"Fuck," said Rei, a frightening intensity in her eyes. "I think we nearly had him."
Lee didn't know if that was true or not. After all, he had not been able to see much of what happened during the brief fight, what with the explosions and the fires and the clouds of poisoned smoke. As he looked at the field it was only now that the clouds of smoke were finally dissipating and the unnatural fires that had at one point burned even taller than him were finally burning down. Left behind was nothing but a charred and ruined landscape. Lee couldn't help but feel amazed at what his teammates could do when going all out. That, and he also could not help but feel more than a little intimidated.
"That type of earth jutsu is a good counter to the strategy we employed," said Neji from where he stood besides the two of them. The other boy on their team used a square of cloth he pulled from somewhere to wipe off the blood that had run down his lips and chin from a bloody nose. "Unfortunately, we couldn't predict that he could use that type of technique. While I can track him if he goes underground again, we have few options when it comes to attacking him directly until he surfaces."
Earth jutsu? What earth jutsu? Lee hadn't managed to see anything! He desperately wanted to ask, but he strongly suspected all he would get was ridicule from Neji. Instead he bit his lip and said nothing.
Rei looked off into the woods, and Lee could practically see the gears turning rapidly in her head. Her eyes were darker than he remembered for some reason, and while in that moment she was standing still she still looked dangerous, reminding Lee of nothing more than a large cat in that moment right before it pounced.
"It's irritating, but we have to keep our main objective in mind," said Rei after a few moments of silence. "We need to showcase our skills and capabilities to the best of our ability. That we don't have any easy way to disrupt that technique once he uses it is unfortunate, but it can't be helped. Our best bet is simply to focus on disrupting his use of hand seals before he uses the technique again. Besides, he's supposed to be testing us. I doubt we'll have to worry about him hiding underground so we can't get to him."
Hiding underground? Oh, Gai-sensei must have used some technique to travel under the earth! That isn't something I'll ever be able to do came the thought, unbidden and unwelcome. Lee bit his lip, trying to force down his feelings of doubt and inadequacy. So what if he couldn't do jutsu like everyone else? He could still be an amazing ninja. Gai-sensei had said so!
"Uh, so where is Gai-sensei now? Is he still hiding underground?" Lee spoke up, forcing himself to do so no matter how much he wanted to shrink away and keep quiet. No matter how amazing his teammates turned out to be, that didn't change that he still had to give Gai-sensei a performance of his own. Otherwise, how could he ever prove he was actually worth Gai-sensei's time and effort?
Two sets of eyes turned to him, and Lee couldn't help but flinch a little at the intensity in Rei's gaze and the penetrating, judgmental alien-ness of Neji's eyes.
"Neji?" Rei prompted after a couple of seconds of silence.
Without turning away from staring at Lee like he was some unsavory insect he'd found beneath a rock the other boy on his team replied. "He resurfaced about three hundred meters from here, in small clearing in the woods to the north-east. He's currently standing near the center looking in this general direction. Presumably, waiting for us to come and find him."
Lee had heard that the eyes of the Hyuuga let them see through solid objects. That must be a useful technique, even if it kind of made their eyes really freaky looking. "Alright then," said Lee, crossing his arms before looking away from Neji and focusing in Rei. "I guess it's my turn now," Lee half-stated, half-asked.
Rei assessed him, expressionless for a moment before her lips curved up into a smirk. "Right. Well, looks like we're going to have to go with the second scenario we planned for then. Do you remember what that is?"
Lee thought for a few moments before nodding resolutely. "Yes. You want me and Neji-kun to engage Gai-sensei and keep him pinned in place and distracted while you prepare the field to our advantage."
"That's right," said Rei. "Teamwork is all about coordinating effectively. This is where we can also show that we all have the potential to do so," Rei paused and turned her head to look at their other teammate. "Isn't that right, Neji?"
The other boy for his part didn't look at all happy with the idea of having to work with Lee. Then again, Lee didn't think he'd seen Neji look happy even once through all of their years at the academy together. Neji crossed his arms and turned away from Lee to address Rei. "I'll work around this person's 'offensive' when he attacks. Attempting to coordinate with this level of individual beyond that isn't practical or worth the effort."
