I curse internally as I see the globs of lava fly off towards the bridge. I had been hoping that Mei wouldn't capitalize on one of her major strengths. Collateral damage.
The woman was unparalleled in her ability to cause huge areas of damage. Even with me fighting the woman defensively she wouldn't be easy to take out. Most all of my attacks I sent to injure she dodged entirely. I wouldn't have such an easy time shutting her down if I was actually trying to kill her in a timely manner. But because I was playing defensive and had a metric fuck ton of exploding tags, so far I had been able to keep her offensive from getting rolling.
The lava was flashy and dangerous to be sure, but the mist of acid was her real killer. She could sit in the middle of it and make anyone approaching her die a quick but messy death. Add in the fact that she had good control of fire, water, and earth, that lead to a quick death spiral if you let her build up to it.
If we were indoors this fight wouldn't be going nearly as well.
I had been specifically trying to ruffle Mei's feathers to get her to focus on me more, because the fight grew harder when I had to not only defend myself, but the bridge as well.
The attack was big, but it was also relatively slow. A jounin would be able to handle the attack only slightly singed. Kakashi and Zabuza would come out fine. Considering Haku and ice shields and could basically teleport, the young masked ninja wasn't in danger. The three genin and their civilian client? Not so much.
The attack on the bridge changed the game. Rashomon couldn't be summoned, the angle was wrong and it took a few moments for me to prep the summon.
I fling three kunai at the lava, each loaded up with exploding tags.
The three knives do a decent job of blowing apart the lava, but some of the scattered bits of molten death would still scatter over the bridge.
"Suiton: Great Water Explosion!" I call as I run through hand signs.
The waves below the attack exploded as fat drops of water shot up in defiance of gravity, like someone had set off a deep sea charge.
The technique was chakra intensive for me, particularly since I did not have a water nature. Even with the cost it was only mostly effective. More than a dozen baseball sized lumps of lava fell to the bridge as well as a cascade of wet stones.
I could only hope that the interruption didn't hurt the Konoha team's chances. Especially since Mei took my brief distraction as a chance to bolt towards the dock. But, because she was heading towards town too, I couldn't get too close, or the citizens of Wave would have death raining down on their heads.
I might be able to reverse summon myself to Azuma, the Eastern Brown Snake I'd left watching the exploding tags, but I held back. I didn't want to run the risk that this was a fake out and Mei was actually heading to Gato's hideout, where Tayuya should be wrapping up.
So I pursued and hoped things worked out on the bridge.
Sakura looked back and forth from the mist in the bridge to the explosions and flashes happening out over the water. So much was happening all at once and she just wasn't sure the best thing to do, because all her options felt like losing options.
If she went to help Sasuke, Tazuna would be left alone and killed. If she jumped into Kakashi's fight she'd probably get herself and Kakashi killed. If she tried to leave the bridge with Tazuna her and the bridge builder would suddenly become the highest priority target. And the fight happening in the water...well she could affect that about as much as a single skipping stone could affect the course of a river.
The only thing she could do was sit and wait. To look for an opportunity to be useful. The logic of her mind told her that she was being useful. It just didn't feel that way.
"Are there some sort of gods fighting down there?" The gruff voice of Tazuna asked, sounding painfully sober for the first time since she met him. The bridge builder was looking off to the side of the bridge.
"No." Sakura said, trying to sound sure of herself. "It is just the height of what a ninja can be."
A height that Sakura couldn't imagine herself ever reaching.
Was she even really cut out to be a ninja? If there were people like this arou-
Those were really big balls of fire headed to them! Ninja training kicking in, she shoved down any panic and tackled Tazuna to the ground and did her best to cover him.
A series of explosions sounded, far closer than any yet. Then an iron poker was jammed into her.
A glance up to another spot on the bridge told her what happened. A fist sized dollop of lava sat cooling on the bridge.
