Chapter 18- Halcyon Earth and Turbulent Heaven

"What is it now?" sighed Kakashi as he trotted towards the Hokage Tower, hands in his pockets.

If it wasn't one thing, it was another…

It seemed like one pile of crap after another, each getting progressively larger. Knowing his luck, he was about to land headfirst into the biggest issue yet. (Not that Orochimaru hunting his student was big enough already.)

Truthfully, though, it was more an aftereffect. Naruto was the one swimming in the proverbial cesspool; Kakashi was simply in the way of the splashing.

Should he be surprised that Naruto was making enemies with the entire world? Morbidly, Kakashi couldn't feel it. He even almost expected it. With Naruto's over-the-top personality, especially back in his academy days, he could've made enemies with a garden slug. But who could've imagined how everything played out!

The Kyōkagan was the heart Naruto's problems. In a world where kekkei genkai were valued—often to the point especially guarded clans used seals to prevent their secrets from falling into the wrong hands—the Kyōkagan was an enemy's nightmare and an ally's point of worship. Then again, Kakashi surmised, if he bore a kekkei genkai that copied others, people would be out for his ass too. Either Benten-sama loved Naruto so much she skipped the lucky kiss and went straight to mounting him, or hated the blond so much that she decided to curse the boy with enough bad luck to make Tsunade-sama cringe.

Stopping his musings, Kakashi looked up at the tower with another sigh. He was visiting this place way too much nowadays. Don't get him wrong; he liked Tenzo, Iruka, and Anko, but anyone could only take so much of anybody (especially Anko). Visits here carried too much depressing news lately.

Speaking of his allies in secrecy, where were they in this particular mess?

"Why can't he just call Iruka instead?" Kakashi complained as he entered the building.

Yes, a break from bad news would be nice… Actually, a vacation in general sounded amazing…

Opening the doors, the first thing his eyes settled on were a familiar pair of D-cup size breasts.

"Pervert," Jizenka curtly greeted as she stood, immediately recognizing the gravity-defying silver hair.

Kakashi thought—thought being the key word here—that Jizenka had a sense a humor, and thus greeted her as such, complete with an eye-smile: "Booby-chan!"

Jizenka kneed Kakashi in the balls.

Kakashi's voice went up several octaves. "Pain…" he squealed, clutching his damaged valuables as he fell into the fetal position.

"My eyes are here," Jizenka pointed a finger at her face. "Not here," she lowered the finger to her ample chest.

"I take it you both have had an encounter," the Sandaime observed.

"You could say that," Jizenka vaguely explained, taking a seat.

"Kakashi, pick yourself up off the floor," Sarutobi ordered, wanting to get this meeting over with—even if that had been entertaining as it was scary. "We've got things to cover."

"It hurts…" Kakashi's newfound falsetto voice cried. "Give me a minuteplease…"

The two waited patiently as Kakashi slowly stood. With a pained grunt, the copy-cat ninja sat in the remaining chair.

Sarutobi sighed, already seeing the headache on the horizon. "Kakashi, I'm giving you a mission."

The copy-cat acknowledged with a nod, refusing to speak for fear of embarrassing himself with an uncharacteristically squeaky voice.

Continuing on, the Hokage waved a weathered hand towards Jizenka. "This young lady is the famed On Jizenka. I'm sure you're familiar with the name."

Kakashi's single eye almost bugged out of its socket. With a slow, painful turn, he met the eyes of a smirking Jizenka.

How could he not know the name?! During the Third Great Shinobi War, On Jizenka was one of Iwagakura's up-and-coming aces, bellying a far-reaching reputation. Rumors suggested she could've been as powerful as the Sannin given enough time, being the current bearer of the famed mantis contract of Iwa. However, according to spy reports, Jizenka shocked Iwa and other nearby shinobi villages by announcing her early retirement. Afterwards, she fell off the face of the world.

However, if Kakashi's sight wasn't fooling him, it looked as if On Jizenka was still active. Just working for another country.

Kakashi immediately returned his full attention to his commander-in-chief as he continued. "We have a situation on our hands. On Jizenka's student was kidnapped last night by Orochimaru at approximately 0232, two days ago. Jizenka-san's student attempted to fight back, but Orochimaru simply overpowered her."

The scarecrow spared Jizenka a glance. She was sullen, her back hunched in withheld despair. Obviously, she was strongly attached to her student.

"What makes this situation so dire," Kakashi shoved aside his thoughts, "is that Komoriuta Shizuka is the only living bearer of the Genzōme, one of the Three Great Dōjutsu."

Hatake couldn't help himself. "Oh, sonuva—"

"Yes, that is why you're here. We need to rescue Komoriuta-san. A powerful kekkei genkai has fallen into enemy hands and we need to recover it. As both a capable tracker and an individual knowledgeable of Transcendent-types, you're one of the very few capable of fulfilling this mission's perimeters as low key as possible. Thus, this mission is S-Ranked. Jizenka-san will fill you in on the Genzōme's capabilities."

It took a second for Kakashi to realize that Sarutobi has broken a taboo among certain individuals involving a certain ninja.

As if reading his mind, Jizenka spoke up. "Hatake-san, let it be known that I'm aware of the Kyōkagan's presence. I realize the dangers of revealing such a kekkei genkai and its abilities, and, as such, I have promised to keep quiet about it in return for aide in retrieving my student."

It didn't take an academy student with half a brain to realize On Jizenka extorted Konoha's cooperation.

"Jizenka-san, would it be an issue if I talked to Kakashi in private?" the Sandaime politely asked.

"Of course not," the redhead curtly acquiesced.

Once the door closed, Sarutobi instantly flashed through a set of hand seals, activating the noise-dampening seals installed throughout the room. Once done, the aged Kage reclined into his seat, frown marring his visage.

"I'm sure you caught what she was… insinuating," Sarutobi began, undertones of aggravation just barely present—a testament to his years of political maneuvering that he kept control.

"Oh, I did," Kakashi said, his single eye narrowing in anger, "and I'm not happy about it."

"Neither am I, but this works two ways."

The copy-cat's visible eye relaxed. "How so?"

"Like we've been keeping the Kyōkagan secret, On Jizenka has kept the Genzōme under wraps for fear of the major powers turning her student into a weapon of war. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't have come to us unless she had something to keep us in check-"

"—And we have no choice but to go along for the sake of preventing an international incident that could escalate into war," Kakashi felt a sliver of grudging respect for Jizenka. "Smart girl."

"My thoughts as well."

"I'm assuming we play along?"

"I'm afraid so, and with it dealing with Orochimaru it is imperative that we do take action. There's no telling how my former student will utilize the Genzōme."

"Maybe to draw out the Kyōkagan?" Kakashi suggested.

"That's a possibility I won't dismiss." Sarutobi gave a longsuffering sigh. "Either way, work alongside Jizenka. In my right mind, I couldn't let Komoriuta-san suffer under my former student."

"I understand, sir," the jōnin somberly agreed.

Naruto, Kimimaro, and the tattoo-covered Sasuke stood in a standoff while Team Ten tensely played witness. Foul chakra spiraled around Sasuke, almost suffocating the present genin from its filthiness; Kimimaro merely looked at the spectacle with a raised brow, while Naruto kept a wary eye on the wild card called his teammate.

Naruto currently hated Benten-sama. His entire week so far was a shit-fest! He'd list all his issues, but that would simply take too long; it would be so long that Iruka would stop reading it at page thirty-five. But if he could factor his life in the past couple months and equate all his issues, it'd all boil down to his gift—he was using this word very, very liberally—from the lucky bitch goddess called Kyōkagan.

The blond guessed it also had a role in why Sasuke tackled him.

Team Ten and Kimimaro watched as the momentum of Sasuke's rush caused both boys to role backwards down the side of a hill, tumbling away from sight.

Kimimaro cursed as he gave chase. The bone-manipulator didn't want to imagine Orochimaru-sama's fury if something happened to his future container.

Left behind, Team Ten looked at each other, unsure of their next move.

Naruto and Sasuke tumbled down the hill. All along the way, the blond felt his body hitting every rock, stick, and tree trunk—him cursing Benten-sama every time his butt took a bruise. Finally stopping at the bottom, both boys, scraped and bruised, raced to stand in an effort to get the drop on the other.

Sasuke, in better position, pounced first, bringing Naruto back to the ground and quickly snatching the collar of the jinchūriki's black jacket.

