Restoration of Faith


Summary: SEQUAL to Faith in Humanity; Naruto OOC; PG-13. After Sandaime's death, Naruto made a promise to himself to defy his own destiny and pursue a future that will lead to freedom and happiness. Chapter Thirty-five: Ending of a chapter in life

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Disclaimer: Naruto is an anime and manga series created by Masashi Kishimoto. It does not belong to me; I'm simply using the characters and plot for my own creative devices.

"Demon's talk"/Thoughts/, "Speech", 'Speech emphasis', (FLASHBACK), Titles, (Author's interruptions)

Warning: OOCness. The first half of the chapter is all recap and conversations. The second half is pretty much all action and jump scenes. There is a dark bit in the middle, and the ending kind of cuts off, but that is the affect I was after in the first place. Hope you enjoy this last chapter of Restoration of Faith.

Merry Christmas everyone and have a happy new year. I'll have Trials of Faith uploaded sometime after Christmas/around new year. And then I'll take another break from writing as I've got my holidays planned in mid January. See you!

Other notes:

Alright! We finally get a glimpse of Uzumaki Kushina of the whirlpool country, for those of you who follow the manga series. I was surprised that she does look a little similar to my depiction of Yuuki. Other than the fact that they have slightly different facial features (simply because my personal drawing style is different to Masashi Kisimoto's), and the fact that Yuuki have bangs while Kushina doesn't, and of course the hair and eye colour; they do look similar in a vague way. I always knew Naruto's mom would have very long hair. Anyway, on with the story.

Chapter 35

A month has passed in relative peace in the Kuunoki village. After the brutal display of Naruto's wrath and how far the Councillors were willing to go to enforce their seemingly endless rules, it was force-fed into the genin's mind that they should not push their luck any further. Hence why the last few weeks were as quiet as a breeze. Most of the genins were busy with training themselves in the Hidden Air village, while they still had an opportunity to do so. Some of the genins however, antisocial as they were, simply locked themselves away in their rooms, refusing to interact with anyone else.

Slowly, time passed and life moves on.

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Naruto leaned heavily against the back of the couch. Tiredly rubbing at his eyes, his mouth opened in order to issue another command, as he has been prone to do for the last month. "Give me a status update on all the participating genins."

From behind him stood a row of Gate Guardians, all ten were in attendance. Jubei was the first to step forward and detailed out all that had occurred regarding those few genins whom had underwent Naruto's prescribed punishments almost a month ago.

"The Inuzuka boy's individual stamina, experience and overall skill have increased drastically. He no longer requires the soldier pill in order to sustain him for several days of no sleep and he has also learnt constant vigilance during his time trapped in the Oniyoubu forest. All his senses have been heightened to the point of being better than his companions, due to the... shall we say, unnatural surrounding he was forced to survive and adapt to. His pet, Akamaru has been released from Maya's seal about 2 weeks ago, as per your orders, and the two of them have been seen training extensively in and around the surrounding forests. If I am to give an evaluation - skill wise, the boy is already mid-Chuunin material by the standards of the outside world. What he needs is a little discipline and experience in working as a proper ninja. Give him a few more months back in his village, and he'll fly through the next Chuunin exam without any problems." Jubei concluded before he started on his next description.

"Waisa Bado... has been undergoing some psychological changes, as you've probably expected. The attack you did on his brain using the Kurei Hiraisho (Red Lightning Rod)... broke something in his mind. The memory seals that were implanted into his head were completely destroyed. The boy suffered bouts of nausea and memory crashes regularly for the first two weeks but these bouts have since declined substantially. I wouldn't say he's made a complete 180 degree change in character or personality, but the boy has certainly quieted down a lot, to the point where he has become rather antisocial and keeps to himself most of the time, even avoiding his own teammates – Sakeyama Saporo. I conclude that he is still having some problems reconciling the fake memories to the real ones. After all, having lived so many years under a false pretence, it would be hard for him to come out of it in an instant (1). Overall, I'd say it was an improvement. But he'll still need a few more months in order to recover from the shock. Again, skill wise, he is already high Chuunin material. Bado's weakness has always been his pride and personality; with a bit of humility and sanity back in place, he'll do fine. How far he goes is really up to him." Jubei paused in order take a breath.

"Bado of the Waisa clan will become an important chess piece in the near future (2). I'll need you to keep an eye on him, Jubei. Do not let him escape our grasp of control." Naruto commanded the Dokudes half-breed, and Jubei could only nod in acceptance.

Jubei's shoulders slumped in resignation as he thought about the next three subjects; he just couldn't help but sigh in exasperation. "Sakeyama Saporo, Kawasaki Reiko and Asagiri Kaouri... all three girls didn't really change much, other than gained a bit more physical strength, learnt a bit about coordination and of course became a bit more disciplined. Their punishments were pretty straight forward and each completed their assigned tasks satisfactory and within the time limit. Each has become slightly less flamboyant about their hobbies but overall, they are still as they've always been. All three currently have low to mid-Chuunin level skills, but if they push themselves a little harder, it won't be long before they become jounin. However, I can't see that happening while they're here. They will need more outside influences in order to push them pass their current limits." Naruto nodded in understanding. He needed the three girls' skills to increase, but that isn't until a few years later. He had time to wait. Everything was going according to Ruri's plan and he had to make sure that the rest of the world (be they Akatsuki or the Council 7) not get wind of any of this until it's simply too late (3).

"Surprisingly, the Akimichi boy adapted fairly well during his time of imprisonment in the Forbidden Tower. Strangely, although he was unable to leave the tower, that did not mean he wasn't allowed visitors. All four members of the ex-sound four visited him at least once a day during the 2 week imprisonment period. I don't know what they did or talked about during those visits exactly, but whatever it was really made a change in Chouji-kun. He's become even more dedicated a ninja than he was before. Although his confidence hasn't changed, he has become a lot wiser in regard to his own weaknesses and strengths. He's even devised new and innovative ways to train himself or work on his weaknesses after he was released from the tower. Overall, the boy still has much to work on, but he's making steady progress and at the rate he's going now, it won't be long for him to fly through Chuunin and possibly the jounin exam, depending on his will to succeed, that is." Jubei concluded the results of the humble Akimichi and moved on to the Gai-replica.

"Rock Lee, this boy is definitely amazing. It took him only two days to adapt to the chains. And by the end of the punishment, he opted to keep them on as further incentive for training." Jubei shook his head slightly, still finding Lee's unorthodox methods rather unbelievable. "Having seen his quick adaptation to the chains, both Tori and Touya have spent some time in training Lee on other styles of Taijutsu and how he could use those chains as a weapon, instead of just a restrain. The boy's hardworking attitude has also won over a few of the Kuunoki citizen's respect. When they discovered that Lee was unable to perform any Ninjutsu or Genjutsu due to his body's abnormality, some of them offered to help Lee learn a few easy sealing techniques. Not enough to make the boy an expert, but certainly enough for him to store elemental attacks into scrolls and use it when he really needs to. Overall, even I was highly impressed by his work ethic. That boy will go far, with or without his handicap, no doubt about it." Jubei answered firmly, fully confident in his words; and Naruto couldn't help but smile. The Uzumaki heir was truly proud of his green clad friend. Lee deserved every word of praise that came his way and more.

"Lastly, regarding Sasayaki Kageru and Yakushi Suzumi, both girls pretty much locked themselves into separate rooms for the first week before the trauma on their minds finally forced them to face each other and try to reach a resolution. It took a while but eventually they 'talked'. And with the conversation, I believe things were shared that had never been shared before. I wouldn't say that they have formed a cohesive bond, but if not, it is becoming very close." Giving Naruto a sad but hopeful smile, Jubei took this opportunity to voice his own opinions. "I never thought there would be such a way in order to solve two deep problems. You gave Kageru her humanity back and gave Suzumi a reason to live and not hide. I am truly amazed by your understanding of human nature and how you're dedicated to healing it, no matter what the circumstances." He voiced softly and admirably.

Naruto shifted a little in the uncomfortable silence the followed. He was humbled by Jubei's words but truly, he didn't feel as if he's done anything worthy of praise. He saw a problem that needed to be fixed, and tried to fix it. Both Kageru and Suzumi would become valuable allies in the future if only he could secure their loyalty or have them owe him a favour. But beneath all the manipulations and benefits, Naruto just wanted to help. He had known what it was like to live without a purpose, he had known what it was like to feel empty (4). In such times of loss and emptiness, what you really needed was for someone to come along and tell you they care.

"The last member that was punished. Well, Mogoto Gengakku was dealt the death penalty by public burning. The ashes that was recovered has been sent back to Otogakure. No word has arrived back from the leader of the Sound in regards to his genin's behaviours and resulting punishment. While the other villages (Leaf, Cloud and Grass) have made some sort of apology for their genin's behaviours. Overall, as far as I'm aware, these cases are closed."

"Mn. And the rest?" Naruto asked the other guardians, having straightened his back off the couch, ready for more news.

This time it was Hikari who spoke up regarding a few of the genin's progress that she was privy to. "Uchiha Sasuke has made great strides in learning the Elemental arts. He's still a beginner, but he shows talent and dedication. Although hot headed and very impatient to learn, his frustrations are curbed by Katano-sama's patience and humility. The two makes quite a pair. (5) Although there is still a long way to go, he is learning, and making progress. My guess is that he'll reach mastery level in 5 or 6 years at the rate he's going. But that's just a guess." Hikari concluded, just as her brother started up with more explanation regarding some of the other genins.

"Yamanaka Ino too has made great strides in her progress. Did you know that she is affiliated to the element of lightning(6)? I would have thought she was wind type or water type, but anyway. The point is that she's been getting some tips in regard to lightning manipulation from myself, learning extra sword techniques from both Katana and Kenshin-san, as well as working with a few of the Dokudes clan members in regard to medical techniques. This girl can do almost anything once she puts her mind to it. She has the potential to be a well-rounded warrior." Everyone could hear the pride in Koushiro's voice as he spoke about his part-time casual student. It really was a surprise how well Ino had adapted into learning a variety of skills all at the same time.

"As for the others, Tenten has been working with myself and father for the last few weeks, mostly on her speed and strength. Her accuracy is already 100 percent, no need to work on that aspect of her skill. I still believe she relies way too much on throwing a barrage of weapons at her opponent though. But she insists on continuing to do so, since her role on the team is as a long range support fighter. Anyway, to make my summary short, she's progressing at a normal speed. Not too fast, not too slow, no major successes, but then again, no disappointments either. She'll make a fine Chuunin, but I don't expect she'll go much further than that." Katana spoke up suddenly to give his own report.

Curious, Naruto asked for more details. "Why would you say so, Katana-kun?"

Katana shrugged. "The girl has little aim in life other than being the best she can be. Yes, she says she wants to become a legendary ninja like Tsunade, but she hasn't gone through the hardships and the pain that entangles shinobis that were born with strength. Basically, my point is that with power, comes pain and sacrifice. Tenten is a very ordinary girl, with very ordinary skills. She is exceptional in what she currently can do because she works damn hard everyday to achieve it. However, following her current course, she will never be able to reach beyond her maximum potential, unlike those who still have much room to grow, she is already well on her way to reaching top form already."

"So, you're saying that she will reach her maximum strength very early on, but will be unable to move beyond that, right?" Naruto clarified Katana's words, and the younger boy nodded in agreement. "Hmm... I'll just have to find a way to boost her up, then..."

Bringing the topic back into focus, Jubei once more detailed out what's been happening with his dear half sister and cousin. "Hinata has mainly focussed on furthering her medical techniques as well as improving her own brand of Jyuuken. She's coming along well. Neji, on the other hand is difficult to judge. He's already a master in the Jyuuken art, and so he should be as the heir to the Hyuuga Clan. But I don't know... it still looks too ridged to me." The older teen admitted as he shrugged in a casual way. "I've been trying to get him to think outside the box, but he's very rigid in personality, like a rock almost. Which is why it isn't surprising to find out even though he uses Jyuuken, he's an Earth elemental user, unlike Hinata's fluid water elemental style."

"However. He has been concentrating much of his time on shape manipulation. Making chakra strings, chakra swords and other such weapons. I think he's trying to develop some sort of invisible, long rage attack, much like the Hakke Kushou, but with slightly different results. Unfortunately, being the secretive son of a bxxxh that he is, he hasn't allowed me much access in seeing him train, and I can't be bothered spying on him, when I've got my own sister to teach at the same time. So yeah, he is developing; how far has he gone, I'm not sure. But if I had to guess, I'd say he's currently at high Chuunin level, or maybe low Jounin. Hinata's a little less powerful, not because she lack talent, but because she lacks experience. So I'm giving her mid to high Chuunin level."

