Author Note: N/A

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

-Chapter XXII-

Once the group returns home, Naruto notices Minato walking to his study with a heavy expression. Looking over to his mother, Kushina simply replies with a shrug, having no idea what is going with her husband either. Following his father into the study, Naruto finds his father staring out the window with his back turned toward the door.

"What's the matter dad?" Naruto asks.

"Ibiki just told me that he still can't get the five Oto Genin to talk," Minato says, "he's asking me to allow him to use more extreme methods."

"And you're not comfortable with it are you?" Naruto says.

"We haven't resorted to those kinds of methods since the end of the last Ninkai Taisen," Minato says.

"I have a few ideas that I picked up from my time during my war that doesn't involve any physical harm," Naruto says, "emotional yes, but not physical."

"How much of a leash do you need?" Minato asks.

"I'd probably break quite a few of Ibiki's rules," Naruto says, "and I can't guarantee that anything would come of it."

"And if it fails, it would probably increase their resolve," Minato says, "but then Ibiki can still resort to physical torture to get the information. I'd rather give it one last shot at trying to save the village's reputation first. I'll clear it with Ibiki."

Heading out of the study, Minato and Naruto find Gaara and Yugito waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs. Knowing that the pair wouldn't allow him to leave them behind, Naruto looks toward Minato whom simply nods at Naruto's unasked question. Gesturing for Gaara and Yugito to follow, the four sets out to the torture and interrogation department.

"Hokage-sama," Ibiki and Anko say when Minato enters their office.

"Ibiki, I have given your request some thought," Minato says, "I want to give it one last try before using the last resort."

"Very well, I shall prepare to interrogate the prisoners once more," Ibiki says.

"Why are Naruto, Yugito, and Gaara with you Hokage-sama?" Anko asks, "not that I'm complaining, but I thought you said that it's too soon to expose them to a first handed view of what this department's all about."

"Naruto asked me to give him a chance at getting the information out of them," Minato says, drawing shocked looks from those who have no idea, "if he fails, you can do what you want to do Ibiki."

"I'm going to need a few things before I start," Naruto says.

Gesturing toward Anko, Naruto whispers into Anko's ears. Raising her eyebrows at all the things that Naruto's requesting, the only response she receives is a disarming smile from the youngster.

"You do realize what you are requesting is completely out of the norm," Anko says, "it's not completely out of the blue, but not something that's normally done. We usually do things one to one here."

"I know," Naruto says, "that's why it would confuse them and make them more susceptible to my tactics."

"Well, who am I to stop you from trying," Anko says, "come on Ibiki, we have to get them prepped for the interrogation."

After receiving the requested item from Anko, Naruto enters the room where Ibiki brought all five prisoners as Minato, his two teammates, and the two lead information extraction specialists head into the room next door to observe the proceedings. Putting down the six vials of poison in a spot directly in all five Oto-nin's line of sight, Naruto casually picks up the folder containing all information they can find pertaining to the prisoners.

"Akadou Yoroi, Misumi Tsurugi, Kinuta Dozu, Abumi Zaku, Tsuchi Kin…"

"What are you doing here!" Zaku screams, "there is no way they let a Genin like you handle interrogation."

"As the Hokage's son, I do have certain privileges," Naruto says casually, adapting Kakashi's usual tone, "back to business at hand, I'm sure you'd like to know that Amachi had volunteered his knowledge about various bases around the shinobi world belonging to Orochimaru. In exchange for his information, he is now resting comfortably in solitary confinement due to be released in a few year without prejudice. So… who here wants to follow his footsteps and be able to get out of this hall of terror?"

"Screw you bastard, we aren't talking!" Yoroi screams.

"That's unfortunate, though I suppose not entirely unexpected. All of you know that there is an invasion coming and is still hoping to be rescued," Naruto says, drawing shocked looks from around the room, "don't look so surprised, I did say that we know the location of Orochimaru's bases. Do you really think that we would just leave them alone? Anyway, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but at least four of you won't make it to the invasion."

"And what the hell is that supposed to mean!" Zaku screams.

"These here are six vials of potent neurotoxin, you'd have about twenty-four hours to live after injection unless you have one of these," Naruto says, taking out another vial from his jacket, "and it just so happens that I only have one of these."

"What… what are you going to do to us?" Kin asks.

"Oh I'm sure you can figure that out little girl," Naruto says before turning toward the rest of the room jovially, "so… anyone wants to talk now or would you prefer to wait until after I've injected the toxin?"

