Watching Katsuko and Isamu fight was like watching two skinny, furious alleycats going at it with knives. Neither one of them seemed to have joints; they rubber-banded up into the trees, barely stirring the leaves as they hit, ricocheted, rebounded, and struck again, blades ringing.
Isamu’s left ankle gave him a little trouble—which Katsuko cheerfully took advantage of—but it was slight and well-defended. With limited jutsu, Katsuko had to work hard to keep the upper hand.
And Mitarou had been gone too long.
The slight ground rumble was the only warning Raidou got. Beneath his feet, a wide trench ripped open and a seam of Konoha’s underground river lunged up to meet him. He vaulted out of the way, but the ground turned slippery and treacherous where he landed, and the river followed. Watery tendrils snatched at him. He slammed chakra into his feet, dropping into a long skid, and—
Surfed, kind of.
Jutsu for Mitarou, then. Raidou could do that. His own affinities were earth and water, same as Mitarou’s, but he wasn’t bad at fire, either. His hands blurred, hammering chakra into a workable shape. Horse seal, rooster, dragon—he called up heat, a lot of heat, and let it go.
The river exploded into steam.
“Holy mother of—” Mitarou yelled, bursting out of a shimmering water illusion. His skin was livid pink, scalded across his face and bare shoulders. “Son of a bitch.”
Raidou dropped safely onto steaming mud. “Should’ve dodged faster.”
“I’ll dodge your face,” Mitarou shot back, which, yeah, they really needed to work on witty repartee, but then there were stone spears in his hands, yanked from the ground, and Raidou was fully prepared to take those seriously.
“Easy now,” he said, sliding into a crouch.
Mitarou bared his teeth. “Catch.” He spun, whipping around at high speed, and flung the spears a half-second apart — one at Raidou’s face, and one where he would have dodged.
Raidou clapped his hands together, wrenched the ground apart, and dropped straight down. He barely made it; a sharp stone edge scored a hot line across his scalp, giving him a brand new hair-parting. He snapped the ground closed after him.
His old jounin-sensei had liked to call this one groundhog no jutsu, but Raidou always thought of it as pop goes the target. You held your breath, moved fast, and if you were lucky, came up right under Mitarou’s feet—
Or where Mitarou would have been, if Katsuko hadn’t nearly skewered him to a tree.
The bloodless length of the folded steel katana was stuck quivering through Mitarou’s shirt, just beneath his left arm. Its razor edge barely kissed his skin. As Raidou watched, a bead of red gathered at the line of a tiny cut, swelled, and dropped, splashing on the ground.
On the other side of the field, Isamu had been dropped in a crumple of limbs, his clothes nailed down with shuriken.
Katsuko herself was standing in front of Mitarou, with a kunai drawn across his throat.
“Ueno,” Raidou said, lifting a hand. “Hey, Ueno. Not actually dead over here. Let the poor bastard breathe.”