A/N: I seem to have gotten most of the reaction I was hoping for and expecting with the last chapter. Most of you sincerely do seem to hate the OCs, at least a little, from what I've seen in reply so far.
And, as always, remember: this story is not an action adventure. This story's main focus is character interaction and development. I'll probably write out the prelims, but I don't really write action scenes very well, so don't expect me to write them.
She was creepy.
Naruto thought that was the best word to describe the girl. She wasn't scary, really, since she was so young and small, or intimidating, or disturbing (yet), but she was creepy.
He was jumping through the trees now, and he could see her ahead of him, occasionally blocking his view from seeing the new proctor.
He hadn't heard her name yet. She was young, maybe nine years old, with bright red hair and pale skin, with laughing brown eyes and glinting white teeth in a wide smile, with an open-hearted laugh and a voice like a five-year-old.
And she was, above all else, creepy.
Naruto had flinched when a scream had cut the air after his speech in the room, and had choked on his own spit when the scream dropped into laughter, the laughter of a madwoman.
"Right!" She'd laughed. "Hokage? You're a child! You're a genin! You'll probably die before the year is out, maybe even during these very exams!" She laughed again, though it was more like a bark of laughter, cynical and mocking.
"Silly little genin, from all over the world. You go ahead! You takethat question. You pat yourself on the back and die like the swine you are! Think about it! Isn't there a single team here with a sensor? You can feel it! You can feel the demons in the room; you can feel the one outside! You can go ahead, avoid them if you have to, because you'll know who they are, where they are! The rest of you can't! You can't go on and fight, because you are weak and you are ignorant!"
More laughter, quieter, a giggle from the girl, she laughed, she laughed. "Even I know when I have to cut my losses, and I've been told I'm mad as a hatter. We are shinobi. We have no future bar the one chosen for us. You're being given a choice now, one that you won't be offered when given a mission. No, you don't know what it's going to be. Better cautious than dead, you know." She'd smiled with that, put her chin on one hand, and begun to hum, eyes closed.
"You can try all you want. No shinobi survives intact." Her eyes had popped open, her smile turning into a mad grin. "Maybe you'll be broken when my hand rips through your chest and tears out your heart. Maybe you'll be broken watching me do just that to your teammate. Maybe you'll be broken when you hear the far-off screams of all the people I kill. There are nightmares here in these exams, and only some of them are human. But hey!"
Her tone had turned light, conversational, and her smile had grown sickly sweet, too fake. "Take the question. After all, nothing too bad can happen, right?"
Another giggle, a sharkish grin. "Right?"
There had been a dam put up when Naruto had given his speech. People had made up their minds to stay. And then this one little girl had ripped the rug out from underneath them and thrown it into a blender on puree.
Naruto kept an eye on her after that. She seemed confident that she could make her way through the exams, particularly after her comments about sensing. Could she feel the Kyuubi? No, that was insane… right?
He blinked as he noticed the girl's teammates catch up to her and start whispering with her. Occasionally, a word or two drifted back in a language that Naruto didn't know, and the girl would glare, would hiss back. At one point, the blonde even lashed out a hand and slapped the back of the girl's head.
He shook his head. The girl wasn't worth dwelling on.
She. Wasn't. Worth. It.
Several hours later, the teams were entrenched in the forest, wandering and trying to find their way to the tower at the center.
Well, most teams were.
Gaara looked dispassionately down at the two teams he had just killed. He'd taken the normal route with most of them, but he had remembered a conversation from earlier and tried to induce suffocation by stuffing sand down one of their throats. However, that had taken too long and there wasn't enough blood, so he called the sand back and let it rip through the throat, spraying the area in blood as he did so.
"Find the scrolls." He ordered monotonously. Temari, a look of obvious disgust on her features, crept down behind Kankuro to try and find the scrolls. The scrolls were found quickly, but then the distraction came.
"Did you do this?"
Gaara looked up to see a small girl on a tree branch, the same one that had given the demoralizing speech during the first exam.
His eyes narrowed. If she didn't do anything interesting soon, he would kill her, just like all the others. "Yes."
Her eyes widened and she hopped down to the grown, a wild smile gracing her face. She breathed. "It's beautiful…"
Gaara blinked. She now had his interest.
"What?" The question came from Temari.
