Alright, here's the next chapter. So, this is just one part of the year end super update! I worked really hard and got out a chapter to every one of my stories as a late Christmas present.
I might actually do this more often. All too often I've left stories to rot for months without updates, and the problem therein lies that I need refreshers on many details within that particular story. By writing them all simultaneously, I keep the premise of each of my stories fresh in my mind.
Chapter 17: Labyrinth Break
The prisoner's doors swung open automatically as if on a timer as the chakra seals surrounding them failed. Knowing of the opportunity to get out, the desperate prisoners filed out of the door as quickly and restlessly as they could, something climbing over or fighting their cellmates. Kimimaro and Naruto were almost immediately surrounded by the rowdy prisoners, while Ao's group merely stood back and watched, not even appearing capable of intervening if need be.
"What a fool... this can't be allowed," Kimimaro commented, showing no signs of fear or panic as the dozens of prisoners surrounded the pair of them. Naruto's smirk had been wiped off his face, and was replaced with a look of clear annoyance.
"They're really going to just follow this guy, even if only one of them will be paroled... The chances of killing us, let alone being one of hundreds involved in this "competition" is just so astronomical!"
Kimimaro hummed his acknowledgement, agreeing with Naruto through the logic. Yet, he wasn't exactly surprised to see a tactic like this being successfully employed.
"It's not surprising. I've seen a similar tactic employed by Orochimaru-sama when I was under his command. This hasn't been the first time a prison break has been attempted. Most of the prisoners have tried before, but the labyrinth maze and underwater location is far too much for them. The fact that they may have had weapons confiscated and are usually in a state of exhaustion also have to do with that. They've simply given up hope that they could escape under their own power, and Ao knows this."
"Sounds like a lovely place..." Naruto muttered, though he silently wondered why Kimimaro had chosen to join him if the common opinion was that it was simply impossible to escape. Judging by the mental state of Kimimaro, he was either much tougher than everyone else, or he hadn't been here that long. It was probably both.
Whatever the case, Naruto began to survey his surroundings before preparing to fight.
"Tch, tight quarters. I shouldn't transform here. The labyrinth is too big to break out of by doing that and I'd only make myself less mobile in these tight quarters. Gonna have a break out of here by being a human..."
Eyes widened, Naruto looked over to see Kimimaro taking a taijutsu stance, along with the oddest thing he had witnessed that day. Two of his bones were protruding out of the palm of his hands, glistening in the pale cave light. They were clearly like makeshift swords for him, and he clearly had confidence in his ability to use them as weapons.
Two of the weak prisoners had been slashed across the chest before anyone even knew it, and they collapsed to the ground in a heap. He waved the bone forward, flicking the blood off the blade before turning to the next wave of political prisoners.
Even including the ones who decided not to chance it and come out into the open, this would be a never-ending wave of prisoners. Naruto surrounded himself in the golden chakra of his zero-tailed form, watching it act as a barrier to poison anyone who was desperate enough to attack him directly with their fists. Four prisoners flung themselves off him with screams, all seemingly clutching their hands. They collapsed to the ground writhing as the flesh of the hand they had struck him with was corroded all the way down to the bone.
Ao had already turned his back to the group, and so had the ANBU he had brought with him. Naruto felt a flare of irritation boil in his system as the metal door swung shut with a squeak. He grabbed an attacker's hand with his chakra-coated hand and threw them down, not even flinching as the prisoner's flesh was seared.
"Where the hell is he going? He's not even going to watch us and make sure we've been taken down?" Naruto growled in a reptilian voice, but Kimimaro was of a different opinion.
"Ao hasn't gone anywhere. Chances are he doesn't want to get into the thick of the action, and is returning to the warden's room where he can watch us from afar and react to our next moves accordingly."
"Making sure he doesn't lift a finger, huh? He may be an asshole, but his plans sure do put us at a disadvantage. Any chance we can fight our way out of here even with him throwing everything he's got our way!"
