Chapter 43: Confrontation, Part 4

Naruto glared at the Akatsuki member who was standing on the way of the ship. He was a middle-aged man who was pretty muscular for a normal shinobi. From what Goku had taught him before, that type of muscle is usually seen on people who has practiced martial arts their whole life. Just by looking at his face, Naruto could see that he was a clearly evil guy, with the impressive moustache and the arrogant, smug grin on his face. The sharp, glaring eyes which were shooting a piercing gaze at him and Isobu didn't help.

But the thing that worried Naruto the most wasn't the fact that he was evil. After all, the Akatsuki was full of evil crazy guys anyway. What unnerved him the most was that he didn't know anything about this person. He didn't even exist during Naruto's past life.

'No, he did.'

Gyuuki's voice startled him.

'What do you mean, Gyuuki?'

The ox-topus didn't answer him. Rather, he turned towards Matatabi.

'You realized that attack before, sis?'

'Yeah,' Matatabi nodded. She was showing an alerted expression Naruto had never seen on her face before. 'There is no doubt. It's that guy.'

'Who is that guy?' Frustrated, Naruto nearly screamed in his head.

'Osama Narita, known by the moniker "Lord Conqueror" in Kumogakure,' Gyuuki answered him. 'That guy once tried to overthrow the Raikage and take over the village by force. I remember that happened during the time your village was invaded by Orochimaru, around your first Chuunin Exam.'

Hearing that made Naruto raise an eyebrow.

'Really? Why didn't I hear anything about that? Surely if something as big as that had happened, I would have heard something about that in the past.'

'Oh, please, this is A we are talking about, remember?' the ox-topus snorted. 'Do you remember what happened to your friend Hinata? That was because A was manipulated by half of the shinobi council of Kumogakure to make that decision without him even knowing about it. Until he realized that he had made a big mistake, it was too late. He would rather announced that he planned for that to happen than admitted that he was led by the nose like a cow without even realizing it. So do you really think that blockheaded, arrogant Raikage would let the news about someone trying to overthrow him leak out of the border of the village?"

A flame of rage started bubbling up inside Naruto, but not related to what the Tailed Beast had just said. So that was the reason why Neji and Hinata-chan had to suffer all of her childhood?

'And you didn't even think of telling me that sooner?' he asked the two Tailed Beasts. 'That is a rather convenient excuse for that old man to behave like a jerk, you know. And Hinata-chan should have been allowed to know about this!'

The two Tailed Beasts winced. 'We're… sorry?'

Naruto facepalmed. 'Never mind… Moving on, is that guy strong? How powerful is he comparing to the other Akatsuki members?'

'Yeah, if he is anything like who we fought during our timeline, then he is very powerful,' Gyuuki admitted. 'Of course he cannot be compared to ones like Pain or Itachi, but he has the power to manipulate ki."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. 'What the hell is ki?'

'Basically, it is life force,' Surprisingly, it was Goku who explained. 'Before the advent of chakra, martial art masters usually exploited life force to perform superhuman feats. Delivering punches and kicks that could shake mountains, running at incredibly high speed, or even flying… it is safe to say that ki is the predecessor of chakra, if you ask me.'

'Life force, huh… Sounds so much like chakra itself if you ask me,' Naruto pondered. 'So does it mean he can do things like Saikyo-chan usually does? Wood Style and things?'

'No, onii-chan,' This time it was Saikyo who answered. 'You practiced using Wood Style already; you should have known how difficult it is to imbue pure life force into a technique. What this man is doing is just to convert his life force directly into energy and empower his body with it. Of course it is powerful, but at the same time, it is also very inefficient, simply because it is too difficult to use. You cannot apply elemental transformation to ki, and shape transformation of ki is incredibly hard only some rare people with extreme talent can do it. Besides, doing that is no different from burning out your own life to fight."

"But that alone makes him dangerous," Kokuoh was the one who concluded. "Since he could use such an inefficient way of fighting so skillfully and effectively, he must be incredibly experienced and talented. And you already knew how far real fighting experience can help in a fight. There must be a reason that the Akatsuki chose him as a member."

Naruto grimaced. Just great. An enemy he didn't know anything about, with way more skill and experience than him.

'But that is not the only thing that makes him dangerous, Kokuoh-nii.'

What Matatabi had just said made him blink. 'What do you mean?'

'The most dangerous thing about that guy is that he is extremely manipulative,' the cat answered him. 'In our timeline, he managed to gather an army of thousands with his charisma alone; some of them are even infamous missing-nin with notorious records. Even some people in Kumogakure's shinobi council were pawns under his hands. Furthermore, he can make a type of drug containing his blood that forces anyone ingesting it to follow his order without question. Once the drug has completely dissolved into the ingester's blood in a high enough dose, there would be no helping. The poor guy would become his mindless puppet, only fighting for him alone while still keeping all of his abilities.'

Naruto blanched. What the fuck…?

'Yeah, it's that bad,' Matatabi agreed. 'Luckily that kind of drug is incredibly difficult to make, with all those rare ingredients and things, and it takes quite a long time for it to come into effect; during our time he only managed to do that to about a hundred people, but who knows what he can do now that he is with the Akatsuki…'

Naruto shuddered. Just imagining the bastard doing that to the other members of the Akatsuki, or even worse, to Nagato or Obito, scared him shitless.

'Then we have to kill him as soon as possible,' he concluded. 'But how can we do that with my body like this…'

Before Naruto could do anything, though, the Mizukage had acted first.

"All troops, hold your position and protect the Three-Tails and Naruto Uzumaki! Chojuro, Shiro, come with me!"

She jumped off the ship and rushed the Akatsuki member with a look full of vengeance, but all of her kicks and punches were parried easily by the enemy. She jumped back a few steps, making a safe distance while estimating the problem.

"Feisty," the Akatsuki member grinned nastily. "You are going to be a good addition to my army once I finish with you."

"Who are you? What do you want?" Mei asked carefully, her eyes not leaving the opposing face. "Are you planning to take the Three-Tails, too?"

The man only answered her with another smirk. "Lord Conqueror… DOES NOT ANSWER TO ANYONE!"

Then with a sudden movement, he kicked the water and closed the distance between them in an instant. His right hand lashed out, aiming for the Mizukage's face. She leaned aside, and the hand went past her head; but immediately it flipped in midair and turned into a slash at the side of her left temple, forcing her to raise her hand to stop his wrist.

And she winced when she felt the impact of the blow on her hand. If his wrist alone could produce such a force, there's no way to tell what would happen if his palm had landed on her face.

Still, Mei Terumi was still a powerful fighter by herself. There's no way she would back down that easily.

He is strong… but I have handled a lot of powerful enemies before! This is nothing…

Then an incredibly fast punch was launched at her in a very close range. It was very fast, but from what she could see, the power from the strike was nothing to worry about. She raised her hand, ready to block the incoming attack again…

…then her instinct SCREAMED at her to dodge. Not even having a second to think, she followed the call in her head and hastily leaned aside, letting the fist fly past her lower body. It didn't even touch her body, and yet for some reason it still managed to scratch her torso. And Mei winced when her dress received a rather deep cut at the waist, drawing blood.

