Four Man Squads

Chapter 19 - Round One

Naruto and Hinata were casually strolling hand in hand through the streets of Suna. There were two days before the start of the final rounds. Both of them had agreed that they should use these two days to relax and make sure they were fully prepared for the battle to come.

"Hinata-hime..." Naruto said to his princess.

"What is it, Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked.

"I owe you an apology for missing your birthday. I was so busy with training that I completely forgot about it." Naruto said sadly.

Hinata knew he forgot, but she didn't really mind. He was so focused on achieving this next step on his path to Hokage, that she couldn't really blame him, "It's okay, Naruto-kun. I was caught up in my training as well. I barely remembered it myself." Hinata tried to console him. However, when she turned to look at the blond genin she was surprised to see a lavender and indigo wrapped box between them.

"Happy Birthday, Hinata." Naruto said with a smile.

"Naruto-kun, you didn't have to..." Hinata started before Naruto cut her off.

"Stop that." Naruto said, "You went out of your way to give me a nice birthday, the least I could do is get you something for yours. Next year, I promise we'll have an official birthday party for you."

Hinata nodded and gently took the gift from Naruto. She carefully unwrapped the present to reveal a golden box with what looked like to be the seal of one of the more popular jewelers in Suna. She opened up the lid to reveal a bracelet made of stones that had a remarkable green coloring. They almost looked like emeralds, however the green color wasn't quite as dark as an emerald would be. The stones were utterly breathtaking.

"Naruto-kun, what is this?" Hinata asked as she continued to look at the masterful piece of jewelry.

"Hold it up to the sun, hime." Naruto told her. Hinata did as he said and held up the bracelet to the sky. She gasped in surprise as the bracelet lit up as it caught the sun's rays. The light refracted brilliantly inside the stones, each one twinkling as though it was a star.

"They're 'Stars of the Desert'." Naruto answered her question, "The jeweler said they're also known as Sand Emeralds. The giant worms that live out in Suna's desert secrete a substance that helps them move underground. Whenever that substance mixes with sand and is touched by sunlight for an extended period of time, one of those gems is formed. Apparently, the trail we followed in the second exam was made of these things."

"Naruto, how could you afford something like this?" Hinata asked. She was sure the piece must have cost a small fortune.

"Well, I did do two A-rank missions." Naruto replied, "The pay off of those two missions were more than I could ever use now that I'm living with you and father. So, I figured what better way to use the money than to buy a nice belated birthday gift for my girlfriend."

"Naruto-kun..." Hinata said as she took in the breathtaking sight of the bracelet, "It's wonderful, thank you."

Naruto chuckled a bit at Hinata's reaction before wrapping his arm around her shoulder, "Now, to finish making up for what I missed. This day is all yours, Hinata-hime. Whatever you want to do, we'll do."

Hinata nodded happily before dragging Naruto through the streets. She already had a good idea of what she wanted to do with him for the day. There had been a few interesting places throughout Suna, and she wanted to see them all.

All 10 teams were standing side by side as the stadium full of people watched on. All of the genin could see Tsunade, wearing the traditional Hokage's robes, in a private section of the stands. There was another reserved seat beside her. Everyone knew that seat would not be filled today. Suna had yet to choose it's next Kazekage.

Kotone appeared in front of the hopefuls and began to give them a run down of how everything was to go, "Alright, there are a few rules you need to know before we get started. First thing, the fight will continue until one member of the team cannot continue or surrenders. At that point I will stop the match and the winner will be declared. Second, any and all jutsus and abilities are legal. There are no holds barred. Remember, you are fighting for the pride of your villages."

Kotone then Turned to the crowd, "I present to you the finalists of Suna's chuunin exam. Hokage-sama, various lords and nobles, and fellow citizens of Suna, The final rounds of the chuunin exam will now begin. Unlike most exams where the combatants battle one on one, we've had an extraordinary amount of exceptional genin this time. Therefore, the battles are going to be two versus two. Without further ado, the first match of the first round is Neji Hyuga and Tenten Saseru versus Kankuro Sukimakaze and Temari Sukimakaze."

The crowd erupted in support of the two children of the late Kazekage. This was very different for the Konoha ninja. They didn't have the home field advantage this time around.

The four genin involved in the first match stayed on the arena floor, the rest retreated to a waiting room where they were to watch the fight on a closed circuit television.

Neji made a quick scan of the area around them. Unlike the arena for the fights back in Konoha, this arena was barren. The arena floor was sand and there was nothing that provided any cover. That was good for Tenten and himself. There was nowhere for their opponent's to hide. From what Neji remembered about the two sand genins' abilities from the last exam, Temari almost exclusively used wind-based jutsu and the only skill Kankuro showed was his puppets.

"Are all of the combatants ready?" Kotone asked.

Neji and Tenten silently nodded.

"Yeah." Temari said as she opened her fan.

"Let's do this." Kankuro replied as he dropped the two bundles he was carrying on his back.

"Begin!" Kotone shouted as she leapt out of the way of the combatants.

Kankuro wasted no time unleashing his puppets at Neji. Temari immediately sent a blast of wind at Tenten. On the other side, Neji activated his Byakugan and Tenten pulled out some scrolls while she weathered the storm.

Neji easily avoided the attacks of both of Kankuro's puppets. With the Byakugan activated he could see the chakra strings attached to the puppets. With the correct movements he could start severing the puppeteer's ties to his weapons.

