(A/N: Here I am again, with another exciting (?) chapter of Twisted Fates. I've been having a hard time writing this, until I reached a decision - to completely disregard manga canon. If something isn't the same as it's supposed to be in the manga, then feel free to point it out, but chances are it was an intentional change. You'll see soon enough what I mean.

That said... we switch POVs briefly to Onikage and the Hidden Moon's daishogun, Tairo Masakado, as they meet the Third Hokage. Then we see how our genin are handling the written test held by Ibiki. And past that... the Forest of Death! Hehehe... Enjoy!)


Naruto and all its characters are property of Kishimoto Masashi, and I don't claim ownership of them, though I sure as hell would LIKE to. The concept of monju comes from Ghost Sweeper Mikami, a manga by Shiina Takashi. The character of Kazuki Maeda is a creation of The Wretched from GameFAQs. All other original characters are my creations.


Many thanks to:

The Wretched from GameFAQs for checking the names of my new jutsu, suggesting effects, character bios and a heck of a lot more... my single greatest contributor. Without you this fic would probably be a lot slower than it is, man;

Hunter Sopko from GameFAQs for suggestions on the story, new jutsu and the OC's personality;

TheHomelessGuy and TG Cloud from GameFAQs for feedback on my OCs and suggestions for jutsu;

Tsukinosakura and RurouniGochan from the RKDreams forums for more proofreading;

Ice Dragon XXI for EVEN MORE proofreading;

The posters over at The Fanfiction Forums for helpful hints;

Several other people who contributed opinions (you know who you are!)

And thanks to YOU for reading this fic, of course!

("This" is speech. Italics are thought. Words in bold indicate Basara speaking and/or communicating with Ino. 1234567890 indicates a scene/perspective change. Underlined locations in italics are a location change.)


Chapter 14: The Forest Of Death

Konohagakure, Hokage's office

The Third Hokage laid down the documents he was working over as someone knocked on his office's door. "Come in," he said, straightening himself in his chair.

The door opened, revealing an ANBU in a tiger mask, who quickly walked up to his desk and bowed curtly.

"Hokage-sama, your guests are here," the ANBU said in a respectful tone. "Daishogun Masakado of the Hidden Moon and the Hidden Marsh's Onikage are talking to each other in the waiting room. Should I send them in one at a time or...?"

"Send them both in together," Sarutobi instructed. "I would like to hear them both at once, and it would not do to make it seem like I'm favoring one of them by seeing him first in private. Plus, they must be tired from the journey... the sooner we get formalities out of the way, the sooner our guests can rest."

"Understood," the ANBU nodded. With another short bow, he left the room. Sarutobi quickly checked to make sure he was presentable: looking worn out or unkempt would not make for a very good first impression.

As soon as the Hokage was done smoothing his robes, the door opened again and the tiger-masked ANBU came in, leading four people in the room. The ANBU bowed curtly to Sarutobi, then to the guests, and finally left, quietly closing the door on the way out. Sarutobi motioned for his guests - two men and two women - to sit down and cleared his throat as he observed them.

The nobly dressed, if slightly aged, figure of Tairo Masakado was familiar to the Hokage, as he had the pleasure of fighting alongside him a couple times in the past. The man didn't look very threatening: he stood at five feet and nine inches of height, had short grey hair, a mullet and piercing brown eyes, and while his slim body was obviously in good shape, it didn't look particularly muscular. Of course, muscles were of little importance when one was a swordmaster of the Moon warlord's caliber. Sarutobi was well aware of Masakado's skill with a sword - he was one of the few samurai whose skill made him more fearsome than any ninja. Sarutobi idly noticed that Masakado had brought along his infamous Wo Dao sword - a blade rumored to have belonged to a bloodthirsty ronin known only as the 'Sword Demon', whom Masakado fought and defeated in his youth.

Sarutobi's eyes then shifted to the diminuitive woman standing behind the warlord, and he raised an eyebrow. This must be the bodyguard he said would be escorting him. What was her name again... Ageha? Yes, Ageha, he thought, observing her. She looked innocuous enough, wearing a loose, revealing kimono and standing in a lazy pose, apparently relaxed, but the way her eyes occasionally darted around made it obvious she was alert and ready to spring into action. Sarutobi guessed that the kunoichi was one of those who relied on their body as their sole weapon, and concluded that the small woman probably had some nasty trick up her sleeve for when seduction didn't quite cut it. The Hokage blinked briefly as he observed her face. For a moment, he could've sworn her eyes had... streaks in them. He blinked again, then decided his sight must have been playing tricks on him.