"Screw you!" Tsurugi spats.

"That's what I figured you'd say. You've worked in a few labs before haven't you Misumi? I'm sure you'd know that a rat's metabolism is faster than that of a human," Naruto says as he creates five shadow clones and have them inject each prisoner with the toxin, "I'll let your first few hours remaining be entertained by watching how this rat reacts to the toxin."

After injecting the rat with the last vial of poison, Naruto puts the animal back into the cage and leaves it in plain sight of the five Oto-nin. Humming a jovial tune, Naruto turns around and leaves the room without a single glance back.

"Che, rookie mistake," Zaku says, "he left the anti-toxin behind."

"Here is what we are going to do," Misumi says, "you grunts are going to retrieve that vial for me, I'm going to get out of here and call for reinforcement."

"Like hell you are," Yoroi says, "you are just going to high tail it out of here never to be heard from again."

"I am the calmest person here so it's obvious that I should be the one who alerts Orochimaru-sama," Dosu says.

"You are just trying to get out of town like those two," Zaku says, "I saw the anti-toxin first, I'm going to get it."

Back up in the observation room, the entire group, with Naruto joining them mere seconds earlier, watch in disgust as the four teenage males argue with each other over who should be the one to survive while they desperately try to move their own chair closer to the table.

"Naruto-kun, I didn't know Amachi was pardoned," Yugito says, frowning as Zaku manages to get close enough to headbutt Misumi.

"He wasn't," Naruto says as he watch Yoroi move his chair into the path of Dosu and sending him to the floor, "he was executed when we were still in Ta no Kuni."

"Then why did you say that to them?" Gaara says.

"We know Amachi's dead, but they don't," Naruto says, "I wanted to know if any of them will sink low enough to stare at the faces of the people he's condemning to death as he spills Orochimaru's secrets."

"They passed that test," Anko says, "but what if one of them did squeal?"

"Then I'll play them off one another and offer the one telling me the most useful information to live," Naruto says, "once one of them talk, they are all going to talk."

"Even Ibiki isn't sadistic enough to do this," Minato says as he watch the downed Dosu bites at Yoroi's legs.

"If there is one person who might actually deserved to be saved, it's that girl off to the side," Naruto says, "now granted, she's just too fearful of the boys to do anything, but at least she hasn't talked yet despite her fears."

"She is loyal, but not to those four," Ibiki says, "she feels nothing for them outside of loathing and fear."

"That means she is trying to protect someone else," Anko says, "and she's willing to die for that person."

"Orochimaru?" Yugito asks.

"No, if anything, she hates Orochimaru just as much for putting her with those two," Naruto says.

"She would've talked a long time ago if Orochimaru is the only thing holding her back," Ibiki says, "she knows she is going to die if she manages to escape back to Orochimaru anyway. She would've a much better chance of survival by talking than staying silent. Especially when she can be freed of those two along the way. The loathing was apparent even back when she was taking the first portion of the exam."

"So what's going to happen if none of them talk after twenty-four hours?" Yugito asks.

"Nothing, really. The so called neurotoxin is just a watered down numbing solution," Naruto says, "it's going to knock them out cold after twenty-four hours, and makes them feel like they are losing the feelings to their body parts gradually throughout the duration."

"But the rat is thrashing about like it's poisoned," Yugito says.

"That's because Anko-sensei already injected the rat with a solution that reacts violently with the solution I just injected it with," Naruto says.

"The four boys are fighting even more desperately for the 'antidote' now," Minato says.

"Scums like them deserves to die," Naruto says, "too bad we could still use the information they have."

"This is starting to look pathetic," Anko says, "Naruto, shouldn't you go and break up the scrum now?"

"I want them to roll around a bit more first," Naruto says, "they're actually trying to move weapons around between themselves. I'll let them think they actually have a chance before taking it away again. Makes it easier to break them afterward. Isn't that right, Ibiki-san, Anko-sensei?"

"You're going to risk them injuring you just so we can break them later?" Anko asks, "Hokage-sama, is it really wise for him to do this?"

"You two agreed to give him full reign for today," Minato says, shrugging.

"I admit I was curious what he can do," Anko says, "and his plan is pretty good over all, but this is a bit too dangerous."

"He knows what he is up against, I doubt those four can even come close to Naruto," Minato says.

"It seems they are done for now," Naruto says, "I think it's time for part two."