Tenten unleashed her counterattack against Temari after the windstorm was over. Tenten then threw the scroll high into the air, "Rising Dragon!" Tenten then followed the scroll into the air. She began to rain small weapons upon Temari. Temari smirked unconcernedly as she used a simple wave of her fan to bat all of the weapons out of the air.

"That's going to be hard to get past..." Tenten said as she landed.

Neji was disconnecting Kankuro from his puppets, but Kankuro was reattaching his strings as quickly as Neji cut them. Neji realized that this was a useless effort and that he was going to have to go after the puppet master directly. Rushing past the two puppets, Neji fully intended to unleash the Eight Trigrams Sixty-four Palms on the puppet master.

"You are in my field of divina..." Neji started his attack, but never finished.

"Wind Scythe Jutsu!" Temari yelled as she blasted Neji away from Kankuro. The two siblings took up a new formation with Temari in front of Kankuro while the puppets attacked Tenten and Neji.

"This is frustrating." Neji stated as he continued to dodge the attacks from Karasu.

"I would have to agree." Tenten answered as she whacked Kuroari with a large club conjured from one of her scrolls.

"We can't get close or use your long-range weapons because of her attacks." Neji stated, "Unless we find a way to break her defense, we're doomed."

"I have an idea." Tenten stated, "You'll have to remind me to thank Naruto and Sasuke for this one."

"I think I know what you have in mind. Let's try it." Neji replied. He rushed forward towards Temari and Kankuro, but stopped halfway between them and Tenten.

Tenten planted two scrolls on the ground. After making a few hand seals both seals exploded upwards in two clouds of smoke that resembled dragons. "Twin Rising Dragons!"

Tenten rained iron death upon Temari and Kankuro.

"Cyclone Scythe Jutsu!" Temari shouted as she used her wind attack to deflect the weapons back towards Tenten. However, this was the plan as Neji jumped up in the path of the weapons.

"Kaiten!" Neji shouted as the he used his rotation to deflect the weapons again. Temari was caught off guard by the maneuver and wouldn't be able to recover in time to save herself or her brother. However, Kankuro was on top of things. Karasu grabbed Temari and used it's body to block for her while Kuroari opened up and Kankuro ducked inside it. The rain of thrown weapons landed harmlessly around and in the puppets.

"That was a neat trick." Temari said as Karasu released her.

"But, it wasn't enough." Kankuro said as he stepped out of Kuroari.

"Damn." Neji cursed under his breath. This was going to be a hard fight. Kankuro and Temari covered each others weaknesses very well. However, between him and Tenten, he was the only one with any sort of defensive techniques. Tenten's abilities were all aggressive and attack oriented. This was turning out to be a pretty bad match-up for them.

As soon as the two Suna genin got clear of the puppets, Kankuro resumed his attacks.

"We've got to close the gap somehow." Tenten said as she fended off attacks from Karasu.

Neji racked his brain for a plan to get within range for the Eight Trigrams Sixty-four Palms or to get Tenten's projectiles to land. No, he didn't have to get that close, he just needed to shut down the puppets. If he could do that, then Kankuro would be useless in the fight. He remembered how useless Kankuro looked in the previous exam when Kaen melted the joints in his puppet. While Neji didn't have any jutsu powerful enough to do something like that, he could shut off the chakra flow to Kankuro's hands which should have a similar, if not better, effect.

"Tenten, do you think you can distract Temari for just a little bit?" Neji asked.

"I can try, Neji-kun." Tenten replied. Neji nodded in acceptance and moved away from Tenten. He simply waited until Tenten made her move. The puppet was annoying, but nothing Neji couldn't deal with.

Soon Neji saw Tenten use Karasu's face as a launch pad, and he saw her attach chakra strings to all of her fallen weapons. Neji knew this was his chance to attack, he knocked Kuroari away and moved to attack Kankuro. Tenten moved all the weapons up into the air with a flourish of her hand, and just as quickly sent them after Temari.

Temari smirked, "This trick won't work, Wind Scythe Jutsu!" she shouted as she knocked all the weapons away and the attack hit the mid-air Tenten head on. The wind blast cut at Tenten's skin. Seeing her chance at a victory, Temari took off towards the falling body of Tenten intent on ending the fight.

"Temari!" Kankuro shouted as Neji closed in. In a flash the pale-eyed genin closed off all of the tenketsu in and leading to Kankuro's hands, and finished up with a Jyuuken strike to the chest, enough power behind it to knock the Suna nin out.

Temari spun around, Tenten's limp form folded oddly across her fan. She dropped Tenten's body as Neji dropped Kankuro's. The puppets fell to the ground useless. Kotone appeared in between the two still standing genin.

"This appears to have been a double knockout." Kotone said, "In the traditional one-on-one fights, this would result in a loss for both competitors. However, due to the unique nature of this exam, I am continuing this bout as a one-on-one between Temari Sukimakaze and Neji Hyuga. If the med-nins would please come clear the fallen combatants, we will continue the bout."

The med-nins came out and quickly took Tenten and Kankuro away to be looked at. Everything else was left were it was, as it would be in a true battle.

Kotone looked at both contestants making sure they were both ready to continue, "Resume!"

