World 79: Naruto – Part 2.4

I Will Not Be Hokage, Part 3: Testing 2 – Eclectic Boogaloo

Previously: Testing the Night Away

Themesong: Into the Woods by the Cast of Into The Woods

The moment Morino-Sensei finished wishing us luck on the second test, the window of the examination room smashed in and a genki-girl sensei named Mitarashi Anko introduced herself as the Proctor for the next part of the exam… of course she did it by using two Kunai impaled in the ceiling to hang a banner, but that’s a genki-girl for you. “Let’s Go! Follow me!” she cried, thrusting an arm skyward in a way that was excessively enthusiastic… almost Narutonian. Then she noticed how many of us were left and chastised old scar-face for making the first test too easy.

“There were a lot of outstanding candidates,” he said smugly.

“It’s fine. Fine… I’ll winnow at least half of them out in my test,” she said, waving his comment away. Of course, she would. The nature of the second test was that no more than half the teams could actually finish it, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

As an aside, in the Manga, there’s a scene that always bothered me right here. See, once all the Genin have left, Morino-Sensei is alone in the now empty exam room, and he goes around picking up the pages. He’s surprised to find Naruto’s paper completely blank, and thinks to himself how remarkable it is that Naruto made it through without answering any of the questions besides the tenth. He thinks that Naruto is a very interesting guy. I get that Naruto is the MC, and that Sasuke (like many of the others in the testing chamber) got all his answers from someone else… i.e. the two hidden chunin, either directly or indirectly. But Sakura got none of the answers from anyone else. As far as we the readers could tell, Sakura is the only person in the entire room who knew all the answers. Now, Kabuto and other veteran takers might have known them too, probably did in fact, and would be aware of the trick nature… but no one ever remarks on how incredible it is that a twelve year old can be smart and informed enough to breeze through the exam like Sakura did. Yes, she’s this story’s Hermione, but at least Hermione gets credit in Harry Potter for being the brightest witch of her age. 

Sakura is repeatedly given the short end of the characterization stick… but it was as if some force was now pushing me to be more important, to correct the imbalance. I’d have done that anyway, most likely… hell, any story is usually imbalanced simply because of the POV. Few people are supporting characters in their own biographies. But something was abrading Naruto’s mojo just enough to give me space to do it without resorting to one upmanship… or so it seemed. Was this accidental? Or was it to do with the Nemesis Challenge?

Anyway, if the first section of the testing was stupid, the second test made the idea of the first test look like the work of an inspired genius. I may be a bit biased here, but… look, tests where prospective students die is a staple both in the real world (see ancient Sparta’s Agoge) and in fiction… oh so much in fiction. But what most of the fictional versions fail to understand is that deaths in the real life versions were rare. Not unheard of, but exceptionally rare. Less than one in twenty would have been tolerated by the most militant cultures, and the usual was less than one in a hundred. Prospective warriors are valuable and throwing them away is insanity. It’s a waste of the resources needed to rear them, the time needed to train them, and usually harmful to the morale of their friends. 

And if it’s not harmful? Oh, holy shit do you have a problem, because esprit de corps is fucking everything in war. Loyalty to your comrades is the single most important element in whether a group of soldiers stands and fights. Making your soldiers not care about each other isn’t just going to destroy their loyalty to the body politic, it’s going to destroy the cohesion of units. Warhammer 40K may be fifty kinds of fucked up, but holy shit do they understand esprit de corps and the importance of maintaining morale. They suck at it, but it’s a dark as fuck universe.

So what does Test 2 do that’s so mind bogglingly stupid? Well, let me start by telling you the name of the test location. Officially known as Area 44, it is more commonly known as The Forest of Death. Why? Because it’s a zone filled with monsters? Well, sure, that’s part of it. But the test ramped it up in a huge way. How you ask? We’re getting there.

Each team was given a scroll. Some of the scrolls had black borders (Earth Scrolls), others had white borders (Heaven Scrolls). A team could only pass this test by reaching the center of the Forest with one of each. Thus, half the teams would be eliminated. See, I told you I’d get back to it.

