Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or The Gamer

Author Comments: Hope you all enjoy chapter 15. Sorry it took so long to get out. Real life takes up so much time sometimes. Only one rough edit from me on this chapter so far so grin and bear the errors =) Since a lot of people have been asking about stats I am thinking of leaving some details of Naruto's stats in upcoming chapters. For the most part assume he focuses on intelligence and spreads out the points gradually increasing his other stats.

Review Replies: Well given how long it's been since I last updated for now I'm not doing any replies this chapter but as always I want to thank nearly every who takes time to leave a quick review.

Chapter 15

The horse plodded along the dirt road, it's hooves making a steady rhythm in the evening air. The horse was dragging a cart loaded with supplies that at a glance were probably headed to the markets of Konoha for trade or sells. Sitting in the front of the cart was a lovely young couple in their mid-twenties who had the look of newly weds trying to make their place in the world. You would think think the couple a little odd, the dark haired golden skinned young wife seemed to almost glow with adoration of her new husband, hanging onto his arm and leaning into his side like he might disappeared at a moments notice. Meanwhile,the husband a slightly older silver-haired man seemed almost annoyed at the attention and was keeping his eyes firmly on the road ahead of him. A frown formed on the woman's face.

"You shouldn't be so cold to your wife Kage-kun!" she said sweetly. Kage looked at her and as she leaned in closer to him, he actually began to look a bit uncomfortable.

"I need to steer the wagon." he said a bit lamely gesturing to the reins in his hands.

"The horse knows the way." she countered. "You could spare at least one arm for your wife's poor cold shoulders. I am getting chilly."

Kage's eye went up. It was actually pretty warm out, however he sighed in defeat and moved the reins to one hand, seeing him ready to hold her she grinned in anticipation but her hopes were crushed when he jumped back suddenly.

Crack! A knobby end of a old looking came hit the bench between them.

"There will be none of that on this trip!" An old grizzly voice said sharply from behind them. Sitting above them was a old man who appeared to be in his sixties or seventies. His back was bent and his face was full of wrinkled but he looked tough as a old tree and had a partly toothless grin on his face.

"Ojiisan! What was that for?" she complained rubbing her knuckles, the cane had caught it slightly as she had jerked away.

"To stop you two from...carousing...in my presence." he said back to the young woman.

"We...were...not carousing." the girl managed to say through gritted teeth. "I just wanted us to cuddle a bit, like all newly weds do."

"You can't fool me with that kind of talk you lady!" he chortled. "I know what you youngsters do! First it's with the cuddling, then it's with the kissing, and before you know you are getting on to the baby making!"

"I...I...am not!" she cried out.

"Baby making I say! And right in front of these old eyes! If your poor Kaasan and Otosan could see you now! Gallivanting with any boy who comes your way!"

"He's my husband!"

"See any excuse for the baby making!" the old man declared.

"I am not baby making with anyone!" she finally screamed and lunged at the old man. Kage sighed and reached out holding her back with one arm while guiding the horse with the other. The old man cackled and leaned back right out of range of her fist as she tried to make her grandfather one of her ancestors quicker than the Shinigami had ever intended.

"I don't know what ever possessed you to marry a shrew like that but I almost feel bad for doing this." a voice called out from the surrounding forest. The three travelers all paused in their antics looking around them. The young woman shrieked as behind them a large tree fell to the ground blocking the path, and ahead three bandits blocked them from moving forward.

"I mean not only does that girl have a set of lungs on her but to have that old man in the mix as well. I hope the few times you actually manage to get some that she's worth it." the lead bandit said with a smirk. He stood slightly ahead of the other two bandits and his confidence seemed to indicate that he was the leader of the trio.

"Pleased to make your acquaintance." the bandit said with a bow. "I am Musahsi of the Free Blades and I would be honored to do business with you today."

"What kind of business do you have with us?" Kage asked grabbing a bo staff and holding it defensively.

"You better not give us any trouble or my Kage-kun will give the three of you a beating you will never forget."

"Quiet Yoshi." Kage commanded and surprisingly the young woman obeyed but looked a bit sullen about it.

Musahsi chuckled. "While I'm sure little flower, that your husband is a great warrior in your village, I think" while he talked he pulled out his samurai blade which glowed with a fine sheen of blue chakra, "that he might just find himself outmatched in this situation."

Yoshi had the good grace to gasp in horror, Kage just tightened his eyes at the sight but the old man seemed to find something amusing about the whole thing. Musahsi brushed it off. His grandfather had been a little off towards the end as well.

"As for our business," he continued answering the previous question, "Our business is simple, as long as you cooperate with us, we will help you by relieving you of all your worldly possessions but leaving the woman's honor intact. All you need to do is sit on the side of the road and we will be on our way. Why to be generous I'll even leave you the cart and the horse so you can make your way home. Now who can turn down a deal like that?"

It was this moment one of Musahsi's two henchman started to speak up. "Uh...boss?"

Musahsi sighed. "What is it now Ryutaro?" he asked to taller skinnier man to his right. The man question had wild blue hair and declined to wear a shirt. Strapped to his back were two spears that seemed to be attached to chains wrapped around his body.

"Doesn't that horse look familiar?" he said pointing at the rather ordinary looking horse attached to the cart, the horse seemed not to care about the human drama going on, and instead was more concerned with straining against his harness to reach a bit of grass on the side of the road.

"What are you talking about Ryu? It's a horse, like the fifteen thousand other horses you have seen in your life."

"I don't know boss," the larger man to the left commented. "I think Ryu's right, I could swear I know that horse from somewhere." The larger man was a direct contrast to Ryutaro. Whereas that man had a largely skeletal appearance he was a large mountain of a man with dark hair and a bandanna wrapped around his his head. He wore a simple shirt with a red vest. The travelers couldn't help but notice he carried a massive kanabo, a type of studded club, that he held over his shoulder with ease.

"You too Shiko?" Musahsi turned toward his victims and grinned in apology. "Sorry folks, my friends here tend to get distracted by the oddest things. You know how it is."

"Seriously boss I've seen that horse before." Ryutaro insisted.

Musahsi frowned and walked toward the offending equine. "Boys it's just a horse, we see horses that look like this all the time, I mean we just robbed some merchants earlier today who had a horse that looked a lot like this one."

Musahsi paused and looked at the horse more closely.

"Now that you two mention it does look a lot like the horse from earlier."

He started looking at the markings in the horse's fur. He eye's went wide when he looked at the collar attached to the animal. Cursing he leap back next to his two compatriots his hand on the hilt of his sword.

"That is the same damn horse! What the hell is going on here?"

Kage sighed. "I told you it wouldn't work dobe."

"Hey! It was a good plan! How was I supposed to know they would recognize the stupid horse?"

Yoshi slumped forward her chin resting in her hands. "I guess our covers are blown. Could have used a few more minutes with my hubby." she said mumbling the last bit.

"Hm." replied Kage.

The old man hung his head. "Whatever, might as well drop the Henge." The young couple nodded and all three made a handsign for release and a white puff of telltale chakra smoke filled the air dissipating to reveal the smaller forms of Team 7 sitting there.

"Crap ninja!" shouted Ryutaro.

"Puny ninja." grumbled Shiko.

"Awesome ninja!" Naruto shouted back. "You're in front of the most elite team of genin in the Hidden Leaf, the fabulous Team 7!" With the proclamation Sasuke scowled and Sakura banged her head on the cart in exasperation.

Musahsi sighed a bit in relief. "Genin, of course, twerps like you are just genin."

Sasuke looked up at Naruto in annoyance. "Dobe! You didn't need to tell them we're genin. That gives them a idea of how strong we are!"

Naruto scratched his head and grinned. "Sorry about that, I just kinda got caught up in the moment."

"Whatever. So what do you want us to do now, oh great team leader."

Musahsi interrupted. "What you kids should do is leave the cart with use and be on your way. I would prefer not to put the blood of children on my blade but I will if I must."

Naruto looked at him quizzically. "Why would we run? All I see is two failed ninja and a ronin samurai who turned to petty crime when they couldn't hack it in their own villages."

An angry tick appeared above Musahsi's head. "Look kid I'm trying to be patient here but if you think three rookie genin can beat us you're out of your blonde mind."

Naruto crossed his arms and almost seemed to be pouting. "Way I see it we have a three on three fight. Seems like a fair match to me. Believe it!"

Ryutaro and Shiko started to laugh. Musahsi just gave a bit of a smirk.

"Fair fight? Now since when do bandits, or ninja for that matter, fight fair?" said Musahsi bringing his fingers to his lips and letting out a high pitched whistle. Leaves and branches began to rustle as all around Team 7 around a dozen other bandits emerged from hiding all branding weapons and chuckling at the outmatched team.

Sasuke cursed and Sakura looked up at Naruto in annoyance as if this was his fault! To be fair he was team leader and this ambush was his plan but no one had mentioned more than the three bandits!

"Man this isn't even our real mission." Naruto complained as the bandits readied their weapons.

1

A chime sounded.

You have slept in your bed. HP & MP are fully restored.

"Yes!" Naruto Uzumaki shouted practically jumping out of bed. It had been several weeks since the young Jinchuuriki had confessed what he was to his best friend and then reconciled after she almost hadn't been able to handle it. At first things had been a bit awkward around each other but that had faded quickly. If anything their days were too busy to waste what precious free time they had on worrying over a little thing like containing one of the most powerful chakra beast known in your body.

What had the young ninja so happy today was that Kakashi Sensei had finally promised Team 7 they would get to do their first C rank mission, and that he would make sure it was something outside of the village. Naruto had felt like they were never going to do something besides another crap D rank (he had since stopped caring about the reputation bonuses, there's only so many times weeding a garden came seem interesting) and doing something more difficult that would require them to leave the village seemed awesome.

Naruto still did not know what it was that Kakashi Sensei had said to Sasuke to get him to start playing ball but ever since he had taken him aside to have a talk Sasuke had been much better at working with his teammates as a actual unit. Naruto could tell that his Uchiha friend still only barely cared about working as a team but for now he was finally playing ball and they had been doing much better in their mission, both D Rank and training, because of it. Best of all he could see himself getting stronger. He had made level 9 and would be at level 10 soon. Sakura had made level 6, he had hoped to get her level up higher but she at least she now had some real tricks that would be useful in combat. Sasuke, the teme, had made his way to level 13 still somehow managing to stay ahead of Naruto in terms of pure strength but Naruto could see the gap closing every day.

He had learned a bit more about how his power helped with skills. Skills had three general limits. The first is a level cap based on his own level. He could level any skill up to five levels beyond his character level. So if he was level 5 he could level any skill up to 10 at most until he hit level 6 in which case he could level the skill up to 11.

Unless the second restriction comes into effect. Some skills had a max cap. Take for example his Academy training. All those skills maxed out at level 5 and could be increased no further. If he wanted to improve, say his taijutsu, he had to find a new stronger skill to start leveling. Sasuke had a edge up on this with his Uchiha Clan skills but Naruto had not as of yet added on a advanced style. So he had picked up the Konoha Genin Skill set to advance his base skills. These were the general combat skills of a normal genin and considered the natural progression of the Academy skills. Naruto had considered trying to add multiple fighting styles but there were issues with that.

The third typical Skill cap was requirements. Sometimes to learn or advance a skill he had to have a another skill or condition met first. The Uchiha Clan style required you to be of the Uchiha bloodline to use, oh he could learn the style but if you weren't a blood member of the clan there were massive penalties. Somehow, Kakashi had the same skill set without the restrictions though Naruto thought it might have to do with the Sharingan. Conversely a style like Guy Sensei's and Lee's required a focus on Strength, Stamina and Dexterity to be used effectively which he was not willing to commit too.

