Chapter 5: Battle of the Bridge

No one slept well, each with varying thoughts pervading their minds. Inari was especially pensive, thinking about Naruto’s words. The morning was quiet, with unresolved tension still in the air. It was broken momentarily when Naruto entered the house. There were bloodstains over his trench coat, and from the looks of it, the blood was fresh. Sakura gagged a little, still unused to the sight of blood.

“What happened?” Kakashi asked, concerned.

“There was a small group of mercenaries sent by Gato. I eliminated them,” Naruto replied apathetically.

Kakashi nodded, returning to his breakfast. Sakura was green in the face, and stared at Naruto with trepidation as he went to change. Breakfast passed quickly, and Tazuna was escorted to the bridge. Naruto left a Kage Bunshin to keep Tsunami and Inari safe. The walk was relatively regular, until Sakura spotted blood splattered on some trees. She refrained from puking, as it would make her look bad to her Sasuke-kun.

The massive bridge was encased in thick mist, forcing Tazuna to squint. Then, the mist cleared just a little, revealing the slaughter. Workers were strewn across the structure, all bearing various wounds. None were alive. Tazuna went pale, while Sakura just managed to hold her bile in. Three figures could be made out in the mist. The figures became clearer. One was the tall and imposing Zabuza, apparently back to full health. Another was the more petite fake oinin, standing beside Zabuza with the white mask still on. The last was a white-haired girl, about the age of 12. She wore a red sleeveless v-neck shirt and dark pants. Grey gauntlets covered her hands. Her white hair went to the small of her back, tied up in a crude ponytail. Two bangs framed the side of her face. No visible hitai-ate was on her.

“Ah…Kakashi, and Mitarashi Anko, former apprentice of Orochimaru,” Zabuza called out. “The brats are still with you? I can see one shaking with fear already.”

Indeed, Sasuke was shaking. Six Zabuza Mizu Bunshin appeared around the group. The shaking intensified. The thing that threw off Zabuza was the smirk present on Sasuke’s face. The Uchiha glanced at Kakashi, and the man nodded good-naturedly. “Go for it.”

Sasuke burst into action, and in a moment, the boy was back in his original spot. The Zabuza clones splattered into water, impressing Zabuza to some extent. “Not bad, kid. Looks like you have a rival in speed, Haku.”

Taking that as a cue, Haku stood forward. “You may have defeated Zabuza-sama’s clones, but they are only a tenth of his true strength. Zabuza-sama will easily defeat you.”

“This one’s mine,” Sasuke declared.

The two opposing ninjas dashed at one other, kunai and senbon in hand. They clashed, and metal clanged. Each tried to hold their ground, as their hands shook from the effort. Haku moved her hand to chest level as she spoke. “I have two advantages over you.”

“Oh, and what are those?” Sasuke asked conceitedly.

“One, there is water on the ground. Two, I have one of your hands occupied,” Haku said.

Sasuke smirked. “One of your hands is occupied as well.”

The Uchiha regretted his words as Haku started a string of one-handed hand seals. Kakashi and Anko were visibly awed. Haku finished the last of her seals, and stomped her foot on the ground. Water sprung up, forming thin sharp needles that surrounded the duo. Haku jumped back quickly as the needles flew towards Sasuke.

Sensatsu Suishō!

The needles threw up a cloud of dust, as Sakura almost screamed in fear of her Sasuke-kun being torn to pieces. The dust cleared, but Sasuke was nowhere in sight. Then, Haku moved back just in time. One after the other, three shuriken were found embedded where Haku stood before, thrown by an airborne Sasuke who used the principles of tree-climbing to escape via a gap in the veritable wall of water senbon. As Haku steadied herself from the weapon assault, Sasuke appeared behind her, chakra coursing through his legs for an added boost. It startled Haku, as Sasuke smirked. “You can only run from my attacks.”

The raven-haired boy tried to hack Haku’s head off with his kunai, but Haku twirled around blocked it with a senbon. Sparks erupted from the point of contact, as they fought for dominance. They clashed a few more times, Sasuke keeping Haku on the defensive with two kunai in hand. Sasuke then flicked one of his kunai back, aimed for Haku’s head. The ninja ducked, only to be kicked in the mask. Haku flew back, and rolled to a stop. The blow didn’t really faze her, as she stood up without trouble. Zabuza blinked owlishly. He beat Haku in speed? That’s impressive. “Looks like the brats aren’t so bad after all, Kakashi.”

