I'm back, once more, this time with more Naruto goodness. I'm currently at my brother's apartment, enjoying a short vacation, uploading this so that I keep my promise to you all. Hope you like this one as much as the other's, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Chapter 20 - The Real Naruto


His hands began to tremble as they planted themselves firmly on the hard ground and helped to push the blond into a sitting position. Then, moving to get up on one knee, Naruto coughed, a small puddle of bile and blood accompanying the action escaped his mouth. Wiping his mouth with his right arm's sleeve, he pushed up with his left arm and hand until in a standing position.

Locking gazes with the other, Dosu saw something that was quite chilling. Blue eyes, glazed in anger, that seemed to pierce through his own. He had to restrain himself from stepping back out of reflex. The entire world seemed to be tuned out as he found himself, inexplicably, focusing on Naruto, and the intent the boy was exuding. Seemingly unknown to him, his heart began to race rapidly, his palms were becoming sweaty, and his breathing increased.

"What's wrong, Dosu?" asked Naruto, his voice icy, and malevolent. "Where's that bravado? Why aren't you laughing? Don't tell me you regret your actions?"

That series of demeaning questions struck a chord with Dosu, as he seemed to snap back to reality. He hardened his stance, clenched his right arm, and readied to attack. 'No matter what has happened, he was still hit by my melody arm. He couldn't have recovered from that this early. So that means I still have the chance of an advantage if I don't hesitate.'

Without needing another reason, Dosu charged his opponent, ready to end the fight once and for all, putting Naruto in his place.

But when he was in striking distance, and lashed out with his right fist, equipped with the deadly melody arm, right for the boy's face, he was caught surprised and speechless as Naruto had merely reached out and caught his fist.

It didn't make any sense to him. He could see the ripples in the air, coming from his melody arm, but it didn't seem to affect Naruto anymore. How? How could such a drastic shift occur in his opponent in such a short amount of time? It was like the Naruto he had humiliated was nothing but a fake that was replaced by this colder, icier, and more powerful version.

That's when he felt it, the spike in chakra. On the ground, small debris from earlier fights began to move away from the direction of Naruto, as a breeze seemed to be emitting from the boy. A glow began to shine around Naruto's body as a hazy vapor began to pour from the blond's body.

The grip on his hand became extremely powerful, almost breaking the hand. Suddenly, he was pulled in to Naruto so that their heads were side by side. "Sorry to inform you, temé, but I'm not the same as him. Now, you fight me." After that chilling statement, his blood ran cold.


To the general public watching this spectacle take place, it was strange to witness for some, and a welcome change for others.

What most could not appreciate, was something that Gai found incredibly peculiar. He may not know much about other jounin's instructional methods, but he did honestly believe that he was the only one who had knowingly taught a student a rather dangerous and forbidden technique.

So he found it odd that the son of the Hokage was about to unleash the first gate - Kaimon. The first gate was always the hardest to open, because it required a vast amount of stress and strain to be applied to the body, while pressuring and focusing your chakra towards the designated point in the body.

The finality was that of a release, like a weight being lifted, and your entire body felt free. That is the reaction from releasing the Kaimon, but there didn't seem to be anything pointing towards it, except for the unmistakable release of pressurized chakra. It was similar, but didn't feel quite the same. Could it be something different?

"Gai-sensei, could that possibly be-"

"Hai, Lee-kun." While he still wasn't exactly sure if it was really the Celestial Gate opening, it did have that feel, and his pupil, Rock Lee, was aware of that. So he interrupted the boy before Lee said anything he might regret letting anyone else hear.

"Amazing. It is as I thought. Naruto-san truly was amazing. But now, he is radiating. Now show us, Naruto, your brilliance."

While happy that Lee was displaying such emotion for a fellow comrade, he felt that Lee had been dragged down. Now, if it did come to it, his youthful fires would be looked at as mediocre in the face of the Hokage's son's accomplishments. The life of a genius of hard work seemed to be frought with hurdles and challenges, and never seemed easy.


A surprising burst of light came from Naruto, sending an upright Dosu skidding across the floor on his feet, and leaving all other spectators entranced. When the light dimmed down, Naruto stood within a haze of blue, with what looked like steam wafting from his body. However, in an almost anti-climatic show, the haze fizzled down, as did the steam.

But not the power. It was still evident. Even more so when Dosu was sent to the ground and slid to a stop several meters away as Naruto stood right next to the very spot Dosu had been standing. Even for Sasuke's sharingan, it was hard to track.

'He moved so quickly, I could barely even keep up with the vapor trail of his chakra.' "Yamato-sensei, what's going on? What is this technique?" Sasuke inquired.

"It has the same feel, and yet it isn't what it feels like. To answer your question, Sasuke, I think he is channeling some hidden reserve of chakra, just like opening one of the celestial gates, but without actually opening the gates themselves."

On the floor, Dosu was struggling to get up, only to see Naruto right in front of him. Clenching his right hand, Dosu swung for this new Naruto, but it was blocked and a short jab drove into his gut. Sputtering and coughing, he swung again, but was once again blocked, and was met with an elbow uppercut, knocking him off his feet and sending him backwards, blood seeping through the bandages around his mouth.

Sasuke viewed this with such careful scrutiny, because he was able to see what the other genin could not. The intangibles. While he suspected others may just be marveling at the increase in power, he was seeing the things that normally go unnoticed. There was precision with everything Naruto was doing. There was purpose behind every movement. There was no wasted movement, and no weakness to be exploited. Naruto had gone from looking like a clumsy idiot, to a born and raised assassin.

He felt a strange amount of jealousy. And the jealousy was being strangely fueled by watching Naruto. Because it seemed like Naruto had changed completely, and everything was looking so easy, and he seemed to be so strong, and all these changes occurred in the sudden, inexplicable span of a few minutes. But even more than that, was the final thing Sasuke was noticing about his teammate. Everything did look easy, too easy. Almost to the point that it looked like everything was effortless.

Naruto was toying with Dosu.


Dosu tried desperately to pick himself back up, but it was proving to be quite the task. He wasn't an idiot, he could see it. The lack of effort on Naruto's attacks, and yet they hurt so much. What looked like a jab to the mind's eye, felt like a full-powered strike from one of the chuunin's back in Oto.

'If only I could get one more good shot in with the melody arm. Then this could be over.' When Naruto seemed to come off as bored, waiting for him to get back into a standing position, that was the moment he chose. Dashing into position, he threw his right fist at Naruto's face, with the intent that even if he missed, or it was blocked, the backlash would still do enough damage.

But Dosu hadn't calculated one thing to mind. The will of his opponent. Naruto didn't care about the possible effects of Dosu's attack. Because if he did, then he wouldn't have jumped at Dosu and slammed his right knee into the face of the unsuspecting Oto-nin.

Watching as Dosu sputtered and coughed, and a familiar red tinge blotted the bandages around the attacked area, Naruto chuckled. "And here you were calling mepathetic a few minutes ago." Naruto seemingly boasted, arrogance leaking out of the corners of the verbal blow, rubbing salt in the already exposed and bleeding wounds of his opponent.

Dosu swore to himself, before chuckling in a crazed and perverse way. He still had that. Oh yes, he did still have that.

Dosu, in his haste to regain the advantage, had foregone the warnings given to him by his and his team's appointed sensei, Kabuto. Kabuto had warned him to not take the pill, under any circumstances. But when you give somebody that same thing you tell them not to use, it's like an invitation to do exactly what was forbidden.

Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out a dark purple pill, bit through his bandages so he could get access to his mouth, and ate the pill. The reaction occurred only a few brief moments later.