Temari opened up with a Cyclone Scythe Jutsu, making Neji dodge the chakra enhanced wind. She immediately followed up with Wind Scythe after Wind Scythe. She wasn't giving Neji any time to breathe. She knew that, if he got close, she would lose.

Neji was trying to figure out how he was going to get close to Temari. She was making sure to keep as much distance as possible between them. The only move in his arsenal that could hit from range was the Air Palm, but it lacked horribly in power when compared to Temari's jutsu. But, then again, he didn't have to hit her with it... ...This is going to hurt.

Neji charged head long at Temari. He was betting his and Tenten's exam on this maneuver. Temari squared off to him and reared her giant fan back.

"Cyclone Scythe Jutsu!" Temari shouted as she sent the blast at Neji.

"Eight Trigrams: Air Palm!" Neji announced as he shot his own blast of air at Temari. The weaker attack had its intended effect, it broke enough of Temari's blast to allow Neji through, even though the Cyclone Scythe still damaged him heavily. Temari's eyes widened in shock as Neji barreled towards her, she was off balance from her attack and would not be able to get in a second swing.

"You are in my field of divination." Neji intoned, "Eight Trigrams Sixty-four Palms!"

"Two Palms!" Temari felt two strikes to her chest.

"Four Palms!" Temari could feel more of her tenketsu close on her shoulders.

"Eight Palms!" Temari's arms shut down.

"Sixteen Palms!" Temari's legs were starting to feel weak.

"Thirty-two Palms!" Temari's fan clattered to the ground.

"Sixty-four Palms!" Temari flew backwards from the strength of the attack. She landed roughly and did not get back up.

Kotone inspected the damage, "Winner of match one, Neji Hyuga and Tenten Saseru."

The crowd responded with a chorus of boos as the only true Suna team in the final rounds had been knocked out in the first round. Neji, however, didn't care. He immediately headed to the infirmary both to get his own wounds tended to and to check up on Tenten.

"Will the contestants for match two, Kiba Inuzuka and Tayuya Kurashikku and Hinata Hyuga and Naruto Uzumaki, please report to the arena floor." Kotone announced.

Kiba and Tayuya exited the waiting room first. Hinata and Naruto followed, however, halfway through the hallway to the arena floor, Hinata stopped.

"What's wrong, hime?" Naruto asked.

"Naruto..." Hinata started, "I can't use all of my abilities in these fights..."

"I know, hime." Naruto replied, "There is no doubt that there are main family members watching this. If they saw you use any of the abilities that Kiyoshi-sensei has taught you, I imagine they'll eventually put two and two together. If that were to happen, you would be in a lot of trouble."

"So, I can only use my Jyuuken skills and the academy taught jutsus. That's all the others think I know." Hinata said, "I'm sorry, Naruto-kun."

"It's no problem, Hinata-chan." Naruto replied reassuringly, "There's some things that are more important than these exams."

"Thanks, Naruto-kun." Hinata said as they continued their trek out toward the arena floor.

"For what?" Naruto asked, clueless.

"For understanding." Hinata replied.

"Don't worry about it, hime." Naruto replied with a smile, "We gotta have some sort of handicap, or things just wouldn't be interesting."

Hinata smiled back at Naruto, "I guess you're right, Naruto-kun." While she was nowhere near as confident as he was, she believed in him.

"Let's rock this party." Naruto said confidently as he and Hinata walked into the clearing.

Kotone wasted no time in getting the match started, "Are the combatants ready?"

"Yahoo!" Kiba yelled while Akamaru barked loudly.

"Damn straight." Tayuya said.

"You guys are going down." Naruto taunted as Hinata wordlessly nodded her head.

"Begin!" Kotone announced the beginning of the match.

"Beast Mimicry: All-Fours Jutsu!" Kiba shouted as Tayuya took up position behind Kiba. She got out her flute and began to play a haunting melody. Kiba finished his minor transformation and launched himself at Naruto.

Naruto and Hinata were caught off guard by the flute and the sound emanating from it. Both of them were dealing with extremely blurred and wavy vision, as if the world around them was made of murky water.

"Genjutsu!" Hinata called out to Naruto as she ran placed her hands in an all to familiar sign, "Byakugan!"

However, Hinata was shocked when her vision did not return to normal. Everything was still blurred and wavy. What is this? Why can't my Byakugan see through this, unless... the genjutsu isn't affecting my eyes! It's assaulting my ears from that flute!

Naruto, meanwhile, was taking one hell of a beating. Kiba had turned Akamaru into a clone, and it was taking everything Naruto had to keep from getting obliterated by the Gatsuuga.

This isn't good... Naruto thought, This genjutsu is messing me up pretty good. I need to break this somehow. Naruto delved back into his memories, trying to come up with someway to combat this genjutsu. He still couldn't master the Genjutsu Release technique. He thought back to a conversation he had with Obito after the Suna-Oto Invasion.

"Obito-sensei, I can't get the hang of this Genjutsu Release. What am I doing wrong?" Naruto asked.

"Nothing." Obito replied, "For the Genjutsu Release Jutsu to work, you have to stop all the chakra flow in your body, then jump start it with a great amount of strength in order to imbalance the controller's chakra. However, since you have the Kyuubi in you, it's impossible for you to completely shut off your chakra flow. You're going to have to modify the technique for yourself. I suggest trying on pulling out Kyuubi's chakra in a large burst. That should create a similar effect."

