Jinchuriki of the Leaf Chap. 5

Sarutobi was reclining back from his paperwork, his dreaded enemy seemingly unable to be merciful. How did Minato do it? He had never learned the man's secret to dealing with it so quickly. This was probably the worse aspect of being Hokage, and his next successor will learn that the hard way.

A rapping at the door stirred him from his thoughts. Yet again the Gods have graced him with a distraction from his paperwork. Silently thanking his guardian deities, he coaxed his visitors into his office. He was surprised to see Iruka and Naruto, the latter looking as though he lost a fight with a wild bull, walk into his office.

"Ah, Naruto. I see you've made it through the second exam. And in such impressive timing as well. Not even I made it through the forest as fast as you and your friends have." he said in a congratulatory tone.

"If you ask me, we spent enough time in Hell already. I feel sorry for those poor suckers still in there!" Naruto replied. Iruka looked at his ex-student with a concerned glance.

"What exactly happened in there that you wished to speak with the Hokage about, Naruto?" he asked. The blonde looked to the ground with a solemn expression.

"Yesterday.......my team and I.....we were ambushed. It was obviously no ordinary Genin, just from the chakra signature he radiated, but when he told us who he was I thought for sure that I was going to die." he explained.

"Who is this mysterious competitor that nearly killed you?" Sarutobi asked calmly.

"......Orochimaru." As soon as that name left his lips, he instantly regretted ever mentioning it. A silent veil coated the room, the two adults in shock at this revelation.

"Orochimaru has.....returned?!" Iruka repeated. His surrogate son nodded in response.

"He's plotting something, and it's obvious that he views us Jinchuriki as a threat. He even sent two teams of Sound Genin after us. If Rika's team and Hinata-chan's team didn't show up when they did, I don't know where I'd be right now." Naruto continued.

"Rika? Who's Rika?" the Chunin asked.

"She's a Genin from Kumo. She is also a Jinchuriki, like myself, her teammates Takato and Takuya, Sakura, Sasuke and Hinata-chan. In total, there's seven of us. Kiba and Shino know about it too, being Hinata-chan's teammates and all." he explained. Now it was Sarutobi's turn to be surprised.

"Seven Jinchuriki? You've already met seven of them?" he asked.

"Yes. Considering Shichibi and Hachibi aren't easy opponents, I think I did pretty well for myself against them and Orochimaru. Of course, they beat the hell outta each other too....." he said.

"Do you know what happened to him?" Sarutobi asked.

"He disappeared before I defeated Hachibi and Shichibi. He knew that we were going to unleash a great amount of power and he didn't want to die because of it. He vowed vengeance and then sank into the ground. The 'assassins' he sent after us mentioned that he was heavily injured when they met with him, so I assume that means we made a mark." Naruto replied. The old Hokage sat back in his chair with a sigh. If only.....no. Now was not the time to regret. Now was the time to act and correct a mistake of the past. 'Orochimaru......you were once my prized pupil. What in the world could have made you turn to the dark?' he asked himself.

"Perhaps we should postpone the Chunin exams....." he considered aloud.

"Um, hey, no offense Jiji, but I don't think that'd be a good idea." Naruto said. Sarutobi raised an eyebrow in confusion.

"Oh? And why not?" he asked.

"Well, with all of the Genin visiting from other countries, I figured that there would be quite a few Jinchuriki among them. That, and if Orochimaru knows we're onto him, he'll probably strike quicker and harder than we are prepared for. We should keep the exams running as to avoid suspicion and to try and build up our own forces here at home." he explained. Sarutobi nodded at his reasoning.

"I see.....very well. The exams will continue as scheduled. I will allow you to act in this situation as you see fit. Also, I think I would like to meet those of whom you have discovered to be Jinchuriki as well." His statement had Naruto's eyebrows raised to his hairline. Iruka's expression differed little.

"B-But, Hokage-sama! You still have many important affairs to attend to, and-"

"If the safely of my village isn't the most important affair for a Hokage to attend to, then please enlighten me as to what is?" the old man cut him off. The instructor stayed silent. The Hokage turned his attention to Naruto once more.

"Now, can you please escort me to your friends, Naruto-kun?" he asked kindly. The blonde nodded the affirmative and the three left the office.

(Current Day: Exam Tower)

Hinata was lying on her bed, her thoughts adrift in the memories of recent events. It was still so hard to believe. If Yonbi-chan hadn't explained it all to her, she would be lost and confused. However, she was feeling quite the opposite. She was never more certain of anything in her life. She was going to help Naruto-kun, even if it killed her.

The door opening snapped her from her thoughts. Sitting up, she spied Takato walking into the room. He waved at her with a smile, to which she responded with a nod and a smile.

"Hello, Lady Hinata. I hope I didn't disturb you." he said.

"No, I'm quite alright; and please, don't stand on ceremony with me. We are allies, and no such formalities need to exist between us." she replied. He shrugged.

"Sorry. It's a force of habit. My mother always told me to be respectful to women, especially if that woman happens to be a member of a noble house." he said. Hinata's smile faltered slightly.

"That is.....not a position I particularly enjoy." she admitted. Takato seemed confused by her remark.

"Why so? Most people would kill to become the heir or heiress of a noble family, even more so for a famed house like Hyuga or Uchiha." he said.

"My clan is one of segregation and abuse. The values of love, harmony and unity we once held dear are now considered weak in comparison to the elders' need of strength, power and wealth. My father is no better than them......" she stopped herself, it being a difficult topic to discuss aloud. She willed her eyes not to tear up.

"......I'm sorry. That was a tough topic for you. I didn't mean to offend you." Takato said apologetically. He didn't realize that the life of a noble clansman was so difficult. Maybe his life of poverty was more of a blessing in disguise than first believed.

"It's alright. You didn't know." she replied. She brushed the long bang at the side of her face to the side, several strands sweeping across her delicate skin.

"I wanted to thank you for helping us in the forest." she said. He laughed a little.

"What, that? It was no big deal. We've vowed to help our kin, whether or not they realized it at the time. Kumo is home to many Jinchuriki and we've become pretty close, almost like a family. I certainly view them as such." Takato said.

