A/N: Okay guys, I'll be totally honest with you. I hate this chapter. I wrote it about six months ago and it never really passed my criteria. But I needed to get over this hump before I started getting into the good stuff. Just think of it as a transition into some serious awesomeness.
But in other news, I'M BAAAAAAACK!!!!!
Chapter 10: Of Prisons and Beating Sticks
Near the borders of Kumogakure, an underground cavern hidden in the trenches of myriad stone pyramids lay in secret. In the course of its relatively short history as a prison, it had become one of the most horrifying places in existence. For within this horrifying and wretched void lay two individuals who were just as broken as the fragmented beams of light leaking through the small cracks under the stone barricade. Since the first day that they had been thrown into the room, they had come to understand that it would most likely serve as their final resting place.
"Natsumi.." A hoarse whisper diffused through the room as the other figure slowly opened her eyes with fatigue and pain.
"Sh… don't strain your voice. Just focus on healing that wound."
The boy leaned back further as he swallowed dry air. They could not even muster enough energy to move around the small room. The conditions were horrible and the water lacked the pristine characteristic that usually defined it as drinkable. The food was hardly comestible with mephitic odors that more often relinquished their insides rather than allow the food to stay within their stomachs.
Such was the abject state of the former bounty hunters, Sasaki Osawari and Kojiro Natsumi.
This was the price of trying to face that man. Madara had proved to be an opponent beyond them. It was not his overwhelming strength that had brought them into this predicament though. It had been the man's resources. As soon as they had broken in, Natsumi had immediately felt her strength sapping as a strange statue with multiple eyes absorbed her chakra. Powerless to help her partner, she could only watch in horror as Osawaru—Osawari's jinchuuriki counterpart—also disappeared to leave the weaker Osawari behind. With nothing to protect him, Osawari had quickly fallen to the might of one of Madara's men. While they were still weak, a strange seal was placed on them that made it impossible to use any chakra. Without their energy, they were tossed into the dungeon where they would periodically absorb some of Osawaru's bijuu.
It had been two years since their living hell had begun.
"Natsumi.." The weak voice once again reached her ears.
"It's okay, don't waste your words on me-"
Natsumi stopped as she heard his defeated tone. She wanted to console him, but words couldn't reach her throat. They had already gone by for a few months without talking in order to save energy. Actually, now that she thought about it, why were they even trying to save energy? Was it an indication of hope? In their time there, she had learned that hope was a man-made invention meant to offer pleasantries for the cruel hand of fate.
Osawari's voice shuddered as he choked on invisible tears. "I only wanted to find that man. It was because I was selfish that we..."
"Don't worry about it. It was fun while we traveled. I have no complaints."
"I know what happened to your arm, Natsumi. When you tried to steal the guard's keys that first week, you thought I hadn't noticed. But..." Osawari swore as he felt his despair rise despite lacking the emotional energy to fuel it.
Trying to withdraw from him, her body refused to listen as his hand reached for her shoulder. The chakra seal's effects on demons were harsher than being burned alive. Yet despite her physical pain, her internal pain for her master was much greater. She had been so careful to eat as if nothing had happened to her.
Indeed, in the time that Sasaki Osawari and Kojiro Natsumi had stayed in the Akatsuki hideout, they had paid harsh prices along with their freedom. She had lost an arm and Osawari had become blind.
The two remained silent after that with the exception of Osawari's intermittent sniffle. After a few minutes, those sniffles died down to the usual silence as fatigue overtook the boy.
As his eyes closed again, he breathed out one last sentence as he slumped against the wall. "I wonder what's going on outside? Remember that one aniki, Naruto?"
Natsumi smiled as she breathed slowly. "The one that's younger than us?" Settling against the cold stonewall, her body relaxed despite the pain that came from the seal as she remembered the specter-like boy. "Yeah, I wonder what that guy's doing right now."
"THIS...THIS IS UNPRECEDENTED! IN THE HISTORY OF KUSAGAKURE, NO TEAM HAS EVER PASSED THE PRELIMINARY ROUND SO QUICKLY! AS EXPECTED OF THE RELATIVES OF MIROBU-SAMA!