Naruto nodded nonchalantly, as if expecting such an answer in the first place. "Whose next?" He asked for directions on the rest of the Chuunin exam participants.

Surprisingly, this time it was Dokudes Seiko who stepped forward with further information. "The puppet user, Kankuro has been keeping to himself through out the last month. He has been seen sparing with the ice user, Naja Daiku on occasion, but overall, he keeps a low profile. We all know that his weakness lies mainly in his dependence of his puppets, but he doesn't seem concerned about finding other avenues to improve himself, and that will eventually be his downfall. However, he is very good at what he does. Not exactly a genius or even a specialist yet, but he does have talent. And if he works at it, he will continue to be a damn good puppet master, but not much else. Currently, he's at high Chuunin rank."

"Going back to Naja Daiku." Seiko continued her spiel without stop. "He's been getting help from some of the minor members of the Dokudes clan on improving his shape manipulation. I don't know exactly what he's been working on, but that guy's already at high-Chuunin level. Any more improvements on his personal skills will boost him up to Jounin level, so I'm not worried."

"Jikizuka Tsubame-san and Iwama Uzura-kun from Stone has been spending most of their time in the Library, which is now reopened for public viewing. Of course, the Librarians were rather suspicious of them at first, especially considering Tsubame's role in blasting a hole through the Library's very walls, but none the less, the two has been working diligently through some of the public technique scrolls there. Nothing too high ranked or dangerous, mostly special training exercises that can be used to boost their chakra control and give them ideas. Watching as they build on their teamwork during their internal spars, I can conclude that both are ready for Chuunin rank in skill, but need more experience as they progress." Hikari gave a very straight forward description on the two members from the Iwa team that weren't invited to become apprentices.

"The last two members that we can report on are Harate Eiji, and Kapasu Juro." Mishizu spoke up in a monotone voice, still in her militaristic stance. "Harate Eiji has been seeking extra training from several minor members of the Dokudes clan. I know that he has since been trained in the arts of poison, advanced human biology and neurology, acupuncture, and other medical fields. Offensively, he studied in the Kuunoki Library sometimes and managed to learn a few medical affiliated attacks. It was also discovered that he had lightning chakra affiliation, which resulted in further self-study. Overall, his diligence in his own personal studies will bring him far. He's an overall average fighter with above average skills in all sections of Shinobi life – be it medicine, Genjutsu, Ninjutsu, Taijutsu or weapon skills. He's already at mid-Chuunin level rank, and if he works hard enough, he'll be able to progress much further at a steady pace. What I am worried about however is his state of mind. You may already be aware, Naruto-sama, but Harate Eiji suffers from psychotic episodes now and again due to his anger problem. As such, I've also suggested to him that he should take up psychology in order to help him control himself. The rest is up to him."

Pausing a little to gather her thoughts, Mishizu uncharacteristically hesitated before following through with the rest of her narrative. "As for Kapasu Juro. He didn't initiate further training on his own. In fact, the most I've seen him do is follow Harate Eiji around in the Library, picking up random books or scrolls and looking through them. I have yet to see him unseal the sword on his back."

An uncomfortable silence fell upon Naruto and all the Gate Guardians in the room. That is, before Naruto gave a heavy sigh and his shoulders dropped in disappointment. "Not surprising, with his personality and all. He really doesn't want to be a Ninja. I'm surprised he survived until now, let alone made it all the way here."

"What do you wish for us to do, Naruto-sama?" Katana piped up, eager for a little combat to discipline the useless runt from the Hidden Mist, if only Naruto would give him the order.

"We do nothing." Naruto's reply dissolved Katana's enthusiasm for an upcoming fight/slaughter.

"But why? You've asked us to make sure to push all the other participants to go beyond their limits, why should we let this little runt go?" Katana couldn't help but wined slightly.

"Because I know that no matter how much we push, Kapasu Juro will not react favourably. I have seen many future scenarios in which we try to manipulate him into a proper soldier and Shinobi, all of which would result in him despising our interference and or leading to his own death." Naruto's comment drowned out the rest of Katana's arguments. "But do not worry, when the time comes, Juro will realise that he cannot escape his destiny, even if the cost of such a realisation may be too high for him to pay."

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Naruto's mind refocussed on how many people on the list of original Chuunin exam participants were left since the start of the conversations. "So that just leaves those whom have been accepted as apprentices, minus Sasuke, and plus Gaara that is. Are there any news on them?"

"Sabaku no Temari is like me. She's got wind affinity, and although her chakra control is no where near our levels, she is consistently good at communicating with the wind. As such, with time she will develop into a powerful wind mistress." Akiko piped up with enthusiasm, proudly proclaiming her apprentice's strengths.

"Communicating with the wind? What do you mean?" Naruto asked, having never heard of such a phrase before, even though he himself is a wind-elementally affiliated person.

Akiko's eyebrows rose in surprise at Naruto not knowing this secret of wind manipulation. "Naruto-sama, you are aware that in this world there are 6 different chakra types (7), right? And of those 6, 5 are currently used with common jutsus – Fire, Lightning, Wind, Water and Earth. These five elements are the foundation of all jutsu, and the reason why the five nations are named as they are. Most people's chakra naturally leans towards a certain element. And these elemental affinities each have their own properties. For example, you know that the wind's nature is the cut, right? Wind cuts everything within its path, or rips it apart depending on the force of the wind. What you don't understand is that wind is also 'forever in motion'. Air cannot stand still, it's impossible. Even if you contain air within something, the air inside of said container will still be moving, even a little. It is this 'motion' that makes air or wind chakra nature so dangerous."

Pausing to give Naruto time to decipher the meaning of her words, Akiko then continued on with her explanation in detail. "Most people with wind affinity often use it for close-quater combat, like that Sarutobi-Asuma jounin. He literary splits his wind natured chakra into two fields and grinds them together to create an incredibly sharp edge. Unfortunately, that's as far as most people take wind-natured chakra manipulation. They think that if they can sharpen their weapons enough, then they are as strong as they're gonna get. That's an incorrect assumption. As I said before, the true power of wind natured chakra is its ability to stay in motion, why not use that to our advantage. Take Temari's Kamaitachi attack for example, she creates wind blades with her chakra, and basically focusses them in a certain direction, creating an effective offensive and defensive technique at the same time."

Seeing Naruto nod in understanding of her detailed description, Akiko kept up with the rest of her narrative. "If it's me, I have the ability to call upon the winds to do all my bidding. I can create gales of hurricane force or form a small breeze barely strong enough to lift a leaf. All it takes is to generate a string of wind-natured chakra outside your body, using it to attract air particles as it flows through space, and use the condensed air particles as my main weapon. It's quite simple in theory. And when I say 'communicating with the wind,' what I actually mean is releasing your wind-natured chakra out of your body and into the air, capturing and actively manipulating the air around you. After all, air is infinite in its availability and it is forever in motion. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to manipulate the air around you. However, it is also due to its 'abundance' and 'infinite motion' that makes air one of the most difficult elements to control."

"How so? I would have thought fire or lightning would be difficult to control due to their chaotic nature, wouldn't wind be a breeze compared to them?" Naruto asked in curiosity.

"Not really. It is true that fire and lightning are a lot more... how to say... combustive? Reactive? Than any of the other chakra natures, but that's not to say they are harder to control, it all depends on the mechanism of the chakra nature." This time, it was Koushiro who spoke up. Being the resident Lightning affiliate, Koushiro took it up on himself to progress the conversation along, especially when it concerns his own chakra nature. "As Akiko said, each chakra nature has it's own properties. For wind, its nature is to cut, stay in motion, and is often in abundance. However, it is also very much disbursed from one another. To use any wind attack, you really have to focus and condense the air particles enough to form something solid, or else it's pretty much useless."

"Fire affinities have a nature to burn, or combust, it reacts to air and is ultimately all consuming. As long as there is something to burn, fire will continue to exist. It is aggressive in the sense that it does not care about anything else, its only desire is to continue to burn until nothing but ash is left. You may think this is part of its chaotic nature, and you'd be right. But at the same time, that just makes fire all the more easy to start. All you need is a spark and Viola!" Koushiro snapped his finger. "Fire comes to life. Once it is sparked, it's pretty much self-sustaining until it completely consumes everything it is able to burn, then it dies out. This means that for Fire natured people, all they really need is the initial effort to spark a fire, and the rest is up to the fire technique. The Gokakyu no Jutsu (Grand Fireball technique) is a good example of this. Of course, that is not to say that fire techniques cannot be controlled once it is created. Shinobi uses all sorts of tricks in order to control fire type attacks, be it strings like the Ryuuka no Jutsu, or simply summoning a form made out of fire, like the Karyuudan. You should know more about fire elementals as Konoha is full of fire affiliated people."

"In the ancient texts of the bending arts, 'lightning' is said to be a 'pure expression of fire bending – with out aggression. (8)' Nowadays, lightning affinities is seen as an element all on its own, due to the abundance of people now able to manipulate it. It's a relatively new art, but a powerful one none the less." Hikari interrupted her brother's rant in order to refocus on the differences between the elemental affinities and their nature. "Lightning has the nature to shock, or electrocute. Similar to fire, its usage often requires an initial spark in order to create the lightning in the first place, and then all it needs is to be directed towards a certain target, the lightning will do the rest. With lightning, it needs just 2 things, the 'release', and the 'guidance' (9). 'Release' means the moment the lightning is sparked or the moment it is let go to do its nature, and the 'guidance' is basically the direction in which it is focussed towards. Lightning is deadly and precise but it isn't aggressive or all consuming. I hope that makes sense, Naruto-sama." Hikari concluded the discussion with bow.

"I see. Thank you all for the explanations, I had not been aware that there were such subtleties regarding each elemental affinities." Naruto thanked the older teens for their input. Shaking his mind to clear it from wandering further away from the original topic of discussion, Naruto refocussed his thoughts. "Now, can we get back to the rest of the apprentices and what they were up to individually?"

Yami stepped forward this time to give his own report on his new apprentice. "Shino-kun is reserved, calm, calculating and quite resourceful. However, he relies heavily on his hive of Kikaichu insects. I have been trying to expose him to other ways of fighting. He has been receptive to some, and others... he's been less than receptive to." Pausing slightly, Yami shook his head as if to ward away some bad memories. "In the time that we have trained together, I have opened his mind to other possibilities. Shino-kun can now use his Kikaichu as an extension to his body, allowing him to form claws like a praying mantis, or grow wings like bees (10). In addition to training him in these uses for the Kikaichu, I've also introduced him to poisons, simple summoning rituals and or seals, as well as how to mix interspecies of insects to create a new, mutant species. Overall, he has the capability to grow beyond the realm of our current imagination, the rest if up to him."

"Thank you, Yami. Have you got anything else to report?" Naruto answered, glad that Shino's training has been going smoothly.

"Yes, there is one other subject matter I'd like to discuss with you, Naruto-sama. Midou Kei who is currently undergoing training with my father, Oniyoubu Jin, has showed steady progress in both fields of Genjutsu and Seals. As you know, he has already been experimenting with summoning seals used in conjunction with elemental attacks. However, my father has been showing him how summoned animals worked in similar ways. The boy is prudent in his studies. Unfortunately, he lacks imagination, and the ability to think outside the box. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it just means he's more of a conventional fighter and tactician. He is unable to come up with strategies on the spot and change those strategies when things do not go according to plan. In the future, it may become a deciding factor on how far he can go with his abilities." Yami concluded with a solemn face.

"It would be a shame if he could not go beyond his current limit, but only time can tell. Thank you for your input, Yami-san." Naruto gestured for the next person to go ahead.

Tori jumped in without hesitation. "Rensa Ahiru-chan, currently studying as an apprentice under my dad is doing very well! She's got spunk, determination and the drive to succeed. She's a little stubborn though, but all of us get that way at times. Overall, all the Kataichi clan are quite happy with her efforts, work ethic and development so far. She's already got chakra nature-manipulation down pretty good, and a host of Earth based jutsus under her belt. What we've been concentrating on teaching her is Earth bending, without any hand seals, sort of like how Katono-sama is teaching the Uchiha. She's got a natural gift for earth bending that's for sure. However, we're still having trouble helping her focus on the vibrations of the earth."