Leaving the observation room, Naruto returns to the interrogation room just in time to pick up the fake anti-toxin moments before the four struggling Oto-nin can reach for it. Sighing, Naruto puts the vial back in his jacket's interior pocket.

"Pathetic, I gave you all that time and you can't get to it," Naruto says, "if you four didn't get into each other's way, one of you would've gotten to it a long time ago."

Knowing that whatever weapons the four are willing to share are now in the hands of Akadou Yoroi, Naruto picks up the other three by their chairs and puts them back where they were before finally turning his attention to Yoroi. Moving over as he has for the others, Naruto reaches over as though he is picking Yoroi up by his chair but instead punches him in the face. Bound to the chair and shocked by the sudden movement, Yoroi drops the small shuriken hidden in his sleeve. Seething in anger, the four male Oto-nin watch helplessly as Naruto simply picks off all the hidden weapons littering Yoroi's body, including those that the other three didn't know Yoroi has hidden away. Tossing Yoroi back to his spot, not caring one bit when the chair fell backward, slamming Yoroi's back against the back of the chair and his head against the floor, Naruto picks up all the weapons and dumps them into the cage where the rat lays dead. Moving to the other three Oto-nin, he easily picks up all the weapons that they themselves have hidden away and tosses them into the cage as well.

"Now do any of you want to talk?" Naruto asks, putting on a fake smile that even toddlers can detect.

"Go to hell," Misumi says, "if we die then so be it, at least your entire village will go down in flames with us."

"Is that so?" Naruto says, "even when you know that Konoha knows there's an invasion coming, you still think Oto can win?"

"Orochimaru holds too many trump cards for him to lose," Misumi says, "your pathetic village won't stand a chance."

"Oh well," Naruto says, shrugging, "it's not my job to change your mind. All of you are going to be dead by this time tomorrow anyway. I'm not going to waste my time."

Naruto smirks at the sound of grinding teeth coming from the four male Oto-nin. Picking up the metal cage, Naruto moves toward the door only to stop before reaching for the doorknob. Putting down the cage right by the door, Naruto turns around and walks back toward Kin.

"Almost forgot about you," Naruto says, dragging Kin away by the back of her chair, "I'm going to need to do a thorough check of you to make sure you aren't hiding any weapons either."

Not liking the tone of Naruto's voice nor the hidden message in what he said, Kin begins her struggle against the binds on her body once again. However, with the chakra disruption seals still in place and her hands and feet tightly bound against the chairs, her struggles proves fruitless as Naruto takes her to another room nearby.

"You sick pervert!" Kin screams, "what are you going to do to me!"

"I'm going to give you a chance to live," Naruto says, "if you are willing to cooperate."

"I'd rather die than to serve a sick bastard like you!" Kin screams.

"I haven't even told you what I want your cooperation on yet," Naruto says, "don't judge people too quickly."

"I don't want to listen to what you have to say you sick pervert," Kin says.

"I'll admit that you are cute, but I'm not interested in sex," Naruto says, pulling up a chair and looking Kin in the eyes, "I'll give you my promise, you talk, you can walk out of here alive."

"I'm not talking," Kin says.

"No need to be hasty," Naruto says, taking out the fake anti-toxin and injecting Kin with it, "you have time to think about it yet."

Surprised by Naruto's action, Kin stares at Naruto in shock as he moves toward the door again. Staring at the polished metal doors, Naruto can still see hints of distrust in Kin's eyes. Sighing, Naruto opens the door and heads back to the observation room.

"No need to look so disappointed Naruto," Anko says, "she'll talk sooner or later. She's starting to break."

"So what's going to happen to those four pieces of garbage?" Yugito asks.

"Eh, Ibiki is going to have some fun with them later," Anko says, "we'll going to let them sweat it out a bit longer though. He'll break them before they are knocked out by the solution."

"Do you still need to resort to violence to get what you need?" Minato asks, looking at Ibiki.

"No, I think what Naruto did caused enough mental turmoil for me to break them with a few right push," Ibiki says, "all I need to do is ask the right questions."

"Well, I trust that with your experience you will know which questions are the right ones," Minato says.

"I'm confident enough that I should have the information before the end of the week," Ibiki says.

"Good, I'll leave things here in your capable hand then," Minato says, "the children and I will be heading home now."

By the time the second day of the group phase of the Chuunin tournament arrives, all the prospective Chuunin are gathered once again in the stadium. Both as a mean of reminding the visitors whom witnessed the first day of the competition and to introduce them to those who are seeing this year's event for the first time, all twenty-four Genin are lined up once again on the stadium floor awaiting the presentation. Once all the pomp and circumstances are completed, Naruto turns toward Sasame, eager to finally start his first actual match.

