Konan looked over the village, seeing the battle below. The invaders were putting up a good fight, and while Ame was no stranger to invasion, no one had succeeded since Pain had taken the village from the reins of Hanzou the Salamander. Akatsuki was formidable, enough so that Pain wouldn't need to get involved unless the situation had escalated significantly. Konan didn't believe that this was likely, but watching the fight was making her doubt herself.
The Kyuubi was proving that his reputation was not undeserved. Swinging his tails destroyed the tallest buildings in the village, creating a domino effect that destroyed most of the surrounding ones as well. Injuries and casualties were currently impossible to determine, but that had to hurt some people. What Konan didn't understand was how the Kyuubi was here in the first place, and who was fighting with it?
At the moment it didn't matter, what mattered was capturing the Kyuubi while they had the chance, but to get that chance the Akatsuki had to subdue it and get rid of these invaders at the same time. She'd just wait until it got dire before she got involved. Or get Nagato involved. Trump cards weren't meant to be played too early.
'Where is Itachi? I've tried contacting him but he's still not responding.' Konan rued, heading for Nagato. 'Deidara and Sasori won't make it back in time even if I did call for them, so there's no point. If this gets bad enough I'll have to contact that nobody Tobi and make him do something useful.'
Down in the streets, Kakuzu and Kisame were putting up a hell of a fight. The Shobikou nin were keeping their distance, knowing that these two were among the most dangerous that Ame had at the moment. Kisame had already killed three members of the Kurama clan, though the genjutsus they put on him were making it hard for him to find other targets. Kakuzu unleashed three masked constructs from his back that attacked the Shobikou nin, prompting several Akimichi to keep them at bay.
Shizune jumped in and unleashed a Poison Fog Jutsu on Kakuzu. To her surprise, the man made no effort to dodge. In fact, he made a big show of inhaling the fog before exhaling. Sure he coughed, but he fired some black tendrils at the medic who did make an effort to dodge, and succeeded.
'Poison has no effect on him?' Shizune thought. 'I mean, it's not unusual for some high level nin to develop some resistance to toxins, but you can't build up a tolerance to poisons unless you've been exposed to them. And I've spent the last three years adjusting my poisons with elements from Shobikou. There's no way he can have a resistance to them. What's his secret?'
While Shizune kept Kakuzu distracted, Shikaku tried to ensnare him with his shadow. The masked constructs intercepted and took their master's place, but Inoichi took the chance to try and control their minds while Chouza attacked Kakuzu since Shizune's method wasn't working. After being limp for a moment, Inoichi returned to his body and got by his old friend.
"That thing has no brain. There's no mind to control, but there does seem to be a sense of direction inside. Like it's being remotely controlled. None of my jutsu will work on it."
"Then try to use them on the human controlling them." Shikaku suggested, struggling to keep the animated figured contained. They were putting up a fight now, enough that Shikamaru had to come in and reinforce the shadow binds.
Ino acted first, aiming her jutsu at Kakuzu before her father could. Chouji was helping his father too though he was taking more hits, but at least he was making sure Kakuzu was facing away from Ino. Her jutsu connected and she entered his mind.
"Okay, now what can I-?" She asked, only to gasp when she saw she was in a dark room with four faintly glowing light surrounding her. Normally when a Yamanaka took over a target's mind, they didn't actually enter a mindscape. Not unless they intended to, such as in cases when they sought information or memories without being noticed. What she had done was instead meant to control the body, see through her target's eyes as if they were her own and control her body the same way. What was happening now meant that there was a factor in Kakuzu's mind that she was not expecting.
"What is this?" She asked, getting a better look at the glowing lights. Each was a different color, red, blue, yellow, and white, and they pulsed like hearts. But each was wrapped up in a black chain that bled, dripping blood on the ground which she now noticed she was standing in. Feeling bothered, she tried to step out of the blood but there was nowhere else to step. But in doing so, she saw a green light coming from below the blood, where the chains were connected to.
