I do not own Naruto. All rights remain that of Kishimoto.

It's the continuation of the finals!

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Chapter Twenty-Eight

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"The fourth match between Hozuki Suigetsu of Kirigakure and Gaara of Sunagakure." Shisui announced as he took a couple of quick steps backwards. "Fight!"

The cork of Gaara's gourd popped off as if it had been propelled by a blast of air and sand started to flow out of the gourd's mouth, cascading down to form a circle around Gaara.

"Nice trick." Suigetsu snered as he reached down and twisted the valve of the tap set into his own gourd. "I can do something like that too."

A veritable river cascaded out of the tap, splashing around Suigetsu and forming a large puddle that slowly expanded. Suigetsu lowered his gourd to the ground and pulled out his dual weapon.

"Sand versus water. Let's see how you stand up to me, raccoon boy!"

Gaara stood motionless, but his eyes narrowed slightly, then he thrust out one hand, causing a wave of sand to lash out and cover Suigetsu.

"Sabaku Soso." He stated, clenching his fist and the sand seemed to implode. However, instead of blood, water fountained out and splashed into the forming puddle, then Suigetsu seemed to reform as he rose from the rippling surface.

"That actually hurt." He said conversationally as Gaara stared at him.

"You… survived." Gaara said as if he had expected it.

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"He survived?" The Kazekage said in shock and Mei released a musical giggle.

"He is from the Hozuki clan. Like his brother, he not only has control over water, but can turn himself into it, allowing him to heal instantly, or escape places that no-one else can escape from."

Standing behind Mei, Chojuro nodded in agreement, his gaze fixed on his team-mate.

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"Let's have some fun!" Suigetsu laughed as his muscles seemed to bulge and expand while the puddle he was standing in lowered slightly, then he ran forwards. A wall of sand rose in front of him, but Suigetsu swung the maul portion of Kabutowari into the wall, causing it to shatter and giving him an opening to attack through.

"Gotcha!"

The axe-blade carved straight through Gaara, causing him to disintegrate into a shower of sand and Suigetsu looked around in confusion.

"What the… where are you?"

"Here." Gaara said as he rose from what had appeared to merely be a random patch of sand. Around him, more sand fountained up and the gourd on his back suddenly cracked and disintegrated to add to his protections.

"Nice escape." Suigetsu allowed. "You prepared that without me realising."

Gaara inclined his head in confirmation of Suigetsu's realisation, then he ducked as another axe-blade sliced through where his neck had been.

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"Mizu Bunshin." The Raikage noted. "How… appropriate."

"It does explain why he summoned the water." The Kazekage agreed as Mei smirked.

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Gaara fired a salvo of sand-shiruken at the two Suigetsu's and they both collapsed in splashes of water before another emerged from the still-growing puddle.

"You took down both my clones, although they were only a tenth as strong as me." Suigetsu said as he hefted his weapon again, then he charged forwards, swinging his axe high. A thick wall of sand fountained up and the axe-blade embedded itself in it. Suigetsu smirked as he swung the maul and it struck the back of the axe, causing the sand wall to almost explode. Leaping through the gap, he swung the axe-blade in an overhead arc, bisecting Gaara and causing him to collapse into a pile of sand.

"What? Again?" Suigetsu cursed as he spun round, looking to see where his adversary had kawarimi'd to this time, then he swore as no less than four Gaara's rose from different patches of sand. Leaping back to stand on the water, he summoned a new quartet of Mizu Bunshin and then started to flicker through a series of hand-seals.

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Ox, Monkey, Hare, Rat, Boar, Bird, Ox, Horse, Bird, Rat, Tiger

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The four clones drew their weapons and charged at the four Gaara's. The first one was met by a sand-spear through his gut, which caused him to dispell even as his axe-strike struck and dispelled the sand-Gaara.

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Dog, Tiger, Snake, Ox, Ram, Snake, Boar, Ram, Rat, Yang Water, Monkey

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The second and third clones attacked simultaneously, one of them diving under the sand-spear to deliver a rising strike that cleaved its target from the crotch to the chest while the other switched his grip to the head of the axe and swung the maul round on its strap to slam into the suna-bunshin, dispelling it.

