Title: Slow Burn
Chapter: 15 Blind (Part IV)
Word Count: 10,961
Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to me. It's Kishimoto's and I just play with it. AU immediately after the Sasuke Retrieval Arc. Part 15 of ? Unbeta'd.
Note: A who's who list of important characters during this Chuunin Exam arc can be found at the end of the chapter. This list is accurate as of the end of this update. (Character-motivations and abilities that will be revealed later on are noton this list.)
Thanks to everyone for 300 reviews!
"Hi!" Midori said brightly as she stepped behind the Genin who'd been following them around for the past thirty minutes. "Will you be my friend?"
The Genin stiffened and swung around, fist flying towards her. The light of his lantern gave off enough illumination for her to see the movement clearly. She didn't understand why they'd lit one. It was just going to prove to be a bad idea.
She was going to make him see that.
Midori skipped back, giggling. "That's not very nice," she scolded. "After all, you were following us around which means that either you want to be friends or you've been a bad, bad person."
There was the flash of a jutsu from the left and Midori watched it, recognizing Natsu's voice. Ryu's voice was harder to pick out-he had the tendency to speak very, very quietly during battle.
The Genin snarled and rushed at her. She sidestepped again, sticking out one foot in an attempt to trip him.
He didn't fall or stumble and Midori shrugged and supposed that she couldn't have everything she wanted after all.
"How did you notice us?" the Genin asked.
"Oh please," Midori said, still with a giggle on her lips. "Do you think I'd just tell you? I've decided that you've been a bad, bad Genin." She bounced towards him, almost skipping, her hands deliberately held loose and clearly not holding any weapon.
He eyed her warily, the small lantern no doubt showing him precisely what she was.
Too bad, Midori thought happily, that looks were deceiving. Really, she thought, it was so much fun to go about proving that.
"What's that mean for me?" the Genin asked. He held a kunai low and Midori wondered if he really thought she didn't see him. She could see the cloud etched clearly on his hitae-ite now.
Ryu had been right.
Ryu was always right.
How many other teams had their own watchers? It didn't really matter, Midori thought, as she skipped one step closer. Close enough to be within stabbing range. Their watchers weren't ever going to leave the tunnels and that was for the best of all involved.
Who knew how much they'd picked up about them already!
"It means," she said cheerfully, bubbling with good humour, "that I'm going to take care of you right now."
He moved. She moved faster.
Her hand brushed his cheek, a tiny unnoticeable spark of chakra flaring at the skin-to-skin contact, as she dove out of the way of his kunai.
There was breathless silence for a moment.
Then his kunai clattered to the ground. Midori picked it up, twirled it in one hand, and tucked it into her belt. His lantern gave her plenty of light to see as his face went first red, then blue, then black due to lack of air combined with some judiciously introduced rot.
She hummed happily. It wasn't nearly as fun as the pain jutsu but it was faster and quieter and Ryu had said that they had to be cautious now because they didn't know if noise would send more watchers after them.
"Bad boy," she told him conversationally, patted him on the head (his hair shifted, like it was no longer attached to his scalp), stole his number, and then left him to his death throes.
No, she thought, it really isn't as fun as the pain. Midori skipped over to where Natsu was still fighting and wondered if he'd mind if she stole his opponent.
Probably, she thought, but that wasn't really enough to stop her.
The only thing that did was that, by the time she got over to him, he was pulling his knives out of the Genin's body and the Genin was clearly dead. Midori leaned over his shoulder and peered at the mess he'd made.
"Did she say something bad?" Midori asked curiously. The girl had been all but ripped apart. "You don't normally go like that on girls."
Because Natsu was a silly, she thought, and didn't say that. He knew her views on it and had politely told her a year ago to keep her nose out of his business that way.
Dead was dead, he'd told her. If he preferred chopping up the guys more than the girls, that was his business.
"It's nothing," Natsu said, sounding serene. Midori approved of that. It wasn't the giddy joy she felt but still-a happy Natsu made her happier. "She has paid her dues."
With another glance at the girl, Midori had to agree. She straightened up as Natsu looked like he was going to stand and she took a few steps back, right into someone.
She blinked up and then grinned at Ryu. "You've got blood on your face," she said helpfully.
"It's not mine," Ryu said, wiping it away. "The team is down?"
Midori bounced in place as she nodded and Natsu just glanced at the girl.
"Good," Ryu said, "that's better. We're not going to let any team stalk us in this. You both know our orders. Keep our heads down as much as possible until the finals."
"Is killing the teams really keeping our heads down?" Midori asked artlessly. "Does this mean we can go and kill more of them and things will be even better?"
Natsu laughed softly. Ryu pressed his hands on her shoulders to stop her from bouncing. "No," he told her. "Because if we go kill every team, we'll get more attention. But right now, in the dark, no one is going to notice our presence. And in the first exam, the Jounin won't remember how you did it. That's more of what we need."
"Alright," she sighed, "it's not very fun though. I can't wait for the finals."
Maybe she'd even get to fight against her friend! Midori was pretty sure that if she got that, she could wait a whole month before going to go see her on her own. She shivered with excitement.
"Let's go." Natsu blew out the lantern and they all closed their eyes for a few moments to help with getting their eyes used to the darkness again. "We're not far from our door now."
"How many more exams do you think they'll give us?" Midori asked Ryu eagerly. "They've got to have lost a lot of us in here. Not us, though," she added after a moment.
"Not us," he agreed. "And I don't know. We'll just have to go and find out. Quickly now."
Forty minutes left.
The first wall that they crashed through was peculiarly satisfying. Even Ino, who was a wreck, was impressed as Chouji ploughed through the wall. Sakura had to admit that it was impressive.
Terrifying, but impressive.
"Come on," Sakura urged Ino as they heard the ominous rumbling of the wall around them. "Let's stick close to Chouji."
"I have a bad feeling about this," Ino mumbled as Sakura gave up on making Ino move on her own and simply began tugging her along.
"Pig," Sakura said, "you've got a bad feeling about everything down here. I'll admit that this isn't the most subtle of plans- it is pretty much the opposite of that, in fact- but we need to do something to get out of here quickly."
It was hard for her to focus. She remembered fuzzily that they had a deadline, but Sakura couldn't remember how much time they had. That was a bad sign she knew. She'd been so caught up in glaring at the Oto team and everything that they represented to her that she'd lost track of what was going on with the exam.
Luck, Sakura knew grimly, was the only thing keeping them alive between her preoccupation and Ino's freezing up in the darkness. Chouji was the only one of them who was functioning at one hundred percent.
I never would have thought that he could, six months ago.
It was an ugly thought, Sakura admitted, as she scrambled up the wall, still dragging Ino with her as they made their way by feel and sound towards the hole that Chouji had smashed through the wall. All around them rocks fell and dust began to rise. Her eyes watered and Sakura told them, futilely to cut it out.
"Come on," she said, "or I'm going to slap you."
That got Ino's attention. "You would not."
