Title: New Wind Nation: Alliance
Chapter 12: Chunin Exams ~ See You Again (part 5) [FINAL]
Notes: Prepare for more anticlimactic disappointment. Last chapter!
"You two… kind of overdid it," Tenten commented as she landed behind Naruto and Sasuke and made her way to stand next to them. She had seen the pillar of flame going up nearby and gone to investigate, only to find two boys from different teams and villages - who, surprisingly, had not been fighting each other, but rather a third party.
All three genin looked consideringly across the charred, gouged and slightly melted section of the canyon in front of them. Through the heat haze of the cooling stone, they could just make out Sakon's collapsed form, where the Sound-nin had been thrown by Sasuke and Naruto's collaboration attack.
While combining fire and wind was certainly effective, especially given Naruto's tendency for brute force in his jutsus, it was also rather dangerous. The edge of Sasuke's shirt was still smoking, and his arm was a boiled lobster red from the heat. He had barely managed to escape the edge of the inferno.
Naruto chuckled awkwardly. "Maybe," he conceded. "But I wanted to deal with him quick. Let's get back to our teams. I'm worried about Gaara… and Kankuro, I guess."
"I'm coming too," Tenten said.
"Er… that's kind of…" Naruto tried to protest.
Tenten waved it aside. "Come on, if your teams are working together, no reason for us to join too, right? The more, the merrier. And Neji said he saw something weird, so we should stick together."
Naruto and Sasuke exchanged a glance. Sasuke shrugged one shoulder and looked away.
'Well, I guess that's true,' Naruto thought, nodding.
Somehow, they were still the last ones to get back. Probably, it had something to do with the roundabout merry chase Sasuke and Naruto had first led Sakon on, to get him away from the others. Neither of them could track in the dark much either, and Tenten didn't know where they were supposed to be going.
It was only around dawn that one of Sai's ink creations found them and showed them the way to where the rest of their teams had gathered. And it was the rest of all three of their teams - even Lee was there.
Apparently, he had run across Sai - who had dealt with Tayuya successfully on his own - and doggedly followed the Root agent back, ignoring all of Sai's attempts to convince him to go away, or evade him.
"Yosh! How fortunate that all of us have come together!" Lee declared boisterously. "This must be a sign! Let us unite and claim victory in this round for all our teams!" He posed, thumb up and teeth sparkling.
This time, Neji didn't protest, only shooting Lee a faintly annoyed look. Tenten beamed, nodding - that had been what she wanted from the start.
"What do you say? Sasuke-san? Naruto-san?" Lee insisted, turning to the other two teams.
Sasuke thought for a moment, glancing up at the morning sky. 'Whatever happened, it must be over by now,' he thought. 'And with the Sound team out of the way, it's probably wouldn't put these three in danger to travel with us… Why not? Making chunin less than a year after graduating does sound rather nice.'
"Fine," Sasuke declared, smirking a little. He spared a short look at his team, but Hinata just smiled weakly, her throat sore and swollen from Kidomaru's attempted strangulation, and Sai wore the same bland smile as always.
Sasuke and Lee both turned to Naruto, who was busy fussing over Gaara - not that Gaara seemed to need it, having regained his strength, if not his usual chakra control.
"Oi, why are you all looking to him?" Kankuro protested. "I'm the most experienced on our team!"
Neji shot him a deeply condescending look, while Tenten hid a giggle behind one hand. Sasuke snorted quietly and said, rather dryly, "So then, team leader? What's your decision?"
Kankuro glared back for a moment, before sighing heavily. 'It's not like I can tell the other Leaf team that we're not in this for a promotion,' he thought. 'And it would be nice to get something out of this. If I make chunin, I can rub it in Temari's face...'
"Fine, we're in," he decided.
'Not much else we can do,' Kankuro thought, as the three teams prepared to move out. 'We did our part. I just hope Father and the others did theirs...'
It had been still dark when Orochimaru abandoned his battle with Gaara. Not because he was losing - and the fact that he was not only holding his own, but winning against a jinchuriki, albeit an inexperienced one, was a testament to the power of the Sannin - but because it was time to move on.
Orochimaru had known from the start that Sasuke had been sent to the Hidden Sand exams as bait. Even if Kimimaro hadn't been good enough to mention his own revealing remarks to Sasuke, it would have been obvious anyway. Why else would they allow their last, precious Uchiha to come to Hidden Sand when he was still so green and inexperienced?
