Externality 6a/? (2017-09-15)

They’re running, frantic and more than just a little bit blind.

They abandon their camp, scavenging some of the traps for weapons and wire–that shit’s expensive–but not much. Their pockets and pouches stuffed with their stolen armbands and tokens, objective cards crumpled along with them.

The problem is, they’re running out of time. Then again that’s not really a problem, that’s just a fact of life, time marches forward and there’s nothing that can stop it.

If she had the full three days she would be more confident in this idea. Well, Tetsuki wouldn’t even be thinking about this if she had the full three days, now would she?

An uncomfortable amount of this plan relies on luck. Which. Um. Orphans.

Enough said.

Another good chunk of it then depends on how convincing she and Naruto Uzumaki can be without resorting to violence or genjutsu, and for the final dish of this impossibility feast: Neji Hyuuga has to be willing to put up with their plebeian selves until sunrise.

Or, at least, until the angry mob of their former victims gets scared off and accept failure.

Hm, listed out like that, Tetsuki’s not sure anyone could pull it off.

But Naruto Uzumaki seems optimistic enough to give it a shot, so why not?

First thing’s first: find the best Byakugan user in generations in a forest at night when, presumably, he doesn’t want to be found, before they get caught.

Externality, part 5e (2017-07-13)

Even with their frantic search during the remaining daylight hours, they don’t find a fifth token for Naruto Uzumaki.

Part of it is due to the fact that any token holder who has lasted to the third day knows what they’re doing–they’ve holed up and won’t be budged until the exam is finally over–the other part is because there’s a manhunt going on.

A mob, loud and angry and massive, almost a dozen strong and every time even a hint of it reaches her ears, Tetsuki makes the two of them hide.

Naruto Uzumaki bristles at her caution, but doesn’t break off on his own. The bruises on her face still ache. She wonders: if she healed as fast as he did, would she be reckless, too?

Then again, maybe because her objective is already completed, she’s not as determined. She doesn’t think so–she does want to help him still, if she didn’t, she’d have left him immediately after getting the copper token from Rock Lee–but it’s true she has less incentive. She’s less desperate.

Just as angry, though. Perhaps more so. It crackles and buzzes in her veins impotently, unable to be expressed.

Dusk of the past two days had been a quieting thing, everyone going to their separate camps and settling down for the evening. Tonight is completely different. Tonight, their classmates are energized: armband holders aggressive, the mob still out for their blood.

She’s tempted to just wait it out, let the gamut of traps take care of them and run out their time.

Those who don’t complete their objective in the next few hours will fail.

Naruto Uzumaki included.

She sighs–well, it’s not as if she was planning on sleeping tonight, anyway.

“I have another idea,” she admits, reluctantly, “but it’s going to be… tricky.”

If she’s learned anything about him in the past two days, that’s exactly what he wants to hear.

~

A/N: Taking a little break from Externality for now, even though I’ve written myself into this exam without resolving it and I’ve only gotten to five “chapters.” Not sure what to do now… thinking of maybe another ask box event? Hmm..

Externality, part 5d (2017-07-12)

Every teacher at the Academy has an assistant.

Peacetime glut, Hikari-san says with a self-deprecating tone–after all, her store, too, can only exist because there is no war. If there were, it’d be absorbed into Intel, resources to be parceled out by the quartermaster general.

But the role of Academy teaching assistant has multiple purposes: training new teachers, off-field positions for chuunin on medical leave, increasing protections around Konoha’s vulnerable future soldiers, and on and on it goes.

Yanagi-sensei’s assistant is a chuunin on floating rotations who has taken the year off to train and boost his chances for promotion. Hinoura-sensei doesn’t really seem to care much for the job, but he’s not dismissive of Yanagi-sensei and the other Academy teachers the way she’s heard other field chuunin be, the way Hikari-san sometimes gets before she checks herself.

He doesn’t like Naruto Uzumaki, but nobody seems to like Naruto Uzumaki.

Before the exam started, Yanagi-sensei was the one distributing armbands and tokens.

