Date: April 11, 2015
The Chuunin Aspirants are taken on a forced march, their travel bringing about an unexpected trial they must overcome.
Poster's note: foul language filtered in obvious places.
"First Kiri Exams - We Who Moved The Mountains"
Within the Land of Water
12:01 am, this shout rang through the barracks.
It came from one of the chuunin guards as he entered the room, the firelight from his raised torch glinting off of the metal stud under his left eyelid. "Everybody up," he reiterated, despite most every Aspirant being either on their feet or on their way there. He entered the room, a leather sack danging from his side as he surveyed the room, taking his own personal stock and making sure that everyone who should be present and awake actually was. He was satisfied, as he expected to be, and turned around.
"It's time for a forced march," he informed the 20 genin who would be Chuunin. "Look alive, kids. It's a beautifully bright early morning; perfect for a nice little jog." He stood in the doorway, reaching into his bag and pulling out a shadow-black cloth. "Everyone gets a blindfold. Everyone wears it right. Everyone gets their exercise and gets to return to the barracks in time for breakfast."
Kiji was so used to this strange situation of living in the barracks, that she had learned to keep a low level of awareness even as she slept so she was warned a tiny bit earlier as the chuunin guard entered the barracks. She was on her feet on the bed in a split second at the shouting. When she saw it was a guard her expression dulled, her eyes fading to a pearlescent tone. Here they go again. She pondered pinching herself again like the last time but with that seal on her hand she couldn't just break free if she wanted to. Might as well play along….
She lifted her hands and ran them over her long white braid and oddly enough it straightened itself out as if she had brushed it. Now what was the secret there? Shifting from one foot to the other to get the blood flowing as she waited for her blindfold, she checked for her friends. Naoya, Kiyoshi.. There had been certain members 'missing' during the meteor vision, now perhaps thi was reality. She sighed and put the blindfold on correctly and opened her mind. Who needed eyes anyway…. >.>
At first the young Okumo doesn't seem to wake or move from his perch along one of the back walls though his clothes quickly quiver with movement. 'Hmm.. Still.' is faintly whispered before Naoya drops down to the ground, his hands move behind himself and to the wall, letting a faint traction slow him so he lands on his feet with little noise. Looking around at the others for a moment, he counts how many had managed to last through the now months of the Exam, almost a quarter of those who originally had originally enrolled. 'Inject..'
Taking in a stiff breath, Naoya closes his eyes for a moment, his muscles tensing but also seeming to rapidly wake up with just that mutter. "Much better.." Stepping forward and closer towards the door and the guard, the young Okumo extends out a hand and takes one of the blindfolds without a second question and slips it over his eyes as he shifts to the side. The cloth band would be tied with a small double knot behind his head but under his hairline which only causes the ivory locks to soon shift, braiding itself slowly but neatly. "Understood sir."
The Moto's eyes snap open the moment the first syllable leaves the shouters mouth. It takes longer for the rest of the man to reach full alert, so in the meantime his eyes scan the area, searching for threats and potential ones equally. His eyes burned, both from the effort and as a result of days of little sleep. Between the visions themselves and the aftermath that followed, the thought of genuine rest has became something of a dream in itself.
After the second call Kiyoshi has seen enough to warrant rising to his feet, using the wall against his back as support for most of the trip. A hand is roughly dragged across his scalp, temporarily pushing back the curtain of moss, only for it all to fall back. By the time the last few strands fall back into place, Kiyoshi freezes up for a moment, then checks the back of his hand. No change. Yet.
"…… Right, blind fold.." Kiyoshi listless murmurs before pulling his cloth into place over his eyes.
"There we go, there we go. Each one take one, make it quick—
"And move it, Moto! This is a barracks, not a slumber party. Show me you're as happy and motivated for this as I think you are." Swift and urging, the chuunin continued doling out the blindfolds along with a healthy dose of semi-sarcastic commentary until all of the Aspirants were blind to the world, unable to see even hints of the torchlight. Once everyone was serviced, the man nodded.
His voice informed those standing about. "The march will last approximately 3 hours; Faster if you're swift, and longer if you're not." The subtle scent of leather would reach the noses of the Aspirants as the chuunin's voice reaches their side. They would feel it drop onto their shoulders, perhaps a little rough but not too heavy, straps being adjusted with sure jerks. "To make sure that nobody gets lost…" he explained. "You'll all wear these harnesses. They're attached to one another. That means you stick together. There's only so much give so be careful not to step on any heels. Or…
"Get yours stepped on," he emphasized.
"If any of you fall, your 'friends' here will have to carry your weight. Or drag you along. It gets unpleasant, and it can really mess up everyone's morning. Everyone /will/ make the trip. Quitting is not an option. You make it either as an asset or an obstacle." Everyone garbed up, the man starts walking to the front. "And be sure to behave yourselves," he added. "There's plenty space on those harnesses to add weight, and if you don't know Kino always comes prepared then you'll learn soon enough."
"Now then," he said, voice pleasant. "With the good news out of the way, let's get started."
Soon enough, the first in line would find a pull on the harness, pulling them into motion and moving the next in line and so on until the whole line was in jogging motion, soon exposed to the cooler night air and the quiet streets of the village.
Kiji turned, sensing a small spider of Naoya's nearby. Kiyoshi.. Naoya.. Erika… she frowned then bent as if to stretch. Then she turned and held out her hand, beckoning for a small spider to crawl onto her. If it came she would direct it toward her collar, well away from her hair. Then she tensed as the harness was lowered over her, only relaxing again when they pulled away. She could feel those around her and with a quick little skip she was somehow second in line. Blood crept up her arms in her usual vine-wrap appearance and solidified, both to protect herself from the chill and to give Kiyoshi a scent to follow. She tapped the shoulder of Erika, the Shimizu she had had some trouble with up until this point and smirked as she whispered into the girl's ear, eliciting a sharp tension to come into the other Shimizu's body.
As the march started she kept her senses open and took the lead, focusing her chakra enough so that for chakra sensors they could follow her easier, and the blood on her arms would allow other trackers to follow her. She was not afraid of the march…. She was more trying to make others be less worried about it.
'Quiet..' is softly murmured before the young Okumo becomes silent once again. Lifting a hand up to his neck once the leather binds begin to fasten around him, soon parting his arms and raising them up, allowing the process to be completed though his annoyance was clear. "Attached to these slow fools..?" is followed by a throaty rumbling growl as he lowers his arms to his sides. Turning his head slightly, he nods lightly as if answering an unasked question.
A trio of spiders would work they way from his pants leg and swiftly make their ways towards the Shimizu. They would at first make their way towards her foot before spiraling up her left leg but would stop close to her knee while the Chuunin would draw close, only to move again rapidly when noone else seemed to be looking attentively towards the young woman.
Another light nod follows a faint shake of his head. 'No.. wait for the others first. Count how many fall after how long. We'll tend to them later.. Yes. Liability..' Shifting his stance, Naoya's clothing ripples lightly but the only effect afterwards appears to be near his throat, silk. A layer of silk extends along the young Okumo's neck but also more heavily around his left arm giving an appearance of a treated and recovering wound.
Tempted as he was to glare at the man, the blinds made it pointless, and actually mustering the energy to bother proved more daunting then simply making a mental note of the matter. So, the chuunin is now on the Moto's 'Whose house to wreck first during a rampage' list. While the Kirryu had not honest intention of actually cleaning house per se, the thought both comforts and invigorates his spirits so much that most of his fatigue just seems to fall away.
While the proctor spoke on of the rules and expectations, Kiyoshi splintered his focus between paying attention and growing accustomed to the lack of sight. He perks up the moment he catches a whiff of her blood; a temptation. The Kirryu doesn't even make it a step before his conscious gets the better of him. Following a heavy sigh, Kiyoshi starts to reach out for a giant nearby scroll, but stops short at the sound of approaching footsteps. Grudgingly, Kiyoshi abandons the scroll for the sake of having less interfere with the harness. It was already going to be bad enough that as the last in line, he would have to measure his steps carefully to avoid tripping over the shorter feet and possibly the bodies of several of his fellows along the way.
The night air is warm, but cooler than it was within the barracks. A matter of the mist traveling the breezes that slip through the streets of Kirigakure. The village itself is quiet, the blood mists knowing a certain peace under the cover of shadow. Most were in their beds, burrowed under blankets and dreams. It left the only sounds around to come from the occasional wind and the single file line. The sensitive would hear the breathing of their fellow Aspirants, growing quicker with effort and then slower as they finished warming up and grew accustomed to the exertion. The creak of leather when their bindings tugged as they experimented to find the proper pace. The scent of light sweat from warming bodies rose, not potent but there for the scent trackers. The ground beneath the feet was unyielding, some Aspirants' footsteps easy to hear, a meeting of shoe and stone.
After a while, scents other than fresh air arose. Grasses. Flowers. The ground beneath the feet grew abruptly softer, more yielding — more natural. The distant sound of tinkling water reached the ears of the genin, the wind occasionally seeing fit to grace them with a hint of its scent.
And then it abruptly reverted to the hard stone, the scents of verdant life being left behind. Breathing for some began to grow more ragged, the scent of sweat weighing heavier and the heat of one's compatriots becoming noticeable. The path they traveled began to break, stone growing increasingly cracked and ragged. Someone slipped on loose stone but quickly corrected themselves, returning to the jog. Eventually, stone fell away to dirt and grass.
Kiji stayed aware of her surroundings, opening her mind and senses, though not to her greatest extent. It allowed her to monitor everyone around her, their chakra levels their pace, even their breathing. So when the prissy Erika had trouble adjusting, Kiji made certain to prod her in the back with her fingers, egging the other Shimizu along faster. Kiji was feeling for her closely because she did not want to push the idiot girl past her actual physical limits, but this was just a blind march… not a fight for their lives. So she wouldn't actually push her too hard.
She opened her mind to sense Naoya behind her, his spiders in her shirt as they went. Kiyoshi was far behind and she winced, wishing he had been ahead of them all. Then again he might have ended up dragging them all behind him like tin cans too… They settled into a rhythm, hesitating a few times as the ground changed beneath their feet with no warning, but so far it wasn't terrible… However, Kiji was not stupid.Naive with some things, perhaps, but not ignorant. This wasn't just a random run to tone their bodies as they had done in the academy. Even with the blindfolds it wasn't a serious concern. So why bother the aspirants with such a thing? Kiji expected something to either go wrong or to find that they were being led into a trap of some kind. Another reason she kept her mind focused to everything around her…. If this was another dream-vision there wasn't a whole lot of hope in what she would discover as the entire thing was controlled and not subject to the realities of their abilities. If it was really a run, there was probably something else to it. Thus she remained alert.
But as she continued running, she set her jaw broodingly. She remembered the waking-dream with Meruin.. His words had been surprising in a way. She had expected him to tell her she was indeed worthless and a failure. But he had not. He had pointed out that her easy belief in such a low rank could impede her progress. A light blush crossed her cheeks as she remembered what he had told her. He recognized her fealty as more than simple ingrained loyalty to a master. He had seen it for Love. Though he had not specified what that love was directed towards. Kiji sighed softly in between breaths, having to prod Erika along again. The girl needed to learn endurance…..
Her emotions were another thing he had pointed to as possible flaws. But he had also chided her for thinking so little of herself. He either did not understand how she had felt when in the dream he had told her she should hide or he disregarded it. She had not tried to prove herself worthy simply because she had felt that if he truly thought she had no worth, she would act for the village. And then she would disappear.
Sweat trickled down her face, sweat and…. something else tracked down her face as she ran, hoping no one would figure it out. She had actually planned an escape from Kirigakure, entertaining the possibility that she was no longer wanted. Thoughts of Kiyoshi and Sei were her only regret during that moment when she had shattered the Mizukage's office window, enraged. She knew what the Okumo did to 'failed' experiments. Perhaps it made her arrogant to think herself worthy of life even if Meruin wished her dead. But she had been there. She had thought and felt it. Sei had told her and Kiyoshi had told her she was her own person she did not need to prove herself worth their attention because he already was. And yet all that faded away when Meruin was near.