"Honestly, the prisoners he's throwing at us aren't the main problem here. He just needed someone to finish us off after we've been worn down enough. I'll explain what I mean by that..." Kimimaro said, pausing for a moment to regard the locked door in front of them.
"Break down that iron door..." Kimimaro suggested, "The staircase to the next highest sublevel isn't in here; we're going to have to look around for it elsewhere. And to answer your question, no. One of the most unpleasant aspects of this prison is that the corridors are built into the prison to be able to be manipulated, and the only person who has the ability to do that is the warden, or anyone he gives the authority to do so. They could alter our escape route into a dead end at any moment. Unless..."
Naruto stopped fighting for a moment.
"Unless what?" Naruto asked his new human partner.
"Unless you have some sort of special ability that can break us out of here in an instant. I wouldn't know what that would be however. Most prisoners in here don't have the chakra capacity to be able to break their way through the corridors through force. However, you just arrived and Ao mentioned that you are a Jinchuuriki..." Kimimaro mused.
Naruto looked at the walls, the outer walls had to made out of an extra sturdy material to be able to stand up to the water pressure, but the interior walls may not have been made of such stout stuff.
"I don't think I'll try anything at the moment. I don't think I can break us out of the prison in one fell swoop, but if they start altering the corridors, I may have to try it."
Kimimaro regarded the disguised Bijuu, and the poisonous chakra cloak that surrounded him. He didn't doubt that Naruto had some serious power, but in this situation, he was probably right.
"Then our only option is to find our way to the warden's office and take control of the facility. That way the warden or Ao will be unable to turn the prison against us. We'll have to be careful; Ao has probably referred all of the other cell blocks to that promise of his. There will be more prisoners here out for our blood."
Naruto cocked a fist and blasted the iron door clean off its hinges with the power of his golden chakra. The cell block they were in now was Sublevel 6, Cell Block E, one of the deepest sublevels.
"Cell Block D is that way. We should hurry..."
Naruto nodded in agreement to Kimimaro's assessment and hurried through the door, his partner following fluidly behind him. Some of the prisoners attempted to follow him, but Naruto turned around at the last minute to address the whole lot of them.
Cloaked in chakra, Naruto formed an "O" with his hands and spit a glob of viscous golden chakra from his mouth twice in rapid succession. It hissed as it flew through the air, before it stuck to the two bottom hinges of the door's frame, beginning to melt the surrounding stone and metal as if it was a natural welding torch.
The ooze of melted material coalesced onto itself, forming a molten and corrosive barrier that sealed the opening shut before any more prisoners from Cell Block E could dare to follow them.
Kimimaro had taken the liberty to move on ahead slightly, an unreadable look in his lonely eyes. When Naruto witnessed what was bothering him, he realized just how much control Ao had over this prison.
The chakra seals on all the prisoner's cells dispelled, one at a time. Their cages swung open not longer afterwards just like they were on some kind of automatic timer.
The prisoners, plagued by fear, exhaustion, and the promise of a new life came out into the open. Those on Sublevel 6 weren't always famous nuke-nins; they were also those who had committed crimes that the government of the Mizu no Kuni found especially troubling. Or they just had some connection to the previous government under the Yondaime Mizukage. Either way, not all of them were experienced shinobi.
Even for the once powerful nuke-nin, one could be forgiven for not recognizing them as the infamous felons that they once were. Years of imprisonment should have put a damper on their skill. Their bodies were weaker from the condition and they hadn't practiced their Taijutsu in years. Those proficient in weapons were also obviously unable to carry them into the prison.
Cornered rats shouldn't be underestimated though, and they still had their Ninjutsu and Genjutsu.
"Look for a staircase, Kimimaro! I'll hold off these guys..." Kimimaro nodded and run along the right side of the thrush of prisoners, from the angle where a lesser number of them were attacking from. Those that did attack the Kaguya were cut down by his trademark bone swords on his way up the ramp.
