As the cackling dies away, the assembled genin stand frozen, unsure of what their next actions should be. I, on the other hand, am already moving, grabbing my teammates by the hand and sprinting up the wall beside us, not caring that I ran over several other people on my way.
"Naruto! What are you doing?" Kurenai pulls herself free, landing in a crouch on one of the horizontal beams of metal.
I groan. She really needs to start thinking faster.
"Isn't it obvious? There's at least one hundred of us in here, and only sixteen doors up there!"
Yes. That is exactly what I want to say - wait, what?
I spin, sinking a hand into one of the many pouches hanging on my waist, surging chakra through a premade seal tag. Light blossoms, throwing the features of the three ninja in front of us into sharp relief. They're familiar in an odd sort of way, but I just can't place my finger on it.
A shadow slinks up behind them, drawing a scalpel and resting it almost lazily against the soft skin of the speaker's upper neck. The foreign ninja freezes, and his teammates tense, ready to leap into action. I have to sigh -
"Kabuto! Please, try and limit the number of needless deaths?"
With a shrug, he relaxes and lets the scalpel slip through his fingers. The moment the other two remove their hands from their sheathed swords, his hands lash out, trailing a green glow behind them. Bonelessly, all three slump to the ground and slip off the side of the beam, falling with a splash into the water below.
He pushes his glasses back up and crosses his arms. "As you wished, they still breath. They may not be able to feel anything below the neck, however."
As Kurenai gapes, I simply shake my head and glance around the cavernous building. Keeping the tag activated for any longer than necessary will probably be hazardous to our health - I'm honestly surprised that we were only approached by a single team.
Already, the clash of steel can be heard intermittently, as ninja blunder into each other all over the place. A few spots of light here and there reveal others who chose to remove themselves from the madhouse the beginning platforms had become, and were also surveying the area; there are a good deal more than I expected. With a grimace, I extinguish the tag and catch my teammates by the arm.
With that, I leap off the girder into the darkness below.
Three hours into the testing period, the number of genin seems to have been cut by more than a third - either that, or teams have finally started wisening up about not drawing any attention. There is only a little noise that is easily picked up, since the rushing of the water rising drowns out most else.
A hot breath brushes past my ear as Kurenai leans in.
"What exactly are we doing?"
"I'd like to know as well." Kabuto's voice floats from the darkness in front of me, colored with the slightest tinge of exasperation. "As surprisingly comfortable as your clone is, we can't just float here the entire time."
I sigh - quietly, of course. No need to waste all the time we've spent hiding.
"Try and sense what's going on under the water. A number of teams have fallen in, either from exhaustion after hanging to the walls, or as the losers of an unfriendly encounter."
I pause, listening for any nearby movement.
"If they'd drowned, their bodies should have floated to the surface by now."
I can almost hear them stop and consider this for a moment.
"Alright, so they're not dead. Why does that matter?"
Ah, Kurenai. Still so naive. Well, a decade or so of experience should change that but...
"I never said they were alive. All that means is their bodies are no longer below us." Letting that sink in for a moment, I continue. "That said, they probably aren't dead - the mist can't really afford the political fallout from having three quarters of the testing genin die on their watch."
"I can't be certain, but there are probably several kiri ninja with enhanced rebreathers collecting those who fall under. There's probably another exit near the bottom of the warehouse that leads to a holding cell of some kind."
There's a slight splashing as Kabuto paddles his clone platform closer, masked by the significantly louder sound of a body falling twenty feet into the steadily rising water.
There goes another one.
"Your logic makes sense, but that still doesn't explain what we are doing down here."
Well, he's certainly got more experience, but he's got a dearth of imagination. I suppose I'll have to work on that as well...
"Think about it for a minute; looking at the way the proctor phrased the instructions, and the fact that no one's come up from below the water yet, I'm assuming that the ninja under water have instructions to capture anyone who falls in regardless of if they can still swim or not. I don't know how many other teams figured out all of this, although some of the mist genin might have an idea, but everyone's avoiding the water instinctively, even you two. "
Kurenai shakes her head behind me, her silky hair brushing across my face.
Some of it got stuck in my mouth. Yuck.
"It's not that we're scared of falling in - we were just wondering why the three of us are using two of your water clones as living surfboards."
Ah, that. Well, there are sort of two questions here, so I think I'll take the high road.
"Ah, that. Well, there isn't any light in here, but since just touching the water doesn't trigger a ninja jumping out to capture you, they have to have someway of monitoring how large of an object has broken the water's surface. As it happens, there's an interesting but rather useless jutsu that creates an extremely thin bubble of water natured chakra at a predetermined distance away from the user. It can only be used in a larger body of water, and all it does is fail whenever something that's not water - again, of a predetermined size - passes through. Odds are the ninja below us are using it, since it doubles as a simple chakra exercises that pretty much all kiri ninja are taught in their academy."
I scratch the tip of my nose and shrug.
"My clones are made of water, and don't really take any effort to maintain. They don't register to any ninja below us, and most of the ninja above us would rather not come this close to the surface. We can just sit here and relax until the last hour, then claim a door and fight off all the poor, tired genin until they open."
Even more -
"Actually a good plan."
Of course it is, I made it!
Wait a second...
"Why, exactly, do you two sound so surprised?"
Kabuto shifts, once or twice, before speaking. "The last plan you had a hand in ended up blowing - "
"Wait, wait, wait. Forget that!" Kurenai bursts out in a furious whisper. "How come he gets his own clone to sit on, and I'm stuck sharing one with you?"
Heh. The other question.
"Well, it is a little tricky to..." I pause, searching for an excuse. "I am only six, you know."