Already noting Naruto's confused face, Tori didn't give the Uzumaki heir a chance to voice his questions before he launched into his well-prepared speech about what the hell he was talking about. "Similar to what we were taking about before regarding Wind, Fire and Lightning chakra-nature manipulation. Earth chakra manipulation also has its own 'layer's of control. Earth is a proud and stubborn element; it represents strength, stability, hard headedness and an unwillingness to change. However, these are just the top of the ice burg; there are many layers of earth after all. With every step and every movement, vibrations travel the earth, and we of the Kataichi clan are experts at reading the earth, including what each of these tiny vibrations mean. Teaching that idea to Ahiru-chan was hard."

"Not only that, but as stable as the earth looks, everyone knows the power and level of destruction that can be caused by earth quakes, which is when the earth becomes angry at something or another. Even the earth has limits, and we're also trying to teach Ahiru-chan what those limits are, before earth finally crumbles into sand." Tori answered in a serious voice, surprising Naruto slightly, but also piping his curiosity.

"Tell me, Tori. What is the difference between Earth manipulation and Sand manipulation? Considering we've got Gaara fighting against Ahiru in the first match of the tournament, who do you think would win?" Naruto asked in pure curiosity.

Folding his arms together and pouting cutely, Tori thought seriously over the situation before finally answering with a "I don't know who would win." Giving a short sigh, Tori decided to explain his decision. "Sand and Earth may seem similar but they are actually very different. Sand is the particles that make up the earth, and the earth is the condensed, mixed form of sand. When earth breaks, sand is the result. But sand can never truly turn back into earth, unless you're talking about compacting it for several hundred years until it forms a layer in the earth's surface, then maybe. But yeah, I don't know, sorry." Rubbing the back of his head in rueful embarrassment, Tori was surprised that Naruto waved away his concern nonchalantly.

"Don't worry about it, Tori. I was just curious." Eyes sharpening once more in attentiveness, Naruto turned to look at Jubei directly. "Since we're on the topic of Gaara, what's happening to him anyway?"

"Gaara-san has spent most of the last month either practicing to control his sand once more, or training with Kaga-san. Unfortunately, I am not privy to their training regimes, so I have no idea how far he's gone in relation to his skill and capabilities."

"I see. Let's move on then." Changing the subject quickly, Naruto tried to not think about how Gaara's coping now with only half his original chakra base (11).

"Under my tutelage, Hikon-kun has improved further in her skills of Genjutsu. I can confidently say that if she ever battled any Genjutsu master, with the exception of Uchiha Itach and his use of the Mangakyo Sharingan, I can guarantee that Hikon-kun will probably win the skirmish." Hikari confirmed with full confidence in her student. "However, other than Genjutsu, she has shown only minor improvements in the other fields. She is still a speed freak in every sense of the word, but she lacks power, hence why I've been teaching her about human anatomy (not just about neurology) and how to strike precisely at danger points on the human body. For mid-range to long distant attacks, I've forced Hikon-kun to learn how to use senbon needles, which will come in very handy for her physical stature and strengths. At the same time, I am also training her in strategy and tactics, how to use the environment to her advantage, simple things like that which most Shinobis ignore." Hikari finished with a calm tone of voice and Naruto moved his attention to the next spokesperson, who just so happen to be Dokudes Seiko.

"The snow nin Yuse Samure has learnt much from my father, Dokudes Hana, mostly pertaining to seals of course." Seiko started with a rather bland voice, as if not really interested in seals much herself, but was forced to give a report on it. "Anyway, although Samure is a Ninjutsu library in human form, he's quite inventive and has managed to create a few personal jutsus on his own. It's an incredible feat considering his age, and he only has room to grow. Overall, there's really no point in worrying about his progress. He's definitely going to become a damn powerful Shinobi, with or without our intervention." Seiko concluded without any fanfare and they moved on to the next topic.

"Spending the last month training under my father, Raitei Hideki, Sakeyama Asahi has been able to integrate some lightning attacks to his more common fire techniques. As you probably already know, Naruto-sama, the Sakeyama clan originated from Fire Country but settled down in Hidden Cloud. They are the only clan in the Hidden Cloud that uses fire techniques, hence my father decided to enhance those specific abilities. His overall chakra control and Taijutsu style with the staff is going well, but they didn't touch on his Ukyo'e summons. That's a technique belonging solely to Asahi. He's already at mid to high Chuunin level, and once he signs the family contract for cats, Asahi will become a force to be reckoned with." Koushiro went straight to the point and finished up his narrative without further embellishment.

"Last but not least, we have the sole apprentice from the Mist team – Harate Echiko. Having progressed under my mother's training, Echiko's overall chakra control and water techniques have improved dramatically." Mishizu continued her account of all the Mist Shinobi's progress so far. "They've mainly focussed on Ninjutsu, as that is Echiko's strengths. In the short one month period, they've nearly doubled the original amount of chakra in Echiko-san's body could hold, which is an astonishing achievement in and of itself. But overall, she is still as hot headed as she was at the start of the exam. If I am to guess, I would say she's at mid-Chuunin to low-jounin level in offensive strength, but genin-level when it comes to strategy and tactics."

"Thank you all for all your reports. Now, let's move on to some other topics of discussion before tomorrow's tournament. What is the latest update on my aunt's condition?" Naruto asked promptly, as if purposely leaving something important out of the loop (12).

This time, it was Seiko who answered. "My mother has looked her over several times in the last week. Lady Ruri is now able to move around as she so wish; however, it will be dangerous for her to use chakra or any jutsu. It would be for the best if she refrain from using the Yochigan or undertake any further sealing for at least another few weeks. However, with Kaga-san's help, she should be able to attend the Chuunin Exam tournament, no problem."

"Good." Lifting himself completely off the couch, Naruto turned around to face all his followers. "A few days from now, the Kuunoki no Sato will hold the first Chuunin Exam tournament in the city of Bai Ling. All of you will need to be present for the opening and subsequent battles. I expect you to handle all the security details as well as protect both the combatants, viewers and my aunt from any enemies using this opportunity to attack us while we're in the open."

Jubei frowned slightly at Naruto's words. "Naruto-sama, what about yourself? I have heard that Sakura-san and Shikamaru-kun has asked permission from their various teachers whether or not they would be able to attend the event and watch the tournament, but you never mentioned whether or not you will be going as well to Bai Ling?"

Naruto nodded. "That is true. I never mentioned going because I have no intention of going to Bai Ling at all."

This was news to the Gate Guardians as they have been under the assumption that Naruto would be attending the tournament as a representative of the Air, just like Ruri. "Then, where will you be, Naruto-sama? Will you remain here in the Kuunoki?" Hikari asked in curiosity.

Naruto shook his head. "No, I intend to take a personal trip somewhere on my own." Raising his hand in an effort to forestall any further outbursts, Naruto continued with his explanation. "It is not safe for me here in the Kuunoki, nor is it safe for me anywhere on the Elemental countries. I need to find an isolated, safe place in order to train myself fully in the demon arts. I have grasped everything that Aunt Ruri wished to teach me. Anything further must be learnt on my own. And between Kyuubi and myself, I believe I would be able to survive."

"But Naruto-sama. You need at least one of us to follow you for protection. Any one of us would be willing to follow you into hell. Even Kaga-san..." Koushiro's heated words were cut off abruptly when Naruto interrupted him.

"Enough. That is all I will say regarding this issue. You will ALL attend to the Chuunin tournament and help protect my aunt. I, on the other hand, will use this opportunity to slip away without notice. Be very wary of potential enemies using this exam to infiltrate us. I know for a fact that the Akatsuki may come again to try and get their hands on the Kyuubi. It is imperative that I manage to escape their grasp. Do you understand?!" Naruto's firm voice commanded, and the guardians had no choice but to acquisition to his demands.

"HAI!" A series of voices erupted from the Gate Guardians in acknowledgement.

"Good. Then tomorrow's event is a go. Everyone to your stations; you all know what you must do!" Naruto's commanding voice called out once more, resulting in another chorus of "Hais" before everyone disappeared in a swirl of wind, leaving Naruto on his own.

"And so ends this chapter of my life, but the trails of faith has just begun." Naruto mutters under his breath, eyes glazed as if looking far away into the future.

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The next day found all the genins standing excitedly outside the front gates of the Kuunoki village, waiting for the Gate guardians to have everything in order before they make their way through one of Jubei's useful transportation rings to the city of Bai Ling where the final tournament was to be held.

The eight combatants all stood at the front of the group as they were meant to go first, leaving the rest of the genins whom had made it to the exam in the first place to stand and chat. Surprisingly, even with their difference, the group as a whole had come together to form a strange union among themselves. They weren't friends per say, but they were close enough to call each other colleagues, contemporaries or as equals. Even traditional enemies like those from Konoha against those from Hidden Cloud and Hidden Stone, had somehow come together and formed an understanding. Perhaps it was the collective experiences that they all shared as per their participation here. Or perhaps it was due to the 'team' exam they undertook during the second stage. Whatever the reason, all the genins have come to understand and accept one another's existence. These levels of tolerance between people from such different backgrounds have never been seen before, and such are the seeds of the future.

Walking towards Hikon standing on her own, Naruto introduced himself in an informal manner. "Hi!"

Hikon, having already recognised the Uzumaki heir from the many official functions, gatherings and events, was unsure of why he had approached her here. "Um... Hello, Uzumaki-sama."

Naruto waved the 'title' away. "You can call me Naruto if we're meeting informally. It's only during events that I have to be called that. And truthfully, I hate it, it makes me feel old."

Somewhat relaxing after Naruto's rant, Hikon decided to quell her curiosity straight away since the Uzumaki heir did seem friendly enough. "So, what brings you here, Naruto-san."

Naruto let that title slide and went straight to the point of his visit. "Ano, I'd like to ask you a question. It's regarding the land of Snow Country, or what use to be Snow Country. I'd like to ask if you know of any place in Snow Country that is still completely made of ice; as in it doesn't have any land or soil beneath the ice's surface."

"Hmm..." Hikon thought for a moment before remembering that there is such a place. "Yes, there's one island on the outskirts of Spring Country territory. It's basically an iceberg that was somehow anchored into place some decades ago by the Shinobi of the Snow village. Kazehana Dotou (13) used it as a training ground for us; what was once known as the camp for the assassin squads. I'm glad it was closed down and demolished a year ago."

"I see, so this place is on the outskirts? Which direction?" Naruto asked again for more clarification this time.

"Why are you interested in this place?" Hikon asked back in curiosity, mind already drifting away from the painful memories of the past.

Naruto only gave her a mysterious smile. "Just humour me, please?"

Giving a sigh, Hikon answered to the best of her knowledge. "It's on the northern most tip of the Spring country, a little island on its own. It's a very dangerous trip on boat as the seas are very rough around that area, prone to wild waves and strong winds too. Very few boats venture out that far, other than the fishing boats catching giant crabs and such. It's about a 3 day trip from the main Spring Country Island."

"I understand. Thank you very much for the information." Naruto gave a grateful smile, bowed politely and started leaving Hikon, making his way back towards the gate guardians near the transportation portal.

"What a strange guy?" Hikon muttered to herself before she and the other genins were finally ushered through the portal and suddenly walked into the city of Bai Ling.

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The city of Bai Ling was a small but prosperous city residing in what was known as 'neutral' territory, located in between River country, Wind Country and Fire Country. It's a sovereign state in its own right, governed by a council of civilians. It holds no allegiance to any of the Shinobi nations, and gained most of its economic wealth through trade and merchants. So it was surprising to find that Bai Ling actually had a full scale stadium located on the western side of the city. Supposedly, the stadium was mainly used as a sports, recreational and entertainment facility (14), enabling the rich citizens of Bai Ling to watch as rival sporting teams compete against one another, or to hold concerts and international conferences for trade shows and such.

Having booked the Bai Ling convention stadium for the use of the Kuunoki Chuunin Selection Exam, the Gate Guardians had done a considerable amount of work revamping the original stadium so it could withstand the force and power of Shinobi battles. At the same time, the Gate Guardians and several Kuunoki citizens (mostly those of the Dokudes Clan) were also in charge of security and the overall running of the event.