"So much blood, and it's everywhere…" She giggled, crouching down beside one of the corpses. Her smiled widened as she dipped a finger in a pool of blood and traced swirling patterns on the dead boy's cheek. "It's like an art unto itself…"
She lifted the hand to her face, as if to lick off the blood, to suckle the life-giving red fluid like it was just cotton candy that had stuck to her while she was eating. Such a young girl, and…
She was thrown to the side as one of her teammates slammed into her, a tiny hiss of electricity as the blonde girl followed some pre-ordained procedure to keep the smaller girl under control.
Another body landed in the clearing, male this time. He looked over at the girls and, after ascertaining that neither was hurt and both were calming down, slowly approached the Suna team.
"You are… Gaara, correct?"
Gaara nodded, arms crossed and ready to use his sand to kill this boy if he needed to… or just wanted to.
"Right. Uh…" He rubbed the back of his head, looking appropriately uncomfortable. "I don't… I'm sor… I offer you my apologies for my teammate's actions. Daiya is slightly mentally unstable and due to her clan's nature, she reacts rather strongly to the sight and smell of blood. We are under orders to prevent her from gaining a taste of it under any circumstances without our sensei's permission."
After several more seconds, he seemed to remember something. "Ah!" He bowed. Perhaps the bow was what he had forgotten? "I hope that despite this incident, our teams may continue to meet without any undue antagonism or dislike."
Gaara wasn't sure how to react. Temari took the reins for just a second, and opened up a whole new can of worms. "Her clan?"
The boy scratched the back of his purple-haired head. "Well… yeah. She's, um, a Ketsueki."
"I've never heard of them." Kakashi mentioned as he and the foreign kunoichi exchanged stories about their genin teams.
"I'm not surprised." Kinishi snorted. "The clan had one main rule, and that was to keep its existence secret. Unfortunately, that same rule is what brought them to civil war."
"A civil clan war?"
"Yep. They took each other out with biological warfare that only targeted full-blooded clan members. Daiya's all that's left, and even then…"
"What? So she's the last of the clan?" Maybe he should introduce the girl to Sasuke and Haku. If they knew that there was another—
"Not quite. The Ketsueki had trouble propagating. There were methods to change a non-clan member into a clan member, but they were long and arduous, painful to the extreme. Relationships outside the clan were completely banned unless the loved one was prepared to go ahead with the change."
"Daiya," Kinishi continued, "Was the child of a Ketsueki clan member and a non-member. Her mother underwent the change soon after Daiya's birth. Three years later, the viruses were exchanged on both sides and all the full Ketsueki were wiped out. Halflings like Daiya are rare, and the other four that anyone knew existed were all killed by the dying full members."
"Huh." Kakashi supposed it was a rather interesting story. "So can she use her clan techniques?"
"Not if she wants to stay out of trouble." Kinishi grinned at him. "After all, the Ketsueki had many powers, but they had the unfortunate tendency to go mad using them."
Kakashi wondered whether it was a good thing that Robin had already split off to help with proctoring the second exam. A tired laugh drew his attention back to Kinishi as her eyes grew both soft in recollection and hard in heart.
"The greatest problem is that Daiya's plenty mad already."
Naruto glanced up as he noticed that Sasuke had come back from scouting ahead for the night. Sakura had built the fire already, and Naruto had been the one to get the wood and survival stuff like branches and things.
"Who is that?"
Sakura's voice carried, and Naruto noticed with a start that Sasuke had someone with him someone who was heavily limping and covered in mud and blood. He noticed the red hair and thought for a second that it was the creepy girl, but relaxed marginally as he realized that it wasn't anywhere near curly enough, and that the odd glinting was probably because of a pair of glasses. He even recognized the hitai-ate, even if he couldn't really tell which village it was, just that it was one.
"I found her being attacked by a giant boar. Her teammates are both dead, and she was about to be."
Sakura digested that for a moment, and Naruto for a moment longer, and then they rushed forward to help. If the girl's teammates were dead—and they trusted Sasuke to check—then she wasn't going to try to steal their scroll or kill them, especially if Sasuke had just saved her life.
"What's your name?" Sakura asked as she helped clean one of the girl's wounds. The girl didn't answer, and just continued to stare into the fire.
"She hasn't talked yet." Sasuke offered. "I think she's still in shock."
"Maybe she'll talk after eating?" Naruto suggested. "Or after she sleeps a little?"
Sakura bit her lip. She wished she could help, but dealing with psychological shock wasn't on the curriculum, or something she had learned from Kakashi or any of the other sensei. "Maybe."
