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Generated: Jul 15, 2019 10:56 PM
Post last updated: Jul 15, 2019 10:56 PM
are we all we are
inanna's ring!sasuke wakes up in narutoverse
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The night outside is silent, betraying no trace of the carnage that just washed the streets of the enclave. Uchiha Itachi stands in the sitting room, his parents kneeling in front of him, the last remnants of the clan. The moon shining in through the window flashes brightly off the blade of his sword held at his side and lights up the tasteful landscape decorating the right-side wall. The artist was clearly a master of his craft, giving life with each brushstroke to every leaf on the tree, each blade of grass on the hillside. Itachi has always had an eye for detail. One can't cast a proper genjutsu without intimately understanding the reality one is replacing. The way his mother's head tilts slightly downward, the stiffness of his father's back.

"Take care of your brother," Fugaku says. The spot of light on the wall bounces to the ceiling. One breath. Then another.

On the exhale, the sword swings through a perfectly horizontal arc, and two bodies collapse forward. Itachi gives the blade a flick to shake off the traces of blood and smoothly sheathes it over his back. Attention to detail is important. Care for your weapons properly, and they won't fail you. When he looks up, he sees a small face staring in horror back at him. Red eyes spinning, Itachi holds his gaze. This next part is important. If he gets this wrong, the rest might as well have been for naught.

"Remember this, little brother. And when you have the same eyes as I do, come and find me." Itachi lays the Tsukiyomi over his brother like a blanket of nettles, tenderly as he can.


And then he leaves. He needs to report the success of his mission.

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Sugira wakes up groggy and sore. And not in a good, post-night-of-fun way. More like a 'got the shit beat out of him' way.

Except he hasn't seriously, no-holds-barred, fought anyone in years, and he hasn't even sparred this week. Was there a raid he forgot - but he should still be on parental leave -

There's wood, smooth, pressing into his cheeks, and he forces his eyes open. His vision's clear, and the night seems well illuminated.

...His limbs are short. What the hell? Was he undercover as a kid? Sugira pushes himself up, doesn't activate his ring to return his apparent age to normal quite yet, and looks around -

What. What the fuck why are there bodies -

Two. Killed with a bladed weapon. Likely a sword. Someone standing behind them. The person was right handed, short. A teenager at most, likely a preteen, Sugira analyzes, fading into professional mode. The two bodies show no signs of regenerating, so they don't have Phoenix…

He shouldn't touch the bodies. He's not crime scene. He'll need to give a report on this, though, and being on the witness end always sucks -

He looks around, notes the blood splatter - they likely died fast - and no signs of struggle.

Sugira takes a deep breath, and reaches for his mental connections to Mu-Shita and Ishara, which he really should have done earlier -

Nothing.

His connections to both women are blank.

He gropes at his hand, and - he doesn't have a ring on, doesn't have any jewelry on, can't summon the interface for making new rings -

The fuck is going on?

...And if he doesn't have his rings, doesn't have his invulnerability, he should not be hanging around a recent crime scene.

He slinks out through the doors, glancing around, but hears no one. Just wind, distantly. The settling of an old house. There's no sign of the killer.

Sugira… Doesn't quite know what to do here. He can't contact anyone, not even the emergency telepathic channels the city maintains. He's in a child's body for some goddess-forsaken reason, at the site of murders -

No.

A massacre.

He steps onto the street, and sees death like he hasn't since he was on Ur-Namush's trail. The woman had destroyed entire towns and all those in them, except the children…

Did someone cast an illusion over him, to give him the perspective of one of her survivors? Did Inanna do something? He knows he's adjacent to people who've caught the goddess's attention, it's not unreasonable she decided to make a story of him -

He needs to secure his own safety. He's a witness, even if only to some sick fuck's idea of an illusion. He needs to contact allies - he doesn't know who allies would be here, but he'll assume anyone unarmed is a potential -

First: does he have any powers left? His ring powers - teleportation, speed, invulnerability, telepathy, extraordinary senses, his damage capabilities - are gone, but he started with basic magical talent and clawed his way up to one of the more powerful mages on his planet -

He rubs his fingers together… And discovers he still has his cantrips slotted in his head. Nothing else, and no signs of a spellbook. Inanna fucking damn it.

He's really not used to listening without the benefit of enhanced senses and cognition, but he does his best to figure out how to get out of the compound without stepping in any blood (difficult) and without drawing attention. He can hear no one, see no signs of the attacker, and the bodies are rapidly cooling.

Sugira reaches a set of gates, swinging open in the wind, takes a deep breath, and darts through. There's a road, and -

Distantly, lights through the trees. Artificial ones.

He breaks into a run.

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He's not quite at the town (electric lights and buildings of stone, brick, and clay, backing onto an exposed cliffside with four faces carved into it) when two figures swing down into his path. They're wearing matched sets of body armor in dark, muted colors and white masks that cover their faces, one shaped vaguely like a dog and one reminiscent of a horse.

Horse holds up a hand to stop him. "Whoa there, little Uchiha. What are you running from?"

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He skids to a stop. He's not even having to pretend to be wary and kind of panicked (and startled at them appearing, holy shit he'd forgotten how bad baseline senses are).

"There's bodies. A massacre."

Also 'little Uchiha' - that sounds like a name. Kind of weirdly like that one boyfriend of his mom's. Implies - he's in media res? There's a backstory to this? He can dissect this later, but for now he'll lean towards 'he shouldn't start claiming to be someone other than who they think he is.'

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"A massacre?" Horse repeats. Dog's head tilts, and he flashes some sign language at Horse. "In the compound?"

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"Yes. I didn't see anyone alive. Blood was wet." A kid also shouldn't be able to estimate how long ago it was, unfortunately...

He's hoping they're on his side. They're acting kind of like it, at least.

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Horse signs something to Dog, and Dog vanishes, too fast for the eye to follow.

"Come with me, little Uchiha. I'll take you somewhere safe."

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Well if he tries to run the speedster just proved he won't be able to. Stupid baseline body.

He nods, slowly.

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Horse escorts him into town. The streets are almost deserted at this time of night, and the few people that are out take one glance at the mask and steer well clear. They come to a round building painted red at the center of town, right at the base of the cliff. Horse takes him around to a side door that's almost but not quite hidden and slaps the side of the frame. Tiny, incomprehensible scribblings fan out across the door then disappear, and it swings open. Inside is a hallway such as might be found in any office building. Horse steers him to the right and down a set of stairs, and then into a small, plain room with two metal chairs on either side of a square table and one lonely light fixture overhead.

"Have a seat, kid," Horse suggests. "Do you want something to drink?"

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He sits.

Possible interrogation room, great. Hopefully just being repurposed as a panic room, or he's misinterpreting it and it's the universe's most depressing office break room.

He'd almost prefer it be an interrogation room. The Empire basically doesn't have depressing office break rooms, and you can usually judge how reasonable a place to live a frontier planet is by its workers' amenities.

He shakes his head. He's not thirsty, and he's also not stupid enough to willingly put possible drugs in his system. "Not now..." he says, quietly.

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"All right. You sit tight and just take it easy, okay? I'll be back in a bit, I'm just going to tell some people we picked you up."

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"Alright."

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Horse exits the room and clicks the door shut behind him.

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He doesn't see any obvious cameras but that obviously doesn't mean he's not being observed. Scrying is common, after all - at least where he's from, he didn't notice rings on the two masked men.

He makes a point of evening out his breathing, and mostly just... Thinks. Head down, so it's plausible he's hiding some kind of strong emotional reaction.

They're acting like he's familiar. Like he's a charge. 'Little Uchiha' - not the only one of the Uchiha family. Was the massacred - compound? - the Uchiha?

...He hadn't really paid attention to people's faces. Hadn't checked if they were anyone he actually knows. At least... At least he's a kid, and his younger siblings and own kids can't have been among them without breaking the logic of this place. And... He's increasingly assuming Inanna is behind this. Horror stories usually aren't her style. 'Tragic backstory to the dark and mysterious love interest' might be, which, ugh.

To the masked men - they communicated in sign. Didn't emote much. A cultural tendency away from strong expressions of emotion? Matches with the masks. Sign... Something he wasn't expected to know. Looked more like field-codes than a full signed language. They're used to communicating silently, and were able to follow each other's motions even in the dark. The people on the street studiously ignored them. Secret police of some kind? Worrying, that.

There's more, but... He really only has scraps, for now. Their armor wasn't blatantly magical, he hasn't seen signs of common magic amenities. People are mostly inside at night. A curfew? He's more used to places this size having significant nightlife, given that a decent chunk of the population doesn't need sleep anyways.

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It's perhaps twenty minutes before the door opens again, this time admitting a tall, blond man with his hair tied back in a ponytail.

"Sasuke?" He says. "Do you remember me? I'm Yamanaka Inoichi, Ino's dad."

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...Sasuke is kind of close to Sugira if he squints.

"Not really well," he says, figuring that's the best middle ground.

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Inoichi sits down in the other chair, posture open and friendly.

"The Anbu said he found you on the road outside the compound, running away. Do you remember that?"

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"Yeah..."

Quiet and not volunteering information is reasonable traumatized kid, even if it rankles a bit to not be reporting properly.

But- "There were bodies. In the compound."

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"How many did you see?"

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"A lot. I didn't count, or look at the faces. Two in the room I woke up in." No hiding that, probably. He suspects they'll be able to track his scent around. "The house was at the back, so..."

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"'Woke up'? You were unconscious?"

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"I woke up in a room. I don't know how I got there. I was sore. Face down on the floor. There were two bodies. I couldn't see their faces. I left the house, and there were more, and... I didn't see anyone alive until the Anbu."

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"Sasuke... That was your house. Those were your parents."

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"Oh."

He didn't really know his dad, but his mom - 

"Everyone else?" he asks, voice a bit weak. His older sisters would be the only ones born when he's this young, and he'd kind of expected, but...

Death isn't supposed to happen.

And they're not acting like there's an unfortunately long resurrection queue.

They're acting like people do after someone erases themselves.

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"They haven't... finished counting everyone yet, but so far... your brother is the only other body missing. Sasuke, do you remember anything, anything at all?"

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...He has one brother who is twenty years younger than him. This. Maybe isn't at all like his world.

"I. Don't know what my last memory is. Or who did it. It's - jumbled."

And it's true. For some reason he can't remember what he was doing before waking up. Where he was. It's terrifying, more so than the kind of unreal massive death.

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"Sasuke, your brother- you may have been put under a genjutsu. I'm going to have to check your memories for signs of tampering."

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... Crap. Hopefully they won't go deep...

He bites his lip, since it'll already have been obvious he's nervous, and nods.

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Inoichi forms a triangle with his hands and aims them at Sasuke. His eyes go slightly unfocused for a brief moment before returning, and then he puts his hands down and sighs.

"...You'll be fine. You should stay here where it's safe for tonight, and tomorrow we can figure out something more permanent."

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He nods. "Is there. Something normal?"

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"Ordinarily you'd become a ward of the village, but with the circumstances and your clan, the Hokage will have to make a ruling."

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He nods. ...It's weird he wouldn't be adopted. Orphans don't really happen, not for long, but there's a plenty big mismatch between people who want to get pregnant and people who want kids.

"What did you find in my head? Did you see who -"

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"It seems like your brother, Itachi, he laid some kind of powerful genjutsu on you. As far as I can tell, it should be over. But there may be residual effects, which could explain any memory problems you're experiencing."

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"Oh. Okay." Itachi. That doesn't really sound like any of his siblings... Though he supposes Sasuke isn't too similar to Sugira either. Belatedly: "...Thanks."

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Inoichi smiles and stands. "Let's take you somewhere more comfortable."

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He nods, standing as well, and follows.

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He takes the boy to another room with a pair of beds, shows him where to find the bathroom, with a toilet, sink, and shower and some basic personal hygiene items, and asks if he needs anything else.

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It's been long enough he's thirsty, and his body feels like he skipped dinner then had a violent bout of nausea. "A cup for water."

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There's what looks like an office break room, with a small fridge, coffeemaker, and hotpad. Inoichi fetches him a cup and says to help himself to anything in the fridge if he feels like it.

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"Right." He'll investigate the fridge and any unlocked cabinets for - crackers or something? Rice?

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There's a couple servings of rice, a vegetable dish, and mystery curry in the fridge. There's cup ramen and instant coffee in the cupboards.

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So a pretty depressing break room. A small amount of rice shouldn't hurt his stomach, though, and, well, he's mostly currently weighing being paranoid about food versus going hungry (and probably coming off as suspicious), and they at least are assuming he thinks they're trustworthy. Or putting forward that front.

He hates double-think.

Water and rice for dinner it is.

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When Inoichi is satisfied that he's settled in all right, he'll be left alone for the rest of the night.

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...He should probably sleep. Sleep is important.

He can't, though. Spends the night mentally spinning through his lost spells, trying to reconstruct something -

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Morning comes all too soon, and with it two new masked guards, this time a bat and a bird. They take him upstairs to the Hokage's office at the top of the building, a wide space with a balcony overlooking the town. The Hokage is seated at his desk, an old man with a diamond-shaped red and white hat smoking a long pipe.

"Ah, young Sasuke. Come in, have a seat."

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...If they don't have immortality rings he's probably as old as he looks.

...If Sugira remembers the older settings on his ring right that'd put him in - sixties? To eighties? Sugira is probably twice his age...

He comes in and sits. Holds still. "You wanted to see me, sir?" he asks, keeping his voice quiet. (He hates formality, hates authority, but, well, sometime around age ninety he learned how to play along for his goals.)

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The Hokage has a big speech, says how tragic last night was, offers his sympathy and condolences, some words of comfort, and gradually winds around to the question of what to do with him. As the last remaining member of the Uchiha Clan associated with Konoha, he is now technically the clan head and heir to all Uchiha property and assets. Coupled with the fact that he is old enough to be enrolled in the Academy, this means that he is legally considered an adult and not strictly eligible for the support the village provides to orphans. However, the Hokage can bend the rules and get him placed in the free housing and provide him with the stipend if he would rather not have to deal with that right now.

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WHAT THE FUCK WHY IS A SMALL CONSIDERED AN ADULT.

Ahem.

"I can handle the property and stuff. I... Don't want to stay - there. So someone to help me find an apartment?"

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Of course that can be arranged. There's just some paperwork to take care of first...

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Oh joy. Paperwork.

He'll very thoroughly read everything and do his due diligence.

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If the Hokage thinks this is out of character, he gives no sign of it.

Once that's done, a man with a large scar running horizontally across his face will show Sasuke around some of the apartments that are available.

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Something small, one bedroom. Easy to maintain. Room for books. Relatively quiet; he doesn't mind walking a while to get to stuff, and that'll make it cheaper anyways.

He doesn't really give any sign of recognizing the man or not.

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He introduces himself as Raido, and doesn't act like he knows Sasuke.

There are two good options for apartments, one nearer the clan compound, the other across town.

