Rippling Future @airheaded_dude
This Winding Road Part Two

Chapter Sixteen: This Winding Road, part two


Uzumaki Naruto, classified as dead by Konoha, was now jumping along three foreign shinobi that Konoha once again considered as its allies. Two of the more expressive siblings kept looking at the blonde in bewilderment just as to what had happened during the several months that occurred within Konoha's walls.

Gaara, however, was much more withdrawn. Inside his mind, Shukaku was restless, by no means was he throwing out suggestions of genocide, slaughter and the morbid thoughts that he kept on insisting to Gaara. On the contrary, Shukaku was quiet, it looked solemnly and Gaara had noticed the slight tremble he was experiencing as of now. He was twitching. As if something had made it afraid.

Shukaku was never afraid of anything.

Even with the realization of Kyuubi within Naruto, Shukaku was by no means scared of the Kyuubi. If it were, then their fight outside the walls of Konoha back then would have been avoided.

'Something irks you.' Gaara said in monotone, staring at the racoon-dog who was looking down, almost unresponsive.

'You would do well to not speak to me like that, boy. Especially not now, when there is something unsettling from that brat from Konoha.'

'I am perplexed that you seem to still be frightened of me, Shukaku.'

It was then that the world around Gaara had become completely black and his view had changed from the lush green leaves of Konoha's enormous forest, to the dark and almost pitch black area to where he is standing now. In front of him, stood Naruto who had the nine-tailed fox sitting behind him. But what got Gaara's attention was a man, no, a being constructed by what he could tell as chakra standing just in between the gigantic fox and the konoha ninja.

The man's outlines showed several cloths wrapping around him, a long shakujo staff in his hand and a clothed headband on his head.

Gaara looked back to Shukaku and then looked back to Naruto and the man who was grinning at them from ear to ear.

'Why is it so, Shukaku? Are you not also considered by father to be a son as well? Would that not make us siblings?'

Shukaku looked down, seemingly ashamed and he could not look at the man eye to eye.

'Who are you? What is going on?' Gaara asked, genuinely curious.

'His name is Asura Ootsuki, the youngest son of the Sage of Six Paths.' Naruto replied helpfully with a sheepish grin.

Gaara's eyes widened. The myth of the Rikudo Sennin was well known throughout the Elemental Nations. Personally, Gaara thought of it as nothing more than a myth. After all, the Rikudo Sennin had set the guidelines of the fabled ninshu, the teachings of peace and goodwill. Yet with the conflict that existed in between the clans and later on, the countries themselves, he found it hard to believe that someone would preach about love and peace.

Surely, anyone would have followed with that idea. But Gaara had seen first-hand the cruelties that humanity can beset one another.

So he had no reason to believe neither in the Rikudo Sennin nor in his ideals. To him, they do not exist. For if man truly wanted peace, then they would have stuck with ninshu and beings like him would have never been created out of necessity and paranoia.

But here it was, this construct of chakra, standing beside the boy and grinning from ear to ear, claiming of his parentage as that of the revered god of the ninja world.

It was truly an unbelievable claim!

'Or are you scared that I would look at you differently, even though I have long since known that you were lashing out your anger and pain.'

'I have never understood the concept of ninshu, Asura. You should know how I am inclined to believe that humans are worthless. They will be doomed by their own design. I am merely accelerating the process.'

'Our father was human, Shukaku, he would not have liked to see you acting this way.'

'You and father are the exceptions to that rule! Thousands of years I have watched as humans kill other humans, find means of killing each other in new ways and even us, imprisoning and using us as tools in their worthless conflict! You could not even begin to understand the betrayal we had suffered after your deaths!'

Asura closed his eyes and shook his head solemnly, 'Time has made you a cynic, Shukaku.'

'No, Asura, it has made me see the truth for what it is. Humanity is doomed to kill itself and this planet. They are better off gone, they have spat on father's hope for too long.'

Naruto looked at the two talking figures and raised an eyebrow before turning to Shukaku with an annoyed look.

'Hey! What gives you the right to send us to death for things some of us didn't even do?'

Shukaku looked at the boy and huffed, 'Kurama's brat, just you being a shinobi makes you a macabre of the teachings of the Sage of Six Paths! Even I know that you are an insult to him and his ideals! Even if you are the reincarnation of Asura, you are still prescribed to the same system that has ravaged this planet for more than a millennium! There is little incentive to give you the benefit of doubt.'

'Just because I'm a shinobi doesn't mean I'll go down the same path. We all have our choices to make. If you think being like that makes you better than humans, then you seriously need to think about it again.'

Naruto looked back on his memories, both happy and sad. He recalled them fondly, as both a reminder of his pain and his happiness, 'Everyone can change. I'm living proof of people that can change their mind set. It's true, people can be horrible but if that's true, the opposite should also be true as well. Gaara right there, he's also the same. He's changed. You need to understand that. And I'll prove to all of you that we can change!'

Kurama smirked from behind the boy, 'Brat, your age is showing. You are far too naïve of the world. The one that you are touting is nothing more than fantasy without the necessary strength. You will fall against the world for something so meaningless. But if you wish to continue in this path, then we will see who will bend first. Will it be you? Or will it be this cruel world?'

Naruto merely smirked back at the giant beast.

Shukaku gave a huff at Kurama and said haughtily, 'It is unfortunate for you, Kurama, to have gotten stuck with such an idiot.'

Kurama merely gave a scoff and gave a snarky reply, 'I've been stuck with idiots since I was born. You were no better.'

Shukaku seemed to show his fury at that, 'JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE NINE TAILS, DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE THE STRONGEST! FUCK YOU, KURAMA!'

Asura had to palm his face at this, even the bijuu were not immune to such petty conflict. He supposed it to be that way, though. His father intended for them to experience living with such emotions, after all.

'Excuse me.' Gaara had muttered and all the inhabitants of their current location turned to look at the red head with a curious glance.

'Where and why exactly are we here?' The boy asked.

Asura grinned, 'A special place, child. A place only the bijuu know and to a certain extent, a jinchuuriki. This place is where we can talk freely amongst ourselves, though this is the first time I've been here myself.'

'Only the bijuu and those that we let in can enter this plane. Asura has insisted that we brought you in for a chat in order to see who Shukaku's jailor is.' Kurama replied as he looked down to the youngest son of the sage of six paths who held out his hand to Shukaku with the most sincere smile on his face.

'Shukaku, even though it has been so long and so painful for you, I ask of you this not as the inheritor of ninshu and not as someone who wishes to carry out our father's will, but as your brother in all but blood. I want you to start believing again.'

Shukaku turned to Asura with a gobsmacked expression, 'You expect me to give them one more chance, Asura? After all of the things that have happened in our lives?'

Asura smiled again and patted his outstretched hand to Shukaku's arm and then placing his other hand on Naruto's head.

'Just like what father used to say to me; One day, you will understand as much as I understand you.'

A moment of silence existed before the tanuki spoke finally, 'One final chance, Asura, they have one final chance. I will believe once more but only because you said it yourself. Your word is father's word, after all.'

Asura grinned and then turned to Gaara and patted him on the head as well.

'You are strong, child. You have suffered much and you have gained wisdom through that pain. You have learned to love despite it. That mark suits you, child, and it bears all your sorrow. Shukaku will be in good hands.'

Naruto turned to look to his right, his face turning into a frown.

"Someone is following us." Naruto mentioned as his sharp and battle hardened instincts came into play with his perception turning back into the real world.

"You've been following us for quite some time now, what exactly are your intentions?" Kankuro looked back and the shadowed figure revealed himself to them.

The four of them smirked.


Shikamaru's team:

Shikamaru cursed quietly as he stared down at the only female member of the enemy squad.

'Always the worst luck of the draw. This is such a pain.' The genius thought as he crouched and hid from the female oto ninja's sights.

He had recalled how everything was shot to hell after Neji and Tenten left the team. He had an array of strategies already in mind as he discussed it with his team. When they finally caught up and everything was in order, one of the Oto nin thought it was a good time to go crazy and flipped as he tackled Kiba who now had the wooden barrel within his care. The two of them fell off of a deep looking ravine leaving Lee and him behind into facing the woman. Now the battle wouldn't normally problematic then, Lee was an astute shinobi despite his problem and responded well on orders. But things got complicated when another Sound Ninja made his presence known.

Now Shikamaru didn't seem to be scared for a second there, in fact, he already had a plan in his head for such an emergency. Unfortunately, the lady they had as an opponent was looking scared shitless at the guy with the white hair and eyeliner. If that didn't sound any alarm bells ringing in his head, he doubted nothing would.

Lee had pursued even though Shikamaru had advised against it. Lee reasoned out that their objective would get away. Shikamaru explained his observations and the unknown factors surrounding their new enemy and Lee understood. The green clad genin also had noticed it too and said to Shikamaru that he would be chasing after the enemy regardless. Shikamaru had no choice but to let Lee go after the newly identified enemy took the sealed barrel with him.

Giving a sigh once more, Shikamaru descended to the ground and hid beneath the shrubbery as Tayuya scanned around her and finally drawing out a flute from her pouch.

'Well, time to get this show on the road.'

Shikamaru grabbed a small pebble from the ground and played with it for a moment before he looked back to where Tayuya was and smirked.

'I'm not good in Shunshin, but I guess there will be a first time for everything.'


Kiba vs Sakon:

SMASH!

A rock just shattered seconds after Kiba had successfully dodged a blow that could have crushed his skull in. Lee had given him sufficient data regarding his opponent's skill. Apparently the guy can deliver multiple blows in a single swing. However, much of how the mechanics were lost to them as they found it quite difficult to decipher.

Kiba hadn't expected he and Akamaru could survive after a fall like that. The deep ravine that they fell through was said to be one of the fissures caused by the rampage of the nine-tailed fox. But looking at the cliff face, it looked like it was much older than just over a decade ago. There were shrubs that grew big enough at the walls of stone and earth that could be as close to a century old.

Akamaru had barked forcing Kiba's attention back to the fight as the blue haired man closed the distance between them with a fist drawn back and making its way towards his head.

Kiba surged chakra all around his body and jumped back, the effect of the Shikyaku no Jutsu (Four-Legs Technique) taking place.

When he landed, he skidded back slightly and snarled at the man. Kiba removed his hood from his head and let Akamaru jump out.

Kiba then performed a series of hand seals and ended it in the seal of the tiger. With a deep breath, he inhaled as much oxygen as he can and breathed out a gout of flame from his mouth that turned into a large ball of fire.

"Katon: Goukakyou no Jutsu (Fire Release: Grand Fireball Technique)!" The flame surged forward, scorching the earth beneath and stones completely black beneath it.

Sakon, who was surprised by this jutsu, decided to jump to the side as a part of his uniform was singed from the flames as he jumped to the side. He growled in anger and Sakon swore to make the boy pay.

He would get his wish when Kiba decided to attack with close range and spun like a buzzsaw and swiping at the flame causing a ring of fire to surround him before slamming on to Sakon who evaded just barely.

