Tightening the gauze wrap, Zabuza finished the cover for his sword and stood up. He had debated writing seals on the linen strips, but decided it was too much work for a pointless deception to bother. Strapping the blade to his back he waited by the door for Chojuro to finish getting ready so they could finally get this day started. The boy came out of his room, nervously adjusted his goggles, and cracked his knuckles as he strode to the front door.
"He didn't come in last night either?" Chojuro's voice seemed slightly worried.
"He'll show up. Doubtless he's waiting in the wings somewhere waiting." It was a matter of fact answer. After giving the Konoha guards a slip, Haku had simply disappeared. The act had driven Yamato crazy, which was rather fun. Still, with Orochimaru somewhere on the loose, a plot between Suna and Oto, not to mention a delegation from Kiri being in town, there were almost too many players for the stage and a single actor like Haku could be overlooked… though knowing Haku that would only happen because it would be his intention. After all the years he had known him, he was still unpredictable.
"I hope Mizukage-Sama isn't angry at us for missing the banquet last night."
"Truth be told I'm certain she didn't expect us to show up. It wouldn't be our style. Besides, both she and the delegates know actions are more important. The three of us doing well in the tournament is more important than looking impressive at some boring dinner." Looking at the clock, he nodded to the younger genin. "Let's go."
Heading out on the roads was a different experience; the town seemed far quieter today. Security was at alert, meaning their usual guards had been replaced by guards on every rooftop. Though shops were closed, bars and other public houses were open with radios on for the broadcast. It seemed ridiculous that such an event was treated the same by some as a sporting event. That shinobi would be popular figures like this almost disgusted him. Something inside of him was half tempted to just leave Konoha right then, but the weight on his back seemed to push him forward to the arena.
Checking in was work for low-class shinobi who care about paperwork. Zabuza just strode in and made his way to the wing reserved for the competitors. The three nin from Suna were waiting in a corner, as well as the three raven-haired boys from Konoha. The one with the sunglasses was rather fearsome; those kikaichu of his made him a very real and very quiet threat. The other Konoha nin, the shadow boy and the Hyuuga were competent in their own respects, but still more boys than men. The last one waiting was the remaining genin from Otogakure, the weapon on his arm looked different, a shade of green. Perhaps he had added a new lacquer cover to make it match the fresh grass cloak he wore.
In a far corner was the exam proctor, that Gekko he had fought with the other week. The circles around his eyes had cleared up, though worry still marked his face. Squeezing the hand of a purple-haired, masked ANBU, he nodded as the woman handed him a paper before leaving.
"Chuunin exam finalists," he paused for a moment to cough, "I need your attention for a moment. We're still short three of you, but we need to start the opening ceremony in a few minutes. I need you all down on the field in five minutes, the Hokage will arrive, speak a few words, and then I'll announce the final roster for the tournament. Hopefully by then our late-comers will show up."
Looking down on the field, Zabuza debated whether to make a showy entrance or not. 'No. Save the show for when it's my fight." While part of him was worried about Haku, he was more worried about how hot the Kubikiribōchō felt on his back. There was a fight coming, and this exam was only the prelude.
It was her hair that first caught Haku's eye. It was meant to be worn in the style of a young noblewoman from the Land of Water, but it wasn't quite right, it didn't have the same lift from the neck as was the proper style. Once she had caught his eye, it was unmistakable. She was the girl from the Forest of Death he had put to sleep with a genjutsu; Tsuchi Kin, from Otogakure.
Tightening his sash, Haku looked ahead towards the front of the stadium and caught sight of Naruto running in. Given the time it was clear he was also late to the opening ceremony, but in his heart Haku knew the tournament was going to be out of his reach given his current condition. After all, making it to Konoha in time had been enough of a challenge. Finding her again, he kept out of sight. Between his light red robe, his hair tied up in his bun holder, and the fact he wasn't wearing a mask, he doubted anyone would take him for one of the participants. Still, he was interested to see how things would play out, especially with the alliance that had existed between the Sound and the Sand. Had the Kazekage arrived in Konoha? What plans did the Sound genin have? Given how hopeless they had looked when he spied on them in the locker room during the Chuunin semi-finals, he wondered what their current aim was.
Taking a seat on the stands a few rows behind her, he looked down just in time to see the other fighters come into the stadium. Zabuza stood tall and proud, though he had always been tall for his age, his adult height was almost upon him and he was a good head above the others. Above the arena was the VIP box, the Hokage sat alone for the moment, but as he rose he motioned to his left and right and he was joined by the Mizukage as well as a masked figure wearing the Kazekage's robes. It was impossible to tell if it was Orochimaru or the actual Yondaime Kazekage.
The village leaders exchanged pleasantries for a few moments before taking their seats. The Kazekage raised his voice and announced the start of the tournament to everyone in attendance. After that, the sickly looking man nodded and held a sheet of paper before the competitors and began to announce the schedule for the final exams
"It took us some time to decide the schedule for the tournament, given that we have twelve competitors. Four of you are getting a bye until the second round: Naruto, Zabuza, Shino and Dosu all get to wait until the second round for their fights. The first round fights are as follow: Chojuro of the Mist against Hyuuga Neji, Uchiha Sasuke against Gaara, Kankuro against Yuki Haku, and finally Nara Shikamaru will face Temari. Any questions?"
There was still a bit of a murmur among the crowd about the absence of young Sasuke, but the excitement for the other matches settled most of the noise. Looking up for a moment, Haku realized the Mizukage was not looking directly at the arena, but rather in his own direction. There was a definite fire in her eyes, but she turned her head towards the Hokage with a laugh and went back to watch Chojuro get ready for his fight with the Hyuuga prodigy.
Sitting back, Haku tried to get comfortable, but he knew when things started they would escalate quickly, so he stayed alert. To those in attendance, their questions were about who would win the fights. Haku knew better, the real questions were: who was going to make the first move, and when was the opportune moment? Folding his arms, he watched carefully how this would play out and wondered about what role he wanted to play.