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Near is more likely to get him people who already knew Sasuke. But it'll be convenient if he needs to get anything from the compound... Including any clues to this body's life and story. Reluctantly, he chooses the one nearer.

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Raido helps him get set up with the landlady, who peers at Sasuke with some suspicion. The apartment is pre-furnished, which is fortunate because everything in his house is currently under analysis. If he wants anything from there particularly, Raido says the Hokage instructed him to make a note of it and they'll expedite its return.

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Not really anything he can think of specifically. (He never kept journals and doubts this other him did. Books might be interesting, but he won't be able to go through them quickly without acceleration anyways).

"Do you know when I'm going back to the Academy?" he asks, figuring that's the most relevant thing right now.

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No one will expect him back for at least a week. Or if he wanted to return sooner, that would be up to him.

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...A week seems good. (Way too short a mourning period, but what isn't fucked up here.)

Where's the nearest stores? 

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There's a small convenience store on the corner, and the shopping district is that way.

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"Thanks. I guess... I'm probably good for now."

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Raido nods, and departs.

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He'll get essentials, first, because he's actually sensible despite all indications to the contrary -

And then he buys a stack of notebooks and pens. He'll have to figure out creating a spellbook out of proper materials later. 

For now, he works on recreating spells. Utility ones, ones easy to test surreptitiously...

He hasn't gotten anything by the end of the week, but he's made notable progress in the components.

He makes more progress going places and listening. What rumors are there? What do people think is appropriate to talk about when they notice a kid around or not? Are people generally afraid, content, happy?

(This is exhausting so he doesn't do it much. A few decades ago he wouldn't have been able to at all.)

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There's a lot of gossip about the massacre. People are initially sort of morbidly curious about what could have happened. It seems his family was the local police force. When word gets around that it was one of their own who killed the rest, attitudes shift to more of a 'they got what was coming'. His data about what people will and won't talk about around kids are slightly confounded by the fact that when he's noticed, people tend to stop talking. He gets a lot of stares and whispers behind his back about the last Uchiha boy. Other than that, things seem peaceful. No wars or border skirmishes or anything terribly interesting politically.

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Some kind of tension, between the Uchiha and the rest of the village? He knows police aren't looked kindly on everywhere - he can't imagine anyone liking the enforcers of a police state.

He doesn't have to fight to pretend to be bothered by the gossip. This... Is just mean spirited.

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He's not the only target. There's another boy, small and blond, likes to wear screamingly orange outfits, who is, if anything, even worse off. At least the shopkeepers will take Sugira's money.

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He does not approve. At all. He's not really able to figure out why people hate the boy - is he foreign? Did his parents do something? But he doesn't have enough information to go on, and this whole place is worse than the vast majority of frontier planets so the hypothesis space is incredibly broad.

He goes up to the kid one day, just before he's due back at the Academy. His hands are in his pockets, but he's keeping his gaze level and his shoulders from hunching. It's late in the day, and he's tracked the boy down to a now-deserted playground.

"Hey," he says, simply.

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"What do you want?" the boy asks, voice sharp, glancing at Sugira out of the corner of his eye.

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He shrugs. Fatherhood hadn't made him magically good with kids, so, actually, he doesn't really have a plan here, but - "You seemed lonely," he picks out of possibility space.

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The boy narrows his eyes. "None of your business, jerk!"

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...He mishandled that apparently, though it seems like the boy might already know this 'Sasuke.' Awkward.

He steps back a bit, hunches his shoulders, says, "I'm not trying to be a jerk." He shakes his head. "I... Can I sit."

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Some suspicious eyeing, but he nods slowly and scooches over.

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Sugira sits next to him, tilts his head back. "My family died," he says, bluntly. "And people are saying they had it coming. So. You seemed lonely." He shrugs.

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"...Oh." The boy twists fully towards Sugira. "...I'm an orphan, too. I don't know my parents, but maybe people hated them, too." It's one of the many possibilities Naruto's spun through for why everyone hates him. That his parents were assholes is a thought that hurts less than that there's something wrong with him specifically.

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His first thought is: wow this village sucks at taking care of kids.

His second: his wife's going to tease him for adopting yet another child within a week of being in a new world.

Outwardly, he nods, and turns back to the boy. "I'm Uchiha Sasuke," he says, ignoring how it feels a bit weird to be introducing himself under a fake name. He's done it before.

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"Uzumaki Naruto." And then, leaning uncomfortably close because what are boundaries, he says in the grave way of a kid making an observation about the universe, "Your eyes are the same as mine."

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Not the weirdest thing a kid's ever said to him by a long shot, so. He puts a little smile on his face, and says, "Want to come to my place? I can make dinner."

(He's going to need a bigger apartment if the village has this many hated orphans...)

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"Sure! We're having ramen, right, ramen's the best - "

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"I'll see what I can make."

He gets Naruto a proper meal, convinces the boy to crash on his couch because children should not be home alone, what the fuck, and then there's the bonus of the kid can help him get to the Academy the next day...

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Arriving with Naruto causes a bit of a stir. Sasuke is apparently popular with the girls of his class, and they try to socially extricate him from his companion, as best eight year olds can.

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What. Ew. No.

He'll tells them they should focus on class and leave him be. He doesn't have the energy for managing this many new people and all their drama.

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But Saaasukeeeee~

They back off a little but are still orbiting in his general vicinity when the teacher comes in and makes everyone sit down. The morning lesson today is trigonometry as related to calculating kunai throwing trajectories.

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Seems advanced for kids... Also why the fuck are they using weapons as an example for children.

He'll do any work assigned, not so quickly it indicates he already graduated from higher education (even if he didn't specialize in math, trig is in a lot of art), keep half an eye on Naruto... Who seems to be a bit distracted and agitated, but there's not much Sugira can do about that now.

Mostly he keeps his head down. Doesn't raise his hand to be called on.

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This seems like usual behavior as far as the teacher's concerned.

At lunchtime the flock of admirers gathers again, each jockeying to be the one to share the extra portion they 'accidentally' brought with him.

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No no and no. He's firm and quiet in his refusal. Absolutely not. He won't budge on this, and he won't appreciate it if they keep pushing.

(He hadn't had a fanclub in his world. Sure, he hadn't lacked for potential partners once he was older, but - the teachers and a good number of random adults in the vicinity would've come down like a hurricane on anyone not respecting even an indirect 'no'.)

...Maybe he should invite them to be his friends and create Rules. Children seem to respect Rules. And one of them can be 'no means no.' Teach the hellions some manners. Except for how that sounds utterly exhausting, and likely to take time away from recreating spells. His wife's the social one. He's the one who communicates through meaningful nods at other introverts.

Maybe if he pointedly and not exactly quietly explains to Naruto how persisting when someone says no is rude and disrespectful where they can hear, they'll get the hint.

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That gets them to leave him alone, at least for today. Some of the girls look more thoughtful than others as they disperse.

After lunch there's a short quiz on the material they learned yesterday which Sasuke is exempted from, and then it's outside for physical education. This consists of conditioning exercise and martial arts basics.

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His body's fit, and he has good control of it. He doesn't know these precise forms but they're not exactly hard to pick up. (The concept of martial arts itself doesn't bother him, a lot of places have traditions they pass on, but these look actually usable, not the half-dance he learned as a kid, and combined with the focus on weapons elsewhere...)

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There's also the older kids in the next yard doing unarmed sparring and practicing with blunted weapons on training dummies.

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Yeah. Martial culture plus thinking children are adults is not going anywhere promising.

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Everyone else is pretty excited to be attending the Academy and learning Real Shinobi Skills. Except for one boy with dark hair up in a topknot who seems to have a talent for knowing exactly how much he has to try before the teacher stops looking at him and he can go back to lazing around.

School ends towards the end of the afternoon.

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He's very not excited. This is a horrible culture.

Naruto runs off before Sugira can invite him over again, which, okay, Sugira won't chase him, and he does need to focus on his work...

He spends the next while until any of his body's original stuff is released alternatively working on reconstructing spells (hard), catching up on schoolwork (easy), and wrangling Naruto into eating actual food and attending to basic hygiene (extremely hard).

He hadn't expected to feel the lack of a social life, but he misses the people he knows. His family, obviously, but even his coworkers and classmates and neighbors and the girl at the bar he shares introvert moments with but doesn't know the name of despite having been sporadically sitting next to her three years. (He hates talking, okay.) And he's the focus of too much attention, even indirectly, to just peacefully go and mope in a bar or cafe or something. Maybe a library...

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Konoha does have a library. Large portions of it are restricted-access, but there's tables and chairs for studying and a few small reading nooks.

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Censorship. Double ugh.

He's probably going to develop a reputation as a bookworm, but a secondary project to rebuilding arcana from semi-scratch is figuring out how the magic works here - clearly they have some, that Anbu was a speedster, but it's not magical ring based... Also what is 'genjutsu,' that was mentioned several times but never explained.

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There is a basic primer on chakra available for him to read! 'Chakra' is the basis of magic here, and it is formed by the combination of physical and spiritual energy. There is a helpful diagram. Focusing and using chakra is how shinobi techniques, called ninjutsu, are performed. Things like tree climbing, water walking, strength and speed enhancements are all applications. Genjutsu is described as a branch of ninjutsu focused on mental manipulation. More advanced techniques involve what's called a nature transformation to change your chakra into elemental chakra. There is another helpful diagram. The five elements are wind, lightning, earth, water, and fire.

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Weird but not as weirdly arbitrary as the schools of magic or Inanna's taste in superpowers. And also does mean he might be able to disguise some of his spells as ninjutsu.

Not using cantrips to correct his notes when he makes a mistake (like he's been doing in private) is surprisingly hard, but he manages. He marks a few notebooks for chakra, and starts outlining a plan to try learning this. Cautiously, he doesn't have a dedicated teacher yet to tell him if he's doing something dangerous.

Also genjutsu being mental manipulation makes sense for the context it'd been raised in. He'll need to figure out techniques to get around that...

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The books are fairly light on any actual details about implementation. They do mention that trying techniques that exceed your chakra capacity can lead to chakra exhaustion which is potentially fatal.

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Great. His spells are a bigger priority anyways for now...

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A few weeks later, he wakes up to a bundle on his doorstep containing Sasuke's personal effects from the Uchiha Compound and a note saying that other items are being kept in storage in a certain warehouse, which he can access upon request.

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He'll do that later. For now: he'll go through Sasuke's things, see what he can learn. Pictures (he recognizes his mom. He kind of recognizes his maybe dad. His 'brother' looks related to him but not much like an existing sibling. He memorizes the face, though.), past homework, books... Nothing much indicative, Sugira has never been one for stuff. Still, he'll keep ahold of all this. He plans to find out what happened to Sasuke some day, after all. He'll want to be able to return things then.

He waits a few days before asking for access to the warehouse.

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The warehouse is filled with racks upon racks of scrolls. Storage scrolls, explains the clerk, as they show him the way to the Uchiha section. After everything was sorted through, they sealed each room's contents into a series of scrolls for convenience of storage, sorted by bulk furniture, clothing, knickknacks, paper goods, artwork, and so forth. If he knows where he wants to look at was originally located, they can retrieve the proper scroll and open it up, then re-seal anything he doesn't want to take with him.

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Storage scrolls: something to keep in mind. Seem more useful than a bag of holding at least.

He wasn't really familiar with most people's houses, and he's... Not sure he wants his parents' things (which is a convenient fiction for why he doesn't know what they would have had). He's looking for books? If there was anywhere that had a lot...

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Most houses had enough that it was worth dedicating a scroll, if he knows whose books he's looking for.

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His parents then he guesses. (He doesn't know any other relatives and should probably fix that... Which he doesn't say out loud. Maybe his parents had like a clan photo album).

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The clerk hums and runs their fingers over the racks until they reach the correct scroll. They unroll it out on the floor and tap a small circle on one end. With a puff a smoke, a pile of several bookcases worth of books appear on top of the scroll.

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Definitely his mom, though that's significantly smaller than her library at home. Probably because the her of this world hasn't had centuries to develop one and read...

He starts sorting through the books, keeping: at least one cookbook, nonfiction (which seems to be his mom's stuff; the fiction books don't look her taste. Maybe his dad), and anything that looks highly personal. Photo albums, journals... A fit of nostalgia has him looking for a poetry book. He finds a very small one, not the reams his mom'd written and read to him. Most of the poems aren't suitable for kids, but, it's still his mom's handwriting.

He ends up with slightly less than half the initial pile.

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The clerk makes a note of which ones he's taking, seals the rest back up, and fetches a little hand cart to help him take the books home.

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He nods, sets those up in his 'bedroom' (which is more a study, he'll probably be sleeping in the living room soon), and sets in to read about geography and politics and history... Plus what they know about science, but that's something his mom is less interested in and also not his field.

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The continent (as far as the books are concerned, there's only the one worth talking about) is divided into countries, called the Elemental Nations, each ruled by a daimyo. The five largest nations are Land of Fire, Land of Wind, Land of Stone, Land of Lightning, and Land of Water. Each of these is also home to a great ninja village; Konohagakure, Sunagakure, Iwagakure, Kumogakure, and Kirigakure. Smaller nations often also have ninja villages, but those are smaller as well. It's unclear which way the causality flows.

The villages are a relatively recent arrangement, only about a hundred years old. In that time, there have been three Shinobi World Wars, though this is still a vast improvement on the world before villages, which was essentially just constant fighting everywhere.

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That sounds vaguely like what he kind of remembers of pre-Imperial history. Constant fighting. Factionalism. But it's weird, even prior to the planets really being open it'd been known multiple exist, and people knew there were other continents.

How do you even fit three wars into under a hundred years, anyways. The handful of squabbles among frontier planets he's heard about can easily burn for decades.

But clearly they've adapted before to massive social changes. He... Is increasingly sure his goal, beyond just getting home, should be fixing this planet. He usually doesn't care that much but they are so far below minimum standards. The international penalty for invasion would probably even be waived and that effectively never happens.

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There are some descriptions of the wars in the books. An invasion might be possible, but would certainly not be easy.

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Yeah, hostile takeovers almost never work out well for anyone. But - if he can get the Empire, and the Empress has several hundred forks and each can individually flatten a team of archmages... Though the usual 'be conspicuously a good deal until people agree on their own to enter the fold' is enough for getting frontier planets in at a decent clip, probably would work here within a few generations, he just... The thought of leaving this place as is sits ill with him.

Still, he can at least try his hand at unfucking their politics from the inside. He's unlikely to make things worse.

So: he'll keep his head down. He'll learn chakra, and the assorted facts about this world. He'll help Naruto out, because what the fuck. He'll work on his spells - he's expecting to be probably up to second level spells, maybe some third level spells, by the time he graduates, which is far behind his previous peak of six level spells, but, well, you do what you can. It's slower without a structure of existing spells in place, and without being able to openly experiment too much.

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Over time, the village settles down and the Uchiha massacre fades into memory.

