Sand, Sand, and more Sand
Neokenshin: Hey anyone seen Naruto?
Sasuke: Last I heard he was getting chased by all the girls for that little "moody" crack.
Neokenshin: Thought he would have learned never to say that to a teenage girl...especially when she's a kunoichi.
Sasuke: This is Naruto we're talking about. When has he EVER not put his foot in his mouth?
Neokenshin and Sasuke think for a minute...but then get a headache from trying to think about something nonexistant.
Neokenshin: Good point. Well, since they're up to their tails in sand, wanna do the disclaimer??
Sasuke:Eh, why not. As everyone knows, Naruto isn't owned by Neokenshin.
Chapter 4: Sand, Sand, and more Sand!
Naruto, Kasumi, Temari, Sakura, and Kakashi had been running for the last 28 hours nonstop. With Gaara captured by Akatsuki, it was imperative that the group make it to Suna as fast as possible.
"Wow Kasumi-chan, we've been going non-stop for over a day and I still don't feel tired at all." Sakura said, noticing she hadn't felt winded at all since they left Konoha. "Those Kitsune Capsules you made are amazing!"
"Yeah Kitsune Alchemy is really interesting. I never knew there was so much that could be done. But to be honest, the secret behind to the Kitsune Capsules is that it simply takes something from your body and exchanges it for chakra." Kasumi explained.
"What do you mean nee-chan?" asked Naruto as he jumped off another branch.
"There's one primary law to Kitsune Alchemy. It's called Equivalent Exchange." Kasumi said. "What that means is that something must be lost or consumed in order to gain something else. That's what helps to maintain balance in alchemy."
"Really? Well what are we losing to gain all this extra chakra?" Temari inquired.
Kasumi just smiled, knowing they'd all be surprised. "Actually, you use the toxins that your cells produce. You see, each cell in the body produces various toxins as it works to maintain its normal function. For example, the cells that make up the heart muscles use chakra, the energy from the foods we eat, and so on to help the heart muscles work. But as those cells use energy, it produces a toxic byproduct."
"She's right. It's the natural process that each living body goes through constantly." Sakura added. "But how did you convert the naturally produced toxins into chakra?"
"What Oka-san showed me is how to convert one type of chakra into another type. I first learned how to convert my Kitsune Chakra into normal chakra. After that I started trying to figure out how to convert other types of energy into chakra. That's what gave me the idea of using the naturally produced toxins in the body as my base reagent." Kasumi said. "So in reality, what Kitsune Capsule no. 2 does is turn your body's toxins into chakra, so essentially your entire body is producing chakra constantly after using the capsule. It also works for Kitsune Capsule no. 1 as well."
"Kasumi, that is amazing. I must say, I'm quite proud at your growth in training. I always knew you were a bright girl." Kakashi commented.
"Whatever! You're only saying that because she and the others didn't completely embarrass you in that little training demonstration." Temari smirked. Of course she was right.
"Actually she's right, those four would have made me look like a genin again!" Kakashi thought.
"So Temari, when did Gaara become Kazekage anyway? I mean he's like what, a few months younger than I am?" asked Naruto. "Besides, since you're older Temari, how come you didn't become Kazekage in his place then?"
"Ok, when it comes to skill as a ninja, Gaara is the most powerful Sand Shinobi in Suna. I mean he is a Jinchuuriki, has all his sand jutsu, Shukaku's chakra, and...well you saw how he used to be?" Temari explained. "After people started to notice him changing, they all thought he'd be perfect because the rumor of the 'Demon of the Sand' was still going. So when people hear that the Kazekage is the 'Demon of the Sand', then who would even think of going against us?"
"You do have a point." Naruto nodded.
"As for the family thing, yeah being older would mean that I'd technically take over, but you see what I've been doing for the past two years. I mean honestly I'd rather be part of the Illumina Support team than have to sit in a boring office all day. Plus I get to be near Shika-kun anyway. Although it's going to be pretty rough explaining it to Kankuro and Gaara." Temari said.
Kasumi's head just clicked, "You mean you haven't told those two you're engaged to Shikamaru?"
