The Deadly Qualifier
It had been a week since the team's fateful encounter with Haretsu. As soon as Henchou had woken up it had been nothing but screaming and yelling about how he'd beat Haretsu and Seihantai. The three had immediately followed their loss with food to rejuvenate themselves and calm Henchou's fiery soul. The three then made their way to their assigned room and slept the night away. Daichi opted to sleep on the floor as neither Henchou nor Mitsuko wanted to share a bed. As morning came around once again the three set off to perfect their formation and techniques. They showed each-other most of what they knew, sharing possible gaps in their techniques that the others could cover as well as strengths they could help bolster. A whole week later the three were now as prepared as they could be for the secret first level of the tournament.
It was to be a three day race through a large forested area with each team starting a good ways apart. The goal was to simply get to the end and take out or avoid anyone that was encountered. Killing was allowed within the woods and encouraged as it would make the true tournament easier. Daichi, Henchou, and Mitsuko stood before the clearing that served as their entrance point.
"Medical supplies? Check. Wire? Check. Rations? Check. Pills? Check. Tools? Check." Daichi ran through a list aloud as he ruffled through his two bandoliers. "Seems I have everything." He smiled contently as he fastened them onto his body and gave them a small pat.
"Good." Was all Henchou had to say before running through his strategy once again. "So remember, to capitalize on our formation we need to make a clearing. I slice, you uproot Daichi. Mitsuko you're hiding in the tree line outside the clearing unless they know you're there. Then you're down with Daichi, using his earth as mobile cover. If all else fails Daichi will tunnel us." His tone was sharp but not as hostile as before, having slightly warmed up to the two.
Mitsuko gave him a mock salute. "Roger that captain. So we're off to go wreak some havoc?" One would note that her weapon was missing, stowed away for now as she contemplated ways of making it more effective. It bothered her that she had been taken out of her element so easily by that Explosion Release user; from her village no less. While she wouldn't admit it, the girl was as petty as one could be. Especially when it came to laying a beatdown on someone. Thus, she had to figure out how to bypass his stupid ass defense.
She sighed, brightening again. "Well, time to go kick some ass. Not just a little either, but a ton of ass kicking. It's good for your health you know."
"What happens if we run into Haretsu's group again?" Spoke a worried Daichi. "I know we came up with strategies to fight him but we're still in the dark about the rest of his team." He shuddered a little at the memory of fighting them.
"We run." Henchou sighed. It hurt his pride to say it but they were clearly outmatched by just one of them. The idea of fighting all three was something that Henchou had no intention of doing. "We throw as much as we can at them to blind em, and then you tunnel us out of there. It's the most we can do." He sighed as he slung a bandolier over his shoulder and his cloak over that.
"Running is a last resort. We give them hell and if that doesn't work, we utilize the exit strategy and decoys. I doubt we can simply just disappear on them," Mitsuko noted. While she understand his reasoning for running, she doubted it would be that easy given the fact they appeared to be veterans. It would take some ingenuity to give themselves an edge for escaping. "Besides, I suspect they will anticipate us running on sight. So if we want a real shot at escaping, we hit them hard then dip. Distractions upon distractions."
"I don't like the idea of such a confrontation however I agree that It would be best to wait for a lapse in their attention to before running. Hopefully with layered defensive techniques and some increased speed from Henchou we can get away." Daichi nodded as he slid a stack of tags into his bandolier.
"Regardless of the plan we're going to have to pull out all stops here if we wanna live." Henchou added as he adjusted his headband.
"Five minutes until we begin." An voice boomed through a loudspeaker.
"No shit breh. Holding back means we die here. Not about to die in some rando forest because some hothead from my hometown thinks he's a big shot. Fuck off with that," she commented, cracking her knuckles as she listened to the loudspeaker.
"He means five minutes until the bloodbath. The least he could do is say it like it is. Don't sugarcoat shit." Mitsuko stretched, loosening her muscles and shoulders as made the most of the last five minutes.
The timer ticked down as the three readied their gear and mentally prepared. Cards to family and wills had been prepared earlier that day, the stage was set for a bloodbath. "And Begin." A voice boomed as the gates before them swung open, leading into a lush forest.
"Let's move you two." Henchou stated dashing forwards as the others followed suit. "Daichi check the ground." He shouted as the continued onwards.
"Roger that." Daichi replied, dropping to the ground as he placed his hands down, sensing the earth pulsate around them he could feel boots hitting the ground in a wide radius around them. "Seems like no one is on a course to hit us." He replied, jumping back up to the trees.
"Mitsuko you see anyone trying to flank us from the treetops?" Henchou called to her.
