"Dead Maelstrom"

Chapter 10: "Downward Into the Spiral"

Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto, VIZ Media, and Shonen Jump. The X-Men Universe belongs to Marvel Comics and Marvel Entertainment Studios. I make no money from the use of either property in this story.

Author's note: Sorry for taking four months to come out with a new chapter. As you can see from my recent updates, I was very busy with other stories, but that's no excuse. Luckily, all those weeks of reading Naruto fanfiction has inspired me to write this story again. I will be picking up where the Chunin Exams begin and get to the action as reasonably as possible. I'd love to do it straight away, but setup is important, you see.

Dressed up as Shirasen, Naruto met up with his teammates Sakura and Sasuke, who were still giving him dirty looks for the pranks he'd pulled on them days earlier. Shirasen just stared unrepentantly at them. "The hell you looking at?" he challenged.

"The guy who turned my hair pink," Sasuke retorted, now back to his usual black after hours of effort.

"The guy who tagged my dress with depraved messages," Sakura added.

"It's a rhetorical question," Shirasen growled. "God, can't either of you take a joke?"

"It wasn't funny!" they shouted at him.

"Sure, it was!" Shirasen protested. "You just have no sense of humor whatsoever, but whatever. We gotta head for the Chunin Exams so we can kick everybody's asses and be number one."

Thus, they went to the facility where they were to sign up for the Chunin Exams. "Isn't this grand?" Shirasen asked. "The three of us together, against an entire world of enemies doomed to fall by the wayside as we rise to the top!"

"Don't be melodramatic," Sakura grumbled.

"Well, at least I've got a positive outlook on life," Shirasen replied. "Unlike Mr. 'My Family Is Dead, Woe Is Me!' Seriously, I don't get what you see in him."

Sasuke just growled and attempted to punch Shirasen, who just caught his fist and twisted his wrist. "Bitch. You're just mad because I'm saying the truth. You ain't the only bastard in this goddamn world who lost their family. Hell, I don't even know who my real parents were. I don't know if I've got any brothers or sisters. But I ain't gonna act like a loser bitch who's got nothing better to do with his time than mope, not when there are so many asses to kick!"

He let Sasuke go roughly, causing the dark-haired youth to stumble for a few steps. "Now come on. We'd better hurry or we'll be late. I'm only keeping at this pace for you."

Sasuke rubbed his wrist. "You ok, Sasuke?" Sakura asked.

"Yeah," Sasuke replied, too busy mulling over what Shirasen had said. Sasuke prided himself on being a perceptive person, flashing back to how vicious Shirasen had gotten with Inari back in the Land of Waves. The red-clad swordfighter was an anomaly Sasuke couldn't figure out so easily. Most of the time, he was a happy-go-lucky lunatic who seemed to be pathologically incapable of being serious, but then times like the Land of Waves came along, and he exploded with the kind of wrath that would scare even demons. Sasuke just didn't get the guy at all.

When they arrived at the facility, Sakura spoke up. "It was Room 301 Kakashi-sensei said for us to go to."

"Uh-huh," Shirasen replied nonchalantly.

Thus, Team 7 climbed up the steps, only to find Room 301 in front of them after reaching the second floor. "What the hell?" Shirasen asked. "What kind of crazy-ass nonsense is this?"

"It's a genjutsu, moron," Sasuke muttered.

"Screw you!" Shirasen retorted.

Just as the two boys were about to get into a vicious shouting match that could have turned into a vicious tussle, they were interrupted by a pair of older boys standing in front of the door. "Hey, how about you pansies go back?" the one with the bandana taunted. "You obviously don't have what it takes."

"Yeah, you'll only be throwing your sorry lives away," the other boy, this one with his face half in bandages, added.

"Speaking of people throwing their lives away, how would you like to throw away yours?" Shirasen threatened. "Because that's what'll happen if you don't let us in!"

"Ooh, I'm so scared!" the bandana-wearing boy taunted.

"You'd better be!" Shirasen retorted, drawing his kodachi.