She pulled herself back to reality as she had to prod Erika once again with her fingertips. It was tempting to push the girl even harder just because of her attitude… But she didn't like the idea of having to pick her up…
The march was almost to a jog to the light footed Okumo, very little of him moves or sways that was outside of a unspoken rhythm of shifting, steps against the ground. Unlike what might be darkness for several of the other candidates, the setting and the world around himself was visible though from a higher vantage point and from several points of view, his brood. Burrowed within his hair, using it as much as a web as brush to improve upon one, they exam in front of him, to his sides and behind him, giving him nearly a spherical perspective of many things, which expended even further by the scouts along the young Shimizu's shoulders.
'Yes yes.. there are several weaker.. No, not yet.. Anyways, we don't know their dosages yet.. No, no trials here.. an error will be costly.' With murmurs, those directly around him could hear jumbles hushed words or a one sided conversation of which the other candidates around him didn't reply to. 'Scatter.. small clusters.' Once their footing changed once again to natural soil, several groups of spiders would assemble at Naoya's ankles, departing once his foot lands briefly, quickly scattering away to build up his usual sensory net over the village.
Very little of any sweat was formed upon his brow, but his clothes continue to shift, some almost becoming thinner, as a result the silken layer around his neck began to fade away, in truth it was consumed. 'We have a few hours.. Yes.. if it was a race we would out pace them.. it isn't..' Whom ever spoke to the Okumo began to annoy him despite the run twisting his murmurs into low half growls. 'Yes.. seeking the week.. Quiet already..'
After the all too brief warm up period, Kiyoshi — like perhaps a few others — tried to make heads or tails of the path of their forced march into the unknown. When little to nothing actually comes out of his efforts, the giant tried to maintain a certain level of comfort in what little knowledge he did possess. It is hardly enough to keep his thoughts quiet, or halt continued efforts towards investigating his surroundings.
Bare, calloused feet crush anything and everything beneath the man's feet with varying degrees of success. Distances, time, and terrain — Now that the Kirryu was fully alert, none of those things would impede or bother him. The only real obstacle that concerned him were of those that blazed the path ahead. At any one moment something could change, creating disharmony. If he had been in the lead then… No, the middle…
Kiyoshi's head snaps up quick at the noise, and his measured pace is lost for a brief few moments. His lips part, close, then part again; but both within and without, the words — a reply was never formed. Had the terrain shifted to uneven stone, the Kirryu would've been mired by questions, and eventually transformed into a liability. He focused from then on the simple — the present, and no more.
"We've reached the halfway mark, kids," called Kino.
The tethered guidance for the shinobi in front grew slack for the first time. And so it was that Kino watched as they ran straight into a stone wall from his perch atop its surface. "That's what you get for droning," he told them, watching what would happen with the following genin. "You should always be aware in uncertain situations." Since most Aspirants' guidance depended hugely on what the person before them speaks through their tether, the sudden interruption could easily lead to a collapse in the train. The chuunin simply watched to see the results.
Eventually, though, order would be restored and he'd simply say, "Moving on," before continuing. "Up," he explained, in case any hadn't gotten the deal yet. The wall was a tall one, without question. It took a fair amount of time to reach the top — which presented some uneasy footing for those who didn't know precisely where it lay, and a long way up meant a long way down. But each made the long trip down regardless, scaling down the other side.
The ground underfoot was grassy, sloping downward. The winds were stronger and more chill. After a small while, the scent of blood tinged the air. It soon broadened into a general stink, featuring unwashed flesh and unmoved waste. The smell grew stronger… and then weaker… and eventually, it faded into the background, replaced with the salty edge of the ocean.
There was a sound of rustling bushes. And then the Aspirants were forced through them, their feet abruptly treading against stone, the breathing of those who'd grown more ragged closer to the ear. The air turned more stale, a true chill settling around the troupe. Both near and distant at the same time, the occasional screeching of a bat sounded in communication, the noise sometimes one of alarm. But they soon recede as the ground begins sloping downwards.
For many, travel turns into a series of turns and a counting of dry breaths, the world now truly silent but for any noise the shinobi made. It continued this way, time indiscernible, until Kino called a command, his voice echoing.
Kiji had little warning as the idiot ahead of her slammed head first into the wall. But she was able to bring up her arms, the blood wrapped there sprung out to defend against the fall, only to feel the wall there. Kiji shook her head and reached down to pick up Erika, echoing the order to go up just in case she'd missed it.
Up the wall, and down, one of the half worn genin behind her slipped and Kiji had to add more power to her feet to keep them from all falling. But eventually they reached the ground. A they continued, Kiji began to be annoyed… only for her to pause, just a half step, as she could sense a group of shinobi level chakras join the group. She lowered her head, mentally preparing for a strike or opposition.. But nothing happened. They stayed there along side but did nothing. A bit further more signatures joined the other side of the group… In total Kiji could count ten who joined them. It was slightly distracting and she stumbled once, though did not fall thanks to her blood kicking up a pace. What was going on? She was very uncomfortable being flanked like they were, but she remained silent. The only indication she as paying attention was a turn to her head that suggested 'listening'.
Finally when the Halt was called Kiji felt the tug of the harness as the one behind her dropped to their knees and Erika ahead of her bent over, panting. Kiji schooled her lungs, increasing the capacity of her blood to carry oxygen and thus allowing for her breaths to count more, thus looked close to unphased, though she did have a sheen of sweat on her brow and salt on her cheeks. She had her head directed straight forward, at the man waiting for them and despite the blindfold definitely being on right, she seemed to be looking straight at Meruin….
Kiji brought up her branded fist and pressed it to her heart, silently saluting as the line around her broke down a bit. She waited for Meruin's next order or for the new shinobi to attack.. Something was going on here… She waited for it to break.
'Yes.. yes.. I see..' is faintly whispered, causing the young Okumo's clothing to shift once again, but his head lowers while they mark, allowing him to control his breathing more. A sensor would be able to feel chakra beginning to swell within him but also that it was quickly shifting, extending to his limbs somewhat evenly. 'Much better.. yes yes.. Only slept with eight this time?' Another low grumble escapes Naoya but with that he silences himself.
Curling his lips inwards, the teen runs his tongue along its top before letting it slither back into his mouth. "Hmm?" was sounded even though he could see what was going on. Once the marching stopped, down the Okumo's legs rained spiders in small clusters, quickly moving to crawl onto the other Aspirants, largely focusing to staying at the waist to keep out of easy notice, but some managed to work their way towards to back of the shoulders as a perch.
It wouldn't be too long before he could feel his harness tug suddenly downwards, causing him to take a few steps forward before he was forces down to his knees as well. Shifting his stance lower, he nods his head to the side twice before becoming still. The motion causes several spiders to hurry off and skuttle to the side, preparing for something as his hands shift behind himself but low as if they were bound already.
Instead of relaxing like the others, Kiyoshi grew more tense. If there was going to be some type of dramatic change to their marching, the halfway and end marking held the greatest promise of change. The mindset is quickly and quietly discarded. No distractions. No mis—the sound of a number of bodies running into something hard and sometimes softer is enough of a warning to get the Kirryu to plant his feet more firmly after a few more steps. Even then, the disharmony caused by the mistake of others threatens to drag him down along with the others.
Somehow he manages to stay standing firm and act as an anchor for those closest to the end of the train, if only just barely. Idle fingers twitch at the giant's side. The compulsion to aid is strong within him, but… he restrained it. Many Kirigakure shinobi carried a great deal of pride. The Moto would not be the source of tarnishing it further by offering belatedly and undesired assistance; especially if it involved manhandling the closest aspirants.
When it came to traversing the stone wall, blackened and hardened toes and fingers create hand holds whenever necessary to keep up with those ahead of him. His toes retain their transformed state well after the fact. Though the price meant decreased sensitivity, Kino's words were taken to heart through other means. Despite his position in the train Kiyoshi is perhaps one of the early ones to detect the disgusting hint things he did not even wish to begin putting a face to. Nevertheless, they did provoke an image that left the Kirryu wondering again as to where they were being led. If he honestly did not know better…
Talons clicking against cold hard stone joins the sound of ragged breathing. The noise might agitate some, perhaps even most, but they drummed out a pattern that helped keep the Kirryu focused. Then, there were the bats. Regardless of whether or not any actually swooped or were forced low enough to bother the aspirants, Kiyoshi could sense there presence far too well /not/ to feel as if they were close. A murmured curse slips past his lips. His focus then shifts to the others, counting and measuring the conditions of breathes. Then, it turned back to his surroundings fully. He couldn't keep track of the amount of turns were made. Heck, the Kirryu had trouble not slamming into any obstacles that may have been the point of all the twists. So, that small, crude mental map is discarded quickly.
When at last the order came to halt, Kiyoshi gladly drew to a stop just so that he wasn't being dragged around anymore. The cold bothered him a little, but it hardly sapped his strength as much as the trip did, and even that much was negligible
. "Fair tidings, Aspirants."
The sound of the Mizukage's voice slides through the air from the darkness. Strong and smooth and carrying into a slight echo, it presented itself to the Aspirants as it has time and again throughout their times with these examinations. "I welcome you to your next trial. You may remove your blindfolds too examine it."
Awareness of the Mizukage's presence brought each of the Aspirants to their feet and straightened, showing themselves with the self command they knew would be expected of them. Once they removed their blindfolds, they'd be greeted by the sight of Meruin as well as ten other shinobi who stood near the Aspirants.
Their surroundings seemed subterranean, a huge cavern reaching high above and a fair distance ahead, the only apparent exit being the tunnel behind them. The place was lit. Not by torch or lantern, but by the stone itself. Crystals embedded in the walls each let loose their own gentle glow, filling the place with mixed hues of greens and purples and blues. On the ground, in a line, are twenty large stones distantly spaced from eachother, about two feet high and wide. It is to these that Meruin soon gestures.
"These are your tests."
The Okumo's mist filled eyes, looked over the Aspirants as the other ten shinobi began relieving them of their harnesses. "You've had a fair march of no few miles," he said. "To end your journey, you must each take one of those stones from where they sit…" he gestures, then, off to the side. "To the other side of the cavern. And then your test is complete. Once this is done, you will return to your barracks to begin your day.
"When you are ready, you may choose one and begin."
Kiji held still, keeping the salute as Meruin began speaking. At the allowance of removing her blindfold Kiji pulled it off, the fabric slightly damp, she held it tightly in one had as she adjusted to the lighting. Her eyes were bright golden ringed in orange, a sign of her using her lowest stage of blood enrichment to compensate for the run and all that sensing she had done.
She looked around even as the harnesses were removed from them and she gave Erika a challenging look before looking pointedly at the walls and stones. Her eyes narrowed. But there was no feedback from either crystal or stone. Still, she expected a trick somehow… Meruin was never this straightforward. She sent him a calculating look then headed for one of the stones. She lifted her arms and the whips came undone.
More sprouted from her arms, wrapping around the stone and trying to slip under the stone as well, testing to see if this was just a stone or if she had to hew it from the cavern itself…..
Almost instantly after the voice of the Mizukage reaches his head, the young Okumo murmurs another order without much pause. 'Bite.. now.' There would be a pause after which before a fleeting snarl flashes across his lips but nothing was seen to its cause or the reason why it soon after disappears. He would stay still until the following permission was given, but it wasn't in much of a hurry to remove his blindfold.
Glancing to the side with his dark golden eyes, Naoya watches the stones for a moment, arching a blow slightly, but then turns his gaze back to the Mizukage again, his stance reaffirming, though it would be hard to tell if he was planning to flee or stand at attention. '..Neither do I.' It wouldn't move until he was given permission to and without question he would move to the stone but then he would pause, kneeling down in front of it. Raising his silken gloved right hand, the young Okumo would gently stroke the surface of the crystal before lowering his hand, lowering a kunai form his arm into grasping range. Using the blade he would tap the stone, testing to chip it or at least scratch it.