The next morning dawned quietly, and Sakura was the first to shake their temporary add-on awake. The girl woke up normally, even making a few noises as she yawned and stretched. Sakura felt a wave of pity hit her, because she could see the moment that the girl remembered what had happened to her. This moment was quickly followed by increasingly violent hyperventilation that threatened to turn into large, wracking sobs at any moment judging by the tears in the girl's eyes.
"Hey, listen. I'm sorry about your teammates, but you need to calm down, okay?" Sakura took her by the shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. Something about what she'd done must have helped, because the girl's breath began to slow, and she curled up in on herself to cry quietly instead of in a way that might draw attention.
"Sakura-chan?" Sakura resisted the urge to squeak in surprise as Naruto's whisper hit her ears. "What's wrong with her?"
Sakura didn't hit him, knowing that the reason he had snuck up on her was so that he wouldn't draw their guest's attention.
"She just woke up," Sakura whispered back, "And I think she just remembered what happened to her teammates."
Naruto frowned and slowly sat down next to Sakura, careful not to spill the ramen that Sakura only just now realized he was holding. "Do you think… do you think she would be better off if we got Sasuke here? I mean, he saved her, so she probably feels safer around him…"
Robin told dozens of stories, and after a while, Kakashi started telling them too, urged by his somewhat-new friend's actions. The stories had the odd effect of ingraining certain patterns in their heads, psychological ones, like knowing that a person would feel safe around someone that had saved their life, whether they realized they felt that way or not. Naruto in particular had taken to learning these patterns, imbuing them, practically.
Sakura shrugged, and then Naruto did something that probably helped a lot more than it would have for anyone else, knowing his luck.
He walked up to the girl and held out his ramen. "Do you want some breakfast?"
She stared at him.
Several seconds passed that way, and Naruto started to feel uncomfortable. The girl then ducked her head and nodded slowly, a tiny nod. Naruto sat down next to her and put the ramen in her hands, wrapping her hand around the chopsticks after she made no move to do so herself.
"Hey, I'm Naruto. That's Sakura-chan, and the guy that saved you was Sasuke." Naruto pointed around the clearing, finally landing on the still sleeping form of his male teammate. "We're from Konoha. What about you?"
"Kusagakure." Her voice was a whisper, and she still sounded broken, but not as badly as before.
"Okay. What about your name?" Naruto pushed the question, but gently.
Naruto smiled brightly at her, and she smiled hesitantly back. "See? That wasn't so hard!"
Karin ducked her head back down, fiddling with her glasses. Naruto wondered if he should have been quieter. Did shock victims react badly to loud noises or something? That would make sense, but it wasn't necessarily true just because it would make sense.
"Oi, what are you doing?" It looked like Sasuke was awake, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He got up heavily, and trudged over to the group.
He nodded to Karin, who blushed and looked at the ground. "Th-thank you."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow, but sighed and rubbed the back of his head, possibly in slight embarrassment. "Well, I wasn't just going to watch you be killed."
Karin seemed to scrunch up in on herself a little more; she took a few bites of the ramen, almost as if to distract herself or use the action as a shield. Naruto frowned at that. He poked her in the side. "C'mon, stop that. You're acting like one of that jerk's fangirls."
"Naruto!" Sakura hissed at him, glaring. Ah, right. Sakura was a fangirl. Or at least used to be. Or maybe she was just upset that he wasn't being nice to Karin. Whatever.
"So what's your name, then? You probably already told these two, but I don't trust the idiot to have introduced us all the way he should have." Sasuke ignored Naruto's glare in favor of sitting down next to Karin, albeit a safe distance away so that she would feel neither alone nor crowded.
Sasuke nodded, not concerned about the fact that she'd left her clan or family name out. Some ninja didn't have them for whatever reason, and some just didn't like them, or kept them secret to keep from giving away their attacks. "Right. I'm Uchiha Sasuke. That's Haruno Sakura, and the idiot is—"
"I'm Uzumaki Naruto, and I'm going to be the next Hokage, dattebayo!"
Karin dropped the ramen, and Naruto glanced from the ramen to Karin's open-mouthed face.
"You're an Uzumaki?"
Naruto blinked, tilting his head to the side. He scrunched up his eyes and scratched the back of his head. "Ano, yeah? I mean, it's my name and all. I never knew my parents, but Jii-san said that I got my mom's family name, so—"
He was bowled over as Karin suddenly crashed into him and hugged him unimaginably tightly.