Sakura smiled faintly. There was no way that Ino would be able to see it in this total darkness and it suited her mood. "I would," she said, "you're the one that told me to put things away so we can get through this exam. You going back on your word now?"
She could feel the way Ino was shaking. It wasn't a fair question at all. The rational part of Sakura knew that. It was cruel to tell Ino that the way she was acting was the same thing as what she'd been doing. Revenge versus fear, Sakura thought, weren't the same at all. If Ino had been thinking clearly then Sakura knew that she'd have paid dearly for that comment.
But as it was...
Ino jerked her arm free and scrambled ahead of her. "I don't have to listen to this," Ino hissed as they used chakra to support themselves while picking their way around rubble.
Ahead of them, Sakura could hear the sounds of Chouji knocking down another wall. He trusted them to follow him. That meant that they had to keep up. It would be too easy in here for someone to decide to eliminate him while he was on his own.
"Yes you do," Sakura said, keeping up with Ino easily. Ino was stumbling more than she was walking and Sakura ached with the urge to help her friend out. She didn't because she knew Ino and knew that Ino would attempt to murder her for trying to do so. "We need you, Ino."
Ino laughed darkly. The sound was so bitter that it twisted Sakura's stomach. "I can't handle this," Ino said. "I feel like I'm dying in here. I wantto die if my alternative is being stuck down here."
They darted across an open tunnel and up to the next hole. The dust was growing worse and Sakura was sure that when they got out of here, they were going to look like a total mess. That didn't really matter, she thought, and then had to marvel at what a difference a year had made.
A year ago, she'd have been horrified to be down here and then having to go out in public.
Now all that mattered was getting out of here.
"You can handle this," Sakura said firmly. Ino's problems took precedence over the fact that somewhere down here were the Oto nin. "You're not alone this time and the darkness isn't endless. We have a destination. We have somewhere to go."
She didn't say that the fatalism in Ino's voice scared her. Sakura ignored the way her heart pounded in her chest and cursed everything that existed for the fact that no one had realized that Ino had left her last mission with a new phobia.
We could have done something about it before getting here if we'd known!her thoughts raged and yet she knew there was nothing that they could do now. Nothing but go on. The entire tunnel wavered alarmingly.
"What's going on?" Ino asked, her voice high and terrified in a way that Sakura couldn't remember ever hearing before. It wasn't like Ino. Ino wasn't supposed to be gut-wrenchingly scared.
"It's the tunnel," Sakura said. She closed her eyes. "It's starting to fall down."
Sakura grabbed her hand. "Come on," she said, cursing herself for an idiot. They'd caused this, in their haste to get out of here no matter the cost. We're going to find out the cost,Sakura thought. "We need to get to Chouji and tell him to stop."
Sakura didn't know if it was desperation or Ino coming to her senses but this time, Ino managed to keep her feet and keep up with Sakura as they picked up pace, flinging themselves with reckless abandon through falling rocks and grit and narrowing missing getting hit by chunks of the ceiling. Some of the holes were so caved in that they had to squeeze though them carefully and it was a good thing that they were so thin. Even so, their hands got scraped and sore and Sakura didn't know how Ino felt, but she was feeling utterly wretched.
How many tunnels ahead had Chouji gone while they'd struggled with fears?
Sakura lost count as she and Ino made their way, all by feel and sense and more than a dash of good luck. The only good thing, Sakura knew, was that other Genin had disappeared from the tunnels. No one wanted to be in here while it fell down around them. Everyone would've moved to safer, saner, areas to be.
That would only make the fighting more intense where they all wound up, Sakura knew. That meant they had to find their tunnel as soon as possible. Already she could hear above them as the tunnels began breaking down further and further away as having their support undermined in one location weakened the rest of the structure.
That's what we forgot, Sakura thought. When we decided that this would be a good idea.
The tunnels that they'd knocked down: all of those needed support from the bottom.
When they got out of here, Sakura thought, she was going to smack herself hard. If they didn't make it out, they almost deserved it. She didn't say that thought. The last thing she needed was to push Ino off the cliff of her precarious calm.
And it hadn't been Ino's idea anyway, Sakura admitted grimly. It had been her and Chouji and they'd fucked this up. It should have been obvious that knocking out what they entire underground area they were in rested on was a poor idea. We panicked, Sakura thought. We shouldn't have. Not if we want to be made Chuunin.
So far, this exam was not filling her with hope about their competence.
Though, she consoled herself, they couldn't have predicted that the entirety of the underground was so fragile that taking out a few walls would destroy it all.
If we get out of here, she thought, we're going to train so that we never make a misjudgment like this ever again. And Ino is going to get help for her fear of darkness if I have to drag her in by her hair.
She could hear Chouji now, just ahead of them. "Chouji!" she shouted, risking the volume because if she didn't shout, Sakura highly doubted that he'd be able to hear her at all. "Chouji! Stop! Don't knock down another wall!"
He hit the wall hard and the whole area around them shuddered horrifically. Sakura almost thought that this was going to give her nightmares as well. She no longer wondered at the problems that Ino was having getting used to this sort of thing all over again.
"Pig," she hissed, coughing around the dust as Chouji began spinning again-he clearly hadn't heard her. "You've got to say something. I don't think- I don't think he's going to hear me."
It wasn't just a volume thing, Sakura thought grimly. It was a team thing. Chouji had been working with Ino for over a year and he'd been friends with her for longer. Her voice had a better chance of getting through whatever concentration he'd put himself into than hers had.
That's another problem, she thought. I'm just a guest on this team no matter what we say.
Sakura wished for her team, desperately, for a moment before forcing herself to concentrate on the important things: like getting out of here alive.
"Ino," she said driven by panic, "start talking to him right the fuck now."
Ino drew a shuddering breath and shrieked, "CHOUJI! STOP!"
There was silence all around them for a long moment, like even the rocks were scared to move in the face of that shout, and then Chouji began to shrink back down to his usual size, sliding down the wall-which Sakura suspected bore several dents despite the fact he'd not broken through the wall yet-and getting to his feet.
"Ino?" he said, bewildered.
Ino didn't answer. Sakura strongly suspected, from the sniffles, that Ino had started crying and was trying to hide it. Sakura squeezed Ino's arm comfortingly and coughed again.
"We're morons," Sakura said flatly, to Chouji, as he came nearer. "We need to get out of here-"
"That's what I was doing-"
"-without knocking down any more walls," Sakura finished grimly. "Or we're all going to die."
Thirty-five minutes left.
While the blonde girl-who was scared of the dark, Sayuri reminded herself with a snort-shrieked for her teammate to stop knocking down walls, Sayuri privately admitted to herself that she was all for an end to the shaking and collapsing of the tunnels. It was even worse for them. They had to follow the team and do it without being detected while at the same time refraining from becoming mush.
Come to think of it, she thought, she had to admit that she wasn't that fond of the dark at the moment either. It was tempting to light up a glow stick or even figure out which of them was carrying the portable lantern and light that, just for a change and because it was more than a little distressing to feel like the world was ending around them and not being able to see anything.
