Happy February, here's a chapter.

Most of the time Orochimaru was ridiculously hard to find. But in this case, all Naruto needed to do was follow Sasuke and wait for his moment to strike.

Naruto watched from the shadows as Sasuke accosted the sand genin. He wouldn't intervene unless Itachi's brother's life was seriously in danger, that way he could stay alert for when Orochimaru revealed himself.

It was only a matter of time before he showed up.

Orochimaru smirked at his former sensei, the third hokage. The plan had gone awry right from the start, but he had yet to improvise. He was feared across the lands because he made the best plans and had them for every conceivable situation, even ones that had a snowball's chance in hell of actually becoming relevant. It was a hobby of his, right next to experimenting with genetics and checking out the insides of dead bodies.

He hadn't expected his former teacher to follow him out of the four violet flames formation as he made his own escape at the last possible moment, but it wasn't beyond his contemplation. Now they were both outside the box with an ANBU squad on the scene while Orochimaru's own guards were the only ones inside.

They had lost the initial element of surprise, but there was much to come.

Hiruzen glared at his former student and adopted a neutral stance, loose enough to dodge but strong enough to counter attack, "I suppose I should have expected something like this, though it saddens me greatly. I had hoped you would have turned away from your notion of revenge after your defeat last month."

"That was a completely unrelated matter. A former student of mine showed up unexpectedly with the express intent of ending my life." Hiruzen watched Orochimaru lick his lips, he'd never been fond of such showy habits, "You know all about that, don't you Sensei?"

As Hiruzen spoke, he subtly signaled his guards, "So you took up a student after Anko? I feel sorry for them. After all, you've already proven yourself inept as a teacher."

"There's no need for such accusations, Sensei. I'll have you know that I am actually quite capable and knowledgeable when my educational capabilities are in question. Allow me to give you a sample of my teachings!" As Orochimaru blew a sudden vortex of wind at Hiruzen, the Anbu team that had hidden themselves amidst the rubble sprang into action as did the Sound Four from behind the purple barrier. Hiruzen himself conjured a cone of flames that effectively negated the wind blast in an explosion that vaporized the area of the roof they were standing on.

The smoke made it impossible to see, though Hiruzen was able to fend off the attacks that bombarded him. They came from all sides. Someone tried to catch him in a stone prison, to which he stepped behind them and raised a knife to an artery, but then an arrow would sail at him and he would be forced to dodge or be impailed. A flute would sound and then three demon-like summons would converge on him, whose special attack he had to dodge or forfeit a portion of his chakra and then suddenly someone would try to restrain him. As powerful as the Hokage was, there was little room for a decisive shot to even the odds.

The dance continued for a few heartbeats longer when one of his assailants made a mistake. The large one with the short orange hair roared as he attacked from a flanking position. Then Hiruzen used Jirobo's head as a projectile against the next attacker whose multiple armed assault would've eaten up more of the Hokage's concentration. Their heads met with a deep thud and the white haired boy collapsed. A golden arrow sailed just past Hiruzen, who lashed the near invisible guiding string, sending the arrow careening around and into the flute player. It pierced her shoulder, and then her arm was no longer connected to the rest of her body.

The boy tried to knock another arrow, but on his own he was no match. If it hadn't been for Orochimaru's intervention, the boy would've died.

Naruto watched as Sasuke depleted the last of his chakra trying to take down Gaara before he completed his transformation. The blow hadn't even been a lethal one. Naruto shook his head as Gaara regrew his sand arm along with a spiked tail. It didn't matter how strong you were if you didn't strike to kill, that was a lesson that Naruto had picked up from traveling with Hidan and it was one that Sasuke had yet to learn.

Once Gaara realized that Sasuke had nothing left to offer he raised his sand arm to crush the boy into sharingan colored people juice. Naruto tensed, he might actually need to bail the kid out.

In a burst of movement, Sasuke's blond teammate was able to save Sasuke from the fate of being ground into paste by sand. Also, the pink haired one was around, along with a dog summon.

"Hey, Sasuke! What the heck do you think you're doing, huh? Trying to take all the glory again? Sakura," He looked directly into his teammate's eyes, "You know what to do!" Then Haru turned to look at the monster Gaara had become, "Wha-?!" In his distraction, Haru had left himself open to attack, and Gaara capitalized. Haru was engulfed by Gaara's monstrous claw.


Gaara snarled and batted Sakura aside with his tail, "Is this the best the Leaf can muster?" He raised Haru into the air, "When you fought that Hyuuga, you looked strong. Show me all your power, so I can see your despair when you realize it's hopeless." He cackled and released Haru from his sand, "If you disappoint me, I'll just have to entertain myself with the screams of your teammates after I squeeze all the life out of you."

Haru wiped his nose and glared at Gaara, "Don't worry," He flipped through a few hand signs and breathed deeply, "I was just about to turn up the heat."

Gaara hadn't expected the sunny blonde to blow himself up, but that's just what he saw. Right before everyone's eyes, Haru spontaneously burst into flame.

