Disclaimer: Don't own it.

"In the history of all the land, there were none as mystical as those blessed by the elements. We call them Adepts: mortals who had been granted a startling proficiency to convert chakra into their blessed element. Adepts, however, were rare, accounting for no more than twenty percent of the shinobi population. Their occurrence within a clan that already had a heritable trait was very rarely seen.

The more famous adepts to grace history were the co-leaders of the Hidden Village of Leaves. The Shodaime was gifted with the unique power over Nature, able to bring entire forests into existence with his will alone. The Nidaime was arguably the best user of Suiton techniques, famed for singlehandedly defeating the DaiMizukage

While stated before that inheritance of such an attribute was unheard of, the Uchiha Clan could be considered an exception to that rule, as entire clan had an affinity for fire almost as potent to that of any single Fire Adept. Of course, with the cataclysmic event known only as the Uchiha Massacre, the Uchiha, as a Noble Clan of the Land of Fire, were finished, dying in the annals of history as a caution towards human greed and arrogance.

However, over time there have been many claims by various people that suggest that the elemental affinity of an Adept could be harnessed through the use of various Kami…"

– Unknown scroll, Konoha Library

( I I I )

The Savant

By legacyZero

( I I I )

She awoke to one thing. But it wasn't as much an awakening as it was a quasi-translucent dream of nightmarish reality. Genjutsu had nothing on it. But then again, Genjutsu almost hurt equally as much when her mind was 'unlocked' and at its full potential. Almost.


Burning pain.

Oh gods above, it hurt so much. Through the pain, she heard the discordant mess of voices chattering incessantly all about her.

"The seal pattern is particular, but the flow is like nothing I ever seen before…"

"…use the Five-Lily Tiger seal to counteract the effects…"

"Heart-beat is getting erratic, we're losing her!"

Another flare of pain erupted in her chest and she shuddered, a soundless scream escaping her mouth, her throat already raw. And then: nothing.

( I I I )

After a short break, the teams assembled once more before the podium, where they were briefed on what the preliminaries would entail.

The whole affair was quite simple. The teams were randomly chosen to fight via a screen panel placed above the podium. Each team could participate in a team battle against another team or they could as a whole withdraw, taking into account the harrowing experience within the Forest of Death. Should a team win with one or more of their members unconscious, the members incapacitated were immediately disqualified.

Hinata and her team withdrew gracefully, helping their injured team mate walk towards one of the many corridors within the tower, presumably towards the medical area. Their Jounin-sensei, one Yuuhi Kurenai, looked somewhat disappointed but was glad for her team's safety. There was always another Chuunin Exam around the corner. Surprisingly enough, Aburame Shino, heir apparent to his clan, declined to put forward his nomination when he was given the opportunity. Their role in the exam was over.

Team Seven, sans one Haruno Sakura, did not withdraw, staying on despite their handicap.

Team Ten also did not withdraw themselves.

Team Nine, despite the expectatto most observers, did not either.

Yakushi Kabuto, the overly friendly genin from leaf, withdrew himself, leaving his two stoic teammates to compete. The two did not express anything other than apathy as the silver-haired boy left. By now, one could withdraw from the exam without disqualifying their own team.

The remaining teams from the other villages (Sound, Sand and the Mist) did not withdraw, for it was custom in these villages to declare to their Genin teams that the disgrace of withdrawal from the exam was unacceptable upon pain of death.

Subaku no Gaara, stoic as ever, spoke up. "I would like to acquit myself from my team to compete independently. Trial by combat, in your words."

The Examiner, a sickly man by the name of Gekkou Hayate, blinked owlishly.

Of course, there was another aspect to the whole thing.

Teams, at that point, were made redundant for success. Even if two members of the three-man cell wished to withdraw, the remaining one could nominate himself for the preliminaries. In these special cases, the individual could face another in one-on-one combat, or they could specifically request that they take on another team alone, outnumbered three to one.

It went without saying, that it was virtual suicide to do that.

Of course, it only applied to normal circumstances.

Gaarawas by no means normal.

"Subaku no Gaara, I presume?" The examiner rasped, before coughing harshly. Many among the Genin looked at the Examiner in disbelief, the concept of a sickly shinobi too farfetched for them to believe.

"Yes," the boy hissed out. His expression was placid but the word he uttered was absolutely venomous.