She peered around, binoculars forming in her hand as she took a gander at the surrounding landscape. It was quiet for the time being. The shapes the Mitsuko caught were steadily retreating into the expanse. "We're in the clear so far," she called down, hopping to another treetop and another before stopping. "Yeah, we're good for the time being."
"Alright then listen up." Hencho stated as he stopped beside her. "This trek is divided into three areas each with certain chokepoints designed to force us into combat. If we move too slow we won't make it and if we go too quickly we'll run into Haretsu and his cronies before the end. We're gonna end up hitting these around the same time others do and probably fighting then so conserve your chakra till we reach a real fight." He stated as he drew a kunai from his belt.
"Worst comes to worst we can rush through the points and hope that whoever starts to chase us will be intercepted." Daichi added.
"Sounds like a plan. Besides, I owe that explosion knucklehead. You best believe I'm coming at him with everything I have, no ifs ands or buts." She twirled two shuriken in her hands experimentally. "Shall we be off to the races? I'd hate to be late to the party," Mitsuko added before beginning to jump from branch to branch.
Fight in the Foliage
The three continued through the forest with caution, stopping to check the surroundings with Daichi sensing movement, Mitsuko spotting, and Henchou sensing chakra spikes, the three managed to make it through most of the woods without a single encounter. As they approached a clearing Henchou halted them. "If I'm correct this is the spot, everyone filters through this clearing before a run through the canyon that it leads into. I'm hoping to for a battle in the clearing as It's much more advantageous to our setup, however we can't just wait it out." He spoke quickly holstering his kunai and nodding to them. "Move in on my signal, I've got a plan to draw out anyone here." He smirked as he catapulted himself from the tree into the clearing, landing on his side and rolling to a stop on the floor. "Dammit you guys wait up for me, fucking bastards." Henchou screamed as he gripped his shoulder and began to stand. "Stupid idiots can't win without me." He muttered aloud.
"I guess they'll be missing you then." A voice spoke from behind him. Henchou whipped around to spot three shinobi standing there. The man in front had extremely large and wavy green hair. He was dressed in black gear and had a Konohagakure headband around his waist. The two trailing behind him were both dressed in all black with gas masks, Kirigakure headbands sat around their necks. "So you ready to give up then?" The man asked as he drew a tanto from his side.
"Sounds like a plan." she grinned before fading into the foliage, obscuring her presence. Mitsuko yawned. She silently picked her way to an advantageous position where she could function as a sniper. Soon as they disappeared and Henchou resorted to playacting, three shinobi appeared in the clearing. They appeared to surround Hen, clearly confident in their abilities as one pulled out a tantō. None appeared to contemplate the danger they were in. "Perfect." Mitsu began to think of wrinkles she could add to the ambush.
"Give up? What are you stupid?" Henchou laughed and winked at the man. As he did so Daichi jumped from the trees and landed directly on top of the two masked men, smashing them into the ground however they erupted into mist beneath his fists. Henchou roared and lunged at the man with his blade drawn, however he was intercepted by his hair. "Wait what the fuck?" He gasped as his limbs were surrounded in hard green hair.
"You three didn't think we'd fall for such terrible acting did you?" The man laughed as the tossed Heanchou backwards through the trees, directly at Mitsuko.
She sighed as she watched the scene unfold with rapt attention. His acting was pretty terrible; there was no way he was winning an acting accolade anytime soon. As Henchou flew towards her she sighed, before catching him. "Work on your acting skills."
A loud gunshot sounded through the clearing, coming from the direction behind the green haired man as the fired rounds of ammunition sped towards him. "I figured your acting would leave something to be desired, so I made up a little special."
"Work on your timing." He chided as he hopped from her arms and stared down at the man. He was approaching Daichi as the bullets sped towards him. He grinned as his hair grew once again, warping into a large shield around him. The bullets slammed against the hair but it would not give. As the barrage continued Daichi dashed towards him and slammed his fist into the ground, causing the earth below the shield to shoot upwards launching the man into the air. His hair still wrapped around him in a tight ball.
"Henchou! Mitsoku! Go!" Daichi yelled with a firm nod.
"I'll line it up and you take the shot!" Henchou laughed as he sprung from the tree. He pulled his unique kunai from his belt as it flared to life, surrounded in a blade of wind chakra. As his foot hit the final tree before the clearing he lined up his movement and jumped. "Wind Release: Hunting." He cried as he tosses his blade up, catching it in his teeth as his feet launched him from the tree in a spiraling motion. Wind gathered around his body, propelling him forwards with great force as his spiraling body approached the sphere. His spiraling blade impacted the sphere with great force, the slicing wind opening a hole in the hair. "Mitsuko NOW!" He cried.