"Proctor, I forfeit this match," Sasame says as the rest of the Genin move toward the competitors' box.

"Aw… come on, am I ever going to get to fight," Naruto complains before turning toward Shikamaru, "look at what you did!"

"Stop blaming everyone else for your problems Naruto," Shikamaru says, "like I said on the first day, I only made the best strategic move available to me."

"It is only logical that participants want to avoid potential injuries in battles that they are clearly outmatched," Shino says as he walks past Naruto, "I suppose you will get your chance by the time the tournament proper begins. I would be illogical to forfeit a fight then."

"I don't care about logic, I just want to fight so I can show I'm Chuunin material," Naruto says walking alongside the Aburame and Nara heir as Temari and Isaribi prepare for their upcoming fight, "how can I do that if I just get a bye every time my fight comes up."

"You can show them during the actual tournament," Shikamaru says, "this whole group phase is just a glorified money grab by the villages hoping to make an extra buck on the preliminaries."

"There are still people who care about the preliminaries," Naruto says, "at least it's two extra matches to showcase your skills."

"That is true," Shikamaru says, "but knowing when to continue and when to quit is a Chuunin quality as well."

"It still stinks," Naruto says as he leans against the railing to watch the upcoming fight.

Back down on the stadium floor, Isaribi watches nervously as Temari starts stretching out her muscles in preparation for her upcoming fight. Feeling her opponent's roving glances, Temari flashes a smile toward Isaribi in hopes of calming the girl down, but it only serves to make the newcomer even more nervous.

"There's no need to be scared," Temari says, "just relax, enjoy the fight, and give the spectators a good show."

"I… I guess that's true," Isaribi says.

"You met Naruto-kun during the past month right?"

"Yes, I was living in Umi no Kuni at that time," Isaribi says, "then I accompanied him to Cha no Kuni."

"It must be nice, traveling around with Naruto-kun," Temari says, "wish I had a chance to do that."

"Are you like Yugito-san then?" Isaribi asks.

"Like her? You mean if I'm seeing Naruto-kun?" Temari says, "you did hear what I said to Lee right?"

"I thought that was merely said to throw your opponent off his game," Isaribi says.

"Well, there was that too, but that doesn't mean I was lying about what I said," Temari says, "anyway, we should get this fight started. The crowd isn't all that happy about missing Naruto-kun's fight already. I doubt they'll have much patience looking at us talking, especially when they can't really hear what we're saying."

"Are you two finally ready?" a new proctor, wearing the standard Konoha Jounin uniform and a pair of sunglass goggles says.

"Yeah, sorry about that," Temari says, "why are you here anyway Aoba? I though Genma was the proctor."

"He begged off the job after the last round, said if he's going to die in duty, he wants it to be from a grievous wound out in the fields instead of from a heart attack on the stadium floor," Aoba says, "anyway, group B, match day two, Sabuku Temari versus Isaribi, begin!"

As soon as the match begins, Temari swings her closed fan like she would a bat at Isaribi, breaking up Isaribi's attempt to form hand seals and forcing the girl to leap back. Given that the fan is her reserve weapon with the one she was using in her previous match still in repair, Temari has no intention of ruining it once again. Added to that is her performance in the previous match in which, as Naruto had said then, was certainly not showing her in a good light as a potential Chuunin candidate, Temari, though somewhat hesitant against someone who as little as a month ago was someone with zero actual shinobi training, intends to end this match quickly and efficiently to score more points with the judges.

Not confident in her abilities to form hand seals with any reasonable amount of speed given her lack of training, Isaribi reaches into her weapons pouch and fires off three kunai one right after the other, hoping to buy some time. Swinging the giant battle fan, Temari bats the projectiles out of the air. Using the momentum, Temari spins around, opens the fan, and unleashes her Kamaitachi no Jutsu. Despite Isaribi's control over water, the wind attack easily breaks apart her Suiton: Mizurappa, but Temari's attack ends up being nothing more then a strong breeze by the time it reaches Isaribi in the process. Undeterred, Temari follows up her attack with Fuuton: Shinkuugyoku, taking extra care to not aim at anything vital. Not able to spot the near invisible air bullets, the attack find its mark on Isaribi's arms and legs, knocking the girl to her knees. Moving in, Temari places a kunai against Isaribi's neck.

