A/N: Sorry this took so long, real life got in the way. Or rather, the regression back to real life. As my city has started opening up its lock down restrictions, working from home, which was what allowed me to have so much time to write even while working a full time job, is no longer an option. The time spent commuting to and from work has given me a lot of time to think of ideas and plan out plot points, but between work and other commitments, not much time is left to actually write out the chapter. But I still managed to squeeze in a half hour here and there every other day or so to finish up this chapter, so enjoy!
Naruto's eyes sharpened and he flung a kunai at the bush, "Something's there!"
Shikamaru and Sasuke instinctively readied themselves as they formed a protective layer around Tazuna.
After hearing the full story from the bridge builder about Gato and his methods of isolating and eventually dominating the Land of Waves, Team Seven had decided to continue with the mission, against Shikamaru's better judgement.
The Nara had glumly protested his two hot-headed teammates vote to continue with the mission, claiming that standard protocol dictated the team head back to the village given the lack of concrete information about the dangers they would face should they continue.
To him, continuing on the mission would not only be reckless, but it would also be utterly foolish. As shinobi, the one thing their kind prioritized even over combat prowess was intelligence gathering. Given the right information and time to prepare, anything could be overcome. As such, going in half-cocked and blind would only add extreme danger for no good reason.
Of course, Naruto would have none of that. The blonde accepted Shikamaru's reasoning but dismissed it as cold-hearted logic. Naruto had a completely different idea about what being a shinobi meant to him. He argued that a shinobi had the duty to help out those weaker than them, and Tazuna as well has the entire nation of Wave, while guilty of lying, deserved their help regardless of his deception.
As much as Shikamaru wanted to comment on Naruto's warped and honestly inaccurate portrayal of what a shinobi was and actually did, he couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt from his own desire to abandon the people of Wave and retreat out of fear for his life.
What Naruto dismissed as cold-hearted logic was in actuality the harsh reality of the world. Reality did not care about people's feelings. It is what it is. However, it could also be argued that it didn't have to be that way if the people living in this cold and indifferent universe occasionally gave a shit about someone other than themselves.
Kakashi had little to add to their debate, content with waiting for a consensus to be reached among his team before making decision and their other teammate, Sasuke, was in favour of pushing onwards. Though his reasons were drastically different from Naruto's. He didn't care about the pitiful people of Wave. All the Uchiha looked forward to was challenging himself and learn how far he had come.
In all honesty, Sasuke had contempt rather than sympathy for the people of Wave. He did not believe that one man who wasn't even a shinobi could suppress an entire nation unless they let him do it. Such weakness and lack of resolve was pathetic to the avenger. If he were in their place, and Gato truly had abused the population of Wave to such an extent, he would stop at nothing to achieve vengeance. The fact they had rolled over and let Gato conquer their nation with nothing but threats and intimidation was deplorable in Sasuke's eyes.
With Shikamaru being outvoted by his over eager teammates, he had no choice but to relent under their combined enthusiasm. However, he had one condition before he fully agreed with their decision to continue on with the mission – priority had to first be given to gathering intel. Specifically, from the two 'Demon Brothers', as Kakashi had identified.
After breaking open a smelling salts to restore consciousness to the two Kiri missing nin, Kakashi began questioning them – did they have comrades, and if so how many and what level were they, things like that.
To their credit, Gozu and Mezu refused to buckle even under Kakashi's enhanced interrogation techniques, AKA torture albeit a tamer version than what the jounin was capable of. He didn't want to traumatize his dear students on their first C-rank mission after all.
Even after pulling out a few nails and breaking a few fingers, the Demon Brothers shared not a single iota of usable information. The two of them were clearly well versed in techniques to resist interrogations by giving either useless or false information.
Naruto had turned green at the sight, not comfortable with the sudden viciousness of his sensei while Shikamaru had a grim countenance. On the other hand, Sasuke was readily interested with the enhanced interrogation techniques his teacher was showing. He took down mental notes, in the event that he would need to utilize them in the future when searching for his brother.
Though impressed with the Demon Brother's tenacity, Kakashi then decided not to waste any more time and unveiled his Sharingan to put the two Kiri missing nin into a genjutsu meant to extract information.
Sasuke, who had already been learning how to use his Sharingan under Kakashi's tutelage was not surprised at the sight. According to what Kakashi had told him, such methods of extracting information using the Sharingan was not a hundred percent reliable.
First off, if the target had a strong will, a well trained mind, or techniques to dispel genjutsu without the use of handseals, it would be unlikely to work. Secondly, even if it did work, it was also difficult to know how accurate the information divulged by the target was in such a state. The genjutsu being used put them into a fugue state, making them forget that they were in an interrogation setting and the questions being asked to them were by someone they trusted.
That did not guarantee a truthful answer, since there were many instances one would lie even to someone they trusted, like wanting to keep them safe and in the dark for example.
