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Sakura ran through the streets of Konoha, her heart pounding in her chest. Around her, explosions were touching off like they were going out of style. The village seemed like it was an inferno, though she knew that the damage was actually pretty minor. The person responsible for the damages was only aiming to confuse and distort the situation, not go for any kind of serious body count.

She skidded around a corner, slapping the wall and anchoring her palm with chakra before dashing to the end of the alley, darting right up the side of the wall. She sprang onto the rooftop, paused to gather herself, then leaped onto a telephone pole that ran electric lines across Konoha.

The wind whipped her hair around as more explosions touched off. The causes were yellow streaks of deadly light that came down from the cold gray sky above. It was the tail end of the Fire Country rain season and the passing season was threatening to get in one more downpour before finally allowing the sun to shine regularly for the first time in months.


She could just barely hear the mad laughter on the winds, which were growing fiercer as the minutes went on. All around rose palls of flame and smoke, each one marking the impact site of a ki blast. Sakura scowled. The only person she knew that could use ki besides Orochimaru was her…boyfriend, for lack of a better word, Son Gohan, an extredimensional traveler who had happened on their little world three years ago and proceeded to turn it upside down and inside out. He had been frightfully powerful, but even his tremendous might and not one but two Super Saiyan transformations hadn't been enough to counter the power Orochimaru had granted himself through inhuman experiments.

Orochimaru, for his part, looked just the same as he did when he had revealed himself at the Valley of the End after a month or so of being presumed dead, at Gohan's hands no less. His face was still snake-like, with a pointed jaw, slits for a nose, widow's peak and hair like steel fibers, and the octagonal scale patches on his skin. He was wearing that same outfit from that day, a black uniform of combat fatigues and vest, complete with black leather jackboots and a tanto stuck into his belt within easy reach of one taloned hand. Those hands were currently pointing at her beloved village, flashing as he shot down death into the panicked throngs below. Shinobi were trying to force an evacuation of the civilians, which included Sakura's own parents, but were having a tough time of it, made all the harder by Orochimaru having further refined his ki abilities in the years since they'd last seen him.

The biggest clue was that he was flying as Gohan used to, hovering hundreds of feet up, beyond the range of shuriken and most ninjutsu techniques. The only thing that could reach him would be big jutsu, which could be avoided, and the greater summons like Katsuyu, the slug summon of Sakura's master, the Godaime Hokage Tsunade, and Gamabunta, the toad summon of Tsunade's comrade and friend, Jiraiya the Gama Sennin, who was not in the village at the moment.


She turned around at the call. Sarutobi, the old and venerable Sandaime Hokage, landed next to her. The man was old, his hair grayed and receding, his flesh wrinkled and covered in liver spots, but his movements were anything but old. He moved like a man thirty years his junior and his dark eyes reflected years of wisdom and strength. He was retired, no longer an active shinobi but an advisor to the Hokage, but apparently he had never gotten the memo about being retired. He wore his combat armor, a black, loose outfit with arm guards and the symbol for fire on his back. His hitai-ate, sporting the Konoha leaf, was in place on his head, the long ties streaming behind him. He'd shortened them. Once they'd dragged on the ground, they were so long, but now they only hung to his waist.

They whipped like Sakura's hair in the growing winds.

"Sarutobi-san! What're you…"

"It's not safe here," Sarutobi said sharply, cutting her off. "Tsunade wants you. Something about running a message to the chuunin running the evacuation and getting them to 'hurry the hell up' were her exact words."

"What about Orochimaru?" Sakura demanded, pointing up at the figure overhead.

Sarutobi's expression was stony determination. "I'll handle him," he said, biting into his hand until blood flowed, running down his palm. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" A seal array spread out from his palm, a lightning-fast wriggling of black lines that spewed smoke. When it cleared, Enma the Monkey King was standing beside the old Hokage. There was no communication needed between the two old comrades. Enma struck a pose.

"Henge!" the white human-sized monkey called. He changed in a burst of smoke, a dark green staff with gold end caps spiraling into the air, lading firmly in Sarutobi's palm. "Kongonyoi!" Sarutobi spun the staff through several easy weapons routines, testing the weapon's balance. It showed that though he was old, he was far from helpless. The staff danced effortlessly, so much so that Sarutobi didn't even seem to be touching it.

