Sit Upon the Frozen Heavens
By: James D. Fawkes

Chapter One: Awakening

o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto rubbed his aching head as he came to, climbing to his feet shakily, "What—?"

The memory came back in a flash, distorted by a distinct crimson haze.

"Hmm," the Grass shinobi mused quietly, Naruto in her grasp. "It seems the Kyûbi brat is still alive. Oh!"

The ninja looked amused as she studied the intricate seal on the boy's stomach, "When you use the beast's Chakra, the seal becomes visible."

The Kusagakure kunoichi moved her right hand behind herself, a mini purple fire lighting up on each fingertip. Naruto thrashed in her grasp, trying desperately to free himself. The ninja's amazingly long tongue, however, would not relinquish him from its grasp.

"Hey!" he shouted, wriggling as much as the foreign appendage would allow. "Let me go!"

The super powerful Grass ninja, who was actually Orochimaru in disguise, thrust his flaming fingers into Naruto's unprotected abdomen, crying, "Gogyo Fuin!"

Naruto's face contorted into a silent scream as the Hebi Sennin's agile digits dug into his stomach, clenching around the soft flesh. The red bled from his irises as the Kyūbi's Chakra disappeared, returning his eyes to their natural blue. His canine teeth shrunk to their original size and his nails were once more blunt and soft. Then, without warning, the blonde boy slumped, unconscious.

"Ugh," he groaned softly. "What did that snake freak do to me?"

He looked around, his expression dazed, "Where—?"

Frozen tundra is what he saw, with snowy banks that stretched for miles, far beyond his human line of sight. Several trees, barren of any sign of life and covered by a thick layer of ice, littered the rolling slopes. Something soft and small landed on his nose, quickly melting into water as it dribbled down his face.

He reached out, catching petite, white fuzz in his palm. It was snowing, he realized, though with the blankets of the stuff that covered the ground, it was difficult to distinguish the tiny flakes falling from the sky. The slate gray clouds didn't make it any easier, either, as they blocked out the sun and left only a miniscule bit of light for him to see with.

Despite the abominable weather, however, he didn't feel cold at all.

His eyes widened, surprise and confusion in their sapphire depths, "Where am I?"

Last he remembered, he'd been in the Forest of Death during the second part of the Chûnin Selection Exams and he had fought against an impossibly strong Kusagakure ninja. He had been surrounded by trees and roots, each of which was easily three times the size of normal foliage.

So where was he now? The only place that had snow, according to what he'd been taught, was the frigid Yuki no Kuni, the Land of Snow. Even Yuki no Kuni, however, had never been reported to have trees covered in ice. If he wasn't in the Land of Snow, one of the only places that suffered through winter, then where could he be?

'On this plain of never-ending ice and snow,' the blonde thought in a rare philosophical moment, "did I die?"

"So," a deep voice, like the rolling thunder, spoke. Nearly jumping out of his skin, Naruto turned at near light speed, coming face to face with a huge blue dragon, "you're finally here."

Its scales were smooth and slick and reflected the miniscule light perfectly, which gave them an ice-like shine. Atop its head was a crown of spikes, each of which jutted backwards like shards of broken glass. Its nostrils were thin and narrow, almost serpentine, but its breath did not leave clouds of condensation behind.

"Tell me. Can you hear my name?" the dragon moved closer, its glowing red eyes boring into his own, "Can you call out to me, to Hyôrinmaru?"

"Is that you?" Naruto asked, voice low and quavering with fear and awe. His eyes were wide and his breathing came out in shaky rasps. His heart thumped loudly. "Are you Hyôrinmaru?"

The dragon seemed to grin, baring two rows of shiny, carnivorous teeth, "So, you can hear."

A burst of warm breath came from its nostrils, "After years of having your ears plugged by the Nine-tailed Fox, you can finally hear me."

"The fox?" Naruto parroted, his features quickly contorting into rage. "What does he have to do with anything?"

"Do not be so quick to hate, child," a second burst of breath came, knocking Naruto off his feet. He fell on his butt with a soft grunt. "If it were not for that beast, you would likely have failed to survive your rough childhood. Blocked me from you, he may have, but kept you alive, he did, even if it was in self-interest."

"What?" Naruto looked shocked. "But how?"

"He protected you when I could not," the dragon responded. "He healed you when others would have waned away into nothing. He soothed you when sleep would not come to your young mind."

"But that was all his fault to begin with!" Naruto protested loudly. "If he hadn't attacked Konoha, then he wouldn't have gotten his fuzzy butt sealed, and I would have had a normal life!"

"Do not be so quick to judge," Hyôrinmaru purred. "The fault of the Nine-tails' attack lies in the Uchiha and their accursed bloodline. The one called Madara…"

The dragon's eyes flashed, "Were it not for that evil man, the beast would not be where he is."

Naruto looked confused, "What does the Uchiha clan—?"

"That, I cannot answer," the serpentine beast interrupted, anticipating his question. "I only know what information I can glean from the beast and his mutterings."

"Oh," Naruto said lamely. He glanced around, somewhat unnerved by the dragon's unblinking stare. "So…what are you?"

There was huff from the creature in front of him, almost like an amused chuckle, but Naruto dared not imagine he was right. Despite this, the dragon's tone was serious when it responded, "I am the piece of your soul dedicated to fighting. I am the part of you that never gives up, even when your body is frail and defeated."

There was something powerful in the beast's voice as it continued, its pitch rising, "I am the Wrath of Heaven, the instrument with which you slay your foes. I am the lord of ice and snow, the master of all things water! I am the frigid bite of death! I am your sword and your shield, and I shall protect you until the bitter end!" — its voice rose to a roar — "I am HYÔRINMARU!"

It bowed its head submissively, startling Naruto with the foreign gesture, "Now command me, and raze your enemies to the ground!"

A sudden feeling of power rushed through his body, and he felt like he could do anything, beat anyone, and overcome any obstacle. It was like molten lava flowing through his veins and with nothing but confidence, he reached out to touch the spiked crown of Hyôrinmaru's head.

The strange world disappeared in a flash of bright light.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto woke with a gasp, his head aching and his stomach sore. It felt as though he'd been run through with a katana, as though the metal had pierced the flesh of his belly and been left there to bleed him out.

"…ha!" there was a loud thud, as of meat hitting the ground. Sakura's voice cried out in a soft shout, a vicious crack renting the air; a crack like that of bones breaking, shattered by the blunt force of the unforgiving earth. Naruto's mind was hazy, as though clouded by a thick fog he had no way of escaping.

'Ugh. What's that noise?'

"Kin, out of the way!" the words were thick and seemed shrouded in a heavy mist. A blast of wind leapt to life, sprinkling his body with a cool breeze. There were three sharp clunks and a soft explosion sound, one that Naruto recognized as belonging to a Kawarimi.

'It's so noisy! God, my head is pounding.' His skull pulsed with pain, as if someone had drilled several holes in his head. He let out a soft hiss through his teeth.

"…useless!" Another rush of wind, this time closer than before, showered him with harsh air that whipped his skin raw. His ears twitched at the dark scoff that followed.

'Shut up! You're so annoying!'

"…you're not fooling anyone!" Three more thunks, followed once more by the soft explosion of the Body Replacement Technique. Naruto's brow furrowed in annoyance, his lips twisted into a scowl.

