Naruto called out in alarm, but the six Akatsuki were already moving.
Hinata raised a barrier around the three of them. Gleaming ivory tusks sprouted from Sasuke’s jaw as Naruto hurried through the long chain of seals necessary to summon his clones.
“Run or fight?” Sasuke asked.
“We’d have to break out—we’re surrounded,” Naruto said. “Must have recognized us somehow.”
A bolt of lightning struck the shield, dissipating it instantly, but Naruto’s clones were finishing a few barriers of their own by then, and encased the group safely inside a multi-layered bubble. A few clones escaped to attack, surviving only for seconds, but that was long enough to reveal some of the capabilities of the enemies. One seemed to have somehow swallowed a raging wave technique into the palm of his hand, and another struck with steel blades that had sprouted right from his flesh.
For a second or two the six Akatsuki assailed his shields with powerful blows, easily breaking away one of the layers with every strike, but it must have become apparent that all of Naruto’s clones inside were adding more, faster than they could be removed.
They backed off, synchronizing wordlessly to stand at a middle distance, surrounding the barrier.
Naruto had known there might be more than one member of Akatsuki in Rain, but he hadn’t expected to encounter six of them just waiting in the village square.
Something was strange about them, though. They all had the same copper-colored hair, except for the bald one, and they were all wearing little black rods as facial piercings. He knew that such dress wasn’t a strict requirement of the Akatsuki—Itachi and the shark ninja had both worn the same cloak, but none of the piercings, or the hair, and how likely was it that six different ninja could all have access to the rinnegan? But the byakugan would have seen through it if they were any kind of illusion, and if they were just some kind of clone they would have all been identical, physically.
Five of them stood idle, the rain clearing up outside the shields as the sixth stepped forward. He placed his hand against the surface of Naruto’s barrier—he was the one who had seemed to suck up the raging wave technique that Naruto had thrown at him.
Naruto saw the chakra flowing from the barrier into the Akatsuki ninja’s palm as the outermost layer vanished entirely. He’d absorbed it, somehow—and already he had placed his hand on the next layer of the barrier to repeat the process.
Naruto wished he’d spent some time practicing the shield technique to the point where he could have anchored it around an enemy, to crush them like Hinata could, but he’d been so busy with his fruitless attempts to unlock the earth element by brute force—even with a thousand bodies there hadn’t been nearly enough time to do everything he’d wanted. If Hinata tried it here she would run out of chakra in seconds. Naruto wasn’t even sure that he would be able to keep up with their pace if all six were attacking at once.
If each of their enemies took two seconds between attacks, and every attack was heavy enough to break a shield, then that was an average of three broken shields per second. At 5000 mc per shield that was about 15,000 mc/sec to replace what was lost, almost triple his spare regeneration. Enough to drain him down to nothing in minutes if they really pressed him.
He was seriously coming to regret not having expanded his chakra factory more when he’d had the chance.
The fact that they had slowed their pace was interesting, though. It would have been costly for any ninja to exert themselves like that, throwing such powerful attacks for very long. They might be wary of getting into an endurance battle with a jinchuuriki. Naruto guessed that this absorption approach was probably less costly in chakra, or maybe even a net-positive, depending on how exactly it worked. They probably didn’t realize that at this slow pace Naruto could have lasted as long as he liked, but whatever it was in their eyes—whether it really was the reawakened rinnegan or just some kind of trick, they weren’t acting like they were unbeatable. Like Jiraiya had said; Naruto’s endurance was a threat to them, and they were already taking it into account.
One of his clones bit his tongue to explain an idea he’d had to the rest of the pack. They looked around at each other, nodding their agreement. It seemed worth a try.
He quickly confirmed that the shields were thick enough to be opaque before turning to Hinata and Sasuke. The dome was lit inside by the glow of the walls, but nothing could be seen or heard through that many layers.