"No way! Do you know what my two crazy brothers would do? Trust me, they take being overprotective to a whole new level! So what if I'm the older sister, it's the fact that I'm the ONLY sister!! Honestly as overprotective as Gaara is, I'd hate to see how he's gonna be if he and Kin end up having a daughter someday." Temari said. "Knowing him, any guy that even tries to smile at the kid will probably end up in a Sand Coffin! And it's worse knowing that he now can send out Suna's ANBU! There's no boy in Suna that's safe from his wrath!"
"Yeah...I think Kin needs to probably put less sugar in his tea then." Sakura said. "But I have a feeling they won't be that crazy." Temari just looked at Sakura like she was absolutely insane. "Well...would they?"
"Sakura, let's just say there's some obvious benefits to being an only child." Temari replied.
The group continued running for another solid 8 hours, taking a small break to check their location. They soon came out of the forest at the border of Fire Country and Wind Country, staring into the barren sands.
"Temari, just how did you get used to living here again?" asked Sakura.
"It's an acquired taste. Now come on, we only have an hour or so until we reach Suna. Who knows how bad it's been for Kankuro!" Temari said in worry.
"Not only that but we still have to try to catch up to those Akatsuki freaks and save Gaara." added Naruto. "I swear when I find who captured him, I'm going to rip him a new..."
"Ok Naruto, no need to get graphic. We still gotta eat sometime and I'd like to still have an appetite." Kasumi said, hoping to keep bad images out of her head.
Suna itself wasn't too stable a place with the current events that had happened. The resulting conflict with Gaara and Akatsuki left the village in turmoil as lots of buildings had been damaged. Without their leader, the people were in chaos even though the Suna Council had tried their hardest to keep everyone calm through the chaos. Things weren't looking better especially with Kankuro severely injured as well.
"Ugh, it's times like this when I wish Tsunade-sama was here." Kin said to herself as she wiped the sweat from her forehead. Over the past two years she had been doing a long range correspondence study with Tsunade to improve on her medical skills. She wasn't as skilled as Sakura or Ino, but had a good general knowledge of medicine. "I honestly don't know what is up with this poison? I've studied all of Chiyo-sama's notes and can't find anything similar!"
"Hey sis, any news on puppet boy here?" asked a familiar redhead.
"Not really Tayu-chan. I have him stabilized for now, but the poison is still continuing to do a lot of damage. And nothing in Chiyo-sama's notes is giving me anything to work with." Kin said downheartedly. "Even Shino's insects haven't been able to do anything to neutralize this poison. I'm afraid that the only person who can help him is Tsunade-sama."
"But she's more than three days away." Tayuya replied. "Do you think Kankuro could hold out until then?" Tayuya questioned.
"No. He has at most 2 days left! Not only that but with Panda-chan gone, and the whole village is in turmoil, and Lee and Shino have tried to get a lead on the ones that did this and..." Kin said frantically.
Tayuya put her hands on her sister's shoulders to try and calm the girl, "Kin-chan, calm down! If you freak out right now, all you're going to do is lose your focus, and things are going to get worse. We sent our fastest falcon to Konoha with a message to send help. Tsunade-sama won't abandon us." She noticed Kin slowly stop shaking when the duo heard a voice that easily gave them some comfort. "You got that right! Once a Leaf Shinobi, always a Leaf Shinobi." The duo turned to see Naruto, Kasumi, Sakura, Temari, and Kakashi standing at the door.
"Looks like you two could use some help." Sakura said as she tied her hair up and took out a small medical kit. She also pulled out the scroll Ino gave her as well.
"Sakura-chan, you don't know just how glad I am to see you!" Kin was overjoyed to see that even though it wasn't Tsunade, it was the next best thing...her apprentice! "I was really getting worried here!"
"Don't worry, that's what I'm here for. So have there been any other symptoms or reactions from the poison?" asked Sakura as she began her diagnosis. While she and Kin began to work on Kankuro, Temari decided to find out what else had been going on.
"So Tayuya, have we gotten any leads on Gaara yet?" she asked.
Tayuya shook her head, "We have nothing. Right now Lee and Shino are out scouting with some of the other Sand ninja, but otherwise, Gaara's completely gone."
"Any idea on who it was that fought him?" asked Kakashi. "Based on the damage we saw being repaired, it had to have been someone skilled with explosives."