She could only just barely sense the chakra signatures ahead of them. Those of Inori and Hideki were comforting and she took solace in that.
"So," she said, under the cover of more rubble falling. "What do we do now? We've determined that they are utter morons."
"To be fair," Inori commented, like he was talking about nothing more serious than the weather, "they're not exactly expected to have a good grasp of rock. They don't live with it. I bet they know how to get through a forest better than we do."
Hideki snorted. "If you love them so much," he said, "why don't you go kiss up to them. I'm sure they'd be thrilled."
Sayuri stifled the urge to giggle. It wasn't very appropriate and it might just give Hideki the idea that she thought they were doing something that was acceptable at the moment. "Seriously now," she said, before Inori could retort. "We need to leave. I want to leave. At this point, if they pull down everything on them, I don't even care. I just want to be out of their reach. I saw at least three teams get crushed."
Even now, though she was trying her hardest to ignore them, she could hear screams in the distance that had nothing whatsoever to do with fighting. Sayuri felt sick at the thought. Dying in battle was one thing. Dying by accident...?
It gave her the creeps. Had Tsubaki made it out?
"I agree," Hideki said. "I don't want to become crushed team number four. Besides, if we fail then it's just going to be Tsubaki and her team who get to advance."
"Ugh," she muttered. "Don't remind me. They've probably already made it out." She hoped.
"They probably didn't spend most of their time stalking the idiots who've ruining this testing area," Inori pointed out, a little sharply. "And we've got some idea of what they can do. They're not a real team, you heard that. Why else would the blonde have to do the shouting before the guy stopped?"
"He's got serious power." Hideki sounded approving. "And that girl has serious lungs."
"And serious issues," Sayuri muttered. "But no, you're right. We know that. I'm just not sure what we can do with that knowledge. It's not exactly the most useful thing to know."
She felt rather than saw or heard Inori shrug. "That's not for us to figure out," he said. "That's for our sensei to decide. We just report. We've already shown plenty of initiative in following them even this far."
"Right." Sayuri breathed deeply, trying not to cough on the dust, and listened hard for the other team. "That means, as of now, I am declaring that this is now a 'we don't give a damn about the Konoha team zone'."
Hideki would have the nerve to sound amused, she thought peevishly. "You know what it means," she said briskly. "It means we're getting the fuck out of here. As anyone kept track of what tunnel we're at?"
She hadn't been and Sayuri knew that under other circumstances she might have been angry with herself for that lapse. In this situation, she was of the opinion that living so far was a pretty great accomplishment and so felt almost defiant in the face of not knowing which tunnel they were in. The silence that answered her told Sayuri that she wasn't the only one who'd lost track of it.
"Okay," she said calmly. "First order of business is figure out this tunnel and then we get to where we're going as fast as possible. I don't know about you, but can you hear what's still going on?"
They were all silent for a few moments.
"I'm going to say that, honestly, it sounds a lot like 'we're all going to die'," Inori said dryly. "I mean, between the crashing and the rumbling and the fact that it is getting increasingly hard to breathe in our current location and it is probably luck alone that means we having been killed by falling rocks so far."
"So cheerful," Hideki muttered. "But for all of that, I happen to agree with Mr. Pessimist. They've learnt enough to stop knocking down walls. But I don't think the walls want to stop by this point."
Sayuri squinted up into the darkness. She couldn't see anything but it was an automatic reaction. She studied nothing and felt her heart beat heavily in her chest. "Yeah," she said softly, "that's what I'm hearing too. I hope like hell that they haven't undermined things so badly that the village is going to be affected."
"If they are, we'll kill them," Inori said, with the same casualness that he'd used while talking earlier. He could say anything from 'I'll have cereal for breakfast' to 'I hope you tortured her according to the proper protocols' in the same tone of voice. "No one fucks over our village that badly and does so entirely by accident."
"The worst part," Sayuri said, "is that it really and clearly wasn't something maliciously done."
It would make it easier to hate them if they'd done it on purpose. Instead, she just felt tired at the thought of it. They were idiots, that was it. That was the end of the story and yet they were stuck to deal with them for however long they survived in the exam. She tried to remember what they'd been briefed about the team before the exam.
How had they done on the last one?
Clearly they were thought to have some talent, she thought, or their Hokage wouldn't have sent them out here.
It was just that, as far as Sayuri saw it, they weren't exhibiting it. The voice that always sounded like Tsubaki-always more reasonable, more measured, more collected-murmured about how they were out of their element and at least one of them was severely off their game.
Two of them, Sayuri remembered, thinking about the way that the pink-haired girl had glowered so viciously at the team from Oto. That meant something too.
Another thundering noise, like the world was moaning, made their position shudder sickly. Or maybe that was just her stomach, she thought.
"Move," she said, "quickly. Clarify the number and let's go."
They scattered, using each other's familiarity with their chakra to keep track of each other and searched the tunnel that was falling down around them for the number they were in. It was Inori's voice that called out after an interminable, horrible, five minutes spent feverishly searching for a number that for all they knew could be crushed.
"Eleven!" he called, with no attention for subtlety.
Sayuri didn't have the heart to scold him for that. She didn't blame him. She wanted to just get out of here and that was worth shouting any day. Besides, she thought, there was no one in here to hear them. No one but the dying.
We won't be joining them, she thought hurriedly. We won't be.
"Good," Sayuri called back, then had to break off to cough unpleasantly. By the time that she recovered from her fit, Inori and Hideki were by her and murmuring something that she couldn't quite make out. She gasped and wiped at her watering eyes.
"We're going," Hideki said and she knew that they'd been talking about it without her. She couldn't even blame them for it though it was tempting. "Now. I don't care about keep up to any team now. I just want us to live."
"No argument," Sayuri croaked as the ceiling overhead rumbled ominously.
"Seriously. Let's just... go."
They went, and Sayuri was ashamed to admit that she needed their help on occasion but she asked for it-she couldn't breathe right and her balance was off in the darkness. "It's got," she said weakly, around another coughing fit, "to be some sort of allergy. If it was poison, both of you would be effected too."
And there was no one in the area to poison them. How many idiots were there to linger in what was a death trap that was steadily growing? Not only was their deadline spinning down-how many minutes did they have left?-but with the place falling down around their ears... the time for fighting had passed, Sayuri thought, and the time for survival had come.
Every team would be doing whatever was in their power to get out of here. Which meant, she thought, stumbling through another hacking cough, that they weren't going to be here.
Inori wrapped his arm around her waist, half dragging her, and she couldn't get control of herself long enough to stop him. She didn't even try. It was for the entire team's good if they got out of here as quickly as possible. They could deal with her allergy outbreak later.
Sayuri concentrated on trying to breathe and left the navigating the darkness to her teammates. She hated it, loathed it, but let it happen.
Just concentrate on living, she told herself, and everything else will follow after.
It was funny, she thought, how much that sounded like something that Tsubaki would say to her. Sayuri took peculiar comfort from that. She never got along with her sister but she knew in her bones that Tsubaki would never just let her die.