Sooo… you’ve got twenty-six teams, meaning that of the original fifty-one half had been eliminated, and only thirteen could possibly finish. That part? That’s entirely reasonable. But we’re talking about twenty-six teams of trained spies, bodyguards, and assassins… and the one thing no one said was “Don’t kill each other.” Careers are made based on one’s success in the Chunin Exam and at least half would fail. Of course competition is going to be high… but you know what would actually bring out the best in your people? Telling them that they weren’t allowed to kill each other. These are fucking Ninjas! If they can’t steal a scroll from rival teams without killing them, they’re not very good Ninjas now are they?!

Fucking moronic, that’s what this whole thing was. Just… spectacularly dumb. Like… say two teams from the same village threw down and someone died? Oh, yeah, that would be good for internal harmony. And if the ninjas of one nation killed the ninjas of an allied nation… why, in the name of the entire Shinto Pantheon, would you risk an international incident like that? This was less than 25 years from the last world war! FUUUUUCK!

Anyway, the remaining eleven Konohagakure teams were Teams Kakashi (mine), Team Kurenai (Hinata, Shina, Kiba, and Akamaru the doggo), Team Asuma (Ino-Shika-Cho), Team Guy (Neji, Rock Lee, and Tenten), Team Kaito (Zenji / Zane, Kanna / Kendra, Kurushita / Darkseid), Team Reo (Yokumo / Amaryllis, Ichika / Maggy, and Mamoru / Alex), Team Kabuto (Kabuto and others), Team Who Gives a Crap (important only because Manabu Akado was in it… and he’s only important because this was his eighteenth try… seriously, the dude had been in the same Academy Class as Kakashi… but, you know, older since Kakashi finished at age five.)… Team We’re Only Here to Demonstrate What Happens If You Cheat in the Second Test, and two teams there only to fill out the numbers I guess. Serious, I didn’t know those eight losers from Adam and I know everyone. Shocking, I know, but it was as if someone couldn’t be arsed to give background characters any damned personalities. Either that, or Chara’s presence in my mind was making it so that I was being actively disdainful of staggeringly dull people. Hard to say.

That aside, I’m as astonished as you are that Kurushita didn’t fuck up and get his team bounced from the first part of the exam, but he didn’t. I guess DS’s ego wouldn’t let him sabotage things. 

Meanwhile, Team Sakuhasu (Shinohana / Vita and the Shimura Triplets / Levi, Sterns, & Dearche) had gotten themselves eliminated because Vita of all people had gotten caught cheating. Sigh. Summoning a bat to spy on others? How do you figure a bat flying around the test room isn’t going to be noticed? It was broad freaking daylight. My fault, I know. I have yet to spank some subtlety into Vita’s bottom.

The remaining fourteen teams were Otogakure (Sound)’s bullshit fake team, both teams from Kusagakure, one team from Takigakure, five teams from Amegakure (Rain), and six teams from Sunagakure (Sand). Of them, most were doomed to fail… and one team, the Kusagakure Team that had straw hats tagging them as Crime, Evil, and Punishment, were already dead, having been killed and replaced by Orochimaru’s agents prior to the events of the First Test. How I regretted that I wasn’t allowed to kill these replacements myself… but maybe that was Chara? No. Probably not. Being honest with myself, I probably would have buried these murderous fuckers in unmarked graves even without Little Miss Psychopath in my head. 

Another team, one of the ones from Amegakure was also going to die for even less reason. See, since no one had bothered to make it a rule not to kill others to get their scrolls, Team Baki… aka Gaara and his siblings would just kill the first team they came across that had the Heavenly Scroll they needed. 

And that’s the basic setup, as told to us by the Genki-Girl herself. “You have five days to get to the tower at the center of the forest with both scrolls or your team is gone, gone, gone,” she chirped. “But don’t think it’s going to be easy. You’ll soon find out why we call it the ‘Forest of Death’.”