Mei Terumi wasn't really that bad at taijutsu. However, just by FEELING that one single blow, she had realized that the enemy in front of her was not simply a normal taijutsu user. She hastily backed away, one hundred percent expecting that the enemy would be coming after her…

…but instead, he stopped and relaxed himself again. Not even taking a stance.

"You're very lucky," he said in a mocking tone while sneering at her. "Had you tried to block that strike, you would have lost your precious arm right there."

That just pissed Mei off even further. Is this guy thinking I'm just a nameless nothing?

She clapped her hands together. Immediately, a whirlpool formed under Lord Conqueror's feet and started dragging him under. Lord Conqueror raised an eyebrow when he felt the restraints under his feet.

Got him!

She flipped through a very quick series of hand seals. "Lava Style: Magma Gunfire!"

A blazing hot stream of magma erupted from her mouth toward the Akatsuki member. The jutsu was so powerful the magma stream literally glowed white from the extreme heat it emitted. It quickly engulfed the man in black, and the place where he was standing somehow became a huge ball of fire, despite the fact that they were fighting on water.

Then Mei was startled when she heard laughter. More terrifyingly, the laughter was from inside the fire.

What… the…?!

The jutsu eventually died down, and Mei's eyes widened in shock.

A barrier made of energy had been shielding the Akatsuki member from her attack all the time. It would be understandable if it were a water wall, an earth wall, or anything like that, but a barrier made of pure energy being able to stop one of her most powerful attacks was something she couldn't imagine, even in her dream.

Right when the flame started dying down, Lord Conqueror made a gathering movement with his hands. The energy forming the shield quickly gather into a ball of energy in his cupped palms, and thrusting his hands forward, he launched the ball at the Mizukage.

Of course, Mei had no intention of letting that attack touch her. She made a single hand sign, and a thick barricade made of water rose in front of her, ready to intercept the sphere of energy.

But to her horror… the attack went straight through the water wall like nothing. It wasn't even slowing down.

Desperately, Mei threw her body aside, and the blast of energy went past her and continued flying, hitting a place somewhere about a hundred meters away from them. The Mizukage winced when she heard the loud explosion. Had she let it hit, she would have been mangled by now.

What the hell…?!

Mastery of taijutsu, the ability to manipulate pure energy, and now an attack which could get through even her tough defense?! What the hell is this enemy?

Fighting him head-on is the most unwise decision at the moment. She needs to find another strategy. She glanced at Chojuro and Shiro next to her, and the two swordsmen nodded in understanding.

She slammed her hands into the water, and from her ten fingertips, sharks made of water appeared and rushed toward the Akatsuki terrorist. This was a signature move of Kisame Hoshigaki, a move in the hidden vault of jutsu of Kirigakure, any high-leveled shinobi could learn it, but only someone with very high amount and control of chakra could use it effectively. The sharks burst out of the water and bore their liquid fangs at Lord Conqueror, ready to bite his head off. The Akatsuki member narrowed his eyes, and let ki flow into his hands. With quick swipe movements of his hands, he destroyed the creatures easily, and they turned back into water, drowning him in a small torrent.

And that was just a distraction. At the same time, Chojuro and Shiro rushed in from behind her, their swords drawing arcs towards the Akatsuki member.

Lord Conqueror grinned viciously.

"So that's what you are planning, huh? TOO BAD!"

And to both swordsmen's surprise, he crossed his hands in front of him and stopped the swords in their ways by his bare palms.

"What…"

"…the…?"

No, if someone looked closely at it, they would realize Lord Conqueror didn't block the swords simply by his bare hands at all. The energy coming out of his palms was so thick and powerful it managed to slow even sharp physical objects coming at him at high speed. That was a feat not many people in this world could even imagine doing, even those with incredible amount and control of energy like jinchurikis. This person must be, at least, at the level of Sakurain terms of energy control and power.

'Wow, that's a neat trick. Maybe I should try practicing that.'

'Are you complimenting your enemy, Naruto? Don't forget he's here for you.'

'Ah, right…'

Meanwhile, in the battlefield, Mei was gritting her teeth. Even though the two swordsmen didn't manage to land a hit on Lord Conqueror, they were still doing a good job at not letting him move from the place, due to the pressure coming from their weapons. And this would be her chance…

With a quick switch of her hands into a bird seal, the water around the Akatsuki member surged up into tendrils, aiming for the man's stomach. She was sure at this close distance, even the fastest person in the world wouldn't be able to escape unscathed.

But Lord Conqueror only answered her with a smirk. Then, he threw his hands to the sides.

The water surrounding him exploded with a force so great it blew the two members of the Swordsmen away. They crashed into the water and immediately disappeared under the surface, before Mei's look of horror.

The Akatsuki member threw Mei another smug smirk, and started walking towards her. She tensed up her body and snarled.

"There is no way we are going to let you take Naruto-kun today!"

Still with the nasty smirk, Lord Conqueror answered her with a sentence that froze her spine.

"Who said that I'm going to take the Nine-Tails? My mission here today… is to kill as many of you as possible."

Then he dashed forward again; his palm lashed out, aiming for the Mizukage's face. But before it could reach its target, a fist from nowhere had clashed with it in midair, and the force of the sudden contact actually forced the Akatsuki member back a few steps. He looked up in surprise, then his mouth broke into a nasty grin.

"So the Nine-Tails decided to join the battle, eh…"

Standing in front of Mei was Naruto, but he looked… different. Right now, a flame-like dark red aura of chakra was covering his body instead of the normal golden chakra shroud, so strong it caused sparks to burst around it from the friction against the air itself, and his hair was also turning into a shade of red. His blue irises had disappeared, leaving only two blank white eyes in his eye sockets.

"From now on…" he said, his voice coming out of his mouth like a growl, "… I will be your opponent."


(A minute earlier)

"I cannot sit here to watch anymore. I have to go out there."

"You can't, Naruto-kun! Not with your body like that…"

"If everyone died by that bastard's hand, what would keeping my body intact be for?" Naruto cut Haku short with a sharp voice. "I would rather spend the last drops of my stamina to fight for the people I cherish than just sit there watching them being killed without doing anything, Haku-chan!"

"But…!"

Naruto threw Haku a glare, and Haku flinched. This was the first time the sweet and gentle Naruto-kun had looked at her like that.

"You just stay here and protect the ship," Seemingly realized that he was scaring her, Naruto continued in a softer tone. "You are more familiar with how to manage sea vessels than me; you should be here to command the crew and protect Isobu at the same time. Don't worry," when he saw that the girl still wanted to argue, he added, "I still have one last trick I haven't used in the last battle."

Haku still wasn't that convinced, but after a few seconds looking into Naruto's eyes, she finally nodded, and ran to the back of the shipboard.

"Isobu," Naruto looked at the turtle, who was peering down the ship with his lone eye from above. "Can I ask you to protect this ship just in case something happens? Please?"

"Hmph," the turtle snorted. "Normally, I'm not going to let a human command me to do anything, but since you asked nicely, I'm going to make an exception. Go out there and show me what you have."

Nodded in relief, Naruto reached inside his mind.

"Goku, let's do it!"

"AWRIGHT!"

And Naruto's body exploded in red chakra as the Four-Tails temporarily took over his body.


In the Mizukage office in Kirigakure, Zabuza looked up from the paperwork he was working on out of the window and frowned.

