A/n: Whaaa I'm so sorry everyone. A combination of games, lack of muse, and tiredness overall has kept this chapter from being out. I also fell a bit into depression when I read the newest Naruto chapter. I swear, if it's a positive that Kishimoto kills Hinata, I might just stop reading the crap manga for good.

As a side note, I'll be changing this story to rated M. You might already tell from the hints in this chapter but eventually, I might have it take a much more mature turn. Everyone look out for it.

And I don't really have much else to say either than thanking my new beta-reader, Twilight's Oblivion.

On with the story!

owo

Sarutobi Hiruzen slowly puffed his smoke pipe while he stared intently at the four stone heads that proudly gazed over Konoha from atop the Hokage monument behind him. The aging man was musing over the state of the village and the potential war that threatened his village.

Originally, he had placed the village under martial law to finally reinstate his power as Hokage and to reduce the council back to its original state, that of being mere advisors. He had done this over the great mistreatment that had befallen young Uzumaki before in the past. With his return, he made it clear that any more unjust behavior will not be tolerated.

But now, reinstating wartime powers may have been a better choice than he had hoped.

Already, numerous reports came of Orochimaru's little pet village and the sudden booming in population. It seemed impossible that suddenly, the estimated continued to grow so quickly, almost reaching the population of other Shinobi villages in a mere few years.

Something wasn't right. If anything, Orochimaru has discovered a way to either draw more people to his will or he found a technique to age people until they became of fighting age. Those were the only plausible conclusions.

"My faithless student. To think that it would come to this."

It was already quite obvious what Orochimaru intends to do with his backing. The traitor Sannin had once been the greatest of his three students and his knowledge in all of the Shinobi techniques was equal to his own. Like himself, Orochimaru knew every technique that the village had to offer.

And with no new techniques to learn, the village had nothing left to offer him.

Now, with his growing army, it was only a matter of time before he made war with Konoha.

And Sarutobi will do everything he can to prepare his beloved village for that inevitable battle.

A soft thud behind him signified another presence. The old Hokage did not need to ask who it was for only one person possessed that type of spiritual chakra.

"Chiriku-san. To what do I owe the honor?"

The monk, apparently a sworn brother to his own son, bowed low before the Hokage. "Hokage-dono, as you have already requested, the final preparations for the seal have been put in place. The basic outline is large enough to cover the capital of Fire country and much of the southern borders, including Konoha."

"Good work." Hiruzen nodded his head. "I'm sorry that it took four years for you to finish this. It must be hard to part from your temple for that long."

"No, please think nothing of it. I was glad to help and with this seal, we can ensure that the greatest of Orochimaru's destruction cannot harm the capital, Konoha, and my own temple."

Orochimaru, his former prized student. If someone had told him that Orochimaru would become one of Konoha's greatest enemies forty years ago, he would have scoffed at them or challenge them to a fight for even daring to insult him.

Back then he had been one of the greatest geniuses to have ever graced the village. Techniques seemed almost like water to him as he flowed through it with as much ease as a shark would through calm seas. Sarutobi could say that he was very proud of the boy, seemingly coming out of his parents' deaths with a startling recovery and diving headlong into the village's well being.

But then, he began to notice a darkness that was growing within him. In battle, there were times that he played with his enemies, drawing out needless fights as if to test something.

However, he always took a blind eye to this, refusing to even think that the student he prized so much would even have a chance of descending into heresy.

That was his mistake.

Orochimaru had indeed begun growing more and more malicious, carving bloody paths through battlefields without remorse. It was also during those times that people from Konoha began to disappear without a trace. Although he did not want to believe it, Hiruzen knew that somehow, his student was the one behind it.

So, when it was time for a successor to be chosen, he took Namikaze Minato, Jiraiya's own star pupil, as the Yondaime.

That proved to have been the last straw. Afterwards, Orochimaru did not even bother to hide his intentions, leading to numerous investigations that eventually led to many of his underground laboratories. Hiruzen himself had bore witness to the atrocities that his student had done to so many people. They were so terrible that even a battle hardened Hokage like himself had fallen and literally emptied out his stomach at first sight.

Soon after that churning discovery, he cornered his student, intent on finally bringing him down. Now that he thought about it, that time might have been the single moment where Orochimaru was at his weakest. Truly, that one time would have ridden the world of a great evil.

But he hesitated, still seeing the last vestiges of his pupil within those serpentine eyes. To his greatest shame, Hiruzen could not deal the deathblow.