Thanks to all the covering over his body, the change could not be seen, but Dosu felt it. And quickly, so did everybody else. A purple chakra seeped off of Dosu like thick smoke, but with this strange chakra came a whole new development. Dosu's strength had sky-rocketed.

And while it may have worried some people who were rooting for Naruto, it didn't bother the boy they were rooting for. He felt it, and smiled. It was proof that Dosu wouldn't be boring. That was another curious thing to Naruto. He seemed eager to fight, where before he hadn't. It must be the addition of the aggressive nature that was dormant for so long.

"Now this is what I'm talking about. Show me what you've got!" shouted Naruto, confidence and depraved excitement guiding his adrenaline-fueled statement.

In a furious rush, Dosu charged Naruto, ready to kill the blond. He had every intention of slaughtering Naruto and leaving blood everywhere, the ultimate proof of his superiority. The chakra had completely changed him into crazed man, only seeking to spill the blood of his opponent, instead of just defeat him.

Naruto dodged as best he could, getting a safe distance away from an attack that would, no doubt, cause a great deal of trouble if struck successfully. As he jumped back to avoid the attack, Naruto noticed that the ground chipped and broke up under the considerable force of the melee assault.

But he couldn't help further noticing that Dosu was still only using that right arm of his to attack. Again dodging another vicious swing of the right arm, Naruto was hit in the face by the additional impact of the sonic waves being emitted from the offending appendage.

Falling to one knee, despite himself, Naruto fought to regain complete control over his vision as it had become blurred by the impact. Through his struggle, he could hear Dosu's taunting, mocking voice cut through the air more powerfully than the sonic waves his arm unleashed.

"Heh, and here you were, just moments ago, asking where my bravado went. So where's your's?" he asked in a superior, snobbish, mocking, ridiculing tone that just drove Naruto on.

"My bravado, huh?" Naruto asked in amusement. "My bravado?" he asked again with disgust. "Don't insult me." he finally spat, standing up and wearing a vicious scowl.

"Bravado is nothing more than a security belt held on to, clung to, for dear life when faced with an opposition of which you are uncertain you can handle. Bravado is a false front, the bragging and boasting of that which you can't back up. Bravado is all that you are." Upon completion of his statement, Naruto watched as Dosu's lone visible eye took on a deranged look as the boy made a mad dash for him, clenching that damned right fist.

"I'll show you what I am, you cocky little bastard!" Dosu screamed.

"Pathetic," Naruto mumbled, before snapping together a familiar set of seals, lightning quick. Upon completion of his seals, he pointed his left hand out, right at Dosu's approaching form, index and middle finger extended like a make-shift gun.

"Fuuton: Takaya no jutsu." he breathed out quietly, like the whisper of an assassin on the wind, right before the killing blow was struck. True to the technique's name, a burst of wind shot from his fingertips, compressed into the form of an arrow, as it screamed across the air towards it's target.

Unmercifully, without any impediment, the arrow of wind took to it's true target, performing exactly as Naruto had intended. It wasn't meant to attack Dosu's entirety, but the arm that held Dosu's favorite tool of attack. For he didn't want to end this fight. He wanted to make the statement loud and clear for Dosu to understand.

The look of shock that filled the visible eye of Dosu said all there needed to be. TheMelody Arm the boy bragged about, boasted about, and flaunted with each and every single swipe of his, was decimated, shattered by Naruto's attack. The cloth around his right arm was also torn apart from the velocity of thetakaya's winds.

And yet, before any other coherent action could possibly be taken, before any rational thought could be formed in response, Dosu, again, was met with the sudden arrival of Naruto right in front of him.

Naruto grabbed Dosu's now unarmed right fist and gripped it with his left, while speaking to Dosu in a cold and calculative tone. "Do you see now? Can you understand now? You never had any real strength to begin with. It was all a false front, nothing but bravado, from a manufactured power.

"While mine," Naruto continued while extending his right hand out, palm facing up, and in a claw-like manner. It was the one moment that caught everybody by surprise. For a blue hue could be seen as chakra began to flood the hand, then took the shape of a perfect sphere.

"Is real." he finished, thrusting his right hand into Dosu's gut. The reaction was instantaneous. Dosu was sent careening into the wall behind him, as though blown from his original standing point by an explosive. From Naruto's hand came wisps of smoke, the attack having not been fully controlled and burning the skin that held it.

Naruto appeared as though in pain, and the twitching of the hand also seemed to further prove that theory. Exhaling a deep sigh, he then brought the hand in to his body and cradled it, before looking at the designated proctor of these preliminary fights. "Isn't there something you need to say?" he asked, trying to sound genuinely innocent, when all that came off was a comical, sarcastic tone.

Nodding, Gekkou Hayate raised one hand up. "Winner of the preliminary match, Uzumaki Naruto."


Rubbing his head, ready for an impending headache, Yamato fought to approach this matter in a professional manner. The problem was that his student wasn't behaving in a professional manner.

"What is the matter here?" he asked, looking from Naruto, to Hayate, to a member of the medical staff designated for these fights.

"Tenzo - I mean, Yamato-san - Naruto-san has been requested by the medical staff to report for a precautionary check-up. And he is being quite adamant about not doing so." reported Hayate, barely catching his mistake when talking to his former Taichou.

"That's because nothing is wrong with me. I'm fine." Naruto stated, trying to sound as reassuring as possible. From Yamato's perspective, he could see a few tells for why the medic team might want to perform a precautionary diagnosis.

His body language screamed exhaustion, but not chakra, nor physical. It was mental. Yamato could tell this by seeing the subtle movement of Naruto's eyes. Also, the way the boy was gingerly cradling that hand, he could tell some physical damage was done beyond the superficial burns.

But, more than any of those reasons, he had reason to believe, through observing Naruto's fight first-hand, that Naruto had used a technique similar to the Celestial Gates Opening. There had to be some strain or damage done elsewhere in the boy's body. There just had to be.

But when Naruto looked him in the eyes, Naruto's eyes spoke a truth deeper than words. They spoke a hidden message for Naruto. Sighing, he looked at the medic, then to Hayate. "As the boy's Sensei, I feel I have more leverage in this situation. Naruto will go for a diagnosis...after the prelims." He then looked down at his student. "Got it?" he finished, giving Naruto that look.

With a shudder, Naruto grinned and nodded. "Yes, I understand, Sensei."

As they both walked towards the stairs leading to the overhang, Yamato viewed out of the corner of his eye the medic team finally peeling Dosu's body from the indention in the wall. Looking back at his student, Yamato pressed the issue just a bit more. "How are youtruly feeling, Naruto-kun?"

Naruto looked up at him for a moment, then looked back forward with a glazed look over his eyes, before looking back to him. "I feel good...better than I've ever felt, to be quite honest. If I had to give a succinct, one word analysis, then I'd have to say I feel free."

"Don't think for one moment that by my giving you permission to by-pass a precautionary step like a medical diagnostic check, will lead to more further actions of the same. And, also, don't think that I believe you are fine. I can't tell how badly, but I know you've done more than superficial damage to your hand. But that road will be crossed when we get to it. Okay?" He saw out of his peripheral vision his student nodding. "Good."


Naruto stood before Sasuke, a strange moment between the two as an air of tension seemed to circulate and fluctuate around them.

"So how long did you intend to hold that back huh?" asked Sasuke, an edge to his voice.