Once Naruto saw that his companion was doing fine, Naruto turned back to his own swath of prisoners looking to take him down. They were all milling around, looking for ways to attack him while being completely uncoordinated as a team.
Naruto started his fight by punching forward with a clawed hand, catching a prisoner in the face and searing off the man's flesh. He screamed and clutched at his face, before Naruto kicked him to the side where he could be poisoned in peace.
He had the creaking and grinding of metal against metal for some reason, but couldn't pinpoint its source at first. Whatever the case, some mechanism in the prison was being worked, but whether by Kimimaro or the enemy Naruto didn't know.
Naruto's distraction almost cost him, and he sidestepped a ball of lightning shot at him at the last minute. One of the prisoners near the very back had shot that at him. It was a man with long green hair and an unpleasant expression on his face, like he regarded people as being everything wrong with the world.
He launched another ball of lightning at Naruto, perfectly content with hanging back and taking cheap shots from afar, while letting the other prisoners go forward to die. The way he was using his ninjutsu was odd, however. Whenever he tried to form those lightning balls, he seemed labored.
When Naruto locked eyes on him and began moving toward him, the green-haired man retreated into his cell. A few of the dumber prisoners tried to take Naruto head on as he moved through the crowd, but Naruto punched and kicked those who didn't give him a wide enough berth.
That screeching metal was seemingly getting louder, and Naruto began to hear chains rattling on top of it all. He ducked back into the cell that he saw the man enter, raising an eyebrow when he saw that it was empty.
He was immediately reminded of the prisoner's presence when Naruto suddenly had a shank put to his throat, the arm it was attached to taking great care not to touch the venomous golden chakra surrounding Naruto.
Naruto rolled his eye over; it was the same green-haired man. Unlike most of the other prisoners, he seemed to know that it was a bad idea to touch Naruto's Bijuu chakra.
"Don't move. I shall give you your funeral and be out of this wretched place..." the man said in a raspy voice, filled with both hatred for the world and sadness.
For whatever reason, the man was under the impression that Naruto was his hostage. He clearly understood the nature of Naruto's chakra, but was caught off guard when Naruto moved his neck forward and allowed himself to be pierced by the sharp edge of the shank.
The jerky movement careened Naruto's attacker's arm straight into his chakra cloak, as the wound on his neck did not begin to bleed so much as leak a more concentrated form of chakra.
Naruto used the disorientation in the man to reach forward and grab the arm with the shank, a sizzling noise emanating from his flesh as the chakra corroded it away.
The green-haired man pulled away, breaking Naruto's hold on his left arm. It felt uselessly at his hip, splotches of corroded flesh peeling away to reveal the inner muscle and bone.
The man screamed in pain and stumbled back into half a dozen more prisoners who were rushing at Naruto, throwing a couple of them off course as the man tried to recover and regain his footing. While his opponent was disoriented and the other were rushing him, Naruto put his hands together in a seal as if he were about to perform a jutsu, but didn't go through any other hand motions.
Nevertheless, Naruto pulled down part of his robe to reveal a crest of spikes now jutting from his neck, having grown out when Naruto concentrated his chakra. They grew in length out of his skin, dripping with poison.
He channeled his chakra some more, and then the front row of spikes burst forward like they were kunai, taking out the row of prisoners that dared stand in the mimicking Bijuu's way.
A stray one just barely missed the green-haired man's cheek, and Naruto stepped over the puncturing prisoners before turning to address the green-haired man.
"You... you fight like you're missing something. Your movements are labored and they seem incomplete..."
If it was possible, the green-haired man's scowl seemed to deepen even more, and when he spoke it was in a low, guttural hiss.
"My name's Kurosuki Raiga; I was once one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, but my Kiba were confiscated once I was thrown into this trash heap by the scumbags who run Kirigakure's government. Anyway, it doesn't matter who I was or how I fight. Killing you has become my one way ticket to getting out of this hellhole!"