Red hands emerged from the blood, grasping at her legs. Ino panicked and kicking at them, soon seeing faces in the blood too.
"He steals lives!"
Ino kicked at the grasping hands more, but found it harder. To her horror, she was starting to sink into the blood, now she was up to her knees. A black chain rose from the blood, dripping, and moved like a snake to coil around her, heading for her heart.
"Like hell!" She exclaimed, ending the jutsu and returning to her body. Once there, she gasped and clutched her chest, still feeling like there was blood on her skin.
"What did you find?" Shikamaru asked, having arrived by her unconscious body.
"I don't know how to describe it, but it was like there were... shades of other people in his mind. Not real minds, more like pieces of other minds. Trapped there, giving him some kind of power." She described, getting to her feet. "Whatever power he has, I don't think it's entirely his own."
Kakuzu had felt an intrusion into his mind and on impulse he unleashed all of his heart golems. The four spread out beyond the reaches of the Akimichi and Nara clan members, going for anyone and everyone. Even those native to Ame. Kakuzu didn't care who died, just so long as they did die.
Chouza and Chouji managed to throw a combo in by slamming oversized fists at him from both sides. The impact resulted in snapping bones loud enough for everyone around him to hear. When the fists pulled away, Kakuzu collapsed to his knees and looked like he was struggling to breathe.
Then he started laughing. With more crackling sounds as he got back on his feet, looking as good as new.
Acting quickly, Shizune went in with a kunai and jabbed at him in the heart. He just laughed more.
"Go ahead, I've got more to spare!" He boasted, resuming the attack. Shizune got cut near her neck, making a lot of blood leave her body before she immediately started applying a healing jutsu to herself. Kakuzu went in for another attack but Shikaku threw an explosive kunai at his back with caught his attack, allowing Shikamaru to trap him for just a second. In that second everyone pulled back and got out of sight. Kakuzu didn't seem to mind, he just went to the next available targets once he could move.
"He just got up and continued on after having his skeleton crunched and his heart pierced. Even the Uzumaki don't heal like that." Inoichi noted while he and his daughter helped to stabilize Shizune.
"He must have some kind of healing factor of his own." Chouza noted.
"Healing factor and those brainless constructs. This can't be all part of a kekkei genkai. There's no common factor here." Shikamaru claimed.
"He said... he had more... hearts to spare." Shizune managed to say, though her tone made it clear that talking was not comfortable for her right now.
"More hearts?" Shikaku repeated. "I remember hearing of a kinjutsu from another country where the user steals living hearts and adds them to their own body. With it they can use other elemental affinities and heal from nearly anything. They're supposedly unkillable, even going for the vital points won't work as long as they have more than one heart working."
"That makes no sense." Shikamaru countered. "The heart isn't a battery for healing or the source of chakra, it's just a pump to keep the blood moving. Taking a heart into your body shouldn't make you heal better or have new chakra, it should just pump your blood more than it's already pumped. A kinjutsu can't change that."
"His mind." Ino added, sounding like she was realizing something. "What if he doesn't just take hearts? What if he takes parts of their souls into him too?"
"Whatever the case or cause, the results are semi-clear. So how do we kill someone who can heal from our heaviest attacks?" Shikamaru asked.
Shizune grunted and pulled a vial of some clear liquid out of a pouch she had. "In... his brain."
Shikaku took the vial. "Is this a poison?" Shizune nodded. "It has to go in his brain, it must be the kind that attacks the central nervous system."
Shikamaru slowly nodded. "Yes, it doesn't matter how good he heals if he ends up brain dead. But what if it doesn't work?"
"Then we just hold him off until Kuramamaru or Kyuubi-sama get to him. If those two can't kill him, none of us can." Chouza stated.
The others could only nod.
Kisame was struggling more than he was comfortable admitting. The ninja focusing on him seemed to favor genjutsu, creating the illusion that he was more outnumbered than he actually was. This did not bother him, he didn't mind having more bodies to aim at and he didn't care which targets were real or not. The problem was that the tactic was getting tedious to him.