"It sounds like you're very close with your friends. I wish I had that kind of relationship with my father. My mother died when I was a little girl, and his heart seemed to harden as a result. Many people have told me that I share her image so well that I may be her twin. I'm just upset that my little sister never had the chance to meet her." Hinata explained.

"Your sister isn't the only one who never knew a parent. My father died on a mission a long time ago, when Takuya and I were just babies. We were nine months old when he passed, and my mother isn't a ninja, so money became scarce. As we grew older, we became interested in becoming ninja like our father, but she forbade us from entering the Academy since she was scared of losing us too.

Instead, we became pickpockets, trying to steal enough money to help our mother and keep her from overworking herself. She never knew about it, and we came home bruised from being beaten several times. We had to lie about it, and she was grateful about the extra money we brought in. Then, one day, Rika caught us after we stole her bracelet. After we talked, she decided to train us in the ninja arts in the same way her sensei had. We were discovered one day by the Raikage himself, and he invited us to attend the Academy. Our mother was at first hostile to the idea, but after seeing how well we got along with Rika, she relented.

After that, we met with the other Kumo Jinchuriki one-by-one during our Academy years, and we vowed to always help innocent people in need. Once we graduated, we started a mercenary guild that took missions people couldn't afford to pay for. Our sensei entered the three of us into the Chunin Exams to try and find the other Jinchuriki living in other villages. Unlike here, we were treated pretty well in our village. Though, our lives at home were less than pleasant. There was something missing from each of our lives that made them seem so lonely. We didn't want others to know that pain, though it seemed we were too late in helping Naruto. We're here now and that's what matters."

Hinata looked at the floor as Takato's story ended. 'He's been through so much......and yet he's never given up. Just like Naruto-kun.' she thought. She took his silence as an invitation to speak.

"Thank you for sharing your story, Takato-kun." she said softly.

"I think I went a little overboard with it, but once I started, I just couldn't stop." he admitted.

"My, that was quite a story." an elderly voice remarked from behind them. Sarutobi walked into the room, with Naruto right after. The blonde wore a small smile and seemed generally proud.

"Takato, man, that was one helluva tale. I'd be honored if you, Takuya and Rika were to serve alongside me in the future as allies and even more so as friends." he said. Takato nodded in response.

"Of course. Like I said, we came here to find the other Jinchuriki." he said. Then, turning to the Hokage, he gave a respectful bow to the older man.

"Hokage-sama, it is an honor to meet you." he said in a revered tone.

"Please, there is no need for formalities. You have done a great justice to our village, as well as your own. Be proud of your actions and continue to follow your heart. It will serve you well." Sarutobi said. Takato flushed slightly, bowing his head to try and hide it.

"T-thank you, Hokage-sama." he replied shyly.

"Um......forgive my impudence, Hokage-sama, but what exactly are you doing here?" Hinata asked the old leader.

"Jiji-san wanted to meet the other Jinchuriki to tell us something. Have you guys seen the others around here?" Naruto replied. She shook her head in response.

"Sorry, but I haven't seen them since breakfast this morning." she replied.

"I think Rika and Takuya are in the examination room. I remember them talking about wanting to check it out." Takato suggested. Suddenly, the black haired girl burst into the room.

"Naruto-san! Takato-kun! Hinata-san! You're not gonna believe this!" Rika shouted hurriedly.

"Rika-chan, what's wrong?" Hinata asked as the three young ninja approached their friend.

"It's them! Those Sound creeps that attacked you in the forest! Twelve Sound Genin just arrived here, and those six are included!" she reported. Their eyes widened in shock.

"What?! They recovered all their scrolls already?! They're more skilled than I thought....." Naruto muttered to himself.

"That's not all of it." Takuya said, entering the room. All eyes turned to him.

"Of the twelve, half were the ones we fought in the forest. However, the other half.....there is something about them that I can't quite place my finger on. They aren't as malevolent and arrogant as the others. They seem to have some kind of resentment towards the other six, judging by the way they acted, though they may not be strong enough to defend themselves against them." he reported. Naruto pondered this for a moment before responding.

"I guess we'll just have to wait and ride it out. Unlike the old six, the new six we know little to nothing about. Let's bide our time and observe their actions, motives and morals during the exams, then we can make our decision as to whether or not they are friend or foe." he said.

"My, my, Naruto, quite the tactician, aren't you?" Sarutobi said, impressed with the boy's quick synopsis of the situation. His voice alerted Rika to his presence, making her blush in embarrassment before bowing before him respectfully.

"M-My apologies, Hokage-sama. I didn't know you were present...." she admitted bashfully. The older man let out a hearty laugh.

"It's no trouble, child. I presume you are Misumi Rika, the girl who assisted Naruto and his friends during the second exam?" he asked.

"Y-Yes, Hokage-sama. My teammates and I did lend our support to Naruto-san and his comrades during a battle in the forest." she confirmed.

"Then you have my thanks. Naruto-kun is a very strong ninja and a very close friend, almost like family to me. It would be a devastating loss to have him killed in action." the Hokage said.

"It was no trouble. We've vowed to protect the innocent and our comrades no matter what." she replied. The Hokage raised an eyebrow in curiosity. 'She's much like Naruto.....' he thought. Suddenly, Takuya pointed an accusing finger at the young girl.

"Rika, what was up with just running away like that?! You could've at least told me what you were doing! Damn, I thought you got yourself hurt or something!" he reprimanded her.

"Oops.....sorry Takuya-kun, but I thought that Naruto-san and the others needed to know about the Sound Genin as soon as possible. Hehehe....." she sweat-dropped embarrassedly.

"Obviously, she's unharmed. Honestly, nii-san, have a little more faith that that." Takato stated. Takuya was taken aback by his statement.

"H-Hey, I trust her! I just don't trust those Sound jerks! Those six from the forest are blood-thirsty monsters, while those other six are very suspicious." he rebutted.

"And this, Jiji-san, is the average day in the life of a Jinchuriki." Naruto said to his surrogate grandfather in a joking tone. Takuya turned to the person he was speaking to and promptly repeated Rika's previous actions.

