Chapter 67

"Leave. Go back to Konoha as fast as you can." I placed my thumb on the ground and let the summoning seal expand into its delicate shape. With a puff, a large grey wolf appeared in front of us. I tilted my head at the boy next to me and Hyousetsu gave me a bow in understanding.

It took Sai a moment to register my order, but unlike Falcon, or even Owl now, I supposed, he didn't feel the need to ask what I would do.

"Right now, Konoha needs to know what happened in Takigakure and that's your only priority," I added, reinforcing the point to the younger Anbu. Sai nodded, following my order without the need for any persuasion.

Still, to my surprise, he turned to me and said, "I'll see you soon, Captain," before he entered the earth with Hyousetsu's help. A weak tremor of the ground below and they were gone. Without wasting any time, I jumped up on the branch and moved on, creating distance between myself and Takugakure in a different direction than that of my subordinate.

I felt a wave of thin chakra permeating my body - sensors, of course. I let my chakra oscillate for a moment so that it would be pinned by the sensor's mind, before making a series of hand seals.

A mass of lightning chakra rose from my palm before being shaped into a butterfly. Slowly, I stabilized its shape with yin-chakra, containing the electricity until it was merely dancing on the wings, before releasing the crackling butterfly into the air.

At the same time, I dimmed my own chakra and made a sharp turn, changing the direction yet again, hoping that the sensor would follow the signature of the butterfly construct instead. While we made it out of the village, I doubt that the Takigakure Shinobi would give up on us that easily.

To be fair, if what Shibuki claimed about Iwa was true, then I couldn't blame them for taking the radical approach. We arrived at a horrible time, and with a horrible choice of envoy as well. At least Shibuki cared about Fuu enough to risk everything to ensure her safety.

Therefore, the best I could do at the moment was to retreat and disengage, making sure that Konoha received the information in a timely manner without complicating the situation with more casualties and hostages, no matter which village they were from.

Of course, there was still that thing with Fuu …

A streak of chakra thread sailed past my shoulder as I turned my body to the side and narrowly avoided the sticky silk. Without a pause, I raised my sword and blocked a strong kick aiming at my chest.

The strong force crashed into the metal and sent it vibrating in displeasure. Discarding the force with a spin of the body, I returned Fuu's greeting with a kick as well, landing a strike on her arm that sent her back to the ground.

"How did you …" I muttered as Fuu eyed my shoulder. Following her gaze, I caught the tiny specs of scale powder that landed on my shoulder when her web struck down on us earlier when we were still on the bird. "Right, my oversight."

For a second, none of us said anything as the young Jinchuurirki stared into my sharingan, knowing full well that I wouldn't try any genjutsu that my eyes were so renowned for, not with the tailed-beast inside of her.

The air seemed to shake when she sprinted forward. Her iridescent wings vibrated in a high-pitched frequency as they shredded the air around her. A moment later, she was in front of me. I ducked at the last moment, a chain of electricity pulled between my fingers, staining her pupil a flash of icy blue.

I swiped my hands forward, letting my fingers graze Fuu's arm as a spark of electricity bounced onto her skin, shocking her for a moment. I slammed my palm into her stomach, pushing her back once again as I turned and ran.

"Is your real name 'Maiko'? Or is that just a fake too?" I heard Fuu's question as she raced up to me, a silky web of chakra shot past my legs and one of its strands stuck my shoe to the branch. Immediately, a spark of fire ignited on my finger as I brought my hand down and smeared the flame across the silk strand.

Catching that moment of pause, Fuu flew above me and crashed her knee down on my shoulder, forcing me to flip down from the branch to avoid the impact.

Fuu landed in front of me, just two metres away. She didn't follow up with her attacks, merely cutting off my route of escape as her wings flapped in agitation. Well, I supposed she was waiting for an answer, so I gave her one. "Yes. Believe it or not, Maiko is my real name."

"You use your real name when you're infiltrating another hidden village under a fake identity?" Fuu snorted, disbelief clear in her voice, but so was the curiosity.

"It's a common name, it won't attract attention, at least, when compared to my last name," I said, wondering if she would get pissed off by my words. Needless to say, I didn't quite know what to do in this awkward situation either.

Another flash of iridescent filled my vision as I locked her arm with mine, stopping her kunai that aimed for my neck. "Uchiha, right? From Konohagakure. They told me that you might be sent to kidnap the Jinchuuriki, like me."

"Then you really shouldn't be here," I couldn't help but say as I twisted her arm to the side and slammed my elbow into her shoulder. Fuu let out a small grunt, but before I could retreat, she dropped the kunai and tightened her fingers on my wrist as she blew out a few specs of dust.

It wasn't the blinding dust that she had used before, but I still forced a shock of lightning chakra to discharge out of my tenketsu, making her let go before her skin was charred. Even then, some of her dust fell on my collarbone, searing into my skin at the spots of contact.

Without a moment of hesitation, I flickered back to get out of her cloud of corrosive scale powders. But Fuu's eyes caught me past the spark of electricity, with her senses augmented by the thin aura of tailed-beast chakra around her body.

She raced forward and brought her hands up for a seal. There was a slight pause in her motion as she moved her fingers, shooting a few strands of chakra silk from her mouth. Lightning coursed through my limbs as I bounced upwards, hitting the branch with the soles of my feet while some of the strands sailed past my head.

Without giving her a chance to react, I pushed off of the surface, slamming her onto a tree trunk as I planted my sheathed sword across her neck to pin her down. Fuu opened her mouth, letting out another cloud of corrosive scale powder. However, this time, a tiny petal made of ruby-red flame materialized at my fingertips as I brought my hand up.

I snapped my fingers, letting the petal explode into a cloud of flame between our faces. Heatwaves licked our skin as the fire died down, extinguishing itself as well as the scale powder that floated in the air.

"Whenever you see someone like me that has weird eyes, you shouldn't hesitate to use that technique with the blinding dust," I reminded her as I pushed the sword deeper into her neck. "More often than not, we rely on our vision more than others." Maybe it would give her some time against Tobi, maybe it wouldn't, but it was best if she at least tried.

Fuu was silent for a moment before she stared into my swirling sharingan and said, "Your eyes were tearing up back then."

My hand tensed up a little, then I relaxed the pressure on the sheath against her neck. "Yeah, my point exactly. It was effective."

"You really don't need my help and protection, huh," Fuu let out a burst of laughter full of self-mockery as she seized the opening and kicked me back on the stomach. I caught her feet with my armguard, but I withdrew my sword anyway, stepping back to allow Fuu to stand up.

"Not all kinds of help require battle prowess," I replied. I paused for a moment, before speaking up again. "'Maiko' did need your protection, if she wants to expose the shadows beneath the Orphanage."

Just then, a wave of chakra washed over us, signifying the scanning of a sensor. I dimmed my chakra at the moment's notice, but to my surprise, Fuu did the same, hiding her chakra signature that flowed with overwhelming vitality.