"Entenga (Blaze Rotating Fang)!"

Kiba had slashed his claws down and three of his sharp appendages managed to slash Sakon's right forehead all the way down to his face. There was no blood, as when the boy slashed the wound, the fire immediately cauterized it making a permanent scar on Sakon's face.

Kiba gave a grin as Sakon looked at the boy and traced the line of the wound from the forehead to his cheek beside his lip. Kiba could see Sakon grinding his teeth in sheer anger and then looked back to him with eyes that told him to prepare for an agonizing death.

"YOU LITTLE SHITSTAIN, BY THE TIME I'M DONE WITH YOU, NO ONE'S EVEN GOING TO RECOGNIZE YOU, NOT YOUR DAMN TEAMMATES AND ESPECIALLY NOT YOUR WHORE OF A MOTHER!"

Kiba grinned and pointed to himself with his thumb and all the self-assurance that he had, "I'm not going to lose, not to you, not to anyone else and especially not to that prick, Sasuke!"

"Taren Ken (Mach Fist)!"

Multiple arms blurred as Sakon smashed his fist down at Kiba who jumped back and arched his back to do a mid-air backflip. Beneath him was Akamaru, already performing the piercing fang technique on to Sakon's face.

Sakon had no time to react as he leaned to the side while his torso was shredded by the white and gray drilling move performed by Kiba's partner.

Kiba landed on the stony ground on the other side and ordered Akamaru to take cover.

"Get out of the way, boy! Katon: Hosenka no Jutsu (Fire Release: Mythical Fire Flower Technique)!"

This time, smaller orbs of fire arched across the air and headed straight to Sakon. The sound ninja decided to take cover from the hail of fireballs behind a stone wall and looked back as Kiba stopped being trigger-happy with his jutsu while Sakon growled in anger.

He was about to think of a strategy to use when he had heard a particular hissing sound that sent alerted him of what he had just stumbled upon.

It was like the sound of a den of angry hissing snakes. He turned around and saw multiple explosive notes strapped on to a rock just behind him and they were already past halfway for him to react faster and get away.

"SHIT!"

BOOM!

Multiple explosions rocked the bottom of the ravine as Kiba grinned and patted Akamaru on the head.

"Good work, Akamaru."

The dog gave a bark in satisfaction for his job well done.

As the smoke cleared, Sakon appeared from the fire and brimstone, angry, hurt, and enraged. Part of his skinned was charred from the proximity of the explosion while shrapnel had pierced his left leg, several on the side of his left abdomen and his left arm.

But that didn't surprise Kiba, though, what really surprised him was that the shrapnel inside his body was being pushed out with the wounds that Sakon received started wafting white smoke and began closing at an alarming rate.

'What the…'

His injured arm and leg soon began growing plates of armour on them with the shoulder gaining a spiked pauldron. Sakon's chin grew sharper as did his teeth his hair grew longer going all the way to the neck now with his bangs growing as well and gaining a horn on his forehead to the right.

"Get ready to die, you little shit, now that you've made me show level two, I'm going to fucking annihilate you!"

With movement that Kiba could swore that was almost as fast as Lee, Sakon had appeared beside him, his right hand already drawn midway and already a blur by the time it was too close to his face.

"Taren Ken (Mach Fist)!"

Kiba then saw stars in his eyes as he was pummelled rapidly by Sakon's fist. Staggering back, Kiba wiped the blood dripping from his nose and mouth as he was treated with another set of pummelling from Sakon, this time he was kicked in the stomach.

"Taren Kyaku (Mach kick)!"

THUD!

THUD!

THUD!

THUD!

Kiba felt like several jackhammers were pounded on his stomach as he was sent flying and crashing into a pile of gravel making him wince as he coughed up blood. Akamaru was already by his side as the dog was growling and snarling at the sound shinobi turned demonic being.

The speed demon closed in on them shoulder drawn out with the spike aiming on Kiba's head. Kiba activated his Shikyaku no Jutsu (Four Legs Technique) and reacted just in time to block the spike that he caught with his two hands and were several inches away from his face.

He had noticed that he had slid several paces away from his original spot with their enemy having a boost in strength as well. Akamaru had appeared just in time and tossed a smoke bomb from his mouth and landed to where Sakon and Kiba were.

Gunpowder smoke erupted in a thick cloud as Kiba slipped away quick and appeared beside Akamaru while Sakon was growing more and more frustrated.

'That damn dog always interrupts things!'

Kiba then performed a set of hand seals as he took a deep breath and shouted.

"Katon: Goukakyou no Jutsu (Fire Release: Grand Fire Ball Technique)!"

This time, Kiba gave Akamaru a red pill and said to his pet, "You ready, boy?"

The ball of flame was already past halfway when Kiba and Akamaru charged right through it with both of them spinning like a drill.

"Katon: Guren no Mai (Fire Release: Crimson Lotus Dance)!"

As Kiba and Akamaru became surrounded in Fire, the giant fire ball began to pick up pace as it slammed on to Sakon burning his body inside the encased armor and then being pushed back several meters as Kiba and Akamaru landed at front.

Akamaru dispelled his jutsu once more and growled again when he saw the man get up with not much visible damage with very little cuts.

"What the fuck is that hide? I can't seem to do much damage to this guy!"

"It's useless to even trying to pick a fight against us anyway, brat. You were dead the moment you tried to get your hands on Uchiha Sasuke."

Kiba smirked, "You sure about that? Sasuke may be an asshole and a prick but that guy made his loyalties clear a long time ago."

This time, it was Sakon who smirked, "Orochimaru-sama has one thing that Sasuke wants and that is power, power beyond his wildest imaginations, and power that you are now just witnessing!"

Kiba laughed at that one, "Who said Sasuke wants power that he knows is going to cost him? Like I said, Sasuke may be an asshole and a prick but if there's one thing that constantly remains with Sasuke is that he doesn't give out guarantees."

Sakon frowned at this, "What are you implying?"

Kiba pointed to Sakon, "Why should I tell a dead man about it?"

"Heh, those are big words coming from a brat that can't even hurt me."

Kiba smirked again and let Akamaru jump on his head.

"Try not to blink."

Kiba then concentrated chakra around his entire body as he performed a single seal with the dog above his head vanishing in a blur.

Akamaru appeared in mid-air spinning around as Kiba shouted, "Now Akamaru, dynamic marking!"

Akamaru then decided to empty his bladder while spinning as the dog sprayed over the Sound shinobi who looked mightily pissed.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Kiba didn't answer, instead, he went on all fours and gave a mad dash forward sidestepped and jumped from a stone wall dashing towards it and leapt towards Akamaru.

"Inuzuka-ryu Juujin konbi henge (Inuzuka-style Man-beast combination transformation)!"

A giant white cloud of smoke wafted in the air covering Sakon's entire visual range before a giant twenty meter tall white dog with two heads appeared out of the smoke and growling at him.

"Soutorou (Double headed Wolf)!"

Sakon assessed his situation for a few seconds. He would assume that this form of his enemy was slower than his original form. All that mass and its gigantic form would surely be…

He didn't get to finish that train of thought as he had suddenly felt something ram at his entire body with the force of a gigantic summon. Sakon's world shook as if he had just experienced a disorienting earthquake.

His vision spun as he rolled to the ground and felt the shocking force of being thrown like a ragdoll. His conjured armor did not help matters.

'Damn thing is fast!' The man thought as he got up, dirt, grime and mud now littered his uniform along with a few tatters on them.

Sakon looked down, seeing his shadow expanding to several meters forcing him to look up. That was when he saw the giant dog pouncing on him from above.

Sakon jumped just in time too as the dog had stomped on the ground and destroyed the craggy floor beneath him. But that was not the end of it though, Kiba's form growled and leapt while Sakon was in mid-air and spun around like an angry storm of blades.

"Garouga (Double Wolf Fang)!"

Sakon could only watch in abject horror as he was shredded into two and mangled as the twister of a technique tore through him like a hot iron spear.

When Kiba and Akamaru's giant two-headed wolf landed, they looked back to see Sakon in two vertically, probably mangled beyond belief. What they didn't expect was that both bodies started to regenerate. The cuts that he had inflicted earlier closed up as the two mangled pieces of his enemy began to heal and form limbs that Kiba knew couldn't be possible.

"Sorry you had to be awake for this, Ukon, I have no doubt you're probably pissed off by this." One of them said as the other replied.

"Fucking annoys me when shit like this happens. Sakon, would you mind if we tear this guy limb from limb?"

Sakon gave a chuckle and replied with an amused tone, "No problems here bro."

Then, the one on the left gave a sinister grin as Kiba suddenly realized that he had been fooled when he used his technique earlier. Ukon chuckled when he saw one of the dog heads was growling dangerously at him.

"You look like you just had an epiphany."

The dog didn't answer and instead used his speed once more to go around the twins forming dust clouds while the two remained motionless.

'I have to box them in and perform one more Garouga (Double Wolf Fang) to take them out. Akamaru can't perform another attack like that and he won't be able to move for a while.'

Kiba and Akamaru stomped the ground with their gigantic paws as he sent them hurtling towards the twins. The siblings merely jumped out of the way as stone and earth were sent to their direction and smashed to the floor beneath them. The gigantic canine then swiped at Sakon who dodged to the side as Kiba moved around once more and sent another swipe at Ukon who did the same.

Reinforced armor or not, they were definitely not going to take the chance of having a gigantic claw capable of cleaving stone come down to their heads.

Sakon and Ukon suddenly looked at each other and their proximity to one another when they had suddenly realized what their opponent was doing.

'He's boxed us in!'

And quick to follow, the gigantic wolf jumped from the trail of dust clouds into the air and spun around like a drill coming down on the twins.

"Garouga (Double Wolf Fang)!"

Sakon and Ukon looked at each other and bit their thumbs together as they slammed their hands on the ground at the same time.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu: Rashomon (Summoning Technique: Rashomon)!"

A giant gate with a demonic looking face painted on its doors erupted from the ground, its pillars were designed with curved but sharp red spikes for an additional intimidating look the chains that dangled at its side with a piece of iron as weight on it swayed while the top, tiled with purple in design looked aged and cracking.

Kiba and Akamaru couldn't stop themselves as they went straight to the center of the summoned gate and denting it in the middle as they crashed and stopped in mid-air while the gave a resounding metallic clang throughout the crevice.

"To be able to put a dent on Rashomon is quite a feat, if I do say so." Ukon looked up as the gate dispelled itself as Sakon reappeared at the other side.

Both brothers jumped at the same time as the gigantic creature fell to them with their armoured hands drawn back.

SMASH!


Shikamaru vs Tayuya:

Shikamaru was taught back then that to a shinobi, anything that he could perceive as a weapon, he must consider it to his advantage. During his free time of being locked up in his room and drawing schematics and training, he became very mindful of the many variables that surrounded him. It was actually ironic, that the more he concentrated himself, the more he became perceptive of his world. What his five senses perceive, his mind would process it faster than before.

He reminded himself that in everyday life, he must learn that it was always a battle, a struggle to overcome.

