Overlord

xxx

Kyuubi, or rather Chishio, the name he had chosen for himself, was crunching idly on the bones of his latest kill.

True, the demons in this area were weaker than normal... but he had failed to take into account just how weak he had been left after being removed from that accursed human's seal.

He was barely able to deal with one of the demonlings at a time... if two or more managed to corner him, he would be history. He had to be extremely careful about where and when he allowed himself to sleep as well. Even one, if it caught him asleep, would be enough to finish him off.

He grew very still and quiet as something made a rustling noise outside his hidden hole in the ground. Damn... he hated this. It had been millenia since he'd lived in such an ignoble fashion. Hell, even when he'd joined Krichevskoys guards as the lowest of the low, an aide that would shine soes, fetch mugs of ale, and occasionally deal with the paperwork for the higher ups he had lived in far better conditions than this... and there had been the constant hopes of a chance to prove himself in battle, and earn advancement through the ranks.

He scowled silently and prepared himself for the oncoming battle as he realized just what he had been momentarily considering.

The demon poked its head into his den, and Chishio launched himself at it, claws extended fully.

xxx

Naruto paused as the disturbing feeling that someone was watching him settled. He glanced subtly around the area his team had paused in but either he was imagining things, or his watchers were very good at hiding... or under a complex genjutsu.

Laharl had pounded into his head, time and time again, to never write off odd feelings as 'just his imagination'.

"Nn... I have to... you know..."

Sakura turned a fierce red, though whether from anger or embareassment was impossible to tell, as Naruto turned to a tree and began fiddling with his pants. Her fist slammed into the back of his head.

"Idiot! You don't do such things in front of a girl! Go off a little way first."

"I don't get it but... okay, Sakura-chan!"

Sasuke sighed mentally, knowing that the blonde had actually had the right of it for once. In a situation like this, it was a bad... no, a horrible idea to go off on ones own. Modesty was irrelevant compared to the fact that there was probably at least one team waiting and watching them for just such a slip up.

He shivered as he came to the abrupt and disturbing realization that had it been he who had had to relieve himself, Sakura would likely simply have flushed and tried to get a good look. Kami... he was only twelve. So was she for that matter.

He heaved another mental sigh as he set in to wait for Naruto to return... even if it wouldn't neccessarily be Naruto returning.

A couple minutes passed, and Naruto stepped back into the clearing, a wide, satisfied grin on his face. Sasuke hurled a shuriken at his head.

"Sasuke-kun!"

"Teme! What the hell! What's wrong with you?"

"Shut up, Imposter!"

Sasuke lunged at Naruto, swinging kunai in both hands. Naruto barely dodged each of the swinging strikes.

"Imposter! What the hell are you talking about?"

"It was easy to tell. Your kunai pouch... er, the cut on your cheek... uh... SHARINGAN!"

For several seconds, nobody moved as Sasuke stared at Naruto with the jutsu-piercing eye technique. Then a light flush found its way to his face.

"Oops? Sorry, Naruto."

"Sorry? SORRY! You just tried to kill me, bastard!"

"I was sure that the person watching us had ambushed you... it seems I was wrong."

Sakura stared in shock as the Uchiha prince was proven to be capable of making mistakes... a humbling experience, for sure.

"Watching us... oh, him!"

Sasuke blinked.

"So... he did ambush you. But you won?"

"Not really... its weird. The second I dropped my pants, he tried to jump me from behind... but he tripped over a root and smashed his head open against a stone. Brains all over the ground."

"Huh... lucky. Did he have a scroll?"

"Yeah... this black 'Earth' scroll. Which one did we have again?"

"The white 'Heaven' scroll."

They were silent for a moment, even as a hidden snakeface panicked. This was not at all what he'd expected to happen... he'd been planning on letting that Kiri-nin challenge Sasuke so that he had a basic idea of how much he would have to hold back while testing him... with a brief stroke of luck, that plan had been countered, and if they made it to the tower before he could mark Sasuke then a large chunk of THE PLAN had just gone down the drain. He rose from the ground and began feverishly making handseals.

"Wait... if we have both scrolls, does that mean we can just-"

WOOSH!

A powerful blast of wind slammed directly into Naruto, launching him away and interrupting the team's conversation.

"What... the hell just...?"

Orochimaru stepped into the clearing, leering malevolently at Sasuke.

"Hello... Sasuke-kun."

xxx

Naruto was more than well prepared to hurtle through the air at high velocity... Laharl gave him enough practice at it, after all. He spread eagled his arms and legs, grabbing hold of his mantle to stretch it out and create more drag to slow him further, then when he dropped to an acceptable speed he curled into a ball and did a couple of somersaults to reduce his momentum and extended one foot to come down for a landing... directly in the mouth of a monstrously huge snake.

