"Dude, do you ever sleep?" Cyborg eyed Robin as he came bounding up the stairs.
"Not if I can help it," came the response. "What's the matter? Why's the proximity alert going off?"
"Hard to say." Cyborg pressed a few buttons on the panel. "Something approaching over the water at high speed. Could just be a boat, but it's heading pretty much straight for
" He paused as the image came onscreen.
The two were silent for a moment.
"Well, it's not a boat." Robin reasoned.
"Yeah," muttered Cyborg. "Guess we better batten down the hatches. Anybody we know?"
"Don't recognize them." Robin shook his head. "Too slow to be part of the Flash family. Don't seem to be friendly." He turned to regard the other Titans as they came blinking up the stairs. "Titans, rea
The rest of his statement was broken off as something came smashing through the front of the building.
"Fell out of the sky?"
"I was about two miles away when it happened." Superman shrugged. "Just saw it out of the corner of my eye. I could be mistaken."
"Maybe they were skydiving and forgot their parachutes," suggested Flash.
Hawkgirl snorted. "The plane too?"
She, Flash, and Superman were standing in the observation room above the medical ward, watching their three new visitors (or as Green Arrow had caustically remarked, captives) being tended to in the room below. Several medics were hooking them up to life-support machines, and J'onn J'onnz, resident Martian and telepath, was supervising. As they watched, Mr. Terrific entered the room and tapped J'onn on the shoulder, who nodded and left.
"There might have been a plane, I can't be sure. All I saw were people falling. Didn't really stop to think how they'd gotten there, I just flew over as quickly as I could." Superman rubbed the back of his neck in farmboy-like fashion. "I got Bats' message shortly after I set them down. Seemed like the best fit."
The assembled heroes glanced up as J'onn entered the room. "Well?" Hawkgirl asked.
puzzling." The Martian admitted, glancing back at the three teenagers on their respective beds. "I cannot fully probe their minds."
"You mean like with Thanagarians?" Hawkgirl asked.
not like that. Reading their memories is not impossible, indeed some are quite accessible. But certain parts of their mind are blocked off." Frowning in thought, J'onn continued, "The resistance is more similar to the technique Batman sometimes employs."
Flash snickered and Superman closed his eyes in frustration but Hawkgirl merely looked interested. "Are you saying they may have had training against this sort of thing?"
"It's possible." J'onn nodded. "Very good training, for them to have achieved it at such an early age and be able to maintain it while comatose
but yes, I would say they probably were trained."
"So they've dealt with telepaths before, then."
"That seems likely."
Superman nodded. "All right, well, what memories DID you manage to get?"
"Regroup Titans!" Robin shouted. "Cyborg, take the big kid, Raven, the skinny one. Beast Boy and Star, you're with me on the elemental!"
An elemental. A WATER elemental. That made things enormously complicated, given the location of the Titan's tower. It meant that not only had none of the sensors detected the creature's approach, but that the thing could grow to near tower size and smash into the front.
Cyborg's defense systems never even had a chance to fire, the elemental had smashed any and all weapons to bits, allowing the other two to reach the tower unopposed. How exactly THEY'D gotten up to the control level so quick was another questionRobin'd seen no zip lines and he'd heard no jetpacks.
However, that was immaterial. The simple fact was that all three were now right on top of the Titans and needed to be dealt with. At least they had advantage of numbers. If they could split up the assailants, Robin felt confident they could take them down.
So as Cyborg ran at the strange red-haired kid, and Raven and the dark-haired one engaged in a staring contest, Robin and his allies ran for the hole in the wall and the strange many-toothed monster beyond it. Starfire took off and shot into the sky as Beast Boy transformed into an eagle while Robin simply shot a grappling hook up and jumped to the roof.
The plan, roughly, called for Starfire and Beast Boy to keep the creature corralled near the tower where Robin could hit it. They would overwhelm the creature with superior force and then return to help finish off the others. Pretty good odds, considering the usual stakes.
Part of Robin worried, though. He knew nothing about any of the attackers, and he hated going into a fight blind. And whoever they were, the fact that they had confidently attacked the Titan headquarters meant that they also felt quite secure in their abilities, unless they simply meant to provide a diversion while a fourth member infiltrated the compound (Robin doubted that). So either they were arrogant or dangerous.
Still. The elemental had to be dealt with immediately.
Green energy shot from Starfire's fingertips, blasting bits of the creature's side away. Immediately fresh water flowed into the wound, restoring the damaged portion in seconds. Robin nodded, that was fairly standard for elemental creatures. A green eagle shot at the creature's back, rapidly shifting into a swordfish as it hit the surface and shifting just as quickly into a shark, moments before being spat back out.
Eyes narrowing, Robin caught sight of what Beast Boy had been aiming for. Deep in the center of the clear water mass, he could see a glimmer of something solid. That must be the elemental's brain, or controller. If they could hit it, the rest would fall apart.
The only problem was getting to it. Robin threw a few explosive pellets, leaping aside as one of the creature's tentacles smashed into the roof beside him. As he rolled to a stop, he saw the splatter damage from his grenades heal up just as quickly as it had been broken down. So much for that.
The tentacle was still after him. He rolled backwards, flipped off to the side, and began running the length of the building. Carefully he measured the distance with his eyes. It would be close, but if he, Starfire, and Beast Boy coordinated their attacks, they might just
A shrill scream suddenly distracted him.
"Raven!" He heard Beast Boy cry. The green eagle wheeled suddenly and shot for the interior of the building.
Cursing, Robin touched his communicator. "Cyborg?"
"Raven's down." Came the response. "She's alive though. That red-eyed kid is crazy fast, and he's got some kind of electricity ability. Beast Boy, do me a favor and take the red-head. He's a shape-shifter of some kind."
