Chapter 21: It Begins (COTK Book 1 Final)

This content rated appropriate for audience: M for Mature Teens

This entry is part 21 of 24 in the series COTK: Book 1: Blind Sight
Reading Time: 19 minutes

There was only one thing Pakura hated more than not being in the loop.

Not being in the loop, and those in the know denying there was any inner circle. Pakura knew that she was just another foot soldier in the grand scheme of things, but surely Baki could have given her a little more to go on.

Her mission was to protect Naruto indefinitely, with her life, from foreign and domestic threats. She’d never had a more vague mission scroll in her life. In fact, Pakura was ninety-nine percent sure a more vague mission scroll had never been given in Sunagakure’s entire history!

Part of her hoped that a scroll relieving her of her duties would arrive soon, but she knew it wasn’t coming. Baki wanted her on this mission, so here she would stay instead of joining her comrades in preparing for war.

Pakura groaned in annoyance. She didn’t even know who Suna was preparing to wage war against! Because of her duties, she’d been unable to attend any of the meetings.

Hopping over an alleyway to the next roof and smoothly pulling herself up, Pakura walked up to the edge facing the street and waited for Naruto to walk into view once more.

A moment passed, and the pale-skinned boy appeared, his arms folded in his sleeves as he walked down the deathly quiet street. Pakura didn’t have long to wait before Naruto’s shadow came into view, trailing a few feet behind.

Three days ago, Gaara had begun openly following Naruto around, and Pakura’s nerves were driving her mad.

When she’d received the mission scroll, the orders to protect Naruto from domestic and foreign threats had been somewhat confusing. However, it had been clear that the domestic had meant Gaara, which made sense. Everyone needed protection from Gaara. That was the point of the special team of Shinobi, whose job was just to follow Gaara around to make sure he didn’t kill anyone.

Well, kill anyone important…

Yet, having talked with Gaara’s protection team Captain after Gaara attacked her, that apparently wasn’t the case.

For some reason, Baki had not felt the need to inform her that Gaara had been stalking Naruto long before he’d given her the mission. Explaining her orders to the Captain at his request had left them both mystified, and it was clear that the higher-ups were not explaining what was going on.

Sighing, Pakura took a running start and leaped to the next building’s roof, a civilian clothing store it seemed.

That’s just how it is sometimes, Pakura mused as she sat down on the lip of the roof, waiting for Naruto to get ahead again. I’ll probably take my questions to the grave.

What she had taken away from the encounter was that Gaara did not like her spying on his conversations with Naruto. So, since she didn’t want to die prematurely, she’d stopped trying to follow Naruto secretly.

It’d long since been pointless anyway, Naruto had somehow spotted her three days after she’d started the mission.

Just as he would today, Naruto had eaten lunch after training and then walked to the Suna Public library. Except, instead of sitting in his usual spot by the window, where she could easily see him from the roof across the street, he’d sat at the back of the library. She’d been forced to enter. Shortly after finding a good vantage point on top of a bookshelf, Naruto had looked up from his scroll and stared right at her, as if he could see her.

She’d been in a Genjutsu as well, so how he’d seen her was a mystery, but he hadn’t said anything, and simply returned to reading his scroll.

Baki had refused to explain what had happened.

Pakura chuckled as she watched Naruto walk by, Gaara a few steps behind. It truly was the strangest sight, but she had to admit that she’d almost accepted the odd duo.

It’s as if Naruto has somehow… tamed Gaara… Pakura would have laughed if she hadn’t felt so silly. Except that Gaara would still kill me in a heartbeat if he felt the urge.

Landing on the next roof, Pakura walked across the building and peered over the edge at the street below. There was no one there, of course, but her training demanded it. After thoroughly scanning the shadowed alleyways for… anything, Pakura turned back to the silent duo and leaned against a shaded patch of wall.

Feeling her hand instinctively twitching toward her Kunai pouch, Pakura forced it to still.

Gaara is going to make me go crazy, Pakura thought. Due to the constant low-level intent to kill that Gaara released, her training kept her on edge. Every time the red-headed Jinchūriki even moved his eyes, she reacted.

Whenever she wasn’t fighting off her ingrained belief that Naruto was in danger, Pakura was trying to ignore the fact that she wasn’t sure what she would do if Gaara did attack Naruto.