This had also lead Naruto to the most difficult part of leveling; the time it took to level a skill. At first leveling a skill was easy and the first few levels could be made in a day for most skills, but after some time passed it became progressively harder, even with shadow clones. It took time for Naruto to figure out the reasons why, first obviously the higher the level the more exp it took to increase it but the second problem wasn't as apparent, Naruto found that that doing the same tasks that had once allowed for steady progress in a skill gave decreasing results as he leveled. He had been able to level his housecleaning skills at first by doing simple chores such as doing the dishes but as time went by he noticed doing the dishes gave less and less exp back. He had to do more difficult chores to get the same results as the dishes used to. Tenten had been surprised when he started doing most of the cleaning around the Yukari shop but the working area of a blacksmith was far dirtier than the messiest of 13 year boy's room. He found cleaning it gave him much better exp than his normal chores but now he had maxed his level in that skill, at least until he leveled again.

Naruto had been frustrated with the apparent limits in his power but it lead him to a few realizations. His power would allow him to learn practically any skill as long as he met the requirements and the speed in which he could level that skill was far faster that a normal shinobi. If he did max out all of the current skills he had that just gave him time to learn new skills until he leveled his character level. For the most part even that wasn't a issues, right now he seemed to level his character level faster than he could max out most of his skills. Naruto had checked with the progress of other genin around his age and he was either at or exceeding most of their skill levels. Only those with special training or abilities were still ahead of him, the average ninja was starting to fall behind quickly.

Naruto showered and changed with a quick access of his character sheet. After his still unfamiliar ninja armor settled on him he examined his inventory, he did not have to much stuff that he could not in theory take almost everything he owed with him if he so saw fit. He was resisting the temptation since that would mean most of his storage space would be full. He found boxed meals and instant ramen were stackable so he had several of each. He had all his ninja tools and his prank kit, he had survival gear that Tenten had helped put together, and what he was most proud of...food pills.

When he learned that cooking could give temporary stat bonuses he had sought out recipes about the ninja items that he had came across in his endless research at the library, he had been surprised to discover that pills were not made through the cooking skills alone but with the addition of another skill called Ninja Alchemy. This skill blends aspects of chemistry and chakra to create items, after picking up the skill Naruto learned two basic recipes, one health pill and one chakra pill that restored small amounts of each. The materials were not easy for him to get yet so he had not leveled it much but he was able to buy some larger pills for emergencies and had made a few stacks of the smaller ones. Naruto wasn't worried about supply since they had a cool-down anyway which would limit use during battle.

Looking over his inventory he gave a small nod, he had everything he thought he would need in most situations, especially on a C rank mission. Thanks to his knowledge of storage seals he didn't even have to explain why he didn't have a pack, he just carried a few handy scrolls on him, he had even made some scrolls for Sasuke and Sakura which had been been a good reputation bonus for both of them but he had still failed to unlock Sasuke's companion quest. Naruto gave one last check around his apartment to make sure it was secure while he was gone and seeing no issues headed out the door.

2

Tenten dodged Rock Lee as best she could trying to put some distance between herself and the chibi version of her Sensei, she had been sparring with Rock Lee for several minutes now, and, like most of their fights, she was starting to get overwhelmed. Lee moved light a monster across the training grounds avoiding each of her attacks like she was a rookie genin. She was launching dozens of shuriken and kunai at the spandex wearing shinobi and using chakra enhanced ninja wire to redirect them even when he dodged her attacks, but despite them she had not managed to land more than a few minor blows that would not have been threatening even if this had been a real battle.

The problem wasn't with her overall skill, the young kunoichi was quite a skilled weapon master even for such a young age, the problem was her opponent had such speed and strength at his disposal that he simply could out race or overpower any of her attacks before she could land any kind of significant blow. Tenten knew this fight was bound to end soon so she might as well try her trump card.

"Twin Roaring Dragons!" she shouted unrolling the twin scrolls in unison, she had improved the technique greatly since the first time. It was still a large chakra drain but she now could control the general direction of the attack. The modified seals when releasing the weapons drew of her chakra to add extra energy to the weapons when they were summoned to launch them with high speed at her opponent. Despite the chakra cost it was a better direct attack jutsu that the Twin Rising Dragons, with it she was able to overwhelm the defenses of a normal shinobi with ease. The first time she had used it against Lee she had been granted one of the first victories against her teammate.

The first time it had worked.

"Leaf Hurricane!" Rock Lee shouted spinning in the air using the wind generated by the attack to knock most of the projectiles off target, Tenten also noticed he was using the weights hidden under his clothing as armor to physically deflect the rest that came through. Clever. While she admired him she knew her attack had left an opening and started to move back to give herself some breathing room, but it was already too late, Lee had finished his attack and then propelled himself at her with opening she had created. He was moving too fast for her react, but still she tried to put her arms together for a block.

"HALT!" The voice of her Sensei shouted across the training grounds, somehow impossibly Lee had managed to pull his punch just the barest of inches from her face. She breathed a sigh of relief, that would have hurt, and it would have probably ruined her plans for the rest of the morning with the free time she had managed to wrangle from Guy Sensei.

The fight over Lee immediately stepped back smiling and bowed to his opponent in respect, she bowed back with a smile on her face as well despite the fact she was feeling pretty worm from the battle.

"That was a excellent battle Tenten. You have really improved your new jutsu!" he nearly shouted.

"Thanks Lee but I would like it better it you had not already found a way around it." she said keeping her tone light and a smile on her face to make sure there was no sting in her words.

If she had shown any bitterness Lee didn't see it as he nodded in response. "Yes! Once you defeated me with your new jutsu I worked straight for two weeks to make sure I had a defense against it.

Two weeks? It had taken her the better part of three months to get the jutsu down well enough to be sure of it in combat and he had found a counterattack in just two weeks, she had not been surprised when Neji had countered the attack on his first try but while Neji could be a jerk he was still a genius and she had expected it, but she had hoped her new attack would at least show she making up the ground between herself and Lee.

Guy Sensei walked up and congratulated them both. "Good job! Both of you were alive with the flames of youth!"

"Thank You Guy Sensei!" Lee responded enthusiastically back. She gave a less energetic, but still genuine, thanks as well. Guy looked at her quizzically and then turned to Lee.

"Lee in celebration of your victory let's say you do fifty laps around the training grounds."

Lee grinned and saluted. "Thank you Guy Sensei!" With a quick goodbye to Tenten he went off to train. Guy turned back to her and had a more serious look on his face.

"Tenten, what is bothering one of my favorite students?" asked Guy.

Tenten tried to hold back a startled look on her face, sometimes it was easy to forget that despite his strange habits and ways of acting that Guy Sensei was a jōnin and as such fairly perspective. She shook her head in a attempt to sway any of his worries.

"Nothing really Sensei it's just..." her voice trailed off as she tried to think about how she wanted to put her feelings.

"You're disappointed in how you're doing when compared to Lee and Neji?"

She wasn't about to stop her startled reaction this time and simply nodded a affirmative.

"It's not that I'm jealous or anything Sensei it's just that I don't think I have done as well I could. I know I don't train as hard as Lee and that I'm not a genius like Neji but I'm putting a lot of effort into trying to reach my goal and I've been wondering if I haven't been doing enough if there's still a large gap between me and the boys."

Guy Sensei smiled. "Tenten sometimes I know the flames of youth that both I and Lee show when we're doing our training might seem like a lot when compared to most ninja but just because you don't train as much as we do don't think you're flames don't burn just as bright! We are able to train to the lengths we do because training itself is part of our passion. You train as much as Neji and you are probably the strongest kunoichi from your age group, indeed, you may be one of the strongest shinobi from your graduating class."

"Thank you Sensei but when I see Lee and Neji they're such powerhouses and I'm...well not."

Guy for a moment seemed to have a distant look in his eyes and collected his thoughts before he continued.

"Tenten who is my greatest rival?"

"Kakashi Sensei of course."

"Yes, I have known Kakashi since I was younger than you. When I met Kakashi I picked him as my rival because he seemed so strong and I wanted to match myself against that strength and you know what happened when I did?"

"What Sensei?" Tenten asked curious. Guy talked about his rivalry of course, but rarely from when he was young.

"He crushed me. I had expected it at first after all I knew he was stronger than me and I wanted someone to measure myself against, so I trained and trained and challenged him again. Again he defeated me. So I trained and challenged him again, only for him to defeat me again. The happened over and over for years."

"And you kept going Sensei?" Tenten asked not being able to accept failing so many times but still fighting on.

"Oh I had moments I wanted to give up, when the task I had given myself of surpassing Kakashi seemed impossible, but I was encouraged to keep going by my friends, a few times Kakashi himself, and I kept working at until I noticed something. I may have not been surpassing Kakashi but I was becoming stronger than most of my fellow ninja. I had been so focused on my goal I had forgotten the reason I set him as my goal in the first place; I had wanted to become the strongest I could be."

"So you had achieved your true goal even if you couldn't beat Kakashi Sensei?"

"Right! My flames of youth had grown brighter without me even realizing. Tenten do you know the first time I ever beat Kakashi in a competition?"

She shook her head no.

"It wasn't until I made the rank of jōnin."

"That long Sensei?"

"Yes for years he had defeated me but that first win was all the more sweeter for it. What I am trying to say is just because you don't feel as strong as your teammates don't mistake that for not becoming strong, because you are and I couldn't be more proud to have you as one of my students."

She would not let a tear fall but she may have sounded a bit chocked up when she responded. "Thank you Sensei, I am honored to have you as my teacher as well."

He did not hide the fact that he was wiping a tear from his eyes. "Now Tenten one thing I don't want you to take away from my lesson is that you have to wait years to match...or surpass your teammates strength." He placed his hands on her shoulders and smiled encouragingly. "One of the differences between yourself and the boys is they already have their own fighting styles while you have been developing yours from scratch. Neji has his clan fighting style and Lee has done me the honor of following my style of combat. You're not going to develop a new style overnight but I have complete faith in you Tenten, I know you will become as strong as Tsunade one day and I will do my best as your Sensei to help you achieve that goal." he finished his speech with a thumbs up and she could swear there was a sparkle coming off his large grin.

She gave a bow and tried not to show how she was a bit overwhelmed after his speech. Guy Sensei could be totally awesome when he wasn't acting completely crazy!

"Now weren't you going to go meet with young Naruto after he gets his first C rank mission?" Guy asked.

"Yes Sensei, I wanted to say goodbye before he left."

"Of course! Being apart from your precious person can be one of the most difficult parts of being ninja. Just know the flames of youthful passion will not be quenched with a few days apart. Now remember, no special goodbyes before you're both chūnin, I don't want any grandchildren until you're older." Guy said still giving her the thumbs up.

...And suddenly it was awkward again. Tenten felt her face going white and then red with a combination of anger and embarrassment.

"It's not like that Sensei...and why are you talking about things like that with your student anyways?" she shouted.

He waved off her complaint. "It's the duty of a Sensei to watch out for his student in all aspects of their life to make them better shinobi."

"I'm pretty sure their love life is not something you're supposed to be talking about."

"Love life, eh?" he responded.

Now the red on her face was mostly embarrassment. "It's not like that!"

"Well just remember our talk. I think I am going to go train with Lee." said Guy sensing a imminent storm of weapons about to fill the air, with a quick Body Flicker he vanished from the training area, leaving Tenten to contemplate her revenge.

3

Sakura neared the edge of training area for Team Guy. She was due to meet with her team later this morning where they would finally get their first C rank mission! Sakura was proud, she had been working hard to make sure their team was strong enough to earn one and Kakashi Sensei had finally said they were ready. Kakashi Sensei and Naruto had done a lot to help her become strong enough that she was starting to not feel like a burden to her teammates, but one other person had been helping her out and she wanted to thank her before they got their mission.