"I thought you would never ask." She fired another salvo, unrelenting in its approach as the individual was lined up. Each one was aimed precisely at the hole that was opened, meant to wiggle their way through while putting an end to this madness. It was time to send this hairy fellow packing. "Teamwork makes the dream work."
"Whaa..." The man gasped only to be met with the impact of many metal bullets, ripping through his flesh as he was knocked to the ground, rolling across the dirt. He coughed and sputtered as he looked up from the ground at the three. "Piece of shit children."
"Who the fuck are you calling a child!" Henchou replied as his blade crashed down through the man's head. "Konoha fuck." He growled, removing his blade and turned to their next destination. He found that the path was blocked by the two men in gas masks.
"Hey you, don't kill our teammate we needed him to win, why do you have to bring such a travesty." The first one whined.
"Hey at least that's one more dead Konha nin, it suits us in the long run." The second replied extending his hands as white mist formed around them. "We can still make them pay though. "Boil Release: Skilled Mist Technique."
"I guess we still can." The other spoke sadly as he ran through his own string of hand seals and the area began to become blanketed in mist.
"Henchou get back." Daichi spoke as he created a pillar of earth under both of their feet, firing them back towards Mitsuko. Diachi landed and looked out towards the approaching mist. "This is going to be really problematic. Mitsuko do you have any close range techniques?"
Mitsuko grinned cheekily. "I thought you would never ask. Come on out my favorite little dogs." Emerging from her body were three snarling huskies composed of glimmering steel. They spread out after nipping Mitsu playfully. With a step, they disappeared into the mist, sniffing while following the scent of the two remaining ninja. "Have fun my little puppies."
"If anything's getting through Boil release it's probably your metal." Henchou spoke as he readied his own technique, slamming his hands together as chakra bubbled up around him. "Wind Release: Snake Eating Ground", he spoke as swirling tubes of wind formed around him and dove beneath the surface. The air was silent before two loud yells were heard from the mist. "Looks like your hounds got their mark. "Daichi send em flying towards us."
"Roger that captain." He replied, now knowing the location of the two via Mitsuko's dogs and their pained yells he pushed both hands into the earth as the earth around the two flipped out and rocketed the two towards the three. "What's the plan now?" Diachi yelled, readying his fists.
"Calm down it's over." Henchou replied with a grim smile as he made one last sign. "Bug-Catcher Formation." He cried as the ground before them erupted into a long vertical net of buzzing wind. As the two were throw from the mist they could only watch as they shot through the deathtrap. Their bodies fell in pieces to the floor as the mist began to dissipate. "Phew good work you two." Henchou called out.
"Meh, it wasn't much." she responded, flipping her hair. She rummaged in her pockets for food, finding a large steak that she tossed down to the three metal dogs, who fell upon it with glee. "Shame, you should have let my dogs maul them a little longer. They were hungry." Mitsuko studied the clearing as it emptied of mist. "What's the next step now?"
"We reach the second area" Daichi spoke. As the three took off.
The Unloving World
The three had been running for a long time, a canyon had lay beyond their battle. It was a long run but silent. They made it through with no trouble and reached the next leg of their journey. It was a swamp, thick with fog and pouring rain. The three had ran for a mile or so before retreating to a nearby cave, lighting a fire and setting up camp for the night. The three huddled around the campfire, eating fish Daichi had caught from the swamp.
"Think this rain will ever let up?" Daichi sighed, used to the calm nights in Taki. "The pattern is kinda annoying."
"You fucking crazy?" Henchou replied. "The rain is the best, we have it all the time in Kiri. It's so relaxing. The constant patter is calming, helps ya sleep." He continued, gnawing on his fish.
"No it isn't. Give me sunshine and open plains any day. I need warmth and the breeze sweeping the land. Left in a contained space with constant rain? Fuck that. Sounds miserable," Mitsuko commented, adding her two cents. She finished off one piece of fish before reaching for another.
"So we're sleeping here for the night correct? Who's on first watch?"
"Fuck the both of you." Henchou sighed, laying down on his blanket against the cave wall. "One of you can do it, maybe your hatred for it will keep you alert."
"I suppose I'll take it then." Daichi shrugged. "I'm not very tired anyways."
She flips him off. "Well excuse me, the rain is dreary as shit so....." Mitsuko retorted before unrolling her blanket and sitting on it. "I'll take second watch then. Chances are I won sleep any time so-" the girl yawned hugely as she lay down as well.
"Never mind. Maybe the pitter-patter is soothing."
"Damn right it is." Henchou grumbled from his cocoon of blankets he had created.