The issue with this tactic was the real shinobi always tried to sneak in a deadly hit from behind their distracted target. Kisame was well aware of this so every so often he had to turn around and swing his sword at the real enemy. He already killed three men this way and yet the genjutsu persisted, suggesting multiple ninja using this tactic on him. And a few of them did get in hits of their own, but none were lethal due to Kisame's quick reflexes and resilient nature. But even he couldn't go on forever.
'I need to end this, and what better than an all direction technique?' He thought, growing a sharp-toothed grin. He did a long set of hand seals then put his hands on the wet ground. "Water Style Water Prison Shark Dance Jutsu!"
The water all around him began to rise up around him and everyone, empowered by the rain adding to it. With so much water around Kisame didn't have to add more with his jutsu, just use the abundant moisture of Ame to create a gigantic water prison that engulfed everyone. Shobikou and Ame nin alike. Everyone protested and tried to get out, while Kisame took out Samehada and fused with it, turning into a human shark hybrid ready to hunt.
Right away Chouza, Chouji, and all Akimichi capable of doing so became giants and got out of the water prison. Bursting out destabilized the jutsu and made it nearly flounder, but Kisame managed to reinforce it quickly. The giants made quick work out of removing as many captives as they could. Kisame rushed to attack the giants, enjoying having bigger targets to tear into. Chouji grabbed the sharkman with both hands, attempting to crush him like a potato chip. Kisame spun around, lashing out with his claws and biting at Chouji's exposed flesh. Chouji felt like he was trying to stop active blender blades with his bare hands but he refused to let go. He applied as much pressure as he could, feeling the shredding going in deeper, and then in an act of desperation he pulled his arms out of the water, prey still caught, and chucked Kisame to the ground below.
Kisame impacted the pavement hard, breaking a few bones, while Chouji returned to normal size covering his bleeding eviscerated hands. The water prison jutsu collapsed completely, sending tidal waves in all directions that swept away everyone who couldn't get out of the way. Kisame was one of those caught in the wave and despite the pain he was in he grabbed a building and climbed to a higher level, using the extra chakra from Samehade to heal himself. Once that happened he had to revert to human form, stabilizing from forced recovery always worked better that way, then he jumped into the water.
Only to be snapped out of the air by the jaws of the Kyuubi, who lifted him up and chomped on him like a fox eating a fish. Kisame's legs fell to the earth while Kyuubi ate the rest. Had he known of Kisame's reputation as the 'tailless bijuu', Kyuubi might have found this funny, but right now he had other things on his mind than humor.
Within the bowels of the Akatsuki headquarters, Kuramamaru and Hinata sent drawn towards one area due to their sage chakra. It was hard to describe, but their instincts told them that this was important. Important enough to be guarded, since several people with high levels of chakra were in there as well according to the byakugan. Oddly, one person was connected to six others via their chakra, with only one being independent.
"How do we get in?" Hinata whispered. "We're outnumbered and they're clearly expecting someone. I don't think our notice-me-not genjutsu will work here."
Kuramamaru thought it over, and after a bit sighed. "I have only one idea, but you're not going to like it."
Before the white-eyed girl could ask for clarification, Kuramamaru created a shadow clone and had it simply open the door to the chamber and walk in.
"Hello everyone. Can we talk?"
The respond was a lethal attack on the clone, one that Kuramamaru chose to spare his girlfriend the details of.
After that was done but before the Akatsuki could do more, the real Uzumaki used the Asura Path to give himself the best shields he could produce and walked in, withstanding another attack.
"Now that that's out of the way, can we have an actual conversation?" Kuramamaru asked when the attack ceased.
"You are beyond foolish to waltz in here, the chamber of command, and ask for parlay." A blue-haired woman with a paper flower in her hair chided.
"And yet you didn't have the door locked." Kuramamaru pointed out.