There were ways to circumvent the first challenge, one of which was to break down the will of the target through traditional torture. The pain slowly chipped away at their mental walls before they could no longer resist the genjutsu.
But the second challenge was more difficult to overcome, requiring years of experience to determine the reliability of the information that was being revealed.
Thankfully, the Sharingan genjutsu utilized on the Demon Brothers achieved spectacular results. It was quickly apparent during the questioning that the person they trusted the most was each other, so the illusion made them both think the questions were coming from their brother. Since they had no reason to hide information from one another, Kakashi was able to acquire everything he needed to learn quickly.
Gozu and Mezu divulged that Gato had not only hired the two Demon Brothers, but he also had the infamous Demon of the Mist, Momochi Zabuza, and his apprentice under the shipping magnate's employ.
Kakashi had to seriously evaluate his team in order to ascertain whether or not Team Seven truly was capable enough to undertake such a mission.
He was definitely capable of taking on Zabuza by himself, especially now that he knew who he was going up against and could subsequently think of countermeasures against the Demon of the Mist.
It was the apprentice that concerned him. According to the Demon Brothers' confession, Zabuza's apprentice was someone with the Hyoton bloodline limit, and was an extremely talented shinobi that neared the peak of chuunin-level strength despite his young age.
Since Kakashi had to take on Zabuza, it was up to his team to fend off the Hyoton user.
Strength-wise, the three of them combined would definitely not be a match against someone at that level. However, there were a few factors he had to consider as well.
Firstly, Shikamaru's tactical genius was an advantage, especially now that the genin knew what his team was coming up against and could thus plan a strategy against the enemy.
Secondly, Gozu and Mezu had both revealed that the Hyoton user did not fit the personality of a typical rogue ninja. Apparently, the boy was kind-hearted, and despite his talent for battle and incredible abilities, he disliked needing to kill people and avoided doing so whenever possible. Of course, Kakashi was sure that in a life or death scenario, the boy would definitely choose his own life and the life of Zabuza over some random Konoha genin, but it was an element Kakashi took into consideration as well.
Kakashi then made the decision to continue onwards anyway, even after taking into account that his team would soon be facing a rogue jounin and peak chuunin missing nin. Some might point out that he was being an irresponsible sensei, that he was putting his team into unnecessary danger when standard protocol demanded for their immediate withdrawal from the mission.
However, to these naysayers, Kakashi would simply apathetically look at them with his one eye and tell them to mind their own business. He knew that his team was not a normal group of green genin. As one of three teams of genin selected to be groomed by the village into becoming elite shinobi, they had to undergo such challenges in order to temper their abilities.
In his opinion, standard protocol only applied to the talentless who required rigid rules and structure to govern their behavior. Rather than domesticated animals raised in a controlled environment, he wanted his students to be beasts born and bred in the wilderness. It was only after overcoming countless challenges and surviving impossible situations that would alleviate their potential.
Of course, Kakashi would never let his students be in any real danger. He had the abilities of a peak A-rank shinobi, one of Konoha's strongest military assets, and the confidence of one as well. Against a missing nin whose strength had stagnated upon his defection, and especially with the information gained from the interrogation, Kakashi was only somewhat worried for his students.
If the Sandaime was present during the decision making process, he would definitely have pointed out that Kakashi was committing the grave mistake of thinking himself and his team as being special, and by extension making the mistake of being complacent and arrogant.
However, Kakashi also knew himself and his team well enough to know the difference between arrogance and confidence.
And so, his team continued on their travel towards the Land of Waves, a largely uneventful journey that had its monotony broken by Naruto suddenly launching a kunai in the bushes.
As Kakashi approached where Naruto had thrown his projectile, he pushed away the bush to reveal a white rabbit frightened to death with a kunai embedded in the tree inches above its head.
"Nice catch, Naruto." Sasuke complimented.
The blonde chuckled and rubbed the back of his head, "I know right? I'm amazing!"
Nodding, the Nara added, "Yeah you are. No wonder you are the person most likely to be the next Hokage."
Naruto beamed and embarrassedly replied, "Heheh, don't praise me too much, or I will get embarrassed."
Kakashi ignored his team's conversation before raising his head in a particular direction as he sensed the slightest leakage of killing intent. His instincts, honed through countless battles and years of experience, flared as he heard the faint sound of metal whistling through the air.
"GET DOWN!" He warned, and as expected, a giant blade spun towards them.
All of the genin, including Tazuna who was pushed down by Sasuke, managed to throw themselves to the ground as the giant blade flew above them and embedded itself into a tree before a masked, shirtless figure landed on the blade.
Zabuza took a moment to survey the target and his bodyguards.
'Three genin - judging by their age and stupid faces, they must have just graduated from the academy. Threat level harmless. Their sensei on the other hand…'
The jounin hummed jovially, "Well, well, if it isn't Momochi Zabuza, missing nin from Kirigakure?"
