I do not own Kamen Rider Blade nor do I own Naruto. These belong to their respective creators and not me. I am not getting anything out of this story besides enjoyment and some relaxation. As such is now said, please enjoy.
The Forgotten Rider
By Ten-Faced Paladin
Chapter 7: The Preliminaries
Night was due anytime in the Forest of Death where the second stage of the Chuunin exams was taking place. In one portion of the large forest, Team 7 was busy regaining their strength from the first two days of the exam. On their first day, they had been assaulted by the Sannin Orochimaru, leaving Naruto unconscious and Sasuke with a strange seal on his neck. It was up to Kyle and Sakura to make sure nothing happened to them. That morning, they were attacked by the lone Oto-nin team who were apparently under orders to kill Sasuke. A timely arrival of Rock Lee helped even the odds a little.
With the trio defeated and both of the fallen members of Team 7 back to somewhat acceptable health, they were moving on to the tower in hopes of finishing the test. At the moment, they were eating some of the fish that Naruto and Kyle had collected. All four of them were seating around a small camp fire that was just big enough for cooking fish.
Naruto himself was munching happily, eager to have some food. His chakra had been messed up by Orochimaru and he wasn't running at one-hundred percent. In truth, Orochimaru had slapped a five-pronged seal over the one already holding the Kyuubi back. It completely cut off the demonic chakra and messed with Naruto's already minimal control over his chakra.
Sasuke was just as bad off, if not more so. The seal Orochimaru had placed on him weakened his body. It also made him feel like he had been through hell. It ached and throbbed at random moments. Although he was hiding it from his teammates, he felt each and every pain rocketing through his body like a fire. He was really considering what kind of medical treatment he would need once they got to the tower itself.
Sakura was in desperate need of some rest. Even though Kyle had released the Bat Undead to keep watch, she couldn't help but stay awake a good portion of the night in fear for her team. The battle with the Oto-nins didn't help things. The energy she was getting from the food was the only thing keeping her from collapsing at this point. Her chakra supply was already dangerously low, but thankfully recovering.
Kyle himself wasn't even in good shape and he knew what was going to happen. This was the first time he had to transform so many times. He had changed to Chameleon during the written test, Mantis, Human, Tapir, Human, Capricorn, Human, Shell, and finally Human again. Using his abilities during battle didn't help him much either. He knew he only had a couple more changes left in him before he either collapsed, or injured himself.
"So when are we going to get a move on?" Naruto asked impatiently.
"We'll move after we finish eating," Sasuke replied. "You forget that already, dobe?"
Naruto growled, but Kyle grabbed the back of his jacket to hold him back, "We don't need any more fights erupting between you two. The smoke and smell of the fish will already be enough of a signal."
"Really?" Sakura gulped.
"Yeah," Kyle nodded. "I wouldn't be surprised if someone was already watching us, waiting for an opportunity to make an appearance."
He wasn't kidding either. From what Kyle recalled in the manga, Kabuto was due to make an appearance sometime soon. If that wasn't enough, the Ame-nin from before was already probably watching them. Since they had both scrolls, Kabuto might not make his appearance. He was probably watching though. Orochimaru probably gave him orders to make sure Sasuke passed the exam. He couldn't afford to have his future body be in poor condition.
Naruto and Sakura shivered at Kyle's words. Sasuke seemed to look indifferent, but even he was slightly worried about being attacked from behind. Kyle's face remained grave as he ate away at his fish. He knew he needed the energy, and probably soon.
"Your friend has good instincts," a voice called from the trees.
All four members of Team 7 looked up to see Kabuto kneeling on one of the branches. Kyle instantly reached to his pocket and grabbed the Ace of Hearts. Taking up a battle stance, he squared off against Kabuto.
"What are you doing Kyle?" cried Sakura. "It's only Kabuto!"
"Yeah!" Naruto nodded. "Calm down Kyle-nii!"
"We can't be sure of that!" Kyle frowned. "This could be someone who saw us talking to him back at the first exam and decided to try and look like a friendly face. Even if it is him though, even Konoha-nins are our opponents during this exam. He may want to steal our scrolls!"
Kabuto looked down on the group as the blonde and pink-haired ninjas suddenly realized what their teammate was saying. The Uchiha seemed as stoic as ever, but even he took notice to the older boy's words. It seemed the truth of things was beginning to break through the naïve walls that surrounded their minds.
"Again you impress," Kabuto chuckled. "It's true, I might be a ninja using a henge and I may be trying to steal your scrolls. This exam leaves only your teammates as true allies."
Kyle just kept his stare as even as he could. While he knew that what he had just said was true, he also knew that Kabuto was bad news. Being a spy for Orochimaru, Kyle couldn't afford to let him see any more of his power than what he already knew. That in itself was going to be hard since Kabuto knew next to nothing about his abilities. It was bad enough that Orochimaru knew what he did. If they compared notes, they might figure out something more.
Leaping down from his tree, Kabuto held his arms wide so that the members of Team 7 could see his empty hands. He was holding no weapons and his hands were too far apart for any kind of hand signs. In essence, the only thing he could do was run or jump. In ninja ways, he was taking a gamble.
"Is he under a henge?" Naruto asked Sakura quickly.
"I don't think so," Sakura admitted. "But we'd something to test."
"The skill cards," Sasuke spoke up. "Show us the skill cards I asked for before the first exam."
"Sure thing," Kabuto nodded as he pulled three blank cards out of his pouch. Holding them up, his chakra flared before images appeared on them. Sasuke stepped forward until he was close enough and read off the information of Sabaku no Gaara, Rock Lee, and Kyle Jones.
"He's the real Kabuto," Sasuke called back to his team.
"That answers one question," Kyle frowned. He relaxed slightly, but only about a fraction. "That still leaves one more."
"Then I'll answer that too," Kabuto replied as he slowly reached to his pouch. Pulling his arm out, he reveal both a Heaven and an Earth scroll. "I got separated from my team. I was heading to the tower to meet up with them when I ran into you guys."
"So you figured safety in numbers?" asked Sakura.
"Pretty much," Kabuto nodded. "I'm toast if I meet up against an enemy team. At least with another Konoha team I have a chance. Since you guys seemingly have both scrolls then that's even better for the both of us."
"We get extra help and you get a better chance of reaching the tower," Sasuke muttered. He considered the offer for a moment. "Fine. We were heading that way anyway."
"Good," Kabuto nodded. "Glad to be here."
Kyle, with no logical reason to be suspicious anymore, relaxed but kept the Ace of Hearts gripped in his hand. Looking to the fire, he proceeded to put it out with the dirt and rocks that were surrounding them. The fire sizzled in protest before it went out completely.
"If we're going to get to the tower," Kyle spoke. "We'd better get a move on then. I wasn't kidding when I talked about the smoke and scent."
Bringing the card to his belt, he willed the Joker Belt to appear. He could practically feel Kabuto's gaze as he slashed the card through, "Henshin."
"Change!" the belt called before Kyle's image was replaced by Chalice.
Kabuto watched the entire change with a hidden critical eye. The change was near instantaneous. No room for trying to disrupt it. However, the way it announced whichever card was being put through would offer opponents an opening to finding out his attacks or when he was going to change his form. A flaw that might cost him dearly.
"Let's go," Chalice announced coolly before he turned to the direction of the tower.
"Yeah!" Naruto cheered. "Let's pass this thing!"
Sakura and Sasuke nodded before Kabuto gave a small grin. Soon, the group of five was leaping through the trees towards their goal. Things were silent going. Apparently Kabuto didn't feel the need to lecture the group about the kinds of enemies who were probably due to appear on the way to the tower.
"It's smooth sailing from here on out!" Naruto grinned. Chalice just sighed.
"You'd be dead wrong there Naruto," Kabuto answered, catching everyone's attention.
Now the speech was due to begin.
"If anything, the enemies are going to be more concentrated the closer we get to the tower," Kabuto explained. "We may be halfway through the exams by now, but the smart teams will be waiting near the tower to ambush the teams who already have both scrolls."
"They will be after any scrolls they can get," Chalice spoke. "Either they will want scrolls of their own, extras to give to teams from their home villages for intelligence on later tests if they can get it, and to cut down on the competition. Either by making them fail, or just killing them so skilled ninjas won't stand against their village and their chances of making Chuunin."
"Bingo," Kabuto nodded. "The deadliest and worst of these groups are the ones who never let their guard down and never get complacent. Now you know why I wanted to head there with you guys."
"Safety in numbers," Sasuke smirked.
The four Konoha-nins and lone Rider landed on a large branch that gave them a good view of the tower. In all, it looked pretty close. Naruto began to get giddy, one step closer to becoming a Chunin. Chalice kept his hands on his bow. He knew what was going to be coming soon.
"Well, at least we can see the tower now," Sakura sighed with relief coming into her voice.
"Stay on guard," Sasuke warned.
Naruto nodded, anticipating a great time, but suddenly stiffened. He could hear the sound of shuffling behind him and after hearing what he had from both Kabuto and Chalice; he wasn't going to get caught off guard. Grabbing one of his kunai, Naruto threw the kunai with enough force as he could.
"There!" he cried out, hoping to score a hit.
"Hold it!" Chalice called out. Focusing on the Undead reflexes that his form allowed him, he snatched the bladed weapon out of the air. The weapon nicked his hand, letting green blood dribble down to the sides and to the ground.
The lone Rider and the remaining three ninjas turned to see what Naruto had been aiming for. To everyone's surprise, a giant centipede was crawling up the side of the tree that was behind them. Sakura shivered and let out a squeak of disgust. Kabuto shrugged, but Sasuke was sending an annoyed glare at Naruto.
"Good reflexes, but seeing what you are aiming at is just as important," Chalice advised. Tossing the kunai back to Naruto, he walked closer to the giant centipede.
"What are you doing?" asked Sasuke.
"Something I wanted to experiment with, but didn't get the chance," Chalice answered. Reaching to his belt, he drew a new Rouze Card which depicted a centipede on it. This was the ten of hearts, the Shuffle Centipede. Bringing it to his belt, he slashed it through.
"Shuffle!" the Rouzer called before Chalice was engulfed in the black static field.
Emerging from it, Kyle/Centipede Undead looked to be a mix between red and dark skin in patches. Running down the centre of his chest was a strip of metal with spikes jutting from it. Long centipede legs jutted from his left shoulder while a centipede head stretched from his right. His head looked skeletal with red or black patches. In the centre of his face, a strip of metal with metal spikes jutting out ran down. Metal studs could be seen on his sides and with smaller centipede legs making odd appearances.
"Ewww!" Sakura gagged.
Kyle/Centipede Undead shook his head and continued walking towards the giant centipede. The large insect in question had come to a stop and looked like it was waiting for Kyle/Centipede Undead to come closer.
"Can you understand me?" Kyle/Centipede Undead asked the giant insect.
"I can, Ancient Father," the centipede answered. "Although you aren't the first Ancient Father, you have his power and I will respect you."
"Thank you," Kyle/Centipede Undead nodded. "Are there any humans who are near myself and the other four behind me?"
"Many humans passed through," the centipede answered. "Some smell like grass, some like sand, some like snakes, some like water, and some like home. Still, there are three who smell like rain nearby. They are doing something with their appendages."