Her sister wouldn't steer her wrong.
"Found it," Hideki said, with a sigh that had a sharp edge to it. Sayuri had no idea how many tunnels they'd made their way through. Her consciousness was a fuzzy dim thing as she forced herself to keep to her feet and knew that the only reason she was managing that was because of Inori's support. "Thank fuck."
Twenty-two minutes left.
Sakura's voice felt muffled to her and it echoed weirdly in her ears as she stood with her hand gripping Ino's tightly and watched Chouji as he looked for the way through. She should be doing something else, she supposed, even if it was just to say something to Ino, who'd gone as silent as a grave a while back, not even making the sound of sniffling.
In retrospect, Sakura rather thought she preferred the sniffling.
"There's no way through," she said flatly. "We have no light, no way of really getting any, and we're four tunnels from our goal and the whole wall has collapsed."
Ino didn't react.
Chouji heaved a sigh that sounded as heavy as the rock that surrounded them. Sakura supposed they should count themselves lucky that they were even breathing at the moment.
She didn't feel very lucky.
"What do you want me to do, Sakura?" Chouji asked, and she flushed at the implied scrutiny in his voice.
He meant 'do you want me to do what you're doing, which is absolutely nothing' and the worst part was, she couldn't even blame him. She wasn't doing anything.
"We don't even know if we've got time left on the clock," she said instead of admitting that. "And if we don't, there's no point in trying any way. You really think they'll leave us down here to die? In Konoha, we had Jounin and ANBU watchers shadowing every team."
"We're not in Konoha." Ino's voice, unexpected and welcome, broke in. She sounded hollow. "And there's no guarantee we're going to be rescued even if there are watchers. Why should they waste the energy when a lot of teams have already died down here? They're probably going to just say that any team that didn't make it out of here died in the collapse and good riddance to them and tell their Jounin sensei to get lost for daring to show up to an exam like this with such a crappy set of teams."
Sakura felt like she was going to be ill at the picture that painted even as she felt her spirits rose. Ino was talking. That was something good. Even if, Sakura thought, she sounded like she'd rather be dead than alive. It was something.
"That doesn't matter," Sakura said, because she had to say that, couldn't just stand the idea of letting Ino get away with a thought like that. Not in here. Maybe not even ever. "We can get out."
"We can," Chouji said and Sakura felt her heart stop as she whipped her head towards the sound of his voice. She wished desperately that they could see one another and shelved that wish as one that wasn't going to come true.
"We can?" Ino asked, her voice fragile.
"We can," he repeated, in such a gentle voice that Sakura didn't think she'd ever heard gentler. She wasn't the only one who was aware of just how precarious and precious it was to have Ino functioning even as much as she was.
They shouldn't have gone to the exam, Sakura thought, not with weaknesses like this. They should have dealt with them.
Could've, should've, didn't.
Which, she reminded herself sharply, didn't change the fact that they had gone forward with their weaknesses. Ino should have dealt with her fears, Chouji should have been given more time to prepare and recover from his ordeal, and she...
She had to do something with her hatred. Even now, knowing that it was a horrible and futile thing to indulge, she could feel her pulse speed up at the thought of them going after the Oto nin. It made her want to tremble with dreadful eagerness to try and rip them apart, the way their leader had ripped through her team's delicate bonds and shattered them.
But she was in the dark and it was her and Ino and Chouji and Ino was barely functioning. In retrospect, knocking down walls had been a bad idea in more ways than just the property destruction. Ino had functioned better before everything had started falling down on top of them.
Sakura knew the consequences of not dealing with things. Right now, they were being amply demonstrated to her.
"How?" she asked, when it became clear that Chouji was waiting for Ino to ask that very question and that Ino wasn't capable of asking it. Just the fact that they could get out of here had, Sakura realized belatedly, set up a fine trembling in Ino's arm. Sakura squeezed a little tighter.
"The tunnels beyond this point seem, for the moment, to be unblocked," Chouji said, and she noted the way he didn't promise that they would stay unblocked. They had no certainties down here and they couldn't afford to pretend they did. "That means it's just this wall to get through and we'd have a reasonably clear path to the nearest tunnel our numbers correspond to."
"There's problems," Ino said abruptly, still in that awful, hollow voice. "Or you would have done it."
Sakura imagined that Chouji was wincing. Ino was blunt enough when she wanted to be. Now, when everything else was stripped away from her, it was almost unbearable.
Chouji didn't disagree with her. "Yes," he said heavily, "there's problems."
"What are they?" Sakura asked, then doubled over as a coughing fit hit her.
She wheezed, barely able to hear anything over the sounds of her body and the way that she knew that if they stayed down here, it would only get worse. Ino's hand in hers shifted and Sakura flinched as what felt like ice water flooded her body, her chakra systems, and eased the constricted passageways.
It was over in a few seconds and she looked up, face wet, still shaking from the abrupt way her situation had been dealt with.
"I didn't know," she said, her voice sounding rough to her ears. "I didn't know that Shizune-sensei taught you that."
"It's for choking," Ino said dispassionately. "I thought it would be useful in this case."
"It worked," Sakura told her. It had, though she was going to feel in equal amounts cold and shivery for the next while. It hadn't been so much a jutsu, Sakura thought, as a very specific way of feeding chakra through another person's system in a split second and knowing how to weave through her chakra coils without rousing discomfort on that level while administering a physical shock to the body.
She wasn't sure she would have done it. Not for a cough. It was too dangerous.
But it had worked and Ino had done it. She wondered exactly what Shizune-sensei had taught Ino in her lessons. Sakura knew hers had differed but... how much had they? Sakura didn't know if she could at this point in her training do something so quickly and effectively to fix a cough.
Which makes sense, she thought. Ino is field medicine, I'm going for full medic. Tsunade-shishou warned me about this. That there would be things that Ino would learn that I'd be learning later in my studies due to the differences in our focuses.
"Thanks," she said, realizing that she needed to say it. Something, a tension, slid out of Ino's hand. Sakura wondered if Ino had been worried about how she'd react to it. "I appreciate it."
"Right," Chouji said, "so do I. Good work, Ino."
He didn't sound like he was complimenting Ino on something that he barely had to understand what had happened, Sakura thought with a bit of admiration. Just that he knew she'd done good and thought it had to be acknowledged.
"What are the problems?" Ino asked, her voice quiet.
"It's this," he said, "if we knock down this wall, everything is going to come down. We're going to have to run for it and hope we can make it because there's not going to be anything we can do if we get this wall down. Nothing will stop it. We don't know any jutsu to keep from collapsing it around our ears so we can take the time to get our footing."
Sakura bit her lip. In all honesty, when faced with that as an option, she was very tempted to just give up and hope that someone came to find them. Surely they would test for living chakra signatures down here-surely Ino's dreadful prediction couldn't be the right one.