Pakura didn’t doubt for a second that she’d try to save Naruto without hesitation. No, the question was whether or not she even could save him.

I could fend off some of Gaara’s sand with my flames… but it wouldn’t be enough, he is in his natural element here.

Throwing off the thoughts, Pakura started to flow Chakra into her legs to leap to the next building when a bright flash of light distracted her.

What the hell?

Something was different, Naruto could feel it. He knew as he watched the eight Kumo Shinobi box him in that he should be scared. They had intelligently blocked off all means of escape, and many of them had Chakra pumping through their body as they prepared Jutsu.

He should be terrified, and yet, he wasn’t. Instead, Naruto was surprised to find that he felt… pity.

The first strike was from the Shinobi directly behind him, a lightning bolt aimed for his spine, which would knock him out cold should it land.

Naruto didn’t try to avoid the Jutsu. He had already seen the Chakra surging through the sand beneath his feet. With frightening speed, a tendril of sand lashed through the air and collided with the bolt, grounding it.

The Chakra radiating through the air was thick, powerful. Naruto felt like he was looking through a mist at the Shinobi around him.

Gaara was angry.

Sand roared to life, creating a shifting wall around them, shielding them from the lightning bolts the other Shinobi unleashed.

Hungry, insatiable bloodthirst washed over Naruto like water gushing across stone. Yet, he didn’t stumble, did not falter as he had used to. Glancing at Gaara, Naruto was reminded of the Jinchūriki’s expression when Rasa had unleashed him onto the bandits in the Tsukinomiyako Mountains.

Still more Chakra flooded through the sand, and eight spikes erupted from the wall. The Kumo Shinobi were forced to leap away or be impaled. Naruto focused on a single tendril of Chakra, following it through the sand as it raced past the retreating Shinobi.

It gathered sand, hardening it, reinforcing it, and then propelling it upward. A spike rocketed into the sky, finding its mark in the Kumo Shinobi’s chest and rupturing his heart.

Naruto watched the Shinobi’s eyes slowly close, blood beginning to seep into the sand. The Shinobi was dying, Naruto could see that by the stilling of their blood. However, something was different.

He could feel their… spirit leaving their body.

What’s happening?

Someone screamed behind Naruto, a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream of pain and suffering. It sent a chill down Naruto’s spine as he turned, his Byakugan searching for the source.

Nothing.

His neck burned as if some great heat was just inches from his skin. Naruto instantly felt like he was being cooked alive, and once again spun around, his eyes wide beneath his blindfold.

Towering over him stood a man with bright white eyes, so bright they seemed to glow. The man’s skin was a pale white, and his head was adorned by elegant brown-colored horns. Naruto stumbled backward. He had to get away from them.

As if just noticing Naruto, the man looked down at him, his hand outstretched toward Naruto.

Naruto’s felt his back hit something and looked away.

It was a Shinobi in Suna garb. The Shinobi was looking at him in confusion, his hands on Naruto’s shoulders, steadying him.

“Are you okay, Naruto-san?”

Naruto looked back at the horned man to find him… gone. Instead, Gaara stood in his place, staring at Naruto intently. Around Gaara was his protection team, the Captain currently checking if any of the Kumo Shinobi were alive.

“I… I… don’t…”

Naruto had never felt himself pass out before, but he could feel it happening. His Chakra was the first to go, which left him blind. His limbs quickly followed, and he felt his head hit the ground before everything went dark.

“There you are,” Pakura muttered.

Leaping across the street, Pakura didn’t stumble as she hit the next roof at significant speed.

Disappearing, Pakura reappeared in the air above the fleeing Kumo Shinobi, her foot already on a direct course with the man’s skull. The sound of the Shinobi’s head snapping back was satisfying, and he stumbled backward, trying to keep his balance.

Landing softly on her feet, Pakura fell forward. Flipping through the air, Pakura covered the distance between them in a split second. Whirling around, Pakura buried her flame-encased fist in the Kumo bastard’s chest.

The smile on the Shinobi’s dying face annoyed the hell out of her, and Pakura kicked the body off the roof.

“Damnit!” Pakura cursed as she turned back.