While he began to test the stone, the brood around him and the other aspirants would shift their positions, studying the others and how they fared with the ones, and their reactions. 'Measure the distance.. check the pathway.. line the safe trail with silk.. hurry yes..'
'More smoke and mirrors.'
A rogue, foolish thought, but the first to come to mind upon hearing the Mizukage's voice. Still, outwardly he behaved not unlike the rest, straightening his posture and holding his chin up proudly. A salute is given as well, though by all appearances it was a hindsight measure instead of reflexive show of respect. He silently hoped noone noticed…
As soon as Meruin offered the aspirants a chance to remove the blindfolds, Kiyoshi quickly undoes the bind, but kept one eye closed and the other half-lidded preemptively. During the first few moments that followed, Kiyoshi examined his surroundings piece by piece, ignoring any and everything that did not tie into the immediate source of his focus. The sound of harnesses inevitably draw his attention, but it is Meruin that holds it for more than a brief moment. Dark eyes are open wide in surprise, then quickly narrow in suspicion. Whereas others took to examining the stones directly, their surroundings again, or each other, Kiyoshi kept his gaze upon Meruin…
*Flashback no Jutsu*
Meruin's gaze remains direct. "On the other hand, you have a habit of acting before thinking, too hasty. That is, your first instinct is not always the wisest course of action."
He had stayed true to those words at least up to this point, but could he truly be certain? A rumbling reaches his throat, but does not quite leave his mouth. Tight lips and gritted teeth sought and succeeded in suppressing the growl that yearned to come out. Hopefully before anyone noted, Kiyoshi focused on the stones themselves before proceeding to the furthest one.
A complicated creature.
Hesitate. The spirit wanes.
Act. The spirit rages.
Ultimately, Kiyoshi did not stop until he reached his destination, and without a moment's hesitation, he plopped down on his his chosen rock and waited. Right or wrong, the giant meant to see to it that everyone managed to carry their burdens to the end of the cavern before dealing with his own; assuming nothing else goes wrong. And if anyone gave him lip, well, short of a proctor or Meruin interfering, the Moto would continue to assist those that struggled until they accepted his aid or decided to do something more physical about it.
As Aspirants began heading towards their stones, each of them sure of some trick, Meruin only inclined his head to them and watched.
Most were very cautious in their prodding, similar to how Okumo Naoya was. Some even preferred to simply sit back a moment, allowing the others to take the first steps and watch their results before making their own moves. When he tested the stone with the blade, the weapon never even bounced off of it. There was no mark in its surface, neither chip nor scratch. What there may've been was the slightest hint of a tingle from the seal of judgement. Mayhaps.
When Kiji's blood whips touched her stone, however, it was as if the thing had suddenly come alive. Bright in her chakra senses, a scrollwork of seals push their way to the surface of the stone as her Seal of Judgement glows bright. In that same moment, her blood whips crumble apart, turning into a blood rain, the chakra within them depleted. Worse than that, chunks from the ground around the stone slammed into it, melding with the sealed rock, making it bigger and leaving it in a small hole that she'll now have to move it out of. Afterwards, the seals receded and the Seal of Judgement darkened, all once more empty to the sensor's chakra perception.
Perhaps Kiyoshi's decision to refrain was a wise one.
Kiji blinked as the stone seemed to light up to her, the chakra showing her seals and layers of them at that. The blood lost it's chakra and pulled some from her main body as well. The Shimizu sank against the stone, her face turning pale for a moment as the energy left her. The next sound she heard was Erika laughing at her just to Kiji's right.
Kiji took a slow breath, her eyes closed for a moment as she tried to control herself. But as her hands left the stone again, she opened her eyes.. and they were a dark crimson. Which in turn made Erika pale visibly.
She finally turned away from the other Shimizu before she stepped back and reformed her whip on her left arm. Smaller, less chakra, but her eyes were watching the seals and how they were configured. She did not have a mastery of seals.. but she could tell where the layers intersected. She took another deep breath and then… stepped back. Her only option, because of her small size and dependence on ninjutsu, was to come at this another way…
Kiji simply spoke up to the two nearest her. "Back up or get hurt." She was forming a large whip, not braiding them, but weaving them together into a large whip. Then she opened the end, pouring blood into that area and putting a spike on the end large enough to go through the block completely….. If she couldn't lift the whole stone, she would try to break it into small pieces. She hoped to shatter the array as well, but it was mostly a guess.
She did, however notice the brand reacting. Interesting…. She glanced back at Meruin, a curious look on her face, not enraged as he usually was, though Erika had been the reason she'd slid into this state, she was calculating now, a cold look in her eyes…..
Releasing the blade that he held, a thin silken cord was attached to the kunai which draw it back into his sleeve. 'Hmm.. It responds to threats.. it is it chakra?' The brood would not ignore the giant among them simply using it as a seat netting almost no reaction at all. Leaning back towards the stone he places a hand on top of it before thickening webbing would flow from his arm downwards to wrap around the stone, to layer it in a moderate coating that was easy to access at least.
Withdrawing his hand away, Naoya uses his left hand to grasp at the stone as a leverage point while his feet shift into a bracing pattern. 'Lets test.. the weight.. and force.' using pressure rather than a full on strike, the young Okumo attempts to not roll it down the cavern but to slowly roll it onto its side rather than so neatly resting in its divot. 'Yes.. everyone.' As ordered, several would be watching the Shimizu who, while she gained results might not be the desired ones.
Kiyoshi made a point of getting truly comfortable after seeing the number of cautious ones holding back. It disappointed him to a degree at first, but remembering that not all Kirigakurians had the same 'luxury' as he did gave him enough pause to reconsider his position. He regarded all from over steepled fingers, noting what reactions his eyes and ears had the time to pick up on. Naoya's determination to fully examine the rock elicits a secret grin from the Kirryu. The Okumo meant to do anything and everything it seemed to examine the stone before resort to 'desperation' and simply trying to carry it using his own strength. No, real desperation would entail requesting or accepting aid from another.
Although willing to a degree to offer said assistance, Naoya, Kiji, and… wait, where was Yuriko? Kiyoshi tenses up, then narrowed his eyes as he scanned the other aspirants. She couldn't have… no, Yuriko had a certain level pride as well, so dropping out wasn't a possibility. Kiyoshi turned away, hoping more than truly believing his own thoughts on the matter. A brief inquisitive glance is thrown at Meruin. It was doubtful the man would understand, let alone answer his inquiry at the moment. And besides, he needed to remain watchful and prepared to help more than just the two he knew better than most. The longer things took however, meant the more likely he was going to have to step up and do something impulsive…
Fuller experimentation began across the line.
Over and over, there were flares of light as the stones used the energy pushed on them to grow larger, even if the efforts of some managed to move them a small distance down the cavern, true whether there was any obvious chakra usage or not.
As Kiji's testing tendril of blood touched the stone, it had the same effect as before, bringing about a glow in the stone and her seal as patterns crept towards the rock's surface. It pulled further earth from the ground, growing a little larger.
That was nothing compared to the magnitude of growth accompanying her attempt to shatter the thing. The giant blood whip's contact with the stone was met with a glaring brilliance and huge chunks of earth flew rapidly from the ground, slamming into her stone until she was left with a craggy hill standing about seven feet tall in a small crater.
As Naoya's silk touched his stone, it gave the by now expected flash of light, a sealwork pattern rising to its surface as the chakra drained from the silk. The webbing remained intact but noticeably less resilient and currently unable to be moved by any means less than physical. From around it lifted chunks of earth to meld with it — the rate at which they came only increased as he pushed at it. It lifted under his urging, but more stone lifted from the earth, filling up the gap he'd made. It was a little closer, but it was also a little bigger along with the hole it was in.
Through this all, Meruin simply watched, his gaze meeting those that sought him out. But there were no answers from him but the fact that he was there. In this time, in this capacity, he was an impartial arbiter. He would give no opportunity that was not granted to all.
Kiji sighed softly at the inevitable end to her tests. Folding her arms and leaning her back against the stone, she slid down to sit on the ground beside it. To Erika it looked like she was giving up and pouting. But Kiyoshi and Naoya would realize easily that her expression was one of consideration. Erika, however, couldn't let that one go and she just smirked at Kiji before moving to try and puzzle out her own stone, not making Kiji's 'mistakes'.
Then Kiji shifted to her knees, turning to peer around the entire cavern…. She stood up and pulled her whips about her once again but she did not head for the stone again. instead she moved to the cavern walls and started going at it, hardening her blood into a pick axe shape and chiseling away a triangular piece of stone from the wall before repeating the process with the crystals. It took a bit of time and work but she finally managed it Then she took both wedges and went back to the front of the stone. She set the pointed end of both against the stone and formed a 'hammer' with her blood. So, striking the non-reactive wedge with her chakra-enriched 'hammer' should not activate the seals, but possibly chisel away some of the stone. She tested the crystal and the stone to see which had the better result….
Erika meanwhile, was covering for her own lack by snickering at Kiji's efforts. Finally Kiji turned a dark look on the girl. "When this is over, we'll have business to 'discuss'. Until then? Shut the peak up." Erika blinked a few times and looked at Meruin like 'are you gonna let her talk to ME like that?' kind of expression….
Taking a few steps away, the young Okumo simply look at his stone for a few moments, studying it questioningly. A growl begins to rumble in the back of his throat though at the same time, his dark golden eyes begin to dim rapidly. Raising his right arm, he flicks at something unseen trying to move over his eyes but what it was causes a shift within him, calming him at the same time. 'Yes.. I am.. No.. Yes, drank it.. you saw.. Hmm..'
Looking down at his hand, Naoya would look at the hands and webbing that touched the stone directly, soon taking a step closer to it before his hands move to his chest, soon unbinding the wash around his waist and pulling the coat off.. then his shirt, exposing a largely web coated body to the rest of the candidates.. then came his pants after his boots were abandoned, though his under shorts were left alone. 'We'll see.. you know the costs..'
Kneeling down at his stone, Naoya gently strokes it with his left hand before wrapping his over shirt around it and using his sleeves to bind it, then came his folded undershirt, folded nearly at the back, attached with some silk, but would be pressed between his over coat and his pants. 'Yes.. Secured.' Looking down at his hand at the unresponsive silk, the young Okumo would bite into it and rip it away, consuming it before forcing new silk to bind in it's place. Soon after, he uses his arm to extend out a length of silk to run on top of his clothing until a cord of chakra enhances silk binds on top of his cloths before giving it a testing tug. 'We'll see.. keep an eye on it now..
Things were starting to get almost, kind of, really sad. It seemed the more people struggled alone, the worst their burdens became. Certain experiments had… a degree of success, but most of that didn't seem all that worthwhile. Even if by some miracle one of the experiments actually worked, the aspirants would probably be at it for hours by the time they finished.
"If they finish… That march and those injuries.. it'd take a lot out of a person." Kiyoshi murmured, eyes shifting from one Aspirant to the next. Finally, his eyes fixed on Kiji, the worst of the lot. The compulsion to help her first above all gnaws at him with an increasing ferocity the longer he watched her. Fortunately, before the moss-haired giant can give into the compulsion, seeing Kiji turn on Erika with such a great deal of fury snapped him right out of the hypnotic feeling.
A growl emanates from the man, potentially disturbing the one closest to him. "… You." Dark, annoyed eyes turn upon the nearest individual. "Wants some help? Or do you wanna be here all day?" Kiyoshi pointedly ask.
Though phrased like a question, his tone of voice conveyed a statement. Even so, Kiyoshi remained silent and focused intently on the nearby one as if awaiting an answer. After receiving one, verbal or otherwise, Kiyoshi stands up and proceeds closer. Whether or not his intent is to help, or otherwise depended largely upon the reaction of the individual…
Meruin's arms crossed as he watched the Aspirants up the ante with their experimentation, giving Erika nothing more than a glance and a headshake in the negative. He saw as Kiji set about crafting her own tools designed to tear the stone apart, soon utilizing them as chisels to her blood hammer. As the weapon slammed into the stone, it gave the familiar flash of light in revelation of the sealwork coming from its core. The small mountain before Kiji fell over at the impact but began separating and reforming before it ever hit the ground, integrating new pieces of its surroundings. It stood closer to the end, but bigger. The Seal of Judgement still flashed, and the drain of her power still hit her, but her weapon was still intact, none of the energy drained directly from it.