The Demon of the Mist grinned under the bandages masking the lower half of his face upon seeing the Konoha jounin reach up the headband covering his left eye, "Copy Ninja, Sharingan no Kakashi. Did I get that right?"
Kakashi stayed silent for a moment before giving instructions to this team, "Get in the Manji formation. Quickly. Protect Tazuna and stay out of the fight."
The three genin complied and retreated to form a triangle around the bridge builder, with their kunai held up in preparation. After that, Kakashi lifted up his headband to reveal the eye that gave him his nickname.
"Hoh, looks like I get to see the Sharingan in action. What an honor." Zabuza mockingly remarked.
He continued, "You know, in the assassination unit of Kirigakure, we had a standing order to eliminate you on sight. You had quite a high bounty in our bingo-book. 'The man who copied over a thousand jutsu' they called you. Copy Ninja, Kakashi."
"Same to you. Demon of the Mist, Momochi Zabuza, one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist. Or rather, ex-member of the Seven Swordsmen. Did you know that Kirigakure is offering a bounty for your sword, Kubikiribocho, that is higher than the bounty for your head?" Kakashi remarked as he drew a kunai from his holster.
Zabuza laughed, "I should be offended. A weapon is nothing but a tool for the user to wield. The only reason why Kubikiribocho is famous is because of me! But enough talk. Hand over the old man. Now. Or I will kill you and your students."
"Sorry, but that's not happening." Kakashi shot back. "How would any other client trust Konoha if we simply gave them up when asked? And if you want to get to my students, you will have to go through me."
The missing nin's eyes narrowed, "So you would rather die for your village then? Praiseworthy, but foolish. I'll just have to eliminate you first then. So be it. I have always wanted to test myself against an Uchiha, but I never got the chance before they got wiped out. I guess you'll do."
Upon saying that, Zabuza retrieved his giant blade that had been embedded into at tree before jumping off and landing on the surface of a nearby lake.
The missing nin formed a single handseal, a testament to his proficiency and skill with the jutsu to require only a single handeal.
"Suiton: Kirigakure no jutsu."
A heavy mist soon enveloped the area, leaving visibility limited and obscured the team's sight of Zabuza.
Kakashi who already knew this was a likely strategy for his opponent gestured to Naruto, "Naruto, wind!"
The blonde looked caught off guard for a moment before remembering that this was the plan all along, "Futon: Great Breakthrough!"
He put up a hand to his mouth after forming several handseals and breathed out a large gust of wind. This was the jutsu Shinji had exchanged with Naruto in return for the Kage Bunshin. It was one of the few wind release techniques that did not require a fine control.
Though the jinchuuriki had been putting much effort into chakra control the past few months, even mastering tree walking in a matter of days due to his generous usage of shadow clones, it was still not at the level where he could boast about it.
So the Great Breakthrough jutsu which required only an abundance of chakra and nothing more was perfect for a chakra powerhouse like Naruto.
The great gust of wind expelled from Naruto's mouth blew away the mist, preventing Zabuza from hiding within it. But when the mist cleared, Zabuza was already missing from the surface of the lake where he had been standing on just moments before.
The missing nin only needed that one moment out of sight from his opponents to vanish into thin air, hidden somewhere around the forested area.
Kakashi immediately readied himself. At his level, relying on his sight alone was no longer sufficient, so instead of looking around to find his enemy, he merely stared ahead and waited for Zabuza to show any sign of his presence.
The area was quiet, the three genin uncharacteristically remaining as silent as possible so as to not distract their teacher. Even Tazuna stayed quiet, only looking slightly fearful at the unseen enemy.
Zabuza, who had immediately moved to hide himself in the foliage upon sensing the massive buildup of chakra prior to Naruto's usage of his futon ninjutsu, levied a silent curse in his head.
Despite his boasts, he had initially planned on quickly dispatching the bridge builder under the guise of his mist before swiftly retreating. As a missing nin, he had learned to pick his battles. Their lives were constantly in a state of peril, so limiting unnecessary wastage of chakra was just common sense. Clashing against an elite jounin of Kakashi's calibre was simply pointless if he could complete his mission just by killing the bridge builder.
However, with the mist now removed from the battlefield, he would have to assassinate his target out in the open. Chances of which was slim.
The only advantage he had was the mind games he had played with Kakashi before the battle began. The Konoha jounin had three things to look out for – himself, his students and the bridge builder. Any of them could be Zabuza's target, so Kakashi had to split his attention three ways. That, and the fact that Haku was still in hiding and could make a move at any point.
However, even though his initial strategy had been ruined, his objectives did not change. He had to kill the bridge builder, even if he had to go through Kakashi to do it.
Zabuza concealed his presence even deeper, before moving towards the group of genin and the bridge builder – slowly and stealthily. With such a large weapon, one would think he'd stick out like a sore thumb. However, his expertise in silent killing trumped the cumbersome size of the weapon.
