Chapter Thirty-One

A Different Sort of Fight

Disclaimer: While Naruto is getting a bit of a cool power-up in the series, I can pretty much guarantee is doesn't have anything to do with me.

A/N: I suck, I know. Trust me I wish I could have gotten this chapter out sooner, but a lot of stuff kept me from that goal. The main reason? ...I was lazy. Ouch, I know. Please put down the sharp objects! Thank you. Anyhow, I was having trouble with this chapter for some reason and couldn't get the flow going. I actually had my best day of writing it the day it was published. I wrote over half the chapter in one sitting when the inspiration hit me. Part of me thinks that it's because I keep coming up with plans for the VotE fight and it's screwing with the other fights' progressions. I'll try to get the next two out quicker though.

Aside from being lazy and having a small case of writers...misdirection? I want to thank those reviewers who said I should ditch the FF and write an actual story. Thank you, but right now this is practice. You may say I'm good at writing, but I still see too many problems with my work to be able to go professional. Maybe in a couple years or something. Anyhow, don't want to hold you up so have fun reading. This should be a pleasantly long chapter that may leave you happy and mad at the same time. Cheers!

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Neji shot off the branch after Hinata, but was too far away to make any attempt to catch up. In fact, it surprised him how fast she had gotten; he could swear she was actually pulling away.

"Like I'm going to let you get away!" Kidōmaru shot out a few strands of webbing that sped over the heads of the two Hyūga, confusing them slightly until they saw the targets the attack was heading for. Each strand had a hardened point on the end which was homing in on the retreating backs of the Konoha team.

With little time to act both of the Hyūga shot their hands out and tore the strands apart, ending the chakra to the projectiles and turning the webbing into harmless threads.

Seeing his plan thwarted, Kidōmaru growled slightly and began chewing again. He was forced to jump away as Hinata went on the offensive again, not willing to wait for him to finish his preparations. Neji was starting to get a little irritated. Hinata, the cousin that he had berated for so long for being weak and shy, was being even more aggressive than he was. Not only had she figured out the weakness of their opponent's jutsu almost as quickly as he had, but she seemed to have no issues whatsoever with rushing in headfirst against an opponent they hadn't fully analyzed yet.

This also made him start to believe she'd lost a few brain cells from being around Naruto so long. Going head to head against an unknown opponent could be considered extremely foolish and have deadly consequences. They should have been staying back and getting a feel for how the guy attacks, not just mindlessly attacking him themselves. Despite his own opinions he was now forced to take action or be left behind. Foregoing the pursuit of Hinata, he took a different path that he hoped would be their destination. It was difficult to tell of course due to their seemingly random path, but he could shift once he got there.

Hinata's adrenalin was pumping. 'The best defense is to attack first. This guy can use long range attacks so, while we can't assume he isn't good in close range, we can say it is the better course of action until proven otherwise. Though the fact that he keeps running seems to suggest such.' She sent another palm thrust towards Kidōmaru's chest which was turned aside as he leapt off their current branch again. She wasn't the best tactician but as a Hyūga, or rather former Hyūga, she didn't have a whole lot of ranged attacks in her arsenal. The jutsu she had been learning were mainly sūiton so being in the treetops of a forest really didn't help much there either.

Their taijutsu battle raged on as they hopped from branch to branch with Kidōmaru trying to gain a little distance and Hinata not giving him an inch. Their dance stopped however when they reached a particularly thick branch. As Kidōmaru landed a blur shot out from behind the trunk and hit one of his arms causing him to shout a bit in surprise and jump off to the side. Fortunately for him, the blur landed right where his previous attacker was about to land and she was forced to maneuver around it or force one of them off the branch. Now he had valuable distance, something he capitalized on.

"Neji! Why did you get in the way?" Hinata was furious, though she never took her eyes off her opponent.

Neji on the other hand was stunned. 'Did...did she just yell at me?' He chanced a glance at her and saw a grimace on her face that confirmed what he'd heard. It made him scowl a bit himself. "I was trying to gain the advantage over our enemy. In case you hadn't noticed, I was able to partially disable one of his arms."

"And at the same time you forced me out of combat and now he has the distance to use his ranged attack, which he seems to favor so much. Not only that, but you only managed to partially disable one arm out of six!" Hinata scolded.

"Are you saying you could have done better?"

"No, I'm saying you should have disabled a leg so he couldn't run so easily. He's got spare arms, but with a leg out of commission he wouldn't be able to get his distance at all." Neji was about to berate her for suggesting such a low handed tactic,but she beat him to the punch. "Don't even give me any of that Hyūga honor crap. At the end of today the one that wins will be going home. If we have to pull out every underhanded trick in the books to get us back safely then that's what we're going to do."

'Who the hell is this chick?' Both of the men thought to themselves.

Hinata's declaration made Kidōmaru a bit nervous for some reason, but he shook it off as he readied his jutsu. Taking advantage of their distraction, he started spitting out nets at a rapid pace towards the two. Seeing that Neji didn't have his full attention on the fight, Hinata umped in front of him and slashed apart a couple nets to allow him time to realize what was going on.

Once they were both aware and fighting off the barrage of nets they split up, forcing Kidōmaru into taking rushed shots at them with little aim. Even in his haste though, he was able to manage to capture Neji. Concentrating most of his attacks on his easiest target for the time being he spat more web at the boy and pinned him to a tree. There were now webs holding down Neji's chest, arms, legs, hands and feet with an added wad over his mouth so he couldn't call out for help from Hinata who was still dodging the random shots coming her way.

Kidōmaru spat a few more balls of webbing into his hands and lobbed them at the girl while he began chewing again in preparation for his next attack. 'So, these are the Hyūga. They use their chakra, formed to a needle point, to snap my webbing at the weakest areas of the structure. Dealing with two was beginning to be a headache, but now it won't be so bad.' He lobbed the last of his web balls at Hinata with little care of whether it hit or not and took a few more seconds to finish adding chakra to the concoction in his mouth. He mentally laughed at the look of the Hyūga pinned to the tree as he seemed to have completely given up.

"Kumo Nenkin." A large spear of his hard golden substance shot from his mouth and sped towards the pinned Hyūga. At the last second before impact Neji smirked and opened his eyes, activating his byakugan in the process. Kidōmaru watched in horrified fascination as the boy destroyed his webbing in an instant and tipped his head to the side. Before he had time to react Neji had jumped up onto the spike and started running down its length towards him before jumping down and landing on the branch in front of him.

Unfortunately for Neji, he had taken far too long to cover the distance and Kidōmaru was able to cut off his connection with the spike while lashing out with his legs and kicking the boy away from him. As Neji flew through the air he was saved by Hinata, who managed to intercept him and land them on the side of a tree. With a quick strike he removed the last of the webbing on him, that which covered his mouth. "Thank you Hinata. I will make sure to not get caught again."

"Well then, if you're done talking, we have a fight to finish." Once again Hinata leapt off into the trees, leaving Neji to catch up. When she swung to the right he shot off to the left. A pincer attack from both sides.

Seeing the attack coming, Kidōmaru tried to outmaneuver them but with such limited trails to take through the branches it was easy for them to plot out his most likely courses and steer him to where they wanted him. In mere seconds he was cornered between the two of them and the trunk of a rather thick tree.

Appearing right in front of the Oto-nin, already in his stance, Neji smirked at the man's unfortunate luck. "Jūkenhō, Hakke Rokujūyon Shō." His attacks rained down on the enemy as he moved with his opponents convulsing body towards the trunk of the tree. Halfway through the attack the tree started to buckle, another quarter and cracks began to split through the other side. With the final strikes Kidōmaru burst through the tree's trunk and into the open air on the other side.

By the time the debris from the shattered wood cleared he found himself staring into a pair of fists, but it wasn't the Jūken that was headed towards him.

"Sūiton: Suigeki!" A column of water blasted from the contact point that Hinata made with her hammerfist and sent its victim towards the unforgiving forest floor. She landed next to Neji on the tree trunk as they watched the collision happen. A large cloud of dust and earth flew into the air, obscuring their view of the aftermath to a degree that even their byakugan was having trouble seeing through the debris. Not wanting to take any chances, they both shot down to the ground to wait for their query to be revealed.

Both Konoha ninja heard the clanking sounds coming from the dust as they landed and as the scene cleared up they could only narrow their eyes at the sight of their enemy. Kidōmaru was simply standing near the tree, staring at them. Their main cause of concern with this wasn't the fact that he was still alive though, but rather the golden shell that seemed to encompass most of his body. Every point that Neji would have hit with his attack was coated in the substance while a mask of the same material covered most of his face where Hinata's attack would have hit.

"It was a good attempt kiddies, but this barrier keeps me safe from any attacks. Not only it is strong enough to deflect weapons, but it also deflects chakra based attacks as well. It's just your bad luck that your attacks have no effect on me. Don't think it's a one time thing either. It comes directly out of the pores in my skin in the area I push chakra to." To emphasize his point, he held out his forearm and formed the shell over it once more before letting it crack and fall away..