"After I get Raven!"
"She's fine, man! Just get the big kid!"
"Do as he says, Beast Boy." Robin spoke into the communicator, leaping away as another tentacle crashed into the roof, just inches away from him. "Cyborg, you sure you can take red-eyes?"
"You kiddin'? If he uses electricity, I'll just eat it up. And as fast as he is, mah laser's faster." Robin could almost hear the grin in his voice.
"Take him then. Star and I will have to make do by ourselves." Suddenly finding himself at the end of the roof, Robin skidded to a stop and nearly fell over the railing. Real graceful, Boy Wonder. He looked up as a watery shadow fell over him.
Before the appendage could smash down, a green blur shot past, and he found himself flying through the air in Starfire's arms. "Robin!" The girl's face was filled with concern. "Is friend Raven alright? Will she be needing the evac? Should we perhaps
"She'll be alright. Beast boy and Cyborg are down there, they'll keep an eye on her." He pointed down. "We need to hit that little black dot inside him, Star. But it's just you and me, and it's gonna take a lot of coordination."
"Is that problem?" Starfire's face clouded over momentarily. "I thought you said you and I had skill at the coordination."
"We do." Robin grinned. "That's why this should be fun."
this can't be good.
Naruto really couldn't think of any other way to appraise the fact that he seemed to be lying in a hard white bed in a hard white room with hard steel bands holding him down. The experience wasn't entirely novelGranny Tsunade had sometimes ordered similar measures to keep him in hospitalsbut it was disturbing, particularly as he doubted this was the Konoha.
First of all, the room itself didn't look familiar. Naruto had had frequent opportunity in his interesting career as a shinobi to observe hospital rooms, and he was on intimate terms with nearly every room in the Konoha medical facility. This one he did not recognize. It was nearly two stories high, stark white, padded all over, and had little in it besides Naruto and the bed.
Second of all, that bed didn't look familiar. More than that, it didn't look like any bed he'd ever seen before. There was no mattress, no pillow, and the blanket was a thin, almost paper-like sheet. Steel bands were passed over his arms, legs, torso, and even neck, keeping him nearly entirely immobilized. The little wiggling he could do convinced him of another interesting factthe bed had joints. It felt as if the part of the bed each arm was attached to was hinged, so that the doctor could move Naruto's arms about without undoing the cuffs. The same applied for his legs.
Third of all, though, a portion of the white wall had just turned completely clear to reveal a man gazing down on him. Naruto would have shrugged even that off if the man hadn't been completely bald, dressed in the strangest clothes Naruto had ever seen, and flanked by two utterly bizarre samurai-like men.
This was definitely not Konoha. And being imprisoned in any place that was not Konoha was not good.
"Good morning." The man's voice echoed through a loudspeaker somewhere in the room; powerful, imperious, and just a touch smug. This man was used to getting what he wanted. "I'm sorry for the
accommodations, but I'm afraid you gave my men rather a start last night."
Last night. Naruto tried to recall what had happened. He'd been running to catch up with the others, because they'd gone off to hunt Sasuke. He'd gotten there
Naruto's eyes went wide. "Where are my friends?" He demanded, throwing himself against the bands.
"Your friends?" The man arched an eyebrow. "We're taking care of them. They seemed badly wounded when they arrived, but they are quite safefor the moment."
Naruto didn't quite like the tone of that last remark. "Where am I?" He asked, sinking back down onto the bed. "And what's with the handcuffs?"
"As I said, you gave my men quite a start last night. We had to make sure you didn't go rampaging around killing people again." Naruto froze at that comment. "Also, I don't think you quite understand the position that you're in. After all, you four were trespassing, a very serious offense when you're dealing with a man like myself. You're hardly in a position to be asking questions."
The man's smile made a shiver run down Naruto's spine. "Screw you!" he yelled. "Where am I?"
"I don't think you heard me the first time." The man's gaze turned cold. "You are in no position to ask questions. You and your friends are in serious trouble. Even without the breaking and entering, you killed nearly thirty of my men."
Thirty? Naruto paused. He didn't think... but then, he was rarely clear-headed in Kyuubi mode. He knew he'd tapped into the fox's power a little when he'd charged at Sasuke, but then... then he had a foggy memory of throwing men left and right in a strange white hallway, and a vague dread of those men getting to his friends. But he didn't think he'd killed thirty.
In any case, that still didn't explain how he'd gotten here, or even where "here" was. And the man had said "four" of you. That meant there were only three of his friends here. Where were the others? And sensei?
The man seemed to take his silence as submission, for his voice took on more pleased tone. "Fortunately, I am
interested in how you managed that. It's no small feat for you to break in here, or to kill so many people. You seem to have a great deal of power." He leaned a little closer to the glass. "And power interests me."
Naruto suppressed another shiver.
"I suppose I could simply cut into you and find out, but I'm not sure it'd do much good," mused the man. "Meta powers aren't always so
scientific. Certainly, if you simply told me instead, it would be much less troublesomeand painfulfor all concerned.." He paused a moment. "Don't you agree?"
Now, Naruto wasn't smart, but he wasn't nearly as stupid as he used to be. Four years ago, he might have simply yelled "screw you" at the man again and ended up getting his comrades and him sliced open. Granted, that was better than the alternativegive up village secretsbut it still wasn't ideal.
The ideal was to deceive this man as cleverly as possible so he didn't cut them up. And given that the man apparently didn't know about the Kyuubi, chakra, orpresumablyKonoha, Naruto felt he had pretty good odds of doing just that.
So after a moment's hesitation, Naruto slowly nodded.
"Good." The man smirked. "Now, tell me everything you know about this strange red energy you have. Where it comes from, how it works, how I can replicate it
anything that might be useful."
