Chapter 27: Well, It Had to End Eventually...The Second Exam, I mean.
Naruto grinned as he and his team easily made it to the tower in the middle of the forest. Unlike the last time they'd taken this test, it'd only taken them half of the day.
"This is so awesome!" Naruto shouted when they'd finally finished speaking with the chunin instructor (Naruto was kind of sad that it wasn't Iruka this time around, he'd kind of enjoyed that). "We're the first ones here! Now all we have to do is rest up and see who else comes in!"
"Yeah," Sakura commented, looking around curiously at the absence of people while tucking a stray strand of pink hair behind her ear. "I hope Obito and Rin make it here okay..."
Sasuke, who had been looking off into the distance with his arms crossed, raised an eyebrow at Sakura.
"What about Sai?"
"What about Sai?" Sakura retorted, unconsciously mimicking Sasuke's position and adding her own scowl to the mix.
"I'm sure they'll be okay," Naruto assured them. "Hey! Let's go see where we'll be staying for the next couple of days! I want to see if we can get something to eat! Maybe they'll even have ramen!"
"Ugh, Naruto, don't you ever think about anything other than food?" Sakura complained. "We only just ate a few hours ago!"
"Yeah, but Sakura, that was hours ago," Naruto shot back with one of his cheeky grins.
"I'm hungry," Sasuke said, and he started walking toward the center of the tower.
Naruto pumped his fist and followed after his friend. Sakura just sighed, slumping her shoulders for a moment before she straightened herself out, and followed after the two of them. After all, it wasn't like she had anything better to do.
Genma grinned as both he and his teammates ambushed another group of genin. They had decided that even though they'd completed their task, they wanted to thin out the competition a little bit. After all, everyone knew that the final task would be the bi-annual chunin tournament, and Genma wanted a challenge.
"Great job, guys," Genma told them. He smirked when he saw that Kotetsu and Izumo were having a victory dance over the unconscious bodies of a team from the Grass village. "Let's bring them to the tower and set up the traps for the next group of suckers."
"No problem boss!" Izumo saluted him- both he and his partner picked up their limp adversaries so they could drag them a few hundred meters closer to the tower for someone to find.
Genma watched them walk off for a few moments before he began dismantling the traps the unfortunate grass genin had walked into just moments before. Once that was done, he began clearing the area of debris.
'It's probably best we find another place soon,' Genma thought to himself as he picked up some leftover kunai and shiruken. 'After all, we don't want anyone to get suspicious. We'll just take out a few more teams and complete our own exam.'
Genma was a little wary of spending too much time clearing out the competition. They'd continue with their plan for the rest of the day, but once the sun went down, they'd head off. It might have only been the first day, but Genma didn't want to push their luck. After all, surely there had to be a couple of strong ninja during the first day rather than a few amateurs who'd gotten lucky on their first try.
Just as Genma had pulled the last of the projectiles from the trunk of a tree, Genma felt someone heading his way.
"Shit," Genma cursed before climbing up the tree as quickly and silently as he could.
He might have been prepared to knock out a few genin with his team, but he didn't want to go three-to-one if he didn't have to. Genma waited patiently, hiding in the foliage as he strained his hearing. His senses might not have been as sensitive as an Inuzuka's, but he could easily hear the rustling of leaves and the clamor of sandals against tree-limbs.
Genma held his breath when he realized they were in the clearing below him, and he took a chance by glancing through the leaves which were hiding him so that he could get a good look at his new opponents. When he finally laid eyes on the mean looking genin in front of him, his blood ran cold.
It wasn't even that they were physically intimidating. Certainly, the genin who lead them didn't look especially intimidating; he was shorter than even the average twelve year old, and his hair was an unassuming dishwater blonde. Even his features were bland and unremarkable. Perhaps it was because both he and his companions were covered in several layers of drying blood that Genma felt on edge.
The lone kunoichi of the group was scratching at some of the flaking blood on her neck, making a face as she did so. Genma noted that the dried blood blended extraordinarily well with the auburn color of her hair. He barely knew where the blood ended, and it as if she was a blood creature masquerading as a human child.