And with that moment of weakness, he may very well have doomed the lives of countless individuals. An eternity spent suffering in the fiery pits of Makai would not even be able to burn the surface of his sins. He had much to account for.

"Hokage-dono?" The Sandaime quickly snapped out of his musings, cursing himself for being so impolite to the one before him. He turned back to the monk and gave him a sheepish smile.

"Please forgive me. I find myself drifting into the past more and more these days."

Chiriku bowed his head, showing not a trace of being insulted. "No, you have no need to apologize. To prevent mistakes from happening, one must always look back into the past for guidance."

"As expected of master monk." Hiruzen responded with a smile. "While we are on this topic, how goes your teachings on Naruto-kun?"

The monk gave a soft smile as he turned his gaze over towards the Hokage monument. "Naruto-kun has definitely improved. I am rather surprised that he can pick up the concepts so quickly. Sometimes it would be a week, sometimes three days, and on some occasions, he can learn it right on the spot. I can safely say that by now, the boy has a solid grasp on all the concepts involving the taijutsu style.

"But actually putting it into work is a little harder for him. Unlike the concepts that are understood through analyzing, the actual footwork seems to take him much longer. His form is still a little shaky and there can be times that intentional openings that I give are not taken. That being said, he is making remarkable progress. I daresay that if he continues at the rate he does now, he can finish the style in half the time that I did."

Hiruzen smiled and turned towards the stoic face of his successor and regrettably, his predecessor as well. "Of course. That boy, no matter how you look at it, truly takes after his father."

Chiriku glanced over towards the Hokage before him, confused. When he noticed that the Sandaime was smiling at a face on the monument, he followed the path of his smile and his eyes widened in surprise.

"H-Hokage-dono! You don't mean to say that Naruto-kun's father is actually…!"

"Yes. However, his identity must be kept secret. His father had many enemies, and though his name was feared throughout the Shinobi world, if word were to spread that the Yondaime had a child any and all enemies of his would flock to him with a vengeance to prevent a second coming of Konoha no Kiiroi Senko."

Chiriku stood there in shock. No… he stood there in bewilderment. Now that the pieces finally fell into place, he could see the boy, in later years, greatly resembling the Yondaime. It's true that a man as great as him would have many enemies. Chiriku himself had been a just a boy in his teens yet his father would always praise the man, claiming that the war with Stone would end because of him.

And it had.

Yondaime-sama had personally taken out hundreds of Iwa Shinobi. His name was so feared that there had been a decree issued by Iwa's commanders to their Shinobi subordinates. Anyone facing the Yellow Flash was to flee immediately. His name stretched out throughout the entire Shinobi world and he became as feared as the Sannin before him.

And to think, he would be training the son of a man whom he saw as the pinnacle of strength.

The monk's startled expression slowly gave way as a smile appeared on his face. "So to think that I will be teaching Yondaime-sama's very own son. It is a great honor."

"And one that you must keep to yourself no matter the cost." Hiruzen nodded to the mountains. "To teach that boy, knowing his lineage, is a great honor in itself, but to honor the Yondaime's wish and to secretly recognize the boy not for his father's achievements but for his own is the greatest honor you can give to his parents."

Chiriku bowed lowly before the Hokage. "I understand."

The Sandaime smiled and nodded. Soon, the monk disappeared in a puff of smoke, no doubt meeting up with Asuma again. Hiruzen smiled at the image of his successor, acknowledging the great strength and sacrifices before him.

"The Will of Fire still burns, Yondaime. The ability to take sadness and pain, using it to strive for greater heights, is the definition of strength. It seems your son will become one of this village's greatest in due time. For that, be proud, my successor."

owo

At that moment, Naruto was seriously contemplating murder. That damn jounin had been two hours late yesterday and now, he's two hours late AGAIN! What the hell's his problem? Once is already bad enough, especially with a half-assed excuse like 'lost on the road of life' but to be tardy again? Someone's asking for a huge beating.

Besides him, Sasuke was also quietly fuming. Not only did he feel like crap, most likely because of the absence of breakfast, but also because the day was unusually warm for Konoha and it was only just now nearing noon. Where the hell did their sensei go?

"Sasuke." The Uchiha looked up to see the blond fingering a kunai, his face nonplussed.

"Yeah?"

"You up to having a little target practice?" Now that was interesting. Sasuke arched an eyebrow but took out a kunai as well, though he eyed the blond dubiously. To Naruto's other side, Hinata shook her head but did little else to stop him.

"Do we have a target?"