"Sometimes... I really hate my life." He muttered, as the snake swallowed its unexpected meal.

xxx

Sasuke was panicking, horrified at the caliber of this new opponent. Even with the Sharingan activated, he was only barely able to keep up. Having to nick himself with a kunai whenever the mysterious nin had brought the entirety of his killer intent to bear upon him had begun to take its toll as well.

Which was why he was running full out, an unconcious Sakura slung over his shoulder like a bag of potatoes. He glanced feverishly around, knowing that his pursuer couldn't be too far behind.

'Where is he? Where...'

He was distracted from his thoughts by a loud hissing. Startled, he leapt away from the branch, barely avoiding being bitten.

'Dammit... I was so distracted that I completely missed the presence of a giant snake?'

His blood ran cold as an evil chuckle emanated from the snakes head and its mouth opened to allow the creepy grass nin to step out.

"Kukuku... prey has to flee, and focus only on fleeing... when in the presence of a predator. Run little boy, run!"

Sasuke was unable to move, completely paralyzed with terror as the grass-nin's tongue extended several feet from his mouth and tracked across the side of his face.

"But it seems, like a shocked deer, you can only freeze in terror and await the inevitable. A pity."

He opened his mouth wide and fangs extended, but something flashed in his eyes and he suddenly leapt back as dozens of shuriken and kunai impacted on the section of branch he'd been standing on.

Both of the ninjas turned to the source of the attack... a grinning, smiling blonde.

"Sorry I'm late Sasuke... I got held up by a persistent dinner guest."

Sasuke had no idea what he was talking about, but the sheer shock in the Grass's eyes proved it hadn't been expected.

"You defeated my snake Naruto-kun? Surprising... kukuku... I had just written you off as a failure, a dropout with no talent, but no mere dropout could have defeated a snake that size... and uninjured, I see. What secrets are you hiding?"

Sasuke couldn't help but try to interrupt. The dobe? Secrets? Psh. An extremely concentrated dose of killer intent knocked him out from sheer terror.

"Ah, Sasuke-kun... so dissapointing. I had such high hopes... but then, there's still time isn't there. If you would excuse me a moment, Naruto?"

"Whatever... just keep your clothes on. Anything further will have to wait for your third date."

Orochimaru didn't know whether to be amused or pissed at the comment, so chose to simply ignore it as he sank his fangs into Sasuke's shoulder.

Naruto used the opportunity to take a glance at his stats and whistled. This Orochimaru guy was tough... he would have to go all out against him. The thought brought a smile to his face.

Orochimaru removed his fangs from Sasuke, a drop of blood dripping off them as he looked down and smiled at the forming seal. Heaven... the boy had potential after all. If he survived, that is. He turned to the boy, whose constant grin had turned malevolent.

"So, Jinchuuriki... lets see just how many secrets you've been keeping."

Naruto's eyes flashed crimson.

xxx

"Sabaku Sousou."

The screams of the three rain-nin were cut off as they were crushed to death. Kiba and Akamaru were horrified at the sight from their hidden positon, and Shino had paled slightly. Perhaps it could be attributed to her new nature that Hinata was simply awed at the destructive potential of the technique.

"T-t-too strong... we have to go, now."

"Not... enough..."

The group froze as Gaara began talking to himself.

"I want... I need... More Blood!"

Thankfully, Gaaras siblings panicked and thought he was talking about killing them. A minute or two of frenzied babbling later, they had somehow convinced him to just go to the tower and wait for the next phase of the test. Kiba was literally shivering in relief as Gaara corked his gourd and walked away.

"Pansy." Hinata muttered under her breath, too low for her teammates to catch.

xxx

Naruto's grin had grown to the point that it threatened to take the top of his head of. He had been slammed into tree after tree, bitten by poisonous snakes, stabbed, his clothes burned, buried under water and mud, and zapped with three seperate bolts of lightning. At this point, he looked like he had been sent through a meat grinder, although most of the damage was superficial, keeping his regeneration from activating.

"WHY!" Orochimaru raged. "Why won't you fight back! Show me your power, Jinchuuriki! Show me the secrets you hide! Or won't the Kyuubi lend you strength?"

Orochimaru frowned as Naruto's lips curled back, turning his grin into a frightening leer.

"Kyuubi? Don't you know? The Kyuubi Is Dead. I entered its cell long ago, and killed it for its power. The power to become the next Kyuubi. And as for why I haven't been fighting full out? Me, a pitiful Genin against the Legendary Sannin, Orochimaru? All that I could possibly be capable of would be to stay alive for long enough to find a way to escape."

"But I had to make sure I was wounded enough to give the story realism."

Orochimaru's eyes widened slightly as he realized the cunning of the plan. If the boy was indeed more powerful than he seemed, then he would have to hide it from the council members, who he knew full well would likely call for his execution should he grow too powerful. As is, with the way he looked, they would only be dissappointed that he hadn't managed to die against Orochimaru.