Naruto could finally get a good look at his crazed teammate. A flame-like tattoo was spread across his body, starting from the point where he'd been bitten by the snake freak. He assumed it to be source of that foul chakra.

"Show it to me!" Sasuke ordered, a deranged smile twisting his face.

"Show what?!" Naruto questioned back, struggled to get his teammate off.

"Your kekkei genkai! Those silver eyes you hide from everyone!" Sasuke almost screamed, pressing Naruto into the ground.

Channeling demonic chakra, the Naruto shoved the Uchiha with all his might, putting enough strength behind it to throw his teammate into the air. The blond reacted instantly, following with a bicycle kick that sent Sasuke skidding along the ground.

"Sasuke-teme, you'd better pull your head out of your ass before I do it for you!" Naruto ordered as Sasuke leapt to his feet.

The deranged teen merely smirked before blurring out of sight.

"Ah, ma-" Uzumaki's groaning was interrupted as a fist launched connected with his cheek, sending blond cart wheeling into the ground.

The jinchūriki recovered with a hop to his feet, immediately ducking under Sasuke's follow up roundhouse kick and side-stepping an axe-kicked that gouged the ground. Naruto grabbed Uchiha's arm by the wrist and with a roar he threw Sasuke over his shoulder and into the canopy above, striking a tree limb with an audible smack.

"I really need to watch my power..." Naruto muttered.

Uzumaki entered a stance as Sasuke hit the ground with dust cloud but then relaxed as the flame-like markings receded, taking the foul chakra with it. Sasuke—disoriented and likely suffering a concussion—shakily rose to his feet

"What…?" Sasuke dazedly tried to ask before swaying one last time, falling onto the ground face first.

Naruto sighed in relief. The last attack must've dislodged the bastard's head from his ass. That's good. Now all he had left to deal with was—

Uzumaki spun to the side as a bone blade nearly stabbed through his shoulder, receiving another already healing cut on his arm. Kimimaro's eyes widened as Naruto extended an arm in mid spin, sending it right into Kimimaro's jaw. The bone user stumbled backwards, giving Naruto enough time to charge a fistful of red and send it into the Kaguya's eye.

"No!" Naruto shouted as the Kaguya was knocked back. "My answer is still no. Hell to the no! Now go the hell away!"

Kimimaro rose slowly, looking sullen. "I see… Then there is no other choice."

Time was running out. The disease was rapidly worsening from his exertion while the mission's margin of error rapidly enlarged with every second wasted.

"Huh? What?" asked Naruto, his eyes widening and stance coming loose.

Naruto's eyes widened as the lines at the base of Kimimaro's throat began to extend and cover his entire body. The lines filled the Kaguya's body until no skin was bereft of the converging tattoos, darkening and glowing. Six bones burst from his back, like the spines of an extinct dinosaur. A new appendage extended from his rear, covered with smaller spikes that led up the entire spine.

When it all ended, Kimimaro stood like a dinosaur, his muscular tail swinging lazily from behind. It was the same power Sasuke had used, but far more refined.

With absolute horror, it dawned on Naruto that this man—this monster—was his deadliest challenge yet.

Naruto didn't even see the movement. One second Kimimaro was lazily staring at him; another tick of the clock later, Naruto was slammed straight through a tree and landed harshly against a rock. With a moan, Naruto fell forward onto his face.

It hurt. It hurt a lot actually. Kimimaro's single hit carried more force behind it than even Zabuza's zanbatō while the speed insurmountably exceeded Haku's.

Kimimaro Kaguya was an entirely different breed of opponent now.

Before Naruto could even ponder counterattacking, something hard and covered in spikes wrapped around his wrist. The pain hadn't even registered when Naruto was arced into the air and sent into the ground enough force to make a crater. Less than a second later, he was tossed high into the air, the sharp object letting go, but then latching onto his ankle and pulling him back to the ground with enough force to crack several vertebrae.

Naruto had to bite his cheek to prevent from screaming out in pain. In less than five seconds, he was dealt three broken ribs (once of which might've punctured a lung, if the blood he was coughing up was any indication), several cracked or broken vertebrae, and several nasty lacerations.

The blond turned his head over slightly enough to watch a whip-like weapon whirl in the air before retracting back into a serrated sword made of sharpened vertebrae stacked one after another.

The gap between Kaguya and him… it was like an abyss. There was no possible way that Naruto could match that. Not unless he could pull a miracle out of his ass. Not without the Kyōkagan.

Kimimaro's hand blurred and the whip extended, the tip digging along the ground and hitting Naruto into the air while dealing several gashes across the chest. The whip shot past Naruto and then snapped back, snagging Naruto's arm and dragging him back towards the weapon's owner; Kimimaro brought up his fist that connected with Naruto's stomach, releasing the blond from the whip at the cost of a lacerated arm. Naruto skipped across the ground until finally skidding to a stop on his side. After what felt like an eternity, Naruto rolled onto his back while Kimimaro's lazy footsteps echoed towards his direction.

"Copy my kekkei genkai," he ordered, kneeling above Naruto.

Through the pain, through the blood dripping into his eyes, the most unpredictable ninja of Konoha foxily smiled.

"Screw… you…" Naruto painfully wheezed.

Kimimaro could only stare at him. The only testament of his rage was the tightening grip on his bone-whip. In a blur of speed, the Kaguya dug his fingers into the ground and murmured something Naruto couldn't catch past the slowly silencing world. Pain erupted from his thighs, shoulders, stomach as bones shot out of the ground. Naruto screamed in pain.

"This is the gap that exists between us," Kimimaro calmly said through rapidly thinning patience . "Orochimaru-sama could close this gap, and more. But you…" the control finally slipped. "I crushed your body, I smashed your bones, and yet you continue to defy Orochimaru-sama's wish! Why!?"

"Yes," interrupted a familiar sultry voice. "Why, Naruto-kun?"

Everything froze. Nothing moved, not even the falling leaves. The pain disappeared only for the moment. Naruto blinked and as a shadow covered his view. Kneeling with ruby eyes looking down upon him was the Kyūbi.

"You're such a strange one," she said. "Everyone offers you power, the Kyōkagan offers you power… I offer you power. Yet, each is subsequently turned down. Why?"

"Why does it matter?" Naruto didn't know where the strength to speak came from.

The Kyūbi gently cradled Naruto's temples, blood staining her pale hands. "It is everything. shinobi are weapons; weapons need power—need to be sharpened—otherwise they are broken. Jinchūriki are weapons of the most powerful sort. Do you not understand this?"

"I'm nobody's tool," Uzumaki defiantly answered. "I refuse to be anybody's tool."

The Kyūbi stared down at him, as if measuring his soul. One of her thumbs traced his brow in a falsely comforting gesture.

"We're dying," she finally said, though the lace of worry was missing. "I don't want to die."

Uzumaki was out of options. He knew it and the Kyūbi knew it. Even in his near death state, the vixen was trying to press her chakra onto him. But… in the end, what else did he have? He could copy Kimimaro's Shikyotsumatsu, but that meant Orochimaru won. And right now, Naruto hated the snake-bastard enough to die defying him.

"I know," Naruto simply replied. "I don't want to either. So, give me your chakra."

If the Kyōkagan's released state was enough to deliver several hard hits to Orochimaru, then the Kyūbi's chakra may be what he needed to counter Kimimaro.

What was that human epithet again? Ah, yes! Checkmate. "Very well," a cruel grin twisted the Kyūbi's beautiful visage. "You'll see just how much the Kyōkagan power pales to mine."

"So…" Kakashi began, hands behind his back and trying not to reach for his book—he was sure Jizenka might rack his balls again if she spotted it. "You're student has a Transcendent-type kekkei genkai as well?"

They were tree-hopping towards Training Area Forty-Four, the last place Shizuka was seen in hopes of chancing upon a lead to Orochimaru or the traitor among Konoha's ranks. However, even the mantis Jizenka tagged her niece with couldn't track the mole, let alone the elusive traitor.

Until they got there, though, Kakashi hoped to make small talk to alleviate the silence. So far, there was little success.

Jizenka stopped on a tree branch. Several meters away, the perimeter fence of the Forest of Death touched their sight.

"Yes," she curtly answered.

On the inside, Kakashi was overjoyed. She finally spoke! "You never did tell me what this 'Genzōme' could do."