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And about six months later, a new student arrives in his class. She introduces herself as Chihiro and evinces no emotion at all as she takes an empty seat behind and to the left of Sasuke.

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Creepy.

He doesn't bother introducing himself to her. (He's kind of busy keeping Naruto from biting Kiba.)

(He doesn't have a problem with rough-housing but classrooms are not the place.)

He's polite when they get rotated into group projects or spars together (or against each other), though.

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Chihiro consistently excels at schoolwork, but loses spars often enough to stay in the middle of the rankings. Though when she's fighting Sasuke, it's hard to see how she loses. He might get the sense she's trying to push him.

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He doesn't respond very strongly to provocation, and he doesn't show signs of being used to a different sized body - by now his forms are precise, textbook perfect, and he's shading into building on those. He definitely watches her, especially when they spar, picking apart all the oddities once the inconsistency in her skill level shows itself.

Something's more rotten than usual, but he's not sure what.

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Hard to tell, really. Chihiro might as well not exist outside of school.

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And then, almost before you'd know it, four years have passed and it's time for the graduation exam.

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He doesn't find anything exceptionally interesting or groundbreaking in his delves into both the public library and his family's books. He helps Naruto with his schoolwork, but not enough to keep the boy from failing - and apparently having an adventure Sugira scolds him for.

Rebuilding his spells is glacial. Usually, you write the spell out, burn it into your mind, then the casting of it erases it from your mind - or, if you're casting from a scroll, from the scroll itself. This means that he only remembers spells he has active. Which is his cantrips, which don't get erased. He doesn't have his written out spellbook, and he's by the standard rules of magic completely incapable of remembering anything but the end effects of spells.

But his cantrips contain building blocks. Pieces of greater works. And he's able to build on those... But it takes him years, and especially without being able to live-fire test anything beyond first level spells is currently out of his grasp. At least he's managed a total of nine of the first level spells (though he can only cast four in a day), which should form a good foundation for future research. He's specialized towards conjuration spells, set aside enchantment and necromancy. (Conjuration is the path with teleportation and movement spells, so, is his best bet for getting home).

He easily graduates top of his class.

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The day after the exam, the make-up of their genin teams are announced. Sugira will be on Team Seven with Chihiro, who was second in the class, and Naruto. Their jounin instructor will be Hatake Kakashi.

One by one, the other teams are called by their jounin and leave the classroom. By the end of the morning, only the three of them are left waiting.

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"When's he gonna get here," Naruto whines. "It's been forever - Sasuke we should trap the door - "

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"What happens if you succeed and what happens when you fail," Sugira asks, sounding kind of bored.

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"Argh!" Naruto flops back on the floor. "He decides he doesn't like me if I succeed and I get in trouble either way. I always get in trouble, and no one likes me. So, nothing."

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"Attacking a fellow Konoha shinobi in the absence of a direct order or an immediate threat to the village is prohibited."

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Naruto sticks his tongue out at her.

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"Embarrassing someone isn't attacking them. Naruto won't do damage - though our sensei might not be the only one to come through the door."

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"Wouldn't want to catch Iruka-sensei," Naruto says, amiably.

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She has nothing to say to this.

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A man with a shock of grey-white hair and a forehead protector pulled low over one eye steps through the door.

"Ah, excuse me. I'm looking for Team Seven. Could you kind youngsters point me in the correct direction?"

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"We're Team Seven!" Naruto says, bouncing to his feet. "Hi!"

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"Oh." He sounds vaguely disappointed. "Well. I suppose you'd better meet me on the roof, then." He turns and ambles out of the room.

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"He seems boring," Naruto complains.

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Sugira sighs. "Come on, let's get to the roof." They head up.

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Kakashi is sitting on the edge of the roof when they get up there, reading. He regretfully puts the book away when the group gets close.

"Let's get this over with, then. Why don't we start with introducing ourselves; your name, likes, dislikes, hobbies, plans for the future, that sort of thing. I'll go first. My name is Hatake Kakashi. I don't want to tell you about the things I like. I don't particularly dislike anything. I have plenty of hobbies. My plans for the future involve finishing this book. Okay, next." He points at Naruto.

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"That was lame, we didn't learn anything!" But at a nudge from Sasuke, he relents and says, "I'm Uzumaki Naruto! I like ramen! And Sasuke! And Sasuke's cooking! And Iruka-sensei! I don't like your hair, it's dumb. I like to spar with Sasuke, and learn about stuff! My dream - I'm gonna become Hokage and change the ninja system!"

Originally he'd wanted to be acknowledged, but, well, he has Sasuke.

And also when he told Sasuke he wanted to be Hokage the other boy had said, 'Great, you're sensible and more charismatic than me. Here's a list of everything fucked up. Fix it.'

It was a long list. With bullet points. And footnotes.

Naruto doesn't like lists, but he won't let his friend down!

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"Great. Moving on." He points at Chihiro.

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"My name is Chihiro. I like sparring. I dislike fighting genjutsu-types. I do not have any hobbies. My plan for the future is to become a shinobi and serve my village." She recites the list tonelessly.

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"You're kind of creepy you know," Naruto grumbles.

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Sugira kicks him.

"Anyways... I'm Sasuke. I like things being quiet. I dislike pettiness. My hobby is reading. My dream for the future..." He shrugs. He has a lot. Reuniting with his family, fixing this world... "Is to make things better."

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"Great! So now that we're all best of friends, let me tell you that of you three and the other twenty-four kids in your class who just graduated, only nine will actually become genin! There's one more test you have to pass, and it has a sixty-six percent failure rate. I'm looking forward to administering it."

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"Why didn't they tell us? That's unfair - Sasuke add that to the list, this is dumb - "

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"If we told you, you wouldn't take the last test seriously enough. Anyway. The short version is that this will be a survival test, and your opponent will be me. You can bring whatever tools and equipment you think you'll need."

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"Will there be a time limit?"

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"Yep!"

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"When and where?"

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"Tomorrow morning, first thing. Training field seventeen. I'd advise against breakfast. Heavy exercise on a full stomach can lead to gastrointestinal troubles. And now I've got to run. I'd say I have urgent business to attend to, but I was told to stop lying to children young enough to believe me. Don't be late!" He disappears in a swirl of leaves.

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He sighs. "Come on. Chihiro, you too. We should work together on a plan."

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"To what end?"

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"We don't know what the exercise will be, but we can work on different scenarios, figure out what's likely, and get to know each other as a team. Avoids us tripping over each other."

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"I could show you guys my cool new technique!"

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"...Understood."

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"Neither of our apartments are good for that - Naruto, do you know somewhere that'll be empty?"

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" - Oh! A secret place I found while exploring. I can show you guys!" He's bouncing. "You okay with going now Chihiro?"

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"I have no duties currently pending."

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"You talk weird," he says cheerily, then, "Come on!" and leads the way into the woods around Konoha. After a good bit of running, they come to a large shrine, that looks like it half collapsed at some point and has since been (inexpertly) repaired. "This's the shrine! I found it all destroyed, and I thought maybe it had spirits, and they'd be sad if their house was destroyed, so I promised them I'd fix their house! There's a barrier around it, I can get through but other stuff can't unless I'm holding onto them, so you guys have to take my hands."

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Chihiro looks at his outstretched hand with an expression of something like confusion, disdain, or perhaps unease.

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"...You don't have to hold it for long? Maybe you can just - hold my forearm, or poke me while we pass it? Or try, maybe the barrier likes humans and not squirrels."

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...She grips his arm just above the wrist.

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And into the shrine they go! He lets her known once they're past the barrier.

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She immediately lets go of his arm.

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He leads the way in, into a sort of foyer. There's paint cans in one corner, and further building supplies in the others. "So!" he announces, bouncing. "Plans?"

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"We should figure out scenarios first. Chihiro, ideas?"

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"A survival test where the instructor declares himself our opponent indicates that he will be fighting us. That a time limit was acknowledged to exist but not explicitly defined implies it will last less than a day."

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"He's unlikely to demand we actually defeat him. He'll probably be explicitly or implicitly looking for us to show specific qualities. He'll likely set us a task; hence 'survival exercise' instead of just 'fight.' Options... Probably mimic common missions. Protect a target, destroy a target, obtain something material from him, gather information."

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"I agree with that assessment. Based on the displayed qualities of this squad's membership at the Academy and the history of its jounin instructor, it is likely that it was formed with the intention of an assault specialization. Therefore, our objective will most likely test our capabilities in that area. Reconnaissance is unlikely, protection is possible, destruction or retrieval are the most plausible candidates."

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He nods, and thinks over his spells. It's easy with only nine.

He's been burning one of his four slots on the Rite of Centered Mind everyday. Mage Armor is useful enough - and lasts long enough - he should stick it on whoever is drawing attacks. Grease and Shield... Probably not as useful, not against a jounin.

That leaves Expeditious Retreat, Blurred Movement, Illusion of Calm, Shocking Grasp, and True Strike. He mentally discards Shocking Grasp. ...Maybe he should not use Mage Armor, if a jounin wants to hit a genin he suspects the jounin will succeed, no matter how many spells the genin has layered.

But Blurred Movement gives a miss chance no matter what. That, combined with Expeditious Retreat, will make someone highly mobile. But each only lasts two minutes right now. True Strike is only useful for one blow... And Illusion of Calm is only useful if he's preparing another spell. But he's figured out five-foot-step Dimension Doors, for movement, and can do six a day, which are probably more useful...

So. 

The Rite of Centered Mind, to improve his resistance to mental effects for the day.

Illusion of Calm, to hide what he's doing.

True Strike, his one divination spell, to guide one blow.

And...

It's between Shocking Grasp and Mage Armor, then. Defense, or offense.

He turns to his team. 

"I have techniques I can use. Not ones he'll recognize. I'll only be able to get off three - but I think I can string some together well. I can make an illusion that looks like I'm standing still - I don't think it'll be enough for a jounin, but he might allow it for whichever scenario, if he's playing someone less powerful." Except actually the original Illusion of Calm spell can't be disbelieved until you hit the person who cast it. Sugira's just not sure he built it correctly. "I have one that'll analyze, and make my next attack more accurate. And then I can either use a force technique, to make myself - or someone else - harder to hit, or use a lightning technique, to make my blow land harder. I'm unsure if we'd rather put all our energy into one blow or try for a longer play."

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"Hatake Kakashi will have more stamina than we do at our level and a wider variety of techniques. Delaying would only allow him more time to use them."

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"So hit hard, hit fast. We should try to hit him together, as well. Close off escape routes, make my contribution less obvious.."

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"Yes. He is allowing us the chance to prepare the ground. We should use that."

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"That means traps! My specialty!"

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Chihiro nods. "You also said you had a new technique."

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"Oh yeah! Shadow clone technique!" And he forms four perfect copies of himself in puffs of smoke. "They can do stuff!"

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She blinks. "Where... did you learn that?"

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"Um! Okay so I failed the graduation test, right. And then Mizuki is apparently secretly an asshole and told me there was a secret second test, and I had to steal a scroll from the Hokage tower and learn a technique from it. And the shadow clone was the first one listed, but then Mizuki showed up and tried to kill me and Iruka-sensei got involved trying to stop him so I made a whole bunch of clones, I can't remember how many but I could basically just see me, and beat Mizuki up."

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Sugira, who had not previously heard the entire story, has his head in his hands.

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"The shadow clone is an extremely chakra-intensive technique. The average jounin is capable of no more than three."

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" - Uh I have a lot of chakra. For reasons. Secret reasons. That I can't tell you, but I can maybe bug the Old Man once we're officially a team?" He doesn't trust Chihiro enough, though she's so creepy she probably wouldn't react about the Nine Tails. And Sasuke would probably attempt to adopt the demon fox. He's like that.

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"That much is obvious."

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"What can the shadow clone do?" Sugira asks.

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He shrugs. "Everything I can? They're smart, but doesn't take a hard hit to pop them."

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He hums. "Chihiro, what do you know about the clones?"

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"A shadow clone, unlike other elemental clones, is composed of pure chakra. For that reason, they are both more versatile and weaker than other clones," she recites. "They replicate the user's knowledge and skills, and are capable of acting independently without direction and using any technique they have enough chakra to perform. Any information learned by a clone is returned to the original when the clone is dispelled, along with the chakra used to create the clone."

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"- Impressive. And a reason for us two to build up our chakra stores; even one would be a big difference in learning speed. It'd also be safer to have a clone developing techniques..."

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"Incorrect. Chakra is always divided evenly among shadow clones. If one creates a single shadow clone, then it will consume half of the available chakra. If one creates two shadow clones, each instance and the original will possess one-third of one's maximum chakra capacity."

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"Mine sometimes explode." And don't use chakra.

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"In almost every circumstance, the reduction in available chakra will be enough of a hindrance to eliminate any benefit gained."

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"It'd be something to consider."

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"...Our strategy should focus on the shadow clones. It is the most unexpected technique we have available, given the volume you are capable of. We can perform a transformation technique to disguise ourselves as you when you create the clones and use the crowd to hide."

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"Clever," he says. "And will provide further misdirection for my attack."

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"I can have clones turn into you guys too!"

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"If you are capable."

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"The transform is my best technique."

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"Very well."

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"Any other ideas?"

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"No."

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He nods. "I know you guys' fighting from Academy but maybe we should practice together. And I can tell you about my traps."

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Chihiro nods.

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He describes everything, gets paper and some pencils out of his supplies for illustrations. He has a lot of trap ideas, not all practical, but most creative and effective.

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Sugira helps him with design refinement.

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Chihiro will occasionally comment when something is especially impractical or overly difficult to engineer under real-world circumstances.

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He's a bit bummed about some of those but bounces back fast.

He's also enthusiastic about sparring later.

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She is as good as Sugira is when they practice today, which may come as a surprise to Naruto.

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"Why didn't you fight like this in class?" he asks.

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"I have been practicing."

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"Since. A week ago?"

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"Yes."

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"You're not that good a liar, you know."

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"I don't know what you mean by that."

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"That's not a realistic lie. And you always did better against Sasuke that you should've."

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"I see."

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"Did you have a reason?"

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"A reason for what?"

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"Lying."

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"...The truth would be uninteresting."

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"Truth's usually pretty neat!"

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"Naruto, drop it. Pushing her won't make her tell you." He's suspicious but he doesn't like cornering people like this.

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"We should go lay the traps."

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"Some of it we don't want to leave overnight, but we can do most, yeah!"

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Off to the training field, then.

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Traps! Even with a lot of his fun ideas nixed, Naruto has a lot, and all of them can even be constructed without extra materials!

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He does have some talent, even if he is terribly undisciplined.

Once everything is ready, Chihiro disappears like she always does.

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He gets Naruto fed, insists the blond stay the night, and then prepares rice and protein powder for the both of them the next day, well before dawn. Should stay down well, if throwing up was even the concern.

He's there, Naruto in tow, just as the sun rises.

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Chihiro arrives shortly afterwards. They should work quickly to prepare the last of the traps.

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"You two take care of that. I'm going to check last night's traps for tampering or damage."