Just then, a cute brunette with her hair tied in odango and wearing a pink mandarin shirt attempted to slip past the arguing trio with a boy in green spandex with his hair styled in a bowl cut. Without even looking, the bandaged boy grabbed the girl by her shoulder and pushed her away from the door. "And just where do you think you're going, little lady?" he asked.

"Please, we have to sign up for the Chunin Exams!" the girl pleaded.

"Look, quit while you're still in one piece," the bandaged boy sneered. "The Chunin Exams aren't for weaklings."

"Will you all quit messing around?" Sasuke asked sourly. "For the love of . . . it's a freaking genjutsu! And a lame one at that! Anybody who could count could figure it out!"

Shirasen just started laughing crazily. "Dude, that's the point! Why else would they do it on the second floor?" He calmed down slightly. "You guys have been good for a laugh, but I gotta ditch. Chunin Exams ahead, asses to kick, names to take, bubblegum to chew . . . you know how it is. Later!"

The bandana-wearing boy moved to attack the retreating Shirasen, who was whirling to slash him with one of his kodachi – when they were both stopped by the boy in green spandex, who was remarkably holding Shirasen's kodachi blade without flinching. "Damn . . . you're good," Shirasen remarked.

"This is not the proper time or place for such things," the boy stated politely.

"Good looking out, but . . . it's always the time to kick ass!" Shirasen retorted. "You wanna go?"

"You seem to be an interesting opponent," the boy observed. "Tell me your name."

"Shirasen. Yours?"

"Rock Lee, the Handsome Green Beast of Konoha!"

Handsome? Shirasen thought. Maybe without those damn creepy eyebrows. Crap, they're huge!

"Nice going, Lee," the pink-shirted girl muttered. "You've blown the plan."

"Plan?" Shirasen repeated. "Something you wanna tell us?"

"No," the girl answered.

"Could you at least tell me your name?"


"Cool. 10 . . . 10 . . . Holy crap, you have the same name as my birthday! This is some trippy crap! Tenten! By Odin's beard!"

Everyone just looked at him oddly. "What? Thor says it all the time," Shirasen answered. He rolled his eyes beneath his mask. "Come on, let's go."

Thus, they went climbing up the stairs to the third floor. Before they could go, however, Lee turned to Shirasen. "I can only hope your unconventionally hip attitude extends to your fighting style."

"Why, you wanna fight?" Shirasen asked. "We can do it right now, and I'm even gonna be a sport and put away the swords!" True to his word, he sheathed his kodachi. "There, now we can really fight!"

Lee merely stood at attention, extending his arm in a beckoning pose. Shirasen took him up on his invitation and flashed into a roundhouse kick – that Lee caught. Undeterred, Shirasen lifted off with his other leg and almost managed to kick Lee in the face, only for Lee to tilt his head to avoid the kick. Shirasen twisted out of his grip and delivered a brutal uppercut that Lee stepped back from.

"You're fast," Shirasen commented.

"So are you," Lee complimented.

As Shirasen and Lee fought, Sasuke had his Sharingan activated to examine their movements more easily. Even with it on, they were like blurs to his augmented eyes, barely distinguishable by the colors they wore. What kind of speed is this? Sasuke wondered. How are they doing this?

"How about we make this a little more interesting?" Shirasen asked.

"How?" Lee asked, blocking Shirasen's fist.

"First to make the other fall wins automatically," Shirasen replied. "Besides, we don't have too much time left."

"You are right," Lee agreed. "Let us finish this."

The two combatants charged at each other for one last blow, Shirasen moving for a low sweeping kick that Lee twisted over while kicking him in the solar plexus. Shirasen managed to catch himself on his hands while twisting around to forcefully kick Lee in the chest. Lee didn't fall, either, and maneuvered for a punch that hit Shirasen in the stomach, causing the red-clad boy to fall ungracefully on his bum.

"Damn . . . you win," Shirasen uttered. "Not bad, man. You'd better make it to the finals. I want a rematch."