"Explosives...it must have been that Deidara person! Remember what Shikamaru told us from Itachi's information that Deidara has a thing for explosives." Kasumi pointed out. "But how could he have even come close to beating Gaara-kun anyway?"
"It was definitely one hell of a fight, but here's where it got worse. Kin-chan and I had a good look at the fight, and we saw him take out some strange looking stone around his neck. The next thing we knew it started to shine a bright yellowish orange color. Next thing we knew, all of his clay creations or whatever seemed to get ten times stronger, and more destructive. His Earth Jutsu even became more devastating as well. Honestly you'd think it was Chouji out there fighting." explained Tayuya. "What was even scarier was the fact that he had a weird looking aura around him when he used that gem...almost like...a rooster or something?"
"Rooster?" Naruto said in shock. "Since when was that freak a chicken?"
"Since he probably had the Yonbi's chakra in that stone and was somehow using it!" Kasumi said, realizing just what happened. "Oh great, this is just great. We've been gone for two years and Akatsuki is using the Bijuu Chakra already!"
"So what are you saying Kasumi?" asked Kakashi, with a concerned look.
"What I'm saying is this. Somehow Akatsuki has taken the chakra from the captured Bijuu and they're now harnessing that energy. I don't know how they did it, but Akatsuki has created its very own Pseudo-Illumina Knight!!" Kasumi said. "That's why they want the Bijuu in the first place!"
Naruto, remembering his elemental training suddenly noticed, "That's also why Gaara was taken down! Having Shukaku sealed into him pretty much turned him into a concentrated Wind Ninja and going up against someone with an Earth Element is the worst possible thing ever!"
"I thought Wind was strong against Lightning, but weak to Fire?" asked Tayuya.
"It is when you compare the normal elemental chakra alignments of Water, Wind, Fire, Earth, and Lightning." Kakashi said. "However we're dealing on a whole new spectrum when it comes to the Bijuu and the Illumina Powers. Earth and Wind are natural opposites, meaning they are not only strong against each other, but weak to each other as well."
"Yeah, that's why Chouji and I usually end up in a stand-off during our sparring sessions." Naruto said, remembering the earlier training they did before their long journey. "But that's not the point; we need to get this info back as soon as possible." He quickly summoned his transformer, "This is Naruto, come in Illumina Command."
"Tenten here. Everything ok Naruto?" she asked.
"Yes and no. We finally made it to Suna, and Sakura is handling Kankuro's injuries right now. But we have worse news. Get everyone to the command center, and try to open up a line to Sasuke's team." Naruto said.
"Is it really that bad Naruto?" asked the weapons mistress.
"Oh yeah, really bad!" Naruto said, stressing the direness of the matter.
"Alright, I'm on it." Tenten said, quickly calling the remaining group to the base, while Dr. Sakurano opened up a clear channel to Sasuke and his team.
"Alright Naruto, you're good to go. What's the problem?" Dr. Sakurano said.
"We know how Gaara was captured so easily." Naruto began. "We found out from Tayuya that the person who fought Gaara used a very strong new power source."
"Yeah right. All they have are the Yonbi and Hachibi. What could they possibly…" Sasuke said before he was cut off by Akane.
"Naruto, please don't tell me Akatsuki has learned a way to harness the chakra of the Bijuu and use it for their own?" Akane said, hoping she wouldn't hear what Naruto's obvious answer would be.
"I'm afraid so, Oka-san. Deidara, the Akatsuki that captured Gaara, was using the Yonbi's chakra. Kasumi-chan believes they have the ability to create a Pseudo-Illumina Knight!" Naruto said, knowing the situation just went from bad to worse.
"So you're saying those freaks have access to my powers?" Chouji erupted over the speaker.
"Chouji, we don't know that! It's true the Bijuu are the focal source of your powers, but that doesn't mean if they control a particular Bijuu, they have control over your powers." Akane explained. "We Bijuu have the ability to amplify your power, but not seal it anymore. You all have been exposed to it for so long that you're starting to assimilate it into your own being."
"But does that mean they can reach our level of power now?" asked Hinata.
"No, it means they can surpass your level of power. Since this Deidara person was using Yonbi's Chakra, he can tap as deep into the chakra as he needs. Right now they have the ability to achieve the state of power that you were to achieve after you mastered harmonization." Akane said. "But now, it seems we're going to have to work even harder. The more Bijuu that Akatsuki control, the worse off we'll be."