"Ah! L-Lord Hokage! My apologies, I was unaware of your presence." he said, bowing apologetically.

"My, I wonder if all children in Kumo are this kind. Please, like your friends, there is no need to stand on ceremony." Sarutobi said. Takuya stood erect, complying with the Hokage's decision.

"Yes......um, Hokage-sama, exactly what are you doing here anyway?" he found himself asking. Sarutobi looked at Naruto, who seemed to understand what he wanted.

"Naruto-kun, can you fetch your other friends? I have something I would like to share with you all." he requested.

"Right. Be back in a few!" the blond responded, leaving the room to find the others in the tower. Sarutobi turned his gaze away from the four Jinchuriki present in the room. How would they react? Shock and surprise, probably, but anything else was still up in the air.

'Minato......Kushina......your final dream is going to become reality.'

(Current Day: Exam Tower)

Masato, Ishida and their respective teams had arrived at the central tower only an hour ago. Only two days remained in the exam, but he doubted any other teams were going to arrive. However, this was not his primary concern.

Ever since they were told about the Jinchuriki, Naito and Umi seemed depressed. He didn't know what to say to them, his own emotions a bundled mess. The three Ame Genin seemed to understand their plight and left them to their own thoughts. Something he was grateful for. It was obvious, though, that their behavior was beginning to worry them.

"Hey, you okay?" he heard Sukiko ask from behind. He turned to meet the black haired boy, his face smiling but his eyes frowning.

"Yeah, I'm alright." he replied quietly.

"Nice try. Your eyes give you away. I understand that you being a Jinchuriki is something hard to accept, but think about that blonde kid you were telling us about. He's a Jinchuriki, yet he's still giving it his all. If he can do it, then why can't you?" he asked rhetorically. Masato thought about it for a moment. Sukiko did have a valid point. That boy was also a Jinchuriki and he was making something of his life, not wallowing in despair at the implications of being a Jinchuriki. This time, a true smile appeared on his features.

"Yeah.....you're right. If he can do it, then why can't I?" he repeated, his resolve fortifying itself.

"That's one depression over. Now if only your two friends would be willing to listen....." Sukiko stated nonchalantly. Masato laughed at his remark.

"They can be stubborn when it comes to their emotions. Maybe I can talk with them." he offered. The Ame boy shrugged in response.

"Eh, knock yourself out." he replied. The auburn haired boy left him in the room, off to find his two teammates. Sukiko turned to a corner of the room, smirking slightly.

"Okay Kotaru, you can come out now." he said aloud. Within a moment's time, the blonde haired Genin faded into view, his arms folded across his chest.

"Ever the altruist, aren't you?" he asked jokingly.

"Yep! Better he know it now than later!" he replied.

"So, you think we should try to find any other Jinchuriki here?" Kotaru asked.

"No, not yet. We don't want to trigger events that we're not ready to handle. That blonde kid though......I'd like to speak with him." Sukiko admitted.

"True, he did make quite a speech back during the first exam." a new voice chimed in. The two boys looked to see Ishida standing in the doorway.

"Ishida! You should really warn us next time you do that." Kotaru stated.

"Sorry. Anyway, you have a point Sukiko. There's a possibility that he knows more about it than we do." Ishida offered.

"Chances are he made it to the third exam. Do you want to speak with him afterwards?" Sukiko asked.

"Yes, if only to clear up the mysteries a little bit more. There is still much we do not understand. Why were we chosen? How do we use our powers? Which spirits do we house? These questions and more plague my mind." he replied.

"In time, we'll find our answers. For now, though, we must sit back and allow fate to take its course." the blonde offered, ending the conversation. He mentally sighed. He hoped that's what would happen, anyway.

(Current Day: Exam Tower)

Takeshi reclined in his bed, his mind racing with thoughts on recent events. Those kids that Arashi's squad fought in the forest were no pushovers. They made them look like Academy students, and they do not take such humility very well. He thought them lucky to be alive after that onslaught.

The presence of a new person made itself known, making Takeshi sit up. Yuzu walked into the room, her arms stretched over her head, working the tension from her muscles. She smiled, spun around on her heels and fell back onto the bed next to him.

"Ah, what bliss! I haven't had such a comfortable bed in ages! Man, people in Konoha sure do know how to live." she said in pure ecstasy. Takeshi humbly agreed.

"This is definitely better than those old cots we have back in Oto." he said. Yuzu turned to face him, her short blonde hair falling across her face as she did so.

"Hey, Takeshi, do you think we'll pass the exam?" she asked. He looked at her oddly. They were going to invade Konoha during the exam, so why bother wondering if you were to pass it?

"I'm not sure. Why do you ask?" he asked. She sighed solemnly as she lied herself on her back.

"I want to know if I'm truly strong enough for this. So far, we only lasted because Arashi and his Dork Squad helped us, but now we're on our own. Are we really this weak, or are we really ready for this? That's why I wanted to know." she admitted.

Takeshi looked to the ground at her statement. She was right to question their worth. Were they ready for this? Could they muster the strength to betray the Sound during the invasion?

"I'm sorry Yuzu, but I can't answer that question for you." he said apologetically.

"I don't think you were meant to. I think that question can only be answered by destiny." she replied. He smiled slightly.

"Well then, we'll just have to wait and see what destiny's answer is." he replied. She smiled and laughed, propping her head up with her hands.

"Yeah, I guess we do." she replied.

(Current Day: Exam Tower)

Taiyou was absentmindedly walked around the tower. He probably would be training right now, but there was no room for it. There was nothing to do and he was bored. So. Damned. Bored. That wasn't a statement you could make often when you were a ninja. Not by a long shot.

As he was walking, he failed to notice someone running down the hall, who was also not paying close attention. They collided with one another, with the other person being launched back by their own inertia.

"Ah, I'm sorry! I wasn't watching where I was going!" the other person replied. Taiyou's eyes snapped open as he recognized the voice of the boy.

"Naruto, is that you?!" he asked in shock. Naruto looked up and saw that the person he had bumped into was his old friend Taiyou! What were the odds!