Turning to the Hidden Marsh pair, his gaze was immediately drawn to the tallest of the two figures, and for good reason. This must be a relative of the young Yamazaki, he thought as he regarded the huge cloaked figure standing behind the Onikage. While the figure's gender was hard to guess, he concluded by its posture that it must have been female. The woman wore just as many bandages as Maki, if not more, and was even taller, towering over everyone in the room from the height of her seven feet and four inches. Tufts of unkempt greyish-green hair popped out of the bandages wrapping her head, and the Hokage briefly caught a glimpse of her purple pupils before breaking eye contact with the kunoichi. Unlike Maki, this woman's frame was thick and muscular. Sarutobi shivered involuntarily. If her strength was proportional to the young one's, she could probably take out a ten-stories building with a single blow.

Finally, his gaze fell on the fabled Onikage... and he sharply inhaled, his heart skipping a beat.

The Hidden Marsh's leader looked just like Orochimaru.


"Gah. Stupid written test. I suck at these," Naruto muttered, glaring at the paper in front of him.

It had become quickly obvious even to him that these questions were way too hard for any Genin to answer when even Hinata, seated beside him, started using her Byakugan to copy them off someone else. She had also shyly offered to let him copy, but he declined when he had noticed a Chuunin look at them with a smirk, not wanting to get her in trouble for his sake. However, he was now slightly stumped as to how to get through the test without getting his team eliminated.

Cheating was not an option. He just knew he'd get caught. And then both Sasuke and Ino would flay him alive. My life sucks, he sulked, grimacing at the test sheet.

Suddenly, his head started spinning, and he felt weak. Then, he fell into darkness.


Basara watched as Naruto's body, now controlled by Ino, began to furiously scribble the answers on the test sheet, a surprised Hinata glancing at the blonde boy with an interrogative expression. She sighed, and idly observed the other Chuunin hopefuls in the test room, noticing the creative ways in which they were copying from others.

Tenten of Team 10 had set up a series of mirrors on the ceiling, which allowed her to keep the entire room under control and copy the correct answers from whoever drew her attention first. Sasuke Uchiha simply used his Sharingan to outright imitate the movements of one of the Chuunin posing as Genin scattered across the room. I have to give it to this Morino Ibiki, he's... creative... in his testing, she thought with a smirk.

Both Neji and Hinata Hyuuga were simply using their Byakugan to directly read the answers from others' papers. Sakura Haruno and Shikamaru Nara were actually answering the questions by themselves, as were Shizumaru and Hatori Hagiri. Arisa Hanada was apparently focusing her senses on a single person, using the sound of the pen on the paper to figure out the answers. Impressive, Basara thought with a raised eyebrow.

A slight commotion distracted her as yet another group of Genin was caught and kicked out, then she resumed observing.

Rock Lee was apparently copying off Tenten's mirrors. Maki Yamazaki... Basara stifled a laugh as she saw the massive kunoichi had noticed Tenten's mirrors too. She had angled her hitai-ate after polishing it to a shine, and was reading the answers off its reflection. She's good at improvising. It's not all brute force, she mused.

Kagura Moritsuna had already finished answering all questions, while Jun Rando and Gaara of the Desert both appeared to have used some sort of jutsu connecting their eyes to debris in the air. Basara grimaced as the unfortunate Genin Jun had used her jutsu on suddenly stood up, staggered and fainted, looking very green. Poisoned, she thought as the Chuunin observers reached the same conclusion and carted him and his team away. He would live. Probably.

She scanned the rest of the room, noticing various other cheating methods, then resumed focusing on Naruto.

He should have met his... tenant... by now, having had his soul submerged deep inside by Ino. Basara idly wondered how he was dealing with the Demon Fox. Then she shrugged. If she knew Naruto, he'd never let anyone intimidate him, least of all the Kyuubi. And if he was anywhere as loud and annoying in his mind as he was in real life...

She almost felt sorry for the fox.


