Ranma yawned as he came to a halt at the assigned meeting spot. He honestly had no idea what they were going to be doing that day but he hoped it was going to be something interesting. He was getting bored of the usual training. Chakra control this, chakra control that, teamwork this, teamwork that - boring. Even Ryoga could control this power well enough and there was nothing wrong with their teamwork. Sure, they argued and fought a lot, but that just kept things interesting. Where would the fun be in a team that didn't have the occasional scrap?
The whole 'mean line in pyrotechnics' thing sounds promising enough. Maybe the guy'd even teach him how to spit fireballs at people. That move wasn't all that powerful, sure, but it looked awesome and it was a nice little offensive technique he could use without going into a screwed-up emotional state or slicing and dicing people into itty, bitty pieces like vacuum blades tended to. More flexibility was always good and spitting fireballs could never be anything less than great. Oh, how he wished he could demonstrate that technique to his pop. Wake him at the crack of dawn for a spar, would he? It'd be fresh-cooked panda meat for all!
"Ranma, quit it with the evil laughter," said Ryoga. "I think Mousse is going to wet himself."
Mousse's reply came in the form of a barrage of spiked chains that would have probably sliced Ryoga up pretty good if he hadn't batted them aside with a swipe of his ever-present umbrella. The blind idiot seriously needed to learn some new tricks because chucking weapons at people by the ton was just getting predictable. It'd been a bit of a nasty surprise at first but now it was barely even enough to make Ranma move his feet and even Ryoga could move quickly enough to knock them away.
And the thought of training put him in mind of his ever so wonderful and yet pathetically weak students. What should he put them through next? Making them fight for their food would be a good speed exercise but he doubted he could get away with it - their family was incredibly snobby, even worse than Kuno except without the insanity, mostly - so maybe he should tie them to a wagon or something and then whip the horses pulling it into motion? They'd soon learn to move quick if they didn't want to get their skin rubbed raw along the ground.
Then again, that'd be like trying to make them run before they could walk. Hanabi was a little midgety thing with stubby little legs that'd never be able to manage it and Hinata was just a wimp of epic proportions. He didn't want to break them just yet; Hiashi was bound to get real pissy if he did and he didn't need a whole family of ninja with super-eyes trying to knock him off. It'd be good practice but the old man running the village would probably get a bit tetchy. Anko'd probably think it was hilarious, though.
Ranma stirred from his thoughts. Fudo had arrived, looking just as lanky as he did when Anko'd introduced him. He didn't look like much, really. In fact, he looked kinda awkward, almost as if he didn't quite belong. Ranma wouldn't have pegged him as a fighter if it wasn't for the combat vest and the battered, old hitai-ate he wore. Without those two items Ranma would have just thought he was a gamekeeper or a hunter or something else that had him spending a lot of time outdoors to get that tan.
"So, Anko tells me that you three are freakishly good for your age," he said with a small grin. "Taijutsu obsessives, yeah? That should be helpful for what I have in mind. Plenty of stamina."
"So what's the training about?" asked Ranma.
"Tracking and information gathering," said Fudo. "You kids might be able to fight like demons but can you track down a foe? From what I hear, the answer's no unless they've got a nice, big sign saying 'villain here' at their hideout."
"We found the guys who'd grabbed Anko well enough."
"Torture isn't always appropriate or even possible and you three aren't exactly specialists in the field. It'll be a real bitch when you run into guys who'll say whatever you want to make the pain stop or when you can't grab a guy to torture."
"We didn't torture anyone," said Ryoga. "That would be dishonourable! We just scared him a little."
Fudo eyed Ryoga strangely. "Well, that's even worse," he said. "Only trash gives in that easily and if you're half as good as Anko says then you won't be sweeping up trash for long. No, you need to learn how to do things properly."
"And you can teach us that?" asked Ranma.
"Of course. Tracking and information gathering are my specialities. Why else would Anko ask me to prepare you for the chuunin exams? Your combat skills are already jounin level, or so she says, but you need more than the ability to break heads to make it as a ninja."
"So much for the mean line in pyrotechnics."
"Yeah, well, that's just my way to avoid having to actually fight. Blow someone to pieces with a nice little jutsu and they don't show up my taijutsu skills. I'm not going to give that advantage away."
Ranma sulked. He really wanted to be able to spit fireballs at people.
"Anyway, today's exercise will specifically focus on tracking," said Fudo. "You see the forest behind me? I'm going to run off into it and then, after me a few minutes worth of a head start, you're going to try and find me."
"Doesn't sound too hard."
"Ah, well, we'll see, won't we? I'll be leaving traps here and there to keep things interesting so you'd best keep on your toes."
Ryoga grunted and Ranma could almost hear 'damned sneaky ninja bastards' or something similar running through his head.
