A/N: Okay, when you start reading this you're going to think, "OH, SHIT, NOT ANOTHER OVERPOWERED NARUTO STORY!" well... uh-oh! Nah, but seriously. I'm going to do something I hope comes across as a little original, while still factoring in the Kyuubi's influence element that has attracted me for so long.

The exam is going to be similar to the canon exam, but I reorganized the time line just a little.

So here's Chapter Five – Informal Gluttony! R&R, please!


A Tale of Two Beasts: Harmony & Chaos

Chapter Five: Informal Gluttony

Silence followed by a deafening roar. There was no explanation for the amount of destruction that Naruto witnessed in his dreams. Gargantuan buildings of stone and steel which pierced into the very sky suddenly bent and torn asunder by the thousands from some immense explosion. A cloud that spread into the sky carried with it invisible death. A sickness spread to the surrounding villages and into the bodies of the people and animals, all living things that survived the giant blast which had just destroyed what must surely be the homes of some long forgotten race of gods. What else could reside in such grandiose buildings?

The very earth wilted beneath the force of this explosion, the grass charred in an instant, all life extinguished in the blink of an eye. And still, while the city of insurmountable size was rocked by the incredible force of the blast, the sickness spread. From his vantage point among the clouds Naruto watched through a crimson filter. The sickness, a disease unlike anything Naruto's young and troubled mind could possibly comprehend, was infecting and rotting the very skin off those it caressed with its necrotic touch.

His vision zoomed in on a group of children who must have been attending an academy of some sort. The horde of youth looked in the direction of the blast, and then they all began to melt, the skin sloughing off their bodies as if it hoped to abandon them and escape the coming hell. Their faceless skulls were soon engulfed in fire, and then all was burnt to ash.

The silence returned, and still the sickness spread. His vision became even greater in scale. The entire world was in his sights, and across the lands he saw similar events happening on nearly available inch, all followed by a thin trail of smoke. 'Weapons,' thought Naruto in nauseated silence. The world burned, and all Naruto could think of was how much he hated the feeling of pleasure which trickled along his neck.

-

Naruto awoke with a start, and looked at his surroundings. 'Where the hell am I?' he pondered, looked around at the grimy stone walls. He was wet, he realized. He stood up, and was a nearly ankle deep in water. He sniffed, and was pleased to at least find it was not sewage. The blond looked up into an infinite expanse of black. There was a shimmer somewhere up there, he could see, but the distance between his current location and that of the sparkling ceiling he could not begin to fathom.

Naruto stretched out his senses in hope of finding some clue as to why he was here. Some form of life, maybe? Something that could give him some answers. Unfortunately, what he found wasn't what he expected. Somewhere in the distance he found a black hole, and around it he could sense more of the same. Nothing at all.

He grimaced and trudged forward through the water, intent of locating this black hole which escaped him. It only took a few moments before the vacuum was replaced by malice. Hate. The scent of burning flesh and blood reached his nostrils. Had he died, was he in Hell? Naruto looked around frantically, dropping into a crouch.

There was an echoing laugh, so deep it nearly paralyzed the young boy with fear. But Naruto was no normal child and he ground his teeth together and stood back up, ignoring the desperate clenching at his heart which demanded he flee. Naruto wasn't scared. He wasn't running from anything. He followed where he thought the sound originated from, towards the black hole which was slowly transforming into something very, very bad.

Naruto warily turned the only corner he'd seen in the tunnel, and his eyes widened dramatically.

"I see you've finally come to visit, boy."

Naruto shook, and pointed, "Kyuubi no Kitsune...?!"

Indeed, the greatest demon lord in all the world looked him dead in the eyes, the two beings separated only by gray bars that looked suddenly brittle to the genin, the demon's bright burning slants of pure evil sending incredible amounts of killing intent to the boy. The air was so thick of his power that Naruto nearly choked, and just as Kyuubi felt the first stirrings of a spell at work on entrancing his host, the blond suddenly shouted, "Why in the fuck am I here, you overgrown fur ball?!"

Kyuubi sat staring at the child for a few seconds in shock, and then burst into laughter. The prison, for Naruto now had realized just what it was he was currently located in, crackled and shook from the deep, raucous laughter. Kyuubi flashed a deadly smile, "It's been a long time since anyone, especially a mortal, sought to talk to me in such a fashion. Probably a good twenty thousand years, maybe? Hah! Yeah, you're all big and bad with these bars separating us... Now see here, I've got something to offer you, child."

Naruto tilted his head and took a step forward, "What exactly do you have in mind, eh?"

Kyuubi nodded towards the left, and Naruto followed his gaze to a white rectangle that was apparently a part of the wall, and Naruto knew it hadn't been there a second ago, "What I'm about to propose might be a little bit much, but after all, you're going to need all the help you can get with the coming storm, boy, and if you die, I die, and we won't have that if I can help it."

Naruto glared at the fox demon, "You're the cause for all the shit I've had to deal with all this time? You expect me to do something to help you? I should just go home and kill myself to spite you, you god damned monster..."

Kyuubi chuckled darkly, "As amusing as that is, you won't do that. We both know it. After all, we are inside your head... Sort of. Technically, it's a connection between your seal and your mind, but you know... Look, as a sort of... rent payment, hows about I lend you some of my chakra every now and then? In fact, as a down payment, when you wake up, you'll have a surprise waiting on you. Our time is growing short, anyway. You'll soon find out how to contact me."

Naruto found himself being pulled towards the white door which must have led to the impromptu exit of his mind. Oh, wait, bridge. The last thing he heard was the beast's demonic laughter.

-

Across town Kurama paused in his exercises. Thankfully, Anko had trusted him enough to continue in her absence and had gone to her home to sleep. Kurama smirked and looked towards the moon. A red sheen had begun to coat the milky white orb, and seemingly as soon as it appeared, it vanished. Kurama turned in the direction of Naruto's apartment, 'Kyuubi-sama...'

Like a bullet he was gone, sprinting at top speed towards where he senses his Lord and Master's youki flourishing brilliantly. It was truly beautiful, looking through his reiki spectrum, the brilliant red arcs of light swirling and engulfing the projects of the town, so bright as to be seen from the practice fields. Of course, to the shinobi and the humans of the village, at least those not sensitive to spiritual energies, they would have no idea that something major was taking place.

Kurama broke into a dead sprint, and leaped onto the roof of a nearby house just on the outskirts of the practice field. He laughed and twirled through the air, delighted at the crimson aura that had begun to permeate the area.

-

Naruto awoke in his bed, his sheets soaking wet with sweat. It was dark, and his entire body seemed stricken with a numb, pins and needles feeling. But it was also unbearably hot. He maneuvered himself onto his side and reached for the light, and as he flicked the switch he was suddenly able to see his entire home filled with smoke... or maybe fog. It didn't smell like smoke, at least, Naruto realized after inhaling deeply through his nose. He left his bed, and made his way to the bathroom, having the sudden, urgent need to relive himself.

Entering the small bathroom he flicked the light switch and walked past the fogged mirror, which answered his question about what was in filling his apartment, and lifted the toilet seat. He grasped himself and sighed at the pleasant feeling, and then the flow ceased. Naruto looked down and felt himself recoil as sharp pains began running down from his stomach and throughout his body, before centering somewhere in his insides. His urine began to flow urgently, now tinted a deep, bloody red.

-

Kurama paced back and forth in front of the entrance to Uzumaki Naruto's apartment, awaiting for the signal to either enter, perhaps Naruto to exit. It ended up being the latter. The young blond peered over the railing from a few stories up and gave him a quizzical look. Both shinobi stared at each other for a few seconds, before Naruto said, "Uh, hey, Kurama..."

Kurama gave him a seething glare at his expectations of Kyuubi having taken possession being dashed, but reigned in the magnificent anger building in him. He started to speak, and then shut his mouth. Kurama turned away from the apartment and then snarled, "Nothing, just go back to bed. I'll see you soon."

With that, the crimson haired shinobi jumped onto the roof of a nearby building and sprinted towards the training area which was soon to be beaten into looking like a war zone. Naruto watched the form of his teammate move farther and farther away, and then went back inside. Passing through his small home, he turned towards the mirror hung opposite his bed and peered at his half clothed form barely visible in the darkness. His eyes sparkled a fiery red in the reflection, and Naruto nearly screamed in surprise. He looked down at himself with worry, wondering just what the demon had done to him.

-

Time under their respective tutors passed in varying degrees. For Kurama it seemed all too quick, passing swiftly through his days filled with nearly non stop strenuous training and incredibly short rest periods during the night. Sasuke's time spent under Kakashi's tutelage proved similar, though he was treated with surely a much higher degree of mercy than the red head was treated with. Sakura was sore to the bone, but still she ran and fought and slept in close companionship with the new team. The exercise was making her stronger by leaps and bounds, improving her physical strength and the amount of chakra circulating inside her. She was forced to rely on her more experienced teammates to keep going, and this was hopefully serving to make her more receptive to her supportive role as a teammate. Yes, for the majority of Team Seven, things were moving along extremely quickly.