"We are the leaders of Akatsuki, no one would dare intrude into our chambers." A sickly man with red hair and his own rinnegan said, from something that Kuramamaru could only describe as a 'punk rock life support system' given the piercings both it and the man possessed. In fact, everyone except the blue-haired woman had piercings, rinnegan eyes, and hairs of various shades of red. Not only that, they had pale skin, unhealthily pale. Kuramamaru's eyes told him that the man in the life support system was linked to these six others, but they didn't appear to have any chakra of their own.
'They're corpses. He's using corpses as puppets, and since I see six that means he probably uses each one as a Path so he can use all six at once if he wants to.'
"I dare, and I've come to bargain." Kuramamaru stated confidently.
Konan glared and readied some paper bombs. "You think you can-!"
"Hold it Konan." The man in life support ordered, making her freeze. "This child is brash, arrogant, and reckless to come here and demand an audience with me, let alone bring an army into my village. However, I must admit I find his attitude amusing. Plus, he too has the eyes of a god. Let us hear his 'bargain' first, just to sate my shred of curiosity of nothing else."
With reluctance, Konan nodded.
"I am Pein, leader of Akatsuki and ruler over Ame. Who are you and what do you want?"
"I am Kuramamaru Uzumaki, heir to Uzushio and third fox sage. First I need to know what it is you think you are doing by gathering the bijuu."
Konan arched an eyebrow but Pein looked annoyed. "That is simple. With all nine demons gathered together we will have the supreme weapon that will be used to keep all other nations in line. No nation will ever go to war again, not with us or with each other. It will be a futile effort, and once war is futile we can finally have peace in this world. True peace."
To their surprise, the whiskered redhead cleaned out his ear with his pinkie and looked unimpressed. "Yeah I kind of suspected that. Tell me, did you have this idea before a man named Tobi joined your group? Really think about it, who came up with the idea for collecting the bijuu?"
"Of course it was Pein-sama! Who do you think you are to suggest otherwise?" Konan insisted.
Pein however was quiet. He didn't know why, but he was trying to recall the early days of when he, Konan, and Yahiko had taken over Akatsuki and reformed it. Back then it had been simple, take down Hanzou the Salamander and give Ame a leader who could do more than make their lives miserable. With blood, sweat, and tears they eventually succeeded and Pein took over the role of leadership in Ame, using misdirection to keep those outside the village from learning anything about him. Akatsuki was repurposed to help with that misdirection and keep Ame safe from those looking to war again, while also giving missing nin a place to go because it was better to have them work for Ame than against it.
Then at some point, they had found a giant statue that sensors said showed residual connection to the bijuu. All of them, like one big supreme jinchuuriki. Zetsu said that at some point someone must have trapped all nine demons in there, and Black Zetsu said there was no reason they couldn't be resealed back into it. The members of Akatsuki had talked among themselves about who could have sealed them before, how the bijuu got free, but the big topic was what could they do if they had such a massive amount of chakra at their disposal.
Then came the idea to recollect the bijuu by taking them from the bodies of the jinchuuriki and using the statue as a weapon of mass destruction in order to end all war in the Elemental Nations. Sure a village or two would resist, maybe all of them, but they would use the statue to wipe out one of them completely. Clean off the map, no survivors at all. Maybe do it to one more village just to show they could do it more than once. The remaining villages would surely be scared into submission after a threat that terrifying. Then there would never be war again, and finally there would be everlasting peace.
But where did that idea come from?
Pein frowned. "Who cares where it came from? The idea is solid, why would you have a problem with it? Do you desire more war?"
"No, but I don't believe that if you actually succeed that you'll get to enjoy the results. You're being used to create a weapon that Namikaze Minato will use to take control over the world."
Konan sardonically laughed. "He will be crushed like anyone else that opposes us. But you will not be there to see it."
The blue-haired woman then sent out multiple paper shuriken at Kuramamaru and Hinata. The Shobikou nin defended themselves with some fire jutsu that were strong enough to overpower the chakra-empowered paper. On cue, all of Pein's paths came at the Shobikou nin en masse to overwhelm the two. A bit of overkill from an outside perspective, but those with god mentalities like Pein tended to favor overkill when facing those that dared to see them as fallible.