I'm right here, you know thought Lee with a spark of irritation.
"Good enough," said Rei with a careless shrug. "I'm going to be turning all of the woods around that clearing into a death trap, so you two need to buy me as much time as you can." Rei's eyes sparked with something that made Lee shuffle his weight uneasily from foot to foot. The smile that spread across her face was about as friendly as a poisoned blade. "Now let's show Gai the quality of our teamwork, shall we?"
Lee and Neji arrived side by side to find Gai standing in the center of the clearing, waiting for them.
Rei had separated from them and was nowhere in sight. At least, Lee had no idea where she currently was, only knowing that she wanted to turn the forest all around them into a "death trap." But that was okay. It was all part of the plan. Truly, it was a good thing that they even had a plan at all.
Lee, in his nervousness, really couldn't think of a plan other than "run up and attack with everything you've got."
Ironically, his part would more or less boil down to doing exactly that.
Engage. Delay as much as possible. Engage. Delay as much as possible. Come on, come on Lee, you can do this!
Gai just stood there, a fair distance in front of them, but said nothing.
Lee felt he had to act, to do something before his courage decided to up and leave him.
"Neji-kun," Lee said, falling into the taijutsu stance he had learned at the academy. "I'm going."
Neji made a sound that somehow managed to convey both disdain and acknowledgment. Lee licked his lips and tried to ignore his teammate. This was it. It was now or never.
Yelling a war cry at the top of his lungs, Lee rushed at his future teacher.
The man was so much taller than him that punching him in the face meant he would have to jump. Instead, at a dead sprint, he cocked his arm back as far as he could and swung directly at Gai's solar plexus as hard as he possibly could. The Jounin casually sidestepped out of the way, causing Lee to stumble as his fist didn't meet the expected resistance, almost falling on his face on the floor.
"Good enthusiasm!" Gai complimented. "But watch your footwork!"
Watch my footwork. Right. After he regained his balance and turned around, Lee once again charged Gai as fast and as hard as he could. He tried kicking this time, aiming his roundhouse kick for the floating ribs as they had taught him in the academy. This time Gai chose to block the kick with his forearm. When the kick landed, however, Lee realized that his footing wasn't the best. He lost his balance from the blow and had to hop on one leg a couple of times so he wouldn't fall to the floor.
That was when Neji attacked Gai from behind.
Gai-sensei noticed, of course, and turned around in time to block Neji at the wrist, the boy's fingertips curved into a strange striking form. Is that some kind of special taijutsu technique? The exchange of blows that came next left Lee gawking with his jaw wide open. Their arms moved so fast as they attacked each other they were practically blurs to Lee, each time their limbs struck each other it was with such force that Lee could feel the impacts from where he was standing half a dozen feet away. Lee watched as Neji tried to go low to attack Gai's legs, then their sensei did something, and suddenly Gai had Neji's shoulder and elbow trapped in a grappling-looking joint lock.
Gai laughed, and ever present cheerful grin on his face seemed to grow a little larger. "Excellent Neji-kun! But you clearly need more experience fighting against different types of taijutsu styles. For example, you've never had a fight with a competent grappler before, am I right?"
Instead of answering, Neji tried to escape Gai's grip by contorting his joints in a way that Lee would have thought just wasn't possible. In response, however, Gai grabbed Neji by his lapel and threw him over his shoulder in some kind of taijutsu move, sending the other boy flying over a dozen feet through the air.
Lee stood there, gawking, before he remembered what he was supposed to be doing. Right. Keep him busy. Show Gai-sensei what I'm made of!
With another war cry, rushed at Gai, this time pulling back his other arm for a powerful haymaker that he hoped he'd have a better chance of connecting with.
This time, however, before he's even close enough to throw his punch Gai beat him to it by punching him in the face.
Lee was stunned, and swayed on his feet precariously as pain radiated from all over his face and into his skull. Before he could even think about recovering another fist drove into his stomach, and this time his legs gave out sending him to his hands and knees. Lee coughed and had to fight the sudden powerful urge to throw up.
"It's good that you're so spirited," Gai complimented. "But I need to see more than that. For example, do you have what it takes to take a few hits and keep going? If you do, show me what you've got, Lee!"