"Go, Sakura," he said with an authority that left no room for argument.

"Yes sir," she said to the man who had become a kind of grandfather to her as well as a part-time sensei, for the times when Tsunade had been too busy to teach her. He had shown Sakura techniques like the Kage Bunshin, which had come in most handy for those times when Tsunade had swamped her with tasks and errands, and various Doton jutsu to go with her affinity. "Good luck."

"Thank you," he said, distracted. He pointed the end of the staff up at Orochimaru. "Enma!"

"Yes sir!"

The end of the staff shot out like a bullet, streaking into the sky. Sakura saw it hit Orochimaru squarely in the cheek and then she was gone, leaping across the rooftops, heading for the spire in the center of the village that marked the Hokage's Tower.

Sakura found Tsunade, received the message, and was on her way to deliver it when something crashed to earth in front of her. Sakura screamed despite herself, but her body sprang back, putting distance between her and the object. When the dust settled, she realized with a thrill of horror that it was Sarutobi! A pair of black jackboots were standing in front of him. Sakura's heart started pounding as she followed the boots up to the tanto then up from there to the wallowing tongue of Orochimaru, the purple-slimed appendage roiling as if it had a life of its own. It sucked back in, vanishing in a blink and Orochimaru grinned. His grin spread to the corners of his mouth, revealing serrated fangs, then went further, stretching from ear to ear, though Orochimaru no longer had ears to speak of. His teeth was coated was a sheen of purple saliva, which Sakura knew was a poison so lethal that it could dissolve the very ground as if it was wet paper.

"Well, well, well," Orochimaru crooned, his voice velvet, his serpentine golden eyes merciless and humorless, despite the grin on his face. "What have we here? You're Kunoichi-chan, aren't you?" He leered as he looked her up and down. "You've matured since I saw you last."

Sakura swallowed twice to get rid of the dry feeling in her mouth and didn't reply, not trusting her voice. He remembered her! Good God, he remembered! That singular thought, more than any other, cemented Sakura's resolve and spurned her limbs into motion. Her fist cracked out. Her form was flawless, a combination of Tsunade and Gohan's relentless training, her fist backed by the chakra enhancements that Tsunade had taught her to boost her strength and the resolve that Gohan had taught her to instill into those fists.

Orochimaru caught her fist easily, but didn't expect the strength behind it and was blown right off his feet. Sakura knew she he wouldn't underestimate her like that again and sent her fingers to sealing, folding a series of seals taught to her by the man on the ground before her now. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

Four identical copies of Sakura appeared, each glaring at Orochimaru. Four clones was just about her max for combat. She had only done twenty before in training and hadn't dared to attempt more. Too many more than that and she would spread her chakra too thin and kill herself.

It aggravated her to no end that she, with proper control and chakra to spare, could create only twenty, but Naruto, that blockheaded teammate of hers could create a hundred times that amount with no control at all and still have enough to do high-level jutsu like the Rasengan and Kuchiyose.

Concentrate, Haruno! She commanded herself as Orochimaru emerged from the smoke where he'd smashed into a house. The Sannin stopped, looking over each Sakura with a wary gaze. "Oh ho?" he said. "Kage Bunshin. Very impressive, Kunoichi-chan."

"My name is Sakura!" One of the Sakuras shouted angrily. "Get it right, dammit!"

A kunai buried itself in that Sakura's forehead, popping the clone. The rest swarmed Orochimaru. It wasn't a mobbing like it would have been with Naruto's two thousand-strong horde, but it was enough to put Orochimaru on his heels. Sakura pushed relentlessly, much more strategic about her attacks than Naruto would be, which was the idea. She couldn't match him in stamina and sheer chakra amount, perhaps, but she was a hell of a lot more precise than the blond.