"I give up," Isaribi says, raising her hands in surrender.

Reaching out, Temari helps Isaribi back to her feet after Aoba declares her the winner.

"Not bad at all Isaribi," Temari says, "for someone who's never had any actual shinobi training, you handled yourself quite well in this fight. Not that many people can say that they met my Kamaitachi no Jutsu with a ninjutsu and came out even."

"Thanks Temari-san," Isaribi says, "but I still have a long way to go before I'm ready for this exam again I believe."

"Don't sell yourself short, you just ran into a tough group this year," Temari says, "there are a lot of really powerful Genin this year. With your skills right now, you can make it through the tournament in a normal year."

"Thank you Temari-san," Isaribi says, "do you think maybe we can train together sometimes?"

"Sure, the more the merrier," Temari says, "it's always good to have someone looking at your performance from a different perspective, gives you a more rounded view of things. So we girls like to train together a lot of times. You can join us whenever you want."

After Temari and Isaribi head back to the competitors' box, Tenten and Kiba enters the stadium floor to prepare for the next fight. The two competitors and the proctor all stare at each other, waiting for the right time to start the match.

"Aren't you two going to talk?" Aoba asks, "the fighters all talk trash before every match that has taken place so far."

"There's no need for me to waste my breath on him really," Tenten says, "I'm just going to get through this as quickly and as embarrassing as possible for Kiba. I do owe Hana-san and Tsume-san a favor for teaching me how to deal with Kiba after all."

"And why would kaa-san and nee-san teach you how to beat me," Kiba says.

"All they said was you needed to be taught a lesson on humility," Tenten says, "it's not really surprising knowing your attitude."

"Whatever, even if you win, you only managed to do it based on information from people close to your targets, just like your last fight," Kiba says, "there's no honor in winning that way."

"Like always you let your pride get in the way," Tenten says, "why do you think they gave us a month to prepare for our matches and even go so far as to let us know who our opponents are? They want us to learn everything about our opponent and use them in the matches. If you can't figure that out, you shouldn't even be a shinobi, much less a Chuunin. Go ahead and start the match Aoba, I'm going to teach this mutt the proper behavior of a shinobi."

"As you wish," Aoba says, "group C, match day two, Senjuu Tenten versus Inuzuka Kiba, begin!"

Trying to get the jump on his opponent, Kiba reaches into his weapons pouch and tosses several smoke bombs at Tenten the moment Aoba starts the match. At the same time, Kiba utilizes the Juujin Bunshin on Akamaru, transforming the little dog into a copy of himself. Without even wasting a second, the two copies use one of the Inuzuka's techniques, the Gatsuuga to attack Tenten, who is still standing in the middle of the smog. Finding its mark, the attack rips Tenten into two. Surprised by the ripping power of the attack, Kiba and Akamaru remain stunned for a brief moment before realizing their mistake. Anticipating their combo, Tenten replaced herself with a straw doll the moment the smoke bombs explodes. To make matters worse, Tenten placed a small bag of pepper powder in the middle of the straw doll, a bag that ripped apart when Kiba and Akamaru's attack tore the doll in half.

"Prone to anger, moving in without a clear plan, overly dependent on your animal partner, no idea on how to protect an Inuzuka's two most prized assets: your partner and your nose," Tenten says, swinging her legs from her seat at the tree branch in the arena, "exactly as Tsume-san and Hana-san told me."

"That's cheating!" Kiba screams amidst sneezes.

"Allow me to add not paying attention to any piece of information available," Tenten says, "I did say you failed to protect your partner didn't I?"

Before Kiba can even responds, Akamaru, who transformed back to its animal form after getting caught in the pepper trap, flies into the air and into Tenten's arms. The adopted Senjuu had connected thin silk thread to the straw dolls and when Akamaru slammed into the doll, its body became entangled unknowingly to the threads, allowing Tenten to capture the dog easily.

"Give up now Kiba, or Akamaru gets it," Tenten says, holding a kunai to the dog's neck.

"Cheater!" Kiba screams.

"Is that a no?" Tenten says, pressing the kunai closer, drawing a whine from Akamaru.

"Wait! Don't hurt Akamaru!" Kiba screams, "damn it! Fine, I give up! Just don't hurt Akamaru!"

Reaching into her weapons pouch, Tenten puts away the kunai before retrieving a dog treat that Tsume gave her. Feeding Akamaru the treat and giving the little dog a scratch behind the ears, Tenten jumps down from the tree before releasing the dog. Without another word to the sulking Kiba, Tenten turns around and heads back to the competitors' box.