For Naruto, however, it was some of the most frustrating time he'd ever spent. Hours upon hours of lectures on both practical and theoretical chakra uses, proper taijutsu form and technique, and so many other small details were drilled into him day in and day out. The struggle to not only know all of these things that were designed to turn this street fighting child into a precise killing machine was hard enough, but putting them into practice seemed next to impossible, seeing as all his time was spent studying.

Naruto knew there was more to it than to just correct his form. Ebisu was doing this to torture him, and he was sick of reading the same fucking passages thirty or forty times and then reciting it from memory just to humor the self appointed 'God Tutor'. "Hey, Ebisu! How's this for proper chakra manipulation? HENGE!"

-

Leaving the unconscious form of Ebisu on the classroom floor, Naruto wandered through the village, wondering how much he was being left behind because of his inactivity. He finally made his way to the bath houses, where he noticed a certain peculiarity. Hiding from view, leaning into one of the open vents at the top was a rather large figure, with a mane of white hair that fell down his back in a neat pile. "Hey, pervert, what the fuck are you doing?!" he yelled, smirking slightly as the sound reached the women inside.

Around thirty pairs of eyes met the peeping tom's own, significantly wider pair with shock, and not a little anger. Naruto turned away, chuckling at having foiled the pervert's plans, when all of a sudden he was grabbed by the collar and hauled in the opposite direction too quickly to attempt to change course. As he was being dragged he tried to use his strength and stop by digging his feet into the ground, but that only served to dig rivets into the dirt path he and whoever his captor were flying down, "HEY, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING, YOU DIRTY OLD MAN?!"

The man merely laughed before stopping extremely quick, Naruto's form jerking from the hold and nearly snapping his neck from the inertia. "Well, I think we're far enough away now.. Finally, safe and sound... JUST WHAT IN THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING, BRAT?!"

Naruto just glared at him, then grunted out quickly, "Well I just couldn't resist doing some good for the city, you pervert. Too damn many of your around, corrupting our youth! First Ebisu, now this..."

The white haired man titled his head, "Ebisu? The tutor? Just what are you being tutored for, boy?"

Naruto pointed to his headband and deadpanned, "Genin. Chuunin Exams."

The old man's right hand shot into action, forming a few dozen seals in about an instant, and his eyes flashed as the chakra gathered. He scanned over Naruto a few times, "Damn you've got a lot of chakra, brat." He left out the other thing he'd noticed, the seal practically flaring with energy on his abdomen. "I can see why you'd go to Ebisu. You have more chakra than a lot of Jounin, but most likely you can't control it worth a damn. Smart choice. Kakashi must have chosen him, eh, dobe?"

Naruto glared at him, and snarled, "Don't you dare call me that, you old pervert fuck!" Naruto moved as if to take a swing at him, and the man vanished suddenly. Naruto felt a powerful clamp suddenly latch onto the wrist of his reared back hand, and was then lifted into the air and thrown onto the ground. The impact knocked the breath out of him, as well as making white spots dance in his vision.

"I figured that would get a reaction out of you, Uzumaki. Kakashi's too smart for his own good. He hasn't learned that second guessing isn't always bad. You've already gotten incredibly bored by Ebisu, haven't you? Well how about I take over your training for a little while, eh?"

Naruto looked up at the man, "Erk, who are you?"

The man laughed uproariously, "I'm Jiraiya, the Toad Sennin, of the Konoha Sannin. I'm a legend. From my count you've only got about a week left before the Exams begin, correct?" Jiraiya offered a hand to the boy.

Naruto nodded and took the offered assistance, and stood. "Alright, Ero-sennin," he said, Jiraiya shivering in distaste to the title, "I'll take up your offer, but I hope the studying will be kept to a minimal."

The Sannin chuckled, "We'll see. As long as you keep the pervert comments to a minimum." Jiraiya ruffled the boy's hair and smiled, 'Let's see just what you can do...'

-

Naruto followed the Sannin, Jiraiya, towards the practice fields, all the while examining the man's form. He was garbed in an odd looking outfit, as far as shinobi attire usually went. Of course, in the nearly thirteen years Naruto had spent in Konoha, he'd learned that the more eccentric the shinobi or kunoichi was, usually the more powerful. He didn't know hardly any of these ninja by name, but you could tell as soon as you saw them. There was one woman he often saw around the seedier parts of town near his apartment who smelled of death and blood so thoroughly that after she had left the area, you could still be able to find her just by following the smell, and he was no Inuzuka.

There was the man that always seemed to stalk Kakashi, as well, the one always clad in a too tight green singlet with a ridiculous haircut who spouted out cliches left and right. 'Oh, wasn't Sakura training with him and his team?' Naruto asked himself. He then mentally flipped through the faces of the most eccentric shinobi and kunoichi he knew of. Of course, Naruto himself was pretty eccentric, he realized suddenly. He smiled suddenly, finding the clue that related him to Konoha's elite very pleasing. He was jolted out of his thoughts by bumping into the solid form of his newly appointed tutor.

Naruto looked around at the area, it was one of the middle difficulty training fields. There were mildly dangerous hazards all throughout, with various traps placed around as well. He glanced up at the Sannin, "So, we training here, then?"

Jiraiya turned and nodded, and then asked, "Okay, let's see just what your capable of, then. I want you to traverse the training grounds as quickly as possible, with as little injury as possible. You can go whenever you're ready, I'll keep time."

Naruto glanced around, and then did a little stretching. He summoned his chakra and shot off towards the tree stump which marked most training grounds and practice fields starting and end point for their respective tracks.

As the white haired Toad Sennin watched the young blond charge through the traps and hazards, dodging this way and that, he gave a small smile. It felt good to be teaching again.

-

After running through the maze of traps as fast as he could manage, Naruto stood, covered in a light sweat and slightly flushed, but otherwise not tired at all. Jiraiya scanned him over and saw that he'd gotten nicked several times, but already the little scratches had healed. "Well, as far as speed goes you're not really all that bad, but not really all that good. You've got above average strength for your rank and age level, and of course you just ran nearly two miles and you're not even winded, so... that's actually really good, but I'd already heard about your stamina... this healing thing, though, that's a little unusual."

Naruto nodded at the comments, and wondered where exactly this was getting to.

Jiraiya put his thumb up to his mouth and bit down, drawing blood, and then formed a set of seals slowly, and to his side popped a small toad, which looked first at Naruto, then at Jiraiya. It then looked back to Naruto and waved. Naruto stared at it with a confused expression, but returned the salutation. The small toad jumped over to the blond and looked him over, "Who's the kid, Jiraiya?"

"New pupil, at least temporarily. His name's Uzumaki Naruto. Figured he might be worthy of the Toad Summon scroll. Whatcha think, Gamakichi?"

The small toad, who was revealed to be named Gamakichi, looked back over towards his summoner, "I dunno, you better ask the boss about that... But whatever. If you're not going to need me, I'm just going to go, though, okay? Okay, bye." The toad didn't wait for a yes or no, and vanished in a puff of smoke. Jiraiya squeezed his thumb to let more blood flow and flipped through the same set of seals, a little faster.

This time, a huge puff of smoke engulfed the area, and out from behind the cloud came a giant toad that towered over the trees. The giant toad looked around and took a puff from the pipe in his mouth. "Jiraiya, what is the meaning of this? I don't see anything about to kill anyone, so what's the deal, eh?"

Jiraiya muttered through his hand, "New pupil, going to give summon contract."

The huge toad chuckled roughly, "I like the way you asked me just then. I can't actually say no to that. You know you don't need my approval, I trusted you enough with the seal that you'd use good judgment in any candidates. Sign the kid. Oh, and don't bother me like this again. There better be some sort of peril going on the next time you call on me. See ya." And like his much, much smaller counterpart, he also vanished in smoke.

Jiraiya sighed and then smiled brightly at his new pupil, "Well, Naruto, what do you think about that? The Toad Summon Contract is one of the most highly sought after summoning contracts in the world. The Yondaime was bound to the Toad Summon, as were so many others before him. The summoning skill is actually a perquisite to becoming a Jounin, so you would actually have a leg up on the competition in the long run. Also, it would be a great asset to somebody with so much chakra."

Naruto perked up at the mention of having an advantage, and was ready to sign as soon as that left Jiraiya's mouth, "Let's do it!"

Naruto bit into his thumb with a small wince, and sat there waiting for Jiraiya to unroll the great scroll. After he did so, the blond knelt down, briefly scanning through the previously listed names. There was Jiraiya's name, and then the Yondaime's name, Namikaze Minato. His brow furrowed at seeing that name. There were conflicting emotions. Both the greatest Hokage to ever govern Konohagakure, and also the cause for all his problems. Everything negative in his life could be traced back to that man. And even his appearance haunted him, the similarities between the two causing Naruto's gut to tighten every time he looked up towards the Hokage Monument.