While the two were preoccupied with trying to figure out a way around his ultimate defense, Kidōmaru twitched his fingers to let loose a volley of hidden kunai. He never expected them to hit, nor did they, but in the time their concentration was broken in order to get out of the way of the projectiles he was able to slip into the treetops and hide. With another twitch of his fingers another kunai landed at the feet of the two Konoha-nin.

They jumped back predictably as they noticed the tag, but it was all playing into their opponents hand as he loosed another volley of kunai. Barely having time to tough the ground, Neji pushed Hinata into the underbrush before executing a Kaiten, causing Kidōmaru to curse at the loss of a target. Now he would have to be even more careful. His thoughts were interrupted by a single kunai headed straight for his forehead, forcing him to duck.

'What the hell? Does he know where I am?'

"It's no use trying to hide. Our eyes can see everything. You have already lost." It was a bit of a stretch of the truth since Hinata probably couldn't see that far it was commonly known that, while he inherited very strong Hyūga blood, she was less than satisfactory when it came to viewing distance with her bloodline. Hopefully the kunai he threw would allow her to see exactly where their enemy was. Right now though he had other things to worry about.

'Hmm, taking on two Hyūga is a bit tougher than I first thought. Guess it's time to up the ante a bit.' Sporting a sadistic grin as a vine-like tattoo began to appear on his body, Kidōmaru lowered himself from his previous perch. On tree limbs they had maneuverability, but in midair he had the advantage. Holding himself aloft with two of his arms he stretched a bit of webbing between another two while going cutting one of his free hands and going through a set of seals. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"

If Hinata didn't know where he was already, she definitely knew now. It would be difficult for anyone to miss the huge spider sitting in an equally enormous web. Neji could only glare at the monstrosity as he waited for it to attack, being sure to keep an eye on its master as well. Things only seemed to get worse as the spider began to convulse and a large sack erupted out behind it. Wasting no time, the Oto-nin leapt across and sliced open the webbing, letting loose a wave of baby spiders.

Thinking nothing of the assault, Neji immediately went into a Kaiten, launching the onslaught away from him. What he didn't count on was the strands of webbing that casually floated through his dome of chakra. They began to layer on his arms and legs, slowing down his rotation. As he came to a standstill he realized, almost too late, the position he was in as a barrage of golden kunai came at him from the side. 'I can't do Kaiten again with all this webbing on me. Hinata, if you ever wanted to show me your worth, now is the time.' Not waiting for a divine intervention, he jumped out of the path of the kunai.

The giant spider was about to release another swarm of its brood when the web it was standing on shook and tilted. Kidōmaru narrowed his eyes and looked towards the source. One of the strands holding the web aloft was dangling loose with a piece of bark hanging off the end. 'Must have been a patch of decaying wood. No matter, the web is still more than strong enough.' He turned his attention back to his prey as the new wave of spiders hit him.

Knowing the Kaiten was practically useless at this point, Neji was forced to improvise his defense. "Hakke Rokujūyon Shō." His body became a blur as each strike lashed out at a separate spider to either kill, or block their fall. He had no way of knowing if the offspring were poisonous, but he definitely didn't want to find out right then. The only blessing that he had, was that tilt in the web. It had caused some of the insects to veer off away from him, giving him less to defend against.

Unfortunately the source of the attacks seemed to have an endless supply as another wave of spider-lemmings fell from the treetops, he was about to curse his luck when the same thing happened to this batch that had happened to the last. Another strand of the web snapped off and jerked the entire structure, sending the small spiders to meet their end on the unmerciful ground as they flew off course. This still left a large amount for him to clean up, more than the previous wave. Taking a deep breath, Neji crouched a little lower to the ground, changing his stance just a bit. "Hakke...Hyaku Nijūhachi Shō."

Kidōmaru sneered at the boy as he watched him go into an even faster combination of attacks. Diverting his attention from the battlefield below, he looked towards the newly snapped strand of the web. 'Two now. Is the weight too much or are the trees just too weak? A couple more and it'll be this one falling on the kid herself. No matter, that would end it just as quickly at this point.' Turning his attention towards the boy once more, he saw that the spiders were almost finished so he loosed another kunai trap on his victim.

Neji tried to perform a Kaiten as he saw the blades coming towards him, but only managed a slow turn due to the amount of webbing holding him down. Forced to improvise again, he did his best to dodge as much as he could. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to dodge one of the weapons as it skimmed his shoulder.

Up in the treetops, Kidōmaru saw the kunai hit and slice into the genin. 'He didn't even try to dodge that one. Was it because it wasn't a life threatening hit? No...' Another shower of arachnids fell towards the forest floor, and another part of the web snapped. It didn't matter at this point though, Kidōmaru was starting to figure some things out. With the spiders already on their way, he let loos another rain of golden weapons, this one timed. 'Two hits.' He grinned as his predicted number lodged themselves into his target's back.

"You put up a good fight brat, but you've finished your dance. I found your blind spot so now all I have to do is...!" He didn't get to finish as a larger tremor shook the web. This time when he shot his head towards the source, he found another set of white eyes staring back at him along with a sickeningly sweet smirk.

"You talk too much, and play with your prey more than you should." With a quick jab, Hinata snapped two more strands from the web, causing the leftover supports to groan in protest. Withing seconds the entire construct was plummeting towards the ground, right over Neji's head. Hinata sped down after it. She wouldn't make it in time to save him from the summon, but she would be there when he got out. She knew he would, she believed in him.

The spider landed in a cloud of dirt as Kidōmaru laughed from the treetops. He had saved himself with a couple strands of webbing and was currently hovering between a couple of the large trees. "What a good teammate you are. Sacrificing a member to get rid of my summons. You're a lot more ruthless than I gave you credit for. I didn't expect half as much out of any Konoha ninja." He grinned at the glare she gave him and prepared his next attack.

In the center of the clearing the giant spider gave out a loud shriek as its body began to bubble and pulse. With one last tensing of all of its legs, the huge insect exploded in a shower of unformed webbing sludge, all over the panting Neji. The boy glared up towards his opponent with just as much viciousness as his cousin, at east until he saw one of the man's fingers twitch again. He heard the familiar whistling sound and knew he had no time to dodge the incoming storm. Closing his eyes, he did the only thing he could think of. He fell to the ground and prayed that the weapons would pass over him.

"Shugohakke Rokujūyon Shō!"

The sound of metal hitting and rebounding off of something shook him out of his mindset though. He looked up and saw something he never thought he'd witness from the person who was taking action. Hinata stood over him, moving her hands faster than he'd ever seen as a grid of chakra surrounded them both, warding off the attack with ease. The concentration on her face showed him that the jutsu was far from perfect, but to see it from someone he'd thought was a failure was nothing short of a breath of fresh air.

As the technique died down, he stood up and stared at Hinata. "I've never seen that jutsu before. Is it one of the main branch secrets?"

"No, it's one that I created. It is my ultimate defense for protecting those precious to me." She too was breathing heavily, showing just how much she put into the jutsu.

"...Thank you. I'll remember that, Hinata." He gave her an appreciative nod as he turned back towards their enemy, only to take a step back in shock. The being hanging in the trees was no longer the mutated man they had been fighting, but rather what could only be described as a demon. With his dark skin, third eye, horns and spikes; Kidōmaru looked every part of an evil being.

The Oto-nin would have smirked if he didn't have the fletching of a golden arrow stuck between his jaws. 'You may have beaten my pet, but now I'm getting serious. Accuracy 100 percent, damage maximum. Nejū Seigo!' He released the arrow just after Neji turned towards him.

The stunned boy had little chance of dodging the projectile with the speed it was going. Still, he did what he could and jumped away. The arrow exploded as it hit the ground, but as the dust settled, both Kidōmaru and the horrified Hinata were able to see Neji standing at the edge of the newly formed crater. He was breathing hard again, but the only wound they could see was a hole through his left shoulder.

"How the hell did he dodge! There shouldn't have been time! No, he didn't dodge." Kidōmaru narrowed his eyes at Neji and grinned. 'So that's it. You released a constant flow of chakra to divert the course of the arrow. You used the principle of the girls defense and your dome and used it to push incoming attacks away from you as much as possible. Smart, but useless.'

Forming another arrow he started to piece together the information he'd gathered so far. 'The kunai that hit showed the one weakness in his eyes. He can see long distances with them, but just below the first vertebrae there is a blind spot. If I can hit him there he will have no choice but to take the full force of the blow.' After knocking the arrow and sighting in his prey, Kidōmaru notices something very wrong again. 'Shit!' He looked up just in time to see Hinata snapping his webbing, causing him to fall towards the ground once more.

She watched as he smacked off of a couple branches on the way down before following his quickly descending form. Hinata wasn't about to let him get out of her sight. 'His appearance may have changed, but we can still beat him easily. It's Neji-nīsan and me after all.' She saw a shape shoot off to the side below her, but it didn't get far as her cousin appeared in front of it and unleashed a hail of blows, knocking it back to the ground. As she touched down on the forest floor herself, she got a better glimpse of their mutated opponent as he calmly got up, a plate of metal falling from his abdomen, no doubt having been used to protect him from the recent attack.

