The massive boulder barring the entrance of the cave shattered with a resounding impact. Deidara nimbly leapt out of the path of some of the shrapnel, Sasori merely bocked several rock chips with his tail. At their feet lay Gaara, unmoving. The dust soon settled, revealing three ninja from Konoha, and an old woman.
"I would have thought Kabuto's fodder ninja would have delayed them more Un." Deidara said..
"That boy is as unreliable as they come." Sasori replied, that's why I told you to be prepared.
"Eh? What's Ino doing here?" Naruto asked, getting an angry look from Deidara.
"Idiot! That's not Ino, that's Deidara, the mad bomber. Didn't you read the bingo book?" Sakura yelled, bashing Naruto 'lightly' over the head for his comment.
"I've gotta admit, he does look kind of like a Yamanaka." Sasuke noted, grinning slightly as Naruto rubbed his head in pain.
"That's a guy?" the blonde boy grumbled.
Deidara mentally counted backwards from ten. It was supposed to help control his temper, but he always found countdowns more soothing than counting up.
"Remember, Sasori uses very potent poisons. You each have a vial of the cure, it will make you immune for 10 minutes, so try not to get hit." Chiyo said, stepping back to take a supporting role.
"That's sort of a general rule for any fight though. Hit them, don't get hit back." Naruto grumbled, further earning him another smack on the head.
The two groups stared off against each other, tensing for the initial burst of combat that always took place in high level ninja battles. It was a common way to size up opponents, testing their preparation and foresight. In a blur of movement Naruto shot forward, darting past several volleys of needles, all dripping in poison, and leaping over a few ground based explosion.
More kunai shot from Sasori, as his tail came around to pierce the Konoha ninja from above. Naruto stumbled, avoiding the kunai but quickly becoming pinned down by the tail. A burst of smoke revealed it to be a clone. A wind enhanced kunai swung by Deidara's head, narrowly missing as Naruto once again appeared, emerging from the shadows. The attack continued for a few seconds, the Iwa missing ninja unable to get a solid lock on the orange ninja's location, until the lens over his left eye kicked in, piercing the genjustu.
Sasori raised an arm towards the battle, but paused, unwilling to risk hitting his partner. As annoying as he was to work with, the organization needed him alive, and a single nick could leave the fellow ninja poisoned. Sasori was never one to create cures for his poisons.
Soon the other Konoha ninja joined in, rushing forward to support the blonde with more volleys of thrown weapons. Sasori blocked for his partner, raising his tail as a shield against the airborne metal. taking advantage of this, Naruto, who still seemed blurry to Sasori, darted in and grabbed Gaara. With a quick heave he tossed the redheaded boy towards his teammates, who caught him and backed away. A hastily created cloud allowed Naruto to rise up out of reach of retaliation.
Deidara grinned, his combat style was 90% preparation, and he had several backup plans in place. Making a single hand seal and yelling 'Katsu!', the newly rescued captive turned white and exploded.
"We replaced him with an exploding clone." Sasori explained, as Naruto looked on in horror. The smoke was beginning to clear. "I plan on adding that boy to my collection." His gloating was cut off when he noticed a suspicious lack of remains within the crater. "More shadow clones?"
Sakura dropped from her hiding place, within the stone ceiling of the cave, directly above their opponents. Sasuke's plan was for the clones to take Gaara away, and the real team seven to ambush the Akatsuki ninja when they focused on Naruto. Or better yet, have the clones draw one of them away. Sadly, it seemed Sasori had wised up to their plan. The puppeteer's danger sense, born from decades of hard fought battles, screamed at him to dodge. He did so, narrowly avoiding the roughly human shaped cannon ball that slammed into the ground beneath him.
The entire ground of the cave shook and cracked at the impact, upturned rocks near the epicenter joined in with the shockwave and threw the scorpion-like ninja a good distance away. Deidara stumbled from the vibrations, cursing as several of his explosive mines were knocked loose and revealed. With a few hand signs they leapt up, sprouting spider-like legs and began scurrying towards Sakura, the only enemy in reach.
Sasuke dropped his transformation, the old lady disappeared in a poof of smoke, and leapt up just as Sakura hit the floor. From his position high above the rumbling he began raining lightning down on the explosive constructs, even as Sakura moved and gestured, forcing more to the surface with her bizarre earth techniques.
Catching Deidara's attention he tried to weave a simple genjutsu through eye contact, only to grimace as the strange metal lens on the Iwa ninja's eye seemed to interfere with it. A swarm of clay bats descended from the roof of the cave, homing in right on the Uchiha, forcing him to give up on the attempt in order to dodge. There must have been hundreds of them, swooping and chittering like the real things, breaking off to harass all three of the Konoha ninja, as Sasori joined in with even more needle spamming.