The last enemy genin was built like a tank. Genma picked up on the small details that singled him out as the meathead who was trained to mindlessly attack so the rest of his team could use him as a distraction in a fight. As a result, he was heavily muscled, enough so that Genma would place him at fifteen rather than twelve or thirteen like the majority of genin participating in the exam.
"We've already wiped out three teams," the blood drenched kunoichi complained as she wiped some rusty flakes out of her ear. "How much longer do you want to do this Akan? It's getting pretty old."
"Yeah, Kuya's right," their tank agreed. He seemed to be less concerend with the blood, dirt, and wounds that covered his body. He was simply leaning against a large broad sword which looked like it had been half-heartedly wiped clean of bodily fluids. "I'm hungry."
"All in due time," Akan finally spoke. He'd been observing the clearing they'd stopped in, taking in their new surroundings with interest; it was inherent in his movements. Genma knew that if this 'Akan' looked closely enough he might decide to hunt down his group, and Genma's only wish right now was for this guy to make the wrong conclusion. "The markings on the trees..."
Genma held his breath as the genin touched the bark of the tree he was hiding in thoughtfully.
'Please, don't look up here,' Genma desperately wished. He held himself completely still. When the three had stopped, he'd slowed his breathing, but now he held it completely. 'Just go away!'
"They're fresh," Akan whispered to the bark.
Genma felt his entire body break out into an uncomfortable sweat. His muscles contracted and loosened at the same time, and he'd never experienced this kind of gut-wrenching fear before. His thoughts had wiped themselves clear, and Genma found that he couldn't even find the will to hope for his own safety anymore.
"Come on, Akan," Kuya goaded their leader. "Misumi and I don't care about any of the wimpy genin over here. They'll either get themselves killed or we'll kill them in the exam later. I'm tired of flaking."
Akan rubbed the tree for a moment longer, whispering to the bark. For a moment it seemed he was going to ignore his team completely. Suddenly, he stopped whispering, and he looked up, lining his sight up vertically with the trunk. Genma felt his heart stop when he realized the other boy was looking straight at him through the foliage, and for a moment he could see his death. He was certain of it; he could practically taste it. He looked into the eyes of this kid, and he could only see the desire to hunt and destroy.
"Akan," the newly identified Misumi's deep voice seemed to boom in the tense silence.
Genma almost released the breath he was holding when Akan looked away from him to set his attention on Misumi.
"Very well," their leader conceded. Genma somehow found it more horrifying that Akan was mentally capable enough to play mind games with him and listen to his teammates at the same time. "We'll finish up this stupid exam. But later..."
Akan turned his head up for a moment, his gaze settling briefly on Genma again, giving him a nasty jolt. But the moment passed as quickly as it came, and soon the three genin were heading off toward the tower together. To Genma, time had taken on a new meaning, and he found himself frozen, barely realizing that he wasn't in danger anymore.
It wasn't until he heard another sound coming toward him that he was startled from his position among the leaves. His heartrate jumped again, but then he heard the spirited bickering of his two teammates. It seemed that the two of them had escaped the notice of the three rock genin by taking to the treetops on their return trip. Genma nearly fell off of his tree branch from the sudden lack of tension in his muscles when he realized it wasn't another group of enemies.
"Boss?" he heard the high-pitched prepubescent voice of Izumo call to him once they dropped down into the clearing. The pair were startled when the haggard figure of their leader landed heavily in front of the tree he'd been hiding in.
"Uh, hey," Kotetsu spoke tentatively. For once, the two of them had picked up on the subtleties of the situation and knew that something had shaken their nigh unflappable team leader. "Are, uh, are you okay?"
"I'll tell you in a moment," Genma huffed as he flopped down on the ground. His hands were gripping the fabric of his pants tightly, his hands still shaking from the leftover adrenaline, and Genma rested the top of his head on his kneecaps in an effort to calm himself down and to save face in front of his minions. After all, he was sure that anyone who saw his face in that moment would realize just how deeply the last few moments had affected him.