'Shut up! One more time, and I'll…!'

"...get serious!" another thud, this time heavier, followed by a surprised gasp and the smell of blood leaking from fresh wounds. There was a muffled cry of pain, feminine in nature, and several loud whacks as someone hit something repeatedly. Then, a thud as something or someone was thrown bodily to the ground.

'That's it! THAT'S IT! Someone's gonna die!'

Blue eyes snapped open, a harsh voice whispering, "No more Mister Nice Guy."

He stood in one fluid motion, fingers wrapping around the hilt of a sword that he'd never had before, but one that sent a satisfied rush through his veins. The world halted before his frigid gaze, his sapphire eyes sweeping the forest around him, narrowed in cold fury he'd never felt before. His grasp on his sword tightened.

"Naru…to," Sakura whispered dully from her spot on the ground, one eye already swelling shut. She looked surprised to see him, like he was some phantom specter back from the dead.

"What the?" the ninja with spiky black hair asked confusedly. "Weren't you out cold a few seconds ago?"

Naruto focused his icy gaze on the Sound Genin, words tumbling past his lips before he knew what he was saying, "Sôten ni zase, Hyôrinmaru." (Sit upon the Frozen Heavens, Ice Ring)

Everyone waited for something to happen, but nothing did, and the spiky haired Genin smirked, a cocky gleam in his eye. He scoffed, "Was something supposed to happen?"

"Zaku!" the bandaged one scolded, wary of this new opponent. This was not the Uzumaki Naruto they had been told to expect.

In a blur, Naruto had moved to stand in front of the one identified as Zaku, already in mid swing. Startled, Zaku stumbled backwards in a clumsy effort to dodge. Steel glinted and several locks of black hair fell to the ground as the Sound Genin landed on his butt. Zaku, shocked at the pure speed of his enemy, could only stare.

Instantly, Naruto was upon him again, both hands grasping the hilt as his blade came down in a graceful arc. Zaku yelped, rolling backward over his shoulder only to land straight on his feet, crouched defensively. He looked like a frightened animal too scared to move.

As Naruto moved to continue his assault, Zaku channeled Chakra into his legs and leapt as far away as his enhanced limbs would allow, preparing his own attack as he went. Air compressed, Chakra funneled, and Zaku aimed, "Zankuuha!"

A gale of tightly packed wind rushed from Zaku's palms, targeting the motionless Naruto, whose icy gaze had not wavered. Zaku grinned, knowing that there was no way the blonde boy could dodge at this range.

Naruto jumped. It wasn't a small jump, like a hop, but a full-blown leap that carried him at least two dozen feet into the air, where gravity seemed to lose its hold on him as he once more swung his sword. Zaku nearly palmed his face, wondering what kind of idiot swung at nothing during a life or death battle.

From the downward arc of the blade, a winding, icy blue Japanese dragon soared, its eyes red and its jaw wide. It was headed straight for him and he was too surprised to even think of dodging. It was like something had frozen him to his spot and no matter how much he told himself to move, he couldn't.

"Zaku!" at the last second, Dosu called out his name and Zaku finally responded, vaulting from his spot as the sapphire beast closed in on him. He felt a frigid chill nick his left arm, but paid it no attention.

A gasp from his female teammate caught his attention and he looked back to where he'd previously been standing, his eyes widening. Behind him, there was a patch of ice easily a meter in diameter. The grass formed into tiny rigid spikes that he could tell would pierce straight through his sandals.

He moved his arms in an effort to push himself up, but his left one was heavy and cumbersome. He glanced down and couldn't help the gasp of air the left his lungs, a horrified glint in his eyes. His left arm, from the elbow down, was covered in a thick block of ice.

A soft thump announced Naruto landing next to him and Zaku channeled more chakra, flinging out his good arm, "Zankuuha!"

With a flick of his wrist, Naruto deflected the attack with his sword, despite how impossible such an act was. Eyebrow twitching, he spun on his heel, blocking the attack from Zaku's male teammate, Dosu. Metal clashed and sparks flew, Dosu's gauntlet pushing against Hyôrinmaru.

Ice crept from the point of contact, slowly consuming Dosu's arm in a heavy layer of crystallized water. Surprised, Dosu tried to get away, but Naruto's left hand sneaked out and locked his elbow in a grasp as strong as steel. He wriggled, but Naruto's grip was firm and unwavering.

Once the gauntlet was completely frozen over, Naruto let go of Dosu and brought his sword up as his enemy stumbled. With all of his strength, he slammed the butt of his sword's hilt into the metal glove, smashing it to pieces mercilessly.

Dosu yowled as he fell backwards, clutching at his severely injured right arm. Several scratches decorated the lacerated skin and the bone felt like it had broken at the point of impact. Spikes of pain lanced up and down the entirety of his arm, his pulse pounding against the flesh.

"Leave your scroll and go," Dosu's head jerked up at the icy intonation, his mind taking forever to process what his ears were telling him. After all of this, the broken arm and gauntlet, Zaku's frozen limb, and a show of power so unreal that he felt as though he was dreaming, this boy was letting them leave?

"Leave your scroll and go," Naruto repeated coldly, his eyes more frigid than Yuki no Kuni. Dosu could only nod dumbly. With his good arm, he reached into his kunai pouch and pulled out a scroll decorated with the kanji for earth. Setting it down slowly, he motioned to his teammates silently. They left without another word.

As soon as the team of Sound Genin had vanished, Naruto picked up the scroll, turning to show it off. He grinned, displaying it proudly, "Look, Sakura-san! I got us a scroll!"

Sakura blinked, absentmindedly wondering what had happened to Sakura-chan, then nodded slowly. Questions zipped through her head at blinding speeds, leaving her to wonder just what she had witnessed not more than a minute before.

That sword, where had Naruto gotten it? She took a closer look at it. The hilt was wrapped in azure cloth and the cap at the bottom appeared to be made of some sort of bronze, or perhaps even gold. The hand guard just beneath the blade was made in the design of a four-pointed star, also appearing to be composed of gold.

The blade itself was an oddity as well. The metal gleamed with a soft silver glint that belied its true purpose and the steel appeared to be as smooth as glass. Unlike the standard ninja sword, like a kodachi or a ninjato, the blade had majestic curve to it and was quite long. It seemed to be the size of an ordinary katana, which was a big sword for someone of Naruto's stature.

She shivered. The edge was what grabbed her attention the most. She knew, without even testing it, that the blade's edge was sharp enough to cut through most targets. She almost wanted to see if it could slice a shuriken in half, just to get a more accurate judge of its abilities.

Abilities. That's the word. Even more unusual than the weapon's composition was the abilities it had revealed. She wondered if it was the actual sword or if Naruto was simply channeling Jutsu through it. After all, what blade can fire a dragon of ice at the wielder's opponent? What sword can freeze an enemy simply by contact?

Sakura jerked at the sound of scraping metal, looking over at her blond teammate. A navy blue sheath was slung over his right shoulder, tied there by a strand of iron ninja wire, and he was easing his sword into it delicately. He grinned at her and she could only smile awkwardly. That just brought up more questions.

Where had the sheath come from? Naruto hadn't been carrying it with him when the exam had started. He hadn't been carrying the sword, either. He didn't know anything about sealing weapons. So what did that leave? Where had the sword and sheath come from?

