Naruto: Set in Stone
by The SOC Puppet
Chapter 3 – Official Things
Summary: Naruto was accepted by the Stone Village, and his grandfather made him the heir to the Yamazaki Clan, complete with a "stealth" fiancée, Kaori. Though his aunt objected to him as a "demon," Naruto's feelings were smoothed over by his father, the Fifth Tsuchikage.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of the characters in this story, except for originals that may pop up along the way. All jutsus are also not my property, other than the ones I think up.
" " – Speech
Italics – Thoughts
"Okay, let me get the ground rules out for you. Winner is determined by touches – power moves are acceptable, but I don't want anybody going for the kill. You use something with lethal intent, and I'll kick your ass myself. Got it?"
Yamazaki Naruto shrugged. His grandfather had been organizing daily family sparring matches since he was three; the rules were always the same – including that they sparred out in the wasteland because of the damage their techniques could do. Over the years, various things had whittled the morning ritual down to just this match – ten-year old Naruto against his oldest sister, fifteen-year old Yoriko.
It was a pain to doing anything that early in the morning, but it was worse fighting such a tough opponent. Yoriko had nothing but the title of Tsuchikage in her sights. As many times as she denied it, that desire to be better than everyone (and him in particular) came out in sparring matches. No lethal intent, my ass. Gramps doesn't think it's lethal until you can see the blood spill.
Yoriko gave him one of her patented Death Stares, and then vanished, the last Naruto saw of his sister a tail of brown hair flying behind her. It reminded him again that he'd have to be careful.
Of the three Yamazaki daughters, Yoriko was the only one who took after Mizuki in looks, with brown hair instead of blonde. She was also the only one who had any desire to become a full-fledged combat shinobi. Perhaps unfairly, all of the pressure to match Naruto had fallen on Yoriko. So when she teased him more, or was less willing to train with him, Naruto took in stride. Fighting her was dicier. How much so became clear when a hand burst out from underneath him.
"Doton: Shinjuu Zanshu no Jutsu (Earth Element: Inner Decapitation Technique)!"
Naruto snarled, already leaping forwards, away from his starting point. Like I'm going to fall for that! If there was one good thing about fighting Yoriko, it was that she was fairly predictable. His sister always started the fight with the same move. Now it was up to him to outthink her and come up with a good counter. By the time his feet touched the ground again, he had a familiar move ready to go.
"Doton: Jishin Ken (Earth Element: Earthquake Fist)!"
Naruto had more chakra to use on the Earthquake Fist now, and its effects were far stronger. He knew it wouldn't be nearly enough to defeat Yoriko, but that wasn't the point. One quake and all of the tunnels she dug for the Inner Decapitation Technique will collapse. Force her into the open and you can see what's coming…not that it's any easier to win that way.
If there was one advantage Yoriko had, it was their mother. She'd had access to Mizuki's knowledge of Water jutsus for five more years than Naruto. The younger boy knew his share, but Yoriko was constantly surprising him with new attacks. Naruto was quickly learning to hate surprises.
"Suiton: Suishouha (Water Element: Water Wave)!"
Water coalesced around Yoriko, drawn out of the moisture in the air, rising to spin around the girl. When she opened her eyes, the wave surged towards Naruto, a wall of liquid bent on crushing him underneath its weight.
Yoriko stared at Naruto, wondering why he wasn't doing anything. When her brother's hands started moving, she cursed. As much as he hated her experience in Water, Yoriko wasn't happy with the lessons Kantaro and Shira had given Naruto in Earth. But then this was her brother. Abandoned by one village, and forced into all sorts of things by another. She knew instinctively he held back in these fights, humoring Kantaro and not wanting to hurt anyone. But how much was he holding back? How big of a threat would he be when the Tsuchikage title became open? Show me, Naruto. If you're strong enough, at least I'll enjoy the fight we have someday.
"Doton: Ganshou Kanketsusen (Earth Element: Magma Geyser)!"
The earth shook as a column of molten magma surged upwards from Naruto's position, angled at the water wall and straight at Yoriko. When the two forces met, the burning metal overwhelmed the water in a cloud of steam. When Yoriko's sight cleared, Naruto was gone.
Damn! I should have known he'd use magma to counter. All the steam let him get away and plan another strike. And to top it off, that magma's still coming at me!
Naruto tried to learn any new attack he saw, especially if he saw the hand seals. Most of the time, to his sister's disgust, he succeeded after less time than she'd taken to learn the same thing. Yoriko had a counter, but could she risk using it and having him use it against her later? Rather than become a fried kunoichi, she chose safety.
"Suiton: Sokusei Hyouki (Water Element: Instant Ice Age)!"
Gathering water into her mouth, the brown-haired girl sprayed it outwards in a wide angle, spreading it into mist rather than in a stream. As the mist met the onrushing magma, it cooled to an arctic temperature, flash freezing the molten death that had threatened her, a line of hardened rock snaking back to Naruto's original position.
Where did he go?
The earth rumbled again, but before Yoriko could look around to see the cause, the ground collapsed beneath her, the sides of the new hole flowing and stretching into the form of a inhuman maw, complete with jagged teeth.
"Doton: Gametsui Koketsu (Earth Element: Grasping Jaws of Death)!"
Naruto emerged from his own set of tunnels as the earth swallowed his sister, the mouth closing and warping into the form of a dome. Even as he exited the underground, he was planning his next move. That won't hold her long. Got to figure out what's coming next while she's blind.
He didn't have to wait long.
"Suiton: Hyouryu Ken (Water Element: Ice Dragon Fist)!"
A shining form burst out of the earth dome, taking the shape of a dragon, the ice crystals that had formed it gleaming in the sunlight. Yoriko watched through the hole she'd just created to see where her brother was – and watched in horror as the frozen dragon plowed into him.
The smaller combatant stumbled to his knees, a gaping hole visible in the left side of his torso, and Yoriko raced out of the dome, mouth open in shock. What have I done? As much as she saw him as a rival for glory, and an obstacle to be passed, Naruto was still her brother. The little boy who had grown up idolizing her, thinking she was cool when others simply saw an arrogant girl. The last thing she wanted to do was to hurt him.
