So, I'm really sorry for taking so long with this. School, work, and fanfiction do not mix well. :-( On the other hand, I think this is one of the longest chapter I've written for this story, so maybe that makes up for it a little. ^.^
And, because I'm sure half of you returning readers don't remember what's going on in this story, I'll try to give you an intelligible summary:
Right. To begin with, Madara attacked Naruto right after Pein gave his life to save all the ninja of konoha he'd killed. This is where this story diverges from the canon storyline. Sasuke does 'kill' Itachi, but he comes back to Konoha to save Naruto after Itachi tells him about Madara's plot to capture him. Sasuke gets captured instead, though Naruto develops his Kekkei Genkai at this time. Later Itachi and Jiraiya show up, surprisingly not dead, and plans are made to rescue Sasuke. However, Deidara, who is Itachi's partner, in all meanings of the word, easily rescues Sasuke from Madara and Orochimaru's (also surprisingly not dead) hideout. Before leaving to meet Sasuke, who contacted them by letter, the members of Nigasugakure (the Village Hidden in the Choice for those of you who've forgotten) find that Tsunade has, for some reason, declared that Sasuke will be killed if he returns to the village, even after helping them plan to rescue him. Leaving the village for good, supposedly, the ninja form Nigasugakure and begin to make big-scale plans.
After travelling and training for a while, Nigasu infiltrated the Chuunin exams under the guise of Suna teams, with Gaara's help. They are trying to find teams that Madara may have sent in, as Itachi remembered that there had been plans for another operation to attack Konoha from his time in Akatsuki. Naruto, using an ability given to him by his Kekkei Genkai, is disguising all the members of Nigasu so that they won't be recognized. This chapter covers some of the second portion of the Chuunin exams, which, up to this point, have not been changed from that of the first exam that Team 7 took. No infiltrators have been discovered. Yet. ^.^
This time, they were to be watched.
That's what Anko was saying, at least. She'd rubbed her neck at the same time, almost conscientiously, reminding Naruto and Sasuke of how Orochimaru had attacked her before coming after them; or so they'd heard afterward.
All the teams stood outside the fence that enclosed the Forest of Death. A few of the proctors stayed a while to watch the genin sweat out the wait for the next exam, laughing and chatting among themselves. Naruto's team, as well as Karin, Suigetsu, and Juugo stood together on the outskirts of the large group.
When Anko had first informed them of the change to the second portion of the exams, Nigasu had been rather disappointed. It wouldn't exactly be conducive to their plans to be watched twenty four seven. They wouldn't be able to move as freely as they wanted to if they were under the watch of ninja more skilled than genin.
But then, thankfully, Anko had clarified herself. Each of the participants of the exam was supposed to wear a bracelet that would monitor their pulse. If a pulse were to stop, ANBU would close around that location and monitor the situation. They wouldn't interfere though, unless it was an outsider doing the killing. Of course, the bracelet could be removed by its wearer without activating the signal for the ANBU, but they were all warned not to forfeit such protection.
That last bit made a few of the genin smile, and Naruto and Sasuke exchanged glances. Any genin interested in killing were either experienced, crazy, or both. It was best to stay away from them, if only to keep their own experience a secret.
The teams were instructed to send their team leaders to the front and to line up to receive their scrolls. Itachi moved forward along with Juugo. The other four moved back to find a more secluded area; to talk and observe the other teams.
"So, what are we aiming for? Get to the tower as fast as possible or whittle away at the competition?" Karin asked as soon as Sasuke raised a silencing jutsu.
"The second." Naruto volunteered with a grin. "That way we can scout for Madara and Orochimaru's team. Or teams." He added the last as an afterthought, realizing that it was completely plausible for multiple teams to have been slipped in. After all, they'd already done it themselves.
"And we can see what it is that has Tsunade so worried that she has ANBU on call." Itachi said as he rejoined them.
"What scroll do we have?" Naruto asked. Itachi drew out a heaven scroll.
"We've been warned not to look in it until we are in the tower."
"Figures. Same deal as last time. Don't they have some imagination?" Naruto asked, rolling his eyes.
"Probably not." Suigetsu laughed. Juugo rejoined them and withdrew an Earth scroll without being asked.
Neither Itachi nor Juugo bothered hiding their scrolls. But they hadn't exactly shown them off, either. Only four or five of the teams had seen the motions, and they were already excitedly whispering plans of attack, it seemed. None of Nigasu missed this. In fact, they were marking these teams as targets already.