Even with our brief confrontation, the disturbances we made were minimal, forgoing most of the large-scale jutsu that would make us a beacon for every sensor in the area. I didn't want to act beyond self-defence and as for Fuu, well, I supposed she had unanswered questions.

"Please, just go back and protect yourself," I told her, for the slight chance that she would stop chasing me if I were to run away again. But with the way she raised her eyebrow at me, I doubted the possibility of that outcome.

"From what, you?" Fuu asked instead, narrowing her eyes at me, displeasure clear in her voice.

"From anything you think will hurt you." At this point, if Takigakure saw me or Konoha as a threat, fine, at least they were aware of the fact that the knowledge of their Jinchuurirki was not hard to uncover.

They knew that Fuu was in danger and that the tailed-beasts were being targeted. That was the only consolation in this messed-up situation.

"Shibuki-sama and other shinobi didn't know that you and Sai - he's the other boy on the bird, isn't he? - has infiltrated Shimizu village beforehand and made contact with me," Fuu said as she took a step forward and I felt my hand tense around the blade. "They don't know that you had days of contact with me, even drawing me to Seiju Pass alone."

Thank god they don't. With their preconceived notion about Konoha's intention deep in their mind, If the fact that Sai and I stayed in Shimizu village and observed Fuu for days came to light, we would have a very hard time explaining ourselves to Takigakure, even more so than now.

"They don't know that you won't hurt me."

I widened my eyes a little because I was caught by surprise. I expected accusations of being a liar and I had no idea how to act when Fuu went for the opposite and handed me trust.

"You had so many opportunities to hurt me, but you didn't," Fuu continued, taking another step forward.

"Maybe I was assessing your abilities. Maybe I want to make sure Takigakure has someone else to blame when I abduct you," I said with a half-raised eyebrow. While I appreciate her trust, I wasn't so sure about the way she was handing them out so easily.

"I thought your goal was to prove your innocence, not to increase your suspicion." Fuu let out a burst of laughter as if she found my words beyond hilarious. Fine, I got her point. My actions spoke more than my words, she seemed to say. If I was indeed trying to abduct her, I was definitely shooting myself in the foot with the way I acted.

"The circumstances I suggest would be the same ones that your Guardian would consider, and he is right to do so," I shrugged my shoulders and continued. "He cares about you greatly, I can tell. You're going to make him worry if you don't go back soon."

Fuu pressed her lips together when she heard my words, furrowing her eyebrows as if she was having an internal debate. Eventually, she replied, "Shibuki-sama has his judgements, but I also have mine. But yes, I should be going back before the village goes crazy searching for me."

Silently, I let out a breath of relief. Finally, what Shinobi #2 said before made sense. If Iwa was going crazy over their lost Jinchuuriki, then their forces would be littered in this region between Fire and Earth Country, looking for any opportunities to infiltrate and threaten Konoha, until they either get their Jinchuuriki back or get a satisfactory answer. That meant, neither Fuu nor I should be staying in this area more than we already did.

Unfortunately, that sigh of relief didn't escape Fuu's notice. "Can't wait to get rid of me, huh," Fuu said as she raised an eyebrow at me, accusations clear in her voice.

I could hear the soft rustling of leaves in the distance as dim dots of chakra signatures flashed across my vision. The chakra butterfly could only keep them distracted for so long. Soon, the Takigakure shinobi would arrive here, and hopefully, the only thing they found was their Jinchuuriki.

Still, I couldn't help but let out a chuckle when I pulled out a spare Anbu mask from my storage seal.

"I suppose we're past the stage of introduction, but just to set the record straight, I'm Uchiha Maiko, a shinobi from Konohagakure, sent to confirm the existence of Seven-Tail Jinchuuriki and warn both them and Takigakure of the danger that's coming." I took a moment to place the Anbu mask on my face before continuing, "Hopefully, we'll meet again, under a less … hostile situation."

"Hopefully," Fuu muttered, but she made no attempt to stop me as I jumped on a branch. I took in a deep breath as I concentrated my senses, trying to get a general layout of the Takigakure shinobi based on the sounds I heard.

However, what I sensed made my muscles tense up. I turned around just as Fuu raised her head to look at me, words already out of her mouth.

"Do you smell-" "Blood?" I finished the sentence for her. There was no need for an answer. A metallic scent of blood was growing stronger and stronger by the second, carried by the wind from where the converging Takigakure force should be.

Fuu was ready to move in their direction, but before she could, I dropped down from the tree and grabbed her arm. "It's too late, and I doubt that the Takigakure shinobi were their primary targets."

The only other time that I had smelt such an overwhelming odour of blood, so thick that it seemed to pull the air down like a blanket, was at the night of the Uchiha Massacre.

"But …" Fuu's words were cut short when we saw the creature that stepped out of the shadow, leaving behind a bloody paw print with its every step. A bloodied body rolled out of one of its mouths - yes, the canine creature has three heads - nearly broken into two pieces with holes that punctured his waist.

"... Genji-san," Fuu whispered as she sucked in a cold breath. Clearly, she knew the Takigakure shinobi, but my mind was occupied elsewhere, specifically with the ring-patterned eyes that were inlaid in the creature's skulls.

My Eternal Mangekyou opened on their own, feeling the threat of a dojutsu that was foreign, mysterious, and very very dangerous.

"Run," I told the girl standing next to me as I tightened my hand around her wrist and pulled her along. Lightning coursed through my body as I dashed through the branches. Fuu's hand shook when the initial tingles of electricity touched her skin, but she didn't struggle against me as I forced her to travel at a speed faster than what her mind could process at the moment.

A loud scream pierced my eardrum as a shadow swooped down from above, crashing right into where we would be if I hadn't changed the course at the last moment.

"Ouch," Fuu complained as she rubbed her arm, trying to ease the pain from being pulled forward and then slung backward in a fraction of a second.

Nevertheless, the trees in front of us were gone, leaving nothing behind but splinters as a bird stood in the center of the destruction. Its pale purple eyes stared at me without any emotion. In fact, it looked lifeless, almost like a preserved specimen, if not for the clearly dynamic destruction it had caused

My eyes caught the slight distortion in light, just in time for me to push Fuu to the side as a giant whip of something slashed down right at us. Fuu barely needed my reminder though, seeing that her wings were out as she hovered in the air, a kunai steady in her fingers.

I slashed with my sword as a rope-like object fell on the ground with a thud. Light shimmered off of the creature as the chameleon hissed in pain, with a writhing snake near our feet.

"What the hell are these?" Fuu shouted as more and more of these creatures appeared out of the bushes. In addition to the three-headed dog, the steel bird, and the chimeric chameleon, we also had a panda and an ox on steroids, as well as an oversized crab, just to name a few.

This was a freaking zoo and what made it more freaky was the Rinnegan embedded in their eye sockets and the piercings that radiated chakra under my sharingan.

