. Knew there was no negotiation, no running.

He would fight here, and he would die here.

And there's nothing quite like a beast you've given no other option than to kill you.

He was no coward. But he knew, the first to make a single mistake even at their respective skills… would be dead before he knew what hit him.

The Jinchuurikki had already been skwewered with two wounds that would have killed anyone else. And it was only his Bijuu's chakra that was disrupting the Genjutsu they'd all fallen in without even realizing.

And that had just been a warmup act.

Fukuro felt his stance tighten, sword at the ready.

The Uzumaki made the first move.

He nearly blurred out of existence, pure speed tearing the ground at his feet with the momentum and it was only the trail of shattering wood that let him find the boy as he rushed straight towards Deidara, who flew above on his construct.

Han rushed behind him, blood and still healing wounds slowing him, Sasori's plethora of projectiles fired, seeking out the Uzumaki as they bent and twisted under the guidance of chakra strings.

Fukuro drew his own poisoned blades, throwing them with all the precision he could muster, aiming for the split second the blonde would be in mid air, at the apex of his jump before he reached Deidara

It should hit, or at least force him to twist and avoid the blades.

He doesn't.

Because he never makes it there.

A tree limb sprouts from the forest canopy, and before any of them can react, the Uzumaki is on its underside, and quite literally lunges straight down, the rapidly grown limb shattering under the force of his feet.

He shoots past Han, Deidara's short range explosives going off harmlessly above him, Sasori's chakra string projectiles overshooting their target.

Uzumaki is moving straight down like a guided Missile and Fukuro barely has time to see Sasori hastily raise a single clawed arm to try and catch the fist careening straight towards him.

Wood shatters steel bends and snaps, nails and gears grind and tear off, the whole limb explodes into little more than shrapnel, the Uzumaki's whole body powering straight through the puppeteer's armor and body, the head of the puppet bursts like an overripe melon. The paltry defense literally shattering under the power of the strike.

Sasori's body falls limp into a crumpled, smoking heap.

They have no time to even gather themselves, the forest comes alive, trees move and leaves swirl around them, and Uzumaki is gone, in the next second reappearing somewhere else, vanishing and reappearing again.

The leaves swirl and swirl and Fukuro realizes the noise is disguising the toads on his shoulders, their singing trapping them in yet another Genjutsu.

His body reacts, the old training, foolproof against this sort of invasion kicks in, but even it isn't perfect, his perceptions warp, reality and unreality flickering in and out of his senses.

He turns, swinging his blade, in time to meet a clang of steel striking steel as kunai slides across the edge and the Uzumaki is nearly ontop of him.

He blinks and he's gone, swirling leaves in his wake as the Genjutsu takes hold again.

He knows battle. He knows its taste. Its feel.

And right now… he knows danger.


"Hmmm… Not dead yet. Didn't think it'd be that easy. Not with you"

The voice comes all around him and Sasori wrapped in his true body pulls himself free of the outer, armored shell in a cascade of twisted steel and collapsing wood.

He unfurls his scrolls, ten of his hundred puppets emerging to form a barricade around him. Anything more would just end up getting in eachothers way against a single opponent.

He says nothing.

But he is shaken.

He'd been so fast… tore through his armor so easily…

It had been a long time since he felt vulnerable… weak.

The Genjutsu from the toads doesn't affect him. He has no ears. No nervous system as they'd know it. He can see, 'hear' in his verssimilitude of the sense, feel, smell.

There's a sound, movement to his right Sasori turns, all of his puppets moving in instant synchronicity as he focuses with their eyes and their senses.

The blur of movement startles him, but still he reacts, blades and shields at the ready, attacking with poison blade and folds of steel plating.

The glowing sphere smashes into the first of his puppets, straight into the chest, drilling through and the first of his hundred puppets that had slaughtered whole armies and shrugged off the most destructive of techniques shatters into a million pieces before the Uzumaki is leaping onto another, a third entangled in creeping twisting wood, a fourth torn apart by wind blades as water surges from the ground to slam into his physical body.

He pulls away, retreating, unfurling another scroll, more puppets come into play but he rips and tears and crushes and smashes and breaks through them like they're constructs from his genin days. Raw strength Pure technique, incalculable speed, Sasori feels his heart beat, faster in its construct. The Fraying edges of panic beginning to bleed into the edges of his mind as he faces down this thing and understands with perfect clarity and dread; why they call him "The Storm King"


Shingen knows he is outmatched, outclassed.

He is a Taijutsu master of Iwagakure, even at his prime he would be hard pressed to take on so varied and esoteric a roster of skills and abilities as what's been gathered here and what Konoha's Storm King represents.