What is this sudden insecure feeling…?


Naruto was one of the rare people in the world who had mastered the power of the Tailed Beasts, thanks to his friendship with them. Whenever he utilized their chakra, his own power would be amplified massively, and with the skills he had gathered during his own timeline and from the training trip with Jiraiya, he could confidentally say that he would't have to fear anyone when he's forced to fight.

However, that would only be true if he were at a proper condition to fight. No matter how much power of the Tailed Beasts he could use, the one who would fight in the battle was still Naruto himself. As the Toad Sage had taught him during the training trip, if he couldn't hold his own with his skills during the battle, he would only become a moving target for higher-caliber shinobi to practice shooting, no matter how powerful he could be. That was also the reason why Isobu was captured so easily during Naruto's timeline; even though he could overwhelm Deidara and Tobi easily in terms of firepower, the skills and battle experience of the two terrorists were too much for him to handle. As each Tailed Beast only specializes in one single power outside of raw strength, if they have to face someone who has a versatile battle style, or someone with the power to counter their fortes, they would be manhandled quite easily.

And that was the reason why Naruto and the Tailed Beasts had come up with a plan.

During battle, in case Naruto was somehow incapacitated or was in no condition to fight, Naruto would choose a Tailed Beast with the suitable skill for that battle to take over his body temporarily and fight in his place. Even though doing that would cause Naruto's body to be damaged quite worse than Naruto fighting by himself, the Tailed Beast could unleash all their power on the enemy and return the control back to Naruto before things went downhill. And the Tailed Beasts don't care at all about stamina; they can fight freely without worrying about stamina drain unlike the mortal body of Naruto. They had tried this tactic against Pain three years ago during the battle of Amegakure, but at that time, the limit Naruto's body could handle was only thirty seconds. Now, after years of training, they had managed to extend that limit to five minutes. And that limit was more than enough for the Tailed Beasts who specialize in a specific skill to overwhelm their opponents.

And against Lord Conqueror, who is good at taijutsu, the Tailed Beast who is the master of taijutsu would be the best opponent for him.

"Naruto-kun…" the Mizukage and her subordinates stared at the jinchuriki in awe. Naruto glanced back at her and opened his mouth, but coming out of it was a deep, strong voice Mei had never heard him using before.

"Mizukage. Go back to the ship with your two bodyguards. Leave this one to me."

"What?!" Outraged by the sudden command, the Mizukage protested. "No way I will leave you alone with this…"

"You will just be in my way if you keep staying here. Go!"

The sudden snap from the jinchuriki made Mei realize that the person standing in front of her right now was not the same Naruto she had known for quite some time anymore. Gulping, she nodded and together with the two swordsmen, she started retreating back to the ship.

"You think I'm going to let you run away that easily?" Lord Conqueror sneered, and he launched himself toward the retreating Mizukage; his hand lashed out again, aiming for her head…

…and was stopped abruptly on its way by another hand, which belonged to Naruto, who had just moved between the three retreating people and the Akatsuki member.

"I said… your opponent… is ME!"

A brutal kick was delivered at the torso of the missing-nin. At such a close distance, it was impossible to dodge the sudden attack; the Akatsuki member was launched across the sea surface, and he crashed painfully into the water. A loud "SPLASH" echoed through the air.

"Wha…?!"

The Akatsuki member pushed himself up from the water surface. The strike didn't seem to injure him that badly, but it still managed to shake him up; the power of the kick was unexpectedly heavy and hard. Had it not been for the hasty reinforcement of his torso, it would have been a fatal strike. Goku really hadn't held back anything.

"That hurt," he snarled while glaring at Goku in Naruto's body. "They really didn't call you the strongest jinchuriki for nothing, eh…"

Then he saw a red-and-orange blur appeared right in front of him.

"This is not the time for you to talk!" Not even stopping for a second, the Tailed Beast continued his relentless barrage on the Akatsuki member.

The name Lord Conqueror wasn't claimed by Osama Narita without any base. His taijutsu style utilizes ki, a type of life energy which is said to be even stronger than chakra, to perform feats surpassing any dream normal human beings could even have. That style was incredibly effective, to the point he could overpower most of the shinobi he had faced quite easily except for the most powerful ones. He had always been so proud of his prowess, and not without a good reason. It's safe to say that he could be considered one of the most powerful taijutsu human users of the shinobi world.

Too bad for him; he could never expect he would someday have to face a god-tier taijutsu master.

Punches after punches, kicks after kicks were sent towards the vital points of Lord Conqueror's body, and the terrorist couldn't do anything but frantically dodge and block the deadly blows aiming to kill him as quickly as possible. In just five seconds, more than two hundred blows were traded between the two combatants. The air was soon filled with sparks coming from the clashing of their fists as well as energy.

Impossible… I know that the Nine-Tails is incredibly strong, but how could he be so skilled at taijutsu?! There is no opening in his stance at all! No way a human being could reach this level!

But Lord Conqueror wasn't a master at taijutsu for nothing. Even in the middle of dodging and parrying frantically, he still managed to see an opening in Goku's movement. A very tiny one, but it was definitely something he could use to turn the situation around. His hand, covered in ki, lashed out in glee toward that small opening, and he smirked when the strike hit exactly where he wanted it to hit.

You're finished.

His special taijutsu style was something which is stronger the stronger and more rigid his opponent is. And the enemy in front of him right now was definitely the most powerful person he had ever met in his life. Even if this could not strike the heart, it would surely be a fatal blow.

But then…

His triumphant smirk quickly morphed into a terrified look when the jinchuriki took the whole brunt of the attack, let it explode out of his back, and grinned back at him as if nothing had just happened.

Oh cra…

Then a punch to the face sent him flying backward like a sack of potato. He crashed onto the water surface one, two, three times; his bloody mouth had missed two teeth after that humiliating blow.

"Who the fuck are you?" he snarled while pushing himself up painfully. "How in the world did you manage to counter my move like that?"

Goku answered him with another grin. "Heh. If you think that style of yours is something I don't know, you're making a very big mistake. Your fighting style… is the Heaven and Earth Becoming One taijutsu style, isn't it?"

"What…! How did you…?!"


'Indeed. That's definitely Heaven and Earth Becoming One.'

Naruto blinked when he heard that name. 'What?'

'That is the style Lord Conqueror is using,' Goku answered him. 'No wonder why he could be so confident; that is one of the most dangerous taijutsu styles which utilize ki. It is a fighting style which is based on sending life energy into the targets and using their own strength and rigidity against them. The more powerful someone's defense is, the more damage it would deal to them. It is said to be a legendary style that has never suffered a loss on the battlefield. If someone like that bushy brow sensei of yours had to fight him in an one-on-one duel, he would definitely lose.'

'What?!' Naruto exclaimed. 'How are we going to defeat him then?!'

Goku grinned at him from inside his head. 'Oh, you're talking to the only individual in this entire world who knows how to defeat it.'


The Heaven and Earth Becoming One style is indeed incredibly powerful, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have any weakness. And just like a lot of powerful things in the world, its fatal weakness lies within its very own strength.