I-I can do it, Lee thought with resolve as began to struggle to his feet, even though his vision was covered in white spots. I can do it Gai-sensei!
As Lee made it to his knees the two of them were interrupted by a hail of shuriken and kunai, Neji having rejoined the fray. Gai caught a few and dodged the rest before leaping away as Neji angled to re-engage him, a fearsome scowl etched on the other boy's face. Lee could hear the sounds of their fight even as they moved out of his field of vision. It took a few moments longer but Lee managed to struggle to his feet, blinking most of the white spots out of his eyes.
I won't stop, though Lee as he clenched his fist and looked down at his feet. No matter how much it hurts, no matter what I have to endure, I won't stop until I achieve my dream.
"GAI-SENSEI!" Lee yelled as he cocked his fist back and ran as fast as his body could take him back into the fray.
Gai first began to realize the extent of the problems he'd have to deal with when the forest all around them began to catch on fire.
It barely took a few seconds to deduce that the two boys had come after him alone because the girl had hung back in order to do something, obviously something the three hoped would give them an advantage. Thus Gai kept a careful eye out while he tested the two boys, not wanting to be caught by any unexpected surprises by the Yamanaka heiress a second time. As he watched he caught a few glimpses of purple cloth moving quickly in the trees around them, as well as glimpses of what he thought might have been non-reflective ninja wire being woven into the trees all around them as well. The idea of trapping an area and then forcing an enemy into it was as old as time, but effective. Gai even thought he would eventually let them "herd" him into the traps to gauge the level of skill used in making them and to see just what they were made of.
Then the girl started setting all of the trees surrounding their clearing on fire.
Just what the hells does she think she's doing? Gai thought with a small frown.
Though damage to the training grounds was expected and accepted, this kind of recklessness and destruction certainly wasn't the sort of thing the village administration had had in mind. Even then Gai might have considered it a viable if unorthodox strategy, if it wasn't for the fact that her teammates would be "trapped" in the clearing surrounded by flames just as much as he would. How, exactly, did she expect this to play out? What other tricks did she have up her sleeve?
Gai looked at the two boys that he had been testing, both of them pretty badly battered and bruised by this point. Neji looked at him stoically as he once again settled into a fighting stance, undeterred by the beating he had received and seemingly completely ignoring or indifferent to the flames growing all around them. Lee, on the other hand, was very visibly scared and possibly close to panicking as the air in the clearing quickly began to warm as the flames surrounding the small clearing kept spreading. Already, there was no obvious and easy way out for the boys to escape.
"M-Maybe you should call the test off already Gai-sensei," Lee said nervously, one of his eyes swollen almost completely shut. "You know, before s-she makes things any worse."
Both Neji and Gai turned to look at Lee incredulously, making the boy shrink in on himself a little bit.
"Coward," Neji said under his breath, but loud enough for both of them to hear.
"I-I'm not!" Lee protested loudly, though clearly suddenly finding himself in an unexpected firetrap was a little too much for the boy.
Gai closed his eyes for a moment, weighing his options. While he would have liked to test the boys and their resolve a little more, in truth he felt that he had already seen all that he needed to see. Rei meanwhile remained at large, and he had a sinking suspicion that whatever she tried next would involve more fire, poison, explosions, or all three. He might be confident that Neji could navigate all of that safely given their reported close training association and his bloodline limit, but he had no such confidence in Lee. The boy might have the heart and the fire but currently not the skills. Though he would never say so out loud, Gai was worried that when he turned his back the boy might somehow trip and fall into a fire by mistake.
It was time to begin wrapping this up then.
He only had one more student that he needed to finish testing.
As for the other two?
Gai opened his eyes and exploded into motion. Suddenly the Jounin was behind Neji, faster than the boy could react. To his credit Neji was already turning and moving to defend himself but it was far too late. Gai struck Neji's neck with a knife hand hard enough to knock the boy senseless for a few minutes. Then, without missing a beat, he pivoted and was suddenly on a shocked looking Lee who had not even begun to react. Gai drove his fist into the boy's solar plexus hard enough to leave him incapacitated and struggling for breath for several minutes. Lee collapsed to the ground, struggling to breathe and making sounds like some kind of small dying animal.