It didn't take long before he suddenly reappeared amidst the trio of genin and the civilian bridge builder, grinning at the incompetence of the genin and the famed Sharingan no Kakashi for their failure to notice him.
Kakashi immediately turned around and his eyes widened at the sight of Zabuza, his stance ready to decapitate everyone around him.
"It's over." Zabuza commented before swinging his sword in a circle around him, cutting through the three genin, the blade then headed towards the bridge builder.
However, his eyes widened when instead of blood and gore, the three genin he had carved through all merely disappeared in a puff of smoke.
'Bunshin? That can't be!' He realized before his thoughts were suddenly interrupted as his instincts flared.
The bridge builder had somehow avoided the large blade, betraying his civilian origins, and lunged at the Demon of the Mist with a kunai aimed at the back of Zabuza's head.
Despite the absurdity of the situation and the element of surprise, Zabuza still managed to avoid the knife that almost ended his life right there and then but a devastating kick saturated with chakra still managed to land on the side of his torso, launching him away and breaking a couple ribs with a single blow.
To avoid detection, Zabuza had avoided using chakra enhancement, relying sole on his body's base abilities to reach his target. So the kick that had been strengthened with chakra blew through his body's defences, including the half-assed layer of protective chakra he had barely managed to put up upon sensing the attack.
Despite his injuries, Zabuza still managed to catch himself in mid air and landed on his feet, albeit roughly and a lot more worse for wear.
The bridge builder eye smiled before the henge was released from his body, revealing another Kakashi who similarly had his headband lifted to show the crimson glare of his Sharingan.
"It's a sad day when the infamous Demon of the Mist fails to see through bunshin and henge used by a mere genin. How the mighty have fallen." Kakashi commented. After the first clash that saw Zabuza heavily injured by his kick, he knew the fight was already over barring any further surprises. He chuckled as he recalled how the plan had been formulated.
When they were crossing the ocean to head towards the island of Wave, Shikamaru had proposed a strategy to the team. According to Gozu and Mezu, their troupe of rogue shinobi planned for Zabuza to finish the job should they have failed. And the Demon of the Mist would attack somewhere on the road when the Konoha team were on their way back to Tazuna's town.
So Shikamaru proposed for Naruto to create Kage Bunshin and use Henge to replace the three genin while Kakashi created his own shadow clone to replace Tazuna. He reasoned that Zabuza's main target would be the bridge builder, and since the rogue shinobi would be expecting a helpless civilian, Kakashi's shadow clone would be able to take him by surprise when he attacked.
The result was a smashing success that saw Zabuza taking a serious injury while the rest of the team safely and sneakily trailed behind the shadow clones from a distance.
The missing nin glared with a murderous fury but could only curse himself for his own idiocy. He could feel that two or three of his ribs had been broken from the impact. While the pain was a mere fraction of his actual tolerance for punishment, the injury would undoubtedly affect his battle prowess. Even if he generously assumed that Kakashi and himself were on the same level when he was in his healthy state, that had completely changed now.
He had to admit that he had underestimated this group of Konoha shinobi. Kiri nin always thought of themselves as superior to the shinobi from every other village. He himself held firm that Kiri's method of pitting Academy graduates against each other in death matches was what defined their superiority. Konoha especially, was too kind and too benevolent towards their own shinobi.
Sure they were a proper shinobi force; sending shinobi on suicide missions were par for the course. But their shinobi never held the same emotionlessness, brutality and savagery true shinobi really needed to excel. Or so Zabuza believed. Which was a large part of why he had underestimate them in the first place.
Perhaps it was the years he had spent in hiding and running away from hunter nin or maybe even his edge dulling from age. But Zabuza had to face the fact he was getting soft. His instincts no longer what they used to be when he was a proper member of Kiri's Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, fighting and killing any of Kiri's enemies.
And now, he paid the price of his carelessness. The best case scenario here was managing a successful escape. Fighting and killing Kakashi was no longer even an option. Worst case?
Zabuza cleared away his pessimistic thoughts. They were only a hindrance. Focus, he reminded himself. Emotionless. Cold and sharp like the metal of his sword. Unfeeling like a tool he was raised as.
His grip tightened on his blade, though because of his injury, he could now feel the real weight of the weapon which he once wielded like a feather. The strain on his muscles pressing against his broken ribs sent surging waves of raw, unadulterated pain shooting up his torso. But he ignored it. There was only one goal here: run!
Zabuza jumped away, into the trees, and continued sprinting. Haku knew not to reveal himself. Not until he was in true mortal peril. And in the event that he did appear, and as much as he was reluctant to, Haku's sacrifice would buy him precious seconds to escape.
Kakashi understood Zabuza's thoughts all too well. Battles between high level shinobi were more akin to shogi matches than a contest of strength. The ability to think ten moves ahead, predict what your opponent was thinking and discerning any potential traps was what set the truly elite apart from the mediocre.