Yoriko stopped short when Naruto's body began to dissolve, slowly turning into dust that blew away in the slight breeze.
Koujin Bunshin no Jutsu (Dust Clone Technique)!? Damn him! He knew I'd feel guilty and leave myself open!
"Doton: Daichi Shibun Goretsu Ha (Earth Element: Earth Disruption Wave)!"
Yoriko turned to see Naruto place his hands on the ground, completing the seals of their father's first created jutsu. The earth shook again; suddenly the ground beneath her feet wasn't so solid anymore.
Daimaru's favorite jutsu was capable of doing several things, such as turning rocks into dirt, earth into mud, and if it could be controlled well enough, even turning dirt into quicksand. She had no idea when Naruto had learned their father's jutsu –the Fifth Tsuchikage used it often enough – but he'd learned it well. Already she could feel herself sinking, the quicksand dragging her down.
At the same time as she thanked the gods for her brother's safety, Yoriko resolved to give him a thorough thrashing later for giving her a near heart attack. And thinking a little quicksand would finish me off, for that matter. You're not the only one who knows Earth jutsus!
"Doton: Seki Sentou no Jutsu (Earth Element: Stone Spire Technique)!"
A column of rock shot upwards from underneath her, blasting Yoriko out of the pool of quicksand and into the air, hands already moving for her next attack. She – and Naruto, doing the same on the ground – froze when a voice snapped into the battlefield, cracking like a whip.
"FATHER! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Kantaro turned to see Mizuki standing at the edge of the wasteland, the Death Stare Yoriko had given Naruto in her eyes, only magnified. The retired Kage quirked an eyebrow.
"Sparring. What's it look like?"
When Mizuki responded, her voice was dripping with sugary sweetness. Yoriko and Naruto winced – their mother never used that voice with anyone unless she was about to go bananas.
"You have no idea what day it is, do you?"
"Monday, I believe. So what?"
"Yes, Monday. The First of May, in fact. Does that ring a bell?"
"Can't say it does. Daimaru screwed with my yearly schedule when he took over, as you'll remember."
"Oh, really? Your grandson has been looking forward to this day for months. That has no effect on your memory?"
Yamazaki Kantaro opened his mouth to speak, and then stopped short. Oh, bloody hell.
Mizuki looked on, the expression on her face becoming more annoyed by the second.
"You know now, don't you? Today is the day of the Genin Exams, and when the class pictures are taken. The day I did an extra-large load of laundry and ironing for, which you have just managed to ruin."
"Mizuki, they always spar in the mornings. Why not dress him in the good clothes when he came back?"
The Fifth Tsuchikage's wife smiled, but her eyes were blazing with anger. Naruto wasn't fooled by the expression and started tiptoeing towards the village. Better get out now before she remembers I had a hand in this too.
"He always comes back home and falls asleep after he fights Yoriko. By the time I could get him out of bed, washed again, dressed again and off to the Academy, he'd be late. And you know what happens to students who are late to their own Genin Exam – since it was your idea in the first place."
Kantaro sighed, shaking his head. Anyone who missed their own exam got no exam, and would have to wait an entire year to try again. Miss three times and you got no more chances at all. It would be a shame if the Fourth's grandson violated the very rule his grandfather had written, even if this was his first try at the Genin rank.
The way Naruto slept, it was a miracle if he ever made it to the Academy on time – on normal days. To have to go back home now, shower, change and dress again would easily make him miss his exam.
"We can always tell the clients dirt builds character."
"Very funny," Mizuki growled. "Then you can explain to the village why your grandson will look like a starved, beat-up waif until he reaches Chuunin and takes another picture."
Kantaro shook his head, at which point he noticed that only Mizuki now shared the battlefield with him.
"Speaking of which, where'd the scamp go?"
"To school, like he should have. He knows perfectly well I don't want to see him right now. As for Yoriko, she has a mission coming up. I haven't even gotten to that yet."
The Fourth Tsuchikage sighed, cursing his fate and preparing to be ranted at.
Women these days…
"Are you seriously going to the Exam looking like that?"
Naruto scowled at the red-haired girl who walked beside him, the sleeves of her kimono swaying as she moved. Kaori, also ten, had her own training most days that she hated just as much. His fiancée didn't talk much about it, but Naruto gathered it had something with Aunt Mana trying to turn the tomboyish girl into a "proper lady."
Yeah, right. Good luck with that. You'd have a better shot getting Shira to wear panties.
"If I go home now, I'll be late. What about you? You look like one of Kana's dolls. You wanna be stuck looking all foofy until we get promoted?"
Kaori scowled this time, picking at a loose thread on her sleeve.
"My mom was going to do my hair until I talked her into giving me the kimono."
"Never mind," Naruto winced. "You got off lucky."
Ishida Mana fancied herself a good hairdresser. Her daughters had a different opinion, especially when their mother's elaborate hairdos left them struggling to hold their heads straight.
"You ever get the feeling your mom really wanted to be a geisha? I mean, she's got you learning ikebana (flower arranging), the tea ceremony, dressing like a geisha…what's next? Folk dance?"
Kaori's hand met the back of her fianc's head.
"Don't go giving her ideas. You know she would."
Naruto grinned, unrepentant.
"She hasn't already?"
Kaori grumbled and pulled her left sleeve back, revealing a bracelet with a small crystal orb embedded inside, the characters "Juuryoku (Gravity)" engraved on its surface.
"Not while I have this to train with, she won't."
Kantaro wanted them married to extend the Yamazaki line, but he was also betrothing Naruto and Kaori for the Ishida family's Bloodline Limit. Clan Ishida had long ago been given the ability to control natural forces, embodied in eight sacred orbs, one for each force – Gravity, Weather, Temperature, Light, Friction, Time, Luck and Chaos.