And he is long past his prime.

He knows this.

But even so, the sheer difference between them, the gap in their respective strength is… terrifying.

He barely has the time to recognize he's under attack, barely has a moment to bring up his defense before the kick smashed into his side, rocking him completely off his feet, he hits a tree with bone breaking force, his arms sing with pain.

Uzumaki does not relent.

The force of his body whorls and warps the trees around him, and Shingen forces chakra through his limbs, reinforces his muscles and bones, tries to close the gap.


He strikes and Uzumaki isn't there, body moving just so, skirting past the blow with barely any effort, slipping a blow past his hasty guard, the fist that cracks into Shingen's face is enough to leave him reeling. His nose is broken, he hits the tree behind him, there's a kick coming, he has the mind to recognize it. He also sees the boy's foot is too far extended. He skirts to the side, knowing the strike will hit the tree, blunt the force.

Then the tree lets his foot pass.

Like water sliding over rock the wood bends and twists, conforming to his needs and will and the full force of the blow slams into the old Taijutsu master's eyesocket.

Something cracks. His eye doesn't function.

When he hits the ground he's sure his other eye will follow suit.

His arm certainly isn't working anymore either.

He tries to reach his feet, more instinct than strength. More drive than sense.

He stumbles, another blow is coming, he raises his arms.

But the limb isn't there anymore, he recognizes faintly a Genjutsu, something small, just enough to twist the depth perception.

Then the kick smashes into the crown of his head.

His brain rattles in his skull.

He falls back, and the lances from the earth pierce his body across a half dozen of his vital organs.

He's dead before he registers the pain.


Kurotsuchi has seen Naruto fight. She's fought him before.

But this… this is different.

It takes her longer than she'd like to realize why.

She's seen him fight.

She's never seen him cornered.

His chakra is so thick in the air it almost chokes her. The S class team that was made specifically to hunt him flails about like children at their first Chuunin exam.

They're cut off from eachother. Even her. The Genjutsu is strong, she breaks out in intermittent intervals but the insidious thing catches her again and again. How much chakra is he burning through to pull this off? How much more does he have to spare?

He can't keep this up. Even he has limits.

When she breaks free, she can see 's left of them.

Han is being beaten like a rug, the sheer force of the blows rattling her bones all the way up in the tree canopy. Sasori's puppets are under assault by a dozen clones she's not even sure the puppeteer can see, Fukuro's bleeding from a half dozen wounds.

And Shingen… Shingen's dead.

The sight of the old man startle's her. She jerks into stillness, staring at the corpse skewered on a half dozen spears of stone, eyes still open but glazed over, unseeing as they stare into the forest canopy above.


The scream startles her, and her eyes snap up towards Deidara. The Iwa nin is pale, all but panicking, she can see it in his eyes.

Then Naruto is there, and the wind blade that shears off Deidara's arm is so clean it takes a moment for the wound to actually burst with blood.

She sees his arm flop down, striking tree branches on its way to the forest floor.

Deidara leaps away, trying to gain some distance, tossing bombs wherever he can, but Naruto pushes straight through, heedless, the blasts and the smoke and the fire breaking over his body as he lunges after the bomb user.

A tree limb snakes out, wood twisting, coiling growing and suddenly there's a wall behind Deidara, he smashes into it, and Kurotsuchi can see the fear on his face, his eyes go wide as dinner plates, the Rasengan swirls in Naruto's hand.

He's going to die.

She pulls a scroll, and the handseals are instant, reflexive and suddenly, Deidara's here, the scroll taking his place as the swirling sphere destroys the scroll, the tree behind it and everything behind that.

The clone lands on a tree, strange eyes focused on her as she catches the bleeding, hyperventilating Deidara.

She shoves him off of her, pressing him to the trunk of the tree she's on.

His breathing is rapid, hyperventilating, he's muttering under his breath, shellshock.

He won't be useful anymore…


It's easy, really.

Disgustingly so.

Itachi is no stranger to killings, no stranger to murder.

Most of the time, she prefers for her enemies to at least know. It gives them a chance, a distant, fleeting chance but a chance nevertheless.

That's not what the situation calls for here.

She'd captured them all once, standing at the gates of Amegakure, a beggar girl, watching, peering into their eyes with hers that they never looked too closely into.

After all, why look?

She was just a beggar girl.

Catching them again, now that she knows the neural pathways, the tenketsu, is so very easy.

So very very easy.

It makes killing them an act of cruelty really. So blind and unaware.

A hand slipping into a pouch there, a vial of slow acting poison in the drinking water elsewhere…

It takes them days to realize the danger.