"Duly noted," Lee answered, helping Shirasen up onto his feet. "Let us go in and sign up."

As they were about to do so, they were met by a long-haired boy in a khaki shirt and brown shorts with gauze bandages wrapped around his right arm and leg. It was the pale purple, almost white, eyes that made Shirasen recognize him. "Neji Hyuga."

"I see you know my teammate," Lee observed.

"Know him? I'm dating his cousin," Shirasen replied. "And he doesn't approve of me at all. Oh, well. I'm used to it. Doesn't get me down at all. Nosiree!"

"Lee, why are you wasting time?" Neji asked brusquely.

"I am sorry, Neji," Lee replied. "I merely wished to gain some insight into his skills before the Chunin Exams began."

"You don't have to be an ass about it," Shirasen remarked. "I mean I get that you're jealous of me. If I were you, I'd be jealous of me, too. But I'm me, so suck on it!"

"I don't even know what Hinata sees in you," Neji spat.

"She's drawn to my eccentric charm," Shirasen answered, smirking. "But enough with the chitchat, let's start putting fools on the rack."

The two teams went inside Room 301, where they were surrounded by fellow genin from all over the Elemental Countries. "Awesome . . ." Shirasen uttered. "So many asses to kick, so little time!"

"Hi, Sasuke . . ." he heard a familiar flirty voice and turned to see Ino Yamanaka draping herself over Sasuke like a stripper on a pole.

"Get off him, Ino-pig," Sakura growled.

"Yeah, you look like you're about to give him a lap dance," Shirasen remarked. "Not that I'd mind, if I were him. Problem is he doesn't know how to appreciate a good woman. Not like me."

Ino looked somewhere between disgusted and honestly flattered. Sakura just glared at Shirasen before turning back to Ino. "He took the words out of my mouth. About you looking like a tart, not the other stuff."

"What's the matter, Sakura?" Shirasen asked teasingly. "Jealous of Ino?"

"Of Ino-pig?" Sakura retorted angrily. "You're nuts!"

"That's the fun of being me," Shirasen replied.

"Hey, you!" they heard a voice shout, and Shirasen saw Kiba Inuzuka storming toward him with Akamaru in his jacket. "You! The punk who was all over Hinata back at team placement! I've been waiting to pay you back!"

"Why so mad?" Shirasen asked. "It's not like she didn't like it."

"You son of a –!" Kiba yelled, ready to swing at Shirasen.

"I haven't even known you that long, but I already know this," Shikamaru Nara remarked to Shirasen. "You bring trouble no matter where you are."

"Trouble finds me," Shirasen answered. "But I'm never bored when she's around. How about you, Shikamaru? What would you rather be doing, staring at clouds all day?"

"Yes," Shikamaru admitted dryly.

"I deserved that," Shirasen mumbled.

"Quit making so much noise," an older boy with silver hair in a ponytail and glasses admonished. "You're drawing a lot of unneeded attention right now."

"Your point?" Shirasen asked coolly.

"My point is that there's no need to antagonize ninja that'll already be eager to fight you to prove themselves," the older boy replied. "The name's Kabuto Yakushi, by the way. Yours?"

"Shirasen. Numbskull over there with the puppy is Kiba Inuzuka. Miss Pink there is Sakura Haruno. Broody bastard over there is Sasuke Uchiha. Lazybones there is Shikamaru Nara. Miss Funbags over there is Ino Yamanaka. I can introduce you to the others if you like."

"It's all right. I already know of them. I suppose this is your first time taking these exams?"

"Yeah. Your second?"

"Seventh, actually."

"Wow, you suck," Shirasen derided him.

"It allows me to gather useful intel so that I have a better chance of succeeding next time around," Kabuto offered.

"Keep telling yourself that," Shirasen mocked. "By the way, what's with those guys with the music notes on their headbands? The girl keeps staring at me like she wants to eat me . . . and I'm not sure I like it."

"What's the matter, tough guy?" Sakura mocked. "Scared you're gonna get raped by a girl?"