Naruto signed his name. He paused afterwards and looked around. He looked at his arms, and his hands. He looked up at Jiraiya, "So... that's it? I don't feel any different..."

Jiraiya nodded, "Yeah, that's normal. You aren't actually changed or anything. It simply ties your chakra to the contract so you can actually summon them anywhere you want without having to have possession of the scroll. Here are the seals you need to perform the technique." The Toad Sennin briefly went through them, Naruto carefully examining his every move.

"Let's see how far you can go... Try summoning something."

Naruto stepped back and performed the seals, admirably attempting to put some muscle into it and forcing a little extra chakra into the technique. The result wasn't what he expected.

A small puff of smoke popped into existence, and there was a moment of silence, then, "What the hell?"

From the smoke emerged the tiny toad that Jiraiya had summoned previously. Gamakichi looked at both Jiraiya and Naruto, then sighed, "Can I please get a little peace, please?" Naruto and Jiraiya looked at each other, Naruto with a grimace, and Jiraiya with a light smile. Gamakichi poofed into nonexistence.

"Try again, Naruto."

He did.

There was another puff of smoke.

"WHAT THE HELL, JIRAIYA?!"

Jiraiya watched in silence as Naruto ground his teeth, furiously cursing all manners of creation. They'd summoned Gamakichi nearly ten times, and though Naruto was by far not winded, he had ultimately screwed himself over. In the beginning, his unnatural amounts of chakra had been extremely hard to focus. Now that he'd gotten the hang of concentrating it for smaller tasks, he couldn't offset the 'kinking of the hose' that he'd had to do to get his control so much better in favor of using a gargantuan amount at will.

The Sannin snapped his fingers, "Boy, I've got it! Okay, naturally you've gotten more chakra than you know what to do with. To counterbalance that you've been sort of tying off the flow, kinking the hose, if you will. What we need you to do is put your thumb over the end. It's up to you to figure that out, though."

Naruto nodded and ran through the seals, an his face turning red from forcing chakra out.

There was a puff of smoke, and again there was Gamakichi. He looked like the most pissed off toad in the world.

Naruto swore, "GODAMMIT!"

While Naruto paced back and forth, ranting and screaming voracious profanity at nothing in particular, Jiraiya watched him with a calculating eye. He sighed, knowing there wasn't any other way, "Naruto, come here for a second. I've got something serious to talk to you about."

Naruto paused in his rant to listen to the old man. He approached him somewhat warily, knowing serious talks usually sucked. Oh, wait. They always sucked.

"Look, point blank, the seal is messing with your chakra flow. You've managed to overcome one handicap and have been blindsided by another. This can be overcome, but we don't have the time. You're going to have to talk... to it," Jiraiya finished, and stiffly looked into Naruto's wide eyes.

"You know about...?" Naruto asked.

Jiraiya nodded, "I've known about it longer than you have. Gamabunta, the boss toad, fought against the damned thing. Now, listen to my plan. You're going to have to bargain with him for chakra. With the Kyuubi's chakra, there are no limits. Period." Jiraiya turned to face the Hokage Monument, and walked over in that direction, the edge of the cliff they stood on.

Naruto followed him.

Jiraiya laughed, "Good luck!"

Naruto looked up at him in question. He was met by a swift kick in the ass that booted him halfway across the small valley. His descent began swiftly. Naruto frantically tried to make his way to the side to grab hold, but as soon as he made contact, the rocks simple fell away. The entire side seemed to be on the point of erosion. He was going to die. Naruto began to panic, and tried to do as the Sannin had told, but found he couldn't actually lapse into the sewer. He closed his eyes, and concentrated hard.

He opened them, expecting to find himself back in the musky dungeon. Instead he met the sight of cold, hard ground. He struck the near rock solid clad, hard. He bounced back up into the air, and felt his organs shift around. His eyes nearly popped from his skull, and he felt his bowels release. He chuckled weakly, more a strangled gasp. He coughed, and blood splattered the ground in front of him. Naruto's head felt as if it were going to burst. He closed his eyes, then jolted them open. He inhaled sharply and then breathed out slowly.

Naruto sat up slowly. In an instant Jiraiya was next to him, looking horrified. Naruto coughed up some more blood, then turned to look at the Toad Sennin, "I'm... I'm okay." Naruto bent forward and put his hands forward to push up. Shakily, he came to his feet. "Oh, I shit my pants..."

Jiraiya actually laughed a little, "That's weird, because that usually happens when someone dies... Must have-*snicker*-scared the shit outta you!"

Naruto gave him an eat shit and die look, then limped in the direction of the town, "Get me to my apartment, Jiraiya. I'm alive but I really need to change."

The large man guffawed and walked alongside his pupil, "I think there are some things about you, boy, that are better kept as secrets... Uh, damn, I'm going to have to walk a little a head of you."

Naruto glared at him and kept walking, ignoring the spastic laughter.


The rain beat heavily on the roof. The noise served the ghostly figure well, masking the sound of screams. Room to room the assassin traveled, the squealing figure he carried alongside him attempting to reason with him vainly. He blanketed the floors and walls in a slick sheen of blood with his ebony katana. The family of ninja were strong, but they weren't even remotely close to a challenge to this devilish fiend of a man.

The patriarch of the family had stood to challenge him as he barged into the secluded mansion. There wasn't much foot traffic in this area, so far from the center of town. The thundering blows that the demonic creature struck the man with couldn't be heard. The jounin who sought to confront him was beaten within an inch of his life with Kyo's bare hands. He snuffed out his life in the most degrading way possible. He dragged his limp form behind him through a rope of chakra which burned through his skin ever so slowly, he was made to witness the horrific deaths of his family.

With little fanfare, the twenty or so lives inside the mansion were taken away by a technique the jounin had never seen. As they sought to challenge the man, or to flee, they simply burst into bloody chunks of flesh. No fire, no lightning. But the process was slow. As they swole to inhuman levels their flesh tore and ripped, spurting blood until their shells cracked and they exploded in a grotesque manner, bathing everything around them in crimson showers.

"You're a failure. Your name will not be remembered. You have no honor. You've failed in the most atrocious manner possible. You were responsible for these people. Look at them. Trash. How do you hold yourself, with such pride? There is nothing for you now but death. And how do you think you'll be received...? You deserve nothing but eternal torture for your weakness," said Kyo in a deep, cold voice, letting the rope of chakra connecting them vanish. He reached down and grasped the man's arms, breaking them at the wrist, then at the elbow, and finally pulling them out of their sockets at the shoulder.

With two quick strikes of his feet, the man's hips were shattered. He screamed, a high pitched, grating noise. Kyo took one of the abandoned tantos that one of the women had, and tossed it to him. Kyo chuckled, and sounded more like a choking hiss, "I'd say you have a few hours before you are discovered and it is revealed how much of a failure you are. You still have time to attempt and salvage what little honor there is left in suicide."

Without a sound, Kyo left the dying man to attempt and kill himself. Mizu no Kuni, the Land of Water, was an oddity among the other ninja countries. Many of the islands' ninja held themselves to strict Samurai oriented principals. Were this in another country, the psychological torture he'd just inflicted on the worthless sack of trash would have been ineffective. In other countries, the man would have never killed himself. Sought revenge. Sought power.

In Mizu no Kuni, at least on this island, to let oneself be discovered to have failed in protecting his or her family would result in the greatest dishonor, and when he or she does perish, they would be forced to eternal damnation for their worthlessness. Left in his pathetic state, the patriarch was incapable of committing ritual suicide. With little fanfare, Kyo faded into mist. The speckles of hidden blood colored the cloud crimson, but as he rose towards the treetops, the bloody mist lowered towards the ground and degenerated into a puddle. Kyo flew towards the sky, ethereal.


The eyes of a Hyuuga scarcely missed anything. Most observant, Hyuuga Neji had watched the many foreign ninja pouring into the city the last few days. With less than a week left until the opening ceremony, his competition was less ferocious than he'd been expecting. There was one group, however, that was starkly different from the others. The ninja from Grass. There was something eerie about them.

By far, Neji estimated, the ninja from Grass and their nearly creepy compatriots from the Sand would blow the competition to the wayside. They would be the show stoppers. Neji grunted and began to stab at the mounted log with greater ferocity, ignoring the burning, stinging pain felt as his raw, bleeding fingertips met the hard, raw wood. He would not let himself be beaten.

-

Kurama's training under Mitarashi Anko had seen him improve in the ninja arts dramatically. His physical strength had probably doubled, and his speed had improved drastically. Not to mention his already great pain tolerance had improved.

Most important, he had reigned in the youki that tempted him with power so volatile. Just as Kyuubi had warned him so many years ago, his power would be his weakness. He hadn't understood it at that time. After all, Kyuubi's power definitely wasn't his weakness...