"This is the danger that we talked about before," I said, trying to make sense of what the hell was this freak show. Their chakra flow was messy and inorganic like they were powered solely by the metal piercing it had on their body. I doubted that all of these eyes were the real Rinnegan - I didn't remember them being so cheap - so it might be a manifestation, a characteristic given by their owner, their summoner.

"Fewer questions, more killing," I said as I dashed past the coiling centipede, narrowly missing its grip as it tried to squeeze its body around me. My chakra withdrew the moment I appeared behind the three-headed dog and by the time it expanded again, silver yin-chakra lit up my blade just as it sliced into one of its necks.

The sword cleaved through the flesh like butter until I flipped the head into the air. I heard a deafening bark as the two other heads screamed in anger. But before they could charge towards me, I already retreated using Jinrai. Instead, I saw something that vaguely resembled a bird crashing down on the injured creature, stabbing its beak into the canine's body as silk webs wrapped around its wings.

Fuu held the other end of the web, clearly the perpetrator of what just happened. However, to our surprise, the three-headed just split along the injury, before trying to fuse together. Yeah, it was clear that it was not going to die with some 'minor' injuries, so before it could merge, I tapped my hand on the ground and forced the crimson lotus to rise, enveloping the monstrous canine creature in a bloom of hellfire.

During that time, Fuu flashed above me and kicked away the raging ox before it could impale me. A veil of sparkling dust fell around us like a curtain, searing the shell of the crawling crab to prevent it from coming closer.

My yin-chakra fire could burn through metal in seconds of contact, yet the dog merely screamed in pain as it endured through the fire. These were not normal animal summons, not even close. I released the control on the lotus and just let the fire burst through the forest.

"We need to look for the summoner. Help me keep them in check," I asked Fuu as a summoning circle expanded my thumb.

"Trouble again?" Fuyuki greeted me as she and Zansetsu poofed out of existence. I didn't need to answer her, considering she and Zansetsu already pounced on the centipede, forcing the creature back down as it tried to swipe me to the side.

"Go!" Fuu screamed as she dodged the razor-sharp beak of the giant bird as it raced out of the burning forest, its feathers all charred black as it flew in a crooked path.

I forced myself to concentrate as I scanned the perimeters, flashing through the branches to dodge the attacks as well as to look for the chakra signature I was missing.

A flash of messy chakra flashed across my vision for a second and I zoomed towards it without any hesitation.

My senses tingled when I shaped the crimson arrow in my palms and sent it forward. Why is he … just standing there … Nevertheless, the arrow flew across the forest, piercing any trees on its path with ease before it finally arrived in front of the orange-haired man.

It was then that I realized that despite the orange hair, it was not the man Itachi had described that bore resemblance to Yahiko.

Before I could ponder any further, the crimson arrow that was supposed to be a sure-hit disappeared as it seemed to get sucked into a vacuum. Another orange-haired man - he was larger and had shorter hair - stood in front of the first one, but their Rinnegan was like a paste and copy.

So, who, or what the hell was 'Pein'?

"Maiko!" I heard a coarse yell from Fuyuki, who pulled my mind back just in time for me to see the flying metallic fist that was about to pound my head in. The flying fist shot past nothing but a spark of electricity as it broke through several trees. I had to steady my vision as I landed a few meters away. These … enemies were fast, and so were their attacks. I had to stretch the stimulation from Jinrai to make it effective.

I heard a rumbling sound, like a rocket engine being fired off, moments before I saw missiles in the air. Clearly, technological evolution escaped my attention. Still, Fuyuki shook off the canine creature on her back - it had five heads now, apparently - before she arrived at my side at the time as Zanzetsu arrived near Fuu.

Earth opened up and swallowed us like a mother's embrace as Fuyuki took me deeper and deeper. Still, the world felt like it was shaking around us as the earth above rumbled in pain and destruction.

As soon as the world quieted down, Fuyuki didn't hesitate in taking us back to the surface. Zansetsu and Fuu emerged a moment later, all of us in a battle stance. One of my hands rubbed on the packets of signal flares in my pouch as I took in the altered landscape around us - trees reduced to ashes with the ground baked solid in a crater.

"I've heard about you, Itachi's younger sister," the oranged-haired man said as he stood on the edge of the crater. This one had a face that matched that of Yahiko we had on file perfectly. "Quite a feat, killing Sasori."

I didn't feel like talking, but neither was he looking for a response. Three other robed figures appeared behind him - including the two I had seen and a humanoid figure modified with metallic machinery.

Under their intense gaze, I saw the presumed summoner making a hand seal. A moment later, the zoo appeared around us, surrounding us with growls and screeches. All of them, including the steel-beaked bird that was supposed to be charred beyond recognition, were rejuvenated to full health.

"But now that I'm here, I will be taking the Seven-Tail and you won't live to see tomorrow's daylight," Pein said, his voice as calm as ever. To him, he was merely stating a fact. "The Eternal Mangekyou might have been the pinnacle of worldly dojutsu, but the Rinnegan has the power beyond this world."

It had been a while since my breath was caught in my throat because of the mere pressure and threat I felt from someone else's gaze. But when he looked into my Mangekyou with his ring-patterned eyes, I knew that I was being preyed on in a hunt.

No, there was no intention to kill, but rather, it felt like crushing me with his power was simply the rule of nature for him.

Without any hesitation, I picked the right flares from my pouch and sent them in the air. Pein - or any copies of him - didn't even pay the flares any attention. Why should they, when numbers of shinobi meant nothing to him? But I hoped that the Konoha shinobi keeping vigilance near the Fire-Earth Border - I knew they would be pulled here, after what happened with Iwa - would listen to what the signal flares suggested.

"What the hell is with his eyes? Who are … what are they?" Fuu asked, her hand was shaking just for a moment before she steadied herself and let the chakra of vitality wash over her body. "Whatever, they're here to kill us, right?"

"To kill me. They want you alive to extract the Seven-Tail in you, then you'll die," I supplemented. As for her other questions, I would love to find out as well.

"His name is Chōmei, by the way, he doesn't like to be called Seven-Tail." Well, why wasn't I surprised to hear that? Fuu snorted, finally, some of her pride as a Jinchuuriki showed through in her voice, "also, screw them. Chōmei said 'No'."

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

Time seemed to collapse for Sai as he fled across the branches. The forestry blurred in front of his eyes as the various shades of green mixed together like a messy palette.

Captain's wolf summon had disappeared some time ago, only leaving behind a bark of reassurance, telling him to focus on what he was ordered to do: to deliver the information to Konoha without looking back, even if Hyousetsu's sudden disappearance was likely to be related to trouble at his Captain's end.

Sai felt the prickling wind brushing past his face as he ducked his head to escape the leaves that had grown thicker and thicker. He was getting closer to Fire Country territory, where the vegetation was denser than its surrounding countries.