"I see," Kyle/Centipede Undead nodded. "Thank you, great one."
"You flatter me," the centipede replied. "I wish you luck on your journey."
Nodding again, Kyle/Centipede Undead turned back to his team and Kabuto. He knew it was a dumb move to try and test that with a spy watching, but this way Kyle could control what Kabuto saw. All he knew was that he could talk to centipedes and he didn't know what the other animals that made up the deck of Rouze Cards.
Still, the giant centipede had given Kyle a hint of the events to come. It seemed some Ame-nins were planning a trap. If what he thought was true, they were beginning their little genjutsu trap from the manga. Since he was in an Undead form, he would probably be able to see through it. That would end the only edge those three had would be ruined. Besides, if it was the same team that the one Ame-nin from before, then it might be even easier than before.
Looking to his comrades, Kyle/Centipede Undead saw the intrigued and/or surprised looks on their faces.
"What?" Kyle/Centipede Undead asked with some sarcastic confusion.
"You were talking to that bug!" Naruto cried. "What did it say, what did it say?!"
"We're not alone," Kyle/Centipede Undead answered. Stepping closer, he tried to keep his voice low. "Some Ame-nins are nearby. They're casting a jutsu. Since we aren't being attacked, I'm assuming it's a genjutsu of some kind."
"Okay," Kabuto frowned. "We have to keep an eye out. Anything that might look odd is suspect. Keep sharp. If we can get a place to fight, we use the Kai technique."
"Agreed," Sasuke nodded. Sakura nodded rapidly alongside Naruto.
"You'll be the first to know," Kyle/Centipede Undead nodded.
Now keeping a very close eye on the world around them, Team 7 and Kabuto started going towards the tower. Nothing seemed to be out of place, but they did know that the three Ame-nins were out there. Kyle/Centipede Undead kept his eyes trained up in the sky. His eyes were trained on the tower, and so far no other signs of genjutsu were visible.
The group continued going on their trek. After a certain amount of traveling, Kyle/Centipede Undead caught his fellow Konoha-nins turning in a different direction. Narrowing his eyes, he called out to them.
"Hey," he called. "Where are you going?"
"Huh?" Sakura blinked. She pointed out in the direction that they were going. "We're heading to the tower. That's where we're going."
Looking up, Kyle/Centipede Undead saw a mirage in the distance. It looked similar to the tower, but it was as blurry as hell and hard to see. Kyle/Centipede Undead recognized the signs. A definite genjutsu was being cast and his Undead sight was managing to see through it.
"I think we found the genjutsu," Kyle/Centipede Undead frowned. "Follow me. I can see through this one."
"Huh?" Sasuke grunted. Frowning, he brought his hands together into a seal and unleashed a pulse of chakra. "Kai!"
The small pulse of chakra was enough to disrupt the illusion being cast. The illusionary tower quickly vanished, allowing the ninjas to see just where they were. Sasuke's grimace began to get deeper while Sakura gasped in shock. Naruto looked in all directions, trying to see what had changed. Kabuto remained stoic, but his hand was reaching to his pouch.
"Told you so," Kyle/Centipede Undead chuckled. "Although, I'm pretty sure they know we figured them out."
"Be ready," Kabuto warned as he looked around for some kind of attack.
He didn't have to wait long. All around the small group, the forest became alive as ninjas wearing black outfits and Ame hitae-ate rose out of the trees and dirt. The group was quickly finding themselves surrounded on all sides.
"Oh man," Sakura gulped, gripping a kunai.
"Heh, I work best with a handicap," Naruto grinned with his usual bravado.
"Think we can fight our way out? Kyle/Centipede Undead asked curiously.
"Just try it, freak," one of the many Ame-nins grunted. "We'll cut you down."
"There's no way these are all real," Sasuke frowned. "They have to be bunshin of some kind. There's no other way."
"Well, they could be enemy Nins who sneaked in to help their teams cheat," Kyle/Centipede Undead chuckled.
"Not funny!" Sakura shrieked.
"Wasn't supposed to be," Kyle/Centipede Undead retorted as he began a little trick he knew this Undead form had. "Just being logical."
"A good point," Kabuto agreed. "Ame may be one of the small villages, but they aren't in any kind of alliance with Konoha, so we really can't expect them not to try anything."
The collected Ame-nins didn't seem to take any kind of offense to the mark. They just continued to stare at their targets. Kyle/Centipede Undead knew that there were no real Ame-nins in sight. They were hiding, aiming to let their clones do the action, only letting themselves attack when it looked like one of their bunshin was going to hit a target. It wasn't a genjutsu, so the human turned Undead couldn't see through them so he wouldn't be able to tell where the attacks would come from.
"Just try and stop us, you creeps!" Naruto roared as he charged at the closest of the nins. Clenching his fist, he sent it into the gut of the ninja.
Naruto turned pale as the ninja's chest seemed to explode into an inky mess. Almost in slow motion, the mess of ink split into two torsos of ninjas. One was still facing the other ninjas, but the other was fixing to stab Naruto in the back.
"I don't think so!" Kyle/Centipede Undead shouted as he spat a neon blue mess out of his mouth. The glob flew through the air and hit the first torso in the head. There was a hissing noise before the glob burned through the first head and hit the second from behind. The body slumped as the heads melted into another mess. The glob then lost velocity and hit the dirt, melting into the soil and killing all it touched.
"Go Naruto!" Kyle/Centipede Undead roared.
"Alright, Kyle-nii!" shouted Naruto as he went into a series of familiar hand seals. "Kage Bunshin No Jutsu!" After an explosion of smoke, a dozen Narutos now stood behind the original. "ATTACK!!!"
"OK, BOSS!" shouted the clones as they began their assault on the enemy clones.
Kyle/Centipede Undead clicked his teeth and flexed his fingers. This Undead had potent venom like the Scorpion Undead, but unlike that Undead which created mind-controlling venom, the Centipede could control what kind of poison its gland produced. It could be a fatal fever-inducing toxin, acid, or a potent paralysis agent. He knew he would probably have to kill in the Chuunin Exams, but he much rather avoid it unless necessary. Still, it would be fun to watch as one of the Ame-nins got melted by his acidic spit.
Still, the problem was trying to figure out where the Ame-nins creating these clones were coming from. The manga was never very clear about where they were hiding. Kyle/Centipede Undead only knew that they were hiding in the trees so they could get the best vantage point over the area.
"This has got to be a genjutsu," Sasuke frowned. He began pooling chakra into his eyes so to activate his Sharingan. His eyes activated for a moment, letting him see the chakra in the air, proving that none of the Ame-nins in front of them were real, but the sight was only there a moment before what felt like a boil filled with lava appeared on his shoulder.
"AGH!" he cried, shutting off the Sharingan and clutching his shoulder. His legs were shaky and he was getting some serious trouble with just standing.
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura cried in shock.
Kyle/Centipede Undead turned to see the developing situation and cursed inwardly. He knew the Curse Seal devoured chakra and supercharged the user and in Sasuke's case, that made it much worse. Chakra was his greatest strength and weakness considering his eyes. An easy mark for the Curse Seal.
'If Sasuke doesn't stop trying to use his eyes, that Curse Seal will activate!' Kyle/Centipede Undead growled inwardly. 'This has to stop now!"
"Kyle-nii!" Naruto's voice rang out.
"Huh?" Kyle/Centipede Undead grunted as he turned his attention back to the battle. Something black blurred into his sight before something cold and sharp dug into his neck.
"Guck!" Kyle/Centipede Undead gagged as a kunai lodged itself in his neck. Reaching to the metal implement, he felt the item was dug in moderately and had definitely cut something important.
The Ame-nin snickered, "Whatever you are, you're going to die now…"
Kyle/Centipede Undead took a second to remember that he was in the form of an Undead. The reason the Undead were called as such was because…because they were immortal. Kyle/Centipede Undead, instead of reacting in pain, started to laugh. It was either the Undead's own instincts or something deep inside him.
The challenge had been made. These progeny of the Human Undead wanted to fight. Kyle/Centipede Undead was feeling quite accommodating for that request. Hitting such a small point was something, but not for an Undead. Reaching to the handle, he began to tug at the weapon lodged in his neck.
"Don't!" Kabuto cried. "You'll die from the blood loss!"
Kyle/Centipede Undead didn't listen as he yanked the kunai out of his neck. A sick squelching noise was made as the weapon was pulled free from his flesh. He chocked for a moment as green blood ran down from the wound, but aside from the wound itself, Kyle/Centipede Undead didn't look like he was harmed at all.
"That…was a mistake," Kyle/Centipede Undead chuckled as the wound slowly began to close.
"Kyle?" Sakura gasped, a little green at the sight of the blood flowing like it was.
"Kyle-nii?" Naruto blinked. The blonde Genin thought his heart had stopped when he saw that kunai lodge into his friend's neck, but seeing him still standing and actually healing was pretty weird. Still, he didn't have much room to talk since the Kyuubi healed his injuries just as quickly.
In their space, the real Ame-nins gaped at what they had just witnessed.
"I thought you hit him in the neck!" the one Ame-nin who was just sitting growled.
"I did!" the second hissed, holding several kunai in his hands. "It should have cut every major artery in his neck!"
"Well something's up since he isn't dead!" cried the third who was holding the technique which was helping them hide their attacks.
Glancing at the kunai, Kyle/Centipede Undead looked in the direction that it had flown in from. Chances were that the shock of seeing an opponent not die from an obviously fatal blow would have stunned them.
"Let's see if I can catch the rain!" Kyle/Centipede Undead roared as he began spitting globs of venom into the trees that were in the direction that the kunai had come from.
"Look out!" the first Ame-nin cried as he dodged a shot. His kunai-holding teammate likewise dodged a similar blow to save his own skin.
"AGH!" the jutsu-wielding member cried in pain as one glob managed to hit him in the face. Having been using the jutsus for so long in a crouching position and not moving because of the risk of disrupting the jutsu, his legs had stiffened on him. This allowed one of the shots to get him.
Screaming in pain, the Ame-nin dropped through the branches and onto the dirt. He was rolling and throwing off his breathing equipment in attempt to get the burning sensation away. Sadly, his body was beginning to stiffen as he attempted to get the venom away from his skin.
"Oooh, lucky," Kyle/Centipede Undead laughed. "You got the paralysis version. You'll live." He then challenged, "Who else wants to suffer? Come on and get me you Ame-losers!"
Sakura shivered as she heard the voice coming from the Centipede Undead. It sounded like Kyle's, but more warped. He said that he took on the abilities of the Undead whose form he took on, but wouldn't that also mean he took on their personalities?
More kunai flew down from another tree and pierced Kyle/Centipede Undead's back with more fleshy thunks. There wasn't a cry of pain or any indication that he was feeling pain. Turning to face the direction of the attack, Kyle/Centipede Undead drew a long chain from behind his back.
"Time to rope in some losers!" the changed human roared as he hurled the chain into the trees.
Sakura only watched in mounting horror at what was happening. It was like Kyle was losing himself in battle lust. It was exactly like when Orochimaru first appeared. He was going berserk! At first, she pondered if the Ame-nins were giving off killing intent, but she couldn't feel any of it. She wracked her barely functioning brain for an answer, but it quickly came to her.