That wasn't good. Lava would do more damage the longer it was on her, as it continued to burn further and further into her skin and muscles. The spot on her back, just beside her left armpit, was screaming pain. Sakura saw white and fought the urge to vomit. She could barely think, which is the only reason she could take the action she did so quickly.
She grabbed a kunai with her right hand, brought it under her arm, and yanked down, removing the lava and small layer of skin and fat.
Sakura let out a scream of pain so intense that she could taste blood.
But she couldn't just lay there. There was a fight going on. If she fell here, someone would die. Probably her. She stood to her feet.
"What! Why did you- by the gods, you're bleeding!" Tazuna stumbled onto his feet.
"No shit!" She growled before digging a hand into a pouch. She took out a roll of bandages and a pack of pain killers.
Tazuna looked up to her in surprise. Apparently he didn't expect her tone.
Well when he got a chuck of his back cut out, he could curse too! She ripped open the pack of pain pills and took four. More than the prescribed amount, but it wouldn't impede her more than the pain would. She threw the bandages to Tazuna before stepping in front of him, fresh kunai raised at the ready.
Her old one was...
She stopped herself from vomiting.
"Wrap the bandage over my opposite shoulder and over the wound. Try not to get in the way."
"W-what? You need to sit down! You're wounded!"
"Tazuna." She interrupted, voice horse. "I can't sit down. If I'm not ready, one of them will try to kill us when we aren't paying attention. If I don't do this we will DIE!"
Sakura blinked away tears. She didn't have time to cry right now!
"I...I'm so sorry." Tazuna choked out.
"Then be sorry while you bandage me." She growled.
Tazuna only hesitated for a moment more and stood up and did as requested.
She just hoped the others were doing well. Even if she stood a chance fighting the Hunter-nin before, she sure as hell didn't stand one now.
Sasuke had seen better days.
He had memories of a small sack of tangled yarn that his mother had always put her sewing needles into. Until now he'd never felt sorry for the yarn.
But he was getting close. The Hunter Nin was either getting slower or he was starting to get a hang of his movements. It wouldn't take much longer now.
Sasuke had thrown four fireballs in the fight already, and he was beginning to feel it. The strain of trying to dodge wasn't doing him any favors either. He couldn't keep this up forever.
"Come on! I'll get you this time! Kage Bunshin!" Naruto yelled, throwing yet another wave of shadow clones out to buy them time.
He had no idea how many times the blond had managed that so far. More than twenty, at least. Just how much energy did the loudmouth have?
A flash of fire reflected in one of the mirrors, and Sasuke watched his foe closely.
Every time something loud happened in the fight at the water, the ice user grew distracted. The slight turn of the masked figure showed that the pattern held. The nin was very invested in the battle down in the water.
That could be an advantage.
Damned if he could figure out what that advantage was though.
"Hey!" Naruto demanded. "If you're so concerned about Zabuza, why do you keep looking over there?"
Sasuke looked to his teammate in surprise.
He wouldn't have thought Naruto capable of noticing that.
"That fight will be the one to decide how this all turns out." The enemy answered. "Everything that happens here won't matter if our respective member down there fails."
Sasuke doubted that their side would exactly "win" even if Orochitama won.
At least he hoped one of the people down there was Orochitama. He'd hate for there to have somehow been a third person to show up that could do all that.
"Then why are we fighting? We could just wait until Orochi-Lady wins. Why fight at all?!"
Sasuke stood behind his teammate, staring hard at the ice mirrors. Looking for some sign. Some weakness to exploit. He could almost taste how close he was to unraveling this thing.
"Because I was ordered to. A tool does as it's told."
What was Naruto playing at? Was he trying to get the enemy to stand down?
"That's bullshit! You're such an idiot!" Naruto yelled.
Nope. Not standing down.
"If all you cared about was being a good tool to survive, and you cared about this fight, you'd be down there right now, trying to make an opening against Orochi-lady." Naruto's hands waved wildly with his emotion.
That was actually a solid point. If Orochitama was the threat, the three nin would be best served throwing all the power they could at her.
"Naruto." Sasuke hissed. "Stop giving the enemy tactical advice!"