Now he and his mentor sat underneath one of the outside dining umbrellas in the food court of one of Konohagakure's better shopping outlets. Dango was Anko's favorite, he'd learned, and every other day it was a requisite that the take a lunch break for the tasty treat. Only her, though. Kurama was usually left running for doing exercises eternal. But with only two days left until the Chuunin exams, training had come to a cease. What was done was done. He needed rest for his body to fully absorb the increase in power, and his mind needed the rest to further be able to fully control the extra strength he now had.

Anko chewed idly on one of the empty skewers, and laughed quietly. Kurama turned in her direction, simply staring at her. She chuckled again, a little louder, "It's kinda funny. I haven't been able to teach anyone since... well, it's been a long time. I kinda missed it." She turned to look at his somewhat discolored face which still showed evidence of heavy bruising, and frowned, "Well, maybe I didn't miss that much. Fuck you're ugly."

Kurama laughed.

-

The battle had been raging for about an hour. Sakura poured sweat. Her opponent, Rock Lee, wasn't even winded. This didn't escape their peers or their sensei as they watched on, but both knew it was impressive to still be going this long. Rock Lee and Neji had sparred intensely before, but the matches never lasted this long. Tenten felt a strong dislike churning in her stomach for the pink kunoichi.

Finally, a change. Rock Lee smashed his head through Sakura's hasty block which sent both arms flying. His forehead cracked into her own and she was sent flying into the dirt behind her, a large cloud of dust following her collision.

Gai stepped out in front of Rock Lee, "Good job, both of you." The tall Jounin stepped forward and helped the kunoichi stand. She stood shakily, panting. Gai knelt and whispered to her, "Sakura, whether or not you realize it, you've improved drastically. Not many Chuunin can stand with him for such a long period of time. I've only seen maybe two other Genin with the same capacity as Rock Lee, and here you are, after only days, standing even." She wasn't even with him. He knew this, and everyone else on the team knew this. He hadn't been going all out, even. But she had improved. A lot.

Sakura smiled slightly, and was surprised to feel Gai hug her, "Congratulations, Sakura." The rest of the team gathered closer, each one of them putting their palms on her back. Even Neji patted her once before stoically backing away.

-

Sasuke sat on the edge of the cliff overlooking the city. He sat with his head down, and his right arm laying in his lap, as if he was nursing it. The appendage was red and the skin looked charred in some places. To his left stood Kakashi, silently appraising the same view that Sasuke was. "You're doing good, Sasuke. Get some sleep, you'll need it."

As Kakashi silently padded away to his tent, Sasuke smiled grimly. This was where he thrived. Being pushed. His companions and peers were resting right now, and had nothing but rest planned tomorrow as well. Sasuke would train, and he would fight. He needed to. It was the way he meant to live. His eyes turned, trained on Kakashi's flashlight. The man hadn't opted to read any tonight, and the light flickered out after only a minute or two.

Sasuke turned away from the cliff and lay on his stomach. He began doing push ups. "One. Two. Three..." The process continued into the early morning, where he finally found rest. Unfortunately, it was in the form of unwilling unconsciousness, passed out from exhaustion. As he hit the ground and slept, Kakashi came from his tent to drag the boy into his own. He'd had the foresight to know Sasuke wouldn't go to bed until his body forced him to do so.

Kakashi set the young shinobi down and backed out of the structure, zipping the door shut. He would let him sleep late the next day, and it would be a light day. Hatake Kakashi was a good teacher, whether he thought he was or not. His students would become legendary in their own rights, just as Cell 7 had so many years earlier under the Sandaime Hokage. He entered his own tent and lay back, closing his eyes and going to sleep. It was a long, pleasant night for both of them.

-

Naruto sat up in his bed, bare back against the bare wall, right arm upraised to view his upturned palm. His eyes traced the faint outline of newly grown skin. Once more, to prove he hadn't imagined it, he ran the kunai across the wrinkled surface of. The kunai didn't slice through. He pushed harder, and still no blood. Bringing it back to the apex of his thumb and index finger, he tore into the skin, nearly slashing in such a ferocious notion. The skin finally parted, and blood merely trickled out for a few seconds before the cut sealed shut.

So this was his gift?

The exam opened with the Hokage formally welcoming all of the visiting ninja. The visiting teams ranged from the Rookie 9 of Konoha to the top ranked Genin teams of Sand, Grass, Sound, and several other foreign countries.

Sandaime viewed the amassed group from under his kage visor, the varied colors so distinct in their blandness it was a remarkable sight. Across the courtyard the uniforms ranged from dull brown to black to dark green and others. Only the bright eyesore of Uzumaki Naruto differed. As such, everyone around the blond shinobi felt themselves drawn to his outright tacky outfit.

It took a great force of will for the Hokage to quit staring at his favorite Genin. He addressed the group once, more entailing the process of the Chuunin Exams, "To my right is Ibiki-san. He will be administering the first test. Please follow him to the Academy where you will all be seated accordingly and be administered the only written portion of the test. Thank you for coming, and good luck to you all."

No one missed the brilliant orange form shiver at the mention of a written test.

-

Naruto sat between Sakura and Kurama, with Sasuke to the left of the pink haired girl. The blond was anxious. No, the term could more adequately be described as 'freaking the fuck out'. Kurama and Sasuke were prodigies, and Sakura was probably the smartest of the Rookie 9. She definitely had the best grades out of them all. And Naruto?

Naruto frowned. Who the hell ever said he wasn't smart? As the instructor, the scary looking Jounin known as Ibiki read through the rules, Naruto paid very little attention. He was now ranting and raving under the hood about why exactly he was thinking he was incapable of completing and passing this exam. The tests were being passed out.

Naruto took a look at the first page and winced.

-

Ibiki frowned.

The ninja gathered hadn't taken the bait yet. Ibiki sighed and paced around the front of the room, waiting for something to catch his attention. It came in a form he didn't expect. He didn't actually believe he sensed what he was sensing. And then it was gone. He stared daggers at the Uzumaki child who either couldn't sense the killing intent, or simply ignored it. Ibiki slowly, warily approached the boy via the stairs on either side of the bleacher seats.

-

"The answers are B, F, C, A, E, A, D, C, C, A, B, D, C, F, A, E."

Naruto shivered stiffly, confused if he'd actually heard that whisper like snarl from inside his mind.

"B. F. C..."

Still Naruto sat stock stiff, attempting to ignore the louder snarls which listed the answers.

"A. E. A. D..."

Naruto finally recanted, and realized the whispering was real. He hastily reached for his pencil and began scribbling as the letters repeated.

"Turn the page."

Naruto did as told and grinned a toothy grin. He looked to the side and laughed quietly. He was already past both Sakura and Kurama. He listened once more as the Kyuubi mentally conferred the answers. From the corner of his eye Naruto noticed Ibiki giving him particularly close attention. He looked up and met his eyes. Ibiki stared for a few more seconds, then nodded and turned away.

Ibiki cursed, wondering just where such malevolent chakra came from. He knew he'd felt it. Smelled the blood and death the sensation made him recall. But it was gone now. He clenched his fists inside his jacket and locked his jaw. It would be best to mention this to Sarutobi once he saw him.

-

Ibiki slapped the proctor podium. Hard. The resounding clap jarred all the occupants of the room. After the second page they'd finally fallen into the predicted choice of action. Nearly a full third of the room had resorted to cheating. Some through admittedly genius tactics, others through outright blunt and simple ways. There weren't many caught, however. Ibiki smiled sickly and spoke, "There is only one more question. If you choose to answer it and miss it, you will never be able to take the Chuunin Exams ever again. Refuse to answer it and you're disqualified. Either way, it doesn't really matter to me. Now, raise your hands if you choose to leave. Same rules apply, one failure in the team, the whole team is counted as such. Well, who is going to quit?"

At first no one reacted. The wheels began to turn, and three or four squads began to leave. Naruto's arm trembled, and everyone on his team began giving him hateful, evil glares. Naruto stood and pointed at Ibiki, "You're full of shit! I'll take on your question! Anybody not willing to take risks isn't going to get anywhere, anyway. Bring it on!" Naruto sat down heavily and grabbed his pencil, ready.

Ibiki was caught between laughing and grimacing. He was impressed. He was also disappointed. Nobody else chose to leave. He opted to go with the former reaction, "Well, congratulations to everyone who stayed. You pass."

Despite the bravado that Naruto had just exhibited, his head slunk to the desk top with great force.

The celebratory spirit that spread throughout the class was shattered, much like a certain window, as Mitarashi Anko shot inside. She sent out an alarming burst of killing intent, to which most of the ninja in the room felt and were nearly paralyzed. Ibiki dispelled it without a thought and approached her.

The snake woman turned her head back, "You really did a shitty job, Ibiki. There's like... nobody eliminated."

Ibiki nodded, "Well, we eliminated about four or five squads..." He then motioned his head to Naruto, "He gave a little pep talk at the end."