Sasuke frowned in annoyance at the odd opponent facing him. He was tall, broad, and dark-skinned, possibly a missing Kumo-nin. Nearly half his body was sheathed in armor, and one eyevaguely similar to the device Deidara had once wornglowed an angry red. Whatever he was, the man was a formidable opponent. His armor seemed to have lightning coursing through it, and Sasuke's chidori blade was having no effect. Worse yet, he seemed to be able to send pure chakra out of one of his arms, much like Juugo. Sasuke had to keep moving about to avoid the lethal blasts that streamed at him.
I need more penetration than the blade, he decided, collecting chakra and focusing natural energy through his arm. His hand began to crackle with lightning.
The man glanced at him and his eyes widened. "Dude, that is freaky."
Ignoring the sentiment, Sasuke rushed forward, darting under the man's outstretched hands and stabbing toward the armored stomach. Unable to defuse all the energy, the armor gave, and Sasuke's hand smashed into the Kumo-nin's chest. The man howled in pain and his arm swiped down, Sasuke leaping back before the expected counterattack.
The thing spilling out of the man's chest, on the other hand, was completely unexpected. The man seemed to have no stomach at all. Metal wires and hoses poked out from where flesh and blood should be. The whole wound crackled with Raiton energy and some kind of black blood came spurting out.
Unbidden, the words came to him. That is freaky.
"Aw, man, my oil line!" The man scowled in fury, glancing at the wound. He looked back up at Sasuke. "That thing was practically brand new, dude! Do you have any idea how hard it is to replace those?"
Sasuke made no reply.
The man heaved himself back up. "Now I'm angry!"
Dodging as another blast of pure chakra destroyed the wall behind him, Sasuke considered his options. He felt reasonably confident in Juugo's ability to deal with the annoying green
creature that he was fighting. Suigetsu, though, was dealing the flying girl and the boy.
That boy bothered Sasuke. Something in the look of him told Sasuke he would not go down easily.
He needed to finish this fight quickly. "I tire of this." He commented, leaping away from another blast. He locked gazes with the armor-clad man. "Tsukuyomi!" he cried, activating the genjutsu.
As expected, the man froze in place before crumpling to the ground. Sasuke, smiling grimly, whipped out his sword and ran forward
only to be met by four pounds of metallic fist right in his face.
"Dude, I don't know what kind of weird mindo-mojo you just pulled there," said the man, struggling to his feet. "But it ain't gonna work on me. You may fool the one half of me, but you can't fool the other half."
Sasuke had only a few seconds to consider what that might mean before another blast of Chakra shot toward him.
"They're not any of ours, I can tell you that," observed the heavyset woman as she peered through the glass. "Meta experiments have been discontinued ever since Cadmus."
Superman frowned. "Boy Scout or not, I'm not stupid, Waller." Despite several years of working with the Justice League as the government liason, many league members, including Superman, still saw Amanda Waller as the former head of the Cadmus project. They trusted her exactly as far as they had to.
"Believe what you want, but they're not anyone I've seen before." Waller shrugged. "In any case, I don't suppose the Justice League would care to explain why they have three minors imprisoned without jurisdiction in the Metro Tower?"
Superman shifted uncomfortably. Green Arrow, who had arrived alongside Waller, snorted and threw a pointed look at Hawkgirl, who simply rolled her eyes. Finally, J'onn spoke up. "Batman believes them to be visitors from another dimension."
"Does he?" Waller grunted, her tone just a trace less hostile. Though she might never admit it, the woman had a grudging respect for the Dark Knight. "And he suggested that you welcome the extradimensional visitors by imprisoning them against their will?"
imprisoning them." Superman insisted. "Not really. They were badly injured when I found them, the medics are mostly repairing the damage."
Flash nodded. "Bringing them here is just part of the protocol we have for these things. We call it procedure
what was that again?"
"Procedure Isolate and Mediate." J'onn supplied. "It is similar in design to the government's First Contact protocol. We remove the extra-dimensional visitors from civilian areas where we can observe and interact with them in a controlled environment."
Waller did not seem to put much stock in the assertion. "Hmph. I suppose that's what the manacles are for."
"My preliminary observations suggest caution is justified." J'onn warned. "I managed to ascertain that they are some kind of soldiers from a place called 'Konoha.' Their wounds are the result of a recent mission."
" Superman fumbled for words. "These are just kids!"
"They're sixteen, Supes. We have league members about that age." Flash reminded him.
Waller was eying J'onn suspiciously. "I thought you said you couldn't read their minds."
"Not fully, no. The pale boy seems to have some sort of barrier around his mind, and the girl's mind
" J'onn hesitated. "But the second boy, the one with the bugs, is much easier to penetrate. He has some form of mental defense, but not as much as the other ones. I owe most of my knowledge about the three of them to him."
Waller nodded, apparently satisfied. "What have you learned, apart from what you told me about this 'Konoha?'" She noticed the members exchange looks. "Or is this some 'League Business' that I shouldn't ask about?" She added sarcastically.
"Not at all, Miss Waller, it's just that most of what we have isn't very helpful, and the rest of it doesn't make sense." J'onn gestured to the beds. "We know that the pale boy is called Sai, the girl is called Yamanaka Ino, and the boy whose mind I penetrated is known as Aburame Shino. Although the exact nature of their mission is unclear, I gather that they were in a pitched battle with a fugitive of some kind."
Green Arrow cast another look at the wounded teenagers. "Pretty powerful one, I'd guess."
"That does seem to be the thrust of the boy's memories." J'onn nodded.
"Do you think they were pursuing the fugitive here?" Superman frowned. "Is that why they're in our dimension?"
J'onn paused. "That's one of the difficulties. I cannot find any memory of their having come here, or even of having planned to come here. Given their state of arrival" he once again gestured at the beds "I doubt they are part of a pursuit team, or an invasion."