Naruto, apparently unphased by his moment of apprehension at Test Site 1, mimicked her words in a whiny voice, then snapped “You think that scares me! I’m not afraid of any stinking trees!” Then he flinched as Anko-Sensei threw a kunai past him, cutting open his cheek.

Before he could so much as squeak, she was behind him, licking the blood from his face. Let me tell you, seeing it in live action? Sooo much creepier than seeing it in black and white on the page of a manga. But that’s not why I mentioned it. 

Remember how I said that the Kusagakure Team in the straw hats had been replaced with Orochimaru’s agents… well Shiore, the one with the hat that said “Evil” had been replaced with Orochimaru himself, and that Kunai had cut a few strands of Shiore/Orochimaru’s hair and the Snake Sage moved up behind Anko-Sensei almost as smoothly as she’d moved up behind Naruto, holding the Kunai in his prehensile tongue.

I wasn’t concerned evil von creepy dude would attack Sensei… not that I’d have cared after the freakshow bloodlicking… nor attack Naruto. Instead, I took advantage of the crowd’s attention being on the budding conflict to open my third eye just a crack, getting my first glimpse of the heart and soul of one of the three great Sennin of the Sannin… sigh. I didn’t just make that up. Sennin means Sage, while Sannin means Three Ninjas… there were three of them, Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru… I may have mentioned it before.

I’d seen the Chakra-flows inside normal ninjas often enough, always from hiding to avoid revealing my locally unknown eye power, but never before had I seen those flows augmented by the third component of the chakra wheel. Normal ninjas mix Physical and Spiritual energy to produce Chakra… a Sage, using Senjutsu… Sage techniques, add “Natural” energy to the yin-yang flow of chakra, creating a three magetama wheel… Physical flowing into Natural flowing into Spiritual flowing back into Physical again. It was a balancing act, a fact I could see as plain as the nose on my face… well… most people can’t see their own nose and I’d never picked up a perk specifically to allow it, so technically I couldn’t see the nose… anyway, I’m getting off topic. 

I didn’t know what would happen if the balance wasn’t maintained, but it was clear that, since the Natural Energy, the Anima Mundi, was an external thing, if would have potentially catastrophic effects if too much was absorbed… and too little… probably wouldn’t do much if anything. It had to be slipped into the cycle in just the right way, in just the right amount… now if only I could find a source for it. Unfortunately, that my Third Eye couldn’t show me. I’d have to figure it out… or learn it from one of the three known masters… but preferably not Snakeface.

While I’d been busy, the situation had been resolved, and I had to snap myself out of my contemplation and slip my headband back over my forehead before anyone noticed… had it been too long? Had I cracked it open too far… I’d wanted a better look, a longer look, but hadn’t dared. Was I being paranoid? Was there such a thing as too paranoid in a world full of assassins and spies? Hard to say, but I’ve never liked giving potential enemies too much information. Bragging should only be done over the enemy’s corpse.

Regardless, Anko-Sensei was all too Genki-Cheerful-Psycho as she had us sign the release forms agreeing that, if we died, (and she assured us that there would be deaths in this test) it wasn’t her fault. Good, fucking, christ people! Why did you let this batshit crazy woman proctor your exam! I’d had a look inside her… it was impossible not to since she was right next to Orochimaru, and oh… sweet mother of man… she was soooo twisted it wasn’t funny. Entire parts of her memory had been scrubbed and altered. Her loyalty to the village was fanatical, but there were parts of her that screamed and gibbered and writhed inside… and rejoiced in the madness. Parts of her resonated like parts of Orochimaru… and I could see the traces of his Chakra all over her soul. That green Natural glow was telltale, and she had the markings I’d come to recognize as a Seal of Heaven.