"Ugh, where am I?" Naruto groaned, slowly getting back on his feet. He shook his head in an attempt to ditch the leftovers of the sudden drowsiness that overcame him, then took a look at his surroundings. "Well, I'm not in Konoha anymore, that's for sure," he muttered.

He was in a large corridor that most resembled a sewer. Shallow water ran on the floor, and it was pretty dark. Oddly enough, he could see perfectly even with the lack of light. Naruto mentally counted his blessings that the place didn't smell as bad as a real sewer. It wasn't particularly dirty, but he'd gladly pass the experience up.

Naruto began to grow slightly unnerved as he noticed that the air around him kept changing direction at regular intervals - it'd blow against him, pause, then reverse direction and pull him in, pause again, and repeat. It was also warm. It almost felt like something breathing in the dark.

Something very, very large.

Naruto suddenly felt very edgy. Something felt wrong in the air. Barely repressed anger, hatred and spite resonated across the empty corridor, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.

With no other choice, Naruto picked a direction and began walking, looking for an exit. Is this another weird test by that creepy scarred Jounin?, he wondered idly. Genjutsu or something... Drat, how do I dispel genjutsu again? I knew I should've paid attention to that part of class...

The blonde shinobi kept grumbling as he walked, failing to notice that his surroundings were growing progressively darker, until he stumbled into an almost solid wall of darkness when the corridor enlarged into a huge room. Looking up, he faintly made out the shape of something that looked like a bunch of pillars ahead.

As he approached the 'pillars', his feeling of impending danger suddenly sprang to life. Tensing up, he slowed down and cautiously moved near the objects in front of him. He idly noticed that the 'breathing' had grown much stronger: he was having a hard time staying on his feet when the air shifted.

As he came near enough to identify what was in front of him, he stopped. No pillars, these were. Rather, bars. Gigantic bars of an equally gigantic cage. Looking up, he saw a parchment drawn across the two central bars of the cell, with a somewhat familiar design painted on it. He couldn't help but notice that a small part of the scroll was burned - it was just a trace, a burn mark at the center of its top, but it was there. It somehow disturbed him.

"What are you doing here, brat?"

Naruto nearly jumped out of his skin and plastered himself on the ceiling when the sudden voice boomed around him, amplified by the room. Frantically looking around, realization struck him as he saw a pair of gigantic, yellow-and-red eyes open in front of him and fixate a burning gaze of hatred and thirst for revenge on him.

"Oh shit..." he muttered. He knew where he was now. He was in his mind. In front of the seal.

He was in front of Kyuubi no Youko.


"Is something wrong, Hokage-sama?" the Onikage inquired with a friendly smile as the Hidden Leaf's leader openly stared at him. The sound of the Marsh ninja's voice, so similar to that of his lost pupil and yet slightly different snapped Sarutobi out of his trance, and he realized upon closer inspecton that while the Onikage did look a lot like Orochimaru, there were differences that made it obvious he was a different person.

Like the eyes: Orochimaru's eyes were snake-like, cold and cruel. This man's were human, calm and collected. The Marsh Kage's figure was also, if possible, more gaunt and sickly looking than Orochimaru's had ever been. He's obviously ill, the Hokage thought as he saw yet more differences. The Onikage was slightly taller than Orochimaru, and when he spoke, his voice did not hold the telltale hiss that Orochimaru's voice had. Instead, it sounded like a rasp, as if the Marsh ninja was about to cough anytime. Much like Hayate Gekkou, Sarutobi noted.

"It's nothing, Onikage-sama," the Hokage responded with an apologetic bow of his head. "You just... reminded me of someone, that is all. An unpleasant memory at that..."

"Hm... is it about Orochimaru, Hokage-sama?" the Onikage asked with a knowing look in his eyes. Sarutobi's head snapped up.

"How did you..."

"I was told by a number of ninja in my village that I look like him," the thin man replied with a small chuckle. "Not surprising, seeing how we're related. Though I doubt even Orochimaru himself knows..."

"...related...?" Sarutobi cautiously questioned with a raised eyebrow. The Onikage nodded.