Naoya would find his much smaller boulder to be largely nonreactive as he stroked it. Still and quiet as he wrapped and tied his clothing around it. Dark and deceptively mundane as he ran his silk over his clothing. It was not until he gave his testing tug that his seal of judgement buzzed, glowing slightly, and a few small stones rose to meld with his trial.
It was about this time that Aspirants began caving to frustrations and the pressure to perform, deciding to simply forego extra thought and simply do what they could. One genin sped through handseals before releasing a high powered jet of water from their mouth. Their stone continually fell and rebuilt further and further down the cavern, growing swiftly in size all the while. An earth ninjutsuist moved through handseals of their own, apparently settling on a plan of their own.
A large genin was moving themselves into a position that said that they were ready to tackle their own obstacle and simply push it to the other end of the cavern if need be. They paused, though, at Kiyoshi's growl.
"We got up too early to be here all day," growled Kaguya Genma after a moment.
He beckoned Kiyoshi over with a movement of the head, saying, "I'm just gonna push this thing. Maybe with the both of us pushing, we can move it faster than it can grow." He paused only long enough to say, "Thanks for the help," before launching himself at his trial stone. Bone spears shot from his back, a dozen of them pushing from him at any time, slamming into the ground to propel him forward with speed and power. He shoulder-slammed the stone with real impact, stone and seal flaring, gritting his teeth as the seal of judgement steals his energy in penance for the assault.
Kiji frowned as the seals had a temper tantrum even though she wasn't actually touching the 'enchanted' stone with her blood. And that fact seemed to face her off. There was a long moment when it looked like she might explode… But Kiyoshi's growl got her attention. She watched Kaguya Genma accept help from Kiyoshi and she stood up, dropping her 'tools' for the time being…. She walked over to Genma and Kiyoshi, staring at them and what possible progress they made.. She brought her hand to her chin as she watched them prepare to do this the hard way…. She hmmmed a moment before turning.
Then she turned to ponder the other candidates as they fought against their boulders…
'Yes.. partial success. ..Yes, that could.' Moving the silken cords to his mouth, the young Okumo severs them with his teeth. A smirk appears on his lips as he begins to make his way towards the mouth of the cavern, making his way out slowly, his hands kept empty and exposed though silk wraps him like a full body cast. It wouldn't be until he is a good half a dozen meters away does he stop and turn around.
"Three of you that want to pass, come with me, especially you earth shaper. I'll need your force. I can past this trial already, I don't want to be here until lunch. Once I pass, I'll expect you to keep working with everyone else.. we're chained together." Despite saying they needed to work together, and despite saying he needed their help, Naoya begins to walk again but not wandering around aimlessly, but he studies the walls of the cave for a moment.
"Water shaper.. can you pressurize water, use it to cut stone?" Turning towards the other aspirants, the young Okumo points to a wall, motioning with his finger as well. "Cut a section out, we'll use it for leverage. I'll show you all what I mean, explaining will start arguments. I just need something hard, strong and dead." Looking around towards the aspirants, his eyes flick towards the Mizukage for a fleeting moment before turning away, "Any questions or would you rather hurry so we can get something to eat then go back to sleep?"
A sardonic grin adorned the Moto's visage upon hearing the Kaguya's response. Kiyoshi moved afterwards with greater enthusiasm and haste than what was originally intended, and settled into place at a loose angle to the stone to provide the Kaguya plenty of room to push. Unlike his compatriot, he did not rely on fancy tricks or untapped power to try and move the stone. When the moment was right, the Kirryu would push with all his natural physical power. To rely on anything more ran the risk of his stamina being drained to the point that assisting others would not just be difficult, but downright impossible. Observation taught him that much.
In the same instance the Kaguya slammed into the stone, Kiyoshi pushed with all his might. If they were successful, even if only remotely, his spirit would soar. But if not then…
It would work. Again, Kiyoshi shunted aside his doubts and concerns, and threw himself into a single-minded goal. And when they succeeded, he would make no demands of the Kaguya, but instead ask for his assistance with the others.
Kiji's presence was long since noted. As much as he wanted to talk to her, to suggest anything, or simply request her aid as well, proving his theory had to come first. Only afterwards — with or without the Kaguya — Kiyoshi would approach and try to whisper in her ear. He could not have said no more than a few words, and yet whatever they were left a light dusting of pink on the man's cheeks.
"Can you do that… thing.. to.. to 'invigorate'.. the others?"
Naoya's call to action garnered some attention. Most were beating their heads against a wall with their tactics, most of them being the simple application of force. The water ninjutsuist continued releasing their jet of water until they were forced to stop and catch their breath, preparing more chakra. They looked over at Naoya as he called. The earth ninjutsuist seemed to just ignore him, in favor of the plan he was putting into effect. As he went through handseals, the earth on the other side of his trial stone lowered in the creation of a path heading towards his goal.
The suiton user made a nearly disgusted face but left his own trial, heading towards Naoya and saying "Yeah, I can —" until he was interrupted by the sound of Kiyoshi and Genma hitting their stone.
The light was bright and the effect was immediate. The piles of earth broke from the ground and rose to clump onto their small mountain as they drove it backwards, making it bigger and heavier. The Seals of Judgement glowed on their hands… but the seal never drained any of their strength. Genma noticed, having felt its straining every other time he'd touched the jutted thing.
"It's different," he said with zeal. "There's no drain!"
His burden was still great, and the feat was difficult but he was driven now. White spikes jutted from various joints, plates of bone beginning to pad his form as he forced more power from his body to match the greater weight. Their progress eventually slowed, the mountain of stone reaching stories high… but by then, they had reached the other side. A final heave sent it the last foot over the goal line and the trial stone stopped gathering stone. Indeed, the earth that was en route to it reversed direction. A piece broke off, flying back towards where it had come from, followed by another. Piece by piece, the trial stone tore itself apart to restore the path it was taken on until nearly nothing was left.
Nothing but a blue circular stone the size of a large bead, intricately designed. The stone to which the rest of the earth rushed when it was under pressure.
"Kaguya Genma has passed his test," declared Meruin over his crossed arms, voice resonating. "Take that stone in memory of the mountain you have moved in your trials. May it serve as reminder of your capabilities."
Kiji watched Kiyoshi and Genma succeed with their brute force and sent an accusatory stare at Meruin. She finally turned as first Kiyoshi whispered into her ear. She nodded a little. Though she wasn't sure she could create more chakra, she could boost them physically by reinforcing their blood and thus their muscles. Naoya's call got a finger lifted from her before she sent blood spikes toward Kiyoshi ad Genma to help boost their strength a little, the blood sinking into a vein unless contested. Then Naoya called for aid and basically came up with the same plan she had considered but had been judged useless. She simply cut the stone with her whips, chipping at the wall silently and coldly. Erika looked about to say something and Kiji just /looked/ at her. It was enough for the girl to turn away with a scowl.
Shifts his attention towards the side, watching the pair touch the stone directly before wasting a significant amount of energy, causing the stone to grow to a massive size by the second. 'Pfft.. fools. Wasting too much energy.' Turning his head towards the side and back to the wall, the young Okumo seems to ignore the shouts along with even seeming not to care the words that the Mizukage offered up. "Lets move.. I want to sleep again soon."
When the Shimizu's whips carve into the stone, he turns his head towards the side and dips his head lightly towards her. "Good.. Pool your energy.. both of you." Tensing his body, four limbs rip from the teen's sides as he grasps at the stone chunk that had been chipped away until it was large enough for him to ease from the resting point and roll over to in front of where his stone was. Pulling at his chest, one of his many hands pulls out a band of silk and attaches it to the top of the slab of stone before lowering down only to repeat this again and then on the sides, supporting it to stand upwards, lightly brushing against his own stone that was relatively small to some.
"What I need form you is simple.. don't pierce this slab.. Kiji-san, that hammer before that you used.. use it again at the center. I have it angled slightly forward so that it will knock the stone upwards, not into the ground." Turning to the water used he points to Kiji and then the stone itself. "Like her, I want you both to strike this with full force.. Don't let your water flow around it, don't break the slab.. It can't manipulate the earth at high speed. It can't eat chakra it doesn't directly touch.. even cloth is enough to stop the drain from another chakra source not a body."
Shifting his weight, the young Okumo, made sure to try and adjust the slab of stone so that it wouldn't easily allow the stone to over flow, though just in case, he wraps the face of the slab with his own silk, giving it some structure security against fractures from the ninjutsu-ists power.
Pride inevitably gave way to humility as their burden continued to grow, though not by draining the aspirants pushing it. Hidden muscle and veins become visible as the Kirryu truly gave it his all without relying on the "other." He did not, however, try shrugging off Kiji's assistance, but instead grinned as his strength seems to grow by what adrenaline dictated as leaps and bounds. It is Genma's words that prompted the Kirryu to open his eyes and note the glowing seal. He too felt his strength remain normal despite the seal's glow.
His plan worked! But… not without a price. By the end, the Kaguya's fatigue is clearer than ever, rendering whatever help the youth could provide limited at best. Nevertheless, he made his request known following a good firm pat on the shoulder and curt but no less purposeful word of congratulations. The Kirryu made a point in also ensuring the Kaguya would only have to assist him once, and no more. Alhough his motives were pure; Kiyoshi would be lying if ever asked had he any hope that the Kaguya's pride might prompt him to help out for as long as he was able to. Regardless, he gestured to the next unfortunate soul struggling to trying to go the path alone. A girl (should another besides Kiji and Erika be available) hopefully resourceful enough to have some sort of technique that might help move their trial stone, if not the physical strength. Unlike with the Kaguya, the Kirryu did not bother asking if they required assistance. In the time it took for the duo to reach their next target, Kiyoshi had observed enough to roughly gauge how best their abilities could work in tandem, and offered a plan. Said plan only entailed essentially rolling the boulder over to the finish line and no more.
It mattered not the personal cost to him. If he failed to retain enough strength to ensure his own success, then so be it. He meant to continue the cycle for as long as possible, ignoring and refusing any side deals or taunts that did not entail helping another for the sake of helping.
Meruin watched the play of personalities, ideas and motivations surrounding Naoya's temporary alliance, arms uncrossing. The suiton ninjutsuist lent his chakra towards cutting out the slab that would serve as the barrier between their efforts and the reforming stone after the words, "Fine. Your idea, your stone. But we're doing mine next." It wasn't too long before the slab was made and put into place, and he found his way before it beside Shimizu Kiji. He took in a breath, creating the chakra he needed. "Let's do this," he spoke before making handseals. Once he finished them, he spewed a simple torrent of water to slam into and push against the slab of stone in tandem with Kiji's hammer assault. He kept the pressure on, seeking to project it rather than just hit it.
Upon impact with the slab, the trial stone released a brilliance, seals rising to its surface as it was sent flying upwards and backwards, the Judgement seals of Kiji and the suiton user doing the same. Clumps of earth rose from beneath it as it traveled, drawn to it as though by gravitational pull. Its size swiftly built as it traveled until its weight brought it back towards the ground despite the insistence of the water. Eventually, the Kiri Aspirant let his stream of water ebb and watched as the trial mountain slammed into the ground with cavern shaking reverberations.
He pushed sweat-licked hair from his damp forehead, taking a few heavy breaths before saying. "We're almost there. Not across, but close." He turned his eyes on Kiji then. "You felt it too, right? Our seals lit up, but it didn't drain any of our energy this time." He was tired now, noticeably. His eyes turned from Naoya's trial stone to his own, still with some distance to go, brows drawing downwards.