"Are you ready for me, Hebi-kun? MONSTROUS TRANSFORMATION!"

The process of shifting to his Monster form, clad this time in a leather loincloth, from his normal one took less than a second, and the results left Orochimaru drooling. He could feel the spike in power from the shift, and could only wonder what would happen with the application of a cursed seal.

He swiftly discovered that he had more important things to worry about as Naruto's fist slammed into his face.

"Before the transformation," he rasped "You would have won against me easily enough. Your stats all read as several hundred above mine. But after the transformation, and the power it gives me... YOU ARE NO MATCH FOR ME!"

From then on, the battle was one-sided, in Naruto's favor. Orochimaru would summon a snake. Naruto would kill it. Orochimaru would launch snakes from his sleeves. Naruto would bite their heads off in a single snap and swallow them, then leer menacingly. Orochimaru would slash or stab Naruto with the Kusanagi. Naruto would trust his regeneration to deal with the poison and ignore the minor wounds to deal bone-crushingly powerful blows to Orochimaru. Orochimaru's killer intent was brushed off and returned tenfold.

Orochimaru had no idea what he had meant by 'stats', but the boy had seemed to suddenly become an unstoppable juggernaut. If he summoned Manda, he might have a chance... but that would immediately alert the ANBU to his location and completely ruin THE PLAN. And if the Kyuubi was really gone, and all the power the boy was using was his own, then his trump card for this situation, the Gogyo Fuuin, would have little to no effect.

He scowled and broke from the battle, knowing that he couldn't last much longer in these conditions.

"Fine. You win this time, Naruto-kun... but next time we meet, the conditions will be in my favor. You may be useful to me as a vessel, or perhaps not, but one way or another I will claim your power for my own!"

Naruto watched as he left, not bothering to chase after him. He didn't even flinch as he shifted back to his human... ish form and all the myriad nasty looking wounds returned to him.

He lifted his teammates over his shoulders and trekked off into the woods, looking for a suitable place to rest. He had appearances to keep up.

Over an hour later, Sakura slowly came to and stared in shock at the sight before her. Sasuke, with an oddly shaped bruise on his neck and who simply wouldn't wake up... and Naruto, who's breathing was ragged and slow, was laying collapsed in a pool of his own blood, and was covered in burns, mud, and wounds.

She came to the horrified realization that she was now stuck protecting them both until they woke up. Shaking her head, she set herself to tending their wounds.

xxx

Gecko growled softly as he tore into a raw steak.

"I'm bored. There's nothing to do in this house."

We could go train." Mihoshi suggested.

"Train, Train, Train. That's all you want to do. And with blondie of on his little test thingy we're not even allowed to open a gate to the demon realms, where we might find something fun to do."

"Like... Train?"

Slai giggled from within the glass tub she was watching from as Gecko actually began vibrating in repressed rage.

"No. Not like training. Like visiting the lava baths or touring the canyons of perpetual agony where reside the imps of malevolence."

"That sounds boring. Why do that, when we could train instead?"

Gecko snapped and lunged at her, starting the fourth brawl of the day.

xxx

Sakura had been up all night watching for attacks, and was ready to drowse off until a rustling nearby snapped her to full awareness. She sighed as she realized that it was only a squirrel, and almost closed her eyes again, but then her head snapped up as she noticed something and she hurled a kunai at the small animal, sending it scampering back off into the bushes.

"Huh... she detected the explosion tag hidden on the squirrel?"

"No... It was something else. We'll wait here for a little while. If she falls asleep, it will make things easier for us."

For hours, the shadowy figures sat there. Not moving the slightest, not a word passing between them, until dawn broke.

Sakura snapped to full awareness as the three sound genin dropped into the clearing in front of the hollow under the tree where her teammates were resting.

"We're here... to kill Uchiha Sasuke."

xxx

Sasuke was floating gently in a sea of kaleidoscopic colors, swirling and forming strange shapes, sounds, and pictures. It wasn't long before the sounds formed into cohesive words, and then sentences, and then he was watching entire memories float past.

"... thought Shisui was like a brother to you."

"You know the hand signs. Gather the chakra in your chest as you inhale, then let it out all at once as you breath out."

"As expected... you are indeed my son."

"Thanks to him, I gained this eye."

"If you open your eyes to the truth... then including myself, there would be three people who could handle the Mangekyou Sharingan. In that case... there would be a reason to let you live."

"If you want to kill me... Curse me! Hate me! Run away... and cling to your pitiful life. Then one day, when you have the same eyes as me... come before me."

"This is my world of Tsukiyomi. In here, for the next seventy two hours, you will watch as I kill the clan."