"My clan, the Sanada, and Orochimaru's mother's clan, the Amanagi, are related. My grandmother, Shizuko Amanagi, is Orochimaru's mother. She was exiled from the clan and left the Hidden Marsh entirely shortly before Orochimaru was born, due to her having illicit affairs with another man. We were aware that the child had been born regularly, and that both mother and child were taken in by the Hidden Leaf village shortly afterwards. Since his father is not a Sanada, Orochimaru lacks our cursed Bloodline Limit, but he shares the Amanagi looks, as did his half-brother - my own father - and as do I. That is why I look so much like him... the Amanagi genes are strong in both of us, in no small part because my father also married an Amanagi."

"I see... so Orochimaru and Shizuko-san were from the Hidden Marsh. Shizuko-san died of a sudden illness before she could tell me where she had come from, and she had no hitai-ate on herself, so we always assumed she wasn't a ninja..."

"She wasn't. The Amanagi are a civilian clan. They are herbalists, true, but have no skill whatsoever as shinobi, although they can make some pretty lethal poisons. They also are naturally skilled at genetic manipulation... from that point of view, Orochimaru follows in his clan's footsteps, or so I was told."

"Genetic what...?" Sarutobi asked with a slightly confused expression.

"Genetic manipulation," the Onikage explained. "It's the art of manipulating a creature's genes in order to make it stronger, faster, healthier and so on. It's still a rudimental art outside the Marsh, apparently... but to us it is a necessity. One does not survive long in the Marsh if his genetic stock isn't more than adequate. We've made an art out of necessity, is all... I will explain in more detail later, if you wish."

"That will be acceptable. I am very interested in what you say," Sarutobi nodded. "Now... shall we get to know each other a bit, Onikage-sama, Masakado-sama?"

"That can wait, Sarutobi," Masakado interrupted. "I came here because we are old friends, and I found some disturbing news you might be interested in."

"News, eh? Do tell, old friend," Sarutobi nodded. The Hidden Moon's daishogun sighed and took a deep breath. "Well..."


"Uhhhh..." Naruto intelligently said as he stared at the huge, inhuman eyes before him. Yes, he often wondered what the terrible Kyuubi no Youko looked like. That did not mean he wanted to find out up close and personal. Naruto swallowed nervously. The Demon Fox was huge, and those bars holding it back suddenly seemed so fragile...

"Hrrrm. So, what brings you here, human brat? Have you come to mock the great Kyuubi no Youko for being trapped in such a worthless husk as yourself?" Kyuubi asked, not really interested in the answer. It was well aware of how Naruto had ended up here - an invasive mind technique employed by the blonde vixen that he seemed so enamored with lately. Kyuubi snorted. At least that female had a better smell than the pink one. She would be more likely to bear strong pups. Well, as strong as a pup can be with such a weakling as the father, the huge fox amended.

"Hey! No need to be mean," Naruto replied testily, not liking the contemptuous attitude the fox had towards him. "I haven't done anything to you, you know!"

"Your very existence is my bane. Because you live, I am trapped in this sack of rotting flesh you call a body," Kyuubi retorted venomously. "And even if I wasn't trapped inside you, I would still hate you. You are human. That is enough of a crime in itself."

"What! So you're bunching all humans together and judging them based on what a handful of narrow-minded old goats did?" Naruto was getting angry now. "I understand why you'd be mad at the guys who screwed you, but not every person is like that!"

The loud, derisive snort that followed displaced enough air to make Naruto wobble. "Hah! Are you even listening to yourself? Take a good look at your past life. See how the very same humans I hate treated you as if you were worth less than the dirt under their soles. And for what? For fear of something they do not understand, and thus instinctively seek to destroy! Mindless trash, all of you," the great fox stated. It then looked at Naruto speculatively. "Not to say that you aren't less than dirt... but the rest of your race is hardly better than you. You humans are all equally worthless."

"Why you... huh? Hey, why am I vanishing?" Naruto said in alarm as the fist he had been waving at the giant fox suddenly became transparent. He started panicking, until the Kyuubi made a sound that sounded suspiciously like laughter.

"Relax, bratling. Your blonde vixen is just releasing her technique, allowing your consciousness to reemerge. Now go away and don't disturb my slumber anymore," it growled. Then, almost as an afterthought, it added: "And don't get yourself killed. If your worthless life ends, so does mine. That would be... most inconvenient."