At bit harsh, but at the end of the day it's always beneficial for Genin to realize how far they have to climb still.
Gai had half expected an attack when he moved against the boys, but none came. Keeping a wary eye out Gai quickly ran through a series of hand seals and cast an earth jutsu. The ground suddenly became as quick sand and the two boys were swallowed by the earth. He'd used the technique to make an air pocket to keep the boys safe deep under the earth. There they would be safe from whatever else their most destructive teammate decided to unleash.
Honestly? That he even had to take such precautions was kind of ridiculous in the first place.
"You know," Gai called out loud, rising to his feet. He made a show of looking at the inferno he suddenly found himself in the middle of. "I can't help but feel that this is a bit excessive."
There was movement high on an unburnt patch of trees directly across from where he stood. From there Rei Yamanaka came out of hiding and landed on the ground across from him. The real her, or a clone? Her face and clothes had some soot on them, and her clothes looked a bit burnt around the edges, but the grin on her face as everything burnt around them was what troubled him the most.
"Excessive?" said Rei, her voice sounding half controlled and half exhilarated. "I'm simply following my instruction to the letter, Gai-sensei. After all, didn't you tell us that the only failure in this is holding back? Well, this is me, not holding anything back and doing my best to kill you."
Well, I did say that though Gai, suddenly feeling a bit of regret at his wording.
"Following orders to the letter won't shield you from the repercussions of poor judgment, Rei-chan," he told her, sternly but not unkindly.
The girl's smile slipped at that. "So simply following the rules is no shield against retaliation? How uncivilized. And who gets to decide if I exercise 'poor judgement' exactly?"
"That should be obvious, shouldn't it?" replied Gai, filing away her peculiar response for later. "Your superiors do."
He watched her face go stony at that, and in that moment Gai got another glimpse into the character of his latest student. Problems with authority, now is it? Interesting. She was hardly the only one with that disposition, and depending how deep it went it could cause… problems.
Something to keep an eye on in the future.
"So what was your plan?" Gai asked, gesturing all around them. "Why set everything on fire."
At his question Rei's stony façade slid off her face and was replaced with a hungry, predatory grin.
"Watch, Gai-san," Rei declared. "You wanted us to show you everything? What a coincidence. I want you to see all that I can do."
Rei went through a set of hand seals at a speed that would have been impressive even for a Chuunin and slammed her palm onto the ground.
Kuchiyose no Jutsu!
A seal appeared on the earth, and suddenly a wide area immediately around Rei was consumed by white smoke.
The youngest person in history to ever win a summoning contract… let's see what you can do, Rei-chan! Thought Gai with an eager grin of his own.
When the smoke cleared, flanking Rei were four rats as tall as short adults standing on their hind legs, two on either side of the girl. They were each dressed in a worn mismatch of ragged clothes and armor, their fur different shades of dark colors, and armed with tanto, sword, some kind of bladed whip and even a two headed war axe.
"So, shitty pup," the rat with the tanto and an ugly scar on his snout said. "Is this the guy you told us about? And why is the whole fucking place on fire?"
"This was part of the plan, remember?" The rat with the sword – a katana – responded in a shockingly feminine voice. "Pay more attention if you don't want to be surprised, dumbass."
"I did pay attention!"
While the summons bickered Gai turned his attention back to his student. Rei, for her part, had her hands on her knees and was breathing heavily. His sixth sense and his long experience told him right away what was going on. All the jutsu she's been using, she's pushed herself to the point of near Chakra exhaustion.
Then she did something that absolutely shocked him.
With visible effort Rei forced herself to stand straight and closed her eyes. Gai was confused until a few moments later Rei began to very faintly glow with blue Chakra. Before his eyes and in front of his Chakra senses Gai witnessed as Rei went from being nearly Chakra depleted to overflowing with so much Chakra that some of it even leaked out into the visible spectrum. How? The only person I've heard of who can store her own Chakra and utilize it later is Tsunade-sama. Did Rei also somehow reverse engineer Tsunade's Strength of a Hundred Seal? But this has none of the same tell tale signs. How is she doing this? Incredible!
Seconds later the glow faded and Rei opened her eyes, a self satisfied smirk coming growing on her face at his shocked expression. However, in an instant, her face became deadly serious, and she began issuing commands. "Virulent, Dagger, pattern two. Ofuda, Nikuya, pattern five. Pieris formation. Go."