Meanwhile, a few kilometers away from Team Genma was an unassuming Sand team that just happened to be the genin team of one red-headed time traveller. The youngest member of the team, a young brown-haired boy named Hadaro, grinned as he bitch slapped an enemy into unconsciousness.
"Hey, hey!" Hadaro yelled at his teammates. "What do you think? Gaara-sensei'd be pretty proud, right? We're owning this thing!"
"Whatever," said the female of the team, a young woman named Fumi. Her light brown hair was mostly covered by a red head scarf, but she took the time to meticulously tuck some of the stray hair by her ears back into place.
Hadaro wiped his nose with the extra long sleeves of his dark gray tunic, but after he noticed the snot on his sleeve he tried to wipe it off on his black canvas shorts. He avoided getting any of the snot on the mesh that poked out underneath them though. He knew from experience that it was really hard to get it out. After he was done with that (his other two teammates looking on in passive disgust at their teammate's behavior), he pushed the glasses on his face back up to the bridge of his nose with a glove covered hand.
"Oh, c'mon," Hadaro wheedled. "Don't you care what Gaara-sensei thinks? I mean, he's so stoic and cool and-"
"Yeah, I know," Fumi scoffed, turning her head away from him as she crossed her arms over her chest. "You only go on about it all the time."
"You're just jealous," he shot back. "I mean, Gaara-sensei's awesome, but you're just frumpy."
A vein bulged in the middle of Fumi's forehead. Her family back in Suna were always preaching that shinobi should always be practical in everything they did. As a result, Fumi was forced to where shapeless tan colored tunics, shorts, and sandals. It was only when she wasn't in the village that she could add a splash of color with her bandana.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY!"
The last team member, Kazuo, sighed from the sidelines as he sat back and let his livelier teammates go at it. This sand genin had dark blonde hair held back by a dark blue bandana (he was used to lending Fumi one whenever she managed to escape her family's clutches). His slightly older and muscled teenage form was clothed by a dark brown vest and a dark mesh t-shirt underneath that. Lastly, he was wearing long, brown canvas pants that tucked into tall, black boots.
"Are you guys done yet?" he asked once he felt Fumi had taken out enough of her ire on their youngest and (arguably) the most immature genin in the entire village of Suna.
"Yeah, just about," Fumi huffed, giving Hadaro one last punch on the head.
"Agh! Bitch, stop doing that!"
"Why I outta-"
"Hey, cut it out," Kazuo said sternly, getting up from his seat on a fallen tree. "Let's get going. It's already the second day of the exam, and I don't want to hang around much longer."
"Fine," Fumi relented, releasing the grip she'd had on Hadaro's collar. She then wiped her hands off on her tunic. "I shouldn't get my hands dirty anyway."
"Whatever," Hadaro mumbled as he rubbed his swelling cheel with his dried-snot covered sleeve.
"But you think Gaara-sensei's cool, don't you Kazu?" Hadaro looked up at his leader with wide, tear-sparkling eyes, his bottom lip threatening to develop into a full blown pout. Kazuo felt his own forehead begin to throb, and he sighed yet again, but this time in defeat. It wasn't worth the effort to ignore him.
"Yeah, he's okay," Kazuo admitted. "He's a little weird, and he's really young, but I like him just fine."
"He's really weird, that's what he is," Fumi mumbled under her breath.
"What was that!" Hadaro yelled.
"Well, it's true!" Fumi shouted back. Kazuo gave up on ever having any peace during this exam. "He's too young to be all serious and grumpy, and if that wasn't bad enough, he has no eye-brows! I don't know why Kazekage-sama stuck us with him after Hiraki-sensei broke both of his legs during our last mission."
"He's a good shinobi," Kazuo said, silencing the two of his teammates. Hadaro was smug that he'd won their argument by Kazuo's admission, and Fumi knew that despite her misgivings, Kazuo was correct. "...and he's a good teacher."
"Now, I don't know about that," Fumi scoffed.
"You're just jealous because Gaara-sensei said he couldn't show you how he controlled his sand!"
Kazuo decided he'd just wait a little while longer before he would interrupt them again. After all, it was only the second day...