Suddenly, Sai took a side step and bounced to a branch on the right. A flash of metallic glint, barely visible if not for the accumulating humidity from the recent rainy weather, warned him of the web of traps that lay ahead.

Immediately, his hand went for the Anbu tantō behind his back, pulling the blade out just a little so that he would be ready to deal with any threat that emerged. Based on his experience, whenever someone had the time to set up a trap this intricate, they would want to monitor the prey that got close.

A sword slash sound in the background, followed by the pluck of a taut wire. Sai pulled his blade out of the sheath and parried away the wave of shuriken that followed. Without wasting a second, Sai extended a scroll and moved his brush across it, making wild strokes of ink that flew out of the canvas with ferocity.

The dark ink splashed across the forest, covering the thin threads of wired traps, allowing Sai to track his enemies' movement if they still wanted to hide behind the network of traps.

"Moth, that's enough." Sai paused in surprise, but his knuckles were still pale from clutching tight on his brush. In front of him, several masked individuals popped up on the branches.

"Well, this trap is busted, but I supposed we started it." The crane-masked Anbu asked as he waved his hands, telling his subordinates to reset the traps. Then, he returned his eyes to Sai and asked, "I don't remember Team Kō being pulled to the border."

"We have another mission at Takigakure," Sai answered. "There is an unexpected interruption which I have to deliver back to Konoha."

Crane raised his head a little as he examined Sai's words, before asking, "let me guess, is this about Iwa's accusation towards Konoha, did it reach Takigakure as well?"

Sai nodded, he was starting to understand why he would meet another team of Konoha Anbu at such a desolate location, one that had set up surveillance near another Hidden village's territory, nonetheless.

Crane took a moment to think, before he said, "Raccoon, can you connect Moth's mind with that of Commander's?" Clearly, the words weren't directed to him, but to a Yamanaka that served as a liaison between the Anbu teams and their commanding station.

"You okay with that? It'll be faster this way." The moment Sai nodded at Crane, he felt his mind being latched on as the tendril dragged him into another space that overlapped with his reality.

"What's the situation, Crane and Moth?" Sai could hear Commander's deep voice reverberating in his mind. It took him a moment to get used to being spoken inside of his head before he started his report.

"For our mission to identify and warn the Seven-Tail Jinchuuriki, Captain Rabbit and I have confirmed her existence in Takigakure and tried to warn their leader, but they responded with hostility and suspicion, having already heard of Iwa's accusation on our supposed Jinchuuriki abduction. We escaped the village, but Captain stayed behind to lure them away so that I could deliver the news unobstructed."

Sai tried not to waste any words. He waited for a response as silence ensued in his mind.

"I understand. I'll send a message to Hokage-sama. Moth, head for Border Station 25 first as you make your way to Konoha. Raccoon, expand your sensory range and see if you can find Rabbit's signature …"

Sai didn't catch the last part of the Commander's order, because he saw the flares that exploded in the distant sky, their bright colours barely visible to their eyes. The scarlet flare went up first, followed by the deep purple that splashed in the skyline.

"... Crane, ready your team for any changes, whether from Rabbit or Takigakure." The rest of Commander's order echoed into his consciousness as an afterthought. When there was an unusual pause in the beat of their answer, Commander asked again, "are we clear?"

"Um, Commander, something new just came up," Crane spoke, his eyes still at the spot of the fading firework. "We saw a signal from the distance, the direction of Takigakure. It's deep scarlet and dark purple."

Scarlet flare had a relatively new definition. It was used in one and only one circumstance - Akatsuki. Dark purple, on the other hand, was something that Sai could only recall from his memories of Anbu training manuals.

Section 17.3 Types of Signal Flares

Blue: Normal reinforcement required, all vacant shinobi nearby were to …..

Pink: Emergency reinforcement required, all Anbu nearby were to converge, so long as their current mission was not urgent or …

Orange: …

Dark Purple*: A level of danger that's beyond the normal D-S classification is being engaged. Normal shinobi force Chunin and below should evacuate on sight. All Anbu and Jōnin were to stay clear of the battlefield at the first instance and do not rush in to provide reinforcement until a force equivalent to 50 or above Anbu personnel were organized.

*Note: This signal flare discourages rash reinforcement that could result in unnecessary deaths. The commanding officer at the site should evaluate the urgency of the situation and decide the course of action on a case-by-case basis. The recommendation in the manual does not apply when the village is under immediate threat that must be stopped at all costs.

"It must be Rabbit." The Anbu Commander was barely fazed by the surprise turn of the event. "Even the likes of Sasori and Itachi aren't ranked above S to warrant a purple signal, at least, not in her eyes. So, it's either Pein or a force with similar power."

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Nothing on their mission warned them of the traces of Akatsuki.

"And the Jinchuuriki, is she well-protected?" Sai heard the question addressed to him. Right, Fuu. Whenever there was Akatsuki, there was Jinchuuriki. Sai remembered the teenage girl that hovered outside the village wall when Captain's mask got pulled off.

He closed his eyes, trying his hardest to imagine what Fuu would do. Somehow, given the measly knowledge he had of her and his dim emotional capacity, he could still guess what she might do, and returning to Takigakure as if nothing had ever happened was not a likely option.

"She might have chased Captain to confront her. They might be together," Sai said, feeling a slight shiver in his voice and he wondered if it could be transmitted over Yamanaka's mind-body techniques.

"There are currently 45 Anbu stationed in this border region between Fire and Earth Country, but their presence is barely enough to deter the skirmishes and infiltration from Iwa. Rabbit would know what's being arranged at the border; she sent the message to tell us to stay out unless we can take the consequences of many sacrifices and having openings at our border."

Sai felt his hands tighten as he waited for the decision of his commander. He was ... anxious - he finally identified the emotion - about their order that was about to be given. It wasn't just about the potential deaths themselves, but the fact that Konoha needed them alive to perform important duties.

Their lives held importance to Konoha, based both on moral and practical reasons. Especially practical reasons.

"Moth, return to the Border Station. Team Rei, stay put." Finally, the verdict was out.

"But Commander, what about …" the question left Sai's mind before he could stop it. He had no place to question an order from the Anbu Commander, especially not one that was in Konoha's best interest.

"I'm sending other Anbu teams with sensors and Medical-nin to the area near the conflict so that if Rabbit escapes the worst of it, she'll be treated as soon as possible. The rest of the Anbu will just have to stretch to cover the gaps for now." The Commander added upon hearing his question, but not without saying to him, "Only this time, Moth."

"Yes, Commander. I apologize." Sai muttered as shame crept up his face. His captain had told him that the time and place of his curiosity was an important consideration.

