Disclaimer: Don't own it.


Neji was quite surprised when I turned up with the scroll the next morning. Lee, on the other hand, was overjoyed at first. He later sank into a semi-depressed state and once he had announced the long list of extra and extended training he was going to do, he started muttering about how he had failed Gai-sensei by not finding a scroll too.

Honestly speaking, I don't think he really cares which of us got it as long as we passed.

Then again, maybe he would care.

After running almost continuously for hours despite our lack of sleep and managing to avoid meeting any enemies with the aid of Neji's byakugan, we made it to the tower by mid-afternoon.

The tower was much more impressive up close than it had seemed from a distance. It was a tall, circular building that stuck out of the forest like a sore thumb, its red exterior clashing horribly with the sea of green that surrounded it.

We followed the wall of the tower until we found an entrance; bright red double-doors with a piece of paper saying 'door' pasted across the gap. I immediately recognized it as one of the special seals we had learnt about back at the academy. This particular seal was pasted across doorways as a security measure. When the door was opened, the seal would tear, alerting the person who set it there. Normally, these kinds of seals were small so they wouldn't be easily noticed, but the one I was currently looking at was about the size of a normal sheet of paper. Obviously, they served the twin purposes of letting the examiners know that a team had reached the tower as well as to act as a sort of label for the more dense shinobi. In other words, idiot-proof.

Neji pushed the doors open and entered, followed by myself and Lee. A big sign written in neat calligraphy was the first thing that we saw. We walked into the middle of the otherwise empty room to get a closer look.

"If you do not possess Heaven, gain knowledge and be prepared," Neji recited. "If you do not possess Earth, run through the fields and seek strength. If you have both Heaven and Earth, dangerous paths turn into safe ones. This is the secret of something. It shall lead your way."

"What does that mean?" I asked Neji, who looked thoughtful.

"It sounds so inspiring and youthful!" Lee said seriously, quickly scribbling down the verse into his notebook.

"There's a missing word so I can't be sure, but I think it refers to the scrolls," Neji reasoned, taking the two scrolls out of his pouch and handing one of them to me. We reached for the clasp simultaneously and pulled the scrolls open.

The inside was filled with undecipherable writing, except for the large word "person" in the middle of the symbols. A moment later, Neji grabbed the scroll I was holding and hurled both of them away from us. A trail of white smoke followed their path through the air and there was a loud "poof" when the scrolls hit the ground.

All three of us were immediately on our guard.

A vague silhouette was visible through the fumes. Shortly after, the smoke dissipated, revealing an unfamiliar face, but the green tactical vest was unmistakable.

"Congratulations on completing the second round," the Chuunin drawled. He sounded extremely rehearsed and bored. "You guys have seen the sign, right? Basically what it says is that one needs to have a balance between intellect and physical strength to be a Chuunin. The missing word is "person". Now that we're done, let's move along."

He jumped onto one of the two elevated pathways on either side of the room and waited for us to join him before we headed for the doorway.


We walked into a large hall that was once again devoid of any furniture. Two other teams were gathered at opposite sides of the hall. I recognized the people standing at the other end of the room as one of the teams of sand-nin I had seen during the first exam. The other team, that was standing near-by, came as a bit of a surprise.

"Hinata-chan?"

Hinata jumped and turned around. Smiling, I waved and walked over to join her.

The boy that was standing beside Hinata was wearing a dark grey coat with the fur-lined hood pulled over the top of his head. Bright red triangles were painted on the sides of his face. The other boy was standing near the wall. Majority of his face was either hidden by the large collar of his light blue jacket or his dark glasses, giving him an air of mystery. It was only when I saw his hair, did I realized that he was the person that I had copied from during the first exam.

"H-hello, Tenten-s-san," Hinata stammered, a light blush staining her pale cheeks. She was wearing a light grey windbreaker, in fact, the whole team seemed to be partial to jackets.

"Who's this?" the boy next to Hinata was leaning over and looked like he was... sniffing me.

"T-this is T-tenten. She's N-Neji-nii-san's t-teammate," Hinata explained timidly, twiddling her thumbs. I saw the boy's eyes narrowed when Neji's name was mentioned.

"What?" he shouted and Hinata and I were shocked by his sudden outburst. "You mean she's his teammate?!"

"K-Kiba-kun!" Hinata glanced furtively at Neji, who was standing at the door with Lee, before looking back down quickly.

"Hinata-" Kiba started.

"O-onegai, Kiba-kun," Hinata said pleadingly and Kiba quietened down.

Not really sure what to make of what had just happened, I decided that it would be better for me not to ask.

"What's that?" I asked curiously pointing to the white thing sticking out of the neck hole of Kiba's jacket.

Kiba didn't even bother looking down before replying. "That's my partner, Akamaru."

Did he just say partner?