They had gotten a second flare off before she’d gotten to him, and while she had no idea what it meant, it probably wasn’t a good thing.

At least that explains who we’re fighting a war against, Pakura realized as she leaped from rooftop to rooftop in a mad dash to get back. The attack had obviously been planned, though against who she wasn’t sure. They couldn’t have been after Gaara, so that meant they were after Naruto.

Why are they after him, though? Why would Kumo be interested in Naruto? Pakura wondered. When she’d seen that Gaara had the situation under control and that Gaara’s protection team was moving in, she’d gone after the ninth Kumo Shinobi.

Now she wasn’t sure if that had been the right choice.

Vaulting over a ledge, Pakura hit the roof a dozen feet below and rolled.

Quickly getting to her feet, Pakura hurried to the edge.

He killed all of them… Pakura was horrified as she stared at the ring of death surrounding Gaara. Eight Kumo Shinobi were suspended in mid-air, each impaled by two spikes of sand or more, their blood only beginning to trickle down.

But that hadn’t been what shocked her.

There was another circle of bodies… Gaara’s protection team, every single one of them.

He killed all of them… why?

Noticing Gaara crouched on the ground, Pakura realized Naruto had collasped, and was now spasming violently, his mouth agape. Something was wrong, and Pakura had just begun to leap over the edge when a bell clanged loudly, and she froze. It was the warning bell. Sunagakure was under attack.

Gaara looked up, and Pakura cursed as she saw the Jinchūriki’s wide, bloodshot eyes.

He’s lost it… fuck fuck fuck!

Hauling herself backward, Pakura hit the roof and rolled. The spot where she’d just been standing exploded, chunks of sandstone flying into the air. Pakura covered her face with arms as the debris rained down around her.

Feeling the roof vibrate beneath her, Pakura rolled to her feet and darted forward, narrowly avoiding a tendril of sand as it broke through the roof beneath her feet.

Curling into a ball, Pakura made herself as small as possible as she flipped over Gaara’s head and landed on the other side of the street, arms encased in flame.

It was already too late.

Where Naruto and Gaara had been a second before, there was now a dome of sand. Pakura didn’t have to consider it. She’d never get through that barrier.

Dodging to the side, Pakura avoided another tendril of sand.

He’s tunneling, Pakura realized as the dome began to sink into the ground, the street cracking beneath it. The warning bell clanged again loudly. I have to tell Baki.

Flipping away from a wave of sand, Pakura leaped up onto a roof and turned toward the Kazekage tower.

*_Kumo Embassy, Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN._*

“It’s begun.”

Turning away from the window he’d been watching the skies from, Ashito held out his hand and caught his matte black mask as it appeared in mid-air in a puff of smoke. Holding it against his face, Ashito let the seal on the inside and his forehead touch and felt them activate, drawing on his Chakra.

Only he could remove the mask now, and if he were to die while wearing it, the seals would explode, incinerating his remains.

A RAIKOU’s body contained too many secrets.

Adjusting the katana strapped to his back, Ashito turned to the four Shinobi standing nearby.

“Do you understand your orders?”

“Hai!”

Ashito left the room, gesturing for his men to follow him. Opening the Embassy’s front door, Ashito jumped and caught the lip of the roof. Flipping through the air, Ashito landed on the roof, his seven team members joining him a moment later.

Forming a simple hand signal, Ashito made sure all of his men nodded in confirmation. Their mission was to weaken Suna’s gate from the inside, even if they had to die. There was a strong likelihood that they might, and Ashito wanted to make sure that they all understood that.

Satisfied, Ashito turned toward the east and crouched slightly. He disappeared in a burst of speed a split second later, his team in close pursuit as they formed into a Double-Diamond Formation as they leaped from roof to roof.

Even though Ashito had been expecting it, the first clang of the warning bell happened much sooner than expected.

Seeing a Suna Shinobi leap up onto a roof ahead of them, Ashito drew a shuriken and chucked it in one, smooth, continuous motion.

His aim was perfect, and the Shuriken was embedded in the unsuspecting Shinobi’s neck, killing them instantly. The body toppled over the edge just as Ashito and his team leaped overhead. He heard it hit the street below.