"Aw, man," Obito huffed as he and the rest of his team climbed yet another tree in hopes of ambushing some unsuspecting genin. "How much longer do we have to do this?"
"Quiet, Obito," Rin whispered. "As long as we have to."
Sai, as usual, didn't say anything and depended on Rin to keep their unruly teammate in check. It was already the third day, and they still hadn't gotten the right scroll. Yesterday they had managed to find a weak enough team, but unfortunately they'd been carrying the wrong scroll.
Rin was sure that Sai was slowing himself down for the two of them, and she had to admit that she was grateful despite feeling a little ashamed. She'd known for a while that Sai was way above the level of genin, as were Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, but she couldn't help but feel like she could have been doing better.
It was in this moment that Sai held a hand up, a silent warning for them to not make any sudden movements. He leaned forward, almost imperceptibly, and focused on the clearing in front of him. Sure enough, a tired group of young genin had stumbled into their web. Sai flicked his hand toward Obito.
Obito tugged on the bit of string in his hand, and the trap had been sprung.
'Oh, yeah,' Obito thought, his wicked grin growing by the second. 'This is the one. Next stop, the tower!'
Luckily, the three of them had chosen the right team to ambush this time around. They'd even managed to swipe an extra scroll.
"Why are we taking this with us?" Obito asked their de facto leader, Sai. Obito squinted at the older boy as he scratched his own stomach a little.
"Because it cuts out some of the competition if there are less scrolls floating around," Sai said as he tucked the extra scroll he'd been holding in his back pocket, just in case something happened to any of their other scrolls. "Now let's move it. Now that we've completed our mission, we shouldn't linger any longer than we have to."
"Right," Rin nodded.
"I dunno," Obito mumbled to himself as they took to the trees again. Although this time it was to travel. "Seems kind of mean to me..."
"That's because you're a terrible ninja, dickless," Sai said. He turned his head back slightly and gave Obito one of his creepy grins.
"Why I outta-" Obito growled, but he knew better than to make a fuss. "Whatever."
After all, they'd be seeing Naruto's team soon, and they'd put creepy Sai in his place.
It was the last day and they were going to be late! Asuma cursed under his breath as both he and his team sprinted toward the tower. It was almost sunset, and he honestly didn't know if they were going to make it.
After Naruto's team had defeated them, and relieved them of their scroll, Asuma and his team had had nothing but bad luck. It was as if the forces of the universe had aligned to make their lives a living hell. Every team that they had encountered after the first day was either too strong to confront, or once they'd defeated them, it turned out they were carrying the wrong scroll.
"C'mon, c'mon!" Asuma growled, trying to force his muscles to work harder.
All of them were exhausted, and they were nowhere near their usual speed. Asuma was sure that if it had been the first day of the exam, they'd have already made it to the doors with time to spare. As it was, even Gai was having difficulties keeping a fast pace. After all, they'd had next to no sleep, barely any food, and Asuma had a cut on his foot that wouldn't stop bothering him. He was pretty sure Gai had some broken ribs from his encounter with the pink-haired demon (although Gai would never admit it), and Kurenai seemed to be suffering from some lingering psychological effects from her encounter with the Uchiha.
'Just a little closer!'
Asuma felt his heart leap into his throat as he caught sight of the tower entrance. The three of them managed to gather the last of their energy and sprint the last few meters to the waiting chunin.
The three of them landed right next to the entrance, all of them doubled over panting.
"Did we- did we make it?" Asuma coughed, looking at the frowning chunin.
"Sorry, guys," the chunin began, but Asuma already knew that he didn't want to hear the words that came next. "But we closed the doors just a few minutes ago. I'm just here to pick up any of the stray genin that made it late before going through the forest to search for the rest."
"No!" Gai shouted, pounding a fist on the wooden floor beneath him. "This is unacceptable! Now I must run 1300 laps around Konoha, and if I cannot do that, I must complete 2000 sit-ups!"
"Shut up, Gai," Asuma wheezed.
Asuma had bigger problems. After all the bragging he'd done before the exam, he'd never be able to face his old man again!