"I..." Naruto started, but then cut himself off, finding the right words. "It wasn't intentional. Well...I guess it was, but it also wasn't...aagh" he stopped and groaned as he brought his good left hand up to his head, in obvious frustration. "It's hard to explain teme. Besides, it's kinda private. Since when did it matter to you-"

"Since we became teammates." Sasuke gritted out, his words biting, surprising Naruto. "We're a team, and we don't hold anything back from each other."

It was such a strange thing to hear, even though he had heard something similar from the once-believed stoic Sasuke. "Sorry...Sasuke," he responded a bit sheepishly. "It's hard to explain right now. I'd need time and...more privacy...to explain all that I can make of it, but if I had any control over what happened, I would've done something about it sooner."

Off to the side, Hinata viewed this exchange with a critic's eye. She was watching to see if there was anything different about Naruto. Unlike Sasuke, she was very aware of what Naruto was talking about. She just didn't know about it from Naruto. Her Byakugan had activated during the fight, and she could see a strange pocket of chakra, compressed into Naruto's hara.

Thanks to her knowledge and her training, she knew what that compressed pocket of chakra meant. It was a seal. But why hadn't Naruto seen fit to tell her about it? Was it as he said to Sasuke? Was it a private matter? So private he couldn't tell her?

She was wrapped up in her thoughts so much that she didn't notice Naruto right next to her. "Did pretty good, didn't I?" He asked, not really bragging, while placing his uninjured hand on her shoulder.

Like an electric shock, she jumped and squeaked, then immediately turned around, flustered and embarrassed about her reaction. "H-Hai, Naruto-kun. Y-You did very w-well." she stammered out, mentally beating herself with a brick for her humiliating response.

It was only a few moments later that she managed to collect herself and turn around to look at Naruto. When she had his eyes locked with her's, she attempted to read Naruto's eyes, as she was taught by her father to do through the emotions shifting through one's eyes.

Naruto's always seemed to be his windows, and right here, she was mystified by what she saw. True, uninhibited freedom. She hadn't seen this kind of peace in Naruto since...forever. She smiled in relief at seeing this. Despite the belligerence in his persona when he was fighting against Dosu, there did not seem to be any carry-over. And for that, she was relieved.


The beeping of life-support systems echoed down the halls as the Jounin representative of Sound walked towards his pupil's room. Greeting the medical shinobi stationed there in the most convincing of social ways, he convinced them to give him some privacy with the injured Dosu through careful weaving of a submissive genjutsu.

After their departure, Kabuto pulled back the hood and looked at the heavily damaged form of Dosu. His hands shimmered green as he placed one on the boy's head. A moment later, despite his injuries, one eye of Dosu managed to crack open, the other sealed shut because of heavy bruising.

"Dosu-kun, it seems Naruto-san proved his worth, ne?" asked Kabuto in the same convincing social tone. Yet underneath, he was seething.

Sputtering for a few moments, Dosu managed to speak. "Where...did that...power of his...come from?" Dosu asked, not really expecting an answer, as his statement was more of a customary response to Kabuto's question.

"Hmm...I would have to say, but this is just a guess, that he somehow opened the celestial gates. But enough of Naruto-kun. I want to get to you." He paused, just enough to flood his murderous intent into the room. His two saving graces were that the room was only occupied by Dosu, and that as he entered the room, he had cast a shielding genjutsu to not allow whatever transpired in this room to be overheard or felt, by outside parties.

"K-K-Kabuto-sama..." stuttered Dosu, panic racing through him, the heart monitor going into a frenzy at the boy's frantic state. Naruto's intent was strong, but nothing compared to this.

"You defied me. You disobeyed me. And by doing so, you disobeyed Orochimaru-sama. Do you realize how much you could have compromised everything Orochimaru-sama has worked for with your foolish actions?"

"I-I-I am sorry, Kabuto-sama. I-" but Kabuto forced him to hold his tongue through another vicious barrage of murderous rage.

"Apologies are meaningless at this point, Dosu. Now we have to go into an alternate phase. Disaster prevention."

Moments later, Kabuto walked out of the room, allowing the doctors who were waiting outside to enter the room to finish finalizing diagnostics. Nothing seemed unordinary...

Until Kabuto disengaged his genjutsu. And as he departed the hallway, he could hear the familiar sound of a flat-lined patient.


His right hand twitched as he watched the two new combatants face each other on the floor, now riddled with debris and damage from fights previous.

Naruto had a peculiar interest in this one. It would be Chouji, his rotund friend from the academy, and perpetual supporter of Shikamaru's antics, against a new-comer in Naruto's mind.

The teen known as Rock Lee was on the same team as Neji, and therefore held some intrigue in the blonde-haired boy's mind. For despite the perfect bowl-cut hair, green spandex, and creepy oversized eyebrows, Naruto was able to sense a confidence radiating from Lee, that the boy tried to disguise through the unusual hyper-active mannerisms.

Hayate took his position off to the side, but right in the middle of the two opposing shinobi, and was preparing to give the customary arm and hand motion to signal the beginning of the two's match. During that brief moment, Naruto viewed Rock Lee's odd fighting stance.

He stood straight, legs together, heels of the feet touching, but the planter part separated by about a thirty degree angle. The left arm, fist clenched, was held behind Lee's back, while the right arm was held out in front of the boy, elbow bent at a perfect 90 degree angle, and right hand unclenched in a knife-hand position, almost as though he were ready to give anyone a come-hither gesture.

Chouji's stance was lacking. Naruto could tell how the boy was going to fight in this fight. Chouji would use one of his family's techniques to expand his body, and use it like a bowling ball.

One second after his final analysis on the two, Hayate brought his hand down. The match had started.

And it ended just as quickly. In almost the blink of an eye, Lee had gone from standing in front of Chouji, to being behind Chouji, and had jabbed Chouji at the base of the skull, more commonly referred to as the sensitive spot on the skull. Chouji plopped to the ground roughly, and did not move afterwards. The match was over, in little more than three seconds.

Naruto had to blink several times, before he could truly appreciate what he had seen. Despite the very little amount of action that took place, what did happen spoke volumes for Lee's ability. The ability to move that fast was phenomenal for a genin.

He chanced a look over towards the last remaining member of Cell Ten to fight, and saw the disappointment etched all over Shikamaru's face. But there was also a twinkle in Shika's eyes. It was resolve. Resolve to not be embarrassed when his time came.

Turning his attention back to the floor, Naruto could see the most ridiculous pout on Lee's face. While the emotion was a tad over-exaggerated in the dramatics department, Naruto had to admit that he liked Lee even more because of that display. It showed that Lee was a competitor, and had wanted a challenge, and Chouji just didn't give Lee what he was wanting.

Naruto actually found himself thinking about how much fun it would be to spar with Lee at some point.

The next pairings were shown, and Naruto cracked a small grin. It would be Neji going against the third and final member of the Suna triplets, Sabaku no Kankuro.

Watching as Neji made his way to the floor, Naruto could feel his blood beginning to boil, and his mind instantly started reacting to this change in demeanor with a question in order to cool himself off a bit. Just why did he resent Neji so much?

At first, it was the way he had acted that first day they met, when he was there waiting for Hinata and Kurenai-san to finish getting ready to go. But as time went on, the anger and resentment was directed towards Neji, because he knew that everything Neji said about him was true. Naruto was a disappointment, given the level of the shinobi he was surrounded by as he grew, and the expectations that were placed for him because of who he was.

Then it became more about Neji's overall attitude. Not just towards him, but towards Hinata, and even his own teammates. Neji just acted the part of the complete ass.