However, it had been a good chance to see the boy in person. Sasuke was a long way from his brother, but his potential was unquestionable, and that was all the better for Orochimaru - Itachi had proven too strong to use. Young Sasuke, on the other hand, could be molded to Orochimaru's purposes.
It was just a shame Orochimaru had not been able to leave his Cursed Seal on the boy. He had thought Danzo would take the opportunity to get rid of Sasuke - he had always hated and feared the Uchiha Clan. 'I even promised to share my research and discoveries with him,' Orochimaru thought. 'That unreliable old fool...' Perhaps finding out about Orochimaru's invasion plan had finally convinced him that the Sannin was too much of a threat to Hidden Leaf.
Well, it wasn't a problem. There would be plenty of opportunities in the future.
For now, Orochimaru had another appointment to keep.
He couldn't afford to spend too much chakra playing with the genin and the jinchuriki - not when he was going to be facing other, much more dangerous opponents soon.
Because if Sasuke was the bait, then there must have been a trap - and the Kazekage would certainly be part of it. They had a score to settle, and this time Orochimaru would not let him escape.
Orochimaru didn't wait for Kimimaro and Jirobo. Either they would rendezvous with him, or they were not worthy of being his subordinates.
He didn't bother warning the rest of the Sound Five either. He doubted that any one of them could defeat Sasuke alone, and those three in particular were likely to both refuse to work together and to underestimate their target. With Danzo's Root agent and the Sand teams also lending their assistance, Tayuya, Kidomaru and Sakon's chances of making it back were rather low.
It didn't matter much - he had learned what he wanted of their abilities.
Instead, Orochimaru proceeded alone into the desert. He headed away from the village at a leisurely pace, certain that Hidden Sand had put in place some way to detect and intercept him.
He was not disappointed. It wasn't long before the sand under his feet suddenly slid away, dragging him down and sucking him into a swirling pool of quicksand. The sand sparkled in the moonlight - like golden dust.
'I see,' Orochimaru thought, as the sand constricted sharply around his legs. 'He scattered small amounts of Gold Dust all across the dunes around the canyon. Any disturbance in the Gold Dust lets him know of a trespasser, and he can use it to trap as well...'
"Not bad, Kazekage-kun," Orochimaru said, smirking.
However, it was far from enough. Orochimaru easily tore his way free, jumping out of the quicksand pit. To cover such a wide area, the Gold Dust had to be spread thinly and was quite weak. It was only meant to delay him.
Lightning-nature chakra sparked around Kakashi's outstretched hand, as he burst out of a sand dune - the Gold Dust had warned the Kazekage of Orochimaru's location and path a long way back, allowing his opponents to intercept him and to hide in the sand with the same Gold Dust - but Orochimaru twisted his torso in an inhuman, snake-like way, letting Kakashi's lunge carry him clean past.
'It was too much to hope that it would so easy,' Kakashi thought with some disgust, as he regained his footing and stood ready again.
"My, my, to have not only the Kazekage, but even the great Hatake Kakashi come to greet me, what an honor," Orochimaru chuckled, moving to face both Kakashi and the Kazekage, who had also emerged from the sand. "But Sand and Leaf are certainly getting cozy. To think that you were planning to betray your ally just weeks ago!"
"It was my mistake," the Kazekage admitted calmly. "Listening to your words was a miscalculation from that start, and I am grateful to have been shown how wrong I was before the situation became unsalvageable."
"It's certainly admirable that you can set aside your… difficulties to face me," Orochimaru said, unbothered by the lack of response to his taunts, "but as flattering as it is to have you both here, it won't be enough. This time, you won't escape… either of you."
"I'm not the same kid I was ten years ago," Kakashi said, his eyes narrowing. "I'm not going to freeze from just your presence." 'I won't let you threaten my student or my village any further,' he thought.
"This time will be different," the Kazekage agreed.
"Yes, Jiraiya isn't going to show up to save you this time," Orochimaru said, smiling patronizingly. "He's with the Hokage in Leaf, isn't he? And it's just you two here."
Jiraiya had been ordered to remain in the village until after the Chunin Exams, just in case there was some attempt at an invasion after all. He was also to accompany the Hokage to the third round - part of the reason Orochimaru had decided against an assassination attempt, though the long, empty road between Leaf and Sand would have provided many good opportunities.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," the Kazekage said.
The sand dune next to him shifted apart to reveal a large scroll standing on end. As the Kazekage tipped it over, it unrolled - showing the wide seal circle written inside. In the middle of the array was the character for "person."