"At this point, you just have to trust her and hope for the best. She didn't stay there alone to be the only sacrifice; she did so hoping that there would be no sacrifices. Now, start moving." That was the last thing Sai heard before he started running again.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

"Stop wasting your chakra on … Number 3. I know you have a lot, but it does run out eventually!" I yelled at Fuu as another one of her chakra coats got absorbed when she tried to attack Rinnegan number 3 - yes, we numbered them - and got her taijutsu blocked, forcing her to turn on her chakra coat to prevent herself from getting smashed by Number 4's mechanical toys, which resulted in her chakra coat being absorbed before she could free herself from the bind.

"It's not like I want to! If Taijutsu works like your theory, then we'd be finished with Number 3!" Fuu shouted back. "None of my Taijutsu attacks work, It's like they have no blind spot!"

Great, add Byakugan power to them, I guess. Before I could respond, a strong force enveloped me and thrust me forward, right towards Number 1 - 'Yahiko' - as he held out a black rod in his hand that would impale me through the heart any moment from now.

Silver chakra bursted from my body as the black rod hit the ribcage, dying to dig in further as I forced the fists to move and pushed away the canine and the bird that jumped at me. The skeletal arms slammed the two creatures into the ground, burying them into the earth before I moved the fists back and clapped.

Number 1, of course, dodged with ease as the canine crawled itself out of the bloodied hole. The bird was mush by now, but unless we could deal with Number 2, the creatures would just keep coming back. But I couldn't do that when Number 1 was throwing me around like a meteor every five seconds.

There was a hierarchy between our enemies. Number 2 controlled the summoning creatures, while Number 1 was clearly the leader and the most sentient one between them. He also had a more nourished chakra flow that was more refined and rejuvenated.

Rinnegan didn't grow on trees, some of these eyes must be convenient creations, copies of the original. Wait … copies. Suddenly, the feeling of their gazes burning into my skin from every direction was more prominent than ever, like ants crawling on every inch of my body, sending disgust and shivers down my spine.

Their fields of vision were connected. That was why Fuu couldn't find a blind spot.

"Fuu, use the scale powder and cover them all," I said, hoping that my words would reach her amidst the chaos and the destruction. The centipede rose from the ground and I slashed it in half with the lightning-charged blade, knowing that its death was only temporary.

Fuyuki and Zansetsu growled as they tried to reach Number 2 past all his summons, but the water-shooting crab pushed them aside, forcing Fuyuki to slap her tail on the ground and raise up a chain of earth walls to defend.

They had everything: Number 2 and his animals for distraction, Number 3 to negate chakra-based attacks, Number 4 for mass firepower, and finally, Number 1 for absolute control. One of them needed to go before we got whittled down in stamina and strength.

"But it'll affect you too!" Fuu screamed from the side as she kicked Number 4's arm away and covered him with a chakra web to clog his machinery.

"Don't worry about it!" I yelled back. Without another word, Fuu ascended into the sky and let a waterfall of shining scale powder fall from her body, enveloping us all in a blinding screen of light in an instant.

Think, Number 3 is used to being immune to all chakra-based attacks, and he welcomes physical contact so he can absorb chakra from our bodies. Thus, his fighting style is not very mobile, especially not with Number 4 protecting him at every turn.

I closed my eyes at the exact moment when the scale powder veiled us all, carving the last scene from my vision into my memory. Jinrai coursed through my body and I flashed, forgoing an anchor that positioned me in the reality.

There would be errors, whether from the slight movement of the enemy, or just the inaccuracy of my Jinrai, but in the grand scheme, it shouldn't matter.

In the darkness, I bounced off the tree branches. Every time my feet connected with the hard surface was a confirmation that my movement matched the course from my memory. Finally, I arrived at the left of Number 3 - hopefully. My fingers clenched tight on the sword hilt, feeling the weight being balanced perfectly in my hand as I slashed the tantō across.

The moment my blade connected with the flesh, I felt the resistance of the bone - left shoulder bone, by the feel of it - through the touch of the blade. Like I said, small errors. Thankfully, I had two blades. A fraction of a second later, my ninjatō cut through the much more vulnerable tissue on Number's 3's neck, sending his head flying into the air.

"You're absolutely crazy!" I heard Fuu's curse when I felt her weight slamming into me, pushing me out of the way just before a loud explosion rang around us. "Did you forget that Number 4 is a moving artillery launcher?"

I would have told her that I had it handled - Susanoo was far from absolute defence, but it wasn't made out of paper either. But somehow, with the warm coat of chakra that Fuu expanded to cover us, protecting us from the worst of the explosion, I doubted that she would appreciate anything other than 'thank you'.

"Did he die?" I asked instead, feeling the girl let go of her embrace and shift her body to check.

"Yeah, I don't see the body - both parts - moving. Also, they blew away my powder." As soon as she said those words, I opened my eyes, seeing the veil of shimmers being dissipated by the earlier explosion.

"But finally, no more annoying chakra absorption," Fuu said, a hint of excitement in her voice as her chakra coat flared up even brighter. "Time to smash the others-"

A strong force pulled her forward before she could even finish her words. "Fuyuki!" I yelled, but the wolves reacted even faster, erecting earth walls between her and Number 1. Fuu slammed into the rock structures, shattering them upon impact.

They weren't very effective, but that additional second was enough for my chakra to reach Number 1 before Fuu did. A red lotus bloomed from the ground, licking the bottom of his robe as he flickered to the side.

Fuu crash-landed a few metres away as she let out a gagged cough from the impact. Immediately, she rolled to her feet and charged forward, knowing from the observation that this manipulation of gravitational force could only occur once every five seconds.

A panda dropped down in front of Fuu and Number 1 when she slammed the chakra tails that expanded from the tips of her insect wings towards 'Yahiko'. The panda let out a growl when the chakra tails tried to drill through its body, but it remained immovable, refusing to let the corrosive whips through without a fight.

Meanwhile, I formed two hand seals just as Number 4 arrived with his mechanized arm. I paid him no attention as silver chakra formed the shield around me, blocking me from the rain of projectiles as I shaped the crimson flame into a thin and compact arrow.

The heat that radiated from the concentrated fire chakra felt suffocating before I released it towards Number 2. Fuyuki was pinning the regenerated bird down with her claws, a large cut was painted across her back. Zansetsu was wrestling with the multi-headed dog, while other smaller creatures were being impaled by earth spikes.

The gorilla-panda hybrid for the shield was near Number 1, meaning that Number 2 was open for attacks so long as I could get past the Ox. The arrow shot through the black Ox in the eye as it jumped at me. The Ox fell lifelessly as it slid down the front of my Susanoo while the arrow continued to sail towards its target.

The moment the arrow drilled itself into Number 2, the flame expanded and engulfed his entire body. It would have been a nice scene if Fuu didn't crash into me as a strong repulsive force sent us flying.

I heard a cracking of my rib as Fuu and I skidded across the floor. Even with the Susanoo, the sheer impact made me want to throw my insides out.

I clutched onto my head, trying to get the nauseating feeling to stop when my eyes scanned through the battlefield. Something was missing - namely, the body parts of Number 3 that we had killed earlier.

