Boy, this took me quite a while to finish. Sorry bout that, but lately a lot of things came down on me (like the fact that my father had cancer) and I found it hard writing anything. But I did manage to sit down to it and write this chapter in basically two days, which prove to be a nice getaway from a rather grim reality.

As always I wanna thank everyone who reviewed the previous chapter. It means a lot. I do hope that you'll find this one worth waiting for. Also I'd like to encourage everyone to review this chapter. It'd really make my day.

I must say that I'm actually really happy with how this chapter turned out. It's slightly different then I've imagined it at first, but I'm still satisfied with how I made it in the end. There's just one thing in it that I'm not too found off, but maybe it's just me?

Now before I start the next chapter, just for fun, I wanna do one, last thing. As one of the reviewers few chapters back asked me about opening and endings to this story, if it was an anime, then according to my information one season of anime ends within 26 episodes. Since this is chapter 27, I guess it'd mean this would be the start of season 2 and a new opening and ending are needed. Thus:

Opening: I think ZoeGirl "Even if" would be pretty fitting. The intro would center on the participants of the Tiger Challenge (at least the more important ones) and would be filled with moments when the heroes surpass their limits to carry on (like when Chouji took the red pills during his fight with Jiroubou, Hinata standing up after receiving a hit in the heart from Neji or Naruto gathering strength when he fought Gaara).

Ending: "Who I am" by Smile Empty Soul, that'd circle around the Jinchuuriki and who lonely such shinobi are. The outro would present all of them alone right before the rain comes (for example Fukamaru sitting before a small pond, Fugato walking through a meadow, Naruto standing in the forest with the leaves falling all around) and after that each of the Jinchuuriki would be shown fighting. As the outro would come to an end, the demon vessels would stand in line with all the tailed-beasts (nine overall) behind them.

And now, without further to do, the only thing left is to start the chapter already:

Chapter #27: Girl Power!

Sakura stood before Ayame in the middle of the arena as the two awaited the beginning of their match. All the spectators calmly observed the kunoichi as Jiryoku threw quick glances at both participants. She slowly raised her hand up and announced loudly, making her voice reach the furthest corners of the arena: "Twentieth match: Hasaki Ayame from Kusa against Haruno Sakura from Konoha! Ready and… BEGIN!" and with that she dropped her hand, moving out of the way, however to her surprise none of the fighters moved.

"This sucks, doesn't it?" asked the grass-nin as he gave the pink-haired girl a sad look from her golden eyes. "Out of all the people gathered here, you were one of the few I'd prefer not to fight. But I don't suppose you'll give up just like that, will you, Sakura-san?" she asked politely, making the Leaf shinobi reply with a smirk: "Sorry, but I made a promise to someone that I won't back down…" and with that she threw a quick look at Ino, before settling her eyes at her opponent: "Seems that we'll have to fight…"

"Lets make this something those people will remember then" Ayame purposed and as Sakura nodded, the two went into their fighting stances. Immediately Naruto cheered for his teammate, yet Fukamaru merely narrowed his eyes as he stopped at the Grass girl's: "And now they're golden… even if I was mistaken and they weren't blue in the beginning, I'm positive they were red just a moment ago. Is that some sort of dojutsu? Just what is Ayame's ability?" he asked himself as his eyes traveled to Fugato, yet the Kusa shinobi ignored his stare, although he most certainly saw it.

Suddenly Sakura charged at her opponent with her fists ready. As the Grass girl came within her range, she threw a punch at her, yet Ayame managed to jump back in the last moment, making the pink-haired kunoichi's attack hit the ground, lifting several rocks up in the process: "A medic-nin!" the Kusa gennin noticed immediately as she reached for her katana.

As her feet touched the ground and she was coming to a sliding stop, she used her free hand to perform seals, making Sakura's eyes widen: "Single-handed? She's at that kid from Wave Country level!" and with that thought Ayame was done, letting out a wild cry: "Doton: Ishirou no Jutsu!" and in a flash stone whips shoot from the ground, aiming to wrap around the surprised pink-haired kunoichi.