I almost raised an eyebrow, but then I noticed that Kiba's jacket was quivering slighty.

"What's wrong with him?"

"We ran into those Sand guys when we were in the forest of death. He's been like this ever since," Kiba explained, cocking his head in the direction of the sand-nin.

I turned to look at the aforementioned sand-nin. True enough, they didn't look very friendly. Especially the red haired boy with the gourd slung over his back. Even from this end of the hall, I could still feel the poorly concealed murderous intent he was radiating with. No wonder little Akamaru was scared.

"Poor thing," I reached out to stroke Akamaru's exposed ear and he poked his head out, nuzzling my hand. His soft fur was mostly white with patches of brown on his ears. "He's pretty cute," I smiled. Kiba grinned, showing off his pointy teeth. Hinata was still twiddling her fingers, but she looked less nervous than she had a few minutes ago.

Lee appeared out of nowhere, giving everyone, especially Hinata, a shock. Akamaru yelped and dove back into the safety of Kiba's jacket, where he started whimpering and trembling again.

"Tenten-san! Neji is-" My loudmouthed teammate cut himself off when he saw Hinata.

"Wow! Are you a Hyuga?!" Lee asked excitedly.

"H-h-hai," Hinata stuttered.

"My teammate is a Hyuga too! How are you related?"

"Er... I..." Hinata's pale eyes darted from side to side and she shrunk back at Lee's scrutinizing gaze.

"Lee, don't just pop up like that," I scolded. "You scared Hinata-chan and-."

"I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to, honest!"

"N-no, i-it's alright. I'm N-Neji-nii-san's c-cousin." Hinata's blush went from light pink from deep crimson as Lee's apologies increased in volume.

"Who are you?" Kiba asked, glaring at Lee. I'm sure he was thinking the exact same thing that I did every single day: What a weirdo...

"My name is Rock Lee," Lee said brightly. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Neji's cousin and..."

"Kiba, Inuzuka Kiba."

"Kiba-kun," Lee added before wandering off towards Shino who was standing in his corner.

"What's your name?" Lee asked politely.

"..."

"What are you doing?" Lee tried to get a better look at Shino's face by leaning in and circling him. Shino did not make any sound of protest and continued to ignore Lee.

Then again, he might have even been sleeping standing up. Who knows...

"That's Shino, he doesn't like to talk much," Kiba said.

"But speaking is a most important and youthful way of communicating with others in order to make new acquaintances!" Lee shouted, causing Kiba to stare at him as though he were from another planet while Hinata looked politely confused. Kiba was about to open his mouth to say something, but I quickly whispered.

"Don't ask."

"Does he have any friends?" Lee enquired and Kiba shrugged.

"Isn't he lonely?"

"Who knows?" Kiba replied.

"Then from this moment on, I shall be your friend!" Lee's declaration made almost eveyone in the vicinity stare at him and Shino. This time, both Kiba and Hinata were looking at Shino, who merely pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. I just sighed and rolled my eyes.

"No," Shino said in a voice so toneless that it was even more emotionless than Neji's.

Lee's face fell for a minute before he brightened up again. "I know! I'll introduce you to Neji-kun and see if he wants to be your friend!"

Lee must have taken Shino's silence as consent and he proceede to practically drag Shino over to an unsuspecting Neji.

"How do you put up with this guy? Kiba asked incredulously.

"I have no idea," I sighed.

"I'm surprised that Neji hasn't murdered him yet," Kiba muttered under his breath. My mind had started drifting off once Lee left but I could vaguely remember that Neji had come close to doing exactly that, but maybe this wasn't the best time to mention that...

"If he did, at least he'd be doing the the world a favour instead of-"

"K-Kiba-kun!" Hinata interrupted him before he could say more.

I had heard everything, but nothing that Kiba had said was making any sense. It looked like the lack of sleep was finally getting to me. I barely stiffled a yawn as I mumbled a quick good-bye to Hinata and her teammate.

I seriously needed a nap.


The relief of knowing that I could sleep in peace without the fear of being attacked halfway, coupled with my exhaustion, made me spend almost an entire day sleeping. Even the lack of a proper bed and pillows couldn't keep me awake. I only woke up every few hours to eat and what not.

It was around late afternoon on the second last day by the time I felt fully rested enough to rouse myself.

The group of sound-nin that we met in the forest had arrived earlier that day. Dosu and and the female ninja were relatively unharmed. The one that had his arms broken by Sasuke had his now useless appendages wrapped in bandages and tied in slings to support them. They had stayed far away from us Konoha shinobi, preferring to sit in the Sand-nin's half of the hall.

Neji wasn't in the mood to talk and Lee was sound asleep, so I passed the time by chatting with Hinata and her teammates. Well, it was mostly Kiba since Hinata hardly said anything unless she was asked her opinion and when she was, she was often too shy to say much. stand. Shino, on the other hand, would stand to the side, listening to our rather pointless conversation and occasionally adding a comment or two.