And yet, his arrogance and attitude...could be backed up in his ability and power. Hinata remarked that at one point, she had seen Neji do things that not even the adults of Main branch of the Hyuuga could do. Neji was apparently the diamond in the rough in that family. And now, despite everything, Naruto found himself holding a begrudging level of respect.

Whether it was his brush with that suppressed side of him during his fight earlier, or just the result of numerous fights with strong competition, he was seeing things in a whole new perspective. People weren't just people in Naruto's eyes. He was seeing them as more than just people. He was seeing them as potential competition.

When Hayate gave the signal to start, Naruto was a bit curious why Neji would choose to go on the offensive without the activation of the byakugan. But then the tell-tale veins began to emerge, and Naruto could see Neji's body tighten as he tried to stop just in time. For what, Naruto didn't know, until, just like Neji's predicament, it was too late.

The odd bundle that Kankuro had been holding began to unravel, just as Kankuro leapt for Neji's position. Out from the bundle came another Kankuro, blue strings composed of chakra connected the black-clad shinobi's hands to the other Kankuro, which had just wrapped it's limbs around Neji as tightly as possible.

Naruto knew at that point what was going on, and it was ingenious. Kankuro was a puppet-user, a rare breed of shinobi. They specialize in the mastery of using, obviously, puppets in a shinobi's line of work. Using paint and pastel, Kankuro was able to make the puppet he was controlling look just like him, then had himself stashed as the package. For anybody who did not know Kankuro, it was a clever ruse that could very well lead to Neji's downfall.

But, that could only be said if Neji were not your ordinary genin.

"Just my luck. I'm paired against the only person who has the eyes to see through my little ruse, but you go and not use them, giving me back the advantage. Now be a good little boy, and go to sleep for a bit." With that, Kankuro clenched his hands, and the puppet could be seen struggling to tighten it's hold on Neji.

The key word there was struggle. But upon closer inspection, it could be seen that the puppet could not tighten it's hold on the Hyuuga. To the untrained eye, it would appear that it was being blocked by a wall of air, but Naruto could see it. It was a shield composed entirely of chakra.

By growing up with Hinata for the past few years, Naruto had gained a good bit of knowledge on the talents of the Hyuuga. Their fighting style used chakra to assault the body, either by damaging muscle, organs, or by shutting down an opponent's chakra system by closing off tenketsu. They did this by forcing chakra through the tenketsu on their hands. It's a style that requires an enormous amount of concentration, skill, and control to perfect.

But the same principal to attack, could very well be applied here with Neji's defense. He was sending chakra through every tenketsu point in his body, creating a perfect barrier. Kankuro had been clever, but Neji was just plain good.

"Wh-What the-" Kankuro muttered through clenched teeth, not understanding what was going on.

The shield expanded, and then Neji began to spin, whipping the shield of chakra into a spinning frenzy that destroyed the puppet completely, and knocked Kankuro off his feet. When the puppet user finally stood back up, he saw the pose Neji was in, a fighting stance that sent a slight shiver down Naruto's spine, for he knew what was coming next.

"Hakke," spoke Neji, calm and cool, as the boy began to slide in an elegant, flawless flow towards Kankuro, "Rokujuuyonsho." The dull drumming of the painful, repeated, stabbing blows met the ears of all as they watched Hyuuga Neji perform 64 devastating, speedy strikes to Kankuro, before finishing it off with a powerful right arm thrust, the blow landing right at the middle of the sternum. The ripples in the air could be seen coming through the back of Kankuro, a testament to the power behind that final attack, as the victim of Neji's brutal assault fell haplessly to the ground, completely and utterly beaten.

As the proud Hyuuga stood in triumph, Naruto noticed three curious actions take place. One was Neji's reaction. The boy did not alert the proctor at all in regards to his victory, only deciding to stride off in arrogance, before coming to a stop and looking up. Naruto could only assume that Neji's gaze was directed towards himself, but for what reason specifically, Naruto could only guess.

The second action came from Naruto's left. The source was the remaining genin from Kagegakure's team to fight. Ezekiel's right hand was gripping the railing so tightly, that Naruto could see the boy's knuckle's turning white. Chancing a closer look at the boy's face, he could see Ezekiel's jaw tightened, teeth almost bared, in a strange display of anger. Was it directed at Neji? Did something happen between them at some point since Ezekiel and his team have been here? Naruto didn't dare ask, almost afraid that the spite and resentment Ezekiel was exuding would be directed upon himself.

Besides, the third curious action that happened was Hinata's surprised, and ever-so-slightly horrified expression. "Hinata, what's wrong?" When she didn't respond, he began to worry. He could not recall a time when Hinata had not reacted or responded to a question he posed to her.

Just when he was about to wave his hand in front of her face to get her attention, she began to stutter out a statement of some kind. "H-He c-can..." she trailed off, leaving Naruto dangling on a proverbial cliff, until she spoke again. "Kaiten."

The word's significance was lost to Naruto, for he knew not what she was referring to. Could she mean the barrier of chakra Neji created? He was going to ask her about it until he saw the names of the next two combatants. It was to be the bun-haired girl from Neji's team against Hinata. Naruto cracked a smile.

Nudging Hinata with his elbow, he made sure she saw her name on the screen. When she did, her face became one of complete despair. It was at that moment that Naruto truly came to grips with one of Hinata's biggest hindrances, and yet it was the one thing that made her so special. Ten-ten and Hinata must be friendly with each other on some level, and Hinata did not want to fight against someone she was friends with, with intent to harm or defeat.

As she walked towards the steps, Naruto was at a loss for what possible words he could say to ease her, or motivate her. But before she was out of arm's length, he reached out and stopped her. He did not know why he felt compelled to say something, he just knew it would help. "Don't forget your reason, or your purpose, Hinata-chan. Okay?"

He then released her arm, and time slowed to an amazing, suffocating crawl. The few seconds that elapsed after he spoke felt like an entire hour. But he finally saw her posture straighten as she continued her march towards the stairs, determination showing with every step. He was amazed for two reasons. One, that his words actually worked. Two, because he could get to see her fight against an opponent not like him, Sasuke, or those bastards from the Forest.

Tenten was smiling at Hinata as the two faced each other, a gesture Hinata shared before assuming the Jyuuken pose. Tenten lost her friendly smile and adorned a confident smirk. "Hinata-san, I'm not gonna go easy on you, you know that, right?"

Hinata flinched just slightly, but nodded nonetheless. They both stared the other down, waiting for any sign of weakness, but none showed. When Hayate began the match, the two kunoichi sprang into action.

Hinata rushed forward, wanting to end the fight rather quickly, but Tenten had a different plan in mind. Since the girl was on the same team as a Hyuuga, it was no surprise that Tenten had a method of fighting another Hyuuga. Reaching into a back pocket, Tenten quickly hurled a large cluster of shuriken, all aimed perfectly to try and take away all avenues of escape.

But it was only an attempt at trying to stop Hinata, for the Hyuuga kunoichi displayed uncanny nimbleness, darting around all of the shuriken, becoming skinny and small as she continued her trek towards Tenten. When within striking distance, Hinata thrust her right palm forward, but Tenten just leapt over Hinata, twisting her lithe body in a beautiful display of elegance and nimbility.

But with the elegant display, came another flurry of shuriken and kunai raining from the sky. Hinata bounced away, doing her very best to avoid each and every one of them, a feat that was amazing in and of itself.

When finally the rain of metal death stopped and Tenten had landed, two scrolls could be seen in her hands. Both were bound, for now, but soon, given the way Tenten was holding them, they soon would not be. Her thumbs snapped the string binding the scrolls closed, and she prepared to unravel them, but not before making a statement.