Every punch that Sakura threw was designed to hit a vital spot on Orochimaru and that attack always came in from a blind spot created from a sudden flurry of feints from all her other clones. Orochimaru's face went from amused to snarling after only a few near-misses. Finally, it seemed the Sannin had enough. A blow to one clone tore it right in half, popping it instantly. One received a kunai to the eye and the other had its neck broken. Sakura, setting up for another vital attack was struck by the ruthless manner in which her clones had been dealt with and hesitated for only a second.

In that second, Orochimaru had her by the throat, squeezing the air from her lungs. She struggled to take a breath, but couldn't. Her hear pounded in her head, ears filled with a dull roaring noise. Black spots began to dance in her vision and her struggles were growing ever more feeble. She lashed out with one more kick, trying to catch the snake in the groin, but missed and scraped the outside of his thigh instead. She only had enough time to berate herself for her stupidity and then she was more concerned with breathing and staying conscious. As her eyes began to roll and found the sky, she realized the clouds were many times darker than they had been and were beginning to get tendrils of lightning dancing through them.

Sakura thought it looked familiar but in her dazed, disjointed, state of mind, she had no idea where she had seen the spectacle. She thought she heard someone calling her name, but when she tried to answer, the words wouldn't come.

The world was going black.

Everything was so far away.


Wind, cold and sweet, rushed into her starving lungs. Sakura coughed violently, heaving great breaths. She waited a second for her mind to clear, for her body to get the oxygen it so desperately needed. Someone was helping her up, forcing her to stand. She looked up and found herself staring into a pair of bright cerulean eyes. She flinched back, but the person kept a firm grip on her.

"Sorry, Sakura," Naruto said as he held her steady. "You're alright now."

Sakura's mind caught up with her instincts. "Na…Naruto?" She asked, taking in the blonde's whisker marks on his cheeks, his spiky yellow hair, and intense blue eyes. "Is that you?"

Naruto grinned his megawatt fox grin. "Yep!" he said confidently. Sakura looked her old friend over. He'd grown taller while he'd been gone. Now at sixteen, Naruto was literally head and shoulders above his old self. His outfit was more muted. Before he'd worn a garishly orange outfit, but now the orange was a shade or two darker, less ostentatious, and offset by a generous amount of black. His hitai-ate had changed as well. It sported long ties that fell to his shoulders and it too was black, unlike his last one that had been a dark navy blue.

"When did you…How did you?" Sakura didn't seem to be able to form complete sentences, she was so surprised to see him.

"We just got back," Naruto answered. "Ero-Sennin went to see the Old Hag, I think, and I decided to go looking for you." His blue eyes took on a serious tone that Sakura had never seen in him before. She'd seen Naruto determined, angry, sad, happy, and all other emotions. Never had she seen him simply flick a mental switch and get serious like this.

Orochimaru stalked forward. He cackled humorlessly when he saw who'd attacked him. "Uzumaki Naruto-kun," he said, voice dangerous. The Snake Sannin didn't have his trademark smirk on his face and his abdomen bore the distinctive wounds of a Rasengan hit. "You've returned."

Naruto grinned confidently. "Damn straight," he answered. "Don't think I've forgotten that cheap shot I owe you." He made a very familiar cross-shaped hand seal. "I'm gonna pay you back a thousand times over! Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

In an instant, a thousand clones were everywhere. They stood on light poles, telephone poles, rooftops, walls, and clogged alleyways and streets for as far as the eye could see.

"More clones," Orochimaru snared distastefully. "I'm so very tired of fighting these accursed things." He crouched, legs bunching. "I think I'll take them out all at once!" The ground under Orochimaru splintered as the Sannin roared into the sky, shrouded in a blue-white comet of ki. Sakura could just make him out, a black speck against a screen of equally black rotating clouds. It was easy to see him when he became a point of glowing blue-white light.

"Oh no," Sakura whispered, recognizing it. "No, not that technique. Please don't kill us with that." She knew her pleas would go unanswered. The last thing she wanted to happen to her was to die by the very technique that had always inspired hope and awe in her.

"It's a Kamehameha," Naruto whispered angrily, his fist clenching in sudden realization. Orochimaru was too high up to hit easily and by the time Naruto got his clones organized to get to him, it would be over. "Dammit!"