When night came, I found myself unable to doze off, but it was probably because I had slept too much already. My back ached everytime I turned over, trying to find a comfortable position. This would happen on missions sometimes when I slept on the ground instead of in a sleeping bag, but this time, the pain was much worse. I could just imagine the examiners sleeping in their soft comfy beds while we had to sleep on the floor.

"A-ano... T-T-Tenten-san," Hinata-chan called out hesitantly, padding over to where I was lying down.

"Yeah?"

"Is something wrong?" she asked, her voice filled with concern. I smiled, wondering how long it must have taken her to muster up the courage to ask me.

I sat up, wincing when the muscles in my back tightened and a sharp pain shot down my back.

"Are you injured?"

"My back hurts," I groaned.

"I have some medicine, I can help you put some on if you like?" Hinata offered, helping me up and leading me to the washroom/changing room.

She sat me down on one of the benches and I lifted up the back of my shirt. The container of ointment that Hinata was holding hit the tiled floor with a clatter.

"H-how-" Hinata gasped.

I turned around to look at my back in the mirror and the sight made my stomach churn. It was covered in angry purple splotches. Gingerly, I touched the one in the middle of my back and flinched involuntarily.

Lowering myself gently back onto the bench, I explained. "I was off scouting at night when I accidentally stepped on a snake and it attacked me."

"Oh." Hinata retrieved her jar and spread the cool, soothing mixture over my bruises. I almost sighed in relief.

"Don't tell Neji though, or I'll never hear the end of it."

Hinata nodded, "I won't tell him."

Technically speaking, Neji wouldn't actually say anything about it, but I knew from past experience that he would have this annoyingly smug expression on his face whenever he regarded me for at least the next few hours. That is, if he ever found out.

Although I suppose he does look rather nice when he smirks like that-

"Ow!" I jerked away when Hinata accidentally rubbed my back too hard.

"G-gomen nasai!" Hinata stuttered frantically and I immediately felt guilty for raising my voice at her when she was the one helping me.

"No, it's ok," I said quickly, trying to think of how to start a conversation with Hinata so she wouldn't feel so nervous.

"What's Neji like at home?"

Hinata seemed to consider her reply before saying. "He's v-very quiet and s-serious. And h-he spends a l-lot of time t-training."

"That sounds like him," I commented dryly.

"A-are you c-close to N-Neji-nii-san?" Hinata asked shyly.

"Err... I guess you could say that. I mean he's a good teammate and a great sparring partner, but I guess it's just hard to really get to know someone like Neji," I answered as truthfully as I possibly could.

"Y-you s-spar with Neji-n-nii-san?" I could hear the surprise in her tone.

"Yeah, but I don't win or anything."

"Oh," Hinata said softly.

"Neji is just too strong," I admitted.

"Y-you must be t-too, Tenten-san; to b-be able to s-spar with N-Neji-nii-san. I-I couldn't keep up with him at a-all," Hinata's voice sounded sad when she added the last part.

"Don't worry Hinata-chan." I angled my head to look at the girl behind me. "I'm sure that you're as strong as Neji is."

"Ehh?" Hinata gasped. "I'm r-really not-"

"You're from one of Konoha's strongest clans and you have a powerful kekkei genkai. You just need a little more confidence in yourself. But not too much of course, you don't want to become as pompous as Neji."

Hinata giggled slightly at my last remark. I got off the bench and tried moving.

"H-how is it?" Hinata asked.

"Much better. Thanks a lot, Hinata-chan," I smiled. Hinata's cheeks reddened and she tightened the lid of the jar.

"We'd better get some sleep. Tommorrow's the last day of the second exam; who knows what might happen."

Hinata nodded and both of us went back to the hall.

"Thanks again for helping me with my back."

"N-no p-problem," Hinata stammered. I couldn't see clearly in the semi-darkness, but I knew that she was blushing. "Oyasumi nasai, Tenten-san," Hinata whispered before rejoining her team.

"Good night," I said, and then I did the same.


All the teams that passed, the examiners, the Jounin-sensei and even Hokage-sama were assembled in the main hall. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of the rookie teams had made it past the second round. Maybe they were better than I thought.

"We will now have an explanation of the Third Exam from Hokaga-sama," Anko announced. "Everyone listen well."

Hokage-sama stepped forward and began his speech. "The third exam will begin. But before the explanation, there's one thing I want to make clear to all of you," he said. "It's about the true purpose of this exam; why we do a joint exam with our allied nations." Hokage-sama lowered the brim of his hat slightly.

"To maintain good relations with the allied nations and heighten the level of our ninja. Do not let those reasons deceive you. This exam, so to speak, is..."