Using a minor wind ninjutsu to clear the fighting area of any residue pepper powder, Aoba gestures for Yugito and Sakura to enter the arena floor. Crossing her arms, Yugito leaps over the railings and lands on her feet while Sakura takes the long way down the stairs.

"Why are you looking so nervous," Yugito says, "are you still the little weakling that Naruto-kun chewed out before my squad went to Nami no Kuni?"

"No! I've trained a lot harder since then," Sakura says, "that's why… that's why I won't forfeit this match, I want to know how much I've improved and how much further I have to go."

"You still haven't learned enough if you are asking that question," Yugito says, "you never stop learning. No matter how much you think you've improved, until you retire, you will never reach a point where you can stop training and getting better."

"I… I know that," Sakura says.

"Do you really? After you just asked the question of 'how much further I have to go'?" Yugito says, "Naruto-kun was kind to you, giving you the wake up call so gently. Allow me to show you exactly how much dedication you still require."

"Group D, match day two, Nii Yugito versus Haruno Sakura, begin!"

As soon as the match begins, Yugito rushes toward Sakura, sending a kick at her midsection and sending the girl flying back. Before Sakura lands on the ground, her body bursts into a cloud of smoke, followed almost immediately by the sound of a wooden log falling to the floor. Frowning, Yugito leaps back a step to avoid Sakura's attempt to attack from the air. Lashing out with a punch, Yugito strikes Sakura across the cheek before the girl's feet can touch the ground, only for Sakura to replace herself with a wooden log at the last moment. Leaning to the side slightly, Yugito dodges away from Sakura's follow up punch with ease. Raising her fist, Yugito throws another punch at Sakura only to stop short before it lands. Eyes widening in confusion, Sakura completely misses the upward kick from Yugito sending her spinning into the air.

"H… how can you dodge from my attacks when you aren't even looking at me?" Sakura says, holding her stomach in pain.

"First strike, the strategy is only viable in a covered area. Your shadow in this open air arena makes your approach clear as the day," Yugito says, "second strike, your footsteps are way too heavy. And lastly, don't use the same move three times in a roll because your opponent can easily pick up on the pattern by that time."

Forming hand seals, Sakura forms three basic Bunshin before mixing into the middle, hiding her position. Shaking her head, Yugito leaps back before forming hand seals of her own.

"It's not a bad idea against most Genin and some fresh Chuunins," Yugito says, "but I'm not your run of the mill Genin. I can already tell that you are standing second from the right. However, I'll show you why this plan is flawed even if your opponent can't tell which one of you is real. Raijuu Hashiri no Jutsu!"

The lightning beast tears through all four copies, shocking the real Sakura standing in the position Yugito identified.

"Anyone with a wide range attack can knock out every copy, real or not," Yugito says.

Standing on trembling legs, Sakura retrieves a small scroll from her weapons' pouch. Opening the scrolls, Sakura unseals a handful of kunai with small pink pouches tied on the blunt end. Seemingly throwing them in the general direction of Yugito without even attempting the aim, the kunai clangs against each other, slicing open the pouches and sending cherry blossom petals into the air. Looking at all the petals surrounding her, Yugito frowns for a brief moment before standing still and watching Sakura fires a kunai with an exploding tag tied at the end right at her feet. The resulting explosion sparks a chain reaction from the miniature exploding tags mixed in with the flying petals, causing all of them to explode in turn.

"Ha, belittle that!" Sakura says huffing.

"Not bad, but still not good enough," Yugito says, walking out from the small amount of foliage off on the edge of the arena.

"H… how?"

"That might've been able to catch quite a few unsuspecting shinobi. It just so happens that my eyesight is better than most shinobi," Yugito says, "you know, when you want to play around with fire like that, you really should consider who you are doing it against, cause you never know if it might burn you instead! Nezumi Kedama!"

Spitting out a flaming hairball, the ball assumes the shape of a burning mouse before multiplying rapidly. Once a sufficient number is formed, all the burning mouse hairballs rushes toward Sakura, causing the girl to scramble away from them. The first few find their mark and explodes, only to reveals splinters of the log Sakura used for her Kawarimi no Jutsu. But soon enough, Sakura is running low on chakra and items for her substitution technique. Sounding a low whistle, the mouse explodes several paces away from Sakura. Not close enough to inflict any burn injuries, but the shock waves from the multiple explosions is enough to knock Sakura to the ground. Though still conscious, Sakura is no longer in any condition to fight, causing Aoba to declare Yugito the winner of the match.