The man paused, before speaking, "Very well, wait for your turn then. The rest will go first." He turned to the rest of the semi-cluttered groups of Genin that were on the stadium floor. "Everyone, please proceed to the second floor. The preliminaries will start shortly."

( I I I )

Perched on the second floor, an gathering was taking place. Small though this gathering was, but the participants were very much lively to be warranted to the status of 'large gathering', their exploits are repute well known in a village accustomed to secrets. Of course, like all gatherings, its members and their dispositions were varied, though they all shared one commonality: Konoha.

Kakashi noticed that the other Jounin-sensei of the remaining teams were huddled with their own students. Not that he blamed them or wanted their company. After all, one does not suffer to consort with the enemy.

And of course, he was not paying any attention to his surroundings, his mind focused on the teams that managed to advance to this stage of the exam. Normally, there would not be a preliminary (given the demanding nature of the second exam) but this year's batch, from all villages, proved to be a little more tenacious than their predecessors.

His attention and sight found itself directed to his very own team. Naruto and Sasuke seemed unscathed for all intents and purposes, but Sasuke moved with a noticeable limp, and his arm had a tendency to clutch his side. Kakashi noted it down as an internal injury, but declined to take any action. For the time being, Naruto would serve as the resident

medic. The Uchiha, suffice to say, had pride issues, though he had no qualms about getting help if he saw that it was indeed out of his league. As he thought this, he watched as the raven-haired boy talked to his teammate, who nodded at intervals.

He proceeded to eye the remaining teams, immediately writing off the rest of the Konoha ones. He had a gut feeling that his team would not be pitted against fellow shinobi, along with the rest of the teams from Konoha. Instead, he focused on the trio from Sand, an odd bunch if he had anything to say.

The girl with the large fan strapped to her back looked like she could, in theory, put half the female Genin kunoichi population to shame in terms of combat skills, though he knew that while there were some who did take to being a shinobi seriously, there were just as many, if not more, that, well, were not up to the cut. Sakura had been within those but, thankfully, she had begun to show her potential.

The other member of the trio was a boy who, oddly enough, wore face paint and complete black. Briefly, Kakashi wondered if the heat had not gotten to his brain. Wearing complete black in a desert environment seemed to qualify for insanity. The second odd thing he found about the boy was that he carried a large bandaged lump on his back, much like the kunoichi who carried her fan.

The last and third of the group was a strange individual whose name he had just found out via proxy of being in the vocal range when Hayate, poor sick Hayate, rasped it out. Sabaku no Gaara was the shortest amongst the three, and a bit frail-looking too, in his opinion. But the presence he carried around him was better fitted for a blood-lusting missing-nin than that of a Genin. Like the rest of his team, he too carried something on his back, though it was not something so obviously combat-related. It was a large gourd which was almost as big as him. And he carried it as if it was no burden.

The most interesting part however was that he actually opted for trial by combat. It was an old custom for an aspiring shinobi in Konoha, as the method for recognition among the worthy of the title. Of course, for this preliminary, it had been modified to suit the…'non-lethal' nature of the Chuunin Exams.

Moving his thoughts along, his eye landed upon the team from Sound. He saw little on their persons that would suggest anything odd about the three of them, for a group of Genin.

The team from Mist, however, wore identical gear, with the standard breathing mask and dull grey ensemble. What he noticed strange among the three was the that all of them had a sort of smooth curve-like contraption covering most of their upper arms. It had a single dull gem at the centre with a rectangular hole at the hand-facing end.

And that was what worried Kakashi.

The shinobi in Mist were notorious for their use of limb-mounted weaponry, ranging from highly prized chakra infused contraptions to simple and efficient motorized tools, like that of the Demon Brothers of the Mist. It was common sight to see on Mist-nins, but what was not common was the fact that the Genin in question possessed these tools; their rarity and difficulty of construction usually made them rather difficult to obtain save from direct inheritance, official issue or just plain procuring it via other means.

From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a certain bowl-cut moving towards him. Thoughts of Mist-nins and their technology were pushed back to the depths of his mind, awaiting the opportunity to spring up once more.

"Kakashi!" the green-clad man bellowed, not noticing the sudden weariness in the other man's posture. "Congratulations to your team on getting to the preliminaries!"

"Considering that only one of them is out of commission…I suppose so," the one-eyed Jounin said in response. "Your team didn't do badly either."