Shikmaru looked up and angled his arm to throw a pebble towards Tayuya with a concentration that he had not had since.

With a swift throw, Shikamaru vanished from his position with a single bound of his Shunshin no Jutsu, not even seeing for himself the result of his action when he threw it at his opponent.

He landed on a branch, his feet not making a sound as he landed. Shikamaru plastered a single explosive note to a tree trunk obscure enough to be hidden.

'Need to keep the up the illusion that I'm attacking her from a distance and with stealth in mind. Keep her pinned there on the defensive to deal with my preparations.' Shikamaru thought, tossing a weapon every time he used his Shunshin no Jutsu and letting fly random objects that would be enough to put Tayuya on the defensive.

"You fucking pieces of trash just won't give up!" Yelled Tayuya as she bit her lip and marks of the cursed seal appeared all over her body.

"I'm going to take my time in killing you, shithead!"

Shikamaru didn't reply as all he was thinking about were executing every detailed step he could think of on the fly. Shikamaru's mind ran faster than most people, at least it was what his father explained to him when he was younger and telling him it was a trait of many of their many leaders throughout the history of their clan. It also had a side effect of those afflicted with this condition to be rather lazy. His mind simply ran at a pace where his body wouldn't be able to keep up. It played countless scenarios in his head, things that could come true and he would pick out the most logical conclusion to that end. By the time he had started to move, he had already thought of the next following steps while also conjuring up another. So caught up with his plans in taking on the sound kunoichi that when he finally stopped, he had expended majority of his tools within his pouch making him smile reluctantly as he looked down.

'I got so caught up in my plans that I turned this entire forest into a veritable death trap.'

By the time she had finished the sequence of seals, Shikamaru had already booby trapped the entire field as smoke began to rise from the ground where Tayuya touched on.

"KUCHIYOSE NO JUTSU (Summoning Technique)!"

Three hulking and macabre giants now stood around her. The one on her left had very long ashen grey hair and his face was drooping down on the ground, within his possession was a studded metal club, about half the size of its wielder. The next one that stood behind her was almost the exact opposite of the one to her right. This one had little to no hair on the top of its head. But its weapons weren't as big as the first one, no. This time, the weapons were thorn or claw like weapons that were wrapped around its arms. The third and probably the most bizarre of all, was the giant on Tayuya's left. Its face suggested that it was looking up, but he was covered from head to torso in long strips of bandages that most of its features were obscured.

All three, however, shared the same thing. Their eyes were covered by a blindfold or in the case of the third by his bandages but their mouths were completely sewn shot.

And Shikamaru just stood there with sweat falling from his brow and his hands trembling in both fear and anticipation.

Then, he let loose three kunai from his hands and threw it straight to his opponent.

Tayuya immediately noticed the blades and had one of the three giants block it for her with a sound of her flute. Tayuya looked up, a fire burning in her eyes as she blew the flute again and this time, the three giants moved.

Shikamaru simply grabbed one more kunai from his pouch and gripped it with all he could before he crouched and then jumped just as one of the giants smashed the branch that he was standing on sending splinters everywhere.

Shikamaru then heard a change in the tune of the woman's flute as then the one with the thorns strapped on its hands swung its left fist back and throttled it at Shikamaru's direction. Quick on his feet, Shikamaru had already finished the sequence of seals for the Shunshin no jutsu just as he was about to be impaled by the spikes. The giant merely pierced the branch behind Shikamaru shattering it to splinters.

Shikamaru then reappeared seconds later, a few steps away from Tayuya. The red head had to stop her flute playing just as Shikamaru made a dash for her with a kunai drawn. Shikamaru was going for a direct stab but Tayuya evaded by sidestepping and then jumping back.

Quick to follow up, Shikamaru's shadow slinked its way around the branches as it surged towards Tayuya. The red head, knowing fully well the abilities of the Nara clan, further jumped back and landed on another branch just as Shikamaru cancelled his jutsu and letting the knife within his hands fly towards his opponent.

Tayuya leaned back and let the blade sail above her as she once more played the flute with the three giants descending upon him in complete anger.

Shikamaru jumped from his branch just as the one with the thorn wrapped hands sent a vicious strike at him that could have impaled his entire chest.

The branch shattered from the impact and fell to the forest floor in a loud crackling sound.

Shikamaru bounded off a tree branch just as he performed a timely shunshin to another side and the three giants gave chase.

Shikamaru could hear the cracking and splintering of wood as the three giants lay waste on the forest but he decided to block it out. It would not do well to be encompassed by fear with the current altercation. So far, he still has yet to turn the tables around against his opponent.

Shikamaru smirked when he was entering familiar territory and made a sharp turn to the right with a perfectly timed and well executed shunshin. There were no traces of smoke nor leaves left behind as he did so and seemingly vanished from sight once again.

The one with the claws was the first to arrive to the last place Shikamaru was seen. It then left forward in order to continue its search.

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

A series of explosions rocked the forest as a large cloud of dust and debris escaped into the sky as the flames and the force of the explosion burned and mangled the body of the yellow giant. It fell down in a heap to the ground as its left leg was literally blown off from the explosion.

It gave a low and earth shaking groan before it fell to the ground as the two remaining giants looked around.

'I seriously didn't expect these things would be her main avenues in fighting. I've never seen her once displaying her skill other than a few use of the kunai and some taijutsu. It probably means this is probably one of their best kept secrets.'

Shikamaru landed on another branch and crouched as he observed the two remaining mobile giants.

Back to Tayuya, she scowled, one of her giants were taken down by traps. Her opponent was a crafty son of a bitch. He would limit the use of his jutsus and expend all of his equipment first before using his chakra.

To Tayuya, that meant one thing.

Her opponent did not have reserves enough to stand a long term battle. He may be a crafty bastard, but he lacked stamina and the chakra enough to go toe to toe with her.

If he was struggling in a fight like this, then imagine to what he might be if she used the second stage of her cursed seal.

She sensed the chakra presence of the giant that her opponent had taken down and saw that he wasn't dispelled.

She smirked inwardly, a little plan formed in her head.

'A battle of attrition, eh? Then let's play. Inducing fatigue would be the best way to go in taking care of this little shit.' Tayuya then changed the tempo and tune of her flute as it became more feverish, faster and higher in pitch.

Her form changed, the cloth and headband wrapped on her head fell was torn up by the horns that had protruded from her head. The sclera on her eyes turned black as her iris turned yellow, the full effect of the cursed seal manifesting itself on her.

'Shukyoku Daikyusetsu: Makyo no Ran (Finale, the Ninth Movement: Revolt of the Demon World)'

The sewn mouths of the three giants were then forcibly opened and three grotesque translucent apparitions exited from the oral cavity of the abominations. They wriggled in mid-air, swaying with the wind slightly before they opened their mouths showing sharp rows of teeth.

It groaned as saliva dripped from its mouth and Shikamaru could swear to himself that he had never seen anything so gross and putrid in his whole life.

He leaned down slightly and was suddenly surprised that the ghost like things lashed out at him like a vicious viper.

Shikamaru jumped from his position backwards as the beings coiled in mid-air and chased after him like a rabid dog.

'These things are sensitive to movement. Shit…'

Shikamaru cursed as he landed on another branch and descended to the ground below.

'The best way to stop this is to go direct to the source. The sound of her flute tells them how and where to attack while the ghosts give her feedback when they detect movement.'

Shikamaru had fully understood the mutual benefits of what Tayuya and her summons could do and he was hard-pressed to admit that he was the one who was in a disadvantage against this opponent.

A ghost had appeared below and ascended upwards straight to Shikamaru, in great surprise, Shikamaru had little time to effectively dodge the attack and it grazed his shoulder.

Shikamaru landed on the ground, feeling a bit winded as he cursed inwardly once more.

'I see, so that jutsu drains physical strength. She's trying to tire me out.'

It was then that Shikamaru had realized the situation he was in when he gained the necessary amount of information concerning this technique.

'That gives me all the necessary time I need.'

Shikamaru checked his equipment as he jumped away when another set of ghosts appeared above him.

The boy simply bowed and vanished with a simple and unflashy shunshin no jutsu (Body Flicker Skill).

Shikamaru had landed at a fair distance as he sat down and began to think in his usual pose.

The chuunin grinned as he began thinking of plan after plan, after plan. The scenarios in his head playing out as he factored in every single thing he had seen from his enemy.

He grinned, his eyes still closed and he stood up. He checked his equipment and found out he was already running out.

There were only several more kunai and shuriken in his pouch as well as explosive notes dangerously close into the single digits.

He still had some traps ready, and although it was a complete waste for them with the enemy preferring to be stationary now, Shikamaru quickly took this opportunity as a sign of his widening options.

'To dispel those things I need to stop her. But first I need to get those creatures away from her.'

Back with Tayuya, she scowled, even with a shunshin, the jutsu shouldn't be enough to slip out of her technique.

'Unless that shitty little fucker has something close to a jikuukan ninjutsu, that little shit shouldn't have gotten away that easy. That or his use of the jutsu is leagues above the average shinobi.'

BOOM!

Her thoughts were put on an abrupt halt as she heard a resounding explosion just north of her, reacting quickly, she had sent her ghosts to see what had caused the explosion. It could just be a false flag, signalling her that the crafty little bastard was trying to get away with a red herring, but she knew not to take her chances when something like this happens.

And sure enough, her intuitions saved her when Shikamaru had appeared just a few short seconds later with a kunai drawn. Tayuya sidestepped the attack and played her flue once more. The black ogre descended on the shadow user quick as Shikamaru slipped by his attacker by a backflip down below and descending into the ground and letting go his kunai to a trunk.

Tayuya hadn't noticed the grin in Shikamaru's face as he looked back to the ogre before it was shredded by a web of strong, tensile and almost invisible set of ninja wire that a shinobi of only Shikamaru's size can exit. Of course, the weight of the ogre couldn't be supported enough and the ninja wire had to give way, not even reaching a quarter of the ogre's flesh.

Tayuya scowled, her opponent had learned something from their encounter with Kidoumaru.

'Maybe that's why they've gotten here. This little fucker can adapt and make sound battlefield judgements. He's not a pushover.'

But of course, Shikamaru was counting for that as the next series of events played perfectly into his hands.

Multiple branches broke off, some the size of a fully grown adult, laced with explosives and wrapped itself around the ogre before falling to the ground and exploding in a fiery blaze.

Tayuya gritted her teeth as Shikamaru landed on the ground and proceeded to dash away again before he was chased again by a chakra apparition.

Tayuya played her flute feverishly, her target slipping away.

It took several more minutes of Tayuya chasing after her prey when an idea crossed her mind.

Her eyes wordlessly narrowed on her opponent, still with the flute in her lips. Inwardly, she was smiling.

As Shikamaru decided to go for another trap, he was suddenly routed when he saw the chakra apparition heading right at his general direction, the chuunin cursed his luck and jumped the final ogre now going at him at a general direction, forcing Shikamaru to take another way to his trap.