"Taiyou! Wow, it's been so long since we've seen each other! How have you been, buddy?" Naruto asked. Taiyou suppressed a laugh, but couldn't hide his smile. He hadn't changed too much after all, he thought.

"I've been doing pretty good. I'm not dead, so that's a damn good thing." he joked. The blonde smiled at him in response.

"Are Natoyo and Aki doing well?" he asked.

"They're both in good health."

"That's great! We should get together sometime after the exams!"

"Yeah, I'd like that. So, has Uchiha driven you insane yet?"

"Ha! Like that teme could even hold a candle to me anymore! I've practically increased my skills tenfold since the academy!"

"Really? Then I'm looking forward to seeing you fight in the third exam. Just so you know, I've gotten better too."

"You better have, otherwise I'd kick your ass for being like Shikamaru on the job!"

"Ha ha, you're funny, Naruto."

"What, it's true! He's lazier than a sloth, I swear!"

"Hahahahahaha! That is true!"

"Told you! Well, I gotta go. I have to find my teammates somewhere in this place, so I'll talk to you later!"

"See ya later, Naruto! And don't do anything reckless!"

Naruto waved behind him as he rounded a corner, biding farewell to his friend for now. Taiyou chuckled lightly at the encounter. Some things just never change.

"Ah, Naruto, I don't think you're ever gonna change......good. You're better this way." he said aloud to no one. He continued his absentminded walk, now comforted with his friend's happy-go-lucky demeanor.

(Current Day: Exam Tower)

Hikari stroked the brush through her hair once more, straightening the purple locks and cleansing them of dirt. It was so relaxing to just kick back and enjoy herself every once in a while. With the invasion coming up within a month's time, she had a lot on her mind. What was the Kazekage thinking? She knew that Temari and Kankuro were against the war themselves. Gaara......he was a different story.

Gaara was a Jinchuriki, everyone knew that. He was alone for a good majority of his life, save for the bonds he made with Kouen, Subaru and herself. They were able to show him that good things can happen in life, and he was a little bit happier than he was. That was, until the Yashamaru incident.

His own uncle was hired as an assassin to try and kill Gaara. He was defeated thanks to the Shukaku's abilities, but the red-head took a heavy mental blow. He became colder and distant, only opening up to his few true friends and his siblings. Those occasions have become rarer and rarer nowadays, and Hikari wondered if Shukaku had anything to do with it.

Shukaku and Gaara were in a mental deadlock, both of them trying to gain control over the body they shared. If Gaara won, then the demon within him would become dormant and never bother him again. If Shukaku won, however, then Gaara's soul would be overshadowed and he would effectively die. There would be no chance for him to even go to the Afterlife.

She shuddered at the thought. She was infuriated at the fact that she could do nothing to help him either. It was his fight, and his fight alone. He could have no one help him. Only pray from the sidelines.

"Hey Hikari." Kouen greeted as he entered the room. She turned to meet him, only to be taken aback at what she saw. Standing beside her tan-haired teammate were none other than Temari, Kankuro and Gaara, each seemingly pleased to see her.

"Hey there Hikari. Long time no see." Temari greeted her younger friend. Hikari allowed herself a small smile.

"I didn't doubt you guys would make it here. It's been too long! How have you guys been doing?" she asked, good-natured.

"We've been doing fine. The exams have been a little too easy, though." Kankuro admitted.

"I wonder if the third exam will give us a challenge." Temari wondered.

"Did Takeshi and the others make it to the third exams?" Hikari asked.

"Yeah, we saw them a bit earlier. They're doing okay, with only minor injuries. Can't say the same for Arashi's squad, though. They looked like they lost a fight with a meat grinder." Kankuro replied.

"Really? It serves them right for being such jerks." Kouen stated. Temari laughed in response.

"It sure does! I'm just disappointed that I wasn't a part of the fun." she said.

"Maybe you'll get your chance during the exams." Hikari said.

"I hope so!" she replied. As Kouen picked up the conversation from there, Hikari noticed that Gaara hadn't moved or said much since entering the room. She was concerned for the boy, especially considering his problem. Deciding to strike up conversation with him, she approached him without fear, something Gaara rose an eyebrow to.

"Hey Gaara-san! I hope you've been doing well since we've last saw each other." she said.

".....I've been....okay." he replied stoically. She mentally sighed at his social mannerisms. She supposed she couldn't blame him. His childhood just plain sucked.

"That's good. I hope you do well in the third exam! You're too good a ninja to lose now, right?" she said.

"Yes, I suppose you're right." Gaara stated plainly.

"But don't forget that I'm a good shinobi too! I'll show you just how strong I've gotten since the last time we met!" she said. Temari and Kankuro were worried that her innocent conversing with their brother would end up putting her on his 'people-to-kill' list by accident.

"I'm looking forward to it." the redhead replied, much to the relief of his siblings.

"I hate to break up the conversation, but I think we should rest up before the third exam. We don't know exactly how strong our opponents will be and I don't want to leave that up to chance." Kouen suggested.

"Alright, if you say so. We'll catch you guys later." Kankuro agreed.

"See you guys later!" Hikari said, bidding them farewell as the trio left the room. Kouen looked to her sympathetically.

"I think the reason Gaara-san hasn't completely gone insane yet is because of the way you talk with him. He never had that before and it's probably showing him that he matters to someone in the world other than his siblings." he said.

"....I don't want him to lose, Kouen. He's been through so much that he never deserved. I get scared for him sometimes and he's so flippant and submissive about everything. It....It's like he's a shell of who he's supposed to be." Hikari admitted.

"C'mon Hikari. Let's get some rest. Your cousin would kill me if I let anything happen to you because I let you worry like this. You and I both know that Gaara will not lose that easily, so have a little faith in him, okay? Even if Shukaku breaks free, it's not invincible like Kyuubi was. We can always beat it back into him and seal it away again. The best thing you can do for him now is be his friend when he needs you." Kouen said.

"Yeah. I think I'm gonna get some sleep now." she said quietly. He watched her disappear into the doorway, making sure that she wasn't looking. He looked to the ground solemnly, his crimson eyes filled with regret. 'Hikari-chan.....I'm so sorry. When the invasion comes around, I'll have to betray you and Subaru. Who am I to talk about being true friends when I'm going to fight you?' he thought.