“There’s one standing just out there, absorbing my shields,” Naruto said, pointing him out for Sasuke’s benefit. “I’m going to try raising a few layers all at once from in here that are big enough to envelop him too, and then I’ll drop the inner shields to let him in, with us. He’ll be trapped, and three against one shouldn’t be a problem, if we surprise him.”
“Sounds good,” Sasuke said.
“The thing is, though, I don’t know what’ll happen after that,” Naruto said. “I’m not actually sure if I could keep them out for long, if they all came at the shields as hard as they could. And once this guy’s dead, they might not have any better option, so we may not have another good chance to talk until this is all over. Do either of you have any other ideas to mention, or anything else to say while we have the opportunity?”
Hinata looked like she was about to say something.
Naruto raised his eyebrows, expectantly. “Yeah?”
“Sorry—nothing.” She shook her head. “Stray thought.”
“Alright,” Naruto said, “so, as far as coordination… I’m thinking that—oh, shit—shit, there’s another one. There’s a seventh one coming.”
A young woman with dyed-blue hair had crossed into the edge of his vision. She too wore the Akatsuki cloak.
Most of the other civilians and ninja had evacuated their homes at the first sign of a fight—strange for locals, but less strange if they had been instructed to conceal their ties to Akatsuki. Naruto hadn’t even considered the possibility that there might be more than these six waiting here.
“We need to do this fast,” Naruto said, “hit him however you like, okay? I’m letting him in on three. …One, two, three!”
Twenty clones near the center of the barrier completed their hand-seals in sync and raised their new layers at a radius large enough to envelop the body of the draining-ninja.
A split-second later, following the signal, the last of the inner shields fell away, and the four clones placed around the inside of the Akatsuki’s position struck out from four different angles with whirlpools on their fists.
Hinata and Sasuke threw darts of ice and lightning-charged needles as another pair of clones prepared to douse the ninja’s feet in sticky syrup, but by then it was clear that it wouldn’t even be necessary. Their techniques had torn through the Akatsuki’s body before he’d even had a chance to react.
A pair of clones took the head to confirm their kill. The concentric rings of the rinnegan faded away almost immediately. He’d hoped to take them both, maybe to let Hinata or Sasuke fight back with whatever power they had, but it seemed they couldn’t so easily be stolen.
The rinnegan was said to be able to raise the dead, but the corpse wasn’t moving.
“That was pretty easy,” Sasuke said.
The faces of the five remaining Akatsuki betrayed no emotion, but their hesitation following the loss of one of their number suggested at least some surprise. Rather than attacking, though, they drew back a little, joining up with the blue-haired woman who stood silently beside them.
A chill of dread ran through Naruto as he became aware of the thoughts of one of his clones. He’d been wondering whether or not that ninja’s draining technique might have been the perfect way to fix the seas. If he had just managed to accidentally wipe out the only ninja of the only bloodline who could have ever properly fixed things… but, no, he’d find a way to do it, regardless. He’d catalog every obscure bloodline technique on the continent to find what he needed, and then raise one of their children with the exploitable chakra of another tailed beast, if it was necessary. He’d make a way.
One of the Akatsuki clapped his hands together and plunged his open palm toward the ground. Black lines spread out on the cobblestones and burst into smoke.
A human figure stood before him when the haze faded—another figure clad in the robes of the Akatsuki. He had long blond hair and was looking around in apparent confusion as the other ninja clapped his hands together again.
Another one appeared before him, broad and hunchbacked. He, too, wore the cloak.
Somehow he was summoning people—he must have felt threatened by the loss of a body; he hadn’t even been taking them seriously, before. He could have done it at any time, but now he was calling in the aid of some of the most powerful ninja alive. A third figure appeared, a man with slicked-back hair and a huge scythe, scratching his head in disorientation.
One of Naruto’s clones bit his tongue; their odds of ever succeeding here were shrinking by the second. Hinata and Sasuke would die if they tried to run. There was no plan in place, but they couldn’t even spare a moment more to think. They had to win, now.