"But you still consider them dangerous."
"Oh yes." J'onn nodded. "From what I saw of their combat with the fugitive, it appears that the boy Shino can control bugs, while the girl Ino is capable of some kind of
possession, and the boy Sai
" here J'onn grimaced, "
can bring drawings to life."
The others stared at him.
"The images were somewhat unclear." He admitted.
"Fine." Waller grunted in annoyance. "You've convinced me. I'll inform the President we have an off-world situation and recommend he leave it in your hands. Before I go, though
" she gazed at the others. "
is there any chance that that fugitive, or any more of these dimensional visitors, are still running around out there?"
"There's at least three more," answered a gravelly voice behind her, "and they're all dangerous." A somewhat weathered-looking Batman dumped the limp form of a pale-eyed teenager to the floor. "Ran into some in Gotham. Managed to get this one, but the others ran off. Take him in, J'onn, see what you can learn from him." The Martian nodded and wordlessly signaled two orderlies to take the unconscious boy. Batman turned his full attention to the crowd. "You mentioned a fugitive. Care to share?"
Robin flipped through the air, shooting another couple pellets at the watery monstrosity. Three. He noted. That left him exactly four left, plus the special one he was keeping in reserve. He'd need to conserve them if this plan was to work.
It was amazing, really. He hadn't even had to spend a lot of time telling Starfire what to do. The plan required precision timing and minute execution, yet Robin had no qualms about it whatsoever. Starfire and he would pull it off flawlessly. On one level, he supposed that was simply because they'd gotten so good at what they did. But on another level, he knew it was a lot more than that.
Robin had always been good at fighting, but battling alongside Star always felt so fluid, so easy. He could predict her every move, and she could anticipate his every attack. Almost instinctively, they knew when to cover, support, or assist one another. It was like some strange kind of second sense
it was just so right.
So despite all of the variables involved in this plan, he knew they could pull it off.
He just hoped Beast Boy and Cyborg were doing alright. That one side of the building was virtually erupting with laser fire. Cyborg was still on the line, though apparently the red-eyed kid was a bit more trouble than he'd planned. The usually chatty Beast Boy, however, was silent. Whether that was because he was unconscious, too busy to talk, or simply incredibly angry, Robin had no idea.
In any case, he and Star needed to wrap this up and get back to help them.
He picked up a charge in his hand and watched as Starfire flew in circles around the creature's head. Within the massive watery blob, he could see the dark speck moving about, tracking her movements and initiating counterattacks, apparently, unaware that the gambit slowly brought him closer and closer to Robin's position on the tower.
Robin waited until he judged them close enough, and then ran toward the edge, leaping into the air. Already Starfire was drawing back, her hands charging with energy. As he flew over the creature's head, Robin chucked down two of his remaining charges, one on either side. The dark speck did not even glance up as Robin fired his grappling hook back to the building, a smile on his lips.
The charges exploded against the creature's sides. The speck glanced around in surprise, drawing himself toward the center of his watery armor
right into the path of Starfire's enormous energy blast.
When he heard the scream, Robin's grapple had already carried him halfway back, but he spared a glimpse backwards anyway. Starfire's sustained burst was eating up the entire front of the creature, and the black speck was fleeing to the far side of the blob. But even without looking, Robin knew Starfire wouldn't reach him. She didn't have the energy to keep that up for long.
Good thing she didn't have to.
The roof rose up to meet Robin's feet, and he threw himself into a roll before bracing out his feet and sliding to a stop. Without even waiting for the pain in his legs to fade, he leapt back up, running again for the roof's edge, this time without his grapple. His hands flew for the two remaining charges.
Starfire's energy was gone. The glow had faded and she looked slightly pale as she drew back, watching all the water she had blown away seconds ago flow back into place. Robin could see the black speck practically sneering at her.
The black speck that was still on the far side of the blob, away from Starfire. The side closest to the tower. The side closest to Robin.
As he leapt from the tower, Robin threw his last two explosive charges at the creature's back, and just as quickly threw the last, special capsule right after them.
The capsule was special because Robin didn't carry many of them. He didn't carry many because he didn't have to use them very often. He didn't have to use them very often because there were limited uses for exploding liquid nitrogen containers. After all, how often do you need to freeze a large amount of water?
The first two charges burst the surface of the water. The capsule shot into the blob just as the surface closed over again.
The inside of the blob exploded into crystalline whiteness. The black speck didn't even have a chance to move before it was encased in ice. The rest of the creature simply collapsed, and all that was left was an enormous piece of ice, floating in the bay.
Robin had just enough time to acknowledge the fact that he was in freefall before there was another green blur and he found himself being hugged by a very happy, very enthusiastic, very strong Tamaranian.
"We did it Robin!" She squealed. "We did it! Just like you said!"
" Robin managed to wheeze. "Rib
"Oh! I offer the apologies, Robin!" Starfire loosened her grip slightly.
"What do we do now?"
An explosion from the tower answered that question.
"Still no sign of Neji?"
Standing at the door, Lee simply shook his head in answer.
"Maybe he can't find us." Chouji volunteered. "We're in a big city, after all, and we ran a long way. Even the Byakugan might not be able to tell."
Sighing, Sakura shook her head. She hated to crush the boy's hopes, but she knew they had to look at it realistically. "We're in a city of people without chakra. Like he said himself, we'd stand out like a bright light. If he was able to, he'd have found us by now."
The words and their implications hung heavy in the air. Chouji swallowed and bent his head. Lee sunk to his knees and braced himself against the wall. Sakura simply closed her eyes.
A ninja must not show his emotions in any situation. A ninja must prioritize his mission first and not show any tears.