Raiga charged that same lightning ball in the palm of his hands, launching it at Naruto while he was still kept in those tight quarters of the cell. Naruto, sensing he had no where to move, picked up one of the poisoned prisoners and used him as a meat shield in order to block the blow.
The Raikyuu seared a hole in the man's torso where it hit, and Naruto threw him to the side immediately after he was safe and the attack had dissipated. He crouched forward and slashed outward with his claws, catching two more mingling prisoners in their torso, before flipping over them as they collapsed.
As he did so, a stone slab fell down from the ceiling, connected by a hinge and pulley system. Upon closer inspection, stairs were built into the slab, clearly making this the staircase to the next floor.
Sometime after that, a window broke. Naruto turned to look beyond Raiga and saw the small ramp leading up to the room separate from all the other cells on the sublevel. It was clearly supposed to be the office for the head jailer on this level, but the door had been busted down in the chaos. Kimimaro had just exited the room and sent an unfortunate prisoner through the one-way glass window.
"Naruto-san, I have found the staircase to the Fifth Sublevel. We should move out before prisoners from the other Cell Block converge in on us..." Kimimaro cried as he used his bone swords to cut a path to the staircase.
"Got it! Get upstairs quickly! Once you do, I'll take care of this entire sublevel in one shot!" Naruto cried at his partner. The white-haired Kaguya nodded and complied, bounding up the stairs with several prisoners on his tail.
Once Kimimaro was safely out of the way, Naruto surveyed the rest of the prisoners on the floor. He buried his feet into the stone brick of the floor, holding a clawed hand out with the palm facing upward.
The Bijuu flicked an index finger backwards.
As soon as he said that, the stone of the ground transformed into a viscous yellow ooze that covered the floor of the Cell Block in about a foot of liquid. The liquid frothed and bloomed poison, and any groundbound prisoner standing in it was affected almost immediately.
Naruto pulled his legs out of the liquid, wading through it to the staircase like it was nothing more than water. The prisoners however weren't so lucky, as they collapsed into the swampy fluid when they lost all feeling in their legs.
"Don't bother moving, those of you standing in my toxins. This is a paralysis agent; any affected body parts will lose nerve activity in any of the affected body parts. For you all, it would be your legs..."
With their legs not working, the prisoners collapsed head-first into the swamp, including Kurosuki Raiga. When they collapsed into the swamp, the toxins began to work other affected areas as well, resulting in the prisoners losing all feeling in the frontal half of their body.
Naruto kicked Raiga out of the way as he ascended the staircase, picking off any prisoners that may have avoided his San-Numa.
He was surprised to find that once he reached Sublevel 5, almost all of the prisoners had already been picked off. Stab wounds and bruises littered their bodies, and it was clear who had done the deed to them.
What was more troubling is the fact that Ao still apparently was watching their every move, sending out waves of prisoners in an attempt to slow them down.
"The extent of which he finds these lives so expendable is disgusting..." Kimimaro commented at the pile of bodies he had created. They had apparently been waiting for him the second he entered the next sublevel.
"Kimimaro..." Naruto nodded at his companion, the other boy retracting his bones back into his system after completing his dirty work. How long could Ao could this up before he realized that these prisoners were completely outmatched.
"What the hell is that?" Naruto asked, as the entire Sublevel 5 began to rumble and shake. Kimimaro narrowed his eyes, as if he recognized what the prison was doing.
"This little charade is unbecoming of such a veteran ninja. It's practically showboating. Ao has altered the trajectory of this sublevel, and shut off any and all staircase mechanisms that we could use to ascend to the upper floors. It would have been a simple task to leave all the way up to the first sublevel from here using the same methods he saw us escape from Sublevel 6, but has no intention of letting of leave Sublevel 5," Kimimaro explained.
"Any ideas on what we should do from here?" he asked. Kimimaro looked thoughtful for a moment, as if using all his knowledge on the layout of the prison to answer that question.