The objective cards are in Hinoura-sensei’s handwriting.

Rock Lee’s card has a two prong objective:

The first is to collect the token matching his deep purple armband.

The second is to protect his copper token.

Tetsuki is pretty sure she knows what Naruto Uzumaki’s objective should have been.

Regardless of curiosity and conspiracies, they are still in an exam and Rock Lee does have the token she needs. Their objectives are mutually exclusive: there is no compromise to be made here.

“Thanks,” she says to Rock Lee, whose eyes are already beginning to close, “and sorry about this.”

It’s not hard to deepen the genjutsu–especially against someone who can’t fight back–make it spread, her chakra overwhelming his senses, until he falls asleep. He crumples to the ground.

After a paranoid moment to make sure he isn’t just faking it, she frisks him for the copper token.

Naruto Uzumaki drops down to join her, approaching with a mixed expression on his face. Confused and relieved that they aren’t adding Rock Lee to their alliance–or that she’s not replacing him with Rock Lee. “What was all that about?” he asks.

“Just… figuring something out,” she says, somehow exhausted. It has nothing to do with the genjutsu.

Externality, part 5c (2017-07-11)

Unlike taijutsu, Tetsuki is pretty fond of genjutsu.

She’s a somewhat malnourished, preteen girl: she’ll never be able to physically overcome anyone. She’s quick, but not so much as to be untouchable. And as her aches and pains lingering from yesterday can attest to, endurance is not the same as recovery.

But none of that matters with genjutsu.

It’s intricate and delicate, requiring intense focus, and it’s true that very few people can sustain a career in genjutsu specialization–especially not without some kind of blood limit–but there’s something about it that appeals to her, nonetheless.

Being able to control the world around her, even just that little bit, even if it is just an illusion. It hurts less to be an outsider, if being inside means not knowing the truth.

And it’s a tool in her arsenal that doesn’t need extensive, supervised training. She has the basics, after that all she needs is her imagination and the right opportunity.

Rock Lee is notorious for his inability to use chakra. There will be no better opportunity.

Naruto Uzumaki is reluctant to enact her plan, but dutifully circles around the clearing to wait for her signal.

Part of it is that she might not signal him–it’s boring, yes, but if she can talk this out with Rock Lee then she won’t need him to attack from the flank. The other part is that maybe she won’t need him. He’s probably worried that she’ll leave him for Rock Lee which is just ludicrous.

She got punched in the face multiple times, Naruto Uzumaki is not getting rid of her that easily.

But she does think that she can do this on her own. Or, rather, that she should do this on her own.

She has a suspicion about what that familiar armband color might mean. About Rock Lee’s objective and her objective and that of Naruto Uzumaki.

Rock Lee is known to be, if not honorable–because such a thing is pretty impossible in a world of shinobi–then fair. For all that he’s literally asking to be attacked, he won’t attack her until she makes the first move.

Still, just in case, when she goes down to meet him she places a genjutsu on him. It’s a mild one and, under ordinary circumstances, easily breakable; just a small, quick illusion making her seem a meter away from where she actually is.

“I, Rock Lee, will fight anyone who thinks–” he shouts, again, the same speech on loop to the faceless forest of Training Ground 53. She wonders if anyone else has actually taken him on it.

“Hey,” she interrupts, after leaping down in front of him, “I have a question about your objective,” she says.

His gaze fixes on the nonexistent figure a meter away and the deep purple armband on its bicep.

Externality, part 5b (2017-07-08)

The token they got from the campers isn’t copper, which is fine. That raid was mostly to complete Naruto Uzumaki’s not-so-impossible objective, and while it didn’t go perfectly she’d say it was a success over all.

He’s only missing one more token.

Technically, so is she, but percentage-wise she’s further from completing her objective than he is.

If they end this exam and her objective isn’t complete, she’s going to be so pissed off. And not even at Naruto Uzumaki–or, at least, not mostly–but at herself. She can already predict that awful self-chastisement telling her, see, this is why you should only look out for yourself.