Ino tugged at her hand and Sakura let go of it, feeling oddly bereft. Ino left her standing there and by the sounds of it, was making her way over to where Chouji was.
"Oof," he said, a moment later, "don't trip over me, Ino. What do you need?"
"Show me," she said, "what you saw when you checked the rock."
There was silence for a long moment while Sakura tried to figure out how that was even possible. She felt left out as they talked, their words rushing over her, and felt an ache for her team like a sickness. Chouji and Ino were both friends and she was very glad to have them. But they weren't her team.
Her team didn't exist any longer.
"Alright," Chouji said dubiously. "Are you sure you can do that? Every time you've done that jutsu before it's been a full possession and that's not going to help you see if you don't know the jutsu."
"I can do it," Ino said quietly. "It's something Dad and I have been working on."
Sakura clenched her hands. That meant, she thought, that it had to be something that was covered under the Clan Confidential. There were times when she hated it-there was no way that she, who wasn't of any ninja line, who had no history as a shinobi, could be privy to anything that was covered by it. She supposed that technically, she wasn't even supposed to be able to hear this conversation.
Ino didn't seem to care, she realized, and Chouji, if he did, said nothing.
Perhaps he didn't want to risk it, Sakura thought, with the state Ino was in. They had no way of knowing if a question would slide her back into her useless state.
"I trust you," Chouji said with such simple sincerity that Sakura felt a lump rise in her throat. "Go ahead, Ino."
And Ino murmured the jutsu she'd lost with in the last Chuunin exam. Shintenshin no jutsu, Sakura realized, the full possession jutsu. Then how…? Even as she thought that, she moved, catching Ino's body against her before it could hit the ground.
Chouji paid her no mind. He moved slowly and deliberately and from the range of motion, she suspected that he was doing a jutsu though he didn't say it out loud. The silence in the tunnel quickly grew unbearable. Sakura found herself clenching her teeth to keep from feeling more freaked out than she did.
And then, it was over.
Ino stirred feebly. Chouji leaned his head against the stone.
"What's the verdict?" Sakura asked.
It was Chouji who answered her as Ino got to her feet and wobbled there. "We can do it," he said, "but we're going to need your help, Sakura. You've got the best control out of the three of us."
"Anything you need," Sakura said. "I'll do it."
Ino murmured a jutsu under her breath and the area flared pink with pale light. Sakura averted her eyes, determined to avoid getting caught in the light of that jutsu, and met Chouji's determinedly.
"How quickly can you learn a new jutsu?" he asked.
Sakura glanced at her watch. Her heart pounded. They had eighteen minutes to the deadline.
"As fast as you need me to," she said, with a pointed look at the time. "We're not out of the running yet."
All of a sudden, she felt like laughing.
"Ino," Chouji said, "keep time." He looked at Sakura steadily. "You've got ten minutes. We'll need the rest for travel time."
Sakura nodded. "Show me what you need."
Eighteen minutes left.
Don't complain, Sana had said. This exam is a bloodbath.
She'd been right, Haruki thought, the smell of blood obliterating everything else.
Not that he was going to tell her that. She already knew and if he admitted it she'd get smug. Which wasn't without reason, because Sana was every bit as good as she thought she was, but all the same.
It's not good for her to hear it all the time, he thought. I am being a good teammate by saying nothing about it.
He couldn't see but that was all right-none of them could see and this was a war waged by sensing chakra only. Kozue, the lucky bastard, had an advantage over them in this area.
Haruki eyed the flickering pattern of chakra in front of him. It was unfamiliar, which meant it was an enemy.
That's all right, about Kozue, Haruki thought as he ducked and spun and then lashed out with a blade as dark as night. It sliced through fabric and skin and abruptly the smell of blood and worse got stronger around him. I'm still accounting for more kills than he is.
Of course, that was likely because Kozue was up somewhere on the wall, firing off darts that left the enemy helpless and unmoving. Permanent paralysis in a single dose.
I will never forgive him if he gets me.
The Genin he'd hit was still in the battle though and for the moment Haruki stuffed those thoughts away and sat on them. Fighting first, thinking later. He spun out of reach of the other Genin, having to guess the distance and hoping that the Genin didn't have a sword the way he did.
He didn't. The whistling sound of kunai and shuriken sounded in his ears as they flew by. One glanced off his pants but he didn't feel the accompanying sting that would say it had cut him. Haruki, still moving, running to the side and a few feet up the wall in the space of a heartbeat, slid one gloved hand down his leg until he could wrestle the kunai out of his pants.
It was tempting to discard it. He tucked it away into a pocket built especially for claiming enemy weapons instead and, with a yell of sheer exuberance, he darted forward again, blade weaving and slashing at his foe.
His blood thrummed in his veins. Distantly he could see the flickers of Sana 's chakra as she took on her own foe.
The hum of Kozue's darts played counterpoint to the rushing in his ears and Haruki knew that he was grinning wildly. This was what he loved. Let Sana have her puzzles and her skills and he'd take the death.
What he didn't get, as he forced the Genin back one step and then another, nicking and slicing at the Genin piecemeal, playing with his target and enjoying it, was why the Genin had thought it would be a good idea to team up in the dark.
Kozue had found them and while Sana had hemmed over the decision, Haruki was proud that she'd made what he considered the right one. All they'd had to do was fake that they were willing to join an alliance with the other Genin-who'd been card swapping to get the right numbers-and then...
Sana had given him the go ahead in the form of a quick press of fingers to his wrist.
One dead Genin and all of them had turned on each other, unable to tell friend from foe in the dark and unable to figure out which Genin had died and who'd been the one to kill them.
Haruki smiled grimly. He got the point of this exam. It was for reconnaissance: could you get your team through an unknown and dangerous territory without dying and with the correct information at the end of it.
It was also for loyalty.
How well did you know your teammates when there was nothing to know them by?
Most of these teams, he thought, failed. Be we don't and we won't.
Sana was right about that too.
Haruki, tired of this Genin, who was slowing down and obviously on their last legs, spun and loped off the Genin's head. The body collapsed, blood oozing over the ground, as the head hit the ground with a hallow thump.
As empty as his ability, Haruki thought scornfully. He slipped through the battlefield, footing steady despite the blood and worse that was splashed all over the ground if he went by the squishing beneath his sandals.
He spotted Sana 's chakra as she flung herself into the air. A second later, her target screamed in agony.
Nice, Haruki thought and took himself off to other areas of the tunnel. Sana hardly needed anyone to look after her.
He found another fight five yards away. Two Genin were battling it out, their voices distorted. Haruki thought about letting them get to it and then picking off the other once they'd finished off their opponent. It wouldn't be long now, one of them was clearly weakening by the look of their chakra.
The prudent thing to do would be to wait.
But that's no fun,Haruki thought and moved.
Another thump-and-thunk and another head rolled. The remaining Genin spun to look in his direction.
"I thought," Haruki purred, "that you could use a more challenging opponent."
The Genin's voice was as throaty with pleasure as his was. "If you think you can handle it," she said. "Then let's go."