Naruto looked at the fox in outrage. "Disturb... worthless!" he sputtered as he vanished. "You stupid, stupid ball of dirty fur! YOU're the one who's inc... inconvenient! You made my life Hell! I should charge you for rent...!"

As the young blonde vanished, still roaring in outrage, the great fox shook its massive head with what would pass for a wry smile, had it actually possessed lips. "Bah. For a human, he could even be halfway tolerable... if he weren't so annoying. After all," it added, its grin turning decidedly insolent, "he's too stupid to do the kind of things the rest of his despicable race is capable of doing..."


Naruto's head jerked back painfully as he found himself in control of his body again. He blinked a couple of times, trying to regain his composure, and realized he was no longer in Kyuubi's presence. He could, however, feel the fox's consciousness hovering at the edge of his perception, as if it was observing him. The sensation was unnerving.

Staring in front of him, he blinked in surprise at seeing his test form had been completely filled out. He then remembered the fox's words. Must've been Ino-chan... he thought as he snuck a peek at his teammate. Ino me his gaze and smiled, winking, to which he replied with a blush and a grateful nod.

Nearby, Sakura observed the exchange with a confused expression. Did Ino-pig just... flirt with the idiot? she wondered, then shook her head, chuckling. Nah, what am I thinking. With a hunk like Sasuke-kun near her, why would she waste time on Naruto? Speaking of which, I must find a way to get Sasuke's attention. Just you wait, Ino-pig. I will not be defeated by you!

All the Genin near Sakura, as well as several of the Chuunin on the sidelines, winced and backed away slowly as she seemingly caught fire, an unhealthy glint in her eyes. The cackling laughter that escaped her lips certainly did not help make her look anything other than suddenly insane...

The pink genin's brief insanity spell ended when Ibiki declared time was up. It was now time for the tenth question, which Ibiki declared would be asked after the time was up.

Naruto listened to the examiner with growing horror as he explained what this tenth question entailed. What the Hell? Forever stuck as a Genin? You've GOT to be kidding me, he thought crossly, anger flaring in him.

"Keh he he he he. Ready to give up, bratling?" an all-too-familiar voice rang in his head. Naruto stiffened. How did the damn fox contact him now?

Shut up, you, he growled menacingly. The Kyuubi's answer was a roaring laughter.

"What is the matter? Did I strike too close to home? Face it, pup," it mocked him, "You never amounted to anything, and when all is said and done, you will still amount to nothing. You might as well give up and go home. There is no way you will get this question right, miserable wretch. Spare yourself the hassle and..."

"SHUT UP!" Naruto roared as he shot up and his hand slammed on the desk before him, his mounting anger clouding his judgment. Oblivious of the startled look he drew from Ibiki, whose speech he had brutally interrupted, the blonde boy went on. "You keep talking as if I was nothing but a worthless weakling incapable of getting a simple question right, and you keep saying I should go home and forget about it before being disappointed. Well, you know what? Fuck you! I won't run away, no matter what. I'll stay, and I'll get the answer right, and I'll pass this stupid test! Because one day I'll be Hokage, regardless of what you or anyone else thinks! And that's all I'll say about this, because this is my Ninja Way!"

As he finished his tirade, Naruto slammed his hand on the desk again to drive his point home, cracking it, and stood there panting, a spirited look in his eyes, glaring at Ibiki without really seeing him. Around him, the other Genin began murmuring in approval, galvanized by his words.

"...heh heh heh... Interesting mortal. Very well... I will observe you. Do entertain me now..." was the fox's answer. Then it fell silent, and Naruto refocused, realizing that he was glaring at the examiner and probably had yelled all the time during his tirade. Unsure of what to do, he chose to put up a brave face and hope he wouldn't be kicked out for his outburst. Ibiki eyed him with a speculative look for a few moments, then looked around the room to those few who hadn't left during his explanation.

"Well, our aspiring Hokage has spoken. Anyone else wants to give up and drop out?" he asked, knowing full well no one would. He knew the value of a good pep talk, and Naruto's had been as good as any. Seeing no one raise his hand, he smiled.

"Very well then. All of you still here... pass. Congratulations!"

Several thumps punctuated facefaults from a number of people around the room, including Naruto and Ino, at Ibiki's decaration. The blonde boy recovered first, asking what everyone was wondering about.