Kaori's father controlled the strongest orb, Time. Her aunt used Weather, while her uncle had Friction. The two most unpredictable orbs, Luck and Chaos, had to be used in tandem, to protect the user of the Chaos orb. That duty had gone to her older sisters, Yuri and Maki.
Kaori was a special case. With only the five Ishida sisters to continue the clan, her father and the Clan elders had decided to let the strongest control the most orbs, making her children the stronger descendants. To them, Kana was too passive and Kira too aggressive to have such responsibility. Kaori had been given the remaining three orbs – Gravity, Light and Temperature. She wasn't complaining – the training required to master three orbs took her out of the house all the time.
Naruto wasn't always certain how to treat the girl. He barely even thought of Kaori as his fiancée. Kantaro was dead set on the idea, but both his mother and Aunt Mana had concerns about forcing the two children together. Having them train together had been bad enough in the beginning, when Kaori was only using the Gravity orb. He'd never quite gotten over being dribbled up and down like a ball the first time she'd used it on him.
"Sure, flaunt the Bloodline. Your family oughta just get big old capes and write out your powers on the back. Go all out."
Naruto and Kaori didn't even have to look to know who'd spoken. The redhead waved a hand lazily at the figure leaning against a nearby doorway.
"You're one to talk, Mister Look-How-Big-A-Sinkhole-I-Can-Make. Have you paid back Old Man Kawakami yet for busting up his doghouse last week?"
"Who's the one who set the targets up on the edge of his lot?"
"It's called practicing control, Juzo. You know, so you don't kill the examiners when they ask you to show your strongest jutsu?"
"They're adults. They can take it."
Takeda Juzo, the same age as Naruto and Kaori, seldom disguised his contempt for the Stone Village's older generation. Naruto could hardly blame him. Juzo and his entire family had basically been condemned by most of the village for the actions of one person – his older brother. Takeda Jirobou had gone rogue and left the Stone when Naruto was four. Daimaru had defused the crisis and shut down outright slander of the Takedas, but there was only so much the Tsuchikage could do. Backstabbing and gossip are never easy to police.
Grown and experienced shinobi, the older Takedas weathered the criticism. Juzo, who had idolized his older brother, was another story. Gradually, as the years passed, Jirobou remained a criminal, and kids kept teasing him, Juzo's attitude – and tongue – had gotten sharper and more cynical. It had gotten him into more and more fights, sometimes winning, but most of the time being ganged up on. Without allies, it had been a pretty bleak existence. At least until the day the fights got even.
To be defended was enough of a surprise. Juzo was too proud to ask for help, and as an outcast he'd never expected it. But to be defended by the most privileged child in the village, Yamazaki Naruto, had stunned everyone. When one of them asked Naruto why, the blond boy shut them all up with one phrase.
"Any one of us could go through the same thing if someone in our family screwed up if the rest of us just sat there and kept our mouths shut."
The Yamazaki family had never lied about who Naruto was. Or, even riskier, what he was. It had become a point of village pride that they, the people of the Stone, had accepted Naruto, and not blamed him for the crime of another, as the Leaf had. Pride they had to keep secret from other villages, but pride nonetheless. By holding himself and his story out, the Tsuchikage's son had ended the teasing. He'd also gained himself a reluctant, yet admiring companion. Naruto didn't mind that Juzo was constantly challenging him and trying to match his accomplishments. It was better than having kids fawn on him on their parents' orders, to get a little influence or popularity.
Naruto cast a jaundiced eye at his friend's worn-out practice gi.
"You look like a reject from a bad martial arts movie. Couldn't you find anything cleaner to wear?"
The stocky boy shrugged.
"This was my brother's when he was my age."
"So you're going in there dressed as him? The girls' costume sleepover is next week at Kaori's house, not tonight. You can impress her friends then. All you're gonna do today, looking like that, is piss the examiners off."
"Exactly my goal."
Naruto sighed, shaking his head slowly like Kantaro did with him.
"The only way you're ever going to be allowed out of the Earth Country to find Jirobou is if you're Anbu, one of the elders' most trusted. Flunk the Genin tests, you'll never even get out of the village."
Juzo levered himself out of the doorway and walked out into the street, moving towards the Academy with Naruto and Kaori in tow.
"So what? If I don't get to go find him, you're gonna be next in line to get the job."
"Pal," Naruto grumbled, "you don't want that to happen."
"Now what're you babbling about?"
Kaori cleared it up, always ready to tweak the third member of the trio.
"Naruto defends you and hangs out with you because you're innocent. You and your parents never committed any crime. But however you look at it, Jirobou did. He didn't get kidnapped, he left on his own. If Naruto or any other ninja gets assigned to hunt him, they'll be ordered to kill him. If you want him to get a second chance, you'll have to do it yourself."
Naruto stared hard into Juzo's eyes, willing his friend to understand.
"Acting like a jackass won't make anybody trust you, man. Swallow a little pride, be a gentleman about the backbiting, and you'll sail through. We've done too much training not to get through this now."
"Easy for you to say, Mister I'm-The-Tsuchikage's-Son."
The blonde boy threw his hands up in exasperation.
"You kidding me? Between Shira, my dad, and Gramps, my tests are going to be the hardest of anybody's. If I get through it without getting myself dirty, banged up and wasted again, it'll be a miracle."
"Gluttons for punishment, aren't we?"
Naruto and Kaori grinned as Juzo growled their unofficial motto.
"Better believe it."
"All right, you little imps. Who's got the guts to take on the Genin tests first?"
Iguchi Magoichi, Shira's father, was the principal of the Hidden Stone's Academy, which was probably the perfect job for him. The old man literally looked like the very rocks that surrounded the village. His grizzled, battle-scarred face had been the butt of plenty of graffiti and jokes over the years, which Magoichi responded to with plenty of his own insults.
Naruto, Kaori and Juzo were more than familiar with the old man's habits, and beat him to the punch by stepping forward.
"Well, well. If it isn't the Heir, the Turncoat and Nature Girl. Figures you three would try and upstage me – again."