Anko tsked, and then shouted, "I'm Mitarashi Anko. You will address me as Anko-sama. I don't give a damn about how many of you are left or how well you did on the test. You're all about to get a real taste of what it means to be a ninja. Follow me to your next examination. I'm going to cut your numbers in half." Before she exited, she turned around and winked at nothing in particular. Only Kurama understood the gesture for what it was.

-

The group stood in front of a horrific looking forest. The chain link fence which surrounded it lay on the outer perimeter of an even taller fence, with barbed wire running throughout the sparse couple of feet in between the two. Anko smiled, "This is what is known as the Forest of Death. Your mission is to make it to the tower at the center within the next three days. Before I open the gates, I need you to sign a waiver dismissing the nation of Konoha and all of its affiliates from any wrongdoing in the event of your death, blah, blah, blah. Pens will be passed around, as well."

Naruto couldn't be happier. They had Kurama with them, the fucking plant master. He looked over at the red haired shinobi who returned his look with a curious notion. Naruto gave him a thumbs up, and mouthed, "Oh yeah!" Kurama gave a lack luster thumbs up as well. He sighed in derision at the enthusiastic shinobi. Naruto began dancing.

"Uzumaki, chill out!"

A kunai bounced off of Naruto's cheek

He looked back at Anko in anger. She glared at him, hiding the confusion as to why her kunai hadn't pierced the skin, "The others are scared enough of the forest. I don't need your stupid dancing to further embarrass them, or me."

Naruto didn't respond, but felt a great burning anger building. There was suddenly a pleasant, albeit also disgusting sensation of someone licking his cheek. He jumped away and turned around, staring death at the pale grass ninja which had just finished cleaning his cheek. The ninja's voice was a hiss, "So enthusiastic. If only I could get a taste of your blood... Oh well, we have plenty of time left." The freaky ninja's incredible long, forked tongue grabbed the kunai which lay beside them and sauntered up to Anko, handing it back with an unrecognizable look haunting the ninja's eyes, "Here you go..."

Anko snatched it back and turned away from the ninja, holstering the kunai and waiting for the forms to finish being handed out. As the last of the Chuunin collected the waivers and allotted pens, Anko reached for the lever which opened the gates.

The Chuunin assisting Anko also began handing out scrolls. Anko nodded as everyone received one. "These scrolls have a seal in their contents. To actually pass this portion of the exam, each team must have one of each type of scroll. You can tell which is which by the exterior's marking. For the idiots not paying attention, there are two types. You open them in the forest and you fail. Do not open your scroll until you are safely in the lobby."

She smiled, "You have 72 hours to make it to the tower. Good luck. Now... Go!"

The Genin sprinted towards the opening. Little did they know it, the waivers weren't just for show. For many, this would be the last time they saw true daylight. They were about to descent into hell. Anko was right. They were going to be getting a real taste of being a ninja.

-

Mizune led her squad through the forest with unerring focus and concentration. Her every spare bit of conscious thought intent on keeping them safe. The rain forests in her homeland were easier to navigate in stealth. The wet atmosphere kept the ground moist and there were very few dry leaves or branches littering the ground. Combined with the extremely thick amounts of foliage, it was at times more challenging to be seen than to stay hidden. Not so in Fire Country.

The ground was hard. Dead leaves were everywhere. A single misplaced step and anything within fifty meters would know your location. Mizune's teammates were much weaker than her. They all knew it. She was the leader, the planner, the fighter. They were support. As a special reconnaissance squad, more experimental than practical, the clan heiress was both the brains and the brawn. At least until her teammates matured some and grew stronger. They were decent ninja, but not anywhere near her caliber. It was their ill fortune which had attached them to the girl. Their ill fortune that had them constantly facing dangers that they weren't prepared for, and every time Mizune had been the one to bail them out. Upon their successful return to Mizu no Kuni, she would return to her family's home with her team and they would be formally recognized as official Chuunin of the Land of Water.

There was a loud snap. Mizune and her companions paused instantly, frozen stiff. She turned around, a look of shock on her face. She glanced into the terrified eyes of Yusuke who met her gaze. All three looked down at the boy's feet. There twig was severed in pieces beneath his foot. He whispered, "Sorry..." They stood still for a few more seconds, and then began to move.

Kazuya shrieked, a high pitched, grating noise. It cut off prematurely. There was a sickly snap and something wet sprayed over Mizune and Yusuke. They turned back around, meeting the sight of their friend snapped in half. They sprinted into the trees.

Mizune didn't cry. She wouldn't cry. What was it her father told her before she left her family's mansion? Verbatim, "I don't raise failures, Mizune. You will go with the grace of our family, and return to us a Chuunin. Protect your teammates. Do not fail. This is the most important thing, my precious daughter. You have not disappointed me, once, in your life. Do not start now. Go."

Mizune glanced to Yusuke who sat, back against the broad expanse of the ancient tree, his cheeks red, eyes flooding with tears. She felt her own eyes trickle, despite her fervent attempts to stymie to flow of tears. She glanced down at the body of one of her best friends. He was only fourteen, a year older than she and Yusuke.

They were too young for this. Mizune wept silently, begging Yusuke to keep quiet as well. This wasn't supposed to happen. They had such a bright future ahead. They would be legends. The entire country was supposed to watch their rise to greatness. She heard a horrid ripping sound, and the putrid smell of half digested food and gas reached her nose. She refused to look down, but knew something was eating her friend. Her lover. Across from her, in the other tree, she heard a gagging sound, and splash.

Mizune's eyes blasted open wide, watching as this time an arm of sand grabbed Yusuke by the neck, snapping his head backwards into the tree. His skull burst open in a grotesque spray of gore. The sand grew, engorging itself on the dead body. There were footsteps, now. Careless. Maybe three... What kind of monsters were these people?

Mizune was dead. She couldn't return to her family a failure. Status as a missing nin, especially as weak as she was in the grand scale of things, would only warrant a few days of life. 'Hungry...' She looked up and saw into the most devilish orbs of green she'd every seen. The pale, red haired boy didn't flinch as his sand crept out of his gourd sheathe and ended any thoughts of escape, or any thoughts whatsoever, of the young kunoichi. There was a distinct crack, her skull collapsing under the immense pressure. Several lesser cracks and a multitude of crunches later, and the sand was compacted to the size of an apple.

The sand, stained crimson, returned to its wielder, who dropped to the ground which was saturated in blood. Gaara reached out with palm upturned. A blood stained scroll fell into his hand. He didn't bother to look at it. He coughed lightly, "They're dead. See, I didn't even make you watch."

From the bushes on the sides came his elder sister Temari and elder brother Kankuro. Both looked at the scene with looks designed to feign nonchalance. They looked like they were going to vomit. Gaara glared at them, "Pathetic..."

Temari and Kankuro followed their baby brother further into the forest without looking back.

The branch which the dead girl once sat now dribbled crimson into the red puddle below.

-

Team Seven's progress was not very bad. Actually, they were doing very well. Via an impromptu tag team Sasuke and Naruto had managed to incapacitate the scout of one of the teams from Earth Country. With his magical vines Kurama had taken care of the rest of the group, walking up to their paralyzed forms and ripping the scroll out of its holster at the hip of one of them.

Kurama turned and walked back to his team, "The vines will die in a few hours. Your teammate is hung in a tree. Hope you get there before he falls or you might be more interested in leaving as you came than in getting another scroll. See you."

Team Seven leapt into the trees and sped towards the tower at the center. The ninja of Earth country cursed, valiantly struggling against the impossibly strong vines which were practically wrapped around every square inch of their bodies. After a few minutes they just gave up though.

Sakura glanced back, watching the display from her vantage point high in the trees. Kurama, Naruto, and Sasuke both flickered up into existence near her. She nodded towards the ninja below, "Pretty neat trick, Kurama."

The red haired shinobi smiled slightly at the compliment before getting serious, "Spot anything interesting nearby? We really need to be careful. There's something strange about two of our fellow competitors."

Sasuke nodded in agreement. Naruto spat, "That fucked up Sand-nin and that faggot ass Grass-nin. Ugh!"

Sakura giggled quietly, "I didn't think the ninja from Grass was all that weird... Of course, he also didn't molest me."

Naruto feigned an indignant frown, secretly enjoying the familiar way they interacted after being separated for so long, "Yeah, whatever."

Sasuke broke into the conversation before it could go on any longer, "Look, we've got the scrolls. What we need to do is avoid confrontation and make it to the tower ASAP."

"Sasuke is correct, that would seem like the proper course of action," supported Kurama. He grinned a toothy grin, "Of course, there isn't any thrill like the rush you get from preying on lesser ninja." The members of Team Seven regarded him curiously. Naruto felt a strange surge of agreement. Sasuke felt suddenly intimidated. Sakura looked back and forth between Naruto and Kurama, not liking the sudden malignant tint in their eyes.

She broke off in the direction of the tower, "Time's a-wasting, you guys!"

Not left with any real other recourse of action, the group followed her.