Following his example, Ashito’s team members each drew Shuriken of their own and began to throw them at the Suna Shinobi cropping up on the rooftops around them. Most found their mark, but some were deflected or dodged, some Shinobi more on guard than the others.

“Spread out!”

Landing on a roof, Ashito forced Chakra through his heels and launched himself forward. Having avoided the perfectly timed wind blade by a narrow margin, Ashito located the Jutsu’s caster and began forming his own seals.

*”Lightning Release: Thunder.”*

Ashito’s hand sparked wildly for a brief second before the Chakra condensed at his fingertip. Bright blue lightning flew through the air like a beam of pure light, covering the distance in a split second. The Suna Shinobi tried to block the Jutsu with their war fan, but Ashito’s Jutsu wasn’t the least bit phased and burned straight through it and into their shoulder.

He grimaced. That had been aimed for the Shinobi’s neck, but it would put them out of commission long enough to get to the gate.

Landing gracefully on the next roof, Ashito poured on the speed. He didn’t have any time to waste.

A short minute later, they reached the plaza built around the First Kazekage Statue, which led to the passageway out of Suna. Dropping to the ground, Ashito sprinted around the statue’s base, his team in close pursuit.

The passageway was guarded at both entrances by two gates, the inner one being significantly smaller than the outer gate. However, it could still be used as a choke point by Suna Shinobi should the first gate fall. Thankfully, there was no one stationed at the inner gate.

Holding a fist in the air, Ashito straightened two fingers and pointed toward the gate.

As planned, the RAIKOU on his left darted forward, flying through hand seals as they ran.

*”Earth Release: Rock Fist!”*

Reaching the gate in an instant, the RAIKOU punched it with his stone-encased fist. The gate buckled immediately, followed by the hinges rupturing free of the wall as the gate fell inward. Ashito and the other six RAIKOU sprinted through the newly opened gateway and into the shadowy passageway.

The air was filled with the sound of explosions as the gate was pummeled constantly by Kumo forces.

Suna was more prepared for our attack than we suspected, Ashito realized as he rushed toward the rows of Suna Shinobi lined up behind the gate. The Shinobi had to be taken out of commission before they could open the gate from within.

Gesturing for his men to spread out and attack, Ashito poured on speed as he sped through the shadows toward the Suna Shinobi. A fight was inevitable, but if he could reach them before they saw him coming, he could considerably lessen their numbers.

Forming hand seals, Ashito was about to activate his Jutsu when someone yelled out a warning.

“Look out behind! Kumo!”

Canceling the Chakra flowing through his arms, Ashito continued his mad dash toward the Suna Shinobi, who were all turning to face him, weapons drawn.

Reaching up, Ashito gripped the handle of his katana and leaped into the air. The blade of his weapon gleamed in the torchlight, and he disappeared into the shadows above. The passageway went dark as his team extinguished the torches, casting them all into complete darkness.

The sky was a bright blue above, but the sunlight didn’t reach this far down.

Attached to the wall dozens of feet in the air, Ashito carefully observed the Suna Shinobi below as they formed into a defensive wall, wary of an attack. Spotting an opening, Ashito dropped. His katana hummed loudly as he poured Chakra into it, sheathing it in lightning.

His first swing was blocked, and Ashito used his katana to propel himself to the side, avoiding a Kunai aimed at his ribs.

Righting himself in the air, Ashito kicked a Shinobi in the shoulder before finally touching the ground. Immediately dropping to all fours, Ashito narrowly avoided a sword coated in wind chakra. Kicking off the sand, Ashito twisted on one hand, holding out his katana with his other hand.

A dozen Suna Shinobi were forced to leap back or have their feet severed off. It gave him the breathing room he needed. Pushing into the air with one hand, Ashito grabbed an incoming kick to his face by the ankle and threw it to the side. Landing on his feet, Ashito expertly blocked a slash to his spine with the flat of his katana.

Cleaving another Shinobi in two, Ashito leaped to the side to avoid a slash to his ribs.

Elegantly twirling the katana through the air, Ashito cut through a Shinobi’s arm and grabbed them by the neck. Hurling the man at another Shinobi rushing toward him, Ashito leaned back, narrowly avoiding a Kunai.