He wouldn't be able to succeed though, as the ghost kept blocking his way with the ogre pressuring him from behind.

Having no way to escape, his equipment virtually depleted and chakra running out, he had no choice but to keep evading and find a way to get out of her range and trigger another trip long enough so he could get close to her and stop her from playing her flute.

After another set of interception and pressure, Shikamaru noticed a pattern in the woman's attacks and scowled.

'She's forcing me in a specific direction. Shit, I can't avoid this scenario!'

Shikamaru thought in a panic as backup plans began formulating in his head.

He had landed in a familiar looking place and stopped when he noticed that he was well within the range of Tayuya.

He looked back and saw the bandaged ogre chasing after him as Tayuya closed in with a kunai brandished.

Shikamaru had no other choice and with only two flash grenades left, he turned back and tossed it behind him well within Tayuya's sights.

The woman's eyes widened as she was suddenly engulfed with light, her last ogre couldn't be stopped as Shikamaru performed one more well timed shunshin.

When the light cleared, Tayuya stood there, unmoving, her shadow stretched as it connected to Shikamaru, her flute laid down on the hard wood.

Throughout it all, Shikamaru was breathing heavily, the bags under his eyes showed the fatigue he was having.

"Kage Mane no Jutsu (Shadow Imitation technique), success…"

Tayuya simply scoffed it off and replied.

"You can't hold this for long, one way or another, I'm going to break free from this jutsu and then…"

She trailed off and released her killing intent, "I'll be sure to lop your fucking head off."

Shikamaru then spoke sweat dripping from his brow, "You underestimate me. Ever since the start of the fight, you kept selling me short. You decided to toy with me instead, hoping that you wouldn't have to face your teammate. You tried to drag this out as much as you can, unfortunately for you…"

Shikamaru then weaved three more signs as several hands of shadows began to creep up on Tayuya, spiralling upwards towards his neck.

"… You made a mistake by trying to fight me in a battle of attrition. In such cases, I always find my shortcuts."

Then, he invoked the name of the jutsu, "Kage Kubi Shibari no Jutsu (Shadow Strangulation technique)"

The process was slow, and Tayuya could still greatly resist the jutsu that was trying to seal her fate.

Shikamaru cursed, if this kept up, he would run out of chakra in just even trying to reach for the woman's neck.


Lee:

It was courteous of a warrior to give out his name at the start of the battle. It was the kind of etiquette that he had learned from his sensei. When warriors trade blow, be it fists or blades, they must show signs of acknowledgement for their opponents. So that when one of them is slain, the victor can remember his opponent.

And judging from the man's posture and the way he was looking at him with no hint of emotion at all, it would seem that the man was making an assessment of him, observing him to determine what kind of fighter he was.

The he heard the sound of bones crackling, as if they were being rubbed together in intense friction before a pair of spikes protruded from his arms, the white haired boy introduced himself, as a sign of courtesy to the person he was about to kill.

"I am Kimimaro, the last of the Kaguya Clan and the leader of the Sound Five."

Rock Lee responded in kind, "I am Rock Lee, the Mighty Green Beast of Konoha and a genius of hard work!"

Kimamaro didn't seem to nod but he would introduce himself by planting his spiked right palm straight to the boy's face. Lee reacted, his body responded to the speed that Kimimaro was demonstrating, he had seen faster, fiercer, stronger and harsher.

It was no secret that Gai was a monstrous ninja, his prowess in Taijutsu was nearly unmatched by any other being in Konoha and perhaps beyond. Even the famed Hyuuga Clan, with its strict tradition and overwhelming pride, would respect his sensei's prowess in close quarter combat although sometimes begrudgingly.

And like the ebb and flow of a stream of water, Lee dodged thrust after thrust that Kimimaro would do to him. But instead of growing frustrated, the white haired boy simply grew persistent with his attacks.

Yanagi no Mai (Dance of the Willow) was his first dance and those who would be able to keep up with his wide spreading and incredibly risky manoeuvres were shinobi not of normal calibre. For a boy of this age to keep up with him was a feat in of itself.

It meant he was facing a shinobi that wasn't run-of-the-mill.

But still, he still had very little to show using the first dance and decided to make it more interesting by adding more spiked appendages all around his body. Sharp curved blades of bone sprouted from his elbows, shoulders and knees as he spun, jabbed, charged and jumped.

Yet still, Rock Lee found them slow, though he seemed to have picked up the pace. Lee leaned forward and ducked when Kimimaro attacked with his knee. The spike missed Lee by a very small margin as the boy dashed forward and counter-attacked. He jabbed his fist on the side of the knees stopping Kimamaro's momentum who looked surprised at such as Lee followed up with a sweeping kick.

Kimimaro jumped and backed off just as Rock Lee was about to perform a Konoha Senpuu (Leaf Whirlwind).

Lee resumed his stance, Kimimaro was watching in anticipation. So far, he had seen a very good amount of reflex, his movements had little waste in them and he dodged with as little energy as possible. He could also give out a good counter-attack and attacked in a very sound manner.

'A taijutsu user', Kimamaro thought. There was little doubt in his mind now that this person was good in close quarter combat. From the way Lee moved when he attacked, the speed, the reaction time, to the way he performed that very efficient counter, it showed just how much honed his senses were.

'From the way he fights, it is safe to assume that he lacks in a certain field. Genjutsu, maybe? Or Ninjutsu…' Kimimaro then pointed his fingers at Rock Lee who remained alert just as Kimimaro let loose a rain of ten small bones straight at him.

Lee had dodged, and it took him by surprise that Kimimaro would resort to such a thing. Kimimaro then lunged at him and only with reflexes of one such as Lee could he have a moment to dodge as Kimimaro tried to stab him at the chest and at his side with a knee strike. Lee deflected the blow, making it harmless as he took a step towards Kimimaro and elbowed the boy straight to the stomach.

Kimimaro flew back as Lee followed it up by throwing his weights towards his opponent who had fired ten finger bullets at him earlier on.

Kimimaro was surprised when his Teshi Sendan (Ten Finger Drilling Bullets) did nothing to the pair of weights and found himself suddenly weighed down by the offending object as they broke the blades on his hands and elbows.

Certainly the cloth that bound the things could be destroyed but its contents were practically indestructible. So when Kimimaro landed with his blades of bone breaking upon impact and the ground shattering from the sheer weight of the objects, Lee had appeared right on top of him and stomped his chest enough for the ground beneath them to shatter from the force of the drop.

Lee jumped back just as a few spikes of bone tried to impale his legs.

He looked back at Kimimaro and frowned. The boy got up, obviously dirtied but not exactly harmed enough.

"You have done well against one of my dances. I have five in total. Can you actually bring them all out?"

He loosened the sleeve on his left shoulder as bone crept up from it. Kimimaro pulled it out, forming a strange sword with it.

"This is my second dance, Tsubaki no Mai (Dance of the Camelia)."

Lee was quick to react, as Kimimaro suddenly attacked at an angle almost impossible to do so. He was nearly caught off guard, but with his honed reflexes, he was able to dodge, if even barely. A scratch had made its way on his shoulder, slicing his suit open and leaving a small trickle of blood in its wake as the bone was retracted.

Lee then took two leaps back and resumed his stance, noting that his enemy had upped the ante and increased his speed as well as his attack range. That thrust he did earlier shouldn't have made contact from its earlier trajectory, but Kimimaro had changed his movements to the very last second and adjusted his thrust well.

It was subtle but it was deadly. He had seen enough sword manoeuvres from Tenten that he could tell just how an armed person would attack.

It was also one of her little tricks when performing thrusts and it is almost unavoidable if you didn't expect it.

But Lee was honed by his sensei and teammates to fight with a disadvantage. And he learned to fight tooth and nail out of sheer determination and overpowering skill with his fists alone. He is not one to be taken lightly at any cost.

Lee then reached for his back pack and grabbed a pair of tonfas made out of iron wood.

Iron wood was heavy, but they were tough enough to endure blade attacks. It would not be easy to cut through such a material. No sword, unless enhanced by wind chakra, could ever break them in one slice.

Gai taught him how to use a tonfa and explained to Lee the importance of being well protected against armed opponents. The Goken was typically bare handed but it did not mean that its discipline was strictly limited to hand to hand combat only, weapons could also be used. It was uncommon, but indeed, the Goken truly had instances of using weapons and these weapons mixed perfectly with its tenacious and explosive fighting style.

And then, Kimimaro attacked once again, in a very difficult angle once more with a thrust ready. But Lee was prepared for him this time.

When the attack came, Lee parried it with his right arm and the tonfa taking the brunt of the attack not even once splintering, redirecting Kimimaro's attack and with his left bashed the offending arm with the short end of the tonfa forcing Kimimaro to let go of his bone sword and Lee following it up with an upward kick straight to Kimimaro's chin.

Kimimaro dodged by leaning back but Lee was faster, his feet were quicker and he attacked much more frequently. Lee vanished from his position as fast as if he was performing a real Shunshin and slammed both his tonfas on Kimimaro's left side as he reappeared, his feet sliding to the grassy land as the last of the Kaguya clan skidded back. Lee did not let up as he vanished once more and reappeared just to Kimimaro's back already in a spin and unleashed a massively strong and furious Konoha Senpuu that caused the air itself around him to blow up a gust rustling the grass around them.

The speed that he had used was something Kimimaro should have expected, yet still found surprising, it was as if Lee had turned into a veritable wild storm, a fierce monsoon raging at a coastline.

Kimimaro recovered and got up as he once more produced a sword out of bone from his left shoulder. He looked on in silent trepidation as he had realized that this green beast, as ridiculous as he looked and sounded, was an ever fitting nickname.

He pointed the tip of his blade towards his opponent wordlessly and wind rustled between them, it howled and blew all around them before the both of them vanished.

Kimimaro and Lee clashed and the sound of bone and wood echoed around as both of them entered into each other's range and began to test each other's defence against each of their weapons. Kimimaro tested Lee's evasive and counter measures against his attacks that were outside normal angles and pushed Lee's defensive skills to their brink. He would try and debilitate Lee by using afterimages but Lee was just too well adjusted for such high speed combat that it was useless to catch him off guard in a battle of speed which Kimimaro found the hard way when Lee smashed his tonfa to Kimimaro's face with a straight jab and a swipe.

For Lee's instance, he had been forced to do more defensive manoeuvres and tested Kimimaro's patience. He was at a clear disadvantage with height and reach, the instance that he could leave an attack on Kimimaro's face was a lucky shot at best when Kimimaro had leaned forward far too eagerly and Lee took advantage of that position. Kimimaro however, was quick to recover and Lee could not follow up any debilitating blows when Kimimaro decided to play more with his technique and began attacking areas that would otherwise leave him unguarded when he tried to block or dodge.

The result was Lee getting some shallow cuts on his right cheek, the left side of his neck, his right forearm, his right leg and left thigh.

Both Ninjas slid back, away from each other kicking up dirt and uprooting grass as they did so.

"You've done quite well for a shinobi of your level. However…"

Kimimaro then loosened his other sleeve and revealed on his chest, the cursed seal of earth.