"Seventy one hours, fifty nine minutes, and fifty nine seconds to go."

"Mother and Father..."

Sasuke turned slowly away from the painful visions, coming face to face with... himself.

"Mother and Father... they didn't have to die... If I'd been stronger... faster... I could have saved them. I need power... through any means possible... if I am to avenge them."

"Any means possible..." He murmured, seemingly hypnotized.

"If I have to sell my soul into darkness..."

"THEN SO BE IT!" Sasuke roared, and the world swirled around him as the Curse seal took a permament hold, tainting him.

His eyes snapped open, and he rose to his feet, glancing only momentarily at Naruto, who had begun to stir. The tiniest stab of pity lanced through him as he took in the blondes beaten form. He could only imagine what the dead-last had gone through, to escape from Orochimaru with them... although, as a hand rose to his seal, he knew that he hadn't managed to protect them completely... not like he could. The Sannin was completely out of their league... for now.

He stepped out, into the battle in progress. Sakura. She was severely injured, and the three bearing Orochimaru's sound note on their hitai-ate were ready to finish her off, despite the interference from other Konoha nin. Time for him to step in.

"Sakura," He called. "Which one did this to you?"

"Tell us." Came a second voice. "And we'll kill him for you."

Sasuke turned his head, slightly surprised. He hadn't expected Naruto to wake in time for this... But as he watched, a malevolent red chakra seeped out of him healing every wound he could see in seconds. Interesting.

In reality, Naruto had just woken up from a nap, and seeing Sasuke pumping out a really weird dark aura he decided to improvise.

"I see you're surprised, Sasuke. But this is none of your business. Now Sakura..."

"Which one did this to you?" Sasuke finished.

Sakura could only stare at the evil power her teammates were exuding, unable to say a word as she felt such horrifying might. Zaku, with less attuned senses, had no such problems.

"Yo! I did it! What are you going to do about it, huh?"

The loudmouth sound-nin fired off a blast of compressed air as he finished the declaration, before Dosu had a chance to warn him about Sasuke's curse seal.

"Hah! Blasted em into dust."

"Blasted..."

"Who?"

Zaku's eyes widened as he began to turn to the voices from behind him, but a powerful blow launched him forward. As he flew through the air, a red blur passed him. Then the blur formed into Naruto, who kicked him back to Sasuke, who caught him and threw him into the air. Both of them leapt and attacked, Sasuke spinning a kick, and Naruto simply putting both fists together into a hammer blow to knock Zaku to the ground. As he hit, he coughed blood and went still as the two landed gently on the ground.

"That was fun Sasuke! What should we do next?"

"Hn. My power... it was given to me by that Orochimaru. Where did your power come from... Naruto?"

Naruto shrugged idly before answering.

"Y'know... It's actually supposed to be a secret, and I could get in big trouble for telling you everything about it. Suffice to say that this is a burden placed upon me in infancy... and I had to tap into it deeper than ever to escape Orochimaru. You remember the other two times I did it, right? Haku... and when we went after the Demon brothers again. The first time it was just scrapings, just enough for me to win, and I wouldn't have even used that much if I hadn't thought you'd died. The second time was just enough to save my own life... and kill a room full of Shinobi. This third time, I had to use so much more than that, to escape the serpent sage's assault. Third times the charm, I suppose... Now I can only wonder why I kept this wonderful power locked away in the first place."

Creepily, Naruto's wide grin was reflected perfectly on Sasukes face. The Sound team had already long since snatched Zaku from the ground and fled, leaving the leaves to stare in shock as the two teammates slowly began to face off.

"I wonder... which of us is more powerful now, Naruto."

"Let's find out... Sasuke."

They began running at each other, both grinning madly. At this point Sakura's voice finally began working again.

"Sasuke-kun... Naruto... SASUKE-KUN! NARUTO! STOP! If you hurt each other, we'll all fail the exam."

Reluctantly, the two ground to a halt, a mere foot between them.

"She has a point. We'll finish this another time, Naruto."

"... If you insist."

The violent chakra around them settled down, and their eyes returned to normal. Sasuke's to dark brown, almost black, and Naruto's to his bright crystal blue.

xxx

Kankurou and Temari knew a lot about their brother. He had a demon sealed in him, he was antisocial, incredibly bloodthirsty, and... Okay, so they didn't really know very much about their brother, but what they knew counted. For instance, it was a well known fact that Gaara's bloodthirst spiked for the week around the full moon. Nobody knew why this was, though some had the theory that it was because of a resonation between the full moon and the sealed demon, Shukaku, amplifying the demon's insanity and increasing its mental persistence. There were other theories, but this was the most prevalent. They were all wrong.

The reality was that that week of the month was when Gaara's PMS kicked in.