Naruto grinned. "Yeah, he should be here in three… two… one…"

Suddenly, a plume of smoke appeared out of nowhere in the clearing. Naruto's eyes widened and he flung his kunai straight towards the clouds. Sasuke, who actually only reacted on instinct, threw his kunai as well, only stopping to curse himself when he realized who they threw it at.

There was an audible clash of steel as the clouds dispersed. Two kunais fell onto the ground with soft thuds and all three of the genins looked from the weapons to their sensei, who was scratching his head with one hand… and holding on to a ladle with the other.

"Ehehe… Yo, everyone!"

The three did not reply. Rather, their attention was fixed on the steel ladle that was still in the Jounin's hands. It seemed to play with them with how it glinted in the sunlight… and how it knocked back two kunais. Finally, Hinata decided to voice out the question they were all thinking.

"Ano… Sensei? Why do you have a ladle?"

"Ah, this?" Kakashi gave his weird smile, or at least they thought he was smiling, as he lifted up the ladle for a clearer view. "I was actually making some stew when I remembered that I had to come here. I was in such a hurry that I didn't even bother to drop it as I left my home."

That was the biggest pile of bullshit they had ever heard.

Naruto's eye twitched and he began reaching for a shuriken. Kakashi merely waved his hands in a non-threatening gesture. "Maa maa… no need to be so worked up. Well, as long as we're all here, we might as well start."

The three genins watched as their jounin instructor slowly pulled out an alarm clock. He set it down on top of a tree trunk and slowly fell into a lazy pace of seals. When finished, the earth before him began to rise, molding into the shape of a person. Slowly, color and features appeared, and Kakashi's clone made its debut.

"You all already know the concept of teamwork as your teams are all based on those who worked well together in the past." Kakashi nodded and jerked a finger towards his clone. "This Iwa Bunshin contains about five percent of my strength and chakra reserves, making it about the same level as a very low Chuunin or high genin. You have until three hours to defeat this clone. If you cannot do so within that time limit, then consider your careers as genins over."

Silently, each and every one of the three nodded. They had prepared themselves for this. The previous genin exam was merely to show who had the potential to pass; now they were going to be weeded out even further.

But they had all gone through much to get to where they were then. No one was gonna back down now after all that they had been through. Naruto narrowed his eyes and fell into a martial stance, bending his elbows and tightening his fists.

To his left, Hinata activated her Byakugan and she too fell into a taijutsu stance, slowly bringing up her palm in the traditional form of Jyuuken.

To his right, Sasuke hunched forward and had his hands ready, hovering over the two shuriken pouches strapped to his waist.

All three tensed themselves as Kakashi raised a hand. The tension began to mount as seconds stretched to what seemed like minutes. To the genins, it had probably been one of the longest thirty seconds of their lives.

And it was broken when Kakashi brought his hand down.

"Start."

Immediately, Sasuke leapt back and hurled a flurry of projectiles towards the clone. At the same time, Naruto had also tossed in a few kunais and charged forward. The Kakashi clone blocked all projectiles with a kunai of its own before leaping back in time to dodge Naruto's weapons. The blond skidded to a halt before the clone, and sent a sudden punch aimed for its windpipe.

The clone grabbed his arm with startling speed before launching the blonde over its shoulder, reacting just in time to dodge a blow that would have disabled his lungs. It managed to glance down, and, seeing that the new attacker was Hinata, was sure to dodge the attempted Jyuuken strike to its chin instead of blocking.

Grabbing the heiress's arms it spun its body in an arc before throwing her at the recovering blond. Naruto had a moment to look up and hastily prepared himself just in time to catch Hinata, though the momentum caused them both to tumble back onto the ground. Using the distraction the clone took this time to create some distance between them.

But this time, it found itself right in Sasuke's path.

The Uchiha smirked in triumph as he drove a kunai into its stomach before it could properly react.

But his elation was short lived. The clone's body disappeared in a puff of smoke, revealing a wooden log. Sasuke, shocked at this, quickly hopped back to a relatively safe distance. He immediately turned his attention to the real Kakashi, who was lounging next to the stump.

The lazy Jounin shrugged. "What? Just because it's at five percent doesn't mean it doesn't know techniques. It just can't use them as extensively."

After hearing this, Naruto's eye twitched again. "Dammit, sensei." He muttered angrily. "You could've told us."

"Er… I thought it was obvious."