It wasn’t the same as the Purified forms that Amy, Francy, Vita, and the triplets had, so I was assuming it was the original… which doubled up the whole connection to Orochimaru since, as far as I knew, he’d created the fucking things. I had no idea how the two differed, but I’d paid hard CP to be a Fuinjutsu Prodigy, which meant I knew a thing or three about Ninja Sealing Techniques… and hooo boy, this Seal of Heaven was a doozy. Also fucking insane. I’d guess that less than one in twenty ninjas implanted with that seal would survive the process, and three in four of them would be driven insane. The pain alone should be crippling, at least initially.

Sensei, at least, seemed perfectly healthy, at least physically, and her Chakra flows were fine… so was her body, if you know what I mean. Chara ewwwed inside my head. I ignored her. Not my problem if she was eternally stunted emotionally. Angry ghosts don’t get to determine who I leer at. Hell, my own harem didn’t get to determine who I leer at.

Anyway, back to the test. The Forest covered roughly three hundred and fifteen square kilometers in a near perfect circle around an observation tower built near a fork in the river Narhanja, a tributary of the River Sokkarana which flowed through the center of Konohagakure. Ringing the forest were forty-four gates, equally spaced. By random lot we were assigned to a gate and given three hours to get to our assigned gate. Easy peasy if your gate was right near the main entrance… suuuuuck if your gate was on the far side of the circle… you know, thirty-kilometers away. The manga had said half an hour… I chalk that up to authors not understanding scale… or physical exercise.

There were three ways to lose; open a scroll, lose a team, or fail to get to the center with both scrolls by the time limit. No quitting would be tolerated. Only she didn’t mention that opening the scroll was a crash and burn offense, just that it was forbidden. Fair enough on that count; a ninja who couldn’t control their curiosity about the contents of a missive wasn’t an ideal courier. There should have been a third rule… no helping anyone outside your team. Seriously… did they honestly think teams from the same village wouldn’t help each other? No, they clearly didn’t because these gormless oiks knew nothing about esprit de fucking corps!! 

We entered through Gate 12 and almost immediately were attacked by a single member of Team Oboro, one of the Amegakure teams pretending to be Naruto (who was off taking a piss), but Sasuke drove him away. Sasuke came up with a stupid password system to draw out another ninja who was lurking nearby, submerged beneath the ground and breathing through a hollow bamboo tube. 

It’s a classic image, I’ll give you that, though a single, clean-cut bamboo tube poking out of a body of water when you’re in the middle of towering trees with no bamboo in sight pretty much screams “I’m spying on you!”. What makes this even dumber? The ninja in question was Fake-Shiore… i.e. Orochimaru. Like… did he think so little of us that he was just fucking around? Or, like… no. Nope. Can’t think of a single fucking reason why Orochimaru, who had done countless horrible experiments on himself, would even need to breathe anymore, but especially not in such an obvious fashion.

I, however, wasn’t paying nearly as much attention to the scene as I should have been. I knew that, elsewhere nearby, Naruto was probably being attacked and swallowed by a kyodaija… a Giant Snake, one of Orochimaru’s summons. In the original timeline, he’d break free of its gut by shadow-cloning himself six ways to sunday, cause it to explode from the internal pressure. My fear was that, given his recent spate of slightly less over the top Main Character Shenanigans, he might be having trouble and thus need a bit of a hand.

An easy choice, right? Stay with Sasuke to face Orochimaru, potentially leaving him vulnerable to being kidnapped (as he would be eventually anyway) and us losing this highly unimportant test or go save the Boy Who Would Be Hokage from a fate he might not need saving from. Clearly I should go, I hear you saying. I certainly heard my own better angels saying it. 

But then there was the part of me that wanted to, needed to, was required to prove herself. That part yearned to face one of the big bads… hell, the Big Bad of the first half of the series… mano y duo. If I could have gotten rid of Sasuke without Orochimaru, who wanted Sasuke’s body for his own (but not in a pedo way) following…

“Maybe you should go check on Naruto,” I suggested.

“If you’re concerned about the idiot,” Sasuke snapped, “You go check on him.”