"So what's our strategy?" Suigetsu asked with his hands on his hips, clearly filled with energy and wanting move. They all turned to Itachi, waiting for their strategist to indulge them. He smirked, and their grins – which had already begun to appear – widened even more.
This part was going to be fun.
The two teams of Nigasu were released within thirty minutes of each other. The moment the gates opened, the two teams from Nigasu separated completely and scattered throughout the Forest of Death.
Itachi had set one of his many ravens in a tree not far from the tent where the team leaders had received their scrolls. From a great selection of easy pickings, he had selected the first two teams that would be their targets. These lucky teams had been particularly careless when walking out of the tent where they'd received their scrolls. Interestingly enough, Naruto had noted that both were genin teams from the Leaf.
Naruto hadn't recognized any of the members of either team, and neither had Sasuke, though that meant little when one considered how much time they'd actually spent with other ninja of the village. Regardless, Suigetsu and Juugo were sent to deal with them, one for each team.
Suigetsu had found the closest available water source and left to move through it to the other side of the forest, where his targets were still waiting to enter the forest. Juugo was in for an extensive search however, as his targets had been released before his own team had.
Karin had directed them to their targets before moving straight towards the tower. She would prepare traps for other genin who tried to do the same. Juugo would meet up with her as backup after dealing with his targets.
On the other, slightly more offensive side of things, Naruto, Sasuke, and Itachi would be picking off any and all teams they came upon for the next twelve hours. The rules of the second stage of the Chuunin exams required them to survive the place for five days. However, like last time, they had all been given the option of taking more scrolls than strictly necessary.
There were around two hundred ninja left; about seventy teams altogether. Even with the teams eliminated during the first exam gone, there were still far more teams than there had been during Team Seven's try at the Chuunin Exams. As a result, Nigasu was taking it upon themselves to use the second portion of the exam as a way to whittle away at competition and find the infiltration groups sent in by Madara.
Whereas most of the teams would stick together and plan ambushes to get specific scrolls, Nigasu's members were simply too strong to waste their time like that. It would be almost pitiful to go up against genin teams like that. Of course, there would probably be genin teams that were incredibly strong for their ages, like Gaara's team had been, or others who had excellent teamwork. These, Nigasu would simply ignore.
In addition to being able to whittle away at competition and search out infiltrators, they had one last reason to be splitting up.
Itachi said so.
Even now, Naruto smiled at the way Itachi had made an important mission- a part of the Chuunin exams even- into a training exercise. The Uchiha had wrapped the missions of a hunter-nin, seeking information, surveillance, and stealth all into this one part of the exam. Hell, he'd even thrown in a prize for the winner. He'd help whoever had the most scrolls by the end of the first twelve hours with any jutsu of their choosing, whether it be new or old. Not to mention, he would also let them skip any three days of his training that they wanted.
Also, if Itachi won…well, he'd yet to say what would happen then, but it would no doubt be bad for all their constitutions.
That was why Naruto found himself searching the southeastern corner of the Forest of Death. Karin would take the center of the forest, and with Juugo joining her after his targets were taken care of, that left the other three corners to Itachi, Sasuke, and Suigetsu. It was already an hour since his team had been released into the forest and Naruto figured that almost every team had been allowed in by now.
He had already found two especially low-leveled teams and simply pickpocketed their scrolls as they slept in shifts, hoping to save their energy for later on during the five days.
He now had two earth scrolls as a result.
He sent out ten clones to canvass the area and found three more teams, all in the same general vicinity. He settled down to wait for the inevitable conflict.
Then suddenly, he had an idea.
Itachi had warned the members of Nigasu not to draw attention to themselves by attacking multiple teams at once individually. It could easily break their cover. However, Itachi had never said anything about recreating their own teams.
Naruto grinned, He dispelled eight of his clones, leaving two back to pose as Itachi and Sasuke in their disguised forms. This done, Naruto moved forward through the trees with his clones, picking a spot that was high up so that he could view all the genin teams below him without fearing attack from above.
One team had obviously sensed the other two and was keeping back, like Naruto was. Through the leaves, Naruto recognized the ninja who had alerted his teammates to Itachi's silencing jutsu before the beginning of the first exam. Naruto grinned and turned his attention to the other two teams.
They were steadily moving towards each other, unaware of each other's presences. Their courses would have them meet just outside of a clearing about twenty feet to Naruto's right.
Naruto had his two clones circle around the three teams to keep an eye on their movements more closely. He sat in the treetops, maybe two hundred feet off the ground, his dangling over the edge of an oversized tree branch.