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Bird, Dragon, Bird, Ox, Horse, Ram, Tiger, Snake, Rat, Monkey, Hare, Boar

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The remaining Gaara raised his hand as the fourth clone charged towards him and a barrage of sand-kunai slashed outwards, catching the three remaining clones and dispelling them into sprays of water.

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Dragon, Ram, Rat, Ox, Monkey, Bird, Yang Water, Rat, Boar, Bird!

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With a massive roar, the water around Suigetsu rose, forming into a long water dragon which uncoiled itself towards Gaara, colliding with him even through the wall that he erected in an attempt to stop it. Sent flying by the impact, Gaara skidded along the ground, coming to rest just by the wall.

"Ha!" Suigetsu gloated. "I win! Wha?!"

A sphere of sand formed around Suigetsu and Gaara emerged from a patch of sand beside it even as the clone by the wall collapsed.

"I have him trapped and his weapons restrained." Gaara droned. "The sphere is waterproof and airtight, meaning that he will suffocate if I do not release him."

Shisui nodded slowly, then glanced at the Kage box.

"The winner is Gaara of the desert! Gaara, please release your opponant."

The sand-sphere retracted and Suigetsu looked round at the cheering crowds before sighing.

"Dammit. I just lost, didn't I?"

"I'm afraid so." Shisui said, patting the younger man on the shoulder. "You were out-gambitted."

"Dammit!" Suigetsu cursed, then he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as he fought his anger down. "Sorry. Normally only Haku can beat me that fast. Actually… Haku's faster than that. Damned Hyouton bloodlimit…"

Shisui shrugged and looked round, pausing as he saw the flowing sand forming into the gourd on Gaara's back. "If you two will please return to the contestants box and could Hyuuga Hinata and Yuki Haku please come down to the Arena?"

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"Good luck." Naruto whispered as he hugged Hinata, then he stepped back. "Oh, find out Haku's gender, will you? It's been bugging me."

"All right." Hinata giggled, then she gave her fiancee a quick kiss on his mask before half-running down the stairs.

"I find myself wondering if I will ever meet a girl as youthful as Hinata is." Lee said as he entered the box. "What did I miss?"

"Gaara beat Suigetsu by holding him in a sand-sphere." Naruto said with a slight shrug. "Gaara uses his sand for offense and defence as well as making sand-clones from it."

"Ah, so I need to ensure that I am attacking the correct target." Lee mused. "How does he use it offensively?"

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Hinata looked at her opponent, who returned her gaze impassively as they splashed through one of the puddles left from the previous match, coming to a stop in front of Shisui.

"The final match of the first round!" Shisui announced. "Hyuuga Hinata of Konohagakure versus Yuki Haku of Kirigakure! Hinata, are you ready?"

Hinata activated her byakugan, then blinked.

"How?"

Haku looked at her curiously and Hinata tried again.

"Your clothes… they block my vision…"

Haku smirked. "They are a special chakra-enhanced fabric that absorbs my chakra and uses it to counter any chakra-detecting dojutsu. It was quite expensive, but I believe that it was worth it."

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"Damn." Hiashi cursed. "That fabric could spell the end of our Jyuuken."

"What do you mean, father?" Hanabi queried and Hiashi glared at the Kiri genin.

"If you cannot see someone's tenketsu, how can you hit them?"

Hanabi's eyes widened in horrified realisation.

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"Now that we have that question answered, Haku, are you ready?" Shisui asked and Haku nodded, lifting one hand to the handle of the sword slung behind her shoulder. "Then… fight!"

"Kaiten!"

Hinata briefly vanished in a dome of chakra and only Haku's instinctive leap away kept Hinata from an instant victory, although the chakra dome caught Haku's foot, sending the genin cartwheeling through the air before landing with a roll that finished in a defensive stance.

"Nice move, but it's my turn."

Haku half-drew the Nuibari in one hand while making one-handed seals with the other. As a dozen mirrors rose out of various puddles around the arena, Hinata started to sprint towards her adversary.

"Not fast enough." Haku stated, stepping backwards into one of the mirrors and a moment later, all of the mirrors showed Haku's image.

"This is a variation of my most lethal technique." Haku said, re-sheathing the sword and pulling out senbon before preparing to throw them. "Let us see how long your kaiten will protect you for."

Hinata dropped into a Juho stance, then her hands started moving in blurring patterns, leaving almost-ghostly trails behind as chakra blades lashed out, intercepting the first barrage of senbon and causing them to disintegrate.