Before Zabuza even moved, Kakashi and his shadow clone had already been prepared to chase him down. Their Sharingan eyes allowed them to see the minute twitches of his muscles just as Zabuza made the decision to run. And without an injury weighing them down like Zabuza had, Kakashi and his shadow clone easily cut off his escape path, pincering him between two identical looking ninjas.
Unlike Mezu who mistakenly identified Naruto's Kage Bunshin as Tsuchi Bunshin, Zabuza was rather knowledgeable about the various secret techniques belonging to different hidden villages. He had to be to be successful at his previous job at Kiri's assassination unit.
As a result, he was aware that one of the Kakashis pincering him was a clone, and thus the greatest chance he had to escape was by going through the clone instead of the original. However, one crucial feature about the shadow clone was that it was impossible to identify which was the clone and which was the original. Zabuza who was not part of Team Seven's planning process had no way of knowing which was the clone.
Fifty-fifty. One route led to certain death, and the other, an escape. Zabuza gave a feral grin, despite his bleak circumstances. A fifty percent chance of survival was way better odds than many impossible battles he had been through before.
Circulating dense chakra into his muscles, Zabuza exploded towards one of the Kakashis, Kubikiribocho slicing through the air, similarly empowered with chakra.
Of course, there was no way Kakashi would let himself get cut – clone or otherwise. Now that he had Zabuza hurt and cornered, he had to get rid of him here and now.
His hands blurred, forming twelve handseals under a second, "Doton: Earth Fang Field!"
Slamming his hand into the ground, a wave of earth chakra transferred from his palms into the ground and the earth immediately morphed according to Kakashi's wishes.
Thick earthen spikes erupted from the ground, functioning both as a way of obstructing Zabuza's way forward as well as possibly injuring the rogue ninja with its sharp spikes.
Needless to say, something as simple as a C-ranked jutsu could not possibly harm or surprise someone of Zabuza's calibre. As the spikes emerged from the ground, the Demon of the Mist immediately used one that had appeared in front of him as a vantage point to bounce back in the opposite direction, towards the other Kakashi who had moved to chase after the missing nin.
The thick earthen spike shattered into pieces the moment Zabuza leapt off of it, an awesome display of strength the sheer quantity of chakra the Kiri shinobi had pumped into his legs, before rocketing back.
Zabuza never intended to try and run away so obviously. His initial charge was only a way to disguise his true intentions which was to carve through the Kakashi behind him. His speed bolstered by the momentum of jumping off the spike drastically enhanced the kinetic force behind his blade swung in Kakashi's direction.
Had Kakashi been any other shinobi below his level, or had he not possessed the predictive capabilities of his Sharingan eye, Zabuza's speed and abrupt change in direction might have surprised him. However, Kakashi was not just any other shinobi. He was the Copy Ninja, someone who could be counted amongst the top five strongest shinobi currently residing in Konoha. And that strength did not measure just pure fighting abilities.
Though Zabuza flew throw the air extremely quickly, with Obito's Sharingan that blessed him with immense dynamic vision he could see through the Demon of the Mist's movements. And the one fatal flaw of Zabuza's plan was that he could not maneuver himself in mid-air.
Kakashi immediately moved out of the way of Kubikiribocho's trajectory, before the same kunai he had tried using to stab through Zabuza's head was thrusted once again towards the missing-nin.
However, as the Demon of the Mist struck the ground with Kubikiribocho, missing Kakashi's body entirely, the impact and contact with the ground allowed Zabuza to twist his body in mid air with a surprising flexibility and acrobatic prowess one would not expect from a man with such a stocky build.
This allowed Zabuza to once more evade the sharp blade of the kunai and even allowing him to land on the opposite side of both the Kakashi who were now behind him.
"See ya." The missing nin mockingly jeered before sprinting away with all his might.
The two Kakashi behind him watched his retreat indifferently.
"Why did you think I only created one clone?" One of them commented as another Kakashi erupted from the ground in front of Zabuza and landed another devastating kick that crashed into the rogue shinobi's sternum, launching him back towards the other two Kakashis waiting patiently.
This final clone was Kakashi's cherry on top of the plan Shikamaru had crafted. It was not a Kage Bunshin, but an actual Tsuchi Bunshin this time. The Earth natured chakra that made up its body allowed the clone to effectively hide its presence beneath the earth to avoid detection until it was needed.
Furthermore, due to the Earth Nature chakra, its blows were a tier heavier than what Kakashi was capable of with his base body without chakra enhancement. The damage from the kick was not as heavy as one would expect however, as Zabuza had saturated his body with chakra this time round, which provided an added layer of much needed defence.
However, the earth clone's attack did prevent him from running away as well as providing the opportunity for Kakashi to finish off the Demon of the Mist.
Zabuza managed to stop the momentum from the kick by stabbing his blade into the ground, leaving a long gash across the earth. However, this did little to prevent him from being surrounded once more.