Of all the rules in the ninja world, Sakura had always had the most difficult time with that one. Perhaps because she was a woman, perhaps because she'd always been tender-hearted, perhaps simply because she'd never gone through a real war. But they had no time to grieve for Neji. As long as they were in unknown territory, pursued by a presumably hostile force, they needed to keep moving. The room they'd broken into would hold them for the night, but not much longer. They needed to keep it together. For the first time she truly understood the reasons behind that rule.
She understood now why you did it, but she still didn't know how. And a small part of her wondered how many comrades you had to lose before you DID learn.
"We should rest." She managed. "Conserve our chakra. No telling when that man will be back."
"If he was coming, it seems like he should have caught up by now." Chouji suggested. "He probably lost us. I mean, he doesn't have the Byakugan, right?"
"He found us before."
Chouji frowned. "Yeah, that's true. Maybe we'd better set up some kind of watch?"
"Good idea." Sakura nodded brokenly.
"Guess that's me then." Chouji sighed, standing to his feet. "Well, it's not like either of you can." He said, in response to the stares. "Lee, you're injured all over, and Sakura
you've not only been healing, you've been punching holes in buildings. I've got the least injuries, and I can replenish just by eating." He glanced down at the bag of chips he'd found. "Which doesn't appear to be a problem."
Too tired and distraught to argue, Sakura yielded to Chouji's advice. Kneeling, she dusted off a portion of the floor and lay down on the concrete. From her prone position, she watched the chubby boy help Lee to his feet and then seat himself in the doorway, nonchalantly munching on chips. A part of her wondered how the Akimichi could stay so calm, but another part of her simply thanked Kami that he was.
Suddenly, something nudged her in the side, and she glanced up to see an apologetic Lee, carrying a huge piece of cardboard. "It will be softer." He insisted. "And cleaner. Please accept it, Sakura-san."
Sakura managed a slight smile. "Thanks, Lee." She half-sat up, accepting the cardboard and spreading it on the ground. As she shifted over onto it, she glanced at him and frowned. "Don't you have one? There must be lots out there."
"Yosh!" The exclamation had little of its former enthusiasm, but somehow still sparked the gleam in Lee's eye. "Sleeping on the ground hardens the muscles and strengthens the skin. I shall sleep for four hours on the ground, and if I cannot do that..."
Only Lee could turn sleeping into a training exercise, she reflected wearily. "It's okay, Lee. I get it. Thanks."
"You're welcome, Sakura-san." He started to move away, then, hesitating, spoke again. "Are you
feeling well, Sakura-san?"
Inwardly, Sakura groaned. Lee's devotion to her could be sweet at times, but at the moment it was simply annoying. "No, Lee. I'm not. We're stuck in a strange city, away from all our friends, being pursued by some mystery ninja who's already killed or captured Neji." She snapped. "I'm not feeling well at all, but there's not much I can do about it right now except get some sleep. So would you please let me rest now?"
She regretted the words almost immediately. Neji had not only been Lee's teammate, he'd been his "eternal rival." The spandex-clad chunin had lost more than anyone in the group, the last thing he needed was a taste of her irritation.
But to her surprise, Lee did not look hurt at all, merely serious. "I understand, Sakura-san. I too am not feeling well." He replied earnestly. "But do not worry. I shall protect you from whatever dangers we encounter, or I shall run nine thousand laps around this city!" For a second his eyes hardened. "And then I shall kill the one who harmed you."
Sakura stared at him for a moment. "And
if you can't do that?" There was always another side to Lee's self-imposed punishments.
"Then I shall die trying." Lee replied, deadly serious.
For a long time Sakura simply looked at him, studying his face, as if searching for a hidden meaning to his words. Finally she turned over. "You'd better get to sleep, Lee." She said. Lee gave a little nod and turned to leave. "And Lee?"
"Sasuke-sama! Look out!" Juugo leapt aside as a red-and-green clad figure shot down from the roof. He recognized himthe nin-leader from before.
As the fight had gone on, Juugo had been feeling worse and worse about it. Granted, he hadn't liked it to begin withthe inhabitants of the building hadn't exactly done anything to thembut he'd become used to things like that long ago.
But now his unease stemmed from an entirely different cause. He was no longer sure they could match these fighters. The fighter who'd attacked him initiallythe blue armored onehad been a formidable warrior, much like Juugo in his incredible strength and ability to shoot pure chakra. Fortunately that warrior had quickly gone after Sasuke, and Juugo'd had to deal with some odd green creature instead. He hadn't expected him to put up much of a fight, but the creature had the disturbing ability to shift his very form. Juugo'd wasted a lot of time trying to figure out if it was a genjutsu, and after he'd decided it wasn't, he'd spent even more time trying to predict the creature's incredibly varied attacks. He hadn't really been in danger, but if Sasuke-sama hadn't used his black flames on the creature and the blue warrior (and Juugo, incidentally), it would have taken significantly longer to defeat him
But now the other two were back, and Juugo was feeling even worse, because if they were back, that meant Suigetsu was down, and THAT meant these two were powerful. He wasn't sure, but he thought the orange girl could even fly.
At the moment, that wasn't important, however. At the moment, what was important was that the green and red one was charging toward Sasuke-sama, something that could not be allowed. Roaring, Juugo ran at the insolent nin.
He had hardly set one foot in front of the other, however, when a sudden blur punched all the air out of him. By the time he realized he'd been struck, he was already smashing into the back wall, an orange and powerful girl shooting towards him. He barely managed to get his arms up before she plowed into his midsection, driving him through the wall and out the other side of the tower.
Distantly, Juugo noted that his observation about the girl was completely accurate. She COULD fly. They were nearly fifty feet above the water right now, and Juugo couldn't exactly fly. But he could do the next best thing.