What else did we miss? Why do I feel so uneasy? Now that I thought about it, I hadn't seen the centipede in a while, ever since … when Number 3 was killed.

"Wait, Fuu!" I yelled, but the girl slipped through my hand as she charged in again, desperately trying to land a hit on Number 1 in the five-second gap, now that both Number 2 and 3 were gone.

Jinchuuriki were formidable when they were one with their tailed-beasts. The chakra coat on their body served as both protection and weapons, making them unstoppable.

The ground rumbled when Fuu arrived in front of Number 1. A hand broke through the earth and grabbed Fuu's ankle. In the blink of an eye, the chakra got sucked out of her body, taking away the help from the Tailed-beast, exposing the girl inside, right as a black rod appeared in Number 1's hand.

In a flash, I arrived next to them and sliced my blade across Number 3's hand - Yes, he was very much alive. Despite his large stature, he withdrew his hand without any hesitation before retreating back into the earth.

Just then, I heard the sound of flesh being pierced through. The pain came a little later, along with the realization that I had a black rod sticking out of my stomach.

I felt a lot of things when blood soaked through my clothes, including, but not limited to pain, nausea, and suffocation, especially when the chakra in my body went haywire.

Shit, it's been five seconds.

My mind went blank from the pain when Number 1 pushed Fuu and me outward. I heard a grunt of pain when Fuyuki managed to cushion my landing with her own body, followed by a series of cracking sounds. I wasn't sure if it was my bones or hers. Probably both.

"... Maiko …" "... What the hell …" "... It's an Uchiha …"

So many sounds rang in my mind as my eyes focused on the scenes in front of me. Why were there other people here? Did they not get the message with all the terrain-changing explosions?

I saw the Iwa headband on the shinobi's head and I wanted to curse if it didn't hurt so damn much just to move my muscle.

"Stay away!" Fuyuki screamed for me, but they didn't move fast enough before the bird swooped down and skewered them with its beak. Number 2 was also back.

The scent of blood overwhelmed my senses as I tried to get my broken chakra circuit back to normal. The black rod was pulsating something that was breaking my own chakra apart. It took me a moment to realize that this 'something' was a foreign chakra, fighting to exert control over my body.

I grabbed onto the rod and pulled, hearing the blood that gushed out of my stomach as I removed the metallic object and threw it to the ground.

"Zansetsu had to go back to our dimension to escape the explosion," Fuyuki said as she tried to put weight on her limped leg.

"You should too," I said with a grunt of pain as I stood up. The centipede disappeared with Number 3's remains, probably dragging them away from the battlefield, so that it can be regenerated. Something else was here to heal them.

"I'll hide. Once I go back, I can't use reverse summoning on you." Fuyuki was determined in her words. I was hoping that it would never come to that because reverse summoning could only transport one person away. Nevertheless, I nodded. Fuyuki gave me a light nozzle before she disappeared underground.

In the distance, a menacing burst of chakra rose to the sky, lighting up like a mini sun in my vision. Fuu had given the control over her body o Chōmei, hoping to beat Pein with brute force and absolute power. But it wouldn't work for long, not when Number 3 was designed to be the bane of all chakra and there was something else in this forest that was keeping our enemies immortal.

I needed to find that 'something else'.

With heavy breaths, I started to run. My eyes scanned every inch of the forest that my vision reached, hoping to catch the tiny dots of chakra hiding in the shadow. On my way, I saw the brutalized bodies of Iwa-nin stumbled upon the scene, torn apart by the summoning creatures.

I forced myself to focus as I flickered and ran. Electricity numbed my body and the pain until finally, I saw the flickering chakra signature and the robed figure it belonged to, as well as the very ominous looking gate next to him. A bird swooped down from above and I bounced to a branch on the side to avoid getting skewered by its blood-stained beak. With a flip in the air, I stabbed the tantō down and impaled its neck.

With a deafening screech in the background, I set my left eye on the robed figure and willed the black fire to burn.

I really shouldn't be surprised when another one of them appeared out of nowhere with the same ugly robe and the creepy Rinnegan. But nevertheless, Number 6 flickered in front of Number 5 like some kind of martyr as Amaterasu devoured his body.

The canine creature slammed towards me, leaving a crater at where I was standing as I flickered forward undistracted. Half a dozen flaming feathers started to materialize in the air, I would love to see if you had six more bodies to block this.

As soon as I felt Pein's chakra invading my body through the black rod, I realized that these metals were transmitters for signals. The enemies that we were trying to kill were merely puppets, acting on the order of someone else as chakra fueled them through the piercings. I thought it was 'Yahiko' that commanded them before, but the same set of metallic piercings was also on him as well.

So, who was the puppeteer, 'Yahiko' or someone else?

Before I could send the jutsu flying, however, I got yanked to the right. Clenching my teeth, I forced the crimson feathers to shoot out as the world around me started spinning. In one of the passing scenes, I saw Number 2 rush to aid Number 5, sacrificing his own body and that of his animal summons to protect Number 5. Still, one of the arrows pierced through the giant centipede unquenched and drilled right into Number 5's neck.

The good part, I was probably on the money with Number 5 - he wasn't expendable like Number 6 and 2. The bad part, Number 1 pulled me right towards a giant insect as a ball of pure menace and destruction gathered between his curled appendages.

I didn't know if Susanoo would survive that, but I hoped that it wouldn't stop its attack for my sake. For once, I hoped that the Tailed-beast was rageful enough to want to destroy everything.

Yet, the giant beast paused in his movement as he forcibly reversed the jutsu, swallowing down his own creation with a wail of pain. Chakra started to dissipate around the giant insect and I could see the girl that was wrapped in its core like a cocoon.

"Move!" I screamed when half a dozen black rods pierced through the air, aiming right for the girl as she coughed up some blood inside the giant mass of chakra. I reached out my hand and Susanoo rose up from the ground, its arm outstretched in an attempt to block the attacks.

I let out a gasp when someone broke through the protection of Susanoo and squeezed my neck. My chakra was being sucked into oblivion, along with the Susanoo and its giant arm that was trying to reach across.

"Ahh!" I heard Fuu's scream of anguish as Number 3 threw me to the ground, his hand pressing down on my trachea as I gasped for air. The combination of blood loss and suffocation was making it very hard to stay conscious.

I heard the angry growl of Fuu and Chōmei mixed together as they tried to break through the suppression of the black receivers. Then, there was a loud crash as Pein threw her back and impaled her on a branch.

With all the strength I had, my hand went for the blade on my waist and stabbed upward. Number 3 had to let go of me so that his stomach wouldn't get sliced open. My limbs felt weak, whether that was due to the blood loss or the chakra drain, probably both. Still, I forced the chakra to circulate my body faster and faster as they got converted to lightning chakra.