"I already told you that your attacks are pointless didn't I? It doesn't matter if I'm in the air or on the ground. The results will be the same." He knocked his arrow again and began to take aim.

Flashing through a set of hand seals, Hinata worked fast to begin the end of the fight. Neji was busy weaving between trees in order to keep Kidōmaru occupied and give his partner some time to finish whatever it was she was doing. It didn't take her nearly as long as he thought it might and for that he was glad, he was getting tired fast. "Mugen no Enmu." She whispered.

Kidōmaru cursed inwardly as a soft fog rolled into the area. Fog was the worst possible battleground for someone like him. The fog itself blinded his attacks and the water in the air would cling to his webbing, making it visible. "A smart move I admit, but still pointless. You still have to get in close range and I still have my defense. If you aren't running home with your tails between your legs by now I would call you both utter fools."

Shadows darted through the mist around him as he tried to make out what they were. He could still make out the outlines of some surrounding trees, but that only served to make him all the more frustrated as he couldn't tell when the shadows were in front of, or behind, a particular tree. Growling in frustration, Kidōmaru did the only thing he could in such a situation. Wadding up his webbing he returned to one of his original tactics, spray webs everywhere.

Between the random web spraying and the actual aiming at the moving shadows, the forest around the Oto-nin was fast becoming filled with white netting. Almost every tree was covered in the sticky threads, as was the majority of the forest floor. Seeing a shadow shooting out from his left, Kidōmaru acted on instinct and shot another volley of nets at the unknown being, only to watch in rare glee as one of the webs hit it dead on. A loud thud later told him that his prey was caught against a tree trunk. Not wanting to waste a golden opportunity, like he did before, he knocked his arrow once again and shot it into the gray curtain towards where he could hear the sounds of struggling.

A loud yelp of pained surprise was his answer and his grin grew. He knew the sound of that octave, he hit the boy. Sauntering over to his victim, he found his aim to be true. His golden arrow was sticking out of Neji's left lung and pinning him to a large tree. "Not so cocky now. Are you brat?" He backhanded the teen, taking pleasure in the rag doll effects the hit had on the trapped body. "Maybe next time you'll run when given the chance, if there ever is a next time." He formed another arrow and smirked.

Foregoing arming his bow, Kidōmaru spun on his heel and thrust the arrow up catching his would be assailant in the jaw. The arrow easily pierced through the thin bone in her mouth and up into her brain, killing her almost instantly. "Tsk. You seemed to be a promising assassin type girly. In your next life, learn when to drop the stealth act when it gets too old. Opponents tend to learn from their mistakes." He let go of the arrow and watched the girl's body fall to the ground and slump over. His eyes widened when the body turned into a puddle of water. 'Mizu Bunshin? There was no blood. Shit!'

Quickly, he formed another arrow and knocked it. He heard giggling to his right and pulled his bow up. Seeing a shadow move he quickly shot at it, watching as it disappeared from view. No thud accompanied it, and the fog was still there so he figured it was another clone. 'It's like the Kirigakure no Jutsu. Does she know silent killing, or is she just trying to intimidate me. If she knew silent killing, fog this sparse wouldn't work.' Forming another piece of ammunition, Kidōmaru began to turn, slowly, making sure he took in every detail around him. He wasn't about to let his guard down against this girl. The boy had been an offensive fighter, that much was certain, but his female counterpart seemed to be more for stealth.

Another shadow moved and he shot. Soft giggling could be heard from behind him so he spun again and struck out with his bow, hitting nothing but air. Scowling, he began looking once more. If he was right about her, she would just wait out his web assault then go for a close quarters kill. She wouldn't take chances that her recently deceased teammate took. She also didn't seem the type to attack from range either, so it was now a game of attrition. Who would be the first to slip up?

Up in the canopy, two pairs of pale eyes watched the man spinning in circles. Hinata smiled at the confused enemy while a smirk tugged at Neji's mouth. "I didn't think you could be so devious Hinata-san."

"Considering who all I'm living with now, it would be difficult to not pick up some of their traits. Kin-chan helped me with most of this one." Hinata giggled softly.

"It was still a bit...unsettling...to see myself die."

"You get used to it after a while, though you should have canceled yourself out of the genjutsu well before that happened. Shame on you Neji-nīsan." She mock admonished him. To her surprise he actually blushed. "Anyhow, it's almost time. Keep an eye on his feet and be ready."

Kidōmaru was more than a little frustrated by now. He kept taking slowed and slower turns, just to make sure he wasn't missing anything. The tenseness of the situation was wearing on his legs and arms as they twitched in anticipation of what might happen. "I know your tricks, little girl. I'll tell you right now that there is no way you're going to outlast m..." He narrowed his eyes as something caught his attention. He recognized that tree trunk. Looking at the floor below it his eyes widened as he saw the wet ground and the arrow laying on it. Realization dawned as he brought his hands together. "KAI!"

"Now!"

Kidōmaru had just enough time to see the fog waver before two distinct shadows appeared before him. A brace of kunai shot towards him and he tried to jump, only to find that his feet were firmly attached to the forest floor. He quickly used his bow to deflect the projectiles before looking down. Once again his eyes widened in horror. His feet were tangled up in his own web. He wasn't slowing his turning because of the situation, he was slowing it because he was becoming ensnared in his own traps. He lifted his head at his opponents got in an all too familiar stance.

"Hakke Rokujūyon Shō!"

"Hakke Sanjūni Shō!"

"I already told you that's pointless!" Kidōmaru shouted at them as the battering began.

Everywhere they tried to strike, a golden plate of armor was left in their wake. Still, they didn't look deterred in the slightest. The golden coating slowly increased its domain as the Hyūgas' prized attacks dwindled down. By the time they struck with their final blows, his back was to a tree and his body looked like a large, deformed gargoyle statue. A hollow echoing laugh could be heard through the clearing as his joyful eyes peered out of the golden mask covering his face at the two tired ninja in front of him.

"Is that all? Did you really think you could touch me? You're as pathetic as your village. No wonder Sasuke-sama ran off. If this is all Konoha has to offer I would have been long gone too. Sasuke-sama is Orochimaru-sama's possession. No matter what, he won't be caught."

"You're wrong about two things." Neji stated calmly. "First, Naruto is more than enough to stop that pompous fool from getting too far. Let alone the rest of the group that is with him."

"Second," Hinata stepped towards the gilded statue, with Neji at her side. "We weren't finished yet."

Getting right up in his face, the two Konoha ninja each pulled an arm back. Kidōmaru snickered in his head at the futile attempt at an attack. Anything they tried would just be deflected. He watched as they gathered chakra in their hands. He watched as they cocked their muscles into place. He reinforced his chest protection as he saw their hands shoot forward. He watched...eyes widened again in realization as their hands turned towards his face.

"Hakke...Noushi..." Index and middle fingers extended, each of the pair shot their hands towards their target's eyes, the only place that he seemed reluctant to cover with the shell. They saw him futility closing his eyelids in an attempt to guard his exposed organs as a thin shell of gold coated them. It seemed that the shell was having a difficult time covering the membranes though, possibly due to the lack of areas to prepare the substance before it ejected.

As fingers neared eyes, it was a race to see what would reach its completion first. Milliseconds stretched on into, seemingly, hours before attack met defense. In an instant it was all over. A loud, dull ring sounded through the forest.

Neji and Hinata collapsed side-by-side as they looked up as the statuesque form of their enemy. His gilded eyes stared forward in quiet contemplation. Solid save for a small pinhole sized opening on each orb. That tiny portal was all the two Jūken practitioners needed in order to deliver their final blow. Inwardly they were both thankful for the fact that they wouldn't have to see the after effects of their attack. Based on the sound that it made on the back of the shell, the Oto-nin probably didn't have much of a head left.

"That's two Hinata-san." Neji turned his head towards his cousin as he saw her quirk an eyebrow. "Two new attacks that you've come up with, one on the fly against an enemy we had no information about. If only the clan could see you now..."

"They would still think me weak and pitiful. I am happy with the way things are Neji-nīsan, please don't upset that." She hung her head a bit in sadness.

"Will you at least teach me your Shugohakke Rokujūyon Shō?"

"No. The techniques I come up with now are no longer part of the Hyūga clan, and I ask that you not try to replicate it. Not that you could anyway." Getting a questioning look she elaborated. "It's meant for a much more agile body than that of a man. Females are generally more agile due to our slighter frames."

"So you won't let me teach it to the females of the clan either?"

"You wouldn't be able to get permission, even if I allowed you to. Kaiten is a self preservation jutsu. That is something the Hyūga, as it currently is, want to portray. Strength as a singular unit rather than on the whole. They have become so obsessed with their own power that even the thought of a jutsu used to protect another would be demeaning in their eyes."

"I...see. Perhaps someday they will change their ways. Maybe then you will be able to teach them the correct path Hinata-san."

'I wonder...' Hinata let out a sigh and turned to her cousin to respond only to see him laying back on the ground, clutching his shoulder and breathing heavily. "Neji-nīsan!"