Naruto shook his head disgustedly as he slowly stood up again. The blond gave Hinata his hand, which she took silently and with a cute blush across her cheeks. As they stood up and dusted themselves off, Naruto made a small noise of irritation. It looked like this wasn't going to be as easy as they thought.

"Hmm? What are you all still standing here for? Time is still ticking."

Sasuke gave a curse and immediately sprinted towards the forest's direction. Naruto glanced at Hinata and nodded. Together, they quickly caught up to the Uchiha as they attempt to find the elusive clone.

owo

The sun had finally won its battle with the clouds, bestowing its magnificent rays back into the village. It bathed Konoha with its radiance and warmth, giving energy back to those that wanted it.

But Hinako was not one of them.

Today had been one of those days that she'd wish the sun's light and warmth were blocked by clouds. At the very least, it would mean that she could stay where she was longer.

The Hyuuga matriarch slowly opened her eyes, already used to the light that now shone through the windows. She wanted to groan, as the day seemed to beckon her to get up and stop sleeping. She childishly wanted to stay in bed.

Hinako made a small noise of annoyance at the sun's rays and shifted in her position. She slowly raised her head up and smiled as she gazed at the silent visage of her husband.

Hyuuga Hiashi was still sound asleep, no doubt still exhausted after constant meetings and reports. It also must have burdened him to have to put up that façade around everyone, maintaining that aura of a powerful clan leader.

Her smile fell when she remembered the horror at seeing him when that aura was gone.

She knew already that she had a large role in hurting him so much, driving to this enormous fatigue.

Guilt wound up within her again as she remembered the coldness that she had directed to him, basically leaving him to drown in his work for the past four years. Now that she truly opened her eyes to him again, she can only feel a sense of self-loathing for his incredibly weakened state.

"Hiashi-sama…" She slowly inched upwards and lowered her head, landing a soft kiss onto his lips. "I won't leave you again. I promise."

The matriarch slowly rose from the relative comfort of the futon and immediately shivered. She forgot that she had slid off her clothing when she came to bed with her husband. Granted, nothing happened that night as he had fallen asleep quite quickly, but it was still a little embarrassing to remember her slightly thoughtless moment at that time.

Hinako quickly found her discarded yukata and slipped into it once more.

However, before she could even wrap the warm clothing around her body, something pulled her down, causing her to yelp in surprise. Hinako gave a small wince as her body fell back down and for a brief moment, she momentarily stiffened as she felt arms wrapping themselves around her naked frame.

But she soon relaxed, remembering that it was her husband who was in this room with her. She slowly looked up and smiled at her husband, who met it with a single, sleepy eye.

"Good morning Hiashi-sama."

"Mmmm… it was a good morning until you left my side." He admitted quietly. Hiashi wrapped his arms a little tighter and pulled her closer to him. "It became uncomfortably cold after."

Hinako's smile fell, if only for a moment. Hiashi's admittance spoke much by itself. It told her much on how he felt whenever he slept by himself, away from her and the comfort of their bed.

But she quickly placed on a new smile. She couldn't let him see her constantly in remorse. It would only make the both of them feel worse than before. So she settled into his embracing, snuggling back into him.

And the smile returned when she felt his hands sliding away the yukata, tracing her body along the way.

"Hiashi-sama, don't you have any meetings today?"

"None are important enough that a day's delay would matter."

"What about Hanabi and the rest of the clan? Won't they get suspicious if we were away for so long?"

"They should know better than to barge in here if the two of us are missing."

"Then what about-" But before Hinako could finish Hiashi silenced her with a kiss, one that he had not had the luxury of giving in a long time. Hinako closed her eyes and moaned with pleasure at the feel of his lips. It had been so long since she felt those lips on her own, kissing her in the one way that only Hiashi knew how.

After a while, Hiashi pulled away, leaving his wife looking up at him with unfocused eyes and a lazy, satiated smile.

"No more questions." He murmured.

Hinako could only nod as her husband pulled the sheets over the two of them. She closed her eyes and gasped in pleasure as Hiashi settled the two of them into a steady pace of enticement and need.

owo

If there were one word that could sum up Team Seven's feelings regarding this test, it would be frustration. While the clone was truly weak in that it's attacks lacked power, it's constant running away and laying traps, along with its extremely tough surface, made attacking it as irritating as it was useless.

The only time they had even made a breakthrough had been when the three of them used a very elaborate combination of attacks and even then, all it did was knock the clone with enough strength to have it stumble and collapse momentarily.

That brief achievement fell when the clone had then performed a strange technique that completely caused it to disappear, leaving the three of them now once again tracking it down.

