Author's Note: Hey readers, I'm BACK. I am really sorry about not posting a chapter back in December, but unfortunately, I was struck with a bad piece of Writer's Block that took ages to get over. Trust me on this, as irritated as you all might have been for me not posting this chapter, I was twice as annoyed at basically beating my head off of a wall for the better part of a month. That being said, I got over it, very obviously, and I have been writing up a storm since. I can confirm that my beta has a fair few chapters of my other stories with him to be looked over, so watch this space. In the meantime, enjoy the first 'official' chapter of 2024.

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Disclaimer: I do not own either Naruto or The Gamer.

"Sakura-chan!" - Regular Speech

'Baka!' - Thoughts

:Shannaro!: - Inner Sakura

[Quest Announcement] - Gamer Ability/Notification

Beta'd by BigCC

Chapter 29: Genin VS Nuke-nin

With the South Road Nuke-nin

Aigami Shizuku, formerly a Chūnin Kunoichi of Kirigakure, silently scowled as she led her three assigned teammates towards the forests that edged on the Shukuba Town their group was raiding. She was a tall woman, with blue-silver hair cropped in a tomboyishly-short cut and dressed in the grey and dark blue camouflage trousers that were pretty much standard issue for Kiri ninja, along with a black tight-fitting shirt under an equally tight dark blue vest that was lightly armoured, as well as a pair of black ninja sandals. She wore her hitai-ate around her waist as a belt, which had the long scratch through it that denoted her status as a Nuke-nin. Her eyes were bottle green and were currently narrowed in contempt.

Her bastard of a leader had decided to be a fucking prick, as usual, and had sent her off on fucking clean-up duty, hunting a small squad of tree-hugger genin that had apparently fled into the forest when the attack had started.

And for a team of four experienced Chūnin that is exactly what hunting down a half-dozen academy-fresh Genin was, clean up duty! Even if the little fucks had a number advantage, there was simply no way that the brats would be able to do any damage to her and her squad, let alone actually kill them. True, Genin had managed to kill Chūnin in the past, but that usually only happened in one of three circumstances: 1) the Chūnin had gotten arrogant and toyed with their prey and left an opening that the Genin managed to take advantage of. 2) the Chūnin was already injured or otherwise weakened from a previous fight, or 3) they were dealing with some type of crazy prodigy that was only a genin on paper.

The third option was ruled out thanks to the fact that they had former Leaf ninja in their numbers none of the kids they'd seen coming in had matched up with the current batch of 'prodigies' that the Leaf was boasting; the so-called 'Last of the Uchiha Clan' and some boy from the Hyūga clan that was apparently some kind of genius with the clan's fighting style. The second option was also out, all four of them had been on the rear lines of the fighting when the raid started, so they were all relatively fresh. Now she just needed to address the first issue. While she wouldn't actually care if most of the jackasses she was working with got themselves killed because of their own fucking stupidity, she wasn't going to let their stupidity put her at risk.

She took a moment to glance back at the other three Chūnin assigned to her team; Satō Saizō, Akaguro Akihime, and Mizuchi Ryūsui, formerly of Konoha, Kusa and Kirigakure respectively. All three of them were fairly standard bastards, with the same type of backstory she'd come to expect from Nuke-nin coming from their respective villages. Saizō was your typical power-hungry bully who overreached his ability to cover his own ass. Akihime hated her old village for how weak and cowardly they'd become since the last war and had a hate-on for Konoha in particular. Ryūsui came from a minor clan with Kekkai Genkai and had fled when the Yondaime Mizukage had started his Bloodline Purges

She, on the other hand, had left for a very simple and straightforward reason: she hated being just another number on the village roster. She was antisocial by nature and absolutely loathed the whole 'greater part of the whole' crap that the shinobi villages all tried to push onto their ninja in some way or another. She'd have much rather been born in the Warring Clans Era, where you only had to watch out for you and yours.

Damned Senju Hashirama and his stupid, peace-loving hippie crap. The man might have been some unknown breed of badass (even she couldn't discount all the legends that still circulated about the man) but she absolutely hated the original tree-hugger and the 'Will of Fire' that his village preached about like it was some kind of religion. Bah, that kind of mushy togetherness bullshit just bred a bunch of soft and pathetic ninja that had to rely on each other to get by.

"Oi, Aigami-san, we're almost there." Saizō informed her in an undertone. He was one of the two Sensor-type ninja in Karehagakure, with the other being one of their current leader, Hoshigaki Chikuwa's, personal stooges. Saizō might be an ass, but he was still better than that particular bastard.