The basis of the style is to utilize the life force of the user to send powerful, unblockable attacks straight into the enemy's body. Because of that, it has the power to bypass even the strongest, most rigid defenses. It is basically the progenitor of the Gentle Fist style, with more power and variabilities, and not having to depend on the Byakugan to work. However, without the Byakugan, the style lacks the precision it needs to deliver decisive, one-hit-killing blows. If the enemy knew how to soften their own body down, rejecting the energy injected into their body, the strikes would be no more than light taps.

And that was how Son Goku, the Tailed Beast with the knowledge of every taijutsu style in the world, was utterly humiliating the person who boasted to be the most powerful taijutsu master.

Goku sent another nasty blow at Lord Conqueror's chest, and the terrorist did a quick desperate calculation in his head. He raised his hands and sending as much ki into the palms as possible, he received the punch. A deafening explosion, and the Akatsuki member was sent flying.

No… he didn't just take the blow… he is trying to use that punch to make a distance between us!

Realizing that, Goku immediately dashed after Lord Conqueror, but it was too late; just with that brief separating moment, the Akatsuki member had already been ready to fire his own technique. Both of his hands lashed forward, aiming at Goku. A huge lion-shaped blast of ki exploded from his palms and shot forward in an incredible speed, threatening to engulf Goku in Naruto's body who was advancing very quickly towards him. There was no way to dodge.

Seeing the incoming danger, the Tailed Beast in human body immediately halted his advance and threw a punch imbued with a humongous amount of chakra at the flying energy head.

BOOOOOM!

Naruto's body was thrown back by the explosion. Goku did some backflips and landed on the water surface with a "splash"; he didn't dare attack recklessly anymore.

What the hell was that…? Looks like that Hinata girl's Lion Fist, but was way larger. That guy is pretty skilled for a human… should be at least at the level of that bushy brow jonin in the village…

But the Akatsuki member didn't stop there. He drew back his hands and made some sophisticated movements with his arms. Energy gathered into two translucent spheres on his palms, and cupping his hands together, he merged them together into a big orb of energy.

Rasengan!? No… that's completely different…!

Then he thrust his hands forward, and the sphere flew toward Goku in a rather fast speed. This attack didn't have the shape transformation, but its energy density and power both far exceeded those of the one from before. If it hit, it would hurt.

But that sphere was small. It would mean nothing if he dodged to a side before it could hit…

And Goku in Naruto's body's eyes widened when the sphere started expanding.

Oh son of a bitch…

Even if he dodged right or left, or even upward, he wouldn't be able to escape the sphere of energy, which had expanded to the size of a rather large Tailed Beast Bomb. But what he could do was…

He turned off the chakra flow that was keeping him stable on the water surface, and his body sunk down into the water right before the sphere of ki went past him. The energy sphere flew past his head and ascended into the sky before exploding violently with a deafening BANG.

Pushing chakra out of his foot again, Goku launched Naruto's body out of the water. Time's running out. And there's no way that Akatsuki bastard would let him go before he killed him or was killed by him.

"You surprised me, Nine-Tails," Lord Conqueror's voice came out in front of him. "I didn't think that there is someone as powerful as you who exists in this world. That level of taijutsu… I have never seen anything like that in my life. I will admit, if I continue fighting you today, I will be the one who lose."

Then the terrorist lowered his voice into a menacing tone.

"But do you remember… that Akatsuki members work in pairs, not alone?"

Then suddenly the sound of an earth-shattering explosion came from the direction of the ship.

What…!?

Goku glanced back, and was terrified when a mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke rose from where the ship was staying. Something that could cause such an explosion… could only be a Tailed Beast Bomb.

What kind of enemy was over there that Isobu needed to fire a Tailed Beast Bomb of that scale to fight?

A piercing "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" echoed through the air from the direction of the ship.

Oh no…!


"Everyone into your position! Load the cannons! Set up the boundary field around the ship! Do not let anyone board the ship without knowing who they are!"

Leaving Naruto, Haku immediately focused all her effort into protecting the ship and everyone else. She knew that if something happened, she would be the last defense line available, and without proper preparation, there would be no way she could handle a large scale attack alone. Even though she was a jonin and a member of the Seven Swordsmen, she knew from her experience and stories her father had told her that people from the inner ring of the Akatsuki aren't those she could handle alone.

She unsheathed the Nuibari, which was lying comfortably within the thin scabbard at her waist. For some reason, since that terrorist from the Akatsuki appeared, she had had an uneasy feeling. Even if the Akatsuki were incredibly powerful, there was no way they were going to attack the flagship of Kirigakure's People Navy with the Mizukage and a majority of the village's elite force with one single person; that was just suicidal. Not to mention if they had already known about their journey, they should have known that Naruto-kun and his team were also here.

So there should be…

"…another one, isn't it."

A man in the Akatsuki cloak stepped out from the shadow of the mast. He was a tall man with dark, long hair hiding his left eye. Looking at what she could see of his face, Haku could tell he was about the age of Zabuza, or maybe even a bit older than him. From the man, she could feel a strong, but chilling aura seemingly causing the air around him to drop a few degrees.

But what made Haku flinch was when she saw his visible eye. Usually, such a deep blue eye would be considered beautiful and exotic, especially in the shinobi world where the colour was very rare. However, the beauty of his eye was completely destroyed by the fact that it was… empty. There was absolutely no spirit in his look at all; looking into his eye was just like staring into a lifeless void. It's just like… he had no soul.

"Who are you?" Haku pointed Nuibari at him. "What are you planning to do on our ship? Answer me!"

"He's with the Akatsuki!" One of the shinobi who were taking care of the ship exclaimed. He sprang into action; his hands weaved through hand seals…

…and suddenly he couldn't see them anymore. Hell, he couldn't even feel them anymore. They were both cut off cleanly at his wrists.

"Eh…"

The strike was so fast and so decisive the poor man didn't even seem to feel the pain for a few seconds. Only when blood started spurting out uncontrollably from the two stumps that used to be his wrist did he start to scream from the piercing agony he was feeling.

Then the poor man felt something behind him, right next to his neck.

"No!" Haku screamed, but it was too late; the man had been cut in half by a slash so fast it looked like a flash of lightning. The two pieces of the poor shinobi fell on the deck with two heavy "thud"s.

Only now did Haku realize what the weapon on the Akatsuki member's right hand was. It was a saber about thirty inches long, with the hilt made of gold and wrapped in a deep blue strip of cloth. The curve blade of the sword was made by a strange metal Haku had never seen, which even in the murky weather of the day could still be seen glowing brightly in a white light. And Haku felt an eerie chill just from looking at that blade. The energy coming from it was so… cold; she had never seen anything like that before. It felt as if… the blade itself was freezing up the air around it.

The man turned his glare away from the corpse on the deck without a hint of remorse. He started walking towards Haku; she could feel the air becoming heavier and heavier with each of his steps.

"He's only one man! Let's take him!" a shinobi standing behind Haku yelled, and a roar of agreement echoed through the air. Ten jonin-level shinobi rushed forward; their hands ran through the same series of hand signs. Haku's eyes widened.

No! You idiots…!

"WATER STYLE: WATER DRAGON JUTSU!"

Ten roars came from below the ship, and ten dragons made of water rushed up and charged towards the Akatsuki swordsman. He looked up, still with those blank, spiritless eyes, and lifted his saber and raised it to the side at his shoulder level. In that single moment, Haku immediately understood what he was going to do. She immediately channeled the maximum amount of ice chakra possible into Nuibari and made a vertical slash downward in front of her right before the Akatsuki member made his horizontal swing.