The clone in itself is a testament to their jounin-sensei's strength and prowess in battle. Even though it was only five percent in strength, it had managed to elude them for the better half of their three hours. Not only that but the few times that they had managed to flush it out, it gave a decent fight and disappeared once again before they had the chance to overpower it.

Truly, their jounin-sensei was not the average Shinobi, but that only added to their frustration.

"Damn it all, how the hell does a stupid rock clone fight like this?" Naruto panted, now tired from the constant tracking and fighting. Beside him, Hinata and Sasuke weren't any better off.

Sasuke sported a few bruises on his wrists and arms where the clone had struck to disarm him. He also had a mild case of chakra exhaustion from using his fireballs a few times. He was currently looking over his weapons pouch, counting the remaining kunais and shurikens he had left.

They had very little remaining.

Hinata also had a few injuries, mainly slight cut from where the clone had slashed at her. Before, it had been much larger and bleeding but after she had applied some of her medicinal cream over, it had healed quite quickly. The cut was now mostly covered and in a few hours, would be healed completely. She was currently using her Byakugan to scout the area, looking for any traces that of the elusive clone.

They had less than an hour remaining.

"Only about fifteen kunais and thirty shurikens left in total." Sasuke shook his head and stood up from where he was. "We have to take it out soon or we'll be completely out of weapons."

"Hinata, do you see the clone anywhere?" The young heiress shook her head.

"The clone still has not entered my field of vision." Hinata sighed. "And we only have about forty minutes left."

That was not good news at all. None of them wanted to fail this test.

"Damn. Something's not right here. How does a clone who has only five percent of the original's strength still fight like this?" Naruto narrowed his eyes at the surrounding trees. "You'd think that such a low chakra supply would mean that it'd disappear real soon."

Sasuke gave a grunt and nodded. "It's already been more than two hours and though it only used Kawarimi and some basic chakra control techniques, it should have disappeared already. Unless Kakashi-sensei has an enormous charka supply, this should be impossible."

And that was where the problem fell to. All three of them knew that though Kakashi was definitely a jounin, his reserves shouldn't be so large that a clone of with a small percentage could last as long as it did. Something wasn't right. If anything, Kakashi merely called it an Iwa bunshin to trick them, to divert their attention away from something else.

But what?

"Is it possible that Kakashi-sensei may have made something that keeps the clone alive?"

Both Naruto and Sasuke stared at the young Hyuuga heiress, who blushed at the seemingly outrageous idea. She was about to stammer out her apology when Naruto suddenly spoke up.

"You know… I wouldn't put it past that guy to make something like this."

Sasuke nodded in agreement. "He made the clone and gave out a half-truth so that we'd focus our attention only on defeating the clone, diverting our attention from the real purpose of this exam."

Naruto grinned. "Hinata, you rock."

"Ah…"

Her face suddenly heated up and she immediately looked down in embarrassment. She couldn't help it. The moment Naruto gave her a compliment, she felt as if her heart had swelled to nearly thrice its original size. What was she to do when he made her feel this way so easily?

'No, I mustn't think about these things in the middle of an exam.' Hinata quietly shook her head. 'First, I have to be able to pass before I can think of these things.'

Hinata closed her eyes and began to channel chakra once more. Slowly, the veins around her eyes began to bulge with the larger flow of blood and chakra, fueling her eyes with the needed energy. The heiress opened them once more, revealing her activated Byakugan.

Though her range was not as great as many of the Hyuugas within her clan, it was still sufficient enough to cover a maximum of sixty meters, a radius where their encounters with the rock clone had been more numerous than anywhere else.

'Find it… I have to find the seal.'

Hinata's vision flew past trees, rocks, and other foliages as she scoured their surrounding areas for a possible energy source for the clone.

Suddenly, a dim glow caught her attention. Hinata zeroed in towards a thick bush, seemingly glowing with more energy than possible. She gave a bit more concentration into that area and the bush soon faded from her vision, revealing an intricate seal, glowing with energy and the kanji for 'earth' written in its center.

Hinata gave a relieved smile. She found it.

"Thirty degrees westward, about fifty-six meters away lays a small bush. Under it, there is a seal with the kanji for 'earth' in the center. It's possible that this seal might be the one that fuels the clone."

Naruto nodded and motioned for everyone to gather. Once they were close enough, he began to draw a loose diagram on the ground.