"So could it be possible that the poison Kankuro is suffering from could be enhanced by Hachibi's Chakra?" asked Ino.
"I wish I could say Ino. Right now Kin and I are doing our best to extract and analyze this poison. I've been checking your text, and the poison hasn't shown any type of mutation." Sakura said, as she had Kin blot her forehead with a damp towel.
"Itachi, did you have any idea if Akatsuki was up to this kind of plan?" asked Sasuke.
"Unfortunately little bro, this is even new to me. I can normally get any type of information, but Pein must have kept this a high priority secret." Itachi replied. "When I head back for the sealing, I'll try to inquire about that and see what information I can get."
"That's fine. Until then we just need to do what we can to stop Akatsuki. Hopefully our Bankai power will be enough to give us an advantage." Naruto said. "Until then keep giving periodic updates. And be careful out there everyone." There was a bustle of agreement as Naruto closed communication. "Looks like I'm going to be busy against this Deidara person. Especially since he now has Yonbi's chakra."
"Naruto, we still have no real clue as to what level of power they command. For all we know, they might have tapped into all of the Bijuu's chakra. Even in your Bankai form, we don't know if you could go up against that." Temari said. "And who even knows what could happen if they do extract Shukaku. Whoever controls that Bijuu would easily be able to take you down Naruto."
"I'd like to see them try." Naruto replied with a bold smirk.
"You young shinobi, always overconfident." said a much older voice from outside the room. The group turned to see an older woman, thought to be someone's grandmother.
"Chiyo-baa-sama, when did you get here?" asked Kin when she saw the older woman.
"Oh I have my ways. Though I still don't know why you called Konoha Shinobi, when Suna needs no allies." Chiyo replied. "We can get by just..." As she spoke she turned to see Kakashi standing there, and suddenly grew red with anger. "YOU!! You're Konoha's White Fang! How dare you show yourself here!"
"Uh, what is she talking about?" Kakashi wondered, as the old lady charged towards him.
"I'll kill you for what you did to my son!" Chiyo screamed as she pulled a kunai from her sleeve. "You'll pay!"
"Chiyo-baa-sama, wait! That's not who you think it is!!" Tayuya said, trying to get the old woman to calm down.
"DIE!!" Chiyo roared as she was about to strike Kakashi, only to be stopped by Sakura, Kasumi, and Naruto.
"Please, calm down! I think you might be mistaken. This isn't the one you call Konoha's White Fang." Kasumi pleaded, trying to quell her rage.
"Lies! I can remember that hair and mask clearly!" Chiyo screamed as she tried to keep up her attack.
"That's because this is the son of Konoha's White Fang! The person you're thinking of is dead!" Kasumi said, causing everyone to question how she knew that information.
"She is right. I am not the one called White Fang. That was my father." Kakashi answered.
"Kasumi-chan, how did you know that?" Naruto wondered, considering she had only been home for a week, and surely hadn't been doing any type of research.
"Um, I actually studied back in the academy?" Kasumi said sarcastically. "Remember, when you were pulling pranks, I had my nose in the books."
Sakura, Kin, Temari, and Tayuya just stared at Kasumi for a second before coming to a unified answer, "Kasumi, you nerd!" they all said together.
"The one you called White Fang, was my father Sakumo Hatake. He was a shinobi back in the Third Great War, and had been as respected as the Sannin, but soon after had failed a mission." Kakashi explained. "When he failed that mission, it broke him. He was so dishonored that he committed suicide."
Chiyo's look suddenly changed after hearing that information. "Oh, I must be going senile then. My mistake."
"Going senile? I think you're way past senile!" Naruto thought to himself.
"But enough about my hair-brained idea. I actually came to check on Kankuro." Chiyo said. "Kin-chan, how is he?"
"Actually he'll be just fine. Sakura's extracted nearly all of the poison." Kin explained as Sakura was using a water technique to fluidly remove any type of toxin in the body.
"By using water as a medium, I was able to remove a large portion of the poison. I can use that to make an antidote and that should clear up any remaining toxin in his system." Sakura said, wiping her brow.
"That's impossible! I've checked that poison with my own notes and not even I could come up with a cure. The only person I know that could even have a chance is the Slug Princess Tsunade!" Chiyo said in shock. "How can you, a girl much younger than Temari have such knowledge?"