"What the hell? We pass? Just like that? What about the tenth question?"

"You just answered it by staying here, boy," Ibiki explained. "The tenth question was 'to answer or not to answer'. It was a test in itself to determine if you have what it takes to be a Chuunin."

"I think I understand, Morino-san," Maki unexpectedly spoke up. "It is true that a ninja shouldn't take foolish chances, but sometimes the mission is far more important than one's life and well being, isn't it? Sometimes one has to take a chance and go on... no matter what the risk."

"Excellent... Yamazaki, is it? You understood the spirit of the test perfectly. I expect you to perform admirably in this exam," Ibiki nodded in approval. "Congratulations to you all. This officially marks the end of the first part of the Chuunin Exams..."

Ibiki suddenly fell silent, his head swiveling towards the window as a whooshing sound was heard. A moment later, a figure in a large cloak crashed through the glass. The cloak was quickly launched in the air and nailed to the wall, revealing the words 'Chuunin Exams, Stage 2' on it.

The woman who had been wrapped in it knelt on the floor with a dramatic pause for a few moments, then straightened and glared at the collection of Genin before her.

"All right, you brats! Playtime's over!" she shouted. "Now it's time for the second part of this exam to begin. I am your next examiner - Mitarashi Anko! Listen to what I say, and listen well, or you will be sorry!"

Jun's grin widened at the scene. "I really like this village's instructors." she commented offhandedly to Kiba, who was seated near her and just looked at her like she'd grown a second head.

Ino groaned. Figures the next instructor would be a Naruto-type nutcase, she thought.


Several minutes later, the remaining Chuunin hopefuls stood before the grounds which would host the next section of the Chuunin Exams. The ominous dark trees of the wild Konoha forest loomed over them, as if to say 'Come, I will chew you up and spit your corpse out'. Anko turned towards the young ninja with a grin that would have been best described as feral and rubbed her hands together.

"Well, kids, let me welcome you to the next part of the Chuunin Exam. This is Training Ground 66 - what we Jounin nicknamed 'the Forest of Death'. And your task is simple enough: get to the tower situated at the center of this forest within five days - and without getting eaten," she gleefully explained. "Of course, there's some idiots among you who will fuck up and become a snack for the animals in the forest. And there's also the catch of this exam... you need to get to the tower with a complete set of these scrolls."

So saying, she fished out two scrolls from her jacket and held them up in the air for all to see.

"Okay, listen carefully," she resumed. "This in my left hand is the Heaven Scroll. In my right is the Earth Scroll. In order to complete this test and be allowed entry to the next stage, you need to have both. But, you will only be given one, at random. You will need to hunt down another team and take the missing scroll from them - and since no one knows what team has which scroll, chances are you will have to work to fetch the right one."

There was a murmur from most of the Genin at these words. Jun smirked, while Maki merely gave a snort.

"So, basically, your goal is to get both scrolls through any means necessary, survive the Forest's dangers and then reach the central tower within five days. If you cannot reach the tower, you fail. If you don't have both scrolls, you fail. If you die, well... you die, so failing wouldn't be something you'd worry about. Any questions?" She gave a wicked smile at that.

"...what the hell kind of stupid test is that?"

Ino groaned as she glanced at her blonde teammate, who predictably had been the one to protest. "Naruto..." she warned. Naruto looked at her indignantly.

"What? Don't tell me you think this stupid stuff is cool! She's basically making us play tag with everyone else--"

Naruto's rant was cut off by a clang and he blinked as two kunai dropped at his feet. Anko's eyes narrowed as her gaze turned on the one who had deflected the kunai she had thrown at the blonde genin and met Kagura's cold, unyielding eyes.

"Mitarashi-san," the Marsh kunoichi said evenly, "I would advise not attacking Uzumaki-sama again. It could have rather unpleasant consequences. Besides, what sense does it make to cripple the candidates before the test?"

Anko snorted. "What a pity," she muttered, eyeing Naruto with an unnervingly hungry glare. "I was hoping to taste some fresh Genin blood. Oh well, there's always next time."

She grinned in satisfaction as Naruto went pale and quickly took a few steps backwards, but kept an eye on the Marsh girl. She's fast, she thought while observing the quiet girl. She deflected my kunai with extreme precision, which means either she calculated its path correctly in a split second or reacted after I threw it. In both cases, it's a skill level no genin should possess. Hmm...