The whole thing was giving her a headache.

"Hey!" Naruto looked over as a girl jumped down from the trees, her brown hair tied up in two buns on the top of her head. Her white-eyed teammate frowned. "That's a nice sword you have."

"Yeah," Naruto chuckled. "He's great, ain't he?"

"I'll say," she whistled. "The hilt is amazing in and of itself, but the blade! I've never seen something of this quality before!"

She giggled, "So, 'he'?"

"Yeah," Naruto grinned. "His name's Hyôrinmaru. He's the best sword you'll ever see!"

"I can see that," she too grinned, "and his owner isn't anything to sneeze at either. I've seen quite a few blades, but this one is something else. I didn't know it was possible to channel Jutsu through weapons like that! Even the White Fang's sword couldn't manage something so advanced!"

She let her eyes rove over the hilt, taking in its splendor, "So, did your Jônin sensei teach you that?"

Naruto blinked, cocking his head to the side, "Teach me what?"

She resisted the urge to arch an eyebrow, "You know, that…dragon thing."

He looked her oddly. She motioned with her arms as if swinging a sword, saying, "Where you just swing and this dragon comes out and attacks your enemies?"

"Oh that," recognition lit up in Naruto's eyes. "That's Hyôrinmaru."

"But…I thought Hyôrinmaru was the sword," she stated lamely, confusedly.

"He's both," Naruto told her matter-of-factly. "He's the dragon and the sword."

"But…that means…"she started, scrunching her face up as she put together the implications that statement brought. If this Hyôrinmaru was both the sword and the dragon, that meant that, "you have a dragon sealed inside of that sword?"

"Something like that," Naruto admitted sheepishly. Truth be told, he wasn't sure himself. All he knew was that Hyôrinmaru was both his sword and the dragon, and so long as that didn't interfere with anything, he was going to leave well enough alone. As long as it worked, he didn't care about the how.

She opened her mouth and closed it several times, but nothing came out. Finally, she decided upon an excited grin, giggling girlishly. She turned to leave, throwing a wave over her shoulder, "You're an interesting guy! So let's meet again, Naruto-san! Don't lose, okay?"

Leaping into the trees, she and her team disappeared into the dense foliage.

Naruto couldn't help the grin that threatened to split his face. That girl was quite an interesting one. She was kind of strange, he had to admit, because it wasn't everyday you found a girl so obsessed with weapons. He didn't really care, though, because she was interested in him as a person and that made her okay in his book.

That teammate of hers, though, Neji, was someone that Naruto figured he better watch out for. Lee had told him that Neji was the strongest Genin in the entire village of Konoha, and Lee himself had easily beaten Naruto. If Neji was even stronger than Lee, that meant that Naruto would definitely have to keep an eye on the Taijutsu prodigy, Hyuga Neji.

His thoughts were interrupted by Sakura's excited cry of, "Sasuke-kun!"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"I say we open the scrolls," Naruto said, injecting his opinion. After roughly three hours of nonstop running, Team Seven had finally made it to the tower…where they promptly got into a fight about what to do.

"Idiot!" Sakura punched Naruto over the head, a vein popping out on her brow. "Anko-san said not to open the scrolls! We'd get disqualified!"

"She was talking about before we got to the tower!" Naruto shouted back, rubbing the bump forming on his cranium. "Besides, we would probably still be looking for a second scroll if I hadn't tricked the snake freak into burning a decoy!"

"I don't care!" Sakura fumed, glaring at him. "I'm not about to let you and your stupidity get Sasuke-kun disqualified from the Chûnin Exams!"

"It's logic!" Naruto argued, blue eyes burning. "We're in the tower with no one to greet us! The only explanation is that the scrolls have something to do with our qualification into the next part of the Exams!"

"Since when do you know anything about logic?" Sakura demanded rhetorically. "I'm not going to let you take any chances! This is one of the most important milestones in Sasuke-kun's life! You're not going to mess that up!"

"Jeez!" Naruto flung his hands up in exasperation, rolling his eyes. "For the smartest girl in the Academy you sure are pretty dumb!"

"What did you say?" Sakura's voice rose. "I dare you to say that to my face!"

"I said," Naruto yelled back, "YOU'RE DUMB!"

"Come here, you little—!" Sakura reached for his neck, fingers twitching dangerously.

"Hey, guys," both of them froze as Sasuke looked at them with his serious face. Naruto thought it made him look constipated. "I think we should open the scrolls."

Naruto palmed his face as Sakura squealed and crooned about how right her Sasuke-kun was, and about how he always had the best ideas. Even after the mess with the three Sound ninja, she still found it prudent to be Sasuke's little cheerleader.

"Ugh," he muttered to himself. "Why did I even like her, anyway?"

"Come on, baka!" Sakura pulled him by the sleeve of his jacket, shoving the Heaven scroll into his stomach forcefully. "Help me open the scrolls."

Grudgingly peeling open the scroll given to him, he stared at its contents. Several characters were written down, focused around single kanji in the center. Naruto blinked, "'Jin'?"

As soon as the word left his lips, the scrolls began to smoke and sizzle in their hands. Naruto nearly dropped it as Sasuke spoke again, his tone urgent, "Naruto, Sakura, throw the scrolls away!"

Trusting the Uchiha to know what he was talking about, his teammates hurled the scrolls at the floor several feet away, watching as the smoke rose to an apex and exploded outwards. As the smoke began to clear, however, a shape could be seen within the dispersing cloud. Team Seven tensed, prepared to fight whatever had appeared from their scrolls.

Naruto blinked in surprised, then grinned, "Iruka-sensei!"

True enough, the smog dissipated, revealing their trusted Academy teacher, Umino Iruka. He grinned at them, waving in a friendly gesture, "Hey, guys. It's been a while, huh?"

Sakura stared, confused, "Iruka-sensei…what just happened?"

"Oh, well," Iruka rubbed the back of his neck, "the summoning spell on the scrolls was designed to let us Chûnin greet the applicants at the end of the second exam. It's just luck that I was the one who wound up meeting you three. Congratulations! You all pass the second exam!"

"If we had sneaked a peek at the scrolls before the exam was over," Sasuke started, "what would you have done, Iruka-sensei?"

Iruka scratched his temple with his index finger, "Sharp as ever, huh, Sasuke?"

He shrugged, "Our orders were very specific. Anyone who opened a scroll too soon was to be knocked out until the end of the second exam."

His expression softened, "Listen…about the third exam…don't overdo things, okay?"

The three Genin looked at him, blinking in surprise. He continued, "I mean it. I worry about you guys. Especially you, Naruto."

"Don't worry about me, Iruka-sensei," Naruto grinned, fingering the hilt of his sword. Belatedly, Iruka realized he'd had it the entire time they'd been talking. "No one in this exam is a match for Hyôrinmaru!"

Iruka's eyes widened as, for a second, a translucent blue dragon appeared, hovering protectively over Naruto's shoulder. Its serpentine body and tail were coiled around the boy's feet and its red eyes were menacing. It bared its sharp teeth in a vicious snarl. Then, an instant later, it was gone and he seemed to be the only one who'd seen it.