"He's changed too many times!" she gasped. "He can't hold back the influence anymore!"
"Huh?" asked one of the Naruto clones.
"What do you mean?" asked Kabuto.
"Kyle takes the form of Undead like this often, but he's never done it more than a few times," Sakura explained. "I bet anything that when he takes their forms and abilities, he gets their minds as well. The only thing is that the Undead mind is subdued or something. But since he's changed so many times, he's getting exhausted and can't suppress them anymore!"
"So Kyle-nii's thinking like an Undead!?" Naruto cried out. "We gotta stop him!"
Laughing, Kyle/Centipede Undead managed to grab hold of one of the Ame-nins with his chain. "Gotcha!" Yanking the chain, he pulled the unlucky Ame-nin towards him and grabbed the ninja by the throat. "Now, for another variety…" Kyle/Centipede Undead spat a glob of venom into the ninja's face.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!" the ninja screamed as his skin started to boil. Kyle/Centipede Undead released the ninja and watched in sadistic satisfaction as the ninja's face was being burnt off by the flesh-eating acidic venom. He had so many other types of venom in his arsenal. He couldn't wait to try them all.
Naruto's eyes went wide in horror and then he could see a green outline of chakra surrounding Kyle's Undead body. It looked humanoid but hanging from the back of its head was a pair of long antennae. Just what could it be?
As the Ame-nin furiously tried to get the venom off his face, Kyle/Centipede Undead turned to face the last of the trio. The last Ame-nin was trembling against the tree he had landed on. Seeing his teammates being taken down by that…thing, was wreaking havoc on his nerves.
"And then there was one," Kyle/Centipede Undead chuckled. His voice sounded completely warped. There was a very minimal trace of his old voice left, but even that was quickly vanishing.
"Stop it, Kyle-nii!" Naruto cried. Since the bunshins had been dispelled by the elimination of the first Ame-nin, the only clones left were all Naruto's. Using them all, the clones began dog piling on the increasingly feral Centipede Undead.
"Grah!" Kyle/Centipede Undead cried as the sudden weight forced him to the ground. His face was planted into the dirt so he couldn't fire anymore venom at anyone.
"Get the Spirit card!" one of the clone cried.
"I got it!" another shouted.
Reaching to the Undead's side, the Naruto clone grabbed the case which was attached to the metal belt. Managing to open it despite the struggles of the obviously powerful creature underneath him and the clones, he grabbed a handful of cards that were residing inside the case.
"Got some!" the clone cried. "Turn him over!"
The process of actually turning the struggling man/Undead was harder than pinning him down. His limbs were flailing and all the appendages were making it hard to turn him over. Harder still, once his face was free, he began shooting venom.
"Take cover!" Sasuke cried as he, Sakura, and Kabuto took hiding places to avid getting hit. Normally they might have helped, but Naruto knew Kyle best and had the ability to mob him and keep him down.
"Hurry! Use the card!" one of the clones cried out.
"We can't hold him forever!" shouted another.
"I'm looking! I'm looking!" the Naruto holding the cards shouted as he flipped through the cards. "Reflect, Vine, Chop, got it! Spirit!"
Leaping over to the mass of Narutos and single Undead, they cleared some room around the waist. Naruto easily spotted the Rouzer belt that Kyle used to change. Still, it wasn't the red color that he remembered. It had turned a bright green color instead. Disregarding the information, Naruto placed the card in the slit in the middle of the buckle and slashed it through.
"Spirit!" the Rouzer called as the Centipede Undead's body was engulfed in the black energy. The clones felt the mass they were dog piling shrink before the energy vanished.
"Kyle-nii!" Naruto cried as he dispelled the clones in a blast of smoke. Seeing his friend lying on the ground with his eyes closed and not moving made his heart clench. "Kyle-nii! Talk to me!"
Kyle groaned as he massaged his head. The pain was throbbing through his brain and it felt like he had been mauled by a wild animal. Opening his eyes, despite the feeling of sandpaper filling them, he saw the concerned face of Naruto looming over.
"Hey," Kyle grinned. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Naruto grinned in utter relief. "You were going nuts there for a minute."
"It's a blur to me," Kyle sighed as he attempted to stand. "After that kunai hit my neck, I sort of blacked out."
"Kyle!" Sakura's voice cried.
Turning to the source of the noise, Kyle saw the rest of his team and Kabuto coming to meet up with them.
"So, can anybody tell me what happened?" asked Kyle.
"You went out of control," informed Kabuto. "Like a berserker. You were attacking the Ame-nin mercilessly."
Kyle looked to the body of one of the Ame-nins. He turned green and swallowed some bile as he saw the ninja's face had been eaten away by the acid, leaving a skull face staring blankly. "Oh, god!" Kyle looked absolutely sick and horrified. "What have I done?"
"A ninja has to kill when they have to," said Sasuke coolly. "Just get over it."
"Hey, Sasuke!" snapped Naruto. "Don't talk like that."
"No, it's okay," said Kyle as he got back to his feet. His legs felt like noodles, but he would have to get used to it. "Sooner or later I have to kill. I just have to get used to it. I also have to try not to change so many times in a day."
"Oh, here you go," said Naruto as he returned the Heart Rouze cards to Kyle.
"Thank you," Kyle nodded as he slid them into his card case.
"There was this green aura around you," said Kabuto, fixing his gaze on Kyle. "What was that?"
"Nothing you need to know," responded Kyle calmly. Even Kyle didn't know but he could sense a bit of the Joker's energy running through his veins. The Ace and Two of Hearts may have kept the Joker's instincts sealed, but he had still called up a portion of its power anyway. In the past, Kyle would have relied on his Chalice form and the other Undead for battle, but this revelation just proved he couldn't do that. It was Rider Armor unless it was an emergency.
"You guys are freaks!" a voice cried out. The five ninjas turned to see the remaining Ame-nin trembling against the trunk of a tree behind them. He was scrambling with something in his pouch, he tossed several scrolls out. Once he got rid of them all, he began running. "Take them all! Just go away!"
Walking over to the scrolls, Kabuto picked up a few of them. He smiled before holding up an Earth Scroll, "What did I tell you? Scroll hunters! He's got a couple of them here."
Kyle, even in his addled mind, felt the confusion. He was sure that the Ame-nins would only have a Heaven Scroll on them. The manga never revealed that they had more than that, but then again, it was necessary for the plot. Still, Kabuto may have switched the Heaven Scroll for an Earth one. There was no doubt that he would be a scroll hunter himself.
"All right!" Naruto cheered. "We are so passing this thing!"
"We won't if you keep shouting we have both scrolls dobe," Sasuke sighed. "Now let's get going."
"Right!" Sakura nodded energetically. She turned a concerned eye over to her fourth teammate. "Are you okay Kyle?"
"I'll be fine," Kyle nodded. Grabbing the Garren Buckle, he gripped it for a bit of security. He would need it if the group began leaping through trees again. "Just let me catch a breath."
"No time for that," Kabuto frowned. "We may have some days left, but the teams around here will be keeping a microscopic eye on everything. If we don't move now, we get higher chances of being caught like we did by that Ame team."
"Right!" Naruto nodded. "Let's get moving then!"
"Agreed," Sasuke nodded, snatching the Earth Scroll from Kabuto. "Let's get moving."
"Here we go again," Kyle sighed as he slipped the Ace of Diamonds into the buckle. Placing it on his waist, he let the belt wrap around him. Reaching to the handle, he gave it a yank. "Henshin."
Passing through the transformation field, Kyle emerged as Garren. Flexing his arms, he felt the fatigue from before. Thankfully, he didn't feel like it was going to affect his performance too badly.
"Okay," Garren nodded. "I'm ready."
Nodding, the other ninjas began heading towards the tower again.
As they were moving, Garren was reflecting how things were going. He may have managed to keep the Curse Seal from activating, but had managed to risk himself going berserk in the process. Again, Garren's wish to manipulate things from behind had been ruined. He had placed himself right in the middle of the action. Sadly, his one advantage over Orochimaru was that he knew how things were going to turn out. While that was still true, Orochimaru would learn about his Rider Systems and the Undead, minimizing the only advantage he had. That particular advantage was quickly getting smaller every time Kabuto saw him change.
It didn't take too long for the group to reach the Tower. Walking onto the stone path which surrounded it, they all took a deep breath of relief. As they tried to collect themselves again, a rustling noise caught their attention, signaling the arrival of two more ninjas. They were both wearing outfits similar to Kabuto, but they were both wearing a black veil which covered most of their faces. Only their eyes were visible. One had dark lenses over his eyes while the other wore glasses. Both were wearing Konoha hitae-ate. Garren wasn't fooled though; they were also agents of Orochimaru. If Garren recalled properly, they were Yoroi Akado and Misumi Tsurugi.
"You're late Kabuto," Yoroi frowned.
"Sorry about that," Kabuto shrugged. "We ran into some trouble."
"Who's the weirdo in the armor?" Tsurugi asked suspiciously.
"Garren," the diamond Rider answered. He remained still, but he was ready to go for his gun if something fishy happened.
"He and his team helped me get here," Kabuto explained. He lifted up his Heaven and Earth scrolls. "Still got the scrolls too."
"Good," Yoroi nodded. "Then let's get going."
"Okay," Kabuto nodded. He then turned to Team Seven with his usual smile. "Thanks for the help. It got a little freaky for a while, but I owe you guys one."
"No problem!" Naruto grinned. "Let's meet up in the next test!"
"Sure," Kabuto nodded. "Good luck to you."
With a wave, Team Seven broke the seal on one of the entrances into the tower and entered. Garren gave a lingering look at the team behind him and reluctantly entered. As the door closed behind them, the Kabuto and his teammates seemed to change a little. It was like a darker aura of malice had entered the area and they fit right in with it.
"So how was the harvest?" a familiar sinister voice asked from the side of the tower.
"Exceeded expectations," Kabuto grinned as he turned to face the wielder of the voice. Reaching to his pouch, he pulled out one of his skill cards. "I have all the information on the second exam on this one."
Holding out the card, the owner of the voice reached out a pale hand and took it. As he came out of the shadows, the owner of the voice was revealed to be none other than Orochimaru himself.
"Good," Orochimaru smirked. "So, how was it?"
"Hmm, so you really are interested, Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto smirked.
"Just want to hear your opinion," Orochimaru shrugged. He seemed completely indifferent to the situation, but one didn't become a Sannin by being complacent. "However, the Rider is rather interesting at the moment."
"I agree to that point," Kabuto nodded. "All information regarding him is on the card as well. Still…I believe that he is suspicious."
"Oh?" Orochimaru smirked. "What makes you think so?"
"Whenever I came on the scene, even when we first met, he was always guarded," Kabuto explained. "Either he's got good instincts, or he knows something."
"Hmm…now that is interesting," Orochimaru smirked. "Maybe I should have marked him when I had the chance. Oh well, there's time enough."
"I'm sure," Kabuto nodded. "So, what now?"
"Just keep gathering intelligence," Orochimaru ordered before he vanished into a puff of smoke.
"As you wish, Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto nodded. He then gestured to his teammates before they entered a different door that was still sealed.