Having no way to dodge in time, Sakura concentrated her chakra in her fist and smashed it against the ground beneath her feet again, making the surface crumble and the whips shatter just as sudden as they formed. As the blow connected however, the leaf-nin managed to spot Ayame charging at her with her katana ready with the corner of her eye. In a flash she bended back, making the sword's blade go right before her face, yet she was incapable of dodging the kick that hit her stomach, thus sending her a little back before she came to a sliding stop.

Seeing that the grass-nin didn't slow down and was coming at her again, Sakura slammed her fists to the ground, thus lifting up a wall of rocks, which blocked Ayame's way. Immediately the golden-eyed girl went through another set of hand seals and with the last symbol she placed her hand on the barricade, calling out loudly: "Doton: Ishi Gosunkugi Ohitsuji no Jutsu!"

In a fraction of a second stone spikes formed themselves on the other end of the wall and shoot right at Sakura, who had to jump back in order to locate herself outside their range. Seeing this, Keppan narrowed his eyes: "This is strange… that Grass girl's chakra… could I've been mistaken?" he asked himself as his eyes traveled to Fugato for a short moment, who was completely occupied with observing the match bellow.

Meanwhile Sakura bite her thumb and in a flash unwrapped a scroll, writing a single symbol on it with her blood. The moment she did so, her wound closed, while a Fuuma Shuriken appeared in the cloud of smoke that came from the scroll. The pink-haired kunoichi grabbed it and quickly tossed it straight at the stone wall, smashing her fist into the ground again.

A powerful shockwave from the punch went right at the wall, shattering it to pieces, thus making way for the shuriken, which came right at surprised Ayame who wasn't expecting such turn of events. Acting on instinct, the grass-nin quickly performed a new set of hand seals, slamming her hand to the ground with the last one and calling out: "Doton: Ishi Hashira no Jutsu!"

In an instant a tall, stone pillar rose from beneath her feet, lifting Ayame to the sky and making the incoming shuriken stuck in it. The grass-nin's breath became a bit quicker as she settled her light-blue eyes on her opponent. Tightening her grip on the hilt of her katana, she jumped down, once more performing hand seals.

"She jumped down from that height?" Ino's eyes almost went out of orbits. "Is she nuts?" but Temari didn't react. She just narrowed hers, as she observed the seals formed by Ayame closely: "This order of symbols… could it be…?"

"Fuuton: Teikiatsu no Jutsu!" the Grass girl called out and suddenly powerful gusts of wind began blowing beneath her feet, slowing down her fall and allowing her to land safely on the ground, propping herself on her left knee. Seeing this Dakatsu smirked, licking his lips: "Now, ain't that interesting?" he asked, turning towards Kanpuu, yet the girl merely send him a death glare annoyed.

Meanwhile Ayame raised her head, settling her violet eyes at Sakura, who suddenly felt shivers going down her spine. In a flash the grass-nin went through another set of hand seals, placing both her hands on the ground before a wild yell: "Raiton: Denryuu!"

Upon hearing this, Sakura acted immediately and flipping several times back, she bounced of the ground and landed safely on a nearby tree branch, making a small smirk appear on Sasuke's face: "That Grass girl just used her chakra to send electricity to the ground… since electric currents travel in the ground, she jumped onto a tree that's made from wood and doesn't conduct electricity to stay safe. Quite clever… Sakura, you have become an interesting kunoichi…" and as he thought that, a worried expression crossed Baita's face as she gazed at him, yet she remained silent.

Analyzing the turn of events quickly, Ayame jumped back and as she landed on the surface of the arena pond, she placed her katana back on her back and performed another chain of hand seals, making the water around her slowly arise and freeze into ice spikes. As the chain was complete, the blue-eyed kunoichi made the icicles go right at Sakura as she called out: "Hyouton: Tsurara Tooriame!"

"Doton, Fuuton, Raiton and now even Hyouton" Hyouden thought to himself as his eyes narrowed slightly. "There's no way a normal human can have talent for so many ninjutsu styles… this Grass girl… who the hell is she?"

As the icicles came closer, Sakura jumped forward and landing on top of the first, she leaned forward, making the second fly right above her. In a flash she jumped up, somersaulting in the process, thus avoiding several more ice spikes and the instant she landed on the next, she jumped forward again and used the one she landed on this time to charge forward while placing her upper body parallel to it and thus making the other bullets fly above her.