A burst of smoke engulfed the scroll as the summoning written on it was activated. When it cleared, Jiraiya stood in the symbol's place. His expression was almost unnaturally serious as he regarded Orochimaru, foregoing even his favorite self-introduction and dance.
"Hello, Orochimaru," Jiraiya said coolly. "It's been a long time."
Orochimaru sighed. "You insist on making this difficult," he noted. "But I expected that. Still clinging to our so-called bond - you were always too stubborn for your own good."
"No, I understand now," Jiraiya said, his expression growing even colder. "We might have been teammates once, but that ended when you abandoned the village. You made your choice, and it's past time Sensei and I acknowledged it. If you're willing to go so far as to attack the Leaf, you're nothing but a traitor. And we'll take you down like one."
A brief flicker of something like pain or regret passed over his features, but only for a moment.
"You can try," Orochimaru allowed. "But it's quite rude of you to bring those other two into it. I think I'm going to even the odds. This is something special I prepared just for this occasion..."
He clapped his hands together - and a plain wooden coffin emerged from the sand.
His three opponents tensed. "Is that…?" Jiraiya muttered uncertainly, as the lid fell forward.
"Edo Tensei," Orochimaru confirmed. Amused, he watched their expressions shift as a the body inside the coffin slowly took a step out into the moonlight. "Resurrection - bringing back the dead in an immortal, unkillable form. It's quite something, isn't it?"
The jutsu had been developed by the Second Hokage. It would have been poetic to bring him back with his own creation, but Orochimaru had not yet acquired his genetic material. However, there was one legend whose DNA he'd had previously made use of and which he had been quite happy to use again.
"The First Hokage…" Kakashi stammered, staring in shock at the man who emerged from the coffin. Or rather, the pale, undead imitation of the man the First Hokage had been.
Orochimaru chuckled. "Kill him," he ordered, pointing to the Kazekage.
With the control tag already inserted, the reanimated corpse did not hesitate. His hands came together in a seal, and branches and roots suddenly burst out from the sand around them.
Several things happened at once - the Kazekage jumped away, his Gold Dust slashing several branches apart; the resurrected Hokage pressed his attack, following the Kazekage's retreat; Orochimaru retreated as well, his expression daring Jiraiya to follow.
"Kakashi! Help the Kazekage!" Jiraiya ordered. "You know the most about Mokuton, and that thing's nowhere near the First's true power! I'll handle Orochimaru!"
It was fitting, in a way, for the two of them to face each other alone.
The two Sannin broke off, quickly moving away to fight their own running battle - and leaving Kakashi and the Kazekage to contend with the resurrected First Hokage. Jiraiya was right in claiming the reanimated corpse had only a shadow of the legendary shinobi's true strength, but even that was easily head and shoulders above most ninjas.
Of course, neither Kakashi nor the Kazekage were most ninjas.
The Mokuton's advance stopped suddenly as the First Hokage found his lower body trapped by Gold Dust. A sound like chirping birds rent the air - Kakashi dashed between the branches and roots, lightning natured chakra gathered in his palm again.
The Gold Dust should have prevented the First Hokage from moving, and even the Mokuton shoots couldn't stop Kakashi's charge. But at the last one moment, one branch lashed out and knocked the First Hokage aside, throwing him clear of the Gold Dust. Kakashi's Raikiri hit only wood.
That reckless maneuver was not without its consequences. When he stumbled to his feet nearby, having crashed into a thick root, the damage to the First Hokage's body was obvious.
However, the dents in his armor and the scratches across his skin quickly began to repair, disappearing before his opponents' eyes.
"Unkillable, right," Kakashi muttered.
"I thought it was just a rumor, but it seems what I heard about that jutsu is true," the Kazekage said, as they regrouped. "The summoned deceased cannot be killed. Their chakra and restorative abilities are infinite. We'll have to bind and seal it so it can't escape."
"Sealing? I can probably put something together," Kakashi said. 'Though it's far from my specialty...'
"Then I'll bind it down," the Kazekage said. Unexpectedly, he smiled. 'To think it would come in handy like this. It's fitting, I suppose,' he thought.
When he had returned to Hidden Sand from the Leaf, he had been surprised and bemused to hear about Gaara's mentoring - and his ongoing efforts to develop new techniques for using his sand. Like practically everyone else in the village, the Kazekage had gone to spy on Gaara and Matsuri's practice, though he thought that in the end they were being foolish and naive.