"Well, no point in delaying. There'll be a signal when it's time for you to go. And don't even think of cheating."
And then he flickered away. That was another technique Ranma fancied learning. He was getting sick of people disappearing on him and not knowing the hows or whys of it. It offended him. Only people like Happosai or Cologne should be able to make him look slow like that.
"This really isn't what I expected," said Ryoga. "I thought we were going to learn special techniques or something but they haven't taught us shit like that."
"I don't suppose they're going to trust us with the family silver just yet," said Ranma with a shrug. "Wish they'd start teaching us some good stuff though because it's getting boring."
A fireball blew up into the sky from the centre of the forest.
"Guess that's our signal."
And they were off.
Fudo kept up a slovenly pace as he hopped around the forest. There was no point in rushing. It would defeat the point of the exercise if they couldn't keep up with him, after all, and there was no-one faster than he in the wild. No, he needed to take it easy to start with. That way he could see how much these kids had between their ears when they had to deal with his tricks. Also, he was kinda looking forward to wiping the smirk off their faces and that would be nowhere near as satisfying if he wasn't there to see it. Not even close.
It was a nice day as well. Never hurt to spend some time taking in the scenery and enjoying life. He had to spend way too much time outside of the forests he loved so he was going to enjoy the time he got to spend here. It was like coming home to see an old friend after a long journey. Something to savour.
Ranma was the first one to catch up with him. Not a great surprise, all told. The kid was inhumanly quick by all accounts and according to Anko he did have a brain when he decided to use it, so it was no great surprise that he was the first to make it. He was making an awful lot of noise, though, and he really needed to think more about the wildlife he was disturbing on his way. It wasn't good to scare the animals. Hardly their fault that some violent humans were passing through, was it?
So he dropped his pace a little and circled around his planned position at a nice, easy lope that let the boy catch up to him in no time flat, just in time for Fudo to land just where he'd been planning to land. A moment later the boy dropped down from a tree and onto the end of the branch Fudo was balanced on.
"So what now?" asked the boy with a smirk.
Fudo gave no reply but a smirk of his own till he heard the expected crack as the branch snapped in two and sent Ranma into the abyss. "That," he said.
"That it?" came a voice from behind him.
Fudo twisted around at speed to see . . . Ranma. " Ah, a replacement," he said. "Nice. Very quick execution. Not very clever use, though."
And then the explosive seal on the tree ripped loose with a deafening roar and sufficient force to send Ranma spiralling away into the distance. Fudo just shook his head. Smart kid, devious even, but he needed seasoning. It'd do him no good to beat the first trap and then fall for the backup. Second gets you just as dead as the first.
Next up was Ryoga. And if he'd thought Ranma was noisy then Ryoga was a natural disaster on legs. It was the difference between someone who didn't know the tricks of the trade and a guy who just didn't care. If something got in his way, he smashed it. If animals were in his path, he scattered them. It was pretty revolting, in all honesty. No respect for the world around him. Che. What was Anko teaching the brat? Oh, wait, being Anko, most likely.
Well, there was no point in delaying things. Sooner he dealt with this the sooner the boy would stop ravaging the poor forest and he could get one step closer to being done with the brats for the day.
And so he stopped in a clearing. Well, calling it a clearing was a bit of an exaggeration. It was a part of the forest that had been logged for timber back when the village had first had been founded and had yet to recover from said logging. Lots of stumps and half-grown saplings to go around. Several of those saplings ceased to exist a moment later as Ryoga smashed through them.
"Ha!" he said, levelling his umbrella at Fudo with a fang-baring grin. "Found you!"
"So you have," said Fudo. "So what now then? Going to beat me?"
Ryoga paused and then scratched the back of his head with his off-hand. "Uh."
Fudo had to shake his head. How could he go from raging berserker to befuddled kid so quickly? Bizarre. "Gotta do something, kid," he said. "Because I'm not going to stand around here waiting all day."
Ryoga stared at him dumbly for a moment before doing the deeply predictable and charging. First mistake. He didn't wonder why someone who admitted to being rubbish at taijutsu wasn't worried. Second mistake. He didn't pay attention to where he was putting his feet. Third mistake.
The explosive seal exploding beneath the boy's feet was truly a thing of beauty. The forest might have been his first love but explosives ran a close second. And when the smoke cleared and the flames had died down, there stood a Ryoga who looked as pissed off as he did singed. Okay, that was interesting, but not entirely unexpected, so he triggered the secondary tags and watched as the clearing erupted.
Ah, explosions, glorious, fiery explosions. He could watch the flames dance all day long quite happily. The way the flames licked up into the air and danced from side to side . . . just glorious. And there was no way the kid could still be standing
"I am going to break you!"