Entering the clearing she saw Tenten obviously fuming over something and considering waiting to thank the girl later. After Tenten and Naruto had made up from whatever it was Naruto had done (she never found out what it was but Tenten had assured her that her teammate had done nothing wrong and it was all to do with a misunderstanding), Sakura had come to the older kunoichi, first just to find out what had happened but after that a conversation had started and she found a new friend in Tenten. In some ways she reminded her of Ino, at least in the sheer confidence she had in herself as a girl and as a shinobi, Sakura found she missed that ever since Sasuke had come between her and her former best friend. While Ino had done a lot to help her stand up for herself she still found she was not as confident as she wanted or pretended to be sometimes.

Tenten had sensed this and had started to take the younger girl under her wing, she listened to Sakura's doubts, and in her own way tried to help her master them. Of course many times Tenten's version of help was watching Sakura dodge multitudes of kunai, she wouldn't admit it but she was like her Sensei in some ways, including a habit of thinking training could solve most of life's problems. Still she had grown stronger and she would do her best to help her team the way Tenten did hers. Deciding she still wanted to talk to her friend she strode forward.

"Stupid Guy Sensei, who does he think he is, I don't make comments about his personal life." Tenten was muttering to herself.

Sakura's pace slowed, maybe she shouldn't disturb her friend after all.

"I mean when's the last he's been out on a date anyway? I bet he would send any woman screaming in fear after he yelled "Yosh!" the first time."

Taking another step a small twig broke, the sound cutting through the stillness in the air, and Tenten spun around holding three kunai in each hand and unconsciously letting loose a small amount of killing intent. Sakura stopped, pallor going pale, and for a moment thinking if she could make it to the forest edge in time.

"I didn't do it!" she said quickly. Tenten, noticing it wasn't her mentor, noticeably calmed down and allowed a smile smile on her face.

"Sakura? Sorry about that." Tenten said sheepishly putting the weapons away.

Sakura breathed a sigh of relief. Being friends with Tenten could be...heart pounding at times.

"It's okay, I'm sorry I startled you, is something wrong?" Sakura asked concerned.

"Nothing just Guy Sensei being...Guy Sensei." she said waiving off the apology.

Sakura chuckled a bit. She had heard several rants about her new friends teacher and it had made her much more appreciative for her own Sensei's quirks.

"Well I just came by to talk for a bit. I have some free time this morning because Kakashi Sensei is going to be getting us our first C rank mission today!" she said with the excitement leaking into her voice.

"I know, Naruto told me about last night, congratulations Sakura! You've both worked hard for it, I should know!" she said back with a grin. "I'm leaving from here to meet with Naruto. Sensei gave me permission to miss training to see him off."

"I don't want to intrude on you two."

Tenten dismissed the concern with a wave of her hand. "It's not like we're together or anything."

Sakura hid her smile at that one, both her and Naruto were very clear on that point, but ever since they had made up from their fight they had spent a great deal of their free time together and the pink haired kunoichi thought it was probably only a matter of time until they stopped dancing around the the issue.

"Well then I guess I'll join you two then." she agreed.

After a few minutes for Tenten to gather her things they started heading back toward the village. For a few minutes they walked in silence enjoying the scenery but it was Tenten who broke the quiet.

"So how do you feel about your first C Rank?"

"Excited, I mean this will be the real first test of our skills, how do I know I'm ready?"

"Why would you not think you're ready?" Tenten asked.

"Well it's just that the boys are so much stronger than I am. Naruto has his shadow clones and is starting to add on a lot more skills everyday it seems and Sasuke was already well...Sasuke." she said not quite able to keep the dreamy tone out of her voice when speaking about the Uchiha.

Tenten arched her eyebrow at that one, Sakura already know how she felt about her third teammate, while she didn't necessarily hate the boy, she didn't really care for him much either. His attitude could disrupt a team and the way he treated a girl who was head over heels for him angered her a bit. He didn't have to return her feelings but he could show her respect as a fellow shinobi, she had to admit he had improved with both her and Naruto, he seemed to be starting to act civil enough at times. She shook her head at the thought. Naruto seemed to think they were getting through to the teme slowly and her and Sakura had a kind of truce on regards to the two boys anyways; she would not berate Sasuke for his attitude and Sakura would not hold her odd...friendship with Naruto against her.

"Sakura," she started with a gentle tone, she knew the girl's confidence was still a fragile thing right now, "you are not as strong a Naruto or Sasuke yet, but you are playing a valuable support role on your team that they need whether they know it not." though she would make sure Naruto understood. "You are just starting off in your shinobi career and you have plenty of time to learn your own style and get stronger."

Tenten stopped in her tracks and started to chuckle. Sakura looked at her with a perplexed look.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing really. It's just that I had a similar conversation with Guy Sensei just before you showed up. Lee had beat me in a spare, again, and I was upset that I felt like I was stuck in the support role on our team."

"You don't like being in a support role?" Sakura asked. While she didn't voice it Tenten could hear her concern, Sakura was working as hard as she could just to be in a strong support role.

"Honestly? I'm not sure. My team is a close combat specialist, but taijutsu is my secondary skill and in battle I tend to focus on long range attacks with my kenjutsu to make sure the enemy doesn't overwhelm us with numbers. My goal when becoming a shinobi was to surpass Lady Tsunade, but I did not have any of her natural skills...you're more like her than I am Sakura!"

Sakura gave a small smile at the compliment.

"Even though I don't have any of her skills I am working hard on acquiring my own skillset, but like Sensei says it takes longer to walk your path than to follow a path someone has already set so I guess I'll be okay with being the support member of my team for now, besides we need it to be more balanced, even I wasn't there it was be far easier for enemies to overwhelm us with ranged attacks."

"I don't know if I'll ever be strong enough to be more than just support."

Tenten laughed and Sakura looked quizzically at her older friend. Tenten waived, diffusing any insult.

"Sorry, but didn't I tell you you had similar skills to Lady Tsunade? Most of her skills are technically support skills but she has mastered them so well she is one of the Sannin and the greatest medical ninja to boot! If she can do that starting off as a "support" ninja then me and you can too!"

Sakura nodded...hesitantly at first but then with more confidence. "You're right we will be awesome support ninja and then awesome kunoichi!"

"Yeah...and then we will kick the boys ass." Tenten said with a laugh. Sakura laugh along with her and both friends continued talking as they went off to meet with Naruto.

4

Naruto was waiting by Ichiraku's when the girls came into view. Naruto waived to them and they both returned the gesture, for a moment he paused savoring the feeling of friendship growing around him, seeing people who were happy to see him, besides the precious few he had up until this point, made him happier than he could express.

Tenten spoke first. "Hey Naruto-kun I hope you don't mind if Sakura joins us for breakfast."

"I don't want to be a bother." said Sakura.

"You're never a bother Sakura, unless you keep me from the ramen." he said with a grin. "Come on this could be our last breakfast here for awhile!"

"I think that means more to you than it does to us Naruto-kun." teased Tenten.

"So you don't like our cooking?" commented Ayame from around the corner.

"Apologies Ayame, but you have to admit Naruto loves ramen more than anything else in the Elemental Nations."

"As he should, our ramen is some of the best around and if I find my other favorite customers are saying it's anything but the best I may make poor Naruto-kun choose between ramen and you." the young chef replied in a teasing voice.

Tenten giggled and turned to comment to Naruto who she noticed was frozen with indecision.

"You're actually thinking about it aren't you?" she commented dryly.

"Uh..."

"So which would you pick Naruto-kun? Me or ramen?" asked Tenten.

Sakura leaned over and fake whispered. "You may want to answer this carefully Naruto-baka."

Naruto's mind raced,thinking about a world without ramen, until he came up with the answer.

"I would pick homemade ramen made by you Tenten." he said with his best grin.

The three girls looked at each other evaluating his answer.

"Okay I have to give him credit for that one." Ayame finally commented.

Sakura nodded. "He does seem to be learning."

"I do try." said Tenten proudly.

Naruto sighed sensing the danger to ramen had passed and got down to the business of eating. He chatted off and on with the girls but mostly watched Tenten and Sakura, he was happy for the friendship they had struck. Naruto found that to get Sakura motivated that many times he had to use manipulation to get her really focused on her training, but he hated when he had to do it, Tenten was a much more positive influence giving Sakura encouragement to be the best ninja she could be, while having nothing to do with Sasuke. Naruto sighed for a moment thinking about the third member of their team, Sasuke was doing a lot better in training (well with teamwork at least, Naruto had to admit Sasuke was always doing just fine when it came to developing his skills) and that was the reason Kakashi was getting them a C rank today, but he couldn't help but be worried that in a real mission he would go right back to his old habits.

He sighed and put the thoughts aside for now, he was enjoying a meal with his friends and latter he would go on his first real mission. If Sasuke turned out to be a problem he would deal with it when it came. Dark thoughts put aside Naruto got down to enjoying his favorite food with his the people he cared about.

5

The three friends stopped in front of the Hokage tower, they stopped before they went in, the two younger shinobi looking up with a bit of apprehension. Tenten smiled at them, remembering what is was like when Guy Sensei had taken them on their first C rank mission. Of course now that she thought about she was the only one acting nervous, Lee had been his usual over the top self and Neji never showed any emotion he did not have to, so that had left her feeling a bit on her own. She was glad the her two friends were able to face it together.

"Don't worry you two, I know you'll do fine, I have trained with you both after all.

"

"Yeah Sakura don't worry," said Naruto starting to regain his normal confidence, "with me as your team leader what could go wrong?"

"That feels me with such confidence Naruto." Sakura replied dryly, but despite that she still seemed to lose most of her tension.

"Either way you two I'm going to leave you here. I shouldn't be hanging out with you guys when you get your mission after all."

"Is this goodbye then?" Naruto asked rubbing the back of his head. Tenten shook her head.

"No, I have the morning off. You'll probably be leaving soon after you get your mission. I'll meet you at the gates to say goodbye then."

"You two are so cute together sometimes." Sakura said with a grin on her face. Naruto and Tenten tensed going red and both glared at her. Noticing Tenten getting ready to go into weapons mode she grabbed Naruto and started dragging him into the tower.

"Well we can't keep Kakashi waiting! Bye Tenten!" she shouted dragging them both away before the blades started flying. Tenten sighed smiled and waived as they entered the building.

"Why do you have to tease us like that?" Naruto asked as they entered inside.

"Help restarting the Uchiha clan." she reminded him of his favorite topic of teasing.

"...fair enough." he replied.

Naruto and Sakura made their way to the mission room of the Hokage tower. Outside the door they found Kakashi and Sasuke waiting for them, Sasuke looked almost annoyed and Kakashi was leaning back reading his book.

"You guys are almost late." Sasuke complained.

"I'm sorry Sasuke-kun, Naruto was delaying us." Sakura said quickly. Naruto sighed, fan-girl rears her ugly head again.

"Hey some of us have better things to do in our free time than brood teme." said Naruto.

"Whatever dobe." Sasuke replied.

Kakashi snapped his book shut and put it away. "Alright you three let's not start a fight before we go before the Hokage. I wouldn't want my three cute little genin to make a bad impression on the Hokage for their first C rank after all."

The three genin in question quieted down and nodded to their Sensei. Kakashi looked at them each in turn with his single eye and nodded back seemly satisfied with what he saw. He turned opening the door to the mission room and his team followed in after him. Naruto blinked for a moment from the change in light from the darker hallway to the brighter large room, he had been here dozens of times before whenever they came in to get their D rank missions, but today it felt...different. Naruto's eyes settled on the Hokage sitting in the center of the mission bench looking down at the entering team, despite trying to look serious Naruto could see a small smile on Jiji's face. Naruto could barely contain his own smile back.

Kakashi stepped forward his team a few steps behind him.

"Team 7 reporting for duty Lord Hokage." said Kakashi much more formally than normal.