And now, to his surprise, he was going to use the things Gaara had been practicing. The world certainly had a unique sense of humor.
Following Orochimaru's orders, the First Hokage resumed his attack on the Kazekage, almost entirely ignoring Kakashi. He closed in quickly, foregoing ninjutsu to attack hand to hand. Gold Dust rose up to block his attacks, but every strike made the dust shield burst apart, partially disintegrating.
Kakashi paused before jumping in. His eyes narrowed as he tried to see through the clouds of sparkling dust. Alone, neither of them would be able to defeat the resurrected Hokage, but how could they work together? The Kazekage had been upfront, for the most part, about his abilities, but that didn't mean Kakashi knew how to work in combination with him.
'Wait,' the jonin thought. 'Something isn't right...'
There was less and less Gold Dust in the shield each time. But the First Hokage's attacks were not having any more effect than before. If anything… it looked like the zombie was slowing down. That shouldn't have been possible. Edo Tensei reanimations did not tire or run out of chakra.
'I see. So that's how it is,' Kakashi realized.
The First Hokage glanced down at his armor, noticing the same thing as Kakashi. Abandoning the close range battle, he drew back and brought his hands together again - new Mokuton growth appeared around him, including beneath his feet, raising him up above the sand.
Kakashi drew a deep breath. 'Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu,' he thought, before releasing a massive stream of flame.
Fire wasn't his natural element, and in fact it was the weakest of the four he could use. Fortunately, the jutsu was enough to ignite several of the branches, and a quick, wordless wind jutsu from the Kazekage drove the flames higher.
Caught in the middle of the fire as his Mokuton burned, the First Hokage, his clothes and the ends of his hair began to smolder and his armor began to flow faintly with the heat.
"Suiton: Suijinheki!" Kakashi called out next. This time, he blew out a stream of water, forming a wave that washed over the burning Mokuton grove. As it hit the fire, the water jutsu hissed and evaporated, covering everything in clouds of steam.
When the steam cleared, most of the Mokuton growth had collapsed from the fire damage, but the First Hokage was still standing. His injuries appeared to be all surface ones, and were already beginning to reconstruct.
However, when the reanimation tried to move, it found itself held in place. It couldn't do more than jerk slightly.
Thick veins of gold were spread over the First Hokage's body, fusing the plates of armor together and pinning him in place.
All through the fight, the Kazekage had subtly left small amounts of Gold Dust layered over the First Hokage's body. As the Gold Dust built up, it began to even weigh down and slow his movements. Then, the fire had melted the Gold Dust, and the water cooled and hardened it.
And because of the Kazekage's chakra running through the gold bindings, they were not easily broken, despite being made of such soft metal.
"Let's finish this," the Kazekage announced. He spread his arms, entire waves of Gold Dust rising as he beckoned and then crashing onto the First Hokage's paralyzed figure to form a shimmering pyramid-like structure.
Kakashi stepped forward, a kunai in hand to carve the base seals for containment into the golden surface.
They had won.
It didn't take Jiraiya long to realize that Orochimaru again had no intention of fighting him seriously. Moving quickly across the dunes, the two of them traded jutsus and volleys of shuriken, but all of it was just stalling, with little intent behind it.
"Afraid to face me for real? I don't blame you," Jiraiya taunted, hiding his agitation behind a mocking smirk. "I wouldn't want to take on the gallant Jiraiya either!"
Orochimaru chuckled, easily maintaining the same facade of false amiability. "I could - we both know who won every one of our matches. But why bother? Despite what you might think, you're only a minor nuisance in the grand scheme of things, Jiraiya. I expected that I might run into you here, but I didn't come for you."
Truthfully, Orochimaru was not entirely sure who would win, between the two of them. They had always been too closely matched. While he suspected that he would emerge victorious in the end, that would be poor consolation if he exhausted himself and was caught in another trap or if Jiraiya managed to deal him a crippling injury.
Against an ordinary opponent, Orochimaru might have chanced it and then changed bodies afterwards, if it came to that, but given Jiraiya's knowledge of seals and of Orochimaru, the risk was too great.
And as Orochimaru said, the payoff was low. He knew how Jiraiya thought and how he operated. While avoiding his spies was tedious, it was at least predictable. If he removed Jiraiya, there was no telling who might replace him and how. Better the enemy you know, after all.
Orochimaru's dig made Jiraiya scowl.
"But," Orochimaru said, smirking, "if you want to get a bit more serious, I will oblige."