The attack roared down. Sakura watched helplessly as the ki blast sped for them, fast as light, more deadly than Death himself. There was no time to run, no time to fight. She could only look on as blue-white oblivion sped for her. The only thing Sakura could allow herself to do was to watch her end come like a true shinobi, unflinching, giving her life in the defense of the village. She only regretted that she couldn't take Orochimaru with her.

The blast howled down and Sakura flinched away, so help her, she looked away like a coward. The last thing to fill her mind was Gohan's face during that night on the Hokage Monument when they'd decided to change their relationship for the better. She remembered his arms, solid and safe, around her, remembered the comfort of laying her head on his shoulder, the softness of his lips on hers.

The blast was howling, the wind was whipping, and Sakura knew she would die now. The wind threw grit and dust around, stinging like a million bug bites. She was practically deaf from the screaming ki and could feel the searing heat of it. She sat there for an eternity and began to wish that it would hurry the hell up and kill her already. The waiting was worse than the death itself.

She wasn't sure how long she sat there. The Kamehameha howled and roared but never seemed to get any closer. Finally, both Sakura and Naruto risked a peek. And did they ever get an eyeful.

Shock ripped through both Naruto and Sakura as they saw just what had stopped the deadly blast.

"Gohan?" Sakura breathed. Sure enough, standing in the way of the Kamehameha, feet braced, arms out, was Son Gohan. His teeth were bared in a fierce grimace, a vein bulging in his neck and temple.

"G-Gohan?" Naruto echoed.

Sakura's neck cricked as she snapped her head up, looking at the sky. Sure enough, the clouds were spinning as if in a tornado, but instead of a tornado, a hole had opened in the sky, a hole that drooled scarlet light. The Eternal Dragon Shenlong, a creature of terrific power from Gohan's world, had come to them in much the same manner, granting a wish to return Gohan to his world and before that, Gohan had first come to them the same way.

High up, Orochimaru frowned, still concentrating on the Kamehameha. He'd thought it would be sweet irony to finish those two meddlesome ninja with the very technique that Gohan had used to give the Sannin the vicious chest wound that he still bore the scars from. Instead, a bolt of gold light had shot from the hole in the sky off to Orochimaru's right and landed right in front of the attack. Now it was like Orochimaru was trying to push his hand through a brick wall. There was something on the other end of the strike, blocking it, keeping it from exploding and wiping out Naruto-kun, Kunoichi-chan, and probably a good part of the village.

"What's going on?" He wondered.

Gohan's feet skidded a foot or two backwards before the saiyan set his feet and stopped again. "He's gotten better," Gohan muttered to himself, though the other two heard him. His gritted teeth turned into a smirk. "But…so…have…I!" With a roar, Gohan balanced the energy ball on one hand, drew back with the other, and delivered a heavy blow that shook the air.

The Kamehameha burst apart into a thousand blue and white sparks that faded harmlessly into the air. Orochimaru recoiled when something blew his attack away, the feedback making the Sannin's arms tingle. He felt his blood run cold when he saw who was responsible.

"Son Gohan," Orochimaru whispered, nervous though he wouldn't admit it. Three years ago, Son Gohan had nearly killed him. Orochimaru had repaid blood for blood but had been unable to deliver a finishing blow, thanks in large part to Kunoichi-chan down there. Sasuke had said that Gohan would get stronger in time, something that he'd been so certain of that Orochimaru had had no choice but to believe his new prospective host.

"Gohan?" Sakura whispered, stunned. She felt as if a light wind would blow her over. "Is it really you?" Gohan's grim face split with a genuine smile. It warmed Sakura from her head to her toes. She took in his appearance. He was taller, standing almost a full head above her. He could rest his chin on her head only by stretching a tiny bit when before she had been able to rest her head on his shoulder with no effort. He was wearing the same orange gi and blue undershirt that she remembered, a copy, she'd been told, of his father's uniform. Gone was the messy moptop Sakura remembered, instead Gohan's hair swept up, defying gravity as a crown of black spikes, except for a tiny lock that just barely touched his forehead.