"Do you see the difference between us now?" Yugito says, crossing her arms as she stares down at Sakura, "but I'll admit, you did better than I thought you would, so you've earned a smidgen of respect from me."

Ignoring the chaos sparked by Yugito when she leaped onto Naruto's back as soon as she returned to the competitors' box, Gaara watches as Kagerou calmly walks toward the staircase leading down to the arena floor. Tilting his head slightly, Gaara takes a deep breath before using his Suna Shunshin no Jutsu to move to the arena floor.

"If I may ask a question before we begin Fuuma-san," Gaara says.

"What do you want?" Kagerou says.

"I witness you discussing strategy with Sasame-san after the last match day, and Sasame-san forfeited his match against Naruto earlier," Gaara says, "if the purpose for you and Sasame-san to join this tournament is to showcase the abilities of the Fuuma clan, then would it not be more logical for you to forfeit this match after I've already demonstrated the ability to defeat your techniques in our previous encounter?"

"It would be logical, yes," Kagerou says, "but my desire to fight against you is purely personal. Hanzaki-san has already permitted me this fight against you, even if it means that the Fuuma-clan may lose face should I lose."

"I see. Then I will not deny you the fight you desire," Gaara says, "please begin the match Aoba-san."

"Group E, match day two, Sabaku Gaara versus Fuuma Kagerou, begin!"

As soon as the match begins, Kagerou runs through a series of hand seals and places her hands to the floor, turning it into a giant antlion pit as she did back in Ta no Kuni. Already knowing what the technique can do, Gaara forms a sand platform to allow him to float in the air. Surveying the arena, Gaara tries to find any sign of his opponent emerging from underground.

"Katon: Endan!"

Raising his hand, a wave of sand moves in front of him, blocking the fire bullet. When the flame dissipates, Kagerou has already returned underground. The process repeats for the next five minutes, Kagerou will emerge at a different location every ten or fifteen seconds, launches a few low level fire techniques before dodging underground again. Unable to pick up any pattern in Kagerou's movements, Gaara can do nothing but block the incoming attack, turning the fight into a match of attrition between Gaara's control of sand and Kagerou's low level fire and earth technique.

"Katon: Kakyuu no Jutsu!"

"This tactic won't work against me," Gaara says, blocking the attack once again.

Gaara's eyes widen as gas moves in from around the edge of the sand shield. Kagerou's constant low level fire attacks lured Gaara into a false sense of security, allowing her to follow up the initial strike with her Katon: Kasumi Enbu no Jutsu. Satisfied that her plan has worked, Kagerou launches another low level fire attack, lighting up the flammable gas and sparking a wild explosion. As the smoke clears, Gaara can be seen falling from the sky. However, the body shatters into tiny pieces before crumbling into grains of sand, showing it to be an empty shell.

"A good ninja never gets caught twice by the same attack," Gaara says, standing behind Kagerou.

Before Kagerou can even respond, Gaara's sand has already wrapped around her entire torso. Struggling against the grip, Kagerou can do nothing as the sand pull the rest of her body out of the ground and lifts her into the air.

"It is best if you surrender," Gaara says, "if you take a look at the nervous glances from the Suna contingent in the crowd, you can find out that this technique is usually a prelude to bad things, very bad things."

Glaring at Gaara, Kagerou tries to wiggle her way out of the grip one last time before glancing away dejectedly and nodding toward Aoba, allowing the proctor to declare Gaara the winner of the match.

Swinging her legs in her seat between her parents, Hanabi leans forward slightly in anticipation of her sister's next fight as she rubs her left thigh from slight pain.

After witnessing her sister's performance in the match against Haku, Hanabi asked Hiashi and Shiori that night to talk to Anko about letting the girl train with the Tokubetsu Jounin again. Instead of agreeing as she had thought, Shiori vehemently denied the request while Hiashi muttered under his breath that he probably shouldn't even have allowed Hinata to train with the crazed kunoichi. Pouting, the girl went to Hinata with the same request only to be rebuffed again. Remembering the first few lessons that she did went to, Hanabi tried several of the stretching techniques only for her parents to find her crying silently in the courtyard lying on her side with her thigh muscle almost ripped clean off her femur. It took two days of continuous treatments from Tsunade to treat the injury.

"Hanabi-chan, are you all right?" Shiori asks, "does your leg hurt again?"