Minutes later, the two groups, as expected, discovered each other's presence. Suddenly, weapons were flying. The team closest Naruto was comprised of three girls from Konoha, which was odd, since there was normally the odd boy thrown in there somewhere. The lead girl was caught in the upper arm by a wildly thrown shuriken. She shrieked before she got enough sense through her mind to duck and find cover.
The other team had two boys and one girl, all three of whom had seen the first team before they'd seen them. But the other two girls of the first team reacted quickly, covering their wounded teammate with a sudden barrage of kunai, and, Naruto was surprised to see, senbon. Both teams retreated behind cover.
What followed was a typical battle of ninja. But it was the third team that really drew Naruto's attention. They had spread out to surround the two teams that were doing the fighting, setting traps up around a large perimeter. They still hadn't found him, but that wasn't surprising, considering the dressing down Itachi had given him once their group had formed Nigasugakure and had begun to train. Itachi had spent night and day forcing Naruto to control his chakra output, whether he was moving or not. As a pleasant side effect, it had become easier to gather natural chakra while moving as a result.
Naruto grinned and started a mental countdown while he observed the going-ons. The girl that had been injured looked to have passed out, which meant that the kunai had probably been poisoned, since it hadn't hit any lethal areas.
The fight going on below him would soon be over, from the looks of the combatants; they all looked exhausted already. The two girls were more worn down, though. Without their third member, they couldn't use many of their combination techniques, ones that a team like them would normally depend heavily upon. One of the boys of the second team was fighting one-armed, since it seemed as though one of his arms was heavily tangled in what looked like razor wire; the limb was quickly becoming drenched with blood.
His teammates relied more on jutsu than on taijutsu, though. Fire was being thrown constantly by the girl - small attacks combined with weapons that wouldn't tire her out quickly- and the boy stomped his foot into the ground every so often, hoping to unsettle his opponents with Earth jutsu.
In the end, the second team's constant attacks from cover won out. A girl from the other team yelled out a ceasefire, holding her hand out from behind a tree with the scroll held in it. Naruto saw the scroll – a heaven scroll – thrown to the other side of the small battle field. One of the two boys, the one with full use of both arms, picked it up and signaled to his team to retreat, having gotten what they needed.
That was when the third team struck.
From all sides, the members of the Cloud team surrounded the victor of the short fight and systematically knocked each one out. With the advantage of surprise on their side, this was done easily, and soon the members of the second team had been neatly searched. The members of the Cloud team, now two scrolls richer, largely ignored the two girls trying to tend to their poisoned comrade.
Naruto inched his was down the tree slowly, trying to hear what they said as they stood there.
"…need any more scrolls. Why don't we just head to the tower? I heard there's a record set for quickest time there. Why don't we try and break it?" The sole female of the team was saying. She was old for a genin taking the exam, as were her two partners; they were maybe fifteen or sixteen. Naruto guessed that this might not be the first time that they had participated. He didn't remember them from the last exam, but that didn't mean much.
The girl swiped back a piece of long hair that had escaped her pony tail from her face. Naruto thought she looked a lot like the girl from the Sound team that had attacked team seven in the last exam. Kin was her name, he remembered. But she seemed a bit more boyish and less attentive to feminine cares.
"No, we need to find those teams from Sand. They're dangerous if they plan to work together." This came from the ninja who apparently was trained in chakra sensing. The boy, though he looked nearly as aged as Iruka did, was kneeling and stretching, as if cooling down his muscles from the fight.
Oh, are they talking about little ol' us? Naruto thought, amused.
"Come on, Sakari. If they really are that dangerous, we can't afford to fight them when we already have the scrolls we need. What do you think, Haku?" Naruto jumped when the other ninja spoke to the girl, calling her Haku. A picture of the boy he'd known all those years ago flashed before his mind, but there was no similarity in their features; it was simply a case of a common name.
Haku shook her head as she pocketed the two scrolls. "I think we should set up a camp and rest. Then we can think about it."
While the team was speaking, the two girls had managed to pick up their downed teammate and, with a cautious glance at the Cloud team, made their escape.
Naruto decided he should act just then, when the three agreed upon a course of action. When the three bent to gather extra weapons off the three, still-unconscious ninja, Naruto attack from three sides.
As kunai and shuriken shot out from the dark forest, courtesy of his clones, Naruto threw a paper bomb down, directly into the center of their little circle. The three Cloud ninja stared at it almost stupidly for a moment before the guy, Sakari, pushed his teammates back and away from the resulting explosion. Because he'd jumped over the paper bomb to do it, Sakari took the brunt of the explosion, which threw him halfway across the clearing.