So to speak...?

Hokage-sama took a puff of his pipe before continuing. "The epitome of a war between the allied nations."

"What do you mean?" I blurted out.

"If we go back through history, the allied nations right now were neighbouring countries that have fought one another over and over. To avoid wasting military power, those countries decided to choose a place to fight. That is the beginning of the Chuunin Selection Exams."

"Why do we have to do that?!" Naruto asked loudly. "We're not doing this to select Chuunins?"

"It is true that this exam is a test to find those who are worthy of the Chuunin title. But, on the other hand, it's also a place where ninja fight and carry their country's dignity."

"Country's dignity?" I heard the girl behind me murmur.

"In this third exam, feudal lords and famous people from various countries who may be potential clients are invited here as guests. And feudal lords from countries with hidden villages and ninja leaders will see your abilities. If there is a significant difference in power, the strong country will be flooded with jobs. If a country is seen as weak, their economy will decline. At the same time, countries are able to show how their growth and military power to adjacent countries. In other words, they can put foreign pressure on them."

It's amazing how something as simple as an exam can be turned into something so complicated and ridden with all kinds of hidden agendas.

"So why do we have to fight with our lives on the line?" Kiba questioned.

"A country's power is the village's power and a village's power is the ninja's power. A shinobi's true power is only born in life-or-death battle. This exam is a place to show off the power of one's country. Since this is an exam where you fight with your life on the line, it has a meaning. Your predecessors have fought and dreamed of being in the Chuunin exam because of it."

"Then why do you say it's to promote good relations?"

"That's why I told you at the beginning not to get it confused with that. The custom of risking one's life and fighting to maintain balance... That is the good relation in the world of ninja; a life-or-death battle for your dream and village's dignity."

Hokage-sama paused and there was a long silence.

"I understand now," Naruto said smugly.

"I don't care. Tell us the details of this life-or-death exam," the red-headed boy said quietly, yet the sinister undertone in his voice could be heard by everyone in the room.

Hokage-sama nodded. "The explanation of the third exam will now begin." He cleared his throat loudly and a ninja appeared in front of him, kneeling down on one knee was a respectful gesture.

"Excuse me, Hokage-sama. I, Gekkou Hayate, the judge, will explain."

"Please do," Hokage sama replied and Hayate stood up.

"Everyone, it's nice to meet you." He turned to face us and everyone got a clear view of the bags under his eyes. "Before the third exam, there's something I want you to do." He coughed several times into his hand. "You need to fight in some preliminary matches to see who gets to advance to the main battle."

"Preliminary matches?"

"Preminaries? What do you mean?!" the pineapple headed boy shouted.

"Sensei, I don't understand what you mean by preliminary matches. Why can't we just start the third exams with the remaining examinees?"

"In this case, the first and second exams must have been too easy. I'm not sure, but there are simply too many examinees left. According to regulation, we must decrease the number of participants for the finals."

"Oh no!" Sakura gasped.

"As previously mentioned by Hokage-sama, there are too many guests for the Third exam and we cannot have too many matches since we're on limited time. So those who aren't feeling well-" He gave into another coughing fit and I couldn't help but wonder whether he was talking to us or himself.

"Excuse me. If anyone wants to quit after hearing the explanation, please let me know. The preliminary matches will begin immediately."

"Immediately?!"

"But we just got through the Second Exam..." the blonde girl, Ino, complained.

"I forgot to mention this, but you will have one-on-one matches from here on out. So please withdraw if you wish."

On my left, Sasuke suddenly started clutching his shoulder, his teammates looking at him worriedly.

"Sasuke-kun, maybe you should withdraw from the preliminary matches," Sakura suggested. "You've been acting weird ever since you fought that Orochimaru guy." When Sasuke didn't reply, Sakura whispered frantically, "That bruise hurts now, right? At this rate..." She brushed away the tears that were forming in her bottle-green eyes. "Please... please stop... I'm scared." She tried to reason with him when her pleas were not working, "You're not in any condition to fight, Sasuke-kun."

"Shut up," Sasuke snapped.

"I know that but-"

"Be quiet,"

"But you've been bearing the pain all this time!" Sakura's voice was getting louder and more hysterical.

"Just be quiet." Sasuke's hard tone softened when he saw her tears.

"Whatever you say, I'm going to tell the teachers about that bruise. Then-"

Someone in front raised a hand.

"What is it?" Hokage-sama asked.

"I'll quit."

In between coughs, the examiner flipped through his clipboard. "You are Konoha's Yakushi Kabuto-kun? You may leave, then."

As he was doing so, Naruto suddenly shouted out. "Kabuto-san, why are you quitting?!"

"I'm sorry, Naruto-kun, but I'm completely worn out. Since the first exam when I fought with the sound-nins, I couldn't hear anything in my left ear. I can't fight right away, especially if it's a life or death battle."