"What…?"

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"The Shugohakke Rokojuyon Sho." Hiashi said with a proud smile briefly showing on his face.

"How long can sis keep doing that?" Hanabi wondered.

"Longer than the Kaiten." Hiashi admitted.

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Hinata stood in the middle of the arena, her hands weaving the sphere of protection around herself as the senbon barrages struck uselessly. After a few minutes, the barrages ended and Hinata slowed, then lowered her arms.

"That is an amazing skill." Haku admitted, stepping out of the mirror that was furthest away from Hinata. "But how will you do against my ice blades?"

Haku's hands were briefly encased in fog before it dissipated, revealing a trio of ice blades extending from the back of each hand. Haku sprinted forwards, then leapt into the air, somersaulting to slash the claws through any possible block.

In a blur of movement, Hinata sidestepped Haku's attack and spun round, delivering a poweful reverse kick to Haku's shoulder.

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"That wasn't Juho!" Hanabi gasped and Hiashi nodded.

"I believe that it was hebi-style. Hinata's training with Anko-san seems to have been rather successful."

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Haku broke contact and retreated rapidly, watching Hinata warily.

"That is a very powerful style you have."

Hinata nodded briefly in acknowledgement, then her eyes narrowed as Haku re-entered the ice mirrors and drew Nuibari from its sheath.

"I apologise, but I will not lose to you."

Even as Hinata began to start her defensive technique, Haku seemed to blur past her a dozen times, then Hinata was jolted into the air, held suspended by the wire that pierced her clothing in a dozen places. Haku stood in front of her, holding the sword a half-foot from her heart.

"You cannot move. Please surrend… urk!"

Hinata's kimono flapped in the breeze as Hinata somersaulted out of it to regain her mobility, kicking Haku in the stomach as she did so.

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Hiashi facepalmed as the Hyuuga around him started gasping about Hinata's lack of modesty, her choice of non-traditional skintight undergarments and unbecoming actions not befitting one who used to be the heir to the clan.

"Will Haku have to do that as well?" Hanabi asked, her face a study in innocent confusion as Kurama fell to the ground, almost crying with laughter.

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Haku gasped for air, then simply gasped as Hinata's hands glowed with chakra, chakra that formed into the shape of lions heads.

"My newest technique, Juho Shoshiken." Hinata announced, then she dashed forwards, bringing her left hand round in an arc that sent Haku flying backwards. Pursuing the tumbling genin, she launched a powerful uppercut which sent Haku high into the air. Haku's eyes widened as Hinata took position below, ready to launch another attack, then Haku's hand snapped out, sending the Nuibari slicing through the air.

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"Clever." Zabuza smirked, earning confused looks from the other Jonin-sensei.

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The Nuibari slammed into the wall and Haku's plummet turned into a swing, using the wire attached to Nuibari's hilt. The arc took Haku straight into an ice mirror and Hinata cursed as Haku's image appeared in all the mirrors once again.

"You are as fearsome as I expected." Haku said. "I begin to understand why Jiraiya of the Densetsu no Sannin fears you."

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Jiraiya facepalmed.

"Dammit! I'm never going to live that down, am I?"

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Hinata growled and then suddenly dived as a blur passed through where she had been standing. A twanging noise announced the sudden tightening of the ninja wire tied to Nuibari, pulling the sword out of the wall and returning it to Haku's waiting hand. An instant later, Hinata was surrounded by the blurs of Haku's movement, then she crashed to the ground, wrapped up in so much wire that she almost resembled a mummy.

"I believe that this time, I win." Haku said and Hinata managed to nod.

"I cannot fight any more, so I yield."

"Winner, Haku." Shisui declared as he materialised by Hinata. "Hey, Ruto, come and grab your fiancee."

A puff of smoke marked Hinata's translocation via Toton Bunshin out of the wire bindings and to the contestant's box, where Naruto unsealed a blanket and draped it over Hinata. Shisui shrugged.

"That works too, I suppose."

Haku giggled slightly and Shisui looked at the victorious genin.

"You may as well head up also. Grab some rest before your next match. There will be a twenty minute break before the next round of combat! Snacks are on sale!"