"Heh, as much as I want to relax right now, it seems that taking an arrow through shoulder leaves one a little out of sorts."

"Hold still nīsan. I'll do what I can." Just like Haku did for Neji, Hinata was now tending to her cousin, healing up his wound as best as she could. Her head turned idly towards the direction the rest of the team went. 'Good luck, everyone.' Sighing once more she turned back to her task while reaching into her medical supplies for some bandages. "We'll get you patched up then work our way back to the village. With any luck we'll meet some other teams to point in the right direction."

"I can make it back myself after you patch me up Hinata-san. You go on ahead and back them up."

"You think I would just leave you here alone in your condition?" Hinata scowled down at him before her look softened. "Besides, I'm too low on chakra to be of any use in another fight. I still need to work on my reserves more it seems."

"If that's the case, then I would be glad to have you walk beside me Hinata." The double meaning of his comment was not lost on his companion, and the tears in her eyes showed that fact well.

"H-hai. I would be happy to walk beside you as well Neji-nīsan."

· · ·

The sun had already almost set as it cast a fiery glow across the treetops. Those sprinting through the canopy below could only get brief glimpses of it however as the leaves of the large trees remained thick throughout their journey. Soon it would be completely dark and any sight at all would become an issue.

"I can smell the bastards, but we aren't getting any closer. We need to speed up if we ever plan on catching them."

"Are they getting any farther away Kiba?" Shikamaru responded from behind the teen.

"No, which means we can gain on them pretty easily. Let's go!" Kiba started to move a little faster, eager to get into a real fight.

"Stop!" He was stalled by the voice of the team's leader. "We've only gotten about a third of the way to the boarder so far. They obviously aren't too eager to get home so we should be conserving our energy in order to fight on our terms."

"What the hell does that mean?"

Shikamaru muttered out something that sounded like 'troublesome' before explaining. "Simply put Ino, out of who we have left, only two to us are able to utilize our senses well enough for fighting in the dark. It would end up being a two-on-two fight for them while we sit back and hope to not become hostages. Since those two would be relying on smell and hearing in order to fight, unless one of you have developed some infrared vision that I was unaware of, we need to be careful of how we engage the enemy. One or both of them may have abilities that could trump those and then we would be completely helpless."

"So what do we do then?" Kin asked while going over her own night fighting lessons from Otogakure. Suppressing her shiver she opted to instead go over her current equipment.

"Well, if Neji or Hinata had stayed with us we would have been a lot better off since we would have had the three main senses covered, a bad move on my part for letting them fight together. Since they aren't here we'll simply have to keep following until morning. Not to mention that if a cloud were to block the moonlight, my Kagemane no Jutsu would be completely useless. Once there is enough light where we can all see and perform to our fullest, we'll make our move."

"Right." Everyone agreed as they leapt a little more casually through the branches.

· · ·

"So Jirōbō and Kidōmaru never caught up, even after this much time. They must be having a difficult time back there."

"It doesn't matter. We've gotten far overnight, but at this rate..."

"Yeah, we don't even know if we'll make it in time. Let's hurry." Sakon didn't spare another word as he led Tayuya a little faster along their path. 'Jirōbō and Kidōmaru may not have caught up yet, but neither did those Konoha brats. There's still time though, so we can't let our guard down.'

No sooner had that thought past through his head than Tayuya felt the barrel in her arms shift. "Hold on!"

Sakon stopped on a branch and looked over to see her looking down at the barrel. "Is it almost done?"

"No, but..." Both the Oto-nin shifted their eyes behind them to see the remains of the Konoha group standing on the branches and trunks behind them. "What the hell are those two morons doing? They let this many through?"

"It doesn't matter, I'll just take care of them now!" Sakon leapt off his branch towards the group of younger ninja and was met with a couple kunai that were easily dodged or deflected. However he wasn't as prepared for the double counter attack from Shikamaru and Kin. "Don't get cocky now! Tarenken!" In a flurry of punches, both of his targets were sent flying to the sides and the air in front of him was cleared just in time to see Naruto flying at him with a rasengan readied.

Shikamaru swore as the initial stage of his plan was foiled when Naruto's arm got caught and his attack dissipated into the air. 'One plan down, many more to go. Now Kiba.'

"Don't underestimate us, Tsūga!" A tornado of claws shredded its way through Naruto's midsection as Kiba attempted his attack on Sakon.

"Nice try kid, but an attack of that level won't work on someone like me." The man smirked a bit as he ducked the attempted attack.

"Sakon!" Said ninja realized too late that the vortex he just dodged was heading straight for Tayuya.

"Dammit Tayuya, move!"

"I can't you asshole!" Tayuya yelled back from her position. In truth, she really couldn't. Shikamaru had taken the opportunity that Naruto and Kiba provided to trap her in his Kagemane no Jutsu.

With both Oto-nin preoccupied, Kiba was free to stop his attack and grab the barrel. "Heh as if you even had a chance against us."

Seeing Sakon make a turn back towards Kiba, Shikamaru waited for the Inuzuka to leap away before positioning his captive in an optimal spot before releasing his jutsu. The resulting crash caused both of the enemy ninja to topple off the branch. "Let's get out of here!" Not waiting for the others to acknowledge him, Shikamaru prodded Kiba to stop his gloating and move. Soon the remains of the Konoha team were jumping as fast as they could back towards home.

Behind them, Sakon was not happy at all. "Damn those little ingrates. I'll tear them apart." Leopard-like spots crept across his skin as he blurred from view and took off after their charge.

Tayuya scowled, but hopped after him at a bit of a reserved pace. 'Our time limit just got shot to hell. Orochimaru-sama is going to kill us off now regardless if we get the red-eyed bastard to Oto or not. Fuck, this sucks.' Spitting to the side to rid the distasteful thoughts, she sped up a bit in hopes that maybe her leader would be merciful...for once...yeah right.

It was only when she got out of her little self reflection that she started to notice the small white tags nearby. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of them before quickly turning to wide-eyed surprise. "Sakon! Tags!" Her warning came too late, though even if she'd noticed them sooner he was still too far into the explosive trap for such a thing to be of any use.

BOOM!

"Yeah! Take that you freaks!"

"Hey mutt, save it for when we see bodies. If they aren't dead,chances are they'll come after us with more force now." True to Kin's words, Sakon blasted through the smoke made by the explosions, and he didn't look happy.

"You worthless little pieces of trash! I'll punish you properly for all the trouble you've..." He never got to finish as a purple and blonde blur tackled him out of mid air. The group would have breathed a sigh of relief had not said blur been heading straight for a ravine along with the, now cursing, Sakon.

"Ino! I'm going after her. Get that asshole back to the village!" Naruto was about to jump when a hand landed on his shoulder and stopped him. He turned his head and looked right into Kin's eyes.

"No, Naruto-sama. I'll go after her, you need to stay here in case that chick shows up again...or worse, Sasuke gets out."

"You know something Kin?" Shikamaru stepped forward a bit as if daring her to lie.

"There are others besides these four that I'd be no good against. I don't know what they can do, but I know that these guys are afraid of them. Also...I don't want to fight Tayuya. She may be the enemy, but she's the only one that helped keep me safe...back then." Kin looked down and shut her eyes, half expecting an impromptu interrogation to take place right there in the forest.

"Go."

"Wha? Hey Shikamaru's the team leader Naruto, you can just..." Kiba was cut off by the glare sent his way from the blond.

"Just go Kin, we'll handle things here." Despite what he said Naruto watched as she looked towards Shikamaru, who in turn gave a nod of approval.

"Just be careful down there Kin, tell Ino too."

"I will Naruto-sama. Now you hurry up and get that overgrown washtub home and scrub it out really good. No doubt the fungus inside is growing out of control." Smirking at her own joke, Kin leapt over the side of the ravine and started her run down its steep walls. It wasn't until she had been running for about twenty seconds that she realized just how far down she was. 'Ino...you better not have hurt yourself. Doing such a thing.'

As she finally hit a stream at the base of the cliff, after another fifteen seconds, Kin was able to even out on the surface of the water and start heading downstream. It soon became obvious that both victims of the tackle had survived the fall to some extent by the discarded weapons embedded into the wall. What got her nervous were the strands of long, bloody, blond hair that she saw along with those weapons. While Ino may have been alive for the landing, she couldn't be sure that the same could be said at the current moment.

"Ino!" Kin tried her best to call out to her friend, but it almost seemed to be more hopeless the farther she ran. It wasn't until several hundred feet down the ravine that she came upon the sight of the fight, and to her relief there were still two combatants. She didn't have time to contemplate more though as the blond had definitely seen better days.

Without any delay, Kin threw herself in front of the charging Sakon while throwing a handful of senbon. It didn't the desired effect as Sakon simply sidestepped the projectiles and backhanded her into the stream.

"So another mouse decided to join the fun. Good thing too, your friend was getting a little boring."

Kin stood up from the water, taking in her surroundings in the lapse in action. Sakon was, for the most part, laughing at the teen girls as he decided who to go after first. Ino, on the other hand, was propped up on one of the stone formations in the are with blood covering more of her outfit than Kin felt comfortable seeing her with. "Ino, you ok?"