"… I have gauged enough of your ability to know that you cannot beat me."

Marks of the seal soon spreads over a small part of his skin as Kimimaro's right hand and fingers twitched and contorted for bones to pop up from his right hand.

"Your attacks are angular, like your name. But taijutsu alone puts you in a disadvantage."

BOOM!

Both of them looked at the sound of the explosion and saw the container destroyed with smoke wafting from the epicentre. Kimimaro looked on in anticipation while Lee did as well, although much more nervous. Kimimaro then remarked.

"The vessel of Orochimaru-sama has finally awakened. With this, he can go to where Orochimaru-sama is while I stay behind and deal with you. I have sought out to complete my purpose."

Sasuke appeared from the smoke, greyish to white hair spiked all the way to his lower back and skin darkened with nails as sharp as claws. Strapped behind him was a sword, a true katana and he reached out for it.

"I am no one's vessel." Sasuke muttered, the features of his hair receding and turning up to black.

A click was all that was heard when Sasuke pulled out the blade from his own mother, Murakumo no Ken (Cloud Gathering Sword).

Instantly, Kimimaro was on guard and with his own reflexes blocked a sword strike that would have completely bisected him from the waist down.

For this reason, it had somehow enraged Kimimaro.

"Traitor! After the grace given to you by Orochimaru-sama, you spat on his offer of power!"

Sasuke scoffed at it with an emotionless and unforgiving tone as his fully matured sharingan came to life with three tomoe spinning per eye.

"Power? Power can be obtained anywhere. What is best is to hone it, to make it bend to your will, control it. You, who sought power to an outside influence and then be reliant on it, have no right to lecture me about power. The temptation of it is alluring, yes, but an offer like that is too good to be true. There are consequences to be paid and I am no stranger to such a thing."

Sasuke and Kimimaro jumped back from each other with the Uchiha now standing beside Rock Lee.

"I do not have such delusions as to come and seek Orochimaru for something that will hold me back in the end. I have understood it, Orochimaru will only make me strong to a certain point where I can be easily controlled and where my abilities will remain to that point. I will never be strong enough to face Itachi if I were to follow Orochimaru."

"You used Orochimaru-sama's offer for your own retched gains! How dare you make light of his offerings!" Kimimaro was now angered. Sasuke had only used them for this moment. It was utterly humiliating especially for someone like him, who had considered Orochimaru as his guiding light.

"Just as he is willing to use me as his container and vessel, I will use his offer as a chance to see what it can do and how it is done. I must admit, it is indeed alluring but in the end, this is meaningless if I were to die, so I will say it to you now…" Sasuke pointed his blade at Kimimaro and a flashback of Naruto's mangled corpse entered into his head. His teeth clenched as he said the words that he had wanted for a long time.

"There is no honour in death." Kimimaro growled at this, everything up until now, he had given everything for his lord and master and to see a boy like this discard every wonderful offer from his master and stomping it in such a vicious manner was quite infuriating.

"Sasuke-kun…" Lee interrupted, the Uchiha turned to Lee as the older of the two said, "You have become strong."

Sasuke merely turned his gaze back to Kimimaro and said, "Konoha is my home, a place where my clan was slaughtered by a man driven insane by power, it holds within me a kind of pain that will never go away, but also a pain that will make me strong."

Sasuke then used a handed seal of the tiger before touching the flat side of the blade from the base onto the tip.

"And for that reason alone, I will protect it, just as what my teammate would have wanted me to."

Flames ignited from the blade, swaying and dancing wildly with the wind as he invoked the name of the technique that hasn't been heard since the time of Uchiha Shisui.

"Uchiha ryu: Higasa no Mai (Uchiha Style: Halo Dance)!"

Kimimaro charged, bone sword drawn, Sasuke reacted, sharingan tracing every bit of movement coming from Kimimaro. He parried an overhead slash downwards with ease of both his hands and countered with a wide horizontal swing to Kimimaro's chest and a single step.

Kimimaro leaned back, but a trail of conflagration seared through his skin so quick that he had no time to guard with his bones. The searing heat from his skin wafted a pungent odor to his nose and he looked down, seeing the cooked flesh that Sasuke had just inflicted.

Kimimaro looked back and saw Sasuke's image flicker before vanishing and diving down at him in an instant. Kimimaro managed to completely dodge this time and pointed his fingers directly at Sasuke. Lee was quick to cover Sasuke by stepping in just as fast and smashed his Tonfa on the bone user's arms.

Kimimaro slid back, protecting his form with his arms with blood spilling from one of his spiked bones on his forearms.

Lee winced.

He looked at his arms and noticed that some had gashes on them, not deep enough, but certainly noticeable. Kimimaro had just used his third dance, Karamatsu no Mai (Dance of the Larch).

In turn, Kimimaro had to jump back as Sasuke decided to capitalize on his attention to Lee by appearing just beside him and swinging his katana sideways with flames trailing from the tip of his blade.

The conflagration missed as Kimimaro leaned back and immediately countered by recoiling his back and pushing the bone sword forward, aiming for Sasuke's shoulders to disable him from using any attacks or jutsu.

Unfortunately, Sasuke's form wavered into thin air, as if he had just pierced steam as Kimimaro's senses took over when Sasuke had appeared from above with sword already in mid swing downwards.

Kimimaro jumped back, just as the burning sword struck down to where his body was supposed to be earlier.

He jumped further back once more, now eyeing both the green clad taijutsu user and his master's new chosen vessel.

His Tsubaki no Mai would be useless against these two, Lee had the speed to keep up and the skill for him to counter any closed ranged attacks. His mastery over his taijutsu was indeed superb, but he was weak against everything else. All Kimimaro needed was an opening against Lee and he doubted the boy could seriously land a blow with just his taijutsu alone.

Then Kimimaro turned to look at Sasuke and he felt his blood boil at the notion of Sasuke simply using Orochimaru for his own gain. He couldn't fathom how someone could so willingly throw away the grace of another person, the chance to become stronger beyond anyone's imagination.

Yet he couldn't help but feel that it was exactly this reason why Sasuke was chosen. Not only was the boy skilled, with his movement that could be harkened to a deceitful mirage in the desert, Sasuke also had the same facets of that of his master, his cold-blooded demeanour in many things, his presumed ruthlessness and his willingness to strike down anyone that crossed his path.

They all cultivated in one thing, Sasuke was the prodigy Orochimaru had been searching for all his life. With access to the Sharingan, it would be no doubt that his master would attain new heights for his goals.

And soon, an epiphany came to Kimimaro.

He could not fail his master especially now of all times.

Even if his body broke, he would bring back Uchiha Sasuke to Otogakure and he would do it as his last offering to the person who has taken him.

The curse mark on his chest started spreading further and the bones in his body began twitching and snapping like twigs. Sasuke watched in morbid fascination as Kimimaro started growing ivory spikes of bone out of his body like a porcupine. The marks of the cursed seal started spreading all over him entering into the first stage.

For now, Sasuke had to keep his sharingan on his opponent and try to intercept anything if Kimimaro decided to attack his current teammate.

Rock Lee scowled. It was as if with each new and escalating odds stacking against the last of the Kaguya clan, the boy would come up with something with his bones and come out stronger for it if he couldn't be taken down. So in order to bring this one down, they would need to strike Kimimaro down fast and make sure of an effective and crippling blow. He only knew of one thing that could penetrate such a defense.

Ura Renge.

Since his recovery after the defeat from the hands of Sabaku no Gaara, Rock Lee was adamant on mastering and unlocking the rest of the eight gates. Gai had reciprocated. He had trained Lee in a much more intensive training regimen that concerned the Goken.

He now had to punch faster but also harder, he had to kick harder that the air itself could serve as a platform or a weapon for him. But most of all, Gai had reminded him what being a truly splendid shinobi meant.

'A truly strong and splendid shinobi, no, a true taijutsu master must step away from the bounds of his own style and must search for new horizons once he has attained complete mastery of one style. The goken, for all its strength and ability, is still only one style. To become a true taijutsu master, you must be your own master.'

Those were Gai-sensei's words to him. And it resonated within himself to find something more than just the Goken, more than just this style that has stubbornly defined him since his entire shinobi career.

'Gai-sensei, I am still too far away to master the Goken. Though you have paved the way for me to grow still past the limits of my own style, even with this knowledge, I must continue to climb this mountain that you have set me on and one that I accept fully. Even without your permission…'

"Sasuke-kun, please back me up, I will tap into the power of the Hachimon (Eight Gates)."

'I will use it. I will use the Hachimon to win!'

"Hachimon Tonko, Daichi mon, kaimon: KAI (Eight Gates Opening, the first gate, Gate of Opening, release)!"

Wind began picking up around him, chakra swirled and created an updraft as the release of his own body's limiters opened the floodgates of his internal energy out into the open.

Sasuke stepped in between Lee and Kimimaro shielded himself from the sudden rush of power.

Sasuke had to look at Lee in surprise. He had once questioned Lee's legitimacy of being a ninja because of his fixation to Taijutsu being one of the unfortunate of not having witness his battle against Sabaku no Gaara. He had not realized, that Lee can tap into something so dramatically powerful.

"Kyumon: Kai (Gate of Healing: Release)!"

Lee's hair started spiking upwards and the ground around him shattered and cratered beneath his feet.

"Seimon: Kai (Gate of Life: Release)!"

The blood vessels within him expanded, and his heart began beating faster and stronger, compensating for such a sudden boost of adrenalin. Blood was leaking everywhere in his body, reaching every cell and nourishing them completely.

Kimimaro chose to attack before Lee would choose to unleash another limiting gate. He fired another set of his bone bullets as Sasuke's sharingan had predicted earlier.

A wave of fire met the bullets and completely incinerated the ten finger bones as Sasuke stood composed, his sharingan seemingly glowing and three tomoe spinning around in his irises.

It was at this stage that Lee chose to attack.

Unlike Sasuke's finesse with the illusion of a mirage being left in his wake, or a hazy distorted afterimage, Lee's speed was much more like a cannonball fired from an extremely and absurdly powerful cannon. He was not much of a man with such a force as that of a freight train or a herd of rampaging oxen. It was more like an uncontrolled, untameable force of nature.

And when he crashed his fist at Kimimaro's face, it felt like a whirlwind had just compressed into a fist that it became dense enough to shatter and break the protruding bones that attacked Kimimaro with brute strength alone.

Kimimaro looked back as he was suddenly thrown away from his position by several meters with the ground forming a small trench in between them. Blood dripped from his nose and it was bent at an odd angle, it felt slightly painful, but one Kimimaro could just scoff at.

"FAR STRONGER AND FASTER, MY FISTS SHALL BECOME LIGHTNING ITSELF! SHOMON: KAI (Gate of Pain: Release)!"

Lee could feel the pain slowly encroaching from his toes crawling up to his knees, climbing and climbing still.

But unlike before, the pain was getting much less excruciating than his earlier uses.