Sakura was the first to be cornered, cranking up the power of her defensive technique to endure the minor explosions. A small hail of needles bounced off of her harmlessly, and Sasori gave up, turning instead to harass Naruto. Said blonde ninja let his cloak of shadows drop, and leapt down from his perch as a dozen or so bats exploded into it. "Where is Gaara! What have you done to him!" Naruto yelled, throwing another brace of kunai towards the puppeteer.
"Like I said, he's already dead, I have the body sealed away in one of my scrolls. Given the chance I'll make puppets of all of the Jinchuuriki, and you will be immortalized in my art." Sasori replied, turning his attention towards him and firing a volley of needles from his mouth.
Dodging forward he mentally cursed, realizing he had set off a trap. A hail of kunai flew towards him in a screen, forcing him to backpedal away. Doing so, however, seemed to set off more traps, corralling him towards a specific point. The elaborate trap ended with a massive clay bomb, disguised as a stalactite. Seeing no other option Naruto jumped, easily clearing the entire height of the cave in a single leap, landing upside down on the roof. His sigh of relief was cut off when he realized that the five stalagmites surrounding him were also explosives, and a sphere of sharp needles was closing in from all sides.
Before the explosions could put him out of commission he was rescued by the timely arrival of a humanoid puppet, which swooped in and grabbed the ninja. Spinning about, the construct took the brunt of the needles with its back, before flinging Naruto free of the blast.
"Thanks for the save Chiyo!" Naruto called, getting a nod of acknowledgement from the old lady, who had finally revealed herself. She was their reserve fighter, using her puppeteering techniques to support the other combatants.
Spotting a break in the relentless assault on Sakura, she darted forward, her arm revealing itself to be a prosthetic limb, opening up into a moderately powerful chakra shield. The next swarm of bats that swooped in crashed uselessly against the barrier, the first few exploding harmlessly. The rest of them learned from their mistake, instead pressing into each other, creating a mass of clay against the shimmering blue shield.
Realizing what the Iwa ninja had planned, Chiyo closed her arm up, leaping backwards to get distance. Sakura followed her, raising several thick walls of earth along the way. The explosion blew through several layers of rock, but left the two women unharmed, and not a single bat remained in the air.
Sasuke was busy keeping pressure on Deidara, primarily sticking to ranged attacks. The missing ninja was a trap master, and given even a few seconds of breathing room he'd fill the room with even more. His attempts to engage the ninja in close ranged combat were often interrupted by pre existing traps and explosives, and he was now wary of closing in each time the Iwa ninja changed location.
So far though, his skill with lightning techniques gave him a strong advantage, allowing him to harmlessly diffuse the majority of Deidara's explosives. His sharingan spun wildly as always, helping him to predict flight paths and attack patterns, and even the shock of traps springing around him was lessened when you could view it in slow motion.
A white clay centipede shot up from the ground on his right, attempting to coil around him. 'He wants me to dodge left' Sasuke quickly deduced, instead deciding quickly on a different gambit. It would be risky, but it could end the stalemate. Rather than dodging, Sasuke threw a single lightning needle, with accuracy derived from hunting with the griffons. The clay insect wrapped around him tightly, but the needle flew true, embedding itself in the metal scope attached to Deidara's eye.
The Iwa ninja cried out in pain, yanking the device off of his face as it sparked wildly, then turned his attention back to his captured foe. "Katsu!" he yelled, willing the construct to explode. Instead it fell to the ground uselessly as the Uchiha pushed chakra into an electrical field around him. Locking eyes once more Sasuke quickly caught the Akatsuki ninja in a genjutsu that would take effect the next time the ninja blinked, and jumped away.
Another volley of needles shot from Sasori's 'mouth', prompting Sakura to leap into the way and harden, defending Naruto from the onslaught. As soon as the hail of metal ended, she stomped the ground again, causing the earth to rise up and grab at the front limb she could sense touching the ground. To her surprise it detached from the trapped section, the upper arm aiming towards the group and spewing poison gas.
It was Naruto's turn to defend the group, spitting a cloud against the encroaching haze. With practiced ease and wind manipulation he spun the crowd, trapping the gas within and sending it up towards the ceiling. Sasuke lept in to take advantage of the situation, landing precisely ten feet to the right of Sasori from Deidara's point of view, and began doing hand seals for the Grand Fireball technique.
The Iwa ninja, seeing his partner in trouble, moved to interfere, springing one of his remaining traps. From the cave roof a stalagmite detached, the newly revealed explosive weapon crashing down to the ground below him. To Deidara it would land right on top of Sasuke, thanks to a genjutsu causing him to see everything displaced ten feet to the left. In reality the explosive landed right in top of the puppet user.
Before the ninja could dodge, several slabs of earth rose up to box him in.