"It's nothing personal, Hinata-san. But I want to win just as much as, I'm sure, you do. This technique, only Neji-kun has been able to defeat." With a cross of her arms, the scrolls unraveled, and metal flooded all that the eye was capable of seeing. Hinata was blanketed by a virtually inescapable swarm of kunai and shuriken, with no route for escape.

Naruto had found it odd that Tenten would make such a comment before attacking, but after seeing the technique she was using, he understood. Only if you were capable of erecting a shield or barrier strong enough to withstand the myriad of weaponry could you seemingly escape without sustaining any, or much, damage. And Naruto worried if Hinata was capable of such a feat.

Once again, time seemed to crawl at an agonizing pace, as Naruto heard the voice of someone to his left. "Tenten has made a gross miscalculation." The voice belonged to Neji. "She used that technique, thinking that since Hinata and I are related, that we are capable of the same things. But that isn't true, is it...Uzumaki?" The last part was not meant to be taken as a question, Naruto knew.

And while he would no more care to converse with Neji than he would punch a beehive with no protection, he could not dispute the claim Neji made. As far as Naruto knew, Hinata did not possess such a shielding technique.

However, his thoughts screeched to a halt as he saw a brief flash of light, followed by about 70 of the projectiles either stopping in their tracks or being blown away by a sudden gale force. Out of the scattering projectiles came a dashing Hinata, who made it to Tenten in under two seconds.

Naruto did give Tenten some credit, though. She managed to take a defensive measure against the sprinting Hinata and made to attack her, but Hinata just spun out of the way of the high kick Tenten had thrown to attack her, and, while spinning, tapped the base of Tenten's skull with her index and middle fingers. The result of the seemingly light attack was Tenten falling to her knees, then slumping to the ground, unable to move. Paralyzed.

"Gomen, Tenten-chan, but I didn't want to hurt you. Y-You'll be numb for awhile...but then you'll be better." Hinata said, in a reassuring voice. She then looked at Hayate, calmly waiting for him to give approval of her victory.

"Winner, Hyuuga Hinata."


Simply put, Naruto was ecstatic, proud, and amazed all in one moment. Because he had just realized the significance of that last fight. His team was the only one to make it and move on intact. As Hinata came back, Naruto's smile threated to crack his face in two, but Sasuke knocked it off with a quick punch to his shoulder. Turning around, Naruto was met with a smirk on his teammate's face that was, despite it's size, as exuberant as Naruto's smile.

He was also relieved that Yamato-sensei was not making him report to the meds in the back just yet. Naruto was being given the chance to see the rest of the matches. And the next one was sure an odd match-up.

Haruno Sakura was to face Nara Shikamaru.

When the two faced each other, all viewers were surprised by the odd request of Sakura. "Shikamaru. Please fight me...with everything you've got. Please...I need this."

For several moments, the air seemed to be sucked out of the room, tension at a high, all viewers waiting for the perplexed Nara to respond to the curious request of his opponent. Finally, a groan escaped the boy's throat as he stretched his neck and rubbed his shoulders.

"Gah, and I thought Ino was troublesome." Another sigh, followed by a rebuttal from said girl, Shikamaru continued. "Meh...Fine, if that's what you want." Suddenly, Shikamaru's look went from distant to focused, his posture from relaxed to poised. He was, for the first time Naruto could remember, becoming serious about his line of work.

Hayate gave the signal to continue, and Shikamaru instantly snapped his hands together in his family's seal. His shadow, which normally would crawl towards his opponent, shot out towards Sakura like an arrow shot from a fully pulled bow string.

Sakura barely reacted in time, just managing to back flip away, but when the shadow continued to reach for her, she nimbly continued her dance backwards until finally, to her relief, and Shikamaru's chagrin, his Kagemane had reached it's limit.

"So...it does have a limit, eh?" she said between quick breaths. Naruto could tell that it wasn't because she was exhausted, more like she was surprised. Surprised by the fact that Shikamaru was being serious about this fight.

"I can only manipulate the shadow to the limits the available light gives me. In other words, yes, it does have a limit." spoke Shikamaru as the boy removed his jacket. "But, this place is a confined area. Not much room for you to move, or to escape." He then brought out a kunai and began tying the sleeves of the jacket around the kunai.

It was a strange action, especially in the middle of combat. If Sakura were truly capable to taking advantage of this opportunity, then Naruto believed she would not hesitate. But Sakura had not shown a true adaptability towards ninjutsu. Sure, she knew plenty of the more basic techniques. She mastered those quickly and flaunted it. But Naruto doubted she was much more skilled now, than she was then, in combative ninjutsu.

That weakness of her's is probably what stopped her from attacking Shikamaru, and Shikamaru seemed to know that. Once his odd task was complete, Shikamaru flung the kunai into the air and the jacket shot up like a parachute. But more importantly, it created a shadow on the ground.

Reassuming his family's seal, his shadow streaked out and connected with the floating kunai's shadow, and then continued past it. Sakura was very quick to the response, reaching into a pouch on her right thigh and pulling out a small pellet. Leaping as far backwards as she could in one go, which was surprisingly far, she threw the pellet to the ground, shrouding herself in smoke upon her landing.

When the smoke cleared, three Sakura's stood where once there was one. It was easy enough to guess she had used the Bunshin jutsu, but it was especially clever because they were flawless. Shikamaru, if he was going to use his family's ability, would need to guess right, before Sakura was within striking distance.

All at once, the Sakura's ran towards Shikamaru, but maneuvered and weaved in and out of formation, adding further confusion. Shikamaru had apparently decided upon a course of action, because he threw two kunai at two of the Sakura's and then immediately made the seal to perform his Kagemane again.

One kunai flew harmlessly through one Sakura, sticking to the wall. The other kunai and his Kagemane reached their respective targets at exactly the same time. The Kagemane continued on, much to Shikamaru's furthered chagrin, as the other kunai was dodged by the real Sakura. Now with Sakura within striking distance, the Kagemane was rendered a useless technique, and Shikamaru released his hold on it.

And just in time, too. Sakura threw a punch that Shikamaru blocked only a few inches from his face. The two shared a slight smile before resuming. Suddenly, Shikamaru forced the issue, going into a taijutsu combination that had Sakura on the defensive, until she dropped low, keeping her left knee tucked to her body and used it to pivot her body on the ground as she performed a standard leg sweep.

Shikamaru, further surprising on-lookers, fell to the ground, raising his legs to avoid the sweep, and planted his hands firmly on the ground. Using his planted hands the same way Sakura had used her left leg, he pivoted on the ground, performing his own leg sweep, but he used both legs, which would create more impact. Lucky for Sakura, she had apparently improved her nimbility and speed, for she avoided the attack with ease.

But her avoiding of his attack left her open for him to attempt the Kagemane once again. And yet, she seemed to be on the same page as him, for she threw another smoke pellet that shrouded her, and she once again was surrounded, when the smoke cleared, by more bunshins, but this time there were four. The five Sakuras, copies or not, all grinned a mischevious grin, before holding out their right hands, index and middle fingers making a V-for-Victory sign.

At that exact moment, Shikamaru's eyes bulged wide as the air around him distorted and wavered, before the shocking sight of Sakura met the eyes of all on-lookers, as she stood behind him, kunai pointed directly at the carotid artery on his neck.

"Give up, Shikamaru-kun. You've lost." When she saw his hands tense for a brief moment, she gritted her teeth in frustration, and pressed the blade closer to the artery. "Ah, ah, ah," she said in an admonishing tone, "Don't try anything funny now. I don't want to do it, but I want to win, now that I've come this far."