Juugo's back erupted into rockets of pure chakra, propelling them toward the water as he latched hold of the girl. Sensing the sudden change in momentum, she struggled wildly against his arms, but Juugo retained his grip. Though the girl was surprisingly strong, he was stronger.
Then, moments before impact, her eyes lit up with a strange green light.
Juugo saw the flash before he felt the pain, and felt the pain before he noticed he'd been blown backward, away from the girl. But the second he'd seen the eyes, his feeling about the battle had suddenly gotten worse. Where the girl had gotten the ability to shoot chakra from her fingertips, Juugo didn't pretend to understand.
He focused his chakra as he hit the water, and went skimming over the surface, finally sliding to a stop some feet away. He stood up as the strange orange girl flew to a stop some twenty feet away from him.
For a while they just stood there, Juugo standing still on the water, the orange girl floating just above it, hands glowing.
"Forgive me." The girl spoke at last. "I do not wish to give you pain, but I cannot allow you to harm my friends."
Juugo closed his eyes as he felt the old familiar pang. Allowing himself one last feeling of regret, he triggered the transformation. "Neither
" he said as his dark curse seal engulfed him, "
"So your power is some kind of an intangible mystic force that will die along with you and depends on your enthusiasm or 'willingness' for a certain task. It's not something you completely understand, but you say your ability to summon it depends largely on your own health and well-being in your 'un-powered' state. Also you say you don't know how I can replicate or control this power."
"Like I said, I don't completely understand it myself." Naruto tried a grin. This was significantly harder than he had thought. The man asked a LOT of questions, and not all of them were the kind Naruto understood. "But I'm pretty sure you can't find it by cutting into me or drawing insane amounts of blood or anything like that."
"Oh? And how did you discover that?"
" Naruto thought. "I've had a lot of swords cut into me."
"I thought you said that that sort of thing affected your ability to summon it."
"Oh it does! It does! But
" Naruto tried for some more fast thinking. "In fact, that's why it's so difficult for me to summon it currently! I've been hurt so many times while I'm like this," he gestured at the cuffs, "that it's gotten really really hard for me to call on it. I need like a fifteen-minute wait before I can summon it these days."
"I see." The man nodded. "Now
as to your friends
do they have comparable powers?"
Naruto thought this through carefully. There were many reasons why a man like this might want a jinchuuriki, none of them very nice or pleasant. But on the other hand, this man had said earlier that the only reason he had kept Naruto and his friends alive was because of his power. Hence, if he knew the others weren't jinchuurikis, he might just kill them.
"I don't know about comparable." He said, very carefully. "Different, certainly. They're all very strong, in their own way. But I don't know how their powers work. You'd have to ask them."
"I see. Thank you very much." The man gestured, and the glass pane suddenly shifted to opaque white.
Naruto let out a sigh of relief, but did not dare to do much more. The man might still be watching, after all. Hopefully that information would keep him busy for a while, but Naruto couldn't be sure. And what if one of his friends unwittingly gave the whole thing away? Trapped like this, none of them would be able to fight back, they could only lie still.
A slow grin spread across Naruto's face, and he closed his eyes, reaching out with his mind to sense the natural chakra surrounding him
The fight between them was silent, efficient, and utterly ruthless. Blazing sword clashed against cold white staff, kunai flew past batarangs, and feet shot back and forth in a frenzied dance of death.
Robin was utterly in his element. Rarely did he get to experience such a match-up of pure martial ability. No meta powers, no robotic suits, just speed, skill, and strength. Oh, the man had a few extra powersbreathing fire and some sort of lightning fist that Robin'd easily avoidedbut for the most part the red-eyed man had relied lightning-fast reflexes and some very unique moves. Exactly the sort of opponent Robin loved to fight. And his silence suited Robin just finenormally enemies wasted all sorts of time trying to taunt him into making mistakes.
At the same time, though, it disturbed him. Taunting indicated arrogance, which could often be exploited into underestimation. This man was taking him seriously, and as gratifying as that was, it removed a valuable weapon from Robin's arsenal. Which, when their talents matched so exactly, could make all the difference.
Robin flipped out of the way of the swiping blade and tossed smoke pellets at the teen, who was forced to deflect them with his sword. Using this momentary distraction, Robin dashed forward, shifting his bo staff into a fighting position. Quicker than he would have thought possible, though, the other's sword whipped back up to meet him. The two met, rebounded, attacked, and blocked in rapid succession, a flurry of attacks that few could follow.
One other thing that vaguely worried Robinand irritated him somewhatwas that he felt this guy wasn't fighting at his full potential. Some very un-Cyborg-like wounds were in evidence, and Robin'd noticed some bad burn marks and blood stains on the man's clothing. He seemed a little winded, too, if that was possible for someone so fast. Yet he kept up with Robin exactly. And if this guy HAD beaten Cyborg, he probably had some other tricks that he hadn't used yet.
Ducking under the man's sword, Robin kicked at the man's legs, only for them to leap out of range. He glanced up to see the man's fingers moving rapidly, and rolled left just in time to avoid a flurry of fireballs that came spurting from the teens mouth. Leaping out of the last roll, he threw a series of pellets at the man.
As expected, the teenager moved to deflect them with his sword. And, as expected, when he tried to deflect the explosive pellets, they burst apart and sent him flying back towards the wall. Robin grinned but knew he could waste no time. Dashing forward, he raised his staff in what he intended to be a crushing blow.
The teen's head popped out of the rubble and glared directly at him. For a second his eyes flashed and something in them seemed to shift.
Robin hadn't lived as long as he had as a crimefighter without learning one important fact: When the villain's eyes did something funny like that, you got the heck out of the way. So, without breaking stride, he pushed off on his foremost foot and leapt into the air.