One more day. Hopefully they can prevent that from happening.

The problem with using people as scapegoats is that, eventually, they’re going to find out about it. If she and Naruto Uzumaki are lucky, Neji Hyuuga’s intimidating ice prince personality will ward that eventuality off until after the exam.

She didn’t really consider how Rock Lee might react, mostly because she doesn’t know anything about him except for hearsay. And, unlike mister cardinal clan himself, Rock Lee doesn’t pose much of a threat.

She’s not expecting him to hear about it during the exam, either–as friendless as Neji Hyuuga for vastly different reasons–and she’s definitely not expecting him to have a positive reaction.

Then again, she didn’t expect to him to walk around, literally asking for people to attack him.

“This is a trap, right?” she asks, glancing over to Naruto Uzumaki for confirmation. Between the two of them, he is the one that would have more experience with Rock Lee.

“Eh…” he says, gaze locked on their classmate on the forest floor below them, “Maybe?”

Trap or not, what’s interesting to Tetsuki is that on Rock Lee’s bicep is an armband in a shade of purple so deep as to be nearly black…

… the same color as the armband in Naruto Uzumaki’s pocket.

Externality, part 5a (2017-07-07)

Tetsuki dreams of the cold. Not from ice or snow or harsh winds, but an empty kind of cold. A void. As if she were the only person in the world.

It doesn’t make any sense. The Land of Fire is aptly named, temperate even in the night, and before moving in to Ueno General Store she shared a room at Ryokushoku with seven other girls.

But dreams don’t always have to make sense.

It changes. Goes from cold to warm, like standing in a sunbeam, like casual affection and stalwart devotion and other things she’s never experienced before.

Getting adopted was a fairy tale that she has long put behind her, but she imagines maybe this is what it would feel like. Family.

Then her chest aches. No, it stings. No, it shrieks–much harsher and visceral–as if she’s been stabbed through the heart, not just punched in the sternum.

She wakes up, breathing heavily, to a worried Naruto Uzumaki.

“Are you,” he starts, uncertain and hesitant for it, “You were, um.”

At least she’s not crying.

Still, she has to swallow, clear her throat, before her voice can be coaxed out. In those quiet moments, she realizes it’s been longer than an hour and a half, the moon already halfway through its trek across the sky.

“Why didn’t you wake me up earlier? It should be my watch now, you need to recover, too,” Tetsuki wrinkles her nose at herself–she had no idea she was such a busybody.

“I’m fine!” Naruto Uzumaki protests, “And I figured you might need it more. And…”

Now that she looks at him more closely, he does look okay. Only his clothes show any sign of the fight, no bruise or scratch or minor swelling even.

“It’s my fault that you got hurt so much,” he nearly mumbles, chin tucking into the high collar of his hideous jacket, “You deserve more rest,” he finishes.

It’s a sweet thought, if very misguided. Basing resources on who deserves what or who’s at fault for that won’t cut it when they’re real shinobi. It’s harmless now, but there’s no need to encourage bad habits for out on the field.

And so she doesn’t address it.

“Are you a medic?” she asks, instead, because that’s far more pertinent. She knows he got hit a few times–she heard it in the smoke and saw the results while they were retreating–his wounds shouldn’t be at that stage yet. Not when her own are angrily pulsing with every heartbeat.

“No, I just… heal fast,” he mutters. Which is an odd thing to be so ashamed about–a soldier who can heal fast would be valuable–but who is she to judge? It’s disappointing that he can’t help her bruises and scrapes along, but they’re nothing she can’t work through.

“I’ve heard weirder,” Tetsuki shrugs, as a sort of peace offering, “Still, convenient healing or not, you should sleep. Tomorrow’s the last day and we need to get two more tokens.”

Externality, part 4e (2017-07-06)

Plan A–the plan they’re currently enacting–was mostly Naruto Uzumaki’s idea. She tweaked some parts to make it less risky, but the core of it has more flair for the dramatic than she herself would produce.