Back with Team 7, they had gone through the doors they entered through and were in the middle of a large empty room. The only ways out were some stairs at the side of the room, but at the other end of the room was a large framed picture. Instead of a portrait though, a poem was written on the paper inside of it.
"No one's here," Naruto blinked as he looked in all directions.
"No kidding," Sasuke frowned.
"What's that?" asked Sakura as she pointed at the poem on the wall.
"Looks like a poem of some kind," Garren answered as he stepped closer to read the words. "Some words are missing. I think this might be a clue."
"Hmm," Sasuke frowned as he read through the words of the poem. "It mentions Heaven and Earth. I think this is where we are supposed to open the scrolls."
"Got it!" Naruto nodded as he revealed the pair. Handing the Heaven Scroll to Sakura, Naruto held the Earth Scroll in his own hands. Both ninjas gripped the edges of the scrolls and tugged.
The scrolls unfurled quickly and all four ninjas looked at the contents. What they found themselves looking at were a pair of seals. Garren was no expert at sealing, but he knew what these seals were supposed to do. These seals were supposed to summon an examiner to meet the applicants. If he appeared anywhere else besides the inside of the tower, he would knock out the applicants so that they would be unable to finish the exam.
"They're part of a summoning jutsu!" Sasuke suddenly shouted. "Throw them away!"
Naruto and Sakura both blinked in shock, but when the scrolls started to smoke, they obeyed. Quickly tossing the scrolls away, they prepared themselves for another challenge. Even Garren, despite knowing what was happening, had his hand on his gun. His nerves were frayed after everything that had happened and his battle instincts and adrenaline were going on automatic. Reading about the Chunin exams was a lot different from experiencing them.
The smoke continued to billow until it looked like it would engulf the room. When it got to that point, the hissing noise that the scrolls were giving off finally stopped. The smoke was thick, but it was just as quick to dissipate as it did to appear. Of course, as the smoke cleared, a figure could be seen in the middle of it all. As the smoke finally began to clear, the mouths of Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura began to drop.
"No way," Sakura gaped.
"You…you're…," Naruto sputtered.
Standing in front of the four ninjas was a Chunin that they all recognized. Three had learned from him while one of those three knew him personally. The fourth only knew him from pictures and stories the orange-clad ninja would tell. The Chunin in front of them was a teacher in the academy and had been victimized by Naruto's notorious Orioke no Jutsu.
This was Iruka Umino.
"Hey," Iruka waved with a friendly smile. "It's been a while."
"What…what's going on!?" Sakura cried. "What is this?"
"Whew, you guys look a little worse for wear," Iruka chuckled, apparently unconcerned about the ninjas shock and confusion.
"But…but…why were you summoned Iruka-sensei?!" Naruto gaped.
"Why wouldn't I be?" asked Iruka. "When examinees get through this exam, a Chuunin is sent to greet the team. I was the one who was picked out to meet you guys. So I'm here to say congratulations. You guys just passed the second exam."
Garren heaved a sigh of relief and let his shoulders slump. He knew that the exam was over, but to hear it officially was a huge weight off of his shoulders. His teammates were still stunned at the frank message of their passing.
"With two and a half days to spare too," Iruka grinned. "Normally I'd get you guys a bowl of ramen to celebrate, but…"
"WE DID IT!!"
Iruka then found himself with a bundle of excited blonde in his arms. Stepping back, he tried to keep his professional aura, but it was a little hard, "Come on, Naruto! At least let me finish!"
"I'M SO HAPPY!" Naruto cheered. "WE DID IT! WE DID IT! WE DID IT!"
"Where does he get the energy from?" Sasuke sighed irritably.
Garren shook his head and pulled the handle on his buckle, revealing the Ace of Diamonds. Pulling the card out, the energy field passed over him and stripped the armor off. Sighing, he pocketed both items as Iruka watched in surprise.
"Man, it's a good thing we didn't open those scrolls," Kyle chuckled. "Otherwise we'd have to deal with you kicking our butts, wouldn't we?"
"Right," Iruka nodded. "This exam was set up to test the applicants' ability to follow orders. If they were to break those orders, the Chunin summoned would have to render them unconscious until the exam was over. In other words: instant failure."
"Oh man!" Naruto shivered. "Good thing we didn't open those scrolls!"
"Yeah," Sakura sighed as she dropped to her knees. Inner Sakura was ranting over how lucky they were not to screw up. Looking over to Iruka, she weakly raised her hand. "Iruka-sensei, just what is the deal about the words on the wall?"
"Well, that's part of the reason why I'm here," Iruka explained. "It's the motto of the Chunin, written by Hokage-sama himself."
"So what's it supposed to mean?" Naruto asked impatiently.
"Well, the mention of Heaven refers to the mind while Earth refers to the body," Iruka explained. "When it speaks of heaven, seek wisdom, be prepared, it means you lack knowledge. Kind of like Naruto's weak point is his brain, it means you have to gain knowledge."
"Hey!" Naruto huffed.
"Relax," Kyle laughed, patting Naruto's head. "He doesn't mean anything by it."
"Along that vein, if you lack earth. Run in fields, seek advantages, it means seek strength," Iruka continued. "Like Sakura's stamina, it means train harder."
"Hehe," Sakura blushed embarrassedly.
"Finishing up, if you have both heaven and earth, all missions can be accomplished safely and easily," Iruka finished. "Remember though, Chunin are like military captains. They are the ones in charge of teams. This exam was to test the qualities needed to become Chunin. All these qualities are needed to become Chunin. I want you all to remember this motto as you continue in these tests."
"You got it!" Naruto grinned.
Iruka nodded, but his face started to look a little grimmer. Looking to his former students and their teammate, he decided to start speaking again, "About the third exam…don't push yourselves too hard. Especially you Naru-"
"I'm not a kid anymore," Naruto frowned. Reaching up, he tapped his hitae-ate. "The moment I received this headband, I was no longer an academy student! This is a sign of my adulthood. I may not have changed too much, but I am not a kid! I…am a ninja!"
Iruka, Sasuke, and Sakura were shocked o hear such a mature speech coming from their blonde teammate. Kyle just smiled and crossed his arms. He had been expecting this little speech. Iruka was a real important figure in Naruto's life, just as much as Naruto was in his. Of course the Chunin would be concerned. Still, Iruka had to realize wasn't the same as he was in the academy. He would have to learn to let go.
"You're right," Iruka sighed. "Sorry about that. Well, there are rooms waiting for you guys where you can recover a little. When the exam is over, we'll continue on to the next exam."
"All right! Let's go!" Naruto cheered.
With that Iruka pointed out an exit. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura were already halfway there in the blink of an eye. Shaking his head, Kyle waited until they were out of earshot. When he was sure, he turned to face Iruka.
"I need to talk to Kakashi, maybe even the Hokage," Kyle spoke swiftly. "Something happened in the Forest of Death that wasn't part of the exam."
"Orochimaru," Iruka nodded grimly. "We already know he's here."
"Good," Kyle nodded. "What you don't know is that he marked Sasuke with a seal."
"What?!" Iruka hissed. "Are you sure?"
"Saw him make it," Kyle confirmed. "It hasn't activated yet, but if Sasuke continues in the exam without getting it checked, I'm afraid of what might happen."
"For good reason," Iruka sighed. "Okay, I'll let Hokage-sama and Kakashi know. Thank-you for informing us about this."
"Gladly," Kyle nodded. "Just make sure the kid gets help. Seals from that snake whackjob mixed with Sasuke's history wouldn't be healthy."
"HEY, KYLE-NII! COME ON!" Naruto shouted.
"I'm coming!" Kyle answered. Giving a final nod to Iruka, he jogged over to meet up with the rest of his team.
Iruka watched them go before sighing sadly. If it wasn't one thing it was the other. Having an S-class criminal hiding out in Konoha was the last thing he needed to hear. Hearing he had attacked his students was that much worse. Still, at least Kyle was taking steps to make sure nothing bad happened to them. Making a handseal, Iruka vanished into a puff of smoke.
As Team 7 was finally able to relax, the lone Rider was looking through his deck of cards. The Undead on their own were dangerous if they were unsealed without any control over them, but even more dangerous if used by the Joker. Each time he used the cards to transform into one of the Undead, he felt a piece of them was still inside him. He stared at his hand. Was the blood running through his veins still red or had it turned green? He never checked himself to see or maybe he didn't want to. He wanted to hold on to the fact that he was still human.
"Hey, Kyle-nii, catch!" said Naruto as he tossed a can of soda to his teammates hand. "Drink up. It's called Ninja Dew. Very refreshing."
Kyle stared at the can for a minute and popped it open before taking a sip. It was good. "Naruto, I want to thank you again for saving me from myself."
"Hey, it was nothing," said Naruto. "You would've done the same for me."
"I'm still grateful. You risked your life to save me when my Undead went out of control. You're a good friend."
Naruto gave the older boy a foxy grin and then peered at the deck in his hand. "Hey, Kyle, what are you up to?"
"Oh, just looking through the cards to see what combos I can use for the next part of the exam."
Interested, Sakura spoke up, "Say, Kyle, the Rouzers can use cards from the other suits, right?"
"Yeah," Kyle nodded. "They can."
"So, why don't you try mixing cards from different suits for new combos?" suggested Sakura. "I've only seen you used combos using cards from the same suit, but if your Rouzers can use the other cards, what's stopping you from making mixed combos?"
Kyle blinked and then broke out in a smile, "Sakura, you're a genius!"
Sakura beamed under the compliment. Kyle had completely forgotten that he could use the Rouze Cards in different combinations. If he kept that in mind, then he had tons of combinations at his beck and call. The potential was immense. While Kyle was in his euphoric haze, Sasuke had decided to voice a question he had.
"Hey, Kyle," said Sasuke.
"Hm?" Kyle responded.
"That green aura, was that the Joker power you were telling us about?"
"I don't remember much, I told you," said Kyle, avoiding the subject. He didn't want to think the Joker was taking over but it had been close.
About two and a half days later, all the applicants who passed the second exam were collected in a large room that had a statue of two hands doing a hand seal with large wooden panels on the wall behind it. In front of the statue were the examiners, the Hokage himself, and the Jounin instructors of all the teams. Those included were Kakashi, Kurenai, Gai, the chain smoking Asuma, the partially mummified Baki, and an Oto Jounin who bore a striking resemblance to Orochimaru.
Looking around him, Kyle saw that the expected teams had passed. That involved Team Gai, the Rookie Nine, Team Suna, and Team Kabuto. It wasn't too much of a surprise for Kyle. He had been expecting this to happen so at least things were still on track. Looking to the front again, he saw Anko step forward.
"Okay!" the excitable Jounin spoke up. "First off, congratulations on passing the second exam!"
The Jounin were all whispering to each other and Gai looked like he was getting angry over something when Kakashi looked at him in confusion. Some of the Genin were likewise looking excited and thinking to themselves. Ino was obviously close to glomping Sasuke while Hinata had a faint smile on her face as she saw Naruto had passed. Gaara looked unscathed as did his siblings. A faint whimper alerted him to the fact that Akamaru was afraid of Gaara's presence. Since Kyle was near the back, he really couldn't see the dog himself. Although, the slightly concerned look on Kurenai's face told the young man that she had seen the worried dog as well.