The scarecrow couldn't understand why the mantis sage had so many issues. Yes, her student was in danger, but this had to be thought out rationally. Orochimaru evaded Konoha for years. There was good reason to believe that the odds of catching the bastard were roughly equivalent to a snowball's chance in Hell.

This woman… she needed to relax, otherwise she'd burn out. There were obvious signs she was overstressed, although a normal civilian wouldn't note it. Shizuka was only useful to Orochimaru alive—Transcendent Limits didn't work well outside of the original user unless one had intimate knowledge of its workings. The former Iwa jōnin should be able to rest somewhat knowing that. So, why didn't she?

The redhead sighed. "Well… if I remember the legend right, the Genzōme was originally first used by the Sage of the Water Moon, the creator of genjutsu. In the same legend, it states that the sage founded the countries of Tsuchi and Kaminari."

"So I can assume that the Genzōme's abilities are genjutsu-based?" Kakashi interjected.

"Indeed," Jizenka continued. "The Genzōme allows Shizuka to create hybrid illusions, only limited by her imagination. They're so strong that she can fool the body into thinking the event is really happening, but it can also go so far as to fool other Dōjutsu. Her eyes are the conduit to her abilities; although she can create illusions using her own chakra, her most powerful abilities are manifested when she gains control of her opponent's nervous system by contacting senses in some way."

"That's an intimidating kekkei genkai," Kakashi muttered. Whenever Komoriuta gets older, she'd be a truly dangerous opponent.

Jizenka's smiled distractedly. "She's absolutely brilliant, but so stupid at the same time! She could outsmart a Nara, but can't put aside her pride."

"I can understand that," the Hatake mused aloud, putting his hands in his pockets. "My students have their own quirks and habits that drive me up the wall. Naruto can be a fast learner, but lacks common sense; Sasuke is considered a prodigy, but is incredibly arrogant; Sakura has the most brilliant mind among her team, but is often naïve." Kakashi shrugged. "They're fools, but they're my fools."

An uncomfortable silence fell over the duo.

Finally, Jizenka broke it. "But I imagine they're just students to you."

Now I'm getting somewhere, Hatake analyzed.

He was able to see between the lines. More than a teacher/student bond existed. Somehow, they were related. And if the attachment Jizenka showed might be any indication, it could mean Shizuka was possibly directly related to her.

It took a minute to realize she was waiting expectantly for him to say something. Realizing this, Kakashi sighed. "Well, I have to disagree with that assessment. They're the closest thing I've had to a family in a long time."

"Then you can imagine how I feel," Jizenka's voice came off bitingly.

Suddenly, the area was filled with palatable hatred and rage. Kakashi and Jizenka's eyes widened in recognition.

"That… That chakra..." Jizenka whispered. "Is that a jinchūriki?"

Kakashi could only find one word to sum up his thoughts: "Shit."

"You... you've got to be kidding me... Again?" Shikamaru muttered, leaning against a tree for support.

The bloodlust, the rage… It was too much for him to handle. Every strategic nerve in his brain screamed to retreat towards the opposite direction.

"It's that feeling again…" Ino muttered, wide-eyed and clutching her arm in panic.

Unlike last time, it was magnitudes more potent and wasn't disappearing as fast as it appeared.

Chōji was off to the side losing his lunch, breakfast, and every snack in between.

"We need to help Naruto," Ino muttered taking a shaky step forward. "It's got to be that bone guy!"

She remembered the feel of Sasuke's chakra. The freaky bone guy might've used something similar. Maybe this was involved somehow. But the feel… it was far different compared to Sasuke's tainted chakra.

"What do you expect us to do?" Shika tried to deter, his voice calme despite his panic. "Let's face it: we're not the strongest team out there. If we face whatever this is, we'll die a troublesome death, I'm sure."

Ino frowned, but wouldn't refute or move him along. "Fine, but I'm going to watch and make sure everything is okay."

"Dammit! Ino…!" Shikamaru could only run a hand across his face in irritation.

Kimimaro got punched in the jaw from below, sending him into an uncontrolled back-flip. The white-haired ninja hopped back onto his feet, only to stumble from a mental assault of killer intent seeping with rage and bloodlust.

Kaguya's eyes traveled to the source. The sight that greeted him sent a shiver running up and down his spine. Crimson, bubbling, almost acidic chakra was slowly pushing Naruto off the ground.

"What is this power?" Kimimaro asked the air, hoping some godforsaken entity might provide him an answer.

Smoke wafted from his wounds as they instantly closed, not even leaving scars; even the bone swords stabbing the boy fell away from unblemished skin. The now feral-looking boy screamed in agony as he clutched his chest as the chakra enveloped his head. Finally, Naruto fell to his hands as the chakra cloak glowed, stabilizing itself.

The balance of power shifted, but Kimimaro couldn't determine who the scales tipped towards.

Kaguya was quick to act. Testing the cloak, he raised his hands and fired several bone bullets. To his astonishment, the attacks deflected off the cloak, succeeding in only making it ripple. Naruto didn't make any movements.

Just as Kimimaro began shifting tactics, Naruto rocketed into motion, a clawed hand crashing down. The white-haired teen barely backpedaled away, but the enlarged chakra hand that followed sent him reeling.

The Kaguya landed on his feet with a skid, only to be followed by an enlarged chakra hand launching from the cloak. Kimimaro snagged a tree at the far end of the clearing with his bone whip and pulled out of the way just as the hand smashed the ground with incredible force. But it then turned on a ryu and chased him as a second hand joined, both smashing through rocks, trees, and other debris to reach their quarry. Landing, Kimimaro turned towards the hands to brace for impact, only for the chakra to dissipate upon approach. Startled, he lowered his guard, but got plowed through the ground by a tree trunk grasped by Naruto's chakra tail.

Before the momentum ended, Naruto appeared above Kimimaro with his clawed hand reaching for his face; Kimimaro reacted on instinct and caught the limb, lengthening rapidly sharpening phalanges and piercing the chakra cloak. Although it caused light damage, it was enough for Naruto to leap away into a tree.

Kimimaro wiped the blood away from his mouth, wearily eying the blond hanging from a branch by his chakra tail. "Incredible… I've never encountered anything like this."

The cloak wasn't impenetrable. Rather, it acted similarly to a cushion against opposing chakras. That alone was enough to render most elemental-based attacks—which were always high in loosely configured chakra—near useless. But as a diamond can be cut by another diamond, any attack with equal chakra density should be able to push past the crimson energy and deal damage.

Here he comes… Kimimaro dropped his analyzing as Naruto roared and launched from the tree, leaving indents from the chakra pushed out of his feet. Kaguya dived to the side, but the jinchūriki latched a chakra arm onto a trunk, spinning to meet his target. Hastily, Kimimaro calcified a layer of armor under his skin; even though it cracked from the force of Naruto's bullet-like charge, it had stopped the brunt of the attack.

Kimimaro clenched his teeth from pain and shot out spikes from all over his body, forcing Uzumaki to back off.

He needed time to think! This cloak of chakra was unlike anything he fought, and he needed a counter!

In a split second, the bone-manipulator escaped as Naruto plowed the ground with another cloak extension. Deciding to put his augmented speed to use, Kaguya sped away to buy time, even as two chakra hands weaved through trees to drag him back towards the enraged demon-container.

The scariest feature of the cloak was its use as a weapon. The acidic chakra displayed anamorphous traits, able to stretch and reach across long distances for overwhelming attacks. And at times, Kimimaro was sure the cloak was attacking as if it too had a mind, creating an unpredictable adversary. Theoretically, though, the chakra should only be able to stretch a certain amount before it can't support itself, causing it to collapse and dissipate. In short: the chakra arms weakened with range.

Taking advantage of that last thought, Kimimaro pushed chakra into his legs, launching above the canopy of the trees and into the open air. Like he planned, the cloak hands followed. They made to snatch him midair, but Kaguya phased through them.

Before he could celebrate his observations, Naruto was already in the air to meet him. A chakra fist launched in a large arc and plowed dinosaur-looking ninja into the forest below. Knowing such a drop would be painful, Kimimaro extended several bones, biting into the bark of the trees and slowing his descent. Just as he stopped, Naruto dove from above the canopy in a red blur, ramming into Kaguya and sending him crashing to forest floor with a cloud of debris.

Kimimaro groaned as he slowly got to his feet, only to take a knee. The pain of his disease combined with Naruto's brutal attacks was finally catching up.