Using his Asura Path, Kuramamaru created dozens of chains that anchored across the room like some kind of spider web. He lacked his mother's ability to do this naturally, but the Asura Path was a convenient work-around to getting similar results. The only real difference between his and Kushina's chains were his couldn't suppress chakra and his were more iron-based while hers were adamantine. Still, chains were chains and they kept the paths at bay.
However, the paths of Pein were not helpless or so easily stopped. The Asura Pein created saws to cut through them while the Animal Pein created snakes and other creatures that could get around them. Hinata fought off the snakes by clawing their heads off though she couldn't do anything to the saws. Kuramamaru got grabbed from behind by a bulky Path of Pein and felt his chakra being drained. Kuramamaru smirked, knowing he had sage chakra in him and this enemy likely hadn't prepped himself to handle it, so he let him. As expected, the Ghost Pein could not handle the presence of sage chakra and began to transform into a fox.
Nagato, the central axis of Pein, all of a sudden felt like he was being attacked from within. 'What...? How are they...?' He saw the rest of his Paths were slowing down and moving more stiffly, like the chakra rods that allowed him to control the bodies were getting interference. Focusing, he found the source was his Ghost Path, which was transforming into a small animal. Not only was the process painful, but the chakra rods were tearing apart the body and falling out in the process.
With the Paths disrupted, Kuramamaru and Hinata went back on the offensive, climbing over the disoriented flesh puppets to get to the puppet masters. Kuramamaru went for Nagato while Hinata went for Konan. Konan threw dozens of explosive tags at the former heiress, determined to take her down even if she had to suffer part of the blast too. Hinata did a Rotation to scatter the explosives away from her and came in close, her byakugan telling her that under her clothes Konan had several pieces of paper with seals on them. The reasons were unclear, perhaps they were traps or armor, but Hinata ignored them and struck the blue-haired woman in the spaces between the paper. Maybe it was for mobility, but Konan wasn't covered head to toe in paper. She got her nerves struck, her skin torn open, and some of her tenketsu closed off before Hinata finished her off with a slash across the neck.
Seeing his enemy approach, Nagato withdrew all chakra from his Paths to utilize his own skills directly. A part of him was nervous since he wasn't used to doing this anymore and endurance wasn't one of his strongest aspects. But he was a god, there was no way some kid was going to take him down. He started with the Preta Path, pushing the whiskered redhead against the wall before switching to the Asura Path and throwing a spear into his torso to keep him pinned.
"You foolish child, did you really think you could defeat me? Me? The god of this world?" Nagato chided.
"I actually feel sorry for you." Kuramamaru said, creating a saw to cut himself free.
"You dare pity me?" Nagato asked, offended.
"You have the same eyes as me, yet you see nothing except darkness. You have the power to make the world a better place, and you chose to enslave it. You probably want to tell me you suffered some kind of trauma and that's why you think you're saving the world from itself, but that's a load of bullshit. I suffered trauma too jerk, and I didn't decide that gave me the right to put chains around everyone's necks just to keep it from happening again. You're no god, you're a fallen angel at best and a devil at worst."
Nagato glowered, readying his remaining Paths back into action while Kuramamaru treated his wound. "You have no right to pass judgment on me! I am God! I am the one who will perfect this flawed world! I am the Child of Prophecy!"
'Child of Prophecy?' Kuramamaru thought. 'Oh crap, Jiraiya must have filled this guy's head with ideas and then blown him off for Namikaze. So even the Akatsuki exist because of that stupid prophecy.'
"You are nothing!" Nagato insisted, arming his Paths for a final attack.
"And you forgot I didn't come here alone."
Nagato briefly panicked before he felt claws and chakra dig into the back of his neck and tear apart his spine, severing the nerves inside. Chakra spread to burn his body from the inside, from the brainstem to the lungs and kidneys. Nagato tried to prevent this, but nerves worked after than chakra and he couldn't make his body cooperate enough to counter the damage. As a result, the head of Pain collapsed in his life support system with his puppets falling on the floor, never to rise again.