"All right!" Anko called out again. "Hokage-sama is going to speak with you all so listen up!"
Sarutobi then stepped forward and coughed slightly to ready himself for a speech. Kyle just began to tune the old man out at this point. He knew the speech was about the real reason behind the Chunin exams. Basically, aside from promoting Genin to Chunin, the exams were an opportunity for the countries involved to show off their power. If you showed yourself off well, your home village would be able to reel in more clients.
Kyle was only interested to know who he would be fighting. He wanted to test out the new combos he had and already knew which Rider Form to use. Sakura's suggestion had made him plan for all his future matches. He also knew which Rider would be appropriate for each fight if he guessed who his opponent might be. He would surprise the Shinobi from the other countries as well the true power of a Kamen Rider.
"Now," Sarutobi continued, wrapping up his speech. "I would like to explain the third test…"
"Actually -cough, cough-," a voice coughed before there was a puff of smoke erupted between the Hokage and the applicants. "As referee, would you permit me to explain?"
"Of course," Sarutobi nodded. "The floor is yours."
"Thank-you," the voice spoke as the smoke cleared. The person within the smoke was revealed to be a pale man with bags underneath his eyes. For an examiner, he didn't look like he was the picture of health. "Hello. I am Gekkou Hayate."
Kyle blinked at the ninja's appearance. He really didn't look too well. The manga had nothing on the real thing. Hayate looked like a strong breeze would be all that was needed to take him down. Of course, the truth was just the opposite. Hayate was an accomplished fighter and obviously didn't have too much of a problem with his health as his appearance suggested.
"Before the third test begins though," Hayate spoke. "There's something that we will have to do, and that is a preliminary for the third exam. It will decide who will be able to partake in the third exam."
"Huh?" Sakura blinked in confusion. She wasn't alone in that declaration either. "But…why can't everyone here take part in the third test?"
"-cough, cough- Simple," Hayate replied. "The first and second tests were too easy. We have too many applicants. According to the rules, we have to hold a preliminary so to reduce the numbers. Remember, there will be many important guests at the third tests and fights may last long."
Kyle nodded at the logic in Hayate's argument. This wasn't his old world where the officials had a lot of time on their hands and things were relatively peaceful. War was always a threat and there were all sorts of things that could be the spark which set it off. The daimyos and their officials had to keep an eye on everything lest they miss that spark. They can't spend all their time in their castles or watching ninjas beat the crap out of each other.
"That being said," Hayate coughed. "Any of those who feel they are not up to this medically or after these explanations please step forward. We will then begin the preliminaries."
"What?! Right now?" Kiba cried out in shock.
"We are on a schedule," Kyle shrugged. "It stands to reason that they want to get this over as soon as possible."
Despite saying this, Kyle kept his eyes on the Oto-Jounin that was watching the group. After Hayate offered a way out, he smirked slightly. Kyle instantly knew that this was Orochimaru's signal to Kabuto. He remembered it from the manga, and sure enough, Kabuto's hand was in the air.
"I'd like to withdraw," he spoke plainly.
"Huh?" Naruto blinked. "But Kabuto! Why are you quitting?!"
"Sorry Naruto," Kabuto sighed. "But I've been having trouble hearing out of my ear since before the first exam. I also ran into some enemies before I met up with your team. If I have to keep fighting for much longer, I'm going to drop."
Naruto frowned and looked down in disappointment. As the Hokage silently conversed with the examiners, Kyle resisted the urge to frown. He knew that any injury that Kabuto might have suffered from any part of the exams had long since healed. With his ability to stimulate his cells regenerative abilities, he could recover from almost anything. He was backing out since Orochimaru didn't need him to spy anymore. He could do it himself while pretending to be the Oto-Jounin for the Oto team.
"Ummm, you're Kabuto Yakushi from Konoha, right? If you're sure then you can leave," Hayate nodded after a brief look at a booklet he had been carrying. Looking up to the other applicants, he spoke, "Is there anyone else who would like to retire? It should be known that these fights will be individual so your teammates will continue regardless."
No one raised their hands and it was a silent acceptance of continuing on. Kabuto turned and headed to leave, only to be stopped by Yoroi for a moment. They spoke softly to each other, but no one could hear them. Kyle considered stepping down as well, hopefully to keep an eye on Kabuto and nail him when he tried to take down Sasuke after the preliminaries. He quickly squashed that idea, remembering that Kabuto virtually vanished until his attempted assassination on Sasuke. Kyle knew that he was better off taking part in the exams since that was where all the action was.
"Okay," Hayate continued. "Since we have 21 applicants, one of you will automatically pass to the third exam. Each of you will be randomly paired up with someone else and you will fight. You will continue until one of you forfeits, is knocked unconscious, or dies. Other than that, anything goes."
"How do we know who passes to the third exam without fighting?" asked Tenten from her position.
"The only person who doesn't fight," Hayate answered. "Now, the board behind me will be the one selecting who fights first. If your name is called then remain down here. The rest of you will relocate to the stands."
A screen in question appeared from behind a wooden panel that resided by the stature in the room. As it quickly came to life, the collected applicants' eyes turned to it. Kyle himself felt the muscles in his heart clench as he waited to see who he was fighting. While there were a few people in the room he wanted to fight, he would have preferred to avoid fighting his friends, especially Naruto. He was also wary of fighting Gaara. His Joker powers might react to the Shukaku and threaten his control again. Others like Kabuto's team, the Oto team, or Gaara's siblings would be okay. Heck, he had even been wondering how a match between himself and Neji would go. Undead didn't have chakra points after all.
After a moment of waiting, two names popped up onto the screen
SASUKE UCHIHA VS. YOROI AKADO
"Okay, will the applicants come forward?" Hayate asked. "Everyone else please head up to the balcony."
The remaining applicants all took the order and headed up the metal stairs to the stands. Kyle kept his eye trained on the impending fight the whole time. Gai, Kurenai, Kakashi, and Asuma joined their students. The Oto-Jounin had met up with his team and Baki, Team Suna's teacher, had joined his own students.
"Are both of you ready to begin?" Hayate asked as Sasuke and Yoroi faced off against each other.
"Yes," Sasuke nodded.
"Yeah," Yoroi nodded.
"Then, begin!" Hayate called as he signaled for the fight to begin. He then immediately backed away from the two so to allow them good enough space to fight.
Kyle was with Naruto and Sakura, watching the fight. He knew fully well how this would go down but with his presence things were going to go differently. Opponents may be switched around and maybe Kyle would advance without having to fight, but what were the odds of that?
Deciding to zone out, Kyle turned his thoughts to what had happened so far. First he had gone berserk in his Chalice form and then he almost tipped off the deep end with Joker powers. Why was it all happening now? Was it the Joker's consciousness trying to tell him something? That it was waking up? That it was going to take over? Kyle had to make sure to keep all his Heart cards close to him. He couldn't risk a relapse and lose control, especially now.
"Shi Shi Rendan! (Lion Barrage.)" Sasuke cried as he unleashed a devastating combo onto Yoroi. The sounds snapped Kyle back to reality as he saw Hayate step out and declare Sasuke the winner.
The last Uchiha was about to return to the stands when Kakashi appeared next to him in a swirl of leaves. They muttered a few words to each other before heading off behind the medic-nins that were carting Yoroi away.
"Hey, where's Sasuke going with Kakashi-sensei?" asked Naruto.
"Probably getting that demonic hickey taken care of," Kyle answered.
Turning to the collected Chuunin in the room, Kyle was happy to note that the Oto-Chunin was looking displeased about something. He was probably wondering why the seal hadn't started working. Since it hadn't activated, it didn't get the chance to spread. Still, Kyle knew the sooner he got that thing sealed the better. And Orochimaru was going to be heading for where Kakashi was doing the sealing.
"I gotta go the bathroom for a sec," Kyle reported to his teammates. "Keep an eye on things for me."
"But what if you're called?" asked Sakura worriedly.
"Not likely at this point," Kyle shrugged.
With his point made, Kyle started heading for one of the ways out. He had to catch up with Kakashi before Orochimaru did. Maybe he could get a hold on the situation and keep Orochimaru from forcing his seal to activate.
Turning a corner, he slipped one of his cards out of his pocket. Gemini Zebra. Kyle knew he was taking a risk by changing into an Undead, but he didn't have a choice at the moment. He couldn't be in two places at once otherwise.
"Gemini!" the Rouzer called before Kyle's body was covered in a shifting aura.
He came out of it looking like a humanoid zebra with minimal armor on. Metal gear was adorned on his horse-like face and he was wearing black leather pants. Of all the Undead, the Zebra Undead was the one Kyle felt that the creators didn't put a lot of effort into creating. Still, it had a good power and one he was going to put to use.
Concentrating, Kyle/Zebra Undead projected a body image that looked like it was made from a bad television reception. After a few moments, the image solidified into an exact copy of Kyle/Zebra Undead.
"I'll follow Kakashi," the copy nodded before he drew his own copy of the Two of Hearts. The real Kyle/Zebra Undead did the same.
"Spirit!" both Rouzers called before two versions of Kyle appeared. Nodding to each other, one returned to the fights while the other went in the direction of Kakashi and Sasuke.
Kyle returned to the area where the preliminaries were being held. Orochimaru was gone, assumedly to go browbeat Kakashi and show off to Sasuke a little more. Of course, Kyle wasn't sure if Sasuke was conscious or not
Pondering the thought, he met up with the rest of his team. Looking down at the fighting arena, he spotted Zaku being carried off with one of his arms missing while Shino was calmly walking back to where the other examinees were waiting.
"What did I miss?" Kyle asked as he met up with Sakura and Naruto.
"That Shino guy did something to that Oto-nin's arms," Sakura explained. "He can control bugs and I think he crammed them into the holes in the other ninja's palms. He tried to do that air wave attack and both his arms exploded."
"It was freaky," Naruto gulped.
"Oh come on," Kyle snickered. "I've become scarier on occasion."
Naruto and Sakura looked to each other and then up to their older teammate. As much as they wanted to argue, Kyle was right. Turning into rampaging undying monsters was way creepier than some guy who housed bugs inside of his body. It was even scarier when Kyle's Joker powers were beginning to break free.
As Team 7 continued conversing, there was a flash of movement behind them. Quickly turning to face the movement, they found themselves looking back into the face of their cycloptic Jounin instructor.
"Yo," Kakashi waved as he rejoined his team.
"What do you mean 'yo'?" Sakura asked impatiently. Her voice was mixed with concern. "Is Sasuke okay?"
"He's resting," Kakashi answered simply.
'Probably being guarded by the ANBU too,' Kyle added with thought. As he turned to face the front again, he felt Kakashi grip his shoulder. Turning slightly, the one-eyed Jounin leaned in close to his ear.
"I want to talk to you about that stunt with the clone," Kakashi whispered. "After all this is said and done."
"Roger," Kyle sighed. Unlike the Kage Bunshin, Kyle didn't get the memories of the clones he made when they were dispelled. His clone must have picked a fight with Orochimaru when he and Kakashi faced off.
"-cough, we'll begin the next match," Hayate spoke up.
Kyle looked up at the front window. He knew he was lucky that his name hadn't been called yet, but he wasn't feeling excited. His chances of getting picked were pretty low. After all, the other matches were practically destined.