Gai just laughed. "Of course, my eternal rival!" He started to smile, teeth gleaming white. "That was precisely the reason why I waited a year! My condolences to that girl of yours."

Kakashi just shrugged. Sakura was getting treatment from the med-nins, her condition not looking too good, but he pushed that thought back. He noticed that Naruto palmed something, a vial of sorts, to the Uchiha. "We got hunt teams scouring the forest now," He then dropped his voice to a whisper, "We have reason to believe that Orochimaru is around here."

Asuma, who had been silent the whole time, spoke up. "You got to be joking. Why is the Hokage allowing this portion of the exam to continue then?"

Kakashi shrugged again. "No idea." He eyed the overall surroundings, notingthe teams that were present. Remembering his bet with the red-eyed Jounin, he realized that Team 8 was not there. The implication of this was not lost on him. Feeling a small amount of glee, he filed that information away for future use.

Asuma, he noted, was wearing a pensive look. "This year seems different...they didn't use the traditional elimination methods," he noted. "And what's more, there are actually excess candidates for the third portion. That hasn't happened in a very long time."

Kakashi looked towards the screen, the characters on the electronic board moving erratically.

"Maybe that's the reason why." Gai spoke up. "It is, after all, not common for us to hold a preliminary. Maybe the Hokage wants to look once more at the potential here."

'Maybe…though I think that the suspicion that Orochimaru is here is reason enough,' the silver-haired Jounin thought to himself.

The screen flashed its last.

Team 7 vs. Team Kiri.

( I I I )

Sasuke repressed a look of annoyance. They were up first. As much as the thought abhorred him, he needed time for the effects of the medicine he got from Naruto to subside. The fight against the Sound-nins had left him battered internally. Not that anyone could see it…

…Except for that Hyuuga, who just smirked when his teammate, a girl named Tenten, asked Sasuke if he needed medical attention. Obviously, he had refused, opting to get treatment from his quasi-medic teammate. Weakness was something Sasuke did not like to show to others, and he'd rather show it to someone who had already seen him at his weakest.

Looking on the bright side, at the very least, he did not have to wait long for his turn. He turned towards Naruto. "Anything I need to know?"

The stoic blonde knew what he was referring to: the side-effects of the liquid he had just imbibed. Naruto still looked onwards, towards the screen.

"No usage of jutsu. No sharingan."

The Uchiha stared at him. "What!" It was more of a statement than a question.

Naruto had his back to the boy, despite sensing anger from the Uchiha. "Any use of chakra now will just cause your jutsu todie out and, at best, leave you unconscious."

"And what is the worst case?" He growled, picking up on the implication.

Naruto contemplated the question before replying. "At worst…" He paused, "You will die."

The look in Sasuke's expression was absolute murder. "So you're telling me that you gave me something which, considering the current circumstances, will cause me to have a higher chance of dying anyway?" The blonde nodded. "Thank you," he spat.

"You're welcome," Naruto replied impassively. "Your chakra system would have burned out at the slightest provocation in time, along with the nerves that carried it without my medicine."

The Uchiha's anger deflated a bit at the comment, but the situation was comparable to a rock and a hard place.


His anger rekindled, Sasuke glared at the other boy. "What?"

"It would be wise of me to inform you that I have not recovered fully from the encounter before."

The Uchiha frowned, surprised at the unexpected statement. Steeling and calming himself down, Sasuke said, "Then we'll just have to make do."

"That we will," the blonde answered as he hopped over the railing.

( I I I )

It did not take long for the combatants of the first match to gather below, where everyone on the second floor could see. It also did not take long for the two Genin of Team Seven to notice the cool apathetic eyes of their opponents. Naruto did not care much, but the Uchiha was clenching his fist in anticipation.

"First match," the examiner coughed out, "begin."

The first thing that caught Sasuke's notice was that all three rather similar Mist-nins lifted their arms upward, pointing their right arms where their rather distinctive contraptions were mounted on.

Confusion marred Sasuke's face. Evidently, he had not expected that at all."What the—" He did not get to finish his exclamation before a stream of water jetted violently from each of the three contraptions on the Mist-nins, and continued to do so repeatedly. The once dull gems in their centers were now blazing azure. Barely dodging, Sasuke restrained a curse; each stream left a small crater on the granite floor. It was not an exaggerationto say that one hit was enough to put either one of them out of commission.

Moving mechanically, the Mist-nins kept pace with their targets, taking pot shots at the Leaf Genin.