He left after that.

"May I assume that there are no more people who wish to retire?" Hayate asked. Sakura started to raise her hand, but Sasuke caught her wrist and stopped her.

"Be quiet about this bruise."

Sakura looked like she was going to cry, but she shook her head and retorted. "Why are you acting so tough? I don't want to see you suffering anymore. I..."

"It doesn't have anything to do with you. You're just being nosy." Sasuke let go of Sakura's hand. "I've told you before; I'm an avenger. This is just an exam to me. I don't care about being a Chuunin either. Am I strong? I want to find the answer to that question so I'm going to fight the ones who are strong, and those people are here. I won't let anyone interfere, not even you."

"Sasuke-kun..."

"Stop acting so cool, you idiot! Can't you see Sakura-chan is worried-"

"Naruto," Sasuke turned around to look at the boy in front of him. "I want to fight with you."


"Then, let's begin the preliminary matches. It will be a one-on-one match. In other words, it will be like a real combat. The winners will be able to advance to the finals. There are no rules; you will fight until the other person dies, is knocked out or admits defeat. If you do not want to die, please give up immediately. However, if I judge that the match is over, I will stop you to prevent any unnecessary deaths. The thing that will determine your fate..."

One of the panels behind the large stone statue opened, revealing a big screen.

"Is this. This electronic bulletin board will randomly display the names of two fighters for each match. Without further ado, it will now display the names for the first match." Everyone's eyes were glued to the screen. It glowed a bright yellow and began rapidly flashing different names.

There was a loud beep and the first two names were shown. The two chosen shinobi walked out to the front.

"The first match is between Akadou Yoroi and Uchiha Sasuke. Are there any objections?"

"No," both of them said at the same time.

"Then we will now begin. Everyone other than the two fighters, please move up there," he instructed, gesturing at a pair of raised platforms on both sides of the hall. All of the Konoha genin trooped towards the right, while the Sand and Sound nins headed for the left.

"Begin."

"Let's go!" Yoroi crouched down and formed a handseal.

"Aa," Sasuke replied, not getting into any stance. One of Yoroi's hands reached into his pouch while Sasuke drew a kunai.

Yoroi made the first move by throwing three shuriken that were blocked by Sasuke's kunai and they flew back at Yoroi. Sasuke suddenly collapsed and landed face-first onto the stone floor. When he looked up, Yoroi was already in front of him, his fist raised.

The punch shattered a small part of the floor, but Sasuke managed to dodge by rolling to the side. He stabbed the kunai into the floor and used it as leverage to grab his opponent's arm with his legs. The next thing I knew, Yoroi was on the ground, immobilized by Sasuke.

"He did it!" Naruto shouted triumphantly, but something told me that this fight was far from over.

If he was stronger than the sound-nin that even Lee couldn't beat after using Primary Lotus, surely he could defeat this guy easily. Especially with his bloodline limit. So why wasn't Sasuke using any ninjutsu?

The hand that was on Sasuke's chest glowed for a minute. When it was back to normal, Yoroi lifted his hand out of Sasuke's grasp easily and slammed it onto him. He crawled out from under Sasuke's legs and flipped out of range. The only thing Sasuke did was lie there, quivering.

Sasuke managed to get up only to be slammed back down by a glowing hand. Pinned down by the other nin's hand, he was completely open to attack.

Even though his hand was glowing, Yoroi didn't seem to be doing anything else, yet he refused to relinquish his grip on Sasuke's head.

"You... my chakra..." Sasuke tried to push him away, but he was unsuccessful and both of his hands fell onto the floor beside him.

"Have you noticed?" The chakra surrounding Yoroi's hand was getting brighter and more intense and Sasuke cried out.

Yoroi could steal chakra? Even if he could, that still doesn't account for why Sasuke wasn't using any ninjutsu. After all, he hasn't been in direct contact with him long enough to steal all his chakra. Could it have something to do with what happened in the forest? What was that bruise they were talking about earlier?

"Get off!" Sasuke kicked Yoroi away from him and the latter landed on his back. Yoroi got right back on his feet while Sasuke was still struggling to do the same.

Activating his technique, Yoroi charged at Sasuke who stood up just in time to evade the blow. Yoroi swiped at a few times Sasuke with his luminous hand, but Sasuke managed to dodge them all.

However, even though Sasuke ducked, the last strike must have connected. When he got up, his legs were shaky and he was forced to stumble forwards.

"What's wrong? Are you done already?"

Sasuke spun on his heel and delivered a kick, but Yoroi jumped back and dodged it.

"Sasuke!!!" Naruto hollered. "You call yourself Uchiha Sasuke with THAT?!" Sasuke turned around to look at his teammate. "Stop acting like an idoit! Get serious already!"