"My recommendation would be to find where Ao makes his headquarters. If we can cut the head off the serpent, we should be able to prevent it from doing anything else."
"Ao? He is the eyepatched shinobi who set the prisoners loose on us, right? Do you know where the warden's office is?"
Kimimaro dodged a palm strike from one of the prisoners, the Taijutsu expert capable of doing so without even blinking or losing a conversation.
"I've heard rumors flying around that the second sublevel is where the warden usually controls the layout of the prison, but that's just something I overheard the other prisoners saying."
Kimimaro punctured the attacking prisoner.
"Well, it's the only thing we've got. How are we gonna get there with disabled staircases, though?"
"This building is underwater, so much of the stone is reinforced to handle increased water pressure and any prisoners with superhuman strength. However, the stone between the ceilings of each floor shouldn't be reinforced."
Interesting, they could use that. Naruto had several techniques in his human form that he could use to bust the ceiling, but he still couldn't exactly transform here.
"I could break us up through several floors right now, but you'll need to be out of the way," Kimimaro stated. Naruto nodded and began to retreat to the side of the Cell Block, fighting off any prisoners that may get in his way.
"The Curse Seal... since Orochimaru's death, I have not been able to use it. My fifth dance may not have the scale it once did, but it should be more than enough to break away a ceiling."
"Dance..." Kimimaro trailed off.
"...of the Seedling Ferns!"
Naruto had hollowed out a retreat away from the hubbub in the middle part of the cell block, where Kimimaro was performing some manner of ninjutsu. Just a few feet before him, the Bijuu witnessed a sharp tree made of pure bone sprout itself out of the stone ground, becoming larger and larger until it punctured the ceiling, piercing right through the stone.
All around the cell block, Kimimaro's jutsu worked its magic, a veritable miniature forest of bone sprouted up out of the ground and blasting through the stone ceiling, skewering any prisoners unfortunate enough to get caught in it.
Even those lucky enough to avoid it still succumbed to the deadly onslaught of falling rubble as the ceiling cracked and collapsed, creating an opening for the two companions to climb through.
"Oh, look. You practically broke the floor of Sublevel 4, for God's sake. If that didn't piss off Ao and the warden, I don't know what would." Naruto said, jogging up to Kimimaro while avoiding falling rubble.
Kimimaro retracted the bone forest before using his superior Taijutsu to leap through the hole and to the next floor. Interestingly enough, some of the bones had pierced all the way through the next sublevel, and left a lesser but still noticeable hole in the ceiling of Sublevel 4.
And so, Naruto and Kimimaro made their way through the next few sublevels of the prison, fighting anyone foolish enough to stand in their way. By the time they reached Sublevel 2, someone other than exhausted prisoners was there to fight them.
"Hey, look! Would that be the warden's office?" Naruto asked as he jumped up through the hole to Sublevel 2. The layout of this level was just like the rest, with cells and prisoners lining the walls. But the office off to the side was a fair bit bigger than the others. The ramp leading up to it was more slanted, showing that the office was somewhat higher off the ground. If there was anywhere to hold the mechanisms that controlled the entire prison, it would be in that office.
Suddenly, the door to the office creaked open. But the person who came out of the office was not Ao. Rather, it was a lanky man with silver hair who appeared to be in his forties. A large broadsword was strapped to his back, very different than the normal katana present in the Elemental Countries.
"That's enough, Ao. Return the prisoners to their cells," he called to inside the office. His voice slithered when he talked with a slight hiss, and sharp teeth poked out of his mouth when he did.
"Who the hell is that?" Naruto whispered.
"Houzuki Amegetsu. The warden of Kirigakure's underwater shinobi prison..." Kimimaro said darkly, being an inmate he has gotten too accustomed to the Houzuki Clan's head.
"I find it hard to believe that he just went along with this at Ao's behest. That guy clearly didn't have the support of the Mizukage to pull off a stunt like this..."