Lee punched the air itself, a shockwave of pure condensed air escaped from his fist. His hand punched the air so hard that it formed such a powerful wave that Kimimaro couldn't defend against in time before he was blown back once more as Lee disappeared and reappeared in mid-air.

"TOMON: KAI (Gate of Limit: Release)!"

Then, there was an explosion of power.

BOOM!

The trees rustled when Lee created such turbulence around him. His chakra, incapable of manifesting regularly was now beginning to burn bright and visible to the naked eye.

The overwhelming sensation had struck him with an incredible rush as he did before when he fought Gaara.

Kimimaro got up quickly. His instincts of battle alerted him of how much of an improvement the green clad genin, showed in such a very short amount of time something that indeed was terrifying to witness now was.

The air was riddled thick with chakra, overflowing with Lee's resolve and inner strength.

Kimimaro wasted no time, he charged, bone sword drawn and charged at Lee with his own enhanced speed from the cursed seal and additional simple ninja techniques. He was surprised Lee and Sasuke kept up with him either with refined and honed senses due to countless battles and the prowess of the eyes given to the Uchiha.

Either way, it had put him in a strange predicament. Of one he could personally handle, but two debilitating speedsters were not something to be taken lightly.

Kimimaro began thinking of a way to defend and counterattack such an incredibly destructive and unpredictable technique.

As he got up, he heard the crackling of lightning, the sound of a thousand birds chirping upon the open sky.

A surge of lightning escaped from Sasuke's form as he attacked Kimimaro to the side, his sword drawn. Kimimaro wasted no time to evade. Orochimaru had informed him of Sasuke's affinities with fire and lightning. He had a basic understanding of Sasuke's skills. But he didn't expect Sasuke to have made a multitude of new skills quite suddenly during these past several months.

It was as if the spirit of Uchiha Shisui was alive within Sasuke himself.

Sasuke's blade carved the ground, zigzagging as the blade tore the earth asunder from his charge with his raiton chakra. Kimimaro was already waiting as Sasuke attacked him with the sword coated with lightning before disappearing in a mirage and reappearing behind him.

With the sword of lightning lighting up in his hand, Sasuke turned and performed an upward slash that Kimimaro forced himself out of by performing a counter attack forcing Sasuke to stop his attack and also jump back.

Kimimaro had turned just in time as Lee had tried to punch the air hard enough again to send a shockwave at him. It was small, the size of a medium sized pipe and concentrated that it punctured the tree behind him with a perfectly carved whole the size of a closed fist.

Kimimaro fired five finger bullets at Lee who weaved out of the way and charged at full speed. Kimimaro then grabbed another bone sword from his right shoulder this time and tossed one like a shuriken at Lee who jumped just in time as Kimimaro appeared in front of him at speeds both he and Sasuke found surprising. With a horizontal slash at mid-air, he had almost torn Lee asunder if it were not for his enhanced reflexes.

Lee then back flipped. He had put a distance between him and Kimimaro unintentionally. Lee then got back up and charged at the guy head on leaving behind a ground that caved in from Lee's forceful movement.

Lee had realized that with the pacing of his speed, he didn't need to widen his stride. He can charge with as minimal and little wasted movement as possible. By just using his feet more to maintain his speed and narrow his strides, Lee maintained his top peak velocity with more control, more avenues of movement with each step into without the loss of his most useful weapon.

His speed.

Kimimaro drew his right hand back, bone sword pointed at Lee and stabbed the boy to his face, but what he had just hit, was nothing more than air. Kimimaro looked surprised, and for a silent moment, he had watched as Lee looked like he had split in two and combined once more behind him, to his unprotected side, a fist drawn back below his waist, held back by his left hand and the pressure of air filling in.

Lee had created a technique all on his own.

And Lee punched Kimimaro square on his back and at that very focal point, the air pressure was released and the shockwave of Lee's fist hit Kimimaro at its highest peak.

SMASH!

It had been a long time since Kimimaro had experienced quite a pain. To hear his bones break from the sheer force of having a small mountain smash directly on to his side made him curious as to how long ago had he heard hearing his bones succumb to such a great amount of pressure.

The air whistled as he was sent careening and he crashed to the opposite side, the ground was entrenched once more but soon cratered as Kimimaro dug further and further into the ground.

Lee panted heavily. The strain of using the gates was beginning to show. Ura Renge was less specific of an attack but more of a state of well-being.

He had just used a much more concentrated version of it, a mere grasp of what the power of the Eight Gates could bestow upon a true master of the Goken.

His usage of the gates faded, his body returning to normal, pain wracked his body so much it was difficult to even stand up.

Sasuke appeared beside him, sword still drawn, waiting in anticipation of what might happen next.

If there was one thing that he learned from ANBU, is that death should be confirmed with a corpse. Many special ops members fail to see this rule and many fell for such an old trick. He could not let his guard down even for a minute.

It was then that Kimimaro had popped up from the ground, now in a more monstrous form, six curved spiked bone now protrude from his back, as large as steel pipes.

His skin was now darker in shade as was his hair, with markings around his face black as well as the sclerae of his eyes with the irises themselves turning to a yellow color.

Along his spine were more protrusions of bone, jagged and sharp. The mere sight of it was intimidating to any other shinobi. To his flank, there was the familiar ivory white color of bone, covering what was supposed to be his skin. The disruption to his skin was noticeable, the layers were exposed outside. Lee and Sasuke would imagine that the kind of pain their opponent was in now must be excruciating, yet he made no face to show the pain he was in! It was either incredible will power, or Kimimaro was drugged enough that he couldn't feel pain.

Kimimaro had grabbed a protrusion in the middle of his upper back and at the base of his neck, he twitched slightly as he pulled his spine out. The bony protrusions, the spinous processes just to the side of the bone itself turned sharp and almost claw like, perfect for hooking an enemy without the need for trapping them, in between these sharp and dangerous set of bones were cartilaginous discs that made the weapon flexible.

"Tessenka no Mai (Dance of the Clematis)!"

The most loyal of Orochimaru's subjects then attacked. He swung the whip like weapon sideways to Lee and Sasuke and in a matter of seconds, closed the gap between them and the weapon.

Sasuke had enough time to dodge as Lee jumped backward as much as he can. The weapon, however, still managed to graze his stomach as Lee flinched and stumbled back and fell on his rump. Kimimaro took this opportunity and decided to finish Lee off.

He cracked the bone whip upwards and swung it down, intending to slice of Lee's face off and tear it away.

Lee looked up. His body couldn't move due to the pain that he was in. He had sustained enough injuries that could warrant fatigue and close to shock. The shadow of the bone whip descended on him with Sasuke telling him to get out of the way echoed through his head. But he simply couldn't just will himself to get out when his own body was failing to move him.

"Get out of there, Lee!"

Sasuke shouted once more, charging his hand with a Chidori and activating his own speed, hoping that he would get to kill Kimimaro before the man could kill Lee.

'Shit! I won't make it!'

Just then, two shuriken flew through the air with the sound of an angry buzz saw escaping from them and grains of sand wrapped around Lee gently before pulling him away from the grassy floor and from the range of the bone whip that would have torn him to shreds.

The shuriken pierced the bone armor like it was nothing and it was severed in the middle by the two shuriken then slicing through a tree trunk and some stone before finally embedding itself on the ground.

Sasuke stopped his charge, his Chidori fading from his hands as he looked back. He saw Gaara standing tall with has arms crossed, grains of sand trailed the air as it traced back to his gourd. But what surprised him was the appearance of another person. The other one with Gaara had a mop of messy blonde hair with the side burns going past his cheek as his whole face was wrapped around in bandages. But he could still see those fierce blue eyes that could bore through the soul. He wore the forehead protector proudly on his head and the Konoha standard uniform and flak vest made him look all too familiar.

Sasuke's sharingan eyes widened, the last time he had seen this image was more than three months ago.

Then he heard voice familiar to him escaping from this boy and he asked, "What's up, bastard? Surprised to see your dead teammate?"


Elsewhere:

A two headed wolf descended to the ground after crashing against Orochimaru's ultimate defence. A pair of identical siblings, grotesquely looking in appearance, was about to deliver a fatal blow in mid-air when a swarm of insects had intercepted one of them in their flight path while a deluge of senbon headed straight for another.

Sakon shielded himself with his armor as the poisoned needles simply bounced off while Ukon dropped to the floor and rolled on the ground as he went for the small body of water to try and ward off the swarm of insects that were attacking him.

Sakon growled as the two headed wolf dispelled as Kiba held Akamaru in his arms who turned to the side only to find two shinobi, one of Suna and the other from Konoha. He could only make out the one who he was most familiar with at the time.

"S-Shino…"

Indeed there was Shino, hands in his coat pocket that was now open with a small green scarf wrapping itself around Shino's face that it covered his mouth instead of the coat's high collar with the arms of said scarf dangling loosely just above his lower back. Kiba saw the green chuunin vest beneath the coat and a small backpack wrapped around him with his hands held out.

"Better to keep your eyes on your enemy, newbie." Kankuro said to Kiba with a smirk as the Suna ninja pulled two puppets from his back. The one on the puppeteer's left looked familiar. The one on his right looked big and ant-like. Its face was longer and its mouth showed a sharper and more numerous set of teeth than the first puppet and this one had a more rotund body than the first. They crackled both loudly and it sent shivers down Kiba's spine when Kankuro smirked.

"Kiba, I suggest you evacuate Akamaru for now seeing as he can't move. We will deal with this problem ourselves."

Swarms of insects soon floated around Shino buzzing loudly as they flew around.

Sakon chuckled quietly as he said, "Aren't we the confident one."

Shino merely adjusted his glasses and said, "It is not conjecture for us to know of the outcome of this battle but rather, it is the simple truth. Make no mistake, you will be beaten."

"Just who the hell are you brats to make that kind of statement?"

"Shinobi allies, Suna and Konoha, plain and simple." Kankuro answered who had sent Karasu towards Sakon followed by Shino from behind.

Karasu disassembled and out came multitude of poisoned blades that went towards Sakon. Shino vanished in a blur as his bugs dispersed and reappeared just behind Sakon before delivering a spinning kick. Sakon managed to block just in time just as he was sent straight to the trail of poison knives. Sakon managed to shield and dodge and landed in one piece on the rocky ground but not before seeing Kiba performing a handseal with smirk on his face.

Below him, an explosive tag was set off blowing him away from his original position and right into the arms or in this case, into the container of Kankuro's new puppet, Kuroari (Black ant).

"Sakon!"

Ukon was about to go after the puppeteer when Shino had intercepted him with a punch. But Shino was surprised, Ukon had just vanished when he had hit him.

"What?" Shino asked and Ukon appeared to his side.

"Unfortunate for you, I've infested you with my ability. Now your cells and your body is my body, I can absorb all your body's nutrients, all your chemicals needed to function and use it to heal myself while slowly killing you. You've got no escape."

Shino raised an eyebrow.

"You have seemed to have made a terrible error."

Just then, Kuroari had closed itself and trapped Sakon inside.

Then, the Aburame continued, "I already have other organisms living inside me."