"You don't have time to look the other way!" Hand glowing, Yoroi ran straight at Sasuke. "This is it!" Yoroi started to thrust his hand at Sasuke continuously. Luckily, Sasuke was able to avoid every single hit.

Then Sasuke disappeared.

Lee gasped when Sasuke reappeared underneath the other nin and kicked him upwards, sending him flying towards the ceiling.

"That's my-" Lee gasped. I was equally stunned. When had Sasuke seen Lee's taijutsu?

Sasuke used Lee's Shadow of the Dancing Leaf and pressed a pressure point that, according to my studies, could temporarily immobilized an opponent. "From here on out, it's all original."

Suddenly, Sasuke let out a strangled cry as though he was in pain and strange red markings appeared on his neck and face.

Then, the markings disappeared and Sasuke flipped Yoroi around with his hand and aimed a kick for his side at the same time. Yoroi blocked the blow with his arm, but did not see the next one coming. After he feinted a kick, Sasuke's fist connected with Yoroi's face, sending him hurtling towards the ground.

"I'm not done!" Just before his opponent hit the ground, Sasuke delivered the finishing blow, a kick so powerful that it made the stone floor crack. When Yoroi gasped, he coughed out a mouthful of blood.

"Shishi Rendan!"

Sasuke skidded to a stop several feet away from Yoroi's spread-eagled form. Panting heavily, he tried to stand up again, but the examiner stopped the match.

"The winner of the first match is Uchiha Sasuke. This means he passes the preliminary round."

"Yes!" Naruto cheered happily.


"Now we will begin the next match," Hayate said after Sasuke and Yoroi had both been taken away for treatment.

Once again, the screen started flashing random names before finally displaying 'Zaku Abumi' and 'Aburame Shino'. Both Shino and the sound-ninja that Sasuke had defeated stepped forward.

"We will now begin the second match." The examiner looked at both of them to see whether they had any objections and he took several steps back. "Begin."

"If you fight me here, you will never be able to fight again," Shino said simply. "Surrender."

"Heh. This arm moves, somehow." Zaku took his left arm out of the sling and crouched down. "One arm is more than enough for you!" Zaku charged forward and tried to punch Shino, but Shino blocked.

"You won't be able to beat me with one arm."

"Shut up!" Zaku activated his air current technique. "Take this! Air cutter!"

Through the resulting clouds of dust, I couldn't see what happened, but after a direct hit like that, Shino was done for.

"Come on, stand up," Zaku taunted. "What...?" The dust began to clear, revealing an uninjured Shino. Then I realized that the floor behind the sound-nin was completely black and the dark mass seemed to be...moving?

"These are called Kikai bugs. They attack their prey and swarms and consume its chakra." The little bugs were quickly speeding towards their target. I couldn't help but cringe at the mere sight of them. "If I attack you with this many, you will never be able to fight again."

Zaku was looking back and forth between Shino and his bugs, trying to decide his best course of action, but it was no use. He was trapped.

"If you don't want that, give up. If you use that move with your left hand, I will make the bugs attack you from behind. If you attack the bugs, I will attack you. Either way, you have no way out." Shino formed a hand seal. "You're supposed to keep your trump card until the end."

Zaku did not make a single sound for a long time.

All of a sudden, he raised his left arm and pointed it at Shino. "Don't underestimate me!" He ripped his right arm out of the sling and held it up in the opposite direction, turning the tables on Shino. Maybe this sound-nin was smarter than I gave him credit for.

"You're supposed to keep your trump card until the end, right?"

Then the bandages around both his arms were blown apart and Zaku screamed, face contorted with pain as he collapsed to the floor.

Hayate went forward to examine him. "It looks like this match is over. Winner, Aburame Shino."

"What is he, Neji?" Lee asked.

Neji moved to the side to get a better view and made several hand seals. He used his byakugan to look at Shino and was shocked by what he saw. "What a guy. I would understand if he summoned those bugs with a technique, but the bugs live inside him."

"What?!" Lee gasped.

"He must be part of the clan in Konoha that controls bugs," Gai-sensei said.

"I've heard of it before. A clan that lends their body as a nest for special bugs at birth in exchange for using them to fight. They control the bugs with their minds and give their own chakra as food for the bugs."

"So he is the successor to that clan," Lee commented.

I felt the hair on the back of my neck stood on end and I shuddered. I just knew that there was something creepy about that guy.


The next match was between one of the sand-nin, Kankurou, and a leaf-nin, Minami Tsurugi.

"Unlike Yoroi, I won't go easy on you just because you're a kid. Let me warn you, once my technique gets hold of you, you won't be able to escape. I'll finish this quickly," Minami Tsurugi said.

"Then..." Kankurou took off the large, bandage wrapped obejct he was holding and held it upright on the floor next to him. "I'll finish this match quickly as well."