KYLE JONES VS. TSURUGI MISUMI
"Oh crap," Kyle gulped.
"Ha! Show that guy what you can do!" Naruto grinned to his friend.
Gulping again, Kyle headed for the stairs. Treading down them, he tried desperately not to throw up. He was no stranger to fighting, but he wasn't used to fighting with an audience. Stage fright was the only way he could describe the feeling in his gut. He watched the front and saw that all eyes of the examiners and the Hokage were on him and Tsurugi. Speaking of which, the Genin in question wasn't far behind him.
Kyle knew how Tsurugi fought. He had a special ability to loosen his joints and let his bones bend like rubber. It wasn't totally clear of it was a jutsu or a bloodline, but Orochimaru once mentioned in the manga that his and Yoroi's abilities were called Unholy Gifts. It led Kyle to believe that it was part of a physical treatment that Orochimaru gave the pair. Sadly, in the manga Kankuro had beaten Tsurugi before he could use any of his advanced techniques.
'Maybe I'm lucky and he'll be dependant on those stretchy bones of his,' Kyle thought hopefully to himself.
Kyle met up to where Hayate was waiting. Tsurugi stood opposite of Kyle, but the Rider didn't like the look in his eyes. Obviously Tsurugi was confident that he was going to win this match. Most likely because Kyle was out of his armor so he assumed it would be an easy victory.
'Okay, just stay out of his reach Kyle,' he sighed to himself. 'Otherwise you're screwed.'
"Are both of you –cough- ready?" Hayate asked the two fighters.
"Yeah," Tsurugi nodded. He was acting like the upcoming battle was a mere formality.
"Yes," Kyle gulped. His nervousness was growing. It was a feeling that he didn't like.
"Then…begin!" Hayate called, signaling the beginning of the match.
Kyle was the first to move as Hayate's arm came down. He dashed backwards to get himself some space from Tsurugi. The Oto spy wasn't idle either. He grabbed a kunai and was running at Kyle with a smirk in his eyes.
"Can't fight like ninja after all?" he mocked. "This is going to be easy!"
"Bite me sound slummie," Kyle growled as he brought out the Blade buckle in one hand while he held the Ace of Spades in his other hand. He slid the card into its chamber before bringing the buckle to hiss waist. The red belt slid out of the buckle before fastening itself to his waist.
"Time to lose!" Tsurugi cackled as he lunged at Kyle with his kunai, hoping to injure the fellow ninja and eliminate him from the competition.
"Henshin!" Kyle called before he pulled the handle on the belt, revealing the spade symbol.
"Turn Up!" the belt called out as it activated.
Tsurugi's eyes widened as a blue field depicting a rhino beetle ejected from the buckle and grew to the size of a large door. It collided with him, sending bolts of pain through his body before he was forcibly sent flying back. His cry of pain was sharp as he fell back onto the hard floor.
Grinning, Kyle dashed towards the field without hesitation. Hitting the blue field, he passed through it. However, he had emerged from it covered in the blue and silver armor of Kamen Rider Blade. Blade didn't stop his charge as he continued charging on towards Tsurugi while drawing his sword.
"Damn!" Tsurugi hissed before he brought up his kunai while getting to his feet again. He just managed to raise his weapon when Blade's weapon met against his kunai with a rain of sparks.
Blade didn't hesitate in his assault. He wanted to take Tsurugi down and he wanted it NOW! He slashed again and again at the secret Oto-nin, but Tsurugi's reflexes were sharp. He managed to meet every attack with his own kunai. It was proving pretty quick that Tsurugi wasn't as weak as Kankuro's performance had led him to believe in the manga.
Slashing again, Tsurugi blocked yet again with his kunai. This time, he grabbed Blade's arm with his free hand.
"I guess I'll have to use some of my tricks," Tsurugi snickered.
Tsurugi's arm quickly slithered around Blade's arm like a snake. Grimacing, he pulled back, but Tsurugi's arm was holding tightly, almost stretching like Blade had come to expect.
"Not getting out of this one," Tsurugi snickered.
In a whirl of motion, Tsurugi got behind Blade and captured his other arm with his remaining arm. He even managed to catch one of his legs with one of his own legs. Blade grunted and struggled in the grip of the bending ninja.
"Heh," Tsurugi snickered. "Impressed? It's a special trick I picked up. I can compress my body into any shape. I can also keep squeezing until I break your bones. Why don't you just make this easy and give up?"
"That's the funny thing about Riders," Blade snickered. "We are notoriously stubborn."
Blade then reached out to his sword so he could fan out his Spade cards. Tsurugi naturally but more pressure on his limbs, but the protection and strength boost that the Rider armor afforded the wearer was throwing a wrench into Tsurugi's calculations. It didn't mean that he wasn't putting more pressure on the Rider's limbs.
Blade remained undaunted as he managed to open the panels. He gripped the Category 4: Tackle Boar and pulled it out of its panel and brought it to his Rouzer. With some increasing effort, he managed to slash it through.
"Tackle!" the Rouzer called as the image of the card was brought into his chest.
Energy pulsed into Blade's limbs. Taking a running start, he dashed towards the walls surrounding then began to give off pulses of energy which indicated that the Tackle Boar was in effect.
"Running into a wall won't get me to stop!" Tsurugi shouted into Blade's ear.
"Watch me!" Blade retorted as he continued running.
Tsurugi was convinced the stupid assault would hurt Blade more than it would him. To that end, he just let Blade continue his charge at the wall. As Blade came closer to hitting the wall with some considerable force, he leaped for a flying tackle. However, where most flying tackles allowed enough space for the user to hit with their shoulder, Blade began his too early. As a result, his back was facing the wall when he made his impact.
"Guaaahh!" Tsurugi cried out in pain as his body smashed against the wall. Blood dripped to his mouth as he fell to the ground, his limbs unraveling from Blade while bits of the wall fell.
"Your bones may be tough to break," Blade grunted as he stood up "But your internal organs are still fair game!"
Tsurugi cursed under his breath as he got to his feet again. The Rider had a point with that one. Large impacts always dealt damage to organs no matter how flexible they were. Drawing his kunai again, he stepped back out into the arena while facing the opposing Rider.
"And now, it's my turn," said Blade as he gripped his sword tightly. He let out a battlecry and charged at Tsurugi. He swung his sword at Tsurugi swiftly, aiming for his head.
Tsurugi dove to the side. He knew he needed to get some distance if he was going to get his wind back. He hadn't been expecting Blade to slam him into the wall like he did. He had thought that since the Rider was without his armor he would be an easy victory. He should have listened to Kabuto's Intel after all.
Blade knew that this had to end quickly. If Tsurugi got his wind back then he might be able to get his squeezing attack a second try. Knowing he might not escape it a second time, he reached to his sword and spread out the panels again. This time, he grabbed the Categories 5, 6, and 9. Kick Locust, Thunder Deer, and Mach Jaguar. Taking the cards to his Rouzer, he began slashing them through.
"Kick! Thunder! Mach!" The Rouzer called as he slashed the cards through. "Lightning Sonic!"
Absorbing the power of the three Rouze Cards, Blade began his charge. He moved so quickly his body was like a blur. Getting in close to Tsurugi, he punched him in the face to make sure he didn't move from his spot. With Tsurugi down for the moment, Blade sped past before coming to a screeching halt. He turned to see Tsurugi getting back up to his feet. Blade didn't speak as he leaped into the air, aiming his foot at his opponent with electric voltage streaking out of it.
"Yaaaaaaahhhhh!" Blade roared as he came back down.
"Huh?" Tsurugi mumbled in punch-drunk confusion as he looked up.
That was all he managed to get out before the Lightning Sonic attack collided with his chest. Screaming in pain from the electric attack, Tsurugi was sent flying backwards before he crashed onto the ground, rolling to a stop. His body was trembling from the electric attack and he was having problems standing. Blade landed easily on his feet watching Tsurugi attempt to stand.
"Proctor, are we done or should we continue?" Blade asked Hayate.
"Depends on applicant Tsurugi," Hayate coughed. "If he wants to continue then he can. Otherwise he has to forfeit."
"I'm not quitting!" Tsurugi spat. He glared venomously at Blade, letting his rubber limbs grow loose again. "I won't lose! I will beat you!"
"Then I have no choice," Blade frowned. Opening his panels, he drew the Category 2: Slash Lizard. However, he also flicked his wrist bringing out two other cards. These were the Category 6: Blizzard Polar and the Category 4: Rapid Pecker. Holding the combination of Spade, Club, and Diamond, he bought them to his Rouzer.
"I'm not letting you try that again!" Tsurugi roared as he lunged, using his rubber legs like coils.
"Slash! Blizzard! Rapid!" The Rouzer announced. "Arctic Slash!"
Frost traveled down Blade's sword as Tsurugi came with his rubber limbs. Blade gripped his weapon and brought it up. Tsurugi was about to attempt bringing his limbs around Blade's neck. He barely got within an inch before Blade's arms went into an icy blur of white. The assault lasted for a moment before Blade ducked to the side and Tsurugi fell to the ground, unmoving. Hayate walked over and turned the teen over, checking his health. His clothes were torn open with frost covering them while he had dozens of shallow wounds that weren't bleeding. The ice had cauterized them. He wouldn't bleed out, but he would be in a lot of pain.
"Winner by knockout, Kyle Jones," Hayate announced with a cough.
"All right Kyle-nii!" Naruto cheered from the balconies.
Blade looked up at Naruto and gave a thumbs up as he sheathed his sword. Walking away from the battlefield, he pulled at the lever which flipped the panel of his belt buckle over. He drew out his Category Ace of Spades and the blue field shot out from his belt once more. He walked through it and when he exited his armor was gone and he was holding the Blade buckle in his hand.
He knew Orochimaru was watching him, trying to gauge his abilities so Kyle wasn't going to make it easy for the Snake Sannin. He was going to become as unpredictable as possible. By Sakura's suggestion, he'd thought of a number of combos with his 4 suits and was going to keep on thinking up new ones the entire exam.
Kyle could feel Gaara's eyes on him and he also felt the Joker inside of him trying to break free. When he thought about it, his situation was similar to Naruto and Gaara's. He had a demon in him just like them and if he lost all of his cards, he would doom the world. He couldn't let that happen. He was here for a reason and he knew it wasn't to destroy this world. He had to save it.
There were murmurs in the stands regarding Kyle's abilities, his armor and his cards. Even if it was natural for ninjas to have their own unique styles and weapons, what Kyle had was out of this world (if only they knew) and he was pretty powerful. Well, they hadn't seen his Jack, King and Wild Forms yet so they didn't know how powerful he could get. He was going to save King and Wild for more important things but the two Jack Forms he had access to would be used if he got into a tight spot.
He walked up the steps and then joined his team. Naruto punched his arm slightly, grinning. "Kyle-nii, that was awesome!"
"Yeah, guess it was," the foreigner from another world said. "And it's all thanks to Sakura."
"Because I suggested you combine your suits?" Sakura said, feeling proud of herself,
"Yep," Kyle smiled. "I know my Rouzers can activate any of the cards, but I never thought of using them in combination quite like that."