"Yeah," he replied softly. "It's me." Sakura gathered herself to hug him, welcome him back, but a hand stalled her. "Later, Sakura, I promise." He turned his back on her and glared up at Orochimaru, "I have some unfinished business first."

"Will you be okay?" Sakura asked.

"Yeah," Naruto added. "He kicked your ass last time."


"Well he did!" Naruto protested.

Gohan actually laughed. "I'll be fine," he answered. He smiled over his shoulder at them. "I can tell you've both gotten a lot stronger since I saw you last. And so have I." He smirked again. "I'm not the same guy I used to be." He gathered his legs to leap into the sky.

"Gohan, be careful!" Sakura pleaded.

"Don't worry about me," Gohan replied. "Just wait here. I'll be right back!" Gohan roared into the sky, shrouded in blue-white fire, much as Orochimaru had been.

Orochimaru watched the blue streak rocket up towards him. The Sannin set himself in the sky, readying himself for the battle to come. "Come, Son Gohan," Orochimaru whispered. "Let's see how you've grown in these three years."

Gohan's aura flashed gold and he shot forward, as fast as a bullet. The sky over Konoha echoed with a sonic boom. Then another strange thing happened. Gohan's aura went back to blue but his speed only grew! Orochimaru was ready for the attack but somehow Gohan's fist smashed roughly through his guard, completely ignoring the resistance Orochimaru offered, and smashed the Sannin's chest.

Orochimaru shot through the air, unable to stop himself. He was only trying to breath right at that second. He arced to the ground, ripped a furrow in the road before skipping off an embedded rock and putting a hole in three buildings. Gohan was waiting for him when he smashed through the third one. The saiyan seized Orochimaru by the hair and smashed his face into a wall, once, then again before punting him skyward again.

Orochimaru got his wits about him and stopped his headlong tumble in a pulse of power. Gohan's shin was already filling his vision. A cloud of vapor erupted over the village, the shockwave forcing moisture out of the air. Orochimaru erupted from it, tumbling head over heels, rocketing over the village. He halted his tumbling and shot a ki blast at the rushing Gohan right as he erupted from the cloud himself.

Gohan's hand flashed, the ki blast sparked and sang as it was swatted away, hitting somewhere outside the village walls, then Gohan was pushing a ki blast of his own right into Orochimaru's face. The Sannin had a flash of deadly onyx eyes, just as sharp as a Super Saiyan's in their intensity, then the ki blast fired.

Orochimaru twisted his body sinuously, contorting more than he ever had before his augments, and dodged the blast. He lashed out, fully expecting to find Gohan's body with the blow. After all, he should still outclass the Super Saiyan.

Orochimaru's fist split nothing but air.

"You're slow," Gohan said from behind him, his voice deadly.

Orochimaru spun around, looking for the warrior. "Where are you looking?" Gohan asked. Orochimaru spun to face him, trying to simply catch sight of the warrior, but each time he spun to where Gohan was, the young man was already a shadow in the corner in his vision.

Gohan's fist crashed into the side of Orochimaru's head. The Sannin saw stars as he blasted into the ground outside the Hokage's Tower. The ground splintered, the earth itself shook, knocking shinobi off their feet. Gohan landed just as Tsunade left the tower, Jiraiya at her side. The Godaime drew up short when she saw Gohan.

"Son…Gohan?" She asked, hardly daring to believe her eyes, but she knew it really was him. He wasn't a Super Saiyan right then, but his eyes had the same deadly intensity and Tsunade had the distinct impression of standing on an ocean shore. That was what it was like looking at Gohan. He had a quiet strength, rock solid in its density, silent in its power. Orochimaru lashed out with a foot, trying to hit the boy…no the man who'd put him in the ground.

Gohan was already in motion.

Tsunade blinked and she missed it. When her eyes opened, Orochimaru was tumbling through the air, helpless. "How?" She whispered, watching her former teammate tumble. "You're not even a Super Saiyan!"

"Wrong," Gohan said, as if he hadn't just tossed one of the most dangerous shinobi in the world like he was a feather. "I'm something more."

"What do you…" Jiraiya started to say.