“Don’t underestimate my students, Zabuza,” Kakashi warned. “They are all strong.”

Zabuza chuckled darkly. “You think that was the extent of Haku’s abilities? If you think so, you’re sorely mistaken.”

By then, Haku was breezing through hand seals, and the water around Sasuke started to rise, forming rectangular sheets of ice. Sasuke looked around, and found himself trapped in a dome of icy mirrors, twenty one in all. Twelve mirrors were situated around Sasuke, eight were above it, angled to face the centre, and one last one sealed the dome at the top.

Hijutsu: Makyō Hyō Shō,” Haku announced, as she walked towards a mirror, and slipped in.

To be able to make ice…Kakashi thought worriedly. “This must be a kekkei genkai…”

Zabuza laughed. “It is one of the lost kekkei genkai of Kiri, and I was in luck when I picked up Haku. Say goodbye to your student, Kakashi. No one has ever escaped that jutsu.”

Kakashi cursed inwardly. A kekkei genkai user, trained by Zabuza. Sasuke doesn’t have the Sharingan yet, putting him at a disadvantage. Outwardly, he scoffed at Zabuza. “I already said, don’t underestimate my students. Sasuke is the last of his clan, and a powerful ninja in his own right.”

“Last of his clan?” Zabuza echoed. “Ah, that tragic Uchiha incident…and I thought everyone died.”

“Then you should understand that he’s strong,” Kakashi boasted.

Zabuza’s eyes had mirth within them. “Haku is not just any shinobi. She has trained all her life, creating jutsus by her own. Although with a kind soul, when the time comes, she can kill her heart, and kill her opponents with no mercy. Haku is the ultimate weapon, defeating Jōnins with ease. She’s stronger than even me. Your student stands no chance.”

In the dome of mirrors, Sasuke stared at Haku, body tense. Suddenly, he felt needles piercing his skin, causing him to cry out in pain. Haku disappeared from the mirror, and appeared elsewhere, firing another barrage of senbon. Sasuke had no chance, as he got peppered by multiple needles. He collapsed on one knee heavily, clutching his injured shoulder and leg. Kakashi tried to move and help Sasuke, but a heavy zanbatō chopped the air in front of him. He glared at Zabuza, who returned the glare with the same intensity. “Don’t interfere. We never finished our fight too. That blond kid was a pain in the neck, interfering in our fight.”

“Oh, oh, can I fight the blond pain in the neck?” Rikka asked, giddy with excitement.

Zabuza sighed. “You can have both him and the purple-haired kunoichi.”

The girl’s smiling features morphed into something more serious, as she regarded her two opponents with critical eyes. She dropped into a boxing stance. Anko grinned, as she drew two kunai hidden surreptitiously up her sleeves. “Gaki, go help the Uchiha. I’m going to fight this little girl.”

Naruto nodded in assent, and calmly went for the dome of mirrors. Anko’s grin grew wider. “Let’s play, shall we?”

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Zabuza and Kakashi had a glaring contest, before the former burst into action. He ran forward, thrusting his kunai towards Kakashi’s left eye. The silver-haired Jōnin caught the kunai by the blade, tearing a gash in his hand. Using his other hand, he slowly straightened his hitai-ate, revealing a red eye.

“Showing me the Sharingan twice?” Zabuza sneered. “You should know that a shinobi’s trump card shouldn’t be shown to an enemy too many times, or he can find a counter to it.”

“However, judging by your attack, I would say you’re still afraid of the power of my Sharingan. You are the only enemy to see my Sharingan twice. There won’t be a third time,” Kakashi retorted.

Zabuza cackled. “Haku is not just a fighting machine. She is a genius, and observing a technique just once, she can break it down, and find out its ins and outs. I know how to counter your Sharingan. Ninpō: Kirigakure no Jutsu.

The mist thickened considerably, reducing vision to almost zero. Kakashi swore within; his Sharingan couldn’t see much with the mist blocking his view of practically everything. “Zabuza…your plan to counter my Sharingan is admirable, but you can’t see as well. How are you going to beat me like this?”

“Kakashi, you are truly a fool. Have you forgotten my reputation? I am a silent killer. I don’t need my eyes to find you.”

Kakashi just hated sticky, potentially life-threatening situations like this.