Standing tall on the VIP platform and holding a microphone to her lips, Ruri's voice echoed through out the massive stadium, amplified a thousand times by the various speakers situated all over the structure.

"Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen! To the first ever Chuunin Selection Examination hosted by the Kuunoki Gakure no Sato. As per all Chuunin Exam tournaments, I hereby welcome some of our very important guests that have made time out of their very heavy schedules in order to attend this function. To my left are the Godaime Hokage - Tsunade, Princess Koyuki of the late-Snow Country, now renamed Spring Country and a high council representative from Suna – Chiyo-sama. To my right, are the Yondaime Tsukikage, a council representative from the Hidden Grass village – Kusanagi Hiroku and Godaime Raikage. We also have many important guests and daimyos attending this international event and lets not forget all the spectators that made it to the stadium just to attend this special event. I welcome you all!"

A huge roar erupted from the audience in response to Ruri's speech. Thousands of spectators were clapping, whistling; some even screaming in encouragement and for attention, supporting the various genin combatants to do their best. Suffice to say, there would be a lot of money put into bets for today's fights.

Raising a hand to calm the crowd into silence once more, Ruri began the next part of her prepared speech. Looking at the 8 genins standing in the middle of the arena ring, Ruri gave them an uncharacteristically encouraging smile. "For all the genin-hopefuls that have made it to the Kuunoki, let me say this. In all my years as the Lady Oracle and chief of the Air village, I have never seen a group of youngsters with as much talent and potential as you all. You should be proud of yourselves for making it this far, and even prouder that you have done so much in representing your native countries, showcasing your countries skills and hopefully gaining economic support for your countries of origin in the future. This event, is not just about boosting your countries standing in power, it is also about your own accomplishments and recognising your achievements. You all have the potential to be powerful; how far you go is now up to you. This is your chance to show the world what you are made up."

Once again, the crowd goes wild in support of both the genins that have made it thus far and for the organisers of such a large international event. It took a while longer for Ruri to calm the crowd but eventually quieten they did. "Without further ado, let the games of the Kuunoki Chuunin Examination Tournament BEGIN!"

The resulting roar was deafening.

xxx XXX xxx (Match 1)

xxx XXX xxx (Sabaku no Gaara Vs Rensa Ahiru)

"First match, Sabaku no Gaara versus Rensa Ahiru, Hajime!" Kaga, once again acting as the referee of the match, announced through his own microphone as he swiftly stands aside when Ahiru readied herself to attack the Sand Nin.

"My rock versus your sand, I wonder who would win?" Ahiru tilted her head in curiosity, while Gaara simply stood straight with his arms cross, not even batting an eye. Without warning, clouds of sand rose out of his trusty gourd and instantly rushed towards Ahiru, wanting to crush her bones.

Ahiru ducked down to a fighter's stance and stomped her foot hard against the ground. In response, a giant boulder suddenly rose up in front of her, easily blocking Gaara's sand that slammed into it. Giving a feral yell, Ahiru punched the boulder that was protecting her, launching it off the ground and flying forward towards Gaara's surprised form. The boulder was flying so fast that Gaara knew his sand wouldn't be able to catch up and as such, he was forced to dodge. Once landing from his dodge, Gaara was a little distracted as he watched the once mighty boulder crumble and scattered upon impact with the ground.

"You should never show an enemy your back!" Ahiru's voice called out from behind him. Instinctively, a wall of sand erupted to protect him and it barely managed to stop Ahiru's chakra enhanced kick, and even then, much of the sand wall were blown apart by Ahiru's force. Jumping back once more away from the dangerous Kunoichi, Gaara raised one of his hands towards the girl, and immediately the sand followed his command by wrapping itself around Ahiru's form. "Sabaku Kyuu! (Desert Coffin!)" He warned threateningly.

However, just before the sand could engulf Ahiru's entire body, she used chakra strings to attach small to medium size rocks from beneath the ground. Calling these rocks up to the surface, the hardened soil quickly surrounded her body and compacted itself, forming an armour of rock protecting her from the crushing sand.

Not believing that his sand would fail him, Gaara shut his fist tightly. "Sabaku Souso! (Dessert Graveyard!)" However, instead of the expected splatter of blood everywhere, nothing happened. In fact, the sand covered form of Ahiru didn't even compress at all.

"Heh! Your sand isn't the only hard stuff around here." Ahiru taunted. And as if wanting to prove her point, she summoned her chakra once more and gave a heave, the sand wrapped tightly around her gave way and blew apart as she released both her chakra and physical force. Her rock armour crumbled to the floor as it was no longer needed.

Once again surprised at the girl's resourcefulness, Gaara quickly refocussed all his attention on the fight. Slamming his hands together in front of him, he called forth all the sand in the surrounding. "Sabaku Ryuusa! (Dessert Avalanche)" Waves upon waves of sand rose up behind him and rushed towards Ahiru's small form, intended to bury her in sand.

However, unlike doing what most people would do, which would be to escape the sand; Ahiru simply stood still and waited for the sand to slam into her, which it did unmercifully. Slamming his hands hard to the sand on the ground, Gaara released a second technique. "Sabaku Taisou (Desert Requiem)!" The earth vibrated in response to Gaara's call, and he was pretty sure he had won the match, only to be surprised once again.

Gaara felt something tug at his pants leg, forcefully pulling himself into the sand. Gaara looked down to find metallic chains wrapped around his ankle and it seemed to be pulling him towards a giant, stone beetle's gapping jaws, supposedly to be eaten. Gaara knew instantly that this was a summoned creature by Ahiru, which meant the Rock girl wasn't dead yet. Calling forth his sand once more from under the creature, Gaara had it form a giant spike that suddenly rose up and pierced right through the giant insect's body, forcing it to disperse into nothingness.

"Wow! You're the first person ever to escape my Doton: Arijigoku no Wana no Jutsu (Earth Element: Ant Lion's Trap Technique)." Ahiru's voice sounded amazed from some distance away from Gaara, having made her way out of the sand and stood seemingly unhurt by Gaara's previous attacks.

Gaara's eyes narrowed in irritation. "How did you escape my attack?" He asked snappishly.

In contrast, Ahiru only gave him a grin. "I'm a Stone Ninja; you think we don't know how to move under ground? It's like second nature to us!" She replied back in a taunting voice. "Now, it's my turn!" Raising her feet, Ahiru slammed it down onto the sand covered ground once more with a chakra enhanced kick, calling for any small to big sized boulders with her chakra alone. Within less than a second, dozens of boulders ranging from the size of a small dog to a life sized horse rose out beneath the sand like floating objects. Now, it's just a matter of Ahiru punching each and every one towards Gaara's location, making each boulder (no matter the size) into high speed projectiles ready to smash Gaara's face in.

Some distance away, Gaara was busy dodging or blocking Ahiru's multi sized boulders with his sand. He knew he was wasting time and energy on this fight and he wanted to finish it as soon as possible. Calling his sand beneath his feet, Gaara quickly made his way into the air, having a much easier time dodging Ahiru's projectiles now that he had plenty of space to dodge to.

Ahiru growled fiercely as she realised her tactic wasn't working on a flying Gaara. Instead, with Gaara's new found height and freedom, he switched the advantage of the entire match, using his sand to attack Ahiru from the air. Now, it was Ahiru's turn to dodge, block and avoid Gaara's high speed sand. She had to jump, rebound off boulders or the walls of the arena, only to continue running in order to escape Gaara's grasp. She was tiring and she knew it. /One more big attack is pretty much all I can do now./ She thought to herself as she measured her chances.

Ahiru already knew Gaara was incredibly strong, having watched his matches in the Second stage of the Chuunin Exam a month ago. But she truly underestimated her opponent. Now, with the tables turned, she knew she had a very low chance of winning at all, but as a Kunoichi of the Stone village, she refused to go down until the very end. /If I'm gonna lose anyway, I'm gonna lose with style!/ She thought to herself with finality, before suddenly changing her course and rushing directly towards Gaara, performing a chakra enhanced jump all the way up to Gaara's height.

"Take this!" Ahiru shouted as her beloved chains released itself from her arms via the direction of chakra strings, launching itself towards the surprised form of Gaara, it wrapped tightly around the Suna Shinobi. "ARRRRHHHH!" Ahiru screamed as she pulled Gaara's trapped form off his sand platform all the way towards the earth and slamming the boy (back first) onto the broken ground beneath, causing a giant eruption of dust and debris, as well as causing crater ten metres in diameter. "Did I do it?" Ahiru asked herself as she staggered to her knees, having used the last of chakra to help her land softly onto the ground without injuring herself.

"Nice try, but no, this isn't enough." Ahiru didn't even get a chance to turn around when she felt Gaara's hand snap at her neck, knocking her unconscious instantly. Gaara glared at his Suna bunshin that had taken his place when Ahiru attacked, had he not switched places with that bunshin, that attack would have hurt him a lot.

The crowd went wild, even as Kaga tried to call above all the sound and noise, announcing Gaara as the winner of the first match.

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"Hehe. Look Itachi, the Ichibi is here as well. Shall we nab both the Kyuubi and Ichibi Jinchuriki?" Kisame chuckled as he watched the end of Gaara's match. Itching for a fight, the ex-Mist Shinobi was hoping to challenge another member of the Kuunoki Gate Guardians at some point today. But considering their orders from the Akatsuki Leader were to undertake some espionage and information gathering, it seems rather conflicting if they made their presence known so quickly by exposing themselves.

"Iie. We are to gather information about the current level of strength on both the Ichibi and the Kyuubi Jinchuriki. That is all. And if an opportunity arises, we are to kidnap Naruto-kun. But as you've heard from Pein-sama, that is of a low priority compared to the information gathering." Itachi's monotone voice answered smoothly.

"Yare yare. And I was so looking for a good fight." Kisame turned away from the now finished battle, just in time to see Itachi walked through another walkway. "Oi. Where are you going? I thought we're supposed to stand here and watch the rest of the show to gauge the brat's strengths?" Kisame called out to Itachi's retreating back.

"We have already accounted for Gaara-kun's strength. You can stay here, wait and watch for his next match. I am going to confront Naruto-kun." And with that statement, Itachi disappeared into the crowd.

"Che." Kisame grunted in annoyance as he leaned heavily against the pillar he was standing against, knowing that there was nothing he could say that would change Itachi's mind.

xxx XXX xxx (Match 2)

xxx XXX xxx (Naja Daiku Vs Aburame Shino)


Shino raised his arms calmly as a swarm of Kikaichu insects appeared and swirled around his limbs in readiness for the match. Daiku simply pulled out a small blue scroll, biting his thumb; he wiped a line of blood on the outside of the scroll, before ripping the edge of it opened and dropping it onto the ground without further worth. Shino frowned at his actions, having no clue as to why Daiku would seemingly summon something from a scroll and then drop it as if it was worthless. His curiosity was answered when an instant later, water slowly began to bubble and flood out of the scroll, staining the ground and making a small pool of water directly beneath Daiku's feet.

Performing a quick set of seals, Daiku didn't give Shino any time to prepare as he began the attack. "Aisu Shin no Jutsu! (Ice Needles!)" Small droplets of water rose into the air from the pool staining his feet, and quickly froze into sharp ice needles. Hundreds of such ice needles were then flung automatically towards Shino's form.

"Mushikame no Jutsu (Bug jar)" The swarm of Kikaichu insects flew around Shino, creating a rotational shield and easily protected the Aburame heir from the deadly ice needles. Unfortunately for Shino however, the shield of Kikaichu insects also obstructed his view of what Daiku was up to at this moment in time, resulting in him being too late to react when he finally noticed several kunais flying his way with ice bombs attached to them. He barely made it in time to escape the giant shards of ice that erupted when the bombs made contact with his technique, resulting in quite a number of his Kikaichu insects trapped in the frozen sculpture. Suffice to say, Shino was not pleased.

However, he didn't have time to berate himself on his woes, as Daiku suddenly slid behind him, in the literal sense of 'sliding' on the ice that he had frozen beneath his feet, creating a ice 'path' from where he was stationed before to the location currently behind Shino. Acting quickly, Shino replaced himself with a Mushi Bunshin just as Daiku threw several kunais into his chest, and the bunshin burst into another swarm of Kikaichu.

Twisting his head quickly one way and then another, Daiku was feeling suspicious when he couldn't detect Shino's presence near him. That was when he heard the noise of many bugs above him. Looking up, Daiku's mouth literally dropped as he witnessed the form of Shino floating in mid air due to a pair of delicate insect-like wings behind him flapping in a constant motion.