Exactly one second later, he was heartily grateful for that, as the entire back of the Tower burst into flamesblack flames, he couldn't help noticing. Robin didn't pretend to understand how THAT had happened, but there it was. And fast as he was, he couldn't pretend to be faster than eyesight. His entire leg was burning.
Clenching his teeth tight against the pain, Robin tumbled to the ground, ripping off his boot. It didn't solve the whole problem, but his foot at least was whole again. His leg though... He grabbed a extinguisher pellet and smashed it into his leg, only to stare in disbelief as the flames burned right through it.
This isn't working. Need to come up with something new. Perhaps
A shrill scream broke his thoughts, and he whipped around to gaze out at the lake. The grey-skinned monster standing on the water was wholly unfamiliar, but there was no mistaking the broken orange body in his arms.
"Star!" He cried, struggling forward. In that same instant, he heard the step of someone behind him and realized he was done for.
Crushing blackness struck the back of his head and swallowed him up.
"Japanese, you say?" Mr. Terrific eyed Batman curiously.
"A variation of it perhaps, but close enough." Batman nodded irritably. "What's the problem?"
none of them look exactly Asian
Granted, they're from another dimension, but it seems that if the language was the same, the characteristics would be roughly similar also."
Flash spoke up. "Maybe it's an alternate universe where Japan rules the world?"
"Possible." The scientist mused.
"Bats, do you ever even CONSIDER the diplomatic approach?" Superman rubbed his eyes. "You meet these kids, fresh from another dimension, and the first thing you do is attack them?"
Glaring, Batman responded, "THEY'RE the intruders here. Not us. I don't need to justify being in my own dimension, but anybody who's crossed over from one to the other had better be able to prove their intentions are peaceful." He gestured at the teenager he'd brought in. "By the time I got there, they were up, ready, and prepared to attack. I wasn't about to let them get loose."
"They did anyway. Anyway, it's possible they came here by accident, right?"
Mr. Terrific shrugged. "That sort of stuff is speculative until they wake up and we can question them more directly." Mr. Terrific, in addition to being J'onn's replacement as League Coordinator, was widely regarded as the third-smartest man alive. The League had no one better suited to investigate the scientific aspect of their visitors. "J'onn said he didn't find any memory of it in their mind, but that could easily be due to the effect of the dimensional warp. It's hard to know for sure, unless you want him to go digging around for more specific information."
"Best to wait on that until we know more about their physiology." Superman shook his head decisively. "We're not sure what we're dealing with here, we should handle them as carefully as possible." He threw a glance over at the Martian. "J'onn only did that to help the medics."
Arrow snorted but the others ignored him. "What did you learn from your analysis?" Batman asked.
"Well... anatomically, they're essentially human, though the third boy's eyes have some abnormalities I'd like to examine further, and the second boyShinohas several odd
compartments in his body where he kept the bugs." Mr. Terrific paused a moment. "Based on my and J'onn's info, I would guess that he has a symbiotic relationship with the insects. Separating them could be dangerous for the boy."
"Letting him keep them might be dangerous for us." Hawkgirl pointed out.
"Leave them in." Superman's voice cut off any further argument. "We can't risk a death on our hands, not until we know more. Put him in a space suit or something if you're really worried."
Mr. Terrific nodded agreement and continued. "As I said, they're mostly human. In fact, several of the cellular anomalies we observed in the
could not be found in their cells."
"Like the mouth in the hand?"
"That was one of them, yes." Replied the man evenly, ignoring Flash's grin. "There were several others, but I won't go into them now. What's important is the one similarity. I have a theory about what those nano-mitochondriac structures are for."
Batman nodded, apparently satisfied, but the rest of the leaguers looked blank. "Huh?" said Flash.
"When we were examining the arm, there were some elements in the cells that we didn't understand," explained the scientist. "I found some similar elements in the cells we took from the patients
" Green Arrow snorted again "
and saw what they do."
"Well... I still can't quite tell... but they're giving off a faint radioactive signature."
"Faint, mind you. I'm not sure what it is, but it seems their body is generating some kind of energy-not necessarily atomic, but related. If I'm right, it might explain the large amount ATP energy present in their cells." He frowned. "And there's something else in there too. Perhaps some kind of psychic energy-but you say you didn't sense anything like that, J'onn."
"I wasn't particularly looking for it." The martian shrugged.
Batman interrupted. "Can you suppress it?"
Mr. Terrific frowned. "That seems dangerous. Given its apparent ties to the body's energy system, I'm not sure I could suppress the one without damaging the other. I'm not sure that that's a risk we want to take."
"Listen to the man." Green Arrow nodded. "These are kids, for crying out loud. Let's try not to kill them while we're busy keeping them imprisoned."
"I fought these 'kids.' You didn't." Batman gritted his teeth. "Don't try and tell me they're harmless."
J'onn cleared his throat, breaking the tension. "There is one other matter of interest." He stated. "My examination of Batman's prisoner revealed that he was another participant in the battle I witnessed in the second boy's mind."
All eyes were instantly on the Martian. "He's the fugitive?"
"No. He was another member of the team pursuing the fugitivea sizeable team, from what I could gather."
"How sizeable?" Superman furrowed his brow in thought.
J'onn winced. "The boy had a curiously wide range of vision. I can't be positive, but it seems there was a team of thirteen."
"The boy had some kind of mental barrier." J'onn reminded them. "I could be wrong. But my best guess runs at twelve children and one adult. What their abilities were, I cannot say, but I think it safe to say they're on a par with our prisoners here."
"And this fugitive character brought them all down." Hawkgirl shook her head. "If he IS here, this could be a problem."
"Indeed." J'onn nodded. "Because if what I saw is accurate, the fugitive had a team of his own with him. At least three others."