Biting one thumb, he pulled up the opposite sleeve to reveal his summoning tattoo and smeared a streak of blood over it. Realizing his intent, Jiraiya began quickly flipping through the hand seals for his own summoning.
A cloud of smoke engulfed them both. A massive two headed serpent rose out of it. The snake summon towered over Jiraiya, but when one head lunged for him, its attack was blocked by an equally massive two-pronged fork. In another burst of smoke, a large red toad joined the snake, Jiraiya riding on its head.
"Thanks for the save, Gamaken!" Jiraiya called out.
"I'm clumsy, but I'll do my best," the toad rumbled in a deep voice.
The two headed snake flailed under Gamaken's fork, sending tall waves of sand flying. It hissed angrily and tried to wind its tail around the toad's neck, but Jiraiya's attention was not on that battle. Instead, he searched frantically for Orochimaru.
There was no sign of him at all. Not atop his summon, not among the clouds of sand being kicked up, not out on the smooth dunes beyond.
Jiraiya cursed. All of it had been just a distraction from the start.
Orochimaru had escaped once more.
"I can't believe he got away! And after we worked so hard on this mission," Naruto hissed, scowling and making clawing motions with his hands.
Once the three teams - two from Leaf, one from Sand - returned to the village, they were quickly separated and herded away. Lee, Neji and Tenten were sent to actually get the proper cure for their mild poisoning, which had started coming back toward the end of their trip. Meanwhile, the other six were quickly debriefed, and informed of the mission's ultimate failure.
"Just let it go," Kankuro sighed. "At least we're all alive. And he's down, what, five minions. That's something."
Sasuke's own scowl made it clear he was with Naruto on this, but while he was… annoyed to realize just how large a gap remained between him and an actual S-ranked criminal, he was also somewhat pleased. All things considered, he had done pretty well, and he had awakened the next level of his Sharingan.
"Not to mention, we're going to have a chance to make chunin despite this entire fiasco. That's definitely a nice bonus," Kankuro added. "The high level mission on our records doesn't hurt either."
Hinata smiled and nodded in agreement, while Sasuke smirked faintly. Only Sai showed no reaction.
"Chunin…" Gaara muttered. He seemed somewhat baffled by the notion. Then again, rank was mostly a formality where he was concerned. He rubbed his stomach absently. Baki, who had been at the quick debriefing, had promised to get a seal expert to help him, but there hadn't been any time to deal with it so far.
"Making chunin would be pretty cool," Naruto admitted.
"Not that you'll make it," Kankuro said, waving one hand dismissively. "But it'll be a good experience for you."
"What, like the exam six months ago was for you?" Naruto asked, rolling his eyes. "Oh wait, that wasn't your first time, was it? Sounds like that experience didn't do much to help. I guess if you're a loser who plays with dolls all day…"
"They're puppets!" Kankuro hissed. The two of them glared at each other, looking a moment away from a brawl.
Fortunately, the stalemate was broken as the other Leaf team appeared, making their way toward the six genin - who had been crouching together in a tight circle rather suspiciously. "Hey, guys!" Tenten called out. "Everything go okay? It's a relief to get that out of your system, right?"
"Uh, yeah, totally," Naruto agreed, laughing awkwardly. He hadn't actually felt anything to start with.
"U-um… Thank you," Hinata stammered quietly, ducking her head as she spoke. "We c-couldn't have made it without your help."
Sasuke and Kankuro snorted simultaneously. 'Yes, we could have,' they thought.
"It's no big deal," Tenten assured her. Next to her, Neji glanced at Hinata, but this time his expression remained neutral as he shrugged one shoulder and looked away. Tenten added, "Seems like teaming up was a good idea. I heard we're the only teams that made it! They're still picking up everyone who passed out in the desert, but it doesn't look like anyone else is going to finish."
"Yes, our teamwork and cooperation was quite Youthful!" Lee agreed energetically. "But in the next round, we will be opponents! Let's all give it our best!"
"Way to kill the mood," Tenten muttered, facepalming.
"Sounds good," Sasuke agreed, surprisingly. He and Naruto exchange a glance.
"Ah," Sai said, for the first time since delivering his cold, factual report. "I won't be participating. As soon as the official announcement is made, I will officially drop out."
"What? Why?" Naruto wondered.
"You mustn't give up so easily! Don't worry! If you work hard, you can match even us!" Lee assured Sai, completely missing the point.
"I'm… not going to give up," Hinata said, her voice too quiet to be called a declaration. Even if she felt she hadn't entirely deserved to advance to the next round, even if she had done the least and was the weakest of the nine genin, she wouldn't give up without a fight.