He looked at Hinata and Sasuke as his shadow clones in the center dropped their shields.
Fifty clones sprung forth from the ring, each with their own approach in mind, sharing nine enemy targets between them—no, there were ten of them, now. Ninja were still being summoned.
Raging waves and streams of syrup flew out alongside charged needles and Hinata’s darts of ice. Shadow clones and their shields were broken apart and recreated in a dozen different places at once. Within seconds the two most recently summoned Akatsuki had each taken the brunt of a whirlpool drill through their chests—they seemed to have been too dazed even to dodge.
Some kind of invisible pressure seemed to be preventing him from approaching one of the five copper-haired ninja, and the rest were untouchable by their agility alone.
Two of the newly-summoned Akatsuki kicked off backward into the air together—the blond and the hunchback. With his perfect sharingan Sasuke made an incredible throw, sending a lighting-infused needle through the eye of the blond, midair. It carried through into his brain, sparkling with sharp energy.
A great explosion erupted from sky where the blond and the hunchback had been. Naruto’s clones in the vicinity were vaporized, instantly, but with the byakugan at a safe distance he saw the two Akatsuki disintegrate in the core of the blast. The shrapnel discharged took half the arm of the summoner, but there was no sign of physical suffering on his face; only calm composure as he backed off to cauterize the wound with his remaining hand.
The detonation had destroyed most of a block, but amidst the smoke and burning dust Naruto saw the Akatsuki with the slicked-back hair erupt into cackling laughter as he pulled himself up from the ground, leaning against his scythe. There was a gaping hole in his lungs, but he spoke casually to the ninja next to him, a man whose dismembered body was visibly reconstituting itself with thick ropes of chakra.
He straightened himself up, pausing to stitch his head back on straight.
This was the power of Akatsuki ninja—this was what made them so threatening. Not the natural skill or the techniques that any jounin might have, but these insane bloodline abilities that seemed to make a mockery of death itself. No law enforced by mere ANBU could have kept people like that from doing whatever they wanted. Even with the blond one and the hunchback destroyed in the blast there were eight of them still standing after the initial attack, and the advantage of surprise had been thoroughly exhausted.
Naruto sent a new wave of clones after all those who still stood. The summoner seemed unable to clap his hands and bring any more allies to bear with only the one arm left. Sasuke joined him against the two who’d simply stood up from his hits like a couple of undead corpses. Anything was possible with a zombie com—
“Konan, go!” one of the copper-haired ninja shouted. He was the youngest-looking of the five left with the rinnegan, and that had been the first time any one of them had spoken since the ambush began. He’d been looking at the blue-haired woman when he’d said it.
Naruto shifted his priorities and sent half his clones in the vicinity after the blue-haired woman, “Konan”. If he could capture her he might be able to trade her for something. A safe exit, maybe; and hopefully the opportunity to grow his factory before they fought again. If Jiraiya and Tsunade had already been to Rain, they definitely weren’t here anymore.
Konan fought with a seemingly-endless supply of paper sheets that flowered from her skin—another strange bloodline technique, but one a little less terrifying. The paper floated erratically through the air, swerving and whipping around him to deliver tiny paper cuts well suited to efficiently dispatching his shadow clones.
A powerful pulling force emanated from the same copper-haired ninja as before, the one who’d spoken to Konan. It unbalanced Naruto for a moment, but his clones were well-practiced now in patterns of dynamic coordination; they shot streams of sticky syrup in a crisscrossing web that descended like a liquid net on Konan’s position. She was soaked in the viscous goo from head to toe, her paper rendered useless, glued against her skin.
“We have Konan hostage!” shouted the clone nearest to the Akatsuki who had spoken.