"Well, I am Tsunade-sensei's apprentice. I have been studying with her for the past two years. Plus a very close friend of mine happens to be specializing in poisons, and has the ability to nearly neutralize any type of poison in her system." Sakura replied.
"That's impossible! There is no way that friend of yours can neutralize any type of poison unless they were the jinchuuriki of the Hachibi!" said Chiyo, easily doubting Sakura's words.
"Guess they've never heard of Konoha's most dangerous weapons." Naruto said, causing Chiyo to question him.
"What weapons? The only thing I know of is Konoha's Guardian Demon, the Kyuubi." Chiyo said.
"Well she knows about our mother, but guess she's never heard of the Illumina Knights." Kasumi said. "But hey we did try to keep that hush hush for a while."
"You know though, it's a good thing that Ino did get the powers of Wood. Having that connection to the Hachibi really helped out with this poison removal."
"What!! So you're saying you kids have connections to the Bijuu?" asked Chiyo.
"Connections? We're the kids of the Kyuubi! See the ears and tails??" Naruto replied, pointing to his features. "Matter of fact, Kasumi is the next in line to become the NEW Kyuubi if anything ever happened to our mother!" That left Chiyo even more stunned. "So since you know who we are, can we get this guy healed up and go after Gaara?"
"Very well, it seems that this pink haired girl knows what she is doing. We shall let her finish and then search for the Kazekage. I will accompany you as an advisor from Suna." Chiyo replied.
"If you say so." Naruto said, obviously wondering if this old lady was just plain crazy.
Meanwhile at an undisclosed location outside of Suna, two shinobi made their way thought the desert. The larger one slinkied his way through the sands, while the skinnier blonde traveled by a large clay bird. Wrapped in the bird's tail was the Kazekage, Gaara, unconscious from the earlier battle.
"This one's lucky. I actually got to put Yonbi's chakra to good use." said the blonde while he toyed with the gem around his neck. "And the beautiful art I was able to create was simply breathtaking."
"Deidara, if those mindless explosions were what you call art, then obviously you have no concept of the subject." said the larger of the two.
"Sasori, Sasori, Sasori. Why is it that you cannot see how beautiful my art is? Better than those bland puppets you always make." Deidara replied, moving his hair from his face. "I mean those puppets have no life to them, while my art comes alive with vivid colors, bold sounds, and radiant heat! It makes you feel alive!"
"Your art is nothing but a bunch of bombs." Sasori replied gruffly. "All you do is blow stuff up!"
"I thought you as a fellow artist would understand Sasori." Deidara said as the duo left the sands and entered a forest. "It hurts me to know you don't like my art."
"Whatever Deidara. Let's just get back and get this job done." Obviously Sasori was to say, not one for art as Deidara saw it. The duo continued to walk in silence for another few hours before coming to a large cave surrounded by a moderate lake. There was a large boulder blocking the entrance, but with a simple seal, it moved, allowing the duo to enter.
The cave inside was large and musty, not leaving much to the eye. There were however 10 pedestals, five to the left and right, with a large altar in the middle.
"Alright you freaks...and Konan-chan, WAKE UP!" Deidara screamed. His voice resonated inside, causing quite an uproar. Within seconds, a shadowy silhouette appeared, followed by six more.
"Deidara you ass! What the hell do you think you're doing!" screamed the first silhouette, which turned out to be Hidan. "Can't a guy finish a ritual or something!"
"Hidan, you're doing that stupid ritual again?" asked Deidara with a sarcastic look.
"If I was there right now I'd rip your mouth off! All however many you have!" Hidan screamed.
"Hidan, Deidara, enough!" Pein boomed over the room, bringing order. "Now Deidara, Sasori, from the look of things I take it you have the next Bijuu?"
"That we do Pein-sama. It is sealed in this Jinchuuriki." Sasori explained as Deidara's clay bird spat up Gaara. "This is the Jinchuuriki to the Ichibi."
"The Bijuu of Wind. An excellent choice for you Konan-chan. I believe Ichibi's Chakra will help you greatly." Itachi noted, easily keeping his cover. Of course the compliment drew a slight blush from Konan again. Thought she did not show it to anyone, she was quite fond of the Uchiha.