"Right." she spat out tersely. "Listen up, we're doing this fast and clean. We go in, get the drop on the tree-hugging brats, and then get out and report back. No sadistic shit, no drawing things out, don't even bother trying to loot the little bastards, it's not like they'll be carrying anything of value. Understood?"

"Sounds like my kind of plan." Ryūsui agreed with a nod.

"Whatever." Akihime grunted.

"…fine." Saizō sighed out, which caused Aigami to throw the man a disgusted look. She like a good fight as much as the next Kiri shinobi, hell the thrill of a good, hard fight was better than sex in her personal opinion, but Saizō was the kind of sadistic little fuck that got his rocks off bullying those weaker than him. If she remembered right, that was actually why he he'd been forced to flee Konoha; the man had a penchant for picking fights with civilians just to humiliate and beat on them, only he went too far and ended up beating one to death in a bout of sadistic indulgence before getting caught with his pants down.

"Alright, let's move!" the Kiri Nuke-nin ordered with a growl. Honestly, she'd stab someone for a drink right now. Why had she ever defected from Kiri again?

Oh right, because Yagura was a goddamned crazy, genocidal fuckwit.

The first sign that something was off was when they first entered the forest was the sheer number of fucking traps that were scattered throughout the place. Most were fairly basic, snares, whip-snaps, and pitfalls mostly, mixed with the occasional swing log or kunai/shuriken launchers, but how the hell had a bunch of fucking Genin managed to get this many set up in just under half an hour or so? Aigami herself managed to avoid all them fairly easily, but she had to fight down a snort of amusement when Ryūsui got hit right in the dick by a particularly small, low-flying log. And again when Saizō nearly fucked up his ankle in a shallow pit trap that had obviously been created with the Doton: Wana technique. She finally lost her fight when Akihime was hoisted up into the air by her leg by one of the snares.

Seriously, how had these chuckleheads managed to reach Chūnin rank when they were absolute crap at spotting basic traps?

The second thing that was starting to get her hairs to rise was the feeling that they were being watched. Any Chūnin, especially when they came from a village that specialized in ambush tactics like Kirigakure, knew how to keep an eye on their surroundings and spot any signs of someone observing them. But despite this, Aigami couldn't see any signs of whatever bastard was watching her team, no matter where and when she looked, there was nothing but forest, forest, and more forest. Seriously, why the fuck did a place named Hi no Kuni have so many goddamn trees?

'How the fuck are Genin this good at stealth!?' was her increasingly frustrated thought. They'd been scouting out the little Shukuba Village for a week before the attack and there were no signs of other ninja nearby aside from the local garrison and the two Genin teams that had arrived the day before. The Jonin had been drawn away by the distraction they had been preparing in advance, while the majority of the garrison was being torn apart by their boss and the rest of Karehagakure's 'elites'; that meant it had to be the fucking Genin that were watching them somehow.

But there was simply no freaking way that any freshly-graduated, unblooded greenhorn could slip past the senses of four experienced Chūnin-level shinobi, let alone an entire bushel of the brats! Aigami point-blank refused to acknowledge that as a possibility. Not only was the very idea absolutely absurd, but it was also more than a bit terrifying. It brought up stories she'd heard about how a certain half-trained kid had just walked in and slaughtered his way through an entire graduating class back in Kirigakure, Momochi Zabuza.

Aigami viciously repressed the shiver that shot up her spine at the mere thought of that man and banished him from her mind. Even for a village like Kirigakure, which proudly bore the title of 'The Bloody Mist', that man had been some breed of monster, with a bloodlust that was simply inhuman. Honestly, it wasn't that much of a surprise, in hindsight at least, that he had quickly been selected to be the next wielder of the dreaded Kubikiribōchō. That grim blade constantly repaired and strengthened itself by feeding on the blood that it shed. While its official title among the Seven Swords was the Seversword, most people she knew had referred to it as the Blood Drinking Sword.

"Saizō, why are we having so much trouble finding these brats!?" she snarled after several more minutes, a couple dozen more traps, and seven new minor injuries later.

The man was shaking his head. "I don't know! It's like they're just appearing and disappearing all over the place, and more of them keep popping up! And now there's so many that I'm having trouble telling which is which anymore!"

Aigami quickly recalled that Saizō's current limit for accurately detecting and differentiating chakra sources was about thirty in a confined area, and that more than fifty was beyond his current abilities. "How do six fucking genin suddenly turn into over fifty chakra sources in the middle of nowhere!?" she cursed aloud. "Even most solid clones don't have a strong enough chakra signature that they can be mistaken for a normal person by a sensor!"