Surprised to see her opponent ran straight through her icicle shower, Ayame only managed to jump back in order to avoid Sakura's heel that came at her head. As the leaf-nin's leg smashed the pond, tons of water flew up, covering the Grass kunoichi's view. She merely manage to widen her now hazel eyes as the pink-haired charged straight through the water wall before her and punched her hard in the stomach, thus sending her flying many meters back and crushing hard against the wall.

As she slowly struggled back to her feet, she saw Sakura charging at her again and acting on instinct, she once more began forming hand seals, making Sasuke widen his eyes in surprise: "This can't be!" he thought as Ayame too a deep breath and then let out air, forcing a powerful fireball at the incoming leaf-nin, with a wild call: "Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu!"

Immediately Sakura jumped back, just barely avoiding certain death, while Ayame began analyzing the situation, breathing heavily: "That punch just now… it should've broken most of my ribs and yet they seem mostly unharmed… that can only mean my eyes turned hazel at the moment her attack connected and since I performed Katon, they went to red again. The paste they change is bigger then it should be. As is, my heart won't manage to keep up and will explode in few minutes at most. I need to finish this fast… otherwise I'll die!"

"Okay, that's it!" announced Naruto as he turned to the two grass-nins. "What the hell's going on? Ero-sennin told me about chakra manipulation and it's impossible for anyone to have talent for so many elements! Earth, wind, thunder, ice, even fire! How can she performed so many, different techniques? Is she some sort of your cousin, Fugato?" he asked, turning to the Nekomata vessel.

"Well… not exactly" the Jinchuuriki replied, carefully picking his words. "You see, there's a reason why I was teamed-up with Kosha and Ayame. While Kosha's genjutsu is capable of calming down Nekomata when it tries to take over, Ayame's function is much more crucial to keep that damn cat in check…"

"What do you mean by that?" asked Chouji curiously as he joined the conversation. Fugato let out a sigh, before he continued: "Remember back when Fukamaru told us his story? I said that dependable on the village, sealing method differ… Fukamaru has his bandages, Naruto probably carries a seal on his body and Gaara, considering that beast takes over when he sleeps, was probably possessed. My case is not as simple as those. Nekomata is a master of death. It's role was to guide souls of the dead to the other side, so every time someone dies nearby, the beast tried to get lose… with each try it gotten stronger and the strain placed on my body grew… our village leader realized that it was only a matter of time when the beast does break free and cause chaos again…"

"So they had to strengthen the seal" concluded Neji calmly. "That's the only, logical thing to do, though I still do not see what does this Ayame girl has anything to do with that" but as he said so, Fugato only lowered his head and staring at the floor, he replied: "Actually, she has everything to do with that… in order to keep Nekomata sealed inside me… Ayame became the seal binding it…"

"What?" Kiba yelled, totally surprised as his eyes settled on the Grass Jinchuuriki. "But how is that even possible? She's a human being, right? How can she become a seal?" but this time it was Kosha who answered the question: "Nekomata grew in strength with every soul it consumed. The only way to stop that process was to stop souls getting gathered by it. However since sealing in Fugato's body, Nekomata only effected the souls it came across, so the thing to stop them coming had to be near Fugato all the time. That is why Ayame got assigned to our team…"

"But… why?" Tenten kept pushing as a single drop of sweat began going down her face. The one to answer her, was Fugato, yet he did so with the saddest voice the weapon mistress have ever heard: "Her body got covered with special seals, prepared by the greatest experts from Kusa, including my own father. To put it simple, those seals somehow manage to attract souls, thanks to which the dead souls get trapped inside Ayame's body instead getting consumed by the Nekomata… however the process has a great side effect…"

"Great side-effect?" Gaara repeated, lifting up his eyebrow, forcing the grass-nin to continued: "They say it gives her an advantage in a fight, but it is truly a double-bladed sword. By trapping the soul inside her body, Ayame can use techniques known to the soul's original owner… unlimited power… However there's a price: switching between so many souls puts a great strain on the body… each chakra flow of those souls is different and thus it's hard for the organism to fit in. To put it as simple as I can: in order to keep the body moving after every switch, the heart must work on a greater paste then usual… which eventually leads to reaching the speed it cannot keep up with… and explodes…"

"Meaning… by switching she can die?" Hinata asked horrified as her eyes settled on Fugato, who merely gave her a weak nod. Meanwhile Shikamaru turned towards Ayame with a single drop of sweat falling down his face: "But still, with an ability like that… fighting her is like standing against an entire legion of shinobi! This is beyond troublesome!"