He'd long lost his bone whip and sported damage he thought he'd never experience, even with his bone armor. The Kaguya spat blood, drawn from the demonic boy rather than his disease. Truly, this was a fearsome opponent.

The augmentations the cloak afforded Naruto were equally impressive as its more exotic abilities. They possibly extended far above the cursed seal. However, the regenerative rate Naruto displayed—something the cursed seals could never touch—was beyond amazing.

The battle wasn't over, though. Using what he gleaned from his observations, Kimimaro readied for a counterattack.

"Tessenka no Mai: Hana," Kimimaro muttered, watching as bones spiraled out of his arm into a spear-like weapon.

Just as the bones finished forming, Naruto came charging from the side with a roar, air displacing from the contained volume and chakra. Orochimaru's loyal soldier turned to meet the attack, spear ready to jab forward.

His body suddenly seized up.

Not now! Kimimaro felt panic fill his chest. Of all the times for his disease to act up…!

Naruto's shoulder connected with the Oto-nin with enough force to demolish a reinforced cement wall, sending the Kaguya into a dizzying whirl of pain as he hit every tree and rock within his trajectory. Finally, his momentum dissipated, leaving him in a small trench gouged out by his own body.

Before Kimimaro could even think of standing, the acidic touch of Naruto's chakra made itself known on his ankle. Just as the pain registered, he was tossed into the air by the phantom limb, only to be snatched again and whipped back into the ground with enough force that Kaguya swore something broke.

But, for Naruto it wasn't enough. The feral boy leapt onto Kimimaro and began to brutally hammer away at the older teen, each hit bearing down with enough force to dent steel.

A gasp of surprise snapped Naruto back into reality, as if waking him from slumber. Panting, he looked down and saw the bloodied and wheezing Kimimaro. Slowly, he turned his sight to his shaking hands, staring at the crimson staining them.

Turning to the source of the gasp, one of his worst nightmares was realized. Ino stood aghast, as if looking upon a monster.

"N-Naruto?" she whispered unsurely.

"I-Ino…?" Naruto felt horror strike his heart like an arrow. No!Nonononono! "I…I…"

He felt so vulnerable only a select few times. Back when Mizuki pulled the rug out from under his world and when Hinata learned about the Kyōkagan. But now…

Naruto shakily backed away from the downed Kimimaro and the fearful Ino, the acidic bubbles of the chakra cloak dissipating with every step as his features regained a human quality.

"Ino, I-I can-"

She held up a hand. "P-Please… give m-me a minute," Ino told him, her voice quivering. Taking a calming breath, Ino wrapped her arms around herself to ease the shaking. "L-Let's talk about it later. We need to deal with-"

At that moment, a ninja garbed in ANBU uniform landed in the clearing. In a blur, the person snatched Kimimaro and then disappeared in a whirl of leaves.

It was silent until Naruto broke it. "That… can't be good."

He was reminded of the Wave mission way too much for comfort.

"So…" Jizenka started, "that wouldn't happen to have been Konoha's jinchūriki, would it?"

Goddamn, the woman could be astute… But then he might've been unfair. The woman was a jōnin who undoubtedly had a broad knowledge of the shinobi world. Of course she'd be able to recognize the feel of demonic chakra…

"If we do, I don't have a clue who that might be or what they contain." That was about as bold faced as any lie could be, but Jizenka didn't need to know that.

At least Naruto is okay and the Kyūbi is still imprisoned, Kakashi thought offhandedly.

"I call bullshit," Jizenka said, raising a brow. "Look, I may live out in the boonies, but even we hear about attacks from giant foxes. I know what a bijū is and I know how they're handled."

Kakashi gave her a reprimanding look. "Look, even if I knew, what makes you think I'm going to share village secrets? If you know anything about bijū you'll also know that most villages usually keep their trump cards like that hidden. Putting your nose where it doesn't belong is going to end this 'friendship' and you'll just end up having to search for your student by yourself."

The former Iwa-nin went quiet. "Sorry," she finally offered. "I wasn't thinking. I've never met a jinchūriki before, so I was just curious. I didn't realize they're that valuable to a hidden village."

"Accepted, but don't go asking stupid questions," Hatake said. "Now, can we please return to the task at hand?"

As Konoha's jinchūriki, Naruto wasn't well known, but that could be attested to several factors, including his age and currently limited ability as a ninja. And hopefully it stayed that way until he was strong enough to back such a title. But, if the past couple months were any indication, Naruto would become known for entirely different reasons.

The sight of a rock mantis landing on Jizenka's shoulders was enough to drag him away from his thoughts. He couldn't hear its whispers, but Jizenka, ear tilted towards its head, nodded every couple seconds. With an "Okay," from Jizenka, it flew off and continued its search for evidence.

He watched as Jizenka began pacing back forth, only stopping when another mantis landed on her shoulder and reported any findings. Even if these mantises were a breed capable of exceptional camouflage and espionage, the deftly skilled spying insects couldn't find a scrap of information regarding Orochimaru's whereabouts.

So far, the duo examined three sites: one where Kakashi assumed Naruto fought Orochimaru, followed by the area where Iruka fought the Sannin, and then finishing with the last sight where Shizuka was kidnapped. Each led to a dead end.

"Jizenka, I don't want to say this, but the trail is cold," Kakashi said.

In retaliation, he received a glare capable of melting steel.

With a sigh, Hatake continued. "Orochimaru is a master of elusion. We've been hunting him since the end of the Yondaime Hokage's reign. This trail may be considerably warmer than others in the past several years, but we're not going to find him, not without another appearance."

"But if we don't-" Jizenka tried countering, only for Kakashi to interrupt with a raised hand.

"I understand why you're going to such extents to save Shizuka." It was enough for the sage to shut her mouth. "If I lost Naruto, Sasuke, or Sakura, I'd go to the ends of the world to find them. They mean a lot to me. However, the enemy we're dealing with here… We need to think rationally and calmly." He stopped, allowing what he said to sink in.

Jizenka closed her eyes. Looking back on her actions for the past couple hours drove her to wanting to smack her head against a tree. It was most unbecoming of the Mantis Sage! Extorting the Hokage may've been brilliantly played, but her actions afterwards were without thought. Gods, she was as impulsive as her niece!

She sighed in defeat. "I owe you an apology." A wiry smile traced her lips. "This behavior is most unbecoming of an active jōnin. I should be thinking with my head. Not with my heart."

Kakashi smiled beneath his mask. Now he could work with her!

"Ah, but the heart is where strength is!" the scarecrow offered, taking a page out of Minato-sensei's book. "It's only when you think with the mind and fight with the heart that true strength is revealed."

Suddenly, her smile became playful, catching Kakashi off guard. "Sounds like something a fortune cookie once told me. But you know… I like it."

The copy-cat grinned. "I always thought my sensei was a fortune cookie, but he did say some stuff that stuck."

Jizenka then went serious. "Okay, so what's our next move?"

Kakashi tapped his chin. "Now, if I was a Sannin with a fetish for kekkei genkai," Jizenka snorted in amusement, "and I found the ultimate one, where would I be?"

The scarecrow leaned against a tree trunk while the redhead began pacing anew.

Jizenka snapped her fingers as epiphany struck. "If I found the ultimate kekkei genkai, I'd find a way to observe it. And the best way to observe one is through combat! But where is there observable combat in this forest?"

Kakashi's eye sharpened as his analytical mind examined what little they had to work with. "The next—and best—place to observe combat is the Chunin Exam elimination rounds. However, there were a lot of students that passed the first exam this year, so there's a high likelihood that many will pass here as well. If that's the case, there will be a prelim. The fights there are observable."

"Well, it looks like we have a destination," Jizenka excitedly turned to leave only to stop and turn to an amused Kakashi. "Uh, where exactly are we going?"

After leaving Ichiraku's, Anko and Iruka strolled along Konoha's main street while the academy teacher outlined what Anko's training would entail.

They were going to start Mitarashi's training today as according to said woman's demand, much to Iruka's chagrin. He still hadn't fully recovered from chakra exhaustion, but Anko had been quite forceful. Well, he had several ideas in mind about what to teach her.

"Have you done elemental training?" Iruka asked her, sidestepping people.

"I dabble in it," Anko answered. "It's something I'd like to improve, though."