"There is the Kage Bunshin." Akihime pointed out from where she was quickly wrapping up a shallow cut on her arm from a kunai trap.

"That's a fucking B-Rank Kinjutsu, and a major chakra hog from what I've heard. Do you honestly think some fresh punk could use that kind of technique?" the formerly Kiri kunoichi scoffed.

"…there might be one. Uzumaki Naruto was supposed to be a part of the graduating class for this year." Saizō offered after a moment's thought, a scowl on his lips.

"What the…I thought the Uzumaki were wiped out decades ago!" Aigami turned on him, a frown on her lips. Even she had heard about the supposedly extinct Uzumaki Clan, particularly since Kiri had ended up having to ally with two other members of the Great Shinobi Nations to eventually wipe them off the map. Hell, her own grandfather had been one of the shinobi involved in the assault, and he'd barely managed to survive it with his life, if not his career as a shinobi, intact.

The sight of the old man's leg, severed off at just below the hip by some kind of water ninjutsu, the same jutsu that had wiped out the rest of his team, had left quite an impact on her when she was just a child.

"At least one survivor managed to get to Konoha and had a brat, and the kid had always had a frankly insane amount of chakra." the Sensor Ninja answered simply, not giving away the actual reason why he had such a massive amount of chakra. Low-ranking Kirigakure ninja tended have a rather deep-seated fear of Jinchūriki; and he knew that if either of his Kiri squad-mates knew one was nearby, even an untrained one like Uzumaki, they'd likely run for the hills without hesitation. "If the Jonin instructor he was assigned was even halfway competent and managed to get him permission to learn the Kage Bunshin, we could be dealing with a small army of clones right now. Though, from everything I'd heard about the kid, his overall skill level was supposed to be rather…pathetic. Bottom of his class. He might be able to overwhelm one us if his clones suddenly rushed in all at once, but not all four of us. The only question is, why can't I sense his chakra? It used to be that the kid was like a fucking beacon in the night to any nearby sensor."

"He's an Uzumaki. No matter the kid's skill level is, that clan practically had sealing ink mixed with their blood. Again, a half-competent teacher would have given him a book on the stuff or just equipped the kid with a concealment seal so he wouldn't be such an easy target." Akihime pointed out with a frown, given that Konoha and Uzushiogakure had been allies since they'd both been founded, it wasn't surprising that a former Kusagakure Ninja like her knew about the clan as well. "Or he could have been taught a jutsu to do the same, those are simple enough to learn and even Kage make use of them."

"Fuck." Aigami took a moment to consider this before shaking her head. "Alright, new plan, we're moving around to link up with the team from the distraction that we saw heading towards the forest from the other road. Once we do, we'll start tearing this fucking forest apart until there is nowhere left for these brats to hide."

"That might make things a bit rougher going forward. The Leaf Village tends have very unappreciative views when it comes to random acts of deforestation in their territory." Saizō pointed out cautiously. "Most of the forests around the Leaf Village were supposed to have been grown by one of the Shodaime Hokage's own jutsu back in the founding days, so a lot of the older set tend to be rather protective of them. We just light this place up and it's going to piss off a lot of the higher ups, particularly the Hokage and the Elder Council."

As Aigami started to open her mouth to deliver a rather scathing retort, she suddenly paused as she noticed something off. "Wait a…where the fuck is Ryūsui?"

Akihime and Saizō both blinked in surprise at the sudden question before glancing around in shock as they realized that the fourth member of their team was gone. There wasn't a single sign of him visible.

"Don't tell me that these crazy brats actually managed to kill him and grab the body without us even noticing!?" Akihime hissed out, a kunai appearing in her hand as she glanced around wildly in disbelief, a trace of actual fear in her voice.

"Don't be a fucking moron! They're just goddamned genin! Fresh! Green! Genin!" Aigami snapped back, using anger to mask her own fear as she fell into a more ready stance. "Saizō, what the hell happened!? How the hell did you miss someone getting close enough to grab Ryūsui!? Or did he just fucking wander off and you didn't bother to tell us!?"

"N-Neither!" the man protested, honestly looking more dumbstruck than anything. "None of the chakra sources have moved anywhere close to us, not since we entered the forest! And those were the idiots that we left behind on the road! And Ryūsui didn't leave, he just…vanished! He was standing there one moment and then he was just gone! I-I can't even tell when it happened!?"