You see, the younger brother of the sand siblings wasn't the brother at all... but the sister. As things turn out, Shukaku, who had been sealed into Gaara while she was still in the womb, was an incredibly sexist pig. So much so, that he simply couldn't abide others knowing that he had been sealed into a container that wasn't male. Part of what had caused her mothers death was a subtle rush of sand piercing her body in order to form a facsimile of infant 'danglies' before she gave birth. The sand had apparently been mostly razor sharp glass flecks... the mayhem it left as it passed hadn't been pretty.

Ever since then, everyone 'knew' that the Kazekage's son was a boy. Sure Gaara could make the sand that was crushing her chest flat and forming something in her pants that no girl should have disperse and reform in the rest of her stock... but the few times she'd done that, Shukaku had gotten at least three times as loud and, surprisingly, whiny. Like a three year old brat screaming at her at the top of his lungs. Into a microphone. With the really huge speakers set on max.

Suffice to say, she had swiftly given up and gotten used to pretending to be male, to the point where she had to focus hard to speak in anything but the low monotone she had adopted.

Another misconception was that when Gaara was talking to her 'Mother', she was talking to the Shukaku. Not true. Her mothers soul had actually bonded to the seals keeping the Shukaku within, and so when Gaara was talking to her, she really was talking to her mother. It was just that her mother had turned into a bloodthirsty witch after she died. Excusable really, given the manner of her death.

For the moment, Gaara's thoughts were on two Leaf nin. First was Sasuke Uchiha. Her thoughts on him were simple and straightforward. He was the last of a noble clan of Konoha, yet only of average power without his bloodline. Even that only raised him to a little above average... but everyone in the village loved him. They loved him and they would give him anything he wanted without a thought, and he had become spoiled and arrogant with that treatment.

Gaara wanted to kill him, to crush his bones and wring the blood from his body like a sponge. The look of shock and horror on the villages face at the death of their 'hero' would be exquisite... and it would spite Orochimaru. She knew full well that he wanted Sasuke, though she would feign ignorance to such after killing him. Orochimaru had tried multiple times and ways to fix a cursed seal to Gaara... but the sands would not allow it. Still, even trying had earned her ire.

Then there was the second... she still wasn't sure how he had caught her attention. She had only seen him once, in passing. The Uchiha's blonde teammate. She didn't even know his name, and yet she was strangely drawn to him. She considered the idea that it was a crush. It amused her and horrified the Shukaku, who began gibbering nonsensically at the idea. After a moment she dispelled the idea. She had never been interested in boys... only the blood that they would spill.

And after all, what was there to be interested in? Soft, spiked hair like a sun kissed field of wheat, or a patch of golden dunes. Crystal blue eyes like the purest water. Whiskerlike scars that would detract from anyone elses appeal, but seemed only to add to his.

Her eyes narrowed and a frown cracked through the emotionless mask as, through the window she was looking through, the Uchiha's team approached the tower and she found herself inexplicably craning her neck to try to get a better look at the blonde. Perhaps the idea of a crush wasn't so ridiculous after all.

xxx

"So... what do we do now."

"We could..."

"So help me Mihoshi, but if the next word out of your mouth is train, I'm going to eat you."

Gecko pulled back his scaly lips to show razor sharp teeth, accentuating the statement. Mihoshi shrugged and he sighed.

"Ugh. It's difficult to have fun, when there's only a few of us. We need to convince the boss to hire a Thief. Or a Ronin. They know how to have fun. You ever been to a party thrown by one of those guys?"

"Why not do it yourself... dood."

Their eyes turned to the Orange prinny who had just entered the room.

"You do know... that you are allowed to hire your own minions, so long as they are subservient to Naruto and Laharl as well... Right, doods?"

Gecko and Mihoshi turned to stare at each other for three long seconds. Then the brawl to see which would make it to the assembleyman statue first began... their sixth fight of the day.

xxx

"Sasuke, listen to me. I know its important to you to pass these prelims and continue to the third stage of the exam... but all the Jounin watching are under orders, and if they see you using the curse seal, you'll be knocked out and removed from competition. I can place a suppressor seal on it after your match, but until then you have to keep it under control. That means keeping your chakra use to a minimum... and no Sharingan."

Sasuke Hn'd in reply as the screen finally selected two names at random. Akado Yoroi... and Uchiha Sasuke.

"Remember, Don't use the seal!"

Restricted as he was, it took Sasuke a few minutes to win. Yoroi's ability to drain chakra from his palms was dangerous... in the end he'd had to adapt a hit and run strategy. Strike once, then dart away to avoid the grasping palms and then strike again. It took time, but eventually Yoroi wore down and left himself open to a knockout blow, leaving Sasuke the victor. Kakashi hopped down, grabbing Sasuke and teleporting away the second his victory was confirmed, eager to get on with sealing the curse mark.