"Everyone, we can assume that Kakashi-sensei's clone will be somewhere around that area. It's only natural to assume that there would be some difficulties ahead. We only have about forty minutes left and if anything, it'll take us at least half that time to finish this." Naruto's eyes hardened and he pointed at a single spot within his diagram. "But I have a plan. Everyone listen well."

owo

Kakashi was nothing if not very prepared for anything. Even if he would enter a D – rank mission, he would carry a multitude of weapons and other needed equipments just in case this mission were to turn awry. He had learned early on that easy missions could hide a more sinister nature and that it would be more prudent to stay paranoid than to completely become enamored to it.

The same principle applies to his dealings with people.

For example, he knew that three genins were simply just fresh rookies, having skills not that much higher than regular genins. But he had also seen to assessing their mental capacities, deciding whether or not they were prepared to see things that a Shinobi's occupation will entail.

Right off the bat, both Uzumaki and Uchiha passed, the two having already been exposed to great violence and bloodshed. In fact, Uzumaki Naruto's report hinted of such numerous traumas that he was skeptical if the boy was a little too qualified for his role within the team, should it ever pass.

But he gazed over it and instead, focused more on the one that did not have violence throughout her life. Hyuuga Hinata was the heiress to the Hyuuga clan, the single most prestigious group within the village and second only to the Hokage and his two advisers in authority. At first glance, it was clear that the young heiress did not have the same exposure as the boys in terms of trauma. In fact, she must have led a fairly sheltered life.

But he also saw that there was something off in the Hyuuga, something that almost made that innocence seem like a façade.

He had dove a little deeper into her records and found that she had already been exposed to the Kyuubi's existence.

And after that, he understood.

For someone like Uzumaki Naruto, who suffered from both Konoha's citizens and Orochimaru's experiments, the trauma would leave a deep impression into his being, hardening his soul to the world in a way that a Shinobi would need. But Hyuuga Hinata had none of that deep impression of fear until that one moment.

That night, she experienced true fear to the highest degree by coming in contact with the Kyuubi and its monstrous killing intent.

And as expected, she eventually began to grow a shell against the world, in a reflexive instinct to hide one's own true fear. Because she began to become more like a Shinobi after that encounter, the possibility that her fear comes from the demon fox is very high.

Yet at the same time, there was little to no fear for Uzumaki Naruto himself. If anything, this fear gave her a stronger push into the boy's direction.

That's when Kakashi realized that what Hyuuga Hinata was most scared of wasn't on the possibility of the demon appearing again. Her fear stemmed from the fact that something like that could destroy Naruto.

"And that fear is what motivates her to become stronger." Kakashi sighed and absently flipped the page of his book. "In order to reduce the chance of that ever happening, she will continue to grow as strong as possible."

The jounin glanced over to the alarm clock placed neatly placed on top of the tree stump.

"Hmm… only a few more minutes left. Can they really finish this test?" Kakashi glanced over towards the forest, where an eerie silence had fallen. It had already been about twenty minutes since he last heard the sounds of clashing steel. Ever since, the forest fell quiet and he could not make out what was happening.

Had they given up?

Kakashi stopped and closed his book with an audible snap. He gave a small sigh as he slipped it back into his equipment pouch and began a slow trek to the dense thicket of trees. If Team 7 had indeed given up, then he would need to be there to fail them. It was the least he could do as their one-day commander.

Kakashi's eyes suddenly snapped open and he quickly leapt back just as the forest exploded with chakra. The jounin gritted his teeth and used his own chakra to glue himself to the ground, as the force was powerful enough to create strong gusts of wind.

"W-what is this enormous chakra?" Kakashi gritted his teeth within his mask as the force of the gust assaulted his body. "This is insane! Who could have released this much?"

Even as he asked it, the Copy Ninja already knew. Out of everyone in the immediate vicinity, only one person could have the possible reserves to release such a large blast.

"Heh." As the gust slowly died, Kakashi brought a hand up to scratch his head in exasperation. "I guess they didn't give up after all."

A few minutes later, Kakashi noticed the group of three walking out of the forest. Sasuke was in the lead, holding out the proof of their victory: A slightly dirtied Icha Icha Paradise book.

Behind him, Hinata helped support Naruto, who looked out of breath. It should not come to a surprise, as the amount of chakra unleashed must have been rough equivalent of six of his Raikiris. The blond looked up and met his gaze for a moment before giving out a tired smile. Beside him, the Hyuuga helped steady him has he walked. She didn't even bother to acknowledge him as all of her attention and worry was fixed on the boy in her care.

Kakashi couldn't decide whether to feel insulted or humbled.