Their blades clashed in the darkness and Haruki felt like everything was right in his world. His focus narrowed down to nothing but the blades and the movement of his opponent's chakra as they struggled to get one over the other.
They chased each other over the course of the tunnel. Once she killed another Genin who got in their way, another time he did the same.
He didn't know who he killed, except that it wasn't Sana (who he could still sense) or Kozue (whose darts still hummed, though less frequently now as more and more Genin died). He didn't know if the girl had killed her own teammates or if he'd killed them.
She certainly didn't seem to care about anything other than their fight.
Haruki felt the same way as they ducked and parried and spun, tangling their blades up in one another's.
It could have gone on forever. Haruki was pleased even as sweat beaded down his neck, his face, down his back. Sweat meant he was working hard. The Genin, who ever she was, was a good match for him. Her breathing was as heavy as his was.
He was almost tempted to leave her alive so they could face each other again.
Of course, he thought, ducking under a slash of hers and following that up with a vicious undercut of his own, that would imply that he thought he was going to get out of here alive.
Which, he thought contentedly, wasn't assured against this opponent.
I love this exam.
The girl gave a shriek and collapsed like a puppet with her strings cut. Haruki stopped mid-blow and took a step back, breathing heavily. That hadn't been him, he knew.
Now that he wasn't in the midst of a fight, he realized that the area was silent. If there were other Genin around, they'd disappeared.
"Kozue," he shouted, "you bastard! She was mine!"
"Shut up," Sana said, her chakra showing him as she knelt down and slit the girl's throat. "We've got twenty minutes left. We can't afford to spend more time in here."
Haruki made a strangled noise. "But we were-"
"You'll find another one to love," she said, without turning a hair. "But we've got to go. And before you get mad at Kozue, he did it on my orders."
The rational part of him knew she was speaking good sense. They had to pass this exam and now that the competition was severely winnowed through they'd have their pick of cards and be able to go and check out almost any door they wanted to.
Twenty minutes left.
He felt bitterness sour in his throat.
"You've killed everyone else Kozue's paralyzed, haven't you?" he asked, swallowing the anger at the loss of his opponent. Sana was right, damn it, even though he wished she wasn't.
He couldn't see the look she gave him but he could imagine it. "Obviously," Sana said, "and it was a mercy killing for them. What sort of life would they lead as shinobi who can't even move?"
Haruki shuddered and didn't disagree with her. If he'd been placed in that position... yes, he'd want to die too.
"I wish I could've killed her," he said mournfully as he wiped his blade off on his opponent's clothes. "Did you see how good she was?"
"She was pretty good," Sana admitted, shaking out a glow stick. It turned the area surreal and made the gore they were surrounded by even more macabre. "But numbers first. We can admire her later."
Haruki sighed and sheathed his sword then knelt down to find the card number his opponent would have had. It only took a few moments and then he and Sana headed for the next body.
Then the next and the next, picking up new numbers all the while.
"Kozue is keeping watch?" he asked, after the seventh number. Seventh body.
"The light gives us away," Sana said, looking otherworldly in the pale light of the glow stick as she bent and coolly searched the eighth corpse. "It's prudent to have one of us up on watch and getting past Kozue will take some doing."
Haruki shrugged and didn't disagree. He wouldn't want to slip past him. "He's got all his darts?"
"Mm," she said. "They're new ones. Come back through his chakra stream."
Haruki tried to figure out how that would work and gave it up as a bad idea. Ow. "Lucky him," he said, then added, "doesn't that hurt?"
A faint smile touched Sana 's face. "I wouldn't want to deal with it, but it seems to get along pretty well with him."
They fell silent until they'd gathered the rest of the numbers. Fourteen of them in all, Haruki thought, as they studied their haul. Their team hadn't accounted for all of the dead-and the fifteenth's number was missing so they didn't have a full set of all those who'd died-but they'd been the last ones standing.
And everyone knows that those are the ones who win, he thought as Sana called Kozue down, their winning numbers in hand. Their door was right around the corner.
They'd passed this one.
As they headed for the door, Haruki cast a glance back at where the girl he'd fought rested. He lifted his hand in farewell and then moved to keep up with Sana and Kozue.
It was a shame, but his team had won.
Ten minutes left.
If nothing else, her last six months had shown Sakura just how much her chakra stores had grown. She knew in her bones that if she'd tried to do this before she wouldn't have been able to-not even if she'd been rested beforehand.
Now, in the dark, having tried it several times and fumbling through the seals with each minute ticking down to something horrible, Sakura felt a quiet sense of confidence despite everything.
I cando this, she thought, running the seals through her head one more time and inspecting her mental mock-up of what the jutsu was supposed to do before taking a deep breath and giving it one more test try.
She didn't need to check a clock to know that her ten minutes were almost up. That was evident in the strain of Chouji's voice.
Sakura spared a second to worry about Ino, who'd said the minutes left, every minute, and nothing else since started training, and then forced her mind back on learning the jutsu. If she didn't get it, then they would be stuck down here.
They had no idea if rescue would happen.
That meant getting out of here rested on her shoulders.
Drawing her chakra tight and tense under her skin she concentrated as her hands flew through the seals, this time, without stumbling, as she murmured the jutsu's name. Sakura felt it click into place and smiled even as Chouji clapped her shoulder.
"Good," he said, "well done."
It was funny, she thought, how warm that made her feel.
"Can you do it again?" he asked. "On your existing stores?"
Sakura licked her lips and considered what was left of her chakra for a moment then nodded. "I won't be good for much after," she said, "if we have another exam back-to-back with this one, I'll need a soldier pill. But for now... no. I'll be able to manage."
He took her at her word. "Alright," Chouji said, "Ino, we're going. Don't forget that we're going to have to run."
Sakura found herself waiting for Ino's standard snark to that sort of stating the obvious and was disappointed when it didn't happen. She breathed in and out and thought about that and then tucked it away. She couldn't afford the distraction right now.
"Ino," she said, "we're all here and we're getting out."
It was the only comfort she could offer Ino.
Chouji shifted and she suspected that he'd gone to grab hold of Ino's hand the way that she'd done earlier. To keep track of her, Sakura thought, to make sure that all three of us get out of here.
If they didn't all make it, then they all failed. They knew that too.
She nodded, even though he couldn't see it.
"I'm ready," she said, straightening her shoulders and giving the wall in front of her a determined look. That she couldn't see it didn't matter-she could feel it and the wall was like a looming shadow on her thoughts.
But that was alright, the jutsu that Chouji had taught her wanted to encourage that perception. She breathed in and out and then began the jutsu for real this time, dredging up her chakra and spreading it through the jutsu more thoroughly than she'd done for the tests to see if she had it down pat.
This time, when she finished her seals, she pressed her hands to the wall and pushed.
The wall shivered, feeling malleable all of a sudden, and Sakura gathered up her courage and moved forward. Her foot hit the wall first. Hit it and sunk through it to rest on the ground. Then her body and then she kept going.
It wasn't dark inside the wall.