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Naruto tried to study Haku’s technique as Sasuke got his ass handed to him on a silver platter, with several pretty maids to serve him said ass. The blond frowned as he watched Haku bounce from mirror to mirror, or sometimes appearing in all mirrors. The moving from mirror to mirror is a fast-speed movement, where she uses her kekkei genkai to propel herself at high speed between two mirrors by attraction and repulsion. The mirror images are a subtle genjutsu, and she assaults from all sides at the same time by moving too quickly to see. This is a speed technique, and with her precision at firing senbon, it is perfect for disabling strong, single opponents.

However, such a technique will definitely be chakra-consuming. Using a kekkei genkai to travel between water bodies such as the mirrors will take up quite a bit of chakra. This means that she will slow down eventually, making her an easier target. This is basically a fight of attrition, to see who can last longer, Sasuke or Haku. Unless Sasuke activates his Sharingan, he will not be able to see the senbon.

If I go in, I will only be a new target for Haku. My speed without gravity seals is still not as fast as Gai-sensei’s, which is not enough for me to catch Haku while within. All I can do is block senbon, which I can see. I have to attack the mirrors from outside. Fire will be the best choice, but this ice is formed by a kekkei genkai, and is not likely to melt to simple fire jutsus. Assuming ice is formed by combining the elements of wind and water, lightning and fire are both ineffective. The last choice will be earth. The brute force of earth techniques may also shatter the mirrors. Naruto ran through a mental list of earth techniques, and began to use one. From the bridge’s surface, a rocky and huge dragon emerged, breaking up Tazuna’s hard work in the process. Well, Tazuna would most likely die if Naruto didn’t do it, so the damage was hardly of any consequence.

Doton: Iwaryūdan no Jutsu,” Naruto said softly.

From within the dome of mirrors, Sasuke felt a pang of jealousy. He had always felt somewhat inferior to Naruto, and the blond using a powerful technique he never heard of was quite a blow to him. Haku wondered what the blue-eyed boy was planning to do, and braced herself for anything. The dragon trained its beady eyes on the dome of icy mirrors, as if sizing up its target. With a slight mental push, the dragon opened its mouth. From the orifice, a spray of sharp, earthen shrapnel was blasted at the dome. The shrapnel, denser and harder than steel, easily shattered the mirrors, forcing Haku to beat a quick retreat elsewhere.

With half the mirrors gone, Sasuke could escape. The Uchiha limped away, and drew a kunai with a shaky hand. He had not recovered, and would not be able to gain full movement until twenty minutes later. The raven-haired shinobi realised quite some time ago that Haku was toying with him, giving him non-lethal injuries and impeding his movement. Even then, it was not severe, and Sasuke could still move albeit painfully.

The rock dragon curled itself around Naruto and Sasuke, protecting them from attacks while it peered around, looking for Haku. Of course, the dragon was not sentient; Naruto was pulling the strings. Deciding to play safe, Naruto instructed the dragon to destroy the rest of the mirrors. During this time, Haku positioned herself behind several building supplies, running through hand seals quickly. As soon as the seals were done, a massive, imposing water dragon rose from the water, and locked its gaze on the rock dragon. The two jutsus looked like their mythical counterparts as they sized each other up. With bestial roars, the two attacks clashed. The water dragon, despite its power, could not smash the rock dragon, which was harder than even steel. Instead, the water splashed all over the rock dragon. Naruto almost swore, but the boy was too collected to do so. Instead, he mentally congratulated Haku on creating a good plan.

The use of a water technique will make your opponent underestimate you, as earth beats water. However, you only plan on drenching my dragon, so that you can use your kekkei genkai to full effect by freezing the rock. The rock may be strong and dense, but when frozen, it is brittle. However, this is not my only technique.

True to Naruto’s thoughts, the water started to freeze into clear ice, wrapping the rock dragon in a coat of ice. A second Suiton: Suiryūdan no Jutsu shattered the rock dragon, sending pieces of ice-covered rock flying all over the bridge, almost hitting Sakura in the process. By then, Naruto was already thinking of ways to defeat Haku’s genius at water and ice techniques. You use water to great effect, so water jutsus are not advisable. Fire will be ineffective. Wind can cut, but it may not be able to cut through ice. Earth can shatter ice and it beats water, but you have displayed knowledge of defeating earth techniques. Lightning is a piercing technique, and it may be able to shatter the ice. The lightning technique must be strong however, or it will only dissipate when in contact with ice. Ninjutsu is out of the question for now. Fūinjutsu takes time to prepare, and there is hardly any time. Genjutsu is not my strong point, so that leaves taijutsu. The use of senbon points to intimate knowledge of the body, which makes it dangerous to engage in close combat. However, from the looks of it, you don’t use taijutsu much, preferring to fight using weapons and ninjutsu.