Holding the small stone that was the source of all of his frustration, Kaguya Genma couldn't help but stare intently at it as he gasped in breaths. A small thing for such big consequences. He closed his fingers around it, saying only, "I'm good," to Kiyoshi. He followed the Jinchuuriki towards the next Aspirant in line, pausing only once Kiji's blood inserted itself into his body, reinvigorating him some. He looked towards the Shimizu for a moment, giving her a nod she would not see before making his way over to the female Kiri-shinobi and her 6 foot stone. It seemed she'd had little in her arsenal to use that she had thought would be effective.
"Until now," she spoke, flitting through handseals. The water the other suiton user had created moved under her command, wetting a path from the stone to the goal line in the hopes of easing its passage. She did not have water creation herself, but she could manipulate what was already present. Utilizing more, she nodded to Kiyoshi and Genma, flashing through handseals. She sent a jet of water towards it as the Jinchuuriki and the Kaguya charged into it, forcing what sprayed off to reenter the stream and keep the pressure up.
The seals of all 3 leapt ablaze as the trial stone did the same, gathering mass as it was pushed and rolled towards the other end of the cavern. The three shinobi would feel no draining from the Seal of Judgement. What they felt, instead, was a burst of invigoration, more energy coursing through them to aid them in their efforts. It allowed the trio to force the stone all the way to the other end so that even Genma, though still tired, felt able to continue afterwards.
He looked towards Kiyoshi, a slight grin on his face, expression asking, 'You felt that, right?' as the trial mountain tore itself apart as the first had to reveal the bead sized stone that had created it.
"Hozuki Rin has passed her test," declared Meruin once the mountain had been disassembled and the path it took had been repaired. "Take your stone in memory of the mountain you have moved in your trials. May it serve as a reminder of your capabilities."
Kiji listened to Naoya's words, following the Okumo's commands similar to the Suiton user, simply following the orders given to her by Naoya. She gathered her crimson tail, though she blunted the point making it into a kind of hammer-shield as he went along, pushing the stone forward with him silently. Her eyes were still crimson but she remained silent. Tired? sure. She turned to the suiton user and unless argued with, would pierce his arm with some of her blood to help him recover his energies faster then silently moved along to the next one. She would continue working and sharing her blood with others as things progressed, though if Erika's turn came up Kiji would give her a dark look before following through with Naoya's plan once more. Silent. Stoney expression. Fatigue. All showed on her face and yet she remained silent as she worked.
Rather than a smile at the stones moving, the reverberating halt of the stone as it collides with the ground sparks a snarl across his lips, soon causing his dull yellow eyes to fill with color again though as a dark golden tone. 'Tsk.. Yes, it worked.. Not well enough.. Yes yes, I know that. Other's.. No.. Remember it? ..Ya, that.' What was usually quiet murmurs were louder and almost snarled as the young Okumo makes his way deeper into the cavern to kneel down, inspecting the stone plate before lifting it to bring back towards the others.
Raising a hand to point at Kiji, the young Okumo shakes his head lightly several times. "Leave them.. You're more useful whole and not divided. Tend to them after you pass yourself." Shifting his hand, he moves over to point towards the suiton user that was with them and then their stone before moving to the Shimizu and pointing towards her stone. "We have enough work.. Unless they are going to help you soon after."
Naoya himself took a moment, moving slowly as he watches their progress after the initial burst of ninjutsu. "Both of you test for several moments at the least.. Still yourself. That was two thirds of one, we have two and a third left, pace yourselves." Setting the stone back in place, he looks over the suiton users's much larger stone compared to what his had been but none the less works on stabilizing the plate but at a sharper angle. "Once both of you become still, stand over here. Pushing it after this stone's moves away is pointless. Focus /just/ on this plate, short bursts, but strong ones."
'Will it be enough?'
The thought entered his mind barely a few seconds Kiyoshi turned to Genma, expressing a weak grin of his own. While the burst of invigoration from the seal seemed to grow the more examinees tackled a problem together, the exact limits were sketchy at best. The worry that crept up into his expression after turning his focus on the remaining aspirants fades almost quickly after hearing just a name. The Jinchuuriki whips his head around and regards Rin more closely with wonder filled eyes.
Her name was… He had not… He felt both considerably lucky and foolish at once. Before now, he had not given much thought to the first vision and its contents beyond how it affected him personally. Now, the Kirryu just had to wonder if they were shared to some degree. The cavern shaking fall of a small nearby mountain gives Kiyoshi a start, followed by a cause to look towards the source. Naoya, Kiji, and the other were making progress, or seemed to at least. But just how much faster would things go if two teams were working together? Would the Okumo be willing to actually help beyond his and his current allies immediate knees?
The answer is an obvious one. Despite being inclined to believe it, the pessimist's opinion did not outweigh that of the bull headed optimist.
"Rin-san.. Genma-san.. If you two think your still up for it, we're helping out Naoya-san and the others next." He says with all due seriousness and conviction. Should they abstain or choose some other option, he would not pressure them further. Instead, the Kirryu would linger only long enough to hear them out before either ultimately approaching Naoya and the others with his offer, or….
The third member of Naoya's team flashes Kiji a surprised, dangerous look as she stabs him with her blood, the pain in his expression fading as her healing energies imbued him, rejuvenating him some. He let out a silent breath, releasing some of the tension he'd gained and simply nodded to Kiji with a curt, "Thanks." He turned his eyes on Naoya then, watching the Okumo as he spoke and moved towards the next trial stone. The suiton user's expression grew less dark when it became clear that his stone would be the next one to be moved, a decision clearly made. He took in a breath and walked towards his own trial.
"I think I've got one more in me," said Genma, sweat a green and purple sheen across his body from the crystal light.
"I'll help," answered Rin. "And thank you guys."
With the group agreed on helping Naoya's team, Rin and Genma approached them alongside Kiyoshi to give their offer of aid. The Suiton user spoke up quickly. "If you guys want to help, you're in," he said. "What you're doing seems to be working." He looks to Naoya, then, saying, "I don't have 2 and a third's stones left in me, Okumo. If you want to pass this test, you should let them help you. And maybe you should consider giving a push of your own."
He readied himself before his stone. "C'mon."
Not once looking towards the Moto, the Hozuki or even the Kaguya the young Okumo extends two fingers and motions stone already cast far down into the cavern and says, "That one.. The stones already driven down by these two should be looked over though.. Hozuki-san, assist these two with the force. Mimic their force, mimic the pattern. I'll assist in pushing the stone with the others.." Lowering one of his many hands, he strokes the stone's face slowly, signaling it before moving back to the side after it is aimed properly.
Naoya didn't look through the brood then the suiton-user spoke up, causing his dark golden eyes to lighten some, becoming brighter yet it only seemed to sour his mood even further than before. "If you don't have it in you, you will seek it out and drag it out.. You made an agreement and in exchange your stone follows shortly after mine." Shifting one of his arms behind himself, he points towards Kiji, but then another hand points towards her stone. "After that one passes, then you can rest for good.. Anything less is betrayal, understand?"
A fleeting glare fills his eyes before the close, soon forcing Naoya to close his eyes and shake his head lightly. Blinking a few times, when they reopened, they were a dark golden tone once again, though the snarl didn't fully fade yet. "All three of you, that's enough, lets get this over with."
Kiyoshi revealed an honest and grateful smile to the two, his team for all intents and purposes. And though tempted to try and convince the Kaguya to rest at least, the chances were high that his fellow aspirant wouldn't be getting up again for awhile if he did so. There was also the matter of duty and.. other things getting int he way too, so the idea is quickly tossed aside. After offering his proposal to Naoya, Kiyoshi is mildly taken aback for a moment, to say the least. His feelings on the matter are quietly shut away for analysis later while his attention drifted to the next obstacle.
At some point along the way Kiyoshi catches sight of Kiji and freezes up for a moment. Without even bothering to check, he sensed the woman had given much of herself to help the others. Any more and — The Jinchuuriki didn't dare hazard to guess. Again, he is forced to ward off temptations. Like Kiji, his movements gradually turned towards the more mechanical in approach.
He waited grudgingly for whatever signal Naoya intended to use before acting, slowly catching his breath finally.
"Ojiro Manu has passed his test," reverberated Meruin's voice.
Yet another trial stone had been pushed to the other side of the cavern, already having deconstructed to leave nothing to obstruct the view of the body on the ground. It was the earth ninjutsuist who'd been so intent on accomplishing the feat by himself, creating a downhill path for his stone and using his ninjutsu to push it along even as it grew in size and weight. He was alive but the effort fully exhausted him, leaving him unconscious. One of the ten spectating shinobi started over to retrieve him and his stone.
"I don't like your tone, Okumo," challenged Rin.
"You're treading in dangerous waters, Freak," growled the suiton ninjutsuist.
"Hold up," interrupted Genma. "Numbers are the only thing we've got going for us right now. There's no way I'm going to be twiddling my thumbs, letting these guys wear themselves out. I'm pushing now. Just don't hit me with your jutsu." He looked at the idle Kiyoshi with a shake of his head before readying his stance before the stone. "If you're smart, you'll help. I've already passed."
"Let's just do this," growled the suiton ninjutsuist as he began moving through handseals. Hozuki Rin let out an annoyed breath through her nose but followed suite, running through handseals of her own, mumbling something about hating debts. Soon enough, they each voiced that they were ready before letting their own attacks attacks fly, striking the slab and pushing it forward to the flash of trial stone and Judgement Seal, gaining a bigger boost of energy for each seal lit.
Kiji's eyes watched as Suiton-boy and Rin challenged Naoya and his 'tone'. Her eyes showed the beginning of crimson once again settling into a dangerous expression. Luckily enough Genma managed to convince them to shut up and work. Kiji turned back to the stone and they began again. Meanwhile off to the side, Shimizu Erika had stopped trying to manipulate her stone and just watched the others working, clearly waiting for them to get to /her/ stone. Kiji rolled her eyes as they made their progress across the line with this stone. She bent over once it was done, hands on her knees, panting. She had endurance, sure, but this wasn't just running or an obstacle course. She was looking slightly pale and covered in sweat but she simply turned and distributed blood to those around her, invigorating them and moving back to the other side of the cavern to lean against the wall and wait for them to come back for the next stone.. Was it hers now? She looked around, curiously, but her eyes had shifted again and a scent of adrenaline might be caught by the Moto. Her eyes were not red, not black but a red-grey in all parts of her eyes. Like her Blood Rage had faded in the sun….
"Don't care if you hate it.. matters very little." Shifting his eyes towards the suiton-user, the Okumo's eyes begin to brighten again but a almost forced grin begins to appear on his lips though before he can speak the Kaguya interjects and only then releases a constricted breath before turning to him. "I'm asking you.. You and Moto to rest for a moment. You are worse than useless as aid if you over work yourself and rip something.. If you hurt yourself that means we have to fix you.. taking more time. Leaving you weaker than if you had rested as well.." Gesturing a hand over towards the three ninjutsu-ists he then says, "Once they finish with the two stones, they will rest.. then we will work. We have a plan and you made yourself a key to it.. We don't waste assets.."
Naoya doesn't turn away from the pair and nods towards Kiyoshi saying, "Once we move these three.. the Ninjutsuists will have recovered to move his stone a fair distance. We all pass.. /all/.. with our plan." With the trio working together suddenly rather than continued conflict, a sigh escapes the young Okumo, watching it sail further than before but then crashing like the last. Nodding his head lightly, he would march into the hall once again before making his way over to fix the slab in front of Kiji's stone, though it rests heavily against the base at first.
Letting the slab go, the young Okumo suddenly hops into the air to kick at the stone twice. The strikes weren't towards the end of the hall but towards the Mizukage and the examiners. It was easy to see the blow wouldn't kick it free, but would likely cause the angle to brace differently. "There.. How are you three now? Do you need a moment to rest or want to get this last one down before you rest? Either or.. you three will be resting soon.. but not done."
"Tsumari Koro has passed his test," declared Meruin.
The suiton ninjutsuist, Tsumari Koro, holds his trial stone within his hand, examining the small, detailed thing with a grin.