Shikamaru, despite the situation, chuckled. "Damn, you sure are troublesome. Once I saw you use the bunshins the first time, using the smoke pellet for cover, I knew you were going to try and use it to establish a close-quarters kind of fight, but you caught me off guard with this tactic. You used a genjutsu on yourself when you concealed yourself to make yourself appear invisible.

"Then you made five, making me believe I had to deal with four bunshin and one real Sakura, but you just tip-toed your way behind me, and tricked me. Very good. You got me, and good."

To the normal spectator, it might seem that Shikamaru was delaying the inevitable, or giving a proper congratulations as he admitted his defeat, but Naruto knew something was off, but he couldn't quite tell.

"You went step for step with me, and then began anticipating my moves, and was on the same page with my actions. Good job...

"Except for the fact that the sun is setting."

At the exact moment he finished his statement, a sizzling could be heard and the wall behind them exploded. Sakura, out of instinct, reacted quickly and leapt away from the explosion, not realizing the predicament it placed upon her. It was only when she landed did she notice her mistake of making a hasty decision purely on instinct.

Light flooded in from the hole created by the explosion and cast Shikamaru in it's glow, giving off the impression of the victorious hero. But more importantly, was the fact that the light was casting a shadow from his body and connected to her's. She looked up, only to see the truth of the situation. Shikamaru, serious look plastered on his face, hands in his family's seal, as her body went rigid.

"Kagemane...successful." he spoke, releasing the seal, but maintaining his hold over her. "I'll give you a lot of credit, I never expected the whole invisible thing. You did surprise me there."

"H-How...When?" she asked, shock and disbelief in her words.

"The kunai I threw that went through your first bunshin, had an explosive tag on it. I had not activated it when I threw it. I activated it when I felt the metal touching my neck and you dispel your genjutsu. It was a special tag though, it wouldn't go off just like that. It was a delayed-response tag made specifically for setting traps or surprising a dis-alarmed opponent.

"But I had to choose the right side and then lure you close to it, since you were determined to make this fight a taijutsu fight. Luckily, you did it for me. And I guess...the rest is history, ne?" Taking his right hand, it tightened as though he were gripping something, Shikamaru brought it up to his throat, stopping a few inches from his artery.

Sakura's right arm and hand mimicked his, and brought the kunai still held in her hand up to her throat, bladed point pressing just slightly against the major artery. Her eyes were wide as Shikamaru raised his left hand high into the air, Sakura's left arm and hand doing the same, and he gave her the ultimatum.

"It's over, Sakura-san. Give up." he spoke, telling her her only options right now. She gulped a couple times, sweat beading down her face, before she seemed to finally resign herself to the conclusion.

"I...give up." she spoke, dejected and defeated.

But after Hayate declared Shikamaru the victor, with a bit of pride in the proctor's voice as the declaration was made, Shikamaru did something surprising yet again. "Don't talk in such a manner. And hold your head up." He released the Kagemane's hold on her, as he continued in his speech.

"I don't do this much, alright? So bear with me. But I feel like I gotta say you took one hell of a step towards bettering yourself today. If I hadn't thought to put that explosive tag on the kunai when I threw it, you would've won. So don't kill yourself over one loss." Walking to where his jacket was, he untied it and put it back on, then put his hands into his pants' pockets as he walked towards the steps.

"Instead of thinking of it as a loss, use it as a small step towards a much bigger goal...and pass the next time."

Shikamaru's speech had the desired effect, because Sakura's eyes shone with renewed vigor and determination, where they were dull just moments ago when she admitted defeat. Naruto already had respect for Shikamaru, for he knew of the boy's uncanny intelligence, but now he was certain of something as he watched the boy climb the stairs and come back to his team.

'He's gonna be a great leader someday, for sure.'

But back to the prelims, and Naruto ran down the fights and realized this was the last one, the three-way match. After realizing that, he went down the remaining fighters and was stunned. 'How could something like this happen? How could they let this system whittle down the fighters and then have a three-way match where two people on the same team would be fighting in the same match.'

Sure enough, the proof appeared as the last fight would be between Ezekiel and two shinobi from Sound, Abumi Zaku and Tsuchi Kin.

Out of the corner of his eye, Naruto could see, as well as feel, the frustration coming from Vander, but Ezekiel was surprisingly calm in the face of this situation.

The two sound genin snickered and whispered amongst each other, probably strategizing how to work with each other to take Ezekiel down as quickly as possible, and then settle who would represent their team and win the match.

"I wouldn't bother with that." spoke Ezekiel, that same strange calm fluttering about, even in the words he spoke.

"Whatcha mean by that, pretty boy." came the snide response from Zaku.

The two shinobi fixed their gazes on each other, as Hayate seemed to debate with himself between starting the match as normal, or not even allowing it to happen. However, it was the words that came next from Ezekiel that seemed to start a chain of events that Naruto could honestly say he never saw coming.

"You two are currently trying to find a way to choose which of you will move on after you two have defeated, are you not?" Stretching his neck from side to side, everyone could hear the popping of stiff joints. "The problem with your dilemma is that you are yet to even fight me. Therefore, the two of you believe that I have no shot at defeating you both, given that you will tag-team against me."

His gaze hardened into a piercing glare and the temperature seeming to drop a couple degrees as Ezekiel's killing intent leaked into the air. "Donot...insult me."

"Cheh...I'll make you eat your words, kid." Zaku clenched his hands as he readied for the start of the match.

Naruto observed this whole situation with a startling amount of anticipation. Of the three shinobi, this one appeared to be more respected by the team as a whole. Naruto recalled, back when they first met, Kidreme showing a large amount of respect towards Ezekiel, coming to the seemingly arrogant boy's defense. Why show that much respect to someone within your own age group unless there was good reason?

Each team is given a purpose, and each shinobi that makes up that team is given a role. Their team seemed to be a combative team, with Kid being support. That would leave two fields. Elru seemed to fit in the mold of the closer, the one who finishes the job, and takes out the stragglers or those who hope to escape. Which meant that Ezekiel was the opening act, the first strike.

But in order to be a first-strike style of shinobi, you had to be reliable, efficient, and most of all, possess the strength and ability to utilize powerful attacks against a number of opponents that could heavily outnumber you. So perhaps, given if this was the case for Ezekiel, the numbers game really wouldn't play much of a factor in favor of the two sound genin.

Hayate, for the last time this day, gave the signal for the final preliminary fight to begin. Zaku instantly attacked, jerking his left arm out, palm forward, as a wave of slicing, cutting air, escaped the metal tubes as he attempted to cut down Ezekiel quickly.

But as the cutting funnels of wind reached Ezekiel, the blue-haired shinobi vanished from his previous position, the cutting wind just fizzling out as it did not hit it's intended target.

Kin blinked several times in disbelief. "Where did he go?" she asked, almost in a frantic manner.

From behind her, much to the shock of the kunoichi, as well as all else, Ezekiel responded to her. "Behind." She turned around, just in time to see his fist emerge from the cloak and strike her in her gut, doubling the poor, unsuspecting kunoichi over in pain. "You are not a threat, so I am not treating you as such. Be grateful it doesn't hurt more." He then raised his knee, connecting with her chin, snapping her head back, and launching her several yards away.

That left just Ezekiel and Zaku. The latter of the two stood dumbfounded and enraged. The other stood tall and proud, his gray eyes, nearly unreadable, but assisting his body language in a boastful statement that Ezekiel did not have to state. He had not only asserted himself, but he had capitalized upon small fragments of what were opportunities presented to him, and now he was in complete control.