Naruto took off his glove, and proceeded to remove his gravity seal. He darted towards Haku, who quickly pulled out two senbon, throwing one. Naruto easily knocked it away with the metal plate on his glove, and moved within Haku’s guard. He struck Haku’s chin with a painful palm strike, sending the kunoichi soaring. He jumped after the dark-haired ninja, moving in the same trajectory as she did, directly behind her. Opening the first gate, Naruto felt a burst of power increasing his power fivefold. He grabbed a surprised Haku from behind, making sure not to use too much force. As they went headfirst towards the bridge, Naruto initiated a spin, sending the two pile-driving into the ground.

At the last moment, Naruto released Haku, kicking her away. He stopped his own fall with a one-handed handstand, and flipped to his feet. Haku, dazed from the spinning and the kick, stood up slowly. She stared at Naruto disbelievingly. “You didn’t kill me. Why?”

Naruto eye-smiled. “I said before that we have felt similar loneliness and pain. We could have been friends if our goals didn’t clash. I’ll give you a choice. We can continue fighting, or we can stop, and go to Konoha.”

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Kakashi stood alone in the mist, feeling rather tense. A kunai was in his hand, ready to strike. Suddenly, a large sword was ready to stab him. The man pivoted on his heel, and going on a spin, he tried to hit Zabuza, to no avail. Dark laughter echoed throughout the mist, causing Sakura and Tazuna to shiver slightly. Kakashi, using reflexes ingrained into his body since young, managed to duck under a chop that would have cleaved his head off. Another attempt to slash Zabuza failed, as the ex Kiri-nin retreated back into the mist. Kakashi gritted his teeth in frustration. He didn’t have so much trouble with an enemy since his ANBU days. When I get back, I’m going to do some intense training.

“Is that all you got, Hatake? The famous Kopynin Kakashi (Copy Ninja Kakashi) reduced to dodging attacks only. This is a joke,” Zabuza mocked.

Kakashi heard the swooshing of a zanbatō from above, about to slice him into half. He sidestepped the attack, and managed to score a hit on Zabuza. Both ninjas looked shocked, Zabuza from being hit, and Kakashi for even hitting. I couldn’t hit him earlier, but why did I hit him this time?

Water trickled from the wound. Then, the Zabuza burst into water. Kakashi calmed himself down as he tried to find out Zabuza’s motives. He was attacking me earlier without using clones, that’s a definite. Why would he send a Mizu Bunshin this time? He knows the clone can’t hurt me, so it must be a distraction…KUSO! Sakura, Sai, Tazuna!

With chakra-fuelled legs, he made it in time to stand in front of Sakura, Sai and Tazuna. The three looked rather shocked to have the Jōnin suddenly move in front of them, but the answer was rather clear. Zabuza had his sword stabbed into Kakashi’s stomach. The silver-haired man had did some damage control by grabbing the sides of the blade to stop it going further, but the damage was done. A large, bloody wound was visible on Kakashi, and his clothes and Jōnin vest were saturated with his blood.

Zabuza’s laughter could be heard all around as the elusive man was enveloped in the thick bank of mist once more. The smug tone was grating Kakashi’s nerves severely. “What are you going to do now, Kakashi?”

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Howaido Rikka was considered a stain to her clan. The Howaidos were a prestigious clan located in the north, in the large peninsula that was Kaminari no Kuni (Land of Lightning). They were a separate ninja entity from Kumogakure, and the daimyo was rather fond of hiring the powerful ninjas. Their kekkei genkai was amazingly versatile, and allowed them to complete various dangerous missions with ease. However, no one in the clan was like Rikka. White hair in the clan was as rare as sand was common in Sunagakure, and Rikka was seen as an anomaly that ought to be eliminated. Her skills kept her her life, as she was a natural prodigy at the use of their kekkei genkai.