Naruto's clones darted forwards, out of the forest, closing in on Haku and the third teammate, who got to their feet quickly with weapons in hand.
Haku was almost unnaturally fast, just like her namesake. She dodged every strike sent after her, though it wasn't without difficulty. His clone, which was disguised as Itachi, dealt with her slowly, getting used to her speed and slowly matching up with it, though he quickly found that the girl had a blade tied to the end of the hair gathered in a ponytail, and that she knew how to use it.
Her comrade was the same, almost reminding him of Neji with such smooth, elegant movements. Thankfully, he didn't fight with pressure points, because Naruto absolutely hated dealing with that fighting style. But the man was brutal and exact in his attacks. Naruto didn't want him or his clones to seem too strong, so he only spent the minimum amount of strength necessary to take them out.
"It's them. We need to retreat, Kohaku!" Sakari shouted, disrupting the fight by drawing the attention to himself.
The third boy, Kohaku, who was still fighting with his clone as if his teammate hadn't spoken, suddenly lashed out with a powerful backhand, catching his clone by surprise.
"Back out Haku! Sakari's right." He jumped back, dragging Haku with him. Naruto grinned, still in his hiding place in the trees. He waited until the two passed below him and then jumped down to interpose himself in between them. Burying his fist into Haku's stomach, driving her breath from her, and kicking Kohaku back and away from her, Naruto quickly found the three scrolls that the team held and deposited them into one of his pouches.
As he felt the two boys moving to attack his back, and Haku regaining her breath, Naruto turned and threw Haku bodily into the arms of Kohaku and Sakari. Brandishing one of the scrolls with a grin, Naruto basked in the shocked expressions of the team in front of him.
"I'll be taking this." Naruto then activated his father's jutsu, which would transport him to a kunai not far away from the clearing, and disappeared from their sight.
Sasuke had nine scrolls by the end of the six hour mark.
The southwestern end, which he had taken as his own area to "patrol", seemed less populated by ninja at the moment and more populated by disturbingly large, and decidedly dangerous, wildlife. If that hadn't been so, he would have had far more. He'd already taken out six teams, four of which had held only their own scroll. But two of them had been rather busy themselves; One had held two, and the other three.
Sasuke had mostly kept to the stealth end of Itachi's game, keeping to the shadows and catching his victims in genjutsu. He'd caught one scroll-keeper on a trip to empty his bladder, leaving him out cold for his teammates to find. It was only with the last team that he'd had to attack each member individually. They'd split their three scrolls among each member, in case a rival team decided to do just what Sasuke had.
They hadn't been counting on Sasuke's sheer efficiency in picking them off. Within five minutes, without so much as a single alarm raised, Sasuke stood looking down at the three unconscious ninja with a smug smirk on his face, three new scrolls in hand.
With the sigh of an overworked man, he set off for new prey.
Karin and Juugo only had three scrolls, including the one Juugo had brought in from the team he'd been sent after. Karin had caught two teams just an hour after she'd settled down to wait, and collected their scrolls without a sweat. But there hadn't been a hint of any more ninja since. They'd set up all the traps they thought necessary, but after three hours of waiting, even the patient Juugo couldn't handle the waiting any longer.
So, five hours into the twelve hour time limit, Karin and Juugo set about laying bait and herding some genin into their traps.
On the northwestern end, Suigetsu was raising hell.
No team could get close to any source of water without being attacked by sudden water bullets. And Suigetsu doggedly followed the teams that managed to escape from the barrage, though they could never quite figure out exactly who or what was following them, since Suigetsu could liquefy himself the moment they tried to get a glance of him.
Then, the bully that he was, he proceeded to knock them out the moment their backs were turned, smacking the backs of their necks with the blunt edge of his sword. He then proceeded to gather their scrolls and make his way back to the little stream he had claimed all his own.
By the time seven hours had passed, he held eleven scrolls.
And he was beginning to get a little hungry.
Itachi laid back in the crotch of an ancient tree, his eyes covered by his eyelids, but darting around as though he were watching scenes flicker constantly back and forth.
His ravens had been dispersed all over the Forest of Death, watching over his comrades and searching out the imposters that had likely been planted by Madara. What they saw was being sent back to him to sort out. It was like sorting out the signals from hundreds of eyes, but Itachi was used to it.
He was amused to see that his game was being enjoyed by his teammates, even if they were working overly hard just to avoid what might happen if Itachi himself won the game. But, no, he wasn't planning on taking part.
Every good trainer needs to take a break once in a while to admire his work, after all.
Well? What do you think? Still okay after all this time?