"I see, so are you looking for some more D ranks for your young genin then Kakashi?"

"No Lord Hokage."

"Eh? Well there is no official E rank mission but I'm sure we could find something if we try hard enough." said Sarutobi with a twinkle in is eye.

Keep it up Old Man, I have a Prank Skill and I'm not afraid to use it though Naruto to himself.

"No Lord Hokage, I am requesting my first C rank mission for my team."

The Third leaned back in his chair forming a temple with his hands looking down at Team 7.

"So you think they're ready for the responsibility that a C Rank entails?"

"I do Lord Hokage."

"Hmm, I'm not so sure. I can remember some of them toddling around begging for ramen yesterday...or at least so it seems."

Naruto felt himself going a bit red with embarrassment. He may have asked for ramen recently but he did not "toddle". His patience was thinning.

"Come on Jiji! You know we're ready for this already!" he finally shouted.

Sarutobi chuckled. "Well I supposed you are. Forgive an old man Naruto his amusement, but I do remember when all of you were just babies and it never stops feeling strange whenever I have to send you out for your first real mission."

The Hokage searched through several of missions set in a pile in front of him. Finally he pulled out one and handed it toward the team. Naruto raced ahead of his Sensei and grabbed the paper. A chime sounded.

Travel to Natsu bare: The small village of Natsu bare on the border of the Land of Fire has requested the help of Konoha shinobi to stop a wild boar infestation. Travel to the village and investigate the scope of the problem. Reward: 500 exp. Increased reputation with Konohagakure.

"Wild boars! Jiji you sure this isn't some sort of D rank mission in disguise?"

The Third's face took on a slightly harder tone. "Naruto all missions that come to us are important, whether it is a D rank mission to take out the trash or a S rank to save a country and all those missions should be treated with respect. Am I clear?"

Naruto rubbed the back of his head. "I know Jiji, I just really want to test myself after working so hard."

The Third smiled. "I know you do my boy, but the road of shinobi is a long one, especially if you want my hat one day."

"Besides," Kakashi said grabbing the mission report from Naruto's hands, "it's actually up to your jōnin Sensei to evaluate a mission. I doubt these are normal boars."

"What do you mean Sensei?" Sakura asked.

"A small village wouldn't hire shinobi for something their own hunters would normally be able to take down on their own. Even a C Rank mission is expensive for small villages such as this one, I expect these boars are probably chakra mutations."

Naruto scratched his head. "What's a chakra munition?"

"Chakra mutation baka. I swear sometimes you go right back into your bad habits." complained Sakura. "A chakra mutation is when a unusually high amount of nature chakra combines with with a plant or animal in nature forming a stronger version of that animal or one with abilities outside the range the species would normally possess."

"Very good Sakura." Kakashi said. The pink haired girl beamed. "You see Naruto most of the time these mutation simply result in fiercer more dangerous animals, many times too dangerous for a average civilian to handle. That is why we're being hired."

"So all these mutations are dangerous?" Naruto asked.

Kakashi shook his head. "Not necessarily, many times there might be useful traits the shinobi world might want to cultivate, for example, the Inuzuka ninken originally came from mutation stock that were then breed over the years. Some shinobi believe most summon animals come from the same process, or at least something similar."

"It still seems like hunting pigs but hey, it's out first C rank so we'll rock it. Believe it!" he said with his normal enthusiasm. Sakura nodded in agreement with him.

"What are the chances we'll run into a giant boar?" asked Sasuke breaking his silence.

His teammates looked at him with curiosity. He actually seemed interested in something.

Kakashi tilted his head. "Well I supposed it could happen. The client would normally have mentioned something like that in the report. Why do you want to know?"

"I...once faced one before. Facing another one now would let me see how strong I've become."

"You faced a giant boar! That's so awesome! When did you do that?" Sakura aksed.

"I don't want to talk about." he snapped.

"Hey teme she just asked a question, no need to be a jerk about." commented Naruto.

"Whatever."

"Enough you three." Kakashi said his voice cracking with a note of command. The three genin stood at attention. Kakashi turned back toward the Hokage.

"Team 7 formally accepts it's first C rank mission Lord Hokage." he said.

The Hokage smiled down at the team. "I sure you will all do fine. Just remember to watch out for each other and make Konoha proud."

"Hai Lord Hokage!" Team 7 responded and left the mission room.

6

They had been given two hours to prepare anything they would need for the journey and say whatever goodbyes they needed to, Sakura and Sasuke were basically already packed thanks to their storage scrolls but Sakura left to say goodbye to her family and Sasuke left...to well Naruto didn't really know but brood most likely. Naruto meet back with Tenten who shared his excitement, they swung by Ichiraku's and said goodbye to Ayame and her father, but Naruto declined any more ramen for the day (mostly because Tenten was there and because he had plenty stored in his inventory), there were others who would miss his presence for various reasons who he sent a few shadow clones to explain his absence.

Now their time was nearly up and the two friends were making their way to the gates. As the gates came into view he saw several people already there, first was, surprisingly, Kakashi Sensei standing by a disgruntled Sasuke. Next was Sakura and her family chatting amiably with a third group. It was the third group that surprised Naruto most of all because they seemed to waiting for him. Naruto had seen genin teams leave the village before and many times, time permitting, their friends and family would see them off, to wish them well and to come home safe.

Iruka Sensei saw Naruto first and waived, his presence now know to the others who waived as well. Besides his former teacher Ino was there as well along with the other two members of Team 10 Shikamaru and Chōji and most surprisingly Chōji's father, head of the Akimichi Clan, Chōza.

Shikamaru and Chōji had been friends from his Academy days of course, they were some of the few who would be willing to spend some time with him, thought since they had all joined their respective teams they had not seen a lot of each other. Naruto had actually been spending more time with Ino than the two of them since he was doing his mind training with her.

"Hey guys what are you doing here?"

"What are you talking about? We're your friends aren't we? You deserve a good send off for your first real mission." commented Ino.

"Speak for yourself, I would have been happy sleeping in, but it was between this or training, which I hear is your fault by the way Naruto." the young Nara said with a bit of annoyance.

"How's that my fault?"

"You got miss loudmouth on here on a training kick ever since you kicked her ass in a spar and now she's got Sensei working us double time."

Naruto tried not to smile at his friends plight, it wasn't his fault, Ino had challenged him to spare after he might have mentioned he would stomp her in a fight in the real world. She had accepted and like he had predicted he had defeated her soundly, as soundly as she beat him in the mindscape. Ino being Ino had not accepted that and had challenged again after every single session they had. She had yet to win.

"Come on Shikamaru it can't be that bad I mean Asuma is pretty laid back from what I hear."

"He was until Ino threatened to go to Kurenai Sensei and tell her that he was slacking in his teaching duties, since then we have been training non-stop, this is the first morning we've gotten off in weeks!"

"Yeah and he threatened to take away my snacks if I didn't keep up!" complained Choji.

"Now boys, your Sensei's job is to push you, it is not Ino's or Naruto's fault if your having difficulties keeping up because you two have been slacking." the large friendly voice of Chōza said as he rubbed both boys heads. After he was done embarrassing the boys he reached his hand out to Naruto who shook it readily. The older jōnin's hand seemed to engulf his own.

"Nice to meet you, I have heard some good things about you from my boy and most recently from Inoichi as well, it seems you have been very helpful around to his clan recently."

"Just doing some random chores here and there sir."

"Call me Chōza Naruto, I don't stand on formality any more than Inoichi."

"Thanks Chōza."

"Now Naruto seeing as you have been helping out my former teammate I was wonder if you could do a favor for me?"

Naruto scratched the back of his head. "Normally I would be happy to help but I'm leaving for a mission today and I'll be gone for a few days."

"I'm aware of your mission and it's why I need your services."

Naruto glanced over at Tenten who just shrugged her shoulders.

"Your team is going to the village of Natsu barē correct?"

"Yes?" Naruto asked wondering what his mission to the remote village could have to do with the Akimichi Clan.

"As you may know Naruto my clan is know for more than being excellent shinobi, we are also known for being chefs, we have to work hard to keep up both reputations. Because of that we keep our ear out for rumors of rare ingredients that we can use to make new dishes. I have heard of rumors of a unique root called the Natsu yūgō rūto which is said to be fused with the essence of summer itself and it only grows in the woods surrounding Natsu barē, I have not had time to send one of my clan down there to check it out and see if would be worth establishing a trade deal with the local village. If your mission permits I would like you to find me samples of this root and bring them back to me. I can make this worth your while."

A chime sounded.

New Quest: Pride of the Clans: The Road to the Akimichi Clan is through their stomach: Chōza, clan leader of the Akimichi Clan, has asked you gather samples of the rare Natsu root. Gather 12 samples and bring them back to Chōza. Reward: 500 exp. 1000 ryō. Akimichi Cookbook. Unlocks Akimichi Clan quests.

Naruto had long since learned to school his face whenever his power popped up some new information, but his eyebrows still rose a bit. A new clan questline!

"I would be honored to help out your clan Chōza." Naruto said honestly.

"Thanks, maybe your hard work will rub off on these two eh?" he said with a laugh. Well I'll let you finish your goodbyes. Good luck on your first C rank." The large jōnin smiled and headed off into the distance.

Shikamaru scratched his ear. "Troublesome. You go around helping clan heads like this Naruto and they'll start to think all genin should be doing the same thing."

"How are you going to manage getting the roots for my dad and get your mission done?" Choji asked while munching on a second bag of chips.

"Eh, it shouldn't be too hard. We'll be hunting boars in the forest anyway."

"That's cool well good luck Naruto. If I leave now I can get in a early lunch before Asuma Sensei makes us start with training again!" the young genin waived and walked off to find a meal.

"Sigh. Well I better keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't stuff himself to badly or Asuma will put him on half rations for a week. Despite whatever madness you've infected Ino with Naruto watch yourself out there. I can't get back at you if get run over by some runaway pig"

"Is that supposed to be some sort of comment!" Ino yelled.

"No! No! His mission is dealing with boars remember?"

"Better just be about his mission." she mumbled.

"Troublesome girl." Shikamaru said softly. "Anyways I'll see you later Naruto, Tenten."

"Cya man, thanks for coming by." said Naruto

"Bye Shikamaru." added Tenten.

Ino turned back toward Naruto. "Don't think just because your on a mission you can slack off in your training. I expect to see improvement by the time you get back. Alright?"

"Yes Sensei." Naruto said with a smirk.

"Don't call me Sensei! It makes me sound old! Anyways I just want to make sure you're ready for...you know...that." she said with a nervous look at Tenten.

Naruto felt his face soften. "I know Ino I promise to train but I doubt that will be a issue soon, and Tenten knows."

"Of course you and her are..." she paused not knowing how to finish her sentence.

"Close." Tenten finished for her.

"Close! Right! Well I am going to catch up with my two teammates before they forget we have training." Naruto reached out and grabbed her arm before she could run away.

"Ino...thanks. For seeing me off. I am not used to that." he said in genuine thanks.

"I said I was your friend for real right? Seeing your friend off on their first C rank is tradition."

"Still it means a lot." he said with a smile. She smiled back and then glanced at Tenten. "Well I think I need to go."

"You sure you don't want to say goodbye to Sakura too?"

"Why would I want to say goodbye to Sakura?"

"Because you both have doing your best to not look at each other. Someone needs to make the first step Ino."

She looked at her old friend and almost seemed to decide to step toward her but shook her head and stepped back."

"She doesn't want to talk to me. I'm her rival after all. Just...make sure she's okay will you Naruto?"

"I promise."

"That's good enough for me. I'll see you when you get back!" with that she ran off to find her teammates.

Tenten leaned in. "What did I say about other girls?"

"Hey she's just a friend, and she likes teme anyways."