Leaping into the air, his sword trailing sparks through the air, Ashito dodged between strike after strike, taking what opportunities he could to thin the herd. Senbon rained from above as a Shinobi tried to drop hit him with just one of the poisoned needles, but he brushed into the crowd, and the Shinobi was forced to give up or risk killing one of his comrades.

The katana was little more than an extension of Ashito’s body as he cleaved through Shinobi after Shinobi. A Kunai pierced where one Shinobi expected his head would be, but it passed through the air harmlessly, Ashito already long gone. A short sword slashed at his ribs, but his next leap carried him off to the right, and the sword caught another Shinobi in the ribs.

Ashito felt the build-up of Chakra a split second before the Jutsu was released, and that gave him enough time to dodge under the huge blade of wind rushing toward him. He didn’t have any doubt that it would have easily split him in two. Appearing in front of the Kunoichi, Ashito blocked her fan and buried a Kunai in her throat.

He watched the life drain out of her eyes for a brief moment before dodging to the side. Hauling her after him by her arm, Ashito chucked her lifeless body at the Shinobi sprinting at him from behind. The Shinobi dodged, but it was already too late. Activating the explosion tag on her back with one hand, Ashito jumped away as their corpse exploded.

Smoothly landing a couple dozen feet away, Ashito vanished just before a colossal fireball crashed into him.

From the shadows high above, Ashito scanned the battle below in search of the caster. The Shinobi wasn’t hard to find. Standing farther up the passageway, hurling fireball after fireball, was Otokaze, one of Suna’s Commanders.

Knowing one’s enemies before you fought them was a crucial part of staying alive in the Elemental Nations, so Ashito had researched every Shinobi of importance in Suna that he could.

Otokaze was someone he’d only learned of two days ago from their bingo book entry. Their affinities were allegedly Fire and Wind, with Wind being their primary affinity. Otokaze was often described using wind-style Jutsu to increase the strength of his already impressive fire-style Jutsu.

It was a dangerous combination of styles, and in a tight space such as this passageway, Otokaze’s Jutsu could easily weaken invading Kumo Forces.

He had to be eliminated.

Descending out of the shadows like a wraith, Ashito’s katana was a beam of light as lightning arced into the air around it.

Otokaze’s twirling war fan caught the blade of Ashito’s katana and swept it to the ground, forcing Ashito to dodge as Otokaze finished a series of handseals.

Pulling his katana free, Ashito twisted through the air to avoid blade after blade of sharp wind as they tore through the air around him. As each reached the passageway wall behind him, they tore deep gashes in the stone.

Landing on his feet, Ashito darted under a fireball and shot toward the Commander, his blade spinning in a blurred circle.

Otokaze didn’t seem the least bit bothered, only springing out of the way just as Ashito’s sword descended on him. Immediately bouncing on the balls of his feet, Ashito narrowly avoided his leg being cleaved off by Otokaze’s war fan.

Landing a few feet away, Ashito grimaced as he watched Otokaze separate his huge fan into two parts. Now holding a fan in each hand, Otokaze leaped into the air and began to spin rapidly, the air around him obscuring him from view as it condensed.

Steadying his breathing, Ashito flipped his grip on his katana and held it against his forearm.

*”Wind Release: Wind Cutter Technique! “*

The rain of wind blades was constant, and Ashito was forced to keep moving or be sliced apart by the sharp, highly condensed wind.

However, the Jutsu didn’t last forever, and Otokaze eventually began to fall back to earth and was forced to end the Jutsu.

Ashito made his move. Slamming his palm on the ground, Ashito finished his seals.

*”Earth Release: Stone Spike!”*

It was perfectly timed, and Otokaze, not seeing the attack coming, could do nothing as a spike of stone jutted upward, impaling him through the chest.

Ashito didn’t celebrate the victory. Darting to the side, Ashito avoided a wind-enhanced shuriken and slashed his katana through a Suna Shinobi’s neck. Their head rolled across the sand a second later.

Ducking under a Vacuum Sphere Jutsu, Ashito leaped toward the caster. He knew they would fire another Jutsu in his face, and sure enough, they did. However, he was prepared. Having drawn a Kunai from his pouch, Ashito let go of it as he leaned back, avoiding the second vacuum sphere.

