Chapter 17

Quest: Defeat Omoi in the third round

Rewards: +10 kenjutsu form, +1 Wisdom

Quest: Defeat Samui in the third round

Rewards: +10 kenjutsu form, +1 Intelligence

Quest: Defeat Karui in the third round

Rewards: +10 kenjutsu form, +1 Strength

Quest: Defeat Shikamaru in the third round

Rewards: Unlock Shadow Manipulation Merit, +5 Wisdom

Quest: Defeat Sakura in the third round

Rewards: +3 Intelligence, +3 Wisdom

Quest: Defeat Ino in the third round

Rewards: +20 gardening, Unlocks Mind jutsu

Quest: Defeat Kiba in the third round

Rewards: +10 ninken partner ability, +2 strength

Quest: Defeat Sasuke in the third round

Rewards: +10 Lightning elemental jutsu, +1 Agility

Quest: Defeat Tenten in the third round

Rewards: +30 Kenjutsu variety

Quest: Defeat Lee in the third round

Rewards: +30 Taijutsu form

Quest: Defeat Temari in the third round

Rewards: Unlocks fanjutsu, +10 Wind elemental jutsu, basic fan club

Quest: Defeat Kankuro in the third round

Rewards: +10 puppet jutsu Mechanical Genius

Quest: Defeat Gaara in the third round

Rewards: +20 Jinchuuriki jutsu control, +20 Jinchuuriki jutsu shape manipulation

Quest: Defeat Kurotsuchi in the third round

Rewards: +10 kenjutsu, +10 Earth elemental jutsu, Unlocks the lava release merit

Quest: Defeat Takkana in the third round

Rewards: +10 poison identification and synchronization, +10 medicine identification and synchronization.

Quest: Defeat Fujitsu in the third round

Rewards: +3 Intelligence, +3 Wisdom

Quest: Defeat Fu in the third round

Rewards: +20 Jinchuuriki jutsu control, +20 Jinchuuriki jutsu shape manipulation

Quest: Defeat Neji in the third round

Rewards: +20 Taijutsu form, Unlock the Gentle Fist merit

Quest: Defeat Hinata in the third round

Rewards: +20 Taijutsu form, Unlock the Gentle Fist merit

Naruto didn't really know what to make of the new slew of quests in his pamphlet. The tournament was structured in a way that he'd definitely not fight a large majority of the people in question, yet there were still quests for them. Not only that, but there was the option for defeating Fu too.

"AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGG!" Naruto looked up for a little bit to see Fujitsu reeling back from a sudden and very painful stab to his right shoulder. The Uzumaki winced a little bit. He and Tenten were in the ring and fighting Kurotsuchi and Sasuke. Truthfully, he didn't know who was going to win. Sasuke was strong when he left, never mind what kind of training he went through to get better. Kurotsuchi, however, was a card he didn't know too much about. He did know one thing though, that she was a lava release user and was very proficient in it.

Fujitsu and Tenten were good, but Naruto just didn't know if they were up to the task of battling the two prodigious shinobi. Then again, throughout the fight, Kurotsuchi and Sasuke had been fighting in their own little worlds while Tenten and Fujitsu made remarkable synchronous plays. Seems that Fujitsu was really good at making plans and maneuvers after all. Not that any of them really helped him from getting stabbed in the shoulder from a sudden earth spike that emerged from the ground.

Fujitsu took a shaky hold of a kunai and used it to break the earth spike from his shoulder and reel away. Sasuke was up his ass in the second it took him take control of the situation, throwing punches, kicks, and headbutts at the Taki shinobi ceaselessly while Kurotsuchi held Tenten away from the fight.

The entire beginning of the fight had been all of them running around, taking potshots at each other. Not exactly exciting, but it turned out that Tenten had been secretly placing exploding bombs at strategic points around the area while Kurotsuchi had been blasting out her quicklime powder all across the field.

The middle of the fight had been when Tenten detonated the bombs and Kurotsuchi used the quicklime on the ground to create instant cement to attack and defend. The crowd 'oooh'ed and 'aaahhh'ed at the spectacle created for them. Their fighting styles definitely meshed to make a 'showy' type shinobi battle, but it was winding down with all four of them having exhausted more chakra than they would have liked and the hidden stores of explosives and quicklime all but used up.

A very chakra saturated windmill shuriken flew through the air and nearly bisected the Iwa genin. Luckily, she was limber enough to pull a 'Matrix' type move to bend under it. It closer than she would have liked though, evidenced by the hair lazily floating to the ground which had been cut off from the chakra outlining the shuriken.

Kurotsuchi growled and pushed herself up to run at Tenten with her katana cocked. Tenten unrolled her scroll and brought out a hand sickle with a ball and chain attached to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, Fujitsu just managed to evade one of Sasuke's strikes and substitutioned with Tenten.