The dust began to clear, and Deidara managed to force himself free of the illusion. "Damn it Deidara, you broke Hiruko." Sasori called from within the smoke, his voice sounding cold and emotionless, no longer rough or gritty.
"Ah, sorry I broke your stupid doll. Un. I was caught in a genjutsu again. Un." Deidara called back, having the grace to look sheepish.
"Go play with your explosions outside then. I don't need your help for this, I'll just use the Third." Sasori said, stepping out of the swirling smoke. He was a red haired man, of no more than twenty years old, his frame thin and lean.
"Impossible! He looks the same age as when he left!" Chiyo exclaimed. "He should be much older by now."
"I've perfected my art, Grandmother." The missing ninja replied, unsealing a puppet from his scroll. "This is my greatest creation."
"The third Kazekage! It was you who killed him then?" Chiyo growled, the assassination of the Kazekage was one of the key factors starting the third shinobi war, leading to the deaths of thousands.
"I don't get it, he has a puppet based off the third Kazekage?" Naruto interrupted.
"The puppet IS the third Kazekage. Sasori killed him and turned his body into a puppet." Chiyo explained.
"And it grants me all of his powers. Behold, the greatest Kage in Suna's history." Sasori said, unsealing four blades from within the puppet. To everyone's surprise they began to float, effortlessly hovering near the puppet, as it mimicked Sasori's movements. Before anyone present could react the puppet was upon them, its swords swinging in wide sweeping movements.
Sasuke drew his own blade to parry, only to have it wrenched from his grasp by an unseen force. Sharingan spinning franticly the Uchiha dodged, the blades formed the semblance of a massive double sided sword, sweeping in broad strokes. As soon as he got used to the rhythm the blades broke apart, each one swinging independently of one another, attempting to strike down his foe.
Sakura leapt into the fray, trying to hit the puppet from behind. Sasori caught her movement, and a single blade broke away from attacking to block her strike. Turning, the puppet sent the blades after her, forcing her to back off from the relentless assault.
Sasuke took the moment of breathing room to recover his sword, testing a theory by charging it with lightning chakra. Closing in once more he again felt the pull on the metal, but it was now weak enough to overcome with his own chakra. "It's some kind of lightning technique, manipulating electromagnetic fields." he called, getting nods from Chiyo and Sakura.
"The third Kazekage was famous for his magnetic bloodline." The old woman said, her own prosthetic arm no longer functioning because of her metallic joints. Her puppets slumped off to the sides, equally crippled.
"Take this!" Naruto called from somewhere, he had slipped into his Cloak of Shadows once again. Four shuriken spun out of nowhere, covered in deadly wind chakra. They closed in on Sasori, wisely ignoring the puppet in favor of the more vulnerable prey. There was a sudden tug on the projectiles, and Naruto's already fragile control over Yin Chakra shattered. The spinning blades abruptly halted, before flying towards Sakura instead.
"Naruto!" She yelled, causing the blonde boy to wince. Backing off of the puppet she began to franticly dodge the blades of wind.
Sasuke leapt back from the puppet, narrowly avoiding being impaled by the blades he failed to parry. Taking a quick moment to mold chakra he shot fire at the shuriken, causing them to ignite and expand into flaming blades of death.
"Stop Helping!" Sakura yelled, throwing up rocks to try and slow the blades. Within seconds the fire had melted the metal into slag, and they fell uselessly against one of her barriers, no longer able to rotate properly. "Where's Deidara?" She asked, catching her breath.
"No doubt setting up something big. We'll just have to deal with it when it comes." Sasuke replied, once more moving to engage the third Kazekage. His sharingan was helping his swordsmanship improve by leaps and bounds. If he survived this encounter he'd be better with a blade than most ninja could claim to be.
Before the battle could resume, another scroll was opened from within the puppet, erupting into a swarm of full-sized swords. The blades shot into the air, hovering for a second, before raining down upon the arena, forcing all of the ninja to dodge frantically. When the rain finally ended the entire cave was littered with blades embedded within the rock.
Sasuke charged, once more clashing against the puppet, only to back off as one of the swords rose from the ground and took a swipe at him. In seconds several more joined the onslaught, until hundreds of them rose up into a deadly sharp column of metal that shot through the air. It curved and turned as it roared overhead, a churning maelstrom of clanging blades, occasionally sending down smaller swarms of blades at the ninja.
Sakura charged Sasori, figuring he was focusing on the technique and left vulnerable. Seeing her approach he redirected the swarm, and leaped on top of it with his puppet, the two riding a large blade through the air. Naruto followed, leaping skyward onto the roof and firing air bullets down towards the mounted ninja. A trio of blades responded, forcing him to dodge, and a poof of smoke signaled the arrival of reinforcements. Immediately the ceiling of the cave was covered in orange ninja, all firing air bullets down at the metal hulk.