Tenten sighed. "It would be so much easier if I didn't think you believed that. Well I am going to talk to Sakura for a bit." With that she joined up Sakura and her family.

Naruto sighed and looked up at Iruka. His former Sensei was watching him with a grin.

"What?" He asked.

"Nothing just wondered when you became so popular. Girls fighting over you, clan heads asking for your help, and now your going on your first C rank and leaving the village!"

"Girls are not fighting over me, Ino and Tenten are both friends."

"And what would Tenten do if you went on a date with Ino?"

"..."

"Speak up Naruto." Iruka said in his best teacher voice.

"Probably something with kunai."

"I see well I'm sure she's just a friend."

"I can still prank you, you know, just saying."

Iruka laughed and shook his head. "Okay I'll leave it be, but seriously Naruto I wanted you to know I'm proud of you. You are really starting to make your way in the shinobi world."

"Thanks Iruka Sensei. I am trying my best."

"And people are starting to notice. You'll be Hokage before you know it."

Naruto relished the warm feeling of Iruka's praise. He was one of the first who had taught him and hearing him be proud...well that meant more than he could say. Iruka looked down at the young ninja.

"I'm not going to tell you good luck because you've worked hard and don't need it, but be careful and come home safe. Okay?"

Naruto wiped the corner of his eye. "Stupid dust. I'll be safe Sensei. Keep Konoha safe while I'm gone!"

"Goodbye Naruto."

"Goodbye Sensei." and with that his teacher left.

Naruto looked at the Sakura and her family laughing. For a moment he thought of going over and joining them but he didn't want to ruin their moment. He had meet Sakura's parents a few times and he seemed to get a mixed vibe from them. He didn't know if it was because of his Jinchuuriki status or not, but they certainly weren't completely happy he was around their daughter. He waited as they finished their goodbyes. Tenten gave Sakura a hug and the pink haired girl went to join Kakashi and Sasuke. Tenten came back to him. Suddenly it dawned on both of them that they had to say goodbye.

"Crap I thought I was good with this but I know I'm going to miss you." she said suddenly.

"Me too, I like having you around Tenten." he said. She smiled at him and then enveloped him in a hug. He returned it in a second.

"No turning into a Demon Fox while your gone okay?" she whispered into his ear.

"Deal as long you don't start wearing green leotards like Guy and Lee. He felt her shudder and laugh at the same time. They pulled away and smiled. Tenten leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

"See you soon Naruto-kun!" she said and ran off to train. Naruto unconsciously rubbed his cheek and went to join his team.

7

Kakashi had wasted no time escorting them through the gates of Konohagakure. Naruto had found himself absorbing in all the sites and sounds of the forest and for a while it had completely focused his attention.

For awhile anyways.

Now, several hours later, he realized that the next few miles of forest would be the same as the previous miles of forest and they might keep on being the same until they actually reached their destination which wouldn't be until tomorrow afternoon.

"Man Kakashi Sensei why don't we go faster I want to be there already."

"Ninja squad leaders don't whine Naruto. In answer to your question if we expend all our energy to get there we wouldn't have the energy to actually complete our mission and that may look bad to the client if we show up on their doorstep and immediately crash from exhaustion."

"I wouldn't crash."

"Not all of us have your ridiculous levels of stamina Naruto, do think of your team when making team decisions."

"Yes Sensei."

"Don't be snippy."

"Yes Sensei."

A few more minutes passed and Sakura made her way next to him.

"Naruto?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you friends with Ino?"

"Yeah I guess I am." he said glancing at her face he saw she was looking at the ground.

"How is she doing?"

"Pretty good I guess, why do you ask?"

"Well I just wanted to see if she gave up on Sasuke."

"Really? Is that all you care about?"

"Well she is my rival after all."

"Sasuke's my rival, I didn't end any friendships over it."

"That's different Naruto, Sasuke is your fighting rival, Ino is my romantic rival."

"Because you're going to make Sasuke chose one of you?"

Sakura looked at Naruto and glanced back at Sasuke. She was pretty sure he was to far away to hear them.

"Well I can't make Sasuke choose me of course..."

"Ino might she does have crazy mind powers."

"She wouldn't do that! Would she?" Sakura paused for a moment thinking about it.

"Not likely." Naruto agreed. "So barring crazy mind control jutsu Sasuke will actually get to chose the girl he chooses to be with, what makes you think he is going to chose either of you?"

Sakura looked at Naruto and was perplexed. How had she gotten in this conversation.

"Well we're on the same team..." she trailed off.

"So if Ino was on the team he would chose her? Is this a proximity thing? Cause you know you're around me a lot."

"No! I'm meant to be with Sasuke!"

Naruto rested his arms behind his head. "You know it wasn't too long ago that I thought we were meant to be together. Want to ask me how that's worked out?"

"That's not the same thing! I haven't shown any interest in you!"

He gave her a small grin. "And how much interest has he shown in you?"

Sakura paused not knowing what to say when both teens were interrupted by a weak voice.

"Please...help us." the weak voice called from off the side of the road. The voice was so faint Naruto was not sure he had heard it but Sakura shared his look of concern. Naruto gestured Kakashi and Sasuke forward.

"What is it?" asked Kakashi.

"We heard a call for help Sensei." said Sakura.

Sasuke stared into the foliage but saw nothing. "It could be a trap."

"Hmm that would be unusual this far into Fire Country territory but not impossible. Naruto send in a squad of clones to spring the trap if there is one. Sakura be on guard for any genjutsu. Everyone stay on guard."

The three genin nodded and Naruto sent his clones into the tree line. A few moments later Naruto's eyes widened as one of the clones dispersed.

"It's not a trap Sensei, there are civilians in trouble!"

Kakashi nodded. "Lead the way then."

Team 7 carefully made their way into the woods still wary for a attack. Naruto sent a few more clones to guard the area. Not far in they found a old couple tied to a tree and a overturned cart lying next to them. The couple looked like man and wife and were well into their sunset years. They looked dehydrated and exhausted, they had obviously tied there for several hours.

"Sasuke release them from their bonds, Sakura examine them and treat them for their injuries. Naruto double the number of clones in the area and see what tracks or clues you can find."

"You don't need...to...worry yourselves. We'll be okay now that we are free." the old man said after he and his wife were lowered to the ground.

"Please lay still sir. I know some medical ninjutsu."

"Really your younger than my granddaughter!"

"She knows what she's doing." said Kakashi. Sakura glowed with a note of pride. "Now can you tell us what happened?"

The old man shrugged, it was not for him to question the ways of the shinobi. "Me and Myē were heading back from successful trade in Konohagakure. We we're loaded with supplies when three shinobi came stopped us in the road. They gave us a choice of our things or our lives, I getting to old to face off against a regular bandit let alone one of your kind. I gave them our things and they tied us to the tree. They said eventually someone would come along and release us...if we shouted loud enough."

Naruto was angry. "How do you know they were shinobi?" he asked.

Myē responded, "They could do things like that." she said pointing to the clones."

"Oh."

"They're probably rogue shinobi who turned to thievery." commented Kakashi. "Still pretty brave to be trying this so close to Konoha, they are probably counting on the fact this trade route is rarely used." He paused as Sakura finished her examination.

"So how are they Sakura?"

"They should be fine after they get a good night's sleep and some food and water Sensei."

"Good, now we have to decide what we are going to do about the bandits."

"What do you mean Sensei? We need to go stomp them into the ground! Believe it!"

"Naruto! It's not that simple! We have several responsibilities to consider."

"Like what?"

"Them for one." Kakashi said gesturing at the old couple. "We found them so their our responsibility to see them to safety. Second we have a mission where people are counting on us already, if we're late people could be put in danger and Konoha's reputation could suffer and yes we do have a obligation to either stop the bandits ourselves or inform Konoha so another team can be sent out."

"So what do we do?" asked Naruto.

"They're are several options available, but what do you think we should do squad leader?"

Naruto sensed the underneath the underneath, Kakashi would make the best call but he was testing his leadership decisions under pressure, so what was the best choice? Should they engage the enemy or escort the couple back to Konoha and inform the village? He looked at the couple and knew he didn't want anyone else to be harmed they way they were.

"Kakashi Sensei you could escort them back to the village and meet back up with us right?"

"I supposed why?"

"Here's what I think. You escort our friends here to safety. We'll scout and engage the enemy, if there too strong we'll high tail it back to you. You said they're rogue shinobi and most of them never graduated from the Academy right?"

"True but many of them have as well."

"I think we could stop them Kakashi Sensei." Naruto said with conviction.

Kakashi tilted his head to the side as if thinking it over.

"Alright. We'll go with your strategy Naruto."

"We will?" Sakura asked not sure how she felt hunting a unknown opponent.

"I think Naruto is right." said Sasuke. "We can handle any rubbish out there."

That gave Naruto second thoughts, but still he had made his decision. A chime sounded.

Stop the Roadside Bandits: You have decided to stop bandit plaguing the trade routes of Konoha. Find the bandits and retrieve their stolen goods. Reward: 500 exp. 1000 ryō. Increase reputation with Konoha.

Well he guessed that made it that then. In a few minutes Kakashi had settled the old couple and led them back toward the Village with warning to be careful.

"So what now fearless leader." Sasuke asked. Naruto eyed the overturned cart and his eyes took on a mischievous glint.

"I have an idea."

8

"Man this isn't even our real mission." Naruto complained. It had seemed like a good idea. Turn the cart upright, do a quick transformation, find the horse that had run off, and then wait for the bandits to find them. The old couple had only mentioned the three bandits and Naruto had been sure they could handle most anything they would run into. The quest wasn't rated too high after all! He was pretty sure he would complain to whoever ran this thing. The three main warriors were all decent levels and would be a tough fight for the rookie team, having to deal with a bunch of low levels on top of that would mean they would be hard pressed to win and they were cut off from any easy escape.

Well...no point worrying about it. Just have to fight and try to get his team through.

"Sakura ready a genjutsu and then attack spear boy, Sasuke go for the leader, I'll take the big guy on the right." Naruto said keeping his voice low. Giving Sasuke the leader should deal with his pride issues, the large guy was the highest level and Naruto saw some powerful earth jutsu with Observe. The leader was a strong samurai class but Sasuke's speed would be a good match and he had several levels on him. Spear boy had some lighting affinity but Sakura should be able to keep him off balance until either he or Sasuke could finish off their opponent and back her up.

"What about the cannon fodder?" asked Sasuke.

"We'll have to leave our surprise for them." Naruto said.

"So what's it going to be kids?" asked Musahsi, the ronin samurai confident in his position. Ryutaro and Shiko stood at his side ready for combat.

"I say bring it on Old Man!" Naruto shouted.

"Old Man! I'm twenty-three you little..." he never finished his sentence as the cargo in the wagon erupted in a cloud of chakra smoke, from the smoke for a moment it appeared fireballs launched at his men surrounding the young genin. Had they somehow stored explosive tags in the cart? He didn't have time to analyze the situation as the dark haired shinobi attacked him with a great amount of speed and in a moment he was focused on his battle.

9

Sasuke practically blurred as he raced toward Musahsi drawing out a tantō for the attack, his heart was racing, this was his first real battle with a opponent who wanted to face him in honest battle...someone who may want to kill him. For him this was another milestone in his road to facing down Itachi, the road that would lead to the vengeance of his clan.

Sasuke lashed out with an attack to Musahsi's side but he found the former samurai was ready bringing his blade into a block with more efficiency than speed, his greater combat experience allowing him to anticipate the genin's attack. Sasuke drew on his chakra adding strength to the attack trying to overpower the bandit's guard but the bandit merely turned with the attack allowing the boy to move past him.

"You're trying to meet a samurai blade to blade boy?" Musahsi mocked the young Uchiha.