"I appreciate your compliment Itachi-san, though I would put the goals of our organization first before my own." Konan replied. "I believe we should prepare ourselves. It will be taxing on us for the next three days during the sealing ritual."
"Konan is right. Make sure you are all in a secure place. We shall begin the sealing in an hour." Pein commanded. They all acknowledged the order and took the steps to prepare. As for Itachi, who was already back in Konoha...
"Naruto, I just found out that Deidara and Sasori have arrived at the sealing chamber." Itachi said on his com. "We're preparing for the sealing to begin in one hour."
"Itachi, do you have any idea as to where they are?" asked Naruto.
"Unfortunately no. Deidara decided to shock all of us by sending a communication jutsu quite rudely." Itachi replied. "Naruto, as of right now you have three days to find Gaara's location and get him out of there! Just make sure to be careful. You know Deidara has access to Yonbi's chakra and can easily overpower you even in Bankai form."
"Don't worry Itachi; we're not leaving that chamber without Gaara, though we might be leaving with two dead Akatsuki members. That's not going to upset you now, is it?" Naruto inquired.
Itachi laughed, "Not at all. Feel free to have fun. Just watch out. Deidara's level of explosives is enough to level a whole village, and Sasori's poison skills are unmatched. Hopefully Sakura can make an antidote for you if you have to face him."
"Thanks Itachi. If you can do anything to stall, please do." Naruto said, closing communication.
"Itachi-kun is everything alright?" asked Mikoto as she came from the kitchen.
"Not really Oka-san. The sealing for the Ichibi is about to begin in an hour. Naruto's team only has 3 days to stop it or Gaara's dead." Itachi replied.
"I hope they succeed. We can't let Akatsuki get more Bijuu." Mikoto said in distress.
"I know Oka-san. We're going to do everything we can to stop this." Itachi told his mother. "And now I have to get ready."
"Ready for what? I thought you didn't have to leave for at least another two weeks." asked Mikoto.
"I get to sit here for three long days in boredom. Sealing through Astral Projection is absolutely boring!" Itachi griped. "I wish I could have a Kage Bunshin do this while I gather more information."
"I'll leave some tea and snacks for you." Mikoto said, at least giving Itachi some comfort.
"Alright, they're going to start with the sealing in an hour. Right now we need to find out where those guys were headed, and stop them." Naruto said. "Only problem is that Itachi didn't know where they were either."
"Then maybe I can be of some assistance." said a figure dressed in dark glasses and a hooded coat. "I figure you need some accurate tracking as the scent might have gone faint.
"If you mean you're going to use your bugs to track them, then by all means lead the way Shino!" Naruto said, shaking hands with his friend. "It's good to see you again."
"Likewise. It is admirable that you, Kasumi-san, Sakura-san, and Temari-san have all excelled in training over the past two years." Shino said calmly. "I foresee that you have mastered your lineage."
"Oh the Hiraishin and Rasengan, yeah you could say that." Naruto chuckled. "But it's not that flashy."
"Yeah it's the Dual Rasen-shuriken that's flashy." Kasumi added with a slight elbow to Naruto. "I see you've done well yourself Shino-kun. How is your family?"
"They are well. I receive correspondence from then once a week. My maternal sibling and his betrothed have once again bore offspring to our clan. It was most joyous in the Aburame that day." Shino said, easily having everyone wonder why he didn't say that his uncle and aunt had a kid.
"Congratulations...I guess." Naruto said. "So if you're here then shouldn't..." Just as he was talking he was immediately placed in a bear hug from Lee.
"My most youthful companion! To see you once again sparks the fires of my youth!" Lee cried in joy.
"It's good to see...you too Lee!! Now can...you let go!!" Naruto cringed as he had the air being squeezed out of him.
"Oh, forgive me. But it is wonderful to see you and Kasumi-san once again." Lee said, getting a smile from Kasumi. He then turned to see Sakura wiping more sweat off her forehead and went speechless. "Sakura-chan..."
"Lee-kun, it's been a long time." Sakura acknowledged him and instantly saw his whole face change. "How...are you?"
"I am fine. I've missed you Sakura-chan. Though every week when I received your letters, I always thought about you." Lee said, easily causing Naruto and Kasumi to wonder what in the world was going on.