Naruto didn't even glance at him.
"But you don't care about the mission." Naruto continued. "You care about Zabuza! If you leave us, we'll be able to help Kakashi-sensei. You aren't a tool! You care about Zabuza and are willing to risk the mission to save him!"
Sasuke wasn't so sure that was the reason, but Naruto's logic was, shockingly, sound. What had happened to his teammate over the course of this mission?
The enemy hesitated.
"You're right." The enemy responded with the sad voice of winter. "I care for Zabuza more than anything. Thank you for reminding me of my priorities. I must finish you quickly."
Several things happened at once. The ice user began to shoot out of one of the mirrors just as an explosion rocked overhead. Sasuke's eyes finally managed to get a decent glimpse of the enemy moving.
Which also let him see a steaming stone fall into the path of their foe. The speed at which they were moving, resulted in a thunderous crack.
Something from the fight below. Which always resulted in a distraction.
Sasuke once again bolted for one of the gaps in the cage of mirrors.
And this time, he succeeded.
The images of the Hunter Nin was once more in all the mirrors, though they all had a crack in their mask stretching about a finger's length.
Sasuke smiled in triumph. Now they could fight from two sides.
"So. You were able to get out. I was sloppy."
"Thanks for that." Sasuke smirks. "A mistake I'll make you regret!"
Now they had a shot.
Mei was concerned. The Snake Sannin was keeping their distance from her, making no attempt to close the gap that formed between them as she ran through the small town.
It's almost as if the woman cared about the villagers' well being, but that didn't seem very likely.
Or, possibly more concerning, is that she had some sort of intention on village. That might be something she has to look to. But not a thought she could afford to spare currently. Whatever the hesitation was, it allowed her to keep and even gain a little bit of a lead on her dash to the docks.
Docks that were apparently being overrun by spiders.
Hundreds of creepy crawlies the size of a cat crawled everywhere the eye could see. Mei shivered in revulsion and barely restrained from taking her first action of burning them all immediately.
The last thing she needed was their product burn to the ground.
Instead she shaped a dragon of water from the sea and had it plow through the webs, chomping at errant spiders with hungry jaws.
Mei leaped through the hole left open by her attack and spotted something.
Ninja. Plural. Dozens of them.
And all of them pausing in their work to see her dramatic entrance. All of them either holding a storage scroll, or putting some of the boxes from the warehouse into a storage.
The ninja all wore a forehead protector with a musical note on it, and they had already completely cleaned out one of the warehouses.
That's why Orochimaru was stalling. This wasn't about the bridge. It was about the company. Stealing all of the company's assets is almost the same thing as stealing the company itself.
Mei had to stop this now, before they hit any more of Gato's warehouses.
Well, if there was one thing Mei did know, it was how to deal with a large group of enemy ninja in one go.
"Yoton: Lava Bomb!"
The dense ball of lava leapt from her mouth, set to explode in the midst of the enemy outside, killing most of the ninja.
Instead a glob of an odd golden material intercepted the attack, carrying the lava into the ocean, where it sunk with hissing cracks.
Mei turned to look where it came from. Another ninja, dressed like the rest, stood there with six arms, red skin, and three eyes stood before her. The man's chakra wasn't particularly impressive but what was there felt potent in a way she hadn't ever encountered before.
His chakra also felt foul and hungry for death.
"What are you?" She asked in disgust.
"You know the plan. Scatter!" The red creature ordered, sending the ninja scurrying with just their storage scrolls. Anything not sealed was left behind.
Mei was pleased to note that the warehouse with the Mist's supplies appeared to still be full. They hadn't gotten to it yet.
But she had time to prepare here. There was not the mist in the air that there was at the last fight, diluting her acid cloud. She just needed to clean up the trash quickly, all the while building up her defense.
"You should consider serving a new master. This one is about to get you killed." Mei taunted.
The monster laughed. "That's rich, coming from you."
Mei's lips twitched.