Sakura smiled brightly with a prideful flush on her face. She was glad to have helped out her teammate develop such an important strategy. Maybe he was onto something when he said that she had a head for tactics.
"That's impressive," Kakashi nodded. "But, this isn't the time to get a swelled head."
Pointing up to the board, his team followed his gaze. Her eyes widened as she gasped. Naruto blinked in some surprise. Kyle just took the news in stride, expecting it.
SAKURA HARUNO VS. INO YAMANAKA
Hinata watched the board and realized that Naruto's female teammate was about to fight. She also knew from her academy days that she had a fierce rivalry with her opponent over Sasuke Uchiha. This impending fight wasn't going to be pretty.
Eyeing Team 7, she gazed longingly at the blonde member. Her heart pounded at being so close to Naruto. If only she could get the courage up to talk to him or something. As Naruto began to turn, she quickly turned her eyes to the ground. Again, she cursed her shyness. She could at least offer some support for his teammate.
As she kept her eyes trained on the ground, she spotted something. It looked like a small card of some sort. Curious, she bent over and picked it up. No one seemed to notice her movement since they were all looking at the upcoming fight between Ino and Sakura, which was beginning. It was a very artful card with two tiger heads in a yin and yang position. The corners had a club symbol with a Q on them and the word 'absorb' was written on the side. A small caption underneath the picture called it Absorb Tiger.
'It must belong to Naruto-kun's teammate, Kyle,' Hinata reasoned to herself. She remembered seeing him use cards before he unleashed those odd jutsus. 'I should give it back to him…' But for some reason there was something about the card that was…alive.
Gaara watched the fights with little interest. The fight was over between the blond and the pink-haired girl. Both had knocked each other out. At the moment, his sister was about to face off against a girl with her hair tied up in buns.
That didn't interest Gaara at the moment. What did was the strange ninja who used the cards in his attacks. Last time they had met, he had turned into some kind of monster. He managed to disarm his brother and sister without much effort at all. Gaara came to the conclusion that he was some kind of monster too. It gained his interest as to how he could change his form like that.
Shukaku, the one whom Gaara mistook as mother, was acting oddly around that ninja. It was almost as if he was wary of him for some reason. Not downright fear, but like acknowledging that it could be afraid. It was an odd sensation for Gaara, but it was one that he did not like. Still, it was still an interesting feeling. It was close to the sensation called pain that he often wondered about, but never had felt in his life. This strange ninja might be the one.
"Do not worry Mother," Gaara whispered to Shukaku. "I will feed you his blood. We will learn much from it."
Shukaku was pleased at the thought.
Kyle actually winced as he watched the end of Sakura and Ino's fight. "Ow, double knockout. That has got to hurt." He had a chilling feeling and he glanced at Gaara who was looking at him. That cold, soulless and unblinking stare was just a bit unnerving.
Right now, Ten-Ten was going to fight Gaara's sister. He knew this match well and knew how it would end. Still, he was also wondering how Hinata and Neji's fight was going to be like later. He was fond of the girl and wanted her to win but if he knew the story he knew that she would still lose but would still put up a fight to show everyone how strong she was.
Kakashi and Asuma brought their students up while Temari and Ten-Ten took their spots. Kyle kept his eyes trained on the fight, ready for when Temari would pull her little sore winner stunt on Ten-Ten.
"Begin!" Hayate announced with a wave of his hand
The resulting match was more or less what Kyle had been expecting. Temari was the absolute worst opponent that she could be paired with. Temari was a wind user and had all sorts of techniques which could deflect weapons. Weapons were really the only thing Ten-Ten had best.
In the end, it was just like in the manga. Ten-ten was battered and bloody and resting atop of Temari's fan at an uncomfortable angle. Temari had a triumphant look on her face and both were surrounded by the astonishing amount of weapons that Ten-Ten had used during the course of the match.
"Winner: Temari!" Hayate announced, making the victory official.
"Saw that coming a mile away," muttered Kyle as he sighed.
The match between Kin and Shikamaru pretty much went like how Kyle had read it in the manga and seen it in the anime. Shikamaru used his family's Bloodline jutsu to take control of his opponent and with a single move won by a knockout. Kyle had to chuckle at the lazy Genin's attitude. He had so much potential but would rather spend his time playing shogi and watching the clouds. He didn't really put much effort into anything unless he had to and it was a life and death situation.
The upcoming match was one Kyle was looking forward to. It was the fight between Kiba and Naruto.
"Hey Naruto," Kyle called as his blonde friend and the dog boy headed for the arena. "Be unpredictable. My advice to you."
"You got it Kyle-nii!" Naruto grinned. "Being unpredictable is my specialty!"
Both ninjas met down in the arena with only Hayate keeping them apart. The sickly ninja eyed them both before he raised his arm, preparing to signal the beginning of the match.
"Seventh match, begin!" Hayate called as he dropped his hand.
In Kyle's opinion, it was a near perfect reenactment of how the battle went in the manga. The only differences were that Naruto was getting up and recovering a little quicker than before. Kyle figured it was either he never saw it happen in real life or his training with Naruto had paid off.
Since coming to live with the hyperactive blonde, Kyle and Naruto had been training together. Often, Kyle would take the form of an Undead and Naruto had to fight against it. The training gave Naruto experience in different kinds of opponents and attacks while it gave Kyle experience in all of his Undead bodies rather than the ones he preferred to use.
One thing that the fight could have changed was Naruto's little fart. Sure it got Kiba's sense out of whack, but it was a rather embarrassing way to stop him. Even so, Kyle supposed that a ninja had to use all the tools allotted to him. Even a fart or two.
"U! Zu! Ma! Ki! Naruto Rendan!" the collected clones of Naruto called as they and the original smashed Kiba into the cold floor.
"And Naruto wins with his signature move," Kyle grinned. "That's our hyperactive nutjob."
Sakura giggled at the friendly teasing. Naruto returned up to the stairs before Hinata cornered him and shyly gave him some healing balm. After finally taking it at Kurenai's urging, Hinata went to her teammate's side so to give him some too. Kyle saw that words were traded between the two. Kiba was warning Hinata to forfeit if she came up against some of the more violent ninjas there.
'Too bad she's going to meet up against her vengeful cousin,' Kyle sighed inwardly. Just as he thought of that sentence, two more names appeared on the board.
HINATA HYUUGA VS. NEJI HYUUGA
Kyle frowned. Hinata was going to get hurt in this fight and there was a lot of pressure on her put on by her family, especially her father. He wished he could help her somehow but what could he saw. Fortunately, there was Naruto who knew the right words to say and when to say it.
When Hinata went down to the arena, Kyle could've sworn he saw the ghostly image of the Tiger Undead following the Hyuuga girl. He then watched as the Tiger Undead turned into the familiar form of Hikaru Jo. She smiled as she walked after Hinata. Was it a trick of the light or something? He took out his cards and flipped through them and then he realized one of his cards was gone.
"Oh crap!" he hissed under his breath.
"What is it Kyle-nii?" asked Naruto.
"I…dropped one of the Rouze Cards," Kyle gulped. Sakura, Naruto, and Kakashi were instantly at alert.
"Are you sure?" Sakura gasped. "Do you know which one?"
"Category Queen of Clubs, Absorb Tiger," Kyle answered. "It's the only one missing."
"Any idea where it might be?" asked Kakashi.
"Well, if what I saw is right," Kyle frowned. "I think Hinata might have picked it up."
"Really?" Naruto blinked. "Well, what's the worst that could happen?"
"Oh, I dunno," Kyle hissed. "Maybe if a Jyuuken strike hits the card, it may unseal the Tiger Undead. If Hinata's will isn't strong enough it might possess her!"
"Is that all?" Kakashi asked gravely.
"Well, there is one more," Kyle answered. "There is the chance that the Tiger Undead likes Hinata for some reason. If that happens, she might lend her power to Hinata for this fight."
"Can that happen?" asked Sakura.
"It happened to Inari and the King of Clubs," Kyle answered. "He used its power to take down those two swordsmen. If one kid with a Category King could take down two trained swordsmen, what do you think a trained ninja could do with a Category Queen?"
"Almost nothing good," Kakashi frowned. 'Although, in Hinata's case, it might do her confidence wonders.'
Hinata stood before Neji whose eyes were as cold as ever. Hinata was nervous, really nervous. She wasn't as strong as her cousin but then she felt a warm and strong presence around her and she also heard a faint whisper, "You have powerful inner strength. Show it to them."
"I'll only say this once, Hinata-sama," Neji spoke darkly. "Forfeit now. You are far too weak to pursue any further."
Hinata visibly flinched, but the voice began to speak again, 'What crap is this? Who does this guy think he is?'
Hinata was beginning to get intimidated. One was her own cousin facing her down and now this weird voice speaking to her. At least the voice seemed to be on her side.
"Match eight," Hayate spoke, cutting Neji off from his tirade about fate. "Begin!"
It was a bloodbath from the start. Hinata honestly tried her best, but Neji was obviously light-years ahead of her in terms of skill. Every time she tried to attack, Neji would retaliate with devastating combos. By the time Hinata fell down, it was a miracle she was still conscious and breathing.
"I guess the tiger isn't helping," Sakura frowned sadly.
Neji looked down at Hinata like she was a fly. He wasn't even breathing hard from the attacks that he had used and almost received from Hinata.
"It's over, proctor," Neji announced. "She can't fight anymore."
"Don't stop the match!" Naruto shouted loudly. "She can still fight!"
'Naruto-kun?' Hinata thought in shock as she struggled to stand.
"Are you blind?" Neji asked with a snort. "She's finished. Fate has decreed her the loser and I am the victor. She's too weak to amount to anything. She couldn't even hit me once."
'I have had ENOUGH!!' the voice in Hinata's mind raged before all went dark.
Hinata found herself in what looked like a park. Wasn't she fighting Neji a few moments ago? Had she been carted out and placed in the Hyuuga gardens?
"Are you an idiot?" asked a voice and Hinata turned to see a woman who reminded her of Kurenai. She had long black hair with a golden streak and wore a black sleeveless shirt with a yellow vest, black leather pants, gloves and boots. She was sitting at a bench.
"Who are you?" Hinata asked.
The woman stood up and approached the girl, "In this form I am known as Hikaru Jo, but in my true form…" her form blurred and was replaced by a large female beast, "I am the Tiger Undead!"
Hinata shrieked and backed away in fear but the Tiger Undead then returned to her human form. "Sheesh, you are one weak human, you know that? No wonder that Neji jerk is beating you."
"I know," Hinata looked down to the ground. "I'm weak."
Hikaru rolled her eyes and bopped Hinata on the head. "Baka! Don't agree with me!" Sighing, Hikaru just looked at Hinata. She reminded her so much of that Mutsuki kid who once used the Leangle system. Both lacked confidence in themselves. They were afraid of going all out against their foes. Mutsuki was at the brink of death before he managed to get the message.
"I'm sorry," Hinata apologized.
"And stop apologizing," Hikaru snapped. "Goodness what am I supposed to do with you? I thought you had potential that's why I'm speaking with you through my card. Guess I was wrong."