(The next day: Exam Tower)

The remaining Genin teams stood next to each other in rows of three, ready to receive their instructions for the third exam. Naruto's excitement was barely containable. 'This is it! The third stage! I'm so pumped, I can't wait to show exactly how much stronger I've become!' he thought.

'Naruto-kun seems really excited about this. I can't blame him, though. I hope he does well.' Hinata thought.

'So, these are the other competitors that survived. There sure are a lot of them. Ah well, more of a challenge for me.' Sasuke thought.

'Wow, I didn't think so many competitors would be left! I guess it doesn't matter. I can't let Naruto and the others down now!' Sakura thought. The Hokage stood before them with their senseis, as well as a variety of other Chunin and Jonin overseeing the exams. As he cleared his throat, the room fell silent.

"Welcome all to the third portion of the Chunin Exams. You have all worked hard and persevered through many difficult obstacles to reach where you are standing. However, there is now one more challenge that befalls you. Due to the vast amount of remaining Genin competitors, we are going to hold a preliminary round to see who will advance and whose exam journey ends here. These will be one-on-one matches, with opponents chosen randomly by the screen above you. Now, the first two competitors will be chosen. If your name is not called, please move to the upper terraces to observe the battle." he instructed. The screen flashed to life above them, with the names of each of the Genin randomly shuffling upon it. Two names appeared on the screen, causing Naruto's breath to catch in his throat.

Uchiha Sasuke vs. Akado Yoroi.

"Looks like they wasted no time." Sasuke remarked as the other competitors left to the stands. Naruto and Sakura turned to their teammate before leaving.

"Don't overdo it, okay? We can't reveal our Jinchuriki powers just yet, so try not to use them unless you have to." Naruto said.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. No need to get all sentimental." Sasuke replied.

"What the?! Who's getting sentimental? I'm just warning you is all!" the blonde replied.

"Naruto, Sasuke, knock it off! Sasuke knows the dangers of revealing our powers, so stop scolding him. And stop pushing Naruto's buttons, Sasuke, since there's no need to antagonize him." Sakura said. Suddenly, Kakashi appeared next to his students, much to their surprise.

"C'mon you two, let Sasuke get ready for his match. You can talk afterwards." he said.

"Right, sorry. Good luck, Sasuke." Naruto said to his teammate, who just smirked and nodded. Kakashi raised an eyebrow at this. Normally, Naruto would just cuss out Sasuke in a vain attempt at trying to prove how he was far superior to the Uchiha in some way, shape or form. What had happened in the forest to bring about this sudden closeness?

"Kakashi-sensei, let's go! You're holding up the match!" Sakura called out for him.

"Oh, right." he said lazily, his tone belying his inner curiosity. 'Did Naruto maybe....no, he wouldn't do that. He's too nervous to reveal much about that to anyone unless they were like him. Then what made my team closer so suddenly?' he asked himself.

Sasuke and Yoroi stood across the stage from each other. The older man seemed quite confident going up against a kid, but the young Uchiha wasn't about to let him win. He noticed that the masked man was laughing to himself.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"I'm just thinking about how enjoyable sucking out your chakra will be." Yoroi replied. Suddenly, the man lunged forward, his hand glowing with chakra. Sasuke jumped back to dodge Yoroi's swipe, making hand seals in the air.

"Fire Style: Phoenix Flower Jutsu!" he called. Many small missiles of fire shot from his mouth and bombarded Yoroi into the ground. Smoke quickly blinded him, but his Sharingan allowed him to perceive images through it. He landed on the floor, cautious of his surroundings. Sensing a flare of chakra below him, he moved to the side to avoid Yoroi's emerging arm from the ground. However, his ankle was in his opponent's range, and he wasted no time in latching onto it.

Sasuke fell on his side, feeling his chakra slowly being drained from within him. He brought his other leg around and kicked his assailant in the jaw, forcing him to release his grip on his ankle. The ebony haired Uchiha hopped up from the ground, evading Yoroi's counterstrike. As his opponent righted himself and regained his bearings, Sasuke pondered his next move. 'This guy can drain my chakra if he latches onto me for too long a period of time. I need to end this fight quickly, but what techniques can I use that won't reveal my Jinchuriki powers?' he thought to himself. To be honest with himself, he wasn't too sure what those powers were, but it was best not to look conspicuous. He was waken from his thoughts by Yoroi's fist suddenly slamming into his gut. He flew across the room and landed on his back, his head slightly ringing from the impact.

"Don't let your guard down, kid!" Yoroi shouted as he went to grab Sasuke's head. The Uchiha ducked under his fist and grabbed his extended arm.

"I could say the same to you!" he retorted, flipping the masked man over his shoulder and onto the floor below. Yoroi howled in pain as Sasuke smirked triumphantly. A sudden burst of smoke surprised him, revealing that the Yoroi he had flipped was merely a clone. The real Yoroi latched his palm onto his head from above, knocking them both to the floor.

"Haha! You fell for the oldest trick in the book." he said. Sasuke tried to remove his arm from his head, but found his chakra to be depleting quickly.

"Sasuke, no!" Sakura called out.

"You better not lose this Sasuke or I'll kick your ass so hard your great-grandfather will feel it!" Naruto shouted in frustration. Sasuke suddenly shot his leg forward, kicking Yoroi straight in the gut. As his opponent doubled over in pain, he lifted himself from the ground while focusing his remaining chakra.

"You little brat....you'll pay for that!" the masked man exclaimed as he prepared to finish off his prey. 'Boy, I know a quick way to finish this.' Hachibi offered. 'I'm trying to keep a low profile, or have you forgotten?' Sasuke mentally replied, physically dodging his opponent's frantic strikes. 'Just feint hand seals while you chant, alright?' the dragon Bijuu replied. 'Chant? You mean you want me to use magic?' his container said. 'Not the kind of magic you're thinking. I'll explain later, just repeat what I say.' the dragon replied. Sasuke relented to his demon's suggestion. He began making hand signs as he spoke quietly under his breath.