A couple hours later Daichi softly shook Mitsuko awake. "Hey wake up, you're up on duty." He whispered as he moved away from her. "Nothing happened during my watch."
"Good to know," was her muffled response before rolling out of the covers. A clone emerged from her stretching form as she settled into the watch position alongside the copy. It appeared a quiet night was ahead.
"So what do you think our chances are in all this?" Daichi asked, sitting down beside her. He wasn't very tired.
"I'd say they're about 25% at best. Shit's going to hit the fan and we'll deal with it." A flash of lightning punctuated her statement. "Whatever, I signed on to this because of its reputation. I know it will be a hell of a ride."
"Oh is that why you're here?" Daichi stated quite calmly. "It's definitely a great way to get famous, no doubt about that. I'm just here for the money, trying to get my family back up again. Trade is great but it starts to make farmers like us kinda obsolete at a point. Everything is just so accessible and there are just better places to farm." He sighed.
"Are your family subsistence farmers, or do you try to create a surplus to sell?" she asked sitting back, "But yeah, Iwagakure is so dull now with all major wars having ceased with even skirmishes subsiding; I needed a change of pace."
"We try to do surplus but it hasn't been looking so hot. We're just barely scraping by as is. It's all so stupid ya know, how this happens again and again." He stared out into the rain. "War didn't help either everything was "for the country" and such, said they'd pay us back. They did but it wasn't nearly what we needed."
"Honestly, I find the whole system to be a mess. How do they expect shinobi to just assimilate into society? We're too driven, too strong and a whole lot of us are damaged goods who are heroes in wartime but villains during peace. It's fucking stupid," she responded before sitting back.
"Seems we're opposites then. I did some training to bring up my combat prowess. But most of my ninjutsu use is an adapted style of how I used to farm." He smirked. "I'm assuming you've been a shinobi longer than a civilian, especially with that heavy weaponry."
"I come from a line of shinobi lol. My dad was a shinobi, my mom was kunoichi, both sets of grandparents were shinobi, as were their parents, and their parents parents an-well, you get the picture. It's in my blood you could say," Mitsu added matter-of-factly. She shrugged.
"I suppose it must be nice huh, being from a line of shinobi. Everything comes easier, money, fame, power, it's all really dived up to nobles and shinobi." He shrugged. "Granted I guess people like Henchou don't have it off that easy huh."
"Not quite as easy as you think. Watching people die gets old after a while. Also, you gotta realize it's polarized as fuck. You're from a small ass ninja village in who the fuck cares country? Well, you're just as broke as the rest of your countrymen. It's not just a noble or shinobi thing, it's a resource control thing."
"I guess we all can't be like the Explosion Corps, or the Anbu, or the Hunter Nin, or even the Kages." Daichi sighed. "Thus is the life for common folk."
"Every village has the "it" group who monopolizes the fame, the fortune, and the prestige. Didn't have the Explosion Release so that meant a no go for the EC. Plus, I was too headstrong for Anbu, and not heartless enough for Hunter-nin. Oh well," she mused aloud.
"I suppose that's just life.." Daichi was cut off by a voice from behind them, the two would look to see an extremely grumpy looking Henchou, awakened by their noise.
"You both don't get it, it's all there cause that's what they want. They want us to strive for these stupid groups cause that's the only way it gets better. That's the damn system they play us with. And then we fight the wars and get fame or die trying, all in their name. It's a system I'm all too familiar with, doing this to be a Hunter-nin and all." He was surprisingly un-hostile, towards them at least. His focus much more on the discussion at hand than being woken up. "But what else can we do but follow the path and hopefully make it better." He sighed. "I sometimes wish I was a loner, didn't have a family. I love them but they're the reason I have to stay in line, I have something to lose. Granted what would be the purpose of even fighting this wretched system without them." He spoke as he sat down between the two, Daichi putting an arm on his shoulder.
"He speaks....more comments from the peanut gallery eh?" was her tart retort before cackling a bit. "No shit. You incentivize a population to keep their asses in line. You place shit on a pedestal and weave narratives of glory from it by using others who died. I know what psychology is nincompoop. It's why I'm glad I don't have EC, expectations and shit are annoying. Having a family to tie you down makes it worse. All you can do is adapt."
"You're in an awfully sour mood this time of night." Henchou retorted. "Apologies you can't just respond without some sort of jagged comeback, even I can turn my filter off once in a while." Henchou sighed, rubbing his temples. "Look I think we got off on the wrong foot, regardless of who you are or who I am we're both in this to win for our own reasons. So I think we can at least extend each other some decency and save the insults till after our first victory." He spoke, offering his arm in what looked like a mix between a handshake and a hug. Henchou clearly didn't do this often.