Juzo opened his mouth to snap a reply, but Naruto and Kaori's elbows jabbing him in the side shut him up. Kaori did the talking instead.
"Can we all act like normal people one day out of the year?"
Magoichi sighed theatrically.
"Kids these days. Dish out the insults, but ya can't take 'em."
Naruto rolled his eyes at the old man's usual reaction. They'd played this game since he was six years old.
"You oughta put all that energy into making up the tests, Principal. Wouldn't want everybody to sail through Genin qualifying. How would you look?"
"Better than you, as always."
"Principal," Naruto snorted, "I told you your bathroom mirror was warped. You never fixed it?"
"Pshaw! Just for that, you're taking the first turn at the testing area. Show your classmates how it's done."
Naruto shrugged as Magoichi shooed him towards the Academy testing grounds.
"Like you weren't planning on putting me first up anyway, to show 'em you ratcheted up the test this year."
"How well you know me, my tiny nemesis."
"Less theatrics, more testing. Let's get this over with."
"Now, then. The first quality we look for in shinobi is the ability to survive a fight without wasting a lot of chakra on jutsus. You're going to be going on your share of long missions, and there'll be times when you've got little or no chakra to rely on. This test simulates a battle, and you'll have to get through the course without using jutsus. You can concentrate your chakra, but pick and choose your spots; you'll only get to do it three times. Any more, and a penalty will be added to your time."
Naruto grumbled as he was herded to the starting line.
"Why don't you just say you think jutsus are for wimps and be done with it?"
"It's called courtesy to the weak. Scared already?"
The Tsuchikage's son rolled his eyes and stretched.
The course that had been laid out was a flat stretch of land, fenced off by a barrier high enough to shield spectators from most of the debris, and low enough to let everyone see what happened. Naruto knew it wouldn't stay flat for long.
Knowing the Principal, he won't let me go straight through. He'll want to drag this out, make me zig and zag all over the place. Let's oblige him and see what he does.
Expecting his student to head straight for the exit, Magoichi blinked in confusion as Naruto dashed for the side of the obstacle course furthest away from him. The boy knew him a little too well. Looking over at the group of Jounin ringing the course, the Academy Principal waved them forward.
"What are you standing there for? Get to work!"
The gathered shinobi exploded in a frenzy of hand seals and chants, earth and rocks rising from the ground and hurling themselves at Naruto. As soon as he heard the racket from the outside, the blonde boy began moving from side to side, dodging what he could and taking minor hits to save time. Years of being beaten to a pulp by Kantaro had toughened Naruto (or just deadened his nerves) to the point where hitting a stray rock or earthen barrier didn't do much more than slow him down a bit. A weave here, a dodge there, and he continued on, even sliding a few times when two Jounin combined to try and bring him down. The real problem with this course was jutsu – actually, not being able to use any.
To be fair, Magoichi had a point. A lot of times Naruto found himself having to keep from getting too flashy, tossing attacks around where normal actions would do just fine. But what was the point of knowing all these jutsus unless you could use them whenever you had to? He had a hunch the old man was just miffed kids spent so much time practicing their techniques and not listening to boring lectures. Jazz things up a little. Stick a slideshow or a field trip in there. We might actually get interested.
By the time Naruto emerged from the course, he had all his chakra remaining – deliberately refusing to give the Principal the satisfaction of using any at all, but he'd fulfilled part of his prediction to Juzo, as his clothes now looked like he'd gone through an uncleaned chimney. I don't see why Mom complained. If Yoriko-neesama hadn't done this to me, the Principal and Gramps would have done it by the end of the day. The blonde boy staggered out of the obstacle course and flopped to the ground, face-up.
"I sure hope the salary's good for all the crap you put us through."
"Of course, boy. Spend wisely and you'll have plenty left over."
"In other words, they don't pay Genin any more than they pay you. Great! I get to buy threadbare kimonos and secondhand furniture until I hit Chuunin."
"I'll never understand kids these days. Are there no parents with a sense of style anymore?"
"If you mean the Hiratsukas who run the antique store, even they get out of costume after the shop is closed."
"Bah. You're a lost cause. But don't fret, because your day is done."
Naruto sat up, brushing what dust he could off himself.
"What are you talking about? My grandfather isn't the type to draw up a one-and-out Genin Exam. Neither are you."
"Listen carefully next time, then. I said you were done. I never said anything about your team."
Naruto slapped a hand to his forehead, looking over at Juzo and Kaori.
"I haven't even heard it and already I don't like where this is going."
Turning back to the watching crowd, Magoichi bellowed in his best classroom voice – somewhere between a foghorn and a jolly drunkard.
"Kids, this year you're in for a special treat. Since you'll be operating in teams at the Genin level, the Exam was structured to fit the team experience. There are three individual tests, which can only be handled by one member of the team. Once a candidate has taken a test, he cannot take another one. You'll have to choose wisely, and figure out which of you has the best skills to fit each course."
Kaori arched an eyebrow as she glared daggers at the Academy Principal.
"And I guess it's just a coincidence you told us this after the most heavily-trained member of our team took his test?"
The old Jounin shrugged.
"What's that you kids are always writing on the walls? Oh, yes. I must have had a little bout of senility. Oops."
"That tears it," Juzo muttered, "he's a dead man."
The stocky boy got about five steps forward before Kaori snagged the collar of his gi, dragging him back to the waiting area.
"Do that and you'll walk directly into whatever he has planned for us. Shut up and listen first."
"As I was saying," Magoichi grunted, "there are three tests. You've already seen Yamazaki Naruto demonstrate the first: the No-Chakra Course. The second test is a mirror opposite: Chakra Efficiency. Faced with a limitless group of opponents, you may use as many techniques as you can to deal with them – until you run out of chakra. This will serve to test your chakra conservation, control and efficiency, as well as your understanding of how to incapacitate a foe."
Kaori elbowed Juzo in the ribs, nodding over at Magoichi.