Naruto’s other clones put a shield up around her, leaving it thin enough for him to see their knives at her throat. Two more of the Akatsuki had been dealt with, now—the seemingly-immortal pair who had picked themselves up from deadly injuries. His clones had aided Sasuke in cutting them into sufficiently small pieces that they seemed unable to reconstitute themselves any longer, their living-chunks being disposed of in isolation, but he couldn’t rule out the chance they’d be back again.
That left just the main six, counting his hostage Konan, but the five copper-haired Akatsuki seemed to be on another level entirely. They all seemed to be able to mold chakra of any element at will, and had easily fended off dozens of clones, simultaneously. Even with Hinata’s help he’d been unable to land a single hit on any one of them.
“Konan is our hostage!” he repeated. “Stop attacking for a second so we can talk!”
Naruto gestured for Hinata and Sasuke to retreat back inside one of his barriers.
“If you force me to keep fighting I’ll have no choice but to execute her!” he shouted. “Five seconds!”
This caught his attention. The remaining Akatsuki slowed their attacks to a halt, as the last clones outside of the shields were destroyed.
Naruto placed one of his clones near the rim, inside his barrier, and dropped the layers one by one, recreating them on the inside of the clone, phasing him out step by step without ever having to expose the others inside.
Naruto addressed the one who had spoken.
“Where is Jirai—”
He stopped. Stupid to even ask that. If Jiraiya and Tsunade hadn’t arrived yet, he’d just given up any chance of surprise.
The Akatsuki looked down at him dispassionately. “What are the Sannin to you?”
Assuming that the copper-haired ninja with the rinnegan was Pein, and given the fact that he’d only seen this one of the six bodies actually speak, Naruto had the suspicion that this might be his real body, in some sense. He was also the only one making use of the strange force-pushing and pulling that could throw Naruto’s clones around at a distance, though a few of the six had now displayed notable unique abilities.
And Pein had asked about “the Sannin”, rather than just Jiraiya in particular. That suggested he knew Tsunade was involved as well, which implied he’d already encountered them, somehow. They were probably both already dead.
“Friends,” Naruto said. “They were meant to pass through here a week ago. Did you see them?”
“They attacked me this morning,” Pein replied. “My allies came to my defense. The Sannin fought bravely… but, regretfully, our medic-nin were unable to treat their wounds.”
That was a lie. If the Sannin had already arrived after leaving Hinata last night, they would have had too little chakra left after their journey to start a fight. Not before they’d had some time to rest and plan, first. Pein had probably discovered them sooner than they had expected, too, and killed them in their beds.
“Is it true that you’re trying to take power? That’s why you’re after the jinchuuriki?” Naruto asked.
“…If I have sought power, it was only in the pursuit of peace,” Pein replied.
“Okay, well, I want peace too,” Naruto said. “Why don’t we try talking things over? We might find some common ground.”
“Let her go free and you may say what you like,” Pein said.
“I’m still using her for leverage. But I don’t have to kill her,” Naruto said.
“You would seek my friendship with your knife at my companion’s throat?”
“Excuse me,” Konan said, inside his barrier, “may I ask you to convey him a message, for me?”
Pein looked at her through the translucent shield wall.
“Uhh… Maybe? I guess?” Naruto’s clone replied. “He should still be able to hear you, actually.”
She met Pein’s gaze, speaking loudly enough for him to hear. “Consider these to be my dying words, now. Whatever you do from here, whatever happens… if you ever allow the last piece of Yahiko’s life to be extinguished, once I’m gone, I won’t forgive you,” she said. “Do not forget his sacrifice.”
Pein’s face was expressionless, but he closed his eyes for a moment before turning back to Naruto’s clone.
“I cannot allow you to live, jinchuuriki,” he said, “but I regret the necessity of your death. If you allow Konan to withdraw from our battle I shall allow your two friends to leave, unharmed, and I shall not pursue them, nor treat them ill in future.”
Naruto’s clone turned to consult Sasuke and Hinata.