Plan B–which she had hoped to use on the possibility that their disguises were seen through–relied on the facts that she could switch seamlessly between the henge disguises and that the idea of Neji Hyuuga ambushing someone would be so intimidating that no one would think to test her in a fight.

The henge is not the problem.

The problem is that she’s already been hit three times in this fight and even if she were to switch into the Neji Hyuuga disguise, no one would believe it now.

Gods, this did not go as well as she had hoped.

They have enough armbands, is the thing. They want the remaining token and she’s not even fighting the right person.

As seconds fly by, the smoke disperses more and more, and any advantage she had in this fight against that sensible son of a bitch Komadori is swiftly dispersing with it.

Naruto Uzumaki’s laughter sounds strained now, too, and she knows they’re in trouble.

She tries to trill a whistle–her signal for retreat–but Komadori gets in a hard jab to her sternum that leaves her breathless.

Her henge shatters.

Well, there goes the whole disguise strategy.

Her opponent hesitates–or perhaps, so used to class spars, allows her to catch her breath–but that’s just the opening she needs:

She replaces herself with Renji, their somehow still unconscious hostage, and gives herself some space and what little cover remains of the smoke.

There! Now due north of her, Naruto Uzumaki still in disguise, fighting another camper and losing. She lurches in that direction. Now that she has air again, she finally trills a whistle, reaching out and yanking Naruto Uzumaki out of the way of a punch.

“Let’s go!” she shouts, running and pulling him with her, even as he tries to twist himself away. Thankfully, he’s not trying to stay and fight, but even as he begins to run with his own momentum she keeps her hold on him.

She is vigilant all the way back to the camp, paranoid that someone–especially that sensible son of a bitch–might track them down. But after several feints and a set of bunshin as decoys, she finally lets them spiral back into their camp.

Naruto Uzumaki’s bruises already seem to be healing, or maybe they aren’t nearly as bad as hers which she can feel radiating pain and heat off her skin.

Was it worth it? Attacking the camp directly only got them an additional armband and token each.

But they’ve almost completed Naruto Uzumaki’s impossible objective; surely that’s work a few scrapes.

Still, “You’re getting first watch,” she says, before performing the minimal amount of basic first aid on herself and passing the fuck out.

Externality, part 4d (2017-07-05)

The weird thing is, Tetsuki thinks–ducking under a blind flail and returning with a punch to someone’s nose, cartilage crunching under her fist–she doesn’t like taijutsu.

Sure, she can learn and perform kata well enough and, more often than not, she does win her spars during class… which would imply she’s decent at taijutsu.

But that’s only as compared to her fellow students.

As this particular situation can attest to–a camper grabs at her sleeve, how quaint, she grips their arm and tosses them over her shoulder–the majority of her classmates aren’t exactly impressive.

Naruto Uzumaki laughs and blows a raspberry and she whistles in response, their established back and forth to keep track of each other in the smoke. From the sound of it, he’s a little bit northwest of her and has gotten an armband. She thinks maybe the laughter is genuine, so at least he’s enjoying himself, but she’s also been hearing some grunts of pain from him. No doubt someone’s gotten a couple lucky hits on him, better make this quick:

She crouches down and pats at her fallen opponent, delivering a knock out blow beforehand just to make sure–there, in a pocket, metal body temperature, the now familiar feel of a token. They can check the color later.

She whistles again and clicks her tongue–one token down, one more to go.

Someone gets a hand in her hair and yanks. She stumbles, one arm barely catching her fall, this close she can actually see a vague outline of the other person. Hell, she can see the blue of his sandals.

Komadori, that sensible son of a bitch.

“You’re not Atsushi,” he says, somewhat redundantly. Her henge is still up, but her hair is far longer than her disguise.

“I’m not?” she asks in Atsushi’s voice–or a close enough approximation as she could make with what little of it she heard when they ambushed him earlier–an attempt to baffle him before punching hard at the side of his knee.

It’s not enough to dislocate his kneecap, unfortunately, but it does surprise him enough to make him let go of her hair, allowing her to scramble back to her feet.