“No need to check on me,” Definitely Not Naruto said. “The password is-” Orochimaru pretending to be Shiore pretending to be Naruto began, then yelped as three kunai raced towards his face. He dodged, snakelike, then snapped, “Why’d you do that!” or at least that’s what he started to say. He got as far as “Why’d you-” before the explosive tags I’d stuck on the throwing knives exploded, blasting him off his feet and shredding the illusion.

“Naruto wouldn’t let Sasuke call him an idiot without retort,” I growled, leaping into the air, drawing my blades as the Snake-Sage rolled and flipped back to his feet. 

“You’re not as useless as I’d been led to believe,” Shiore-but-not-really said, barely keeping the hiss out of his voice. “If only you weren’t corrupted, it might be interesting to-” He dodged backwards as I drove the point of my overly large blade into the ground where he’d just been standing. Fucking hell he was fast. I’d been faster, once upon a Bleach, and he wasn’t going all out, but in this lifetime, down-checked as I was, he was faster than I was, if just barely. “A fight… how excellent. Let’s begin the battle in earnest then,” he swallowed his black-bordered scroll, pulling it down his bulging throat with his obscenely long tongue. “With our lives on the line.” It was right out of the manga… if I was a fan girl, I’d have squeed. It was pretty bad-ass in a tween fiction kind of way.

What was also right out of the manga was the overwhelming murderous aura he generated, his Sakki, his Killing Intent radiating out of him like waves of semi-solid fear. As much as it might seem like a genjutsu, complete with the potential to paralyze an opponent and (at this strength) induce visions of gruesome demise at the hands of the killer, it was not a technique at all, but merely an expression of the killer’s soul. It hit Sasuke like a ton of bricks… but not only did it not bother me in the slightest (I’d faced Kenpachi Zaraki’s Spirit Pressure without flinching and killed actual greater demons and suplexed the fucking Eye of Terror. I was not flinching from an overgrown snake) but it actually tickled.

It also made Chara positively giddy and, before I could stop her, my eyepatch blew off and her crimson mist began pouring out of me, splitting again and again as it clawed its way out of my soul. “HAAATE! FEAR! DEATH! MURDER! KILL! KILL! KILL!!!!!!” she sang in a dozen voices, then a hundred voices, then more, more and more voices pouring out of her with each passing word and, believe it or not, Orochimaru flinched.

“What in the name of Kami?” He gasped, his Killing Intent shattered by the presence of a living spirit of murder made manifest. 

Sasuke, already shaken by Orochimaru’s initial attack, had backed against one of the titanic lianas littering the forest floor and he looked too shocked to move. I don’t doubt that, had any of us been in complete control of ourselves at that moment, I would have won the fight, but the Burning Blood warred with the Chosen One and I had to stop Chara from killing Orochimaru. I didn’t really know why I should bother, but he was probably important to the story, a part of the threefold symmetry of Sages and chakra parts and all that… but more than that I had to keep Chara from killing anyone… at all costs. Not because of the Drawback, but because each time she killed it would be harder to save the wicked child from herself… and since she was bonded to me on the spiritual level, if she fell I did not doubt that I too might fall. And if Chara unleashed was a terrible idea… The Jumper EssJay Fallen? Universes would quail in terror before their light was expunged for the crimes of not meeting my too high, impossible to meet, standards.

My hands tangled in the screaming, thrashing thing that I clearly needed to have more than a few words with, pulling it back into myself, the pain agonizing, as Chara’s thousand mouths ripped and tore at Shiore’s flesh. The last I saw before I collapsed to the ground of Orochimaru was him fleeing into the distance. I could only hope that Naruto had survived, though I’d left him a fail-safe… I’m a loose cannon… not an idiot. 

****

“Use the Force, Luke,” said a small squeaky voice as Naruto found himself in the gullet of a giant creepy-ass snake.

“The what?” the orange-haired boy gasped as he slid deeper. “Who said that? And who is Luke?”

“I said that, the force, and you are Luke,” said the voice and Naruto felt something squirming inside his jumpsuit. A moment later, a small pink nose poked out of the neck of his top. “Hi! You are Luke, right?”