When she failed a mission, the clan was decisive, ordering her execution. Latent powers never seen since the founding of the clan erupted from the girl, and the clan was annihilated. Escaping, Rikka wandered aimlessly, taking up bounty hunting as a way to feed herself. She stumbled on the easy job of killing Tazuna, which didn’t seem so easy now. Anko was a dangerous adversary, and she gave no mercy. Life on the road is getting boring. Maybe if I lose, they’ll take me to Konoha? Rikka thought, as she ducked under a snap kick.

Rikka tried to punch Anko, and the violet-haired kunoichi swerved to the side, dodging the gauntleted hand. Another hand came down, Rikka using them as if the gauntlets had claws. Anko almost smirked, until she saw the three sharp claws that shot out of the gauntlet, ready to slice her. Using her kunai, she blocked the blow, bending her knees to soften the impact. She lashed out with a kick, and it was answered by a hand grabbing her leg. Two snakes slithered out of her sleeves, and crawled up the gauntlets. They tried to sink their teeth into Rikka’s arm, but failed as she twisted her hand, cutting the snakes and killing them. Using the distraction, Anko pulled her caught leg back, which in turn dragged Rikka along. Anko slashed at the girl’s neck, failing when the white-haired kunoichi bent backwards.

Reversing her grip almost instantaneously, Anko brought her hand down, trying to stab Rikka between the eyes. The kunoichi kicked Anko in the abdomen, sending the woman back. As she stumbled back, she threw a kunai at Rikka’s heart. The kunai missed its target, but managed to tear through skin and flesh on Rikka’s left, underneath her ribs. She held her side in pain, as the two kunoichi stared each other down.

“You’re pretty good, girl,” Anko said. She hoped fervently the distant sounds of crashing were not from Naruto getting thrashed.

Rikka smiled lightly. “You are a strong opponent too. I guess I cannot hold back.”

She removed her clawed gauntlets with a click, and they fell to the ground with a soft thump. She flexed her hands, and Anko wondered just how removing one’s weapon was considering going all out. Her answer was given when three metallic, one foot long claws shot out from between Rikka’s knuckles for each hand, giving the ninja six sharp, deadly weapons. The claws were dripping with a clear liquid, which Anko presumed to be poison. This must be a kekkei genkai. I have to avoid those claws. Maybe I can use the mist to my advantage, Anko thought, as she stuffed her two kunai in her trench coat, and formed several hand seals. She disappeared from view, leaving Rikka confused. She disappeared? Is this genjutsu?

A genjutsu dispel failed. Rikka narrowed her eyes, trying to analyse the situation. She is hiding from me, and is invisible. However, the mist already worsens vision, and the lack of sight is hardly disconcerting. She’s planning to sneak up on me. I’ll have to use my sense of smell and hearing to find her.

Rikka closed her eyes, and tried to track down Anko. A faint smell of snakes, almost undetectable, was practically upon her. Rikka jumped forwards, as a kunai was sunk in the spot she was standing in a second ago. Rikka cursed. The jutsu reduces scent, which means I can’t smell her out until the last second. Her footfalls are very soft, and my sensitive hearing cannot really pinpoint it. She must specialise in stealth, and with this mist, I’m at a disadvantage. Rikka stretched her senses to the max, and just in time to duck under a stab to the head. She was kicked in her side, where her wound was, and she winced. It’s lucky I have advanced healing, or I would have felt that much worse. This is a bad match-up for me due to her stealth jutsu.

Anko frowned when she saw her kick do nothing much but make Rikka cringe in pain. With that kind of kick to an open wound, it would hurt like a bitch. Either this girl has a high pain tolerance, or she healed up. Advanced healing is going to be a pain to deal with. I have to aim for fatal spots, but she always dodges in time. Does she have better senses too?

Both ninjas moved away from each other, formulating plans.

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“Go to Konoha?” Haku said, confused.

Naruto nodded. “Konoha was never on good terms with Kiri since the Second Shinobi War, so turning Zabuza into a Konoha-nin is not a problem. You are not a registered ninja, as for the white-haired girl, I do not recall seeing her in the bingo book. All three of you can come to Konoha, and you no longer have to worry about oinin.”

Haku hesitated. The offer was good, but was it the best for them? Naruto waited patiently as Haku struggled with an answer. The kunoichi removed her mask, revealing her pale face. “I would like to settle down, but it is Zabuza-sama’s decision. Also, Rikka is not with us. She is a hired ninja of Gato’s, independent of us.”