When Kiyoshi stepped up to the plate, he had drawn a nod from Rin and a grin from Genma. Koro, Rin, Kiji, Genma and Kiyoshi managed to use their combined forces to push the young man's growing mountain across the rest of the way into success. The light of their Seals of Judgement had flared brightly, sending rejuvenating energies directly into their bodies and chakra systems, lending power to muscle and jutsu. The effect had been enough that Rin and Koro seemed only slightly winded, Genma a little pale but still standing.
At Naoya's queries and declarations, Koro looked from his stone to the Okumo. "Still talking, huh? I've got what I need and you've got what you're going to get out of me." He turned away from the boy, pocketing his stone and heading off to the side to wait.
Rin looked at Koro with a shake of the head before looking to the Okumo herself. "I don't think you understand, Naoya. My help doesn't have anything to do with you. I'm only helping because of Kiyoshi. I'll help with Kiji's stone, and I'll help with Kiyoshi's, but when it's your turn, you're on your own."
She looked towards Kiyoshi then as Genma turned to him, the Kaguya speaking. "Let's do yours while I still have the energy," he said. "It's past time."
Kiji was leaning against the wall again when Kiyoshi popped up at her side. She could see the concern in his eyes and felt a pang of guilt in her gut. She reached over and nudged his shoulder (read as: arm) with her own. She could see the concern in his eyes but there was a moment where she smiled up at him, one base of an attempt at changing the subject. It was abrupt and didn't work well but she tried to smile at Kiyoshi reassuringly. She frowned however when the people kind of turned on Naoya. Kiji stood up and scowled at they. "You know if it weren't for Naoya-san not a single one of you would have had your stones moved. The least we can do is help /him/ in return. Or does Kirigakure have no honor in it's genin?" She turned and moved to start up the process one more time.
Several emotions wash and bubble to the Okumo's face, building up almost focus onto anger before.. nothingness. With his eyes brightening, his face lacked emotion and most any expression at this point, only offering Koro a single word, "Noted." Turning to Rin, a light half smile appears on his lips for a moment only to say, "Understood" but then just as quickly, it too disappeared.
Little time linger towards the others and simply uses a hand to pat the slate resting in front Kiji's own stone. "Work is not done yet.. The plate is set, yet the stone isn't moved.. Lets proceed." Despite his controlled tone, and his muted, his body was far from relaxed, even his position while holding the stone was rigid and stiff.
No matter how much he wanted to accept her reassurance, he could not simply ignore her condition. The smallest hint of a smile tainted his visage in response to the one she showed him. Then reality kicked in, popping the small bubble that made up the duo's world. All at once, the mind reminded him of what his ears picked up prior to the shattering of the bubble. Before he can wheel around to try.. to salvage the situation perhaps, Kiji acts during the moment of hesitation on his part.
Kiyoshi bowed his head, growling guttural with the motion, then rose up and set his sights on the other two. Well, four, counting his observation fo Naoya's reaction to everyone else. Once more things were falling apart, and if not for Naoya's decision to aid Kiji first, Kiyoshi may have very well truly considered the option of refusing to assist Naoya. "… No, Genma-san… While I understand you and Rin-san may feel indebted to me." Kiyoshi both cringed and shuddered at the admission. "I… would have you repay it by helping the others." He curtly held up a hand at the first sign of someone being ready to reject his words. "Koro.. to some extent you at least owe Naoya-san. I would ask that you repay that debt in kind and let it be the end of it. Think on it at least."
With that said, Kiyoshi waits for their decision, and should they agree, Rin and Genma would accompany him to Kiji's stone. "Naoya-san. Though this goes against your plan, I would ask that we all act as one. Simple-minded though our efforts have been, they are effective, if albeit a gamble. I would ask… that you take this gamble as well."
The infighting continues.
Kiji's words manage to draw looks of incredulity from both Genma and Rin. The both of them knew that Naoya'd had absolutely nothing to do with them getting their stones across the cavern. It was Kiyoshi that had offered aid to Genma. Kiyoshi that lead Genma to where Rin struggled. It was Kiyoshi that they'd owed their debt to.
Genma simply shook his head, mouth twisting as though he'd tasted something he wished he hadn't. "I'm surprised you've made it this far," he told her. "I would've thought you'd need to be able to think for yourself." He gave Naoya a considering look before turning his back on the Shimizu that called him honorless, sweat dripping from his nose.
Hozuki Rin returned Kiji's scowl but refrained from comment.
Kiyoshi's words soon draw the pair's attention, looking towards him. At his request to help the others, Genma's brows drew downward and Rin's grew sternly considering.
"You will get one more from me," spoke the Kaguya. "It will either be yours or Kiji's. That will be enough to settle our debts."
After a moment, Rin only answers, "My offer stands."
His words to Koro only draw a raised, waving hand of dismissal as he continues walking away.
"Forget it.. The one debted will be dealt with at another time Kiji-san.." Shifting his attention towards the Kaguya, a lower hand raises and points to the Moto's small stone only to say, "His stone is the one you'll aid if you want him to 'pass'. He'll aid his mate with her stone, even if it causes him to fail from being too tired." The Okumo's voice was jading, rather hollowed as he spoke, the passion he held a moment before non-existent. "Rin-san, work with Kiji-san with blasting it with your ninjutsu while I assist Kiyoshi-san with pushing it along."
Raising a second hand and shifting a different one, Naoya points at both Genma and to Rin only to say, "Neither of you are debted to me, just pace yourself if you're going to aid Kiyoshi-san.. Nothing more." Drawing his arms back sharply, causing thuds deep within his back to be heard easily before he shifts himself towards the Shimizu's stone, coating his hands thickly within silk, almost to the point of being padded gloves to limit how much he directly touches the stone. "Kiyoshi-san.. lets get started."
Kiji's crimson eyes flicked over those around her and she looked over to Kiyoshi, her expression looking slightly confused just long enough for her to figure out how much he had helped do in the last several moments. She would deal with him later. When she looked at Genma.. well she would deal with /him/ later too… Though she doubted he would enjoy it…. As she prepared to aid Naoya in moving the selected stone, the Shimizu's eyes were suddenly black and any who could sense chakra might tell she was running low even for someone with her regenerative powers. During the push across the cavern it was impossible to tell where those black eyes were aimed, though Meruin might feel the press of her gaze on him.
When they reached the other side she backed away from the stone and Naoya, once more leaning against the wall and now searching for Kiyoshi. If they had the strength…. She opened her mind and aimed it directly on Kiyoshi.. could he handle helping her? Well, he was one of the most perky of the lot. She sweatdropped at that. Figured. Another glance at Meruin and she stood up, standing by her stone, silent. If she said anything at this point she might lose her self control and just attack. So silent was better. Her breathing was shallow and ragged too, panting lightly, watching Kiyoshi.
Kiyoshi tried to bury his anger deep, but hearing Genma bad-mouth Kiji threatens to undo his effort. Rin's reaction pushes him closer to the point of violence. Fortunately, a mere scowl is not enough to push him beyond the brink. Still, his lips trembled and hands cycled between being relaxed and clenched during the first few moments that followed his allies responses.
All of his anger is let out as a drawn out exhale. He held on to his purpose. Everything else could be worked out later. Hopefully. "I would ask no more than that of you, Genma-san." He manages to state calmly. To Rin, he simply offers a nod in thanks before setting his sights again on other matters. Naoya's assessment did not fall on death ears. When Kiyoshi turned it is with his cheeks again burning, though only more briefly this time. He looks to the Okumo, conflicted at first, before giving a weary shake of his head. As he starts to turn his focus on the next obstacle, the feeling of being watched disrupts his focus enough to regard Kiji.
Words danced on the tip of his tongue, but not a one actually slips out. The genin can only stare at her, conflicted for a second time. Ultimately, he made a mental note to keep his senses open to her, and if the need ever should arrive, to be ready to stop her from exhausting herself further. Even if that meant earning a level of displeasure that would last for months…
Kiyoshi eventually makes his way to one side of the boulder, readying himself to push it in tandem with the others.
"Maneshi Akito has passed his test.
"Mori Hikaru has passed her test.
"Mitsue Ren has failed his test.
"Kaiya no Kirigakure has passed her test."
The Mizukage's voice reverberates throughout the cavern much more often now. Seeing the success of those who've begun to group up, others have started working together to complete their trials, a few small groups of twos and threes cropping up. There were some who refused aid. Some believed they'd be respected more for passing on their own merit, seen as more valuable, more powerful. Others had something to prove, perhaps to themselves, using this test as a measure of their worth.
Some of those who worked alone had started failing or appeared on the verge of it, passed out or out of will. Some of those who worked in groups were in the same boat, the efforts of the multiple not always sufficient.
Genma turned away from the declarations, looking to Kiyoshi as the man set himself up to push the Shimizu's slab forward, Naoya already in position. After a moment, he simply nodded and moved forward to help. "It's on my honor to help," he said. "But it's not up to me to make the decision of whose success is more important for Kiyoshi. I'll help push Kiji's stone." He took up his own position against the slab, first flicking sweat from his palms.
Rin's only response is to nod in acknowledgement of Naoya's words, seeing that they had finally come to the same page. She stretched out her fingers and took up a position before the stone but behind the pushers, prepared to send it off.
Once everyone was ready, Rin sped through a series of handseals, brows drawing downwards. Soon enough, her hands came together in an ox seal and she shouted, "Ready!" Genma's voice rose to answer, "Ready!"
Once the moment to push seemed right, the Hozuki gathered the water about the area and sent it flying towards the slab before Kiji's small mountain, keeping her aim high and out of the way of the physical pushers as they pushed from below. Bones once more breaching the skin of his back, the Kaguya pushed forward, the ivory spears slamming into the earth to propel him forward with impactful force.
In response to the opposition, the trial stone released its flare of light, the the seal network rising to the rocky surface as it began to move. In tandem, the Judgement seals of the Aspirants lit brightly, imbueing them with zealous energy to power their efforts. Kiji, Rin, Naoya, Genma and Kiyoshi set the mountain into motion with ease. Difficulty began to grow as it traveled and built in size, decimating the earth around it but its movement never ceased and would never have to slow if each could continue rising to the challenge.
Eventually, they pushed the mountain to the other side of the cavern and the chunks of stone that were flying towards it ceased… and reversed, replacing themselves from where they came. Piece by piece, the mountain that towered high over the five shinobi disassembled itself, restoring the path they'd traveled, until all that was left was that blue stone the size of a large bead. It fell to the ground with a slight glint marking its intricate designs, a subtle glow beneath its surface.
"Shimizu Kiji has passed her test," declared Meruin with a small nod, his echoing voice filling the cavern. "Take that stone in memory of the mountain you have moved in your trials. May it serve as a reminder of your capabilities."
As the Mizukage's voice rang out again after the mountain of stone disappeared, crumbling away to hardly a pebble a snarl washes over the young Okumo's face. Sweat shines on his face though it was not prominent, though his skin was rapidly beginning to ashen and seemingly thicken the more effort and chakra that rushed through his system leaving his limbs, fake or not unnaturally dry. Raising one of his hands to the side of his head, his fingers sink into his hair, grasping at his head harshly, only for him to then shake it from side to side, 'It's done.. Silence'.
The young Okumo not once turns back around towards the small task force of Genin that joining aided the Shimizu and makes his way directly back towards his own stone. Taking his time, his hands would stroke the enlarged bolder and where it sat, leaving behind webbing which withered into hardly more than cobwebs. Unlike before when Naoya gave up and changed tactics, the silken webbing was touched again and again, layering the thing silk into thickening bands almost as thick as a cheap sweater. Once this was managed, thicker bands of chakra rich silk would begin to wrap around as much as he could, attempting to cocoon the stone along with his clothing that lined parts of it.
Leaving the stone alone at this point, the young Okumo's brood slips from their host and work in turn, creating a silken layer along the ground in front of the the stone, and along the track towards where it would be dragged and rolled. 'Yes.. One will be dealt with.. later.. The other paid in full.' The murmurs to himself would continue but no longer did he seem to care who listened. It would be clear the young Okumo planned to forge another path to complete the task, with aid or without.