Naruto frowned. The blonde had hoped for the Uchiha to at least close the gap of ability by bludgeoning the opposition with close quarters combat supported by him with jutsu from afar. Clearly, it was not working. The range that their arm-device had given them was proving to be decisive. Numerically, they were at a disadvantage, along with the presence of external factors such as the projectile weaponry that they possessed.

And of course, the most glaring factor of all was the lack of coordinated teamwork.

Teamwork was something that he and the Uchiha used sparingly, though it usually depended on Sasuke's initiative to use it as a last resort. But Kakashi had evidently drilled it into their heads that teamwork was often the only tool in which two shinobi could defeat a stronger foe even though the Uchiha was loath to admit it.

The gears in his mind quickly turned and a plan began to formulate. The deep soundless roar within his mind was quickly, but not completely, shoved back until it was only a whisper of promised destruction and power.

( I I I )

Uchiha Sasuke was not a happy person at that moment. In fact, he was angry, and his ire encompassed many things at the moment: anger at the blasted Mist-nins who were toying with him; anger at Uzumaki Naruto for giving him the stupid medicine which had gotten them into this situation in the first place.

And anger at himself for being weak enough to be injured.

"What's wrong, Uchiha?" one of the Mist Genin sneered, voice garbled by the breathing mask's filter. "Is that all you can do? Dodge like a roach?"

His legs were sore from dodging the water-based projectiles that left craters on the floor, but Sasuke was nothing if not persistent. If it had been any other opponent, Sasuke would have already rushed him, and engaged in close-combat, one of his finer areas (if he had anything to say about it).

But his opponent was, in effect, a team.

Sasuke noticed that there was a delay between every shot from the thing on their arms and he sought to exploit that. However, even as he rushed one member of the group, the others would cover their teammate and soon enough, the one he was attacking was again at a fair distance away from him, his device ready to spew forth a stream of highly pressurized water at him.

Gritting his teeth, his eyes found themselves upon the blonde who had gotten Sasuke into this in the first place. He'd rather stand fighting at the risk of dying than take no chances at all.

"Katon: Goukakyuu no jutsu!"

He felt the heat of the fireball as it passed him, originating from the blonde who was positioned behind him. It was the first attempt of a counterattack that the boy did since the start of the match.

The Mist-nins, not at all fazed by the sudden emergence of the swift ball of flame, merely went through their hand-seals quickly, bringing up their arms as they finished. Three torrents of water burst forth from their devices, encapsulating them in a wall of water (before fiery doom burned them to cinders.

There was a great splash and sizzle as the fireball impacted against the liquid wall. The bright red fire of the technique was watered down to mere embers, superheated vapor rising. The wall of water remained for a second before it collapsed in a great wash, partially flooding the cratered 'arena' floor which was already wet from the previous soaking. Sasuke winced when some of the backsplash landed on him. It was scalding.

"Now," –he did not know which one of the three had spoke. Their hands were moving in sync. Not good— "you die."

'Things,' he thought sarcastically, 'just got better.'

( I I I )

When he saw the Mist-nins, Narutofelt strangely attracted to the grey device on their arms. It was his power that was coursing through it.

Before, he could ignore the tingling voice in his head.

Now, it was virtually impossible.

The water sang to Naruto, filling him with a feeling that was virtually alien to him. Yet at the same time it was intoxicating, though he did not know the reason why. But he did not need a reason. Before, he had not felt any such compulsion to the element. He was somehow connected to it in a way he had never thought was possible.

Something that he would have described as 'anger' surged through his body, energizing him.

"You," one of the Mist-nins pointed to Sasuke, "die." Naruto frowned, watching as they began making seals.

The water began move in a way that he recognized as naturally as if it was the simple act of breathing. Chakra was being gathered, weaving and latching onto the water as if it was a tool, calling out to the spirits beyond to take shape within the vessel that was water. A column of water began to build up, and Sasuke began to look anxious, but Naruto did not even notice his teammate's distress, choosing to focus on what only he could see.

And then Naruto did the most obvious thing to do.

He answered in turn, hands moving swiftly.

"Suiton: Suiryuudan no jutsu," he whispered, hand seals finishing.

Every puddle of water, unnoticedby everyone, began to bubble.

( I I I )

He could not use chakra.

But that was all right.

He was equally proficient in the art of beating down his opponents.