Naruto overheard the mumblings of his own sensei, and listened in to see if he could pick up anything from the hushed whispers of Yamato. Deciding to forego the classic of shinobi tactics, Naruto asked his sensei outright. "Sensei, what's up? You're mumbling something and I was just-"

"Sorry, Naruto, but I'm just impressed at this entire class of Chuunin-hopefuls." He then stared at the floor where the two combatants were facing each other, waiting for the other to make the next move. "That one, for instance," he continued, referring to Ezekiel, "just performed a technique I simply was not expecting out of someone his age." Yamato looked at Naruto, and Naruto could tell that, just like when Hinata had been muttering about Neji being able to use theKaiten, that this technique was also just as impressive at mastering. "Shunshin."

Naruto's eyes bulged at the mention of the skill. It wasn't really a technique more than it was an acquired talent gained through rigorous amounts of training and perfecting one's own body movement, chakra control, and focus. Apparently, Naruto's earliest assessment of Ezekiel was true. The blue-haired, gray-eyed shinobi was just like Neji and Sasuke. An arrogant ass and totally cocky, but a genius nonetheless.

Zaku, rattled as he was, still managed to chuckle despite the change in tides. "That look is funny, you know? You think that just because you dodged it once that you can do it again. Plus, you're thinking that without my partner, this will be a lot easier, am I right?" Zaku then held up both arms and aimed them for Ezekiel. "Don't get cocky, the fun's just starting."

As soon as his cliché retort was finished, he unleashed his assault. A wave of wind, much larger than the first time, cascaded all around, trying to overwhelm any and all that would dare to oppose it. Those on the overhangs, did all they could to brace themselves as the massive gusts threatened to knock them off their feet.

When finally the assault died down, Zaku, as well as the remaining spectators, waited to see what had become of Ezekiel. The dust began to settle, and what met the eyes of all was quite a sight indeed.

A large shell, like one would expect to see on a turtle, was resting in the exact spot Ezekiel had been just moments ago. The size of the shell was not alarming, but it also was no mere shell. It was probably 7 feet wide and 6 feet tall. The shell itself appeared worn and weathered, as though it were ancient.

A shuffling noise of sorts could be picked up coming from underneath the shell, if that made any sense at all. But that's when one half of the shell was propped up, revealing Ezekiel to be unscathed, but curiously lacking his cloak.

"H-How did you..." asked Zaku, repulsed and infuriated that his attacks were proving fruitless.

"Ninpou: Kame Kawa no Mannen." responded Ezekiel, a slight movement of his head proving his referral towards the discarded shell. "There's only so much one can do with a weapon such as your's." he continued, his voice carrying a sort of mocking tone to it. Like one would expect from a wise elder trying to teach know-it-all kids. "You know, Uzumaki-san spoke the truth when he fought your other teammate. You're pathetic. All you wield, all you have, is your manufactured power."

"SHUT UP!!!" erupted Zaku, tightening his arms, readying to launch yet another wave of damaging wind. But the hum could be heard as he built up power for it. "I'll show you my power, power blessed upon me by our great Otokage."

A cocky smirk crept from the corners of Ezekiel's mouth as a small chuckle floated into the air, mixing and mingling with the hum from the man-made tunnels inside Zaku's arms. "Very well, I will test your power. Give me your best shot." Ezekiel then started forming a large number of handseals at a fast rate of speed. "Fire away." he challenged, daring Zaku to make the first move.

Of course, Zaku complied, calling out the name of his most powerful attack. "ZANKUKYOKUHA!!!" he shouted, a monstrous bang signifying the ignition of the technique. Then, a blast, much larger than the one previous to this, erupted from the tunnel-like device residing in Zaku's arms. The oto-shinobi could only cackle for even he did not believe he could unleash power of this magnitude. But now that he saw what he was doing, what his weapon was truly capable of, he knew this fight was over with.

But amidst all of the chaos, in the middle of the raucous of his strongest attack, he could hear the call of his opponent's technique and, even more frightening, feel the release of chakra. "Suiton: Daibakufu no Jutsu."

Not but a little more than a second later, Zaku was careened into by a massive surge of water, almost the size of the Zankukyokuha, but with more than enough force to knock him off his feet and plant him firmly into the wall behind him.

Once the commotion finally died down, Ezekiel could be seen standing right knee bent, placed in front of him, left leg tight and firm, acting as an anchor for Ezekiel's body. His arm's were outstretched before him, right hand's palm placed on the back of his left hand, the palm of that hand facing his target. Droplets of water dripped to the floor from the left hand of the boy, and a layer of moisture covered his face, but whether it was from the attack he had just used or sweat from the exertion could not be determined.

Finally relaxing his posture, Ezekiel turned to walk away, believing he had won. Honestly, so did Naruto, given the chakra used to exert that much pressure into the water jutsu. But then he heard the familiar burst of air that came from Zaku's weapon, and saw Ezekiel turn around just in time for him to put up a moderate defense. The boy's body was not overly large, so his arms did not act as much of a shield, but the attack did not have nearly the size it had in previous uses, nor the power. But the aftermath showed it still could cause damage.

The clothing that had felt the brunt of the attack was shredded, and blood did dribble on to the floor, signifying damage had been done. And the frequency that the blood did drip to the floor showed that the attack was a devastating one indeed, even at that weakened state.

"You...shouldn't presume, pretty boy...that you've won...just because you got the better of me...in that little duel." he managed to get out between deep breaths, demonstrating that Zaku was close to exhaustion, but he apparently held a great deal of pride, for Naruto could only guess that was what was fueling him. "Never...ever...turn your back on an opponent...unless you know you've finished them off. Now I'll finish this off." he spoke, grinning madly as he prepared for another attack, probably his last one.

"Pathetic," Ezekiel mumbled. "I gave you a chance to demonstrate your power...and you lost. But instead of finishing the job, I don't finish the job, to spare you, and let you understand the meaning behind my words." He lowered his arms, showing his features were of a seething, astonished anger. "One trick ponies don't survive in our world. You have to adapt, but your ignorance tells me there is no hope for you."

"You know...you talk a lot for someone who's about to lose." spoke Zaku, arrogant in the face of what he thought was his victory.

"No more words...only actions. Actions will now speak for me...as I put you out of your misery." The last portion of his statement was spoken in such a way that chilled all spectators. He had heard that tone before in someone else's voice. Ezekiel's teammate, Kidremé, had had that same tone in his voice when he was speaking to Gaara. And if Kid had had the power, Naruto honestly believed the boy would have made good on the promise to destroy Gaara.

Zaku, not believing Ezekiel could do anything more to him, probably believing Ezekiel was exhausted from using that last technique, just chuckled once more in that arrogant way, as he directed both arms towards Ezekiel, intending to perform one more attack to end the fight. "Just shut up and die."

But then Ezekiel vanished again, his previous spot showing only a slim amount of evidence that he had been standing there. Naruto instantly began trying to search for him, trying to locate the boy, who was using the Shunshin once more. Only a brief moment later did he see the air shift to the right of Zaku, and Ezekiel appeared, jaw tightened and face contorted into an expressive visage of rage and deadly resolve.

But Ezekiel was not the same as he was before he had used the shunshin. He was now wielding a menacing weapon, a staff almost as long as Ezekiel was tall, with a terribly fierce-looking blade adorned on the top end. It was shaped like a familiar symbol, a symbol Naruto had seen before in a history book from back in the academy. It was a Fleur de Lis. The longest portion of the blade jutted out straight, and was probably a little over two feet in length. Two more blades jutted off from the base of the main blade, about one foot in length each, and bent like a crescent. They held a resemblance to scythes, and the way Ezekiel was holding the weapon, he appeared to be a servant of the grim reaper.