He managed to swiftly pull out his blade to deflect a flurry of shuriken thrown at him, however he was forced to block a kick aimed at his head with his forearm. Then he had to slip another punch thrown by the Tsuchi Bunshin.
Zabuza swung Kubikiribocho to counterattack, but his arm holding the blade was stopped before he was caught with another hook that landed smoothly on his jaw, leaving him dazed for a moment.
The sight of three identical looking Kakashis ganging up on Momochi Zabuza, the Demon of the Mist, was hard to look at for anyone who knew his history. The former member of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist struggled to hold his own, but not to mention counterattacking, just trying to block and evade attacks from three different directions was already difficult.
Zabuza finally managed to pull himself away from the flurry of blows, recklessly going on the offense by charging towards one of his opponents and ignoring the punch that landed on the same spot as his broken ribs as well as a kunai that stabbed into his back.
Fortunately for him, the charge was luckily aimed at a Kage Bunshin, and the impact was enough to destroy the clone, disappearing in a cloud of white smoke.
With one out of three opponents destroyed, Zabuza immediately turned back to frenziedly slash at his remaining enemies, swinging his giant blade with wild abandon. The Demon of the Mist was not exactly close to death, but his experience and instinct told him he was not far from a point of no return. So the tried and true method of getting himself out of it was to slaughter and go wild with bloodlust.
The Tsuchi Bunshin lacked the mental faculties to avoid Zabuza's frenzied attacks and was easily carved into pieces. Now, the only one left was the original Kakashi, who jumped back to avoid the half-crazed demon.
In truth, Kakashi was trying to hold himself back from launching powerful ninjutsu. The usage of the Shadow Clone had already halved his chakra capacity while the Sharingan eye, though powerful, drained his remaining reserves like a voracious glutton. The C-ranked Doton ninjutsu as well as the Tsuchi Bunshin similarly consumed not insignificant amounts of chakra.
Furthermore, with the knowledge that Zabuza had an additional partner hidden somewhere, Kakashi was trying to fight while conserving his remaining reserves as much as possible.
As Zabuza slowly ceased his rampage, he could finally take stock of his injuries. Aside from the multiple bruises that would surely start forming in a few hours' time, blood was also leaking from his mouth from the internal injuries. Every breath he took was laboured and sent sharp pain from the broken ribs that had further shattered from the last attack from Kakashi.
Most importantly, the kunai stabbed deep into his body hit something vital. He could feel the internal bleeding from the ruptured organ. He would have to receive immediate medical attention otherwise…
If he pushed himself, he could continue fighting at peak condition for a few minutes max, but the drawback afterwards would leave him at death's door. Which meant he had to kill Kakashi during that short time frame otherwise he would most definitely die, or worse, be captured. But he also knew that Kakashi wasn't dumb. The Konoha nin would also realize that the few minutes would be his last ditch effort, so he would only need to stay away for some time before Zabuza by himself.
Running away was also not an option. He could similarly only run at max speed for a couple minutes, and judging by the fight so far, Kakashi was just as fast as if not faster than him. He could, at best, be chased for a some time before collapsing and getting captured. Which meant that his only option now was-
Zabuza's thoughts were interrupted when two senbon needles suddenly flew into his neck before he slumped forward and fell to the ground motionless.
Kakashi narrowed his eyes at the sight.
A figure donning a hunter-nin mask with Kirigakure's symbol engraved on the forehead appeared on the branch of a tree.
"Thank you very much. I have been tracking Momochi Zabuza for some time, waiting for this chance to finally take him down." The figure spoke with a gentle tone as he bowed politely.
The Copy Ninja nodded, "By your mask, I see that you are a hunter nin from Kirigakure. Is that right?"
"Impressive. You are well informed." Haku answered, though he could feel some hesitation starting to seep in.
He had decided to jump in at that moment because he realized that his master's chances of survival were very quickly diminishing. Taking down a shinobi who was about to defeat Zabuza would prove to be a tall order, so Haku decided to put him into a near death state and utilize deception to get them both out safely. This was a backup plan formulated by Zabuza, in the event of his defeat in battle.
Haku did not relish the idea of injuring his master, but it was the only way to prevent them from getting captured or killed. However…
'Why isn't he checking Zabuza-sama's vitals?' Haku realized during their short interaction. Kakashi looked calm, which could be explained away from his years of experience dealing with foreign shinobi. However, Kakashi was not approaching Zabuza's 'corpse' to confirm his death for some odd reason.
Could the Konoha shinobi be exhausted and thus lacked any energy to even attempt to confirm Zabuza's death? Or was he that naïve to fully believe the façade at face value? Impossible, someone who had laid such an intricate ambush would never be so foolish. Then could Gozu and Mezu have betrayed them? Those two were loyal to Zabuza, but there were always methods to make them talk…
His dread and trepidation were violently suppressed as Haku reappeared next to Zabuza's body and picked it up. Theories and conjectures were good and all, but his priority right now was to get his master out of this dangerous situation.