Naruto, for all his faults, was really good at distracting people. The Mist-nins were now gaping at him, their attention fully focused on Naruto. Naruto'sSuiryuudan was smaller than the one they had made, and he could almost feel the smugness from their forms when they got over their shock that a Leaf-nin could use a fairly advanced Suiton technique.

Of course, said smugness was completely gone when the "Neophyte" casually dispatched their jutsu without any problem. Naruto was not pulling any punches, sending his creation to separate the three Genin, who now barely glanced at him.

Normally, he would be offended that he was given so little attention. But common sense won out, despite that. Being unable to use your greatest weapon tends to do that to you. Still, on one hand, not being an object of attention had its perks, allowing him to strike when the time was ripe. It was this window of opportunity that he was waiting for, and he had no inclinationto waste it now.

With that, Uchiha Sasuke found his target who was oblivious to his approach.

( I I I )





Naruto breathed and exhaled. At the moment, despite the chaos around him, he did not move from his spot, content to allow his opponents to see him. Some might consider him arrogant for not abiding by the most basic rule of being a shinobi, Be Unseen, but there was also something else that made him ignore so fundamental a rule.

He was untouchable.

The water apparition, tall and looming above him, was at his beck and call. It was like a snake, poised to react to any threat that came close to him. All the Suiton-based techniques they threw at him now merely added fuel to the construct, the very element base being assimilated into it. Feelings, the kinds unknown to his being, coursed through his body, leaving him energized as more jutsu were thrown into his summon.

He waved a hand and the earth shuddered once more.

( I I I )

"Wow," Asuma whistled, watching Naruto with something akin to amazement, "didn't know that Uzumaki was a Mizu-adept."

"Well," Kakashi murmured dryly, watching along with the rest of the shinobi on the second floor as the smaller of two jutsu apparitions decimated the larger one, the Mist-nin's splitting in twain, as the water dragon lunged in a downward stroke, "neither did I," he lied.

"Heh," Gai beamed, teeth shown in a somewhat savage grin. "You should pay attention to your students more, my rival. Your other student seems to be quite good in the Art."

"Not usually," Kakashi said, watching as Sasuke sent his opponent flying. "I suppose that ties up this part of the exam for my team."

It wasn't long before the examiner declared the winner.

"Winner: Team Seven."

( I I I )

Yamanaka Ino was left slightly impressed by the amountof sheer control displayed by the blonde teammate of the hottest bachelor in Konoha. Of course, Sasuke was cooler than he was.

Ino, being the inquisitive girl that she was, wasted no time in bouncing up to the two weary members of Team Seven the second they ascended back to the second floor. She was torn between the two acts of inquiring about the fate of her rival in love, Haruno Sakura, or

congratulating Sasuke for his victory and then proceeding to proposition the Uchiha for a date.

"Ano…Where's Fore-head girl?" Concern for her rival and once friend won out over her hormones.

She could always proposition Sasuke later.

The blonde whom she recognized as Uzumaki Naruto blinked. "…Fore-head girl?" he inquired curiously. Ino didn't know whether to be shocked at the boy's ignorance.

"Sakura," Ino huffed, somewhat impatiently. "I'm looking for her."

"Oh, she's with the medic-nins now, Yamanaka-san."

Ino shot him an odd look. No one had called her by her family name before, and it was weird to say the least.

"Call me Ino," she said, "Yamanaka-san makes me sound old." And it was true, it did make her feel old. 'Yamanaka-san' was usually used to address her parents and she had no interest in being associated to them by age. It just wasn't her style.

She turned to the Uchiha, not noticing the rather weary look in his eyes. But before she could exact the details of her plan into reality, she felt a slight tap on her shoulder. Ino whirled behind to see the perpetrator, looking very annoyed as she locked sights with the strange, strange blonde.

"Ino-san," the boy said, unflinching, "I believe your team is next."

( I I I )

"So, how do you think your team will fare, Asuma?" Kakashi asked the now smoking Jounin. "That's a filthy habit you know. Burns out your lungs."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Asuma muttered, disgruntled, as he took a puff, "you don't see me on a crusade against your habits concerning those books of yours, now do you? Don't lecture me on mine."


Maito Gai added his two cents to the conversation. "Back to the question…do you think your team will do well?"

"Hmm…" Asuma considered. "It depends; all three of them got great teamwork and the match system works in their favor this time. But…"

"What?" Kakashi drawled.