"NOW do you see why he was baiting you? He was there when you took out Old Man Kawakami's backyard. He knows you can't control your sinkholes well unless you lay out a huge amount of chakra. Let me do this one."
Juzo sneered at Magoichi, who wasn't looking.
"Forget it. If he wants a fight, I'll give him a fight."
Naruto, who by now had trudged over to his teammates, sighed.
"Dude, when they tell us to live up to the honor of being a Stone shinobi, they don't mean for us to have heads like rocks. Cut the stubborn act. This is a trap and you know it."
"Naruto, I'm not out to butt heads with anybody, but I'm not going to turn tail because some geezer thinks he's got me where he wants me. If I'm ever gonna make the Anbu, I've gotta stand out. If I do great when nobody expected me to, that's a big step, right?"
The Tsuchikage's son looked at his fiancée, shrugging his shoulders.
"Can't argue with that logic, I guess."
Kaori rolled her eyes.
"Ignorance really is bliss."
Magoichi glanced at Juzo as he stepped into the second exam area.
"Oh ho, it's the Takeda brat. Come to give us some comic relief?"
"Why?" the wide-bodied boy snorted. "Your face is good enough for that."
"Pshaw! Just for that, you're going first, while the Jounin are fresh."
"Tell me something I don't know. Setting me up to fail is about the only thing I can ever count on people to do."
Juzo began to march towards the examiners, when a hand fell on his shoulder, squeezing in a vice grip. Turning, he saw Magoichi squat down to his eye level.
"Boy, you're going to be hated by a lot of people in this village for the rest of your life, barring a miracle. Whether it's unfair or not, you know better than I do. Can't change that. I do know that this exam is going to be fair to everyone who takes part. Even you. I'd not be Principal if I couldn't even exercise that much control over who becomes a shinobi. Do your best, and if you've got the talent, you'll pass."
"If that's true," Juzo muttered, "what's with the insults?"
Magoichi gave him a toothy grin and stood back up.
"Fair does not always equal nice."
"Gee, you're such a comforting presence."
"If you want comfort, go cuddle up with your mother. I'm here to test you."
"Well, you're testing my patience, so I guess you're doing a great job."
"Patience isn't the goal here. Get cracking and show some efficiency. Taking out all comers is what you do best, is it not?"
"Finally," the younger ninja sighed, "you're actually right about something. I was starting to think you were a lost cause."
Stepping away from Magoichi, Juzo looked around the second test area. It was flat ground, which would make it much easier for his sinkhole techniques to have an effect. The old man wasn't kidding when he said the tests aren't stacked against us. All the same, he was going to have problems passing here. Juzo could be stubborn, but he knew his limits and faults quite well. He had never had very good efficiency with his chakra, as Old Man Kawakami could testify. He either got it out all at once, in one huge burst, or he did nothing at all.
For Juzo, then, the second test wouldn't have anything to do with how long he could last. Four or five large sinkholes or perhaps twelve to fifteen smaller ones, and he'd be just about out of chakra. So the goal becomes taking out as many guys as I can in one fell swoop. Don't have the efficiency to sit around hunting one or two in a group, and they'd just dodge anyway.
Takeda Juzo wasn't one to waste time. As soon as Magoichi's command went forth, his hands were fluidly moving in sequence.
"Doton: Takou Tsuchi no Jutsu (Earth Element: Porous Earth Technique)!"
A Chuunin to his right mistook Juzo's straight-ahead glare for targeting someone else and slammed gracelessly to the bottom of a fast-opening crater that quickly widened, dropping earth down upon him. As it wasn't actual combat, the stocky boy let the dirt fall loosely around the downed shinobi, and the Chuunin stayed down to simulate a real burial. If only all of them would go down so easy.
The secret was out - Juzo didn't need to see his target to take it down. The Porous Earth Technique naturally gave him the ability to sense pressure on the ground in a defined radius; he'd trained himself to feel it all the way out to about fifty feet. If he felt something, he could open a gap underneath it, slowly widen it, and then sit back and watch as the earth collapsed in on itself. Now every last one of the Chuunin and Jounin arrayed against him would be on their toes anytime he even made a motion towards the ground. It was past time for a change of plans.
One opponent made as if to jump, and barely leapt clear of a massive hole that opened underneath him, the ground yawning wide, forcing three more nearby Chuunin to dodge too. Juzo did some quick moving of his own, moving clear of shuriken and kunai that were now flying at him. A quick look up revealed at least ten shinobi still left unburied, with a larger group waiting outside the test area, ready to join in at any time. As precious seconds flew by, more and more steel was raining down on him. The hell with this! Dodge me for once! Slamming his hands on the ground again, Juzo formed a hole under himself, diving into the midst of the crumbling earth and letting it absorb the thrown weapons.
For a moment, there was silence, the Chuunin and Jounin looking around to gauge where the Takeda boy would reappear. He didn't keep them searching long. One long-haired Jounin leapt out of the way of a kunai attached to Juzo's right hand, the stocky boy climbing out of a self-dug tunnel. Yeah, right. If you thought that was going to work, the lack of air down there really must have gotten to you.
"Come on! I can't be the one doing all the work!"
That had the desired effect. Only this time, instead of tossing weapons his way, some of the Chuunin simply attacked with their fists. Well, I did ask for it. A dodge here, a somersault, leaps and bounds were all he could do. Come on, come on. Everybody join in.
By the time he'd made an acrobatic little circle around the testing area, Juzo was dripping wet with sweat – and grinning like a maniac.
"Hey, enough with chasing my tail. It gets tiring."
Slamming his hands to the ground one more time, the stocky boy spat a curse.
As luck would have it, the same long-haired Jounin he'd nearly stabbed was his current target. Not much chakra left. Make it count.
It didn't. The woman (at least as far as he could tell by the curves under the Jounin's baggy clothes) sniffed derisively and flipped herself backwards in a graceful somersault, avoiding the small hole that opened where she'd stood. To everyone's confusion, Juzo laughed.
"Lady, I think it's time you went on a diet."
