Chapter 7

It had taken close to three weeks, but the defense measures for the mansion were complete. With the help of an extensive book on seals that they had found buried among one of Gato's bookshelves, Naruto and Itachi managed to inscribe traps and other such seals along the walls and grounds of the mansion. The seals included an alert system that would tell the owner who has entered, a defensive wall that, upon activating, would rise from the ground and protect the people inside from those outside, and even a whole battle system that would target and destroy whoever the owner commanded them to.

With that done, the group retreated from the outside world to practice their own skills. Under orders from the leader, Naruto, the maids would leave once a week to procure supplies. With the economy still in the dump, albeit slightly better than before, the new money from their group breathed life into the poor village. While unemployment was still scarily high, the number of shops slowly increased, and the confidence of the people climbed. It helped that Tazuna, the local bridge builder, decided that he could now build a bridge to help further stimulate their weak economy, as the bridge would bring new merchants into the area. Men from all over the village came to share in the work. Some would become Tazuna's physical labor force, while others left to fish for food to provide for all of the people. The women left at home turned to other jobs, such as manufacturing clothing for their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers to wear, while they taught their young daughters the skill to keep the trade alive for future generations. This cycle involved no large exchange of money, relying more on a system of barter instead.

As the women were out and about, either getting the supplies or helping to clean the mansion that had become their home, Naruto and his group began to train. They were just children right now. No matter how strong they knew they were, they also realized the infallibility of their might.

Naruto's first order of business was to improve upon his hand's dexterity. Although he was learning the arts of a puppeteer right now, one could never know when the matter of life or death depended on the speed at which one could complete a jutsu. Starting off, he forced his hands into each seal as quickly as he could, trying to accomplish a goal of ten per second, which was impressive, even for a chuunin.

At the same time, Anko was tasked with training Toph, who could be ranked at a skill level of a talented genin. While it was impressive for someone at her age, it meant very little to those in the outside world. Itachi would occasionally join in and offer helpful pieces of advice, like how Toph's stance did not maximize the damage that she could deal. After a while of practicing basic taijutsu moves, Toph started to create her own style, one which coordinated absorbing attacks and returning them tenfold. With her special bloodline, this process was made much easier. Also, while she trained, she discovered a new aspect of her bloodline. This came about one evening when she decided to take off her sandals and walk barefoot outside, since the grass was nice and comfortable (she had never done this back in Iwa, mainly due to the lack of grass). As she walked, she suddenly thought about the animals in the ground and if they could hear her footsteps. Almost immediately, she started to "see" through things. At first, this had freaked her out. But after awhile, she, with the help of the two older nin, figured out that what she was seeing was the picture formed by the vibrations sent out from her feet. This gave her an immense advantage at night or in dark places, as her feet were sonar-like. To test this theory, she even started to walk around blindfolded and barefooted all the time, even at home. Within days, she felt herself comfortable enough to send and receive the sonar signals consciously, and could turn them on and off with naught but a thought. She named her bloodline Earthbending, after the way she could make the earth bend to her will with a gesture.

Neji had decided that he only needed to further refine his Tsuku no Mai (Dance of Pain). After seeing one of Toph's training sessions where the girl tried to develop her taijutsu style, the Hyuuga had a thought. His element was water. Why not try to assimilate that into his taijutsu, like how Toph did with the earth or how those of Suna do with wind? Although he would not be able to pull the water out of the air like the Nidaime Hokage did, he could use water stored in a pouch or in a scroll. Perhaps he could even use saliva or blood? That was an idea worth looking into, although both the use of saliva and blood could only be used with techniques that did not require a large volume. With his idea semi-fleshed out, Neji had returned outside with a large bowl of water, filled to the brim. The first thing he had to do was learn how to manipulate water like how Toph did. That would be difficult...

Itachi, thinking he was near the peak of his strength, did not have much to do. At times, he'd silently watch the purple-haired kunoichi train the younger black-haired kunoichi or even watch one of the other boys train. Other times, he'd jump in and offer his advice, which was very helpful, since he could spot even the tiniest of mistakes in Neji or Toph's forms with his Sharingan. He thought about testing his newly acquired Mangekyou Sharingan, but found that it drained his chakra extremely quickly. He could barely utilize one of the techniques that required that special Sharingan before the doujutsu would shut itself off.