"I'm OK, haha-ue," Hanabi says, "Tsunade-sama said that the pain should go away after a few days."

"Tsunade-sama said you have to rest for a week," Shiori says.

"Do you think Hinata-nee-sama has any other techniques she hasn't used yet?"

"I am certain she does, but it would behoove her to keep them in reserve until the tournament proper," Hiashi says, "Morino Idate has not been an active shinobi for several years now. I would be very disappointed if she is to lose against him."

"Again, so harsh on your own daughter," Shiori says.

"You are really going to spoil them rotten," Hiashi says.

Ignoring her parents bickering around her, Hanabi's eyes are only focused on her older sister once her father told her that Hinata still has other tricks up her sleeve. As soon as Aoba starts the match, Idate begins literally running circles around Hinata, hoping to use his speed to find an opening. Instead of reacting to her opponent's action, Hinata remains in her spot with the tradition Jyuuken stance, not even turning her body to face her moving opponent. With his opponent standing still, Idate tries to circle around and strikes Hinata from behind. Without missing a beat, Hinata simply sidesteps her opponent, striking Idate on the arm multiple times as Idate moves past.

"Hinata's speed has improved slightly as well I see," Shiori says, "that's a good solid five strikes on her opponent's arm in that one pass."

"A slight improvement," Hiashi says, nodding, "she normally only gets three hits in, four if she really concentrates."

Even if he has been out of the village for years, Idate still knows full well the effect of the Hyuuga clan's Jyuuken. Knowing that it's not going to do him any good, Idate doesn't even bother to shake off the dead arm feeling. Instead, he opts for the same tactic as before, hoping the time delay will allow his arm to recover.

"I've heard that you assisted in Naruto-kun's mission in Cha no Kuni, and that you even assisted in the battle there," Hinata says, "if that is the best you can do against me, then I'm sorry to say that this match is over."

Instead of standing still like she did the previous time, Hinata dashes off to the side. Seeing his opponent opting to do for him what he was looking to accomplish, Idate allows Hinata to pull away, putting sufficient distance between the two to allow him to have ample time to react should Hinata turns to the Hyuuga's trusted Jyuuken.

"There's a lot more to the Hyuuga's style than just close range Taijutsu," Hinata says, "Hakke Kuushou!"

Thrusting her palm forward, Hinata releases a concentrated burst of chakra, striking Idate some twenty paces away and sending him into the air. Moving in close, Hinata follows up the initial attack with three more similar strikes, the last one sending Idate flying and slamming his back against the stadium walls.

"That's Neji-kun's Hakke Shitenkuushou isn't it?" Shiori asks.

"I believe that is," Hiashi says.

"Aw… even Neji-nii-san has his own original technique. I want to make my own Jyuuken attack too…" Hanabi says.

"You need a better grasp of the basics of Jyuuken first Hanabi," Hiashi says, "and it's unbecoming for a Hyuuga to whine."

Before Aoba can even reach Idate to check on his condition, Hinata is already by the Morino's side, striking his body to undo any damages from the initial Jyuuken strike. Even so, the physical damage from being turned into a human volleyball is enough to knock Idate out of the match.

As soon as Hinata's fight is finished, both Sari and Matsuri forfeit their match, granting Neji and Sasuke automatic entry into the next round much like Naruto. Ignoring Sasuke's sermon on the strength of the Uchiha clan to be able to induce forfeits from foreign shinobi, Naruto, Yugito, and Gaara stare at the two Suna kunoichi. While the others think nothing of the two kunoichi surrendering to two clearly superior opponents if their reputation is any indication, the three know about the pending invasion and are still trying to gauge their potential real life enemies' strength.

Suddenly, that particular line of thought causes Naruto's mind to shoot off on an entirely different tangent. Turning his head back toward the Kage observation box, Naruto is beginning to understand Minato's desire to extend the final stage of the Chuunin exam. Not only does it give Minato more time to properly organize the defense of the village in the guise of protecting the increasing number of foreign visitors, it also allows the Konoha shinobi to keep a better eye on the foreign agents staying within the walls of the village to gauge their threat level.

"So tou-san, is that your plan all along…" Naruto whispers under his breath, "it looks like I still have plenty I can learn from you yet about being a commander."

"Is something wrong Naruto-kun?" Yugito asks.

"It's nothing," Naruto says, we're done here right?" Naruto says, "let's head home already."

Additional Author's Note: Leave a note if you like the story.