Fujitsu ran at Kurotsuchi with a kunai while Tenten ran at Sasuke with her own weapon. Classic bait and switch. From the way it looked, it had to have been planned out ahead of time.

Naruto was definitely impressed. Fujitsu was looking to be a more able competitor than he originally appeared to be when he first met the bespectacled Taki genin.

From his fighting with Kurotsuchi, it was evident that he got training in the sharper arts from Tenten, being able to hold his own against an experienced kenjutsu fighter with a hurt limb. Even if that was running around in circles and blocking or parrying strikes instead of outright attacking.

It was evident even to the non-shinobi in the crowds that Fujitsu was the weaker fighter and was merely stalling for time in the hopes that Tenten'd be able to conclude her fight with Sasuke and return to help him.

Sasuke, the man in question, was dueling Tenten with two kunai in his hands and trying his best to come at her at close range with the two blades. Naruto held onto the railing holding him from the ring and grit his teeth together. It was tense seeing his girlfriend get almost severely injured. Naruto had faith in her abilities, but there was a line between faith and delusion; Naruto felt he walked that line every day.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. Naruto didn't have to be psychic to know that it was Fu who did that. He calmed his breathing a little bit and gave her a knowing look. Even if Sasuke did beat her, Naruto didn't think he'd be a big enough dick to go out of his way to hurt her.

Just as he was thinking that, Tenten managed to get her chain wrapped around his arm and pulled with all the force she had in her spry body. The strength difference between the two was not large, but she had the element of surprise on her hand and Sasuke had the reflexes of an Uchiha on his.

He sprang towards her just has she pulled, unbalancing her slightly. Sasuke took this opening and thrust forward his first kunai, which was jounced away with her chain, only to use that as leverage to throw a second thrust to her neck.

He stopped short of actually killing her, the tip of the blade only barely going into the skin enough to draw blood, but it was enough to show her how serious he was.

Tenten spluttered a little bit, not being able to draw air in properly because of the steel to her neck and dropped her sickle and chain. They thudded to the floor just as she rose her hands up in submission.

Genma, who had taken over for Hayate, dropped into the stadium and called the match. Fujitsu fell to the ground and clutched at his wounded shoulder, too tired to properly stand up and go get medical attention himself.

A few experienced medics came by and picked him up on a stretcher. Tenten briefly tried to walk with him, but was shooed away with the knowledge that he'd be perfectly fine.

She didn't look like she liked it, but acquiesced anyway, making her way back up the competitors' viewing area.

When she got up to the rest of everyone else, Naruto was the first to meet her with a concerned countenance. "Are you okay? Should you go over to the medics-"

Tenten cut him off with a raised hand. She gave him a light, somewhat tired smile. "I'm fine." She said. "Just a bit tired."

Naruto looked at her dubiously. His hands lit up with green chakra and he caressed her neck without her asking. "You need to conserve your energy." She said, not doing much to stop him. It wouldn't have mattered anyway. He was what some people would call 'stubborn'.

"Don't care. You're hurt. I'm helping." Naruto said in authoritarian, clipped tones. It looked kind of funny, considering he was still a few inches shorter than her, combined with the fact that his 'serious' face was completely adorable.

Genma cleared his throat and announced the next match. "The second match!" He shouted using a special jutsu to amplify his voice. "Will be between the teams of Naruto Uzumaki and Fu, and Samui and Lee! Will the four in question please come down to the staging area."

Samui chose to take the stairs while Lee excitedly jumped over the railing and ran all the way to the center. Samui, despite the urges of Lee, chose to keep a slow, calm pace. Naruto looked at Fu, who nodded, not saying a word.

"We're going to be fine." Naruto said.

"We're going to be fine." Fu said.

Tenten grabbed his shoulder, diverting his attention to the girlfriend in question. "If you win." She said in a cutesy tone of voice. "You can expect a prize~, so you'd better win." Having said that, she walked backwards and took a seat at one of the chairs in the box.

Naruto grinned and looked at Fu. "Well, looks like we're going to have to win." Kashikoi jumped out of his Inuzuka training outfit's coat pocket and yipped in excitement.

Naruto and Fu vaulted over the viewing stage and came face to face with their competitors. Lee looked as pumped up as humanly possible and Samui, even if she had the mask of calm cold ruthlessness, seemed at the very least warm-blooded and ready for a fight.

"Naruto-kun!" Lee shouted in exuberance. "I look forward to a clean, fun match." He held out his closed fist for a bumping. Naruto gave the excited genin a big, toothy grin before reciprocating the gesture of friendship.

Fu's and Samui's eyes crossed paths. Nothing was said between them because nothing had to be said between them. Fu gave Samui a slight nod, which was returned with about as much friendliness as Fu gave.

"Are the four of you ready?" Genma asked in a quieter tone.