Most of the fights following were pretty boring. The suna puppeteer faced off against a guy who seemed to be made out of rubber and thrashed him. Dosu easily won against Chouji. Zaku slipped up in his fight against Shino and blew his own arms completely off, to the point where the medic-nin were able to reattach them, but they still would take years to completely work again. That had been interesting to watch. Sakura and Ino's grudgematch had ended in a dual knockout... it was just sad.

Then came something Naruto was more interested in. Hinata's match.

xxx

Neji's eyes narrowed in disgust... and confusion. Granted, he hadn't seen Hinata in quite some time, but her body language, even if it was indistinguishable to others, was completely different from what he remembered. And the readings he was getting from her aura had changed. Like he had expected, she didn't really want to be here. But the reasons were vastly different. He didn't know why, but for some reason, Hinata actually thought she could win.

He would enjoy crushing that confidence.

"You are fated to lose Hinata-sama. You are... not listening to a word I say."

"I could be enjoying a hot soak right now." Hinata muttered under her breath, barely loud enough for Neji to pick up. "Instead, I'm stuck dealing with this crap. This sucks."

Neji's eye twitched. If he didn't know better, he would say that this was an impostor. But the Byakugan would pierce any genjutsu, and the person before him was definitely Hinata.

It was then that he caught sight of her hands.

"How foolish. You think you can even survive this match, with gloves keeping you from using Jyuuken? I'll give you one chance, right now, to forfeit. If you don't... don't expect any mercy."

"Neji-nii-san? Get fucked."

Neji's eyes widened, then narrowed as a flush of rage took over his face. In the stands, Kiba was howling with laughter, and Shino's eyebrows nearly met his hairline. Kurenai's eyes had widened at this turn of events, and Asuma's ever present cigarette had fallen out of his mouth and was rolling across the floor. Naruto was grinning widely... Etna-san had taken the time to teach Hinata how to swear.

"So be it. Proctor, begin the match."

"Jeez, Neji-nii-san, you seem constipated. How long has it been since you last took a dump?"

The enraged redness in his face grew to nuclear proportions. In the stands, people were choking.

"Or maybe it's something else. Has it been a while since you were able to get some alone time with Palmela Handerson?"

The question, and the amused, mocking tone it was delivered in, snapped something within Neji's psyche. He was seeing red.

"Hinata-sama. I'm going to kill you."

"Er... uh... Hajime?"

Neji lunged at Hinata immediately, fully offensive.

"You are within my field of divination! Hakke Ryokusho Sho!"

Hinata grinned and called out something that shocked almost everyone in the audience.

"Divination is overrated. Hakke Ryokusho Sho... Counter!"

"Two strikes!"

"Two strike counter!"

"Four strikes!"

"Four strike counter!"

"Eight strikes!"

"Eight strike counter!"

"Sixteen strikes!"

"Sixteen strike counter!"

"Thirty two strikes!"

"Thirty two strike counter!"

"Hakke, sixty four strikes!"

"Divination breaker, Sixty four strike counter!"

It was beautiful to watch. As fast as Neji could go, Hinata was always one step faster. No matter where he targeted, her hand was already there, cloaked in a thick layer of chakra to deflect his Jyuuken strike. She had developed a perfect counter to the Hyuuga Jyuuken... something that had been deemed impossible.

"How! You have no talent as a ninja! You never had any talent at the clan arts! You were fated to lose! How is this possible?"

"... Do you know... that once or twice in a generation, a child will be born with abnormally high levels of chakra?"

"How does that matter!?"

Hinata grinned, and continued her explanation... a falsehood drilled into her head by Etna-sensei.

"Did you know... that two children were born into Konoha recently, both of which had abnormally high chakra levels? One was higher than the other, and was chosen to carry a great burden by the Yondaime. That was Naruto-kun. By the time he enlisted in the academy, his chakra levels were so high, and conversely, his control over it so poor, that he couldn't use it in small enough quantities to form a simple Bunshin."

"I DONT CARE! Tell me how your Jyuuken can suddenly match mine! No amount of training could have bridged the difference between our levels!"

"... Haha... You're so impatient, Neji-nii-san. You'll never get a girlfriend that way."

"GET TO THE POINT!"

Hinata grinned at how easily she had gotten under her cousin's skin.

"The second... she could still perform normal jutsu, with difficulty, because her reserves weren't quite as abnormally large as Naruto's. But her control was still worse than normal. She was born into a clan with a special bloodline, and a special taijutsu style... that required absolute control of ones chakra. Her overabundant amounts, which would have become a gift in most other clans, became a curse. And nobody knew... because none of her clan thought to use their bloodline to look past the girls normally sized coils to the amount of chakra flowing within."

Neji's eyes had widened, and he activated the Byakugan, confirming her story. Sure enough, while her coils were perfectly normal, average in every way, the chakra within them took a bit more effort to see, and most certainly was not. It was like having three gallons of water in a one gallon can.