He’s not so taken off guard that she can just disappear back into the cover of the smoke–they maybe only have another thirty seconds before it disperses into uselessness–and he attacks her immediately.

She barely dodges a kick and gets a punch to the jaw for her efforts. Frustratingly she recalls that this particular classmate is one of the few who consistently beat her in spars.

Gods damn this sensible son of a bitch.

Externality, part 4c (2017-07-02)

The smoke bombs are one minute from detonating–that is, if they detonate at all, they were from the damaged box that Hikari-san let her have because of possible water exposure–when someone says,

“Should we try to find Mina?”

It’s hesitant enough that it almost gets drowned out by other voices, but still worryingly sensible.

“No way, she made her choice!”

“We don’t know if she did make a choice. For all we know, she’s out there unconscious, too, and we’re just blaming her for something she hasn’t done,” the same someone says, reasonable and far closer to the truth than Tetsuki likes.

Better kill that line of thinking.

“If you think that’s the case, go on ahead,” Tetsuki says, “Hell, if you’re that sure about it, I’ll even go with you. But it doesn’t feel right leaving the camp so unprotected, especially if Mina did sell us out.”

“That just means more of us should go!” this frustratingly sensible classmate says, “If Mina and Renji got ambushed just the two of them, then we might need bigger numbers.”

“And leave the camp less defended?” Tetsuki repeats, scrambling, trying to find a reason that isn’t, my fellow infiltrator and I would like to stay behind and continue our planned sabotage, if you please.

“Yeah, Komadori, if you want to go out there and look for that traitor, then go ahead. But don’t go dragging the rest of us into it.”

Oh, thank the gods, an aggressive, selfish classmate to the unknowing rescue.

And just in time, too.

She and Naruto Uzumaki exchange a quick, relieved glance with each other, before taking survey of where the campers are respective to themselves and each other.

Smoke starts to spew out of the fire pit, just a little at first, to draw attention, before erupting in huge billows of smoke.

Tetsuki kicks out at the camper nearest to her, catching him off guard and knocking the wind out of him, and Naruto Uzumaki laughs–disorienting to the campers, but encouraging for her.

This is going to be fun.

Externality, part 4b (2017-06-29)

Four more armbands, two new disguises, and one unconscious classmate later, Tetsuki and Naruto Uzumaki enter the camp.

It’s a brasher plan than she’d have thought up on her own–certainly more risks involved–but she can’t say that some part of her isn’t absolutely eager to get it done.

Timing, mostly, will be the problem. And how close the group of eight are to each other.

A fuss raises as they enter the camp, not from who they appear to be, but from what their presence implies. Tetsuki tilts her head toward one of the bedrolls–which are all still out for some reason–and Naruto Uzumaki drops the classmate they knocked out earlier.

She barely holds back a wince. Maybe the classmate he’s disguised as is also that careless–or just personally dislikes the classmate they’ve brought in.

“We found him unconscious, by himself, no armband. We have no idea where Mina is,” Tetsuki starts, making her voice a little rougher, a little louder.

“What the hell?” one of the campers shouts, “Who would take Renji’s armband?”

Tetsuki shrugs.

After a few more exclamations from the campers, Naruto Uzumaki adds, “Isn’t Mina a Neji fangirl?”

Neither he or Tetsuki actually know–it just seemed like pretty decent odds and a way to bring up,

“I heard Neji and that Lee kid were working together?”

“Why would they do that? That stuck up prick doesn’t work with anyone.”

“As if Neji would ever put up with that loser.”

“I bet you Mina left the second she spotted his stupid, flouncy hair.”

“Why would anyone stay with Renji when they have a shot with Neji Hyuuga?”

“This is an exam, not a dating game!”

On and on the campers go, as argumentative as they were this morning, so focused on the new topic that their disguises aren’t so much as looked at a second time, much less actually questioned.

Naruto Uzumaki, closer to the banked campfire, discretely drops a couple of delayed detonation smoke bombs into the pit, before returning to guard Renji.

They don’t want their unknowing captive waking up too soon.