Naruto gave him a thumbs up while Lee shouted out a "YOSH!"

"Then!" Genma said, using his louder voice to amplify his voice to the crowds. "Begin!"

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Orochimaru looked down at the ring with barely contained excitement. To see how his new body was going to perform was nice and all, but he was having reservations as to who he should have nabbed as a new body. The sharingan might be a powerhouse capable of so many overpowered abilities, but those could be circumvented by a lot of means. This Uzumaki kid didn't waste time.

It seemed that both he and his partner were well aware that the Kumo nin could outclass them in weapon fighting and that the Konoha nin could outclass them in fist fighting. So they cooked up a strategy that involved liberal use of vision obscuring substances; most notably some sort of dust powder that refracted light within itself to blinding levels.

The snake Sannin heard a body lightly touch down and kneel at his side. "What is it Kabuto?" Orochimaru asked, enraptured by the fight.

Kabuto tried to look at the fight, but averted his eyes. He didn't have the sensitive visual organs that his master had that allowed for one to look at such a sight with minimal distraction. "When do you want to enact the plan Orochimaru-sama?"

Orochimaru licked his lips sensually and slowly. "When the time is right, I'll give my signal. Until then, remain on standby with the rest of the forces."

Kabuto nodded, not that Orochimaru could see, although he remained around for longer than Orochimaru though he would. The Sannin looked down to see his subordinate trying to get words out, but not having the courage to do so. "What is it Kabuto?" Orochimaru asked with a large smile splitting his face.

"I-It's just… D-Do you think…"

"Out with it Kabuto."

"Do you think this is going to work?"

Orochimaru smiled heartedly at Kabuto. "A lot of things are going to happen in the coming hours. Even if my original plan fails, there's no way this could conceivably be called a failure."

Kabuto nodded, his resolve bolstered by the small speech Orochimaru gave him. "Yes sir. I'll go wait with everyone else." After saying this, he turned around and undid his Leaf forehead protector. In its place a Mist forehead protector found its way on his head.

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Ai looked down at the genin tustling down below with mild interest on his face. "I didn't know Konoha still made such resourceful shinobi now a days."

Onoki nodded in agreement. "There's usually more specialized shinobi around."

"Yo, yo. Ninjas be super strong. Ninjas be super fast. Ninjas gunna kick- all the ass. Whee." Bee, who was behind Ai, started writing down his findings in his journal.

Yugito, who was also behind Ai, gave apologetic looks to all the kage and their bodyguards who turned to give Bee a strange look.

"Ninjas also be super weird." Kitsuchi whispered under his breath, to which Akatsuchi, Onoki, and the fourth Kazekage heard and began chuckling in response.

Hiruzen looked down at the fight with more than a little pride within his eyes. Naruto had grown up to be such a fine and well-rounded shinobi in such a short time frame that he couldn't help to feel pride well up within his chest.

Yagura's eyes narrowed at the fight below him, then hummed a suspicious little hum. "There was nothing in the bio about the Uzumaki being a sensor."

Hiruzen's eyes furrowed and he looked at the fourth Mizukage in confusion. "He isn't." The grandfather figure stated simply.

Yagura gestured at the fight below. "Then why is he using it?"

Hiruzen looked at the blond fighter with a little bit more of a magnified eye. At a closer examination, he found that what Yagura said was true. Naruto had his eyes closed and was reacting to the stimuli around him with an almost 'all-seeing eye'. It's a good tactic; after all, there is a lot of things in and around Naruto that his senses wouldn't normally pick up on because of the clouds of dust and scales. The only thing wrong with it was that Naruto had never shown any talent for being a sensor whatsoever.

"Anko." Hiruzen whispered behind him to the Mitarashi in question. "When did Naruto begin showing signs of being a sensor? And when did you think you'd tell me?" He asked in a severe tone.

Anko, in true Anko fashion, nervously rubbed the back of her head and laughed a little bit. "About a week ago." She said quietly. "I was going to tell you, but I never really got the chance."

Hiruzen acquiesced silently and resumed to watching the fight. It wasn't as if he put Anko in charge of telling him everything and anything Naruto did. No, he wasn't as manipulative and careful as that. Anything that Anko didn't want to bring up to him was her choice as his master. Still, it would have been nice to know that Naruto had the aptitude for such a rare chakra ability as that.

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Naruto batted away a strike from Samui and drove his staff forward aimed straight for her sternum. She managed to jump to the side and get within Naruto's guard, who brought his bo staff horizontally across his chest. Samui, instead of trying for a stab, grabbed the staff with one of her hands and wrenched it downwards, then headbutted Naruto.

Naruto, not having expected that, reeled away, accidentally giving Samui control over his staff. Throwing it to the side, she ran at him again with a forward stab using her tanto.