"Other than feeling like I fell down a cliff and got beaten to a pulp? Yeah, just fine. Ugh, I'm going to have so many bruises tomorrow." Ino put a hand to her ribs as she used the rocks to hoist herself back to a standing position. "I doubt I'll be moving too much for at least a few minutes. Think you can keep him occupied while I do some healing?"

"Hmph, what do you take me for, a fangirl?" Kin smirked as Ino winced, then chuckled when she retaliated with a stuck out tongue. "I'll buy as much time as I can, but I don't think I can beat him down solo. We'll need to use some of your tricks most likely, so don't get lazy on me." She heard Ino snort at her as she brought her attention back to the Oto-nin, which turned out to be a good thing because his little debate seemed to be over and he was now running toward her.

Sakon smirked as he watched the new girl try to put up a hasty guard. "That won't work against me girl." Sakon threw a punch at the girl, which was easily blocked. Undeterred, he followed up with a kick only to have his leg grabbed and thrown in the air, causing him to stumble back just a little. It wasn't enough for her to get any leverage, but it was almost enough for a surprise attack. Almost. Sakon tossed his arm out behind him and smacked the incoming kunai off to the side without so much as a glance. "Now, now blonde. You'll get your turn later." Sakon still hadn't turned his eyes towards Ino, and despite them being the only ones there, he was still creeping out the two girls.

"How in the hell did you see that?"

"Live long enough and maybe you'll find out, precious." Sakon puckered his lips towards Kin mockingly before charging in again. Once more he threw a punch, but this one was caught and he soon found himself twisted around with his arm and a very uncomfortable angle. Still he was grinning.

"Now what are you gonna...omph!"

"Kin!" Ino kept her healing going, but she almost made it slip when Sakon grew another arm out of his back and backhanded Kin across the face hard enough to send her into another rock pillar. "What the hell are you." Ino glared at the, now three-armed, man as he turned towards her and laughed.

"Wouldn't you like to know." They both heard him talk, but neither saw his mouth move. Their shock must have been obvious, if his laughter was anything to go by. He began to walk slowly towards Kin as she tried to stand, until he got halfway and rushed her. "Tarenken!" In a flurry of punches, Kin was sent through the pillar she was using as a support before she could manage a defense. Luckily she saw the second hit coming. "Again, Tarenken!"

This time Kin ducked under the onslaught and rolled to the side, only to be caught by a foot coming out of Sakon's shin. She was once again kicked harshly away and tumbled across the ground towards Ino. She Took a moment to get her bearings back before attempting to get up once again, spitting out a little blood at she regained her footing. "So you just grow random parts out of your body or something? I knew there were some freaks in Oto, but not to that extent. The fatso and the redhead at least looked normal, but I'm guessing they have their own...uniqueness too."

"You don't get by in our line of work without having some special traits that will give you the upper hand in a fight. Maybe if you live through this you'll find something special of your own. Of course, that's a very big if."

"Well we'll just have to make it a when then." Ino stood up and got into position beside Kin.

Kin addressed her without taking her eyes off Sakon. "Are you ok now Ino? I know you couldn't heal everything that fast."

"Not like I have a choice at the moment. Most of it was just bruising and scratches anyway."

"Well then, I'll just have to try a little harder won't I?" Sakon smirked at them as they grit their teeth and tensed to ready themselves for anything. His grin grew even more when the two rushed him and split up. 'So they think that will work? Overwhelm with numbers? Hah.'

The Konoha kunoichi split up as they rushed their enemy, attempting to surround their opponent. They would play cautious at the time being, since they really had no idea what this guy's limitations were. For all they knew he could become a raging ball of fists and feet at his leisure and block anything that they threw at him. This was only compounded by the guy's confidence. They had already gotten on direct opposite sides of him and he hadn't even flinched. Normally someone would at least attempt to keep their challengers in front of them, but this guy just faced Ino and completely ignored Kin.

Even with his blatant disregard for his own safety, the two were cautious as they moved in, taking time to look for openings before they actually showed up. The man revealed nothing as he stood there and waited for them to come into range. Right as they were about to hit him, they found out just how...adaptive he could be. With no warning, Sakon's upper body split into two with half blocking Kin and the other blocking Ino. Despite the two grinning faces, and the activated seal spreading across his skin, the girls didn't seem as fazed as he would have thought.

Still he took it as two little girls playing kunoichi, whom just didn't understand the horrors of the world. "Well, well, well. It looks like you decided to come out and play after all, Ukon."

"Ah, you were all so noisy that I couldn't get much sleep. You were seriously having so much trouble with such little girls? Well...I might see why you kept this one alive so long anyway." The half holding Ino sprouted a head out of his chest and took a leering look at her assets while licking his lips. "She looks like she could be fun."

"Yeah, now that I get a good look at this one, she does seem kissable." Sakon puckered his lips at Kin. "Come on honey, whadda ya say?"

"My lips..." Kin tightened her grip on Sakon's hands. "Will only be kissed by Naruto-sama." She tried to kick the duo with a low-blow, but two legs popped out of the bodies thighs and scissored around her foot, trapping it. Kin smirked and Sakon's eyes widened a bit.

"And I am not about to do anything remotely intimate with you, erm, either of you?" Shaking off the momentary confusion of how she should address the odd Oto-nin, Ino brought her foot up as well. Since all of Sakon's other limbs were now occupied, he left a wide open gap to a man's most sensitive flesh.

The kick never connected though as the man quickly disengaged and jumped clear of the two that seemed to have no qualms about fighting dirty. "Haven't you ever heard of honor amongst thieves? What kind of person takes such an easy shot!" Sakon growled at the smirking girls.

"That's great that thieves have honor and all, but we're. Besides, you started it with your sickening and unwanted advances." Ino chided.

"Fine. Don't expect me to take it easy on you now though." Sakon growled out once again as he stepped forward.

"Sakon, if we don't hurry up here there is going to be hell to pay when we make it back to Oto. Stop screwing around already." Ukon warned from the back.

"Che, fine. You'll have to excuse my brother. Even with his condition he can still get a bit impatient." Before the girls' eyes, the black marks spread across his skin and his appearance began to change. Ukon's head was now beside Sakon's and each sported a horn sprouting from their foreheads. With their darkened skin, long gray hair and elongated canines, the brothers looked more like a two-headed oni than a ninja. They didn't get much time to ponder that fact though as they quickly came under attack. "Now let's see how well you can keep up!" With a speed that left them barely able to keep up, the man charged right at Ino. "Tarenkyaku!"

Ino had been on the receiving end of this attack before Kin had come, but this was completely different. With her body at a standstill, she ended up being nearly bent in half from the force of the blow alone before power overcame inertia and she was flung away. She rolled across the rocky ground, gaining back every injury she had healed and then some before she was stopped by slamming, hard, into the side of the ravine. With her body now propped against the rock wall, Ino gave one cough but that was all her audience needed to see to know how badly she was injured.

Kin was in a slight panic.'That's far too much blood. If she can even stand back up it'll be an amazing feat.' She turned her attention back to her opponent and felt disgusted at the sight of his grin. When he looked her way though she took an involuntary step back. His eyes weren't that of a human. All she could see was his want to kill whatever was in front of him, and right now that was her.

"One little piggy down, Now how about we treat you to our unique style of massage. It's guaranteed to loosen you right up. Especially around the lower back. Why, if you're friend lives through this, I bet she'll be able to move in all new ways. Of course she probably won't be able to walk anymore due to her fractured spine..."

"Bastard." Kin gathered her senbon, fear all but gone now as she prepared herself for what would most likely happen. She needed a plan and she needed it fast. The hairs stood up on the back of her neck and she jumped to the left...just in time to see her previously occupied personal space was now home to a brand new crater, courtesy of Sakon's tarenken. 'He's definitely not playing around anymore. If only I could lower his abilities some. Think Kin!' She dodged quickly once more, seemingly by instinct as The Oto-nin kicked a rock behind where she had been into dust.

"You're better at running away than your friend, I'll give you that much."

"Or maybe you're just getting sloppy asshole." She threw a couple of her senbon towards him as she dodged away again. "Can't even lay a hand on me anymore. If I had to guess. I would say you only got stronger with that little freak show transformation." With another toss, she aimed a little ahead of where he was and was rewarded as he ran right through them to get to her. Unfortunately the attack missed anything vital, but maybe the pain would slow him down a bit.

"Ugh...Somewhat intelligent girlie, but that kind of thing won't work on us." Sakon pulled the senbon out and tossed them aside. "You'll have to do a hell of a lot better than that to even leave a scratch on me." Their game of cat and mouse went on for a few more minutes with both getting more and more frustrated with the other as neither seemed able to land a decent hit.

Having had enough, Kin grabbed some of her special senbon and prepared a desperate plan. She hadn't tried this attack before, but there seemed no better time than a life or death situation, where she was quickly running out of options, to test it out. Waiting for Sakon's next strike, Kin quickly threw her weapons to the ground and leaped out of the way.