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Everything's just the way they left it.

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And by the time he's done with that Chihiro and Naruto should be done with the new traps.

He returns to the central clearing.

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They're both there. There's no sign of Kakashi.

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"Chihiro, have you eaten?"

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"Yes."

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"Good. We should be ready, then - Naruto, I know you're anxious, but no more than stretching, alright?"

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"You don't need to mother me, you know," Naruto says, as he switches from bouncing to stretching.

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Chihiro has no comment, but moves into her own stretching routine, not the same as the one they were taught at the Academy.

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She's really not subtle. Given that the last liar who dropped subtlety turned out to be a murderous traitor, Naruto's keeping an eye on her.

Of course, Sasuke has his own stretches and so does Naruto, but there's a lot of weird around Chihiro.

Now to figure out how to befriend her...

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Sugira stretches for a little bit, then stops, sits, and gets out a small notebook. He appears to be working on math.

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Kakashi still hasn't shown up after an hour. Chihiro has run through her entire set twice.

"...What are you working on?"

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"Technique theory."

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"What techniques?"

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"More advanced versions of the ones I told you about." Even technically true.

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"That does not look very much like ninjutsu theory."

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"It blows up less if I work the theory like this." Also it's not ninjutsu theory, it's arcana theory. He tries to word a 'I come at techniques sideways' and gives up.

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Chihiro's skeptical face is indistinguishable from her normal face.

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He shrugs, scribbles an approximation-of-an-arcane-symbol (they won't actually be right without magical inscription, ink can't give them enough depth, but approximations are good if he doesn't want things randomly activating) and goes back to solving equations. Does seem to involve combining these different symbols with little links between them.

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Three hours later, Kakashi shows up.

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Sugira has gotten a lot of math done.

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"You're late!" Naruto half shouts, half whines.

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"Ah, sorry about that. There was this black cat, you see. I had to take the long way."

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"Why is everyone on this team a bad liar!"

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Kakashi shrugs.

"Eh. Birds of a feather, and so forth. Now, where did I put..." He pats the pockets of his flak jacket, and pulls out an alarm clock and a pair of small bells hanging from string. He sets the alarm for noon and places the clock on a nearby stump. "So! This test is very simple. I have two bells here. Your objective is to take the bells from me before the alarm goes off. If you have a bell at that time, you pass! If you don't have a bell, you fail!"

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" - But there's two bells and three of us."

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"Well spotted! Remember what I said about this test having a sixty-six percent failure rate? This way I'm already guaranteed to be rid of one of you."

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"You're an asshole and probably a shitty teacher, can we have Sasuke as a sensei instead."

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"Naruto, focus, we're running down the clock. Rules for the test?"

He has zero intention of letting them split up, of course. If Kakashi isn't trying to trick them, Sugira has zero problem with more time to dedicate to arcana studies, so.

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"There are none. If you don't come at me with intent to kill, you won't get far."

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Chihiro suddenly has a kunai in her hand and is lunging at Kakashi, the fastest she's ever moved-

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-but Kakashi is faster, and has her wrist in a lock and one hand braced against the back of her head before she gets to his original position.

"Now, now. I didn't say 'start' yet."

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"Now you did."

He hadn't told Chihiro about the telepathy cantrip. It's one-way anyways, and it's not like he trusts her that much.

'Naruto, clones,' he whispers into the blond's mind.

And then he uses the substitution technique with Chihiro - hopefully she won't fight him on that -

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And have a field of about a thousand blonds.

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She doesn't fight the substitution, and immediately transforms and does a substitution of her own to get lost in the crowd.

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Kakashi lets go of the one he's holding and disappears into the trees.

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Transform and substitute as well.

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Naruto almost seamlessly has the ones they substitute with turn into them.

And then the clones scatter for the trees.

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It's possible to track Kakashi's path by the series of snapped traps and dispelled clones.

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If you mistook Naruto for an endless clone machine you would be only slightly off the mark. Also he had an idea from Chihiro saying his clones should be able to use all his techniques, so 'the one producing more clones' is no longer an accurate way to find Naruto.

(It's hard to make this many when he's calm but he's worked up right now, so.)

Also, at Sasuke's nudging, he'll find the not-clone that's also a not-Sasuke, and say, "Sasuke's gonna go for the hit, can you try to get the bells then? I'll be keeping rushing him with clones."

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Not-Clone Not-Sasuke nods, and takes off to circle around behind.

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Sugira waits for her to be in probable position (as confirmed by Naruto, who's using clone dismissals as a communication method). 

And then he joins the Naruto crowd around Kakashi - 

There's several Naruto clones holding back, apparently waiting (providing cover for Sugira's image of himself standing still, and it makes him effectively invisible as he casts True Strike, and then Shocking Grasp, lunging for Kakashi - 

He'd be able to hit an archmage with this combination, even if any archmage worth the title would shrug off the damaging spell - 

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Sugira's hand connects with Kakashi's body, and there's a visible twitch as the lightning discharges-

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-and Chihiro darts past, snatching the pair of bells dangling from his pocket.

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He lands, de-transforms (now visible, his Illusion of Calm having broken), and says, "Do we win?"

He's out of non-cantrips so if they don't...

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"At least one of you does."

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Chihiro tosses a bell at Sasuke.

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He catches it. "I'm not passing without my whole team."

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"Well then. I suppose I have no choice. I'll see you back at the start." He poofs away.

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He rolls his eyes, and starts walking over.

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Naruto gets there first. He seems to have more energy than he did when they started.

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"In the Academy," Kakashi says once everyone's there, "your teachers wanted you to succeed. That is no longer the case. From now on, your opponents want nothing more than to see you fail. They will lie to you, make you angry, try to divide you, trick you, stack the odds against you. You will face situations where it is almost certain not all of you will come back alive. To succeed, you must be able to trust and work with your comrades no matter what. Remember, those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their teammates are worse than trash."

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"Congratulations! As of now, all three of you are genin of Konohagakure!"

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"Ahahahaha we're the best! Go team awesome!" Naruto jumps up, punches the air, hugs Sasuke, and grins at Chihiro.

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"When do we start training?" he asks, disentangling himself and patting Naruto's head.

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"Tomorrow. I'll be honest, I was expecting this to take a little longer. Here are your registration forms. We'll say your assignment today is to turn them in and get your ID cards."

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"Most teams don't bother working together, do they?" He takes his form.

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"Not when the stakes are perceived to be high enough."

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Honestly he doesn't know a single non-disaster preteen, he's not surprised.

He nods.

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Kakashi claps once. "Well! You children have fun with your paperwork. That's the second most important part of being a shinobi, after teamwork." He begins ambling off, pulling his book out.

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He sighs. He just knows he's going to be stuck helping Naruto. The blond's already squinting suspiciously at his papers.

He glances at Chihiro. "I'm going to help Naruto with his registration. Do you want to hang out with us?"

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"Hang... out?"

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"Spend time together. Get to know each other."

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"Like friends!" Naruto declares.

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"Would we not be better served by individual training?"

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" - Nobody can cover everything. It's important to have specialties within the team, and to have team that works well together. We'll be stronger, that way. Also humans need downtime that isn't training." Especially children, the fuck is wrong with this culture.

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"Very well."

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"We should go get ramen! To celebrate!"

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"After we get our I.D. cards."

And off?

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Off they go.

The registration form is fairly simple: name, date of birth, date of graduation, home address, jounin instructor's name, team number, next of kin (if applicable).

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Naruto puts down 'Uchiha Sasuke' and 'Umino Iruka' under 'next of kin' because close enough.

His apartment, by now, is shared with Sasuke, too, because Sasuke is a complete mother hen.

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Fortunately, Sugira has by now figured out his body's date of birth.

He just puts 'Uzumaki Naruto' under 'next of kin.'

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Chihiro lives in an apartment on the other side of town, apparently. She lives the next-of-kin field blank.

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...Is he going to have to adopt his entire team.

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Once they're done: "Let's go get ramen to celebrate!"

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"Why is ramen celebratory?"

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"Because graduating for real is great and if we say it's a celebration, it's a celebration. Also ramen is delicious."

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"...I see."

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"I'll convince you of the value of fun someday."

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"I do not understand what that is intended to mean."

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"You don't have fun, like, ever, that I've seen. Fun's stuff you enjoy doing just 'cause it brings you joy. Fun's important!"

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"'Fun' does not have any bearing on being a better shinobi."

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"Naw-aw! Sasuke said fun is really important to childhood development and, like, mental health!"

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"Children learn better through play. The same is variably true of adults. Additionally, unrelieved stress impacts every system in the body, usually for the worse. A stressed shinobi is one who makes avoidable mistakes."

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"You have strange ideas."

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"I'm unsure what part of that sounds strange."

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"Stress means your focus is lacking. Further distraction will only exacerbate the problem."

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"Cortisol isn't just released in response to unregulated emotions, and laughter does decrease it. It's also more likely you've suppressed your ability to acknowledge and react to emotions, than the hormones and neurotransmitters tied to emotion themselves - if you had no cortisol, dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, or others, you'd be in serious medical trouble. Though a medic would know more." He practically memorized a massive ream of 'have fun someday you fucking idiot' to shove at his sister, after all. Chihiro's argument feels familiar.

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"Where did you learn this?"

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"I read a lot, and have access to my family's old libraries. There were medics among the Uchiha." All technically true.

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"I see."

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He shrugs. "Regardless, do you want to join us?"

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"...I do not know."

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"You don't have to, and it'll probably be loud."

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She blinks slowly, several times.

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"..I think. That I would prefer. To go with you," she says, haltingly.

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He nods.

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"Yay! Ramen!" And he takes off.

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Chihiro follows, more sedately.

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The ramen stand owners seem to like Naruto a lot, chuckling, calling him their best customer, and asking about his friends. He tells them about graduating for real, Ichiraku laughs and says they can each have one bowl on the house...

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"Is payment for service not customary?"

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"Usually is," Naruto says with a grin.

"Eh, it's not like we're getting rich off this," Ichiraku says, laughing. "And Naruto always orders enough to make up for it."

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"I see."

Chihiro will have whatever the default order is.

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Naruto gets a bowl of each flavor for himself, having saved up for this since only one's free.

The food's good quality.

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That's... impressive.

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Naruto is apparently something of a bottomless pit, though he isn't too enthusiastic about moving when he's done.

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As far as a 'celebration' goes, that was tolerable.

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"Do you want to spend the rest of today with us?" Sugira asks. Honestly he wouldn't mind if she said no. He'd like to flop for a while.

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"Are there further celebratory activities?"

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"No," he says before Naruto can. "Just - talking, probably. Or getting used to each other."

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"Then- no."

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"Alright. See you tomorrow, then."

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She nods, and heads out. She leaves a small pile of coins on the counter.

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Ichiraku grumbles about that, to Naruto's amusement.

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And Sugira gets both himself and Naruto to the same training field the next morning. He's... Not actually sure where they're supposed to meet, and doesn't have any spells suitable for locating things. Maybe something to fix.

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The training field seems to be a reasonable choice, as Chihiro is there as well.

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He nods to her, and occupies Naruto's attention so he doesn't bother her too much.

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Kakashi shows up a while later.

"Good morning, everyone. Not too much the worse for wear after yesterday, I hope?"

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Sugira's by now moved onto more math. He shrugs.

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"I feel great! What're we doing today?"

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"Good question. What does everyone feel like doing today?"

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"Something useful."

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"Training! Or a mission!"

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"Chakra control."

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Kakashi counts off the response on his fingers. "Then the intersection of all that is..." He appears to be doing some complicated math in his head. "Tree walking! I'll demonstrate. First, gather chakra in the feet." He makes a focusing seal as he goes over to a large tree nearby. "Then, walk up the tree." He walks directly up the tree, seeming perfectly comfortable at a ninety-degree angle from the trunk. When he gets to an overhanging branch, he continues walking along the underside, now hanging upside down. "If you use too little chakra, you won't stick, but if you use too much, you'll be blasted off the tree. Now you try."

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Naruto goes running for the tree, and promptly sends himself flying across the clearing, then bounces back to his feet and tries again.

He seems to be having fun, at least.

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He'll keep half an eye to make sure Naruto doesn't break his neck, but does walk up to the tree and rest one foot on it, testing the amount of chakra needed to stick like this.

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It's really not a lot, but it seems like it's a very fine line between too much and too little.

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Chihiro walks up her tree in much the same fashion Kakashi did, though she walks over the branch to stand upright.

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He's guessing she wasn't supposed to know how to do that already.

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"Awwww, how'd you do that so easy Chihiro?"

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"Gather chakra in the feet, then walk up the tree."

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"People who aren't naturally gifted at chakra control might need a little more help than that," Kakashi says. "Why don't you hop back down and give your teammates a few pointers?"

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"...Understood." She jumps down and lands lightly on her feet.

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"So! What're you doing different?"

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"In order to assess that, I first need to know what you are doing."

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"I'm putting chakra in my feet. Only a small bit, though."

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"Show me."

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He channels chakra and lifts up his foot. There's not really a glow, but there's definitely distortion and shimmer around his foot.

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"...Show me as little as you can make."

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"Uhhhhhhhhh..."

He can do very little extremely unreliably; his chakra inevitably flares back up.

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"Try practicing with your hands first."

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"Like, walking up on my hands?"

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"Focusing the chakra in your hands. That is generally easier than the feet."

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"Okay!"

He seems to have a bit less trouble with this, but his chakra's still not really behaving.

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"...Try making some shadow clones to decrease the amount of chakra you are managing."

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"Alright."

He makes about a dozen, and does, in fact, seem to be having much more success.

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Kakashi, hidden behind his book, raises an eyebrow.

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Sugira's by now gotten to a low branch. He sits to watch them, and says, "Try grouping your clones and having them work on different things."

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"Uh, like what?"

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He shrugs. "It's your brain. Suggestions, Kakashi?"

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"Think about what individual pieces make up each action. If you can't do them all at once, work on one at a time."

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He hums, sets one clone to thinking, and has the others start splitting up. These can just keep doing what he's been doing with running at the tree, these can (on Sasuke's advice) start trying to stick objects to their feet, those take off the shoes and also do the running thing (also on Sasuke's advice), those ones can split into more and more clones until they have little enough it's easier...

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He should have picked a bigger training field. Eh.

If Chihiro and Sasuke have the basic idea down, they can practice it while he chucks kunai and shuriken at them.

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He's no longer surprised people here think throwing sharp objects at children is anywhere in the general vicinity of okay. But, still: not okay.

He doesn't say this, just dodges grouchily, and starts internally considering if he could move quickly enough to grab or deflect a weapon mid-flight using chakra...

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Probably shouldn't try grabbing a shuriken. They have a lot of sharp pointy bits. A kunai does have that nice convenient handle. Deflecting either is a more reasonable proposition, though he might not be able to control where exactly they go.

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For Chihiro, meanwhile, this is just Tuesday.

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He doesn't try it, though he probably would've if he was actually twelve because he was pretty stupid at twelve.