"You see, Neji-nii-san, before now I simply couldn't tone down the rush of chakra from my tenketsu to the momentary, needle-prick of precision that Jyuuken requires. I could tone my chakra down to use a sad fascimile of it, yes, but the effort left me drained and I swiftly fell behind the rest of the clan. Then, someone gave me these gloves. I accepted them because they were from someone I admire, and after all, I could always take them off when I practiced. But I forgot to take them off. And I discovered... that the effort of pushing the chakra through the thick gloves, combined with a bit of control, reduced the flow to the point where I could do Jyuuken properly. Perfectly. To the point where I could... improve upon the style."

Neji snapped.

"Not possible. Jyuuken is the ultimate taijutsu style. You cannot improve upon perfection!"

"..." A sigh. "Neji-nii-san... you're still so naive."

In the stands, Naruto was fidgeting. He'd expected this to be an interesting fight... but it seemed all they wanted to do was talk. He had to interfere, and he leaned over the rail.

"Hey Hinata! This is boring! Send him to the hospital already! And if he has to stay there for more than a day... I'll buy you dinner."

Hinata froze. Dinner. Dinner plus Naruto equaled date. Dates lead to affectionate hugs, which lead to romance, which lead to fevered groping in dark, out of the way corners, which lead to...

To Neji's immense confusion, Hinata's left nostril emitted a thin stream of blood and her eyes glazed over as she tugged her gloves off.

"Neji-nii-san? Do me a favor... HOLD STILL AND DIE!"

Neji's eyes widened as a red spear with a massive head popped into existence in Hinata's hands, and she thrusted it at him so fast that he barely managed to leap away. The spear head impaled itself fully into the stone wall.

Which exploded outwards from it.

"Dear kami." He muttered in awe. Had that... had that been Jyuuken? Channeled through a weapon? The primary facet of Jyuuken was the needle like strikes that temporarily sealed tenketsu and rendered an enemies chakra unusable. Its secondary use... was to force chakra into an enemies body in larger quantities to deal explosive damage to internal organs. Neji himself could do such a thing to the stone wall... but not leave such a crater, and it would leave him weary. To channel Jyuuken through a weapon... he hated to admit it, but that would definitely be an improvement.

Hinata didn't show any signs of fatigue at all as she jerked the spear out of the wall and leapt at him again. When had she learned to use a spear anyway? She thrust it at him several times over the span of a second, the drew it back and twirled it to gain momentum as she lunged again, leaving a large, bloody gash in his side as she passed. He knew he should have focused on learning the Kaiten. 'No' He'd thought. 'Leave it for later.' He'd thought. 'You'll have a whole month in between the end of the second and the beginning of the third exams'. Except now weak, timid Hinata was kicking his ass and had a counter for his best attack. He supposed he could try it again and hope she couldn't block with the spear, but that would leave him temporarily open to be skewered. She was trying to put him in the hospital, after all.

She leapt in the air, inverting the spear as she stretched her legs around it and it came down like a stinger towards his head. Again, he barely dodged, and would have attacked but Hinata somersaulted backwards, jerking the spear out of the ground and coming to land with her spear held loosely by her side again. With that stupid grin plastered on her face. He growled and charged, momentarily losing his control over the rage that had been building since the beginning of this fight. He was fated to win. He would win!

She kept smiling until he was only a foot away, and beginning his attack.

"Hakke..."

She was gone. Dreading what he would see as he returned to his senses, he looked up. Once more, she was falling at him, spearhead first, but this time there was a more ominous glimmer to it. He didn't even bother to use the Byakugan, knowing full well what was about to happen. He managed to dodge enough that the spear only scratched him lightly as it fell, but couldn't jump away in time.

The floor beneath him exploded, launching him away and into a wall. He started to slide down, but stopped as a dull thump sounded somewhere in the vicinity of his stomach. He looked down stupidly, to see what had made the noise. It was the spear, buried deep into his guts. Oh.

"How did you like the asteroid drop, Neji-nii-san? Pinning you to the wall was just a little something extra, to make sure they keep you in the hospital long enough for me to claim my reward. Proctor, I win. Call the medic nin... wouldn't want Neji-nii-san dying on us now."

Neji passed out.

xxx

The following couple of matches were pretty boring, mainly because he wasn't participating in any of them. Shikamaru took a minute to deal with Kin's Genjutsu, then used his shadow possession to make her slam her head in the wall. Then Gaara, who seemed ticked for some reason, all but crushed Lee's arm and leg into paste with his sand. Tenten versus Temari was pretty interesting, but Tenten never really stood a chance against the wind mistress. Then finally, it was his turn. He jumped down into the now near-completely destroyed battleground, followed swiftly by Kiba.