“Go convince Zabuza that Gato will not want to pay him, and going to Konoha will be more beneficial. Remind him of his initial reasons to assassinate the Mizukage. I will look for Kakashi-sensei,” Naruto eye-smiled, before disappearing into the mist.

Haku was about to head for Zabuza, when two large chakra signatures were revealed on the bridge. Haku was quickly joined by Naruto, as the two ninjas moved slowly towards them. Naruto flared his chakra, blowing away mist, revealing two men wearing black cloaks which bore red clouds. Bamboo hats with tinkling charms covered the duo’s hair, and the high collar cloak hid most of their faces. Naruto tensed as the two removed their hats, tossing them aside. The taller man had blue hair, pale blue skin and gill-like marks on his face. Sharp, shark-like teeth made the man look more of a monster than a ninja. The shorter was similar to Sasuke, except for deep cheek lines and hair tied loosely in a low ponytail. Red eyes with black, circling tomoe made the shinobi look intimidating.

“Hoshigaki Kisame, Uchiha Itachi,” Naruto recited their names out loud. “S-rank nukenin of Kiri and Konoha respectively. Are you here for Tazuna, or something else?”

Kisame smirked, revealing rows of pointy teeth. “This brat is pretty smart! He knows we won’t work for the fat tub of lard.”

Itachi didn’t bother with bantering. “Naruto-kun, our organisation wishes to meet you.”

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Rikka ducked under two hissing reptiles, and pirouetted within Anko’s guard. Her claws glanced across Anko’s arm, slicing through the arm bracers Anko wore cleanly, nicking her flesh. Immediately, the snake user felt her arm numbing, as if it was freezing. Her blood didn’t trickle out of the wound. Rikka grinned as Anko quickly moved back and assessed the damage. “My claws are coated with a liquid, but not what people think. It is not a poison, but a freezing agent. You probably will find your arm numb and hard to move, while blood is not circulating properly. I will not be affected by this because my body naturally produces these enzymes. Anything you try and use to block my claws will be destroyed, as my claws are almost as hard as diamond.”

Anko gritted her teeth, and cradled her arm. Just as Rikka moved in for the kill, the woman melted into mud. Startled, Rikka hardly had any time to jump and roll away from a large ball of fire that brushed against her sandals. The kunoichi cussed, throwing two shuriken at the source of the flames. Anko knocked the weapons away with her kunai and completed a set of hand seals a bit slower than usual, blowing numerous small fireballs at Rikka.

Damn it! She found my weakness! I can only fight at close range, Rikka thought desperately as she tried to dodge the ninjutsu Anko was throwing. The mist was starting to clear quickly, and she sincerely hoped that was her backup facing off the blond ‘pain in the neck’ as Zabuza termed it.

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Kakashi sensed the two foreign chakra signatures close to Naruto and Haku’s signatures, and got worried. It could be backup. I better hurry up and finish this. From his Jōnin vest, he retrieved a scroll from the pockets in front.

“Zabuza, we’re both busy people, so let’s finish this fight up. What do you say?” Kakashi called out.

“Go ahead, copy-nin. I’m excited to see what you can come up with,” Zabuza’s disembodied voice replied.

Kakashi dabbed his thumb across his stomach wound, getting blood on the digit. The silver-haired ninja unfurled the scroll in one swift motion, drawing a line of blood along the scroll as he did so. Twirling the scroll around expertly before rolling the scroll shut, the Jōnin proceeded to make hand seals while holding the seal in his hands. Completing the sequence, he crouched, and slammed the scroll into the ground. A low rumble could be heard, and then there was silence. Kakashi stood, calmly waiting for his technique to take effect. He hoped the two unknowns were not as strong as he was. The Sharingan user was good, but not good enough to take on two people of his level. Being injured was a pain too, no pun intended.

Zabuza wondered exactly what his opponent did. Truth be told, he was getting worried about the situation. One of the chakra signatures he felt was rather similar to one of his former comrade. Zabuza’s thoughts were not enough to distract him from the fight, as he managed to lift his leg, avoiding the maw of a dog snapping at his feet. Another dog burst out of the ground, clamping down hard on his other leg. In quick succession, seven more dogs popped out of the ground, grabbing the swordsman with their jaws and paws. With Zabuza immobilised and injured by the bone breaking bite of the dogs, the mist lifted quickly. Instead of finishing off Zabuza, Kakashi looked over for the bigger threat. He stifled a curse as he spotted two faces he saw under the ‘S-rank’ section of the bingo book. He knew he had not a chance of beating the duo.