Sasuke stared at the pillar of flame that used to be his overly optimistic and obnoxious teammate, eyes wide, "H-Haru..." He didn't even notice that Sakura was hauling him away until his line of sight was broken. He stared at his pink haired teammate's pumping legs, "Sakura?" She didn't answer, "Sakura we have to go back and-"

"And do what? You can't do anything right now, and I'm too weak to be useful against that monster." She dropped out of the trees and tucked Sasuke under a bush, "Don't worry, Sasuke. We'll make out of this." Sakura lifted Sasuke's head to look directly into his eyes, "All of us."

An explosion rocked the forest, and Sakura nearly fell. As she regained her balance she flashed Sasuke a thumbs up, "We've got a plan."

When Gaara's sand leaped to his defense, he couldn't tell why until the tree he was standing on exploded in much the same manner as that leaf genin had. He used his tail to latch onto a branch and swing to a new perch, "Where are you hiding?!"

"Over here!" Gaara swung his arm in the direction of the voice, but it phased right through Haru's torso. From his other side, the same voice called out, "Fire style-" The rest of the jutsu's name was drowned out by the roaring flames.

Gaara used his grotesque sand arm to bat away the flames, but they just swirled around him in a vortex. He growled as the sand spread over the other side of his face and around the rest of his torso. He crossed his arms and intoned, "Wind style," Giant mouths that matched the maw on his face opened all over Gaara's body as he exhaled, "Sand storm devastation!" In one blow, Gaara blew away the fire around him, but from the depths of the smoke another fire blast came at him.

He swatted this one in much the same way as the last, but he followed up by attacking with his other arm. He only hit the trunk of a tree. At his feet, Gaara heard a thunk and a fizzle. He bent his legs to jump, but it was already too late. The explosive tag right between his legs exploded.

In order to perform the Edotensei Orochimaru had sacrificed his own, and now he stood with the first hokage, surounded by the bodies of the ANBU that had tried to stop him. The snake sannin smirked at his former teacher, "Are you shocked, Sensei?"

"Orochimaru, I knew you had fallen, but to go this far?" Hiruzen Sarutobi stared at the enemy of the leaf before him, "You've betrayed and attacked the village, and now you desecrate our first hokage? You do not deserve to call me sensei, you are nothing to me but a threat that must be dealt with."

"Hmph." Orochimaru gestured to the last of his elite guards, the sound four, "Kidomaru, Tayuya, pick yourselves up and bring Sasuke to me. Do not fail."

"R-right away, Lord Orochimaru." Kidomaru was the quicker to stand and he moved help Tayuya to her feet. Even though she was missing an arm and was actively bleeding out, Tayuya nearly bit off Kidomaru's fingers when he touched her. She clutched her flute with her remaining hand, and through a visible struggle she got to her feet on her own. She nodded to her master and made her way away from the impending clash of top tier ninja on unsteady legs.

"Thank you for your patience," Orochimaru unhinged his jaw and drew a sword from his throat, "I'm sure you're exited to say hello to your old Sensei."

"Summoning jutsu!" An explosion of smoke obscured Hiruzen's form, "Enma, let's go!"

"Finally decided to get serious? Then so shall I!" Orochimaru hunched forward and began to spew enough snakes out of his mouth to cover the ground in an entire layer of scales and hissing.

Together with the summoned monkey king, Hiruzen aimed for Orochimaru but the first hokage immediately intercepted and got a few hits on Sarutobi before he was knocked away by Enma. Then the snakes were upon them and thrusting swords from their own throats.

Enma launched himself to the side to get away, but Hiruzen had gone straight up. He flipped through a series of hand signs and exhaled an enormous gout of flame down into the sea of snakes.

Sakura discretely appeared back on the scene just in time to watch Haru pounce on Gaara while his sand was trying to reform around his exposed body. She had a clear view of everything as Gaara's sand caught Ryuto by the wrist and ankle. She looked on as Ryuto used his free leg to release his arm from the sand's grasp. Then Ryuto made a hand sign and blew a fire jutsu into Gaara's face. As more sand rose to shield Gaara, the sound of bones snapping was almost drowned out by the roar of Haru's flames, and then Haru actually choked on his jutsu. He sputtered and fell from the tree branch where they'd been fighting.

It took Gaara a few tries to stand up, and he had to shake his head to get the world to stop spinning. Then he jumped down to finish off Haru.

From her hiding spot, Sakura smirked, "I got him."

"Good." Haru appeared on the branch next to Sakura, "Looks like operation genjutsu the bad guy and run like crazy is working."

"We still need to get to the run like crazy part," Sakura looked at Haru, "How are you gonna do that with a crushed foot?"

The sunny blonde looked down at the thing dangling from the end of his leg and winced, "That is going to hurt so much when the pain killers wear off."

"Pain killers? When did you have time to take those? Wait, are you saying that you planned to get yourself juiced by that guy's sand?"

"Don't sweat the small stuff."