-

Naruto spun out of control, flying into a tree with devastating force. Kurama winced at the sound of contact. He stopped mid air and glided to a lower branch, bracing for attack. To the left of him Sasuke was ripped out of the tree by a long, pale pink... something. Kurama motioned for Naruto with his eyes, the pink haired member of the team shooting off towards the downed boy.

Kurama jumped off the branch, in search of Sasuke and their unknown, unseen captor. He saw the ebony haired shinobi stabbing the pink thing wrapped around his neck with a kunai. They were a ways off in the distance, but Kurama could see he was inflicting no serious damage. There was a bright blue spark, and the thing let go, withdrawing hastily. Kurama zipped behind Sasuke, looking in the opposite direction as the Uchiha boy. "What the hell is it, Sasuke?"

The Uchiha cursed, "I'm not sure... but it's slimy. Some sort of strange appendage."

There was a hissing laugh that came from all directions at once. And then a grunt, followed by a loud roar. Naruto had found their attacker.

Kurama and Sasuke sped towards where they knew they'd heard Naruto's shout, and flew through a thick wall of brush to be met with the blond slamming into them. Naruto coughed, "Fucker's strong..."

"Maybe the Uzumaki boy isn't as worthless as I thought. I hit him with the intent to kill. It's not very often that doesn't actually kill someone."

The Grass-nin came from the thicket Naruto had just came from. Kurama shoved Naruto off of him and stood beside Sasuke who had already gotten to his feet. Naruto shortly joined them. Finally, Sakura sprinted towards them from off to the side.

Kurama didn't let his battle fever engulf him. Instead he let it fuel him, but he kept a tight watch on his raging blood lust. Anko had tempered his desire to simply let his power drive his actions. When he'd gone with Kakashi on the mission to the Wave he'd never had to tap into his youki very deeply. Now, on the other hand, he had to.

Kurama decided on a plan of action. They would assault the ninja in front of them as a group, but if it came to it, he would make the sacrifice. After all, he had the best chance of surviving. Worst come to worst, throw away the guise which he'd adopted. Become a demon again. Yeah, blown cover, but he'd be alive, and this thing wouldn't be.

Naruto lead the attack, his body nearly overflowing with chakra. He pulled his hand back and vanished. The Grass-nin's own arm came around to his back in a maneuver which left him stationary, but had to have dislocated his shoulder. He met Naruto's blast of chakra with his own, a purple, rancid looking blast of energy so concentrated and potent that it not only disrupted Naruto's but cut through it and sent the blond's arm back, the momentum carrying him with it.

The shinobi from the Grass looked a little surprised, "You're quite the resilient little shit morsel, huh?"

Sasuke and Sakura both ran at him from the sides, Kurama leaping into the air and channeling some of his chakra into his hands in a funnel. All three ran through seals. Sasuke's hands came together in front of his mouth in a Tiger seal, Sakura's came together in a clap at her chest. A brilliant explosion rocked the forest.

Sakura's seal had sealed the Grass shinobi in place. Sasuke's giant burst of flame had engulfed the man in crimson fire. Kurama's own seal had served to virtually throw a truck load of gasoline over a campfire. Given the 'campfire' in question was hot enough to melt steel, it was a good thing Sakura had managed to create a shield around her companions in time.

Kurama flipped backwards and landed on his feet. Naruto appeared out of the bushes and sauntered up to the gathered ninja. Sakura and Sasuke both watched anxiously. Without any word of explanation, Naruto suddenly flared up a brilliant crimson and jumped into the great crater at their feet which was full of smoke. There were tremendous sounds from inside. A devastating roar from one of the combatants further embellished the drama of not being able to see inside the swirling smoke.

Naruto flew back out of the smoking, ash filled crater in the middle of a sudden wasteland environment. His crimson aura had faded. He struck the ground once with the back of his neck. He flipped several times and landed face up. Blood trickled out of his nose, eyes, and ears. He coughed and blood spurted into the air. Sakura ran over and flipped him onto his side. She brought her hands together to attempt and channel healing chakra into his unconscious form, but a sudden, invisible blow to the head sent her reeling into the what was left of the shrubbery behind them.

The Grass nin floated out of the hole. He was different. His face was cracked, as if some invisible mask had been in place of his own face. One dangerously pale hand lifted and grasped the remnants of the fleshy mask and tore it from his own. A human snake glared at them from behind slitted, demonic pupils. His face matched the hue of his skin, inhumanly pale with an extremely narrow demeanor. His teeth appeared as miniature fangs in the grim smile he displayed to the team of Genin. Everything about the man, everything, screamed for them to run as far away as possible.

Kurama chuckled slightly, trying to shake the fearful feelings impressing upon him. The sound most likely didn't reach his teammates, as they were viciously trying not to shit themselves. The amounts of killing intent being emitted by the serpent were nearly unbearable in their ferocity. The seemed to erode away their caution, daring them to run, but nobody moved.

"Well, it appears I've had to prematurely unfurl my little guise. And unfortunately, you little shits," the mysterious ninja all but snarled out, "Your little demon friend won't just go the fuck away, so I'm going to prolong my mission in favor of having a little fun with you all to counterbalance the growing frustration I feel towards this irritating little punk."

At the mention of 'demon friend' Kurama was ready to sprint forwards and engage him, but at the last second he realized who he was actually referring to. Kurama glanced in the direction of Naruto, but found he was simply laying there, face a mess. He glanced at Sakura, who caught his look. He motioned to the blond, and though he sensed annoyance, Sakura didn't hesitate in the gentle command. As soon as Sasuke and Kurama launched themselves after the devilish man, the pink haired girl sprinted over to the unconscious blond, picked him up, and ran as far towards the tower as she could, throwing traps behind her until the pouch of exploding tags at her side was empty. She threw the pouch out as well in her haste.

-

Kurama ducked under the ferocious hook, countering by grabbing hold by the elbow and spinning himself upside down. A chakra enforced kick caught the snake man in his jaw. It didn't work as effectively as he thought, the shinobi simply catching the foot under his jaw with enough force that Kurama felt the bones shift in the appendage. He moaned slightly and spun around, just in time to miss several lightning quick blows from Sasuke who seemed to apparate under him. Their pale adversary let his foot go, his hooked hand shot out and sent Kurama flying while his other caught each and every punch in the flurry. His demonic eyes didn't even focus on the dark haired genin assaulting him.

Kurama and Sasuke retreated back, giving them some space from the incredibly powerful ninja. They shouldn't have engaged him. Kurama was worried. He could possibly beat the man. Possibly. To do so would ruin his cover, and if he was healthy enough after the battle, he would be forced to track down and kill Sakura and Sasuke, as well as have to drag Naruto's writhing body into the Makai... whenever he was able to summon up a gate.

There were too many uncertain variables which threw all hopes of any accurate calculations concerning his success to the wind. It wasn't even pertinent to think about it. Kurama suddenly had a thought, and abandoned the use of his chakra. He suppressed it as much as possible and motioned for Sasuke to lead the attack. Both eyes spinning in the hypnotic state of the Sharingan, Kurama drifted behind the Uchiha as a shadow.

Just as Kurama expected, the deadly ninja wasn't focusing on the battle. His instincts were honed so finely he reacted without any thought to the battle, and not only was he successfully defending himself, he was actually beating the two without any real attempt to do so. With his body not sensing Kurama's chakra, the elite shinobi only reacted to the multitude of attacks sent by Sasuke. Kurama went to the shinobi's back and held open his hand. With a flicker of demonic youki, Kurama sent a funnel shaped blast of acidic energy deep into his back.

The response was a scream that filled the entire forest in its horrific pain. The last thing Kurama saw, which definitely tore the defiant grin from his face, was the ninja's evil eyes suddenly flare with purple chakra. The burst of power given off sent the crimson haired shinobi into the forest, hundreds of yards away.

The scream also drew other parties in and around the forest. A certain group of Genin sensed their time had come. A certain high ranking kunoichi reacted to the malice present in the shout. Her response was not quite beneficial to the demonic shinobi's plans.

-

Sakura heard the scream, and recognized it as not belonging to either of her teammates still fighting that monster. But just as she registered the fact, the agony contained turned to the harshest rage she had ever felt. The very cave she now took shelter in quaked and groaned in protest. There was a sudden wave of violent chakra which threatened to collapse her centuries old shelter, but the construct held. There was silence.

"Sakura... where the fuck is that freak...?"

The kunoichi being addressed looked into the battered face of one Uzumaki Naruto. One eye was crinkled open in a lackadaisical, unfocused gaze of an eerie crimson. She couldn't tell if the red was from some bleeding in the capillaries which ran into and around his eye, or something left over from the mysterious burst of power he'd been given. The other eye opened through the film of dried blood and she was shocked to see a brilliant cerulean gazing up at her.

-

Sasuke looked around him. The world was a dreary white, not uncommon to a similar universe he not so long ago found himself encased in. His heart rate quadrupled.

"Don't fear it, young Uchiha. This is no creation of the Sharingan."