His plan is to start with something soft and not pointy after training.

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Around mid-afternoon Kakashi pronounces them done for the day.

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Sugira nods, doesn't really bother asking Chihiro if she wants to hang out (though he does quietly thank her for helping Naruto), and then he rounds up a protesting Naruto (who hasn't quite gotten the exercise down yet).

"I need to work on my techniques, anyways," he tells the blond, "And that's safer if someone else is around."

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"Guess those're pretty cool. Alright. Bye Kakashi-sensei, bye Chihiro!"

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"Farewell."

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"Bye-bye!"

After they've left, Kakashi drops down beside Chihiro. "So, my cute little genin, anything you feel like sharing with your favorite jounin instructor?"

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"No."

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"Nothing about extra training? Other teachers? I used to be ANBU, we could swap stories."

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"...I cannot say."

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He really, really needs to talk to the Hokage about this.

"Can you at least tell me which one you're here to watch?"

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"My mission is Uchiha Sasuke."

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"And my mission is my students. All three of them. I won't let anybody hurt them." He pats the air just above her shoulder. "When you're ready to talk, I'll be here."

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There is the briefest flicker of an expression on Chihiro's face.

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"Do I have permission to leave?"

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"Yes, yes. Practice is over. Shoo."

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Sugira's eyebrows are singed and his hair is exceptionally poofy when he shows up the next day, and he periodically has to elbow Naruto to get the boy to stop snickering at him.

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"Have fun last night, did we?" Kakashi asks when he (eventually) shows up.

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Sugira's had Naruto practicing the tree climbing technique more. The blond nearly has it, so, he'll count that as a success.

When Kakashi shows up, he inclines his head, and says, "Testing a new technique."

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"Well, I hope it's a useful one, because today, we have a mission!"

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"Oooh! What kind? Are we gonna save a princess? Or fight an evil warlord?"

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"No. It's a babysitting job."

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"Alright." Unlikely to be very different from watching his younger siblings, or Naruto, or cousins, or niblings, or own kids. "Number? Ages? How long? And anything else?" He has a bunch of examples of 'things you should know about children before watching them' but it's hard to articulate easily.

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"Two of one of the councilor's grandchildren, three and four years old. It'll just be for the morning."

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"Allergies? Medical conditions?"

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"No and no. Here, you can read the briefing." He flicks the scroll over.

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He'll take it, and read through it. And then give Naruto instructions.

Is Chihiro around?

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She's present. Doesn't seem eager to take the lead on this one.

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Then he will.

They're ready to head over quickly enough.

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"Okay, good luck! Try not to let anyone die!"

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He gives Kakashi an unimpressed look.

He'll also handle talking to any adults. It's exhausting but Naruto still is... Kind of much for most people who don't like kids, and Chihiro acts like a very scary robot sometimes. (He kind of wants to pat her on the head. He briefly entertains an amusing mental image of what she'd do if he did.)

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There's just the regular nanny there, who briefly gives them a tour of the house and introduces them to the children, Tamao and Chisei. These D-ranks cover for her mornings off.

Tamao, the girl, is older and louder. Her brother Chisei is a solemn little toddler.

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He'll set Naruto up to play with the girl, then. Chase games and similar are good for tiring out children.

He'll sit with Chisei, try to see if the boy is interested in any books or toys or stories.

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Tamao wants to play ninja! Playing ninja is more fun when there are real ninjas!

Chisei points at one of the picture books on the shelf.

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Naruto has no problem playing ninja! (Yes Sasuke he knows no sharp pointy things near the four year old).

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Sugira will settle down to read to Chisei then, with the book angled so Chisei can see the pictures wherever he ends up settling.

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Ninja! Yay!

The book is entitled Where's My Summoner?, and is about a lost toad looking for the one who signed his summoning contract. Along the way, he meets a variety of other summoners and their summonees: crows, deer, snakes, rats, slugs, salamanders, hawks, cats, dogs, turtles, and so forth.

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He's not very good at doing different voices for characters but he'll try.

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Chisei appreciates that he tries.

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Chihiro... hovers, uncertain what to do.

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Once the book's done he'll suggest she keep an eye on Naruto and Tamao in case someone trips or something. Kids bounce pretty easily, but, good to keep them from running into furniture anyways.

Then: more stories for Chisei?

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Yes. The books are all variously ninja-themed.

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Hrm.

He can't change child-care here single-handedly, unfortunately, and he supposes it isn't too different from superhero themed books. But, still, disturbing in a culture that actually uses child soldiers.

Reading out loud isn't as hard as spontaneous talking but he'll still be pretty wrung out by the time they're done.

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Chisei is ready for a nap shortly before lunchtime.

Tamao wants to play med-nin now! She'll be Lady Tsunade and Naruto will be her patient! Naruto has to lay down, he's sustained a very serious stomach wound. She holds both hands over his abdomen with a look of ferocious concentration.

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He is very good at playing injured!

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Unfortunately this wound is too severe even for her power! She needs the help of her loyal assisstant! (This means Chihiro.)

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Chihiro kneels down and also places her hands over Naruto at Tamao's prompting. Tamao has to rearrange her hands a couple times. Chihiro attempts to not flinch. This helped by the way Tamao is so much smaller than her.

Tamao says Chihiro has to try harder. You have to make a face to show you're trying. She demonstrates, scrunching her face up and going 'nyeh'.

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"Maybe she should be the bodyguard instead. Serious faces are good for that," he says to Tamao.

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That's a good point! Sasuke can be her loyal assistant instead. Quickly now, they're losing the patient!

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He'll put his hands on Naruto's stomach and make a face as directed.

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After about a minute she pronounces that there's nothing more they can do, and the only thing for it is to have Naruto sit up and see if his insides aren't.

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Chihiro stands vigilant.

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"I feel great!" he declares. "Thanks miss medic!"

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Hurray! Now it is time for lunch. Chakra healing takes a lot out of you.

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It does.

He'll take over preparing lunch, whether something set out for them ahead of time or not, assuming the nanny isn't home in time. (Naruto can't be trusted with ovens and he'd be shocked if Chihiro had non-shinobi skills.)

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There's things for sandwiches, including enough for the three genin.

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He'll wake Chisei for lunch, then, and get everyone fed. (He knows what's safe for a two year old, and is careful that Chisei doesn't get anything he'll choke on.)

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The nanny gets home after that and thanks them for looking after the kids.

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Kakashi is waiting for them down the street.

"Yo."

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"Hey. Any sort of report you want?"

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"Is everyone still alive?"

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"There were no casualties."

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"Good enough for a D-rank! Congratulations on your first successful mission."

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"Can we get ramen to celebrate?"

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"I don't see why not."

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"We just ate."

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"Spoilsport."

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"We can get ramen for dinner. Kakashi, will we be training more today? Or doing another mission?"

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"More training, I think. Naruto, I want you to keep working on tree climbing until you get it down. Chihiro and Sasuke, more practice on maintaining your grip while distracted."

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They agree, and set to work. 

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Over the next few weeks, this settles into a pattern. One day of training, a D-rank that takes a half a day or a day, more training. Sometimes Kakashi participates in the mission, sometimes not; mostly it depends on how boring it is. After they've all got treewalking down, he moves them on to waterwalking.

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Sugira's smart, and more importantly patient. He helps Naruto a good bit, not always successfully navigating around the other boy's sore spots but usually managing to. He tries to include Chihiro in more things, but doesn't push her.

He spends a large chunk of his free time working on his arcana. He doesn't make any particular effort to hide it, though the symbols remain inscrutable and he just says he's 'working on techniques' if asked. He figures out a spell to store and retrieve his spellbook in and from what is probably this world's Ethereal Plane. (He tests it on an extra the first ten times.) He saves his money carefully, to buy the fine paper and the components for the inks for spell-scrolls, which are too much of a pain to make to use in training but will serve to expand his capacity in an actual fight. He only sometimes shows up with singed eyebrows or covered in magical glitter.

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Chihiro accepts invitations to extracurricular activites but continues to act like a creepy robot.

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Naruto is going to befriend her anyways!

Also he is getting SO BORED.

The training is repetitive, and they're not doing anything really cool yet, not cool like Sasuke's spells (which Sasuke did try to teach him but there was too much memorization and math involved), and babysitting is the only non-terrible D-rank. He wants a real mission! Or a cool technique! Or to see something outside of Konoha!

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"A real mission, huh? You three have been doing well in your training. I suppose we can go to the tower and see if they have any C-ranks."

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"C-ranks!!!"

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Sugira stares at the both of them, distinctly unimpressed. "How dangerous are they, usually?" He knows they involve leaving the village, and sometimes protecting merchants from bandits, but not much else.

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"A C-rank mission is designated as a mission which involves at least two of either a moderate probability of combat or travel outside the village or an expected duration of at least one week, and the probability of encountering enemy shinobi is negligible."

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He nods. He's not assuming nothing will go wrong... But he also knows he's unlikely to win this fight with Naruto, and needs to pick his battles.

"Fine, then."

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Off to the tower! The mission they get from the desk is to escort a man named Tazuna back to his home in the Land of Waves. He's apparently an experienced bridge-builder and is unimpressed with the quality of the squad that will be taking his mission. He's also day-drinking.

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Sugira is unimpressed with him, so it evens out.

He keeps Naruto entertained as they set out, and pays attention for anything out of the ordinary. He's also generally curious - he hasn't left this village before, after all.

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The Land of Waves is located on an island off the coast of the land south of the Land of Fire. Their trip down is uneventful for the first week, sunlight trickling down through the great trees that make up the forest Konoha takes its name from. Tazuna is a surly traveling companion, mostly not participating in conversation. As they approach and pass Fire's border, he begins looking more nervous.

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- Fucking great.

Sugira keeps his spell-scrolls so they're easily accessible, and pays attention to potential ambush or trap sites.

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Around midday there's a puddle in the middle of the road. Kakashi casually steps around it.

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- It hasn't rained in weeks. And it doesn't look like someone spilled water. No splatter. So much for "no enemy shinobi."

He has the traveling spells he wrote into his secondary spellbook. He'd figured Expeditious Retreat (a doubled movement), Blurred Movement (makes him hard to hit while moving), and Illusion of Calm would most useful for bandits, so that's all he has.

He passes the puddle. Very quietly and subtly casts Expeditious Retreat then Blurred Movement, then suppresses the effect.

Keeps walking. Waits.

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Once the entire party has passed the puddle, two ninja shlorp out of it. They each wear a heavy metal gauntlet and a length of serrated chain connects them. While they still have the element of surprise, they wrap the chain around Kakashi with a few deft twists, then pull it tight. A pile of variously-severed extremities drops to the ground, and the pair laughs evilly.

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Tazuna shrieks. Chihiro steps in front of him, pulling out a pair of knives.

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Sugira is standing still, apparently frozen in shock - 

Except for how he's actually not.

(If the illusion was stable enough to last more than a third of a minute he might use it to lay an ambush. Unfortunately, he's left with 'cover for an attack.')

Original version of this spell covered thrown weapons, too, hopefully they won't be able to register the shuriken he throws at them until those hit - 

And then he's moving twice as fast as any genin has a right to, image blurring so it's not really clear exactly where he is, and the illusion that he's standing still will break when he gets too far from it but hopefully his sudden apparent re-positioning will take them by surprise enough he can get within a few feet - 

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They curse as they lose track of him-

Curse again as Chihiro throws the knives to hit each of them in their gauntleted shoulder-

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He draws his sword. It has shimmering runes along it, and he bound himself to it so he can use it to cast an extra spell a day -

And as soon as he's within three or so feet of them -

He teleports himself behind them. It doesn't have the range of a proper Dimension Door - only five feet - and he can only do it six times a day, but he can do this without spending spell slots.

And then he stabs the one to the right. Non-lethally, aiming to disable his legs. Sugira's not even using the sword to cast spells yet. (He's not confident he won't end up in another fight today.)

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He goes down.

The other manages to disengage from the chain, turns, starts a swipe at Sugira with clawed fingers-

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-and Kakashi swoops in and puts him down with a blow to the back of the neck.

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He backs up, still. Tries to get his heart rate down a bit. Eyes the one he downed, then, to Kakashi, "Thanks."

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He won't be getting back up. "Good job Sasuke, Chihiro."

How's Naruto doing?

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Shaking and still frozen.

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He goes over and pats Naruto on the shoulder.

"Doing okay there?"

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Shaky breath. "Yeah - yeah. Not hurt. Just..." He glances away from Sasuke, suddenly annoyed at the other boy for being able to actually do stuff and take down an opponent and - 

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Sugira has no idea how to handle this, doesn't think yelling at Tazuna for endangering a bunch of kids would be productive at the moment, so is sort of hovering uncertainly.

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"The first time takes everyone differently. Just remember to breathe."

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He seems to be calming down on his own, though now he's a bit huffy.

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Kakashi pats him a couple times, then moves on to the fallen ninja.

"And now on to these fine fellows. Chihiro! Your thoughts?"

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"Missing-nin from Kirigakure, according to their forehead protectors. Their ambush tactics support this. Low chunin level abilities, likely bandits or mercenaries."

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"They went for you first, but you're also the biggest threat. They weren't even looking at me until I stabbed one. They were looking at Chihiro - and Tazuna. Tazuna's also been increasingly nervous since Konoha." He pauses. "And also the trap was in our path. Either they followed us or knew where we're going, or both."

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"So! Tazuna, our valued client. Anything you might have forgotten to mention when you made this arrangement with our village?"

Tazuna clears his throat roughly. It turns out that his village and indeed the rest of the Land of Waves is being strangled to death by a man called Gatou, a shipping magnate who charhes exorbitant prices to bring goods in or out of the country. The country being composed of islands, they don't have much choice but to pay. Tazuna has been constructing a bridge to break their dependence on Gatou, and Gatou has begun hiring mercenaries to kill Tazuna in order to stop it. He didn't mention any of this in Konoha because his village lacks the funds to pay for a B- or A-rank mission; they are spending everything on the bridge. That's why he was traveling, to order materials and arrange for their discreet delivery.

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Too bad he decided to endanger children. (Sugira doesn't say this. Sugira is, however, glaring.)

The situation's fucked up. He'd have zero problem being part of an operation to dismantle Gatou's hold on everything, even for no pay. However, there is the matter of Naruto, who is definitely twelve, and Chihiro, who is probably twelve, and he doubts a suggestion of 'those two go back, Kakashi and Sugira help out' would fly.

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Naruto is squinting at the sob story, but really wants to go on a mission and prove himself, so.

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Changes in mission rank are to be reported at the earliest opportunity, and the decision to continue or abort is at the discretion of the squad leader.

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Well, what the heck. It's only another two days to Wave. It'll be faster than going all the way back to Konoha.

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He hates this world.