The crowd, silent from astonishment (save the one ninja who had blinked during the countdown and was asking everyone what had happened) stared at Haku and Naruto as the blond quietly stepped off stage. Naruto's flamboyant act had taken the attention of even some of the other competitors on the other stages. And then, like a domino effect, applause erupted from the stands as the crowd chanted "Kusagari!" over and over again.
On the steps of the square stage, Naruto sighed as he looked at the stick in his hand. He had still not managed to perfect his control. Tossing it back, the stick disintegrated into dust as Haku quietly followed after him. Until he was able to maintain the stick's form permanently, he would not be able to control his body in its fourteen-year-old state.
However, Haku slightly frowned as she saw the remnants of the stick. She had seen him do the technique many times, although the stick had always disintegrated immediately after he used his chakra. To be able to keep its shape even after imbuing it with his godlike energy was proof that he had been training at night without her. Despite being comrades for only a few days, it was just a little bit disturbing that he would keep such secrets from her. But then again…
Haku shook her head as she looked at the numerous ninja sprawled upon the ground outside of the stage. Regardless of how he did it, he had helped her out with their quick victory. With this, she was one step closer to meeting Orochimaru and finding her master.
"AND FOLLOWING STAGE SIX, KIRA-SAMA HAS DEFEATED ALL OF HIS OPPONENTS!" The announcer's voice boomed out again as Haku turned to look at stage eight. The crowd cheered loudly, if not even louder than they did for Naruto's surprise victory, as a young man with long, spiky red hair around eighteen years old stepped off of his respective stage. As far as she saw, he had no teammates. Remembering the name "Kira", she understood this person to be the former tournament champ as well as the famed student of Masaki-sama. Looking over to "Mirobu", her curiosity slightly grew as she saw his frowning face. Something didn't add up. Why did Masaki-sama help give Naruto the power to defeat his own student? What was his motive? In the world of ninjas, there was no such thing as a free bento.
"Haku. You're slow."
Haku snapped out of her pondering as she saw Naruto waiting for her.
Wait. Her mind froze as she tried to analyze the situation. He was waiting for her? The boy who had completely lacked all social propriety just a few days ago? Smiling just a little bit, Haku resisted the urge to put a little spring into her step she followed his pace. The two then disappeared into the tent that was for the winners of the preliminary matches. They had no need to watch the others. In time, she knew that they would fight Orochimaru.
The rest of the tournament passed by quickly with the succeeding groups easily showing their superiority. All in all, eight groups were left. Since it was an elimination tournament, Haku and Naruto would have to fight three different groups in total. One of those would definitely be Orochimaru's group since she doubted that anyone here, save maybe Kira, would be on his level.
And so, the first three matches passed on relatively quickly with the victors winning without any of their real strength. It seemed that there was still a large power margin within the first seed. Within the victors, no spectacularly distinguishing techniques were shown. It was obvious that everyone wanted to save his or her best cards for last.
And then, the time had come for them to step onto the stage. Their opponent was group 6 with three different members. All of them had quite normal appearances, but she knew best that figures could be deceiving.
"Haku, do you want to go first?"
Haku looked at the line of opponents before shaking her head. "If it's okay, I'd rather stay behind and analyze the opponents. If you want to, tag out."
Naruto nodded curtly before stepping onto the stage. That was what he had wanted in the first place. Looking at the other end where the group of six was, he brought out his stick as his gazed pierced through them. "Who's first?"
One of the members slowly stepped forward as he walked up to meet Naruto. He had a nimble build with long silver hair. With a pale complexion rivaling his own, Naruto immediately recognized the ninja as someone who had gone through some severe trauma. Also, as far as he could tell, this man was not under disguise. However, there was a slight patch of skin covering the middle of the man's forehead. Although a person would normally not be able to tell, Naruto's frequent use of the sharingan had led him to be able to notice the little nuances of the human figure; artificial skin grafts and disguises were no exception.
From the build of the man, Naruto could also tell that he was a short-range fighter. However, there was still something off with his frame. Bowing slightly, the man's face remained emotionless as he withdrew a single kodachi. "I, Kotetsu, will serve as your opponent."