Anko, listed in the bingo books as a B-ranked kunoichi, was annoyed with her low rating. Determined to bump herself up to A-ranked and eventually S-ranked, she would send a Kage Bunshin to train her student while she herself practiced her snake techniques and her taijutsu with a second Kage Bunshin. After many brutal sessions with her clone, she could feel herself getting better.

Seventeen weeks (4 and 1/4 months) later

The young blond boy snatched the manila envelope out from under the bench. Ripping the flap open, he pulled the documents out from it and scanned through its contents.

"Well? What's it say?" one of his companions, a kunoichi with purple hair, asked impatiently.

"Our client wants us to assassinate one of the local yakuza bosses from some city in Water Country."

"Wouldn't it be more logical to hire someone from Kiri to do the job?" a dark-haired boy asked. His white eyes continually looked around, scanning for intruders.

"Yeah," the blond replied, "unless the client has something to hide and doesn't want some shinobi from Kiri to be poking around."

A fourth person sighed. "So it's probably one yakuza boss hiring us to off another. That's great."

"At least the money looks good. The client gave us half now, and he says he'll give us the other half after the kill is confirmed. So let's get going."

Having started to take on missions from whoever had the money to pay about two months prior, their small band soon gained a name for themselves. They were popular among thugs because they did their work efficiently and were always worth the money paid. Not to mention, they were much cheaper than hiring missing-nin or nin from one of the hidden villages. As soon as they had finished their first mission for a kindly old gentleman (who happened to be the head of one of the larger criminal families in the Elemental Countries), they had gained instant notoriety.

Their destination, Water Country, was basically one large island, surrounded by many other islands, some at a similar size, some at a much smaller size. Without a clear path to the place, Naruto and his group had to take a boat there. Since no civilian boatman in his right mind would take a bunch of rogue nin onto his or her boat (regardless of the fact that they freed Wave from the clutch of Gato), they had no choice but to blend in as civilians. The Henge could and would easily fool their civilian senses, so sneaking on was no big deal.

Within a few days of monotonous travel, their boat finally landed on the docks on the port city in Water Country. The city, while rich due to its location, was a big mess. Dark red patches stained the ground, and holes were abundant through the buildings.

All of this did not much affect the survivors that were doing their best to rebuild their mostly destroyed city. It seemed as if they were accustomed to this. And indeed, they were. For the past two decades, war ravaged the small island country, mainly due to a rising fear of genetic bloodlines. Whole clans were destroyed when the countless mobs of frightened people swarmed them. Even then, the clans fought back, seeking to protect their own lives. The end result: the civil war of Kiri.

After receiving directions from a nearby worker, the group left the port city and headed due northeast. Their travels took them past barren forests and bloody battlegrounds littered with the bodies of the dead.

Shaking her head, Toph commented, "Wow this place...it's just so full of death."

Neji nodded in agreement. "Yes, we've only just arrived, but we've already passed by the graves of many people."

"It's their Bloodline Purge," Anko said with a shrug. "The fucking retarded civilians get afraid of something, and they decide it must go, so they revolt and try to kill everything that doesn't conform to their way of life. Typical." Her statement was tinged with her own hatred of the people of Konoha.

"They are sheep," Naruto agreed. "They don't understand whatever is different. All civilians have this fear...this fear of the unknown. And what greater unknown can there be than the powers of a bloodline limit? However...it is suspicious that all of the clans to have been wiped out so far are clans that have publicly spoken out against the ways of the Mizukage."

Itachi, the usually silent one, decided to add his part. "The Kaguya clan is a violent clan. They live and die for battle. I met a Kaguya one time on a mission, and when we fought, he was relentless. He fought even when the skin on his arms were burnt completely off, even when ten thousand volts surged through his body...If there truly is a conspiracy against the Mizukage's enemies, the Kaguya should not have been one of the clans to be wiped out. They surely would've supported his bloody reign."