“Nooo,” Naruto grunted, thrashing helplessly. Why was there a weasel in his shirt? “I’m Naruto… Who are you, and how did you get in there?”

“I’m Metropolis the Super Ferret,” the weasel said proudly. “And the seal to summon me was placed here in your shirt, to be triggered by snake saliva. I was told to tell Luke to use the Force. Do you know where Luke is?”

“Nooo… stop squirming!”

“But it’s damp here! You really should get out of here before we’re digested,” Metropolis pointed out.

“You’re the Super Ferret, can’t you get us out?” the boy grumbled.

“Oh… I can get out… but I can’t take you with me. You’re not cleared to enter the Infinite Warrens,” the small creature said, checking a small notebook. “Oh. Wait… Naruto?”

“Yeah?”

“It says that, if Luke lies and says his name is Naruto to tell him to use the Shadow Force,” the silver furred creature said proudly. “Do you have any dried fish?”

“You’re a very weird dude… dude…” Naruto said, then blinked. “Shadow Force? Heh. Did Sakura send you?”

“I’m not at liberty to say… but if you bribe me with fish I might tell you anyway,” the ferret allowed. “But then again, I might not. I’m fickle. Now? Are we getting out of here?”

“You Better Believe it!”

******

“Sorry Sasuke,” Naruto said, looking down from a tree branch, covered in viscera, “I forgot the Password.”

“I’m actually glad to see you,” Angst Boy said, “Something came out of Sakura’s eye and it ate one of the Kusagakure Ninjas who was trying to kill us… do you see her eyepatch anywhere?”

“I’m fine,” I grumbled, trying to sit up, blood covering my right hand as I kept it pressed over my traitorous eye. “We need to get moving. Team Baki will have reached the center already.”

“Baki?” Naruto asked. “Which one is that?”

“The three Sand Siblings,” Sasuke said with a sigh. “You really need to work on paying attention.”

“And remembering what you hear,” I agreed, much to Naruto’s chagrin. The teacher in me wanted to pull Naruto aside and give him some pointers, but the pragmatist inside me felt that trying was almost certainly pointless. Not only was fishcake boy a Shonen Protagonist, but he was the designated comic relief. If the Dysfunction Junction drawback hadn’t guaranteed we wouldn’t get along all that well, maybe it would have worked, but he was hardly going to listen to me, and the odds of me keeping my temper when he ignored me were not favorable.

Now that we were looking for another team to beat up, finding one became a problem. Orochimaru had taken his scroll with him, but I suspected he’d be back sooner or later, since he was pretty obsessed with Sasuke. How important the Cursed Seal was to Sasuke’s future I didn’t know, but becoming the disciple of the Snake Sage probably was important in some way. I wanted to be out of the forest before the creep came back.

To that end, we were stalking one of the teams from Sunagakure, one led by a Genin named Jyari, trying to figure out if they had an Earth Scroll. Of the first three teams we’d scouted, Toitsu’s Team (Konoha) had turned out to have a Heavenly Scroll, Shigeri’s Team (Kusa) had an Earth Scroll but they were defeated by Team Kabuto (Konoha, also Earth) and their scroll burned, and Team Kawaki (Sunagakure) not only had a Heaven (no help there) but it was eaten by an extremely nasty Hogscorpion… along with the hand of the team member who was holding the scroll.

We’d been stalking the Sand Ninjas for half an hour by this point, while they secured their camp for the night — what kind of Ninjas don’t hunt at night? — when there was a rustling in the brush behind us and Team Dosu dropped out of hiding. Clearly, they’d used some sound technique to hide the sounds of their approach until the last moment.

The three Sound Ninjas moved with the coordinated efficiency of people who’ve worked together for two years, and it struck me painfully just how young and stupid they were. Fourteen year olds murdering each other was bad enough, but that they were doing it for a shitstain like Orochimaru who was perfectly willing to sacrifice their lives just so he could kill the Third Hokage with the corpses of the First and Second Hokage? What a fucking joke.