He grinned, rubbing his neck sheepishly, "Yeah, I guess so, huh?"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The Hokage looked over the assembled Genin, resisting the overwhelming compulsion to smile when he saw Naruto among them. Twenty-one had made it, the majority of them from his own village. Nine of them were rookies and another three were a team that was only about a year old, having graduated the year previous. It did his heart good to see such strength and courage in ones so young.

In the front of the room stood a group consisting of Chûnin, Jônin, and the Hokage. Protruding from the front wall was a pair of stone hands forming the seal for "Ram".

Anko smirked at them from where she stood, "Congratulations on passing! Hokage-sama will now explain the third test, so listen carefully!"

The Sandaime took a step forward, "Before we begin, there is something I'd like you to know."

He tugged his hat down slightly, baring the kanji for fire imprinted upon its center, "Why do we have all the alliance countries taking this exam together? 'To promote friendship amongst the countries' 'To raise the level of Shinobi'… I don't want you to be confused about the true meaning. This exam is a replacement for war among the allied countries."

Sandaime's face was impassive as he took a puff on his pipe, "If you go back in time, the current allies were enemies who fought each other over who would rule. In order to prevent wasteful fighting, the stage that those countries chose for fighting…That is the origin of the Chûnin Exams."

"What do you mean?" Tenten asked confusedly.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Inuzuka Kiba shouted. "I thought the point was to select Chûnin!"

Sarutobi continued, undaunted by the questions thrown at him, "It is true that this exam decides who is to become Chûnin, but it is also an opportunity for the different countries to show off their ninja to the important figures who watch this third exam. A shinobi village is only as strong as its weakest link."

"Whatever," the redheaded Gaara muttered darkly. "Could you wrap up this philosophical talk and get down to the life and death stuff any time soon?"

"Hmph! If you insist," he paused for a second, "on to the third exam…"

"Actually…" A sick looking Jônin appeared in front of the Hokage, "As referee…Hokage-sama, if I may…?"

Sandaime nodded, a small smile on his face, "By all means…"

The Jônin turned toward the Genin, revealing his weary face and the dark bags under his eyes, "I am Gekkô Hayate and I am the referee. Before the third test, I'm afraid we'll have to hold a preliminary. Since we are going to begin right away, I must ask any who wish to quit to do so now."

"Preliminary?" Kiba echoed. "Right now?"

"Well," Gekkô coughed, "it's not as if the first two tests weren't challenging enough. On the contrary, they were quite difficult. We still have too many applicants, however, and, like Hokage-sama said, there will be plenty of nobles watching."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Kiba retorted.

Gekkô coughed again, "The nobles will be traveling from all over to see the third exam, so the exam itself has to be quick and speedy to maintain viewer interest. To do that, we need to cut down the number of applicants with this preliminary round. As I said earlier, any who wish to quite may do so now without adversely affecting your teammates' chances of success."

"Well," Yakushi Kabuto raised his hand, "I'm out of here."

"What?" Naruto demanded sharply. "Kabuto-senpai, why are you quitting?"

"I'm sorry, Naruto-kun," Kabuto sighed, "but I got the crap beat out of me in the second exam. And ever since that little fight I got into with those Sound ninja right before the first exam, I've been totally deaf in my left ear."

Kabuto shook his head, "Now they're saying this could be a fight to the death! I'm just not up to that."

Questioning stares followed his retreating back as he left, sparing a short, unnoticeable glance at Naruto and Sasuke.

Hayate looked around, "Right then, (cough, cough) if no one else wishes to forfeit, let's begin the preliminary rounds. If you'll turn your attention to the screen behind me…"

Everyone turned his or her gazes to the large screen behind the sickly Jônin, watching as the blackness faded into a dark gray. The letters 'vs.' lit up in the very center. Above them was the name "Uchiha Sasuke" and below it was "Akado Yoroi".

"Now," Hayate said, "If these two participants would come to the front…"

Sasuke grinned as he and Yoroi moved towards the examiner, each confident of their own ability. Gekkô Hayate made a motion towards the stands, "Now if everyone else would please leave the arena."

When everyone had left the area for the stands, he said, "Please begin."

Yoroi made a hand seal, teasing, "Are you ready, Sasuke-kun?"

He slipped his left hand into his kunai pouch, his right hovering in front of his stomach. He withdrew a few shuriken, while, simultaneously, Sasuke withdrew a kunai from the holster on his thigh. Without warning, Yoroi flung his shuriken at Sasuke, who knocked them away with a swipe of his kunai.

A flash of inexplicable weakness brought Sasuke to the ground, kunai still in hand. Yoroi took the opportunity to try and attack Sasuke, trying to bring his hand down on Sasuke's head. Sasuke rolled and dodged, watching the other Genin's hand sink into the tile floor. Plunging his kunai into ground as a brake, Sasuke spun around and brought Yoroi's legs from under him, pulling the older Genin into a painful looking arm lock.

Yoroi's hand grabbed Sasuke's shirt firmly and, suddenly, Sasuke felt himself growing weaker. Too weak to prevent it, Sasuke could only watch as Yoroi twisted himself free of Sasuke's grip and brought his hand down on the Uchiha's chest. Hard.

Jerking up, Yoroi spun around and latched that same hand on Sasuke's head, sapping the younger boy's strength.

"You're…stealing…my chakra," Sasuke gasped weakly.

Yoroi chuckled darkly, an evil grin hidden beneath the cloth on his face, "So you finally noticed."

With a sudden surge of strength, Sasuke kicked him off, standing up as fast as he could. A scowl lit up his face as he tried to reason out the cause of the unexplained weakness, but no answer would come. Was it the Curse Mark? But wouldn't he feel something from it if that was what was bothering him?

Yoroi growled as he stood back up. He rushed Sasuke again, his technique charged and ready to go. With a burst of speed, Sasuke ducked under his attempt at grappling and sent a kick into the boy's chin, forcing the Genin into the air. As fast as his body would allow, Sasuke followed him, appearing beneath Yoroi's airborne body.

Sasuke sent a light poke to his opponent's back, "It's over."

Using the other Genin's spine, Sasuke flipped over his enemy's body, kicking towards his stomach. It was blocked and Sasuke used the teen's arm as a springboard, landing a vicious backhand in his face. Still twisting, he fired a punch into Yoroi's stomach, knocking the air from his body. Now only a few feet above the ground, Sasuke used his momentum to bring a solid kick into Yoroi's body, forcing him to collide painfully with the ground and Sasuke's foot at the same time.

"Shishi Rendan!" Sasuke said.

With his opponent unconscious and his fight won, Sasuke collapsed on his butt, panting heavily.

Hayate bent over Yoroi, checking for signs of unconsciousness. When he found his answer, he shouted to the stadium, "Akado Yoroi is unable to continue. Uchiha Sasuke wins the first round."

As Kakashi took Sasuke from the stadium and medics took away Yoroi, the screen lit up with the next combatants, "Zaku Abumi vs. Aburame Shino"

Zaku smirked, confident of his victory, his left arm thawed, "Who's this loser?"

When both had entered the stadium and stood in front of Hayate, the referee said, "We will now begin the second match."

The remaining Genin watched the match unfold, wincing a bit as Shino got hit by Zaku's Zankuuha.

Hinata was worried about him, "Will Shino-kun be alright?"

Kiba, her other teammate, smirked, "I wouldn't worry about Shino. He's one of the guys even I don't want to fight."