The teacher nodded. "Most ninja begin their elemental training around high chūnin. Certain individuals begin it even earlier. However, I know some that make do without it. But with you, we're going to make it a part of your style. I also want to see if we can branch off from your, um… ex-teacher's style."

Anko offered him a raised brow.

Iruka sighed. "Your style mirrors Orochimaru's too much. If you were to fight him you'll be predictable. Well, I want to see if we can change that. To that end, I'd also like to have a chat with the snakes and see what kind of moves they have to offer."

She raised an eyebrow at the line of thought. "Okay, I'll admit it: my style follows my ex-sensei's. Still, the snakes aren't exactly a talkative bunch."

The teacher shrugged. "There are ways around that."

"Can we please talk about something else?"

"Then what elemental alignment is your chakra?"


Iruka rubbed his chin. "Hmm…"

"What?" Anko asked, frowning at his thoughtful expression.

"I'm trying to think of how to approach teaching you," Umino answered. "I'm not an avid fire element user, if you haven't already guessed."

The snake summoner snorted. "No, I wouldn't have guessed… Just give me the how-to and I'll work from there."

Iruka sighed. That's how he imagined things going in the first place…

He hoped at least finding a skilled fire jutsu user to give Anko pointers. Sadly, masters of the destructive element were few and far between, even in the middle of Hi no Kuni. Although there were a number of avid fire users out there, few mastered it to a feasible level. So, Iruka's work was cut out for him.

Only after he noticed the sudden lack of electrical signatures did Iruka realize they were at the training fields. Not desiring any unwanted attention (or destruction of property) Iruka thought his favorite training field would do just fine.

Anko took in the number of scorch marks, craters, and blasted trees. Part of the field was healed and eroded, leaving perfectly fine forest; other areas were newly devastated as could only be expected of a training field used frequently. Because Iruka trained here, that explained why the vegetation was fairly thick; with lightning putting nitrates into the ground, the plants were unusually healthy.

"My favorite training area," Iruka announced as he walked up next to Anko, ready to answer whatever questions Anko might ask about the field.

"Definitely shows," Anko half-heartedly murmured.

The chūnin moved past her. "It's out of the way, which is what I need when I use my full power." His pleasant smile became embarrassed. "The last time I went all-out for training near the city, it took me months just to pay the damages! Since then, I take my training here so the power plant workers don't keep getting angry with me."

"Don't tell me that every blackout we've had in the past twelve years has been your fault," Anko deadpanned.

Iruka blushed, but didn't say anything.

"Okay, stupid question to ask…" she thought it better to drop the subject, especially since she knew the answer. "So, when do we start?"

Mitarashi watched as Iruka plucked a leaf off a tree branch. Knowing the routine, she rolled her eyes as she plucked the leaf from his fingers and turned it into ash. Nothing new there…

Then Iruka gave an uncharacteristically impish smirk that made Anko frown.

"What?" she snapped.

"You're supposed to prevent the leaf from burning," the teacher answered, sounding amused.

Anko grimaced. "That's ass backwards."

"It may seem like that," Iruka explained with a shake of his head, "but any true fire element master worth their ryu will tell you otherwise. Fire is destructive. It grows, it burns until all in its path is swallowed whole in its rage. At the same time, it's passionate, strengthening, and purifying when channeled properly."

Anko's expression softened. She never looked at it that way.

"Where'd you learn that?" Mitarashi asked, surprised Iruka of all people offered that tidbit of wisdom.

"When I was younger, I was trying to research good methods of elemental training," the S-ranked chūnin explained. "I found several good titles on the subject, but one had a really good perception on Katon. If you want, I'll lend you it."

"Yeah…" Anko accepted awkwardly. "That would… help."

She was unused to such kindness. Being Orochimaru's former student and carrying a reputation as a sadistic interrogator turned people off to the mere idea. Just asking for the time of day—let alone a favor—was arduous. For Iruka to offer such a simple favor… it left a warm feeling in her chest. (Coming from Anko, it was an embarrassing thing to admit.)

While she digested his words, Iruka grabbed a new leaf and shot a small spark of electricity through the center, darkening it from the inside as faint traces of red rapidly enlarged the hole. He quickly handed it to Anko.

"Now try again," he ordered.

Anko nodded and tried to prevent the black from spreading, only for her chakra to speed up the process and instantly incinerate the leaf. She looked disbelievingly back to Iruka, only to find the impish grin back on his face. Oh, he'd pay for this later! But for now, though, she took another leaf from him and repeated the process, only for each consecutive leaf to turn into ash.

After the eighth leaf, Anko growled and stomped the ground in irritation like a child throwing a temper tantrum. Iruka merely laughed at her antics.

"Want to take a break?" he suggested.

"… Yeah," she grumbled out.

Anko watched as Iruka walked towards the shade of a large tree, her sight lowering more than it should. Realizing where she was staring, she looked away with a blush. He had a tight…

Stop it! Anko screamed in her mind.

Well, Iruka wasn't bad looking, her other half reasoned.

It was then the butterflies in her stomach came back with vengeance and a box full of dynamite. Anko realized her crush on Iruka was getting worse and worse, and-

"Hey, you want to join me over here?" Iruka invited from his seat on the ground. She didn't even see him take a seat! "The shade is very nice."

"Uh, s-sure," she stuttered.

Wait… She was acting like the Hyūga Heiress! Oh, for the love of…

Never before had been so uncomfortable sitting anywhere. Though Anko sat a foot away, she dared not look at Iruka's face for the fear of seeing her blush. Even the silence seemed pronounced to Mitarashi, though the teacher was happily looking out towards the trees and the buildings that rose past them.

Love wasn't her thing. Anko was Konoha's Snake Mistress, a member of the T and I Department, someone who was to be feared! Most men made it a point to make a path for her! However, whenever there was that cute guy that Anko felt some interest for, they'd run away like the Shinigami was standing behind her. For that reason, she took full belief that love stunk and no one out there could look past her reputation for even five minutes. Iruka however…

Finally, Anko had enough. She stood and looked intently at Iruka, the blush getting worse. Iruka looked to her with worry.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Well, here I go… "Hey, Iruka, I was… Well, I… thinking… uh… um… Godammit!" she ran a hand across her face, growling as the aggravation mounted. "Look, I really… really… Well, it's like…"

Iruka's eyebrows knitted together. "Are you okay?"

Anko stopped and took a deep breath. "Okay… Okay, look Iruka, I… Oh, to Hell with this shit!"

Finally, she pounced at the teacher and assaulted his mouth with her tongue.

"She needs medical attention," Ino said as she placed a damp rag on Sakura's forehead.

"Tell me something I don't know…" Naruto muttered, his sensitive hearing easily picking up her faint voice.

The Yamanaka twitched. She hadn't expected Uzumaki to hear her, but didn't verbally make note of it, choosing instead to concentrate on Sakura as she tended the sickly girl.

"What happened?" Chōji asked past a mouth full of chips—Shikamaru and he were sitting on a nearby log.

Naruto pushed himself off the tree he was leaning against with a sigh, recalling every struggle his team weathered since entering the exam. "Some asshole named Orochimaru bit Sasuke and Sakura. But the place where he bit them has strange marks."

At the mention of traitorous Sannin's name, Team Ten reeled.

"Did you just say Orochimaru!?" Chōji almost yelled in hysteria.

"What?" Naruto blinked at the surprise displayed by his former classmates. "The guy can't be that tough. I mean, I cut off his arm."

"You cut off his arm?!" If Ino's eyes got any larger, they would've popped out and rolled on the ground.

"Hey, it wasn't a big deal… Well, okay, maybe it was. The guy was freakishly strong," Uzumaki said more to himself than the others. "He kicked my ass hard."

"But you still cut off his arm?" Shikamaru tried to reaffirm, his brain incapable of computing that Naruto of all people cut off—O-F-F—Orochimaru's arm. "There's no way! Maybe it was some look alike."

The sunny-blond sighed. Why was facing Orochimaru-teme such a big deal?

Sasuke, sitting nearby, ignored the ruckus his teammate caused in favor of rubbing the cursed seal—good god did the thing itch—and the inflamed skin around it.

That chakra…that sick, tainted spiritual energy… the Uchiha remembered it vividly, the power he felt, the strength it gave him. It was addicting like a drug, and like any new druggie Sasuke wanted a higher dosage, but a small part of him feared that foul power, especially knowing who planted the seal. Worse yet, he'd attacked a teammate without provocation. Though he'd love to make Naruto eat dirt any day of the week (as would many other people), Sasuke had the decency to admit fault.