Naruto nodded as his face became just as blank. The first rule he had learned from the summon masters was to wipe out your emotions during a fight. It made your movements virtually unreadable and also played a psychological role in a fight.
In an instant, a maelstrom of chakra and wind surrounded Naruto's already infamous "beating stick" as he disappeared and reappeared behind Kotetsu. The kodachi user, in a feat of amazing reflexes, twisted his body around to parry the attack with his kodachi. Despite the harshness of Naruto's attack, the man had used the kodochi expertly to absorb the blow and even dispel some of the wind back towards the audience.
However, as his stick tested its durability against Koetetsu's kodachi, Naruto's eyes immediately caught sight of the man's arms rumbling with some strange movement. Sensing danger, Naruto immediately dropped his stick as he jumped above the man. Though it was for but a second, a bone seemed to shoot out from the man's ulna before retreating back into the man's arm.
Narrowing his eyes, Naruto flipped over as he used a burst of wind to dash midair back to his original spot on the stage. His time on the island had not only trained his strength, but had also introduced a new hobby: breaking his opponents' techniques. Although it would be a lot easier to just use his sharingan, he actually enjoyed the process of analyzing and dissecting his opponent's fighting styles. It was this keen ability that had led him to his victory over some of the more tenacious summon bosses.
The kodachi wielder slowly stood up back to an upright position as his kodachi lay limp in his hand. To think that his opponent was actually able to avoid his bone technique… That kind of ability came from experience and honed instinct, not just luck. Since his bloodline technique would give away his identity, he needed to use his bones underneath his robes. Unfortunately, such a fighting style was cumbersome to him. Nevertheless, he would need to finish this without exhibiting his bloodline. In the end, all was for his master. Shifting into a fighting stance, Kotetsu held his kodachi in front of him as he felt his bones rumble from underneath his robes. Despite whatever his mind reasoned out, his bones thirsted for battle. He would need to finish this quickly.
Looking at the kodachi wielder's stance, Naruto realized that his back leg held the majority of the man's weight. That meant that he was going to be on the defensive. Deciding to test the waters, Naruto sprung forward as he pulled out several leaves. NINPOU: HA SHURIKEN NO JUTSU (Ninja art: Leaf shuriken technique)
The chakra imbued leaves spun extremely fast as little vortexes of wind shot out around them. Raising his sword, Koetetsu jumped back as he parried two or three leaves at a time with his sword. During the onslaught of the makeshift shuriken attack however, Naruto had already shot behind him with another stick. Although this one lacked the maelstrom that had been present with the first stick, Koetetsu could sense that it was nowhere near the fragility of a normal branch. However, the result would be the same. Bringing his arm around, he continued to parry the leaves with his kodachi as a bone quickly slipped out of his robe. Grabbing onto it in reverse hold, he slashed back towards the boy as he used one of his signature techniques.
TSUBAKI NO MAI (Dance of the Camella)
In a flurry of attacks, the bone wielder launched his vicious technique in full power. After the last leaf was deflected, his kodachi joined in as he used both swords to execute the technique. As Kimimaro, leader of the sound five, he had never failed to finish an opponent with this attack. It was the very essence of the fusion of taijutsu and kenjutsu.
Kotetsu, or Kimimaro, frowned as he found that he couldn't budge his swords from place. Both tips of his swords had penetrated the stick and, to his displeasure, he found that they were stuck in that position.
Haku looked at the two from the bottom of the stage as she remembered the technique. He had used it on her needles. Basically, the theory behind the technique was quite simple. If Naruto relinquished the chakra in the sticks for a split second and allowed that kodachi wielder to penetrate the wood, then Naruto could just as easily keep them inside by subsequently increasing the density of the stick with chakra. Also, by placing his chakra within the stick, he could make the swords stick. While it sounded simple in theory, it was nearly impossible to do in practice due to the precise timing and speed that you needed.
Grabbing both ends of the stick with his hands, Naruto then spun the two ends around, causing Kimimaro to let go of his weapons.
"So it was a bone…" Naruto commented offhandedly as he looked at the weapon in his stick. Well, no matter. Throwing away the kodachi and the bone, Naruto held up his stick as he charged chakra back into it.