He drops Blurred Movement in favor of True Strike when next he prepares his spells for the day. It'll make him easier to hit, which is a massive disadvantage, but moving quickly, appearing to stand still even as he casts, and a mild combat-focused precog is likely to be way more useful. And his sword-slot is flexible, so if he's fighting a lot of weaker opponents he can use Blurred Movement then, or Shocking Grasp on one powerful opponent.

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They take a boat to Wave early the next day. Along the way, they pass beneath the partially-constructed bridge, lurking within the fog. They make land a few hours' walk from the village. Everything is quiet and peaceful, until Kakashi spots a white rabbit in some bushes by the side of the road.

"Get down!" he shouts, pushing the others down with outstretched arms. A large dark object whizzes overhead, thunking into a tree and revealing itself to be a massive sword. A man with bandages over the lower half of his face balances atop the hilt, slowly looking over his shoulder back at the group.

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He lets himself be guided, though he does stare back at the man, eyes narrowed as his mind races.

Single opponent who surprised Kakashi... Suggests someone powerful and confident.

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     "Well, well," says the man. "If it isn't Kakashi of the Sharingan, Konoha's infamous Copy-Nin. Sorry, but the old man is mine."

"Everyone get back. Surround and protect Tazuna. You'll have to get through me first, Momochi Zabuza."

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He's not an idiot, so will step back - keeping an eye on Naruto and Chihiro and their surroundings - and fall into formation.

He doesn't have many good options for actually stopping someone on Kakashi's level. His scrolls... Unfortunately, all of them except Mage Armor will last only two minutes at the most. Which might be plenty in a fight like this, but. And he's mostly been focusing on utility, movement, and defensive spells...

Also he wants to neither draw attention to himself by casting nor burn his Illusion of Calm spell...

He really needs to master these quieted and stilled.

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Kakashi pushes his forehead protector up to reveal the blazing red eye hidden beneath it. Zabuza chuckles.

     "The famed eye so soon. I am honored." He vaults off the sword and onto the surface of the water and runs through a series of handseals. "I hope it serves you well," he says, as a heavy mist begins to blanket the area. He fades out of view.

An ominous feeling creeps in along with the mist, a sense of doom trickling down the spine like melting ice. They're going to die. It's just a question of how.

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His old enemy Ur-Namush was, in fact, significantly more terrifying, even given that Sugira was immortal, already an archmage, and theoretically unkillable when he met her. She had style, and a penchant for making it personal.

This is... Crude. Probably an illusion spell or similar. (Sugira's also not really fully adjusted yet to the idea of death as more than inconvenient...)

Also Sugira has been centering his mind every morning, so.

But he notices Naruto's white face and shaking hands.

His hand tightens around his sword-hilt. He should've pushed for them to turn back.

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Kakashi half turns to look at the group.

"Don't worry, I won't let my teammates die." The oppressive feeling retreats somewhat.

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Naruto takes a deep breath and steadies himself a bit.

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And then Zabuza is right in the middle of the group-

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-but Kakashi is there and in a flash of steel Zabuza collapses into a puddle of water-

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-and then Kakashi is the one who has the blade at his throat. Zabuza jerks it back-

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That Kakashi also dissolves into a puddle of water to splash on the ground, and the real one come up behind to end it-

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-but that was yet another clone. There's a brief, furious melee tangle.

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Kakashi is punted out into the water. He attempts to climb back to the surface, but his movements are slowed, sluggish.

Zabuza appears behind him and creates a bubble of water, trapping Kakashi inside. "And now it's over. I congratulate you on copying my water clone even through the mist, but your sharingan cannot save you when you cannot move." He makes half a hand seal, and another Zabuza figure forms out of the water and begins advancing on the group.

"Take Tazuna and go!" Kakashi shouts through the water. "He can't move while he's keeping me trapped and the clone won't be able to get far away from him!"

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"Chihiro. Get Tazuna and Naruto out of here," Sugira says. "Naruto, leave me some clones."

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"Like hell I'm running away and abandoning sensei, asshole!"

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"That's not what I'm asking. We don't know what allies he has. Help Chihiro protect Tazuna, so I don't have to worry. Naruto... I don't demand much of you. But listen to me on this."

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Naruto grumbles, but glances at Chihiro and Tazuna, then makes enough clones to fill the clearing multiple times over, and turns to start pulling Tazuna away.

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And, while Naruto's clones distract Zabuza and his clone - 

Sugira starts to cast.

Illusion of Calm, to hide what he's doing.

Zabuza's going to hit him if he wants, so he sets aside his defensive spells.

Expeditious Retreat, to increase his speed.

A scroll for Blurred Movement, to at least give him a chance.

And then he turns into a Naruto, darts into the crowd even as he leaves his illusion behind, and he can't go far from it before it'll dismiss but he gets to the edge of the range then teleports his full five-foot range, past the clone, and he keeps sprinting - 

He readies himself to teleport again if the Zabuza clone looks like it's even getting close to him. His plan is to pull the same thing against Zabuza he did against the two enemies earlier - except instead of getting near the business end of that sword he plans to teleport multiple times to get behind Zabuza at an angle (this time casting True Strike as he moves), and then stab - this time with Shocking Grasp. Not much damage against a jounin, but either it'll force Zabuza to let go, or Sugira will be able to dance around and keep stabbing him if he doesn't.

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The suffusion of shadow clones seems to be doing an adequate job of distracting Zabuza's clone, who's swinging his sword in wide arcs to clear them out.

Zabuza dodges Sugira's first strike, is clipped by the second, has to break his connection to the water prison to evade the third. He spins, goes to attack Sugira-

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-but his strike is blocked by Kakashi, dripping wet but free again.

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And Sugira is going to back the hell off.

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Probably a wise move, as the two jounin begin trading ninjutsu of increasing size, Kakashi copying Zabuza's movements perfectly. After two enormous dragons made of water collide with each other, Zabuza seems to stop moving while Kakashi continues to cast. An explosion of water knocks Zabuza up and back on to land, crashing against a tree.

Kakashi moves in for the kill, but before he can get there, a pair of senbon seem to sprout out of Zabuza's neck. A slender figure in a plain white mask bearing the mark of Kirigakure hops out of concealment nearby. "So ends Momochi Zabuza," they say. "You have my thanks for weakening him."

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"First question: can I tell the boss and Chihiro to get back here," one of the few remaining Naruto clones ask. "Second question: what the fuck mask dude how'd you just kill someone powerful like Zabuza like that - "

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"Zabuza was already down. A very determined duck probably could've finished him," Sugira says, eyes narrowed at the masked man. Who both didn't help earlier and for some reason stopped Kakashi's kill... A desire for the body to be a certain way? A misdirection? A personal vendetta? "Who are you?" he asks.

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Kakashi verifies Zabuza's death by checking his pulse. Finding it lacking, he straightens and backs away. "They can come back. He's a hunter-nin of Kiri."

     "Indeed. I have been tracking Momochi Zabuza for some time. Konoha's assistance in this matter will be remembered." The stranger flickers over to Zabuza and picks up the body. "I must dispose of the body. Farewell." With that, they disappear.

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"...Right." Naruto's voice is skeptical. Still, the clone dismisses.

A few stick around, just in case they need to talk more.

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Sugira drags a hand down his face. "Any injuries?" he asks, evaluating himself. He's mostly sore and exhausted... More of a headache than actual physical tiredness, though, from pushing himself arcana-wise.

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"I'll live. You might have to carry me to the village," he says. Then he collapses.

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His teacher's an idiot.

He walks up to Kakashi and starts checking his pulse as another Naruto clone dismisses, then turns to the clones: "Naruto, how long can you maintain three clones, one transformed? I don't have a stretcher or anything in my medical pack, so your clones carrying him's going to be best."

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"Long enough, but boss should make them fresh."

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"Right. Then come help me get him situated..."

He tends to Kakashi while they wait for the others, thinking - they'll need a way to prevent any more ambushes. A spread of Naruto clones in a moving circle around them's probably the best way to do that... He's not good enough at illusions to make it look like they're all somewhere they're not, which he should probably address... But Naruto can make decoy teams... And it wouldn't hurt to have Naruto clones sprint ahead to make sure it's safe at Tazuna's house, and to alert Tazuna's family to the situation...

He updates Chihiro and Naruto thoroughly when they arrive, and runs his plan - have Naruto clones carry Kakashi, a medium number of clones as scouts around and ahead of them, and at least two decoy teams. He does note he thinks it's unlikely they'll be attacked again before they get to Tazuna's house, but these are precautions they should've been taking in the first place.

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Chakra exhaustion, is Chihiro's diagnosis. He will likely be asleep for a minimum of sixteen hours, and will not recover fully for almost a week. Using so many clones might attract more attention than they are prepared to deal with, however.

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And Naruto's bad at stealth...

He still wants them to have the single far forward scout, but the others are less important, since a jounin-level opponent could get around Naruto easily. What's her evaluation on duplicates of the team? He's uncertain how easy different opponents would find it to see through that, and doesn't think it'll draw undue attention -

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Their destination is known and from this point, there are no alternate routes. Decoys are unlikely to draw fire and they would be better served saving the chakra for defense.

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Right. Thanks.

He updates his plan with that input. Notes to himself that he's out of practice and jumpy. Finished securing Kakashi, and gets them moving.

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They get to the village safely and uneventfully. It's definitely seen better days. Tazuna says they can stay at his home. His daughter is there, and she assists in getting Kakashi shifted onto a bed.

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Kakashi doesn't wake until the next morning.

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There's a Naruto in the room with him. "Sensei! You're awake!" he shouts.

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"...Yes. Yes, I am. Where is everyone else?"

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"Chihiro is lurking... Somewhere. Creepily. Sasuke's probably on the roof again, he's been brooding, I could make a clone and dismiss it and get an update from the network pretty quick? Boss-me is... Uh probably with Tsunami and Inari. Or if Inari took off again Sasuke said to have a clone follow him. Sasuke told Tazuna not to go back to the bridge until you woke up so Tazuna's probably in the kitchen, he was talking about having a meeting with some people while he was having to wait..."

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"Okay. Gather everyone up. We need to have a group meeting."

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" - Everyone everyone or Team Seven everyone?"

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"Team Seven everyone. Plus Tazuna."

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"Alright!" And he dismisses; soon enough main Naruto is darting in with Tazuna and Sasuke, and a clone's alerted Chihiro.

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Chihiro arrives quickly.

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"Okay. So first thing, that hunter-nin took Zabuza elsewhere before disposing of him, yes?"

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He nods.

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"Right. Then I think it's safe to assume Zabuza is not dead."

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"It is standard procedure for all hunter-nin to dispose of their quarry's corpse on site."

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Fuck. "How long do we have?"

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"Probably about a week. Faking a death the way they did it still involves a near-death experience. It'll take him time to recover."

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He's close on some second level spells, but not that close... He thinks. Maybe if he convinces Kakashi to clear him for a shadow clone...

He rubs at his forehead. "Chance we'll have warning?"

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"Low. Of course, Gatou may decide that Zabuza on his own isn't enough and send some extra thugs as backup. In which case, higher."

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" - If we have like a minute's warning before he attacks us I can make us harder to hit, but I'd need to be able to touch whoever I'm warding. That particular spell lasts two hours, and it'll burn hard-to-renew resources if I want to be able to use anything else that day." Unfortunately every spell except Mage Armor has a target of 'personal'. He's not confident he'd be able to teach the others in a week, but - he'd overheard Zabuza and Kakashi's chatter. Copying techniques... "The others - Kakashi might be able to copy them." Probably he'd have to copy the incantation, movements, and the writing - and Sugira will probably have to teach him to read magic the slow way. "I can use four of my techniques a day, but three I need to decide ahead of time. I'd have one extra if I dropped the one I use to shield my mind, and I can use more by burning resources."

It's a shitton to reveal, but Sugira recognizes they can't back out now, and he'd rather drop secrecy than risk his team getting killed. Likely, Kakashi will fight Zabuza again - an uncomfortably close match - while the genin fight that ally and any other backup. And, demonstrably, Sugira's not used to tactics in this world. (Also even in his prior life he was almost never in serious fights, and never in anything that could permanently kill him.)

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"Well. That's interesting. Tazuna, it should be fairly safe for you to return to work today. Naruto, send some clones and Chihiro, you go with him. And under the circumstances, you can stop holding back."

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"Understood," she says, and fades into invisibility right in front of them.

Tazuna startles as an unseen hands taps him on the shoulder.

"Let us go," says Chihiro's disembodied voice.

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Invisibility. That'd be second level, for him. But she's following Kakashi's orders. Suggests an internal spy, rather than someone for another village. He'd suspected that was more likely anyways...

He stays put as Naruto rushes off with Chihiro and Tazuna.

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"So!" Kakashi says once the others have left. "Now that we have a bit of privacy, why don't you tell your favorite jounin instructor a story about why you know techniques he's never seen before."

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" - Do you want the sensible explanation or the weird one."

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"Let's go with the weird one. Everyone else on this team is weird, it can be a bonding exercise."

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" - This will take a bit." He pauses, to order his thoughts. And he'd had a perfectly good lie about remembering a past life pre-chakra lined up, too... "So about five years ago I woke up in the body of a kid, for reasons that I think sum up to 'I got the attention of a bored omnipotent being.' I'm fairly sure she swapped my and Sasuke's places, and that we're - essentially the same fundamental person, she's been known to instantiate two of someone before if it makes a story interesting. I'm not from this planet, probably not this dimension. My techniques would be fairly simple where I'm from, but I'm having to work to rebuild them because I lost my powers and all but the most basic of spells. ...Your planet sucks, by the way."

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"So how old are you really?"

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"A hundred and thirty one. 'Immortality' was a power I lost."

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"Huh."

"How do your spells work? You can use a limited number per day?"

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"- Basically, I memorize a spell. It burns into my mind. When I cast the spell, it's erased from my mind. The one exception is I can use a bonded item for a single spell a day, which can be any one I know - the item stores the information, kind of. I keep spells day-to-day by writing them down and memorizing them from the writing. There's only so much - space in my brain. It's possible to instead burn specially prepared words on a page, which is costly, or if I felt like being stupid to burn non-spell knowledge and overchannel. Right now, I'm at the first level of spells. Cantrips, zeroth level, are spells that are so basic you can reconstruct them right away. First level spells need specific memorization. Spells get exponentially harder and take up more mental space at higher levels, but capacity tends to expand with practice. I'd gotten up to sixth level spells in my prior life; the highest I've ever heard of was a ninth level spell. There's a - thing - channeled, arcane energy, which would mostly be a problem if I was trying to read off a spell of a higher level than I can normally cast, and which is only really dangerous at high levels. It's not like chakra; it's external."

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"I see. Did the, uh, prior-you's family leave behind any useful information about the sharingan?"

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"No."

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"No, things are never that easy... So the sharingan is the Uchiha Clan's bloodline limit. It's commonly acknowledged as the strongest doujutsu. It has the power of insight. With it, you can instantly understand and analyze information, which is how I earned my nickname, by watching the techniques of others and duplicating them. It can also help cast or cut through genjutsu, by seeing where the illusion mismatches with reality."