For reasons Sasuke couldn't understand, his quest to uncover Naruto's kekkei genkai had permeated his mind during his chakra high. And even now, his curiosity danced on the edge of his consciousness. The craving to solve the enigma of his teammate had never dissolved since the Wave mission, instead culminating until it exploded at the worst possible moment. Those vivid, mercurial pupils on a canvas of cerulean… He remembered that fleeting image too well, and it only egged him to—

Sasuke shook his head to dislodge such thoughts. Now wasn't the time.

Sighing, Sasuke sauntered over to Sakura to distract himself. She was getting worse. It was the same as in Wave. Sakura looked as helpless then as she did now, and it was painful for Sasuke to watch. He didn't want to lose her, not if he had a say in it.

"Guys…" the Uchiha began, only to be drowned out by two arguing blonds.

"You dumbass, you three should've ran!" Ino cried, on the verge of screaming.

"Hey, we tried!" Naruto countered, easily meeting the Yamanaka's volume. "But the bastard kept chasing us! We ended up having to fight him off! And seriously, he couldn't have been that strong!"

"You do realize that Orochimaru was a candidate for Yondaime Hokage before he became a missing-nin, right?" Shikamaru interjected with a drawl

Uzumaki was dumbfounded. "Oh, really?"

What a scary thought. It was hard imagining the snake bastard in a league comparable to the Yondaime. Once again, Naruto wondered how they escaped

… No, that was inaccurate. Rather, they were let out alive.

"Then how was I able to cut off his arm?" Uzumaki questioned aloud.

"GUYS!" Sasuke shouted, bringing all attention to him. "Sakura needs medical attention. Now."

It was silent, until Shikamaru talked. "Well, you have two options: drop out of this exam and get her to the hospital, or somehow magically produce the other scroll you need so you can get to the tower—where the nearest medical facilities are, I might add. Sorry to be Mr. Raincloud, but those are your options."

Sasuke didn't speak, instead his gaze softened as he turned to Sakura.

"Dammit," Naruto growled, running his hands across his face.

"Shika, what scroll do we have?" Ino suddenly asked, catching everyone off kilter.

The Nara sighed, having also considered such a strategy. "We have an Earth Scroll… But wouldn't it be better to send them to the hospital outside of the forest?"

Okay, maybe it was a little selfish to not offer the scroll straight out, but a part of Shika wanted to get out of the forest too. And if he could get Sasuke and Naruto knocked out of the exam, all the better; both were dangerous opponents.

Ino, figuring the direction the Nara's mind went, glared, making Shikamaru cringe back. "To hell with this exam! Sakura is dying! You said it yourself; the only place to get any medical attention here is the tower. Unless some random medic-nin walks—"

A snapping twig echoed through the clearing, immediately silencing the group. Five heads whipped to the source, finding Kabuto Yakushi at the edge of the area, holding his hands up pleadingly while smiling sheepishly.

"Oh dear…" the older teen muttered embarrassedly. "Wrong place. I think I'll just head—"

"False alarm," Ino announced to the group.

"Oh, it's just you," Chōji dismissed with a sigh. "We were worried it would be someone like that Suna Team—they're scary."

While everyone relaxed, Naruto remained guarded. There was just something about that smile that made his skin crawl. It was too friendly. And he didn't believe Kabuto. How could someone go through this test at least seven times and somehow not learn a damn thing. Yakushi should know better than to get lost. No, Naruto didn't like this guy at all.

Was he being overly paranoid? Naruto could argue that like a lawyer argues a convict's innocence. It wasn't paranoia if everyone was really out to get you.

And that snake smell… Did this guy bathe with snakes or something?

"What're you doing here?" Sasuke scathingly questioned.

Kabuto adjusted his glasses, his smile somehow more sheepish. "Just got separated from my team. I heard voices and thought it was them. I guess I was wrong."

"That's great," Naruto's smile was anything but friendly. "Now, how about you go away?"

"Naruto!" Ino chastised. "He's a Konoha genin. We need to look out for our own, you know."

"Yeah, but this is the Chūnin Exam!" the jinchūriki countered, pointedly glaring at Ino—seriously, that snake smell really bothered him. "For all we know, his teammates could be hiding and waiting!"

"Ino, I have to agree with Naruto," Shikamaru added, coming to stand next to said blond. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but Naruto's got the right idea. We can't be sure if he's an enemy."

"Yeah, but…Naruto, I thought your eyes were blue!" Ino suddenly (and loudly) noted.

"Huh, what?" Naruto almost felt whiplash at the sudden subject change.

Only then did he realize how naked his face felt, and that one of his pockets did feel a little heavier from a certain piece of broken eyewear.

Oh, crap… Naruto mentally moaned, feeling panic bloom in his chest.

"Your eye color, it's red," Shikamaru noted, looking genuinely interested in the development like it was some kind of puzzle. "Back in the academy I specifically remember you having blue eyes. But how is that possible? Eye color doesn't change."

"Uh…" Uzumaki couldn't think of an excuse fast enough to clear this mess.

"What happened? How did they change? Did you get hurt? Were they always like that?" Ino rapid-fired interrogated, walking up to Naruto and peering intently at the medical oddity.

He looked around like a rat trying squeeze out of being cornered. They weren't that close to revealing the Kyūbi's continued existence, but it was still awfully uncomfortable. Even if they were still missing the nail with the hammer, they could just as easily put themselves on the track to hitting it dead on. The last thing he needed was another secret flung out into the open.

Sasuke watched as Shikamaru and Chōji analyzed their friend's oddity from the side while Ino examined Naruto's eyes with a mere couple inches separating their faces. It brought Sasuke some humor to watch Naruto squirm under the platinum blonde's utter disregard for space for a change.

When did Naruto's eyes change color? Before the Wave mission, they looked normal. Well, if it hadn't been for those damned goggles, the Uchiha might've been able to tell when those cerulean eyes became pigeon-blood red.

He still hated those things with a passion, if only for the trouble they caused Sakura and him in their almost forgotten attempts to look past…

Sasuke paused his thoughts, a scrutinizing expression plastering his features. Like a switch being hit, the gears in his head began to whir to life as details he almost forgot suddenly fit the confounding jigsaw puzzle named Naruto.

"Naruto," Sasuke began, garnering everyone's attention. "Back on the bridge in Wave, Sakura mentioned feeling a weird chakra."

Naruto felt the color drain from his face.

But he wasn't the only one whose demeanor changed. Ino tensed, vividly remembering Naruto's slit eyes.

"She couldn't describe it well, just that it was scary," Sasuke explained. "Did that change your eye color? Is that why you wore those goggles?"

Maybe… Maybe that has everything to do with what I saw. Briefly, an image of reflective pupils—a cursory moment as evanescent as the blink of an eye—flashed through Sasuke's mind.

Naruto felt his hear skip a beat. He kept forgetting Sasuke had earned his spot as the 'Rookie of the Year' for a reason. He'd need some analytical ability to back his combat prowess. Evidently, Naruto still couldn't give Uchiha the credit due, much to his own irritation—Naruto always thought him as having the analytical abilities of a cheesy-poof. What, with having that handy-dandy Sharingan—

"Excuse me," Kabuto—completely forgotten to this point—interrupted. "Would it be problem if I took a look at your eyes, Naruto-kun? I might be able to pin point what might've changed your eye color. Off the top of my head, I can name off several conditions that would elicit such changes."

Hesitantly, Naruto nodded, if only to keep everyone from asking questions more than they already were.

Kabuto adjusted his glasses as he walked over to the blond, pulling out a small medical pack. Withdrawing a small flashlight, he shined the light into Naruto's eyes, watching as the pupils contracted.

"Hmmm… How interesting…" Kabuto muttered, making Naruto shift uncomfortably.

"What?! What is it?!" Ino asked, panic building.

Her overactive imagination created twenty-two scenarios, all of which involved Naruto dying horrendously and painfully.

"It's a rare condition known as 'Chakra Eye' or Yukitachi's Disease," Kabuto answered, smiling pleasantly as he returned his medical equipment.

"I knew it! Naruto's going to die!" Ino almost screamed/cried, clutching her head in misery.