Judging by Zabuza’s confused look, Kakashi deduced they were either hired by Gato without Zabuza’s knowledge or they weren’t here for Tazuna at all. Judging by them staring intently at Naruto, the Jōnin had the feeling they were after someone else. He swivelled around, trying to look for other Konoha-nins. Anko was holding a kunai, looking worse for wear. Her left arm was hanging limp, although Kakashi could see no visible wound. The man hoped Anko could still use that arm for battle. Sakura and Sai were fresh, and Sasuke was injured. Kakashi hoped fervently the Uchiha did not see his brother. Naruto looked fine as well, albeit a bit exhausted. Tazuna was safe, though he looked worried.

“Sakura!” Kakashi barked. The girl perked up quickly hearing the voice of her sensei. “Take Tazuna back to his home! This fight is out of your league, and I don’t want any stray jutsu hitting either of you! Sai, go help Sasuke!”

The girl nodded frantically, and dragged the old bridge builder off his bridge, vanishing into the light mist. Sai rushed to Sasuke, giving the Uchiha a preliminary check which the dark-haired Genin brushed off, scowling. Then, one of Kakashi’s worst fears were realised. Sasuke, while looking around, spotted his brother. Rejuvenated, Sasuke stood up, Sharingan flaring. Itachi, having also noticed his brother, looked apathetic. Sasuke pulled out a kunai, snarling. “Itachi! I have hated you, despised you, and ran! I survived, and today, you will die by my hand!”

The avenger dashed forward, ignoring Kakashi’s shouts. He ran past Naruto, intent on stabbing Itachi, when his world suddenly turned black. The boy collapsed into Naruto’s arms, and the blond created a Kage Bunshin, letting the clone take Sasuke off the bridge. Itachi looked particularly amused.

“Why did you knock out my foolish brother, Naruto-kun?” the nukenin asked.

“Sasuke was letting his emotions consume him, and running into danger recklessly. His death will be a loss to Konoha,” Naruto replied.

Kisame chuckled. “Oh? Is the brat concerned about his little friend? And was that really your kid brother, Itachi? I thought you killed off the whole clan.”

“My foolish little brother is weak, and inconsequential,” the renegade Uchiha replied crisply. “So, Naruto-kun, will you come?”

“What are you after?” Naruto inquired. “I do not have any kekkei genkai, at least none that has manifested. I doubt you will be after me. You are perhaps, after what is sealed within me?”

Taking the two nukenins’ silence as a yes, Naruto fell into a Gōken stance. “If you wish to acquire Hisana, you will have to fight me.”

Kisame grabbed the hilt of his sword, grinning maniacally. “I’ve been itching for a fight. You better be decent, kid.”

“I assure you, I am strong,” Naruto retorted coldly. “Haku, stay out of this. It has nothing to do with you. This is my fight.”

The girl acquiesced, and moved back. “I will go convince Zabuza-sama to join Konoha.”

Naruto nodded. “Just don’t let him out of his constraints.”

Haku whipped around to see Zabuza held down by nine dogs. She gasped, but swallowed her initial desire to free Zabuza. She knew it was out of place for a tool to question her user’s decisions, but even she could see Zabuza was tired of running from oinin. She headed over to the swordsman, who looked nonplussed. Kisame traced the female’s route, and spotted his old comrade. “Zabuza? He let himself get hired by Gato? What an idiot.”

Naruto closed his eyes at this point to avoid looking into Itachi’s eyes, and felt two presences beside him. “Anko-sensei, Kakashi-sensei.”

“What, you think we’re gonna let you fight them on your own, kid?” Anko said cheerily. “I can’t let my favourite student die now, can I?”

“I’ll fight Itachi,” Kakashi offered. “None of you have the Sharingan.”

“Then I’ll help,” Anko said. “Orochimaru, even if he’s a bastard, taught me how to fight an Uchiha and I’m pretty good. My arm may be numb, but I can still use ninjutsu.”

“I can help the blond pain in the neck!” a voice piped up from behind Naruto. Rikka was grinning, arms around Naruto’s neck and chin on his right shoulder. Kakashi and Anko almost reacted, until Naruto raised a hand. “She means no harm. What is your name?”