As soon as the stocky boy finished speaking, the female Jounin landed – and took a fifty-foot circle of earth with her, all ten remaining Chuunin and Jounin dragged along for the ride.
"Geez, you think I can only do it with my hands? That'd be a pretty sorry way to fight a battle."
He would have said more – but Juzo settled for collapsing to earth like a felled tree, out of chakra.
"Eleven knocked out, in three and a half minutes? Well, it's not like we have exacting standards. Consider Stage 2 passed. That just leaves you, Kaori. Up to it?"
The girl in the kimono sighed.
"It's not like there's anyone else left to handle it. Stop trying to be all protective and just tell me what I have to do."
"We of the Hidden Stone Village do not start wars or fights with other villages – though we finish them if they begin. As a consequence of our lack of aggression, however, the number of missions available to us is less than that of other villages."
Ishida Kaori was deeply regretting asking the Principal to tell her what to do. That had simply triggered his lecture mode, and put half the audience to sleep.
"Can we get on with it? You have no idea how much this kimono itches."
"No respect, I get no respect from you brats. All right, since someone is being a baby about it. Stone shinobi are hired because we can often accomplish things with grace, style and silence. We have our share of destructive attacks, of course, but those are only used when needed, unlike some other villages I could name. Clients come to us when only the best will do, and no attention can be drawn to the objective at all.
"Thus, the third and final test: Style and Grace. You will be attacked by a group of Chuunin and Jounin, and be asked to deal with them as quickly, gracefully and silently as possible. Those of you with the tendency to run your mouths or bellow battle cries should probably leave this one to your more sensible teammates."
Kaori silently stepped around the principal and into the third area, the largest one yet, bounded by trees instead of rope or cloth. Slipping out of the top of her kimono, she revealed a simple black T-shirt bearing the motto of the Stone's Anbu squads: "Death Is Just Another Obstacle."
The second-youngest Ishida daughter had never wanted to be famous – she'd much rather have been a normal shinobi. But that goal wasn't even reachable now. Not while she was betrothed to a boy who had the expectations of an entire village on his shoulders – and a legacy so dark he never spoke of it except in his most fevered nightmares. To be Naruto's wife meant she would have to be much more than just another shinobi.
For a very long time, she had hated the idea – and him. Naruto still remembered the one and only time Kaori had let that hatred show. Fortunately for her, he'd thought she was just showing off her bloodline. Kaori had no illusions about what Naruto would have done to her if he'd known the real reason she'd treated him like a bouncing ball. The blonde boy had been trained since birth to be strong, even ruthless, in order to keep the demon inside him in check. And after the first assassin had come to kill him for being the only son of the Tsuchikage, his training had only gotten harder.
Of all the things that could have changed the way she thought of him, a scar had done it. A simple knife wound across the back, one she had nearly missed as he changed out of his practice gi one day. Simple, but frightening – her mother had told her that only Naruto's training and instinctive reflexes had kept him from having his spine severed by a Hidden Grass spy. Her problems had seemed very petty after hearing that particular story.
For all his bluster and outward toughness, Naruto needed someone at his side. Someone to share the pain and the burdens with. To live a life like his – constantly unable to relax, to even sleep some nights, to be feared for something he had never asked for, and to know that an entire village still probably wanted him dead – would drive him insane otherwise. Ishida Kaori was not about to let herself be the one who left her own cousin to that kind of fate – whether they were really related or not.
As for the emotional side of it, Kaori tried not to think too much about it. We're ten years old. It can wait. Besides, the sooner I pass the test and get him out into the field, the sooner I can get Naruto away from Grandpa and his "ideas" about women. Kantaro was definitely nowhere near as open-minded as his son when it came to issues of gender. The faster Naruto learned that a kunoichi's place was not back at home away from the front lines, the easier it would be to work with him without him always trying to protect her. Kaori had to admit it was fun to let her fiancé do all the work sometimes, but too much of that and she'd be like most other girls at the Academy, pining away for some buffed-out boy and neglecting their own training.
Half a continent away, a girl with pink hair sneezed.
To be honest, Kaori had been glad to see Juzo take the second test. For years, the final part of the Genin Exam had involved the showing off of jutsus in one way or another. Back in her oldest sisters' days, the test had been how many watermelons you could blow up in one attack. Now, it was all about style and grace. And if that wasn't a great reminder that her grandfather's macho mindset was finally wearing off the Academy, nothing was. It was also a good time to remind Naruto that she was much more than just his future wife. A good little doll is what Grandpa and Mom want me to end up. Too bad Naruto's going to get a girl who's not afraid to kick the crap out of him if he gets out of line. Just the way his luck goes.
Watching, Naruto shivered slightly at the odd expression on Kaori's face. Oh, hell. "Girl Power" Mode again. I should have just slept in. When his fiancée spoke up, the Tsuchikage's son slapped a hand to his forehead. I do not know this girl. I do not know this girl…
"What's the holdup? Come on, you apes! You wanna live forever?"
You could say a lot of things about male Stone shinobi – but you definitely couldn't accuse them of cowardice. Growing up under the most macho Tsuchikage in Stone Village history will do that to you. Half of the ten arrayed against Kaori charged. By now, the red-haired girl wasn't even looking at them, concentrating on the seals her hands were forming instead. When she was done, the smile on her face would have scared the pants off any sane attacker.
"Hijutsu: Onmyou Tenka (Secret Technique: Yin-Yang Inversion)!"
To the eyes of most observers, nothing special was going on. Naruto and Juzo knew better; they'd seen enough of Kaori's training to know that chakra was now flowing both towards and away from her, making her the focal point of a zone where she controlled any or all of the forces of Gravity, Light and Temperature. It was almost as if she was standing in the middle of a yin-yang diagram with a small hole cut out of the middle. Anyone who stepped within range of the redhead was in for quite a surprise.
How big a surprise was made clear when three of the attacking Chuunin and Jounin bounced twenty feet into the air while running – and fell to earth in a rather ungainly fashion a second later, as though an invisible hand had snatched them in mid-air and slapped them down.