That put Aigami right on the back foot. Kage Bunshin were perfect replicas of their creators, meaning that they had chakra networks of their own, which was why they were able to register as 'human' to Sensor-nin. However, other forms of clones registered very differently to a sensor's perceptions. Certain clones like Bakuretsu Bunshin (Explosive Clones) or Raiton Bunshin (Lightning Style Clones) were packed with enough chakra that they showed up brighter and were far more easily detected and differentiated. Others, like the Academy's Bunshin Jutsu, were so weak that they were easy to distinguish as non-human but harder to detect from a distance. However, some clones, primarily those formed from some natural element that was moulded and shaped into a human shape through an injection of chakra, could actually blend into their surroundings enough to go unnoticed since they tended to blend with the ambient chakra around them.

Sure, a competent sensor might be able to notice and distinguish them, but Aigami did not have much faith in Saizō's competence at the moment.

The only issue was that most of that variety of clone jutsu had some sort of flaw or limitation. The Suijōki Bunshin and Mizu Bunshin, for example both had range limitations, with the clones unable to leave a set perimeter of their creator without dispersing into water vapour or collapsing back into water. Moku Bunshin was a ninja art that had died with the Shodaime Hokage (Praise to the seas for that, being ambushed by a bunch of those in a forest would probably be an utter nightmare.). The Doro Bunshin no Jutsu (Mud Clone Technique) and Iwa Bunshin-!

Just as that thought started to percolate in her head, a pair of hands shot out of the ground to grab onto her ankles. "[Doton: Shinjū Zanshu no Jutsu]!"

With a startled yell, Aigami was instantly dragged up to her chin in the ground, with the same happening nearly simultaneously to her two teammates. She then choked as a blade entered her heart from behind and her vision started to grow dim. The last thing that she managed to see was multiple copies of a single yellow-haired boy wearing dark blue leather armour emerging from the ground via a jutsu. A glimmer of light seemed to catch her dying mind's attention, letting her focus on the polished metal armour that covered one of the suit's shoulders. There, proudly engraved on the surface, was the distinctive spiral of the Uzumaki Clan and Uzushiogakure.

'Huh…an Uzumaki…Saizō…was right…damned idiot…should…have…!' her last thoughts trailed off as Aigami Shizuku, Nuke-nin of Kirigakure, breathed no more.

Back with Naruto and the Gang

"My clones just finished off the team that came from the village." Naruto reported with a grim grin. While he didn't (yet) have the chakra needed to create an entire army of [Kage Bunshin] at once, he did have the reserves needed to make a good-sized number of them, and they in turn had more than enough chakra to form a large platoon of [Iwa Bunshin] to move around and surround the dumbass Nuke-nin who had been stupid enough to just traipse through the forest as if the place was their own backyard. After that, all it had taken was a few well-timed executions of the [Doton: Dochū Eigyo] and [Doton: Shinjū Zanshu no Jutsu] and the entire squad was down.

The cocky idiots hadn't even noticed that one of their own had died while they were busy talking!

And as a result…

You have slain [Mizuchi Ryūsui]! You receive 1900 EXP!

You have slain [Akaguro Akihime]! You receive 2000 EXP!

You have slain [Satō Saizō]! You receive 1700 EXP!

You have slain [Aigami Shizuku]! Your receive 2200 EXP!

Looting has been deferred…

He'd earned just shy of eight thousand EXP from just one well-planned ambush. All four of them had to have been around Level 30 or so in strength, give or take, and the two that had been worth more had likely been at least a couple levels higher than that. As for the skills that he had employed…

[Kage Bunshin no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV12-LV13!

[Doton: Iwa Bunshin no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV26-LV27!

[Doton: Dochū Eigyo] has levelled up twice! LV6-LV8!

[Doton: Shinjū Zanshu no Jutsu] has levelled up twice! LV3-LV5!

[Backstab] has levelled up twice! LV5-LV7!

[Stealth] has levelled up! LV66-LV67!

[Short Blades Mastery] has levelled up! LV15-LV16!

…yeah, he had some pretty good growth there too. This was actually the first time that his [Stealth] skill had levelled up since he'd initially unlocked it. Then again, considering that that particular Skill was already over Level 60, it likely took quite a bit for it to level up.

"Wow, you just took out four Chūnin without even having to get personally involved." Ayame couldn't help but blink in surprise. She and Naruto were the only ones left at their camp, the blonde having delegated the duty of ambushing and taking out the other team of Chūnin to the rest of the squad, with Shikamaru acting as commander. The Nara Clan Heir had grumbled a bit, but had quickly bowed to the inevitable. "So what happens next?"