No longer holding back any of his newly learnt skills, Shino raised one of his arms and swarm of Kikaichu immediately covered it and lengthen to form a long, black, whip like appendage. Swinging his now black whip-like arm, Shino swung it in the direction of Daiku, who had to quickly jump back away from the deadly appendage as it sliced apart some of the boulders left behind from the previous fight in its attempt to catch Daiku.

Not wanting to be caught by Shino's attack, the Snow Shinobi decided to distract the Aburame heir in order to get close to him once more, or attack from a different angle using a long range technique. Quickly performing a set of seals while he had the time, Daiku summoned a blizzard in order to obstruct Shino's perception. "Fubuki no Jutsu (Snowstorm Technique)." He then followed behind that with another set of seals in conjunction with the first. "Hyoton Tsubame no Fubuki. (Ice Element: Swallow Blizzard)!"

Both the snow blizzard and its following swallow blizzard were formed from using the water supplied by the small blue croll, which was still bubbling water even as the battle went on. The summoned water was slowly but surely flooding the entire arena, leaving some of the watching audiences wondering how come such a small scroll could contain so much water it was ridiculous.

While the first blizzard technique effortlessly obstructed Shino's vision, the second technique – ice swallows – flying through the air targeted Shino's delicate looking wings. As expected, the ice birds sliced through the winged appendage without effort, and Shino dropped dangerously without his support. Unfortunately for Daiku, Shino had somehow managed to perform bunshin once again leaving a mushi bunshin behind to scatter into insects just before his body smashed into the ground.

Daiku then released the Blizzard as he too needed enough visualisation on his opponent's location in order to win this match. From behind Daiku, Shino's calm voice called spoke out. "Mushi Yari (Insect Spear)." A long, sharp, black thing suddenly jutted out towards Daiku's back and the snow nin had no choice but perform his own bunshin and kawarimi in order to escape.

Shino frowned when his insects that made up the 'Insect Spear' were suddenly trapped inside an Ice Bunshin after they managed to pierce right through Daiku's frozen body. /Damn, I lost another set of Kikaichu, my hive is reduced to 60 percent of its original numbers./ Shino thought forlornly as he reformed his insect wings and rose into the air, easily dodging more kunai flung his way by Daiku trying to act sneaky. Turning slightly, Shino took out his own kunai and flung it with precision, piercing the small scroll that was still releasing water like a gushing fountain. The moment, his kunai cut the scroll in half, the water stopped flowing out; meaning that Daiku would no longer have his unlimited supply of water to use for his ice techniques. Now, this match had suddenly become a battle of attrition.

/Damn it. This isn't working. We're playing a game of cat and mouse. The moment I run out of chakra or water, I lose. The moment he runs out of chakra or usable bugs, he lose. But I don't want to wait fucking hours before the two of us run out of steam. There's got to be something I can do to win. Think!/ Daiku chastised himself even as he dodged another black whip formed by Shino's insects. Turning around quickly, he launched another three kunai with ice bombs attached to them, before looking forward once more and runing a little faster to escape the resulting blast. Suffice to say, he was short three ice bombs and Shino was short another 5 to 10 percent of his Kikaichu count. Suddenly, a light bulb went up in Daiku's head. /Yes, there's that thing that I can try! I've got to be careful though because this will probably use up my entire stash of water that I have left. Let's just hope that Shino, with his analytical mind does not discover what I'm doing before it's too late to stop me./

Turning abruptly from his straight running, Daiku dashed fast in an angular direction, literally running in a big, round circle around Shino's flying form in the middle of it. Shino didn't notice though as he was too busy, focusing the last of his insects in order to form two long whip like appendages to take off Daiku's head or legs.

Daiku on the other hand, had finally finished his preparation. Sliding to a stop at the point where he first started running in a circle, it was then that Shino noticed the ice that travelled across the left over pool of water on the ground. It formed a perfect circle. Knowing this was probably some sort of trap, Shino quickly tried to fly out of the ring of ice, even though Daiku and his ice was on the wet ground, while Shino was up some twenty to thirty metres in the air, Shino still didn't feel safe. However, by that time, it was too late to escape. "Hyoton: Kori Kagami Wana Ringu (Ice Element: Ice Mirror Trap Ring) (15)."

Shino suddenly felt the very air around him compress and freeze. He tried desperately to move out of the way, but it was too late. His legs had started becoming encrusted with ice. The ice formed from thin air, from the condensation of the water vapour in the atmosphere and rendered into ice by Daiku temperature manipulation. It took only a few second before Shino found himself completely encased in ice. The water upon the ground was gone, all used up for this one single technique. Andy with his wings also encased in ice, Shino was no longer able to fly. Suffice to say, he crash landed rather hard on the ground.

"Kaga-san. I suggest you declare a winner soon, as Shino-kun won't be able to live without oxygen if he stays encased too long." Daiku announced breathlessly, having used a large amount of his chakra storage for this one technique. Kaga followed his prompting, declaring Shino unable to battle and hence Daiku's victory. Shino was then released from the jutsu and the two boys struggled out of the arena to rest, encouraged by the loud cheering of the crowd.

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"Hmph. Looks like Konoha Shinobis have truly fallen over the ages. Their only Genin representative in this exam is beaten by a no-name Ninja from the Snow village of all places. I suppose ice can certainly smother the energy of fire." Chiyo directed her snide comments towards Tsunade, who was sitting on the right hand side of Koyuki, while Chiyo herself was sitting on the left side of Koyuki.

Koyuki frowned, having found herself acting as a human barrier between two rival Kunoichis and not appreciating a single moment of it. "Daiku-kun is not a no-name Shinobi. He comes from a famous clan that have served the royal family of Snow loyally for generations. I do not appreciate you putting other people's Shinobi down just because they come from a less than famous place." Koyuki snapped back rather aggressively.

"I agree. Considering that out of the 10 genin teams that actually made it to the Kuunoki exams, 3 of those teams came from Konoha, while one made it from Suna, you really don't have much to be proud of. I'll admit, Gaara, Temari and Kankuro are exceptional genins. But so are all the other genins that have made it so far. They truly are the best of the best. And I for one, look forward to watching their growth from this point forth." Tsunade gave a confident smirk towards Chiyo and then refocussed her attention back to the arena floor.

"Hmph." Chiyo grunted but remained silent for the rest of the tournament.

xxx XXX xxx (Match 3)

xxx XXX xxx (Yuse Samure Vs Sabaku no Temari)

"Fuuton: Hono Bakuha! (Wind Element: Fire Blast!)" Swinging her left handed fan around her in an elegant arc, Temari focussed her own wind elemental chakra into the fan, mixing it with the fire elemental conversion seal, before releasing the chakra in a wave of flames, rapidly speeding towards Samure's defensive form.

Quickly throwing a small blue scroll into the air directly in front of him, Samure performed a set of seals in seconds to counteract Temari's assault. "Kuchiyose Misu! Suiton: Suijin Heki! (Summoning Water! Water element: Water Barrier technique!)"

The summoned water gushed out of the seemingly delicate scroll before rushing to surround Samure, forming a powerful wall of water, stopping Temari's attack in an instant. Behind his protective barrier, Samure was unable to see Temari smirk at his response.

"Heh, you just played straight into my hands. Fuuton: Koraseru no Jutsu! (Wind Element: Freeze technique)!" Once again, channelling her wind based chakra into her right hand fan this time, Temari discharged a flood of freezing air, which upon contact against Samure's water shield immediately froze the once liquid barrier into a mountain of ice, perfectly vulnerable to Temari's next attack. "Kamaitachi!" Diverting her chakra into both fans one last time, but maintaining their original wind element without mixing it with the conversion seals, Temari swung both fans in a cross direction, unleashing wave upon waves of deadly wind blades slashing their way across the air, and splitting the now frozen ice barrier into thousands of pieces. "Heh. I win." Temari smirked in a deadly fashion, eyes blazing with victory.

"Temari-san, you should know better than to underestimate your opponent." A male voice spoke behind her. Temari tried to duck, dodge or simply move out of the way of an impending attack from her unharmed opponent, but it was all in vein. "Kyosei Suimin no Jutsu! (Forced Sleep technique) (16)" With a simple tap of his hands against Temari's shoulders, the sand Kunoichi could feel her grip on reality fade. Her vision darkened instantly until she could not open her eyes anymore, and she vaguely felt her body dropping unevenly onto the hard ground. Nothing else filtered through her mind but silent darkness.

"Sabaku no Temari is unable to battle, I pronounce Yuse Samure the winner of match 3."

xxx XXX xxx

xxx XXX xxx (Warning: Death of a character)

"Man... What's a guy to do to be rid of boredom?" Kisame whined to himself as he slouched gracelessly against another pillar, completely bored out of his mind for the last hour sitting around and doing nothing. He had watched the matches, but watching and not actually participating in the fight wasn't nearly as fun, hence the boredom. However, Kisame's boredom was quickly interrupted by the 3 new presences coming his way.

"Ano. Why are we walking this way again? We're on the other side of the stadium where the exam participants are supposed to sit?" A young, male's voice asked hesitantly.

"Ah. Come on, Juro-kun! Grow a bit of backbone. We're just exploring the place! I mean, you'll never see such modern structure in the boring Mist village. Hell, we can barely see anything in the Mist." Another voice, female this time, ranted in irritation.

"I agree with Juro-kun, Echiko. We should go back. I have a bad feeling, like why is this corridor completely dark and empty. It's just not right." A third voice - male but older than the first - spoke in a slightly nervous voice.

"Ah! Not you too, Eiji-niisan! You're all a bunch of chickens the lot of you!" The female voice complained loudly once more.

Grinning in a sadistic way, Kisame decided to scare the crap out of the brats all because he could. /After all, what Itachi-san doesn't know can't hurt him. And anyway, these kids are annoying./

Using Shunshin to transport himself behind the three genins, Kisame grinned widely, exposing his sharp shark-like teeth before snapping loudly with a 'BOO!' Unsurprisingly, the three teens jumped in fright and screamed loudly.

"AHAHAHAHA!! God! I've still got it." Kisame's amusement at the kid's antics quickly dried away as he recognised the bandaged sword strapped tightly onto the little red-head's back. "That's... the Tsunami no Sakebu! (Wave's Cry)! Where the hell did you get that, BRAT!?" Kisame roared upon seeing the familiar sword, a flood of painful memories emerged as a result of seeing that sword once more.

Juro gripped tightly onto his grandfather's sword, knowing that if this valuable sword was stolen or damaged in anyway, his grandfather would skin him alive. Stepping back from the deadly looking Shinobi in a black cloak with strange red clouds lining it, Juro was relieved that both Eiji and Echiko stepped in front of him (as always) to protect him from any harm.

"Who the FXXK are you?! And how dare you scare us like that! Do you have any idea who we are?! We're the best Hidden Mist Shinobi in the building right this moment, so you better not mess with us?" Echiko's cocky announced, completely missing her older brother's soft mummer of "We're the only Hidden Mist Shinobi in the building; the Mizukage didn't send any representation to the exam as none of us qualified for the tournament."

Kisame paid no attention to the two violet haired twins; instead he had his full attention to the little red haired boy. "Those bi-coloured bangs, you're a member of the Kapasu clan, aren't you Gaki!? And by your age, you're probably Genjiro's grandson. So how is the old bastard doing? Still following that traitor of the Mizukage like the lost puppy that he is (17)?!" Kisame taunted, finding it difficult to suppress the raging hate that was just desperate to be released.

"Hey. Don't just go and insult our Mizukage and Kapasu-Osan! They're both way above your league, Shark-face!" Echiko's latest insult finally snapped Kisame's control on his temper.

"That's it! You brats are DEAD!" Kisame roared, unleashing his fury. Slamming the samehade onto the ground and leaving it standing in the newly created hole, Kisame launched into a set of seals before shouting his jutsu: "Suiton! Bakusouha! (Water Element! Aquatic Shockwave!)" Taking a deep breath, Kisame let loose a flood of water from his mouth. The mountain of water slammed into the unsuspecting genins, smashing them against the corridor's walls, and flooding the entire hallway until everything and everyone was submerged in water.