Neji gazed lazily at the fight, disinterest in his pale gaze, "For a rookie, this guy isn't so bad. But can he win this?"

Tenten grimaced when Zaku's arms were damaged, severely hindering their movement "It seems he can and did."

Down in the stadium, Hayate shouted, "Winner, Aburame Shino!"

The screen lit up again as Zaku was carried away on a stretcher, "Tsurugi Misumi vs. Kankuro"

Kankuro bested his opponent relatively quickly. Tsurugi had attacked and supposedly broke his neck, only to discover that he was attacking a puppet. Kankuro had pulled himself from the mass of bandages on the floor revealing that he was safe and unharmed. With practiced ease, Kankuro crushed his opponent, almost literally.

In less than a minute after it started, Hayate said, "Winner, Kankuro."

Ino and Sakura's match ended in an anticlimactic draw. They were too evenly matched to take the other down, so they finished with a double knock out.

The screen lit up for the fifth time, reading "Temari vs. Tenten"

This turned out to be the worst match up for Tenten. Her weapons couldn't reach her opponent at all and she was defeated easily. Temari had beaten her brutally, as evidenced by the fact that she had caught the weapons mistress on her fan, Tenten's back bent at an unhealthy angle.

Lee had gotten angry and was ready to fight, but Gai held him back. Lee, still angry, nodded and relinquished his fighting pose. For now.

Nara Shikamaru vs. Kin Tsuchi

"A girl?" Shikamaru asked, as if looking for confirmation. He sighed, "Mendôkusai."

Their match didn't last very long either. Kin had had Shikamaru caught in her trap for a few moments, but Shikamaru had come back and out done her. Using his Kagemane no Jutsu, he forced her to hit her head against the wall. She knocked herself unconscious and Shikamaru was declared the winner.

After Kin was carried away on a stretcher, the screen flashed again, revealing the combatants of the next fight, "Uzumaki Naruto vs. Inuzuka Kiba"

"Ha! We got lucky, Akamaru!" Kiba gloated, jumping down into the arena. Akamaru, his dog, gave an enthusiastic bark of agreement.

Excited to finally have his match, Naruto flung himself over the railing, landing on the tiled floor with surprising ease. There was a huge grin on his face, one that was easily matched by his opponent. Hayate stood between them.

"Heh," Kiba clenched his fist. "I feel bad for you, so I'll end this in one punch!"

"Yeah right, dog-breath!" Naruto shot back. "Why don't you and your master go back to chasing cats?"

"Akamaru isn't my master!" Kiba shouted vehemently, glaring. "He's my partner!"

"Prove it," Naruto called coolly. Kiba growled.

"The Seventh match, Uzumaki Naruto versus Inuzuka Kiba," Hayate said calmly. "Begin!"

Kiba's hands instantly clasped together in a hand seal, "Ninpô: Shikyaku no Jutsu!" (Ninja Arts: Four-legged Technique)

The Inuzuka heir got down on all fours, his body becoming more feral and animalistic in appearance. His canines lengthened into fangs and his fingernails into claws, sharp and pointed. Without warning, he dashed for his opponent, intent on winning with a single attack. Naruto, too surprised to do anything, was hit solidly in the stomach. He collided painfully with the stadium wall, crumbling a small portion of it.

"It's over, Hayate-san," Kiba said confidently, a smirk on his lips. "He won't be getting up."

Up in the stands, Yuhi Kurenai, Kiba's teacher, smirked over at Hatake Kakashi, "Looks like your student doesn't belong in this exam, Kakashi-san."

"N-no," surprisingly, it was meek little Hinata that spoke up. "Naruto-kun is m-much stronger than-n that."

As the smoke and rubble from the collision dispersed, Naruto stood up, rubbing his stomach with a wince. He grinned, "You're stronger than I thought."

He unsheathed the sword on his back, the scabbard disappearing into thin air. Several people gasped and Naruto's grin widened, "Let's see how you fare."

"A katana? Kenjutsu?" Kurenai glared at Kakashi. "How could you be so irresponsible? Teaching that kind of thing to a Genin!"

"I didn't," Kakashi responded neutrally. "Either he's been hiding it in a scroll all this time or he got it during the second exam."

Snarling, Kiba leapt at Naruto claws first, swiping towards his opponent's chest. Holding his weapon one-handed, the blond deflected the blow easily, knocking Kiba to the side. A dark growl rising up in his chest, the Inuzuka turned around, taking another swing. Again, Naruto deflected it, flinging a foot out to trip the other boy.

Kiba tumbled, head first, to the ground, his momentum carrying him several feet. Rolling, he flipped back onto his feet, digging his nails into the tile in an effort to slow his movement. An angry snarl curled at his lips, exposing his large incisors to all of the shinobi present. He reached into his kunai pouch, pulling out three smoke bombs.

He flung them, watching as they exploded and shrouded Naruto in a thick cloud. He grinned, seeing Akamaru sneak up behind the blonde. This tactic was one he knew would work and it was definitely to his advantage. His enemy couldn't see, but he could smell where his opponent was and that left Kiba with the upper hand.

A scream alerted him to his pup's success and he let a smirk crack his face.

Naruto grabbed the dog by the scruff of its neck, awkwardly putting his hands into a seal. A poof later, a second Naruto stood next to him and he handed the puppy to his doppelganger, glaring. It was difficult, considering the amount of smoke clouding his vision.

Scowling, he got his hands into another seal, channeling his chakra like he'd seen Kakashi do. In a burst of energy, the smoke dispersed and was blown away, much like the mist had when his sensei had used the skill. The bite, the dog, the smoke, it was all worth it to see the smirk on Kiba's face fall.

"Let Akamaru go," Kiba snarled, eyes blazing with fury.

"What do you take me for, a fool?" Naruto arched an eyebrow.

"Fine," Kiba reached into his pouch again, "have it your way."

He tossed a small pill, which Akamaru promptly swallowed, his fur turning red as he growled. He spun, his claws dispelling the clone that held him. Running, he rushed past the stunned blonde to stand faithfully next to his partner, Kiba.

"Now!" Kiba bent down, hands in a seal as Akamaru jumped atop his back. "Jujin Bunshin!" (Man-Beast Clone)

In a burst of smoke, a second Kiba had appeared in the place of the dog, smirking viciously at his opponent. Naruto blinked, surprised that such a technique even existed. Then, he grinned broadly, brandishing his sword offensively.

Kurenai turned to Kakashi, her expression smug, "I don't know how well you taught that boy, Kakashi-san, or even what you taught him, but he can't beat Kiba."

"No," Sakura whispered, having woken two minutes before, eyes glued to the battle before her. "This isn't the limit. Naruto can do…much more."

Kurenai didn't look convinced and Kakashi refrained from commenting, but Hinata was silently agreeing with her fellow kunoichi. There was no way Naruto would lose this close to becoming Chûnin. She caught Sakura's tiny grin out of the corner of her eye as her blonde crush spoke.

"Sôten ni zase," Naruto commanded, eyes glued to his opponents, "Hyôrinmaru."

"Oh no you don't!" one Kiba cried as the two of them bounded forward on all fours. They spun, creating two vortexes that rushed forth side by side. "Gatsuuga!" (Fang over Fang)

Kakashi palmed his face as Naruto dashed in their direction, sword trailing by his leg. He jumped as the collision became imminent, twisting to get between the two winding tornadoes. Kakashi's eye almost widened as the blonde managed to dodge the attacks completely, if only by a hair. As Naruto landed, Kakashi noticed something else.