"My clones are already unearthing the bodies and sealing them up in a Mortuary Scroll I bought." Naruto answered. "Once Shika and the others get back, I'll have my clones start to reset all the traps as well as interlaying some more dangerous ones. We can't take on an entire gang of Nuke-nin on our own, and the four I downed were obviously on the lower end of the ladder. No way can we hope to survive against two Jonin-ranked ninja at once, not without Asuma-sensei and Kurenai-sensei here with us. Heck, my best traps won't likely be able to do more than inconvenience them and maybe slow them down a bit if one of the leaders decides to get involved."

The Ramen Waitress nodded solemnly in agreement. Jonin were the highest-ranking ninja that most of the Hidden Villages could field for regular missions, save a few elite groups within those ranks. Konoha's own 'Elite Jonin Corps' and Hokage Guard Platoon, Kirigakure's Seven Swordsmen, Sunagakure's Puppet Brigade and Wind Dancer Corps, Kumogakure's Kinkaku Butai, Iwagakure's Explosion Corps…the list went on. There was no way that any genin could do more than make one flinch, so she was personally glad that her surrogate little brother wasn't rushing in head-first to confront an enemy far over his current pay grade.

"Why are you collecting the corpses?" she asked aloud, partially out of curiosity and partially to mover her thoughts away from the still looming threat.

"Three reasons." Naruto responded simply, holding up a closed fist before raising his index finger. "First, bounties. Even Chūnin-ranked Nuke-nin have a standard bounty pay-out placed on them by their home villages, even if they're not dangerous, important, or infamous enough to have their own Bingo Book entry."

His middle finger then rose up to join his pointer. "Two, the loot. I killed all of them, so that means that I have first claim on any equipment they've got as spoils of war, outside their hitai-ate, which are required to be turned in for the bounty pay-out, flak jackets, which are prohibited to be taken as spoils by Genin, and anything that the Intelligence Division thinks might have some value. That means, my possible gains include: jutsu scroll, fluid cash, and ninja gear and supplies; all of which could be useful for me."

Finally, his ring finger rose to join the other two. "Three, memory. These jokers have already outright attacked and raided an outpost of Konohagakure in broad daylight; they cannot be allowed to just get away with that. I made sure not to damage their brains when I got them and the Mortuary Scroll will keep them well-preserved, so the Yamanaka Clan should be able to extract something about these 'Karehagakure' dumbasses from the corpses."

Impressed with the very thought-out answer, Ayame could only nod in acknowledgement while silently wondering just when her little brother had started growing up so much. "So, how do you think Shikamaru and the others are handling things?"

Naruto shrugged slightly. "I sent a couple Shadow Clones with them so that, if they get in trouble, one can dispel to let me know so I can send in reinforcements, but…"

"WHO'RE YOU CALLING FAT!? I'M BIG-BONED! CHUBBIES BANZAI!"

"Oh gods…some idiot decided to stomp right on Chōji's berserk button." Naruto groaned out with a facepalm.

"Ah, yeah…the Akimichi tend to be a bit easily riled up when it comes to their family's pudge." Ayame nodded, well-familiar with the scenario. "I'd honestly feel sorry for whoever just committed suicide…but these are a bunch of murderous Nuke-nin so screw them."

"Ayame-nee-chan!?" Naruto blinked in shock, which just made Ayame giggle. This trip was certainly enlightening him to more sides of his elder sister figure than he'd ever imagined possible!

Same Time

With Shikamaru

To Nara Shikamaru, his own genius had always seemed to be far more of a curse than a blessing. Like most males born into the Nara Clan, he was lazy, unmotivated, and not ashamed of either of the prior two qualities in the least. The fact that he was born the heir to a famous ninja clan within one of the major hidden villages meant that he already had far too many expectations and responsibilities placed on him than he would have willingly taken. Also like most Nara, he was a tactical thinker by nature and quite intelligent. When his dad had discovered that he was also a 'genius' (using an old Nara trick of disguising IQ tests within puzzle and strategy games), those troublesome expectations had only increased.

For almost as long as the position had existed within Konoha, the Jonin Commander had nearly always been either the Nara Clan Head or a member of their Clan. The only reason they hadn't held the position for as long as they had been a part of Konoha was because it had taken several years for the ninja ranking system the villages now used to fully form and the 'Jonin Commander' position itself to be created.

All that combined meant that he was pretty much doomed to eventually be forced to rise up the ranks and take on his old man's position himself, much to Shikamaru's displeasure. Was it really so much to ask, he often bemoaned to himself, to just be born a normal ninja, live a regular boring life, and have a regular boring death?