Not wasting a single second, Kisame launched into another set of seals to be rid of the brats fast, hopefully before he was spotted by any of the gate guardians. "Suiton! Goshoku Zame! (Water Element! Five Shard Feeding Frenzy!)" Lifting his palm open, Kisame summoned 5 giant sharks like creates and mentally commanded them to go after the brats and eat their fill.

Eiji, being the first to recover from being smashed against a corridor wall, was at first frantic when he realised he was underwater and unable to take in any air supply. However, after the initial panic, Eiji realised that he was just as much at home in the water as he was outside. Pulling out his trusting "Breathing Mechanism (18)," attaching it to his mouth, Eiji breathed in deeply. Relaxing somewhat, Eiji decided to go find his other teammates and was just moments away from reaching a struggling Juro when he noticed the 5 chakra sharks coming their way.

Acting in instinct, Eiji performed some quick hand seals and formed chakra scalpels with both his hands. With agility learnt from spending years learning how to fight underwater, Eiji swam towards the shark in a frontal assault, knowing that he had to defeat them if he wanted any chance to protect Juro. Swiftly dodging the sharp teeth of one of the sharks as it tried to take a bite out of him, Eiji managed to dodge beneath the creature, swinging his arms in a straight line across the creature's neck; he effectively sliced the sharks head from the rest of its body with his elongated chakra scalpels. Instantly, the shark puffed out of existence.

With one of the sharks destroyed, Eiji still had 4 more to take care of. Cautiously dodging another attack, Eiji sliced across the length of the second sharks body, effect cutting right through the shark's belly and intestines, immediately killing the creature. /Two down, three to go!/ Eiji mentally counted.

Safely behind Eiji, Juro has just managed to put his breathing mechanism on, and was watching his teammates with awe in his eyes. However, mentally, he was berating himself for his weakness, having not done a single thing to help his teammates, and still physically unable to react due to his loathsome fear of fighting and blood. /I'm such a burden to both Eiji and Echiko. I'm so weak! I should have never become a ninja, and then I won't be on a team with Eiji and Echiko. Then, they wouldn't need to protect me all this time. God! I'm pathetic./ Although Juro's mental voice was strong in it's self-reprimanding; he was still too fearful and nervous to take any action in helping his friend.

"Suiton! Suiryuudan no Jutsu! (Water Element! Water Dragon Missile!)" Echiko's voice vibrated through the water via the breathing mechanism as she finished her technique. Two underwater dragons were formed from Echiko's outstretched hands and flung themselves at two of Kisame's summoned sharks. Suffice to say, the four destroyed each other as they impacted against one another. "Yes! I did it! Four down, just one to go!" Unfortunately for Echiko, it was at that moment that the last shark attacked her from behind. Biting tightly onto Echiko outstretched punch, the shark mercilessly gripped the appendage with is sharp teeth, tugged savagely and ripped Echiko's right arm right out from her shoulder socket.

Echiko's horror and pain-filled scream reverberated through out the underwater corridor as blood gushed out of her open wound in torrents, staining the pool of water in mass of red.

Juro froze upon seeing the familiar red liquid and panicked. Screeching hysterically, Juro flung himself to the furthest corner away from the bleeding and possibly dying Echiko just because of his fear of blood. Juro just simply could not contain his hysteria, not even enough to help out his dearest friend.

Eiji, on the other hand, had rushed towards his sister and in a desperate bid to save her life, focussed almost all his energy into healing chakra and tried to close the giant gapping wound. He succeeded to some extend, only to be distracted when he noticed the last shark coming back for another snack. By this time, Echiko was desperately weak from blood lost and shock, she was barely conscious.

Upon seeing the shark once more, Eiji lost all control on his anger. "YOU BASTARD!!!!!" Using his newly learnt skills of Chakra shape-manipulation, Eiji silently created three invisible, but deadly sharp chakra blades, similar in shape to Senbon needles. Seemingly throwing it through the water currents, the chakra enforced blades sliced through the currents as if it was air, and struck the shark on its head. Instantly, the shark's brain blew up as Eiji mentally commanded his needles to explode. The resulting mesh of brain, meat and muscle quickly disappeared into a cloud of smoke as the shark was dispelled.

"Oi. I don't appreciate people causing my pets pain, especially the pain felt when their brains literally explode on them." Kisame's angry voice threatened from behind Eiji. Eiji tried to dodge, he tried to turn around and deflect or attack his opponent. He was too late.

Juro watched in muted shock as Kisame slammed his giant sword, the samehade right through Eiji's chest and coming out the other end. Eiji was still alive at this point, the sword missed his heart but it punctured right through his ribcage, stomach, liver and even his spinal cord. Kisame gave the stunned boy a nastic grin as he ripped his sword out of the boy's body once more, shaving off a large of amount of flesh, blood and gore in the attempt, tainting the pool of water with even more blood.

/Shit! Even as a medic ninja, I can't... I won't be able to... heal this amount of damage... Juro, Echiko... I'm sorry I failed./ Eiji's last thought faded away as he died in the now silent, blood stained water.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Echiko had somehow regained enough focus to watch as her twin brother was brutally massacred right in front of her. Kisame wasn't sure whether it was due to the girl's loud scream, or whether it was due to another reason, but a few members of the Gate Guardian chose that moment to interrupt his fun by smashing a hole through the corridor, letting the pool of water gush out in a swift flood.

"Hoshigaki Kisame. For daring to try and kidnap the Uzumaki heir, disrupting the Kuunoki Chuunin Exam, the killing of an exam participant and harming of another, I sentence you to death." Mishizu Kaiba's eyes were as cold as ice as she gazed upon Kisame's frowning face. Behind her stood Yami Shinzo and Dokudes Seiko.

/Damn. I don't think I can take on all three of them at the same time. It's time for me to leave./ Kisame concluded as he tried to think of a way to escape without further endangering himself.

xxx XXX xxx (Match 4)

xxx XXX xxx (Sasayaki Kageru Vs Sakeyama Asahi)

Asahi started the match off by summoning and twirling his trusty staff around his body in an offensive manner, before charging at Kageru attacking with the staff. Kageru, with the swiftness of a snake in battle, gracefully dodged and ducked under Asahi's attack. She didn't retaliate, but she didn't get hit either. Asahi quickly became frustrated even as he expended must of his energy twisting and turning, twirling the staff and battering it against boulders, the ground, anything really; but he still couldn't hit Kageru. Even when he used the retractable knifes on each end of the staff, plus the chains in between, he still couldn't hit her.

"Stand still. Damn it!" Asahi swore and still Kageru elegantly stayed unharmed. Feeling his anger rise to another level, Asahi broke off his assault and tried a different tactic. Taking out four wooden blocks, each with an image of an Ukiyo-e caricature drawn on it, Asahi's eyes never left Kageru's still form even as he quickly dabbed his name onto the backs of each of the floor blocks with an inked brush that he kept safe in his jacket. Having done that, Asahi performed a quick set of one-handed seals before slamming both the blocks and the hands onto the ground. "Ukiyo-e Shokan no Jutsu! (Ukiyo-e Art Technique)" A sudden burst of smoke clouds covered Asahi's form.

Once the cloud of smoke clears, there appear to be 4 life size, Ukiyo-e caricatures. One of them was wearing some sort of leopard skin, with two Katanas strapped to his waist and holding a spear in one hand. Another wore black and white clothes, also holding a spear but only had one katana strapped to his waist. The third caricature wore a samurai style helmet with chest armour, and using your standard two Katanas. The last one wore long, baggy blue and green clothing, again with two Katanas on hand (19).

"Attack!" Asahi commanded and all 4 summons attacked all at the same time. The helmet wearing summon swept his sword up in an attempt to cut Kageru in half. However, Kageru neatly sidestepped the attack, followed by twisting her body around the samurai figure in an S-shape fashion, similar to what a snake would do when capturing prey. Tightening her body's grip on the Samurai, her snake like eyes travelled quickly over his body before she found what she was looking for. Taking out a single kunai, she stabbed it to the caricature's underarm, and the affect was instant. The summon burst into smoke, dispersing itself and leaving a simple wooden block on the ground.

"WHAT!" Asahi's exclamation was cut short, when directly following the first summons's destruction, Kageru ducked under the feet of another summon, grabbing onto its left foot, tripping the creature onto the ground. Kageru used the same kunai and stabbed the leopard skin swearing caricature's feet, and he too dispersed into smoke.

"HOW THE HELL DID YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO TO DISPURSE MY SUMMONS?!" Asahi's angry shout reverberated through out the arena, while Kageru simply stood up calmly.

She raised a delicate eyebrow in his direction but kept quiet, and that infuriated Asahi more than anything else. He hated being looked down upon. Not taking this fight easy anymore, Asahi raised his trusty Ida Ten staff and called out to his summons with his next order. "Cover me if she attacks." And the two mindless drones simply did as told, standing on Asahi's left and right side, ready to protect their master when danger comes. Lifting 'Ida Ten' until it's held in the palms of both his hands the way one would when playing against an opponent at the pool table. Eyes never leaving his opponent, Asahi focussed a pinpoint amount chakra to the base of the staff, heating it up and making that end glow a silent red in preparation for his attack. Kageru watched in muted silence. /Ready, now!/ Asahi thought to himself even as he released the compressed fire-enhanced chakra inside the Ida Ten. "Fushichou Seikatsuba! (Phoenix Sacred Fire Spit!)" Asahi called out, but the attack had already been activated and the results were instantaneous. Even Kageru's eyes actually widened but she wasn't given any time to react when she was flung some hundreds of metres away by the impact of the compressed fire bullet that slammed into her body, burning away close to 30 percent of her chest area with second to third degree burns, and that's after she protected it with her own chakra buffering.

"I did it!" Asahi yelled in surprise. He never did like using Ida Ten's special attack as it always seem rather ruthless in nature. Not only that, but due to a lack of practice, he wasn't always sure his aim was precise enough to hit the target; like a sniper from hundreds of metres away, accuracy is everything. However, his joy disappeared as Kageru staggered to her feet. Her face and chest was blacked slightly and in some areas you could see the red muscles pulsing with her heartbeat and blood, other areas were just severely burnt. "My god." Asahi whispered to himself, both in awe and in fear. "You survived?"

"It'll take more than that to kill me..." Kageru commented as she stood and slowly started walking towards Asahi. Her eyes were gold and gleaming with both pain and anger. No one had ever seen Kageru angry before, and suffice the say, the look was beyond scary. Asahi wasn't sure whether these were Kageru's newly developed emotions, or just echoes of things felt by Suzumi. But one thing he was sure of, there was no way he could beat this girl.

Feeling danger coming their way, the two last summons suddenly launched themselves at Kageru, only to have the snake girl move in such speed that both were dispersed not a second later. Both Asahi and the watching audience gapped in astonishment. "I... I give up." Asahi announced suddenly when Kageru were only five metres away from him, knowing that this was the only way for him to survive; there was simply no other choice. Instantly, she stopped, her eyes fading into a vague confused expression.

That is, until Kaga announced that Asahi had lost the match and Kageru was declared the winner of this match.

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xxx XXX xxx

"Hello Itachi-kun." Ruri stepped out of the shadowed surroundings to confront the wandering Uchiha.

Itachi's expression didn't change at all, hiding his surprise behind his emotionless façade perfectly. "Uzumaki Ruri." He addressed the Lady Oracle that had suddenly appeared in front of him. Shifting his gaze slightly, Itachi used his Sharingan activated eyes to focus on the figure of Ruri that was still sitting at the VIP platform, before turning back to look at the second Ruri that was standing before him. "You're a shadow clone." He finally realised.

The Ruri clone gave him a sardonic smirk in reply. "Yes, I am." She confirmed.

Itachi's eyes narrowed slightly, wondering how to progress from here on end. "Are you trying to delay me, or stop me from taking Naruto-kun?" He asked, curious as to what the Lady Oracle was thinking.

Ruri shook her head negatively. "No. I'm just here to talk." She answered calmly.

"Talk?" Itachi repeated slightly in surprise. "Talk about what?"

Ruri's eyes darkened slightly. "About the future... About Pein."

Itachi shifted into a defensive stance in the empty hallway, ready for an attack at any time. "What about the future? And what about him?"

Ruri looked directly at Itachi's Sharingan eyes, knowing instinctively that the Uchiha wouldn't use his Mangekyo Sharingan against her. "I know that Yuuki spoke to you before her death. She told you about her visions, especially the vision regarding your future. Tell me, Itachi-kun. How far has your eyesight deteriorated? How much more damage can you take before you go completely blind?" She asked in an earnest voice.