"Now, begin the third match."

"I won't let you do anything." Tsurugi went for Kankurou and made to hit him. "Victory goes to the swiftest!" Kankurou blocked the other man's arm with his own, but Tsurugi's arms and legs suddenly wound themselves around Kankurou's limbs, constricting them like a snake would. Kankurou dropped the thing he was holding and it fell with a clatter.

"That's so cool!" Naruto exclaimed. "What's with his body?"

"I can take my joints off their hinges and use my chakra to control my loosened body," Tsurugi paused to let his words sink in. "That's why I can strangle you until your bones break. Unless you surrender, I will continue strangling you. I don't know what kind of tool you use, but there's no point if I immobilize your body like this. I can break you neck so hurry and give up."

"No," Kankurou said, seemingly unfazed by his current situation.

"Do you want to die?"

"Moron. You're the one who's going to die," Kankurou retorted.

There was a sickening crunch and Kankurou's head lolled to the front.

"His neck is broken," Lee said slowly, as if he could believe it.

"Idiot. I got carried away and broke it."

Kankurou's limbs went limp and there were tiny cracking sounds. Suddenly, his head turned a full one hundred eighty degrees to face Tsurugi. "Now it's my turn."

Four wooden arms ripped through "Kankurou's" clothing and wrapped themselves tightly around Tsurugi. It was wearing a ragged cloak and had messy mop of dark brown hair on the top of what I presumed to be its head.

"A puppet!" Tsurugi choked out, struggling to get free.

A hand reached out of the cocoon of bandages and pulled on one of the thin pieces of cloth, causing them to unravel. The real Kankurou was crouched down on the floor, one hand holding the bandages, the other glowing blue with chakra strings attached, linking him to his puppet.

The puppet tightened its hold on Tsurugi who gasped, "I gi-". The rest of his sentence was lost when he screamed.

"You will become softer if I break your bones."

Tsurugi's scream petered out and he crumpled to the ground with the puppet on top of him.

"Since his opponent is unable to fight, the winner is Kankurou."


"We will now begin the fourth match." declared Hayate. The screen showed two names: 'Haruno Sakura' and 'Yamanaka Ino'. The two kunoichi walked down to the arena.

"I didn't think that I would be fighting you, Sakura. Especially this early on," Ino commented. Sakura did not say anything.

By now, it was pretty obvious that the two of them were had some kind of history with each other. After all, that girl Ino's team had stopped to help Sakura's even though they technically weren't supposed to.

"Sakura-chan! Do your best! Don't lose!!!"

"Begin."

Both of them started exchanging blows, using only taijutsu and the occasional weapon. Compared to the last few matches, I'd have to say that their fight was more low key and to put it simply, boring.

"They're female ninja, after all. They physical combat skills are lower than other ninja," Neji stated. My eyes narrowed when I heard what he said. He had better not have been trying to imply something about me or he was going to get it later.

"It's not because they're female," I said annoyedly, glaring at Neji. "Those two are just soft against each other. Gender doesn't matter in battle." The corners of Neji's mouth curled upwards slightly into a smirk.

I turned my attention back to the fight and saw that both of them were in their respective stances, waiting for the other to make the next move. The two of them began fighting again and Ino managed to punch Sakura in the stomach. She took advantage of the opening and looked like she was about to punch her again.

Ino's palm hit Sakura's cheek. The sound of the slap echoed throughout the entire room.

Both of them stopped moving, merely standing there facing each other. Ino stared at her hand. They were quiet for a long while and then Sakura said.

"Now that it's come to this, I have no intention of fighting over Sasuke-kun with you."

"What?"

"You and Sasuke-kun just don't match. And I'm stronger than you now. You're not even my rival," Sakura scoffed.

"Sakura! Do you know who you're talking to?! You crybaby, Sakura!" Ino shouted back.

With a smile, Sakura untied her forehead protector.

"I understand, Sakura," Ino said softly, taking her forehead protector off her waist. Both of them tied them over their foreheads. When they were finished, both of them charged at each other and both their fists connected with the other's.

They jumped back and got into a fighting stance, then they rushed forward at the same time.

Sakura started making hand seals for the bunshin jutsu.

"This isn't the ninja academy test, you know!" Ino shouted. "Do you think you can defeat me with such a basic technique?"

Three Sakuras were headed straight for Ino. She was much faster than she had been before and even with my sharp eyesight, I couldn't tell which one was the real Sakura. The Sakuras on the left and right lunged at Ino before disappearing in a puff of smoke. The one in the middle punched Ino and she flew back several meters.

"If you still take me as the crybaby Sakura, you're going to get hurt. Fight me seriously, Ino!"

"I'm glad to hear that." Ino got back onto her feet, wiping the dirt from her face. "I'll go at you with everything I have."