But that wasn't even the most troublesome aspect of his life. No, Shikamaru, it seemed to him, had been cursed to be constantly plagued by troublesome woman! His mother, Nara Yoshino, was an absolute terror who wielded a frying pan with merciless authority whenever his laziness 'went too far' or something. Then there was his childhood friend, Yamanaka Ino, who was even louder and more demanding than his own mother. He had honestly seen it as a blessing when the two of them had been placed on separate Genin teams, a brief reprieve from the endless screaming and scolding.

He knew it wouldn't last forever, of course, the Ino-Shika-Chō team was too famous and potent a combination to ever allow to be abandoned completely. He was very much aware that, eventually, he was going to have to go back to being bossed around by that blonde diva of a girl. It had only made him that much more determined to enjoy the brief time of peace while he could.

Unfortunately, fate had chosen to shatter his hopes and dreams like so much glass when it introduced a third troublesome woman into his life, his new sensei, Yūhi Kurenai. While not as loud as either his mother or Ino, she did not hesitate in telling him off each and every time for his 'bad habits,' pulling rank and authority to make him comply or even threatening to involve his mother, which would be a fate worse than death in Shikamaru's opinion.

So yes, Shikamaru often considered himself somewhat cursed in multiple ways. This troublesome world would just not let him be.

Right now, he took some minor solace in the fact that he was not the only unfortunate one

BAM!

Shikamaru idly watched as one very stupid Nuke-nin went flying through the air as his other, usually far less troublesome, childhood friend hit him with the full force of his Baika no Jutsu/Nikudan Sensha combo, and thus had impacted him with all the force of a boulder that was launched from a catapult. Seriously, what kind of idiot operated so close to Konohagakure without even memorizing the basic cardinal rules of engaging Leaf Shinobi?

Rule Number 10: Never call an Akimichi any insult that might imply that they were in some way, shape, or form fat. You will be squashed.

"Gwagh!" the idiot let out an odd-sounding squawk as he impacted a tree head-first while still flying full force via Air-Akimichi. Given the sound, and the amount of blood leaking out from behind the impact crater, he wasn't going to be a problem anymore.

Shikamaru let out an annoyed breath as he looked over the remaining Nuke-nin and was slightly pleased to see that everything was pretty much handled.

The one he and Sakura were dealing with had already been restrained with his Ninpō: Kagemane no Jutsu, which had allowed him to hold him in place for Sakura to safely use her Suiton Ninpō: Mizuame Bakujō to cover most of his body in chakra-altered liquid that rapidly hardened and prevented any movement.

Hinata, the shy Hyūga Heiress and one of the least troublesome women that Shikamaru had ever met (if one did not count her rather obvious crush on Naruto) had already taken out one of the other enemy Nuke-nin with a few quick strikes of her Jūken Taijutsu. The opposing Kunoichi had been utterly unable to dodge Hinata's initial strike after they'd launched their ambush and that had been enough to completely disable one of her arms. The Hyūga Heiress had been able to rapidly disable the older Kunoichi after that even as she desperately struggled to create distance.

Ino on the other hand, had simply started blasting at her target, a rather bulky man that Shikamaru had quickly pegged as the group's taijutsu expert based on his body type, uniform, and movements, with a barrage of Katon Jutsu before he could even get close to her. First a Katon: Endan that had sent the man backwards, scorched but alive. When he tried to get up, he was suddenly engulfed by a swarm of miniature fireballs from a Katon: Hotarubi. Then he was suddenly completely encircled by flames from a Katon: Hibashiri! Who thought it was a good idea to teach INO of all people so many Katon techniques!?

Shikamaru was now sure that he was doomed. He could already envision the bossy girl literally spitting fire at him whenever he annoyed her from now on, as opposed to how she only did so metaphorically these days. He was so going to blame Naruto for this one.

Apparently letting the troublesome blondes co-mingle only led to making them both even more troublesome. Who would have guessed?

"There, that should take care of that." Sakura announced as she finished inspecting her work. Trusting her judgment, and only partially out of sloth, Shikamaru immediately released his Kagemane and the trapped ninja immediately began to try and struggle out of the position they'd stuck him in. While a Chūnin might be expected to be able to break out of a single layer of set Mizuame Bakujō, Sakura had been sure to ensnare him under no less than four different layers. Plus, the position Shikamaru had shifted him into while under his jutsu was designed to make all that much harder to bring a significant amount of muscular power to bear at a single point. Unless the man was a particularly strong taijutsu expert (He wasn't, Shikamaru had already noted that; his frame, the extra weapon pouches he carried, and his position in his team's formation as they advanced all spoke of a rearguard specialised in shurikenjutsu) he wasn't going to be going anywhere.

The Nuke-nin seemed to realize that after only a few moments of struggling. Instead, he decided to focus his remaining energy on hurling threats at the gathered genin, ignoring that his teammates were all either dead or unconscious.