By then, she's ensnared the highest ranking lieutenants and commanders in her illusions. She falsifies orders, changes their patrol routes, intercepts reports lures them into traps, ambushes.

Whole men die in the gloom of the dark and are reported back as having arrived, their friends none the wiser until the next morning they check and the men are nowhere to be found in camp.

The poison's kick in by the third night.

Men are bleeding through their eyes, drowning on land. She keeps the commanders awake at night, or sends waking nightmares into their minds.

Its slow, tedious work, taxing. She herself is tired, but she's stayed awake before.

All the while the men never even know she's there, sitting in the command tent, patrolling the perimeter, resting by the warm fire cooking the food she laces with hallucinogens to make her illusions easier as her mind grows weary.

They die quietly.

They die alone.

They die at night in their beds.

They die in the day on their feet.

They die choking on blood.

They die choking on bile.

They die bleeding or whole.

It doesn't matter to her.

It's all the same.

They die.


He's bleeding.

He's bleeding.

His arm is gone. And he feels his heart pounding under his ribs, his body flares up in pain. And he's bleeding And his arm is gone. Gone and cut so clean he swars he can feel his own fingers.

And he's bleeding.

And the blood just won't stop!"

Deidara feels a rattle in his chest. Wet, broken, his head is swimming and the edges of his eyes are going dark, foggy.

He grits his teeth, raw will pushing away the blackness of oblivion.

No… Not going down like this. Not to this fuck!

He forced himself to stand, foot nearly slipping off the branch, almost sending him down to crack his neck on the forest floor, but he didn't.

His eyes swim in his skull, darting this way and that way. The pink eyed bitch is fighting not far, trying to hold off the leaf bastard, or maybe a clone. The others are the same. All of them trapped in a dozen different fights .

Deidara licks his lips, he tastes iron.

His eyes find the animal.

Han's down there, on his knees, bleeding, breaking. He crushes a stone boulder only to get drilled by a torrent of pressurized water and then cut by a lashing wind blade all before he's hit the ground from a blow that could shatter mountains breaking more of his ribs.

He's dying… weak.

Because he doesn't have the monster.

Deidara's brain still recognizes it, still notices what's happening.

The glowing, winding tendrils of wood.

Get rid of it. He thinks.

Get rid of it and that freak can turn it around!

In the mouth of his single remaining hand he starts chewing up clumps of explosive clay.


This is not a clone.

Han knows this.

Can see it.

The annoying toads don't affect him, they haven't ensnared him.

He has clones, Genjutsu, tricks fighting the others, holding them down.

But the Storm King knows better than that when it comes to him.

And his full focus right now is requiring every trick Han has just to stay alive under the onslaught.

This was not the previous battlefield.

This isn't a fight where the Uzumaki was letting them maneuver, outflank and coordinate.

He'd cut them off from eachother, split them up, every man was fighting Uzumaki, for all intents and purposes, alone.

He tries to summon his Bijuu, but he can't, the trees grow and twist and bleed energy that cages the beast within with a cage of iron and will..

He can't get out of it, the Konoha nin won't let him.

He moves like a man possessed, all the strength and power in his body crashing into Han with the force of a mountain.

His arms break when they block a blow, his legs crack under the force as he digs in his heels and tries not to fall over, the earth rises to crush him, water, enough to drown an army smashes into him, wind cuts and slices and tears at him.

Han feels his heart beating in his chest and somewhere he recognizes that without his constant healing, he'd have died, several times over by now even with all his strength.

The steam hisses and boils, tries to escape before being caged again, the forest pulses with this damnable power that keeps his full strength contained and as he raises one arm to block a blow the force of that very same strike shatters his guard, carving clean through before smashing into his armored face hard enough to crack the ceramite mask.

Shards of metal cut into his cheek, his eye socket shattering and his eye bursting under the impact.

Distantly… almost detachedly, Han wonders if he's going to die.

Then there's an explosion, a deafening loud bang that sends his ears ringing, the force hits him like a horse drawn wagon, knocking the wind out of him, fire and pain and noise, shattering trees and flattening swathes of the forest.

And Han can breathe again.

He knows what's happened and he doesn't let the opportunity pass him by, the Gobi's chakra floods his body, steam bellows from the pack, there's enough lingering energy from the Mokuton to stop him from dissipating his body but this is enough.

His senses sharpen, his muscles and faux limbs bulge with sudden excess energy and he moves, charging through the steam, searching for their enemy.

He finds him, dazed, picking himself free of debris, and this time, when Han's fist cracks against his hasty block he can see the wince of pain on his face, and the foot that smashes into the Jinchuurikki's chest to send him back doesn't break bones this time.