"Ah, Houzuki is just the type of person to go along with a plan like this. The lives of hundreds of prisoners mean nothing to him, and he would be overjoyed to put them to the slaughter in such a way, so he would go along with this even if he doesn't have the express permission of the Mizukage..."
"So, if we kill this guy, we're home-free, right?"
"Do not underestimate him. Houzuki Amegetsu is a warden for a reason, Naruto-san..."
Amegetsu took the time to enter the conversation, himself.
"You brats really made a mess of my prison. My poor little inmates are in pieces just because you wouldn't let them kill you, but I hope you don't expect that you two will make it out alive after this."
Despite his words, he hardly seemed upset at the outcome.
"Hold up, Amegetsu!" a voice Naruto recognized as Ao's resounded through the warden's office. The two fugitives heard the shuffling of papers and furniture, before Ao burst through the door, glaring at the two of them.
"These two have made a mess of the prison and slaughtered a great number of prisoners, this is true. But Mizukage-sama has ordered me to keep the Jinchuuriki alive for interrogation..."
Amegetsu glared at Ao.
"Need I remind you Ao, that you were the one who told the prisoners that they could be paroled if they captured the Jinchuuriki. Never mind that you promised to release a prisoner from my prison, but you went against Mizukage-sama in the first place?"
Ao still remained steadfast.
"I was ready to pull the prisoners away the moment things were getting out of hand. You were the one who wanted to keep them going. If Mizukage-sama finds out about this, you will be punished severely..."
"As will you..."
Naruto looked around himself, noting that Ao had apparently shut all the cell doors, shutting down the plan to have the prisoners attack them in earnest. Sublevel 2 escaped the destruction of the lower ones, but now they faced the task of both Ao and Amegetsu.
Amegetsu pulled the broadsword from his back, twirling it around his fingertips in a reckless yet confident display before he pointed it at Naruto. Ao seemed to activate his Byakugan eye in tandem.
"So it seems, Ao. What say we capture these two and forget this little episode ever happened, hmm?"
A distant lake in the far northeastern corner of the Mizu no Kuni. Far away from the prying eyes of Kirigakure and the new Mizukage was where the Sanbi was allowed to roam unhindered.
The lake was an area that had also served as one of the many bases for Orochimaru. With the snake having been defeated a couple of years beforehand, the base in question had seen better days.
As is always the case however, power vacuums even in areas as small as the base tended not to last very long. Even if the position was hardly official, the leftovers remaining at the base still lurked the halls where Orochimaru had once tread. And the most powerful or egotistical would find a way to grab power in this situation.
The inmates were running the asylum if it were, not that the original asylum keeper was a sane individual. In that case, it was probably better off this way without Orochimaru. For those kept within its depths, the new overlord was only marginally better.
Orochimaru naturally had many subordinates leading specific hideouts full-time while he was not present. With Orochimaru gone, several of them began to get very... ambitious.
Amachi was originally the leader of Orochimaru's base in the Umi no Kuni, which neighbored the Mizu no Kuni. Even when Orochimaru near abandoned the facility, Amachi would continue to conduct his research on an amphibious shinobi weapon that could master the seas.
After Orochimaru's death, Amachi went around and used his prototype aquatic weapons to take over all of Orochimaru's old bases in the eastern sea near the Mizu and Umi no Kuni. What this formed was a triangle of power in the area, with Amachi at the head.
With Guren and Yuukimaru's whereabouts unknown, one could say that Amachi was thrilled when arrived at the lake base for the very first time. For what the mad scientist got was a swath of Orochimaru's prisoners to experiment on and order around.
Not to mention, Amachi had found the Sanbi completely unattended to.
And we're done here.
We're in the middle of the Sanbi arc right now, and you should notice that from here on out the arcs are going to get a fair bit longer. The Ichibi and Nibi arcs weren't exactly long, but this one has a few detours in Naruto's journey.