Kiji waited as those around he prepared to push the stone in front of them. Apparently the tempers had cooled a little if the cooperation was anything to go by. Erika had not joined the group and only got a sidelong glance from Kiji before she turned back to push the chosen stone across the room. It had not yet occured to her that it was her stone.
She blinked a few times as they traveled across the floor, Kiji let out a breath as they reached the other side and watched silently as the blue stone appeared. Meruin's words washed over her but did not seem to have any responce. Finally she bent and picked up the stone, slipping it into her pocket before looking over to Kiyoshi and then Naoya. The expression on her face had drained of emotion, leaving her with blackened eyes that usually spoke of rage. Still, there was something….
Kiji looked tired emotionally and physically, though the brand had given her some of that wasted energy back. The emotions that had flitted through her since waking had ben a jumbled mess, only focused by the rage she had finally pulled from herself. She looked at Meruin then, black eyes and stoney expression giviing away little of her inner thoughts.
She finally turned away to peer at her friends…. She paused then, glancing between Naoya and Kiyoshi…. She could tell something was strange with Naoya's arms, the way he moved them as he began working on the webbing. She made a motion with her hand toward Kiyoshi to tell him she would be there in a moment and split off to stand beside and behind Naoya. She leaaned down clsoer and spoke softly, so that only he could hear her. The slightest agreement from the Okumo would bring Kiji's hands to his shoulders where she transfered some of her blood to Naoya's veins, helping support him with her regenerating capabilities.
Once she felt better about Naoya's condition, Kiji turned and made her way to Kiyoshi's side, ready to help him move his stone. She peered up at him with those black eyes and an expression that looked innocent and tired at the same time. But with her expression mostly neutral and her eyes completely black, it was impossible for anyone to know what was going on inside her head.
In a perhaps strange way, a few if not all definitions for the word applied to Kiyoshi once the time came to act. No obstacle slowed him down. No spoken word is given notice. No questions or thought left him wondering about purpose. All that mattered to him for the fourth time is seeing his current objective completed. Blackened fingers pierced stone as he lost himself in the moment. It could not be helped. Once the surge of energy began to flow through him, the Kirryu's senstivity to everything else grew muddied…
".. Wha..?" Kiyoshi came to, arms held in the same final position he left them for the last push. Vague recall reminded him of having yelled "Ready!" along with Genma, and then — Kiyoshi shook his head hard a few times, then gave his cheeks a few slaps. Regardless of what happened, the sight of Kiji picking up her own stone filled him with enough pleasure to leave the man content. But then, she looked towards him, expression almost completely devoid of any emotion; just an echo of one meant to keep her going.
By now his anger has long since been buried deeply enough to keep him for reaching for it immediatly. A fortunate thing, seeing as how there was no real way of knowing as to who the irrational emotion would've been directed at immediatly uprest on surfacing. Without it however, the Kirryu could only watch her actions quietly while the rest of his being sorted out how to truly to react to it all. Thoughtlessly, he clawed a bit deeper for his anger as he watched her whisper to the Okumo, but thankfully gave up on the notion before digging too deep.
For a lengthy after she left Naoya's side, Kiyoshi continued to observe the Okumo quietly, balantly ignoring her presence at the time. He does eventually look down to her, studies her for a moment, then seemed to brace himself for something. "Kiji-chan… Rest." He stated in a tone that brokered no argument. It is perhaps the single most, idiotic move to make, but he knew — he /hoped/ she would understand he meant well. But what if making demands of her back fired? What if — 'No. I'm not going down that route.' With that thought in mind and assuming he isn't bound in some way, Kiyoshi would briskly make his way over to Naoya's side with every intention of not looking back once.
"How can I help?" He states bluntly, arms folded loosely over his broad chest.
With Kiji's stone finally pushed into victory, Genma, withdrew his hands with a gasping breath, the bone pushing from his back crumbling into dust. He looked over to Kiyoshi, saying only, "Debt paid," before beginning to walk over towards the Mizukage to join the group that had succeeded and were still standing, his arms shaking from all of the effort he'd put into literally moving the terrain time and again.
Rin lifted a hand to her forehead, idly catching a bead of sweat and bringing it down to her lips in habit, the Hozuki's breathing labored by the efforts. She looked to Naoya as he turned to his own and looked to Kiyoshi as the Moto stood in deliberation. Once he began heading over to the Okumo's stone, she nodded and lowered herself into a meditative position, getting herself into a more restive state as she awaited the Jinchuuriki to finally turn his efforts onto his own advancement.
Meruin's voice rose, giving testament to another who'd managed to succeed in their trial.
Turning his head to the side slightly, one of six hands would raise to lightly pat her's once his shoulder is touched. It would take a moment to pierce into the Okumo's skin, it was hardening but not like leather, but into a more rigid but also more brittle state though once under the outer layer, it was easy to see his state improve even if only slightly. "Thank you.. You should rest as your mate also insisted.. You've aided three stones, soon a forth.. and maintained several. Rest." Closing his eyes, the young Okumo doesn't smile though the annoyance in his expression was lost as he dips his head lightly but for an extended moment towards the Shimizu.
Falling back into his silence, the brood below him would work quickly but then he looks down at his arms, humming softly to himself. Turning to the side, he looks at the floor and the ceiling of the stones that were passed before him carefully. Tensing, several arms would whip upwards, along each a thick coating of silk would begin coating not only over his own head, but over a much wider area, bathing the ceiling with thickening webs. 'Secure it.. We're alone this time.. limit how much it can-'
Stopping mid order, Naoya turns to his side, shifting his stance somewhat to look across and up to the Moto who suddenly offered aid. "You owe me nothing, she paid me in full.." The young Okumo would wait several moment, letting his words sink in before turning away and pointing to his own stone. "Help me move it the last distance and I'll aid you, Kiji-san and Rin-san push your own.. I won't be in debt by the time we leave here.. Agreed?"
Kiji had felt Kiyoshi's eyes on her when she'd stopped to help Naoya, and as she walked toward her mate, he kept watching the Okumo. Kiji was curious what had caught the Moto's attention but then she simply let it be. She felt a quiet annoyance that he was ignoring her but she didn't allow it to take control. Whether because of her being tired or because she took his actions as being posessive, she wasnt even sure. Kiyoshi and Naoya both had this odd way of thinking and Kiji was just a third distinct flavor to add to the mix. But perhaps that was what made the friendships last between them.
Kiyoshi finally turned to face her and studied her. She tilted her head curiously, then blinked several times when he simply told her to rest…. Then he walked back to Naoya's side… Kiji folded her arms across her chest, watching the two. Kiyoshi was avoiding looking at her as he went over to Naoya's location and she looked like she was fully aware of that. But his 'order' to rest made her remain silent for the moment. Naoya reinforced the suggestion and she sighed softly. She was not as weak as some seemed to think.
She listened as Naoya and Kiyoshi were discussing thier business, shaking her head as naoya spoke of debt again… It hadn't been about getting others indebted to her or trying to buy thier help with her own labor. There was a certain amount of apprehension building int he Shimizu, however. These people surrounding them were supposed to be allies. They were all from the same village but they would just as quickly slit her throat as step up to help her. It was showing her a darkness that she had not thought Kirigakure posessed… It was childish and dangerous…. She shook her head slowly, looking around her, opening her senses….. And she stopped.
Standing up she moved to the center of the room, peering around her with a serious expression once more on her face… Letting out a little 'che' she moved forward, whips formed along her arms and she stepped to the side, one whip lashing out toward four downed bodies, nearly unconscious… She seemed to be testing the air about them then very carefully moved them just out of reach of the stone's effects. She moved to the 'worst' of the group and began injecting her blood into the boy's wrist.
Sadly, it does take several moments for Naoya's words to truly sink in. While no stranger to the concept of clearing and taking on debts, the Kirryu had absolutely no intention of holding his offer of assistance over the Okumo's head. The very idea just boggled the mind. So, he stood there with a blank look on his face until Naoya spoke again.
"… Yeah, whatever." Kiyoshi says while waving a hand dismissively. "Just tell me how I can help you and.. I'll.. do that." Her sent was so thick in the air that the Kirryu had to force himself most of the time just to ignore his protective instincts. While his blood was calm however, ignoring the ambient noises — the sound of her whips cutting through air, for instance — was a bit too difficult. A guttural growl pushed its way past visibly gritted teeth, voicing the man's annoyance better than words ever could or did.
He opens his mouth ready to give in to a temptation at the price of having one of his worst fears come true. After a brief moment of hesitation, a heavy sigh and murmured grumbling leaves his mouth before he closes it altogether. Immediatly after, he turns to Naoya, fully intent on helping the boy out now for reasons that had nothing to do with being frustrated. Nope. The Kirryu was as calm as a cuccumber, and nothing more.
And why should he care if she passed out from blood loss of all things for over exerting herself? It'd serve her right! Right?
The Mizukage's voice rose within the cavern.
"Ki Aurora. Do you concede…?"
There was a pause by the woman who was left gasping on hands and knees before her stone, her hair covering her face. Before her stood a titan of dirt and stone, looming near the end of its journey but rising multiple times her size. She was close, yet very very far. After a time she shook her head, taking long and painful moments to make her way to her feet.
"No," she answered. "Never."
To this, Meruin simply nodded and repeated his question of the next person who was no longer making efforts to push their stone, preparation or otherwise. He continue on after receiving his answer.
The genin Kiji helped flinched in pain as her blood pierced his body, shuddering into slight relaxation as it began rejuvenating them. Before too long they'd been woken up, both by initial shock and the gift of energy, enough to push themselves up to kneel on the ground. From their knees, they looked up and over to Kiji and in that moment they hated her. Raw and open, an emotional disfigurement upon their face, they truly hated her.
"Rankoro Jigan," spoke Meruin. "Do you concede…?"
A deep grimace took his face, never leaving Kiji's face. "Yes," he hissed. It is here that he looked away, saying, "Yes. I concede."
The energy or at least the will to argue over details was no longer within the young Okumo. "Simple.. Push" is all that is said before he moves behind his bound stone, and soon began to brace himself before placing his weight toward and pushing. No longer were tricks used externally, though internally, raw muscle wasn't what was used but chakra manipulating his limbs, giving him an amount of force that was contradictory to what his size would suggest.
While the Okumo began to work, the brood which used him as a host also began to work, but in a different field. The wave of arachnids would work their way over towards the Moto's stone and the path way it would travel. Breaking apart a section of the spiders would begin working on coating it without asking the man's permission with their silk.The remainder of the brood would work on the path the stone would be push or rather hopefully, rolled, layering it with silk to later enhance and strengthen with chakra to keep the stone from becoming larger rapidly.
Kiji glanced back to Kiyoshi as she worked on the boy before her. She could tell he was annoyed in the least.. angry at worst. Siighing softly she turned her attention back to what she was doing. She was learning more control over her blood slowly, the application of the innate chakra to heal was simpler than the application of it as energy, but she was working on it. For the moment they would just have to deal with what little energy came along with her blood. She could only do so much for these, but she would do what she could.
The look Jigan gave her made her blink, head tilted in confusion as she read the hatred there. And then Meruin's voice pierced her consciousness, bringing her slamming into a full realization of what had just happened. Dropping her black eyes to her own knees she sat there for a long moment…. Once again her expression faded away as if she'd gone numb but she moved to the next downed person. She was not going to stop just because they would hate her…. She glanced back toward Naoya and Kiyoshi pushing the stone.. And then she turned back to her work, her blood entering the next person's veins….
Kiyoshi snorts at the Okumo's simplified explination, but offered no compliants. He simply moved into position, grinning in silent gratefulness for things being simple. He could do simple. The only thing to give him pause now is the sound of Meruin begining to ask if any of aspirants were ready to concede. Was this part of the exam timed? Spurred on now by panic, Kiyoshi reaffirmed his grip on the ground, burying talons into it. There would again be a tiny trail of turned up stone from his efforts to ensure his momentum is never arrested.