Naruto focused on the Kyuubi's chakra. Come on, you damn fox, I need some help here... Naruto could feel the surge of raw power throughout his system. With a primal shout he used a short burst of chakra to disrupt Tayuya's control over her genjutsu.

Not wanting to give Tayuya a chance to recover, Naruto tried to attack the flute-playing genjutsu user. However, Kiba and Akamaru ran interference.

"Gatsuuga!" Kiba roared as he attacked the blond genin. Naruto was tiring of this game. He waited until Kiba and Akamaru were in range...

"Kaiten!" Naruto announced as he made his spin. The force of the defensive jutsu knocked Kiba and Akamaru away from each other. The force of the impact against the ground, forced Akamaru to revert to his normal form, he looked to be out of the fight for the moment.

There was a stunned silence in the small portion of the arena that held the Hyuga family members that could make the trip to Suna for the exams. All of them were shocked, and some were appalled, that Naruto knew the Kaiten. That meant Hiashi had taught it to him.

However, this wasn't Naruto's concern as he settled into his Jyuuken stance as he squared off against Kiba.

"How in the hell did you do that?" Kiba shouted his question, "That's a Hyuga jutsu! Quit playing around like you know their techniques. What was the trick?"

"I thought you knew that I had been adopted by the Hyuga clan." Naruto replied, "Come."

Hinata had released herself of the genjutsu and sped off to take care of Tayuya while Kiba was distracted by Naruto. She reached the red-haired kunoichi easily, however the victory in close combat wasn't as easy as she believed it would be. Tayuya had obviously trained a great deal in taijutsu. She managed to avoid most of Hinata's dangerous Jyuuken blows, taking only minor hits to the extremities. Tayuya responded to the assault by launching a set of kunai and shuriken to create some distance between herself and Hinata. She bit her thumb and began running through hand signs. Hinata immediately recognized what was coming.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" Tayuya shouted as she slammed her palm to the ground. In three explosions of smoke three giant humanoids appeared on the battlefield. Tayuya smirked as she lifted the flute to her mouth. The melody that played was different than the one that created the initial genjutsu. And with the melody, the giant warriors began to move.

That's not good. Hinata thought, I haven't been able to summon anything comparable to that yet. Hinata settled in for what was looking to be a tough fight.

Kiba was getting pummeled. He couldn't believe it, but Naruto was actually whipping him up and down with what looked to be the genuine Jyuuken stance. Even with his increased speed and agility due to the All-Fours Jutsu, Kiba couldn't land a blow on Naruto. Kiba needed a new plan. He carefully fought his way over to Akamaru, who was starting to wake.

"Here, boy!" Kiba said as he tossed a pill to Akamaru. Akamaru's fur turned red as he devoured the pill. Akamaru then hopped on Kiba's back while Kiba ran through some hand signs, "Inuzuka Style: Man Beast Transformation Combo: Two-Headed Wolf!"

Naruto took a couple of involuntary steps back from the giant two headed version of Akamaru.

"Here we go!" the "Kiba" head of wolf yelled, "Garouga!"

The technique came at Naruto way too fast. Naruto barely dodged at the last second, but was still cut pretty heavily from the result of the attack.

"That's pretty cool." Naruto admitted as he watched the spiraling mass of dog head back for him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see that Hinata was dealing three giant monsters. Sadly, He couldn't help her as he had his own problem.

Naruto made sure to get well clear this time to avoid the residual damage of the Garouga. "Looks like I'm going to have to break out something bigger to deal with this." Naruto said as he made a series of signs that ended in a very familiar one, "Shadow Clone Explosion Jutsu!"

Four clones popped into existence. One stayed to help the real Naruto while the other three went to Hinata's aid.

"Alright, let's see how your jutsu holds up to mine!" Naruto shouted as the Shadow clone aided him in forming the Rasengan. Naruto jumped to meet the two-headed wolf head on. There was no dodging this time. Naruto planted the Rasengan right in the middle of the whirling mass. The result was explosive. Both of the jutsu's met head on and neither would give for a brief moment, then suddenly both Naruto and the wolf were rocketed away in opposite directions as the force of the two jutsu's burst. Naruto made a decent side crater into the side of the arena wall while the wolf skidded across the ground before slamming the wall on the other side of the arena. Kiba and Akamaru lost their transformation, and Kiba emerged holding onto an injured Akamaru.

Naruto stood up, and took a quick toll of his injuries. Dislocated shoulder, sprained ankle, three dislocated fingers, and, judging from his slightly blurred vision, a mild concussion. Yeah, that probably wasn't the greatest idea. Naruto thought as he popped his shoulder and fingers back into place. The sprained ankle was already healed, and he could feel the fogginess leaving his brain, which meant Kyuubi was working on the concussion.

Hinata was glad to receive some assistance from the Naruto clones. Each of them was tangling with one of the giants. Hinata was trying to make her way to Tayuya, but the Tayuya would always move one of her summons in the way to intercept. Hinata was getting slightly frustrated. If it hadn't been for her Byakugan, she would've missed Kiba disengage from his fight with Naruto to attack her. She quickly spun around the incoming swipe and retaliated with a shot to Kiba's back. Kiba didn't stay to fight as he retreated to Tayuya's side. Two more Naruto's came up to her, she assumed one of them had to be the real one.

"Everything okay, hime?" Naruto asked.

"More or less. I can't get close to her. Her summons are very quick and strong." Hinata replied.