“My name is Howaido Rikka! Pleased to meet you!” she chirped.

“I am Uzumaki Naruto. Do you wish to join Konoha?” Naruto asked pleasantly, as though they weren’t facing off against two of the most dangerous men in the world.

“Sure, if it’s full of hunks like you,” she answered with a sultry tone.

Naruto opened his eyes, and focused on Kisame’s shark-like visage. “It seems like this is not only my fight…then I believe you are my opponent.”

Kisame cracked a big grin, lifting his sword off his back and letting it hit the ground with a loud thud. “Let’s stop trading banter, shall we? Samehada is thirsting for a fight.”

8888888888888888

Sai watched the scene with a calculated gaze. Danzo-sama will be interested in this. He brought out a scroll, ink and a brush, deft fingers drawing a picture of a bird. With some chakra, the ink bird came to life, soaring into the sky. Snapping the scroll shut, Sai retreated into the mist.

8888888888888888

Tsunami hummed a happy tune as she washed the dishes, until the wall suddenly collapsed, revealing two smirking ronin. One of them was tall and tanned, torso bereft of a shirt. The second was pale, wearing a beanie. Both had various tattoos on their face and for the shirtless one, his chest as well. “So we’re supposed to capture this woman?” the tanned one said distastefully. “I’ll rather kill her.”

“Waraji, you killed so many things on the way here already,” the pale one countered. “You still not satisfied?”

“Shut it, Zouri.”

Tsunami looked utterly frightened, and Waraji grinned at the fearful look he got. “Heh, this one is pretty. Maybe we can…”

“Is killing and sex all you think about?” Zouri said, exasperatedly. “Let’s just tie her up and go.”

Waraji then spotted Inari peeking from the corner. “Hey, the boss said to get one hostage. Can I kill the kid?”

“Run, Inari!” Tsunami cried. The boy looked estranged. He wanted to help his mother fight off the bad guys, but he knew he would die. Silent tears rolled down his face. Waraji took a step towards the boy, and he stumbled back. Tsunami growled at the man, fear forgotten. Her maternal instincts were screaming out at her.

“Don’t you dare! If you do, I’ll bite my tongue off and kill myself!” Tsunami threatened.

The taller of the ronin harrumphed, and walked out of the gaping hole in the house. Zouri pulled out some rope, and proceeded to tie Tsunami up. As the two left, dragging Tsunami away from the house, words from Naruto and his dead surrogate father, Kaiza, filtered into his mind. “We will do our best to aid your crumbling country, even if you do not want us to. At least, with my two hands, I can protect what is precious to me. Maybe, I can even protect what is precious to you.”

Inari, always protect what you have with everything you got.”

I’m not going to cry anymore. I’m going to protect mom and everyone! With a battle cry, Inari dashed out of the house, intent on fighting it out with the ronin. Tsunami, gagged, couldn’t tell Inari to stop. Waraji looked bloodthirsty, as he placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. When Inari got close enough, the man drew his blade, slicing the boy in two. A log split cleanly into two. Confused, the two ronin looked around to see a black-clad boy untying their hostage. Naruto, or at least a clone, glared murderously at the men. “Pathetic, killing children.”

Waraji growled, while Zouri looked similarly angry. “What do you think you are, brat! Get out of our way, or we’ll cut you to pieces!”

“Oh? What are you going to use to do that?” Naruto asked, cocking his head, amused.

“With our swords, you dumbass! Can’t you see…wait, where are our swords!”

Naruto held up the two items. “Looking for these?”

Both ronin growled, and ran towards the blond. “Give them back!”

“I think not.”

They stopped their charge, cold sweat dripping from their temples. Their own blades were once again against their own necks, much like in Zabuza’s hideout. A trickle of blood was flowing down their necks. Naruto’s breath felt like the devil’s to the duo, as they trembled in fear.

“Charging into a situation without finding out the strength of your opponent,” Naruto whispered. “How foolish.”

With a clean slash, they died, throats cut open. With a simple shove, they fell into the water, staining it red. Naruto walked over to Inari, squatting down to the boy’s height. “What you did was brave. Stupid, but brave.”

“You were late,” Inari accused.

“I wanted to let you learn that you have to protect people you love with all you have,” Naruto said seriously. “Take care of your mother, Inari.”

The boy nodded. With that, the clone disappeared in a pop.

<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>

Chapter 6

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