"You fucking, interfering brats…!" the man snarled out. "Just you wait till the bosses show up! They'll turn you little punks into bloody chunks and that's only if…!"

"Maybe, maybe not." Shikamaru drawled out as he ambled over to the man. "It depends on how fast our Jonin-sensei can get back from whatever distraction you managed to set for them. And, as troublesome as they are, neither of our sensei are anything close to pushovers."

Before the snarling Nuke-nin could even respond, Shikamaru pulled a kunai out from his back pouch and slammed the butt directly into his jaw, sending the man to la-la land. The last thing that Shikamaru wanted to deal with was some mouthy asshole insulting Ino or Sakura and the troublesome females starting one of their shrieking fits on them.

As they finished securing and transporting the three alive (albeit one extremely charred and smoking) prisoners and one corpse back to the clearing, Shikamaru could only scowl slightly as Naruto explained that he'd already sealed up the four that he'd killed (by himself, clones didn't really count) in a Mortuary Scroll (that he'd somehow pulled out of nowhere) and that his clones had already set to work both resetting and hiding the old traps as well as setting up some new ones.

"So, was it just me or were these guys just way too easy to beat?" Sakura asked, looking around after the genin had regrouped, a small group of Kage Bunshin keeping a weather eye on the unconscious and bound prisoners. "I mean, a team of four Chūnin should, on paper at least, be able to easily beat five Genin, but these guys practically walked right into our ambush. It's like they've had absolutely no training in forest craft and there was absolutely no coordination or teamwork between them."

"The lack of forest craft is pretty easy to explain, most of these guys seem to be from Kirigakure." Shikamaru pointed out simply, three of their four enemies had been Kiri Nuke-nin, with a single Konoha Nuke-nin mixed in. "Yeah, some of the bigger islands over there have forests, but where our Academy and training focuses on forest craft and combat; theirs focuses on how to survive on the ocean, aquatic combat and tactics, and how to sail. Learning forest craft is something they'd have to pick up on their own, which would mean that a lot of them likely didn't before it became necessary. And the Konoha Nuke-nin among them didn't seem all that eager to speak up, either. It honestly didn't look like they were even taking this seriously, hunting and getting rid of a small group of Genin should have been just grunt work for a group at their level. They got overconfident and paid for it. As for the disharmony, I'd say that there was a hostile takeover of this 'Karehagakure' group recently and one side is still smarting from where the Kirigakure Nuke-nin seems to have taken over."

"Yeah, that makes a lot of sense." Naruto agreed with a nod. "That Seven Swordsman wannabe likely kicked the former leader's rear so he and his took over. The team I took down was being led by a Kiri Nuke-nin, with another Kiri Nuke-nin, a Kusa Nuke-nine, and a former Konoha Sensor-type. I honestly think that they sent the bottom of the barrel after us, keeping the stronger members back to focus on the attack and the distraction; like you said, killing a bunch of Genin should have just been busywork. Once whoever is in charge realizes that these bozos aren't coming back, then someone a lot stronger and a lot more cautious is going to come after us. Maybe even one of the Jonin."

Shikamaru grunted in annoyance, but nodded his agreement at the fairly logical conclusion to two Chūnin teams seemingly vanishing. "I'd like to say that the jonin themselves wouldn't bother, unless they were bored." he opined. "But Naruto makes a good point. More are going to be coming soon, and they're going to be a lot more dangerous."

"You are damned right about that, brats!" a new rough voice growled out from the opposite end of the clearing. Turning, the Genin caught sight of a man standing atop one of the trees on the clearing's edge. He was a large man, with blue skin, sharp teeth, and black markings that looked like gills on his neck. He wore a thick coat that was the same grey with black stripes camo pattern that Kiri ninja seemed to favour, and he had a bandolier slung diagonally over one of his shoulders, loaded up with a dozen kunai that hand curve-blades rather than the usual straight ones. His hitai-ate was on a grey cloth band tied lopsidedly on his bald head and he wore a pair of leg warmer/shinobi sandal hybrids that were done in the grey and black camo.

However, it was the weapon that he was carrying with ease in one hand that drew all of their attention. It was a massive weapon, about three meters in length from the tip of the blade to the base of the hilt. The tsuka looked to be at least twice the length of a normal weapon's, but the blade itself was what really caught the eye. Rather than a single blade, the centre was actually a narrow pole attached to the tsuka, with six large, curved, fang-like blades that greatly resembled shark teeth emerging down either side.

"[Observe]!" Naruto whispered, eyes locked on the weapon.