Just as she cleared his attack again, Sakon found himself in a circle of needles. He looked up at his query and cocked his head to the side in mild confusion and amusement. "And just what is this supposed to do? Are you a which now, am I in your spell circle?" His laughter died in his throat as Kin's hands jerked and the world seemed to wobble. "Wh-what the hell?" She jerked her hands again and another ripple went through his vision. The more she pulled, the stronger the waves of...nothing...seemed to be.

Kin got a little excited as she saw her enemy drop to his knees and grip his head. She even let a glimmer of hope shine through when he lost the meager contents of his stomach. "Do you like that? They're sound waves at such a high frequency that they shake the very cells in your body, and because you stepped into my 'spell circle' you are getting the full blast of the attack."

He could barely hear her through the clang of the senbon around him. Peering for a way to stop the technique, he could barely make out the small metal bars attached to each senbon. It reminded him of a small kunoichi in Oto that had actually caused him to lose control for a little while when he accidentally stepped into one of her techniques. He had beaten the little bitch into the ground, but couldn't kill her because Orochimaru-sama had plans for her. Could this girl before him be the same one that ended up causing him and his master so much grief? There was no more time to think about such things though as a tingle, not unlike the one he felt back then, went up his spine.

Kin watched as the sound waves of her chimes started to affect the brothers. Watching carefully she realized that she was actually seeing something similar happening back at one of the bases in Oto. The two heads on the demonic body were the first to begin shifting, moving slightly farther away from each other as a line formed in the junction of their necks. In a few seconds the line gave way to flesh as it lengthened and widened. Soon, half of his upper body was in two pieces, and his screams were echoing off the stone walls.

"What the fuck are you doing you bitch! This is...Urhk!" It seemed the split had reached his stomach as they hunched over and let loose another torrent from their mouths. Whatever Ukon was going to say was lost as they started to writhe on the ground.

"I don't care how strong you are. If you hurt my friends I'm going to hurt you twice as bad!" Kin pulled the strings on her chimes a bit faster and was rewarded with a wet suctioning sound as the two halves finally split apart and fell to either side. "Now die." She stopped her chimes, as they had done their job and both Sakon and Ukon seemed to be passed out on the ground.

As she walked closer to the two, she began to feel a bit of unease. Looking closer, she could see that the area around the split was barely bleeding and even what little bleeding there was, was actually stopping very rapidly. 'It's almost like he's...regenerating.' As the implications of what she was thinking hit her, Kin started to move a little faster. Instead of heading for the downed enemy though, she went to Ino and quickly slipped the blonde onto her back while doing her best to ignore the pained groans from her friend.

With her new burden in hand, Kin ran for the stream and didn't look back. 'I can't take them both on at once, and if they can heal like that then any small damage we do is pointless. We need to come up with a hard hitting plan, but with Ino out of commission this whole fight got a lot more difficult. Tossing those thoughts to the side for the moment, Kin concentrated on getting the two of them as far from the battlefield as possible before the twins decided to fight back. She knew exactly who they were now, and that was all she needed to know in order to realize that her senbon attack wasn't going to be nearly enough.

Hitting the water, she changed a glance back, just before disappearing from view behind the cliffs, to see one of the two getting up. He was holding his head and shaking it slightly, but he would be up and about in no time. The only consolation she had was that he didn't seem to notice that she had left, yet.

"Ugh, that could have gone better. Sakon, hey Sakon! Get the hell up you lazy bastard. I know you never got knocked out."

"Oh shut it Ukon. It's not like you couldn't handle things yourself. Maybe if you wouldn't have been playing around to begin with we wouldn't have been forced into this position. Goddammit that hurt. She reminds me of that little bitch back in Oto that did pretty much the same thing. I say we treat her to the full service we were going to give to that girl before Orochimaru-sama stepped in."

"No...I think she is that same girl."

"Huh? But I thought Lord Orochimaru sacrificed that one during the invasion for this technique."

"He was supposed to but, remember, the technique messed up. I think she gave the guards the slip and got away."

"If that's the case, then she's a traitor and we can punish her as one." Sakon grinned evilly. He always liked torturing the traitors.

"Yeah...but first we have to find her." Ukon said as he looked around the area.

Sakon followed suit and was slightly angered that his target gave them the slip again. "Hey Ukon, that blonde is gone too. Heh...but her blood isn't."

They both looked to where Ino had once been propped against the walls to see the patch of bloody ground there. Indeed there was a few drips of blood here and there on the ground, leading away from her resting spot and towards the stream. They both gave a sinister grin as Ukon melded into his brother once more. Their cells were still a little out of order, so it took a bit longer than normal, but they had a trail, so they had time.

· · ·

Kin had been pacing herself for over ten minutes before she finally came to a path out of the water. Breathing a sigh of relief, she trudged onto the soft embankment and made her way through the cut in the cliff's side into the grove of trees beyond. She only made it a few hundred feet in though before her package started to shift.

"Unh...Kin?"

"Welcome back to the land of the living Ino."

"What happened? The last thing I remember, that...thing...kicked me, hard."

"I managed to get him with one of my attacks, but it won't be long before he gets back on his feet. We need to get some distance before he gets too good of a hold on himself." There was little time for in depth descriptions, but there were some things that Ino had to know. "He and his brother are able to split away from each other Ino. I don't know much about their abilities, but they are strong enough to be in Orochimaru's elite guard. I slightly remember a run in I had with them while I was in Oto. It was a little before the chūnin exams and it was a completely one-sided fight. Thankfully, depending how you look at it, Orochimaru had plans for me already so he wasn't allowed to kill me, but that didn't stop him from giving me the beating of my life. Also, he can regenerate to a good extent. Ino, I split him in half and I saw him getting up right before we left that area."

"So you ran away?" Ino asked sarcastically with slight smirk and a cocked eyebrow.

"Says the one who got taken out in less than a second." Kin shot back before returning to her former grim state. "How's your back?"

"..." Instead of answering right away, Ino buried her head in Kin's shoulder. After a minute she finally spoke, but it was soft and reserved. "I...can't feel my legs."

"..." Kin couldn't really say anything to comfort her. If it was bad enough, an injury to the spine could easily paralyze a person. Ino had taken the hit through her stomach, but the damage was still severe. They would need to find a place to stop and check her soon. If the kick was hard enough to damage her spine, chances were that she had some heavy internal bleeding.

· · ·

Sakon had rushed down the stream as soon as they found that the blood trail lead to the water. It didn't take them long to find the small shore that the two girls had exited on, and even less time to find the indentations in the ground from Kin. They were easily noticeable due to the fact that she was carrying double the weight and the impressions were deep on the muddy soil. Sakon nearly shook his head in amusement at the poor coverup the girl did during her escape. 'They know they can't get away, so why do they even try?'

Trailing through the brush, he found the trail easy to follow even though he did have to search for signs a little more than he had anticipated from their initial landing. A snapped twig here, a scuffed root there. It may as well have been a neon rope for someone like him. He stopped as he heard voices up ahead and grinned, this would be even easier if they were talking so loud.

"Ouch!"

"Sorry, I know it isn't the most comfortable spot, but if we don't check you out a little, you could die from internal bleeding. Now hold still. I don't know a whole lot of medical jutsu yet, so you'll have to bear with me. If I find something though, you'll probably have to heal it yourself."

Silence reigned for a few moments as he crept closer to the pair, being sure to keep as quiet as he could.

"Ok it looks like you've got a lot of bruising. There's some bleeding around your spleen and a little at your liver, but that's the best I can see. Your spine looks to be intact, but a disk is shifted and probably pressing against your spinal cord, which is probably why you can't feel your legs right now. As long as we're careful it should be fixable when we get back to Konoha."

Ino let out a relieved, if somewhat pained, sigh. "Thank Kami. I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to walk again." She sniffled a little, clearly overcome a bit by the fact that she may be alright after all.

A dark chuckling came from around them and both girls started at the noise. "So, you think it'll be that easy to evade us? I think you'll have more to worry about than just a dislocated disk."

"Kin! Behind you!"

At Ino's yell, Kin tried to spin and dodge at the same time, but it was too late. By the time she had her eye on Sakon, he had already touched her. She was able to jump back away from him with only that touch, but his smile told her it wasn't that simple.

"Hello dear." A gruff voice came from over Kin's shoulder.

She quickly spun and dodged again, except there was nothing there. She turned back around quickly towards Sakon to see him grinning to the point that she expected his face to split apart. Looking towards Ino for any help she could give, all she saw was a horrified expression as the girl looked at her.

"Nope, I'm not over there either." The voice said again.

This time she only turned her head, fear of the possibilities rooting her feet in place. What she found, when she looked as far back as she could, was a demonic face staring back at her from her own shoulder. The pitiful look in her eyes must have been bad as the head began to laugh at her.

"Come on now, you should have been able to guess my abilities from before. I swear sometimes you kunoichi never take the time to stop and think things through. Let me spell it out for you. I can hop to other peoples' bodies. Pretty cool huh? Right now we are connected on a less than cellular level. I'm also in the process of changing everything about you, into everything about me. That's right! I'm going to make your body into mine. Don't feel too bad though, I'll make sure to send a thank you letter to your little master." For good measure, Ukon licked the side of Kin's face. It was enough to snap her out of her own stunned silence.

