With the heaven scroll in his possession, Naruto and his team made it to the tower much earlier than the last time he took the exam.
Once inside, Naruto noticed only a few people there, and most of them looked pretty beat up. After all, the test in the Forest of Death was ruthless, and few made it out unscathed. "Okay," Naruto said at last. "This is where individual fights begin. You don't have to keep going after this, if you feel you're not up to it. You've both done great so far, though."
Anedo smiled. "Only thanks to you."
Naruto shrugged. "I couldn't have made it here without a team, after all. I needed you, too."
Kanide just gave him a sidelong look. Only to qualify, the look said.
She was right, but Naruto wasn't going to say otherwise.
The blonde ninja turned and looked at the entrance. "Hey! Konohamaru! I didn't know you were taking the exam this time!"
Konohamaru, taller than the last time Naruto had seen him, walked in with his teammates, Moegi and Udon. Udon still looked sickly, but apparently was strong enough to cut it as a ninja. Moegi was taller too, and just starting to develop her adult body. Her eyes looked bright and sharp, and not tired like many of the other Genin looked.
Naruto felt a little giddy. "Ne, Konohamaru, I may have to fight you, ya know."
The grandson of the Third Hokage grinned. "I'm gonna beat you, if we do!"
'That boy doesn't have a chance in hell of defeating us,' the kyuubi spat. 'He may be of the Sarutobi clan, but he has a long way to go before he develops enough skill to even put a scratch on your forehead protector.'
"No way!" Naruto said, ignoring what the demon had to say. "I'm going to be Hokage, after all. I can't lose here!" He just hoped that he didn't have to fight Konohamaru, because he was rooting for them to pass as well.
"Ne, Konohamaru-chan," Moegi said next to him, "I'm hungry! Are we completely out of food?"
On cue, everyone's stomach growled. Naruto agreed with her, and wished for a nice big bowl of ramen right then.
Udon's face turned red with a blush. "Eh, sorry, Moegi-chan. I kind of lost our food in that last fight."
Konohamaru crossed his arms and nodded, apparently too put out to comment.
Three by three, a few more groups trickled into the tower. The later the group came in, the worse they looked. Naruto was glad his group got in as soon as they did.
Kanide and Anedo stood next to each other and shared a whispered conversation. Naruto wondered if they were discussing whether or not to stay in the competition. Kanide had a fighting chance, but Anedo he wasn't so sure about. Unless she was good with weapons and fast moving, he doubted she'd even be able to land a punch on her opponent.
Evening passed. Naruto took the time to get some sleep, napping against the wall on the partial second level. Anedo and Kanide sat on either side of him. They didn't stray too far away from him, apparently wary of the other Genin in the tower.
By the evening of the fourth day, Naruto decided it was time for them to open up their scrolls. Anedo and Kanide watched curiously as Naruto untied the scrolls and let them slide open. Large tufts of smoke lifted out of the scrolls and swirled up into the air. There was a 'poosh!' noise, and once the smoke finally cleared, Hagane Kotetsu was standing in front of them. "Girls!" he smiled warmly. "I'm glad to see you've made it through the forest. Roku sends his best, and said he wishes he could have taken it too."
Kanide smiled. "He'll be able to take it in six months. I'm sure he'll pass."
Kotetsu smiled, then shifted his gaze to Naruto. "Thanks for taking care of my girls in the forest. I'm glad they were with you this time. And," here, he held up his forefinger and shook it in warning. "Don't underestimate them in the upcoming battles. They're stronger than they look."
Naruto gave him his nice guy pose. "You bet!" He grinned. He couldn't wait till the fights started.
"All right, you maggots! Line up!"
Temari was standing at the front of the room with other Jounin around her, all of them surrounded by the remnants of ninja smoke from their entrance. She was the one that had shouted at everyone to line up. Naruto eagerly ran up and stood in line. His two teammates ran up and stood next to him. Naruto noticed, once he finally got the chance to gaze at everyone up there, that Shikamaru was standing there as well, his hands stuffed into his pockets.
Temari cleared her throat to gather everyone's attention. "Listen up, everyone. There are too many of you left, so we're going to have to have a competition between those of you that are here."
Naruto felt the eyes of all of the Genin look around at each other, most of them in the attempt to size up their potential opponents. Naruto could only grin. This was the part that he would be good at.
"However," Shikamaru spoke up, "for those of you that have been in the Chuunin exam before, things are going to be a little different this time."
Naruto looked up and watched as the Chuunin smirked, an unusual thing for him to do. Smirking usually took too much energy. "For this part of the exam, you will be paired up with a person at random. They may be one of your teammates, or they may be a complete stranger. When a Chuunin takes on a mission, they are not always with the same four man cell they were placed in as Genin. A Chuunin needs to be able to adapt to the situation quickly and efficiently. During this battle, you and your partner must take on two opponents together. Teamwork is the key to success. The first team to have a member be declared unfit to fight loses. Neither of them will be allowed to move on to the finals."