Inwardly, Naruto heaved a sigh of relief. Gods, that was far from the truth, but who was he to question his good luck?

Kabuto chuckled amusedly. "Far from it! Yukitachi's Disease is far from lethal. Although 'disease' in the name, it's not really a sickness; more of a condition."

"Okay… What is it then?" Shikamaru asked.

"It's a condition that affects the iris, usually caused by hemorrhaging of the iris eye muscle. Normally, that would lead to a condition called heterochromia, which is mismatched eye color; however, Yukitachi's Disease is caused when the eyes are exposed to incredibly high amounts of chakra, causing the iris to hemorrhage and permanently alter their color. It doesn't affect sight, just changes the eye-color. It's rare, though. Most sufferers usually have a bad experience with a botched genjutsu or high exposure to huge amounts of chakra."

"Oh," Ino muttered, deflating from her emotional outburst. She already had picked Naruto's gravestone too…

Well, that was an unholy amount of chakra he used. It definitely explained the eye color change.

But she wouldn't voice such thoughts. Naruto was keeping his lips shut and Ino was going to follow suit. Though Ino was a gossip, she realized that certain secrets were taboo.

Naruto laughed nervously, rubbing the side of his face. "Yeah, I really don't want to talk about what happened."

I wouldn't want to either… Ino thought grimly, chewing her bottom lip.

Naruto noticed the Yamanaka's gesture and swallowed a lump in his throat. He prayed to Benten-sama that Ino continued to keep her big mouth shut. Thankfully, she hadn't voiced anything uncomfortable yet. Though, how long would that last?

"Jeeze, I don't even want to know what happened," Shikamaru muttered. "It's troublesome enough hearing about the aftereffects."

For Sasuke, more questions were asked than solved. What really happened on the bridge in Wave? What was Naruto's involvement? What does this all point to? Once again he was reminded of how little he knew of secretive teammate.

Despite being loud and boisterous, Naruto was the most enigmatic person Sasuke knew. Only the five kage seemed to hold more secrets.

Kabuto bowed to the blond. "Thank you very much, Naruto-Kun, for giving me a chance to look at such a rare condition. As a medic-nin, medical oddities are always intriguing."

"Uh, your… welcome?" Naruto awkwardly said. But then it clicked in his mind. "Wait, you're a medic-nin!"

Kabuto blinked. "Uh, yes I am."

"Then you can help Sakura-chan!"

The medic-nin flashed another friendly smile. "Well, if I can be of service—"

Naruto snatched the older boy's hand and dragged him over to Sakura, all his thoughts of suspicion completely gone. After releasing himself from the blond's grip, Kabuto pulled out his medic kit and began to work. Team Ten and the remaining members of Team Seven watched pensively, hoping beyond hope that their friend wasn't beyond saving.

Fifteen minutes of pregnant silence passed before Kabuto finally spoke in a tone nobody liked. "Oh, this is quite dreadful."

Everyone stopped breathing.

Ino was the first to regain her bearings, her voice shaking. "W-What is it?"

Kabuto held a hand to his chin. "Her body is having an adverse reaction to the chemical used to apply this seal." He pointed at the three curved, connected lines on her neck. "She needs medical attention I can't give her."

"Goddammit!" Naruto roared, charging his hands with the Kyūbi's chakra and smashing the side of a tree.

"However," everyone felt a skip in their heartbeats as a sliver of hope peaked within their souls, "I might have a way to get her to the tower."

"What do we need to do?" Sasuke quickly asked.

The silver-haired teen adjusted his glasses. "I need to speak to Naruto-kun first."

And suddenly, Naruto felt every suspicion against Kabuto rise tenfold. That scent of snakes seemed far more pronounced.

"Alright, what do you—?"

Naruto was cutoff as his back slammed into a tree, a hand clasping around his neck and a glowing palm aimed at his head. Kabuto's smirk turned downright sadistic, taking pleasure in the shock the jinchūriki's ruby eyes permeated.

"I didn't like you from the start of this exam," Naruto voiced even with his voice box being pressed against, his eyes narrowing. "I couldn't put a finger on why, but I think it's obvious now. You're anything but the nice guy everyone thinks you are."

"You're very astute, Naruto-kun," Kabuto complimented. "Even from the start of this farce, you suspected me; though, you never truly understood why. Only veterans have that kind of instinct."

"It's not paranoia when people really are after you. Now, what do you want?" Naruto questioned, only for the hand to tighten around his larynx.

"Why didn't you copy Kimimaro-kun's Shikyotsumatsu?" was Kabuto's answer.

"Oh, so you were the bastard that saved his ass!" Naruto's eye twitched. "You know, that was very asshole-ish of you, and not very original either. If I were you—"

Kabuto squeezed harder, causing the boy to shut-up. "Answer me."

Uzumaki didn't answer, only offering a glare in return. Unsatisfied, Kabuto slowly dug his fingers into Naruto's throat, causing the younger boy to struggle for oxygen.

The only warning Kabuto got was Naruto's irises shifting to slits. Before he could react, Yakushi's hand was swatted away with speed he almost couldn't track, followed by Naruto driving his sharpened nails into his chest. It was a testament to Kabuto's superior reflexes that he was able to shift enough to only receive gouges across his skin.

Kabuto leapt away to a nearby branch for safety, holding his bloodied side. Despite blood dripping between his fingers, the traitor looked amused. He hadn't expected Naruto's ability to control the Kyūbi's chakra to such a degree.

He pressed a glowing hand to his side, quickly and efficiently closing the flesh wound.

"You know, I really hate that bastard Orochimaru," Naruto told Kabuto, taking a defensive stance even as his eyes and nails shifted to normality. "I swear, I see another asshole like him—or you—I might go nuts."

Just as Naruto coiled his legs to launch, Kabuto defensively raised both hands, causing the sun-kissed boy to stop as he narrowed his eyes. Keeping his sight on the human maelstrom, Kabuto dug into his bag and pulled out a scroll, tossing it to Naruto. Cautiously, Naruto looked it over, only for his eyebrows to shoot past his hairline when he discovered it to be an Earth Scroll.

"Orochimaru-sama has taken an interest in you and your teammates," Kabuto explained, adjusting his glasses. "…As have I. For that reason, we'll both be watching you carefully. Drop out of the exam, and there will be consequences.

"What kind of… consequences?" Naruto cautiously asked.

Kabuto smirked. "If I were you, I wouldn't think about that. Rather, I'd be more worried about finishing this exam so that those consequences aren't realized. After all, isn't your teammate, Sakura-chan, in a precarious situation? She needs medical attention as soon as possible."

Naruto felt a shiver up his spine at the mention of Haruno. "What did that snake freak do Sasuke and her?"

"Oh, nothing terribly wrong," Kabuto vaguely answered. "Orochimaru-sama merely gave them a taste of the power he's offering them. That offer extends to you as well."

Naruto shifted uncomfortably. "Sorry, but I'm not into old guys with a fetish for kekkei genkai."

Yakushi shook his head. "I'm afraid you'll come to Orochimaru-sama… one way or the other."

Uzumaki had enough. In a blur of speed, Naruto reappeared in front of Kabuto with a chakra-charged fist. Kabuto merely smirked, disappearing in a blur of leaves as Naruto's attack cratered wood.

"Will you sit down!?" Shikamaru asked/ordered. "You're making me nervous now!"

Ino paced back and forth, chewing on her bottom lip. "They've been gone too long. Something must've happened!"

This time, Sasuke spoke. "Calm down. Naruto is like a foot fungus. People have already tried multiple times to kill him, but he. Just. Doesn't. Go away."

Yes, Naruto had the tenacity of a cockroach. And devil's luck to boot. It would take something special to actually kill Naruto.

"Really?" Ino asked disbelievingly.

"The Demon Brothers from Kiri, Momochi Zabuza, and his apprentice Haku—all four of which were nuke-nin—Komoriuta Shizuka trying to knock us out of the exam (avoid that bitch if you meet her), I think that Gaara guy might've tried something, but I don't know on that one, and Orochimaru definitely made several attempts now on his life if the Kimimaro guy is anything to go by," the Uchiha counted off. "There might've been more, but you'll have to ask Naruto."

The Yamanaka's mouth dropped so far a bird could land and build a nest in it.

"Actually," interrupted a familiar voice, "Gaara hasn't tried to kill me yet, but he's probably looking for me now to do that."