"Naruto, you are seve -"
"Shhhhh. Are you trying to get everyone's attention or something?"
As Kurenai struggled and tried to get my hand off her mouth, I smirked to myself. Sure, I may not be biologically capable of enjoying a beautiful young woman hanging off of me, but mentally?
As my granddaughter - not sure which one - put it, a few years ago, I grew up into a dirty, dirty old man.
"Mizukage! I didn't see you there!"
Ringo walked into the monitoring room and waved off the platitude. "Can it, Hokage. If you didn't know I was coming from two floors away, I'll eat my boots."
"Those are some very nice boots; of course, the woman wearing them is just as fine."
"Oh, you. Your wrinkled face still looks like a prune, too."
The ANBU escort for both parties cringed, expecting the worst.
Several hacking coughs later, the two elderly ninja were sitting in plush chairs sipping piping hot tea that had been delivered by a unified group of babysitters; all things considered, running errands to get refreshments was a lot less stressful than having to watch their charges. Many sob stories where shared, to much commiseration.
Hiruzen tilted his hat back, idly lifting the liquid in his cup into ephemeral dancing figures. "Oh, it is always so enjoyable, watching the young scurry around blindly.
Ringo cocked an eyebrow, and set down her cup, barely disturbing the image of a man sailing a boat that rose through the steam above her tea. "Are you talking about the children on the monitors, or the children who are supposed to be" she pauses, fighting back a snort "protecting us from each other?"
"Both I suppose, although we should probably at least try and be professional, for all our sakes. If they keel over, I'm going to have to retrain a new group of gofers, and if I laugh too much more, I'm going to end up like old Onoki."
"Hmm. Well, it can't hurt to try. How is the old dragon, anyways?"
"Well, he's still got the fencepost up his ass, but - hmm?"
Ringo leaned forwards, looking at the screen. "What is it?"
"There, near the bottom."
After seven hours of constant tension with close to zero visibility, the remaining genin were all on their last nerve. There were around nine or ten full teams left, with a few loners here and there - around the halfway point, most of the fighting had died down as locating enemies became harder and harder.
The water had risen up most of the height of the warehouse and was still rising, with only the last twenty feet of space safe to move in. Pretty much everyone left on their feet had figured out that the water was dangerous, and while it hadn't yet devolved into an open brawl, there were several brisk scuffles as teams jockeyed for the best positions to enter the doors in an hour.
There was a strangled grunt, and a genin from Iwa looked to his left and felt the girder he was standing on shift, as if a weight had suddenly been removed.
Before he could react, he was struck sharply in base of the skull by a fist sized object that seemed to bend around his head, and he fell, true darkness rising up to claim him.
"Ooh, that looked like it hurt."
The monitors in the lounge were linked to a number of waterproof thermal cameras spread throughout the warehouse. Most of the heat signatures above the water were stationary, but here and there, some were falling with no other movement.
Ringo turned to one of the technicians working the monitoring equipment. "Can you increase the resolution on camera 3, please, and play the last five minutes in slow motion?"
"Yes ma'am, but there's nothing th - what the!"
The monitor now showed thin lines of color arcing towards each of the ninja who fell, lines that were almost the exact same color as the water below.
Ringo frowned, looking intently at the video. "Those are water whips, they have be, but how does he know where to aim?
Hiruzen chuckled again, louder and longer. "I can't say for sure, but I have a pretty good idea."
Sitting on a raft made of water clones in the middle of the warehouse, Naruto had his eyes screwed shut in concentration and his hands folded in two separate seals. Kneeling behind him was Kurenai, who was casting a partial sensory deprivation genjutsu on her willing target - although, even with absolutely no active resistance from Naruto, random spikes of some weird chakra would keep pushing her technique to near failure, required constant attention.
Kabuto stood before them, with the tips of each index finger pressing down right by the auditory canal, using a twisted application of medical chakra to drastically increase the sensitivity of Naruto's ears.
Naruto himself was splitting his chakra along three separate paths, two external and one internal. Compensating for the damage that Kabuto's technique was doing as his hypersensitive eardrums began to violently react to vibration, he flooded his head with chakra, letting Kabuto use it to boost his naturally high healing as well.
With his left hand, he held half of the seal for a generic clone, drawing on his vast experience with clones of all types to make up for the missing steps. Water clones sprang into existence by his side, grabbing a hastily modified seal tag from a pile in his lap, and dashing quietly across the water and scaling the walls, hanging on the the bottom of the girders as they located the oblivious genin waiting for the doors to open. As a ninja was found, the clones would activate the tags in bursts, releasing, instead of a brilliant blast of light, a pure tone in the 150 kHz range, well above what any ninja could normally hear.
As each clone released a slightly different tone, due to the different amounts of chakra each tag was receiving, and each clone used timed pulses of the sound to relay their position relative to their creator, Naruto was swamped by a cacophony of sound that required absolute focus to decipher. The moment he determined the location of an enemy, his right hand plunged into the water and hurled a whip of water into the air.
Another genin fell.
In the end, though sixteen doors opened from the warehouse to the makeshift balcony ringing the top floor, only fifteen ninja emerged. Of them all, only one full team lasted all they way through the second trial.
As the monitors displayed the tired but proud Konoha team standing tall on the roof of the second testing arena, Ringo leaned back and shook her head.
"God damn, that brat of yours is just unfair!"
A/N: Alright, it's been awhile, and I'm kinda surprised anyone still reads this...
Anyways, I've been in and out of the hospital for a while, and my partner apparently didn't want to write without me, so...here we are, almost a year later.
I have to admit, for a chapter coming after such a long time, this is not one of our best works (mostly my fault, since I'm pretty much out of practice).
Hope you guys enjoyed it.