Two of the rats immediately began to run through a set of hand seals while the other two broke off to the sides. The two performing the jutsu opened their mouths and an improbable amount of thick dark smoke practically exploded out of their mouths, completely filling the entire clearing in moments. Gai quickly activates his technique to counter contact poisons and held his breath. When the gas reached him, Gai realized that not only is it poisonous, but also corrosive, as it immediately started attempting to eat through the coat of Chakra he was using to protect himself. Using such a technique in an area your enemy can't escape? Not bad. The acidic smoke will eat even though my Chakra reserves keeping it off my skin if I take too long.
Though he was confident, the position he now found himself in was now in fact an extremely disadvantageous for him. His visibility was zero, his opponent had shown that they have the capacity to become completely silent, and he had no special perception or detection techniques to speak of. It's like fighting a practitioner of Silent Killing, only with more fire, acid and poison. How scary.
Well, he did say that he needed to start taking this more seriously.
Gai ran through a lightning fast series of hand seals and silently cast a jutsu on himself.
Doton: Earth Armor Technique!
The earth flowed up from the ground over Gai's body, covering every inch of him in half inch thick armor that changed color and appearance to look like his ordinary shape. Sharp observers would notice the extra size but at a casual glance it was difficult to tell what, if anything, was different about him while using that technique. Gai closed his eyes, relishing the challenge of using his other senses to try and counter the inevitable attack that he knew would come.
He didn't have to wait long. From his left came the attack. A metal whip broke into three sections, attempting to cut him and trap him at the same time. Gai didn't detect the attack until it almost touched him. He turned and deflected two of the razor sharp metal whips with his forearms while the third glanced off his back. He grabbed one of the whips with his armored hand and with a sharp jerk pulled, hoping to unbalance the user. Upping his speed to maybe half again what he had seen Rei use he charged into the burning, poisoned gloom, following the weapon back to the wielder of the whip.
Gai had to immediately stop and duck halfway there as suddenly there was an axe swinging diagonally to take his head off his shoulders. Armor or no, he didn't know how well his technique would have fared against such a heavy weapon. Letting go of the bladed whip Gai charged at the much closer wielder of the axe, lashing out with a vicious flying roundhouse kick. His kick was blocked by the haft of the axe, the wielder only sliding back a few inches as opposed to being sent flying. The force of the blow blew enough of the smoke away momentarily for him to catch the disturbing sight of a giant rat smirking smugly at him.
Then suddenly there was fire, and Gai had to disengage and jump away as a torrent of flame from somewhere to his right completely bathed the spot where he had been standing.
He never even noticed the rat with the tanto until it stabbed him in the kidney.
Thankfully, it only penetrated about half way into his earth armor before Gai twisted away from the blow and instinctively retaliated with a back fist. However the rat was already retreating by the time he launched his counter attack. He only caught a glimpse of knife and fur before the rat was once again swallowed by the poisonous, caustic fog.
This is not at all a good match up for me, though Gai as he stood still and continued to try to pierce into the smoke with all of his senses. In the real world getting caught up in somebody else's pace like this would be a deadly mistake.
Still, it was necessary to do it this way. How else was he going to evaluate his student's techniques if he didn't allow her to play to her strengths?
Out of the gloom, there were suddenly two Rei's coming at him, each one armed with a kunai in each hand.
Both of them were too aggressive though. It was a subtle tell, but enough of one for him to pick up on.
Gai stepped into one of the Rei's as she swung with her kunai. He ducked under the weapon with a flexibility most people didn't expect from him, grabbed that Rei and threw her hard into the other one before leaping away. As he had expected, the collision had both Rei's explode into a conflagration that might have been a real problem to deal with had it caught him in the middle.
Gai took a moment to appreciate the clever trap his student had set up for him. He'd been holding his breath since it'd began, and even with Chakra assisting him he was beginning to feel the burn of holding his breath in his chest. Even if he did try to breathe or even had some kind of filtered mask on him he suspected the raging forest fire around him had done a good job of sucking up most of the oxygen. If the poisoned, acidic smoke didn't get him the asphyxiation probably would. There was no conventional, easy way to escape the ring of fire he found himself in. Rei and her rats would keep him too busy to think or try to find a clever way out, if they didn't just kill him outright, and all they had to do was run the clock down until he keeled over due to the environmental hazards. Environmental hazards which, presumably, Rei and her rats had defenses against and could survive almost indefinitely.