The smoking Jounin frowned. "Their team dynamics in a combat situation are…frail. At best, and they are not strong enough to stand on their own once that shortcoming catches up with them."

"Well...we shall see, won't we?" The Copy-nin gestured to the ground floor.

( I I I )

"How troublesome…"

Nara Shikamaru looked relatively annoyed, his mind running through the various scenarios that may happen during the match.

The wide space was a disadvantage, in his opinion. There was very little in the way of subterfuge that could be applied, nor was it possible to use the environment to his advantage. In fact, the very environment in which this test, and to a lesser extent the second exam in general, was conducted indicated quite clearly that strength was the name of the game.

He observed all the potential teams that could be pitted against them and found almost all of them could wipe the floor with his team. The team from Sound was possibly the best match-up they could get, ignoringany unexpected turn of events.

'Lucky us,' he thought.

"Second Match…begin," the sickly examiner coughed out.

It did not take long for the fight to spiral down into a dismal disadvantage for them.

He realized that, unlike and like the group of Mist-nins that Team Seven had fought, the Sound-nins were aiming for the weakest member of his team, and they were using different tactics.

"Neh, Shikamaru…" Chouji said, trying to slam a meaty arm into the totally covered Sound ninja. "You got any ideas?"

"Not really," he replied, throwing a kunai at the Sound kuniochi. She dodged as he expected, and his Kagemane technique connected with her briefly. However he was forced to break off the technique when he felt something coming towards him.

Shikamaru jumped to the side, barely avoiding the unseen force that barreled past him into the wall. His eye caught something off and he realized the threat for what it was. "Ino!"

The girl turned but was too late, catching a punch to the gut which left her down for the count.

Shikamaru's mind raced, not that it was the first time to do so. He wanted to yield so much for both himself and his team. And he would have if he was not experiencing the contradicting desire to win, to be the victor: to control.

This unnatural urge was all that energized him now, giving him strength where there was none before.

Plans ran through his mind for a different reason now. It used to be for the sheer pleasure of using his mind, but now he had the aggressiveness of a shark added to it. Each plan was methodical and precise, aiming for maximum effect and efficiency with minimum effort.

The process accelerated when he saw Chouji go down.

Through the numerous plans and scenarios he envisioned, only one had any chance of success though it was a slim bet, seeing that he had to become what he had sacrificed the most in all of his games.

The pawn.

And like a pawn, he placed himself in the most vulnerable position he could imagine, all for the advantage he needed to pull his plan off.

"Checkmate," he muttered to himself even as he felt blood pool in his mouth.

( I I I )

The little Konoha ninja simplydarted from position to position across the 'arena' and back. The only obvious fruit of his labor was the battering he got when he did not manage to dodge the sonic attacks in time.

Now they surrounded him like a pack of wolves around prey.

"Heh, you're the only one left. You might as well yield now," the only girl of the group smirked at the battered boy before her. The pineapple-haired boy merely sported a shit-eating grin at her, sparking off her anger. Then something appeared on the ground. It was a black spot and from it, something emerged. She raised her arm to throw a kunai but found her arms immobile and rebellious to her mind. "What the hell is this!"

There was a 'line' of shadow that connected the boy to a thing, a shadow doppelganger of sorts, lacking any visible human features save for its humanoid shape. It was from this thing that three more 'lines' sprung off, each 'line' connecting to one immobilized Sound-nin. The doppelganger raised its arm before slamming it in its own head. All three ninjas caught in it mimicked the act though there was considerably more noise than not.


"You bastard!"

"Kagemane no jutsu; success," the lazy ninja smiled easily.

"Hey," the boy who knocked out Ino snarled, unaware of the situation he was in, "fight fair, you bastard!"

Shikamaru stared dispassionately at him. "You're shinobi, I'm a shinobi, and shinobi don't fight fair," the pineapple-haired boy chided as if talking to a child.

"Your petty parlor tricks won't last long."

"That depends, seeing that you guys helped in my plan anyway." Shikamaru gestured to the broken lights on the first floor, creating a ring of thin shadow around all of them. It was then that they noticed the thin tendrils extending from the shadows to the black thing that controlled the Sound-nins like puppets.

The boy reddened. He knew there was something wrong when the other boy dodged around the room just to end up getting hit anyway, yet by 'coincidence' managed to avoid all his sonic blasts up until then, most of which happened to destroy the lights."You bastard!"