"I have an idea." Naruto said, "I need you to make an all out attack against Kiba and Tayuya, but right before you get there, stop and use your Kaiten, even if there's no one around. I hate to do it, but I need you to be a distraction."

Hinata looked at the Naruto addressing her and nodded, "Alright."

Hinata took off like rocket, focused completely on her attack. Naruto made more Shadow Clones. They spread out and surrounded the three summons, Hinata, Kiba, and Tayuya.

"That bitch is crazy." Tayuya said as she played the note string that called the demon with the large club over to guard her and Kiba.

However, much to Kiba and Tayuya's surprise, Hinata stopped well short of them and just in front of the summon.

"Kaiten!" Hinata yelled and spun in place. There was nothing in the area.

As soon as Hinata's spin had began the sky darkened as dozens of Naruto's jumped into the air and ran around the area.

"Boom." Naruto said with a smile as he made the handsign and sent the mental command to all of his shadow clones. The stadium was rocked to it's core from the force of the explosion. It took a few good minutes for the smoke to clear from the blast so everyone could see the damage. Hinata stood in the middle of the devastation unharmed. There was no trace of the summons and Kiba and Tayuya laid in a heap a few yards away from Hinata.

Kotone inspected the damage. Kiba and Tayuya each had multiple mild injuries. However, considering the pure power of the explosion, they were lucky but in not condition to fight. "Winners of match two Hinata Hyuga and Naruto Uzumaki!"

The crowd erupted in applause. Partly because the fight had been entertaining, but mostly because everyone loves explosions.

"Match 3, Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha versus Chouji Akimichi and Chiyoko Guujin."

The four new competitors made their way to the arena floor while Naruto and Hinata made their way back. Sasuke and Sakura stopped briefly to talk with the victorious pair.

"That was an impressive explosion." Sasuke complimented.

"Yeah, it was pretty cool." Naruto answered with grin.

"Congratulations on your win." Sakura said.

"Thanks." Hinata replied, "Good luck to you two."

"Yeah, you guys got to win, we have to have a match." Naruto said.

"I won't lose until I get to fight you or Gaara." Sasuke replied.

"Then you better get out there." Naruto replied.

"Yeah, see you later." Sasuke said as he departed for the Arena floor.

Sasuke and Sakura lined up across from Chouji and Chiyoko. Sasuke and Sakura knew that they were in some difficult territory. They knew at least a little bit about every other contestant in the finals, except for Chiyoko. They had never seen her fight, the only thing they knew for sure was that Chiyoko was a med-nin like Sakura.

"Are the contestants ready?" Kotone asked.

"Hmph." Sasuke grunted.

"Yes." Sakura replied.

"You betcha!" Chiyoko said happily while Chouji smiled and nodded.

"Begin!" Kotone said.

"Expansion Jutsu!" Chouji exclaimed as he assumed his typical boulder appearance, "Human Boulder!"

Behind Chouji's rolling form Chiyoko was running through some quick hand signs, "Ninpou: Dokuryoote!" As she finished her jutsu sickly purple fumes emanated from her hands and fingers. She rushed at Sakura.

Sakura grabbed a kunai and prepared for Chiyoko to get close. Chiyoko did not draw a weapon of her own and engaged Sakura in close combat. Sakura quickly realized this was a mistake after she caught a small whiff of the fumes coming off of Chiyoko's hands. However, it gave her some valuable information. The poison Chiyoko was using was a simple concoction designed to knock out the opponent a few minutes after inhalation. It was easily cured with a simple detoxification jutsu, like the one Obito had used back during Team 7's mission to the Land of Waves. Sakura immediately signed her jutsu and began purging her system of the poison.

Meanwhile, Sasuke was dodging Chouji's tank form easily with the aid of his Sharingan. However, even with his powerful dojutsu he could not find a suitable opening to attack. However, he had to try something.

"Katon: Phoenix Flower Jutsu!" Sasuke shouted as he sent a stream of fireballs at Chouji. However, the portly genin rolled through the flames easily, with out so much as a single burn. He was simply rolling too fast for the flames to catch on him before getting smothered. Sasuke returned to dodging the rolling boulder of flesh while trying to come up with a new plan.

Sakura and Chiyoko were at a standoff. Sakura's close range skills were stronger, if only slightly, than Chiyoko's, but the Suna med-nin was constantly poisoning Sakura. Both were using a good amount of chakra on healing wounds and curing poison.

"Ninpou: Dokubuki!" Chiyoko called out as she whipped out two kunai. Sakura watched as a viscous green liquid emanated from Chiyoko's hands and coated the weapons thoroughly.

What sort of trick is that? Sakura pondered, Surely she's not storing poison in her body. It has to be some sort of chakra mixture.

Sakura didn't have long to ponder before Chiyoko starting hurling poisoned kunai and shuriken at her. Sakura deflected and dodged the incoming projectiles. Even though her poison skills were interesting, Chiyoko's taijutsu and weapons skills were below average, as far as Sakura could tell. It seemed her poison was her only trick.

Sasuke had to get Chouji out of his rolling tank mode. Otherwise, the Akimichi was just going to steamroll until he got either Sasuke or Sakura. Sasuke made his way over to Sakura as he dodged the boulder. Sakura was currently handling Chiyoko fairly well, but they were at a standstill, with neither able to gain an advantage over the other.