It hurts, but The Uzumaki is on the back foot and Han has no intention to give up the hard won initiative.


Orders were given quickly, quietly. Her best illusionists were posing as Ishunin, Horoki and the leaders bodyguards.

It was a farce that wouldn't hold for long, she was on borrowed time, but she didn't need it to hold long. Just enough, Ishunin's brusque and spiteful nature served her well, it allowed her men to brush aside questions and advisers and simply bark orders.

Horoki was more difficult, calmer, more nuanced, so he was kept suitably 'busy'.

By tomorrow another division of Takigakure's forces would be moved out to attack the Southernmost quadrant of the planned battleline. Far enough away to keep them from receiving information quickly. They would fight. Even if the deception was made public they wouldn't find out for days, weeks even. That would be enough.

In two more days another division would push behind Kusagakure's forward lines, taking up the front line duties, then her men would move behind them. Force them to remain.

By then, it would be too late.

Three days.

All she needed was three days.

Her eyes trailed up to the sky, still rumbling with the ever present rain.

She racked her brain, thinking.

Had she really almost forgotten?

She shook her head, then, turned sharply on her heel.

"Ma'am?" One of her subordinates called.

"Manage affairs for an hour. I will return shortly."

"Yes ma'am." Her man answered with a bow. No hesitation, only obedience.

Her footsteps carried her into the city, turning into quiet alleys and desiccated streets, deep. Deeper where no more dared to reside. Where ghosts and memories hung thickly in the air.

Deep, down down, deeper into the dark of Amegakure.

Her city was metal and iron water and rust. Built again and again over the corpses left in the wake of its own ruination.

Places where people chose to forget, to bury.

She chose not to. She kept the memory alive.

She had to, no one else would.

The sky rumbled above her, through rock and steel, rust and water.

The sun fled, even as the waters chased her down, sluicing through the canals and channels, tiny rivers chasing her footsteps.

She stepped into a basin.

It was not a sewer, but perhaps it would be one day, a place where the water pooled and fell, a chasm that led to the river beyond the city, where all the waters of the city drained.

Its size was massive, but more impressive was how deeply the people of Amegakure had buried the memory of this place.

She stepped closer to the center.

Her footsteps rippled across the water.

She stopped.

Konan knew this place. Knew its every contour and edge, every way the waters twisted and turned, how the bedrock foundation had been worn smooth over the years.

She knew.

And she could tell this was not right.

Her senses spread, fanning out. Searching.

She found them.

"It would be you…" The irony was not lost on her.

Emerging from the shadows, the figures of Konohagakure's two Sanin bled out of the obscurity of Amegakure's depths, facing her down.

She looked around at this place. "Do you recognize this place?" She asked.

Their features tightened.

They did.


The rain poured down ever harder, hissing its song through their ears as Konan drew the shortsword from her back.

"I suppose it's only fitting then."


He's hiding in the shadow of an oak tree.

It won't last for long. He pushed them hard, all of them are wary, afraid even. By his count he'd destroyed more than half of Sasori's little puppet Army, Deidara is slipping in and out of consciousness with bloodloss and the first old man, Shingen is dead as a damn doornail the old man Fukuro is barely able to stand from wounds and Chakra exhaustion.

Han though…

The others know they can't beat him… so once Han was free, catching him again had been nearly impossible with Deidara and the others pulling so many resources, so much of his attention and Chakra.

They knew their win condition.

"Don't worry sonny." Ma tries to console, standing on his lap. "If those mean boys come here we'll stop em."

He smiles, then grimaces, he can taste liquid copper at the back of his throat.

He's racking his brain, trying to think of a way out of this.

He hears the hiss of steam, the heat creeps its way closer and he finds himself wincing.

Not letting up huh.

He feels others now, closer. The rest of the Chuunin battle group had doubled back now to help.

Too many.

He's tired, his bones ache, If it wasn't for his backup he could take Han, easily. And if it wasn't for Han he could take on the rest of them, also easily…

Together though, they tipped the scales just enough.

Even Sage mode has its limits and he's rapidly approaching his.

"Ma, Pa. Can you guys do me a favor?"

"What my boy?" Pa asks.

"Can you take An-chan a message?"

The toad's features darken. "You're not done yet boy!"

Naruto shook his head. "I'm not… but… Just incase, yeah?" He smiled grimly with blood stained teeth.


The whole Covid situation has thrown my life for a loop so that's why this update was slower than usual. Hopefully we're past the hurdle.

Anyway hope you all enjoyed this chapter :D