"There's no use debating about this," Naruto butted in, before anyone could have a chance to say something. "It's getting close to nightfall. We'll set up camp here for a few hours to rest before we move onto the mission. Neji, take Toph with you and scout out the target's residence."

The Hyuuga nodded and walked off, his Byakugan activated, while Toph followed after him.

When they returned an hour later, Toph dropped to the ground and grabbed a nearby canteen, taking a large swig.

"The man's mansion is very well protected," Neji stated. "I've counted over forty patrol groups of at least three men each, although none of them look to be much more than simple thugs. Each group changes shifts every two hours, but each shift is at a different time, so that there isn't a single time when a large number of guards leave to change shifts. Also, the man has hired several dozen missing nin to be his personal bodyguards. From the size of their chakra coils, I'd estimate that they are mostly B and A ranked, with a couple C ranked nin."

With their group comprising of one S ranked (Itachi), one A ranked (Anko), and three B ranked (Naruto, Neji, and Toph) nin, a frontal assault would be totally pointless. Thus, subterfuge and deceit would be the way to go.

Neji continued, "The target is in his bedroom, and there are three bystanders inside as well. Right outside the room standing next to the doors are two non-shinobi, as well as one hidden A ranked shinobi. With my Byakugan, I've also found many hidden passages, but only one leads to the bedroom. I assume it's some sort of escape route for the target in situations like this. Anyway, getting to the passage isn't a problem, it's going through the passage that is. The hidden passage is more like a dumbwaiter. There is a small elevator-like lift that awaits at the top of the chute, and the thing is so small that it looks like it only fits one man, and only if the man contorts himself to take as little room as possible."

"Can the lift be sabotaged?" Naruto asked.

"No, the area that the lift emerges from is the most guarded place of the entire mansion. The only chance we would have of getting to it would be to create a distraction that would make all of the guards come running..."

"You know what? That gives me an idea..." Naruto trailed off.

An explosion sounded.

An alarm rang.

People were shouting.

Fire was everywhere.

The plan had been for Anko to walk up to the front gate, seduce the guard, and kill him while he wasn't paying attention. She would open the front gate, allowing Toph and Itachi to come walking right in. From there, all they had to do was wreak havoc, using flashy techniques to alert everyone in the compound of their presence. The target would use the escape route to flee, while Naruto and Neji would sneak in over the walls to wait at the exit of the escape route and kill the target as soon as he appeared.

However, not everything went according to plan.

Getting over the walls had been easy enough. All of the guards had left their posts to deal with the intruders, not thinking that that would be a mere diversion. Upon reaching the place where the target would appear, they were confronted by someone that Neji had not noticed.

"Two little brats, eh? I'm sure Samehada will enjoy the feel of your blood!"

It was the S-ranked, ex-member of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, missing nin Kisame.

"This does not look good," Neji commented.

Naruto, whose face had turned delighted at the sight of an extremely powerful enemy, smiled. Without delay, he released his puppet, Shinobu.

The puppet suddenly launched forward, its right hand becoming a deadly flail. It swung its flail in an overhead strike, but Kisame lifted his massive sword to deflect the blow.

"Is that all you have?" the missing nin asked pleasantly. "If that's it, I'm afraid that you two won't make it out of here alive!"

With a loud cry, Kisame wound his arm up for a powerful attack, planning to cleave the two boys in half. Neji rolled forward while Shinobu jumped up, avoiding the horizontal strike.

As Neji came out of his roll, his leg kicked out at Kisame's shin, but the experienced nin merely lifted his leg up to avoid it. With his momentum bringing him past Kisame, he came up and tried to hit the other man in the back with a Jyuuken strike. At the same time, Shinobu's padded foot came sailing forward. Both strikes hit their respective targets. Unfortunately for them, Kisame became a puddle of water.

As soon as they realized that their target was a clone, they changed positions. For Neji, this was the right move, as Samehada came crashing down upon his location a moment later.

"Ooh, nice dodge, little boy!" Kisame cried out tauntingly. "But can you avoid this?" The large man jumped back, made a series of hand seals, and called out, "Suiton: Mizurappa!" After a large intake of breath, he exhaled an even greater amount of water at the two, flooding the immediate area and turning it into a small lake. "You're in my domain now!"