"Sakura!" Sasuke shouted out to his teammate. Sakura took the hint and regrouped with Sasuke, "Sakura, we need to rethink our strategy here. We need to combine our efforts and just knock one of them out of the fight. Chiyoko seems like the weaker link in their team, so we should go after her"

"Okay." Sakura agreed as she and Sasuke dodged Chouji and poisoned weapons thrown by Chiyoko, "What's the plan?"

"Snare her in a genjutsu. Even if she's able to break it, it should snare her long enough for me to take her out and end the match." Sasuke said.

"Alright." Sakura said as she began making the hand signs, "Magen: Jubaku Satsu!"

Chiyoko suddenly found herself frozen, stuck in a tree that obviously could not exist in the desert. Chiyoko undid the genjutsu, but it had it's intended effect.

"Katon: Yari Daikage!" Sasuke announced as the flame staff appeared in his hands. He charged at Chiyoko, who had no time to muster a defense.

"Partial Expansion Jutsu: Arm!" Chouji shouted as he used his giant arms to block for Chiyoko and swat Sasuke away. Chouji suffered a serious wound to his forearm for his troubles. However, his counterattack knocked Sasuke for a loop and both med-nins tended to their respective partners injuries.

"Damn, this is a lot tougher than I thought it would be." Sasuke said as he took stock of the situation. Both he and Chouji were alright, but Sakura and Chiyoko both looked like they were beginning to run low on chakra. One way or another, this fight was probably close to over, and Sasuke had to admit things didn't look good for him and Sakura. Sasuke didn't have a lot of defensive abilities, and Chouji just proved his signature jutsus were useful for both offense and defense.

"Partial Expansion Jutsu: Arm!" Chouji shouted as he enlarged his arms and swiped at his opponents with his arms. This forced Sasuke and Sakura to dodge right into Chiyoko's attack.

"Ninpou: Dokugiri!" Chiyoko announced as she sprayed a heavy purple mist over the area. However, she didn't account for the ability of the Sharingan Eye to read opponent's maneuvers.

"Chidori!" Sasuke shouted as the sounds of a chorus of birds filled arena. He charged straight at Chiyoko. However, Chouji again moved to intercept with his enlarged arms. Sasuke smirked; this was what he was expecting to happen and planned for. Sasuke turned on a dime and ran his Chidori down Chouji's arm. After running along the length of the appendage before plunging the Chidori into Chouji's shoulder. Sasuke made sure not to hit any vital points and not to plunge all the way through Chouji's shoulder, so the damage would be a minimal as possible while still being enough to end the match.

Chouji collapsed to the ground in a heap. Sasuke deactivated his jutsu and his eyes as he recognized the match was over. He was breathing in poison, he knew that before long he would be out cold on the ground with Chouji, but he did enough to win the match.

Kotone checked on the match progress and saw that Chouji was definitely unable to continue, "Winners of match 3, Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha!"

"Chouji-kun!" Chiyoko shouted as she ran over to her fallen teammate. She kneeled beside him and immediately began pumping all the chakra she could into healing the damage from Sasuke's Chidori. Before long med-nins rushed the field and began healing Chouji's wound in place of the weak Chiyoko. They also purged Sasuke's system of the poison that was circulating through him. Sakura had already taken care of herself long ago.

"Match four, Kaen Kanadzuchi and Rock Lee versus Haku Kousetsu and Ino Yamanaka will now begin. Fighters please make your way to the floor." Kotone instructed.

Kaen, Lee, Haku, and Ino appeared on the sandy arena floor a few moments later. The two teams took up their positions on opposite sides of the proctor.

"Are you ready?" Kotone asked the genin.

"Yosh!" Kaen and Lee yelled in unison.

"Hai." Haku said quietly.

"Yeah." Ino answered confidently.

"Begin!" Kotone announced.

Lee and Kaen rocketed into action. Lee launched himself into a taijutsu battle with Ino and Haku while Kaen opted to use her jutsus from range.

"Katon: Phoenix Flower Jutsu!" Kaen shouted as she launched the balls of fire at the melee. She trusted Lee to dodge the flames. Her trust was well placed as Lee dodged any fireballs that came his way.

"Konoha Reppu!" Lee shouted as he tried to sweep the legs out from under both Ino and Haku. The attack successfully hit Ino, but missed Haku, who jumped clear. Haku did not want to get involved in a close-range battle with Lee. Even though Haku's taijutsu was well above average for a genin, it was nowhere near as good as Lee's. However, he knew Ino's taijutsu was even worse. Though they had worked hard over the last month, Ino was still below average in most ninja skills. He would never tell her, but the only thing she ever seemed to excel at was her familial jutsu. He was going to have to time his jutsus well to even have a shot at winning this fight. He pulled out a senbon and engaged whole-heartedly into combat with Lee.

Lee had his hands full with Haku. The ice-user showed more aggression and power in his strikes than Lee had ever seen before. The fact that Haku pulled out a senbon tipped Lee off to the fact that he was trying to get into a situation to make full advantage of his ability to make one-handed seals. Lee, however, was having none of it. Whenever Haku would try to lock up with him, Lee would make sure that he couldn't take advantage with kicks and punches to his signing hand.

Ino felt useless, and she was. Her taijutsu wasn't even close to Haku's let alone Lee's. She didn't know many jutsu outside of the basic stuff taught at the academy and her familial jutsu. She had never felt so useless. However, she didn't have time to wallow in self pity as Kaen turned her attention to Ino.