Sasuke shrugged. “I don’t have anywhere else to be.”
Naruto whispered his reply, inaudible inside the barrier. “It might be a good idea, guys. We could regroup; I can come back with loads more chakra.”
Sasuke shook his head. “You saw what he did, pulling those Akatsuki out of thin air. Who knows what other crazy shit he might do now that he knows how you can fight. His summoner’s arm’s busted; let’s push our advantage while he’s weak.”
That was a good point, actually. The rinnegan was said to be able to read minds, to resurrect the dead, to grant perfect chakra control, to summon animals—he didn’t know if the legends were true, but one of them had summoned the other Akatsuki, and the rest had displayed a number of other powerful techniques already, very plausibly including perfect chakra control, given how well he fought. If Pein found out about his factory it might not be able to stand up to whatever he was capable of doing. Even without the Sannin, they might never get a chance this good again.
Hinata met his eyes. “I, also, do not have anywhere else to be…”
“Sorry, Pein,” Naruto said. “No deal. Got anything else to offer? Maybe some last words for your beloved?”
The taunt was intentionally cruel; he still wanted to milk the opportunity for some advantage, if he could, and he really was going to have to kill her if the fight resumed.
“Maybe you can just resurrect her later, with your rinnegan?” Naruto continued. “But then again, if that were possible then I guess you wouldn’t have had to let poor Yahiko die, would you?”
“Do not kill her,” Pein said, emotion creeping into his voice. “Allow her to leave. Your friends may fight me if they wish—I ask only for her safety; she will not return to our battle. You may trust me—we are kin, by blood, Uzumaki Naruto. And you too, Uchiha Sasuke—we are cousins.”
Naruto couldn’t imagine any purpose to such an obvious lie. Pein being related both to him and to Sasuke?
“It is true,” Pein said. “My father was Uzumaki Ryu, nephew to Uzumaki Mito, who was wife to Leaf’s First Hokage. My mother was Ume of the Uchiha clan. They came to live in Rain village before their death. We share blood-ties, we three. Konan has done you no harm.”
Naruto had no idea whether those were even real names, but he thought Uzumaki Mito was real, at least—the rest of the Uzumaki clan was supposed to be extinct, though, other than Naruto himself.
“Ume died in Sand country, years ago,” Sasuke said. “That’s what the records say, anyway… It’s possible she fled to Rain—I don’t know who her teammates were, but if she did have an Uzumaki on her team, then I can guess why she might have left. We have an ancient rule about never intermarrying with the Senju. An Uzumaki would definitely count.”
“Well… even if that were true, Pein, it still wouldn’t change anything,” Naruto said. “I’m not going to trust someone who’s trying to kill me just because we might have a distant relative in common. Tell me how you got those eyes; then I’ll consider letting Konan live.”
“It is no secret. The rinnegan was passed on to me when I was a child, by Uchiha Madara. I am his chosen successor.”
Naruto hadn’t really expected him to answer. If that was just the story he wanted told, though, then it was probably calculated to inspire awe at the connection to a famous historical figure, more than to be able to stand up to scrutiny.
“He gave you the rinnegan just because you’re both Uchiha?” Naruto asked. “And he didn’t like the ones left in Leaf? Is that the idea?”
“He expected me to use its power to resurrect him. I chose instead to seek nobler ends, but if you do not believe me, you need only piece together the severed head of Hidan, and he will speak. He will tell you that there were two shinobi among our ranks, until recently, by the names of Zetsu and Tobi. They served Madara, even after his death, and sought to impel me to bring about his restoration. They were killed in the attempt.”
Naruto took it that “Hidan” was one of the two ninja whose pieces he’d had to scatter to keep from reconstituting. It might have been a trick, and the head alone would instantly re-grow the other pieces and attack him or something, but more likely it would just confirm that Hidan knew the story Pein wanted told. Maybe there was some fragment of truth to it, though, if real people had actually been killed over it. That almost seemed to suggest that the rinnegan really could have the power to raise the dead. If so, then there was presumably some kind of limit, at least, if he really couldn’t just bring back this “Yahiko” who had been sacrificed, or raise Konan if she died.