Catching the Kunai on his foot, Ashito drove the blade through the Shinobi’s skull as he kicked them in the chin.

Landing on his feet, Ashito whirled around and stopped, the Shinobi behind him falling down dead before he’d touched them.

“The reinforcements have arrived!” Koichi, one of his RAIKOU, shouted over the sound of battle.

Grimacing, Ashito turned and caught the Kunai flying toward his head out of mid-air as he surveyed the battle around him. He and his team had taken out enough of the Suna Shinobi to move onto the next stage of the plan. He’d have to hope that he could buy them enough time.

Spinning around, Ashito roundhouse kicked a charging Shinobi in the head and chucked the Kunai after them.

“Get to the top of the wall and take out the defenders!” Ashito ordered, and Koichi disappeared, revealing a Suna Shinobi who’d been rushing him from behind. Stepping into the charge, Ashito ran the Shinobi through with his katana.

Looking toward the end of the passageway leading into Suna, Ashito saw dozens of silhouettes framed against the sunlight. The Puppeteers had arrived. He would have to buy his men as much time as possible.

Instinctually ducking, Ashito let the sword pass over his head before popping back up and grabbing the wrist of the Shinobi holding it. Snapping it, Ashito caught the sword as it dropped from their now-useless hand and embedded it in their head.

Kicking their lifeless corpse into their comrades, Ashito used the slight breathing room to sprint toward the reinforcements. His katana sparked, almost as if angry, as he shot down the passageway.

*”Reverse White Secret Technique: The Uematsu Collection of Ten Puppets!”*

Ashito didn’t falter as ten explosions of smoke went off ahead of him, the smoke disappearing rapidly to reveal ten humanoid-like forms… puppets, the tools of the Land of Wind’s most powerful group of Shinobi.

“All of you reinforce the gate! Do not let them through!” The Shinobi standing at the front shouted.

As Ashito drew closer, and his eyes adjusted to the light, he recognized the Shinobi’s bright red hair.

It was Sasori of the Red Sands.

All plans of slowing the puppeteers down were thrown to the wind. Sasori was a much higher priority. The Puppet Master was famous for his ability to control an entire army of puppets on his own, capable of taking down a small country overnight.

Ignoring the dozens of Puppeteers that were sprinting up the passageway walls around him, Ashito poured on more speed.

Seeing the hesitation in Ochida, Sasori smiled.

Nothing was said, but Sasori was touched when Ochida nodded and turned to leave, joining the other puppets in sprinting up the walls.

It was just him and the RAIKOU Captain sprinting toward him.

Turning toward them, a smile still on his face, Sasori took one step forward, and the RAIKOU skid to a stop, katana held at the ready.

“If you think you’re going to take me out early… you are very… very wrong.” Sasori warned. Cracking his fingers, Chakra exploded from his fingertips in the form of dozens of chakra strings. The strings lashed through the air wildly before attaching themselves to the ten motionless puppets dressed in white.

As the puppet’s postures straightened, their heads rising, and Sasori’s smiled faded away.

It was up to the RAIKOU to make the next move.

*“Lightning Release: Omoi Genkotsu!”*

Sasori was impressed. He hadn’t even seen the Captain make any hand seals. Holding their arm out to the side, the black-masked RAIKOU’s arm was instantly encased in a screeching storm of lightning.

The katana flashed, and the RAIKOU disappeared.

Sasori smirked, his fingers twitching wildly as he commanded his puppets forward, their mouths clicking loudly.

It was on.

Deflecting the first puppet’s sword-arm with his katana, Ashito twisted around and drove his lightning-encased arm through its chest.

The puppet holding a spear was charging him from the right, and Ashito tried to pull his arm free, but it was stuck. A quick glance revealed that the demonic-looking puppet was holding his wrist from the other side. He was already trapped.

Letting go of his katana, Ashito twisted his shoulder painfully to avoid the sword-arm of the puppet he was stuck to.

Kicking off their arm as it shot by, Ashito grimaced as his shoulder and wrist screamed at him in pain. Using his other foot, Ashito kicked the handle of his katana as it fell toward the ground. Instead of flying off from the kick, the blade stuck to Ashito’s foot.