Instead of flesh being sunk into, the tanto made a muted 'clanging' sound against Fu's water swords. Naruto turned around and braced himself for the punch that he knew was coming his way. Honestly, he didn't know what was wrong with that Lee kid. He could still kick ass when his vision was obscured and didn't seem to need to know where everyone was or what they were doing.

Naruto thrust a hand behind him and used chakra strings to make contact with the bo staff behind him. They connected and he threw the hand that the chakra strings were still connected to forward. Lee caught the hand, but was nailed in the face by the flying bo staff. Not one to let openings go, Naruto darted forward only to get a chest full of legs weights.

They were heavy enough and had enough heft behind them that Naruto was blown backward with enough force to hit Samui, who had been engaging with Fu and Kashikoi behind him. The weights didn't settle on his chest thankfully, else he'd be screwed.

Naruto coughed explosively and got himself up with the help of his bo staff, until he got hit in the back by what felt like a donkey kick, then got hit in the front, the side, the ass, the collarbone, the big toe, and practically everywhere else on his body. The hits were coming so fast and with such force that it only looked like he suddenly began having a severe case of the twitches.

When the onslaught was over, he fell to the ground in a heap with a still battle ready Lee, who was missing both his leg weights. "Naruto-kun, surrender. I don't want to hurt you."

Samui, Fu, and Kashikoi stopped fighting momentarily, waiting for a response but not daring to look away from the other fighter(s).

Naruto reached out and grasped the bo staff that was on the ground. Lee got back into his fighting stance and waited for Naruto to try and get back up.

Only he didn't. When the bo staff was pointed in Lee's general direction, Naruto used his chakra to pull a hidden mechanism held within the staff's interior. A small opening on the top of the staff made itself known when senbon began shooting out it at a remarkable rate. Before Lee could get away, there were already three senbon lodged in the meat of this thigh and two more sticking out of his chest. Lee jumped away and pulled at the senbon at a fervent pace.

When the last one was off his body, Lee stumbled a little bit. His vision was getting blurry and for some reason, he felt the sudden and immediate urge to throw up.

Samui and Fu began fighting again and Naruto stumbled up on his bo staff once more with a smirk on his face. His body was hurt all over and he wasn't thinking quite right, but he felt accomplished. It was a shame really. He'd been saving those senbon as a surprise in the latter rounds. Looks like he'd just have to use one of the other tricks hidden within the staff.

Naruto put his hands in the familiar cross seal and made a few clones, who surrounded him and began healing him with their medical ninjutsu. They set the rib that had broken in his chest and the internal bleeding as well as the welts and bruises that were popping up all over his body.

During that time, Samui had made moves to attack him while he was vulnerable, but Fu and Kashikoi wouldn't let her anywhere near. Once he was back into fighting shape, Naruto ran at Samui and began fighting her with Fu and Kashikoi.

It looked like they were going to win, even with the dust settling and the scales floating lazily to the ground. That is, until both of them got hit across the jaw with a single kick from lee, who was glowing a dangerous blue. Kashikoi yelped and retreated back to where her other two teammates fell

Samui stopped and began heaving in air as fast as she could. She looked at the super-powered Lee with a thankful expression, which was returned, only it looked really creepy with the whites of his eyes only being shown, his skin being a nasty red, and his hair floating lazily in the air.

Naruto and Fu got themselves up to look at the beast in front of them. That little tidbit of information that Lee could turn Super Saiyan was left out of the bio that the game gave him. Naruto groaned a little bit and pulled another mechanism within the bo staff. A blade popped out the side and clicked into place at the top, then the same happened on the bottom, but on the opposite side. His bo staff turned into a make-shift double scythe.

Red chakra began to float up from Fu's body and formed itself into a cloak with two wings. Naruto made a group of five shadow clones, all of which began to write something on the ground a furious pace.

Naruto and Fu made eye contact and nodded.

Looks like shit got serious.

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The fourth kazekage's hands gripped the railings tightly. "How." He said between clenched teeth. "Does that Uzumaki know about the closely kept secret of Sand Puppetry?"

Onoki didn't look impressed by the fourth Kazekage's show of aggression. "How do you know it's Sand puppetry? There are devices everywhere that can do stuff like that."

"None that are that advanced and none that are activated with chakra." His dusty red hair gave his face a more furious look.

Hiruzen looked to Anko, who shrugged. "Didn' know that he picked that up."

Hiruzen placed his head in his hands. "Is there the possibility that he bought the bo staff like that and was taught its inner functions?"

"He… said that he made it himself." Anko said slowly, face slowly turning into one of confusion and sternness. "When was he going to tell me this?" She asked quietly, more to herself than anyone there.

The fourth Kazekage made a motion to Baki, who disappeared without a trace.

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Just outside the Konoha walls.