Kimimaro felt his heart race as he tried to calm himself. While his exterior remained placid, his mind was racing to try and defy the very logic of what had just occurred. Although he briefly understood what had just happened, he could not believe it. No human could have such reflexes and astute chakra control. Not even his master, Orochimaru. Moreover, the boy had shown considerable skill in swordplay. Even with one stick, there were numerous times that he could have been countered. His only hope now was that the two points of damage on the boy's weapon would be enough to help him break it with his next round of attacks.
This match is going to end soon if you don't use your full power." Naruto said while slowly walking towards Kimimaro.
Kimimaro stood up as he released another bone. "What do you mean? I am not like the trash of some of my other teammates. You will find that it is much harder to defeat me than you think." Although he sounded confident on the outside, Kimimaro was starting to panic in the inside. He was supposed to have rivaled Orochimaru when he was his age, yet this boy who was at least a couple years younger than him was making it seem like he was Tayuya or a random sound chuunin.
"Well then, I guess I'll start attacking seriously now." Naruto's eyes lightened up ever so slightly as he opened his cloak and reached towards one of the inner pockets to pull out… another stick. Except this one had jagged regions with multiple nails attached to it that made it more of a thorny club than a sleek stick.
A collective 'WHAT THE HELL?' seemed to echo through the audience as even Haku began to wonder what hobbies Naruto had developed in summon world.
Kimimaro almost groaned aloud as even the Sound Four back on the ground stage winced. This was going to be a little bit more difficult than they had originally thought.
Osawari's eyes snapped open as he gripped his head with his hands. Flailing around, he tried to kick off of something, anything, in hopes of escaping the excruciating pain.
"STOP IT! YOU'LL KILL HIM!" Natsumi, despite having no strength, stood up as she made a feeble attempt at a run. Instead, she felt her legs give out from under her as her hands clutched dirt. "DAMMIT!" Screaming in frustration, she watched in hopelessness as Osawari's screams finally muted to unpeaceful unconsciousness--the streams of youkai energy ripping out from his body.
"This process is taking too long. Are you sure this is working Pain?"
Nine shadows stood around in a circle as each one rested on top of what seemed to be fingers. "It's because of that traitor, Orochimaru. Despite his apparent worthlessness, his chakra would have made this ritual much faster. I had originally created this mechanism for drawing on the chakra of twelve kage level ninja."
"Ch.. I should be enough for fifty Kages!"
"Quiet Deidara. It's bad enough you go bragging around about your art."
"AT LEAST MY ART DOESN'T LOOK LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A HORROR MOVIE!"
Sasori's eyes gained a dangerous gleam as he moved his tail dangerously close to Deidara's head.
"HEY! HEY! WE'RE WORKING HERE! THAT'S NOT FAIR!"
"ENOUGH!" Pain shouted, making both Deidara and Sasori freeze. Here were two of the most feared ninja of all time, and yet they bickered like children. Sometimes Pain wondered why he had ever bothered following that man's suggestion. True, the Bijuu would help his ambition but...
Seeing the suspended boy nearly dead, Pain lowered his hand as the jutsu fell. "That is enough for today. We will continue the extraction process in one week's time after the carrier has regained some life."
The members collectively grumbled as Pain's shadow disappeared. One by one, all of the ninja faded until just one shadow was left. By then, Natsumi had already reached the unconscious Osawari as she checked up on him.
"He's alive. We wouldn't kill him before extracting the bijuu."
Natsumi turned as she glared at the man who had remained behind; it was the man who had captured them and was currently in charge of keeping them in this prison.
"He better stay alive."
Itachi sighed as he bent down, his hand reaching over the boy's torso. A green light started to shine as Natsumi immediately brought up her hand to push it away. Unfortunately, her strength was just enough to fall on the man's steady hand.
"Stop hurting him, stop!"
Itachi remained silent as silent beads of sweat ran down his brow. Medical techniques had never been his forte and this girl's whining wasn't helping him in the slightest.
"I'm trying to heal him."
Natsumi stopped whimpering as she looked at Osawari's face. Sure enough, the boy's face had become less strained. Waiting in anticipation for a few minutes, she finally turned to the man before asking.