"Good thing all his eyes were on me." Kuramamaru remarked, seeing Hinata come from behind their downed enemy.
"That felt surprisingly satisfying and I don't know why." Hinata said, wiping blood off her claws.
"Maybe he hurt you in another life so this was getting payback? Like with Sasuke and me?" Kuramamaru suggested with a shrug. "Let's get to the others."
Unknown to himself, Kakuzu was the only member of the Akatsuki left sans Tobi, but even if he did know he wouldn't care. Everyone was fighting off his heart constructs and doing their best to avoid him directly. Which he naturally was trying to prevent them from doing.
The brief flood from Kisame's battle bought everyone time to put space between them and Kakuzu, and Haku took advantage of the moisture to freeze three of the heart puppets. Asuma came in and smashed them behind her, being sure to destroy the hearts within. Only the fire heart doll remained, along with his own heart which meant he was now down to just fire and earth chakra natures. That barely hindered him though, he had decades of experience in hurting people and wasn't afraid to use it.
Shikaku and Shikamaru were making more efforts to trap the former Taki nin, the water on the ground masking the shadows making it easier to catch him.
"We've got him! Do it now!"
The fire heart doll intercepted and created a fire wall, disrupting the shadows with enough light to weaken their hold and allow Kakuzu to escape.
"We need to take that thing down first." Shikamaru stated, moving to get more cover and better shadows.
As if hearing that, Kushina came in and grappled the fire heart doll, wrapping it with chains and squeezing tighter and tighter. Kakuzu came in to stop her, not wanting to lose yet another heart, and sent out his threads to crush her like her chains were doing.
"There's no escape for you." Kakuzu warned, tightening the threads enough that they were drawing blood.
Kushina however smirked. "Wasn't trying to escape. I was trying to keep you looking this way."
Kakuzu felt the Shadow Possession Jutsu ensnare him again, this time without a puppet to watch his back. He tried to break through it via sheer will power, but just to be safe Inoichi and Ino used some neural disruption jutsus to hinder his ability to control his own body. Then Shizune went in and jabbed two poison-coated senbon directly into his brain. These were metal-based neurotoxins specifically designed to kill off the nervous system, based on toxins that Suna often employed. If this didn't kill the man, nothing short of a bijuudama would.
Kakuzu's regeneration worked overtime to overcome this dilemma, but the toxins were already taking effort. Seeing no other way out of it, the kinjutsu that kept him alive sacrificed his own heart to combat the problem and detox the poisons, expelling them from his body via sweat. It worked, with some loss of brain, but now with no working heart Kakuzu had maybe a minute to survive before his body expired anyway. But how to get his fire heart back?
"Want this back?" Kushina asked. "Then take it."
She released her chains and the fire puppet stammered to the ground. Not having a choice, Kakuzu released her in turn. He wanted to cut her to pieces but right now his priority was to get his last heart into his body, and he couldn't afford to multitask right now.
Shame that in his determination to survive he forgot that he was still trapped by a shadow, under the effect of nerve-numbing jutsu, and that the woman who poisoned him in the first place was still behind him.
Shizune stuck a kunai into his spine, destroying one of the discs between the vertebrae and hurting him even more. Shikamaru and Shikaku felt phantom pain from this along with the senbon to the skull, and their hold on him weakened, but Kakuzu no longer had the ability to stand or walk so he was less of a threat.
With his body betraying him, Kakuzu reached out a shaky arm and trembling threads to get back his last heart, his vision getting dark and his body getting cold. The puppet acted on command to come back to its master and they got close enough to touch... until Kushina stomped on the mask and plucked out the heart.
"Changed my mind, sorry."
"Damn... you..." Kakuzu wheezed, his life finally coming to an end.
This was when Kuramamaru, Hinata, and Han came into the area. "We got rid of Akatsuki's leader."
Kushina grinned and tossed away the heart. "Then it looks like we've won."