"O crimson rage, burn and incinerate my enemy with thy scorching heat..." he whispered breathlessly.

"What are you saying, brat? Speak up!" Yoroi demanded, confused as to the reason of his opponent's silent chanting.

"Flame Burst!" Sasuke called. Flames suddenly erupted from beneath Yoroi's feet, engulfing him in a small sphere of fire. He cried out in pain as the fierce heat seared his skin and burned away his clothes. He landed on the ground as the flames faded, burnt and defeated.

"The winner is Uchiha Sasuke!" the proctor announced. There was no need to check if Yoroi was unconscious: it was obvious to all in the room. Sarutobi, however, was uneasy. 'That move....that was a Mystic Art. Mystic Arts can only be used by Jinchuriki or those blessed by the spirits. Did Naruto and his friends discover the use of Mystic Arts so soon?' he thought. Sasuke returned to the balcony, where his two teammates and sensei were waiting for him.

"Alright, Sasuke! Way to go!" Naruto cheered.

"Great job Sasuke-kun! But, what was that fire technique? I don't think I've seen it before." Sakura said.

"It was something I just picked up." Sasuke replied, not fully understanding the power he tapped into. His teammates were appeased by his answer and dropped the subject.

"Now, let's see who's in the next match-up." Naruto said absentmindedly. As the names flashed upon the screen, he saw it was between Aburame Shino and Abumi Zaku. He remembered the boy who he fought back in the forest and hoped that Shino would kick his ass twice as hard for him. As the stoic boy passed him on the balcony, he stopped him for a minute.

"Shino, be careful against this guy. He's no ordinary Genin. Don't let your guard down for even a minute." he warned him. The Aburame boy nodded in response, continuing to travel down to the arena. Zaku seemed to be overjoyed that he was matched against him.

"Ah, it's you. Now I can get payback for what happened in the forest." he said.

"That was due to your own actions. I suggest you forfeit this match, if you value your life." Shino replied coldly.

"I was going to say the same thing to you! Prepare to die!" Zaku exclaimed, launching a large sound wave from the holes in his palms. The blast sent Shino careening into the wall behind him. Spiderweb cracks spread out from the crater his body made.

"Shino-kun!" Hinata called out, much to her sensei's surprise.

"Shino, you better not be...." Kiba couldn't bring himself to finish his sentence. Zaku smirked in triumph as his opponent's body began to fall from the crater.

"I guess you weren't as tough as you thought." he said. Just then, Shino's body dissolved into a mass of insects, shocking their target.

"What the-" his exclamation was cut off by Shino's fist slamming into the side of his face from behind.

"Never underestimate your opponent, no matter how weak they may seem." Shino said stoically as he called his insects over to him. He redirected them to Zaku's position, adding more to them to increase their strength. The Oto boy was engulfed in a cloud of bugs, his howl of pain going mostly uncared for. As soon as the insects retreated, he fell to the ground, unconscious from chakra drainage.

"The winner is Aburame Shino." the proctor announced.

"Phew....Shino, you scared us there for a minute." Kiba sighed.

"I'm glad Shino-kun is okay." Hinata remarked, breathing a sigh of relief. Kurenai was shocked at her sudden outgoingness, to say the least. What happened in that forest, anyway? She would have to press for details later.

"Shino, great job. Had us worried there for a second." the Inuzuka said to his oncoming teammate.

"Thanks. Just make sure you two do the same." he stated as he turned to see the next match-up. Kiba was ticked by his teammate's phlegmatic response, but let it slide. It was better not to start a fight here.

Sakura looked to the board as the names of the next two competitors flashed upon the screen. What it said shocked her to the core. Haruno Sakura vs. Yamanaka Ino. Her widen emerald eyes turned to the similar gaze of her blue-eyed ex-best friend. What were the chances of this happening? With this question in mind, she made her way to the arena, where Ino was waiting.

"Well....I didn't think I'd be fighting you here, Sakura." Ino said, slightly glaring at her. Sakura scoffed, something that made her raise an eyebrow in curiosity.

"I'm not the same little defenseless girl I used to be. If you think you can beat me, you're in for a rude awakening." she threatened. If looks could kill, Ino would've died of a heart-attack. The harshness of her glare was comparable to that of Uchiha Sasuke.

"Are we just gonna glare at each other all day or do this?" she asked, grabbing a handful of kunai.

"Bring it on." Sakura replied, bringing out her own volley of shuriken. As the blonde threw the knives at her, she leaped into the air and rained the metal stars down from above. Ino jumped back in quick retaliation, unaware of the trap her opponent had set.

"You fell for it." she said as she made a hand sign. Suddenly, the shuriken that littered the ground detonated in a fiery explosion that sent Ino flying across the floor. As the blonde righted herself, she was caught off-guard by Sakura's aerial kick. She was knocked to the ground again, unable to catch herself in time.

"So Ino, do you think you can beat me now?" she asked smugly, smirking in victory.

"When did Sakura get so strong?" Ino asked herself aloud. She wiped her lower lip with the back of her hand, her glare intensifying.

"That's it, it is so on!" she exclaimed, charging forward with a punch ready. Sakura sidestepped her attack, grabbing her by the arm. With a mighty thrust, she tossed Ino over her shoulder and into the air as if she was paper.

"Man, Sakura is wiping the floor with her." Naruto said in awe at his teammate's strength.

"This is a grudge match, so I'm not too surprised." Sasuke replied. The blonde raised an eyebrow in response.

"A grudge match? How do you know?" he asked. The Uchiha averted his eyes from his friend as he replied.

"While Sakura and I trained together, she told me about her rivalry with Ino. This is a match to prove which of them is the better kunoichi – in both battle and love." he said. Naruto looked back to the battle with renewed vigor, waiting to see if his teammate would emerge victorious.

Ino was once again tossed back by her rival, unable to land a solid blow on her. This was becoming incredibly taxing for her, while Sakura was barely breaking a sweat! There was no way in hell that she wanted to lose to her of all people!

"Sakura......I will not lose to you! I refuse to be beaten by you! I swear I will defeat you and prove who the best of us really is!" she exclaimed in anger. Just as Sakura was about to refute her claim, she felt a large spike of chakra in the air. She soon found the source to be Ino.