Using his momentum, Ashito flipped over the sword-armed puppet’s head, narrowly avoiding the spear of the other puppet and drove his katana through the demonic puppet’s arm. It’s grip on his arm broken, Ashito wrenched himself free and kicked the sword-armed puppet in the back, sending it flying.

Tossing his katana into his hand with his foot, Ashito leaped to the side, avoiding being skewered by a spear. He was forced to jump into the air to evade the black cables coming out of the blue-skinned puppet’s head.

Unable to dodge in the air, Ashito could only block a kick from another of the puppets with his arms. The force behind it surprised him, but he still managed to catch himself before slamming into the passageway wall.

Cutting the flow of Chakra holding him to the wall, Ashito dropped to the ground and rolled, avoiding a barrage of senbon needles. He didn’t have to guess whether or not those needles were coated in a poison that would kill him in seconds.

Getting to his feet, Ashito sprinted toward an opening in the web of puppets, his katana crackling loudly. Sasori had clearly intentionally made a gap, a trap, but Ashito believed he could surprise the redhead with his speed.

He was wrong.

Reversing course on a dime, Ashito flipped into the air to avoid being bitten in half by the salamander puppet rising out of the sand.

“Tsk tsk tsk.”

Ashito’s eyes narrowed as he darted to the side, avoiding being crushed to a paste by the demonic puppet as it descended on him from above. It was clearly the powerhouse of the ten puppets.

Twirling his katana through the air, Ashito deflected the storm of black cables, all covered in sharp blades.

Noticing Sasori physically move for the first time since the battle began, Ashito retreated, senses alert for a trap.

*”Black Secret Technique: Flame Filling Flower!”*

The sound of ten puppets clicking instantly filled the air, sounding like one single continuous noise. Ashito’s eyes darted between each of the puppets. Seeing their chin’s vibrating rapidly, Ashito knew from experience what was coming.

Tossing his katana into the air, Ashito tore through hand seal after hand seal at an incredible speed.

*”Lightning Release: Electromagnetic Murder!”*

Crouching, Ashito slammed both of his palms together in front of him, interlocking his fingers. He could feel the Jutsu building in his shoulders, the lightning roaring in his ears.

Hundreds of senbon flew through the air toward him, and Ashito poured more Chakra into the Jutsu.

The bright blue lightning started at his shoulders and instantly traveled down both of his arms before arcing off into the air. Faster than Ashito could see, the electricity connected to every single senbon in the air, instantly jumping from one to the next.

Ashito shouted as he poured more Chakra into the Jutsu, refusing to let the flow of lightning cease.

Overloaded, the lightning began to heat each of the senbon needles up as it continued to charge them all with more and more electricity. All of the senbon needles melted before they reached Ashito.

Cutting the chakra flow, Ashito forced the feeling of exhaustion to the side and grabbed his katana, which had buried itself in the sand next to him, before leaping into the air.

The katana sliced through the air, its point tracing a bright line like the tail of a falling star. Dropping rapidly, Ashito buried his katana to the hilt in the salamander puppet’s head as it rose out of the sand once more.

Opening its mouth regardless of the sword through its jaw, the wooden salamander tried to bite him, but he was already gone.

Appearing out of thin air in front of the puppet, who fixed him with its beady black eyes, Ashito shot forward. Grabbing the handle of his katana in mid-air, Ashito held his arm straight, using his momentum to slice the puppet in two.

Hitting the sand a second later, Ashito slid for a moment before stopping. Turning toward Sasori, Ashito began forming a plan when he heard dozens of shouts behind him.

Glancing back, Ashito’s eyes widened.

The gate was falling.

Burying his sword to the hilt, Ashito laid prone on the ground and covered his face with his arm.

Hauling his puppets through the air after him by the strings attached to them, Sasori leaped out of the passageway. Hitting the ground, Sasori jumped to the side, narrowly avoiding the wave of sand and wind as it exploded out into the courtyard.

Manipulating his puppets into a defensive formation around him, Sasori took a deep breath.

Drawing a Kunai, Sasori looked up to chuck it at whoever was above him when he realized it was Ochida.

“They cut out the hinges!” Ochida shouted over the roar of the sandstorm pouring out of the passageway a mere dozen feet away.

“God damnit!”

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Total Word Count: 5754 words

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