Dismissing the thought for the time being, she turned back to the other Genin to finish her explanation.

"At any rate, I need you to sign these 'relief of responsibility forms'," she continued, motioning to a Chuunin near him that held an official-looking paper. "Quite frankly, I just know some of you will get themselves killed, and I don't feel like being responsible for your stupidity. Thus, I want you all to sign that form and free me from responsibility, so that I can wash my hands if someone kicks the bucket at one point or the other."

"What--" Naruto began again, but was cut off by Ino driving a sharp elbow in his ribs which caused him to collapse on the ground whimpering. Anko spared a grateful glance to the blonde kunoichi. She had a feeling that Ino had spared her a monster headache.

"Fair enough," Maki commented from nearby. "Although, I honestly fail to understand why a village would be responsible for one of its ninja's survival. If a shinobi or kunoichi fails to survive in the face of danger, then it is their own fault for not being adequately prepared. And while a village is supposed to supply its ninja with tools, the ninja is the only one who decides what to bring on a mission, and how much of it. If they mess up on those decisions, it's their own fault, not the village's. End of story."

Anko paused at that, regarding the massive bandaged kunoichi thoughtfully. She then nodded in acknowledgement.

"You have a point... Yamazaki, was it?" At Maki's curt nod, Anko continued. "As I said, you have a point. But here in the Leaf, we tend to look at things a little differently than you of the Marsh might be used to. It may just be because we don't live in conditions quite as harsh as yours..."

"Makes no difference," the large kunoichi cut her off. "A ninja is born in darkness, lives in darkness and will eventually die in darkness. That is the way it must be. Teamwork and all that are good things - means your weak points will be covered by others - but a ninja must always be able to fend for himself, and take responsibility for his own actions, as well as his errors. Anything else is just inviting weakness in your numbers. Now, let us get this over with, shall we? Where do we sign that paper of yours?"

Wordlessly, Anko pointed at a nearby tent. As the Marsh trio marched past her, she idly wondered what kind of upbringing the girls may have been subjected to. She had a similar opinion to Maki's regarding responsibility, but the huge kunoichi was far harsher in her views than Anko had ever been.

In the next few minutes, each team signed the release papers and received one random scroll. Moments before the second segment of the Chuunin Exams started, there was a small commotion when the Moon warlord, Masakado, showed up and entrusted the strange girl with vacant eyes in the Moon team with a rather menacing long blade, whom she overheard being called 'Wo Dao'.

After the Moon lord departed, there was a brief pause as all teams reached their entrance gates. Then, Anko raised her hand in the air.

"Ready?" she shouted. After a brief pause, she lowered her hand. "Begin!"

Several clangs came from all around the forest as the entrance gates were opened. The many genin waiting at the gates immediately darted away, reaching for the treetops, and in a few seconds, all teams disappeared in the dark forest.


(A/N: Finally over. Yes, I realize it's shorter than usual, but I HAD to break out of my dry spell, regardless of how much the recent chapters' crappiness killed my muse. Besides, all of my faithful fans deserved something for being so patient.

Now, I noticed that I failed to provide information on some terms I used in the previous two chapters, as well as some I used in this one, so... without further ado, a mini-dictionary:

Fuuton: Yonokaze no Jutsu (Chapter 14): Literally 'Wind Type: Four Gales Technique'. It's a powerful wind technique that uses chakra manipulation on air to create sudden vacuum blades, resulting in the enemy being torn to pieces on impact. It can be redirected to an extent, though Sakura is limited in her versatility by her chakra reserves.

Daishogun: Great General, literally. It's Tairo Masakado's title.

Tairo Masakado: The name of the Hidden Moon's daishogun comes from real-life warlord Tairo-no-Masakado, considered by some the protector God of Tokyo.

Wo Dao: Masakado's sword is named after the sword used by Karel, the Saint of Swords, in the Game Boy Advance game Fire Emblem: Blazing Swords. In my fic, it's a very light, very sharp no-dachi. Masakado trained Arisa with light swords specifically to get her used to this sword, which is why she adapts to the new weapon so easily.

...that covers it. GH out!)