Finally, they were going to go all out on each other.


The fight between the two of them lasted a long time. Both of them were equally strong and so far they had matched each other blow for blow.

Both of them had stopped fighting for a while to catch their breath.

"There's no way you're as strong as me!" Ino shouted indignantly.

"There's no way a vain person like you, who spends so much time on her hair and appearance, is my equal," Sakura shot back.

"Stop underestimating me!" Ino drew a kunai from her holster and sliced off majority of her long hair.

"You're pretty simpleminded." Sakura sounded shocked, yet somewhat amused.

"See that!" Ino shouted. "Damn this!" She flung her hair onto the floor.

That Ino girl has completely lost it.

"I'm going to end this now by making you say 'I give up'!" Ino formed a bunch of handseals.

"I understand that you're in a hurry, but that's useless."

"We'll see about that."

"Ninpo Shintenshin no jutsu. The user releases her mind energy and hits the enemy with it to take over the opponent's mind for a few minute as well as take control over the opponent's body. But that technique has a weakness. First, the mind energy that the user releases can only move in a straight line and it moves slowly. Second, if the mind energy that the user releases misses the opponent, it won't return to the user for a few minutes. In addition, during that time the user's body will not be able to move at all," Sakura said.

"So what?! You won't know until I try!" Ino retorted.

"It's the end if you miss, do you understand?" Sakura asked, getting ready to move and dodge the technique; then she started running.

"Idiot! Stop!" Ino's teammate shouted, but she ignored him.

"Mind Transfer Technique!"

Both Sakura and Ino froze. Then Ino slumped forward and landed on her knees. Neither of them moved nor spoke.

Sakura started to laugh. "Nice try, Ino. It's over now."

Sakura tried to move towards Ino, but something stopped her. A long thin blue strand was wrapped around both her legs, preventing her from moving.

"This is-"

"You've fallen into my trap, Sakura," Ino smirked. "I've finally caught you."

"Did you-"

"It's just like you guessed. I was just pretending when I formed those seals just now so that I could lure you into this trap," Ino explained. "You can't move at all, can you? It's a special rope made by running chakra through my hair. Now the match will be over if I enter your body and make you say that you give up." Ino made the handseal for her technique. "I definitely won't miss."

Maybe some of these rookies are better than I thought.

"Run, Sakura-chan!" Naruto yelled. Sakura tried to break free, but it was in vain.

"Mind Transfer Technique!"

Ino's arms went limp while Sakura stood up straight.

Sakura laughed again, breaking the tense silence. "Nice try..." Sakura raised her head to look at Ino.

"Sakura."

Sakura raised her hand and started to speak. "I, Haruno Sakura, will fore-"

"NO!!!" Naruto screamed. "Sakura-chan! You've come a long way to get here! It's going to be a disgrace if you lose to that Sasuke-obsessed freak!"

"It's useless telling that to me right now-" Sakura stopped talking and started gripping her head, fisting her hair in her hands. "Wh-what is this?" she stuttered uncertainly. "Sakura? This can't be..."

"What's wrong?" asked the examiner. "Aren't you going to give up?"

"There's no way I'm going to give up!" Sakura screamed and then she clutched at her head again. She formed a hand seal and cancelled the technique.

Sakura fell to her knees and Ino regained consciousness.

Breathing hard, Ino asked. "You have two minds...? What are you?"

"I have strength to match my beauty," Sakura replied.

Both of them were equally exhausted, so the next attack would be their last. Both of them charged at each other and both their fists hit the other's cheek. The force of their punches were surprisingly great; they drew blood and sent both them flying backwards. Their forehead protectors that had been knocked off hit the floor. Sakura and Ino landed hard beside them a second later.

The two kunoichi tried to get up, but they collapsed at the same time.

"Both are unable to fight. Due to a double KO, no one passes the fourth preliminary match," Hayate concluded.

Sakura and Ino were taken back to the viewers gallery by their Jounin sensei's and after the arena had been cleaned up, the pitch black screen lit up and started to select the fighters.

There was a loud beep and everyone looked up.

When I saw the names for the next match, I smirked.

"Fifth match, Tenten and Temari. Step forward."


Author's Note:

Well, that was long. My fingers really hurt after typing out all the fight scenes, but they were necessary for the 'Naruto' plot.

I hope you liked the part with Hinata, Kiba and Shino. I bet some of you are wondering why they didn't provide beds and stuff. I figured it wouldn't be really fair to the people who are still taking the exam, even if the people in the tower did finish first...

Many thanks to my beta reader, Midnight Memories, for taking time off her busy schedule and her own fanfics to help me check through this chapter; and my sis for listening to me ramble on and on about the the plot and for spotting the mistakes that I didn't the first time I checked it. Arigato Gozaimasu! XD