Itachi closed his hands as the glow faded, his eyes closing in tandem. "Because he is needed alive." With that, Itachi knocked Natsumi out with a quick blow to her neck and lifted them up together. Straining slightly under their combined weight, Itachi sighed as he walked over to the holding cells. Looking at the unconscious faces of the two, his face lightened as he gently laid them down on the dungeon floor. Making sure that no one was watching, he sharpened his eyes as he lit a small amaterasu in the air above them. Until they woke up, the flame would keep them warm. Closing the door, Itachi sighed as he leaned his head against the wall.
Straightening up after a few moments, he then walked away as a stream of blood flowed from his right eye. It was almost time to visit a certain someone...
Naruto kicked Kimimaro several times before lashing out with his "beating stick vers. 2". Widening his eyes with fear, Kimimaro's primal instincts screamed for him to dodge the chakra whips as his legs exhibited a strength they had never knew before. Jumping away, Kimimaro resisted the urge to jump into his curse seal level 2 stage as little chakra whips continuously grooved his skin. However, if he showed either the curse seal or his unique bloodline in front of the audience, it would jeopardize their entire mission. In fact, it was a risk even using the kodachi-like bones.
In the midst of his attacks, Naruto's face remained impassive as he asked Kimimaro. "Why aren't you fighting at full strength? Surely you must have a reason. Perhaps your..."
Naruto turned his head around as he looked at Kimimaro's remaining teammates. Seeing his chance, Kimimaro leapt forward with a downward strike. It was all for naught though, as Naruto blocked the bone with two fingers from his free hand. Turning his head back to Kimimaro, Naruto flashed a hint of a mischievous smile as he finished his sentence. "...your master ordered you not to because of your foreign bloodline."
Kimimaro's eyes widened as he realized that somehow, the boy had figured out that Orochimaru-sama was one of his teammates. This factor changed everything. He needed to defeat this person at...
"All costs?" Naruto smirked as he finished Kimimaro's thoughts aloud.
"What? How did you-"
He was stopped short from finishing his question though as Naruto slowly dipped his head, raising his sharingan eyes up at Kimimaro. His voice became menacingly deeper as six tomoe spun around his pupils at a furious speed. "Call Orochimaru out. I should greet the man who made me like this."
Kimimaro's hand fell as beads of sweat fell from his head. How... How did this happen? He had heard all about the freak experiment that Orochimaru had created in Konoha. To think that this boy would be standing in front of them... Gulping, Kimimaro raised his hand as he yelled out to the Kusa judges. "I forfeit the match." Walking away from the smiling Naruto and towards one, frowning kusa-disguised nin, Kimimaro whispered a few words into his master's ears before a sickening and horrifying smile made its way onto his face.
"Trap those two in the stage with the rest of the sound five. The plan for the sword Kusanagi is of little importance now. Kabuto will help me take care of the ice-nin while I go greet my new container."
Kimimaro winced slightly as he heard his master speak of a new container before bowing. "Yes, Orochimaru-sama."
Meanwhile, on the stage, Naruto stared at the man Kimimaro had approached with his sharingan blaring behind his sunglasses. The chakra level and the strange jutsu placed on his body made him the greatest suspect for the missing-nin who had cursed him with these eyes. Motioning Haku onto the stage, he threw off his cloak as it made a dent in the stage. "Get ready for your revenge Haku. You can have whatever is left of him after I tear him to pieces." A slight chill ran up her spine as she saw his eyes glow red even from behind his sunglasses. Never had he shown any emotion other than amusement or boredom while he had been with her. However...
Haku couldn't help but feel some excitement as she pulled out a scroll with the kanji for sword on it. She hadn't been waiting for this day like a lame duck. She would get her master back, with either Naruto's power or her own.
A/N: Like I said, I'm really not satisfied with the quality of this chapter. I promise the next one will be totally awesome though. I was originally planning to tell Natsumi and Osawari's origins, but I thought that most of the readers probably wouldn't care. Maybe later I'll do a side arc of everyone's past. But right now, I want to run on through to the Konoha arc. Expect things to really pick up when Itachi meets up with Naruto. Sorry again for the super delay guys. Really. I am.