There were at least one hundred Sand shinobi hidden out in the trees. They weren't noticed by the sensors or the patrols because of the strategic placing of themselves all along the canopy and the distance from the walls. They were all prepared to jump in and protect the Kazekage and their genin at a moment's notice and put on edge to all hell.

When the fourth's child and his partner was assaulted by unknown assailants on the way back to Konoha, the fourth deemed it necessary to have some military might just outside the walls in case shit hit the fan. Both Kankuro and Kiba weren't injured physically in the slightest, in fact, the only thing that happened was that the thugs managed to wrest away their forehead protectors. Still, there were aggressors of unknown origin out there, potentially targeting the Sabaku family. A little bit of clandestine military operations was to be expected of them.

It was a shame that Suna didn't know that the other four villages (sans Konoha) all had the same idea under roughly the same conditions and were all camped out at different points in along the perimeter of the walls.

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The dust settled, chakra dissipated, and the toads dispelled. Lee was on the ground, breathing fitful breaths and Samui was thoroughly unconscious.

Fu's chakra dissipated and she stumbled a little bit, limbs out of energy at that point. The only thing keeping Naruto up was the double scythe, which had a little bit of blood amongst other fluids staining the edges of the blades.

The rest of the fight after Lee went Super Saiyan took all of one minute. That's not to say it wasn't memorable or dull. Just that everything that could have happened, happened really really fast.

Naruto started out by summoning some shield toads using an array that regulated the amount of chakra and how it was molded to summon his animals. He didn't really have a good grasp of using either his own chakra or the Kyuubi's chakra, so he got Jiraya to teach him the technique of writing his own sealing array to do it for him. It really only worked when he had some preparation time, so it probably would never be 'battle friendly'. That being said, the shield toads were really helpful in repelling Lee's super kicks.

Kashikoi got off to a good start when she managed to bite into Samui's calve muscles with her needle sharp teeth, hampering her ability to run. When the Kumo nin tried to kick off the small fox, she was tripped up when Kashikoi used a beast technique and extended her tail to wrap around Samui's feet.

Even with her lower body mostly immobilized, Fu had a hard time beating her down. Samui was just really good with using that tanto of hers. After eventually knocking her out, Fu flew around and engaged the raging Lee.

With the backup of his shield toads and an army of double scythe wielding yellow haired maniacs, Naruto and Fu eventually got Lee to tucker himself out with a few well-placed well-timed scythe hits and a shitload of dodging behind large amphibians.

At the end of it, the crowd was roaring in their own approval and Team Yellow-Green were about ready for a nap.

Up at the competitors box, they were given a wide berth and a few congratulatory high fives. Naruto got a kiss from Tenten, to which Fu's eyebrows rose in confusion then a little bit of hurt. She didn't say anything though. A mixture of not wanting to address it and supreme tiredness wouldn't allow her to.

Naruto never really got around to asking what Fu thought their relationship was the other night.

While they were resting up a storm, Naruto brought out the book and checked the contents. His eyebrows rose in surprise. He had grown three levels from that fight.

THREE!

That was so incredibly awesome for him. It took him a month of training to grow five levels, yet this one fight got him up by three. He even got the rewards for fighting both Samui and Lee, bringing his stats up even more than what he was planning on.

As discretely as he could, he waved Shikamaru over and told him of the situation.

"Three?" Shikamaru asked in surprise.

Naruto nodded vigorously. "What should I spend my points on?"

Shikamaru's eyes narrowed imperceptibly. "You should wait until a few more teams are out. You might need to put those points somewhere that could help with a specific fight."

Naruto gave him the thumbs up.

"Would the Teams of Shikamaru Nara and Karui, and Neji and Hinata Hyuuga please come down to the ring!?" Genma shouted out.

Karui whooped in joy and jumped down the stadium. Neji took the stairs and strode down in a confident manner while Hinata walked slightly behind him with a demure manner. Shikamaru sighed, walked over to the railing and looked down with a somber expression. "Should we just give up? It's such a hassle."

Karui, having excellent hearing, managed to get what the Nara said to himself and under his breath. She walked up the walls, grabbed him roughly by the neck, and threw him down to the hard earth below. "I didn't spend a month training in the land of treefuck just to give up. Now get up." Karui ordered.

Shikamaru held up a hand and got up to avoid further physical punishment and looked to his competition.

Neji was doing the classic Neji, looking like an asshole and being overconfident while Hinata was doing classic Hinata, looking overly shy and like she wanted to be doing anything else other than standing right there at that moment.

Shikamaru looked to Karui and quirked an eyebrow. She saw the quirk and nodded slightly.

Genma looked at both teams and asked if they were ready to fight. Shikamaru yawned and Hinata gave a polite "Yes."

"Then!" Genma said. "Begin!"

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Up in the stands

"Can't believe Lee lost." Kakashi said offhandedly.

If one could have seen Asuma's and Kurenai's looks, they would have been described as very surprised. "I-I can't believe Lee lost to Naruto." Asuma said slowly.