Shinobu fired a hail of senbon from its left arm. Kisame brought his sword to block once more. While it successfully deflected the senbon, it also hid the two boys from his view. When he brought Samehada down, they had disappeared.

"That won't work on me. The water is infused with my chakra, I know exactly where you are. Suiton: Suiryuudan!"

Nothing happened that could be seen from above the water. Underneath the water, though, was a different story. The dragon that Kisame had created raced through its element, coiling itself around its two targets and rose from the water, dragging the two into the air as well. The dragon then threw Naruto and Neji at Kisame, who stood in a batter-like stance, with Samehada held like a massive steel bat.

Neji dug his feet into the ground, slowing himself greatly, and curled himself into a ball, rolling just underneath the swing of the sword. At the same time, Naruto stomped one foot down to slow himself as well, but he threw himself to the left. For a moment, Naruto thought he managed to avoid being hit, but seconds later, he felt the terrible pain of Samehada, slicing into his side, drawing a spurt of blood.

"I got one little piggy!" Kisame said with a smile on his face.

His wound, rather than healing quickly like he was used, did not close. He got up and faced Kisame, while Neji stood on the opposite side, also facing Kisame.

"Who to deal with first? Hmmm...I know! Kage Bunshin!" the blue-skinned man cried out, forming one clone. "Now we can deal with you at the same time," the two stated at the same time.

Without a warning, the massive figure of both Kisame's disappeared, surprisingly quick for someone his size.

Neji was panting. It had been less than five minutes, and he was already having trouble breathing. A spike of anger coursed through him. He had trained so hard, attempting to perfect and master his Tsuku no Mai. And he honestly thought he did. But after fighting against Kisame, he knew that he was no match. The other man was far more powerful, far more quicker, and far more resourceful. The man was playing with him, playfully brushing the sides of his blade against Neji's sides each time, drawing blood all around.

Desperation was quickly showing in his eyes.

With one last try, he lunged past the incoming sword and tried to hit Kisame with his Jyuuken strikes. Just as he was about to connect, pain exploded from his back. Gasping loudly, Neji stumbled forward into the space that Kisame had been occupying just moments before, all thoughts of an attack having left his mind.

"You left your back wide open when you tried to hit me," Kisame informed helpfully as he watched the dark-haired boy struggling to get up off the ground. In two large steps, he was standing above Neji. The blue-skinned shinobi raised his foot and slammed it onto Neji's back, pinning him to the ground.

Was this all it came down to? Years of training all washed down the drain? How could this be?! But...this was fate, wasn't it? What would his father say?

'My father! I cannot die without first avenging him,' Neji thought harshly. 'I cannot!'

With a new source of strength, Neji pushed the foot off of him and pushed chakra into his hand. A short blade made completely of water appeared in his hand.

Normally, the Jyuuken was about pushing chakra out of the tenketsu in your hands and making that chakra move into the tenketsu of the enemy. With that forcible injection, the native chakra would attack the foreign chakra. The more chakra put into the attack, the more foreign chakra there is to destroy for the native chakra. Therefore, it takes longer for the target to recover from the Jyuuken strike. Of course, even then, the amount of chakra needed to disable the opponent for several hours is not much more than the amount of chakra needed to disable for one hour, or even one minute.

However, in this moment, with the combination of the stress of the battle, the thought of revenging his father, and the utter hatred of this man in front of him, something happened. Rather than having pure chakra gather at the tips of his fingers, the chakra was forcibly expelled from the tenketsu and somehow, Neji was converting the pure chakra that left his tenketsu into a sheet of water that was spreading out evenly to cover his entire hand. When more chakra was forced out of his hand, the thin sheet of water extended from just barely covering his hand to jutting out rather prominently.

Not even realizing what was really happening here, Neji struck.

Shinobu was in bad shape. It was built to take hits from anything from a katana to a tanto, but nothing as massive as Kisame's zanbatou! With each hit, Shinobu's entire structure rattled. Large cuts and nicks adorned the wooden puppet.