"FOOL!!!" Ezekiel roared, raising the weapon high, gripped with two hands, and brought it down, completely severing both arms between the wrist and elbow joints of both arms, at a perfectly gruesome half-way point.

A pause hung in the air as the delayed response was expected. Soon, not but a few seconds later, Zaku screamed bloody murder, horrified look on his face as the boy looked at his cleaved arms. Another noise filled the air, as the blade of the Ezekiel's weapon scraped across the floor. He had repositioned it so that the blade was facing behind him and the butt end of the staff was facing Zaku.

A quick jab, and the butt end slammed into Zaku's nose, the familiar crimson of blood flew into the air immediately following the strike, and knocked him partially off his feet, vulnerable to the next motion. A strong, side thrust kick was planted firmly into Zaku's sternum, and sent the poor boy sprawling across the ground. Ezekiel was not done, however, for he crouched down, low to the ground, seemingly to make a move towards Zaku and continue the brutal assault.

But that was before the commanding voice of Vander rose above all else and halted Ezekiel in his tracks. "That's enough, Ezekiel!"

Before he could move any further, Ezekiel froze, and Naruto viewed a strange, curious event. The grey-colored eyes of the boy which had held little emotion, aside from the fury and rage that had glowed among the orbs just moments ago, shrank and trembled. It was hard to assume when you hardly knew an individual, but Naruto had read books, studied notes, and knew through teachings from many that this was a common reaction among one who was either shocked, scared, or horrified.

Slowly, almost cautiously, Ezekiel un-tensed his body, shuddering all the while, and brought the weapon to stand in front of him. Holding it in position with one hand, he used the other to form the commonly-used one-handed seal, and spoke low and hushed. "Kai." A quick popping noise was accompanied by a thick layer of smoke that surrounded the weapon. When the smoke cleared, the weapon was gone, replaced by a smaller, bound scroll, like one of the ones Tenten had used earlier to materialize her weapons.

Tucking it into a holster on his back, he walked to pick up his cloak, disappointment in his body language and placed it back on. Hayate declared him the winner and called for the medics to come quickly. As they rushed in and collected the still unconscious Kin and the shuddering, pale Zaku, another crew came in to fix up the floor. They quickly went to work, patching up the walls, cleaning up the spilt blood, collecting all the scattered kunai and shuriken used in previous fights.

Soon, the ground floor looked presentable, and Hayate walked to the very center, coughing and cleared his throat. "Would all those who were victorious in their matches please come to the floor for an announcement."


The ten who won their matches marched towards their respective side's stairs and moved to stand in front of the proctor. All were confident and proud to be in this group. Above them, standing on his overhang, was the Yondaime, as he looked about all ten of the chuunin-hopefuls and nodded in acknowledgment of each one as he made eye-contact with them.

"Congratulations, each and every single one of you. You are the final ten who have qualified for the third and final portion of the Chuunin Selection Exam. This will be the same as what you all have experienced today, only with much more at stake.

"Three months from today, you will all compete against each other in a series of one on one match-ups, representing your village, and displaying all the talents you possess. Those who display all the appropriate attributes of an ideal Chuunin, will be blessed with the rank after the conclusion of the tournament. But that is not to mean that you must win the tournament in order to achieve rank. Even those who do not win the tournament can be promoted to Chuunin. Likewise, it is not guaranteed you will be promoted through complete victory in the tournament. You must display and possess all of the appropriate skills required from a Chuunin to be given the rank.

"Now before you ask, I will tell you why the tournament is so necessary. You represent your village each time you adorn your village's hitai-ite. You represent your village each time you go out on missions given to you by your village's Kage. And as such, you will be representing your village when you compete in the tournament.

"All around you, acting the role of spectators, will be influential, powerful, political presences, all possible clients for your village. If you represent your village to the utmost degree, then your village will reap possible rewards. It is a tradition older than I, and one you should be proud to participate in. Shortly, you will each select a number. That number will determine who you will be paired against and what match you will participate in."

Looking down to Hayate, he handed control to the sickly-looking man. "So, if each of you will, when your name is called, please come up and select a card. After everyone gets a card, we will ask for each person's number. So first, we will start with Uchiha Sasuke."

Sasuke walked up calmly and selected his number, not revealing it to anyone. Next was Shino, followed by Elru, then Gaara, Naruto, Lee, Neji, Hinata, Shikamaru, and finally Ezekiel. Hayate then stepped up, holding a clipboard, and looked at Sasuke first.

Down the line, they were called, revealing their number, until finally Ezekiel gave his number. Hayate finished writing down all the information on the clipboard before he called out the pairings.

"The pairings are as follows. In the first match, it will be Hyuuga Hinata against Hyuuga Neji. In the second match, Nara Shikamaru against Elru. The third match will be Rock Lee against Aburame Shino. The fourth match will be Uchiha Sasuke against Ezekiel. Finally, the fifth match will be Sabaku no Gaara against Uzumaki Naruto."

Eyes wide, shock was evident on Arashi's face as he heard the matches called out. To start out, a Hyuuga inner-clan feud could erupt do to this happening. He would have to pay careful attention to the goings-on with the Hyuugas for the next three months.

The fourth match required some surveillance as well. Ezekiel had a violent streak in him that was unnatural and haunting to see. He needed to speak with Vander to see what was up with the loose cannon and what the threat could be.

The final match was astonishing and ironic indeed. Naruto and Gaara would become a circus, as people would make it more about the sons of the two Kage's, and not about two shinobi trying to reach the rank of Chuunin. The additional factor was what Gaara contained. He could not fault the young boy for wanting to make something of his life, so the only option available for him was to train Naruto...and hard.

At that time, someone appeared in a poof of smoke wearing an animal mask and grey body armor. "What is wrong, Cat."

"Gomen-nasai, Hokage-sama, but I have grave news to bring to your's and Jiraiya's attention. Sandaime Sarutobi-sama has passed away."


Chapter Twenty End

And so it's the end of that chapter. I hope it wasn't a disappointment for the length of time between the updates. Sad to say, but my life can't revolve around my hobbies, otherwise, I'd have a chapter out a week. I have other things that need to be done in my life for me to live. I can only hope to give you a rough estimate now, of when I will produce the next chapter. Given a change of circumstances now, the estimate is one month. So hopefully I can crank out the next chapter within that timeframe.

Fuuton: Takaya no Jutsu - Wind Release: Falcon Arrow Technique A technique used by pulling upon the air circulating around the user and compressing it into a fine needle. In previous uses, Naruto used the technique by pulling it through a focal point in front of him. In this method, he gave it more power by focusing the technique on a part of his body.

Ninpou: Kame Kawa no Mannen - Shinobi Art: 10,000 year old tortoise shell A technique used by Ezekiel. He gathered the chakra around his cloak and re-shaped it into the mold of a tortoise shell.

Zankukyokuha - Extreme Decapitating Air Cutter

Suiton: Daibakufu no Jutsu - Water Release: Great Waterfall Technique (aka Giant Vortex)

And in the next chapter, the genin of Team Seven will be seen in their preparations for the Chuunin exam as they begin their training. A village will mourn the loss of an amazing shinobi and an excellent leader. And something is happening behind the scenes. What is in store for Konoha in the next chapter. The next chapter: Corruption