A spark of electricity was left behind as I flashed past him. A red line started to appear on the right side of his neck and soon, blood started to spill from his neck.

Number 1 stretched his hand outward, wanting to retrieve the girl that was hanging by her last breath. Without wasting any time, I locked my right eye on him and the petals in my Mangekyou pulsed.

Time seemed to stop for 'Yahiko' as his hand froze at the outstretched position. As I kept my eye on him, Susanoo expanded from my body and I willed the silvery fist to punch forward. I needed to go for the kill.

Suddenly, the silver armour around me started to waver as patches started to thin at random places. What the hell? A mouthful of blood got caught in my throat as the time prison broke. A black receiver pierced my shoulder from behind, staggering me forward until my knees hit the ground.

Susanoo shattered from the instability of my chakra. I turned around and saw the dying body of Number 3, his hand was outstretched, barely enough to be touching the outer shell of my Susanoo. He must have absorbed the chakra at his dying breath, allowing Number 4 to throw the black receiver with enough force to pierce through the armour.

Number 1 held up Fuu by her neck as he examined his battered prey. Then, he turned his eyes on me. Seeing my desperate attempt to remove the black receiver despite the opposition from the foreign chakra trying to take over my body, he flicked his fingers.

Gosh, has it been five seconds already?

Broken rocks and wooden splinters flew at me, but all I could see was the white wolf that appeared from under the earth. Black lines started to expand from under her legs as she tried to envelop me with her furry body.

"No…" I whispered in a cry, trying to gather every ounce of my strength to pull the rod out. In a reverse summoning, the animal was the last one to be teleported out. Finally, I tore the black rod out of my shoulder. Yet, the teleportation seal seemed to get stuck at the last stretch, indicating the death of the caster.

Fuyuki slipped from my embrace as holes littered her body, with one that pierced straight through her neck. I tried to catch her with my arms, only to realize that one had been broken by a stray rock.

I couldn't do anything when Fuyuki's body hit the ground with a thud, nor could I do anything when Pein motioned his hand with a push, sending Fuu flying towards me as we both hit a broken slab of rock.

"A formidable fight you put up, but I meant what I said. Neither you nor your eyes will see tomorrow's daylight. At least, you'll get a grand burial." Pein's voice sounded in the distance as the world around me shook in distortion. Wait, the ground was actually shaking.

"Oof, being crushed by rocks as they squeeze against your body little by little until there's nothing but blood and carcass is not pleasant. Should have teleported out when you still had the chance, wouldn't you agree?" My mind could barely make out the voice when I saw the orange-masked man looming over me.

"Stop fooling around and do your job," Pein said with a chilly warning in his voice and I swore to god that Tobi made a sound that resembled a pout.

"Yes, yes, I'm just the transport." Tobi raised his hands as he walked over to Fuu's side with light-hearted footsteps.

Amidst my fuzzy vision - probably the result of a concussion, I really wasn't sure at this point - I saw Fuu moving her lips as her eyes glared at me with determination.

You can stop time, can't you? She whispered without a sound, Please, kill me before Chōmei is taken. He'd rather be dispersed than be captured.

Right, if the Jinchuuriki died with the tailed-beast still sealed inside, then the chakra of the tailed-beast would be dispersed in nature until it could be rebirthed in a corporeal form.

There were so many things that I wanted to say to her, that her life shouldn't end here, not like this, that she had ambitions and dreams to fulfil. But we didn't have time for that. Tobi already placed a hand on Fuu's arm as the whirlpool appeared from his right eye.

Kannon Bosatsu failed last time because the Rinnegan shared the vision, so even if one of them was incapacitated, the other two somehow had their own consciousness to react.

Rocks started to fly up as they gathered towards Pein. I felt the force tucking at my body, trying to drag me up as well. Still, I took in a deep breath and let chakra rush into my right eye until it was about to burst.

Suddenly, the world around me turned quiet as every person, every rock, every dust around me paused.

This would only last a second, just enough for me to latch onto Fuu with my arm around her neck and press a kunai against her skin. She was right. It would take me very little time to stab a Kunai into her neck and electrocute her from inside out. But she underestimated my naivety.

I had too much hope left in me.

The time prison shattered just as Fuu and I got thrown into Tobi's teleportation space. He couldn't stop the jutsu when it was so far into the activation.

"What the hell?" Tobi yelled in shock as Fuu and I splattered onto the floor of this very desolate and monotone dimension.

I couldn't care less how surprised he was. God, I had no idea what the hell I was thinking when I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Kakashi!"

"Kill her! Kill her! Finish what you messed up last time!" A high-pitched voice filled my ears with erratic words. It wasn't Tobi's voice.

"Shut up! I know." I didn't think Tobi appreciated being lectured. Was it my imagination, or was there a shifting shadow in his sleeve? My knuckle went white as I kept the kunai steady against Fuu's neck, ready to do as she asked if all my hopes were to fail.

Then, my body started to swirl as if a force was desperate to take me out.

"Do it! Quick! Now!" A black shadow shot out of Tobi's sleeve as it reached for Fuu, but a wobbly veil of black flame rose in front of its path.

A kunai flashed in my vision as I felt something cold on my neck. But before I could make sense of it, the world around me changed. The grey disappeared from my vision as green and blue replaced it.

I felt my body hit the ground, followed by another that rolled down beside me. My left hand went numb from how tightly I was clutching onto Fuu's shoulder. Still, I felt nothing but relief when I felt the warm skin under my fingers.

My head cocked to the side until I could see people hovering over me. There was Kakashi and his silver hair. My brother and his teammates too, Naruto and Sakura's bright coloured hair stood out against his wild black ones. There were others, but my mind was too fuzzy to make them out correctly.

Then, I realized that I couldn't breathe.

I brought my hand up to my neck and felt the thick liquid that kept pouring out. Right, that explained the horrified expression on their faces

Where the hell am I? I vaguely recall seeing the giant gate with the Konoha symbol on top of it. Well, not that it really mattered. Unless I landed right in front of Tsunade-sama, I wouldn't be alive for long.

My blood was running out; my consciousness was escaping me; my life was being drained at a speed faster than I could process.

All of a sudden, my eyes started to throb, like a reminder of what I still had left. Right, the only thing left in my body was the little bit of chakra that had remained, as well as my ability to use ninjutsu.

Someone go get Tsunade-sama. I pushed my last remaining chakra into my right Mangekyou and felt the last petal being ignited.

My time stopped right there.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

"Welcome back to Konoha," Asuma chirped as they walked up to the giant gate with the Konoha symbol engraved at the very top.

"Ah, finally!" Naruto let out a big breath of relief as he stretched his arms to get rid of the soreness from the long trip.

It was then that Kakashi heard a calling - his name being uttered with desperation and urgency.

He felt his sharingan swirl with agitation. Whenever it concerned his sharingan, he was always reminded of the fact that it knew itself better than him.