Another group dashed around behind Kaori and tried a rear assault – only to plunge into an inky black circle of darkness forty feet around and emerge clutching each other, teeth chattering and shivering.
Juzo opened his eyes and laughed.
"She's doin' that Freezer in the Dark thing? Not pulling any punches today."
"They really chose a crappy day to take her on. Even Gramps watches his step around Kaori when Aunt Mana makes her wear something traditional."
The stocky boy snorted.
"Better have that suit of armor handy then, 'cause the day you marry her, she's gonna go all Gojira on you what with havin' to wear all that bridal crap on top of the formal kimono. You'll be the first man in village history to have your honeymoon in a hospital bed."
"See, that's what eloping is for."
"My ass. You know how many girls in the Earth Country know your face from the gossip magazines? You'd never make it past the first farming village without being swarmed by fangirls."
"Don't remind me. The last time I saw one of their fanclub magazines I might as well have been reading one of those jacked-up doujinshi. Showered for about six hours that day."
"Talking about experience," Juzo grunted, "how long do you think it'll be before those Chuunin and Jounin figure out Kaori's right in the middle of that dark spot and chuck a bunch of stuff at her?"
Naruto nodded at the flashing steel in the air.
"Right about now, I'd say."
"And how long before she lets them know that was a horrible idea?"
"Also right on time."
The dark area moved a bit, engulfing each thrown weapon that entered its range, but otherwise nothing happened. When the attackers approached in person, however, each had to leap back, their own kunai and shuriken falling down from where they had been hurled into the air.
But for all the things Kaori could do, Naruto knew she had to act quick. The Onmyou Tenka had one tactical weakness – the area where the user applied an orb's power could not include the user herself. That rule applied not only on the ground, but in mid-air. Kaori's biggest problem was tending to think only about land-based attacks. If you could get far enough out of her view and jump high enough, you could theoretically land right in the middle of her zone of control, in the "eye of the storm," and from there deal with her normally. As the red-haired girl hated to be reminded, she was a whiz with her orbs, but she had a ways to go in taijutsu.
Naruto gritted his teeth as one of the Jounin farthest away from Kaori motioned to another of the attackers in the language of the Anbu, a simple set of hand signals, to shift around and attack from behind. Even if I tried to warn her, they'd just act as decoys and direct someone else to jump into the middle. If this doesn't teach her to think in all three dimensions, nothing will.
Abruptly, as the first Jounin neared the middle of Kaori's control zone, the darkness vanished, Naruto's fiancée pivoting and extending her control up instead of out. The offending Jounin was hurled back away from Kaori, but he'd done his job. His companion, speeding around behind, swept the red-haired girl's feet out from under her.
Magoichi halted any attempt by either side to counter.
"Enough! Candidate is down. A good effort, considering you were mostly neutralizing their attacks and not actively trying to render mortal wounds. Not perfect, especially not the ignorance of aerial attacks, but we don't expect perfection from Genin. If you want to progress any further, though, better work on that in your spare time.
"Yamazaki Naruto, Ishida Kaori, and Takeda Juzo. By the power vested in my rank as Principal, I declare the three of you officially Genin of the Hidden Stone Village. Report to the admin building on Mount Saijo to receive your sensei assignment."
Naruto grinned, looking over at Juzo and Kaori, who still looked peeved over being knocked on her butt.
"Now that's what I like to hear."
"Hi, kiddies! Guess who you drew?"
Naruto slapped a hand to his new forehead protector, momentarily covering the symbol of the Stone Village on its metal plate. Whatever god is up there has a nasty sense of humor. His team's sensei was the only full-time teacher he had ever had besides Kantaro, Shira, Daimaru, Mizuki and Magoichi – his Aunt Yuki.
Yamazaki Yuki was by no means dumb or untalented. If she had been, the Fourth Tsuchikage's youngest daughter never would have been a shinobi. She was, however, stubborn, vindictive, and great at holding grudges, with a mouth dirtier than a sailor's, usually to be heard bemoaning her nonexistent love life (a consequence of all her other "qualities").
Yuki looked positively happy, which wouldn't have been out of the ordinary – except that Naruto knew she'd been on a date the night before and had come back way too early for anything meaningful to have happened. Either she's faking, or she's got a very elaborate scheme for revenge cooked up and she thinks she won't get caught.
"Why so stoked, Aunt Yuki? You always said you hate being an authority figure."
"It's not every day I get a high-profile job teaching the three most famous graduates of your class. In fact, the council was so sure you would pass they already have a mission lined up for you."
Naruto's suspicions shot way up, eyes narrowing at his new sensei's expression. That's bullshit. Genin never get missions on their first day; they're always allowed to go home and celebrate with their families. It's a tradition Great-Grandpa Mugen, the Third, started when the war was at its worst, so that there would be some joy among the sorrow. She's definitely up to something.
From the looks on their faces, Kaori and Juzo either suspected something, or they were just pissed at being dragged off to work after getting tired out by Magoichi. The stocky Genin leaned over to whisper to his teammates.
"What's so important that they would set us up right after graduating? I smell a rat. But then again, what if it's another test? You know, something the Fourth set up to see if we're paying attention or too busy celebrating. We could be walking into another trap if we blow this off."
"It's still bull, but he does have a point. Let's hear her out."
"Good girl. Now come closer, because missions aren't the kind of thing to be spread far and wide, you know."
"Are we completely satisfied now that this so-called mission is B.S.?"
Naruto glared over at Juzo and hefted a raw egg from the boxes that lay in front of the three children.
"Stupid missions are a fact of life in the village, we all know that. But let's go over Yuki's little spiel. Some eccentric who just happens to want to decorate his house in egg and toilet paper, and he wants it done now? Please. Are we that gullible?"
Juzo glanced down at the "art supplies" Yuki had left them, an odd look on his face.
"She did say it was a mission. Orders are orders."
Kaori sniffed disgustedly, looking back at her fiancé.