"True enough. But that's going to change soon. Too bad you won't live to see it." Mei stated, "Yoton: Burning Cloud!"
A rolling cloud of mist began to billow out from her, barely visible in the sunlight. Anyone caught in the mist would die the first time they breathe it in. Acid did terrible things to the lungs.
Her foe, realizing the danger, leapt back and fired an arrow of the same golden material from before. The spiraling missile almost cracking the air like a whip. An impressive shot from an arrow.
Mei grabbed it out of the air with one hand.
She released the arrow as it began to bubble and melt. The monstrous man stared at her in shock. She blew him a kiss.
A surge of her acid went with it.
Then the man vomited that same gold substance all over himself. The substance spreading over his body quickly in an improvised armor. Intelligent. It would let him weather her acid if he covered his eyes too.
Then he charged at her, catching her by surprise, so much so his hand managed to brush against her hair; doing no damage to it thankfully.
She grabbed the appendage he had helpfully given her. With her free hand she slammed his stomach and released a torrent of lava. His body went flying back. His arm stayed in her hand.
"You should have run like the rest of them." Mei tsked.
"Yes. He should have." A familiar voice called. "Futon: Wind Wall!"
A surge of wind blew through the area, making Mei stick herself to the ground with chakra to keep herself from being blown away. If she'd reacted in time, she'd have manage to send a fire ball into it and at her foe. Instead the wind blew away her gathered acid and brought her once again to even footing with Sannin.
Said Sannin was ignoring her.
"Kidomaru-kun." The woman said with the tone of voice that might be expected of a mom that found her child had stolen her kunai and hurt themselves. A voice of chiding and fear. The Snake Sannin was pressing a hand to the stump of the missing arm; the bottom arm on the right.
The closest Mei had seen to an opening yet.
"Yoton: World Shaking Blast!" Mei shouted, releasing her strongest technique forward and immediately leaped backwards.
She was in the blast radius.
The lava consumed her vision and the various warehouses were now on fire, the webs placed around were being consumed by flame. And that was before it had even hit anything. The air was ripped asunder as the technique hit. The very ocean and land shaking from the force. The blowback threw her out towards the ocean. Not enough to hurt her, but the blowback was more extreme than she expected.
That is, until she saw the massive gate with an angry face emblazoned on it.
The Snake Summoner walked around from behind the gate, a now much less monstrous ninja in a bridal carry. A frown on the pale woman's face.
"Was all this really necessary?" Orochitama asked sadly, gesturing to the burning buildings.
"You aren't an opponent I can take lightly." Mei acknowledged. The only respect she was currently willing to give. But the level of care being shown for a subordinate is not one Mei would have guessed Orochimaru capable of. Something was wrong.
"Well, once again, ninja burn down a resource rather than share it." Orochitama shakes her head. "You want it so bad, there is still a half filled container of exploding tags in there. Have at it."
With that, the other woman began to walk away.
Well that was a trap if she'd ever heard of one. No one just hands over a resource like that, regardless of how kind they were.
But for the same reason no one would hand it over, she also couldn't ignore it.
Mei took a moment to release a water technique into the air to douse the flames on the warehouses. It worked, but the buildings wouldn't stand for long. Warehouses weren't exactly built to do much but stop wind and rain.
Mei found the crate, exactly where she last saw it. Top open and everything.
She checked the box for seals or active tags.
She checked under it for any sort of pressure plate.
She got a broom from nearby and poked it into the box, and even tipped it in several directions.
Whatever trap was there, she couldn't sense it.
Finally, Mei had no choice. She had to act quickly. Orochitama might have just left here to finish the fight with Zabuza. She needed to move now, and get back to the bridge.
She took the gamble.
Mei grabbed hold of the crate and began to pick it up to move it on to one of her storage seals. As she did, she felt akin to two needles jamming into her hand.
Mei screamed and pulled her hand back, a brown snake now dangling from the appendage.
"I fucking knew it!" Mei yelled before she fell to the ground gasping. Neurotoxin making it difficult to breathe.