"Congratulations to all of you," the Third Hokage addressed the small crowd of genin in front of him. "You have completed the second task."
The eighteen genin that had made it through the second task stood in rigidly straight lines in front of the Hokage; their teachers and the proctors of the Exam were all standing behind him. It was a momentous time, all of them were well on their way to becoming chunin. Unfortunately, Naruto could never help acting like a bit of an idiot.
"Is that Gaara?" Naruto whispered. Unfortunately, Naruto's whisper was roughly the equivalent to most people's indoor speaking voice.
"Shut it, bonehead!" Sakura furiously whispered back while threatening him with one of her fists.
"I can't tell from here," Sasuke said under his breath. "The Hokage's in the way, but it does look a lot like him from what I can see. Maybe it's his dad?"
"He's standing next to Kakashi-sensei," Sakura whispered. "We can ask him later. Now shut up."
"Unfortunately," Sarutobi continued, ignoring the quiet conversation going on between the team to the far right of the room. "If all of you insist on participating in the third exam, we must have a preliminary match right now. However, if at least four of you drop out, you will all have a month until you must fight again. Thereby giving you a month to rest, heal, and train. Is there anyone who does not feel up to the task?"
There was a tense silent among the crowd. Some of them couldn't believe that they were being forced to make this kind of decision. Fight while exhausted and lose? Or give up now and lose?
Fortunately for some of the genin, several of their peers raised their hands.
"Izumo, Kotetsu?" Genma whispered at his teammates furiously. "What the hell?"
Genma didn't really want to admit it, but he had grown fond of the two goofballs during their time in the forest.
"Sorry, boss," Izumo whispered back, his hand straight in the air along side Kotetsu's. "We realized that the two of us work better as a team, and if we're forced to fight alone right now, we'll more than definitely lose."
"Yeah," Kotetsu agreed. "But we got you here, didn't we? Give 'em hell, boss!"
Genma swallowed, and nodded slowly. What they'd said had made sense, and if he was being honest, he was more than a little touched by their confidence in him. He only hoped that he wouldn't have to fight any of the rock genin he'd encountered...
"Inoichi, Chouza," Skikaku said as he put his hands on the shoulders of his two best friends. They smiled weakly at him and raised their hands to back out of the tournament. Unfortunately, during their exam, Chouza had cracked several ribs, and Shikaku was pretty sure that Inoichi had cracked part of his skull after one desperate genin had figured out how to stop the Yamanaka family technique. If it wasn't for the threat of a preliminary fight...
"Don't worry about us, Shika," Chouza said with a reassuring grin. "I know that you'll do your best."
"Right," Inoichi said.
Shikaku breathed a heavy sigh. It seemed everything was left to him now... what a drag...
"Very good," the Third Hokage nodded at the remaining contestants. "Now, for the remaining fourteen, all of you will come up here and pick out a number."
Sarutobi gestured toward Tenzo who was rattling a small box filled with paper in front of him.
"Once everyone has picked out a number, we'll let you know who you'll be fighting in the tournament. Now, everyone line up!"
The teams of genin dragged themselves over to form a line, some of them excited, some of them filled with dread. However, it seemed like almost no time had passed before Tenzo had written down everyone's number. He then passed the box off to one of the assisting chunin, and coughed to get the group's attention.
"Okay," Tenzo began. "The order of the tournament is as follows:
1- Naruto of the Leaf village is fighting 2-Kuya of the Rock village.
3- Shikaku of the Leaf village is fighting 4-Sakura of the Leaf village.
5- Akan of the Rock village is fighting 6- Genma of the Leaf village.
7- Misumi of the Rock village is fighting 8- Rin of the Leaf village.
9- Obito of the Leaf village is fighting 10-Fumi of the Sand village.
11- Hadaro of the Sand village is fighting 12- Sasuke of the Leaf Village.
And finally, 13- Sai of the Leaf village is fighting 14- Kazuo of the Sand village. "
"You will be given more information about the tournament when you show up in one month," the Third Hokage continued after Tenzo had finished.
"Until then, use this time wisely and prepare. Any fighting between participants before the tournament will lead to your disqualification. Good luck!"