"Katon: Dragon Flame Bombs!" Kaen announced as she shot a stream of fireballs at Ino. Ino barely managed to dodge the fireballs enough to avoid any major burns.

Haku noticed what was going on, and pulled out a scroll. A scroll that Lee instantly recognized from the second exam. Haku opened up the scroll and poured his chakra into it. Instantly, a large gush of water exited the scroll and covered the dry sandy ground. All of the water was quickly drunk up by the ground. However, that was fine with Haku, the water was still there.

Lee realized how dangerous this situation could be if Haku used his signature jutsu. Lee was proven right when Haku went on the defensive and formed the handsigns for his technique. However, the sequence was different than Lee ever remembered seeing.

"Secret Jutsu: Crystal Ice Menagerie!" Haku shouted as a much larger dome than Lee had ever seen before. Not only that, but the whole thing was rotating. Lee realized he had to stop Haku from entering the mirrors or he and Kaen would probably end up losing the fight. However, he wasn't quite fast enough as Haku melted into one of the mirrors.

Lee knew Haku was incredibly fast when using the base version of this jutsu, but he wondered if this new and improved version boosted his speed even further. Lee unbuckled his weights and dropped them, he was going to need every bit of speed he could get now.

Kaen was also caught in the impressive jutsu. Well, fire melts ice... Kaen thought as she ran through her own set of hand seals, "Katon: Gibusu Enkoo!" Kaen felt the warmth of her fire jutsu overtake her. She loved this jutsu. It always felt like she became fire incarnate. After the flames completely wreathed her body, she moved to the mirrors in an attempt to melt them down. She approached the mirrors, but surprisingly they didn't even show the slightest signs of melting as her flames. She decided she was going to have to try something more powerful. This is going to hurt...

Lee could barely keep up. Even with his increase in speed after dropping his weights, Lee was losing the battle. However suddenly, Haku's attacks on Lee decreased. Lee looked around to see Kaen in her fire jutsu, trying to burn down the mirrors around her. He realized that Haku was focusing on trying to take her out before she was able to melt his technique.

"Eight Inner Gates: Gate of Opening, open!" Lee shouted as he opened the first chakra gate. He then took off in a flash after Haku.

Haku was surprised when his intended attack against the flame wielding kunoichi was stopped by Lee. The Eight Inner Gates... very impressive. Haku thought. Haku had heard stories, but had never seen wither Guy or Lee using the power of the unlocked gates. This new Lee was just as fast as he was using his mirrors. This could be trouble...

Kaen made her mind and made the single handsign. She was going to take some serious damage from this, but she was sure the jutsu should have enough kick to break down the mirrors. "Katon: Gibusu Enkoo Nova!" The flames around her condensed around her chest above her heart. Then, as soon as all the fire had became a single white-hot dot in front of her, the condensed flames exploded in an incredible flash of white light. Everyone was sent packing and half of Haku's dome was demolished.

Haku was smashed against a wall along with Lee as the blast rocketed through the arena. Ino rolled along the ground. Since she was farthest away from the explosion when it happened, she was the least damaged by it. Ino quickly scrambled back up to her feet and took stock of her situation. She realized she had a golden opportunity before her. Lee was reeling from the blast and having to deal with the aftereffects of opening the first gate.

"Mind Transfer Jutsu!" Ino intoned as she made the sign for her family's patented jutsu. Luckily, Lee did not move. Ino's body went limp as she took over Lee's. Ino moved Lee's body to look around for Kaen. Ino spotted Kaen struggling to regain her feet in the middle of the arena. Ino rushed Lee to her side.

"Kaen, are you okay?" Ino asked through Lee's body.

"More or less." Kaen answered.

"Good." Ino replied as she raised Lee's hand. She swiftly brought the hand down on the back of Kaen's head. Kaen slumped to the ground, unconscious. Ino smiled then placed her hands in the release sign, "Release!"

Ino's mind migrated back to her own body, which was being protected over by Haku. Kotone checked on Kaen and deemed that the fight was over, "Winners of match four, Haku Kousetsu and Ino Yamanaka." There was a chorus of boos at the announcement, most of the people in the audience had felt that the method Ino had used to win the match was underhanded and dirty.

"Way to go, Ino-chan." Haku congratulated his girlfriend.

"Thanks, Haku-kun." Ino replied with a smile, "I'm just glad I could do something. I didn't realize how useless I was. I'm going to have to train harder."

Haku smiled back and nodded as they made their way back to the waiting room."

"Now for the final match of the opening round, Sai and Tsuneni Tadashii versus Gaara of the Desert and Shiroi Wangetsu." Kotone announced, "Combatants to the floor please."

The four contestants silently made their way to the floor. Kotone looked at each team. Honestly, she felt a little sad for the team that was facing Gaara. The arena was covered in sand. Gaara would be undefeatable here.

"Are the combatants ready?" Kotone asked.

Everyone silently nodded in response.

"Begin!" Kotone signaled the start of the match.

Shiroi immediately pulled out a katana and charged at Sai and Tsuneni. Tsuneni wasted no time in coming at Shiroi. She was interested in seeing if she had grown stronger than him over the course of the past six months. Sai backed away from the melee and brought out a scroll and an ink brush. Gaara just casually watched on, waiting for the time to strike.