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Hinata smiled as one of Naruto's clones appeared with a pile of folded clothes in its arms. As Naruto and his clone held up the blanket to provide a corner of privacy, Hinata quickly pulled on the new clothes, breathing a sigh of relief once she was fully clad once more.

"I'm dressed."

Naruto lowered the blanket, then passed his end to his clone to fold up.

"You realise that you won't hear the end of that?" He whispered and Hinata blushed furiously.

"If it had worked, it wouldn't have mattered, although I'll need to get my kimono repaired." She managed to counter and Naruto nodded, then glanced over at the lollipop-sucking swordsman.

"I'm up against Omoi next, then Haku. That could be difficult."

"You'll need to use your bloodlimit." Hinata nodded. "If Haku doesn't know where you are, then… he? she? can't target you."

"I might get lucky, like I did in Wave." Haku noted and Hinata inhaled sharply.

"That was you?"

"I was aiming for Zabuza-sama at the time!" Haku protested quickly, backing away from Hinata's glare. "Hitting Ruto-san was an accident!"

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"An excellent first round." A said, leaning back in his chair as he flexed his shoulders. "You have some very resourceful genin."

"I admit to being disappointed with Kankuro," The Kazekage said slowly, "But given the situation that he was in… that level of trickery might have had me worried as well."

"Your other son was quite impressive." Mei allowed as she took a sip from a glass filled with iced fruit juice. "I thought that Suigetsu was almost as undefeatable as his brother Mangetsu."

"I've heard about him…" A mused and Mei nodded.

"He used to use the Hiramekerai but as he learned to use all seven of the swords, he now wields the Shibuki."

"He is the co-leader of the Seven Swordsmen, is he not?" Itachi queried and Mei nodded.

"He deals with the more political aspects and mission selection while Zabuza does the training and day-to-day leadership." Mei said.

"A member of the Hozuki clan holding a sword called Splash." A snorted. "Nice. You got the lightning swords back yet? How about the sharksword?"

"We are still missing those." Mei said heavily. "We have a reward out for them."

Itachi pulled out a Kiri Bingo Book from one of his pockets and quickly riffled through the pages.

"It looks like Samehada is held by the nukenin Hoshigaki Kisami while the Kiba swords are in the possession of Kurosuki Raiga."

"Kisami? The Biju Without a Tail?" the Kazekage asked curiously. "You will have a hard time reclaiming that sword."

Mei shrugged slightly, then helped herself to a piece of fruit from the platter on the small table beside her chair.

"I have great faith in my hunter-nin. We will get the sword back eventually."

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Naruto paused in the middle of his conversation and pulled off his mask to let him rub his eyes. When he looked up, the sight was still there.

"Hinata… can you use your Byakugan to look over there?"

Hinata activated her dojutsu, then her eyes widened.

"What… how…"

"What is happening?" Lee asked, walking over and then he gasped as he looked at the thing Hinata was pointing at. "What in the name of the thousand Kami's is that? And how is it staying up there?"

"I have no idea." Naruto admitted as they were joined by Omoi.

"Is that normal for Konoha?"

"No." Hinata said. "Ruto-kun, can you send a clone for Shisui?"

"No need, I'm here." Shisui said as he materialised behind them. "Now, that are you all looking… what the heck? How is a person standing in mid-air above the… Uchiha… Oh fuck!"

Even as he swore, Shisui vanished, leaving the genin staring at the odd sight.

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"Itachi! We have a problem!"

Itachi turned and fixed his cousin with a quelling glare, then his eyebrows rose as he noted the worry on Shisui's face.

"What is it?"

"There's a man standing in mid-air right above the Uchiha district and he's gathering a load of chakra! The last time I saw that much chakra was when the Kyuubi attacked!"

"Excuse me." Itachi said to the other Kages, then he shunshin'd onto the roof, his eyes quickly moving to the cloaked figure. "Black cloak with red clouds… I know that I've heard about a group using that style of clothing…"

"Akatsuki." Jiraiya said as he landed just next to him. "A group of S-ranked missing nin…"

"The group that Naka joined after he defected." Itachi realised. "But what is that one doing?"

"Something's happening!" Shisui warned, then a voice echoed across the village.

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"SHINRA TENSEI!"

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Author's afternote – Cliffie!

Ain't I a stinker?

;-D

Oh, all chapters have now been written and are simply being polished, so updates will come faster.

The end is in sight…