SWISH

Half of the ship was turned into a giant icicle. Literally. The wave of chakra coming out from the Akatsuki member's slash was so strong and cold it froze up the whole front half of the ship together with the remaining mast, together with about twenty Kirigakure shinobi who were unlucky enough to stand at their places when the slash was launched. Only Haku, who has perfect compatibility with Ice Style and had prepared herself for the attack, could avoid being turned into an ice cube.

What the hell…?! What kind of Ice Style jutsu is that?! Just a casual swing of his sword, and it already managed to do this much damage… What in the world is that weapon?

Haku's hands started sweating. Even though she was one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist now, if what she thought was correct, she was facing someone who is definitely out of her league. This guy was too powerful; more powerful than any swordsmen she had ever met. She didn't even know whether her father could be a match for him, with that terrifying weapon on his hand.

However, she's not going to give up that easily.

"Even if you are strong," she growled, "I am still a member of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist! Don't underestimate me!"

She formed a one-handed seal in a blink of an eye. "Ice Style…"

But before she could finish…

What in the world…?!

The Akatsuki member was standing right in front of her.

It's not like Haku couldn't see him moving; she is the fastest shinobi in Kirigakure, and one of the fastest in the whole world. During the three years timeskip, she had practiced vigorously to improve her own body to the point she didn't need her Ice Mirrors to move in an incredible speed. But that guy… he's just so fast even though her eyes could follow his steps, her body couldn't reflex quickly enough to react. Just like an advancing typhoon.

His sword was brought down on her head, and she instinctively swung her own sword upward in retaliation. And she winced when the two blades clashed against each other.

"Guh…!"

The bastard's slash was incredibly heavy. Luckily, Nuibari was also remarkably sturdy despite its fragile appearance, and that sword was not as heavy as Kubikiribocho. If it were anywhere near the weight of the gigantic sword, Haku's arms would definitely be broken before her sword could be.

But Haku wasn't trained as a professional assassin even before officially joining Kirigakure for nothing. She had found an opening right at that single moment.

There!

She thrust the hand not holding her sword at the Akatsuki member. A blade made of ice formed around her hand like a katar, and in this face-to-face distance, she was sure there wouldn't be any way for her enemy to avoid a stab to his stomach.

And Haku was right. The man didn't dodge her sudden stab at close range. Instead, he turned his sword hand and smashed Haku's frozen hand away.

"Ack…!?"

Then a foot landed on Haku's stomach. Air was knocked out of her lungs; she gasped and choked out spit while her body was sent flying backward and crashed into the mast at the other side.

"Gah…!"

The enemy swordsman was charging at her again. The cold saber once again descended down her head with a flashing arc, and Haku matched the slash with her own upward one. Her arms shook dangerously from the collision. But this time her opponent didn't even let her have a chance to recover; the sword on his hand changed direction and delivered a horizontal slash aiming at her waist. And of course, Haku had to flip her own sword to block the incoming slash.

The two swordsmen soon engaged in a wicked sword dance across the frozen board of the ship. The Akatsuki swordsman with the icy saber, and Haku with Nuibari and a makeshift sword made of ice, they traded blows after blows… no, it's more like, only the Akatsuki member delivered the blows. Haku couldn't even do anything but defend and parry the barrage of slashes aiming at her. The swordplay of her opponent was really graceful and elegant, but at the same time, incredibly fast and deadly. Had it not been anyone else but Haku, they would have been cut into pieces long before.

But even though she could somewhat follow the movements of her enemy, to the point that she could defend herself against his relentless barrage, she knew that she wouldn't be able to hold out for much longer. Right now, she could feel that her stamina was dropping dangerously fast.

She needs to finish this quickly…

When the icy saber on the Akatsuki member's hand aimed at her waist again, Haku raised Nuibari to block the slash. Then she twisted her wrist, spinning the needle-like sword in her hand and pushed the opposing sword away. This gave her an opening to backtrack from him a few steps. Naturally, he wouldn't want to let her get away that easily; he kicked the frozen surface and dashed after her.

And this was within Haku's quick plan. Swinging her arm in a wide arc, she tossed Nuibari at the man. The needle-like sword tore apart the air and flew at the advancing Akatsuki member like a missile. But there's no way such a straightforward attack could do anything to harm an experienced fighter like him; he just needed to lean aside, and the sword flew pass his face harmlessly.

And of course, Haku had never expected it to hit, either.

She flicked her finger. The sword, attached to a tiny steel string which is tied to her finger, immediately stopped dead on its track and changed its direction back towards her with a speed that was even higher than when it had been thrown. It flew around the Akatsuki swordsman and tied his upper body up before flying back towards Haku. He struggled, but the steel ninja thread wasn't that easy to break.

Haku caught the sword which had returned back to her. Then she slipped into a stance no one had ever seen her using before. Her left foot was put forward, and Nuibari was held by both of her hands, raised up to her head's level. All of her chakra was pumped into her feet and her arms.

This technique is something she hadn't been able to perfect… but in this situation, it was the only way.

She took a deep breath, lowered her body forward, and…

Sakura-san… I'm going to borrow your technique!

Chakra exploded from her feet, propelling her towards the restrained Akatsuki member.

"Lightless Blade…"

Closer and closer… Nuibari lashed out, its tips aiming at not one, but three different points on the Akatsuki member's body: his left shoulder, his right shoulder and his chest.

"…Three-Piece Thrust!"

It's worth noting that in the past, before the advent of chakra, only a few rare people could dominate the world with their exploitation of ki. However, there were still others who became legends not because they were naturally strong, but because they spent all their lives and efforts to work themselves up to their legendary status. And one of those people was a famous swordsman named Souji Okita.

Being a member of the police force Shinsengumi, Okita usually needed to fight people with incredible skill in swordplay. Facing all of those enemies, some of which were even more skilled than Okita himself, without any kind of special ability, he had to work himself to the limit to keep up with his dream of justice. And being a genius as he was, he developed a technique which allowed him to defeat any swordsmen that he faced. That technique, Lightless Blade: Three-Piece Thrust, was a thrust technique so fast it could strike three different targets on the enemy's body almost at the same time. They could be any places, but the three places Okita always aimed for were the shoulders and the chest of the enemy. The chest strike was usually the fatal one, while the two strikes on the shoulders would disable the arms of the target, preventing him from ever holding a sword again if the chest strike failed to kill him.

Haku had never practiced with a sword before she received Nuibari, but being a genius, she had absorbed the sword style of the Longsword much faster than any other owners of the sword in the past. However, after mastering the style, she realized immediately its weakness: if she had to fight a swordsman with a bigger, stronger sword than Nuibari, there is a high chance that they would just block all the strikes coming from her and then overpower her with their own sword. Therefore, she put all her effort to find a way to counter that weakness, and finally found it in the form of a very old technique that might as well be said to have been lost in history.

Three stabs were launched at the three precise points on the man's body, almost at the same time. With his arms restrained, there's no way he could block it…!

However, Haku had made three mistakes.