Sakura grabbed a fist full of Haru's shirt and whispered/yelled, "What about any of this is 'small stuff'?!"

"It was the only way," Haru knocked Sakura's hand away, "Anyway, let's grab Sasuke and go. I don't have much time and I doubt that he'll be happy when he realizes our trick."

Sakura huffed, "Fine, but we are having a talk about your recklessness. Sasuke's too. Follow me."

"You got it." Together, Sakura and Haru retrieved Sasuke and fled back toward the leaf village.

"Haru, Sakura?" Sasuke looked between his teammates, with their arms slung over his shoulders in such a way that they were all holding each other up, "Did you-?"

Sakura answered, "We managed to get away."


Haru flashed Sasuke a thumbs up, "Genjutsu." Sasuke's eyes landed on Haru's gruesome foot and the blonde shook it a little bit, "A necessary sacrifice, and besides, with the wonders of modern shinobi medicine I can't feel a thing! Check it out," On their next leap through the trees, Haru used his damaged foot to leap with, "Didn't feel a thing!"

"You kids are insane, you know that?"

Team seven froze when they heard an unfamiliar voice.

"But, that's what it takes to be a ninja, right?"

They couldn't see the speaker, but he sounded kind of young.

"Tell you what, you guys keep on keepin' on, and I'll stop anyone from messing with you guys."

Pakkun who'd been keeping silent sniffed the air, "Who are you? You don't smell like you're from the leaf."

The voice chuckled, "How about instead of answering your question I teach you a life lesson instead?" Suddenly, killing intent rolled in like a suffocating cloud, "Drop it." Then, just like a fleeting thought, the pressure was gone, and it left team seven standing uneasily, "Unless you want to be caught by the couple of bad nasties coming your way then I suggest you get going."

Team seven left as quickly as they could.

Tayuya and Kidomaru had picked up Sasuke's trail and were following it at a faster pace than they would've used to tail an actual threat. They weren't especially on guard. They were chasing a team of exhausted genin, what did it matter?

"Answer truthfully or the next thing to come off will be one of your heads." From behind a tree in their path, a masked figure appeared with a blade half as tall as he was slung over his shoulder. His luscious more than shoulder length golden mane gleamed in the light that filtered through the canopy and nearly kept Tayuya and Kidomaru from noticing the red clouds printed on his black cloak.

"Get the fuck out of our fucking way, Akatsuki!" Tayuya powered up to her level two curse seal and took a swing at the masked figure with her one arm.

Kidomaru held back to observe whatever he could of this new player's fighting style, but between blinks the figure had already sent the foulmouthed female flying directly at him. It took all of his arms and chakra reinforcement to not be blown back when he caught her.

"Why hasn't Orochimaru come for Sasuke himself? Why did he send you peons?"

Tayuya snarled and tore herself out of Kidomaru's grip, "Keep your grubby mitts off me," Then she shouted at the masked boy(He was too short to be a man), "Your stupid ass questions don't matter to us, baby Akatsuki. Why don't you do the universe a favor and drown on your own spit?"

It mattered a whole lot to Kidomaru when half of his arms suddenly weren't attached.

"Dude what the fuck?!" The spider guy of the Sound four grabbed at the stumps where his right arms used to be with his remaining arms to try to stem the bleeding.

"That was your first and only warning." The masked boy turned his gaze on Tayuya, "Here is your chance to rephrase what you said." From behind the shaded eye holes of the mask Tayuya caught a glint of red. There was something in those eyes that made her break out into a cold sweat.

There wasn't much in the world that genuinely scared Tayuya, and her lord Orochimaru was definitely at the top of that list. More specifically it was becoming one of her master's failed experiments, of being thrown away after she'd exhausted her usefulness. It was that fear that had given her the drive to become one Orochimaru's elite forces, because she saw in his eyes the will to shed everything that would hold him back.

The blonde's eyes were different. They spoke of chaotic, barely restrained power, of the sheer capacity and willingness to utterly destroy all that would stand against his cause. They were the eyes of one whose passion would devour anything.

Slowly, haltingly, Tayuya spoke of her Master's engagement with the hokage, of the edotensei summoning of the first hokage, of how her master couldn't move far enough away to catch Sasuke himself.

When she finished, the figure tilted his head in a way that was meant to be cute but turned out to be creepy, "There, was that so hard?" Tayuya didn't answer, "Anyway, I need to go pay snake face a lethal visit, so I'm gonna leave. Oh, but I can't have you guys following me or Sasuke, so I guess I'll just kill you guys. Try not to take it too personally."

Before either of the remaining sound four could respond, the figure had tapped each of them on the forehead. The last things Tayuya saw before her world faded into nothing were the eyes of a demon, hidden behind a mask.

Next chapter: it's all gonna come to a head! Who will survive? Who else is gonna bite the dust? What are they gonna do about Gaara?

I don't know when I'll update this next, probably not before the next A Living Lie. Still, be sure to let me know what you think, even if you're just mad about how slow I am with things.

See ya!