The hissing voice of his antagonist came from everywhere at once. Frantically looking around, Sasuke couldn't help but notice nothing there. The world shifted to ebony so suddenly he felt his stomach shake.

There was the man, suddenly standing in front of him, his pale skin a beacon in the deathly black environment. He smiled, "I'm going to bless you with a gift, young Uchiha. To honor you. In return, I may one day beseech a favor, of sorts."

Sasuke felt like his head had been ripped off half way from the neck. He screamed as the burning sensation pierced into his skin, down into his spine, and spread throughout. The world suddenly got somehow darker.

-

Anko sped through the trees at a rate even some Jounin would have balked at. She had passed maybe two miles into the Forest when suddenly there was a malevolent presence ahead of her. She stopped, her momentum carrying her several more feet down the branch the traveled. Her eyes met the sickening yellow eyes of her tormentor. Her breath hitched and her heart skipped a beat. Rage filled her to the breaking point, and with a shriek that broke in her throat she ran at him.

"OROCHIMARU!"

-

Sakura carefully led the dizzy form of Naruto through the wilderness, back towards the chaotic battlegrounds. As they stepped into the oddly perfect circle of scorched ground, Sakura saw there was no sign of Kurama. She didn't even sense him. That sent a shiver of fear down her spine. No matter how much she balked at how sadistic his sense of humor seemed to be, or how much of a smart ass he sometimes came across as, he was powerful. Kakashi knew it, Sasuke knew it, Naruto knew it. Without the comforting thought that his presence was nearby and looking over her, she suddenly realized how weak she still felt she was.

Naruto shook his hand out of her steel grasp, "Chill out with the handshake." Naruto's world view was blurry. Half of his vision seemed eerily sharp, so much so that everything seemed to be in some form of slow motion. The other side of his vision was so dull in contrast from the concussion he now suffered that it was only further throwing his balance off. He shakily stepped forward, and fell to the left. He couldn't catch himself in time his compensating for the slow motion vision making his body run at a similar speed without his wanting of it.

Naruto lay still for a few moments, attempting to will his world to normal. Still the view of a perfect, blue sky which hung over great flourishing trees around the seclusion of this barren circle greeted him in a warped and hazy manner. "I think I need to lie here for a few minutes, Sakura. See if you can find Sasuke or Kurama... I don't... sense them..."

Sakura realized he had fallen asleep as he lay there. She knew he wasn't supposed to sleep after having such a great injury to the brain, but after already falling unconscious involuntarily after the blow to the head, it wouldn't do to jar him into consciousness any more. She glanced around and made sure there were no immediate reasons to be overly concerned for leaving him there for a second, then set about the large circle of charred dirt for any signs of her missing teammates.

Within a minute or two she'd found Sasuke's limp form lying in the dirt, a strange, glowing sigil seemingly etched into his neck. She touched it, cautiously. There was a shock, and she snatched her hand back. She couldn't quite place what the marks reminded her of, but she sensed a great evil burrowing inside her beloved companion. Channeling medicinal oriented chakra, she let her hands hove over the strange puncture marks, and began to focus the healing energy into the wounds. The purple and black energies given off by the marks repelled her chakra, though. No matter how greatly she attempted to force the chakra into his body, there was no getting pass the waves of power which sought to repulse her attempts to heal him.

With a curse, Sakura let her hands drop. She punched the ground in frustration. "So, what is it we have here..."

The kunoichi turned to face the voice that posed the question. The cockiest looking smirk she'd ever seen nearly flattened her with its bravado. She winced at the overflowing amount of over imposing masculinity given off by this shinobi. "I suppose there's no rules against having a little fun before getting to business," said the grossly overconfident-Sakura glanced at his headband-Sound ninja.

He brought his hands forward and aimed his strange steel gauntlets at the cowering kunoichi. He winked, "Have fun in hell!" The odd gauntlets let out a piercing whine, and the the next thing Sakura knew there was a wave of something harder than brick smashing into her face. She was thrown back into the air, but managed to maneuver so that she could grab into the hard packed dirt and stop her momentum. As soon as she touched the ground, her feet were sending her back at the shinobi who was looking at her with a shocked expression. She smirked and spun, bringing the full force of her body into the kick that struck the boy in his neck. His head bent around the limb and met his shoulder with enough force to sound out a loud slap. A second kick from her opposite leg struck him in the other side of his body, in his shoulder. He flipped over the leg still extended to his neck.

There was a second blast of energy from somewhere behind her, and it was much more focused. Though it didn't send her flying off into the trees, the pain was greater, and struck the middle of her lower back with such great ferocity that she felt all control of her legs vanish, and she couldn't catch herself. She fell with a thud and couldn't even turn over to face her new competitor. Another Sound Genin, his face covered in some ragged gauze material looked at her with a look she'd never seen a combatant give her before. She liked that look. He had respect for her.

"Zaku, honestly..." said the masked shinobi in a disappointed sigh.

The accosted companion stood up shakily, the right side of his face leaking blood from his ear, eye, nose, and the right corner of his mouth. His head seemed cocked to the side at an angle slightly less than normal. He coughed, then spit out a mouthful of bloody teeth. With a curse he turned around and kicked Sakura in the face. She cried at the contact, but then stayed silent. Growling at her silence, Zaku snapped another, sturdier, kick to her face. Still she stayed quiet.

After several more subsequent kicks to her battered face, the masked ninja set his hand on Zaku's shoulder, his single gauntlet resting heavily. "That's enough. You're not getting back any honor in degrading her. Besides, we're not here for her. Look, he's over... where did he go?" the calm, placating tone was slightly alarmed towards the end.

Sasuke burst in between them, nearly flying. Where his foot curved into his leg, he caught both of their skulls in between, and as he went between them spun wildly. The two bodies were chunked through the air in a circular motion, and Zaku's already half broken neck sounded on the verge of snapping, until the spinning movement threw them to the ground, hard. The masked ninja's arms broke his fall and he sprung back onto his feet, crouched low. As Zaku attempted to push himself up, Sasuke's brilliantly glowing form stomped his face into the ground. There was a sickening squish, a muffled scream. His jaw had broken and had crumpled into his face, the remaining teeth destroying flesh. Sasuke kicked him in the side of the head, and the sudden twisting motion finally snapped his neck, silencing his plaintiff cries.

A horrified, feminine shriek came from the woods, and the masked shinobi withdrew something from his pocket, a scroll. Sasuke's Sharingan eyes followed his movements, looking even more twisted, set back in his eerily tattooed face. Cautiously, and also in a rushed manner, the ninja set it before the enraged Konoha shinobi, "Forgive us. In peace, I offer you our scroll."

The female voice which had screamed cried aloud once more, "Dosu! Get away!"

Dosu reacted, and sprinted away as fast as he could manage. He and his hidden teammate dashed towards where they were to meet after encountering Cell 7 to meet their taskmaster. Never before had Dosu ran this hard.

Sasuke made a motion to follow them and ignore the scroll which the didn't even need, Sharingan active and twirling sadistically. Sakura grabbed his foot, "Please, don't go..."

The ebony haired Uchiha glanced at her, and shrugged off her grasp. Sakura's hand stayed risen for a few seconds, then limply dropped as she fell unconscious. He moved to walk forward, and Naruto stepped to move in front of him. "Sasuke, they're scared of you. You just killed one of them, isn't that enough?" Naruto questioned, his eyes finally stabilized on the pulsating form of Sasuke, whose aura was a blistering, cascading flurry of sickening purple chakra that danced around him in quasi-electrical sparks.

Sasuke grunted, "No. They haven't suffered enough. I need to see them die. I have to kill them. Move."

Naruto glared at him, his left eye a molten red. With a similar grunting sound he replied, "I'm not going to let you give in to whatever that seal is commanding you to do. You don't need that, Sasuke. Nobody needs that." Naruto stepped forward, his chakra blazing in a similar fashion, only a slightly visible crimson.

Sasuke hesitated, and his eyes closed. "I'm stronger than this. I don't need that." The purple chakra faded steadily. Sasuke opened his eyes, and they were once more normal. He sighed heavily and fell to his knees, then collapsed face first into the dirt. The odd black symbols driven into his skin also faded.

Naruto's rush of chakra ceased to flow. He calmly approached the passed out figures of Sakura and Sasuke. His multicolored eyes searched for any sign of Kurama. Seeing none he grabbed Sasuke by the waist, glancing at the bite marks on his neck as he lifted him onto one shoulder. He did the same with Sakura. For a few moments he stood still, and then rushed on, trusting Kurama to follow. He couldn't afford to wait and leave them here. Kurama was strong enough to survive. Naruto trusted him. Perhaps too much.

He set a hectic pace as he flew through the forest, growing closer and closer to the tower with each step.

-

Anko clutched her bleeding shoulder tightly, limping through the hallways of the medical pavilion within the central tower. A group of ninja had been dispatched to deal with the threat, but she couldn't help but feel it was her fault that she hadn't caught Orochimaru as he passed into the forest. After all, if she couldn't sense him, who could?