First, she had never managed to master the technique. The technique, in the hand of Souji Okita himself, was one that could launch three separate strikes at three targets so fast that in the eyes of normal people, they seem to happen at the same time. In order to do that, he had to train his upper body, especially his arms, vigorously for years for his muscles to develop enough to launch such quick and powerful strikes. Not to mention, as the creator of the technique, it's natural that he was the one who understood it the most and knew what the most efficient way to use it was. Haku, being a girl who was still depending more on her skills rather than muscle power, as well as learning the technique from description only, obviously wouldn't be able to perform it at the same level as its original creator. Therefore, while it was still an effective sword technique, the intervals between the stabs were still a split second longer than it was supposed to be. It left the opponent, especially an experienced one, with a chance to react before the stabs could reach them.

Second, the technique is known as a sure-kill one. However, one of the reasons that made it a sure-kill one was that the sword used to perform it was the Kiku-ichimonji, a long and incredibly sharp katana which could split a strand of hair in half by just touching it with the blade. The sword was known through history as a demon blade with the ability to pierce through almost anything with just a simple light stab. Even though Nuibari was a legendary sword by itself, it's impossible for it to gain that achievement without any special enchantment on it. As Haku had spent all of her chakra to enhance her legs and arms, as well as to use Jet Step, a jutsu she had learned but hadn't reached mastery, to the maximum level, she couldn't spare any to add wind element, which would enhance the piercing power of the sword, to the stabs.

And third, and the most fatal mistake: Haku had managed to restrain the upper part of her enemy's body. However, his lower body, especially his legs, were still free.

Therefore, when the stabs nearly arrived, he just did something really simple but out of Haku's expectation: he took a long step backward.

"Wha…?!"

Not expecting the sudden move, Haku lost her balance when her sword hit empty air where it was supposed to strike. Her right arm went past the left shoulder of her enemy, sending her right into the range of a bone-shattering knee to the stomach. She was sent flying; her sword left her hand and stabbed uselessly on the board.

Haku's body crashed painfully on the floor. The poor girl gasped when she felt a piercing pain at her right side; it seemed her right ankle had been twisted from the fall. Being disarmed, having little chakra left, she could only look helplessly when her enemy ripped apart his binds and walked towards her.

Haku had been trained to be a weapon for Zabuza since the time she met him. Therefore, she had never felt fear, even when facing death itself. At this moment either, despite death walking up toward her, she just glared at her soon-to-be murderer with a defiant look. Her hands curled into fists, even though she knew that it wouldn't help.

The Akatsuki swordsman now stood right in front of her. He raised his hand, lifting his saber over his head.

The icy blade was brought down mercilessly…

SPLASH!

The man had to halt his attack and jump away hastily before a torrent of water washed across the shipboard. Strangely, there was no drop of water landing on Haku. She snapped his head towards the direction of the sudden attack in astonishment.

The voice of the gigantic turtle boomed across the wreckage of the ship.

"If I didn't do that, the brat who holds my sister would not leave me alone for a while. Consider this my answer for your proposal."

Haku looked up with a face full of gratefulness. "Mr. Three-Tails…"

"Don't bother thanking me," Isobu grumbled. Then he slammed his right forepaw on the water surface; a spike made of coral pierced through the ship from under, aiming straight for the Akatsuki swordsman. He jumped backward to evade, but immediately, another spike burst out behind him, blocking him from retreating. He had no choice but to jump forward again, back to the direction where Haku was sitting.

"Hiramekarei Release! Zweihander Form!"

Above Isobu's head, the roar of Chojuro echoed through the air. This was the first time anyone had ever heard him roaring like that. And no one even knew how he managed to jump that high, either. Hiramekarei on his hand now had taken the form of a giant two-handed sword with the blade about ten meters long.

"EAT THIS!"

He swung the sword in a downward horizontal arc. The blade made of chakra tore the wreckage of the ship in half, separating the combatants with the rest of the ship crew who were frozen in the block of ice on the other half of the ship.

At the same time, a pair of hands grabbed Haku's waist and pulled her into the air. She glanced to her side, and saw Mei flying in the air next to her. So the one who was carrying her was definitely Shiro.

"Why…?"

But Mei just held a finger on her lips in response. Haku blinked in surprise, but a glance at Isobu and she immediately knew what was going on.

He was charging a Tailed Beast Bomb.

With a roar, the turtle shot the black sphere at the empty half of the ship at a blinding speed. The wreckage was obliterated in a deafening explosion, and the shinobi in the air were all flung away by the shockwave. They crashed into the sea, splashing the salted water everywhere.

"No…" Haku held her hands to her mouth. "Did we just…"

She couldn't finish her sentence. Half of the ship, with a lot of people in there… were blown to smithereen… just like that… Just because she failed to kill a criminal…

"Don't be shocked, Haku," Shiro's voice rose next to her. "How many people have you watched being killed before?"

Haku really wanted to scream at her teammate's face. How could he say something so heartless? This is not one, two, but tens of people's lives that were abandoned in that destroyed half of the ship! All of that just for killing a criminal that she failed to kill! How is that even acceptable?

Glancing at her, the white-haired man said calmly. "Don't worry. Before we blew up the ship, we did go and tell the rest of the crew to abandon it and flee into the sea. Kirigakure's shinobi are people whose lives are tied with the ocean; they will find a way to escape. No one died from that blast."

Haku blinked. That was so convenient it sounded like a lie. "Really?"

Shiro snorted. "Unless they are stupid enough to stay on there when I told them the ship was going to be blasted with a Tailed Beast Bomb, then yeah."

Haku turned her head back to the wreckage. Shiro was usually rude and blunt, but he wasn't the type of person who likes lying, especially in times like this. She had no choice but to believe in him for now.

Then her eyes, the "hawk eyes" which never miss a senbon throw before, saw it.

The shadow from within the cloud of smoke.

No…!

The shadow dashed out of the smokescreen with a speed so fast, even faster than before. His saber pointed forward, aiming at… the Mizukage.

"Mei-sama!" she screamed, but the Akatsuki member had managed to cross the distance between them before the warning even left her lips. Even Mei herself could see the enemy coming at her like a typhoon. She hastily stood up, but it was too late; the swordsman in black-and-red had arrived, his sword went down on her head without a hint of mercy. She didn't even have a sword or anything like that; there wasn't a way to stop the attack…

Then someone leapt in between Mei and her assailant. It was Chojuro; Hiramekarei was brought up high to block the attack. A flash of hope rose in Haku's chest; her trusted bodyguard was right on time, now there's time for the Mizukage to get back her balance and counter…!

And she saw a dangerous gleam in the enemy's still empty eyes.

No!

The two blades met in midair.

Then a sharp, humongous burst of chakra spiked up from the blade of the Akatsuki member. And the blade of Hiramekarei was cleaved through easily as if it was a piece of butter.

And its poor wielder took the full brunt of the slash.

It was like time itself froze in that moment. At that instant, Chojuro managed to turn his head. His eyes met the female Mizukage's.

"Mei-… sa-…ma…"

Those were the last words he muttered out before he fell, slowly and lifeless, into Mei's arms.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"


To Naruto and the Tailed Beasts, that scream was no different from the sound of thunder exploding right next to their ears.

'Crap…! What is even happening over there?!'