But that was because, with the jutsu draining her chakra, it wasn't exactly a wall.
We are light in the shadows, Sakura thought, and that it how we're getting through this wall. A shadow can't stop the light from passing through.
If she thought too hard about it, her skin began to crawl. Hurriedly, Sakura forced more chakra into her jutsu, to keep the wall a shadow as far as they were concerned, and kept walking.
Behind her, she could hear Chouji and Ino. Chouji was murmuring something and Ino was talking back, her voice inaudible to Sakura.
Despite that, she felt cheered. If Ino was talking to someone, even if that someone was not her, that meant Ino was thinking at least a little.
The walk wasn't long, as how distance was measured through the rock. They only had to make their way through one wall and then they would be out in another tunnel.
The walk through the shadow felt a lot longer and Sakura kept moving, knowing that they didn't have long and that if they slowed down while in here there was not a chance that they'd be able to get out if she lost control of the jutsu.
And in here, there was no way to take a solider pill. Even if she ate it, it would destroy the jutsu she had active with the sudden surge of uncontrollable chakra the pill would give her.
She had to just keep on going, the way she'd told Chouji she could. Sakura wrapped his faith around her like a shield-he'd not even questioned her ability to handle this, despite the fact that she'd barely learnt the jutsu and the fact that if it failed, they were all dead-and kept walking.
Every step got harder and every breath came slower but her pace remained the same and so did the steady drain of her energy. She gritted her teeth and pressed on.
If you stop here, she reminded herself ruthlessly, then all of you will be killed instantly when the shadow turns back into stone. You will be trapped in the stone and you will die.
You can't let that happen.
It felt like an age, an eternity, and then all of a sudden she stepped out onto solid rock and felt air against her skin instead of the clingy shadow-rock. Sakura took a few steps to the side, careful not to get too far from the wall, and then pressed her hands to it.
Her chakra, a tired thing now, still kept draining. She was free and Sakura knew that if all else failed, there were ways for her to get out.
But her team was still in the rock and she had to maintain the jutsu just a little longer.
She closed her eyes, knowing that if someone else attacked-and who would when everyone down here was either dead or trapped or had passed the exam?-then she was dead anyway and focused everything she had on the jutsu.
A minute later, by her count, Chouji slowly pulled from the rock. His chakra was a solid press that she found soothing. With him came Ino, whose chakra danced around her like a lightning storm, showing off her unease with the entire situation.
As soon as they were both clear of the rock wall, Sakura dropped the jutsu. The tiny bit of chakra she could reclaim let her keep herself from falling over in a faint.
She felt awful but she was alive and all of them had just walked through a wall made of solid rock.
"Sakura," Chouji said, "are you alright? We've got to run."
"I'm okay," she said, taking one careful step and then another.
Ino's hand, smaller and colder and tighter than Chouji's grabbed her wrist. Sakura drew her breath to ask what Ino wanted when Ino's chakra flooded through her system like a breath of frigid air.
Sakura shuddered at the energy rush. Ino was abusing a number of principals, Sakura thought, unable to pull away, and somehow-somehow it was working.
Ino dropped her hand and Sakura found that she didn't feel quite as tired. Her chakra was still dangerously low but... but she felt better.
"What was that?" Sakura asked.
"There's no time for explanations," Chouji interrupted. "We've got five minutes."
Sakura felt, as they started moving, not quite running, but going as fast as they dared in the darkness, with uncertain footing, that their walk through the shadow wall should have taken only three minutes. It had felt much, much longer.
And yet, she scolded, if it had taken longer, we would have lost by default in this exam and so-so stop thinking things that are cursing us.
As a result, she smiled faintly as they made their way through the tunnels. Sakura was following the walls with her hands and she was relying on Chouji and his earth sense to keep them on target. They had to get past four tunnels in five minutes.
No one but them existed in the dark, silent world. The screams from earlier were either cut off or... or could no longer go on, and Sakura swallowed hard as they clambered over rock and hoped that they weren't making their way over the bodies of other Genin. She couldn't tell if they were.
Any scent that would have come from blood and death was so prevalent in the tunnels and coated with dirt and dust and other debris that she could barely smell anything at all.
Either it was so bad I've adjusted, Sakura thought, or we're not in an area where people have died.
She knew which it was that she hoped for and kept after her team.
One tunnel, two tunnels, three tunnels...
"This one," Chouji said, as they hit their fourth tunnel. "Now we just need to find the door. Ino, please?"
Ino murmured something under the breath and then bright pink circles surrounded her eyes. They were nearly a foot wide and Sakura knew that Ino had better control over it than that.
Which means, Sakura thought, her heart thumping, that Ino weakened her control deliberately to give us more light to see by.
They went to work. She and Chouji did most of the searching while Ino stared at the walls, her attention entirely on keeping their light source active.
At least, that was what Sakura thought.
"There," Ino said a minute later. Sakura paused as Chouji's head whipped up to look where Ino was pointing.
Up on the wall, just at the very edge of her vision, Sakura could see a corner of something that didn't look like the rest of the wall.
She squinted up at it and realized that she had no idea how on earth Ino had managed to spot it. Maybe, she thought, the jutsu she's using is letting her see better than us.
"Everyone up the wall," Chouji said. "Ino, maintain the jutsu until we've opened it."
Ino nodded, which sent their light skittering around the walls in a manner that Sakura rather thought horror stories could be made of.
She was up the wall in seconds though. Sakura followed as Chouji reached them. Sakura bit her lip as he came up behind them. They looked like a wreck and she wondered what she looked like.
But we've made it, she thought, glancing at her watch. We've got three minutes to go and there's nothing stopping us now.
Chouji got their numbers from Ino. Double checked he had the right combination of three, and then inserted them, one after the other, to the slot that was adjacent to the door.
There was a long, agonizing pause and then the door began to slide open. Ino dropped the jutsu, plunging them all into darkness, as the door opened all the way.
"Come on," Chouji said. "Ino, Sakura, go."
Ino went without another word. Sakura followed her, knowing that now wasn't the time to protest about him being all noble and letting the girls go first. He followed behind her.
The door shut behind them and locked.
Two minutes left.
And they were out of tunnels.
All around them lights lit up. They were muted, in dark oranges and yellows-enough to see by but nothing that would be too hard on their eyes.
Sakura had a moment to realize that and then the floor shifted and the room they found themselves in swirled in her vision and she felt a moment of pure panic before logic took over. Whatever was happening had been done to the room itself and had to be safe if they were using it to get the passing teams to their next destination.
Then her focus was entirely on not being sick as the room spun and spun and spun. She could tell as she balanced herself by grabbing hold of Chouji-she didn't have the chakra left to stick herself to the floor the way he and Ino had done-that they were moving.
Sakura felt like crying. Up sounded like the best idea ever.
As abruptly as the room had moved, it stopped. There was a grinding sound and then the walls sank into the ground and they were left standing on a platform.
All around them, on other platforms, were the other teams who'd passed.