There was a moment of silence as the Leaguers digested this information. Then Batman turned to Mr. Terrific. "You're sure you had people check all the rift sites?"
"I'm sure," came the response. "The second your call came in, we teleported league members to each location. We sent Green Lantern to Jump City, told Superman about Metropolis, called in Hawkgirl for the spot in the Rockies, and teleported Green Arrow to Hub City. We didn't send anyone to Gotham, but
" he gestured at the patients. "It looks like you took care of that pretty well."
Batman frowned. "Why'd you send Green Arrow to Hub City?"
"Hey!" The archer glared at Batman.
"No, no." Batman shook his head impatiently. "I mean, isn't that Question's city? Why didn't you call him in on it?"
There were a few glances exchanged around the room. "Question wasn't available."
"He must be off on one of his conspiracy trails." Hawkgirl snorted. "Wouldn't want us 'tracing' him, I suppose. I hate to think of what he's doing right now."
"Dude, you're some kinda crazy!" Kiba screamed at the odd faceless man.
"Tell me what you know!" insisted his captor, shining the blinding light at the chunin's face. "You can't hide the truth from me! What is NASA doing with those shoelaces? And why are the Girl Scouts suddenly adding 'new organic ingredients' to their cookies? What do they have planned?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about, you psycho!"
The man leaned back and stroked his chin. "You are stubborn. The Illuminati has trained you well."
Kiba sighed and shook his head in frustration. Sure, the man spoke Japanese, but even so he made no sense!
The sheer ridiculousness of the situation had a certain humor to it. In fact, if he wasn't chained to a chair in the middle of a squalid apartment somewhere in this bizarre city, the whole thing would be really pretty freaking funny. And, of course, if he didn't happen to be in the same room with psycho who asked crazy questions. Granted, the man hadn't pulled any serious tricks yetin the interrogation business the guy seemed to be something of an amateurso things could be worse. Mostly all he'd done was shine a light in his face and make vague threats.
The man was back. "Tell me, what do you know about paper clips? Who is the true 'Knight Rider?' The broccoli farmers in the South
what are they planning? Your masters can't protect you here! Tell me who you are, where you come from, what you do!"
"I come from Konoha, my name is Kiba, I'm a chunin-level ninja who rides a giant dog, and you're a psycho!"
The man snorted and drew back. "Too easy! Think you can put me off with lies like that? You don't look like any ordinary ninja to me. That story of yours is good, but far too simple. There's more you're hiding, I'm sure, and I won't rest until I get it!"
" Kiba groaned, fighting back a headache. He had a feeling this was going to be a long night.
"In any case," Batman concluded, "Question was the one who discovered this dimensional abnormality, so he should be apprised of the facts. He may actually know something useful."
Hawkgirl shook her head. "I doubt it."
"I do too, but Batman's right." Superman said, standing to his feet. "Question's better at drawing connections between things than anyone. And if there's a possibility that this fugitive is running loose in Hub City, we ought to pull out all the stops. As soon as you can, get in touch with him."
"We should focus on the other areas too." Hawkgirl nodded. "I might have missed something in the Rockies
We could get some other fliers to look it over."
"Since we know there are three in Gotham already, we could maybe send
Superman's voice trailed off at Batman's glare. "My city."
"Fine." Superman sighed. "We'll leave that to you and your family. That means we contact Question in Hub City, send others over the Rocky Mountains, maybe send a few more parties around Metropolis, and
" He frowned a moment. "Do we have any allies in Jump City?"
"You kidding?" Flash frowned. "How could you forget the Titans? Just drop them a message and they'll be all over it."
Juugo laid the orange girl and Suigetsu down to the floor. "That's the last of them, Sasuke-sama."
"Good." Sasuke nodded.
"I got dibs on the red and green one." snarled Suigetsu. "Little bastard hit me from the rear with some kinda ice attack
I swear, give me five seconds with him and he'll
"You're not doing anything to any of them right now. We need information about this world and these captives are our most ready source." Sasuke shifted around to glare at Suigetsu. "Though in the future, you will ensure that they do not take you so easily. If we imprison them properly, we should have no difficulty keeping track of them."
Juugo breathed a sigh of relief while Suigetsu seethed.
"Now." Sasuke turned back to face the window. "We will secure this building and begin preparations. I must learn how to master the jutsu my sensei employed, but we must also make this building defensible, in case any of the others come after us."
Suigetsu quirked an eyebrow. "Others?"
"The Leaf nins."
"You think they're here too?" Juugo asked.
"Hn." Sasuke shrugged. "It's very possible. As I said, I'm not certain how the jutsu works, but since Kakashi sent the Hyuuga with us, I'd guess he might have trouble controlling it."
"It might have been an accident. She was right by us in the forest."
"So was Naruto." The others fell silent at that remark. "We must be as careful as we can not to attract attention. It seems the inhabitants of this world are more dangerous than I had assumed. If any more of them discover us we may need to relocate."
"Drat." The reporter muttered as she pulled her car to a stop. "Get out of bed at this late hour, drive all the way down here, and it's already over. Can't those Titans choose to have their battles in the daytime? Or at least make them last longer?" She sighed. "Suppose I might as well get up and take a look around."
She popped open the door and stepped out, high heels clicking against the pavement. Grunting, she hefted a camera and began clicking. "Don't suppose I'll even get a statement from them saying what the heck happened." She muttered. "What on earth was White thinking, sending me out to a dump like this when I could be
Something in the corner of her viewfinder caught her eye. "What the
" She put down the camera and hurried forward toward a limp form on the end of the dock. "Oh my word."
Quickly she whipped out a cell phone and began dialing. "Hello? Yes, this is Lois Lane, I've found a girl down by the docks. She seems to be badly injured."
to be continued...