"You asshole! Give me my body back!" Kin pulled out a kunai and aimed for Ukon's head but was stopped as an arm came out of her shoulder and blocked the strike.

"Ah, ah, ah. Any damage you do to me will reflect right back onto you. You don't want to die now do you?" The uncertainty in her eyes told him all he needed to know, and he laughed again.

Meanwhile, Sakon began his advance on Ino. "Well, it looks like those two are getting acquainted just fine. Now it's about time I deal with you. Sorry, but it'll have to be quick. Orochimaru-sama doesn't like waiting and we're already close to being past due."

Ino took in the sight of her aggressor and noted that he was now dressed, at least halfway,in what looked like armor. She could only assume that it was where Kin said they had split apart. "Gee don't I feel...lucky." She winced as she tried to sit up a little better.

"You should, after all this is the third time I've had to use this on you, and the second in my fully released form. Tarenkyaku!" Sakon watched the girl flinch as the knowledge of what was about to happen hit her. He sped towards her and extended his leg. Foot connected with flesh, but it wasn't the body he was aiming for. As such his blows were a lot weaker than they should have been due to the shorter distance between his cocked leg and his new target.

"Agh! Sakon, you idiot!"

Sakon stood in slight disbelief as he realized that Kin had stepped into the path of his attack. He tried to move around to the side in order to get at Ino, but the girl followed him, staying between him and the blonde.

"Heh, not so smart now are you?" She called out over her shoulder. "I may be stuck with you, for now, but it looks like you take the damage I take as well." With her new found knowledge, Kin rushed Sakon with Ukon still stuck to her back. She attacked him with reckless abandon, knowing there wasn't much he could do without hurting his brother too.

"A suicide rush, not a bad plan girl. But...Tarenken!" Kin took an instinctive step back, slightly surprised that Sakon would use such an attack when his brother was in her. The attack hit and despite her small dodge she was flung backwards and onto the ground.

"That was too close brother. I almost didn't have time to get out." Ukon was holding his stomach as he stood next to Sakon. "Your Tarenkyaku did some damage to me. I'm going to need to rest for a while."

"Fine, just sit back and..."

"Shintenshin no Jutsu!" Ukon's body jerked just as he was about to reenter Sakon.

"Ukon?" Sakon looked warily at his brother, whom had his head down a bit.

"Sorry, your brother's not home right now." Ukon said as he looked up and gave off a, all too cheery smile. "Unlike his transfer jutsu, which takes his whole body, mine only takes the mind. In other words, your brother's body is my puppet!"

Sakon looked over towards the girls to see Kin struggling back to her feet. Ino on the other hand was slumped over with her hands in her lap and her head down. 'So that's who did it, but all I have to do is take out the anchor and Ukon should be released. In the mean time I need to absorb him back or he could become a problem later.' He looked back towards his brother only to curse as he found out he had disappeared.

"Don't worry, she just took him for a little walk. I'm sure they'll be back in no time." Kin spat out sarcastically. "Now it's just you and me."

"You give yourself too much credit bitch!" Sakon growled as he leapt forward, intent on ending Kin's life first. 'I have to be quick or Ukon will run out of chakra. He's already low.' He drove his fist forward as he neared Kin, only to scream in frustration as a body blocked the way again.

"Don't you know that it's not nice to pick on defenseless little girls?" A masculine voice asked.

Sakon looked up to see his hand blocked by a boy with far too much makeup on his face. "So they really did send in the clowns huh?"

"Careful! He can meld with your body!" Kin warned. She remembered the boy from the chūnin exams and while he was an enemy then due to the invasion, he seemed to be an ally now. Even if he wasn't, she was in no condition to fight Sakon by herself.

"Too late!" the Oto-nin shouted with glee. He shoved Kankurō's arm out of the way and quickly latched onto the boy's face. "You're mine!" He could have melded with the boy if Ukon was still in their body, but with Ukon out he had to resort to other means of disposal. Currently he would settle with crushing the boy's head in his claw-like hand. He began to squeeze as the boy's hands shot up to his arm and tried to pull it off. He waited for the sound of the skull popping, but instead all he got was a slight cracking. "What?" He looked around his own arm to see grains of sand falling from where his claws dug into his victim's face.

Two hands shot out from the package on Kankurō's back and pulled at the wrappings, revealing the real Kankurō. He grinned as he heard the man behind him struggling with his puppet. "I see you've met Kuroari. He's a newer puppet, but he seems to like you a lot." His fingers twitched and Kuroari readied four more arms around Sakon, each with razor-sharp saw blades protruding from the sections in them.

"Shit!" Sakon's struggle became more desperate as the arms closed around him. He managed to get his arm free, but the blades were already upon him, so he did his best to throw up a guard. As the arms circled him, his own arms came up to form somewhat of a triangle around him. He winced as the metal met flesh and grit his teeth when the arms jerked back towards the puppet, effectively cutting whatever they came into contact with.

As the puppet jumped away, Kankurō expected the demonic looking man to cry out in pain. What he didn't expect was the glare and kick to the gut that he got. As he held his stomach and backed away a bit he studied his opponent a little closer. "What the hell?"

"He can regenerate to some extent. We did some damage to him before, but it's all been healed by now." Kin informed as she maneuvered between Sakon and Ino.

"That would have been a little more helpful a few seconds ago."

"Hey, like I expected backup to fall out of nowhere asshole. Now shut it and get your best attack ready because that's probably what it'll take to kill this guy." The tick-mark on her head told him that he shouldn't argue the point, but that didn't keep the Suna-nin from wondering things out loud.

"Wait a minute, weren't you with Oto during the invasion? Shouldn't you be on their side?"

All movement stopped in the area as Kin looked a bit more nervous and Sakon looked like he completely lost it. "I knew it was you, you little bitch! Now I can finally have my payback and Orochimaru will probably praise me for it this time!" Sakon immediately turned his attention towards the girl and charged, only to be forced off course as another puppet came at his side. "Are you fucking serious! Stop toying with me you little bastard."

Kankurō remained calm despite the killing intent that was pouring on him. "Sure, as soon as you apologize for calling me a clown."

"Ok fine, I'm sorry I called you a close you fucking drag queen!"

"Ok now you're a dead man." Karasu leaped at the man from behind, but was easily dodged. Despite that, the puppet didn't slack once and it chased Sakon around the trees. Keeping one eye on the fight, Kankurō shuffled over towards Kin. "What happened to her?" He asked, indicating the still unconscious Ino.

"Her jutsu. She made this guy's brother go for a walk, but it leaves her vulnerable."

"So because she decided to play hero we have to keep her body safe. Che, those Konoha-nin take too much pride in their flashy ways." The growl that sounded from his side told him that he may have said a little too much.

"She did it to make my fight easier! Since she took one of them away it became a one on one fight instead of two on one."

Kankurō sweat-dropped at the explanation. "Um...wouldn't it have been two on two?"

Kin looked down with a little sorrow. "She can't use her legs..."

Kankurō almost lost his concentration at that. He chanced a look at the blonde and saw that her legs were indeed at a rather uncomfortable angle, yet it didn't seem to be bothering her body at all from the look on her face. "I see..."

"I told her that it was just a dislocated disk, but I really don't know. I'm not that good with diagnosis so it could be anything. All I know is there is damage around her spine and she has internal bleeding. We need to finish this fight soon so she can release her jutsu and get back to her body. I can't heal the damage, but she can."

She looked pleadingly at him, and he nodded in understanding. "If you have anything that could help out, poisons, genjutsu, anything. I just have to make his movements a little more predictable."

Kin thought over her arsenal quickly. "Yeah, I got something I can try, but it won't do much. He'll still be able to see, but it should clear out his hearing and voice."

"It'll have to do. Let's go, Karasu is getting near the edge of my range." Getting a nod from the brunette, they both shot off into the trees. With Ukon gone and Sakon occupied they would have to take a chance at leaving Ino unguarded.

They found Sakon dodging Karasu around a tight clump of saplings. The thin shoots made it difficult for the puppet to maneuver since it was reliant on Kankurō for navigation. Getting in position, Kin knelt down on a tree branch and raced through hand seals, all the while praying that this would work. "Roua no Yose." She barely whispered it, but Sakon's head snapped in her direction anyway. The jutsu took hold though and her target seemed slightly confused at first before realizing what she did.

Sakon was about to dispel the technique, but again he was interfered with. 'Can't I get one break today! I'm not getting taken down by these kids!' He dodged Karasu, who seemed to be navigating the small sapling with ease now. He considered himself lucky that he saw the blow coming though as his sense of hearing was completely gone. The last thing he had heard was that little tramp casting her genjutsu and now he couldn't even dispel it because of this damn puppet. What was worse was that he was starting to run low on chakra too, and if he was this bad off, he hated to think how Ukon was faring.