"I can't believe that Fu girl is a Jinchuuriki." Kurenai whispered.

Shino nodded a little bit to no one in particular. "Naruto certainly has gotten strong since we last met."

Chouji was munching on chips to their side a bit slower than usual. During the fight, he'd been so excited that he nearly got through all of his reserve chips. As it was, he was down to the last bag; so he was trying to make it last for the rest of the rounds. As if noticing something for the first time, he began looking around in confusion. "What happened to Gai-sensei?" He asked.

The three jonin and two genin looked around as well. "Must've gone to see Lee." Kakashi finally said.

All around them the sounds of the crowds quieted considerably, getting off the high of the last match. Asuma looked down at the ring from his seat with a proud expression on his face.

"Shikamaru looks like he's handling himself well." Kurenai said.

"Yeah." Asuma said before reaching in his coat and grabbing a cigarette. He used a small fire jutsu to light it up and took a long drag. "If there's one thing he can do, it's to make a plan."

Down below, Shikamaru and Karui were taking the cautious route. Circling around the taijutsu users and trying their damndest to goad them into something. Nobody in the stands nor the two Hyuuga in question knew what they were being goaded into though.

Neji might be kind of an asshole, but he at the very least knew of the virtue of patience. He'd read up on all that he could he get hands on that pertained to his opponents. If the readings of the Nara clan held true, then Shikamaru had already planned the next hundred movements of every single fight that might possibly happen. The Hyuuga had been hoping that his Kumo partner, Karui, might be as hot-headed as she seemed and throw caution to the wind to attack them.

She held a sword with an ease that someone who had a lot of practice would normally have. Shikamaru with all of his planning would definitely be the more difficult to dispatch even if he didn't have much skill in close combat, so if Neji and Hinata could get Karui to surrender or render her unable to continue, they'd win even if they didn't beat Shikamaru. The thing that halted his thoughts of a frontal assault was the fact that Karui seemed as proficient in close quarters combat, if not more, proficient as he was. That sword that was gleaming dangerously in the sun wasn't making his decision any harder to make either.

They were circling around each other very languidly. There was no trace of hostility or any overtly energetic actions, just a very tense atmosphere. The crowd began to settle and stir a little bit restlessly. The previous two fights had been spectacles of the grandest scale. To see this match of careful consideration and slow movements was upsetting more than one of the civilians in the stands.

Neji didn't know what to do. If he got any closer, Shikamaru would trap him in his clan's jutsu. But Shikamaru wasn't advancing either. If perhaps Neji could reach and beat Shikamaru or Karui before the strands got to him, then he might beat them with two palm strikes. He didn't know how fast Shikamaru's jutsu was though, or if it could travel through air or any other medium. So they settled for their circling.

His peripheral lit up very suddenly and without warning. Something was approaching him from the ground and he didn't have the mental faculties to wonder what it was before jumping backwards as quickly as possible.

Subconsciously, his hand reached out and grabbed onto Hinata's bicep to make sure she was keeping up with him. In all their spars together, he'd concluded that she was inferior to him physically, mentally, and skillfully. If Shikamaru was as smart as Neji assumed he was, then he'd go for Hinata before him, seeing as she was the weak link in their team.

When the attack was done with, Neji noticed that the thing that advanced on them was a shadow. From the rate that it followed him, Neji knew that he was faster, but the shadow seemed more prehensile and capable of sudden turning. There was no way that a frontal attack would work.

The shadow was stopped just a few feet short of them before stopping and withdrawing back to the user.

Neji narrowed his eyes and activated his Byakugan for a few seconds. His special eyesight allowed him a look to where anybody was in a 359 degree sphere around him by looking at the inner workings of their chakra system, but it didn't allow for as much detail as his normal vision. Seeing as there was nothing out of the ordinary, he concluded that he didn't need it and deactivated it.

He risked a glance at Hinata beside him. She was as timid and demure as she normally was, but was taking this game of tension and waiting a bit better than he thought she would. That wasn't saying much though.

Neji's eyes narrowed as he bent a little bit down to whisper something in Hinata's ear. Once she heard his plan, she nodded and got into a taijutsu form.

Their little play of circling around each other had brought the Nara to the edge of the walls that were becoming shadowed from the sun overhead. It was obvious to Neji that Shikamaru had just been going along with their little game so he could orient himself with the shade, elongating his reach by leaps and bounds.

Neji took a few steps forward, into the reach of the shadow, but it never attached to his. Behind him, Hinata had her palm forward and pressed against his back at one of the hardest tenketsu to hit normally and also one of the most debilitating of them all.

Neji knew that the Nara technique of shadow possession took a hold of someone's physical body for as long as the person could hold it. However, it was a double edged sword. If someone hit the person being possessed, the person possessing would feel it too. Neji knew techniques to help the tenketsu recover quickly from being hurt. Shikamaru didn't.