"I still see you didn't get rid of the bowl cut? At least you dropped the spandex." Sakura laughed. It was true, Lee kept his bowl cut hairstyle, but got rid of the green spandex (THANK GOD!) and now wore a standard Konoha chuunin fatigue, except he preferred a short sleeve shirt as to a long one. He still kept the leg warmers as they concealed his weights.
"I still have to have something to remember Gai-sensei. How is he by the way?" asked Lee.
"He's fine. Now don't you owe me something? I think I've been waiting for almost two years, you know?" Sakura coyly asked.
"Of course Sakura-chan." Lee answered as he placed his lips upon her own.
"You know, I'll still never get used to the fact that those two are actually dating." said Tayuya as she watched on.
"What's worse? The fact that the most off the wall shinobi is dating one of Sasuke Uchiha's former fangirls, or the fact that your eventual brother-in-law used to be a homicidal killer?" asked Kasumi.
"I dunno, give me a while to think about it." Tayuya replied with a laugh.
"Achoo!" Sasuke sneezed for some crazy reason.
"Ok that was random." Kiba said, noticing Sasuke rub his nose.
"I dunno, I just had this weird feeling for a second." Sasuke said. "It was probably nothing."
"Maybe not. Sometimes they say, when you sneeze, someone is talking about you." Hinata said. "You never know."
"Ok now that Lee and Sakura have finished their game of tonsil hockey, we need to get back on course to finding Gaara." Naruto said, wanting to get back to work. "Who knows what those Akatsuki freaks are doing to him now."
"Naruto, calm down. Remember what Itachi-nii-san said. It's going to take them three days to extract Shukaku." Kasumi said, trying to calm her brother. "We have a lot of time on our side since they can't do anything to attack us, so we can formulate a plan."
"But first we have to find those freaks!" Naruto replied. "The longer they have him, the less time we have to stop them."
"I do agree with Naruto's statement for once." Shino said. "This is not a matter that we can be idle on. However I believe we do have an advantage."
"What did you have in mind Shino?" asked Kakashi.
Shino held out his hand to reveal a small bug. "I have placed a female bug on one of the Akatsuki as they were leaving with Gaara-san. I can track them with the male bug I have here."
"Wait a minute, how come your bugs could pick up the scents but Kasumi-nee-chan or I can't?" Naruto asked in stupor. "I mean we are Kitsune, you know."
"That may be true, however insects have a much more acute sense of smell, even stronger than the Kitsune. An insect can track a scent of its own species for a span of over 200 miles." Shino informed the group. "We should have no problem in our search."
Naruto stood there completely stunned. To learn that a bug could smell something better than he could..."Kasumi-chan?" he asked. "Does Oka-san know about this?"
"Probably. I just don't know why you're freaking out." Kasumi said nonchalantly.
"I'm freaking out because a bug can smell better than I can!" Naruto said, trying to keep his cool.
"Well so can Akamaru, and he's a dog! Come on Naruto, it's gonna be ok. You're still a phenomenal ninja." Kasumi told him. It did calm him some, but he still couldn't believe a bug could out smell him.
"Whatever." Naruto said.
"Before we go, I need time to go ahead and synthesize this antidote. Plus I need to test out the enhancement power that we all got from Ino. Sasori might have made possible alterations to the poison that we don't know about, and we may not have immunity to it. If you all can gather these ingredients for me, I can make enough antidotes for all of us." Sakura said, holding out a list of items. "I should have all this done by tonight if I can get it quickly."
"Sakura's got a good idea there. Plus we should take the time to rest naturally. I know the Kitsune Capsules haven't worn off, but that doesn't mean we can't rest normally." Kasumi added. "That and I don't know about you guys, but I'm hungry!"
"Hey I thought I was supposed to be the one to say that?" asked Naruto in confusion.
"Look, you're not the only one that gets hungry, ya know. So Temari, any interesting places to eat while we're here?" Kasumi said.
"Actually I do know of a nice little cafe." Temari answered. "A few hours will be good to plan, and then we can head out. I should also see if we have any additional forces that can aid in the search for Gaara.