Sakura spotted Gaara's team, and Neji's team. Ima and Nobuko's teams had made it as well. She'd just spotted the team from Oto, which made her heart and her temper skip a beat both, when the clanging of a huge bell rang out, deafening them.
She clamped her hands to her ears and wasn't the only Genin to do so.
"Alright, my darlings," Maki said. "Everyone in this room passes the second exam."
Sakura sighed happily. Ino was rubbing at her face, trying to get the dirt off and, Sakura thought, more importantly, trying to get rid of the tear tracks. Chouji was studying the teams that were left with quiet determination.
"There's still thirty teams," he breathed, "that's too many for the semi-finals yet."
Sakura's head whipped up and she did her own counting. Her heart sank as she realized he was right. On one hand, that meant that they weren't going to be forced into one-on-one fights with each other this early.
On the other hand, that meant they had god knew what left to go of the exam.
Just don't let it be underground, Sakura begged. She wasn't sure if she could handle it, let along having to place Ino under there again. Ino was still far too quiet to be anything approaching normal.
Sakura couldn't read the expression on Ino's face.
"Thirty teams," Sakura replied, "that means we've got at least one more exam. Then they'll decide if they're going to need the semi-finals or not."
Ninety Genin left.
She shivered and wondered how many more of them would die in the next exam.
Thanks for reading!
Important Characters in the Chuunin Exam Arc
[Leaf/Konoha] Team 10
Sensei: Sarutobi Asuma
1. Yamanaka Ino
2. Haruno Sakura
3. Akimichi Chouji
[Leaf/Konoha] Team 04
Sensei: Maito Gai
2. Hyuuga Neji
3. Rock Lee
[Leaf/Konoha] Team 03
Sensei: Ono Kioshi - Long black hair. Ninjutsu specialist. Good at water jutsu. Married. Recently assigned to take over Team 3.
1. Chiba Yasuo - Brown eyes, advanced senses. Tracks via heat signatures.
2. Nakamura Ima - Dark blue hair, likes to act stupid. Tracks via sound.
3. Ito Akira - Red hair, stocky body & excellent at hiding. Recently recovered from a broken wrist. Tracks via light..
Notes: Sakura spent a few weeks on a mission with this team, while they were under the supervision of Shiranui Genma (prior to Kioshi being assigned to look after Team 3). This team is from the graduating class two years above Ino's year and one year above Neji's. Their strongest asset is their ability to seamlessly blend their chakra with each other's.
[Leaf/Konoha] Team 06
Sensei: Hamada Reiko - 5'7" and curvy. Honey blonde hair, deep green eyes, and a warm voice. Close to Asuma's age but he doesn't remember her having been in the Academy.
1. Fujiwara Nobuko - Vain. Quiet around unfamiliar people, cranky with her teammates. Heightened sense of smell. Father killed during Kyuubi's attack, mother died of pneumonia because they weren't able to afford the hospital bills to treat her.
2. Koga Renjiro - Sarcastic. Able to pass chakra back and forth with Minoru to make a jutsu stronger. Grew up in the slums. Reiko took him in and put him through the Academy.
3. Yamaguichi Minoru - Blue eyes, mild mannered and affable. Excellent liar. Able to pass chakra back and forth with Renjiro to make a jutsu stronger. Grew up in an affluent family and wanted for nothing.
Notes: This team is in the midst of plotting things with Kumo that are not in Konoha's best interest. This team is from the same graduating class as Neji, Tenten, and Lee.
[Sand/Suna] Team Kazekage
[Cloud/Kumo] Team 02
Sensei: Sugiyama Joben - ?
1. Kawano Sayuri - Tsubaki's twin sister. (Younger twin.) Grey eyes. Is good at barrier jutsu. Impatient and opinionated. Dark hair, dark skin.
2. Suzuki Inori - Able to keep track of chakra signatures via a bracelet that shows the signatures in different colours.
3. Saito Hideki - Blue eyes, orphan, head-hunter. His sleeves drape over his hands.
[Cloud/Kumo] Team 03
Sensei: Kato Yukio - delicate-looking, right side of his face is scarred
1. Kawano Tsubaki - Sayuri's twin sister. (Older twin.) Grey eyes. Specializes in genjutsu. Polite. Keeps her opinions to herself when it's prudent. Dark hair, dark skin.
2. Yamazaki Taka - Abilities are well suited for a multi-person takedown. Calls Tsubaki 'Tsubaki-hime', which she hates.
3. Arai Masanori - Logical and reasonable. Calls Tsubaki 'Tsubaki-hime', which she hates.
[Sound/Oto] Team Oto
Sensei: Yamada Kaori - ?
1. Goto Nariko - Has a whip that sucks up/soaks in blood.
2. Kuroki Sasame - Has a crush on Hiro. Can use medical jutsu. Strangles people with their own hair. Brown eyes.
3. Maruyama Hiro - Low self-esteem. Weakest of the three Oto-nin and aware of the fact. High pain tolerance.
This team doesn't deem it worth the risk to kill Sakura, even if she comes after them. They are, however, willing to kill Sakura's teammates.
[Grass/Kusa] Team 01
Sensei: Abe Matsu - ?
1. Ochi Sana - Has a bloodline limit involving her (not really) hair. Hair is deep brown w/red highlights. Doesn't like uninteresting things. Able to feel the presence of jutsu in the air. Prefers to work systematically through problems.
2. Higa Kozue - Able to send his mind through stone/earth to search for things. Makes his voice sound low and sleepy. Prefers hunting over hiding. Uses darts that permanently paralyze their target. The darts can't be lost, they come back to him through his blood stream.
3. Matsuo Haruki - Prefers to take a defensive approach to tasks. Enjoys fighting when it comes to that. Falls in love with worthy opponents.
This team has an interest in Takahara Jun, a Kumo Jounin.
[Stone/Iwa] Team 10
Sensei: Mochizuki Botan - ?
1. Maeda Midori - Green eyes (go orange when bloodline is in use), orange hair, freckles. Has a bloodline limit. Insane. Likes numbers. Claimed Ino as her new 'friend'. Small boned.
2. Fujii Natsu - Smiles all the time. When he stops smiling, things get messy. Attractive.
3. Murakami Ryu - Team leader/object of Midori's affection/Midori's keeper. Has touch telepathy. Attractive.
Other Important People
Takahara Jun - Rank: ? Tall. Estimated age is between 20 to 25. Long grey hair. Hitae-ite sewn on the right sleeve of his uniform. Voice is smooth and unremarkable. Team Asuma's guide during the first exam. Assumed by Team Asuma to be a Chuunin. Team Matsu, led by Sana, knows of him as a Jounin.
? - Rank: Jounin. Proctor of the first exam. Has long hair done in cornrows and black eyes. His voice is very deep.
Maki - Rank: Jounin. Proctor of the second exam. Short with cotton-candy blue hair. Eyes are covered with bandages and her hitae-ite. Likes to call the Genin things like 'peaches' and 'cupcakes'.