It was a truly deadly and well thought out trap, one which would have killed the overwhelming majority of Chuunin and even some unlucky Jounin that might not have the necessary tools to deal with this kind of strategy.
This trap, however, was not invincible. It did have one glaring weakness.
This box that Rei had put him in could not survive against overwhelming brute force.
Gai closed his eyes and nodded.
I've seen enough. It's time to end this.
When he opened his eyes, they now bore a determination of steel.
A sword struck out of the darkness, aiming to cut him across his back.
Gai allowed it, ignoring the blow while simultaneously strengthening his earth armor with Chakra and shooting a kick like piston at the source of the strike. The blade barely cut a third of the way into his armor and his kick connected this time, sending a rat flying with a feminine grunt of pain. Gai wasted no time, his hands flashing through seals and executing a jutsu.
Doton: Kage Bunshin!
Ten earth clones rose out of the ground and immediately ran off into the smoke, ordered to use their strength and durability to fight and subdue his five attackers. However, Gai wasn't done. Creating allies to fight for him was the first step. Clearing out all of this smoke so his enemies could no longer hide in it was the second.
Gai channeled Chakra into his legs, far more Chakra into each leg than most Genin had in their whole bodies, and jumped straight up into the air as hard as he could. His body shot upwards like an arrow until he found himself finally slowing down dozens of feet above the top of the burning forest. Gai took a split second to admire the scenery all around him before closing his right fist and beginning to gather his power into it while his left hand formed a half dragon seal.
In Konoha, a Jounin was required to be able to use at least two elemental affinities. His primary elemental affinity was earth. However, since he had no secondary affinity, Gai had been free to choose whatever element he wanted to train as his secondary. In the end he picked the one he thought might be the most useful for his talents and his fighting style.
And sure, he could use an overloaded C-Rank wind technique like Great Breakthrough to blow away all of the poisoned smoke, but where was the fun in that?
Taijutsu was his specialty, after all.
As he began to fall, Gai began to transform the Chakra he had been gathering in his fist into wind nature Chakra.
Putting a hefty chuck of his remaining Chakra into his fist, and with a nearly manic grin on his face, Gai shouted the name that he'd just made up for this new taijutsu technique that he had just spontaneously made up on the fly.
Buddha's Fist, Wind Fist Cannon!
With his left hand still in a half-dragon seal, Gai punched down when he was less than thirty feet from the ground, and from his right fist erupted a fist made of wind and Chakra that was at least twice as big as Gai was tall. The ghostly fist made of wind slammed into the earth with the force of a run away avalanche and exploded, hurricane force winds instantly shooting out in every direction all at once.
The thick poisoned smoke was instantly blown away. While his student and her summons froze in shock at his display of power, Gai's earth clones had no such hesitation. They were instantly on the five shocked and disoriented combatants, and even though the clones had only a fraction of Gai's true ability, two-on-one against already befuddled opponents they proved to be more than sufficient. Gai's earth clones forced Rei's rats to unsummon one by one, until only Rei was left, forced to sit on the ground and held there by two of his earth clones.
As he walked up to her, Gai had to make an effort to hide his amusement at the look on her face. It was a mix of shock, anger, resentment and admiration, cycling one after the other as if the girl herself had no idea how she wanted to feel. Gai walked up to her, flanked by four of his earth clones on either side, and grinned.
"Extremely impressive Rei-chan," he said boisterously. "But you've got a long way to go yet if you want to achieve your dream."
For what might have been the first time in her life, Rei was left absolutely speechless.
At seeing the look on her face the elite Jounin couldn't help himself. He threw his head back and laughed, loudly, like he had just been told the best joke in the world.
All the while, the world around them continued to burn.
A/N: New chapter, as promised. Next chapter will take a bit longer but I haven't forgotten this story! Thanks for reading and stay posted for more from me in the near future.
Enjoy your weekend!