"So when her eyes change color… it means a new soul came to the surface?" Lee concluded and receiving a 'yes' from Kosha, his worries grew even bigger: "So far her eyes switched seven or eight times… if her heart speeds up with every change… two more would be her limit!"

"Two more?" Fukamaru repeated in his head while his eyes widen. He then turned his head to Ayame, who was now holding her chest in the place her heart should be, while she found it hard to breath. A sudden pain appeared in the former mist-nins heart as his grip on the rail tightened, right before her yelled from the bottom of his lungs: "What the hell is wrong with you, woman? Give up or you'll die!"

At this point both Sakura and Ayame glanced up at him. The grass-nin stared for a while and barely managing a weak smile, she replied with her usual, cheerful voice: "Sorry, Fuka-chan… but that's out of the question" and with that she turned towards her opponent again: "Forgive me if this will sound bad, Sakura-san, but I'm afraid I'm running out of time. We must make this short…"

"Okay" was the pink-haired kunoichi reply. "If that is what you want, I'll knock you out quickly" and with that she gave away a foxy grin. The grass-nin returned the smirk as her eyes became black. Immediately she went through a set of hand seals while Sakura ran at her again, reading her fists.

"Shiri no Makai!" Ayame called out, making her hair suddenly turn black and grew in length at an incredible speed. As her strands began separating, the hair shoot at Sakura, forming into black spikes. The pink-haired kunoichi acted instantly and came to as stop as the incoming spikes hid her opponent from her eyes and came at her.

Sakura jumped back, thus making few of the strands hit the ground and kept on dodging tens of other spikes. Through a series of maneuvers she managed to get through the hair rain and came at Ayame, delivering her fist into the girl's stomach and announced with a lowered head: "Sorry, but genjutsu won't work against me…" yet in a flash her eyes widen in surprise as the grass-nin she hit suddenly began to deform.

"Kage Bushin?" she thought instantly. "No, this is different…" and at this point shadows shoot from the grass-nin's body and crawling quickly up the Leaf's gennin hand, they wrapped themselves around her, immobilizing her. The pink-haired girl instantly looked up to see Ayame walking towards her as she emerged from the shadows of a nearby tree.

"From the chakra flow in my body I'm assuming my eyes are black at this point" she began calmly as Sakura tried to break free, yet to no vial. "The owner of this soul was an expert when it comes to shadows… perhaps he was even related to your lazy friend, I don't know… although I wish I did, I lost trace of memories of most souls that got imprisoned in my body… however you won't manage to escape my.. his… Shadow Prison. As long as you're in it, I could finish you off and I believe that settles this match" and with that she gazed at Jiryoku.

The examiner analyzed the situation quickly and seeing that Sakura really couldn't break through the shadows, she announced: "Winner: Hasaki Ayame from Kusa!" and the instant she did so, shadows entrapping Sakura vanished, while the grass-nin collapsed to the ground, her heart pounding like crazy.

Instantly Fugato and Kosha appeared near her with the Nekomata vessel catching his teammate before she hit the ground. Immediately the blind boy went through a series of hand seals and biting his thumb, he wrote a single symbol on Ayame's forehead, making most of her body chakra cumulate in that spot.

Fugato let out a sigh of relief as he felt Ayame's heart slowing down and her breath becoming normal. In the next instant Naruto, Fukamaru and Lee appeared along side them. The whisker-marks and the taijutsu specialist immediately ran towards their fellow villager, yet the former mist-nin stood as he was, staring at the Grass kunoichi. Still shocked, he only managed to let out a simple question: "Will she be okay?"