Itachi shrugged nonchalantly. "I can see clearly up to 5 metre radius, anything beyond that is blurry." He answered truthfully.

Ruri gave him a sad smile as she raised her right palm until it was mere inches away from her face. "I can't see clearly beyond the distance of my hand. That is how far my own eyesight has deteriorated. (20)" She compared her own level of blindness against that of the young Uchiha. "Please stop using the Mangekyo Sharingan. I know that Yuuki would not want you to destroy your body further."

Itachi shrugged again. "She's dead." He stated succinctly. "She won't care one way or the other what happens to me now."

Ruri frowned a little at Itachi's rudeness. "True. But you still care about what she would think of you. You still care about her opinions, even after her death."

Itachi shrugged for a third time but he didn't comment back.

xxx XXX xxx (Match 5)

xxx XXX xxx (Sabaku no Gaara Vs Naja Daiku)

"Oh man... Why me?" Daiku whined to himself as he stared at Gaara's passive form standing nonchalantly across from him. While Daiku had used up a large amount of chakra and exposed much of his new jutsus in his last match, Gaara's hadn't used up even 20 percent of his total energy, leaving Daiku in an obvious disadvantage coming into this match up. "Well, all I can do is to my best."

"Match 5, Sabaku no Gaara versus Naja Daiku, Hajime!"

Low on ice bombs and weary of using any of his larger attacks, especially without any good source of water on hand at the moment, Daiku opted to fight a Taijutsu only match, knowing that Gaara seemed to be abysmal in that field. "Get ready Gaara-san for I'm not holding back." Daiku warned as he held up both his fists in front on him in a boxing stance. Not wasting any time, Daiku rushed towards Gaara's still form with all his speed. Gaara didn't even have to raise a hand when his sand automatically reacted to the threat. Obviously, Daiku wasn't nearly as fast as Lee and was unable to move faster than Gaara's sand. However, with a focussed punch by Daiku's hand, the sand that blocked his entry suddenly froze into ice, enabling Daiku to duck beneath the frozen sand, twist and continue on his way towards Gaara. Gaara didn't stay shocked for long as he summoned forth more sand to block Daiku's path, only to meet with the same fate. It seems that Daiku was focussing a lot more chakra into his fists, and with every touch, he freezes anything that comes into contact with him instantly.

Feeling that he's under threat, Gaara made an uncharacteristic move to retreat some distance away to avoid all close combat with Daiku. Having been cut off from his original sand that was still encased in ice and protected from his influence by Daiku's own chakra, Gaara had no choice but to call forth more sand from the ground. The new sand formed a platform beneath Gaara's feet and helped him rise up into the air, completely avoiding all Daiku's attempts to catch him with Taijutsu. Now that Gaara had the advantage in the air, he performed a quick list of hand seals. "Suna Shigure. (Sand Rain)." Gaara called forth, bullets of sand were then formed from beneath his floating sand platform and flew at Daiku at high speed. Jumping back by performing several summersaults, twisting and turning his body one way and then the other, Daiku somehow managed to avoid all damage caused by the sand rain. Pulling out some of his left over kunais, Daiku threw his own projectiles towards Gaara, only for it to be stopped by Gaara's sand once again.

/Damn, this guy is hard to beat!/ Daiku thought to himself as he ran through all his options mentally, and came up with a very small list of things he could do against Gaara. His situation was certainly looking grim. However, not being one to give up until the very end, Daiku grit his teeth and continued on. Standing up from his standard Hyoken (Ice Fist) stance, Daiku performed a list of hand seals and summoned as much of his chakra as was available. Lifting one hand out, and using his other hand to hold on to the first hand's wrist, Daiku concentrated his Chakra to form a long blade like object. Taking a few seconds to stabilise its shape, Daiku then added a little bit of his nature manipulation into the formation, and in an instant, his new chakra blade hardened into perfect ice. Smirking at Gaara slightly, Daiku answered: "This is a new technique. I call it Hyo no ken (Ice Sword)." Daiku swung his ice sword experimentally, pushing more chakra into the blade and lengthening it until it was literally 30 metres in length. With its expanded length, Daiku easily manoeuvred it towards Gaara's floating island of sand. Gaara, having seen the ice blade lengthen and then come at him, quickly moved his sand out of the way. But then Daiku smirked again. The ice blade suddenly melted into a string of water, twisting through the air, managing to catch Gaara in surprise before freezing into sharp ice again and cutting Gaara's sand platform in half. Toppling over from his now one foot square sand platform, Gaara's used the remaining sand from the sand armour that he always wears to form a second sand platform, barely managing to escape a second swipe from Daiku's strange ice/water blade that can change its temperature and density.

Glaring grimly at Daiku, Gaara decided not to prolong this battle any longer. Gaara lifting both his hands up to the sky as if in an offer to the gods, he summoned forth a large amount of sand to burst forth from beneath Daiku's feet (21). Daiku just gapped at the mountain of sand about to crush him. Reacting with instinct, Daiku quickly performed another set of handseals and pumped all of his remaining chakra into this one last technique. "Hyouten: Hyorouro no Jutsu! (Ice Element: Ice Wall technique!)" Ice emerged from no where and encased Daiku in a protective sphere just seconds before it was swamped by waves upon waves of sand.

Gaara waited a full minute of silence and suspense before he drifted down onto the sand covered ground. With a wave of his hands, the sand automatically moved and uncovered what was buried beneath – a perfect ice sphere was revealed with an unconscious Daiku inside. As such, the match was finalised with Gaara as the winner, considering Daiku was no longer able to battle.

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Hearing an explosion go off in the distance, Itachi sighed a little, knowing instinctively that his partner had somehow managed to screw something up again. "Looks like our meeting will have to come to an end, Ruri-sama. I will see again." And with those words, Itachi disappeared into a swirl of leaves.

Ruri gave an absent minded nod before she too burst into smoke, having dispelled herself and transferring the memories of the encounter back to the original Ruri still sitting comfortingly at the VIP platform.

xxx XXX xxx (Match 6)

xxx XXX xxx (Yuse Samure Vs Sasyaki Kageru)

Samure had come out of his previous fight relatively unharmed but Kageru had suffered some second or third degree burns on her body. However, like always, her face remained impassive, even though the bandages underneath her new shirt were obvious signs of her injuries and pain. "Hajime!" The instant Kaga called the fight, Samure jumped backwards and started preparations.

"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Samure called forth 5 clones, and quickly tossed them each a small scroll numbered 1 through to 5. He then pulled out another scroll and threw it into the air. "Kai!" He dispelled the seal holding the item within the thrown scroll and it suddenly had a huge amount of water gushing out of it like an explosion. Flipping through another set of hand seals, Samure called his next technique: "Kirigakure no Jutsu!" The mist rolled in quickly and covered the entire arena from view of the audience.

"Fuuton: Daitoppa!" Kageru dispelled the mist with very little effort, but by that time, Samure's preparations had already been complete. Kageru found herself surrounded on five even sides by each of the Samure clones and there were all opening the scroll they held in their hands on the ground. Acting quickly, Kageru threw each clone a kunai that dispelled them but it wasn't soon enough to stop them from opening the scrolls.

"Too late! Goten Fuuin Heki (5 Point Sealing Barrier) (22) Activate!" Samure excitedly called out. Each scroll revealed one part of a larger seal, lines of sealing language traversed across the earth to the next scroll, connecting with the seals there and then continued on to the next. Within seconds, a large five star sealing matrix was formed between the five seals, with Kageru trapped in the middle. Samure followed this up by slamming his hands on the ground and pumped even more chakra into his new technique and then the words on the seals suddenly changed colour from its normal blue to a violent red.

Kageru frowned but prepared herself for whatever may come, And come it did. From the ground before her rose a form made of earth, the collection of soil and mud suddenly remodelled itself until an exact replica of herself stood in front of Kageru. The viewing audience gapped at the two Kunoichis, one looking exactly like the other. However, Samure's clone of Kageru did not have the real Kageru's injuries, hence the only way to tell the difference between the two.

The real Kageru was not amused by the clone taking her form at all, and did not waste any time when she used shunshin in order to appear behind the clone and stabbed it in the back with a kunai. Expecting the clone to just burst into smoke, Kageru was surprised that the female look-a-like did none of that, instead it stepped forward pulling away from the kunai, twisted and did a round house kick to Kageru's face, knocking the Sound Kunoichi away with a bruised jaw.

"It's not an ordinary clone as you must have realised." Samure decided to explain while he smirked at Kageru's slightly confused face. She was really starting to show some emotions, even though they come up at the oddest of times. "As long as you are trapped inside my barrier, that clone of yourself will continue to exist and will fight you using your own techniques and abilities without any conscious effort on my part. Nothing can destroy her. This technique obviously makes you your own enemy."

Though impressed with the boy's technique, Kageru was too busy dodging several dangerously snake-like attacks from her copycat to respond. She was fully occupied with staying alive and unable to leave even a small percentage of her mind to linger on what she could do to escape her current predicament. She was literally fighting herself, how could she possibly win, when her clone fights exactly like her and knows all her abilities. Unfortunately for Kageru, that was the moment she was interrupted by an outside emotion – Fear. /Damn it./ Kageru uncharacteristically swore in her mind as she swerved wildly to avoid a Senai Jyashu attack released by her copycat. The strange bouts of emotion that were transferred into her psyche from Yakushi Suzumi always came at the most inopportune times. It took Kageru all of two weeks to figure out (with help from Suzumi) what each of these strange and uncomfortable feelings meant and how to go about to suppress them somewhat. Fear especially was an emotion Kageru despised with all her being, and she was becoming all too well acquainted with anger and hate – two emotions she had always known of while growing up with but never recognised.

Suddenly, another bout of emotion rushed through her system, this time – it was determination, and a daring recklessness encouraging her to do whatever it takes to win. /Suzumi must have calmed down enough to cheer for me./ Kageru thought to herself once more as she refocussed her mind. /Now, supposedly this is an exact copy of myself. So what are the differences? There must be some./ It didn't take Kageru long to figure that out at all. While Kageru herself have been frequently bombarded with emotions emitting through her link with Yakushi Suzumi, her clone's expression never changed, as it does not have such an emotional tie with another. Not to mention, each time Kageru managed to cause damage to her clone, the copycat did not flinch or show any sign of pain. /I have emotions now. But this clone doesn't. What was it that Suzumi once said? 'Emotions can also be a strength if used properly. Some people become incredibly strong when they are desperately trying to protect something close to them.' Those were her words./ Kageru pondered slightly, jumping backwards from the release of sound waves from her clone.

/Do I have something precious to protect?/ Kageru asked herself honestly, a few memories swept into her mind.

One was Suzumi holding out her hand as a sign of trust – "I'm trusting you with my heart; will you trust me with yours?"

Another memory of her creator, one of the scientists in the lab – "Your name will be Sasayaki Kageru, that's my daughter's name. She would have been your age had she survived."

And a third memory came into her mind, regarding what one of the 'others' told her before he was destroyed with the rest – "We are expendable, replaceable objects by the master's whim. But... is it bad of me... to want to live? Is it wrong of me... to want to continue to exist? You will be the last, our legacy. You will carry our memories. Live, survive and be a testament to our existence."

/I will not die. I will not fail. For I am... the only one left... the only one to carry on their heritage. I will not... I refuse.../ Yet another surge of determination and hope flooded Kageru's system from her connection with Suzumi and she suddenly found the strength to go beyond what she had always thought was her limit. "Just DIE!" Kageru cried with passion, so full of emotion, as she slammed her fist into her clones face, resulting in her copycat flying away from her for some great distance. Focussing chakra into her hands once more, Kageru slammed her tight fist into the ground. "Senai Jyashu Rakurai (Shadow Snake Hands Thunderbolt)! (23)" The shadow snakes emerged from Kageru's sleeves and burrowed underground to directly attack the five corners of the seal where the scrolls were located. Having encountered a smaller, weaker barrier protecting the scrolls itself, Kageru released the lightning charges that she had condensed within her summoned snake's mouths. As a result, five simultaneous explosions erupted from each side of the sealing barrier when each of the scrolls was electrocuted to the point of burning. This then disrupted Samure's seal, immediately dispelling the Kageru-clone and releasing the real Kageru from captivity.