· · ·

Ino had walked far into the woods with Ukon's body. She wasn't even sure where she was anymore, but she could tell one thing. This body was running extremely low on chakra, even to the point that it had released the cursed seal and was now back to it's original state. It seemed that the body was merely a shell of chakra that was made to hold the consciousness of one of the brothers. Hell the thing actually felt empty inside, it was a wonder it could even bleed. Finally she had decided she was far enough and as a last hurrah she bound the body as best as she could to a tree. It wouldn't hold him forever, but it would take him awhile to get free. With what little chakra he had left, it would be a miracle if he were able to make it halfway back to her. With the last knot in place, using his own shirt remains to bind him, she released her jutsu and began the long journey back to her own body.

· · ·

Kankurō moved both of his hands in an elaborate display as he conducted the movement of his puppets. Their clicking mechanisms we whirring with reckless abandon now that he didn't have to worry about the noise. As Kuroari got into position, Karasu swiped at the oblivious Oto-nin. 'Almost there. Now!' Moving his left hand faster, Kankurō sped up the attacks of Karasu, forcing Sakon backwards farther and farther. He loosed barrage after barrage of senbon and kunai as the man got a little too far away, keeping them to the left or right depending on which direction he dodged in order to keep him going in a reasonably straight line.

Just as he jumped back to dodge a particularly nasty brace of kunai, Sakon looked up into the smirking face of Kankurō. 'So that's why it's movements increased. The puppeteer is closer allowing it to be more effective. I'll have to be more care...' His eyes widened as a shadow enveloped him and he hit his back on hard wood. He had just enough time to make out the planks of wood around him before they closed on him with an inaudible clank.

Outside of the trap it was eerily quiet. If Sakon was screaming for his life, his captors couldn't hear it because of Kin's genjutsu. Kin landed next to Kankurō as she glared at the trap, since she could no longer glare at the man inside. From beside her, Kankurō explained. "Kuroari's purpose isn't to attack, that's Karasu's job. Kuroari traps it's victims. The two are a pair." His left hand twitched again,bringing Karasu closer to Kuroari. With a flexing of his fingers the puppet's limbs and head separated and flew over to Kuroari,hovering just above it as the limbs straightened and blades slipped out of the ends. "Kurasuri Engeki, a set of my strongest attacks. Kuro Higikiki Ippatsu!"

Kankurō closed his left fist and the limbs shot forward, each blade finding a matching hole on the prone puppet's body. Quick, efficient, but not very clean. Blood sprayed out through the slots on Kuroari, painting the ground in front of it red. "Well...I don't think he'll be getting up after that one. The blades target vital organs and it's impossible to dodge them all."

"Impressive...for a doll." Kin smirked as a tick mark appeared on Kankurō's forehead. Before he could retort though, Kin remembered more important matters. "Ino!" She shot off towards the direction they left her teammate, leaving Kankurō to follow once he finished cleaning up. She sprang out of the branches where Ino was starting to stir, just in time to see Ukon stagger out of the opposite side. The two glared at each other before rushing towards the downed blonde. "Stay away from her you half dead freak. Go join your brother in hell!" Kin tossed a handful of kunai at Ukon, senbon long since exhausted. She only had a few more weapons left, but she had to hold out.

"You killed Sakon?" Ukon's face went from stunned to completely livid. "You little whore! I'll kill you all for that!" Despite his intentions, Ukon could feel his body growing heavy. He didn't have very long left and now the main body was either destroyed or too far away. Still, he moved forward with purpose. He would take at least one of them with him, he had to for the sake of avenging his brother.

Due to Ukon's state, he couldn't move fast enough to reach Ino before Kin got her. Throwing another kunai, and forcing the last brother to stagger out of the way, she picked Ino up bridal-style as gently as she could afford at the moment and jumped up into the nearest tree branch that was thick enough to support them both. Once they were safely out of reach of Ukon, she looked back at him. He was still staggering towards them with anger blazing. She felt a bit sorry for him, but not nearly enough to take any chances.

"Get down here and fight me! You took away my last family, how dare you!"

"And Oto took mine from me, now they're trying to take my new family." She indicated towards Ino, who now seemed to just be sleeping. 'She must have used a lot of chakra to get him as far away as she could.' She let a smile slip at Ino's dedication. She never would have guessed the girl had it in her when she first saw her at the exams. He gaze went back to Ukon and she narrowed her eyes. "You signed your own death warrants the moment you stepped into this country, no, the moment you chose to side with Orochimaru. I was lucky and got out. I erase my name from that list and I will live to see tomorrow."

Ukon finally reached the base of the tree that Kin and Ino were in and attempted to climb it. Using chakra to do so was out of the question and he soon found that his limbs were losing their strength too much to be able to hold up his own weight, no matter how light it was. Instead he had to settle for walking around under the tree and glaring up at Kin. Soon, even his neck wouldn't allow him even that luxury and he had to settle for glaring at the forest floor.

A thump on the limb above her caused Kin to look up. Kankurō had joined them finally. She saw him ready his puppets to deliver the final blow. "Don't." She said evenly.

He looked a bit confused but held his puppets back. He looked at the wandering body below them and smirked. "And here I thought my brother was the sadistic one. At least he gives his enemies a quick death. I didn't think someone who sided with Konoha would have it in them to allow someone to suffer like this."

"We don't, unless you hurt someone close to us. Do that and we'll bring hell to your front door, at least, the real ninja of Konoha will." They both watched in sickening silence as the now limping body began to, melt. First they saw some hair fall out, then an eyeball fell and rolled a short distance across the ground. Seconds after that the entire structure of the body seemed to destabilize as every joint stretched out before falling away. Not one sound was heard from the body during the process and they soon found out why. As the pieces hit the floor, an orange tinted ooze flowed out of the shell of the body. There were no organs left and it seemed that the body was made of a jutsu generated compound rather than actual body parts.

As the leftovers turned into a tick puddle of ooze, the two ninja turned their attention back to more important matters. "I need to get her back to Konoha. If she doesn't wake up...it's too much for me to heal." Kin sounded frustrated, but determined.

"Can you get back on your own? I need to go help the others if I can."

"I'll be fine. I'm faster than I look." Despite her resolution, Kin could feel the burning of the injuries she herself took.

"You don't look so great to me..."

"Just go help the others. Tayuya was the only other one up there, so it shouldn't take that long to make sure they're ok and come catch up to use anyway. With any luck we'll run into Haku or Hinata on the way back and they'll be able to at least take care of her bleeding. So get going and make sure the others are ok." Not waiting for an approval, Kin dashed off into the trees. She would do her best to ignore the pain as her concern for Ino overrode self preservation instincts.

Kankurō just shook his head. He was mildly surprised at the speed of the girl, but he had other things to worry about right now. Judging from his current position, he plotted his course. Before he could do any catching up though he would have to find his way out of this damned ravine. He should have asked if one of the girls knew the way before they split up the first time.

· · ·

Just after Kin had disappeared after Ino, the rest of the group found themselves faced with their own dilemma. With the barrel in their possession, they could only look helplessly to where Kin dropped out of sight.

"Don't worry, they'll be fine." Naruto announced, more for his own benefit than that of anyone else. A hand on his shoulder prompted him to look into Tenten's eyes. He could tell she knew what he was thinking, but just shrugged it off. "Let's get this bastard back to Konoha."

"Now wait a fucking minute right there asshole!" Everyone turned towards the voice to see a very pissed off redhead glaring at them. "You're little rat pack isn't going anywhere with Sasuke-sama." Tayuya brought her flute out and was about to put it to her lips when she froze.

The Konoha-nin were waiting for anything to come from the girl, but she just seemed to be staring off into space. A light tap from the middle of the group shook them out of their expectant pause as another person joined them.

"Tayuya, you've taken too long." A deep voice came from the man amongst them.

Tayuya paled instantly. "Kimimaro..."

· · · · · ·

Sūiton: Suigeki! – Water Release: Water Hammer – D-Rank

A simple covering of dense water that covers the hands in order to make a taijutsu attack a little heavier. Mostly useful for hitting an opponent out of the air from a good height, when the added inertia will speed their decent and cause more damage.

Mugen no Enmu – Fog of Dreams – B-Rank

A combination of genjutsu and ninjutsu that traps the target in a fog, much like Kirigakure no Jutsu. The genjutsu portion of the technique created shadows and illusions which the victim may target, thinking they are attacking their enemy when they are in fact attacking nothing but air. The jutsu required the user to be stationary, but is excellent for wearing down an opponent, provided said opponent doesn't get a lucky shot. Even if the user moves,it will still take a few seconds for the mist to dissipate.

Hakke Noushi – Eight Trigrams Brain Death – Dōjutsu Based

Byakugan specific jutsu. The user sends a compressed spike of chakra through the tenketsu of the eyes and directly into the brain of the victim. Even if the target tries to dodge backwards or to the side, the damage to the eyes will still be extensive.

Roua no Yose – Music Hall of the Deaf-Mute – B-Rank

A genjutsu that completely locks out hearing and voice of the afflicted. It's effects are somewhat lasting, allowing the user to move a bit if needed,though they will have to recast the jutsu to keep the effect up after doing so.