"If she's scary enough, maybe," Shirasen answered offhandedly. "No, seriously, Kabuto, who are those guys?"

"They're from a newly established village called Hidden Sound," Kabuto replied. "Not all that strong, I've gotta say, but it's just a matter of time."

That was when one of the Sound genin, a boy with most of his face covered in bandages except for his right eye, stomped over to Kabuto and swung at him. Kabuto dodged, but he suddenly found himself retching as his glasses cracked. "Teach you to call us weak," the boy snarled. "Who do you think you are, looking down on us like that?"

"Throwing a bitch-fit because you and your punk-ass village got dissed?" Shirasen asked, drawing his swords. "Then why don't you prove yourself with a real tough guy?"

"Is that an invitation?" the bandaged boy snarled, ready to swing at Shirasen. It was at that moment that Shirasen noticed the Sound boy's fighting arm had some kind of cybernetic attachment riddled with strategically placed holes.

"So what if it is?" Shirasen taunted. "You gonna do something about it?"

"Great, he's gonna get us all killed," Shikamaru muttered.

"Quit it, you little sons of bitches, or I'll disqualify you right now!" a booming voice shouted. "No fighting until the second and third rounds of the Chunin Exams, understand?"

Everyone snapped to attention when they saw who'd been shouting. It was a tall, muscular, highly imposing man in a dark trench coat over gray clothes wearing his headband as a bandana. The most notable thing about him was the long diagonal scars marring what would have otherwise been a somewhat handsome face.

"Sure thing, sir!" Shirasen shouted, sheathing his swords. "Sorry about that! Just teaching a punk not to be a punk! Lessons like that get kinda violent, you see. . . ."

The man, Ibiki Morino, just stared long and hard at Shirasen, who just grinned insanely behind his mask. "Dude, the fear aura you're giving off kicks ass!" Shirasen exclaimed. "How do I crush people's souls with just a glance? Teach me, teach me!"

"I'm not here to teach you anything, punk," Ibiki growled. "But follow me and you might actually learn something. That goes for all of you."

Too scared out of their wits to do anything else, the assembled genin followed Ibiki into a large classroom. "You'll take your seats as they are assigned to you," he said, and the genin did just that. By sheer luck of the draw, Shirasen found himself sitting next to Hinata.

"Hey, honey," he greeted her. "You miss me?"

Hinata blushed.

"No talking!" Ibiki roared.

"Man, I'm trying to catch up with my girlfriend!" Shirasen protested. "What's your damage?"

"You'll have plenty of time to catch up when you're squaring off against each other in the second and third rounds!" Ibiki retorted. "Now shut up!"

"Grouch," Shirasen muttered.

"What was that, punk?" Ibiki asked.

"You're a grouch, I said," Shirasen replied.

"Smartass," Ibiki grumbled. "I'll show him . . ." Taking a moment to catch himself, he went on. "This is a written test, designed to assess the depth of your knowledge of the ninja world! You will have ten questions to answer. Contrary to the usual system where you gain points for each one answered correctly, we deduct a point for each one answered incorrectly! Getting caught cheating will cause you to lose two points no matter what, even if you answered all questions correctly! And one more thing – your fate here depends on how well your teammates do as well as how well you do! It doesn't matter if you answer them all right; if your teammates lose enough points, that will drag down your overall score and you'll fail, anyway! Understand that?"

"What kinda bull is that?" Shirasen asked, oblivious to Sakura's glare.

The test forms were handed out to every genin present, and as soon as Ibiki gave the order, the test began. Sakura was the only one who answered all the questions perfectly, due to her incredible book-smarts. Everyone else had to find some way to cheat.

Sasuke cheated with his Sharingan, copying the answers off another student's paper. Kiba used Akamaru to read off the other students' answers in plain sight, as the Inuzuka were the only ones that understood their nin-dogs' language. Ino used her Mind Transfer Technique to read the answers from Sakura's mind and transmitted them to Shikamaru and Choji.