"Kosha sealed her souls away" the Kusa Jinchuuriki replied with a little worried voice. "She'll be drained for a while, but she should be fine. That is until the seal binding Nekomata won't get activated again… or until the soul binding the souls inside her won't weaken… either way, all we can do is bring her back to normal at least for this short while before this thing happens again… this is what people get by becoming friends with me… they get cursed…" and with that he clenched his teeth as sudden anger built up in him. Surprisingly however, Fukamaru's voice suddenly came to his ears, drawing his attention to the blonde.

"I may not know you guys too well, nor do I know how was that seal even put on Ayame-chan, but I do know one thing" he began as his eyes were settled on the girl. "If there's something I've learned from Naruto, it's the fact that each of us chooses his own fate… this curse as you call it may have been put on her against her own will, but this is not your fault that she was the one chosen to bare it. It's not like you took the Nekomata to be your roommate out of your own, free will and it's not like you forced Ayame to strengthen the seal binding the demon. She knows that and she doesn't blame you for her fate… coz if she did, she'd hate you. There's no point for you to whine about it. If you really want to make it up to Ayame-chan, the best you can do is stop blaming yourself and get strong enough to take control over that damned cat, so that the extra seal on Ayame won't be needed anymore…"

Fugato stared at the swordsman for moment with his mouth slightly opened. He then managed a smile and picking Ayame up, ready to carry her back to the platform, he announced: "Looks like I don't have much choice. You know, Fukamaru, in the end you're a good guy. I guess that now I understand her…" and at this point the former mist-nin gave him a confused look, but the Kusa gennin didn't said another word.

"Sakura-chan, are you okay?" Naruto asked as he placed his hand on the kneeling girl's shoulder. The pink-haired kunoichi didn't reply at first. She didn't even gave the blonde a look as she just gathered some earth with her hands and as tears began gathering in her eyes, she replied: "All this training… and I still lost… during this year… have I really changed at least one bit?" and with that sorrow slowly took over her while her body began shaking.

"You think you haven't?" Naruto shoot back, making turn her now watery eyes at him. The whisker-marks had his arms crossed as his sight was set on his teammate. With a slightly angry tone, he continued almost as if he was lecturing a young kid: "All my training… blah, blah, blah! You think life is just that simple? Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you can't accomplish something! You did your best. No-one can expect more from you. You became stronger, Sakura-chan… Ayame was just better. That year you spend training will only go to waste if you'll get upset with this defeat and stop moving forward. In stead of crying, why not keep getting stronger?"

Lee looked at his friend surprised. That was the first time he ever experienced him raising his voice at the pink-haired kunoichi, even less treat her almost cold. He gazed at the girl worried, and only then did he saw Sakura lowering her head for a moment to wipe her eyes and getting back to her feet, she challenged the whisker-marks, saying: "Okay, smart guy… we'll see just how strong you became once your turn will come. Where I failed, you better succeed, coz it'd be shameful if only our team from the Leaf wouldn't make it into the second round…"

"Don't worry" Naruto replied, returning the smile that a moment earlier appeared on the kunoichi's face. The medic-nin's smile however instantly turned into a devilish grin, as she responded: "You're right, I don't have to worry… we still have Fukamaru…"

"That was mean!" whined the Kyuubi vessel. Lee only smirked. Just like that, both of them were back to normal, along with the relationship between them. Meanwhile, up in the honorary lounge, Tsunade gave a smile as well: "Although it's only been a short year, she became this strong… who knows, in the future that brat might even surpass me… after all I too didn't make through the first round…" and as the memory flashed in her mind, the trio of leaf-nins began heading back to the platform. Fukamaru, who stayed behind when the Grass team exited the arena, soon joined them and all four soon disappeared in the stairways.

Once they returned to the top, the got greeted by Ayame, who was still weak, yet managed to stay on her feet. Seeing the pink-haired girl, she gave out a warm smile and held out her hand, saying: "I must admit that you're one hell of a fighter, Sakura-san. I can't remember last time I had this much trouble with taking anyone down. I do hope that we'll get to fight again."

The leaf-nin just gazed at her and then slapped her palm with a smirk: "Don't get too cocky, coz next time you're going down" she replied, now also smiling warmly to her former opponent. "And don't even think about losing in the next round, coz I'd be ashamed to lose to someone who can't even make it to the finals…" and at this point Ayame only nodded.