"Card?" Hinata then realized it. "Your card!? You mean…"
"I'm the Queen of Clubs, but enough about me," said Hikaru. She placed her hands on Hinata's shoulders. "Look, I knew this human kid awhile back with the same confidence issues. You know what he did? He got stronger and got friends who believed in him. You have those too. Like that loud blond kid you have a crush on."
"And don't deny it because I can smell it," grinned Hikaru. "Now, you don't wanna look weak in front of him, do you?" Hinata shook her head. "You want to show him how strong you can be?" Hinata nodded. "You want to beat that jerk for looking down on you!" Hinata nodded furiously. "Give me an answer! Roar it out! Do you want to be strong?"
"Yes!" Hinata shouted out.
"I can't hear you!"
Hikaru's smile widened as she assumed her true from, "Then, take my power!"
"I AM NOT WEAK!" Hinata roared at the top of her lungs.
The entire hall was silent as all eyes were trained on the rising Hyuuga heiress. Kurenai was completely stunned that shy little Hinata would scream like that. Even Neji himself was caught off guard by her sudden outburst.
Getting to her feet, Hinata looked like she was going to blow a proverbial gasket. Her teeth were clenched and her Byakugan was active, making her look rather intimidating. She was breathing hard, making her look more like a raging animal than anything else.
"All right Hinata!" Naruto grinned. "Show that stuck-up jerk what you're made of!"
"Could you cut it any closer Jo?" Kyle frowned.
Neji immediately took his stoic face again as he squared off against Hinata again, "So you still refuse to accept your fate? Very well, I will show you the error of your ways."
"Don't talk about fate to me you hypocrite!" Hinata hissed. "You fight it more than anyone else I ever met!"
"And how did you come to that conclusion?" Neji frowned.
"By your logic, it is the fate of the Branch House to serve the Main House," Hinata explained. "That means you serve me! By fighting me you are fighting against your supposed fate!"
Neji frowned and activated his eyes again, "Ludicrous."
"You do know I could have used that seal on your head to win without even trying," Hinata continued. "But I am fighting you as a ninja, not as part of the Main Branch. Stop taking out your grudge on the Main Branch on me and just fight!"
"Hmph," Neji snorted. "As you wish."
Hinata got into an unfamiliar stance except to Kyle. He knew that stance. Hikaru Jo used it in her Tiger Undead form. For a second he could see the Tiger Undead superimposing her image over Hinata's, in the same stance with her clawed gauntlet out. It appeared that Hinata was tapping into the Tiger Undead's power.
"Looks like Hinata just grew a backbone," said Sakura.
"No," Kyle disagreed. "She always had it. It just took the right words for her to find it."
"Go, Hinata!" cheered Naruto. "Show him what you can do!"
'OK, cub,' Hikaru's voice was heard in Hinata's mind. 'Show this asshole that you hold the heart and spirit of a tiger and not a meek little mouse.'
Hinata quickly made her charge. Neji anticipated the assault and quickly dodged the first swipe, but was quickly caught by surprise as a swipe at his midsection almost got him. Leaning back, he attempted to hit some tenketsu in Hinata's arms, but she twisted around his attack and bashed him in the side, forcing Neji to stumble and try to get his bearings back.
'What is going on?' Neji thought angrily. 'Hinata-sama is acting strange. I've never seen her fight like this before!"
Up in the stands, Kurenai was watching in growing concern for her student, 'Hinata, what happened down there? Were Neji's words really what you needed to come out of your shell?"
Shino was watching as always, but he had a pretty good idea what was happening. He had spied Hinata picking a card up off the ground. He easily recognized it as one of the cards that Kyle Jones used. He logically must have dropped it on his way back from the match. The only other reason was that he knew of Hinata's confidence problem and dropped that card for her to find. It was less likely, but still a possibility. The results certainly couldn't be argued. Hinata was giving her cousin a fair fight.
Neji recoiled from a punch to the face. Blood trickled from his lip as he frowned angrily. Hinata's sudden burst of strength was beyond his scope to understand. How did she do it? Where did this confidence come from? Fate had deemed that Hinata be a weak coward, but now she was fighting like an animal and giving him a good beating.
That wasn't to say Hinata hadn't taken some damage as well. She had blood dribbling from her mouth and she was breathing hard. Still, it wasn't slowing her down as she continued her raging assaults.
"We are not slaves of fate, Neji-nii," Hinata frowned as she and her cousin faced off against each other again. "Fate is just a word. If you want something, then you have to strive for it!"
"Foolishness," Neji retorted. "Idealistic words of a fool. Fate is inescapable. I learned that lesson after I lost my father and that incident with the Kumo-nins."
"We choose our own fates, Neji-nii, just like you are doing right now. But, if you don't believe me then I guess I have to beat you to show you!" Hinata roared before she dashed straight for Neji.
'OK, cub! Now show this asshole what you are really capable of!' shouted out Hikaru.
Kyle smiled knowingly. 'So, the Tiger Undead is really sharing her strength in Hinata. I wonder why. Guess she sees something like when she used to be friends with Mutsuki.'
Hinata unleashed strike after strike at Neji. She tore up his shirt and left scratches on his face. Neji was retaliating with blows to the arms and torso, making blood dribble out of her mouth and her arms grow numb. Hinata didn't relent though. She was a woman on a mission and she was determined to see it through.
'Best to end it now cub!' Hikaro advised. 'Otherwise we're never going to get through his thick skull.'
Mentally nodding, Hinata began another charge. Neji took another Jyuuken stance as he prepared for retaliation. He was through with playing nice. Hinata wanted him to treat her like a ninja? Fine. He would put her down in the next blow. Hinata dashed closer and reared back her fist. Neji immediately saw his opportunity and lunged to hit a point in her chest.
"It's over!" Neji shouted.
Hinata looked like she was going to get hit, but suddenly it was like her body shifted like rubber. In truth, she twisted on her leg to dodge the assault. Clenching her fist, she unleashed a terrible uppercut at her cousin.
Neji's head snapped back as his feet actually left the ground. His body hung in the air before he landed in a heap on the floor. Blood trickled from the side of his mouth and he wasn't moving. Hayate walked over to the Branch House member and checked him. After a moment, he stood up and raised his arm.
"Winner: Hinata!" he announced.
"YATTA!!!" Naruto cheered as he threw his fists into the air. "YOU DID IT, HINATA!"
Hinata flushed as she heard Naruto cheering for her but then turned her attention back to her defeated cousin. She walked over to Neji and knelt down. He was breathing heavily and opening his eyes in a glare at Hinata.
"Just because its fate doesn't mean it can't be changed and it doesn't mean we can't control it," Hinata spoke softly. "You of all people should know that."
Neji's glare softened for a moment before the medic-nins reached him and placed him on a stretcher. Hinata watched as he was taken away before turning to the balconies where the other people were waiting.
"You rock Hinata!" Naruto cheered as he dashed over to meet her. "Way to show that jerk what you're made of!"
Hinata flushed happily, being too tired to think about being shy. As it was, she smiled and nodded her thanks. Walking forward, she was met by Kurenai, who had a pleased smile on her face.
"That was very impressive Hinata," she smiled. "You really have changed."
"I agree," Shino nodded stoically. "You should be proud of yourself."
"I am," Hinata nodded, sounding very tired. Looking to Team 7, she strode over to the group with their one-eyed teacher. "Um…Jones-san?"
"Yes?" Kyle asked expectantly.
"I found something I think belongs to you," Hinata answered before she pulled the Absorb Tiger out of her pocket. "Arigatou."
"I wasn't the one who helped you though," Kyle chuckled while he took back the card. "But I'll send Hikaru your regards."
"Who's Hikaru?" asked Sakura, confused.
"Oh, the Undead in this card," Kyle explained. "A very honorable warrior."
The following matches went as expected. Lee was pulverized by Gaara but not before giving the boy from Suna a solid thrashing. Kyle was sorely tempted to use the Recover Camel to help Lee's injuries, but he didn't know if that Undead could heal a person rather than itself. With that doubt, he let the medics take Lee for their own healing methods. After Tsunade returned, they could get Lee treated properly.
Chouji's match with Dosu didn't go any better. He tried his body expansion techniques, but Dosu managed to defeat them. Since the human body was mostly composed of water, Dosu's sound waves did major damage to his internal organs. It was only one attack, but it was all Dosu needed to take down Chouji.
Hayate watched the Akamichi heir being taken out by medics before he took the stage again, "With the conclusion of this match, the preliminaries for the third exam are hereby complete!"
"Yahoo!" Naruto cheered. It was a sentiment that Kyle silently agreed it.
All of the winners were brought back down and stood in front of Ibiki, Hayate, Anko, and the Hokage. Only Sasuke was missing since he was kept under watch by the ANBU while he recovered from the cursed seal.
"To all of you who won the right to take part in the third test," Hayate coughed. "Congratulations. Hokage-sama will now speak to you."
Nodding to the aged leader, Sarutobi stepped forward with his pipe hanging from his mouth. He took in the sight of all the tired and dirty shinobi in front of him before he started talking.
"As I stated before, the finals will be viewed by everyone. Each of you will be representing the strengths of your villages. As such I would like for all of you to show off your powers without restraint," Sarutobi explained. "That is why the finals will be held one month from now."
"You mean we're not doing it right here, right now?" asked Naruto with no small amount of confusion.
"This break will be used for preparations," Sarutobi clarified. "To be precise, while we will be notifying various country lords and the proper heads of villages, this will also allow you to gather intelligence on your opponents and develop strategies."
"I guess knowledge is power," said Kyle. "A lot is at stake here. And it gives me time to train."
"Precisely," Sarutobi nodded. "Now, Anko will be passing around a box which you will draw lots so to see who your opponent is next."
"Right," Anko nodded, producing a box from her trench coat. "I'll come to you. Make sure to only draw one!"
Anko walked over to one end of the line of ninja and held out the box. Since Dosu was first, he drew the first lot. As he was finished, Anko moved down to the next in line. One after the other went and eventually Kyle got his turn.
"Just one," Anko warned.
"I heard you the first time," Kyle sighed as he reached into the box. Grabbing the first slip he touched, he pulled it out. Opening the piece, he found the number five scribbled on it.
"Now that you have all drawn a number," Sarutobi continued. "You will reveal what number you have drawn. Ibiki will then determine who will face who in the final exam."
One by one, the finalists revealed their numbers. Ibiki took a look at all of them before scribbling on a piece of paper. After a moment, he revealed it all to the contestants.
NARUTO UZUMAKI VS. KANKURO OF THE DESERT
HINATA HYUUGA VS. SHIKAMARU NARA
KYLE JONES VS. SHINO ABURAME
TEMARI OF THE DESERT VS. DOSU KINUTA
SASUKE UCHIHA VS. GAARA OF THE DESERT
Kyle blinked and glanced at Shino. This would be an interesting match. A boy who uses bugs and a boy who used armor based on bugs. How poetic.
"And now," Sarutobi spoke. "I wish you all luck in the matches in the future. We will meet together in one month so that we may complete the Chunin examinations!"
Kyle grinned at the announcement. Now he had one month and counting until the third exam began. Plenty of time to prepare himself for what was to come.
Orochimaru wasn't going to get his way.
To Be Continued...
A/N: Well, the preliminaries have ended. Kyle is heading to his finals. I'll reveal the fate of his clone in the next chapter.