The river of steel crashed against the roof, expanding outwards into a rotating grinder of swords that quickly culled the herd of clones, before reforming and chasing after the original who activated his Shining Armor. The glowing blonde leapt away from the initial volley, only for the swarm to catch up to him, carrying him away like the current of a raging river. A brilliantly shining sphere was the only hint to reveal that he wasn't immediately killed, and the swarm of blades continued its course around the room, pushing the ball of light along with it.
"Naruto!" Sakura yelled, this time with worry, quickly pulling up and throwing colossal chunks of rocks into the relentless torrent of swords. Sasuke did the same, throwing bolts of lightning into the monstrosity to disrupt the puppeteer's control of the electromagnetic field. Both were rescued several times from the occasional stray sword by Chiyo, who used her puppeteering techniques to pull them to safety.
With a deafening clang of metal the wave of swords crashed into the cave wall, pinning the sphere of light. Swords crashed into it, some bouncing off and clattering to the floor, while others missed and impaled themselves to the hilt within the rock around it. Naruto felt the 'Twilight Bubble' begin to crack under the repetitive impacts, even enhanced as it was by his rather potent Yang Chakra. Just as he felt the barrier giving in, he released his control on the outer edge, allowing the chakra to expand outwards with all of his force.
The explosion was breathtaking. A brilliant flash of light followed by bent and warped swords raining to the ground around Naruto. The ninja was tired but un-injured, an shakily rose to his feet. Sasuke and Sakura both leapt to his aid, taking up defensive positions before him. "Still no response from the furball?" Sasuke asked, slightly worried. It was disturbing to see the blonde boy tired.
"I don't know what Discord's problem is, but he isn't answering. I'm on my own for this fight." Naruto replied.
"He certainly picked a good time for a vacation. We'll deal with it when we kill these guys." Sakura muttered, cracking her knuckles. "Chiyo, you should retreat until we deal with that puppet."
The old lady nodded, seeing the wisdom in retreating for now. In all honestly she was shocked by the skill levels displayed by the Konoha chuunin, and felt confident leaving things in their hands for now. Her retreat was covered by shuriken from Sasuke, his eyes easily picking out projectiles from the third, and his lightning chakra allowing him to throw them safely. As soon as she had left the cave the roof shook, sending several rocks crashing to the ground.
"Well, seems like Deidara is finally ready. I hate being kept waiting. It only gets more difficult from here Konoha ninja, behold the Third's true power!" Sasori called, the massive collection of blades beginning to dissolve. Within seconds they had ground themselves down into dust, and the iron sand collected above both puppeteers.
"Oh dear Celestia, he's another Gaara." Naruto muttered.
The sand shot upwards, piercing the roof of the cave with a massive spire, before curving back downwards. Hundreds of deadly spears of metal rained down from above, shattering the roof of the cave and nearly impaling the trio of ninja. They all dodged franticly, narrowly avoiding the razor sharp metal strands, and the branches that seemed to grow outwards, trying to trip them.
Making their way to the center Sasuke pulsed outwards with lightning chakra, temporarily disabling the sand around him. Naruto followed up with a normal Twilight Bubble moments later, and Sakura rose from the ground to join them. Before them, from within the dense thicket of iron, the Third Kazekage once again willed its swords into the air. From high above there appeared to be a massive white dragon circling about, roaring occasionally down at its trapped prey.
"Shall I?" Saskue asked, gazing up into the light above as light filtered down through the metal canopy.
"He's probably prepared for aerial combat now." Sakura mentioned, she too looking up warily.
"Nothing he has can prepare him for me." Sasuke said confidently, summoning several griffons with a smug grin. "Listen up! I'm going to punch through the bars of this cage, follow close behind me. May our enemies lay in the earth forever!"
"And our allies forever soar in the sky!" The griffons all roared in unison, wings beating in anticipation. Black markings began to flow over Sasuke, as he drew upon the full supply of stored chakra. A shrug left the top of his robe to fall around his waist, and grand golden-brown wings sprouted from his shoulder blades. As the markings reached the full length of his body he began to crackle with electricity, forcing it outwards into a field around him that made everyone's hair stand on end.
With a roar he shot into the sky like a rocket, iron sand collapsing as it entered the range of his chakra. The griffons followed close behind, climbing rapidly as tendrils of razor sharp metal chased in hot pursuit. Breaking free of the lattice and into the open air the flock scattered, soaring away in acrobatic maneuvers to avoid the questing branches, while rolling away from explosive shots from the dragon that still circled far above.
Far below Sasori turned his focus away from the aerial ninja, that was Deidara's problem now. Instead he drew in a great ball of iron sand and launched it forward, lancing it right through Naruto's barrier and letting it sprout into a massive barbed mesh of metal.
Naruto and Sakura scattered into the rock-littered field, wary of the razor wire around them, ready to begin round two.