Therefore, he stopped thinking and let his instinct take over.

Without a latch on his chakra, his Mangekyou sprung into existence. Asuma turned when he noticed that Kakashi had stopped walking and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw the bleeding Mangekyou that was unveiled when Kakashi pulled his headband up.

A few weeks ago, Kakashi had indeed tried to drop a sedated lab rat into his Kamui space and proceeded to take it out a few seconds later.

It left him with a nasty headache and a bleeding Mangekyou, but Maiko was right, it was within his Mangekyou's capability the moment he stopped wondering the 'if' and started thinking about the 'how'.

The lab rat flopped on his table as if it was just enjoying a day of sunbathing, not at all phased by a brief interdimensional journey. He even returned it to Shizune's medical facility afterwards.

His Mangekyou remembered the exact rat that he had sent in and all he had to do was search for that piece of memory to pull it out.

Kakashi didn't remember dropping anything else that he'd wanted to pull out ever since then, yet, he seemed to find the signature that was calling for him with ease.

It was so damn familiar to his Mangekyou.

A portal of whirlpool appeared a few metres in front of him, and within the blink of an eye, it spat out two people that rolled onto the ground.

They were dying - both the one he recognized and the one he didn't.

Maiko raised her hand and touched her neck, where the blood just wouldn't stop flowing out. Confusion cleared up in her eyes as she finally realized the fact that she was going to die when the blood ran out a few seconds later.

Asuma was quicker, pulling out a signal flare from his belt and letting the fireworks explode in the sky. He turned to the guards at the gate and yelled, "Get Tsunade-sama, or as many medical-nin as you can, now!"

Kakashi could feel the emotion rising up and burst in the younger Uchiha, and he could see it, too, with the amount of chakra that gathered in his eyes as the tomoe seemed to swirl and connect.

That was when a wave of energy erupted from Maiko's body. Kakashi only had to take a glance to realize that something was different. The blood stopped flowing, but neither could he hear her heartbeat.

Kakashi had to stop Sasuke when he rushed forward, pulling him back as the younger boy fought back with the ferocity of a wild, injured animal.

"Look! Just look!" Kakashi yelled, clenching his hand tight on Sasuke's shoulder as the boy kicked him in the knee. "The blood stopped flowing out. It's not her heart that stopped, it's everything."

Slowly, Sasuke stopped struggling as he examined his sister's body with care. It was then that Kakashi also noticed the pattern in her right eye. The last petal was missing and he was sure that it was still there just a moment ago.

"Kannon Bosatsu creates a space that manipulates the flow of time. She's using it on herself to preserve her time." Kakashi was only guessing here, but he figured that everyone needed hope right now.

"Then Sakura can …" Hope rose in Sasuke's voice as he turned to his teammates, only for Sakura to shake her head in a panic.

"That injury is too grave. I … I don't think I can heal it in time if blood starts to flow again. And it's not just the neck, the wound on her stomach is just as bad." Sakura almost cried out. She understood what Kakashi was suggesting. Right now, Maiko wasn't under the same rules of time and space as them. But if Sakura had to heal her, her time must be flowing again.

"Then how long can this … state last?" It was Naruto that asked the question, his voice uncharacteristically quiet.

"Until her chakra runs out, probably," Kakashi answered. The moment she cast the jutsu, it was unlikely that she had any control over it anymore. It was left running on autopilot until the fuel was gone.

Unfortunately, Kakashi doubted that she had much chakra left anyway, given the state she was in.

"Vigilance. Enemies might have followed her." Kakashi yelled as Asuma and the guards at the gate raised their weapons in caution. If Kakashi didn't put Maiko into the Kamui space, then it could only mean that she entered through Tobi's Mangekyou.

"Sakura, with caution, check on the other girl," Kakashi asked the young kunoichi, who walked to the green-haired girl immediately.

"She's still alive! Her heartbeat is weak, but it's steady." Sakura analyzed, as calm she would. Then she placed her hand over the hole on her stomach. Not even five seconds after she started healing the wound using her medical chakra, Sakura let out a sound of surprise.

"She's healing abnormally fast, it's almost the same as … " Sakura turned her gaze towards the blonde-haired boy, " … Naruto."

It was then that Kakashi caught the bloodstained headband on her right arm. Despite being coated with a thick layer of blood, the lines of the waterfall were just recognizable.

"She's a Jinchuuriki," Kakashi concluded as silence ensued.

" … the rods are hurting her," Sakura spoke up again, breaking the quiet atmosphere as she asked for permission on what to do with her.

"Take them out and heal her." Kakashi felt bad for saying this, but the Jinchuuriki wouldn't die from something like this. Right now, they needed answers and she was their most likely provider.

Not like there was anything else to do at this point. Signal flares, hawks, shinobi … they sent everything they could to bring Tsunade-sama here.

Time seemed to flow unbelievably slow - or fast - when all they could hear was the sound of metallic rods hitting the ground as Shikamaru and Chouji helped Sakura pull out the rods one by one.

"What the hell is going … Holy shit." Tsunade-sama's cursing was like a knife that cut through the fake fabric of tranquillity which everyone used to convince themselves that everything was sane.

"Her time stopped, but it would probably start to flow again if someone tried to … interact with her," Kakashi said, hoping that it would make sense despite the enormous lack of context.

"That's Takigakure's Jinchuuriki," Kakashi added when Tsunade's eyes trailed to the other body laying on the ground. With one look, she knew that the innate regeneration of the Jinchuuriki and Sakura's healing was more than enough to keep her alive.

"Shizune, once I start on the wound on her neck, stabilize the wound on her stomach. The rest, set up a temporary surgical station and get the blood bags ready." Every member of the medical corps started to move as soon as they heard Tsunade-sama's order. "Concentrate! It'll be the fastest and slowest three seconds you'll experience in a while."

Then, she turned to the Takigakure kunoichi on the side and said, "As for the Jinchuuriki. Take her to the underground containment and once she's healed, get me some answers."


A/N: Happy holidays! I appreciate all the comments, even if I don't usually respond (unless it sounded like there's a very dire question). But please know that you all have my thanks.

I think I made Black Zetsu more neurotic than he actually is ... umm oops? Eternal Mangekyou + (sort of trained) Jinchuuriki vs Rinnegan, honestly, this could go a lot of ways. But I think the lack of information is quite a big gap to overcome at this stage.

Again, creative liberty with a lot of stuff. With Kamui, my thought was that while they could both access the space, the stuff Tobi dragged in can't be accessed by Kakashi and vice versa, because it had to be 'marked' by their respective sharingan if I had to put it. But the 'marking' process is just to create a connection between the entity and the Mangekyou, which a few tea parties in a mindscape were more than enough to establish that. I tried to make stuff coherent in this story (keyword: tried), but there's no way I'll remember every little detailed setting in Naruto. Again, if you find any bugs, you're probably right and I most likely just forgot : )