"I'm a ninja, I'll meet a opponent in anyway I can." replied Sasuke who threw a spread of shuriken at his enemy. Musahsi knocked a few of the blades out the air with his blade, the rest flew past him or bounced of his armor.

"Come on little shinobi, I hope you better have tricks than that."

"You'll see soon enough." Sasuke replied and readied his next attack.

10

Sakura rushed toward the odd looking warrior, her hands free to allow for direct attack or genjutsu as need be, she tried to take stock of her enemy. He was tall, skinny, with wild blue hair and he seemed adverse to wearing a shirt. What worried her the most about him was his odd weapons, he wore two spears on his back that were attached to chains wrapped around his chest, that indicated an unique fighting style that could be dangerous. Kakashi Sensei had warned her that those who developed unique styles could be deadly as they would have tricks you would not have necessarily trained for, conversely he had also explained that most of those ninja would not be as dangerous once you learned those tricks as most shinobi tended to lean on those tricks like a crutch. The problem, he would say, was learning the trick before the shinobi could use it kill you.

"Well you were a whole lot hotter when you were transformed." Ryutaro commented pulling out one of his long spears and readied himself. "I hope you'll make a better fighter than you did a fake wife."

"I fooled you!" she said jumping into the air attacking with a kick aimed his chest. Ryutaro brought his spear around and used it to block her foot.

"Eh, I've seen better." he said and with a act of thought he channeled lighting chakra through his spear.

Sakura screamed as the pain lashed through her body and she was thrown back, but she kept her head together and rolled away and came back up shakily to her feet. She had been through a lot of intense training and she now knew how to ignore it and keep fighting, but now she had a problem, her fighting style was mostly up close and her opponent had a great defense against up close combat.

How was she going to beat him then?

11

Naruto rushed toward his opponent, his mind not as completely focused on his battle as it should be, instead he was think about the strategy for his team and wondering if he had made mistakes. Check that, he knew he had made mistakes, Kakashi Sensei had told him no strategy no matter how good will have it's mistakes, the catch is making sure those mistakes don't get your teammates killed.

Sasuke was their highest level, now at level 13, he was next at level 9, and Sakura coming in last at level 6. He had sent Sakura against the spear wielder Ryutaro because he was the lowest level of their enemies at level 9, Sakura still had a lot of work to catch up to him or Sasuke but despite being a lower level than either of them she had added in quite a few for skills, between her Senju Taijutsu developed by Lady Tsunade of the Sannin, to a decent showing in both genjutsu and medical ninjutsu she had enough skills to beat or least hold off a higher level opponent until someone could back her up.

Sasuke was sent after the leader of the group Musahsi, being a level 11 Sasuke had 2 levels on his adversary, but that was not the only reason he sent the Uchiha against the former samurai, Sasuke was the fastest of the group and samurai, while not known for the same level of jutsu a ninja may have, were known for amazing speed and control in combat. Sasuke would be the best match for him and getting to fight the leader would hopefully soothe his pride.

Naruto had left the largest of the bandits for himself, the mountain looking Shiko, Sasuke may not realize it but this was the strongest, or at least highest level of the trio, coming in at level 12. This meant he had a 3 level difference on Naruto and while his Observe Skill gave him only limited information on a higher level opponent he still knew he had a strong Earth affinity backed up by some strong Earth Jutsu as well. Of the group he was the most dangerous so Naruto had decided to take him by himself. Between his clones and superior armor he was in the best position to fight the larger man and see what kind of powers he had.

He had intended to back everyone up with several shadow clones that would attack the trio by surprise, but the added forces disrupted that plan, forcing him to send them to distract the minions and mack sure they didn't overwhelm Team 7. He had considered summoning more but the battlefield was tight and he had long since learned the lesson in not having so many clones that they go in the way of each other or his teammates. He would summon more as need be after the battle became more clear.

He just hoped that his decisions, no matter how good or bad they may be, would not cause any of his comrades to die.

12

Naruto One transformed with his brothers from seemingly innocent cargo into dark garbed shinobi, he immediately flared chakra through the unique threads in his armor so he looked like a burning flame rushing toward his enemies. He was pretty sure both himself and his brothers looked awesome, but he was concerned, this was not the original plan, they were supposed to rushed the three warriors in the middle of the road, but now they were supposed to do their best to keep their surrounding enemies at bay. Naruto Prime had communicated the commands with a series of taps on the wooden seat of the cart before the battle had began.

Personally he had disagreed with his primary self, he had thought it would be in the best interest to have the clones attack the three strongest warriors, most of the minions were ranging from levels one to five and Team 7 could have taken down many of the them pretty quickly, the clones could have keep the main bandits busy and gathered useful intel for when they finished with the low levels. There was no time to bring up the point however and once battle starts he had learned you have to follow the orders of the original, each Naruto once summoned might see the situation from a slightly different perspective which could sometimes lead to wildly different conclusions. In order to maintain a organized battle everyone had to stay on the same page. Of course he still didn't quite get Prime's thoughts in this case, if he had stayed back he could far more easily summoned more clones as needed, right now he was a bit locked down.

They could use some more clones, he realized, as it was they didn't have enough to form into the desired squads that had become the norm. In fact, they didn't have enough to meet all the enemies one on one. A shadow clone was not meant for straight forward combat, a clone was not a stable construct, able to be destroyed by any impact strong enough to disrupt it's chakra matrix. Most tended to just think about avoiding strikes from the enemy but what many people forgot was landing a blow strong enough to hurt your opponent also meant it could be strong enough to destroy your clone as well. That was why Naruto (with the great help of Tenten) had developed squad formations for his clones, besides keeping them organized, it allowed them to share the damage by one clone taking a hit from a enemy while another attacked. This increased their chance to survive longer in attacks, even better is attacking with weapons or jutsu from a distance, any attack drained their chakra pool which would also eventually disperse them but they could last far longer.

A lot of problems to deal with if Naruto One was going to complete his mission and delay the bandits minions for as long as possible. One was headed toward a level 3 warrior, not a issue for Prime but a big issue for a one hit clone on his own, the warrior seemed to not be a chakra user at least, so Naruto One risked a head on attack. The warrior gauged his target and attacked with a western style sword aimed right at the center of the clone, to the warrior's surprise the clone did not try to block or dodge the clone in anyway, but instead of meeting flesh or seeing a burst of chakra smoke the clone seemed to shimmer away in the afternoon light. The warrior was more surprised a moment later when the clone attacked from his left aiming careful blows to his chest and back, the clone could not deal crippling blows due to the warrior's armor and his own limitations, but he had managed to put him on the defensive.

Naruto One grinned, all around the battlefield he could hear similar sounds of surprise and combat and realized their little trick had be successful. Sakura may only have low level genjutsu, but even a low level jutsu can be effective if used in the right way. Sakura had cast a genjutsu that slightly altered the area so the clone attackers would seem slightly to the left or right of their actual position meaning the first attack from the minions would miss giving the clones a needed initial strike and a chance to get in the bag guys lines. It wasn't perfect, some of the fighters were a high enough level to resist the attack or had enough chakra training to dispel it, but enough were fooled that the clones were among their ranks disrupting any defensive strategy they may have had.

Naruto One smiled one more time and focused on defeating his enemy despite his handicaps and silent wished his brothers, and his creator, good luck.

13

Sakura keep a wary distance from her opponent, this was her first fight with a enemy who meant to do her harm and now she wished she had trained more than she had. Until the fight had started she had been proud of her increased skills, but now she found herself lacking. Ryutaro might be odd looking but so far she didn't have a good way to attack him, her medical ninjutsu was for defense and support roles, her genjutsu was low level and the few jutsu she had tried on him he had just resisted, that just left her taijutsu. Sakura had mastered her Academy taijutsu thanks to a lot of training with her teammates and thanks to Naruto she had supplemented it with the Senju Stye created by Lady Tsunade, but the Senju style was not a true taijutsu style on it's own, it was a style that greatly increased the damages of your blows but a user still needed a separate combat style to land those blows. Her style was simple and Ryutaro could see through her moves and he had a ready defense with either those spears or the chains wrapped around his body, he could channel lighting chakra with ease for any direct attack.

Hence the keeping a distance, but her enemy wouldn't let her get away with that for too long.

"You going to start this fight any time soon little girl?" he asked sounding bored.

"Hey if you want to fight come over here!" she countered.

He shrugged and with practiced experience removed several lengths of chain from around his body and allowed them to pool at his feet.

"I don't want to waste my time, I'll just watch you dance a bit."

"Dance?" she asked and then she found had no time to ask questions as Ryu hurled the spear in his hand directly at her. She barely dodged the weapon as it zoomed past her and struck into a tree not far behind the young kunoichi. Sakura tried to hold back the shock of how fast the move was, but she realized she had a opportunity, she may be able to land some attacks with shuriken while one of his weapons was locked down by the tree. She reached into her weapon pouch to grab the ninja stars when Ryutaro waved his finger in the air.

"Now, now you didn't think you were safe did you?" he said and with a flick of his wrist the chain which was lying slack on the ground snapped in the air toward her now charged with lighting chakra. Sakura tried to dodge, but was only partly successful as the edge of the chain seemed to reach out and touch hurt sending the electric chakra throughout her body. She stumbled but did not fall managing to stay on her feet despite her vision blurring. The young kunoichi gritted her teeth and focused on her opponent who was grinning and chuckling. He pulled out his other spear and chortled with glee, as she attempted to move and gain some distance, he threw the spear into another tree opposite of the first. Now he had two chains to both sides of her leaving her only one avenue of escape which would be to run directly away from him, but the distance was far enough that he could easily cause either of the chains to hit her and cause lighting damage.

He was toying with her.

Ryutaro chuckled. "See we have plenty of time to spend with each other."

"Dance girl." Sakura wanted to shout some sort defiance, instead she found herself complying with his demand and she tried to stay ahead of the deadly chains.

14

Sasuke grunted with effort as he and his opponent engaged each other, he had determined that he was faster than his adversary, but Musahsi had a economy of movement that seemed to more than make up for Sasuke's speed. The former samurai seemed to be able to anticipate his attacks and counter before Sasuke had even started his own attack. It was...frustrating. He knew he had trained hard and increased his skill but still this no name loser was holding his own and even putting him on the defensive. Musahsi made a quick horizontal slash with his katana and Sasuke stepped back blocking with his tantō, Musahsi anticipated the block and followed with a kick to the Uchiha's chest, Sasuke saw it coming and rolled with the attack but as soon as he was up the ronin was on him again attacking with a flurry of strikes simply meant to keep the young ninja off guard. It was working, Sasuke was having a difficult time keeping up and as long as he was engaged blade to blade he couldn't try any different attacks.

In didn't make him feel better that his teammates didn't seem to be fairing any better than him, Sakura was of course on the defensive, frankly he was surprised she had managed to stay standing as long as she had. Right now, it appeared her opponent had trapped her and would soon finish her off if she wasn't helped soon. Unfortunate for her that he did not see a opening from his battle where he could go to save her. She may be one of his annoying fan-girls but he did not wish her harm, he had seen her trying to be an actual ninja in the last few weeks, maybe if she had been trying to work that hard since the Academy she wouldn't be struggling to badly now.

Naruto so far was in a stalemate with with his opponent, a mountain of a man wielding a giant club who seemed to move with decent grace and speed. Naruto had not summoned any clones yet to help, Sasuke thought he was worried about the tight quarters, but he would have too soon, the bandit seemed to have a lot of strength and Naruto was struggling. Some leader, Sasuke smirked, he could keep the job as far he was concerned, at first he had to admit to a bit of jealousy with the Uzumaki, taking the leader spot but after watching Naruto deal with trying to make Sakura a acceptable shinobi, dealing with Kakashi Sensei's perpetual laziness, and if he was honest with himself and his own difficulties, Sasuke was happy to let the blonde play leader and let himself have more time to train. A horrible thought struck Sasuke, what if Kakashi deemed Naruto's effort inadequate and made him team leader? He shuddered a bit at having to keep Naruto in check, let alone deal with Sakura.