"Chouju Giga!" Sai said as he sent out a wave of ink animals to attack.

Gaara looked on impassively as Shiroi dodged and evaded the attacks of the ink beasts and Tsuneni. He sighed, there didn't seem to be anything here that would be able to touch him. He decided it was time to end it.

"Sand Tsunami!" Gaara said as he slammed his palms to the sand. Suddenly, the sand roiled underneath the arena and a large wave emerged to crush Sai. Gaara couldn't catch Tsuneni with the attack because of her proximity to Shiroi, but he didn't need to. He only had to neutralize one of them.

Sai was taken aback by the large wave of sand coming at him. There was no way to escape it. He placed his arms in front of himself and braced for impact. The sand wave crashed into him and drove him back into the wall of the arena. There Sai remained buried.

Gaara looked at Kotone, "He'll lose consciousness in roughly 5 minutes, or I could kill him from this position. Either way, he's out of the match."

Kotone looked over at the pile of sand and nodded. She didn't see any evidence of Sai making it out of the sand. "Winners of match five, Gaara of the Desert and Shiroi Wangetsu."

The crowd cheered for Gaara, the only Suna nin to make it past the first round.

"Now since we have an uneven amount of teams for the next round, one random team will be getting a bye, a free pass into the semifinals." Kotone said as she held up a small bag, she took small wooden plates with the names of each team on it and tossed them into the bag. After giving it a good shake she reached in and extracted a plate. "The random bye goes to Hinata Hyuga and Naruto Uzumaki." Kotone then pulled out two more plates, "Match 1 of round two will be Gaara of the Desert and Shiroi Wangetsu versus Haku Kousetsu and Ino Yamanaka. Match two will thusly be Neji Hyuga and Tenten Saseru versus Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno. We will have a three hour intermission while the fighters recuperate and rebuild their chakra reserves." Kotone looked at her watch to see that it was a little after 10 AM, "The battles will continue at shortly after one."

After that was said, people began filing out of the arena. There was a much talking amongst the spectators about the first round fights, and predictions about the next round. Everyone believe Gaara and Shiroi would win their fight easily. There was a split amongst who would win the Neji and Tenten versus Sasuke and Sakura fight, the main concern being how recuperated would Tenten be before the fight began.

"Man, this sucks." Naruto complained as he, Hinata, Sakura, and Sasuke went together to get something to eat before the next round started.

"What are you complaining about, idiot? You got a free pass to the next round." Sasuke replied.

"Yeah, but I wanted to fight my way through it." Naruto said, "This kinda feels like I'm cheating."

"There's nothing we can do about it now, Naruto-kun." Hinata tried to calm Naruto down. Truthfully, she was glad to have the bye, it meant more time to rest. That, and she didn't like fighting all that much anyway.

"Yeah you guys are lucky." Sakura said, "We gotta fight that Neji."

"Any tips for us?" Sasuke asked.

"Just try to play keep away." Naruto said, "Neji is all about close range. Most genjutsu won't work on him because of the Byakugan. Engaging in close combat with Neji is asking for defeat."

"Okay." Sasuke replied, "Tenten's weakened. I think we should probably focus on trying to take her out."

"Yeah." Sakura agreed, "She'll be the weaker link."

The four of them walked along to the restaurant they had ate at when they first came to Suna. They thoroughly enjoyed their lunch before heading back to the arena.

Naruto and Hinata split away from Sasuke and Sakura at the main gates of the arena. There were only two rounds scheduled for the day, with the final two rounds scheduled for tomorrow. Therefore, Naruto and Hinata had decided to watch the next round from the stands.

Walking around to find a couple of seats, Naruto and Hinata bumped into Obito and Rin.

"Congratulations on making the semifinals you two." Rin said as the two couples got close.

"Yeah, that was a good match." Obito said, "Good use of distraction. Even though you didn't have to go quite so far with the exploding clones."

Naruto laughed, "I just wanted to make sure they got the job done."

"Anyway, I guess you two have come up here to watch the next two matches?" Rin asked.

"Hai, Rin-san." Hinata answered.

Rin giggled slightly at Hinata, "Just Rin is fine, Hinata. Come there was a couple of empty seats near me and Obito, and not a lot of people have showed back up yet. We should be able to get some really good seats."

Hinata nodded as she and Naruto followed Obito and Rin down to front-row seats. Rin had been right, the arena was all but abandoned. The four of them sat down and awaited the start of the next round.

About thirty minutes later, people started to pour back into the stadium, awaiting the start of the next round eagerly. Fifteen minutes after that, Kotone reappeared in the middle of the arena.

"Thank you all for your patience." Kotone addressed the audience, "Without further ado, the second round will begin with Gaara of the Desert and Shiroi Wangetsu versus Haku Kousetsu and Ino Yamanaka."


I know this is slightly shorter than most of the other chapters, but I didn't want to force anything so, eh.

I'm pleased in how many of you enjoyed the fight with the worm. I'm going to have to try to find a way to capture that sort of action in all of my fights. I hope these matches get close to that.

Also, to answer a question, Temari and Kankuro have a different familial name from Gaara because I used Gaara's English name without really thinking much of it, until it came time for Temari and Kankuro to have last names (I like to give all characters last names, the only exception to this will be Sai, or any other Root Ninja).

I hope you enjoyed chapter 19. Please read and review.