"Alright, Akamaru! For a little while, I'd been worried that we'd end up fighting someone hard. Let's finish him off in one shot!"

"Arf."

"Hajime."

Kiba needed no further encouragement to throw himself into battle, immediately using shikyaku and launching a Tsuuga. Naruto watched the spinning attack come for him and, at the last moment, stepped aside and watched Kiba continue on, to where he slammed headfirst into the wall.

Akamaru stared at Kiba, then the wall, then back down to the collapsed Kiba, as though he wasn't sure he had just seen that happen. In the stands, people were blinking in shock, and Kurenai palmed her face.

"Kiba... you idiot."

None of the Konoha ninja, save Hinata, had noticed what had really happened. Kiba had actually managed to stop the Tsuuga a hairs breath from the wall, for fear of damaging it. At the exact instant he'd stopped, Naruto's hand had reached out and grabbed his head, slammed it into the wall, then withdrawn to his pocket so fast that nobody else had seen it move. Sure once Kiba woke up, he'd know the truth... but nobody would believe him. They would all think that he was just trying to save face for his stupidity.

In the stands, Gaara's eyes narrowed as she reviewed what had happened. She hadn't seen much... just a light blur to Naruto's side... but it was obvious that the dogboy's idiocy had been assisted. Her interest in Naruto had piqued... and surprisingly, she still didn't feel the slightest desire to kill him.

How odd.

"Ahem. Now..." the proctor coughs heavily into his hand, earning a couple raised eyebrows. "If the victors would please draw a number from this box..."

The slow procession to the box began, and everyone determined when they would fight by the numbers they drew from the box. Sasuke, being absent, recieved the last number.

"Alright so the battle plan is this. In the first round, Uchiha Sasuke will fight Sabaku no Gaara. In the second round, Temari of Suna will be matched against Uzumaki Naruto. In the third, Kankurou has been matched with Hyuuga Hinata. And in the fourth, Shikamaru will fight Dosu of Sound. Shino will continue on to the second set of battles without having to fight, and will be matched with the winner of the first round."

The proctor began coughing again, and everyone gave him a minute to get ahold of himself.

"You have a month to prepare for the final stage of the exam. The use of training grounds twenty seven and fifty four have been allowed to the Suna and Oto teams respectively. Train hard, and make sure you are well prepared for the tournament... for you will be competing in front of an audience and lords of all countries."

"Hey, wait." Kankurou yelled out. "Does that mean that only the person who wins the tournament will advance to chunnin."

"Of course not. You will advance, or not, depending on your fights, yes... but it is as likely that everyone will pass as it is that nobody will. What is important is that your conduct in battle suitably befits a chunnin. Now get out of here... the prelims are over."

It was still barely noon.

xxx

Naruto affixed a big, stupid smile to his face as he hunted down Kakashi. He didn't really want too, but it would look out of place if he didn't ask his sensei for instruction before going off to train on his own.

"Hey Kakashi-sensei..."

"I'm sorry Naruto, but I'm going to be busy training Sasuke."

Outside, Naruto's expression changed to one of sadness, with a dash of hurt thrown in for flavor, while inside he was jumping for joy. This meant that he would be able to train on his own... although the Item world had grown slightly stagnant recently, Laharl had promised to begin opening gates for him to begin training in the Netherworlds. He would be able to begin openly training with his gun, which Laharl had assured him would take a lot more work to master than anything else.

"But don't worry... I've made special arrangements for Ebisu to help you out."

The mentally dancing image of Naruto fell to the ground and died.

"THE CLOSET PERV!"

xxx

A.N. Wow... this one got pretty long. I'd actually intended to continue on until the actual tournament, but seeing how long this chapter is, I just decided that was a good place to stop. Anyway, we got the first fight with Orochimaru in, there will be more, trust me. Hinata completely pwnes Neji-nii-san, and some of the by-products of being trained by Etna have become obvious. As you can see, she's almost nothing like sweet little canon Hina-chan anymore.

Also, who likes fem-Gaara? I've so far found exactly one other fic where Gaara was really a girl. That just doesn't make sense to me, because all the sand covering his body would make it a hell of a lot easier to hide such a thing. On the other hand, there seem to be hundreds of Fem-Naru stories, in a village full of Byakugan and, until the massacre, Sharingan users who would easily see through the simple Henge most of them have Naruto use to hide it. I just don't like most fem-naru fics, but fem-Gaara makes a whole lot more sense to me.

And we'll definitely have Jiraiya's entry next chapter, though I'm debating what to have him teach Naruto. For my own reasons, I don't want him to learn summoning jutsu. Maybe the Rasengan, which can be helped subtly along by the orange prinny? Or maybe something else... Hiraishin or Shunshin. I'll decide when I get there, I guess.