[Kiribachi: Shadow-Sword of the Mist]

Ultra Rare

The prototype that was used to develop the (in)famous Kubikiribōchō that is one Kirigakure's vaunted Seven Swords of the Mist. The Seven Shadow Swords of the Mist are a set of seven blades that acted as the final prototypes, proof of concepts, and test models for the chakra blades that would eventually be forged to create the Mist's treasure blades. Kiribachi (Cutting Plectrum) is also known as the Nokogiritō (Sawtooth Blade) due to the shark-tooth design that was used for its blades. Like the child-blade that would be born from it, Kiribachi has the ability to rapidly regenerate any damage done to itself by drawing in the iron from the bloods of anyone it cuts, or just any blood gets too close to it. While the saw-toothed design proved to be effective for cutting through swathes of weaker enemies, it proved disadvantageous when dealing with dealing with more high-level opponents who could take advantage of the openings the blade design created; leading to Kubikiribōchō's final design being altered to a single large, smooth blade.

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That, Naruto knew, was very not good.

"So, you kids managed to take down my troops?" Hoshigaki Chikuwa offered with deliberate slowness as he eyed the prone forms of his subordinates. "I can see three of them. What happened to the other five?"

"Dead." Naruto answered simply, stepping to the forefront of their group. "I took care of the team you sent, the other had a member that was stupid enough to throw around a certain insult when Chōji was involved."

The man's eyes quickly locked onto Naruto, studying him for a moment, his eyes lingering for a moment on the clan marker on his shoulder armour, before moving to the others. He quickly noticed the clan emblem on Chōji's shirt. "Ah. Someone called an Akimichi fat to their face, huh?" he acknowledged with a low chuckle. "Must have been Ikuse; that dumbass never did know how to keep his mouth shut even when his life depended on it."

"So what happens now? You've only got so much time before our Jonin-sensei get back from dealing with whatever distraction you set up. You might be stronger than all of us put together, but you're definitely not strong enough to match an Elite Jonin and a regular Jonin on your own, even with Kiribachi in hand." the Jinchūriki asked evenly.

"Hoh, so you actually know the name of my blade…how very interesting." Chikuwa smirk grew just a bit sharper. "And you are right, if I tried to fight the Smoking Guardian and the Genjutsu Mistress face-to-face, then I likely wouldn't be able to win. Still, I can deal them quite a painful blow…by getting rid of all of you. Losing their teams will certainly be a nasty blow to their prides and spirits if nothing else, and it certainly won't take too long."

"Shika, take Ayame-nee and everyone else." Naruto stated coldly, not taking his eyes off the Nuke-nin as he drew out his tantō and assumed a combat position. "I'll cover your retreat. Hurry up and link with our Jonin-sensei. No arguing."

"Hm, not a bad judgement call there, boya." the Nuke-nin remarked, his smirk growing slightly in amusement. "But really now, do you honestly think that you can fight off a Jonin? All by yourself? You'll die a single swing before you get a chance to move."

Behind Naruto one of his clones poofed out of existence, even as a wave of protests from his teammates and Ayame started to rise.

"What kind of swordsman would I be if I didn't take the opportunity to test myself against something like the Shadow Swords of the Mist?" Naruto responded simply. "Nara Shikamaru, stop hesitating and GO!"

That finally got the Nara Heir to start moving, along with the rest of the genin, Ayame running off with them reluctantly, leaving Naruto facing off against the Jonin on his own.

"I'm honestly surprised that you didn't even try to just chase after them." the Jinchūriki remarked amicably.

"Meh. A Nara, an Akimichi, a Yamanaka, a Hyūga, and some random civilian-raised brat. Not all that interesting, I'll have plenty of chances to fight enemies like them in the future." Chikuwa answered with a shrug, before he refocused on Naruto and grinned savagely, his grip on his blade shifting. "But getting to face down an Uzumaki…none of my clan has had the chance to fight one of yours since we helped wipe out Uzushiogakure. And if the stories the old timers back home liked to tell about your Clan are anything close to true, then you'll be a far more interesting fight than all the rest put together. I can always just hunt them down once we finish here, but for now you've got my full attention."

"I'll try and make it worth your time." Naruto replied dryly. All of his clones were forming up either with or around him as he prepared for the toughest fight of his life. Dealing with a chump like Mizuki was one thing, but a Jonin? Hoo boy, he was not going to have good day with this.

"Well then…shall we begin?" Hoshigaki Chikuwa asked, a bloodthirsty sneer on his face.

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Next Chapter: Uzumaki Naruto vs. Hoshigaki Chikuwa

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