The sensation left to her by the failure to connect with her suicide attempt only further resounded a guilty consensus with her conscience. 'Worthless.' she spat mentally. 'Fucking worthless whore!' She suddenly slammed her profusely bleeding shoulder into the stone wall, smiling through the immense pain that jolted through her system as the shoulder joint cracked from the contact. Already ruptured, the cushioning material in her joints didn't soften the blow, and the ragged bone on bone contact further wracked her body with painful shocks. Smiling, she reared back and did it again, her teeth biting into her lips so strongly that she bit clear through. Without any verbal stating of her pain, she stepped backwards and looked at the blood spattered wall.

She felt relieved, and the guilt was erased. The fact that she'd returned to a habit given to her by the traitor Orochimaru didn't even pass through her mind. After all, it made her feel good. What was so bad about that?

Anko turned around the corner and sat down in the examination chair within the operating room. She spat the bulk of her bottom lip out of her mouth, pleased at the sickened look she received from the veteran surgeon as he saw her self inflicted wound hanging by a thread of flesh. Anko grinned at him through the cascading blood which caked the bottom half of her face.

-

Kurama decimated the tree by bashing it with his fist. The tree crumpled around his balled up hand, splintering and bursting into dust from the devastating blow. Never had Kurama felt such great frustration. Just when he thought his impeccable on the fly strategic genius had given him the one up on his opponent, sheer power outweighed him. As Kurama marched through the forest towards the tower he left behind a trail of ruined forest behind him.

The genius that gifted him with such brilliance also blessed him with the realization that his understanding of this world was still narrow, and as such, not everything was going to go the way he wished it to. But still, to have been overpowered so greatly was a harsh blow to his pride. Anko was one thing, he had learned from that and knew he had gone into the fight overconfident. But he fought against that snake bastard as cautious as possible. The fact that sometimes not everything can be anticipated is a hard one to accept.

Another tree fell before his fury. He roared and thought about finding the damned shinobi that so easily had destroyed his squad. The scent of fear caught his notice, suddenly. Arch his head up into the trees above him he peered into the shaking eyes of one Kin Tsuchi, and next to her the comprehending eyes of her Sound companion, Dosu Kinuta. Their names Kurama didn't actually know. Nor did he know he'd stumbled upon the chosen meeting place given to the two ninja hanging in the limbs overhead by the current focus of his malice. Not knowing that by waiting a little longer that Orochimaru would eventually show up, Kurama grinned psychotically up at the duo.

Dosu glanced at Kin, the motion signaling for her to flee. Just as she went to leap out of the tree and run, a vine shot out of the tree and wrapped around her throat. With a frantic look, she gazed into Dosu's visible eye, gazing into the shocked eye of the boy who was supposed to keep her safe. She opened her mouth to cry out, but only gurgled. Blood pooled in the open orifice, leaking out the sides of her mouth, and the vine clenched down, a magnificent crunch signaling the crushing of her throat. Her lifeless form was thrown over, and the vine shrunk back into the tree's brush where it had come.

Dosu looked down at the crimson haired shinobi, and shook his head in disbelief. How fucking unlikely was it, to run into two of Konoha's most insane shinobi one after the next. He'd thought he'd been lucky considering he'd survived living around Orochimaru for the last few years. But, my God, this was unreal. A surge of anger fueled his reaction, cockily challenging the red haired shinobi, "I'll fight you... Konoha scum."

Kurama laughed darkly. Like he had a choice.

-

Kurama tossed Dosu's lifeless corpse away, the satisfaction of having choked the life out of his broken, battered body finally dousing the raging inferno desiring some form of retribution for his self imagined shame.

Calm once more, Kurama looked into the sky and judged that he'd only been gone from his team for around twenty or thirty minutes from the passing of clouds and position of the relatively unmoved sun. He set off for the tower, whistling cheerily. He missed Orochimaru by minutes.

-

Naruto dropped the bodies of Sasuke and Sakura off in the middle of the lobby, ignoring the questioning glances given off by the only other team inside. Gaara didn't bother to grace them with a look, but his teammates took in the battered forms warily, wondering if the unholy screams given off earlier had been from whatever encounter had left them in such a state. Naruto shouted, "I NEED A MEDIC!"

As the sterling white figures rushed to assist the broken bodies, Naruto glanced at the two shinobi and lone kunoichi in the corner. Facing them from his right side, neither Kankuro or Temari could see the blistering ruby eye that smoldered under headband. During his flight to the tower, Naruto had realized that the incredibly acute vision given by his somehow altered eye was throwing off his balance, to keep his speed at highest capacity, he'd had to cover it until he further adapted to the change. He turned away from the unnaturally clean Sand ninja and helped himself to the bottled water on the lobby's reception counter. Naruto felt the pouch at his side where he'd stashed the two scrolls.

He sensed that there wasn't any real sense in waiting to open them when his team was back to consciousness. After all, what if they didn't wake up until the time limit was up? As such he took the foremost scroll and set his water aside. Without hesitation he tore open the scroll, eyes widening at the bright glow that appeared.

-

Kakashi stared down at his immobile student lying in the center of such a complex and unruly seal. Focusing intently on the burning mark embedded in the flesh of Sasuke's neck, the Copy Ninja began running through seal after seal, chakra coursing through his veins. With a grunt, he forced the gathered chakra to attack the glowing mark, sealing it beneath the skin until only a trace of it remained on the surface. Still the sickening chakra sought to fight against Kakashi's own power, but the Jounin didn't recant, and shortly the cursed seal was closed.

Kakashi wiped away some imaginary sweat on his brow and let out a relieved sigh, pleased that he didn't somehow decapitate his student. Gingerly picking the boy up he mussed up his already tousled hair and hung him over his shoulder. Whether or not he allowed himself to believe it, Kakashi wasn't all dead inside.

He carried Sasuke into the same room that Sakura now rest in, setting him into the bed where the attendants could redress him in private. As Kakashi went to exit the room he couldn't stop himself. He looked back and gave a small smile. He was proud of his team.

-

Iruka stared down in shock at the bruised form of his favorite anarchist. "You fought Orochimaru?!"

The whisper ended up being a sort of squelched scream/shriek thing that hurt Naruto's ears in its high pitched voicing. Across the room, though neither noticed, all of the Sand team twitched. Naruto nodded and asked, "Well, I get he's obviously supposed to be strong, but... just why is that so amazing?"

Iruka slapped his forehead, "You idiot, I can't believe that you don't know about him. That's one of the Legendary Sannin. He's one of the strongest shinobi to ever live. The fact that nobody died is nothing short of a miracle. Orochimaru left Konoha shortly after being denied the position of Yondaime. He was beaten out by Minato Namikaze. He apparently felt this was a personal slight against him and sought to demonize everything about Konohagakure. He was eventually found to be conducting some of the most sickening experiments on live patients that you could imagine..." Iruka stopped himself from revealing the state they'd found Anko in within Orochimaru's gore soaked laboratory.

The Chuunin bent down and gave Naruto a hug, clenching him tight, "I sometimes wonder if I should have never become a ninja. I can't handle the thought of losing such precious people. It's a cruel world, Naruto." Iruka stood and gave a playful punch to the blond's shoulder, "Don't let it beat you, kid." He went to walk away, and then stopped, "Oh, congratulations on passing the second portion of the Exams."

Naruto watched the retreating form of his teacher as Iruka wearily sauntered towards to elevator. A small surge of pride filled him to the brim. The doors to the tower opened. Drawn to the sound, Naruto turned to see the blood stained form of Kurama walk in with a cheery disposition belying his soiled body.

Kurama ignored the warily watching Sand ninja and made his way over to Naruto, "So I take it we passed?"


(A/N) So, this ends Chapter Five – Informal Gluttony. If you haven't caught on yet, the names correspond to songs that I'd gotten some form of inspiration from.

Ch. 1 – The Beginning of the End is taken from the post rock group God is An Astronaut song The End of the Beginning.

Ch. 2 – Constant Motion is taken from a song by Dream Theater.

Ch. 3 – The Rift Between is taken from the Thrash Metal band Sanctity.

Ch. 4 – The Lotus Eater is from a song by Opeth off their Watershed album.

Ch.5 – Informal Gluttony is from Between the Buried and Me's Colors album. Fucking love Colors.

If anyone follows these bands, the influence on the chapters may be sort of obvious, but if not, than usually either the mood of the song or the lyrics serve as great starting points when I feel I need to convey something.

Anyway, I'm actually cutting this kind of short. I was going to go on and finish out the exams, but at 32 pages, these notes actually beginning the thirty-third page, actually, I figured it was more than long enough to tide you guys over.

My internet is fucking up with the seriousness, so if there are any overt errors it will take me a little while until I'll be able to get back on and correct them, so please forgive the lack of a formal editing process with this chapter. I hope nothing is too fucked up.

So, hope you enjoyed it. R&R, please.

WORDS: 14886