"I-Ino, what are-" she was cut off by the explosion of yellow chakra that emerged from her opponent's body. The shock waves were so powerful that they began to crack the walls. The pink haired kunoichi was flung back by the force of the chakra, landing on her back a good few meters away from her original spot.

"SHICHIBI!" an angry shout resonated through the room, the yellow chakra becoming stronger.

"What in the world is going on here?!" Asuma asked out of concern for his student. Naruto and Sasuke looked at each other in a state of shock.

"Does this mean that Ino is a Jinchuriki?" Sasuke asked. Suddenly, Rika appeared next to them.

"Guys, I think that girl is a Jinchuriki too! But her powers are going out of control! She'll need to be knocked unconscious for things to settle down!" she reported.

"Ah man, and Sakura's fighting whatever demon she has! This isn't good." Naruto remarked.

Sakura charged at her ex-best friend, ready with a punch of demonic chakra. However, the yellow chakra from before formed a shield around Ino's body, blocking her attack. She leaped away from her target, dodging a ray of light threatening to impale her.

"Ino, come back to your senses! This isn't like you!" she pleaded.

"That's because Ino isn't here right now." a deeper voice replied. Suddenly, a burst of light erupted from the blonde's hand, hitting Sakura and knocking her into the ground.

"Sakura, be careful!" Sasuke warned her. She looked up to him for an explanation.

"She's possessed! You need to knock her unconscious in order to save her!" he continued. She nodded in response before turning to her opponent.

"So, which one of the tailed beasts are you? You obviously know which one I am." she asked her.

"I am the Guardian Spirit of Light, Hibi. Did you honestly forget your betrayal, Shichibi? How you allowed our once-strong friendship to deteriorate and wither away? I will never forgive you for what you've done. Now, perish!" she said. In shock, Sakura took a step back from her. She couldn't tell if she was speaking of her own conscious or of Ino's. Several tendrils of light flew through the air, wanting to thrush themselves through their target. Sakura knew she had to think fast. If she didn't do something soon, then not only would she end up dead, but Ino would be possessed by Hibi far longer than her soul could handle. If that happened, then she would effectively die. She had to stop this. 'Shichibi, please, lend me your power. Help me right a wrong of the past.' she mentally pleaded as the tendrils crashed down upon her. Dust covered the entire area, leaving no visual as to what happened.

"Sakura!" Naruto shouted out of concern. Sasuke looked on in disbelief.

"Impossible." he muttered. Suddenly, something sprung up from within the dust cloud, rising into the air. As the last of the smoke dissipated, it was revealed to be Sakura, her pink chakra wings unfurled for all to see, completely unharmed. Hibi grit her teeth in frustration.

"Why are you so hard to kill?" she asked herself. Kakashi was in shock at seeing his female student able to fly, as were quite a number of other people who knew her.

As he watched, Arashi couldn't help but smirk. 'So, this is the power of Shichibi? This would've made that fight in the forest that much more interesting.' he thought.

"Ino, don't worry, I'll save you." Sakura said to herself as she dove for the possessed girl. Hibi glared at the oncoming kunoichi, firing several bolts of light to deter her target.

"Die!" she shouted at the bolts flew towards their target. Sakura closed her eyes and called upon more of Shichibi's demonic power. When she reopened them, they were not longer the emerald green they were famous for. Now, they were a dark, almost seductive, shade of pink.

"Demonic Art: Phoenix Missile!" she called. She began to rotate rapidly, building speed until she nothing but a blur. She then ignited, becoming a spiraling spear of flames. The bolts were shattered upon contact, unable to penetrate the flaming shield.

"I-Impossible! This can't be-" Hibi never finished the statement, as Sakura crashed into her with tremendous force. The impact held the force of a 4.0 earthquake, forcing onlookers to grab hold of the railing to keep from falling over.

"Oh my God." Shikamaru said in shock. As the smoke once again cleared, the two girls were standing across from each other, both looking worse for ware. Hibi was barely able to stand, while Sakura was breathing heavily from the effort it took for her last attack.

"I.....I never thought....that I'd lose to.....you." Hibi said exhaustedly.

"You were right....to be mad at me....but I guess....it was a simple misunderstanding." Sakura replied, just as breathless.

"I guess.....it was.....sorry. I was...so foolish.....now, please....let me sleep." she said before collapsing to the ground in a heap.

"Ino......I'm so sorry." Sakura said apologetically to her sleeping friend.

"The winner is Haruno Sakura!" the proctor announced. As the paramedics came to take Ino to the infirmary, Sakura stopped them.

"Wait a minute. If it's no trouble, may I accompany you? There is something I must speak with her about once she wakes." she said, a tone of regret in her voice.

"Well, as long as you don't get in the way, there shouldn't be a problem." one of the medics replied.

"Thank you." Sakura said, smiling.

Sasuke, Rika and Naruto watched the paramedics walk away with Ino and Sakura in tow. He had to admit, that was an impressive match. Even when Sakura was forced to fight Hibi, she was able to pull through with little difficulty. That last attack of hers was an incredible sight to behold.

"Do you think they'll be okay?" Naruto asked.

"Well, I'm not an expert, but judging from the wounds they took, I think they'll be fine in the long run." Rika guessed. The proctor's coughing brought their attention to him.

"Now, for the fourth match, please look to the screen." he instructed. They did so, and watched as two new names came upon it. Mokushi Taiyou vs. Arame Kegume.

"Taiyou? Isn't he an old friend of yours?" Sasuke asked Naruto.

"Yeah, he is. He's no pushover, but I hope he watches himself against this guy. He's one of the Sound Genin that tried to kill us in the forest." he replied.

"They tried to kill you? What did you do to provoke them?" Kakashi asked.

"I didn't provoke anything. They were assassins sent by a certain someone to eliminate us. Thankfully, Rika, Takato, Takuya and Hinata came at the right time." Naruto explained.

"Why are you always so quick to assume that Naruto did something wrong, anyway? Can't you give him the benefit of the doubt?" Sasuke asked his sensei.