Shikamaru ignored him. "Do you yield or not?" He asked sleepily.

"Over my dead body," The brash one replied, "You're going to run out of chakra anyway and when that happens…" The threat was clear, but the Nara simply accepted it as if it was mundane.

"Fair enough," he said before turning to the examiner. "Can I use lethal force in this circumstance, examiner?"

The three Sound ninja began to sweat.

The examiner gave the boy a look. "No fatalities; do it and you're disqualified from the entire exam."

Shikamaru just nodded lazily, before snapping his fingers. The shadow doppelganger suddenly lurched forward, smashing its head to the granite floor. There were several loud cracks and shouts, and then silence.

"Winner: Team Nine."

( I I I )

Asuma blinked, watching as the medical ninja transported the wounded from the arena on stretchers. "That was unexpected…" Shikamaru accompanied his unconscious team mates out.

Gai whistled this time. "It seems like it's not only Kakashi's beloved students who are keeping a secret."

"Looks like one of your team can stand up just fine on their own." Kakashi patted Asuma's shoulder, the latter still looking a bit shocked at the turn of events.

"Gai," Kakashi said, "it looks like your team is next."

( I I I )

The Leaf-nins she and her brother were fighting proved to be a lot stronger than she gave them credit for. Of course, the weapon-maniac of a girl proved nearly useless against her; a pity, seeing that she was so out of her depth, what with facing a Fuuton user and all. She almost pitied Kankuro as the girl turned her deadly attentions towards him after noticing that Temari was not to be trifled with, thanks to her advantage.

White eyes, or so she called the Hyuuga, was busy with her brother as well, making what appeared to be 'love-taps' on her brother's puppet. She almost laughed, but regained her composure as the third member of her opponent team presented himself to her.

"Oh how fair you are, kunoichi-san," the spandex clad boy gushed, dodging one of the kunai she threw at him with apparent ease. She frowned. "May I get a name to address one as beautiful as yourself?"

Temari did not know whether to be happy or aghast, much less how to reply to his question. Rock Lee, or so the bowl-haired boy identified himself as earlier, was someone she could definitely place as 'odd'. Consorting with an enemy kunoichi while your teammates were fighting certainly counted as odd in her opinion!

"I'm Subaku no Temari," she said, smiling slightly, her fan unfolded and ready for use.

Lee grinned at her, his pearly whites almost blinding her before he started to speak again. "I'm Rock Lee, the Beautiful Green Beast of Konoha!" The blonde blinked for a second, not knowing whether to gape or just send the poor fool flying.

She settled for the latter.

Lee gaped in surprise as he was thrown across the floor by the gale. For a moment, she thought she heard an estranged cry of "LEE!" originating from the second floor.

"Temari!" her firstlittle brother shouted. "A little help here would be nice!" She saw him dodge something which resembled a giant meat cleaver. It seems that the girl was venting her frustration on dear old Kankuro. Poor him. "It would be VERY nice!"

Temari grunted, and with a swing, a gale-force wind swept forward.

What she hadn't accounted for was the off-chance that Kankuro would be caught in the blast. Which proceeded tohappen.


( I I I )

Gaara frowned. His siblings had lost. He tried to process that fact. While they were not as strong as he was, it was not often that they encountered opposition that they could lose to. The boy felt…pleased, though it did not reflect on his face. It just meant that there were more people worthy to prove his existence.

In the end, Subaku no Gaara, impatient and annoyed that he did not get to face the strange blonde as he had been desiring since the time they first met, faced his opponents, the teammates of one Yakushi Kabuto.

It was a short match, one marred by futility and brutality.

( I I I )

All this while the Hokage of the Hidden Village of Konoha watched as the next generation of his village battled. He had to say, it was interesting to say the least. He would have to keep an eye on young Uzumaki and Nara.

Seeing the last of the matches end, the decidedly old man walked up to the podium.

"So ends the preliminaries…" he began, "All of you who are standing here now, flush from victory, have a month to prepare before the third and last part of the Chuunin Exam will begin. It will be your moment of glory for all of the people to see, for your village to see. Train hard and fight with honor, and best of luck to you all."

A/N: Beta-ed this time by the wonderful Itallia. I can't believe the story finally has a thousand reviews and a hundred thousand words in total. It's almost surreal. R&R please and constructive criticism is well received.