The genins stopped in front of him, awaiting their evaluation.

The jounin glanced at the three, switching from face to face until it landed on the book held out by Sasuke. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, taking in their appearances and at the area where the explosion of chakra had taken place.

Then, he snapped his finger and summed up his thoughts. "You all look like crap."

The reactions were immediate.

Naruto's eyes arched an eyebrow at the Jounin's lack of tack. Hinata, who was still by his side, turned and gave him a reproving frown. And Sasuke gave him an annoyed scowled as he flung the book in his direction.

Kakashi caught it perfectly and carefully dusted off the dirt from the book. "Well at the very least, you three managed to defeat the rock clone. I'm interested in how you did this. That large explosion of chakra certainly added to my curiosity. Tell me, what did you do to defeat my clone?"

Naruto grinned and nodded his head over towards the direction of the trees. "When we guessed that your clone might actually have had an alternate supply of energy outside of yourself, we immediately came up with a plan.

"We took our time looking for the clone. Once we found it, Hinata and Sasuke, along with about twenty of my clones, diverted its attention. They drove it to the inner regions of the forest and my clones prevented it from returning back to where it was. As soon as it was clear, I came to where the seal was hidden and poured all of my chakra into it, breaking the seal."

It was a simple plan. But with the right people for the job, it could be very effective. Still, one thing bothered Kakashi when he heard the plan.

"How were Sasuke and Hinata with a mere escort of twenty clones being enough to stop my clone? Granted, it only has a limited amount of intelligence but it still has about the same taijutsu style and fluidity as myself. Not that I doubt the two of your strengths but my clone should have been able to elude you easily."

Hinata shook her head and replied with a small smile. "That's your mistake Kakashi-sensei. Naruto-kun's clones weren't fighting yours, they were spread out in a circle to help power a containment seal."

Sasuke gave a grunt and a smirk to which he added his own comment, "And since your clone couldn't use high-powered techniques, the barrier was enough to stop it."

A barrier seal; so that was how they did it. But mere genins should not possess the knowledge of seals until when they were almost into their Chuunin years. How, then, was Naruto able to possess the intricate usage of seals?

The blond, seeing the Jounin's unspoken question, merely grinned. "Chiriku-shishou taught me some things on seals. I'm not that great yet but I'm learning."

"Chiriku-sama?" Now that was an eye opener. Kakashi was not briefed on this. Who would have thought that the infamous Chiriku of The Thousand Fists was Naruto's master? Interesting…

"Well? Do we pass or not?"

"Hmm…" Kakashi rubbed his chin, glancing at all three genins and their slightly haggard appearance. Then, he glanced at the clock, which had yet to ring, before finally swiveling down to the book in his hands.

The book's hardcover had wet dirt clumped into it.

"Sorry, you all fail."

owo

Hiruzen groaned as he finished listening to the Copy Ninja's report. Kakashi had passed the team, which was a first, but apparently, he also provoked them a little too much. Kakashi reported that Naruto had begun cursing him and flinging his remaining shurikens at him. The jounin had dodged them all and grabbed on to the boy to restrain him but Naruto had some other ideas.

It seemed he wanted to leave some mark on the jounin as he had then clamped his teeth into Kakashi's arm, leaving a very pronounced bite mark.

Well, aside from that, there were no other misgivings. He nodded his thanks to the jounin, who promptly vanished in a puff of smoke.

With the final report given, Hiruzen returned his attention to the few documents left by his shadow clones. His eyes narrowed at the reports and the words that caught his attention.

Fang country, a land renowned for possessing the strongest military power outside of the five great countries, had been completely wiped out. The villages were burned with the population being reduced by ninety-five percent. The capital, once hailed as one of the most impregnable areas in the known world, had been reduced to rubble.

The reports tell of the survivors claiming that only three hundred or so marauders had done all of this. Such a feet should be next to impossible. Even Konoha, with its thousands of Shinobi in service, could not hope to take over a country with the same strength as Fang or the Five Great Nations. How, then, did a mere three hundred conquer what thousands cannot?

The Hokage's attention was caught by a report on the soldiers, where one had claimed none of those marauders were harmed by swords or arrows. In fact, they seemed to have descended from the skies and rained death onto their soldiers.

One such report also said that the marauders' skins were all extremely hard, to the point where their blades would imbed by a little at most.

Another spoke of how the marauders seemed to have extracted weapons from their own limbs and were charged with chakra.

They were all cloaked in black and red.