As Sound Ninjas, each of them used some specialized Sound Jutsu even though Hidden Leaf Ninjas certainly didn’t all use wood or fire Jutsu. Hell, Naruto used a wind attack as his primary. Or was Rasengan lightning? He hadn’t learned it yet and thus I hadn’t seen it in person, just in the manga and anime and no, that didn’t help me figure out how to do it because I didn’t understand what, exactly, it was doing. Or rather, I understood what… not how. Copycat is weird. Live action with special effects? Works fine, as in the case of Force Lightning, which anyone who has seen Return of the Jedi or Revenge of the Sith has seen being used. Anime? Video games? Nope. Very odd. Apparently the actor was the big thing. It’s also important to note that the people of this world, like all Anime world’s I’d been to, didn’t look like Anime Characters. They looked as close to it as possible for normal humans. Okay, yes, their hair was still weird colors and occasionally had waay too much body, but their eyes were normal size, they didn’t have antennae hair, they didn’t explode blood from their nose when they got sexually aroused, and they didn’t manifest massive sweat drops when worried.

Anyway, Abumi Zaku was a black haired orphan thief that had been indoctrinated into the cult of Orochimaru at age eight and surgically modified with hollow air tubes in his arms that allowed him to expel focused blasts of air and sound powerful enough to deafen or cut flesh. Tsuchi Kin, the team’s sole female member, used acupuncture needles and bells to disorient and disable with nerve attacks and sonic illusions. Kinuta Dosu could manipulate and bend sound, and had hearing accurate enough to figure out what someone was writing simply by listening to the sounds made by their pencil on paper. He was also a Tech Ninja, relying on the armguard-speaker combo on his right forearm to generate the sound he used in his attack. Although all three were highly overconfident, murderous, sadistic, and cruel, at least Dosu demonstrated some intelligence and none of them deserved their lot in life… though few people really do. Dosu was the only one of the three not sacrificed by Orochimaru in the original timeline. Rather, Gaara would rather summarily slaughter him during the Konoha Crush.

My sympathy for their plight, alongside my desire to reform a similarly murderous youth living inside me… if you can call it living… slowed me down. I hadn’t really had a plan for how to deal with them… I know, odd for me, but I was mostly flying by the seat of my pants here. I didn’t really know how to help in this world and didn’t want to fuck things up. Mostly, I just wanted to survive until I could figure out how to put myself back together… and figure out what had stolen some of Naruto’s Mojo… and whether or not that boded ill for the world around us. 

That said, I still had far more fighting strength and experience than all three Sound Ninjas put together, and I figured one way to keep Orochimaru from sacrificing them would be to disable them and hide them someplace he couldn’t find them. 

I readied myself to strike… and Chaara chose that moment to steal all our Chakra… or horde it I guess. The cycle of physical to spiritual just… stopped as she refused to give her half up. 

“I want to kill them!” She demanded! “They’re mean and icky and bad! They’re bad people! Let me out so I can kill them!”

“You can’t!” I raged, gasping out the words, well aware that I was sounding like a crazy person. “You’re bound by a Drawback not to kill people!”

“Nuh huh! I didn’t take that one! You did!”

“You’re not allowed to kill anyone anyway!” I shot back, struggling to pull the Chakra out of her metaphysical grasp while fighting off Kin… why the hell was the only girl going after me? Is this fight gender coded? 

Naruto was holding his own against Dosu, while Sasuke and Zaku were going at it like snake and mongoose… when a giant snake appeared in the clearing, smashing through the branches with Orochimaru sunk to the hips into its skull. Sasuke and Naruto were thrown off their rhythm by the new attack, as was Chaara, but all I could do with that moment of distraction was pull some of the Chakra cycle back into order before Kin managed to disable my right arm with a nerve strike.