"Excuse me, but I must deal with the remains. There are many secrets in his body that must not be allowed to get into the wrong hands." Haku recited, his lines carefully rehearsed.
As he held up a handseal to perform a Shunshin, his actions were interrupted.
"Ah hold on." Kakashi spoke, holding up a hand. "Would you mind meeting my students? It's not everyday they get to meet a hunter nin. And judging by your voice and appearance, you must be about their age. I think it would be good for them to meet someone so talented but is the same age as them. Maybe they will get inspired."
Haku sweated, "That will be difficult. I am in a rush to return to Kiri. If there's nothing else, I will bid you farewell-"
Kakashi smiled before taking slow, measured steps towards the pair, "What's with the hurry? Oh, are you in such a rush that you forgot that you are supposed to deal with the 'corpse' immediately, on the spot, so that there's no room for error? Isn't that right… Haku?"
The Hyoton user froze before immediately forming a single handed seal that created hundreds of needles made of ice which immediately flew towards Kakashi.
In response, the Copy Ninja formed a handseal which allowed for his chakra to explode out of his pores, creating a make shift armor of chakra that, while not durable, was more than enough to deflect the flying senbon.
'One-handed seals. At such a young age too. What a horrifying talent. If he is left alive, he will be a terrifying enemy of Konoha. He has to die here and now!' With that in mind, Kakashi rushed forward while forming handseals, "Like I said, you should stay and meet my students, Haku!"
"Katon: Fire Dragon Blast!" A stream of fire moulded into the shape of a dragon was sent flying towards the pair, the intensity of the flames scorching even the dirt underneath it.
Before the impact, there was flash of blue, but a great explosion instantly covered it up.
The smoke and dust from the explosion obscured Kakashi's vision for a moment, but he wasn't supremely confident that the A-ranked jutsu had managed to finish the job.
And as expected, as the smoke and dust cleared, the only thing that remained after the explosion were large chunks of ice that were rapidly melting even with the dense Hyoton chakra saturated within.
Kakashi looked around for any further signs of his opponent before putting back his headband to cover his Sharingan once he was convinced the missing-nin and his apprentice managed to escape. It was unfortunate that he couldn't kill the both of them. The Hyoton user was stronger than what the Demon Brothers had reported under their interrogation. If he was still in the ANBU, he might have chased them down relentlessly to prevent such a dangerous enemy from threatening the village. However, right now his students and the mission were the priority.
Furthermore, he was positive he left such heavy injuries on Zabuza that the man would be out of commission for a couple months at least. Enough time for the bridge to finish its construction.
With that, Kakashi turned and ran back to his students, albeit slightly weary from the heavy consumption of chakra.
"So that's it? Zabuza and his apprentice didn't even return and attack again after that?" I commented in disbelief after Sasuke finished recounting the Wave mission. It was almost completely different from how I remembered it going down in canon.
First off, the Demon Brothers had actually been interrogated after being defeated and captured by Team Seven. This gave the team from Konoha valuable information about the upcoming attack, which allowed them plenty of time to plan and lay a trap.
Kakashi then singlehandedly defeated Zabuza, which forced Haku to intervene. However, as the jounin had already been informed about Haku's existence beforehand, he was not deceived by the performance. Though they managed to escape in the end, the severe injuries Kakashi left on Zabuza made sure he could not recover in time to assault Team Seven again.
Which meant there was no climatic showdown at the bridge where Sasuke rescued Naruto by taking the flurry of senbon from Haku, and consequently the bond and friendship between the two protagonists forged from the encounter did not occur.
Sasuke frowned and shrugged, "No. They ran away after being defeated by sensei. I didn't even get to see them because we were trailing quite a distance behind sensei and the clones. The only enemies I got to face in the entire mission were a bunch of thugs Gato sent when the bridge was almost done being built. What a waste of time."
I sighed heavily, which did not go unnoticed by the Uchiha.
"Fine, I get it. You got to fight and defeat actual missing nin while I had to take the back seat and let my sensei handle everything. You don't have to brag." He glumly retorted in response.
"What? That's not- urgh, whatever." My thoughts were heavy with the realisation that even without my presence, my canon knowledge was being warped further and further from being recognisable. Haku and Zabuza were still alive. What did that mean in the grand scheme of things, I could not be certain. But what I was certain about was that my knowledge of the supposed future was getting more and more unreliable – the result of my intervention and its butterfly effects.
Sasuke frowned at the perceived slight, "Tch, I don't care. Let's just train."
"Hm? Yeah sure." I replied distractedly before perking up, "Oh right, you should start getting serious about your training. It's about time for that too."
The Uchiha's eyebrow twitched, "I have always been serious about training! And what are you talking about?"
I smiled, "You don't know? The chuunin exams are coming up soon and Konoha is hosting this year's exams. Since Konoha is the hosting village, chances are we will all be recommended to join the exam since it will be relatively safer here."