"What?" Naruto barked. He pointed an accusatory finger at Shikamaru. "This was your idea, you bastard, wasn't it?"
Again, Shikamaru smirked, but this time it was directed at Naruto.
"Quiet, worm! Have some respect for your superiors!" Temari growled at him.
Naruto Scowled. 'That prick,' he thought to himself. "He did this on purpose. I was never very good at keeping my teammates completely covered. This sucks! I think he's been hanging around Asuma-sensei a little too much...'
"Everyone, please move up to the second level in order to watch the battles of your peers and await your turn."
Naruto grumbled and fumed as he made his way up the stairs. Only the gods knew who he'd be paired up with. Konohamaru, perhaps? That wouldn't be so bad...
Anedo and Kanide followed silently along behind him. He just prayed that he didn't get paired up with Anedo. According to her chart, she wasn't much good at anything.
The first names to appear on the large screen up on the wall Naruto didn't recognize. By looking at the forehead protectors of the four people that descended to the main floor, two of them were from the Village Hidden in the Grass, one of them was from the Village Hidden in the Mist, and one of them was from Sand. The fight didn't last long, as the Sand ninja was especially adept at group coverage. While he covered his new partner's back, the Grass shinobi that was his partner forced the Mist ninja to collapse in a heap on the floor, blood oozing out of their mouths.
Naruto looked up at the screen when the fight had finally ended and the floor had been cleared. The screen lit up, and names began to flash rapidly. Finally, it came to a stop, and Naruto read the names carefully.
Uzumaki Naruto and Hakuni Anedo
Aruso Hekeki and Usehi Jirusu
Oh, no... Did the heavens really hate him that much? Anedo was his partner? Naruto felt like punching something.
Anedo's face paled, shocked that her name came up so quickly. At least Naruto was her partner. She might have a sporting chance...
Of course, by the sneer on Naruto's face, he didn't look too happy about it. This might be harder than she thought. She would have to try hard to not get in his way.
With a growl, Naruto vaulted over the railing and descended to the first floor. Anedo used the stairs.
One ninja was from the Village Hidden in the Clouds. One of the five main powers, the Hidden Cloud Village was a mystery. Naruto had only encountered them a couple of times on his trip with Jiraiya, and both times had not been very pleasant. They seemed to know how to use lightning in rather unpleasant ways. Jiraiya had been grumpier than normal for a solid week after each encounter with them. At the time, Naruto felt lucky to be alive after those fights.
'Use the memories,' the Kyuubi whispered in his mind.
'No,' Naruto insisted. 'I won't.'
'Why would you care if I fail? I thought you just wanted to make me miserable?! Aren't I the pathetic flesh bag that is your cage?'
The growl that entered his head was louder than usual. He felt his ears ring. 'If I must be jailed, I'd rather it not be by some useless, disgusting creature! Save me from further embarrassment of your failures! At least make yourself worthy of being my cage!!'
Of all the ridiculous things… It was the beast's stupid pride that pushed Naruto to become better. He sighed, and slightly shook his head. I'll never be rid of this headache…
"Naruto," Anedo whispered. "I'm sorry. W-we… we can do this."
Naruto looked over at his teammate. Her face was pale, and her skin was flushed. She looked downright afraid. This did confuse him, to some degree. A true ninja should not be afraid. She should have known what she was getting herself into when she entered this exam.
Was she just now realizing that this was over her head? That Naruto would, once again, fail the Chuunin exam, all because she simply entered the exam too early?
'Look at your hands, imbecile. She's probably afraid of you, as she very well should be.'
Naruto did look at his hands, even though he hated taking the demon's advice. They were curled up into tight fists. His muscles were tensed. It was then, too, that he suddenly felt the frown on his face, and how his eyebrows were scrunched down near his eyes.
He must have looked nearly livid. I'm letting myself get worked up again, just like I always do.
He forced his face to go smooth, and relaxed his muscles. This time when he looked back at her, it was with a softer grin. "Don't worry, Anedo. We'll both win this. I promise."
The shake of her hands went away just a little, and she nodded. Perhaps Naruto was imagining things, but it seemed like a little bit of trust seeped back into her eyes.
"Quit chatting, kids! I want to pummel you into the ground now, not after you've finished encouraging yourselves."
Naruto noticed for the first time the second person that he'd have to fight. It was a Sand ninja. He was a tall boy, with dark lines of Kohl under his eyes, and very dark skin.
"Ready!" Shikamaru yelled. He held one hand up in the air, then brought it down when he spoke again. "Begin!"
Before he even thought about it, Naruto created twenty shadow clones. They surrounded Anedo, both to protect her and figure out what they were going to do. "Anedo," he whispered to her. "What are you best at?"