"Explain later," Gohan said, vanishing. They knew where he'd gone when a dull clap of thunder echoed over the village and a black speck went flying. Gohan was about to press the attack when the skies split open again, drooling red light. "What now?" He wondered. No sooner had he spoken then two gold streaks burst from the clouds. They shot out like bullets. One headed straight for Gohan, who backhanded it away. He hit something soft, forgiving, not hard like a ki blast.

He had a sudden, horrendous feeling, but by the time logic caught up with action, the streak was already over the horizon and vanishing quick.

The second one headed for Orochimaru, who reacted much as Gohan had and backhanded the blast away. This one arced over the horizon in an entirely different direction. The Sannin took advantage of Gohan's distraction and hammered him in the jaw.

Sakura and Naruto cried out, shielding their eyes from the rocks that erupted when Gohan's unyielding body met equally unyielding earth and shattered the earth to pieces. Above, Orochimaru glanced over the walls of Konoha and saw a metallic flash in the trees.

He smiled. His objectives had been met here. He'd shown Konoha what he could, even if the effect would be muted somewhat by Son Gohan's reappearance, and, more importantly, he'd gotten what he needed to help with the body transfer that was looming ever closer.

Orochimaru's aura flared around his body and he blasted off, not noticing that he followed one of the streaks' paths. He just wanted to get as far from Konoha as possible before he had to fight Son Gohan in his present condition. Gohan's power boost had caught Orochimaru off guard, admittedly, but the young man had shown something else. "He was relentless," Orochimaru murmured. "He never transformed, but he was merciless." Orochimaru's mouth split into its wide, inhuman grin. "You surprised me, Gohan-kun. I love a good challenge! Kukukuakakahahahahahah!"

"Kazekage-sama, it's time for the meeting."

Gaara acknowledged Baki's message with a nod. He was standing on top of the Kagekage's building, a massive orb of sand that dominated the center of Sunagakure. Suna itself was set inside the protective bowl formed by a huge desert plateau. In times past, the village had sat on top of the outcrop but the ninja, always seeking to improve their defenses, had burrowed down over time until the village sat on the desert floor and the plateau rose around it, shielding it from attacks and the elements. If there was a better defended village out there, Gaara had yet to see it.

Gaara himself had changed little since he'd been made Kazekage. He was still sleep-deprived and the heavy bags under his eyes showed it, making him look like a raccoon, which was ironic considering the beast he harbored within him. The warm desert evening wind stung his face with sand grains, his short-cropped red hair whipping but it didn't conceal the kanji for love that he had sandblasted himself into his forehead.

The only thing different about his appearance now was the teal and white Kazekage robes he wore and the hat that hung off the Calabash gourd strapped to his back, a gourd that Gaara was never seen without, peacetime or no. Naruto had changed him significantly, Gaara reflected. He remembered that day, under the tree in Konoha, where Naruto had shown him an act of genuine kindness. It had lit Gaara's inky black world and shown him the life beyond the constant pain, the loneliness, and the scorn.

Gaara had worked hard to earn the villager's trust and respect and it had paid off. Gaara now stood as the Godaime Kazekage, succeeding his father, who had been killed by Orochimaru, and giving Suna a leader once again, after nearly two years of leaderless limbo. Gaara's face showed nothing, but he smirked inwardly at the frustration he had to be causing Naruto. His rambunctious friend, after all, wanted nothing more than to be Hokage and Gaara had beaten the blond to his dream. Gaara hadn't seen Naruto in a year or two, not since Jiraiya and Naruto had come through Suna on their way to parts unknown. Gaara hadn't been leading his village at that point, but he and Naruto had spent some talking about their hopes and dreams. Well, to be fair, Gaara had stood there and enjoyed Naruto's company and Naruto had done all the talking.

"Kazekage-sama," Baki said again, respectfully, not wanting to intrude on Gaara's thoughts.

"Yes," Gaara answered. "I'll be there in a m…." He broke off, Gaara's teal eyes narrowing dangerously. The cork on Gaara's gourd dissolved and crumbled into sand, which was what the gourd was and contained, all held together by Gaara's will. The Kazekage's arms crossed over his chest. It looked casual, but Baki recognized it as Gaara's fighting stance, a signal of danger. The jounin sidled a few steps to the left and slipped into the shadow of the entrance to the roof. He watched Gaara's back, though the Kage needed little of it, and scanned the skies, following Gaara's gaze.