Neji and Hinata used their Byakugan to read everyone else's answers and glean from them how to properly answer their own tests. Shino relied on his bugs to secretly read the answers off other students' papers and relay them to him. Tenten used hidden mirrors to read the answers and give them to Lee through a secret code. Gaara used a hidden eye made of sand to spy on the others so he could read their answers and then transfer them to his siblings.

Shirasen just smiled underneath his mask and began doodling on the test paper, pictures of Hinata and Sakura and Ino and Tenten and Temari and that Sound girl, all in rather sexy outfits and poses. He might have been bored by Jiraiya's Make-Out Paradise, but he had to admit it made for good inspiration . . . as did his own H-games. He chuckled to himself. Maybe Pervy Sage and I ought to team up and make some H-games out of his books. That could make things even more fun, and he'd reach a whole new audience!

"Shirasen-kun . . ." he heard Hinata whisper.

"Yeah, sweetheart?" Shirasen asked, and a smile broke out on his face before he remembered that he was wearing a mask.

"I . . . I have the answers," Hinata whispered.

"It's ok, babe," Shirasen whispered back. "I got this."

"And time for the tenth question!" Ibiki shouted.

"Where is the tenth question, anyway?" somebody asked.

"It's not a written question, it's a verbal question," Ibiki replied. "It's the one you need to answer so that you can continue on past this point! If you take the tenth question but get it wrong, you'll be stuck as a genin forever. You won't be able to take the exam again! If you decline, you automatically fail and you'll have to wait for the next exam! That's the deal!"

"No fair!" someone shouted.

"Life isn't fair, kids," Ibiki answered mockingly.

"Screw this, I'm outta here!" someone else shouted. Many followed suit and left as well.

"Punks," Shirasen muttered. "So what's this tenth question about, anyway, Scarface?"

"You wanna know?" Ibiki asked. "Then take it! But I warn you . . . if you get it wrong, you not only fail yourself, you get your teammates failed! None of you will be able to take the exam again!"

Don't do it, Naruto . . . don't do it, Naruto . . . don't do it, Naruto . . . both Sakura and Sasuke were thinking frantically.

"I'll take it!" Shirasen declared. "And I don't care what you do to try to get me to back down, I don't go for that crap! All that psychological warfare B.S., it's just that: B.S. The only things that matter in this world are what you wanna get out of it and how many dead bodies you're willing to go over to get it! Anybody who doesn't have the goddamn balls to fight for what they want, no matter how much they have to sacrifice for it, is a punk bitch unworthy of my awesome presence! You understand me?"

"Is that what you have to say?" Ibiki asked, smiling gruesomely.

"Yeah," Shirasen replied, smiling back just as wickedly beneath his mask.

"Do you all agree with this guy?" Ibiki asked the others.

"I'm not gonna stand for being called a punk bitch by this asshole, so yeah!" Kiba replied heatedly. "I'm with him!"

The others didn't answer quite as vociferously as Shirasen and Kiba had, but their silent refusal to leave spoke louder than either boy could. Ibiki just chuckled. "You pass. You all pass. That was the tenth question."

"Huh?" everyone asked, stunned.

"The tenth question wasn't a literal test of your knowledge, it was a test of your resolve," Ibiki explained. "Being a chunin means being a leader, and leaders have responsibilities. They have to take point on dangerous missions, and not very many of those missions will have all the facts presented before you. There'll be things you won't expect, things that'll take you by surprise, and that's when you prove if you've got what it takes to be a shinobi." He took off his bandana, revealing a bald head full of hideous scars, some from thumbscrews, to his captive audience.

Whoa . . . Sasuke thought. This guy . . . he's been tortured before . . .

"So congratulations, you little bastards," Ibiki finished up. "You've made it past the first part of the Chunin Exams. Now . . ."

That, however, was the moment one Anko Mitarashi chose to interrupt, crashing through the window with a banner saying in bold, brightly colored letters, "Introducing the One, the Only, the Sexiest –Anko Mitarashi!"

"Wow . . ." Shirasen uttered. "A woman after my own style!"