One of the vortexes suddenly twisted off course, colliding with the ground painfully. Dust rose and as it cleared, a Kiba could be seen covered up to the neck in ice and wrapped in a chain. The chain reached all the way over to Naruto, connecting with the hilt of his sword. A crescent shaped blade was attached to the other end of the string of metal links, stabbed into the ground.

The second swirl of air and chakra dissipated and a second Kiba landed, staring at the frozen mass that encompassed his comrade. He growled, "Akamaru."

Calmly, Naruto walked over to his captive, staring down at the dog turned boy impassively. Bending down, he pulled the crescent blade from the tiled floor, dropping it immediately afterwards. He reared his fist back, punching the ice with all of his strength. It shattered under his power, the transformation dropping to reveal Kiba's puppy.

"Akamaru!" Kiba cried. Naruto turned at the sound of his voice, the crescent and chain retracting into Hyôrinmaru's hilt. The sword looked as if nothing had happened.

"You!" Kiba snarled. He ran forward again, once more transforming into a spinning vortex as he shouted, "Tsuuga!" (Piercing Fang)

Naruto leapt over the attack, turning around in midair as he brought his sword up. Both hands tightened over the hilt, the blue wrappings rubbing comfortably against his palm. With a jerk of movement, he began his downward swing. An azure dragon jolted forth from the blade's majestic arc, its red eyes gleaming.

"Reign over the frozen sky," Hinata muttered as Kurenai's mouth dropped open in surprise. The dragon roared as it soared for its target, carving a winding path through the air of the arena. Kiba stopped spinning and turned around, shock etched onto his face as the beast charged towards him.

"Kiba-kun!" Kurenai called in alarm, her composure regained.

Her voice seemed to snap the Inuzuka boy out of his stupor and he dodged at the last second, watching as the dragon collided with the tiled floor. A large ice spike remained protruding from the ground, its edges jagged and sharp. Cold steel pressed up against Kiba's neck.

Naruto stood in front of him, Hyôrinmaru poised threateningly against his opponent's jugular vein. The blonde's eyes were as icebergs floating in the frosted sea, "You lose."

Kiba jerked forward, clutching at his stomach where Naruto had punched him as his knees fell from under him. Blackness intruded upon his vision and, with a heavy thump, Kiba collapsed to the ground, unconscious. Naruto swung his sword over his shoulder, placing it in the sheath that had just reappeared as if from nowhere.

Hayate knelt down, checking on the Inuzuka boy. He stood a second later, raising his hand in the blonde's direction as he said, in the loudest voice he could muster, "Winner: Uzumaki Naruto."

"Hyuga Hinata vs. Hyuga Neji"

"I never thought I'd be facing you," Neji said, a cold grin on his lips, "Hinata-sama."

"Neji-niisan," Hinata whispered.

"Before we begin, I'd like to thank you, Hinata-sama," Neji's mouth twisted into an angry snarl, "For causing my father's death!"

"N-no! I-I— "

"Still stuttering," Neji scoffed. "I can sense your inferiority complex from here! I bet you didn't even want to enter this exam! You just did so because your teammates wanted to!"

"No!" Hinata interrupted. "I e-entered this exam…t-to change myself!"

Neji's eyes narrowed, "You really are a spoiled brat of the Main House, aren't you? Don't you understand? People cannot change! A loser like you will always be a loser!"

"Shut up!" Neji's hateful eyes flickered to Naruto, the origin of the angry command. "You and your destiny crap aren't worth shit! Hinata-san, kick that jerk into next week!"

"Hm!" Hinata moved into a stance. Neji caught it out of the corner of his eye and smirked, mimicking her.


In an instant, they were at each other's throats. The ten foot distance that separated them closed almost like magic and, in a flash, they were mere inches apart.

Neji ducked under Hinata's first strike, stepping inside her guard and aiming his own attack at her heart. Hinata quickly dodged to the side, going against the traditional Juken motions by throwing a roundhouse kick into Neji's stomach.

Neji used his momentum to duck under her kick, tucking his body into a ball as he rolled out of the way. Faster than most could follow, he was on his feet again, flying towards Hinata with as much speed as he possessed.

Hinata moved to the side of his first glowing hand, but wasn't fast enough to dodge the follow up attack of Neji's left hand. Her shoulder burning in pain, Hinata stumbled backwards, clutching at where her cousin had made contact.

"Come on, princess," a voice whispered in her ear. She looked over her shoulder as the world halted, come eye to eye with a majestic phoenix, its feathers shimmering from golden to crimson with every move. Beady bronze eyes looked down a plum colored beak at her. Hinata couldn't speak, "Are you going to let this boy do this to you?"

"Wh-who are—?" Hinata stuttered, eyes wide.

"You know my name, Hinata-chan," the phoenix whispered, landing on the girl's shoulder and rubbing its head against her cheek affectionately. An inexplicable warmth worked its way through her body, sending a pleasurable shiver from her head to her toes. "You've always known my name."

The phoenix let out a loud trill, its voice and the almost musical notes contained within echoing as it spread its wings, "Now speak it! Speak my name and show the world just how strong you are!"

The world jerked to a start. Hinata reached her hand forwards, grasping at air as her eyes narrowed in determination, "Hajike, Tobiume!"

Prongs of red energy swirled in the air and coalesced into an oblong shape, then formed a sword in Hinata's palm as Neji dashed towards her again, hands coated with chakra. With a wild, uncharacteristic scream, Hinata pointed the tip of her new blade at her cousin. A ball of pink energy shot forward, but Neji dodged around it, moved inside her guard, and knocked the weapon from her grasp. It clattered to the ground uselessly.

"You are within my field of Hakke!"

Hinata's head whipped around just in time to see the angry, piercing expression on her cousin's face, followed quickly by Neji's blazing hands. The fingers struck home and she felt two of her tenketsu close.

"Two palms!"

A swarm of hands, too fast for her to catch the individual motions, struck her, leaving four spots on her body very sore.

"Four palms!"

Another swarm came and the number of hits her body took quadrupled.

"Eight palms! Sixteen palms!"

A third swarm rained down on her, stealing her strength and chakra from her.

"Thirty-two palms!"

The last swarm came faster than the rest, some striking spots on her body that were already sore from previous hits.

"Sixty-four palms!"

The final strike, the sixty-fifth palm, came at her, throwing her back a few feet where she collapsed to the ground.

"This is the difference in talent that will never change," Neji said acidly. "This is the destiny that you cannot alter."

Hinata stood shakily, "It's n-not over…"

"Just give up," Neji told her. "Go back to being the weakling of the Main Branch. Go back to suffering at the fate of our family's differences."

"You s-say you c-can see e-everything," Hinata stuttered weakly. "But I th-think you're o-overlooking s-something. Th-the one s-suffering from the differences in o-our family…is you."

In a flash, several people had moved to stand between the two Hyuga. Several Jônin, including Hayate, surrounded the white-eyed boy, poised to intercept if he chose to move further and kill his cousin. Naruto, to the surprise of the adults standing with him, had his blade set and ready to slit Neji's throat, his eyes icy.