'Naruto!' Kurama said urgently. 'I could feel the chakra of that glassed boy who wields the fish-like sword suddenly dropping dangerously! I think he's going to die!'

Naruto's blood went cold. Chojuro was one of the people he liked the most in Kirigakure; the poor guy, while rather shy, is always friendly to everyone and spends all his effort on trying to become better. In some sense, he's very similar to his friend Rock Lee. And a guy like that doesn't deserve to die that soon…

'Goku! Can you just finish this guy quickly?! We don't have time to waste here!'

'Yeah, I know!' the ape growled back. 'I'm also starting to feel annoyed of this bastard!'

Then in Naruto's body, he did an unexpected thing and turned around and started running back towards the direction of the ship.

Of course, Lord Conqueror wouldn't let an opportunity like that escape. He flew after the jinchuriki, his palm stretched out, being pumped full of ki.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Then his arrogant smirk suddenly twisted into a snarl of horror when Goku turned around and caught the hand full of energy with his own hand. And both of his hands were literally glowing with bright red chakra.

Oh cra…

"Try running away this time, bitch."

Then a fist full of chakra drilled straight into his stomach. And another fist. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. Lord Conqueror gasped out in pain; spit and blood spewed out of his mouth while he flew upward into the air like a ragdoll.

"Gah-!"

Below him, Goku made a few intricate movements with his arms before putting his forearms into a cross in front of him. Lord Conqueror's eyes widened when he felt the sudden humongous surge of heat from his opponent and from under the sea where he was standing; he knew what was going to happen, but there's definitely no way he could avoid the incoming attack…!

"CONTINENTAL ERUPTION!"

A gigantic column at least twenty meters in diameter made of pure magma from the deepest part of the sea erupted upward right under the Akatsuki member. It is impossible to stop an attack of that scale, and there's no way he could survive being hit by it.

At that moment, Lord Conqueror finally found an enemy he could never conquer.

"GRAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!"

The lava torrent soon died down. There was no trace of Lord Conqueror left, even a single speck of dust.

'Did we get him?' Naruto asked nervously.

'No,' answered Goku grimly.

Silence.

'Yeah,' Kokuoh agreed. 'Someone got him right before the attack hit. He disappeared into thin air in just a blink of an eye. It's like… he was teleported away.'

'Obito…' Naruto thought bitterly.

'No time to think about that now!' Chomei urged him. 'Let's go back to your friends!'

'Yeah, let's…'

'Shit!' Goku suddenly cut in. 'The time limit is up! I have to return your body now!'

And Naruto found his consciousness back in his own body.

Then at the same time, utter agony filled his brain. Everything became a blank white in his eyes; all of his nervous system screamed out as if hundreds of thousands of tiny knives were stabbing his body at the same time. He couldn't even control his own chakra anymore; a cloud of chakra exploded out of his back while he collapsed onto the water surface.

He vaguely heard the Tailed Beasts calling his name in panic, but his brain was too burned out to even think a proper sentence. The only thing that could pop up in his mind now was…

I'm sorry…

Then he sank into the salty water of the sea.


The scream coming from Mei's mouth was so terrifying partly because no one could ever expect someone like the Mizukage to let out such a heartwrenching noise. For a while, no one among the Kirigakure shinobi could even move a muscle.

The Akatsuki member pulled his blade out of Chojuro's body nonchalantly. A loud "SQUELCH" was the only sound that was heard during that moment.

"YOU BASTAAAAAAAARRRRRDDDD!" Finally, Shiro was the first one who snapped out of his stupor. Dropping Haku unceremoniously onto the water surface, he roared and launched himself toward the Akatsuki member, his pair of swords blazed with blue electricity. He immediately engaged in a furious sword dance with the Akatsuki swordsman; the lightning swords and the icy saber clashed against each other, making "clang"s after "clang"s in the air.

Among the three swordsmen accompanying Mei for this mission, Shiro was the only one who did not have a legendary sword with him. However, at the age of twenty, he was also the oldest and most experienced one among the latest generation of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist. He had been practicing with his swords since he was a little kid, just simply because that was the only thing he was good at. Because of that, he had a much better feeling of the movement of swords than Haku and Chojuro, who had only gotten their own blades for a few years, did.

And thanks to that, he was fending off the Akatsuki swordsman much better than Haku and Chojuro had done. He didn't use the edges of his swords to meet the slashes coming from his opponent like his two teammates; instead, he parried each slash with the wide sides of his blades. His speed might not be able to compare to that of his opponent, but his mind's eyes, came from all of his intense training and experience, helped him follow all of his opponent's movements and allowed him to know where the most efficient places to hit the icy blade to deflect the strike were. This is, after all, the fighting style he had practiced for his whole life; there was no opening for the terrorist to exploit.

And it seemed Shiro's skill had actually managed to take the Akatsuki swordsman by surprise. In fact, it seemed he was gradually being pushed back.

But no matter how skilled Shiro was, there's no way his battle experience could catch up with that of an enemy who was much older than him, and wielded a sword that was potentially equal to any of the Seven Legendary Swords of the Mist.

Shiro had known that the sword of the enemy was incredibly powerful; therefore he had carefully covered his swords in a pretty thick layer of lightning chakra before jumping into the fight. Lightning is his natural affinity; he knew that if he used lightning to enhance his weapons to the maximum level possible, they would not break easily under the pressure coming from the enemy's sword. Theoretically.

But theories are, after all, just theories. The sword on the enemy swordsman wasn't like anything Shiro had ever seen before. The ice chakra coming from the blade was so strong even covering his swords with lightning couldn't stop them from being chipped upon clashing against the opposing blade.

And it seemed the Akatsuki swordsman had also noticed that. Suddenly Shiro felt the collisions from the blades leap up in intensity. Cracks were starting to appear on his two thick, heavy blades.

Shiro gritted his teeth. If you want to disarm me… then you're not going to be able to keep your weapon, either!

The icy blade once again came at him from the right side with a diagonal cut. Shiro's eyes followed the route of the blade; his hands lashed upward…

…and before the swords clashed against each other once more, he flipped his hands, and the saber was caught and locked up between the back edges of Shiro's short swords.

"You're done for!"

Putting all of his strength into his arms, he let out a loud roar and pulled hard. The saber was ripped out of the opposing man's hand and flew away. And it seemed that was also the limit of his swords; the blades shattered with that final effort.

Yes! He's lost his weapon! Now I'll… HURK!

That sound came from Shiro himself, when he received a brutal kick to the face.

Yes. When the Akatsuki swordsman lost his sword, he simply changed his tactic and kicked Shiro in the face. The kick was as fast as a lightning bolt and as powerful as a tornado; the young swordsman couldn't even react. He was hurtled through the air, bouncing a few times on the water surface like a rock before crashing into the water with a loud SPLASH.

The terrorist stuck out his left palm. The saber, which was flying, halted abruptly in midair and flew back to his hand as if a ridiculously powerful magnet was pulling it back.

Watching from afar, Haku couldn't do anything but staring mutely at the fight. What kind of monster is that guy…? How in the world could there be someone who is so skilled, but at the same time, so utterly ruthless like that? That's just unfair!

And to her horror, the man turned toward where she was sitting.

He's thinking of getting rid of the weaker ones first.

Her body felt colder than any Ice Style jutsu she had ever used before.