Things quickly spiraled from bad to worse, with Naruto managing to stun the snake but quickly being KO’d by Orochimaru, who wasn’t even pretending to be Shiore any more, and Sasuke being double teamed by Kin and Zaku as I fought my own inner demon-brat. And then, to make matters worse… Rock Lee appeared to save me. Just… kill me now. Well, no, don’t. But oy. I am not a damsel! I hate that trope almost as much as I hate Lee’s bushy eyebrows! Dude needs some manscaping.

Anyway, within moments, Orochimaru had bitten Sasuke, inflicting the Curse Seal upon him, and the rest of Team Guy (Neji and Tenten) showed up to fight Orochimaru and Ino-Shika-Cho had shown up to fight the Sound Trio. Yeah… I’d manage to change a little of the story, but not much. At least I didn’t have to worry about cutting my hair since I didn’t cover my forehead with my bangs and didn’t care at all if Sasuke liked girls with long hair, girls with short hair, or you know, girls at all! Ugh. Teenage Boys are idiots!

Look, long story short, we passed the test. Orochimaru and company had no intention of killing us and his agent Kabuto was in place to help ensure that, even crippled by a demon, the growing Cursed Seal, and just being Naruto, we would win through to victory eventually. 

I’ve experienced the disgusting nature of a setting on rails (Final Fantasy VII) before, and this wasn’t that. There was too much give for us to be plotbound, but there was too much snap back for us to be entirely free of destiny either. It was as if some events had to happen and some were optional… and I was beginning to suspect that Sasuke was the determinant. Anything bound to his storyline seemed locked in, something that could be changed only with great effort and likely to change back. If that was the case, I was probably fighting a losing battle about ending up with him, an idea I was less than pleased with… though to be fair, I didn’t want to stop Sarade, Sasuke and Sakura’s daughter, from existing. I hadn’t planned on being her mother, but she was (from what little I’d seen of her) a cute kid. 

But my fate and Naruto’s? Those seemed more flexible. It was as if Naruto had been given room to fail in order for Sakura’s role in things to become more vital. Was it that simple? Was that the nature of the test? If so, did that make Naruto my Nemesis? Or Sasuke? Or was there some character out in this world that I didn’t know about that that was my Nemesis.

Princess Kaguya was a world walker and evil… maybe she was the Nemesis? Was that it? Did I have to be the one to bring her down? I had no idea how she’d been defeated but I knew she was the Big Bad of the series. Or was Chaara my Nemesis? She certainly was giving me enough problems. The more control I gained over our combined Chakra, the more she fought me. It was all deeply frustrating to say the least.

One thing that had changed was that, instead of seven teams passing the Second Test, an unprecedented nine had, with Team Kaito and Team Reo both making it through with relative impunity. The only thing that kept Kurushita/Darkseid from gloating over the fact that his squad had managed to finish in under four days while it had taken my squad almost exactly five days was the fact that the team with my kids had finished the exam in even less time than it had taken Gaara’s team. 

The old record had stood at four hours, a time that Gaara’s team in canon had shattered with a blistering ninety-seven minutes. Team Reo had crossed the ten kilometers between gate and tower in eighty-four, thanks to the Bakeneko that Mamoru/Alex had summoned providing speed, Yokumo/Amaryllis’s Nindog zeroing in on a scroll for them to steal, and Ichika/Maggy using her Yamanaka Possession Jutsu to have one member of the rival team attack his team mates. I’m so proud that even Chaara being a grumpus inside my head couldn’t completely ruin my mood.

So that was two tests down, one test and an invasion to go, but there was a month between now and those events, plenty of time to (hopefully) work on my communication with the beast that lay within. Crispy-crackers but it was like having my very own Jinchuriki… Chaara, The Thousand Tailed Weasel of Hate. I could have done without the honor, to be honest.

Next: Testing 3 – So Much for Subtlety

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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in very slow progress here. Please check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have two separate bonus stories here called EssJay’s Omake Theatre #1 (Big Box Isekai) and #2 (Zed’s Chain)And if you’re on Questionable Questing (No link provided) I have an adult story you might want to check out… if you’re of legal age. If you need the link, hunt me down in one of the forums.