Sure enough, there was something out there. It was a tiny glint, growing larger every second. A low whistle reached Baki's ears. It was so faint that at first he thought he imagined it, until the whistle turned into an unearthly howl that sounded like the legions of Hell unleashed!

The screaming light shot over the plateau that shielded Suna, skipped once off the ground, raising a huge fountain of sand, and arrowed straight for Gaara, as if the light had a mind of its own.

The explosion was huge.

Baki shielded his eyes, the veil that covered half of his face flapping madly, and slowly lowered his arm when he thought it was okay to. Gaara was standing as he had been before. The only difference was the statue of Shukaku that was sitting in front of him. As Baki watched, the Shukaku idol lost its shape and detail, collapsing into a cloud of sand that flowed along the ground like water, climbing Gaara's leg like a python, slithering back into the gourd, which took shape once again, having dissolved to further add its sand to Gaara's defenses.

As the Shukaku dissolved, it unearthed a figure. Baki started when he realized that the figure was human and had gone through the front of the Shukaku idol, which was Gaara's single strongest defense, and burrowed into the technique's center. Baki felt the blood drain from his face. Nothing had done that. Ever.

"What was that?" Baki asked, leaving his place behind Gaara when the figure laying on the roof didn't move.

"A person," Gaara said unnecessarily. A person it was. The man was human, that much was apparent, dressed in an orange gi. On the back of the gi was a white circle trimmed in black. In the center of the circle was the kanji for 'Turtle'. Gaara reached down and rolled the man over, despite Baki's noise of protest. The man was muscled, heavily so, a testament to a punishing workout regimen. He couldn't have been more than late thirties or early forties at the most, his features strong, his jaw defined but not boxy and there appeared to be faint lines from laughter around the corners of his mouth and eyes. You had to really look to see them, but they were there. His hair was a mess, as much as that Son Gohan from Konoha, who had defeated Gaara in the prelims of the Chuunin Exams three years ago. It was the worst on the front, back and sides and it seemed that no matter which way the man's head rolled, the spikes managed to be prominent.

"Who is this?" Baki asked.

"Good question," Gaara murmured, nudging the man again. His head rolled over to the other side and revealed a fairly nasty bruise blooming on the side of his head. "My Shukakku defense didn't do this."

"You're right. The bruise wouldn't be this large and visible already," Baki agreed.

Gaara watched the man's chest. To his surprise, it rose and fell with regular rhythm. "He's unconscious."

"Impossible," Baki snorted. "He hit the ground and your ultimate defense. There's no way…he…could…he is alive!" Gaara snorted through his nose as his sand crept out of his gourd and lifted the unconscious man up, floating suspended by a tendril of grains.

"I'll take him to the medical wing."

Gaara carried the man inside on the floating bed of sand.

It had been one hell of an entrance, but Son Goku had indeed arrived in Sunagakure.

Gaara had no idea just how much he would need Goku in the battle to come.

And so begins Gohan's Return. Hope the wait was worth it. I also hope the battle between Gohan and Orochimaru was gratifying. Many of you were...unhappy, to say the least, when Orochimaru beat up Gohan in Dilemma. Obviously, Gohan's not going down so easy this time around. And yes, that was Mystic Gohan vs Orochimaru. I've mentioned that I'm making changes to how Gohan's Mystic form works. To make a long story short, it's going to be something like Ichigo's Bankai from Bleach. Those of you who read Bleach know what I'm talking about. For those who don't, long story short, the Mystic form grants Gohan access to all his power then compresses it down. Better explanation in chapters to come.


Kongonyoi (Adamatine Staff): Enma changes into a green staff and it can increase in size and length. Like Goku's old Power Pole.

Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (Shadow Clone Technique): Creates an actual, physical copy of the user as opposed to a simple illusion like the regular version. Also comes in every elemental version apparently. So far the manga has used Water, Lightning, Earth, and a few other elements.