With renewed sense of commitment Sasuke started to increase his speed to match the incoming attacks. He would make sure he defeated this opponent, not just to eventually defeat Itachi, but for his own peace of mind.

15

Shiko, despite his size, was not a slow man by any means and he proved as he blocked Naruto's attack with one quick strike and immediately attacking again with a return swing. So far the fight had been a bit of back and forth between the giant and the young genin. Naruto had the edge on speed and agility but so far he had been unable to score any real hits of his own either. That needed to change and quickly, Sakura was in trouble, he had not intended for her to fight a higher level opponent on her own for so long, but neither he nor Sasuke were making good enough time on their own opponents and if the clones lost they would be overrun with enemies quickly.

Naruto jumped back to gain some distance, Shiko did not follow, the three warriors were not easily thrown off their own battle plan, they had stayed within easy reach of each other encase an member needed help, they had not backed each other up in attacks but Naruto thought that was only because they did not feel threatened by Team 7 as a whole.

He could use that.

Naruto drew several shuriken from inside his vest, actually he was reaching into his inventory but he had found a bit of slight of hand worked wonders and hiding his power, and hurled them at the earth user. Shiko did not appear worried in the least as the projectiles proceeded toward him.

"Earth Style: Earth Wall Defense." he said calmly after making the appropriate handsigns, a small mound of earth rose in front of him taking the impact of the shuriken. A very reasonable counter to Naruto's attack, one that he had been counting on, as the attached smoke bombs filled the air, and thanks to the slight breeze in the air that Naruto had noted was blowing in the direction he had wanted, rolled right over the barricade into the warriors eyes.

"That is not going to do you any good little ninja." Shiko commented.

"Give it a second." Naruto's voice commented from outside the smoke.

Shiko stopped for a moment. What was the boy talking about? And then it hit him...

"Come on!" he shouted starting to gag. Naruto grinned at the sound. Shuriken with smoke bombs were cool.

"What kind of ninja does something like that?" said the giant as he held his nose.

Shuriken with smoke bombs and stink bombs were even cooler.

Shiko stumbled as his mouth and eyes began to water and burn, feeling like they were on fire.

Shuriken with smoke bombs, stink bombs and pepper bombs were the best!

While Shiko tried to collect himself Naruto used the time wisely, first he summoned two squads of clones, the first went to help their brothers and the second went to back up Sakura. Then since no one was focused on him he brought up his menu, Sakura's health was down by two thirds and he was worried she wouldn't last long. He accessed and applied a green food pill to the kunoichi and watched as her health went up above half and hoped that would be enough. Items had a cooldown before he could use them in combat again. The smoke began to clear and Shiko was starting to shake off the effects of the attack, Naruto slipped two kunai into his hands and charged them with chakra. He was going to end this soon and get his friends out of this alive.

He raced toward the giant.

16

Sakura danced as Ryutaro spun the lighting chains back and forth like twisted game of jump rope she had used to play as a child. If he had wanted to he could have hit her at anytime but he seemed to be having way to much fun tormenting her. She growled in frustration, if she could land a solid hit on him he would stop laughing then! She grimaced cause she knew she couldn't take much more and she had knew once Ryutaro was done with her he would turn on her teammates, they would be hurt or killed for her weakness!

"Sakura!" a familiar voice shouted from above and both her and Ryutaro turned as a seemingly blazing figure came from above throwing charged kunai at her enemy. Ryutaro reacted as quickly as his element, pulling one of the spears from the trees and using the returning chain as a kind of shield against the incoming weapons. Sakura stumbled away so she wouldn't be captured by the same attack again, she thought she might fall from her injuries but two more Naruto clones landed beside her to help her to her feet and gain some distance. The first Naruto didn't stop his attack trying to get in close for a strong hit. Sakura shouted out a warning but it was too late because as soon as the clone got too close Ryutaro defended himself much as he had with Sakura, dispersing the clone.

"I'm sorry." she said not quite sure to who.

"Sorry? What for?" one of the clones asked.

"You had to save me, and after you and Tenten, and Kakashi Sensei have worked hard to make me stronger."

The clones looked at each other not knowing what to say, finally one of them shrugged and turned to her.

"First you are stronger, you would not have lasted nowhere near this long against a enemy like this when you just got out of the Academy." said the first clone.

"If anything it's our fault, we thought we would have backup for you right away." said the second clone.

The first clone rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Yeah I'm sure Boss is sorry about that one."

"But we're here now to back you up, how to you want to handle it Sakura?"

"Me? But you're team leader." Sakura asked.

"Yeah, but we are your backup."

"And you've been fighting him."

"So stop feeling sorry for yourself and come up with a strategy already." Sakura stared at both clone as they went back and forth like a pair of twins. A surge of strength seemed to fill her and with it a idea came half formed into her mind.

"May...Maybe I do have a idea." she said with a note of strength in her tone.

17

It was a mistake to engage the Samurai blade to blade, at least with his current level of skill, the ronin's fighting style simply gave him the advantage despite Sasuke being a bit faster. He needed a chance to change up his strategy if he hoped to defeat the warrior, but so far he did not have a opening he could use try something different. If he tried to switch to different weapons or ninjutsu he would get struck down, so far he had found himself stuck in a stalemate waiting until one of them made a mistake, increasingly he feared it would be him.

A distraction finally showed itself when several smoke bombs went off to his right from Naruto's battle with the large ninja. At first both he and his opponent had not allowed the scene to distract them until Musahsi started smelling the air.

"What the hell?" he asked and for a moment his stance was off. Sasuke did not waste the opening and flipped backward using a handstand to give himself some distance from the deadly katana. Vaguely he was aware of a squad of clones running past him, to help Sakura most likely, he was fine with that, he had a chance on his own now. Rapidly, his hands went through the desired signs and drawing forth his chakra he attacked.

"Fireball Justu!" he shouted and let a ball of flames race toward to engulf his enemy.

"Crap." said Musahsi, but like all samurai, he was also trained in the use of chakra and focused it into his blade and slashed forward cutting the attack with a wave of air, forcing the fireball to split in two and go around him. As the blast cleared, the young Uchiha was no longer there, honed senses warned him of an attack from above, Sasuke was falling towards him shuriken already flying and now with a kunai in hand. Forced to block the kunai with his sword he did not completely avoid the thrown weapons, though most hit his armor or hit the ground, some scored light wound drawing the first blood of the match.

"You little shi-" he started say before the Uchiha once again drew back to attack from a different angle. Musahsi readied himself for the next attack knowing the fight had somehow shifted from his favor.

18

Naruto raced toward Shiko throwing charged kunai as he went. The smoke was just beginning to clear and Naruto frowned as he saw the kunai lodged into rock armor that the ninja had formed around himself as a defense, he must have managed it despite the stink and pepper bombs messing with his concentration. Naruto nodded at the good defensive move but noted the rock armor was not a complete transformation, experienced Earth users could cover every inch of their bodies with strong rock, some could even seemingly fuse it into their very skin. Shiko, however, could only form the body armor over the vital spots on his body leaving several places still open for attack. It had done it's job so far, Naruto could aim at the giant despite the smoke thanks to the fact he was a Locked Target but the armor had stopped even his charged kunai from scoring a wound.

Naruto ran in as fast and as low to the ground as he could. Shiko roared and swung his mace at the blonde ninja, his aim was off from the pepper bombs effects still in his eyes, and he missed without Naruto having to dodge. He felt the force from the impact which nearly knocked him off his footing, he channeled some chakra to his feet similar to Tree Walking in order to stay upright. When he reached Shiko he kept up the effect running up the giant without slowing down and when the genin found himself close to Shiko's face he leaned his head back and launched his Headbutt Skill against the large warrior's unprotected forehead. He grinned as his HUD, and the dazed looked in Shiko's face, indicated that the attack had worked and Shiko was stunned. Naruto bashed the warrior in the face a few times for good measure taking satisfaction in seeing his health bar start to drop. After a few precious seconds of doing what damage he could to the large warrior he saw his eyes start to clear and he jumped away before the warrior had a chance to grab him.

Shiko glared at the boy. "Brat I hope you had your fun because I am going to smash you into the ground."

Naruto grinned. "Who says I'm done?" With that the young shinobi made a quick handsign that Shiko recognized as a activation seal. His face set with panic as he heard a sizzling sound from all over his body, he glanced down at his body and saw, all over his rock armor, explosive seals set to detonate. The little brat hand been placing them during his attack! Shiko only had time to cover his eyes...

To his satisfaction the seals erupted all over the shinobi's body devastating the rock armor defense, seals may be slow to level, but he really thought they were worth it! Shiko's armor was destroyed and his health was in the red, it was time to finish this. Naruto summoned a squad of clones who ran forward at the giant, each clone attacking with a flying kick striking in the rogue ninja's chest or face, after the clones made their attack, Naruto himself struck the giant with the strongest punch he could manage right to Shiko's face. That was it, the giant fell to the ground unconscious, his HP down to zero.

19

Sakura launched multiple shuriken at Ryutaro while Naruto's clones did the same from different directions. The tall skinny ninja took the attack in stride blocking the attacks with his two spears or swings of the unnaturally long chains, so far Sakura had not gotten past his defenses and the clones couldn't risk getting in close to the ninja's lighting barriers. To beat him she would have to land some sound attacks on him and to do that she had to get close to him, but so far he still had almost complete control of the battlefield.

Sakura dodged another whip of the chain, lighting crackling trying to hit her even as she dodged and she realized she was still being toyed with by her enemy, she felt angry even though she knew the more time he gave her to learn his strategy and timing the more time she could employ a countermeasure to take him down. Sakura had been observing him for a while and she was pretty sure while he had well developed long range attacks and good defenses that his actual skills in up close combat were rather weak. If she could get a opening she should be able to do some damage, even actually win the fight. Finally Ryutaro hurled another of those spears at her, she dodged and the spear plunged lightly into the ground, instead of using the miss to gain some more space or trying another attack she turned around and punched the end of the spear as hard as she could forcing the spear deep into the ground.

The two clones attacked forcing Ryutaro to defend with his other weapon, he still wasn't worried by the girl, but he had to admit he was now much more focused on the fight than he had been, it was time to stop playing with his prey and finish this fight, the brats were stronger than they had realized and if even one of them won their fight they could overwhelm his squad. The girl had pulled a smart move he would give her that, she had lodged one of his spears into the ground effectively cutting half of fighting power and the two clones of the other annoying gaki were doing there best to keep on the pressure with his other weapon, but it wouldn't help her, he could still swing his chains around even with his spear lodged in the ground so if she tried to attack he could still fry her before she got close and the clones faced the same problem, if they got too close he could still disperse them with ease. Ryutaro saw the girl place her hand on the ground getting in a stance like she was going to sprint right at him. Did she think she could move fast enough to actually hit him? He laughed at the sight, he would give this girl a quick death in thanks for all the entertainment she had given him.

Then she vanished.

"What the hell?" he muttered.

Sakura reappeared in front of the startled shinobi and didn't hold back her grin, she snapped her right hand forward, the same she had placed on the ground earlier and flung a large clump of dirt and debris right in Ryutaro's face. Ryutaro felt his eyes blink furiously as he tried, unsuccessfully to clear the dirt from his face. Who actually threw dirt? A literal dirty trick but most shinobi never used it because if you have even barely decent chakra control you can channel chakra into your eyes to help flush them out. Only he was trying to and it wasn't working! Suddenly he didn't have time as he felt a punch, a much stronger punch that he was expecting from a girl her size land right in his gut. Despite the chains acting as a make shift armor he doubled over and the kunoichi landed a blow right in his jaw sending him to his knees and filling his vision with stars as well as dirt. Why hadn't the dirt cleared out yet. His mind jolted with a realization. Genjutsu! But when did the girl have a chance to cast one on him, he had seen her earlier attempts and easily pushed them off. Another fist connected with chest this one strong enough to crack many of the links in his chakra chains causing them to burst apart and fall to the ground.