"Kuro Higi: Kiki Ippatsu (Black Secret Technique)!" Kankuro shouted and Karasu, who had disassembelled itself earlier, positioned its parts around Kuroari and their blades pointing to the open slots of Kuroari.

"And just as they are capable of taking away poison, they can also inject it on their unsuspecting target."

Ukon's eyes widened, "If you do that, you'll die!"

Shino merely gave a reply as if he wasn't even concerned with his own death, "That is because my kikaichu can distinguish from what is wrong in my body and make haste in purging my body from any foreign substance that enters me. Unfortunate for you, that the poison they secrete makes me completely immune from them but deadly for my enemy."

Ukon tried to forcibly get out just as the insects were crawling all around him. Ukon writhed and screamed as Shino held out his hand and the insects from his body began covering Ukon everywhere.

"You have faced the wrong kind of enemy."

At the same time, Kankuro planted all of his weapons towards the slots at the same time. Kiba and Kankuro could hear the screams of Sakon before it finally vanished as blood trickled out at the seams of Kuroari.


Elsewhere:

Shikamaru breathed a sigh of relief as he sat down on his ass and looked up, beside him was Temari with her war fan in full display, the three purple stars shown towards Tayuya.

"Boy, am I ever glad the Godaime sent more backup, even if it is a troublesome woman from Suna."

Temari smirked, "Just be glad your face hasn't been mangled yet, you snarky little bitch, or I would have to be the one who has to do it for her."

Shikamaru's spine shivered up and down and thought, 'She's about as scary as mom is when she talks like this.'

Temari's smirk turned to a frown as she said to Shikamaru, "Since you're the commander of this team, I would like to give you a report of what we just discovered…"

Shikamaru's expression of relief turned to astonishment as he heard the words coming from Temari when she swung her fan against their opponent.

"Your friend, Naruto, the one who defeated Gaara back in the invasion, he's alive."

Shikamaru looked flabbergasted at that and could only give out a flat out, "What?"

"You heard me. Your blonde friend, the one that beat Gaara? He wasn't really dead at all."

Shikamaru looked at Tayuya who was slowly rising up and about to play her flute once more when Temari swung her fan upwards.

"Dai Kamaitachi no Jutsu (Great Sickling Winds Technique)!"

The winds howled and whistled and it created enough turbulence to disrupt Tayuya's flute.

"I can give you details later, let's finish this fight for now."

Tayuya growled and shouted at them, "Pretty cocky for a shinobi from a fucking weak village!"

Temari raised an eyebrow as she bit her right thumb and spread the blood on her fan.

"Lady, I don't like that tone of yours, you need to mind your fucking manners."

Temari then reeled her fan back as she swung it forward.

"Kuchiyose: Kiri Kiri Mai (Summoning: Blade Dance)!"

A white weasel carrying a scythe popped out of mid-air in a cloud of smoke before an entire forest area was ripped to shreds.

SLASH!


Back with Kimimaro:

That smirk, that putridly, annoying and confident smug, Sasuke couldn't believe it, here he was trying to make sense of it all and the only thing that could escape from his mouth, was a dumbfounded question that Sasuke had never thought that would escape from his mouth, ever.

"Y-You're alive?"

Naruto merely stood up and walked towards them, Lee who also had a dumbfounded look on his face, had free flowing tears in his eyes as if he had seen a ghost.

"Of course I am, Sasuke. Being the reckless idiot is my job…" Naruto emphasized this statement by pointing to himself.

"I don't expect you to plunge yourself into danger now that I'm back."

'This guy…' Sasuke held back a smirk and then replied, "If you had the gall to act like you were dead that just means you were caught off guard again. It's embarrassing to be called your rival."

Naruto had a tick mark forming at the back of his head and gave a reply with a smirk of his own, "Ah, is that so? Well then it's not as embarrassing enough when you were about to lose it at the thought of me dying."

Now it was Sasuke's turn to have a tick mark forming at the back of his head.

"You should have just stayed dead, dobe."

"Cry more, Sasuke-chan."

By this time, Kimimaro had appeared just beside Naruto to impale him directly through the chest, Naruto reacted just in time as he blasted Kimimaro with a gust of wind coming from one of his favourite techniques, Tenrin (Providence Wheel) and a ball of fire courtesy of Sasuke.

Kimimaro stumbled back but held his ground when Sasuke and Naruto shouted at the same time, "STAY OUT OF THIS!"

Naruto then looked at the man that got up, bones protruding everywhere and the scales on his back right down to the tail made him look like an angry dinosaur armed to the teeth.

"We'd be having words later." Sasuke then channelled more chakra to his sword as it glowed and the crackled from the surge of electricity from Sasuke's chakra before he charged.

Naruto then turned to Gaara and said, "I'm going in, Gaara. Can you give us support from long range?"

Gaara nodded as Lee was now beside him due to his sand, "It shall be done."

Naruto grinned, "Good."

With that, Naruto formed a clone and it formed a Rasengan just as Naruto activated Tenrin while also tapping into Kurama's chakra. Small debris rose up and a gust of wind picked up from his person, a red and vicious cloud of chakra enveloped him, formless but strong enough that it made Lee shudder just as the clone of Naruto completed the Rasengan.

"Fuuton: Ura Tenrin Kazahana (Windmill Flower Reversal)!" Naruto shouted as the clone shoved the Rasengan to Naruto right hand and absorbed the Rasengan into himself.

"I haven't had the chance to go all out for a while and I've been itching to vent my frustrations out for the last three months."

Naruto then dashed, leaving in his wake dust clouds and shattered ground just as he went after Kimimaro.

Sasuke reached first, with a near unmatched use of Shunshin, he had closed the gap in between him and Kimimaro in less than a second. Sasuke swung his sword sideways just as Kimimaro pulled out a bone sword from his shoulder and parrying away his blows while redirecting the flow of electricity to the ground.

Since he can manipulate the strength and density of his bones, Kimimaro can manipulate the calcium stored in them and he used the stored calcium in them to ionize and attract the lightning from Sasuke's attack and planted a bone on the ground to redirect the flow of current.

Sasuke looked surprised by this as Kimimaro retaliated with a knee to the gut. Sasuke dodged to the left as Kimimaro sailed a little above but Kimimaro was quick to adjust by swinging his humungous tail around about to smack Sasuke in the face.

Naruto then arrived just in time, appearing from above as he descended on Kimimaro quickly just as Sasuke was forced down to the ground. The blonde had in his hands a pair of silver knives that gleamed in the sunlight and they glow with an effervescent blue.

The chakra blades extended just as much as Sasuke's blade as Naruto swung at Kimimaro with an x pattern. The bone user ducked as Naruto as Naruto back flipped from Kimimaro's thrust and continued to descend to the ground. Naruto landed on his hands and quickly pushed himself off the ground and flipping back while performing a single handseal with two Kage Bunshin popping into existence and charging at Kimimaro. Sasuke then reappeared behind him and with his sword held in reverse, swung the blade sideways to Kimimaro's neck. The Oto shinobi tilted his head back narrowly being decapitated as two clones swung at him with their chakra blades.

Kimimaro used his tail once more and smacked one of the clones out of existence with a mighty swing and then went straight for a thrust to the other clone that had missed him by quite a margin.

Sasuke then saw a sudden shift in chakra from the shadow clone and noted it was high time to get the hell out of dodge as the clone's chakra grew more and more volatile.

BOOM!

Sasuke disappeared just in time to see a cloud of smoke erupt from the force of the explosion as his feet skidded on the ground while planting his sword to maintain his footing.

The Uchiha scion then saw Kimimaro being tossed from the explosion covered in soot and quickly capitalized on it by performing several handseals and began inhaling deeply.

"Katon: Goukakyou no Jutsu (Fire Release: Grand Fireball Skill)!" A large ball of flame escaped from Sasuke's mouth as rushed towards Kimimaro at high speed who had stumbled to the ground as a large fireball crashed and incinerated him quick.

Not letting up, Sasuke lets loose another set of handseals and began bombarding Kimimaro's general area.

"Katon: Housenka no Jutsu (Fire Release: Mythical Fire Flower Skill)!" A volley of flames came out from Sasuke's mouth and dropped on Kimimaro's general area. Sasuke kept pounding with the flames as the mark of the cursed seal slowly enveloped his skin everywhere.

Kimimaro then came out of the flames, generally unscathed, the burns he had experienced were minor at best. His bone armor had taken most of the damage from Sasuke's attack.

Naruto then ran beside Kimimaro who was aimed five fingers at him. It was then that Sand had suddenly erupted and covered Naruto as five drilling bullets hit the sand on the mark. Naruto then slashed away at Kimimaro who countered with his own blade, thinking that his blade would repel the attack, Kimimaro reacted immediately when Naruto's wind enhanced blade had cut through his bone sword like it was paper.

Kimimaro jumped back, skidding to a stop as he aimed ten more bullets at the blonde who had began to dodge as trails of Sand began protecting him and serving as a platform. Naruto weaved around the arcs of sand just as Kimimaro began peppering them with his finger bullets and Naruto quickly slid on the ground before he kicked Kimimaro back and performing a back flip just as Sasuke delivered a strong haymaker on Kimimaro's cheek staggering him back. Sasuke's hair now looked longer and the color was almost the same as Kimimaro's but much darker. A cross shaped mark formed just on the bridge of his nose.

"Sasuke? What the hell?" Naruto asked in confusion just before being slammed with a kick on the back and crashing on to the arcs of sand while Sasuke parried of a bone sword that could have pierced his shoulder. Sasuke reacted quickly with a spin and delivered a kick of his own but stopped when the bone protrusions had popped from the chest intending on his capture. Sasuke, instead of following through, decided to jump back just as Naruto let loose several jet streams of wind to Kimimaro while Sasuke followed it up with a barrage of flames from his own. Kimimaro was couldn't move as the vacuum of wind trapped him from the inside and Sasuke's fireballs engulfed him quick as the wind absorbed the flames and grew larger as a result.

Kimimaro was set ablaze and grains of sand began gathering up around them.

Gaara then used his sand and gathered as much of it as possible as he sent a gigantic wave of it sand straight to Kimimaro.

"Ryusa Bakuryu (Sand Tsunami)!" The earth shook and vibrated from the gigantic wave of sand that was crashing down on Kimimaro. Naruto and Sasuke jumped back and with their chakra, Naruto rode on the wave of sand as Kimimaro was swept away from the attack while Sasuke let the cursed seal take over for him completely and grew a pair of grotesque wings and soared high enough to see the landscape give way to Gaara's attack.

'A technique of pure destruction, this is the power of a jinchuuriki…' Sasuke thought as Naruto flared his chakra and unleashed at least a hundred clones and descended upon Kimimaro like a swarm of bees.

Sasuke watched as the thought of power prickled within his mind, he had never seen such an awesome display of strength that it could alter the entire landscape. He looked back at Naruto who had then began performing a series of hand seals as his clones began to destabilize their chakra once more and enveloped the general area.