Fudo gaped at the sight in front of him. He'd seen jounin taken down by far less than that nice, little conflagration. Jounin! What the hell was this kid made of to be stood there glaring at him with nothing worse than a few singe marks on his clothes? He sure as hell wasn't human. Couldn't be.
Well, he could deal with that. A twist of his chakra and the tertiary tags exploded with a deafening roar. Man, he might like explosions and all but setting that many explosive tags off at such a range wasn't easy on the ears. That was just unpleasant, though probably not as unpleasant as it was for the guy in the middle of the fun.
No sign of movement amidst the smoke. Hmm, had he maybe gone a little too far? Anko wouldn't be too happy if he killed one of her brats and the last thing he needed was Anko delivering stabbity death to him.
Still no signs.
He was starting to get nervous. An angry Anko was an Anko he didn't want to be dealing with.
The smoke cleared.
"You didn't think that would stop me did you?"
Well . . . he wasn't dead at least. Hmm. Looked like it was time for plan B. He quickly moved through the necessary hand seals and then, "Suiton: honryuu no jutsu!"
The nearby stream erupted upwards out of its bed and rocketed towards Ryoga in a torrent of freezing cold water. Fudo didn't much like his trap going belly up but he was fully prepared to exploit any and all weaknesses that he could think of to avoid having that overpowered man-child smash his skull with that oversized umbrella of his. The water obscured his vision but he could see the boy's form flickering beneath the attack as he swung his . . . umbrella. Shit. Fudo poured all the chakra he had into the water to get as much moving as possible.
And as luck would have it, it worked. He supposed between the explosions slowing the kid down and the somewhat shredded umbrella. Thank the gods for small mercies. Getting into a brawl with someone who carried around an umbrella that weighed more than he did was more Gai's territory than Fudo's. And seeing the big, bad berserker reduced to a cute, little piglet was more than mildly amusing. In fact, he couldn't quite restrain the snicker that was building up inside him.
What a minute, since when did piglets glow?
Fudo avoided the energy blast that the piglet spat at him by the skin of his teeth. Really, since when could piglets do that? Just wasn't natural. Time to move on, he decided. Those stubby little piglet legs wouldn't let Ryoga follow him or form hand seals and there wasn't any hot water to be found for miles. Safe.
Mousse was the last of the three to catch up with him, waiting till he had stopped to take a breather and quick swig from his canteen before he bounded up from below to stand on the same branch as Fudo.
"Nice try, but a basic bunshin doesn't produce shadow or physical effect."
The kunai that came hurtling down at the back his skull was certainly a rude surprise. If the boy'd been possessed of normal outdoorsman skills, he'd have been filleted. Not a nice thought. Still, seeing the look of disgruntlement on his face as his weapon sank into a wooden log he'd quickly left in his place with a quick kawarimi almost made up for the attempted murder. Almost.
"Did you think that would catch me out?"
A quick shunshin carried him behind the boy - and he really hated using that technique, always left him feeling a little queasy - and it would have been childishly simple to slap that knockout gas tag onto the back of the kid if it wasn't for him being inhumanly fast. He still managed to slap it on to the kid's chest but damn he nearly missed totally. Damn that Anko; she hadn't warned him about the guy in glasses being that quick. Probably thought it would be funny.
Still, he'd got the kid, and he didn't look like he was getting up anytime soon. Score one for Fudo.
"You didn't think we were done, did you?"
Fudo blinked and turned around. "You're pretty damned durable, kid," he said. And he had to admit he was impressed. "Not many'd be up for more after getting an explosive tag in the face." Well, except for that other kid, who didn't even seem to notice the damn things going off.
Ranma cracked his knuckles. "Time for payback," he said.
"Catch me if you can!"
And with that Fudo was off, bounding from tree to tree as if he was born to do such. He'd give the kid a runaround and then he'd ditch him and see how he did tracking when there wasn't a trail laid out. Either way, this kid was going to grow up to be a real beast of a ninja.
And so things went for the next few hours. Even Ryoga came back for another go, somehow finding a way to switch back, which was a bit of a shock.
"You kids are stronger and faster than anyone your age has any right to be," said Fudo. "Got some nice techniques too. Not too bright though."
Ranma scowled. "Tagged ya a couple of times, didn't I?"
"Yeah, and that has more to do with you being inhumanly quick and more stubborn than an army of mules than brains or what I'm actually trying to teach you here."
"Seems to work to me."
"You won't be able to brute force your way past everyone, kid. Learn the tricks of the trade and you'll be much better off."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever you got to teach, I'll learn."
Ryoga oinked, back in his piglet form, where he couldn't try to kill Fudo, or at least not as easily.