"Uh…" Naruto looked over at his teammates, searching for an explanation. Neither seemed to understand what was going on. Karin seemed to be crying into his jumpsuit.
Sasuke frowned at them for a second, with a look of suspicion and disbelief. "Karin, what's your clan name?"
Karin sat up moving back so that she was no longer half-sitting on Naruto. "My full name is Uzumaki Karin. I thought the rest of the clan had been destroyed."
She wiped her eyes, and offered Naruto a wobbly grin. "Hello, cousin."
Robin sat in the Tower in the middle of Training Ground Forty Four, legs crossed and hands at her shoulders. Her eyes were closed as she sprouted 'viewpoints' in a several dozen yard radius around the Tower's walls. She could see in every direction, and watched out for teams that could come trickling in early. Only two teams had made it so far, and while she was acquainted with the Suna team, she didn't know the mercenary group at all other than through what little she had heard from Kinishi before Robin had needed to split ways with the younger woman and Kakashi.
A chunin, one that was meant to guard the tower doors and greet new arrivals, rushed into the room. "Nico-san! There's been an incident! They're requesting all back up Tokubetsu Jounin and higher!"
Robin let her eyes vanish elsewhere, and stood up to look at the young man. "Take me to whoever is distributing orders. What happened?"
The chunin gulped nervously, sincerely hoping that he would not be the eponymously shot messenger. "Orochimaru's gone after Hatake's team."
Robin began to run.
A/N: About Karin… I like fluff, okay?! I've just been in a really fluffy mood for the past few weeks, and I can't get it out of my system. I mean, I'd planned the scene several months in advance, but it wasn't supposed to come up for a few more chapters. Still…
Anyone who wants to design a headband for the supposed mercenary group can. If I like it enough, it will be considered "canon" for this storyline.
Now, congratulations to xXTheWingedOneXx, who was the only one to guess who the team was. For those of you who have read my other works, particularly AK:PCO, you'll recognize these guys (if you don't, just treat them as any other random OCs). They're Phoenix Corporation Agents. In particular, Goldstone, Diamond, Chimera, and Opal.
Her reasoning: Well, someone has probably figured this out before me, but it's the Phoenix Corporation. The 'Ketsueki' name was the clue for me—it means 'blood,' right? And then the sensei had 'Kin' which was 'gold,' so the combination of psychotic redhead involving blood and a woman with brown hair and the word gold combined and I thought of Diamond and Goldstone.
So… Daiya is Diamond, Kinishi is Goldstone, Torame is Chimera I'm guessing, and Sakkaku is Opal (Ookami, a wolf—fitting for a werewolf).
As I said, someone probably got it already, but still. Diamond is even more frightening when you consider that she's in the chunin exams...I pity any team that goes after that one.
Here's an explanation for the names (you can skip this if you don't know or care who they are):
Kinishi is kin (gold) and ishi (stone). Daiten is from Dai-tenshi, which is archangel. This is Agent Goldstone (her alternate form is that of an angel, albeit a deadly, vicious one; it will not come into play).
Daiya is one of the words for diamond. Ketsueki means something along the lines of blood and murder. This is Agent Diamond (also known as the Blood Mage in her base stories).
Torame is tora (tiger) and me (eye). Yagira is something along the lines of "from goat" (goat = yagi). This is Agent Chimera (his stone is a tiger's eye gem, and a goat is one of the three heads on a chimera).
Ookami is werewolf. Sakkaku is electric/electricity. This is Agent Opal (her lycanthropy has been nullified for this story due to being something from beyond this universe's set limits on Suspension of Disbelief, though her propensity for electric attacks will be left).
All their powers have been suppressed to hover around the standard level for the shinobi that made it to the prelims in canon and to regular Jounin levels for Goldstone/Kinishi. They have their backstory and everything, so they're really just regular OCs as far as this story is concerned.
Okay, you can look again.
Of course, the promised Omake, and the prompt for such: Could we see, perhaps, exactly how far out-of-proportion the story about Robin has grown? Who's heard of it and what they think, kind of thing.
…That won't be an Omake. I'll turn it into a full-blown chapter, mostly because it's almost exactly what the last Interlude chapter was like, and I feel it's time for another.
Enjoy your cliffhanger!