The crowd kept on cheering, excited by the fight that just occurred, making the female examiner slightly annoyed: "Lets move on to the next match!" Jiryoku announced loud the instant the yells settled down a bit and in a flash the screen choose the next pair, making Naruto's eyes widen: "It's her!" Seeing his expression, Shino traveled with his sight at the screen as well and then narrowed his slightly as he recalled an event from few days ago: SAIKOU versus KANPUU.

"My turn" stated Kanpuu as she suddenly jumped into the air and started spinning, creating a small tornado, that soon hit the ground in the arena with the Sand kunoichi in its center. Gokiburi only sweat dropped at the sight, yet his expression didn't change: "Show off" he thought annoyed.

Saikou only smirked as electricity run through her body, while she turned around and slowly walked towards the stairs leading down. Shunrai glance after her with sweat on his face as well, only in his case it was caused by fear: "That expression… she's not really going to…" he thought, but was too afraid to finish, even in his mind.

"Now we shall see how things are progressing" Shingai, the Raikage, thought to himself as he connected his hands before his mouth. Chiyo merely narrowed her eyes at this, while most of the other village leaders didn't seem all that interested in the upcoming fight.

Jiryoku waited patiently at the center of the arena, yet from her twitching eye Kanpuu could tell she was boiling inside. Suddenly Saikou stopped halfway through and snapped her head up, thus revealing a wicked smile. In a flash she lunged forward with a wild roar and her nails growing longer. Her teeth turned to fangs as both the examiner and the sand-nins jumped out of the way once she hit the ground they stood just a moment ago, lifting up tons of dust.

"Hey, I didn't gave the starting signal yet!" Jiryoku yelled, seriously pissed, but as the dust clearer, she shut her mouth as a sudden sensation hit her. Seeing Saikou breath heavily, her eyes drilling at Kanpuu, she have no doubt about it: the Cloud kunoichi was completely taken over by one, single emotion… killer intent.

---the lust for blood… what will happen next?---

And this concludes this chapter. Hope you enjoyed it and that you'll review once you're done reading. Now, before I go, I gotta admit that I got a little lazy (along with the fact that I have a lot of things on my head lately), so this time around, I'll just stick to the jutsu translation. If I won't forget, I promise to give you descriptions next time around:

Doton: Ishirou no Jutsu (Earth Element: Stone Prison Skill)

Doton: Ishi Gosunkugi Ohitsuji no Jutsu (Earth Element: Stone Spike Ram Skill)

Doton: Ishi Hashira no Jutsu (Earth Element: Stone Pillar Skill)

Fuuton: Teikiatsu no Jutsu (Wind Element: Cyclone Skill)

Raiton: Denryuu (Thunder Element: Electric Current)

Hyouton: Tsurara Tooriame (Ice Element: Icicle Shower)

Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu (Fire Element: Grand Fireball Skill)

Shiri no Makai (Bottom of Hell)

And now, to wrap everything up, here's the updated list of the gennin 'still in the game':

Konoha #1: Haruno Sakura, Nadare Fukamaru, Uzumaki Naruto

Konoha #2: Hyuuga Hinata, Aburame Shino, Inuzuka Kiba

Konoha #3: Yamanaka Ino, Akimichi Chouji, Nara Shikamaru

Konoha #4: Tenten, Hyuuga Neji, Rock Lee

Suna #1: Temari, Sabaku no Gaara

Suna #2: Kanpuu (in progress), Gokiburi, Dakatsu

Kiri: Nadare Renge, Arashi Shinkou, Oomizu Hisen

Kumo: Saikou (in progress), Ikebano Shunrai, Ono Ryuu

Iwa: Jishi Borudo, Shita Tsume

Kusa: Hasaki Ayame, Juutai Fugato, Tokage Kosha

Ame: Kaihaku Kosame

Bakufu: Daburu

Oto: Akado Baita, Uchiha Sasuke

Tsuki: Shishiki Izuna, Usume Kim

Yuki: Hyouden

Kaimei: Keppan

And that's really that for this time. Hope you had as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Please review once you're done. Best wishes and until next time, hopefully.