“If Madara had such loyal servants, then, why not give one of them the rinnegan?” Naruto asked. “Wouldn’t that have been a lot simpler?”
“He did not trust them, fully,” Pein said. “Neither did I.”
Naruto wasn’t convinced. Uchiha Madara would have had little reason to trust some kid above his loyal servants, especially if those servants could have just taken the rinnegan for themselves if they ever wanted to actually betray him.
Naruto recalled the story of Madara secretly awakening the rinnegan, after his guts were blown open in his battle with the First Hokage—how he’d had to drink the First’s blood to survive. Maybe the rinnegan could only be wielded by someone with both Uchiha and Senju blood in them. Pein might not even know that himself, if it was true.
Naruto’s clones added new layers to their barrier to hide from Pein’s line of sight before suggesting his new theory to Sasuke. He asked Sasuke to prick his finger, to give him some blood to drink, but after sucking down more than a mouthful the clone reported no apparent change. Naruto didn’t want to push it too far since the three of them still had to fight afterwards, but he couldn’t really test it the other way around without dispelling all of his clones. The blood theory didn’t seem to work, though.
“I have answered your questions,” Pein said. “Free her, now; you are honor-bound.”
“No I’m not. I said I’d consider it, and I’m pretty skeptical about your story,” Naruto said. “I can let her go, but you’ll have to offer me something worthwhile, first.”
Pein seemed to hesitate.
“…If your friends intend to fight me, still… if you let Konan go free, then in gratitude, when our battle resumes, I would seek to subdue them without causing undue harm. They would survive, even through your own defeat, and I would show them every possible mercy. You have my word.”
Naruto scratched his head, dubious.
“If that is not enough…” Pein continued, “I can also promise that if you do take Konan’s life, I will not be so lenient.”
Naruto considered the proposal. He didn’t think he was going to get much more out of the guy, and enraging him by executing Konan anyway would make any future negotiations impossible. Even if they won, it would be better for Pein to surrender willingly and to voluntarily give up some information in exchange for whatever concessions might be viable. Filling him with spite wouldn’t make things easier. The main risk was that Konan might rejoin the fight, but she hadn’t been too difficult to capture the first time around, and Naruto expected she probably would stay away; she’d been noticeably weaker than the other five, the rinnegan-wielders. If she was friends with Pein she might not have been invited into Akatsuki based purely on her combat prowess.
Neither Sasuke nor Hinata had any better ideas, and they weren’t going to turn down a simple offer of mercy.
“Alright, I think we can agree to that,” Naruto said. “We’ll set Konan free, then she can head east for a minimum of ten miles, then stay there. If she comes back to rejoin the fight before we’re done, or does anything else to influence things, or you break your word then we’ll have to retaliate. Agreed?”
“Very well,” Pein said. “We are agreed.”
Naruto dispelled the bodies around Konan, their shields vanishing with them, leaving her free to leave. One sneaky shadow clone took the opportunity to hide himself with the invisibility technique rather than biting his tongue, but nobody else seemed to notice amidst the noise and smoke.
Konan leapt off eastward without another word to Pein, and once she was out of sight Naruto turned his full attention back to the battle.
Five of the original six enemies were left, one of them partly disabled with his missing arm. They’d done pretty well so far, actually, considering the quantity and quality of the shinobi they were up against, but they were still outnumbered, and even in all the chaos of the melee they hadn’t actually landed a hit on any one of these five yet. They weren’t untouchable—twice now they had been injured by surprise, but in the open battle they had been nothing less than perfect in the execution of their individual styles.