Sakura could have answered his questions had he voiced them, and if she had not been busy beating the crap out of him with the clones standing back deciding it might be best if they didn't get involved. Sakura was not that strong yet, especially in regards to her two teammates, but Kakashi Sensei had known she might need some tricks to help her in a fight where she had limited or no backup. The first trick he had taught her was the Shunshin, or the Body Flicker, technique which allowed a ninja to cover large amounts of ground in the blink of eye, it was a skill that most ninja didn't learn until chūnin or sometimes jōnin because of the chakra control required. Sakura though had a talent for chakra control and as Kakashi had thought she had mastered the basics of the technique rather easily, learning and mastering were two different things however, and Sakura was still a long way from being able to use it in normal combat, in training she tended to overshoot her target more often than not and had she not been desperate she would have used it for escape like Kakashi had intended for her.

The genjutsu was another a gift from Kakashi. Ninja were used to dirty tricks such as throwing dirt in a enemy's face and in fact was considered an acceptable strategy, however most ninja hand simple counters for such tricks, like using chakra to clear out your eyes. One of the few times Kakashi had failed to take out a target was when he was chasing a Iwa ninja who had used a genjutsu to enhance the effect. Genjutsu at it's heart was simply the act of imprinting a image onto chakra and sending it through another medium to the intended target. The medium could technically be anything, water, sound, air, the most common medium being the reflected light in the enviroment. The type of medium could in theory be anything, earth was a much more difficult medium to use because of it's stable nature, but the Iwa shinobi had cast a very simple genjutsu that merely kept the user believing his eyesight was impaired from the dirt. Since you expected to be blinded and were in fact blinded for a few precious seconds you were more likely to believe that the dirt just wasn't coming out, the Iwa ninja didn't know it but had he capitalized on that moment he may have actually killed one of Konoha's most feared shinobi. Even though Kakashi had not had his Sharingan out but he had been able to reverse engineer the jutsu easily enough and it had come in handy a few times. Kakashi had taught this genjutsu to Sakura because she needed tricks in her arsenal until she was strong enough to hold her own and in this case it had paid dividends.

Ryutaro had certainly not expected it and now he was down one of his spears and his chains were shattered lying on the ground, freed from his tether he was able to cast off the genjutsu and try to attack with his remaining spear but the kunoichi had the upper hand now dodging his attacks easily, he was hurt and stunned and he was never that good at melee combat. With one last desperate lunge he tried to piece the girl but she ducked amazingly low and planted a upper cut right in the ninja's jaw and that was the last thing the rogue shinobi saw before unconsciousness took him.

20

Musahsi found himself on the defensive trying to anticipate the young ninja's attacks but he had learned from his first mistakes in battle and was no longer trying to engage Musahsi in direct combat, instead he was now focusing on distance attacks such as shuriken and fire jutsu. How did some rookie genin have fire attacks anyway? Musahsi had some sword techniques that could attack at a distance but they were for the most part to slow to actually hit the more agile ninja. For a moment he cursed himself for leaving his master because he felt the training was too hard, his master had far more tricks for dealing with shinobi that he had never bothered to learn. When he had quit and fled the samurai life he had figured the skills he had were more than enough to make a good living as a mercenary, or in this case, as a bandit. When he had decided to form his own bandit gang he had managed to acquire like minded souls who wanted easy money and were willing to be...less that morale...to get it, at the time the Land of Fire had seemed like a good idea, while Konohagakure was arguably the strongest of the Hidden Villages they were also the most peaceful, allowing people like him room to hide as long as they stuck to less used trade routes.

Someone had been paying attention, he thought, as the teenaged ninja shot towards him with two kunai in hand, Musahsi did a blinding fast horizontal strike which seemed to hit the ninja but a poof of chakra smoke later a log, cut clean in half, dropped to the ground and the shinobi had manged to score a hit on his right side that was only mostly stopped by the armor. Musahsi start to run toward the ninja hoping to return the wound but he was forced back to his original position by a well placed fireball, Musahsi growled in frustration, he was not going to lose to some brat.

For a moment the ninja paused and smirked. "So how do you like my tricks?" he mocked.

"Pathetic, just like any shinobi I've ever beaten."

Sasuke laughed. "I doubt you've face that many shinobi if you've faced any at all. A loser like you only likes to go after people that can't defend themselves." For a moment Musahsi saw a flash of real hatred cross the boy's face. "I bet you've never been in a real fight with another chakra user."

Musahsi frowned, the boy wasn't too far off, after all you didn't become a bandit to get involved in battle, you became a bandit to earn your living from easy targets. His gang was a fair mix of chakra users but mostly they only faced guards with no chakra, people they could overwhelm rather easily, they did their best to stay away from real ninja. They had faced a few but normally they had been low levels that they were able to overpower between himself, Shiko, and Ryutaro or they could overwhelm with shear numbers but the blonde idiot somehow was able to summon solid clones that held off his men.

"This battle isn't over boy." he said defiantly. They both turned when they heard a explosion from Shiko's direction and Sasuke gave a predatory grin.

"I think it just about is. I may give Naruto a lot of crap but he is more than skilled enough to take out any member of your team. In fact I better hurry up and beat you before he comes and tried to "help" me."

Musahsi raised his blade in a guard stance. "Just how do you think you're going to do that? You need to land a solid attack and I am getting a hand on your tricks."

Sasuke laughed. "Do you now?" Sasuke rushed toward the ronin, throwing shuriken that Musahsi blocked with blade or armor, waiting for the you ninja to unleash one of his fire jutsu. Sasuke stopped short just out of reach of Musahsi's blade and he jumped high into the air, as he did he snapped his arms apart with his fingers spread wide; Musahsi watched in dawning surprise and horror as some of the ninja stars, many of which Musahsi had thought had just been misses on the boy's part, lifted into the air, Musahsi could tell that there was fine ninja wire woven through the center of the weapons which now encircled the ronin.

Musahsi instinctively had an idea what Sasuke was planning but he was in a guard stance and he did not have time to adjust to slash the wire, Sasuke turned in the air twisting the wire pulling it tight entrapping Musahsi, binding his arms and legs tight together. Sasuke landed on the ground and Musahsi grimaced at the smirk on the boy's face.

"While you were circling me all those misses were laying a trap, weren't they?" commented Musahsi.

"Yes I couldn't leave you unimpressed after all."

Musahsi chuckled. "Crap kid, I think you got me."

"Thanks but don't think I don't see you trying to go for your dagger to cut out."

"You can't blame me for trying to get away can you?"

"No but I think I will end this now." With that Sasuke performed a fire jutsu and the last thing Musahsi saw was a wave of flames heading right toward him.

21

Naruto had his hands on his knees looking at the small mountain he had managed to bring down. He smiled at his first victory against a opponent on his own, Mizuki didn't count because Iruka had already been fighting him first, but he had done well he thought. A quick glance confirmed that Sakura and Sasuke were doing fine, making sure his enemy was bound securely in case he woke Naruto made his way over to them, his clones had confirmed that the minions had been defeated. He grinned. He was totally awesome!

Naruto stopped as Sakura and Sasuke came up to him, for a moment all three of them were silent as they looked at each other not knowing who would break the silence of the moment. To Naruto's surprise it wasn't him.

"We rock!" shouted Sakura, pumping her fist into the air. Naruto laughed and agreed with her and even Sasuke almost looked happy for once.

A slow clap filled the air. Instantly the trio moved back to back on guard looking for then new enemy.

"Not bad you three." a voice said from behind them. Team 7 jumped in surprise and shock quickly trying to turn to meet a potential threat. They were only half right when they their Sensei standing there with a small smile, only really conveyed with a single eye showing.

"Kakashi Sensei! What are you doing here?" Sakura shouted in surprise.

"Eh, did you guys really think I would let my cute little genin go into their first battle without watching out for them?"

"But what about the old couple?" Naruto asked.

"You think you're the only one who can make Shadow Clones?" he asked, "I made one to escort them back to the village while I kept an eye on you."

"So this was just a test?" asked Sakura.

"Everything thing in the shinobi world is a test Sakura, if your lucky most of the time when you fail you'll have the chance to learn from your mistakes, sometimes failure just means death."

"So you wanted to test us in a place where you could gauge our skills without us knowing." commented Sasuke.

Kakashi nodded. "It seemed to be a good opportunity though those bandits did seem to be stronger than I had anticipated. Just don't start expecting every time you're in a fight that I will be there to save you just because you don't see me."

"So how did we do Kakashi Sensei?" asked Sakura.

"Let's ask your squad leader. Naruto how do you think your team did?"

Naruto paused and thought about his own experiences and those of his clones before he answered. He looked Kakashi in his eye.

"You keep the other bandits off us didn't you?" he asked.

"Yes I did."

"I thought so. I keep worrying about running out of clones but most of them seemed to keep getting lucky breaks, enough of the bandits were good enough they should have overwhelmed at least some of the clones and backed up their leaders."

"Your clones were doing a fairly good job I just helped take out some of the stronger fighters, but what does that mean?"

Naruto sighed. "It means if you hadn't been here we may have been overrun. We barely handled them and we got caught in one on one battles and were unable to back each other up, if there had been more enemies they could have taken us down."

Kakashi waived his hand. "Your being hard on yourself. You could have summoned more clones. Your initial plan based on the information you had was pretty solid but as you learned Naruto, you have to leave room for the things you don't know. Plans need to be flexible or discarded altogether as the situation changes. Overall you did well, even though you were engaged in a one on one battle, and you would be amazed how often chance forces you into that, you still maintained good awareness of your team and even managed to back up Sakura."

Kakashi turned his attention to the kunoichi. "Sakura you faced a opponent stronger than yourself and you did very well, you incorporated what I taught you effectively in combat. Excellent job."

"Thank you Kakashi Sensei!" she said bowing quickly.

The jōnin turned to Sasuke. "Sasuke at the beginning you were fighting cocky but you did realize your mistake and corrected it. You did well. Remember next time to fight like that from the beginning and you'll defeat your enemy sooner and be able to back up your team."

Sasuke just nodded in acknowledgment.

"So what now Kakashi Sensei?" Naruto asked.

"Right now we will wait for a retrieval team to come and round up these guys. They'll deliver them to Konoha and find their camp and return any stolen goods. After that we will continue to Natsu barē. For now this mission is done." A chime sounded.

Stop the Roadside Bandits(Completed): You have defeated the roadside bandits and made the trade routes of Konohagakure safe to travel again! 500 exp! 1000 ryō. Increased reputation with Konoha gained! Bonus item: The shattered chains of Ryutaro. You have acquired the broken links of Ryutaro's chains, somehow you think they may be useful.

Congratulations! You have reached level 10! Through hard work you have removed the Malnourished Flaw! (please review skills for possible updates)

Sakura has reached level 7!

Naruto held in the exclamation at the new level. He was catching up to Sasuke! Sasuke was sure to level again himself before this mission was done but he was leveling quicker overall than Sasuke was, it wouldn't be long until he meet and surpassed his rival's level. He checked the icon for broken chains in his inventory. He didn't know what they would be good for but the chains seemed to be able to channel chakra better than normal metal so he bet Tenten could give him some ideas. Naruto went to help the rest of Team 7 make sure the bandits were secure, even with the delay they should make Natsu village by tomorrow where he would see what kind of challenge awaited his friends there.