Upon hearing my words, it looked as if a fire was lit in the boy.
"Heh, chuunin exams? Sounds interesting." He remarked, pretending not to be as excited as I knew he was feeling. Seriously, why is this kid such a tsundere?
"Yeah, it will be. Not like we will be expected to pass it though. We just graduated the academy, so most likely we will be nominated to join the exam just to get experience. Of course, that only applies to the rest of you amateurs. I will definitely be rewarded with a chuunin vest once it's over." I shot him a challenging smirk.
He growled, "Don't get cocky. I developed a new move recently, care to test it out?"
I chuckled in amusement, "Sure, sure. Show me what you got."
Though my face was all smiles, inwardly I was more than a little anxious. With the chuunin exams approaching that also meant the arrival of another person, more dangerous than any being I had ever faced in my existence.
Orochimaru, the Snake Sannin.
Worst of all, that guy had a hard on for the Sharingan like nothing else. And unfortunately for me, I didn't just have the Sharingan, I even had the miraculous Gamer Body and System. Sasuke would be his target during the second stage of the exams, but I would be in ten times the amount of danger should that terrifying monster find out about my abilities.
As I followed Sasuke to the Uchiha training grounds, my gaze couldn't help but tremble at the thought of being targeted by someone like Orochimaru, a true monster in human form.
A shorter chapter this time. But hey, it's something, right? I really can't promise when I can deliver the next chapter because, like I mentioned before, work from home mandate has been lifted, and I am now forced to commute to work daily. The days when I could write this story even during work hours whenever there was downtime is now gone. As much as I think COVID is a horrible, horrible event and I wish nothing but the best to those who have been unfortunate enough to be afflicted by the virus, I have to confess that the introverted part of me low key really enjoyed lockdown.
Still, I will try my best to deliver consistent updates. And like I mentioned before, I have a ton of ideas regarding the direction of the story, it's just I don't have the same amount of free time to put those ideas to paper.
Naruto clones praising Naruto while disguised as Sasuke and Shikamaru was really funny to me when I was writing it. If you guys caught on to that before the big reveal that, surprise, they were all clones, then hey, hats off to you internet detectives.
Shikamaru, the voice of reason in Team Seven, suggested that Gozu and Mezu be interrogated before moving on.
Why Kakashi did not do the same in the original, I have no fucking clue. Like, they literally had no reason not to question the Demon Brothers when they already had them tied up and captured. The only reason I can think of is so that the story could continue and apply a false sense of tension when they get ambushed by Zabuza.
However, since the Konoha team managed to extract information about Zabuza and Haku beforehand, they were able to to come up with a plan to ambush Zabuza instead.
Ceteris Paribus, that is to say with all things being equal, I would say that 1v1 Kakashi is stronger than Zabuza. The only reason why he had such a tough time with Zabuza in their first fight was because he had to fight him while paying attention to both his team and Tazuna. So he could not focus one hundred percent on fighting Zabuza.
Furthermore, not only does Kakashi not have to worry about his genin, but he was also even able to land a sneak attack that managed to immediately and drastically lower Zabuza's odds of winning. Which is why Kakashi is able to defeat Zabuza with relative ease in this chapter.
Haku, though Kakashi claims to be stronger than him in the series, is obviously not stronger than him even if the Hyoton user was aiming to kill. Peak chuunin I think is a fitting level of strength for Haku. Internet says Haku is 15 when Team Seven encountered him – that level of talent is like one tier lower than Naruto and Sasuke I feel.
So when Kakashi comments that Haku has a horrifying talent that would be a terrifying enemy for Konoha if he was left to grow, he means it.
Haku and Zabuza is still alive, gasp! How will they fit in to this story, what part will they play in the future? Stay tuned and find out!
I feel like there will be some people who will be like, why tf didn't Kakashi just sneak attack Haku the moment he appeared instead of talking and revealing he knows who he is.
Listen, hear me out. I have a very good reason for it… It's so that the story can happen, I don't know what to tell ya. Plothole? Definitely. Is it going to affect your enjoyment of the story? I don't think so. So should you care? No, you really shouldn't.
Next, I really don't think Shinji is overstating how much of a monster Orochimaru really is. I know folks on this site and Naruto fanfics in general like to clown on the 'snake pedo', but if you really look at everything my man has accomplished, Orochimaru is definitely one of the top ten most dangerous shinobi in the Naruverse.
In the series he got one-shotted by Itachi's Tsukuyomi, sure, but that's nothing compared to everything else he is capable of.
My point being that Shinji being terrified of Orochimaru and possibly being targeted by him is completely justified in my opinion. So don't be like those WebNovel toxic readers and spam 'Weak MC', 'Useless MC', 'Stupid MC' or I will be really disappointed in y'all.
Like always, thanks for reading my story and if you liked it, smash that like button and hit subscribe for more content!