Neji was the only one who heard, and he only crossed his arms and stared resolutely ahead. "If we face each other, I won't concede," he made his own pronouncement - even if that was what a good Branch Family member should do.
Hinata smiled faintly and nodded.
"Chunin?" Gaara repeated to himself, apparently still turning that idea over in his mind.
Rolling his eyes at the lot of them, Kankuro stopped suddenly, and then groaned. "This means… a whole month of training," he realized. "W-with that demon hag!"
'M-maybe I should just drop out too...'
"Then, Danzo, I leave the village in your hands during my absence," Sarutobi said to his old friend.
It felt strange standing on the other side of the Hokage's desk, though this was not the first time he had done so. His eyes narrowed as he remembered the last time he had left the village - twelve years before, when he had gone to meet the daimyo after resuming his position as Hokage.
Surprisingly, Danzo did not look entirely pleased to be sitting in the chair that Sarutobi had occupied for so long. "You would be wise to reconsider, Hiruzen," Danzo said, his expression ill-tempered. "A Kage is always most vulnerable when traveling. The chances of an assassination attempt are too high, especially with the recent… difficulties. If you are killed in the Land of Wind or even in the Land of Rivers, war will be unavoidable."
Sarutobi's eyebrows rose in surprise, though his incredulous expression was thankfully concealed by the brim of his hat. 'I suppose you'd know all about assassination attempts on the Hokage, wouldn't you?' he barely stopped himself from commenting. 'And since when do you see war as something avoidable?'
Remaining silent, Sarutobi studied Danzo for a moment. He couldn't quite grasp what the old warhawk's aim was - Did he genuinely want to avoid the potential danger to the Hokage? Did he think that the war that might break out would put Hidden Leaf at too much of a disadvantage?
Or was it the opposite? Was he unhappy with what he saw as too much reliance on their ally? Attending these Chunin Exams in Sand, especially since Sarutobi had not attended any others, would be an important show of support for the other hidden village. And Danzo had always disagreed with the very idea of an alliance.
Sarutobi smiled mildly. "I'll be careful," he promised, almost patronizingly reassuring. "But given the hard work our two teams put in, I can't pass up the opportunity to see them in action and show my support. It seems our new generation is quite something. I'm sure it'll be a spectacular show."
Predictably, Danzo only frowned deeper. "Speaking of the next generation," he changed the subject, apparently capitulating, "have you considered the matter of your successor?"
He had, but Sarutobi didn't share his thoughts. Instead, he only said, "Oh, don't worry. I still have a few years left in me."
Once, Orochimaru had been seen as a strong candidate for Hokage, for the position of the Fourth, before losing to Minato, and then for the Fifth, before his depraved experiments came to light. In a way, it was fitting that Orochimaru would be the one to turn Sarutobi's attention to the person he was more and more considering for his second successor.
But that was all in the future. For now, the Hokage intended to focus on their youngest shinobi and their simple, earnest battles for nothing more than recognition and the chance of higher rank. He would enjoy these peaceful days for as long as they lasted.
The end - to be continued?
Wait, it seriously ends like that? Yes. My inspiration just kind of faded by the end. The Chunin Exams are a major thing, and I had to get through them, but to be honest, I was never particularly excited about this arc. Thank god it's over.
What happened to Orochimaru? He got away. This guy is the epitome of "live to see another day." He's not some crazy, delusional idealist-revolutionary. He's not going to stand and die for anything. He's petty enough to throw away his pawns for the chance at a bit of revenge though. Not that it worked out.
What happened to the Sound Four/Five? Some of them died. Some were captured. But Orochimaru had failsafes (methods of killing them from far) in all of them, just in case they got captured. So they all died in the end.
What happened to the First Hokage's reanimation? Orochimaru deactivated the jutsu after he made his getaway. He had assumed the Kazekage (and Kakashi) would be dead by then.
What happened to the third round? There were only eight people left, so they fought in a pretty normal tournament. Sasuke won, but Kankuro was the only who got promoted. (Details in the next sequel, probably...)
What was Sarutobi going on about? He's got someone he's considering for Fifth Hokage, since he does plan to step down within a few years.
Will there be a third season? Maybe. I do have some plans for it. True to form, we would get the introduction of Akatsuki. Also, Tsunade. But it might be another five years before I get around to writing it, who knows.
Anyway, thank you all for sticking with me this far!