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" - You'd probably need to know how to read magical writing, but that sounds like it'd let you learn spells without the years of study first." He drags a hand down his face. "I think - True Strike and Expeditious Retreat are going to be most useful to you. First is - very limited combat precog. It's what I used to hit you during the bell test. Second increases base speed, and should stack well with using chakra to increase speed..."

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"Yes, that would be useful. However... I'm not an Uchiha. This," he taps his forehead protector over where it covers his eye, "was a gift from a very dear friend, before he died in the last war. I can't use it perfectly, which is why I collapsed of chakra exhaustion. I want to try to avoid using it before Zabuza returns, so I can be ready."

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"Sensible." He shrugs. "I can try teaching you once we're clear. For the next week - what's useful to me is speed and reaction time."

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"A week isn't a lot of time to work on that. Well, for now, try practicing augmenting your entire leg with with chakra like you did your feet for the tree climbing. Somewhere open you won't run into anything. Tomorrow I should have enough chakra to be a little more helpful."

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He nods. "...Thanks."

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Kakashi flaps a hand feebly.

"Don't mention it."

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He eyes Kakashi a bit warily. He's kind of... Intellectually aware of shinobi paranoia. He's also very certain Inanna won't let him get permanently killed - she tends to protect her toys - but that doesn't mean he can't be hindered a lot.

He's thoroughly exhausted, but... That's kind of air that needs to be cleared. "Will I be in trouble, when we return?"

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"Hard to say, really. It depends on the sort of report Chihiro makes to the people who set her watching you."

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"You're not her commanding officer?"

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"Yes and no. As you may have noticed, she's not exactly an ordinary genin. She's a member of a program called ROOT, a division of Anbu, and she was sent to keep an eye on you. I'm not very happy about everything Chihiro implies about ROOT, but there's not a lot I can do about it. The man who runs ROOT, Shimura Danzo, has a... different way of doing things than the rest of the village. But he's one of the Hokage's old teammates and the old man's given him considerable slack to run his program however he wants."

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" - Children should not be soldiers and especially not Black Ops." He shakes his head. "I'm bad at both politics and lying." The most political thing he ever did was tell the Empress to go fuck herself. "Danzo doesn't sound helpful."

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"Fortunately, he hasn't taken a direct interest in you yet. What you need is for her to tell him only that you performed well for a genin, and leave out the specifics of how and why."

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"...Right." How does he even get her to keep the techniques a secret.

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"She doesn't know any other life. Try making friends."

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His relationship with his wife literally started via divine intervention. Sugira's social skills sometimes extend as far as being charmingly dense.

"I'll try harder," he says, grouchily.

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"Or maybe have Naruto help."

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He nods. Siccing the boy who could befriend a rabid badger on Chihiro does, in fact, sound easier.

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"Good luck."

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"Thanks." A pause, and, "Anything else?"

He's tired and, apparently, needs to figure out a strategy for speed befriending Chihiro.

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"Not right now, I don't think."

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He nods, and, after a longer pause: "Need anything?"

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"Nope."

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He stands. "I'll start working on training, then," and heads out.

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There are no incidents during the day.

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He does manage to increase his speed using the technique Kakashi recommended. He still can't really steer while using it, though.

He pulls Naruto aside, tells him Chihiro works for the Hokage's teammate, and she's clearly sad and needs to learn the meaning of friendship.

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After breakfast the next morning, which Kakashi is well enough to sit up for, he pulls Sasuke aside. Kakashi pricks the ball of his thumb with a knife, then slaps the ground. Thin, spidery writing spirals out, then disappears in a puff of smoke. In its place is a pile of dogs of various breeds.

"Everyone, this is Sasuke. Sasuke, everyone. They're going to help with your training."

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He nods solemnly at them. "I'm working on speed and reaction times." He assumes the dogs are going to be chasing or attacking him. Maybe he can work on using the short-range shift mid-melee...

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"Nice to meet you, kid," a small pug perched atop a rather large bulldog. "Name's Pakkun. Here, shake." He holds out a paw.

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That is a very skeptical look on his face. Still, he'll take the paw.

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The pads are incredibly soft and delicate. Being able to touch them is an exquisite sensory experience.

"Right then," says Pakkun, taking his paw back. "Let's head out and you can show us what we're working with."

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Weird.

He nods, and leads them to a stretch of beach. He's usually been shooting out over the water; it's a good way to also practice his water walking. "How do you want me to demonstrate?"

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"Run from here to there," Pakkun instructs, gesturing. "And then we'll go from there."

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He uses the chakra boost, doesn't use his spells yet, but he's pretty fast even baseline, so.

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"Again. But this time go past there and there." Pakkun indicates a route that has him take a zig-zag shape.

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He's better at turning than he was yesterday, which means he skids a bit.

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Pakkun has some tips to help him. Once Sugira's practiced with that a few times, Pakkun has the other dogs line up at intervals along the route. Sugira will run it, and the dogs may or may not try to knock him down.

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Interesting. He can see how this will help.

He's not perfect at dodging the attempts, but he gets notably better as they work.

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The dogs increase the difficulty as he learns, making him dodge more than one at the same time or attacking more often if he's not going fast enough.

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That helps.

He'll incorporate the speed spell once has dodging without it up to 'decent', then once the two he memorized today both wear off (they don't stack; he's just increasing his effective time), he asks them to charge him while he practices the short-range teleport with little notice.

He gets knocked down a lot practicing that, but he can only do the actual teleport six times a day, so, he'll still get through it quickly.

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"Neat trick, kid," Pakkun says. "Anything else you got?"

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"Not movement related. Though using the techniques while moving or being attacked is hard..." He supposes he can practice combat casting with cantrips.

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The pack can help with that.

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He's practiced it with Naruto before. Still, he clearly needs work - and if he gets disrupted at exactly the wrong moment the spells are prone to doing something he didn't intend. Usually some variation on 'exploding.'

He'll go in for meals, and keep an eye on his team at those points. At dinner he tries to talk to Chihiro more - Naruto's already gotten the 'she's not a foreign spy, please befriend her' talk.

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Chihiro is not exactly unfriendly, but she doesn't seem to get how a conversation is supposed to work.

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That makes two of them.

Whereas Naruto mostly settles for chattering at her with the occasional interspersed question, Sugira's quieter, more deliberate, and starts out just asking her simpler questions about what she's seen in the area, if there's anything she likes about training, is Naruto annoying her...

He does after a bit point out she can ask him questions back, and that normally in conversation return questions are kind of related to earlier questions or even just 'what about you.' "Sometimes," he says after a pause, "People ask a question because they want you to ask them it. They'll sometimes sound... indirectly frustrated, if that's what they're doing." He thinks; the intricacies of social interaction are hard.

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"That sounds... complicated."

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"It's hard, yeah." He shrugs. "Some questions are also rude or insulting. But usually there's more slack on that for the young." He likes the tell culture of the place he settled in. "I don't really care, so ask whatever, I'll just say if I don't want to answer something."

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"Then... where did you learn your techniques?"

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"I designed them." He shrugs. "I can show you the theory."

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"Yes."

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He pulls out a pen and some paper and then draws a series of flowing symbols. A twist of his hand, and they gain an odd, dizzying depth, shifting and unstable as the paper moves. "Each of these is a concept. I put ones like them together, memorize them, and then use the - pathway the memory makes - to channel them, with a phrase and a motion to help. It's - once I know them, putting them together is just tedious." A pause, "I was just... Playing around when I figured out the first one. It seemed... Obvious."

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Chihiro blinks.

"That seems unlikely."

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Shrug. "Where do you think I learned it, then?"

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"I do not know."

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"I might've seen it somewhere, first; memory's strange like that."

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"This does not resemble any school of sealing I am familiar with."

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"Do they resemble each other much? Across origins, or time."

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"...No."

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"I'll look through the compound and all when we get back. If there's any old books, or just... Places I remember going. If I saw it it would've been written down, I think." His best bet might be to forge something he could've reasonably spotted as a small child, but that might've been overlooked by people investigating the compound.

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"I... would be interested in seeing that."

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He nods. "I'll show you whatever I find."

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Chihiro nods. This seems to have exhausted this conversational thread.

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He hums a bit. "What was that technique you used to disappear earlier?"

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"An active camouflage."

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He nods. "It seems useful." A pause (while he internally flails for something to say), and, "What's your - opinion on the mission. In general."

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"It is the mission we were assigned."

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He leans back. Makes a face. "Fighting jounin-level opponents wasn't."

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"It is now."

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He sighs. "The client shouldn't have put us at risk." But, with a shrug, "My opinion: the mission is important. Gatou is acting immorally, and contrary to Konoha's good. But the client lied to us. Even if for understandable reasons, that action was wrong."

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"Given that we did not opt to abandon the mission when the deception was revealed, our opinions are irrelevant. The village leaders will decide the consequences when we return."

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"We're allowed to have opinions. And if we keep advancing we'll have to make calls like this ourselves someday; it's good to think ahead of time what those should be."

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Chihiro looks like she doesn't quite know what to do with this.

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He shrugs. "I plan to make jounin someday. Naruto wants to be Hokage, and I think has a good chance. We'll probably be stuck advising him if he does."

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"...Why?"

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"Why jounin, or why believe Naruto?"

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"The latter."

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"He's charismatic. People who actually talk to him like him, and becoming Hokage is as much about popularity as power or sensibility. The choice is made by the previous Hokage, traditionally, and confirmed by the daimyo and the jounin. The current Hokage likes him. For fit - Naruto's good at reading people, and seeing through lies. He's confident but not overly arrogant. He's fairly selfless. He cares about everyone he meets, and mostly evaluates people on personality, not for shallow reasons. He seems on track to become powerful, though I'd rather have a Hokage who's good at politics than one who's good at punching. He's good at identifying places things could work better. He's good at evaluating advice. Politically, he's not tied to any specific clan, but Uzumaki is an old, respected name - the benefits of a famous clan without the baggage." A pause. "He's also still a kid and therefore kind of an idiot, but - I think once he matures a bit he'll be better."

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"And why would we be his advisors?"

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"The Third and Fourth both invited their genin teammates, as far as I know. Naruto also likes us, and tends to value personal relationships highly."

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"...Oh."

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"It's a long way off. But, it's good to build solid foundations." He leans back, rubbing at his eyes.

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"Foundations are important," Chihiro agrees.

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"Mhm." He's tired and not going to bother asking if she has more questions.

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The night passes. The next day, Tazuna goes back to the bridge and Chihiro goes with him again.

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Sasuke spends the day training.

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Naruto spends the day trying to be friends.

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"Should you not be spending more effort to be alert for incoming threats?"

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"Got my clones taking turns watching, and it's hard to be super alert all the time."

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"Vigilance is a necessary skill for a shinobi."

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"Yeah, but... If Kakashi-sensei thought there'd be sneaky people he would've come with, 'cause even injured he's better at spotting people that us. And other than boats it's hard to sneak up, and I got clones watching for that. So probably any problems are gonna be like non-shinobi thugs coming up the bridge, probably openly 'cause Gatou's the type of ass who likes intimidating people with big shows, and then it's good for us to be kind of obviously here and dangerous and not worried to make them think twice. Us being not worried also makes the workers feel better, and them quitting is a problem - I've got a few clones helping like carry stuff and show off like walking up walls so they'll feel protected but not like we're scary."

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"That is not within the scope of our mission."

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"Makes the mission easier and faster though. If the bridge doesn't get built we'll be here a while and Gatou will have time to hire more goons."

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"I had not considered that."

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"I like people, so, it's not a hard thing for me to think about, and figuring out what everyone does when is fun." 

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"Why is 'fun' relevant?"

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"Fun stuff's easier to do and pay attention to, and I got a reason to do it even if it's not really needed, which means sometimes I notice stuff I didn't know was there to notice."

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"That seems inefficient."

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"Why?"

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"Effort should be allocated by analysis, not whim."

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"I can't be analyzing that sort of stuff all the time, so it's good to have - stuff that's mentally recharging but probably useful? Like, Sasuke's bad at talking, and it tires him out, but he's good at working on techniques and paying attention to non-people stuff, and it makes him less tired. I'm bad at constantly paying lots of attention, and bad at noticing stuff, and it tires me out, but I'm good at people, and thinking about people and being around them makes me less tired. So with Sasuke he lets me handle all the people stuff, and I let him handle all the... Not really analysis, but physics, and math, and calculating, and figuring out training schedules, though he's trying to teach me that last one."

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"...You are specializing."

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"Yeah, pretty much! Course, we still gotta work on fitting you in; me and Sasuke've been friends for years, so we're used to each other, but we don't know you all that well."

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"I do not know where my capabilities in this context lie."

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"You know a lot of stuff about how the ninja world works. You're good at paying attention. You know a lot of techniques we don't. You'd probably be really good at being the one talking to authority people, especially shinobi, you're really professional. People in authority either think I'm cute or annoying a lot, and that's harder to work on, and Sasuke tends to come off as insulting."

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Chihiro thinks this over.

"That seems accurate."

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"How we fit in a fight's harder to figure cold, we haven't done a lot of combat training as a team and all. But - Sasuke's kind of stuck at sneaky one hit wonder, and you're good at kind of... Sneaky fading in and out? Hitting less hard than Sasuke maybe but managing more of it. And I'm good at drawing attention and taking blows. The kind of strategy we used against Kakashi-sensei that first test is probably good for us for if we're all together, least until we figure out more."

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"I am proficient in a variety of combat styles. When we return, I can requisition new equipment if that is necessary."

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"Maybe sensei will let you keep Zabuza's sword."

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There is the barest, faintest hint of a grin on her face.

"I could make use of it."

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"I'll be the odd one out. Gotta find me a blade next."

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"It is unlikely we will encounter another rogue member of the Seven Legendary Swordsmen of the Mist. You will have to source yours elsewhere."

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Maybe he can work her up to teasing about jinxing them.

"I'll get a cool blade just for me."

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"I would recommend a shortsword or tanto. A larger blade would become a hindrance in the numbers you typically employ."

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"I was thinking like a trench knife or a bladed knuckle duster, actually, but a tanto might work."

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"A collection of offensive ninjutsu would also be viable, given your chakra capacity."

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"Yeah! I'll have to bug Kakashi-sensei about that."

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Chihiro takes a moment to silently contemplate an army of Naruto with the versatility of Hatake Kakashi.

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He snickers a bit, and then turns his attention to his clones for the moment.

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"You would need to improve your chakra efficiency," she says eventually.

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"Probably yeah. Kakashi-sensei said water walking was for that; do you know anything else?"

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"The leaf exercise is versatile and performable in a variety of contexts."

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"Was that the Academy one? I don't think we ever went past sticking them to our foreheads... Guess I could stick a bunch weird places, or use heavier stuff..."

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"Attempt to hold one a defined distance from your skin."

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"Oh yeah, that sounds harder than just sticking. Thanks!"

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"...You are welcome."