She fumbled with her pack at her side and hastily pulled out some ninja wire and kunai. "Traps," she whispered back. "And masking them with a little Genjutsu."
Naruto nodded. "Good. I think I have a plan."
Kanide was watching from above. At the moment, she was having a hard time picking out her other teammate amongst the sea of black and orange that was Naruto's clones. It seemed that their opponents could see her, either, for as they punched their way through the clones and smoke they created, they used more curse words than even Kotetsu-sensei had let slip on their worst mission.
"Rasengan!" was the chorus of about twelve of the clones as they charged the Cloud and the Sand Genin. Swirling blue chakra was actually visible in their hands, and it caused the smoke of the extinguished clones to swirl about in several mini tornadoes. One clone actually hit his mark. The sand nin gave a powerful grunt as he clutched at his stomach.
"This is stupid!" the Cloud nin yelled. He began to make seals. Kanide didn't recognize the technique right away. "Omotai no Kiri no Jutsu!"
The air of the fighting arena became incredibly thick, sticky, and cold. Kanide was sure it was so thick it could be sliced away with a knife. An impenetrable mist covered everything. None of the viewers could see what was going on.
The only thing that was visible was the flashes of lightning that lit up the dark mist. They could barely hear the voices inside calling out jutsu after jutsu.
Kanide clutched her hands at her chest. "Oh, Anedo…" Her teammate stressed out far too easily in situations like this. She preferred to be the hunter looking directly at her prey. When she didn't know where everything was, she was prone to panic.
A girl screamed. Kanide felt her heart jump up into her throat.
"Risankaze no jutsu!"
A brutal wind erupted from the left side of the arena. It forced the heavy mist to start to dissipate. Tiny grains of sand started to fall to the ground.
Kanide held her breath as she searched for Naruto and Anedo.
The Sand ninja was sporting a broken arm, and the Cloud ninja looked quite winded. Despite this, though, they still looked in better shape than Naruto and Anedo.
Naruto was on his knees, attempting to stand up. A long trickle of blood was falling steadily from the corner of his mouth. One eye was swollen shut, with long trails of sand leading away from the purple and yellow bruised flesh.
Anedo wasn't even bothering to try and stand. There was not only sand and tears from her swollen eyes, but blood as well. One part of her skull looked like it was smashed into the ground, for her hair was heavily matted in a tangle of blood and debri. She held her ribs as gently as if they'd been broken.
"Anedo!" She cried out. "Don't keep fighting like that! Give up! It's not worth your life! We'll try again next time! Please!"
The Cloud nin laughed. "That's right. Listen to your teammate, little girl. You're no match against us."
The brown haired Genin coughed up a small splatter of blood. "You'll have to make me give up."
Naruto pointed his index finger at them. "Come on, you losers! I'll bet I can beat you into the ground blind if I have to!"
The sand ninja growled. It seemed clear that he couldn't let his pride be wounded. "With pleasure!" he barked. Together, he and his teammate charged.
Anedo cried out when the Cloud nin's fist connected with her nose, and Naruto grunted when he didn't dodge the kick to his stomach.
And then there was a loud 'click' and a dozen wires sprang up from the ground that a moment ago weren't there.
Kanide watched in awe as another Anedo shimmered into existence and raced around her enemies, ninja wire in hand and a kunai in her teeth. Naruto pulled at the wires, too, and the Cloud and Sand nin were immediately pinned to the ground. The injured Naruto and Anedo vanished into puffs of smoke. They had merely been shadow clones.
Anedo landed off to the side and pulled at her ends, holding the rope firmly in place. "Now, Naruto!"
The blonde ninja flipped through a long series of seals that Kanide didn't recognize. "Odama Rasengan!"
An unbelievable amount of vivid blue chakra welled up in his hand, and he charged with hesitation. He went straight for the Sand Genin.
Anedo's kunai went straight for the Cloud Genin.
It was a good thing she threw her kunai, too, because just before Naruto's attack hit, the Cloud ninja was already trying to perform seals. His arms were bound tightly to his chest, but his hands were still together, and he was actually making progress.
Anedo was a good aim, because her kunai went straight into his arm, right above his elbow. The ninja cried out and stopped mid-seal. It was his undoing, because Naruto hit the sand ninja, who cried out sharply but abruptly, for he passed out before he could even finished screaming.
"Winners; Uzumaki, Naruto and Hakuni, Anedo," Shikamaru said.
Naruto couldn't help but yell out in joy. "Hahaaa! We did it!" He danced around in a little circle. "Way to go, Anedo! Wohooo!"
She smiled tiredly. Naruto's plan actually worked. Thank goodness. She sighed in relief.
"Next up! Seneshou, Kanide and Sarutobi Konohamaru versus Ikeno, Yumi and Gin, Kogane!"