A few hours passed and Naruto's team took the time to rest and regroup. It also gave Sakura enough time to make three doses of antidote for everyone. Kasumi checked to make sure everyone still had the other two Kitsune Capsules she gave them earlier, and instructed to only use them if things got very critical. Temari and Lee however stayed back in the village in order to continue to help with the cleanup, and to monitor Kankuro. As the sun was beginning to set, the group headed out, using the setting sun as additional cover.
"The scent will be much easier to track with the cool temperature." Shino commented. "Plus I believe that since there has not been much wind, we should have a trail that we can follow."
"Ok so we already know they've begun the extraction, but do we have any idea on what's going to happen to Gaara even if we manage to stop the extraction?" Naruto asked.
"He would probably still die. Having so much chakra forcefully extracted will destroy his body from the inside. Even with part of Shukaku's chakra, he could not heal enough and would still die." Chiyo told the group. "It is quite unfortunate, but I'm afraid that we may already be too late."
"What's the deal! You mean to tell me Gaara may already be dead? And how do you even know so much about the Bijuu anyway!" Naruto said in an upset tone.
Chiyo gave him a stern look, "Because I was the one that sealed Shukaku into him."
"WHAT! You mean you're the one that made him into the homicidal killer, the one that put him through all that pain and torment!" Naruto screamed. "No wonder people called him a monster! In fact he never was the real monster! It was you! Do you know just what you did to him?"
"Of course. We planned to use Gaara as Suna's ultimate weapon. He was to make our village superior to anyone else." Chiyo said with no emotion. "Even when Orochimaru made his alliance pact with our Yondaime Kazekage, we still had hoped Gaara would lead Suna to victory."
"Oh yeah right. Make him homicidal; have him live alone while even his own siblings feared him. And now we have to try to save him before he's killed!" Naruto exploded in rage. He hadn't felt this angry since the time Kasumi took off on her own to fight Shadow Sasuke. "If I was in his place, I would have leveled Suna in a heartbeat."
"Come on Naruto, calm down. Right now we really have to focus. This is definitely something new and we don't have the full team to back us up if we end up over our heads." Kasumi said, trying to get the focus back. "We're going to have to put all of our new skills and abilities to good use since we're dealing with a Bijuu Chakra wielder."
Sakura easily agreed, "She's right Naruto. We still don't know if that Sasori guy is managing to use Hachibi's chakra as well. For all we know this could be a trap that none of us want to run into."
"Fine. Just make sure to leave that Deidara freak to me." Naruto replied. "Shino how is the trail?"
"We are on course. I believe we shall arrive within a few hours." Shino replied stoically.
"Good, that's more time to prepare to do some damage. I plan on making this as painful for those two freaks as I possibly can." Naruto said, cracking his knuckles.
The team of Naruto, Kasumi, Sakura, Shino, Kakashi, and Chiyo continued into the desert, following the scent trail of Shino's insects. With the race against time to stop Akatsuki, things were becoming more critical than ever!
"Absolutely perfect." Pein took note of the stream of green chakra being extracted through Gaara's eyes and mouth. A large statue with what looked to be nine eyes stood behind the Jinchuuriki, two happened to be wide open. "With the power of the mighty Shukaku, the winds will be at our whim!"
"You know I should take hold of that new Demon Wind chakra. I could come up with some interestingly chilling jutsu." Kisame said, licking his chops over his serrated teeth.
"Kisame, know your place. We have determined that Konan-chan will be the one to use the chakra of the Shukaku. You shall wield the chakra of the Sanbi, as we discussed." Itachi said crossly.
"What ever." Kisame said to himself as the jutsu continued.
"I have to be more careful. If I keep this up I may get discovered." Itachi thought to himself. While he looked and saw the extraction continue, his eyes wandered to the lithe silhouette of Konan, Akatsuki's only female. As much as he knew things were going wrong, he was determined to set one record straight…
"You might be under Pein's control now, but trust me Konan-chan, I'm going to get you away from all this. You never deserved to be put in this condition." Itachi thought as we went back into meditation.
The extraction has begun. The countdown to Gaara's death is going fast. What's going to happen now that Akatsuki can use the Bijuu Chakra? Will the Illumina Knights stand a chance, knowing that Akatsuki is now more powerful than ever? And what's this with Itachi? Wanting to now be a hero and rescue the fair Konan from the evil Pein?? Looks like things are gonna get a lot more interesting.