Neji pressed onwards with Hinata by his side. When the two opponents started backing off, Neji pulled into a full sprint, Hinata still behind him and with one hand to his back.

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Ai's eyes were started to go half-lidded. He placed his jaw in the palm of his hand and sighed a sigh of exasperation. "This fight isn't exactly interesting." He breathed out.

"Yo, bro. You have got to understand. The ninja have got their hands. They have got to lay their plans."

Ai's eyes narrowed even more. Usually, Bee's rapping made at least a little bit of sense. Now it was just gibberish.

Onoki started mumbling to himself a little bit. "That's what I hate about those Nara. They're all so slippery. Even when you think you've got one cornered, they pull something on you."

"I'm surprised they're working so well together." Anko said.

At hearing this, Hiruzen turned around a little bit and gave her a gaze searching for answers.

"Naruto and Shikamaru sometimes hang out at the Inuzuka compound." Anko said for clarification. "Sometimes Karui would come by to appropriate Shika. She's really hot-tempered."

"Yo yo. Karui, the unstoppable swordmistress. The-"

"Shut up Bee." Yugito hissed at the rapping man.

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Down in the ring.

It's really really difficult to fight a person with a sword when one has to take into consideration that there must always be a person with a hand on your back and that person will always be a target to the same person with a sword.

That being said, it would come as a shock to anyone who knew of Hinata's and Neji's relationship if they saw how well they fought in that situation.

Neji didn't like Hinata for a multitude of reasons, but to let his emotions get in the way of getting a promotion would be just really stupid on his part. Hinata as well was very wary around her cousin, but she was still skilled enough in the physical arts to not get in his way while he fought Karui.

What really unsettled her was the fact that she didn't know where Shikamaru was. While jumping around and keeping her focus on keeping a hand on Neji's back at all time, even when the odd sword came by to almost stab her, she didn't have much concentration left to activate her Byakugan.

During a certain maneuver in which Neji ducked below a sword stripe, bringing Hinata down with him, she felt her muscles lock up and her body stop moving. With eyes wide with surprise, she was placed in the same spot while Neji, not knowing what happened, jumped away from her prone form.

The sharp edge of a sword was placed on her neckline. Standing triumphantly above her was Karui, looking at Neji with eyes filled with superiority.

"Surrender, or your cousin gets it." Karui shouted out.

Neji took a few seconds to get his breath and consider his options. Slowly, Hinata felt her body move upwards and place itself in a standing position with the sword still placed on her neck.

With the small amount of muscle control she had, Hinata grimaced in defeat. Neji had worked her into the ground during the month of training. To give up now would be to looked down upon by both Neji and the rest of the entire Hyuuga clan. But what could she do? Stare Shikamaru, who emerged from the shade, to death?

"YOU CAN DO IT HINATA!"

Hinata's eyes widened once more in shock and confusion. She knew that voice all too well. It was the voice of the person she admired most in the world. Naruto-godforsaken-Uzumaki.

Hinata grit her teeth and began concentrating inwards.

The thing that she was thinking of doing could turn out awesome, or terribly.

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Naruto gripped the edge of the railing in anticipation. "YOU CAN DO IT NEJI!" he shouted out as well.

He felt a hand grip his bicep, diverting his attention to Fu. "Why are you cheering for Hinata and Neji?" Fu asked. "Hasn't Shikamaru been more of a friend to you as of late?"

Naruto shrugged and smiled amiably. "Dunno. I just kind of feel like… she can do more."

"What do you mean by that" Tenten asked, coming into the fray.

Naruto shrugged again. "Dunno. Plus I don't think Shikamaru would want an easy fight."

"What are you talking about?" Ino asked, jumping their conversation. "The only Shikamaru would ever want is an easy fight."

Naruto put up his shit-eating grin and laughed a little mischievously. "Then I guess I'm just an asshole."

"You got that right." Sasuke mumbled to himself.

00000000

Shikamaru didn't really know what to do at that point. The rules that Genma stated was that if one of the partners either died or was knocked unconscious, then the fight would be over in the favor of the other fighter. But Karui couldn't do anything to Hinata lest he get harmed as well. Neji seemed to be either aware of this or unaware and just thinking the situation out. Either way, he'd have to resort to plan B.

Shikamaru made a hand sign to Karui, who nodded ever so slightly. Not enough that Neji had any idea what she was doing, but enough that Shikamaru knew that she got it.

Plan B was letting go of the possession to allow Karui to knock out the opponent trapped under the possession. There was risk there in that Karui might not be fast enough to knock her out in time, but with Neji not conceding defeat, it was the best plan there was.

In fact, the plan would have succeeded very well, if not for the fact that Hinata exploded a few seconds before he released his hold.