With her ankle twisted, she could not move anywhere.

Is she going to die here, for real…?

She closed her eyes, waiting for death to claim her…

But the final blow never came. She opened her eyes again in surprise, and saw her Mizukage standing in front of her, holding the broken Hiramekarei on her hands. The broken blade was literally on fire; the heat radiating from it was so intense it made even the air around them glow white. The sword of the Akatsuki member was stopped dead on its way upon clashing with the broken sword, something even Hiramekarei's official wielder couldn't have done before.

"YOU. ARE. NOT. GOING. TO. KILL. ANYONE. ELSE. TODAY."

Never before had anyone heard Mei Terumi growling in such a utterly furious and terrifying tone. Even the swordsman in black realized the danger he was having to face. If the Akatsuki member could show emotions, he would be grabbing his own stomach and retching from fear by now. But since he couldn't, he just jumped backward a few steps and raised his sword in front of him warily, while keeping his eyes on the Mizukage not like a hawk tracking down its prey, but rather like a rat at the wall corner staring at the cat advancing toward it.

He swung his sword, sending a wave of chilling chakra toward Mei, but the Mizukage just dispersed it with a lazy swing of her own sword. Then she raised her left hand and made a half-bird seal. Water spiraled under her feet, then rose up to form a water dragon much, much larger than those created by the Kiri shinobi before. The air rippled when it charged forward, aiming its liquid jaws at the Akatsuki swordsman. The aforementioned man narrowed his eyes in focus, and with a swing of his sword, he sent a freezing tornado of chakra at the incoming dragon of water. The two attacks clashed in midair, making loud hisses which echoed around.

Mei's eyes gleamed with a dangerous light of vengeance. And of course, a skilled fighter like the Akatsuki swordsman couldn't have missed that sign of threat. He cut off the chakra flow into his own attack, ready to jump away…

…only to realize that his feet were stuck. They were lock inside an icicle which Haku silently created right while he was focusing on countering the Mizukage's attack. Unable to move away, he could only stand there like a deer in the headlights staring at the incoming fatal attack aiming for him.

"DIE!" Mei roared, and swung Hiramekarei with her right hand. A dragon made of scorching fire exploded out of the blade and spiraled around before merging together with the water dragon, making a blazing tornado which overwhelmed the cold wave from the Akatsuki member completely, drowing the man under a sea of fire. And this time, she didn't stop. Another jutsu… and another one… and another one… the barrage of super powerful ninjutsu bombarded the place where the Akatsuki member was standing. Water vapour filled the air as if a metric ton of ice was thrown into a blast furnace all at once. The sea shook and churned; anyone looking at this would definitely think that armageddon was coming.

Even Haku was shocked seeing this scene of destruction. Never before had she seen Mei so angry, so… mad.

Finally, the screen of vapour started dying down. There was no sign of the enemy swordsman anymore; no shred of black cloak, no strand of hair, not even a speck of dust.

"Is… is he dead?" Haku said, rather shakenly.

"Possibly," Shiro said, landing next to her. "I can't sense his chakra anymore… maybe he was disintegrated by that jutsu barrage," he added hopefully.

"No."

The three shinobi turned toward Isobu, who had just grumbled.

"Before your attacks could hit, some kind of vortex had appeared and sucked him away in a blink of an eye," the turtle explained in a disgruntled tone. "The bastard…"

No one said anything to each other for three seconds. And at the fourth, Mei curled her hand into a fist and punched the water surface in anger. The sea shook wildly from the sudden impact.

And Haku, the girl trained to be a killing machine since she was a child, the person whose mind was thought to be unshakable no matter what circumstances, finally broke down and cried.


Hiruzen jumped up from his seat when space in front of his table started twisting. With a quick movement of his hands, he flung his Hokage mantle away, revealing his battle gear ready under it.

And then he relaxed, and caught Kakashi who had just stumbled out of the spiral gateway in the air from his Kamui dimension. The jonin didn't seem to be injured badly, but looking at his visible eye, the Third Hokage could see an utterly devastated feeling in it.

"What happened?" he asked curtly. The jonin looked up at him, and gave his answer in a very deep, broken sigh.

"Something really, really bad, and you are not going to like what I'm going to tell you, Hokage-sama."


Lord Conqueror was flung out of the Kamui dimension unceremoniously at the meeting chamber of the Akatsuki hideout. His partner, the swordsman, was also sent out promptly next to him when their rescuer, Tobi, appeared behind him.

"Now you see why I told you that the Nine-Tails was very dangerous?" the Uchiha's voice rose with a sneer. "You underestimated him, and this happened."

"Like you're the one who could talk," Lord Conqueror bit back. "Look at you. You couldn't even handle… whatever you fought either. And unlike you… we didn't have to run away."

The visible eye under Obito's mask flared up in anger. "You…!"

"Enough."

The two turned toward the direction of the voice. It was Pain, who had just entered the room. The air seemed to become suddenly quiet upon his entrance.

"That jinchuriki is not something a normal person can deal with alone. He requires the power of God to subdue, and I will personally do it… when the time comes. You don't need to worry about him. However… the only friend of the jinchuriki you managed to kill was that little swordsman. I want you to do better in the future… or else…"

Then he turned around and walked out of the room without even looking back. Lord Conqueror stared at his retreating back in anger.

"You bastard… just wait until the day I get my hand on you…"

Then he looked at the dark ceiling. Somehow in the flashing light of the torches on the walls, the shadow of a certain jinchuriki could be seen through his eyes.

"The next time we meet, there won't be a result like this! Just wait for me… Naruto Uzumaki!"


Definition

Lightless Blade: Three-Piece Thrust

Classification: Kenjutsu

Rank: A

Class: Offensive

Range: Close

A lost kenjutsu technique invented by the famous swordmaster of the prestigious Shinsengumi, Souji Okita. This is a technique in which the swordsman delivers three very quick and precise stabs at three different points on the target's body: the two shoulders and the neck. A crucial requirement of the technique is that the upper body of the user must be strong enough to deliver the stabs with enough force and speed so that the enemy would not be able to react or counter. Okita himself, at the time when the exploitation of chakra still hadn't existed, managed to train his body to the point the stabs he delivered were so fast they seemed to be launched simultaneously at three different places even though he was suffering from tuberculosis at that time. Haku Momochi intended to replicate the technique from the information she gathered during her sword training, but due to her weak and delicate body, she hasn't been able to perfect it yet.


Well, there we go, chapter 43. To compensate you all for the long waiting, this chapter was double the length of the recent chapters.

And the new members of the Akatsuki managed to claim their first kill. To fans of Chojuro, I'm really sorry, please don't kill me? :'(

And to someone who might be thinking that I pulled the mind-switching tactic out of my ss, I have to say that tactic is partly based on canon. Remember when the chakra of Kurama took over Naruto's body and forced him to go 4-tail? Well, basically this is an enhanced form of that, albeit with Naruto willingly letting the Tailed Beasts take over his body and mind. The complete harmony state could be achieved between Naruto and Kurama only; he hasn't been able to reach the same state with the other Tailed Beasts, therefore his body still suffers from agony whenever he returns to his body.

Next chapter, we will come back to Fuu and Kosuke, on their way to track down their deserted teammate.

Until next time!