Not wasting any more time, Kageru rushed towards Saumure. The Snow Nin was slow to react as he had just had his concentration snapped by the disruption to his seal and not to mention the large amount of chakra he had invested in the seal in the first place. Suffice to say, it only took Kageru a punch to the jaw, a sweep of her legs to knock Samure off his feet and an elbow to the boy's vulnerable stomach in order to knock the Snow Ninja out of commission, and declare Kageru the winner of the match.

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In the medical centre located on the east side of the Bai Ling stadium, Juro's dull eyes watched Echiko's pale form take in each and every breath. The Dokudes healers had told him that she would survive. But without one arm, Echiko's ninja career was effectively over. And that one knowledge coupled with the shock, blood loss, and witnessing of her brother's death, completely overwhelmed the already devastated Echiko. At 1:30 pm in the afternoon today, Harate Echiko fell into a deep coma.

And although the doctors all say she would survive and may one day recover physically, there was no telling when or even if she would ever wake up again. And as for his other teammate, Harate Eiji was declared dead upon arrival to the medical centre, there was nothing the doctors could do to help.

Having pleaded and begged with the Dokudes healers regarding whether or not there was anything else they could do to help his female teammate, they answered that although they could synthetically grow a new arm for her, but by the time the arm is ready for transplant, her body would have already healed, and would reject the new appendage anyway. So it was a lost cause from the very beginning.

/It's all my fault. If I had been stronger, they wouldn't have been killed. If I had been stronger, I would of protected them somehow. If I had been stronger, I would have defended them and killed that bad guy (24). If I wasn't so pathetic, they wouldn't have had to protect me all this time. If I wasn't so weak, they wouldn't need to sacrifice themselves for pathetic little me. This is ALL MY FAULT!/ Juro bit his lips hard enough to draw blood, eyes shut tightly to stop the tears for he knew that once he starts crying, he may not be able to stop.

/If I hadn't of frozen due to the blood, I might have been able to help. IF had I just listened to grandfather when he gave me those lessens on swordsmanship, I might have been able to help somehow. If I had just taken my training seriously, I might not have been such a burden to my friends. Friends who died for me, who suffered pain for me, who would kill for me. Me, pathetic little ME!/ The self-reproach continued to grow stronger, gaining momentum and drove the hard truth directly into Juro's heart.

/I killed them. If it wasn't for me, Eiji wouldn't be dead and Echiko wouldn't have lost her arm and dreams of becoming a great Kunoichi. I literally caused the destruction of my team just because they cared for me.../ Juro took a deep breath and wiped away any stray tears that fell from his stinging eyes.

/No more./ He thought to himself finally. /No more will I be the pathetic, weak little being that I am. I will train, I will be strong. And I swear that next time, next time I will be the one to protect Echiko and the rest of my friends and family. Even if Echiko never wakes up, or if she hated me when she does wake up, I will still protect her. I owe it to her and to Eiji for all the years of looking after me that they did. I swear on the blood of my friends, on my very soul that I will become strong! I swear I will take vengeance on one Hoshigaki Kisame!/

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The final match was between Gaara (who was relatively unhurt even if he had used up close to 40 percent of his body's chakra), and Sasayaki Kageru (who still had a high percentage of her body's chakra, but she was also the more injured of the two). Gaara gave Kageru a firm glare. "We will not hold back." He told her, and she acknowledged with a nod of her own.


Kageru jumped back to avoid one of Gaara's sand arms and called for her trusty snake summons once more. "Senai Jyashu." Unfortunately for Kageru, her snakes didn't even reach half way across the distance towards Gaara before they were captured by Gaara's sand and crushed into oblivion. Dropping the technique, Kageru had to make a bit of a mad dash to avoid several Gaara's sand arms trying to catch her in a Sabaku Kyuu. Unable to duck pass one of the sand arms, Kageru used her arm band and released a surge of high pitch sound vibrations that burst through the sand arm in a sonic boom affect. Thinking of using her sound for attacking purposes, Kageru then went on the offensive, firing blast after blast of condensed sound waves towards Gaara from her metallic arm band, all of which were stopped by Gaara's sand protecting him.

"Suna Shuriken." From the mass of sand protecting Gaara burst several dozen shurikens all flying through the air towards Kageru. Switching her volume to high, Kageru released a sound barrier all around her to protect herself from all projectile objects. Unfortunately for Kageru, with her attentions focused on dispersing the Suna shurikens, she didn't notice Gaara's trap until almost too late. Kageru stumbled a bit on her feet and looked down only to find herself slowly being swallowed into the sand. Slapping her arm (metallic sound amplifier and all) into the quick sand, Kageru quickly released a pulse of sound in order to free herself from the trap. Regrettably, this action took too long, allowing Gaara to finally capture Kageru in his famous Sabaku Kyuu (Desert Coffin).

"Surrender or die." Gaara's calm voice between no emotions and Kageru was just about to reply back with her own impassive words, having remembered being stuck in this same situation only a month ago when a sudden flash of emotion rushed through the emotional link into her body. Fear, pride and hope flooded her system, leaving Kageru unable to do much but follow what her emotions (which weren't even hers) told her to do.

"I forfeit this match, I am unable to defeat you, Gaara of the sand." And so ends the final match of the Kuunoki Chuunin Selection Exams.

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With the end of the matches, Ruri stood proudly once more in front of the various guests and audience. "Ladies and Gentlemen. I will now announce the winner of Chuunin Selection Examination – Sabaku no Gaara!"

The entire audience erupted into cheers and started a standing ovation for the once hated Jinchuriki. Gaara was stunned at the praise, cheers, screams and whistles literally raining upon his body. He stiffly nodded in acknowledgement at Ruri's words and accepted Kaga's hand shake of congratulations. Overall, he was still in shock even several hours after the event. For once in a very long time, he felt wanted and appreciated.

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Naruto glanced back at the stadium in the distant. Even as he stood miles away from the tournament, he could still hear the wild cheers from here. Naruto smiled as he imagined Gaara's stunned face, but the smile quickly faded as he remembered the fate of 3 other genins who had the unfortunate fate of meeting up with a member of the Akatsuki.

His shoulders immediately slumped at the realisation that one of the young genins were dead, another in a coma and the last would suffer bouts of depression, anger and uncontrolled hate for years to come. All for the sake of keeping his escape unnoticed by anyone of the Akatsuki.

Willing the tears that stung his eyes away, Naruto took a deep breath and started his steps once more, heading in the north-eastern direction, towards the island that Hikon had described to him just this morning.

/The only way to avoid Zetsu's eyes is to find a place that does not have any plant habitation. That leaves only the desert or an iceberg./ He thought to himself, trying desperately to not think about the fates of Juro, Eiji and Echiko. /I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Because of me, you were all hurt. For me, you suffer. I swear that one day. One day, I will make it up to you all./

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Finally, with everything going smoothly to plan and all the guests moved to the celebration chamber, Ruri slumped her shoulders down in exhaustion fighting back tears, having suffered quite some stress at meeting Itachi, worrying about Naruto's escape and feeling guilty for the lost of young lives. "And so ends this chapter, and begins the next." She signed heavily. "I think I'm getting too old for this."

Kaga chose that moment to drop by, walking into the VIP platform from the doorway and overhearing her strange words. "What do you mean, Ruri-sama? What has ended?" Kaga asked in total confusion to what his mistress was talking about.

"And so ends the 'Restoration of Faith', but this is only the beginning of the 'Trials of Faith'". Ruri's enigmatic words did not help dissolve any of Kaga's confusion.


(1) For more information as to what the hell I'm talking about, please go to Waisa Bado's character profile page to read up on it. Links are on my profile's page.

(2) Be patient and you'll find out in the next arc – Trials of Faith.

(3) Here's another hint as to what I'm planning to do.

(4) He's talking about the time directly after Elle's (his first friends) death.

(5) Not so much like Iroh and Zuko from Avatar the last Air Bender, but something similar in relationship

(6) No reference, I just made this up. I don't know, for some odd reason, Ino just strikes me as a lightning type.

(7) I made up the 6 elements thing. I know that Kakashi spoke of 5 in the Manga series, but I always wondered why the founder of jutsus and ninja society was called the "Sage of the six paths". If, let's assume, each path is represent by an element, then there should be 6 elements all together, not just five; hence why I made this up. Hope this doesn't confuse you all too much; I just like having something up my sleeve for later.

(8) Copied from Avatar: the Last Airbender. Information found from an Avatar fansite – Distant Horizons (www . musogato . com / avatar / index2 . html)

(9) Copied from Avatar: the Last Airbender. Information found from an Avatar fansite – Distant Horizons (www . musogato . com / avatar / index2 . html)

(10) Idea for Shino using the bugs as an extension of his body (wings, claws, etc) were inspired/copied from another Naruto Fanfiction – Lost Souls by LD1449. Please give all credit to the original author of Lost Souls.

(11) Just a hit of what and how much chakra was sealed away when Ruri used the Tenkun no Buki – Gojyo Fuuin wa on Gaara in Chapter 33 of Restoration of Faith.

(12) Just continue reading on, and you'll know what I'm hinting at. There will be character death!

(13) The bad guy from the first Naruto Movie. You remember, right? Princess Koyuki's bastard of an uncle, yeah him!

(14) I'm basing the stadium design on modern stadium designs, namely that of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington D.C. I've got a picture of it (in small scale) at my website. Truthfully, I just googled for the word 'stadium' and this one matches my idea of a stadium the most.

(15) Literally step by step translation of the 'affect' of the technique. You create an ice circle with your opponent either standing inside or flying in mid air, within the width of the circle, and then you just freeze the entire column into ice, depending on how much water you have to use this technique. It's an instant trap for your opponent and there is no escape. This attack is copied from Bleach, whereby the character Kuchiki Rukia uses her sword "Sodeno Shiroyuki" to draw a circle and ice basically encases anything within that circle, and destroys it.

(16) Remember this technique? It's a Genjutsu that first appeared in Faith in Humanity, used by Sakura.

(17) Remember earlier in Restoration of Faith, how I hinted at some sort of disagreement between Kisame and the current Misukage – of whom I made as one of the original members of the 7 Swordsmen's of the Mist. Basically, we know that there are 7 of them, 1 of which is Zabuza; another is that weird dude in the Cannon anime series that had the twin swords and can create lightning. The third is Kisame, whom I made to have a good friendship with a made-up original character – "Shinji" (also one of the 7 swordsman and is Mishizu's late uncle). "Shinji" died, and the rest of the group became corrupted and disbursed due to differing ideologies. Another of the 7 becomes Mizukage, and his friend (another made up character "Kapasu Genjiro" – Juro's grandfather) stayed with him as a lapdog. Obviously, Kisame is hateful of both the Mizukage (former member of the 7) as well as "Genjiro", hence the drama. Hope I'm not confusing you all.

(18) I'm referring to those things that Rain Ninjas always have over the face and mouths. It's a device that enables them to breathe underwater. As Mist Shinobi, I'm assuming that Eiji and his teammates all have one of those, just in case they must battle within water.

(19) These are the same Ukiyo-e caricature pictures I've got uploaded onto my website. Go there and have a look yourself.

(20) Remember how I mentioned along time ago that using the Yochigan for prolonged periods of time will destroy your eyesight? Well, here's the proof.

(21) Just like how Gaara called forth that mountain of sand when he was battling Deidara in the Naruto Shippuden cannon episodes.

(22) Original jutsu. This technique is a (made-up) precursor to the "Gofuu kekai" Akatsuki used to protect their lair, when the 2 Konoha teams tried to save Gaara from having the Shukaku extracted out of him. The theory is the same pretty much. There are 5 points in which create the edges of the barrier. The field itself creates a copy of the person trapped in side, and as long as the barrier is up (depending on the continuos stream of chakra being fed into it by Samure) then the people trapped itself are forever forced to fight themselves until they die.

(23) Another original jutsu. It's basically Senai Jyashu with electrical currents travelling down its bodies.

(24) Juro's a bit naïve thinking that he could take on Kisame. But then again, he's not exactly stable or sane at the moment, hence why he thinks this way.

Merry Christmas everyone and have a happy new year!

I'm taking a break from writing after the first chapter of Trials, so expect some delays.

Last but not least, please read and review. Tell me what you think. I know this chapter was rushed but it was the best I could do. I really wanted it out before Christmas.

Thank you all for all your support. Now, the 2nd part of the Faith Series is officially finished. I hope you've enjoyed reading the story so far. See ya.