"Sôten ni zase," Naruto whispered coldly as a pressure seemed to press down on the entire room, "Hyôrin—"

"That's enough, Naruto-kun," Kakashi stated calmly, his tone firm and brooking no argument. The pressure vanished as suddenly as it had appeared and Naruto turned his head, staring at his Jônin sensei with his frigid eyes.

A pained cough dragged Naruto's attention on to the Hyuga heiress, Hinata, as she fell backwards and, in an instant, he was by her side. Kakashi had to blink, wondering if the boy hadn't mastered some sort of speed related Jutsu.

"D-did I…?" Hinata coughed violently, small amounts of blood mixing with her saliva. Her sword had become a katana. Her eyes were closed. "D-did I do good…Naruto-kun?"

"Yeah," Naruto whispered soothingly, even knowing that she couldn't hear him. She'd lost consciousness barely a second after asking. "You did great."

Blood trickled from her mouth, alarming Naruto greatly. The only explanation was internal bleeding and considering the numerous internal injuries she had to be suffering from, she might not make it all the way to the hospital. He swore mentally, knowing there was nothing he could do.

"I wouldn't be so hasty, child," a soft voice said. Naruto's gaze jerked to his right, Hyôrinmaru's heavy snout hovering over his shoulder as the dragon took in Hinata's injured form. To Naruto's shock, the world had stopped and not a soul was moving or even breathing. "I will provide and manipulate the energy, all you have to do is move your hand where I tell you."

Naruto nodded quickly, desperate to save the girl so like himself. Instantly, the world started up again as Hyôrinmaru disappeared. No more than a second later, Naruto was flooded with a powerful feeling and his body felt lighter than air.

"Now," Hyôrinmaru's voice whispered softly, "unzip her jacket and take it off. The first place we must pay attention to is her heart."

Nodding almost imperceptibly, Naruto dutifully unzipped the girl's heavy jacket and brushed the flaps aside. He blushed slightly at the sight of her feminine assets, restrained only by a tight black shirt, but knocked the thought away as he rested his palm — glowing white — against her sternum.

"What are you doing?" Kurenai demanded from him hotly, but he ignored her, moving his hand further down to rest on her bruised stomach at Hyôrinmaru's command. Strangely enough, he could—and this confused him—feel the damaged capillaries and taut smooth muscles heal under his fingers.

Once more, he moved his hand, delicately peeling her jacket off so as to reach her arms. He watched in amazement as the purpling flesh slowly returned to its natural cream color under his touch, until no sign of the bruises remained. The glow dissipated.

Turning his head slightly, Naruto leveled a glare at Neji as exhaustion slowly set in, growling out, "In the finals, you're going down."

Barely a second later, he collapsed backwards, unconscious and…snoring. Sighing in exasperation, Kakashi hefted his student onto his shoulder as medics carried away the Hyuga girl.

"Naruto-kun, your flames of youth are most passionate," Maito Gai said seriously, more to himself than anyone else. "Yoshi! If Hinata-san makes a full recovery, I will run around Konoha on my hands five hundred times! And if I can't do that, I'll scale the Hokage Monument with nothing but my teeth! And if I can't do that, I'll do one hundred thousand push ups using only my right index finger! Yoshi!"

"Gai-sensei!" Rock Lee cried excitedly. "Your youthful passions are overflowing! Yoshi!"

The ninth match was "Gaara vs. Rock Lee".

Lee's eyes blazed, "Yatta! It is finally my turn!"

Lee put up a good fight and was able to land a few good hits on Gaara, but Gaara was just too strong. In the end, Lee had shown that he could open the "Celestial Gates" and the power they held. But it wasn't any match for Gaara's sand, which crushed the bones in Lee's left arm and leg. He was carried off on a stretcher, the medics saying he wouldn't be able to be a shinobi ever again.

The last match was "Akimichi Chouji vs. Dosu Kinuta".

Chouji lost pretty quickly. He simply couldn't win against Dosu's sound techniques. Even with his "Baika no Jutsu" and his "Meat Tank" he wasn't able to win against the Oto-nin.

"Now then," Sandaime stood in front of the remaining examinees, "each of you will draw a piece of paper from the box Anko-san is holding. This will decide who faces who in the finals."

Kakashi drew one for his sleeping student and one for his hospitalized student: Naruto: 1

Sasuke: 4

Dosu: 8

Shikamaru: 9

Temari: 7

Kankuro: 5

Gaara: 3

Neji: 2

Shino: 6

Ibiki showed them a chart. It depicted the opponents for the Finals.

Match One: Uzumaki Naruto vs. Hyuga Neji

Match Two: Sabaku no Gaara vs. Uchiha Sasuke

Match Three: Kankuro vs. Aburame Shino

Match Four: Dosu Kinuta vs. Temari

Match Five: Match Four victor vs. Nara Shikamaru

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

When Naruto awoke, something fuzzy was tickling his nose and his arms were thrown over something large and wide. Blearily, he opened his eyes to see the gravity defying white hair of his Jônin sensei and the cobblestone streets of his home village, Konohagakure no Sato. He blinked, mumbling weakly, "Huh?"

"Oh, Naruto-kun," Kakashi glanced back at him, adjusting the boy's position on his back, "you're awake. Good."

"Un?" Naruto answered lamely. "What…happened?"

"I didn't know you could forget that kind of thing," Kakashi said calmly, his tone monotonous. "After all, several people are wondering how you managed to heal such severe injuries when you yourself know nothing about medical ninjutsu. Kurenai-san was livid."

"Don't…know," Naruto muttered, resting his pounding head against Kakashi's shoulder. "Hyôrinmaru…told me what to do…"

"Hyôrinmaru?" Kakashi posed, hiding his shock. "Your sword told you how to heal someone?"

"Not just…a sword," Naruto loosed a jaw-cracking yawn. "He's a dragon, too. Tenten-san said something about…sealed in a sword."

"Oh?" Kakashi asked. "And this sword, this dragon, Hyôrinmaru, where did you get him? How long have you had him?"

"Forever," Naruto said tiredly. "According to him…he's been with me forever. He's only been a sword since the second part of the exam."

Kakashi frowned, he was getting mixed signals, "Are you sure he's safe, Naruto-kun? Are you sure he's a dragon? Are you sure he's not…" Kakashi silently braced himself for the question, "the Kyûbi?"

"No, he's…dragon all right," the blond mumbled. "Seen him and everything. Said something 'bout being my sword and shield. Whatever that means."

Kakashi remained silent as Naruto's apartment came into view, unsure of how to take this new information. It was hard to trust his student when it came to this matter, simply because the demon fox sealed in the boy's belly was very strong and old. It had undoubtedly picked up quite a few tricks and methods of deception.

He wanted to trust Naruto. He wanted to trust that his student knew what he was talking about and that everything was actually okay. It was just very hard to believe that the boy had some sort of guardian dragon now, one that could actually be used as a weapon. It was like something out of a fairytale.

Ninja didn't believe in fairytales. Ninja believed in cold hard facts, undeniable truths, and what they could gather using their own senses. Good ninja even questioned the possible falsehood of these things. After all, genjustu was the art of illusion and sensory deception. Hatake Kakashi was a good ninja.