"That's quite a statement, coming from you Sasuke. Pray tell, exactly what happened in that forest anyway?" Kakashi asked, reflecting the question back to his students.

"Guys, the next match is starting! Let's talk about it later and just see how things turn out." Rika said, silencing the conversation.

Kegume couldn't help but laugh at the sight of his opponent. This little kid was going to fight him? Ridiculous! This couldn't be much easier! Ah well, might as well get the best from it.

"You really think a little kid like you can beat me?" he taunted him. Taiyou rolled his eyes at this.

"Yeah, yeah, enough with the witty banter, let's just do this already." he said nonchalantly as if it was no big deal. That immediately ticked Kegume off. Who was this kid to act so high and mighty? He would just have to put him in his place.

"What was that you little twerp?!" he shouted as he charged at him in rage. Taiyou couldn't help but smirk. This guy really was as dumb as he looked. Goading him into attacking blindly was way too easy. As Kegume's fist passed through the air where his head used to be, Taiyou swept him off his feet with a sideswipe kick, then slammed his foot into the descending Kegume's stomach, knocking him across the room.

"Didn't you learn from you buddy's mistake? Never underestimate your opponent." the blue haired boy said mockingly. Kegume stood up, clutching his now-aching gullet.

"Ow......damn, this kid is stronger than he looks." he said to himself.

"If all you have going for you is just power, then I'm afraid you'll never beat me." Taiyou said in a demeaning tone. This ticked off Kegume once more.

"Shut up! What do you know? You're just some snot-nosed little punk who thinks he's a ninja! I'll show how being a ninja really works!" he said, preparing his attack. He charged chakra in his fist, readying to thrust it forward.

"Sonic Thrust!" he called. A wave of chakra rushed towards Taiyou, who simply jumped to the side. Suddenly, Kegume erupted from the ground below and caught him in a headlock.

"What the? How did you.." Taiyou's question was answered when the 'Kegume' he was fighting disappeared in a puff of smoke. That's when Taiyou realized what happened. 'I was fighting a clone the whole time! He just made it seem like he was easily tricked to get my guard down. Then he fired off that jutsu to lead me straight into his trap. This guy is quite a tactician.' he thought.

"What were you saying before about how power alone won't let me beat you? Let me tell you something, kid, if you don't have power in this world you're nothing. I'm not gonna be a nobody, so I'm looking to get all the power I can. Power is the only thing that matters in the world." Kegume said triumphantly. As Taiyou struggled to break free of his grasp, he couldn't help but feel sorry for him.

"You truly believe that? What a blinded fool you are. If power is the only thing you seek in life, then it is wasted. If you don't know what truly matters in this world, then you'll never have it. It's pitiful in a way." he remarked. He felt the grip on him tighten as the air rushed out of his lungs.

"Real smart to insult the guy who's letting you live on a whim right now." the Sound Genin replied as he began to squeeze harder. Taiyou felt the life drain out of him as his vision began to fade. 'Natoyo.....Aki.....I'm sorry.' he thought.

"Taiyou! Don't give up!" a familiar voice shouted. He managed to look up and see Naruto calling to him.

"Don't let this guy beat you now! You've come so far! What about becoming the head of the Mokushi Clan? Have you abandoned your dream, your goal? You can't give up now!" he shouted. Kegume scoffed at the blonde's preaching.

"What an idiot. He may be strong, but he has no idea what he's talking about." he said, turning back to his victim. He raised an eyebrow in confusion. Taiyou's expression was unreadable, his hair casting a shadow over his eyes. 'Naruto......thank you.' he thought. He looked up at his opponent, a fierce glare of determination in his features. What startled Kegume the most, however, was the color of his eyes. Instead of their previous green, they were now a light amber in hue.

"I refuse to be beaten by the likes of you. I hope you're prepared to lose!" he shouted. Kegume was blown back by a burst of chakra that erupted from him.

"What the hell!? There's another one?" he asked as the amber colored chakra condensed itself around its owner. Orange flames erupted from his hand, twirling in his palm as he prepared his attack.

"Demonic Art: Solar Sphere!" he called. He charged forward and drove the sphere straight into Kegume's gut. A explosion of fire followed, with the unconscious Sound Genin blown into the wall behind him.

The amber chakra died down, his eyes returning to their natural green shade. Taiyou fell to one knee, breathing heavily. That took a lot more out of him than he thought it would. His thoughts traveled to the strange power he had just tapped into. What in God's name was that? It was like someone else was lending him strength, but what could that mean? He noticed Naruto's shocked expression, as well as that of Sasuke and the girl with them. Maybe they knew something about it. He'd have to ask later.

"The winner is Mokushi Taiyou." the proctor announced after making sure Kegume was out cold. The blue haired boy returned to his teammate as the medics took the Sound boy to the infirmary.

"Taiyou, are you okay? You're not too hurt, are you?" Natoyo asked worriedly. He shook his head.

"I'm okay, just a little winded." he replied.

"Dude, that was amazing! Since when could you do that?" Aki asked.

"To be honest, I really don't know." Taiyou replied. Aoba looked at his student in slight surprise. 'So, he's a Jinchuriki as well? There is something going on here that I think Naruto knows about. Sasuke and Sakura too, and I think maybe Hinata-sama judging from her reactions. I'll have to ask the Hokage later.' he thought.

(Meanwhile: Infirmary)

Ino's eyes blinked open, wiping the sleep from her light blue orbs. She sat up in her bed, her head slightly pounding. She took a beating, she knew that, but after a certain point in the match she couldn't remember much. Seeing as she was in the infirmary, she knew she lost.

"Ino, are you – oh, you are awake." she heard someone say. She turned her head to see Sakura standing there, a concerned look on her face.

"Sakura? What are you doing here? Did you come to gloat?" she asked scornfully. The pink haired kunoichi didn't response, merely locking the door behind her. She then proceeded to close the windows to prevent anyone from eavesdropping. Ino was alarmed by the girl's sudden seriousness. There was something going on here, something important. Something secret. Sakura sat down in the chair next to her bed, a severe expression on her face.

"Ino, we need to talk."