"What, is that all of them?" Anko asked. "Damn, Ibiki, you're getting soft."

"We just have a talented bunch this year," Ibiki replied. "You can blame Mr. 'I'll Go over Dead Bodies to Get What I Want' over there." He gestured at Shirasen, who waved back at him.

"Deadpool's kid . . ." Anko murmured, smiling wickedly at Shirasen. Sitting next to him, Hinata honestly didn't know whether to be afraid for him or jealous that a sexy older woman had her eyes on him. "All right, you little punks, come with me!"

"Aye-aye, Captain!" Shirasen shouted.

Anko just snickered and led the remaining genin out to the entrance to a gated forest. "This . . . is the Forest of Death. Those posts over there are where you sign your waivers saying we're not responsible for your untimely crippling or gruesome deaths."

"Forest of Death?" Shirasen mumbled. "Bitch, please. The Danger Room's got scarier settings than this, particularly when Logan-sempai gets in the right mood."

Unfortunately for him, Anko heard him and threw a kunai at his forehead, just to scare him. Shirasen caught it with his hand, letting the blade pierce through said hand before pulling it out. However, Anko had flickered behind him, now holding the wrist of his bleeding hand tightly. "Tough guys like you are the first to go down," she whispered hotly, "spilling that red blood I love so much."

"Lady, you're starting to turn me on," Shirasen whispered back.

"I can tell," Anko murmured sensually, "but I'm saving myself for your old man. Kids don't quite do it for me, even if you're a real cutie under that mask."

"Fine, but you wanna taste first?" Shirasen offered.

Anko slowly licked the blood off Shirasen's hand and then pulled away before a long-tongued Grass kunoichi retrieved her kunai for her. "Sorry," the Grass kunoichi whispered in a slithery voice. "But I was just so excited by that display there. I couldn't quite help myself."

"It's all right," Anko answered. "We all have our kinks." She walked back up front, and Shirasen just leaned back on the balls of his feet, silently cursing that his jacket wasn't long enough to hide his groin when closed.

Then again, why should I be bothered? Let them see it. Drool over my godly body, ladies! Shirasen laughed on the inside, though the manic smile concealed by his mask was something of a giveaway to how deeply excited he was.

Each team received a scroll with a binding marked by the kanji for either "heaven" or "earth." "What are these for?" someone asked.

"So you have a reason to fight," Anko replied. "The Forest of Death is all about testing your survival skills. Dangerous animals all around you, and even more dangerous enemy shinobi waiting in the wings to take you down and take your scroll! If you've got a Heaven Scroll, you need an Earth Scroll! If you have an Earth Scroll, you need a Heaven Scroll! You have five days from this point to reach the other side of the Forest of Death and the sanctuary tower, and if you don't get there in time or with your whole team intact, you fail!"

"How are we going to eat?" Choji asked.

"Plenty of things to eat in the forest!" Anko answered with a manic grin splitting her face. "And one more word of advice – try not to die! Now get in there, you punks!"

Thus, the genin teams made their way into the Forest of Death. As they moved, several teams were already making their plans to take down the others . . . and at least one of those teams had their sights set on Team 7 in particular. They were certain of their victory; after all, Team 7 was just a bunch of inexperienced brats, so they shouldn't be too hard, right? Oh, they had no idea . . . no idea at all . . .

End Notes: All right, I'm back! Sorry for the four-month gap between this chapter and the last, but a lot of stuff got in the way. As you can see from my profile, though, I haven't been entirely absent and my creative mind is hard at work! Check out "Punisher and Manslayer" or "Who Rules the Night?" for more of what I mean, and be on the lookout for more of my stories!

Anyway, the dice have been cast. The Chunin Exams have begun, and there are plenty of interesting new characters for Shirasen to interact with, flirt with, or beat the crap out of! However, will Shirasen and his teammates end up biting off more than they can chew in these successive Chunin Exams, or will they find a way to triumph against all odds? For the answers to that question and others, hang on for next time! Later days!