Naruto was quickly realizing that the art of puppetry might not have been a good idea to be his specialty. He was certainly regretting it now!

Taking a quick inventory of his remaining supplies, he noted that Shinobu was completely out of senbon and shuriken, and had less than a dozen kunai left. Truly this was not a pleasant situation.

With a flick of his hand, Shinobu produced a kunai.

"A simple kunai and your flail will not be enough to defeat me," Kisame warned playfully.

Shinobu took one step back, and Kisame took one step forward. Suddenly, Shinobu flicked its foot out, sending dust and dirt right into Kisame's face, temporarily blinding him. Shinobu dashed forwards, kunai aimed at the missing nin's gut. With instincts honed from experienced, Kisame sidestepped the thrust, still trying to shake the dust out of his eyes.

With a mighty roar, Kisame backhanded Shinobu, opening up a large crack in the puppet's chest area.

Suddenly, a nearby rock smashed into Kisame's side, sending him tumbling over.

Ignoring the crack in Shinobu, Naruto maneuvered it over to Samehada, which was left on the ground after Kisame had been hit, and reached down to pick it up. Before Shinobu's wooden fingers could grip the handle, Kisame appeared right in front of the puppet, seemingly unharmed by the hit.

Growling, Kisame batted the puppet away again and picked up his sword. Even as Shinobu was flying through the air, Kisame dashed towards Naruto, intent on finally finishing the fight.

The giant blue-skinned man swung his zanbatou at Naruto, forcing the boy to leap backwards. Kisame followed, continuing to haphazardly swing his massive weapon while Naruto continued to just barely avoid being cut.

Minutes passed before Naruto slipped up and managed to be sliced across the chest with the very tip of Samehada, causing him to fall to the ground.

Kisame stood over him and grinned, revealing his pointy teeth. "Game over, punk." He whipped his sword back to prepare to chop off Naruto's head when the sound of metal cleaving through flesh was heard.

Turning his head around, Kisame saw that the man he was hired to protect, had finally emerged from the secret escape exit only to step into Kisame's swing, causing him to be bisected at the waist.

"Fuck!" he cursed loudly. He turned back to Naruto, even angrier than before, only to notice that the boy was gone.

A flare erupted into the sky from the forest, and he knew his prey had escaped him.

"Fuck!" he repeated angrily.

Neji's fingers, coated in water chakra to form a blade of water, dug into Kisame. Rather than having blood spurt out, water spurted out instead. Almost immediately, the clone dissolved into a puddle of water.

Tired, he collapsed to his knees. He brought his hand up, and stared at the water chakra in his hand with the Byakugan.

"Amazing," he muttered.

Seconds later, a giant red flare erupted into the sky, drawing Neji's attention towards it.

He knew what that meant.

Mission accomplished, retreat.

Getting up from his kneeling attention, Neji fed himself a soldier pill, embracing the rush of chakra that it brought. With a sigh, he ran towards the outer wall, leapt over it, and into the forests.

"Oy, Toph, Itachi, the flare," Anko gestured, right after slitting the throat of an approaching mercenary.

"Let us be off then. No point in staying any longer than necessary," Itachi commented, stabbing his ANBU tanto in the gut of an attacking missing nin. The man's eyes widened, and he looked down, staring at the blade sticking out of him, before Itachi pulled it out nonchalantly and flicked the blood off of it.

"Got it, just lemme finish these two guys first!" Toph called out. The two men she was facing, some of the last mercenaries still alive, looked scared and were only standing there with their weapons in hand out of stubborn pride. The small girl slammed her foot down causing two spikes to shoot up from the earth and pierce the bellies of her enemies. "Alright, I'm done here, let's go!"

The three moved past the numerous dead bodies quickly before leaving the way they came: through the front doors.

A/N: Sorry for taking such a long time. I've been having a huge writer's block concerning the fight between Kisame, Naruto, and Neji. That's what took me so long. I probably would've taken ever longer if I didn't get inspiration from a fight between the Teen Titans and that girl Jinx, the big guy, and the little kid. Yay for tv lol.