A ring of clones topped up Hinata and Sasuke’s chakra while they were safe inside the barrier. The three of them were still in good condition, more or less, but it seemed unlikely that a simple frontal assault would be enough to beat Pein. Hinata’s shield-crushing strategy would probably be a little less costly now, with one less enemy to break through the layers, but that still left five ninja breaking through at least two shields per second, which would take drain his reserves only slightly less quickly. Such a plan might work just to finish off the last one or two, but he didn’t want to get ahead of himself.
It was possible that he could just outlast them, even if he did have to spend a lot more just to keep up, but the rinnegan was supposed to grant perfect chakra control—for all he knew that might well mean infinite chakra, despite Pein’s caution, and Naruto had been learning the hard way that his own theoretically infinite chakra was a far cry from actual infinity. Even if Jiraiya’s suspicions were right and Pein couldn’t match the endurance of a jinchuuriki, it seemed that at least one of the rinnegan-wielders might be using no chakra at all to break his barriers—the one with the powerful steel appendages, swinging around like natural extensions of his body—and his attacks were the fastest ones, too.
“I believe Konan has reached a safe distance, now,” Pein said. “You may resume your assault whenever you are ready.”
Naruto didn’t reply. He was happy to keep Pein waiting as long as he needed.
He turned to Hinata and Sasuke inside the dome. “I’m thinking we should focus on one at a time, but I’m not sure how. I can throw enough clones to keep them all relatively busy, but it’s hard for me to get close without taking a hit first. He’s really good.”
“We had this problem once before, remember?” Sasuke said. “First day out of the academy. Kakashi was faster than the three of us put together, but we figured it out. All we have to do is act like we’re a couple of your shadow clones, except we won’t burst when he touches us. You make a couple of decoys that look like me and Hinata, and then we slide in there and tear his bells off.”
Naruto raised his eyebrows. “You want to try the exact same strategy we used against Kakashi?”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, but Kakashi just stood there and let me build a wall around him. Pein’s not going to go easy on us, and there’s five of him.”
“It was our first day,” Sasuke countered. “You couldn’t even transform properly.”
“I still can’t,” Naruto said. “I can barely jump around without it breaking.”
“You’ve got thousands of clones to train with now, how can you still not—”
“I’ve been really busy!”
“I—I think we can do it,” Hinata said. “If we defeat the leader, the other four might lose their strength. He’s strong, but Kakashi didn’t expect much from us either, at first.”
A pair of clones transformed themselves into illusory copies of Hinata and Sasuke, still concealed behind the opaque shield wall.
“Alright, I guess we’ll give it a shot. I’ll try to keep the decoys alive as long as I can.”
Hinata cast her hidden mist technique, shrouding them in fog as Sasuke charged his flesh with sparks of lightning.
“First target’s fifty feet that way,” Naruto said, pointing him out for Sasuke. “You guys ready?”
“Any shadow clones not ready?”
The clone handling management gave him a thumbs-up. “All accounted for.”
“Alright then everybody, start your seal-chains… barriers will be dropping on three… One… two… three!”
The glowing dome fell away, and Naruto’s met Pein’s gaze with his new sharingan.
Pein’s fingers splayed wide.
Abruptly, the earth seemed to pull.
Naruto buckled at the knees, collapsing—somehow every muscle had given out, every shadow clone beneath his shield had crumpled at once, pressed into the dirt by some invisible force. Hinata and Sasuke too.
He squirmed against the ground, trying to pick himself up with all his strength. It was that force-pushing technique Pein had been using. With all of them confined in such a small space he’d been able to catch them all at once, to hold them against the ground with his unrelenting pressure. It must have been luck alone that had prevented him from catching them with it before, but this time he had been ready. They were stuck.
Naruto groaned against the weight of the air on his chest—even his tongue felt heavy. “We… have to… spread out!”
His words came too late—he felt the strength fading from him, and already the other four Akatsuki were approaching from all sides to secure their victory.
His arms giving out, he and his clones fell into unconsciousness.