There weren't many alternative possibilities, though, and that alarmed Kakashi. Naruto had confirmed, almost beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Kyûbi was not involved at all. Sasuke was given the Curse Mark by Orochimaru during the second exam. The only possibility that fit in the realm of reality, besides the one that Naruto was telling the truth, was that Orochimaru had given Naruto the sword.

That was an even more absurd likelihood, simply for the fact of who Naruto was. Beyond the fact that Naruto was the child with the nine-tailed fox sealed inside him, he was also the son of the Yondaime Hokage, the one person Orochimaru hated above all else. The Hebi Sennin would not take an interest in the child of his most hated enemy, the man who had "stolen" the position he had wanted above everything.

That meant that Naruto wasn't lying, he was telling the truth. It wasn't the Kyûbi manipulating him either, because the demon fox lacked any form of control over the world outside of the seal that bound him. What it all boiled down to was that Hyôrinmaru really was a dragon and a sword.

The question was the how. The existence and dual identity of Hyôrinmaru was new and unprecedented. There had never before been a sword capable of sentient thought, nor had there ever been a dragon that could become a sword (mostly because there also weren't any dragons). What Naruto had…was revolutionary. Kakashi knew, though, that revolutionary abilities like this were usually guarded and bred into clans by the Council of Fire.

For now, he would keep his mouth shut. If word got to the Council that Naruto possessed some kind of bloodline, they would probably run an insurmountable number of tests on his blonde student, regardless of what harm they did to the boy. Because of the demon fox's presence inside him, Naruto was nothing more than a slab of meat to the old men and women of the Council.

So long as he drew breath, Kakashi wouldn't let them treat his sensei's legacy in such a manner. He owed a great deal to the Fourth Hokage and he wasn't about to let such a thing happen to the only child of his father figure. If for no other reason, he was going to protect Naruto.

Gently shifting his cargo, he eased open the blonde's apartment door, nearly wincing as the hinges squeaked. Naruto was out cold, however, and didn't even stir at the obnoxious noise. He silently breathed a sigh of relief, slipping his sandals off as he walked into the small flat. His eyes adjusted immediately to the darkness within as he looked around.

It took him a minute, but he found what he was looking for and opened to door to the boy's bedroom. Thankfully, it didn't squeak or creak even the tiniest bit as he eased it from its closed state. Gently, he set the blonde down on the futon unrolled in the center of the room.

He slowly pulled to blonde's sandals off, setting them up against the wall next to the door. He reached to take the sword off of his student's back, but a cold chill ran down his spine as his fingers neared the hilt and he immediately thought better of it. He pulled the covers up, tucking them under boy's chin.

A sudden feeling of guilt and longing struck him and he backed up, gazing at Naruto sadly as he quietly closed the door. He deftly maneuvered his way through the darkness, locking the front door as he left. With one last backward glance, he vanished in a swirl of leaves.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto rubbed his eyes, slowly standing up. His sandals sunk in the snow, but no feeling of coldness reached him as the white fuzz buried his toes. He looked around, only to discover he had once more returned to the world of Hyôrinmaru. He blinked, wondering just why he was back.

"You're here," the dragon's voice said calmly, the beast swerving its long body around him. It twisted till it was looking him in the eyes, its lower body coiled around his feet and legs. "Tell me, child, do you know why you're here?"

"No," Naruto started, shaking his head, "I—"

His tongue froze mid motion as images flashed through his mind and in front of his eyes, reminding him of what he'd done. His glowing white hand resting on Hinata's chest, Hyôrinmaru hovering over his shoulder, his palm gliding over her smooth arms, and falling back into unconsciousness.

"That…energy," Naruto began slowly, his mind working a mile a minute, "what was it? It wasn't chakra."

"Good," the dragon cooed, its eyes narrowing slightly. "You've started to become more observant. You've started to behave more like a dragon. Like a shinobi."

Hyôrinmaru moved closer, until its snout was mere inches from his face. The two thin, long, fleshy feelers beneath its nostrils wavered in a nonexistent wind as it spoke, "As you well know, chakra is made of physical and spiritually energy perfectly blended, but did you know that you could separate those energies and use them individually?"

Naruto's eyes widened as he slowly shook his head. Hyôrinmaru continued, "Chi, or ki, is the body's physical energy, and, if used properly, can be used to supplement limbs and such. Because of its nature, chi is useful only for augmentation of physical movements. Chi cannot be used for direct attack.

"Reiryoku, however, or 'spirit energy', is what allows chakra to be channeled for Jutsu. By itself, Reiryoku has several uses that can be helpful to the life of a shinobi. The easiest example was how you healed that girl of such life-threatening injuries. Beyond that, Reiryoku can be used to form attacks and the like with which you can defeat your enemies. When it is not mixed into chakra, Reiryoku is incapable of molding the elements."

"I get what you're saying, Hyôrinmaru," Naruto started quietly, a confused gleam in his gaze, "but what's the point of telling me? I don't know how to manipulate Reiryoku, so how's it going to help me?"

Hyôrinmaru grinned, baring his large, sharp teeth, "Quite simple, actually. You may not know how, but that does not mean you are incapable of learning."

Naruto's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates, a ghost of a grin stretching at his lips, "You mean…?"

The dragon's grin widened, "Tomorrow, you will seek out that white-haired teacher of yours and have him teach you during the afternoons. In the mornings, from dawn's first light till the sun has reached its midday zenith, I will be teaching you to mold and use your Reiryoku as a weapon."

"Really?" Naruto asked excitedly, his eyes sparkling as the dragon nodded. He thrust his arms into the air, his own grin threatening to split his face, "Yatta! This is going to be so cool! Wait!"

He refocused back onto the dragon still coiled around his lower body, "Does this stuff require hand seals?"

As Hyôrinmaru shook his head, Naruto leapt into the air, whooping loudly. He laughed excitedly, "All right! I'm gonna be an awesome ninja! Ha! Take that Sasuke! You can't copy my Jutsu, because they don't use hand seals!"

Naruto grunted as the dragon knocked him to the ground with its tail, hitting the earth face first and making an imprint in the snow. The dragon sighed, more to himself than anything, "Good grief. I don't think I could have taken much more of that."

As the blonde stood, rubbing his head, the dragon leveled a glare at him, "You must learn to contain your excitement or else nothing I teach you will help. Shinobi are silent and cunning. You are beginning to understand and apply this concept, but you must control such loud and annoying impulses."

Naruto nodded, thoroughly cowed. Hyôrinmaru cooed, "Good. Now…"

The dragon swiveled away, leaving Naruto to stand alone as it faced him, "Your training begins…immediately."

o.0.O.O.0.o —

To be continued

Note: As of recently, I have decided to revise and edit Sit Upon the Frozen Heavens. Some chapters will be very lightly edited, some will get a complete overhaul. The major events, for the most part, will remain the same, but a good deal of minor events will be changed and altered for plot or quality purposes.

Also, while Crisis Core: The Azure Moon is this story's sequel, it should be read as a sort of "Part Two". Several important details, such as how Naruto came into possession of Hyôrinmaru, will not be revealed until much farther down the line.

James Earl Jones should be considered to be (who voiced Mufasa in the Lion King and played Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams) Hyôrinmaru's 'Voice Actor'. I think his voice is most fitting for our favorite dragon.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Bleach

Soar in the Frozen Sky…

James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes

James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)