"Naruto, logic and the opportunity to cause mindless destruction don't mix in Big Boy's case. Don't waste your breath."
"Did you ever think the test was not to give in to stupid, irresponsible crap, Juzo? Has that crossed your mind?"
"Does it matter? We've got an excuse either way. Have some fun once in a while. Just because you spent ten years training with a guy who has a stick way up his rear end doesn't mean you have to be the same."
That got under Naruto's skin a bit. Having the trust of the village was not quite the same as having an entire city or country of friends. Being the pupil of Kantaro, Shira and assorted other shinobi had its advantages, but a wonderful social life wasn't one of them. There were times when he really did want to just be a normal boy. To be free of the demon within, the burden of the Yamazaki name, and even the memory of his "exile" from the Leaf. It was tempting to just toss it all aside now and then. But for something this idiotic?
Oh, the hell with it. How often am I going to have a chance to do this when I'm off in the boonies somewhere gutting some poor sap, climbing the ranks to Tsuchikage?
"You take the windows, I'll do the roof. Kaori, you've got the TP. And for crying out loud, don't anybody go breaking anything. We're gonna catch enough hell as it is."
Yamazaki Naruto stared into his father's eyes, or as much as he could see of them under the peaked hat of his office, but quickly dropped his gaze. It wouldn't help things any. Daimaru looked at Naruto, Kaori, Juzo and Yuki through steepled fingers for quite some time before he spoke, for the first time since the Stone internal MPs had brought the four of them to his office.
"The three of you wait outside. I'll deal with you later."
When the children had filed out, Daimaru turned back to his younger sister, who was surprised to see the lack of anger in his eyes.
"You could have come to me if you were upset at how Goemon treated you, Yuki."
The raven-haired kunoichi snapped a curse at no one in particular.
"I'm a grown woman, ni-sama. I don't need you to fight my battles for me."
Daimaru's voice was still soft, but this time it carried a deadly edge to it, just short of malice.
"Yet you seem to have no problems tricking three gullible children into doing just that and luring Goemon out so you could pelt his crotch with rocks for standing you up last night."
Before she could respond, the Fifth Tsuchikage held up a hand, silencing his sister.
"Don't argue with me. You know damn well they all have a reason for wanting to obey orders and prove themselves. Your nephew has an entire village looking at his every move. Your niece is trying to be worthy of handling the most orbs any Ishida's ever used at one time, and the Takeda boy is shooting for the Anbu. All of them had a valid excuse to believe they were being tested on their ability to follow orders - not that it'll exempt them from punishment. You knew that, and you played all three of them like pawns on a chessboard."
Yuki flushed, but kept her mouth shut, no snappy response forthcoming.
"If you wanted to get revenge, fine. I have no problems with that. But cloaking it as an 'official mission' and using your own students as accomplices is well over any acceptable line I could have drawn for you."
"Fine," Yamazaki Yuki muttered. "Just tell me what I'm getting hit with."
"Oh, don't give me that," Daimaru snorted. "If I did this to anyone else, you'd be howling and rolling on the floor. Since you so successfully convinced the children they were on a real mission, it seems unfair not to pay them. But then we run into another problem - this was NOT official. There was no client - other than you. Therefore, you will assume the responsibility for paying your team's salary for this mission. And if I ever hear of you pulling a stunt like this again, I will personally bust you all the way back down to Genin and put you under Shira's command. Count on that."
"Are you done playing holier-than-thou?"
"Quite. Get out of my sight and send the children in."
Naruto, Juzo and Kaori trudged back into the Tsuchikage's office, the blonde boy in particular unwilling to face his father's eyes. Daimaru leaned back in his chair, sighing.
"Before I start with the lectures, let me just say this. You three do have a valid excuse for following your sensei's orders, given that the Fourth and Principal Iguchi have a history of 'after-hours' testing. But all the same, I don't recall blind, slavish obedience to orders being part of your Academy training.
"Any good shinobi needs to be able to think quickly, and make good decisions in even the oddest situations. If an order seems absurd, if it makes no sense, it is your duty to figure out the possible reason behind it, and do what the situation warrants. The minute Yuki finished telling you what she wanted, you should have known something was wrong."
Juzo, the only one of the three not related to the Tsuchikage, made an attempt to reply.
"Tsuchikage-sama, if you're gonna blame anybody, blame me. I told 'em both this was probably some kind of stupid test Yuki-sensei dreamed up to see if I was Anbu material."
"Nice try, Juzo," Daimaru said, "but Naruto and Kaori have minds of their own. They could - and should - have come to the conclusion that something was off, and convinced you of that. There's no need to explain what you did. I was a kid once too. I know that sometimes the temptation to commit mischief when you don't think there'll be consequences is too great to ignore. That doesn't mean there won't be consequences."
Hearing no indignant responses, the Tsuchikage continued.
"As I said, you had an excuse, which - for this time and this time only - will lighten your punishment. Take tomorrow and clean up as much of the mess as you can. Don't worry about not being able to get everything - what you miss will be Yuki's responsibility. Slack off, though, and you'll be cleaning the entire bloody village. Understand?"
Sullen, abashed mumbling was the childrens' only answer. Yamazaki Daimaru rolled his eyes, and made shooing motions with his hands.
"I'll take that as a yes. The three of you go home and get some sleep. You've got a long day ahead of you tomorrow."
Once the children had left, the Fifth Tsuchikage leaned back again, hands locked behind his head, and allowed himself a small chuckle at the absurdity of the entire day.
And yes, that includes you, sister dear.
I now have an actual home page. Well, a LiveJournal, at any rate. There are stories I'm writing that will only be posted there, as I'm quite seriously looking into moving off FFN entirely. Those of you who've talked with me know exactly why.
The new page is located at: .com(slash)users(slash)thesocpuppet.
I know it's not an e-mail address, but considering how much spam I get as it is, I'm not taking any chances.
Next: Naruto's not the only child out there who has a demon to deal with. He's about to find that out for himself…