Blue torrents of chakra streamed out of every pore on her body. The sudden expulsion of chakra destroyed his concentration and blasted Karui a few feet away. She landed on her neck and laid there, dazed.

Neji took a hold of this scenario for his favor and quickly advanced on the downed girl. Shikamaru got a hold of his jutsu again and sent another tendril to Neji, but the Hyuuga was able to get a few well-placed strikes all over Karui's neck and torso.

When Neji felt his shadow engulfed, the damage was already done and Karui was unconscious.

Neji's eyes flickered to Hinata's form. There was blood flowing from her mouth like a waterfall. Rips and tears covered her clothing and she was bleeding from a lot of them. Still though, her hands were clenching the soil and her arms were shaking with the effort required to get her body back up in fighting position.

Genma fell into the middle of the arena and called the match in the Hyuugas' favor. Medic teams rushed the area and pulled Karui into a stretcher to cart her away.

Neji calmly approached Hinata and knelt by her side. There were a ring of medics surrounding the downed heir, but she denied wanting their services. Soon, her arms gave out and she collapsed on the ground, devoid of any energy.

She tried to say something, but only succeeded in clearing her windpipe of the congealing blood in her throat. "I… I can still fight Neji-niisan," She finally spluttered out.

"No, you can't. It was our fate to lose from the beginning, when I was paired with you to take the exams." Neji said indifferently before beckoning the medics over to carry her away.

Before he could say 'fate', she was gone on a stretcher that was getting soaked in blood.

Neji began his calm ascent back to the fighters' area, but was stopped half-way by a slightly pissed off Naruto. "What did you mean by that?" Naruto asked quietly, his hair framing his face. Apparently, Neji's little pep talk with Hinata was heard by the fighters' area.

Neji looked from Naruto to Tenten, to Fu, to everyone else who bothered to pay attention to them. "She's weak. It was our fate from the beginning to lose-" Neji stopped mid-sentence when he blocked an elbow strike aiming for his nose. "Uzumaki-san." Neji said with glaring eyes. "I'll have to ask you to not try and attack me again."

"She tried her best, you asshole." Naruto said angrily. "She didn't have to do that, but she did."

"And yet, she still lost. I still lost. We still lost. It was our fate from the beginning to lose." Neji brushed aside Naruto and his anger to calmly walk over to the seats and sit himself down. Not looking any worse for wear.

Shikamaru soon joined them and was stopped by Naruto. "What was that thing she did?" he asked in a defeated tone.

Shikamaru shrugged. "Hyuuga have unparalleled ability with their inner chakra workings. They have a move called the 'heavenly rotation', but one would need the use of their muscles to use it. I assume that she did what she did in order to break my concentration and stun Karui. In a way, I guess it worked out for them."

Naruto looked down. "So… she knew she'd get hurt from it?"

Shikamaru took a deep breath and looked up to the ceiling in exasperation. "Just because I'm able to make plans that I think are sound, that doesn't mean that the irrational is not going to happen. Like a Hyuuga suddenly getting the will to never give up and exploding, knowing that it would harm her greatly."

Naruto's eyes took on a dead look. He just kind of stood there for a while. Shikamaru passed him and walked back to the seating.

Fu laid a hand on his shoulder and guided him back to where everyone else was. The only thing going through Naruto's mind was how it was definitely his fault that Hinata hurt herself in a most egregious and horrible manner.

A few more matches passed by without him being fully aware of it. Ino and Omoi lost to Sakura and Temari. Kiba and Kankuro forfeited to Gaara and Takkana, mostly because the older Sabaku was able to convince Kiba of the strength that Gaara possessed. Sasuke and Kurotsuchi almost lost to Sakura and Temari, mostly because of the kunoichis' superior teamwork.

Soon enough, Naruto and Fu were on the ground and facing a very devilish-looking Gaara and a very timid Takkana. Naruto blinked a few times and slapped his face twice. He needed to get into the zone.

Naruto brought out his bo staff and got into his fighting stance. Naruto didn't know much about Gaara other than the fact that he's really strong, practically royalty, and also a Jinchuuriki. This fight with him was going to be very destructive and showy.

It would have been too, were it not for the haunting flute melody that lulled him to sleep where he stood.

AN/ Sorry for the slow update. Just got a 3DS… and a job… and Japanese lessons… and driving lessons.

I'm a busy man!

Either way, I kind of don't really know how I did on this chapter. I like to think I did well, but then I doubt myself, then I think I did well. Etc. Etc.

Give me your brutally honest, brutally horrible, brutally nice reviews in the little box below.

And as always, have a gentlemanly day.

Oh, and one last thing. If you support the need for a yaoi and yuri type filters for the site of , please send an email to support .com. Just a short little sentence will do.

*edit. Okay, that didn't work. fanfiction really needs to stop with that invisible link thing.*