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He hums. He... Kind of wants to apologize to her for being suspicious about her not being loyal to Konoha, except he's still not entirely sure she's loyal to the team... Also she super needs pointers on lying...

"I could help you learn to lie better, too, I bet - we should be helping each other, not me just playing catch-up."

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It takes her a while to respond to this.

"I do not enjoy lying."

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"Okay. It might be needed eventually, but we can tell old man Hokage we wouldn't be good at infiltration stuff and all if we get a mission like that, though I think between you and Sasuke's it's probably pretty obvious..."

"And - I know you've got secrets. Me and Sasuke've got secrets, too, it's kind of a thing with this team. You don't... Have to feel like you gotta tell us? I worried you weren't loyal to Konoha when I figured you were lying about - okay a lot - but now I'm sure you're with us, so. We're on the same side, so specific stuff can... Kind of wait."

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"There are... things I cannot tell you."

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"Figured, yeah. It's cool, though."

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"Not- like that." She seems vaguely frustrated. "I cannot tell you."

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" - Like physically." He goes still, eyes narrow. He's... Not really sure how you'd control someone's actions...

But Sasuke can do lots of weird stuff. All ninja can.

He knows what he's gonna bug Kakashi-sensei about, now. If it's a technique... There's gotta be a counter... If the problem's politics? Well, Sasuke's always saying Naruto should practice Hokage-skills.

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Chihiro opens her mouth and sticks her tongue very far out. At very back, just barely visible, is the inky scrawl of a seal.

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"Right."

A pause, and: "Can I tell Sasuke about that?"

Sasuke's weird magic would be another angle...

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"I cannot tell anyone who does not know."

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"Sasuke knows weird things, he was really sure you're loyal to Konoha and all. But - will anything bad happen to you if I decide to talk to people I trust about a conclusion I came to on my own?"

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"-I do not know."

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"Then I'll figure this out on my own."

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"...Good luck."

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He nods, and starts mentally putting together a way to convince Kakashi-sensei to teach him sealing...

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Come the evening meal, Kakashi is well enough to be ambling around the house.

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That means he's well enough to be pestered! 

"Kakashi-sensei, we need to train, right - I want to learn sealing."

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"You want to learn sealing? That's not something I hear every day."

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"Yeah. It's not - if there's something that'll definitely give us an edge against Zabuza I can learn in a few days then I should maybe do that first, but I really want to learn sealing. I could use my clones, multitask with our other stuff - "

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"Naruto. To put it bluntly, sealing is everything you are worst at. It is solitary, pointlessly complicated, tedious, and non-physical. You will have to spend months or maybe even years studying before you can make seals of your own."

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"What about removing them?"

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"...That depends on the seal. Dare I ask why you have discovered this sudden interest?"

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"I kind of said I wouldn't tell." He's squinting though. He's pretty sure he trusts Kakashi-sensei not to get Chihiro in trouble, but he doesn't know what makes that seal activate... "Also would it be years with clones?"

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"You know, I don't believe anyone has ever done experiments on parallelizing learning to seal."

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"How about I try, since I said I would, and if I don't make fast progress I'll tell you everything I know?" And probably tell Sasuke too at that point.

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"Well. I left the library back at the village, but sealing itself doesn't take chakra. And I have been getting bored. Let's try and see what happens."

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"Right! Thanks, sensei."

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"Don't thank me yet, we haven't started. I need to plan a curriculum and you need a good night's sleep. Shoo."

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"Okay, okay." He bounces off.

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The next day, Kakashi will have a first lesson for Naruto. Unless he's changed his mind?

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Nope! He's trying on his serious face, even.

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Great. So first a very basic introduction to what sealing actually is, even. Sealing is a way of symbolically representing ninjutsu and performing it by proxy. It's kind of like calculus and trigonometry. Say you wanted to throw a kunai at a target. You can use calculus and trigonometry to mathematically determine the arc and speed you need to use to hit the target. Or you could just eyeball it and make the throw in five seconds and not spend five minutes working out the math.But if you wanted to ricochet a shuriken off two targets then deflect a second shuriken to hit a third and fourth target, you might not be able to do it. In that case, it would be worth sitting down and figuring out the theory. So it goes with sealing. For most things, leaving aside explosive tags where the versatility of delayed- and remote-detonation increases the benefit, it's much quicker and easier to simply perform the technique yourself. Most sealing techniques deal with complicated effects, like storage scrolls and summoning contracts and barriers. The increase in effort from the baseline isn't all that much compared to the benefit.

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Ahhhhhhhhh this isn't as bad as the magic Sasuke tried to teach him but it's up there.

He doesn't think he'll do well with just theory and memorizing, is there like a thing he can play with that won't explode too badly?

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Hm. Well. If he uses a shadow clone and goes out into the woods away from the village, Kakashi could give him a couple low-yield explosive tags...

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Ooooh! Please!

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Right. Here's two to start with. Try not to knock down any trees. Meanwhile, they can go over some theory.

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Alright. He's listening.

...He makes two clones who can also listen. In case he misses stuff.

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There are a few different schools of sealing that represent things different ways. In Konoha, most people use what's called Konoha Common Style, which is based on Senju techniques, mostly due to the Second Hokage's influence. It takes the form of a tree, with the small component 'roots' coming together to form the main 'trunk'. Here are some examples of roots for yin and yang chakra, as well as different types of elemental chakra. There are also roots for handseals and other shape manipulations.

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The clones sometimes summon and dismiss another if they figure out a thing.

He seems decent with the shapes, at least, and the metaphor - like how a bunch of handseals make a technique, right, or a bunch of ingredients make a dish?

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Kind of! But the rules about combining them are more strict. There are certain connectors you use in various situations, which change based on the number of things, types of things, whether things have previously been connected... There are shadows of patterns to the rules, but lots of exceptions and special cases.

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More like writing?

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Maybe like very, very formal poetry. Except for the parts where it's not like that at all, of course.

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Still easier than Sasuke's thing... But yeaaahhhhh gonna be lots of memorization...

He and his clones are willing to throw themselves into it, though.

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An eager student is a learning student. Eventually. Good thing they've got a couple days to work with, here.

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Nothing they care about explodes during Naruto's adventures in learning, at least.

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Thank the gods for small favors.

By the end of the week, Kakashi is back on his feet. Of course, this mean Zabuza has likely recovered from his brush with death as well. It's going to be all hands on deck at the bridge today.

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"We should at least leave some Naruto clones at the house. Head off Gatou trying to take hostages."

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"Good idea. Make it happen."

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He talks to Naruto about leaving a guard, and then soon enough they're ready.

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Off to the bridge. Chihiro fades out of view before they leave the house.

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When they get there with Tazuna, there's no sign of the workers.

"They're already here," Kakashi says. "Be ready."

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Sugira had decided that they're likely enough for a confrontation that he should burn his scrolls, so he reinforced everyone with Mage Armor - invisible forcefields that'll interfere with their enemy's attacks but not their own. They're not perfect, and won't stop Zabuza from taking down the not-Kakashis, but they might make the difference against any allies.

Here and now, he pulls out a scroll of Illusion of Calm.

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A thick mist creeps in quickly, filled with ill intent.

     "Here we are again, Kakashi. Misplaced one of your brats, have you?" a voice whispers out of the mist. It bounces around, as though it's coming from multiple sources. It's just barely possible to make out hidden figures rising all around them.

"I wouldn't say misplaced," Kakashi says calmly. "Chihiro?"

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There's a blur of movement and a quick succession of splashes. Chihiro shimmers into visibility in front of the group, knifeblades dripping water.

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Kakashi flashes though a quick series of seals and a burst of wind pushes the mist off, revealing Zabuza and the hunter-nin standing together, blocking exit from the bridge.

"I'll tell you this, Zabuza. I don't fall for the same trick more than once."

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Naruto creates a few versions of him around Tazuna.

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Sugira quietly puts a second, movable forcefield around himself - the Shield spell. (His ideal position here is likely backing Chihiro up against the masked one, or protecting Tazuna.)

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"They have teeth, eh Haku?" Zabuza says to his companion.

     "Master Zabuza," the masked nin says, "please allow me to face the younger ones in your stead. Save your strength for Hatake."

"This will be a good test for you, Haku. Go!" Haku, it turns out, is very fast.

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But his destination is known and there's really only one path they are going to take.

Chihiro interrupts him, blade catching on the senbon they holds in their fist.

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Sugira casts Expeditious Retreat on himself. Then blurred movement, then he'll start looking for openings to join Chihiro's fight. 

"Naruto, you'll be best at keeping Tazuna safe. Don't worry about us."

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"Right." His grip tightens on his kunai; he doesn't like that, but...

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Haku runs through some handseals, and the nearby puddles left over from the clones rises to form needles which fire at Chihiro. She manages to escape with only scratches, then recloses the distance to Haku.

They hold against both Chihiro and Sasuke for a time, but are soon pushed back to Zabuza's side where they started.

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"Time to stop playing with you food," Zabuza says.

     "Yes, master." The air gets suddenly colder.

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Unfortunately he hasn't figured out fireball yet. Now would be a good time for that. 

His best counter is True Strike followed by a terrifyingly accurate kunai. (Aimed for center mass; shouldn't kill the masked one, but might disrupt...) (His entire spell list today is four copies of True Strike; he's using scrolls for everything else, including his daily mental defenses, though he plans to use his flexible space for Shocking Grasp).

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The kunai is blocked by a thin sheet of ice, polished as a mirror, appearing from nowhere. Other mirrors appear all around Chihiro and Sasuke, and Haku's reflection fades into each one.

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"Ice release," Chihiro says, moving into a defensive position at Sasuke's back. "A bloodline limit."

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He nods.

He doesn't have a good way to hit multiple locations at once.

But he's currently hard to hit, extremely mobile, and not using chakra - even if he runs out of scrolls and ranged weapons there's a good chance he'll be able to outlast their opponent, since he can spam weaker cantrips all day.

"Your show."

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Whatever she's about to say is interrupted by a hail of senbon from all directions.

"From here, there is no escape," Haku says. "I have you surrounded. All you can do is die."

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"Not clones," whispers Chihiro. "He is- moving. Too fast."

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Bouncing between mirrors then?

Unfortunately Sugira can't just stack his speed spell ten times...

But True Strike is divination. Doesn't matter how fast his opponent moves if Sugira knows where they're going, and at the very least making more mirrors should tire them out - especially since the senbon hail let up at all, it's not the type of thing they can do indefinitely...

He casts Illusion of Calm, and then it's time to start doing his best to spam True Strike and assorted ranged attacks.

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This- works. Haku is knocked down, and their mask comes off, revealing the very pretty face of a person the same apparent age as them.

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Chihiro moves to strike to take advantage of the moment.

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"- Don't kill them - " Sugira says, somewhat softly. He's killed in his past life - but death's permanent here in a way it isn't back home, and even there it's still not something to do to a kid.

He doesn't move out of his illusion's cover, though, but does take the advantage to refresh his shield spell. It's close to running out.

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Chihiro pulls her strike, blade stopping just short of Haku's neck.

     "Finish it," they say. They haven't moved. "I am not strong enough to help Master Zabuza. I have no other reason for living."

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"That's bullshit. You're a kid. You think you're going to beat every opponent ever at - what, thirteen? And - you exist to learn. So when you're not a fucking child what the fuck is wrong with this world you can pick whatever the fuck you want to do with your life. Fixing this stupid world, if you want a goal bigger than yourself."

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"Master Zabuza saved me," they say, face blank. "I am his tool."

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"That's not how it works. The older generation owes the younger everything they can give."

He might have forgotten his body is currently shaped like a twelve year old.

(He doesn't have an objection to adults choosing to devote themselves to someone, just. Kids. Especially in vulnerable situations. No.)

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"You do not understand," Haku says.

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(Chihiro looks very lost.)

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"He saved you. You feel obligated, or grateful, at least initially, and he's protected you or trained you or shown positive traits since, and serving him gives you a place in things. That doesn't make it your only place."

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"It is all I have." There is a sound like a thousand birds chirping. "I am sorry." They move, suddenly, pushing Chihiro's unresisting arm away and leaping.

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And back near Tazuna, Kakashi stands with a fist wreathed in lightning, looking like what Shocking Grasp wants to be when it grows up, and his arm passing straight through Haku's chest, prevented from reaching Zabuza.

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...Shit.

He takes an aborted step forward. If - he doesn't have any healing spells - 

Shit shit shit.

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Zabuza takes a swing with his sword. Kakashi dodges backwards, moving Haku's body with him. He lowers it to the ground and withdraws his arm. Then he dashes into the fray. Steel rings against steel once, twice. There's a spurt of blood and Zabuza's left arm goes limp. After another brief exchange, his right arm fails and he drops the sword.


A large yacht pulls up alongside the bridge. Its deck is crowded with fifty or so thuggish mercenaries that don't have the look of shinobi about them. A shortish, balding man in a suit stands at the prow. He taps his cane. "Zabuza, you disappoint me once again," he calls. "At least you've worn down the opposition. Now I'll take you all out at once. Get 'em, boys." The crowd begins to swarm onto the bridge.

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"Naruto!"

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And there's now a much thicker crowd of blonds around Tazuna.

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"Where's that little toy of yours, Zabuza? Hiding again? I'll have its pretty face cut off and framed on my wall."

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     "Kakashi." Zabuza's voice is quiet and chill as ice. "It seems my contract is over. We no longer have any quarrel. Let me borrow a knife, and I'll thin the herd for you before I go."

...Kakashi tosses one of his kunai over. Zabuza snatches it out of the air with his teeth. His eyes glisten in the sunlight as he does so. He charges the mob and rips a bloody path through them, hampered as he is, making straight for Gatou.

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Sugira mostly keeps watch, tense, ready to defend his team if any of Gatou's men turn on them.

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They're too busy trying to take Zabuza down, but the man seems a juggernaut, unstoppable. He makes it all the way to Gatou and takes out his throat in one clean blow before finally falling, victim to a hundred wounds obtained during his single-minded charge.

The mob seems a bit stunned, after that.

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Sugira steps forward and holds his sword in plain view, a quick incantation setting lighting to sparking along the blade.

"Go," he says, voice low. "Do not trouble this place again."

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The mob looks undecided. Kakashi rolls his neck and cracks his knuckles. They start looking more in favor of fleeing.

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And they are now outnumbered by some agitated blonds -

And there's a shout from another set of clones, by the end of the bridge - the ones Naruto had left to guard the house, with backup.

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Yep, they're definitely running now. Back onto the boat and away, with shouting and urgency.

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"Phew," says Kakashi, relaxing. "I really didn't want to have to fight all of them."

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"We could've taken them - is that Zabuza still alive?"

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Kakashi goes over and checks.

"He's dead. For real, this time."

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"...Oh."

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Sugira crosses his arms and looks away.

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"...Why don't you three head back to the house for now. I'll help Tazuna clean up here."

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Sugira nods.

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And Naruto frowns and dismisses his clones - but is fine heading back with the others.

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