The next person Kiji donated her attention to flinched at the sudden pain of their bodies being pierced as well, hands clenching into fists. After a moment, they uncurled, healing and revitalization making its way into their systems. It was a small current in an ocean of fatigue, but it was something to cling to. Enough to bring them to their feet. They gave Kiji a wary but extremely tired look before simply nodding to her. "Thank you," they said, cautious but sincere. They then looked back to their stone, murmuring, "Perhaps I can't do this on my own afterall."
When Naoya and Kiyoshi began pushing the Okumo's stone forward, it went through its familiar transformation. Light flared and sealwork adorned, the ground upheaving. But the Okumo's preparation, binding the stone kept it from growing in size for a while. As it was pushed further along, the magnetic pull it had on the earth grew stronger, but it never strayed into the territory of any other Trial Stones. It would require further enhancement to keep the rock from flying towards the stone, and eventually even the silken barrier broke from where they'd started until slabs of stone shot into Naoya's trial like meteors.
The Judgement seals of the pair were lit; They were gifted no energy, but neither was any taken from them. All of this combined with the fact that the stone had already been pushed much of the distance earlier meant that Naoya and Kiyoshi's travel was strenuous, but relatively swift and nowhere near as difficult as it might otherwise have been. Soon, they made the other end of the cavern and the large hill began falling apart to reveal its small, cerulean core.
"Okumo Naoya has passed his test," reverberated Meruin's voice. "Take your stone in remembrance of the mountain you have moved in your trials. May it serve as a reminder of your capabilities."
Raises up of his hands once the stone came apart, broken down until a core piece was exposed, and flicks his wrist. A strand of silk whips out and attaches onto the stone before whipping it back into his palm. Holding the clone in a clinched fist, likely one of his real ones though it was difficult to tell at this point. No joy was painted on his face, though he does turn around and bow his head slowly while his eyes watch the Mizukage. Naoya didn't sweat, not was his breathing erratic but his movements were becoming more rigid, stiff and some what mechanical as he continued to puppet himself, using bursts of chakra as second layers of muscles.
"We start.. on your own now." Unlike his face, his voice made the drain on himself very clear. Waving a hand, the silk around him begins to thicken before his five remaining arms move quickly, beginning to coat the floor more widely then before along with the ceiling with his silk. Unlike the first time, the silk begins to use the grooves and uneven grounding as anchor points. "Prepare those two.. I'll be with you soon. We will make sure things are smooth and we'll be done by the time you need us." With that the Okumo would become still saying a murmur to possibly himself, '..Inject.. I don't care.. Debts will be paid..' Suddenly a sharper breath is taken in though as if the Shimizu treated him again but the effect wasn't as long lasting as he worked.
Kiji peered at the wary lok on the entrant's face, her head tilted, expecting the hatred.. Only to be suprised by his gratitude. She nodded and glanced at his stone the back to him as he spoke. She nodded. "I doubt this was about our individual ability." She glanced at the stone again and bit her lip. She hated to say it but she doubted he had the ability to move that stone far enough, even if she helped… But as much as seh wanted to help, she also knew her limits were about to be reached. And she had two more to see to…
She caught sight of Naoya and the odd way he moved.. Narrowing her eyes just a little she turned her senses on the Okumo… Shaking her head she continued what she was doing. The Shimizu kept an eye on Naoya and Kiyoshi but continued working as she had been. they were still conscious after all…
Without the seal revitalizing him, the strain began to catch up with the Kirryu. He resorted to pain inflicted by elongated cannines to keep himself focused during the final stretch, short though it was, and nearly collapses forward once the stones began to give away. Fortunately, the man managed to catch himself at his knees, and spent the time Naoya used to talk to catch his breath.
A certain fear returned during those 'uneventful' few moments. A few in actuality, though one held the most sway over his heart. It weighed him down even more than his own body was starting to, constantly pushing him to pay closer attention to /exactly/ how much energy every tiny movement costed him. Like Naoya, he is soon walking more mechanically than fluidly, head held high out of pride. Kiyoshi idly regards the young Okumo as he spoke, noticing and yet… missing the use of plurals to describe the self. He just really didn't have the energy to think on it further. His last few steps are more of a shuffle, but he reaches hid destination before long. At which point and possibly against his better judgement, Kiyoshi ignored his trepidation to snatch away power from the other.
Silently, he thanked whatever Kami kept the beast occupied long enough to complete the transformation, and turn his newfound stamina upon his last obstacle. Yes, he had resolved himself to helping the other aspirants earlier. And yes, it did actually hurt the man to fail again. But by the looks of thing, not many were left at this point that weren't already on the verge of conceeding or simply did before he noticed. Cereulean eyes are briefly turned upon the victors and the fallen before devoting his will to the task at hand.
As Kiji's blood pierced yet another genin on the verge of unconsciousness, they mirrored the other two in the tenseness of sudden, unexpected pain. And as the blood began doing its work, they relaxed. Too much. Perhaps it was the shock of the pain; Mayhaps the Shimizu blood healed enough bodily damage to bring about a measure of comfort; Whatever the case, her healing lead to the genin settling fully into unconsciousness and Meruin pronouncing another failure to the ensemble.
But the other who she'd healed, the one who'd thanked her, he moved forward. Not towards his own stone or towards Kiji but towards Aurora. She was near unconsciousness herself, darkness encroaching on the edges of her vision, but she had already denied concession. Determination saw her on her knees, making handseals. She was the fourth and final on Kiji's list, but she didn't await the Shimizu's approach. Her eyes were only on the goal before her.
Once her handseals were finished she raised both palms and slapped them to the floor with a scream. Chakra flared from the floor as two seals sprung into being, glowing with dangerously flickering energy. Her scream intensified and the flickering ceased. A jet of swirling water shot from one as a bolt of electricity slammed into it from the other, the pair hammering her trial stone. Elemental seals. It seemed that she, as well, possessed the Rankoro's abilities.
With the lightning nature helping to break down the stone as it was built up, she struggled to inch her growing mountain closer and closer to the end with the water. She was just yards away, so near to her goal, so near to being able to rest in success.
From behind, the other genin began running forward, form ragged initially but smoothing as he drew his will about him. Soon he was sprinting as swift as he could manage. When he drew near, he leapt with a puff of smoke, coming out of it to reveal a hammer bigger than he. He harnessed its power in an aerial rotation, releasing a shout as he slammed the weapon against the woman's trial stone. There was a flare of their Judgement Seals on Impact and a brief pulse of energy from Aurora's stone. And soon enough… earth stopped gathering at it.
"Ki Aurora," spoke Meruin, "Has passed her trial." With the two genin already unconscious, two of the ten watching shinobi went over to them to gather up both their forms and the stone. "Kishio Soza has failed his trial."
Rin turns her eyes from that view to find Kiyoshi already at his stone. As the Jinchuuriki turned his will towards his task, starting the small thing forward and beginning its transformation into a much larger problem she swiftly jumped to her feet. The only thing keeping her urgency from mounting too high is that, for the moment, Naoya's silk bindings are keeping the ground from rising, leaving the Jinchuuriki's trial stone at its original size. Handseals sped until water rushed over to lift Kiyoshi's stone from the ground, easing his pushing, lighting both of the pair's Judgement seals and eliminating that portion of the drain. "Let's get this over with," she said.
Turning from his task once he was content, his brows furl when the Moto who was once full of energy was almost in as bad a condition as he was. A snarl crosses his slips though soon after his eyes dim to a dark golden tone and he shakes his head lightly. Raising his voice, he turns to the Moto's stone and nods saying "Yes.. Lets" yet he doesn't move closer towards either of them.
Raising one arm, a thick binding of silk forms in his palm only to be whipped forward, connecting to the steel strong silk coating the stone. twisting his grip, hand after hand began to grasp the webbing, drawing the cord tight. "Not enough room.. I'll pull until there's no room. If the stone gets large enough I'll push beside you" Not waiting for much of a signal, Naoya would begin to turn and drag at the stone with much of his remaining strength as soon as the giant began to push at it.
Kiji looked up as she went toward Aurora, preparing to inject the same help as she had to those before, Only for the woman to accept her previous patient's help. The Shimizu could only stand back and watch as they pushed the stone across the cavern together… and promptly passed out, both of them… She sighed softly, but did not have to drag them herself. The other 'winners' moved to pick them up and carry the two away even as Meruin announced the failiure of the male.
Then Kiji turned to watch Kiyoshi and Naoya as they worked to move Kiyoshi's stone…. She would step in to offer aid if they needed it. Otherwise she didn't want to be in the way.
If Kiyoshi ever noticed the snarl from Naoya, there is never any indication given. The Jinchuuriki carried on with moving the stone, adjusting his position and grip as need be to keep it in motion. The game he played now with the Bijuu was a dangerous one. All it would take is one slip in concentration on his part to truly stir it, and perhaps earn a very violent rebuttal for playing the role of thief.
Although aware of Kiji's nearby presence, the giant never requests aid in any from her. The two — three could handle his stone on their own. Hopefully.
After the herculean efforts to get other trial stones to their destination, the movement of the Moto's was nearly anticlimactic. It was a trial, especially considering the energy that all had expended before this point, but it was one that each knew would end in success so long as everyone persisted.
A culmination of all of the experimenting up to this point allowed for the situation to be nearly optimal in a few ways. With the stone wrapped in silk, it drained none of their energies directly and with the surrounding earth restrained, it remained 'small' as it was pushed, pulled, and elevated. With the trio's Judgement seals gifting them a portion of energy for their cooperation, they managed to swiftly get the stone halfway across the cavern before the silk at the starting line withered enough to tear, sending comets flying inward.
Once that halfway mark was hit, the size and weight very swiftly gathered. The earth never struck Kiyoshi directly, allowing him to keep his hold on handshaped, silken protection as the mountain molded around him. Naoya's tether was soon buried, however, and the outside stone began draining it of chakra until it was brittle and the Okumo was either forced to continually reinforce it with more chakra or let it snap. By this point, however, it /was/ large enough for him to push beside the Moto and too large for Rin to continue lifting it with the water. She reoriented her focus to directly pushing it with the suiton ninjutsu.
Through these efforts, Kiyoshi's trial stone was soon pushed into victory, standing a little over half the most everyone else's had been at. Soon, it deconstructed itself to reveal its azure pearl and Meruin's voice rose to confirm its meaning.
"Moto Kiyoshi has passed his test. Take your trial stone in remembrance of the mountain you have moved in your trials. May it serve as a reminder of your capabilities."
The Mizukage inclined his head before saying, "Gather 'round! The exercise is complete." By the time Kiyoshi got his stone across, he'd declared a pass or a fail for everyone else. He was the last by moments.
Once the conscious Aspirants gathered before him, the Mizukage addressed them.
"This test was designed to measure a great deal of things. It gave us another look into your personal ingenuity and your levels of willpower, the ability maintain in the face of stiff adversity. Each and every one of you and your peers could have passed this test through brute force alone, provided you had the will to give your every ounce of energy to your trial. It is an avenue some of you have taken, each of those who'd traveled this route now unconscious. Some lessened the energy requirement through their ingenuity, but even with this, standing alone would mean delving into exhaustion.
"Your greatest and, for most of you, least clear avenue was that of cooperation. I have said it before, many times, and will do so again. We of Kirigakure are known for our individual strength, but it is the strength of many that allows us to harness our true might. Joined together, we are far more than the sum of our parts. Unity is a force multiplier and a strength in and of itself. Trust me. If one man were enough, there would not be a Kirigakure."
Meruin's chin lifts slightly, "For this, those who relied on one another should thank those who'd lead you to the path of cooperation. The primary purpose of the 10 shinobi that'd come here with you was to carry you home, but there are more of you standing than I'd expected. It means that you will be in better shape for our next exercise. It seems that we've had more of Kumogakure's convicts find their way into our territory. Rather than having the Hunter Bureau eradicate them, I thought it better to let you test yourselves on them. Only those who've recovered enough will accompany myself and other Hunter-nin on the Hunt. We will search them out and kill them. All of them.
"But for now, you must rest. This trial is over. Those of you who've passed, savor your accomplishment and replace your blindfolds. Follow the guides and return to the barracks to rest quickly.
"The Sun is nearly up."