'Marauders descending from the sky… with hardened skins and weapons extracted from their own bodies…' The Hokage closed his eyes for a moment as he sought through his memories for a plausible solution.

In his years as a Shinobi, he had encountered many things and unique characteristics amongst his opponents. One such case had been about forty years ago when he had fought against a member of the Kaguya clan. The man had been a bloodthirsty individual who tore bones out of his own body to be used as weapons.

But he had also learned that the Kaguya clan had been completely wiped out.

'There is a possibility that these reports can be about puppets. Yet what person could possibly control hundreds of puppets at the same time? Such a feat is impossible!'

Hiruzen opened his eyes once more and glanced at the report. He flipped through a few pages, skimming through the lines until one such report caught his attention.

All of the marauders' weapons were coated in extremely potent poison. Some even spewed out clouds of poison into villages, wiping out the population entirely.

'How horrible.' He flipped through more pages until he found the insignia described by some soldiers. It was of a black triangle with a single red scorpion in the middle.

Scorpion? Where had he seen that insignia before?

Hiruzen opened up a drawer and slowly pulled out a small black book. He flipped through a few pages before he found the same red scorpion. Below it, the picture of a young redheaded man with an apathetic expression appeared.

"Akasuna… no Sasori." His old eyes widened in shock. The one that wiped out Fang Country was the infamous Sasori of the Red Sands…

The man was already infamous within Konoha. After all, Sasori was the one responsible for the sabotage that forced Kakashi's father, Konoha's legendary White Fang, to abandon the mission in favor of saving his teammates. Hiruzen had never forgotten the effects of that mission's failure. Konoha lost many Shinobi that day.

"And he has now struck again." Hiruzen closed his eyes and sighed. "Kakashi must not know of this, not yet."

The Sandaime gently placed the Bingo Book back into his drawer and placed the report aside. He had much to think about.

And it seemed he wouldn't be getting that time much.

Suddenly, the door rang with knocks. Sandaime arched an eyebrow but called out an affirmative. Slowly, the doors creaked open and a familiar sight of messy blond hair poked out of the crack.

Hiruzen offered the boy a warm smile. For the moment, he'll put aside the report.

"Naruto-kun, I heard that you passed your Genin trial. Congratulations."

The blond nodded absently as he walked in and took a seat in front of the venerable old man. He politely declined the offer for drinks and looked rather nervous, which was strange in and of itself.

"Um… Jiji can I ask a favor for you?"

The Hokage nodded. "Well… you were there four years ago when Hinako-san asked to adopt me. You remembered my conditions right?"

Again, he nodded. At the same time, he opened another drawer and slowly retrieved a key.

"Well… I passed the exam. I'm a genin and that means that I should be an adult now." He looked slightly uncomfortable, as if the thought of leaving the Hyuuga household wasn't appealing at all. "And… I want to be independent now. I can't be relying on the Hyuugas forever."

"Are you sure?" Hiruzen clasped his hands together. "The Hyuugas never had a problem with your presence and it would seem that Hinako-san, Hinata-san, and Hanabi-san are all very fond of you."

"I know…" Naruto bit his lip. "I know but I'll always feel I'm imposing into their family. I don't fit in no matter how hard they try to let me do so."

"I see." Sandaime held out his hand and presented the key. "Then if you're absolutely sure, this is the key to your new home."

Naruto took it but stared at it in wonder. He looked up and met the gaze of the Third Hokage. Hiruzen could already see the unvoiced question brimming in the blonde's eyes and gave him a smile.

"I did not buy the home. It was the former home of a dear friend of mine, who wanted to leave it in your care. I had every intention of one day presenting this home for you. He wanted to remain anonymous until you became old enough to figure out for yourself."

Naruto took the key in wonder. For a few minutes, nothing was exchanged between the two as one stared at the key and other stared at the boy. Finally, the young blond looked up and he asked his question.

"This friend… did he know me well?"

Hiruzen stared at the boy, seeing the resemblance almost immediately. His face slowly split in a sad smile as his eyes fell on the image to his side, where the solemn expression of another blond met his gaze.

"Yes." He replied softly. "He knew you well."

owo

A/N: Whaaaa.... finally finished! Many thanks to my new beta reader for checking over the chapter. Everyone give a round of applause for Twilight's Oblivion! Anyways I'm working on the new chapter but once again, I dunno if I can complete it quickly. I have a pretty bad case of senioritis these days. :P

Thanks for those that stuck with me! I hope to see you all again next chapter!

-Phoenix

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