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

This was the power of a jinchuuriki, almost near limitless amount of chakra, chakra for high end, destructive jutsu that can destroy anything in their paths.

It was a macabre display of splendour that was as violent as it was majestic.

No wonder the bijuu were considered forces of nature.

He had just witnessed the grand display of power coming from two of them, two shinobi that were placed in a super soldier program that none of them wanted.

Indeed, and finally he understood, that the price of power of was steep.

The smoke cleared and they saw Kimimaro, mangled and injured but not out. He could still stand, therefore he could still fight. His left arm was now covered by a drill like weapon made of his own bone, and it acted like a shield of sorts. The left cheek of Kimimaro's face was now nothing more than bone, any trace of muscle, skin or blood vessel was obliterated. His right arm had covers of bone around areas of destroyed skin.

The boy ran straight at them and seemingly threw caution to the wind. Naruto reacted in kind, finally feeling the resolve that his enemy had shown. He could feel the desperation and the pain that Kimimaro was in yet he still continued to fight, this amount of dedication was in no way something that he could ignore and he responded in kind accepting Kimimaro's resolve and gave him that opportunity.

He recharged Ura Tenrin Kazahana (Providence Wheel Windmill Flower Reversal) and formed a Rasengan in hand, his chakra flared as did Kyuubi's as he plunged straight to Kimimaro who thrusted his left arm at Naruto. Naruto let out a growl as Kurama's chakra and the wind created a vacuum like phenomenon that sheared through all the bones that touched the blonde destroying them like they were nothing and allowing Naruto to thrust the Rasengan straight to Kimimaro's abdomen.

Time seemed to slow down for Kimimaro, the pain was excruciating and he could feel the blonde's jutsu tearing his insides as he was forced back. He could feel himself falling away, descending as the power of the Rasengan pushed him down, his left hand outstretched, the effect of the cursed seal slowly receding.

'Is this as far as I go?'

"SASUKE!" Kimimaro heard a shout and Sasuke appeared from above, his hand glowing with electricity now shining black. Sasuke descended on him like a dive bomber and as he inched closer and closer to Kimimaro, the bone user could feel his frustration and mortification of having lost against this group of children and one who sullied his master's grace.

'I can't die like this. I will not die… Until I take you ALL WITH ME! For Orochimaru-sama's sake!'

Sasuke's hand then pierced his chest as they landed on the ground. The hard ground gave way and cratered as Kimimaro mustered all of his killing intent and poured every ounce of his chakra to his bones and he growled just as he shouted the name of the technique

"SAWARABI NO MAI (Dance of the Seedling Ferns)!"

The forest floor soon began growing bone spikes the size of trees and they began popping up violently from the earth, Sasuke, who had his hand shoved into Kimimaro's chest, retracted his arm violently and flew up just in time before he could be impaled just as Gaara had Lee and Naruto on a platform of sand and floated above the sea of sharpened bones.

A moment of silence escaped between the four of them as they watched the unmoving corpse of Kimimaro from below.

"You took him head on, Uzumaki Naruto, what possessed you to do such a reckless thing?" Gaara had asked, the blonde merely closed his eyes and said.

"His determination moved me." He answered as his jutsus powered down. He then continued as they landed on the edge of the forest.

"His resolve to fight to the bitter end reminded me so much of myself. He was willing to sacrifice everything just for that snake bastard's sake."

"Much like how any of us would be willing to die for the sake of those we care about." Naruto said this as he clenched his right hand into a fist. It was a victory, but it felt like a hollow one.

"Part of me wanted to save him… But I knew better than that. Someone like him would rather die for his master than to come with us."

Haku's visage entered Naruto's mind as he began to walk away.

"So rather than making him come to us, I decided to accept his choice head on and complied with his challenge."

"He could've killed you…" Sasuke remarked and Naruto smirked.

"I've done the impossible many times now, Sasuke. This wouldn't be the first."

"NARUTO-KUN, IT PLEASES ME SO TO SEE YOU ALIVE AND WELL! YOUR ABSENCE HAS AFFECTED US ALL! YOUR PRESENCE WOULD BE A MOST WELCOME RETURN TO HINATA-SAN AS WELL!" Lee said this as tears flowed from his eyes as Naruto laughed nervously.

"Care to tell me what happened during the three months that I was missing?"

"Yes! I shall tell you everything there is to tell about!"

A voice had interrupted them with a cough, "It really is you, huh, Naruto?"

Naruto turned to his left and saw Shikamaru and Temari, just behind them, Kiba, Shino and Kankuro all were present with Kiba pointing at him like he was seeing a ghost.

Shikamaru proceeded to punch Naruto in the face after that. A smile and a bit of a sniffle escaped Shikamaru. He couldn't help it, their friend turned out to be alive after all.

"You idiot, you had us all sad and worried."

Naruto flinched and rubbed his face at that. He noted that Shikamaru's punch got harder during his absence. He could only smile and apologize.

"I could've made it to Konoha earlier, if it wasn't for being holed up in some place I didn't know about."

"I-I-IT CAN'T BE! THAT IDIOT REALLY IS ALIVE!" Kiba shakily pointed a finger at the blonde, both glad and surprised to see his classmate seemingly back from the dead.

"Why do you doubt me still, Kiba? Is my word not enough for you to believe me?" Shino asked and Kiba flinched.

"Much like how you tried to engage someone in Taijutsu even if I knew you sucked then, I couldn't believe you for a second there without some proof!"

Kankuro gave an exasperated sigh and held the bridge of his nose, "I vouched for your teammate, kid. Why did you keep denying it?"

"How was I supposed to know that it wasn't some sick, elaborate prank to raise my morale? I was almost a goner back there!" Kiba replied. Kankuro and Shino replied at the same time, "We know."

With Kankuro adding further, "It's why we had to save your sorry ass as well as your dog. Next time, try to learn more useful jutsu and not just flashy ones."

Kiba grew a tick mark at this, "Fuck off, doll boy!"

Kankuro was the one to grow an annoyance to the Inuzuka this time.

"Should've just left your teammate to do the heavy lifting then, you ungrateful mutt."

"Can it, both of you slobs. We have better things to do and discuss while we head back to Konoha." Temari scolded the two, glaring daggers at them that Kankuro shivered. Kiba was about to reply with some snarky insult when a hand was placed on his mouth courtesy of the puppet user fully aware of the boy's intentions.

"Trust me. You do not want to do that."

Shikamaru had looked to Temari as he asked the girl, "By the way, have you by any chance encountered any of our teammates along the way?"

Temari, Gaara and Kankuro all nodded and it was Temari who spoke, "We met up with the one with the pink hair. She was carrying that chubby kid that looked like he turned to a weight loss program. He seemed pretty messed up but that girl has been trying to make her stable as she made her way back to Konoha. The Hokage decided to send some medic teams last time we heard, so your friend wouldn't be in too much of a problem, I think."

Shikamaru cursed, from the description that Temari was telling him, Chouji had taken the red pill. He then asked the girl once more, "What about Neji and Tenten?"

"Ah, that Hyuuga and the one I beat the crap out of in the Chuunin exam? Yeah, we met up with them too. They seemed tired and a bit bloody. But otherwise, they're all alive."

At the mention of Sakura's name, Naruto and Sasuke looked at each other with the blonde mumbling to his teammate, "Oh, she's going to be so mad…"

"Why are you looking at me?" Sasuke asked and Naruto quickly replied, "Don't look at me. I'm not the one who had this hairbrained idea of learning about the cursed seal and went to embrace the danger all on my own."

At the thought of seeing Sakura and possibly punching the ever living daylights out of Sasuke, Naruto had to chuckle inwardly.

Inside him however, Asura looked at Sasuke intently.

'Is he awakening as well?'


Three days later, they had all returned to Konoha, a little roughed up but otherwise well enough on their own. At the front of the gates stood Sakura, a scowl on her face as she saw Sasuke. She approached the boy very sternly and slapped him on the cheek to get her point across but not before scolding Sasuke about his recklessness.

Naruto gave a smile, he looked at the two and felt the genuine concern coming from Sakura.

The pink haired girl turned to him and she stood shocked, her voice trembled, as if there was something caught in her throat.

"N-Naruto?"

Naruto merely gave a sheepish grin while scratching the back of his head.

Sakura was about to bonk him on the head, until she had heard a familiar voice sounding at the background.

"N-Naruto-kun?"

Naruto turned to that voice and there Hinata stood, who was anxiously waiting for her teammates. She had grown her hair slightly, Naruto noticed and it was longer than the last time he had seen them. Her lavender eyes were shaking as she looked at him and Naruto slowly tore off the bandages from his face, ripping them out one by one.

Everyone else watched, mildly amused and intrigued as the interaction between them began to unfold.

Hinata watched wide eyed, as the boy with a messy mop of blonde hair slowly tore off the bandages that were wrapping around his face. Her heart was racing fast and strong as the boy before her slowly revealed his face marred by the wrapped white cloth as the wind gently swayed her slowly growing shoulder length hair as did the tips of the boy's bandages gently flapping to the wind. When he finally ripped it open, his face revealed and his bright blue eyes turned cheery and joyous, he gave his ever trademark grin that Hinata had missed the most.

He was her sun, shining brightly in a mid-summer afternoon, burning with passion and cutting her darkness in half, illuminating her colourless world.

His hair had grown longer, the bangs at the side of his face now were longer and reached just below the sides of his jaws, he lost a little weight and his cheeks deflated a little. But those whisker marks were still there, that same grin, those same deep passionate blue eyes.

Then, his voice had brought her back to the world as he said to her, "I'm sorry, I made you worry."

Hinata couldn't help but slowly approach the boy in front of her, right hand on her mouth as she desperately tried but failed to withhold her tears threatening to fall from her eyes.

When she was finally at arm's reach, she held out both her hands to his cheeks as she stuttered between her sobs, still disbelieving and hoping against all odds, that she wasn't dreaming or that this wasn't just a cruel joke.

"T-This isn't a dream…"

Naruto, who merely gave a sincere and true smile at her as he held her hands, replied, "No, it isn't. It can't be a dream when I'm really standing here, in front of you."

Then, as her will failed her, she let her pent up emotions fall from her face, all her grief, anger and hate, just disappeared as she embraced him with all of her being, all of her sensations and all of her emotions.

"Y-You're really here, with me…"

Her tears were a mix of joy and relief. Her cries to him only made him more aware of her feelings for him. His large smile shrank to one of understanding as he looked to his shoulder with her head resting on it and let her tears come forth. Thus, he reciprocated her embrace. He wrapped his arms around her small waist. He could feel her trembling and he had realized that he never wanted this girl in his arms to make her sad ever again.

"I'm finally home, Hinata."

And her cries would only grow louder…

To be continued…


I'd like to apologize, I was about to update when IRL called. I had to do some work back in the hospital and since it is Dengue Season again, I've been placed on the Pediatrics ward to prepare for the inevitability of a deluge of new cases. Sorry for that.

Anyway, this page seemed longer than usual and I'm glad I stuck through it to the end, read and review, folks!

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