Everyone turned as Naruto jaunted into the clearing sans Kabuto Yakashi. Though, nobody missed the scroll swaying with his arm.

Ino sighed in relief. "You're okay… Where's Kabuto?"

Naruto grimaced, ignoring the question in favor of tossing the scroll to Sasuke. The Uchiha frowned as he looked it over, only for his eyes to widen at the sight of the Earth Scroll.

"You didn't!" Yamanaka almost screeched.

"No, I really didn't. A genin team from Ame attacked us; evidently, they were following our group and waiting for one of us to get separated in order to capture a hostage. Kabuto tossed the scroll to me and then lured them away," he lied. There was too much sensitive information to tell even a half truth.

"At least now we don't have to give up our scroll," Shikamaru said with a relieved sigh. "It's troublesome, but if we want Sakura to get medical treatment, we need to move now."

"But we can't enter the tower without another scroll," Chōji reminded.

The Nara rolled his eyes. "I've got a plan. But we'll discuss it after we get Sakura to the tower."

All nodded in agreement. Sasuke collected Sakura while Naruto gathered the remainder of their supplies from the hollow. After Naruto rejoined, Teams Seven and Ten raced towards the tower at full speed.

Naruto remained in the back. Seeing this, Ino joined him. He ignored her, already knowing what subject she wanted to breach.

"Look," Ino quietly started, getting Naruto's attention despite trying to block her out, "I… I don't know what happened back there or what kind of power that was. From what I've seen, you know what it is, and you're obviously trying to keep it a secret. I won't tell anyone, but will you please tell me about it? I won't think any differently of you."

"You say that now…" Naruto mumbled. "I'll tell you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone about it."


"Alright then. I'll tell you later when nobody is around."

"Did you deliver the scroll?" Orochimaru questioned, not bothering to turn towards the whirlwind hailing the arrival of his servant.

"I have to admit," Kabuto's voice carried a note of amusement, "it's awfully kind of you to help them."

The snake leered oily. "Yes, I admit, it is quite unlike me. But I can't help but be curious. I want to see how well Naruto-kun does. I'm sure Gaara might be an excellent challenge to test his strength. Now, how are Sasuke-kun and Sakura-chan doing?"

Yakushi smile took on a devilish edge. "Sasuke-kun is taking to the power quite well. I'm sure with enough prodding he'll come to Otogakura without restraint." His smile fell. "Sakura lived through the standard three days. However, her body is still reacting negatively. I give her another day before everything clears."

It was the Sannin's turn to grimace. "Is that so?"

Sakura's case sounded eerily close to another he knew… If so, the genin wouldn't have the desire to draw upon the cursed seal's power. That could change, though. Unlike Anko, Sakura was young and impressionable.

Even then, Orochimaru could get other uses out of her, unsightly as they may be.

"Also," Kabuto interrupted Orochimaru's thoughts, "Naruto-kun displayed a higher aptitude in controlling the Kyūbi's chakra than we originally suspected. I felt elevated levels of demonic chakra in his coils when I made contact with him, which leads me to believe that the reason he didn't use the Kyōkagan in his confrontation with Kimimaro wasn't because he didn't want to, but rather because it was being suppressed."

"That is an issue…" the snake-man muttered.

There was that bijū again! Already, he didn't know if he could possess Naruto-kun's body with the beast's presence. And then to discover that the Kyūbi was capable of suppressing the Kyōkagan…

Orochimaru was not a master of fūinjutsu. Of the major shinobi arts, he'd willingly admit weakness in it. However, the materials and research was at his disposal. Given enough time he'd find a way to suppress the fox and take Naruto-kun's body.

"How is Kimimaro-kun? His body was put under severe strain during his battle with Naruto-kun," Kabuto asked.

"He won't last. His death will be a severe loss on our part," Orochimaru answered. "I would prefer for my future container to copy the Shikyotsumatsu while Kimimaro-kun is alive. Although it is possible for the Kyōkagan to copy Kekkei Genkai from a corpse, I would prefer not to test it."

Kabuto's lips twitched. "I understand. Depending on the course of the exams, I might even have a plan to ensure it occurs."

Temari winced as her youngest brother ruthlessly crushed a Kusa genin, scattering blood and sand across the field like a macabre rain. Gaara remained untouched by the crimson downpour, holding the umbrella he pilfered from their earlier encounter from an Ame team. Outraged, the genin's teammates moved to retaliate, but snagged in the sand. Within seconds, they too became nothing more than red stains.

Gaara felt only dissatisfaction. Ever since that wave of demonic chakra, his bloodlust seemed unquenchable. Everything he accomplished couldn't satisfy Shikaku's screaming. Whoever it was… that person's death would make him feel as alive as killing Uzumaki would.

They were his two targets: Uzumaki and the other jinchūriki.

"I'll find you…" Gaara whispered, the sand flicking about hungrily.

"Is it just me," Kankurō whispered from Temari's side, "or is Gaara being more violent than normal? I mean, he's actively seeking out teams and attacking them! Normally, he just lets them come to him."

It was true. Gaara rarely actively hunted for kills. But ever since they walked into Konoha, Gaara's bloodlust dramatically rose. And it never sated. Once they stepped into the forest, Gaara had taken the lead—a rare occurrence as well.

It was as if there brother was hunting…

Temari shuddered at the realization. "He's after someone."

Damned be the fool that incurred Gaara's attention.

Killjoy no Jutsu (A.K.A. Author's Note): Man, I'm glad that's over. At more than 12,000 words (not including author's note), I figured it'd be a treat for everyone who stayed with Shattered Eyes even after so many years. Finally, we're coming up to the elimination rounds, which I've wanted to get to for so long, and I'm sure everyone here is going to enjoy them.

I have several reasons I haven't posted in a while. For starters, real life sucks, end of story; the past several months have been absolute hell for me. Thankfully, that's done and over. Not only that, I've been rewriting the first chapters, taking out mistakes, plot holes, etc. I posted this when I was sixteen, and now at twenty-two my skills are far greater than they used to be; I thought it really needed to be done. I promised you quality work when I started and that hasn't changed. Chapter one has already been reposted.

I'm glad that people have accepted Jizenka warmly. She's gives Shizuka a much more human quality that I desired. Personality wise, Jizenka is whimsical and playful like Shizuka, but more mature and down to earth. Her name is also a pun against Shizuka's personality; On Jizenka roughly translates: kind-hearted philanthropist.

It should be noted that the Anko/Iruka scene was my first fluff scene. I'm not sure how I did, and I'm afraid to ask. For the love of God, I'm a guy; this isn't my specialty. Though, it will definitely lead to the funniest scene of Shattered Eyes next chapter.

In the Shattered Eyes mythos, the three sages, Six-Way, Water Moon, and Silver Tears, play an important role in the founding of the ninja world. I thought it would be important to have them play a role in the founding of several countries. Yes, I'm aware of the ten-tails, and the mythos will include it.

Also, I'm accepting omake for Shattered Eyes. I plan on making a chapter dedicated to deleted scenes. It can be funny, awesome, epic, whatever you throw at me. If you can send me something, I'll get it posted here, though I may need to ghostwrite them just in case. Hit me with what you got!

Also, for shits and giggles from now on, I'm incorporating a playlist of music I listen to while writing my stories. I have a broad taste, so I'm sure there's something in my music library anyone can enjoy. Updated chapters from here on out will incorporate their own as well. So, for good music you might miss, look back at those chapters.

Forbidden Scroll of Techniques:

Tessenka no Mai: Hana [鉄線化の舞・花] – Dance of the Clematis: Flower

Taijutsu – Kekkei Genkai Technique: The second half of Kimimaro's fourth dance. To obtain the strongest-absolute hardest weapon a considerable amount of chakra is needed. Enhanced to the highest degree-maximum solidity due to the dense compression, the bone weapon is exceedingly large. Since its destructive power has no meaning if the blow does not connect with the opponent. Kimimaro first binds the opponent with a "vine."

Lithius Osmius's Playlist:

Shattered Eyes main theme: The Clincher by Chevelle
Battle theme: Struggle by Apocalyptica
Naruto (w/demonic chakra) theme: Bring Them to Light by Apocalyptica
Anko/Iruka theme: Fall to Pieces by Avril Lavigne
Kabuto's theme: Butterfly Caught by Massive Attack
Shattered Eyes end theme: Hear Me Now by Framing Hanley