A/N: I'm finally back! Sorry it took so long but life has a way of throwing curveballs at you. Needless to say I have been busy with other concerns. It's just been one thing after another. Still, I won't try to excuse my lateness. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the long awaited chapter.
Naruto: Sealed Fate
Naruto entered the stadium to see most of the other examinees lined up behind the proctor who was facing the kage box. Naruto took a spot at the end next to Sakura. He looked over his teammate and smiled at the changes.
"Hey Sakura-chan, I like the new look."
Sakura blushed at the comment. Truthfully, she had hoped both Naruto and Sasuke would approve of the changes, minor though they were. Her long hair had been trimmed until it reached just past her shoulder blades and was pulled into twin braided pigtails. Her signature battledress had been altered, the sleeves removed and the length shortened to mid-thigh. Her forehead protector was now on a red band and sat proudly on her forehead. On her back was a new larger utility pouch. All in all she looked like she came ready for a fight.
Sakura looked around before turning back to Naruto. "You haven't seen Sasuke-kun have you Naruto?" She asked as she looked over her teammate. His outfit was the same, the only concession to the increased importance of the finals were an extra kunai holster strapped to each leg.
Naruto shook his head. "No but the teme will be here. There's no way he would miss this."
The proctor looked back over his shoulder. "Hey, stop looking around and face the customers. This is the main event and you guys are the stars."
Up in the kage box, Sarutobi called one of his guards. "Did you find Sasuke yet?"
"No Hokage-sama. We have ANBU teams out looking but no luck yet," the guard reported.
"I understand," he replied. Before he could comment further he turned towards a new presence. "Oh, welcome Kazekage-dono." The leader of Suna inclined his head. "You must be tired from your journey."
The Kazekage grinned viciously behind his mask. "Not at all, it is a good thing that it was held here this time. Although you're still young, the trip may have been too much for you Hokage-sama. Maybe it's time you decided on a fifth?"
Hiruzen took the shot at his age in stride and laughingly replied, "Please don't treat me like an old man. I intend to do this for at least another five years." He rose to his feet and approached the railing. "Well now, let's begin."
Orochimaru, wearing the façade of the Kazekage, smiled with sadistic satisfaction. "Your reign is about to come to a surprising end you old fool," he thought. "By the end of the day we shall see who the true kage is."
Back on the arena floor, the proctor saw his lord rise and give the signal. Nodding, he turned and addressed the crowd. "Thanks everyone for coming to the Hidden Leaf Chuunin Selection Exams." He paused to allow the cheers to die down. "I, Shiranui Genma, will be the proctor for this stage. We will now start the main tournament matches between the ten participants who made it through the preliminaries."
Before anyone could comment on the obvious lack of one of the competitors, there was a burst of smoke behind then. When the smoke cleared there stood two figures. Sasuke had an aggravated look on his face while Kakashi just looked around sheepishly. "Are we too late?"
Genma rolled his eyes at his colleague. "No Kakashi, but I see your bad habits are rubbing off on your student."
"Tch, don't blame me. If I hadn't threatened to go ahead without him we would've been even later," Sasuke stated.
Kakashi just smiled and waved at his students. "Good luck," he said before disappearing.
Genma shook his head as Sasuke joined the other chuunin hopefuls. "Anyway, this is the final test. The arena is different but the rules are the same. You fight until one of you dies or acknowledges defeat. If I determine that the fight is over I will step in and stop it. You got that?" He paused to make sure they all understood. "Good, now the first fight will be Uzumaki Naruto versus Hyuuga Neji. Those two stay here while the rest of you go to the waiting room."
Naruto lost his smile as his smile as he squared off against the Hyuuga. Neji just stared blankly at him. Naruto glared and raised his fist. "I haven't forgot the promise I made. You are definitely going down."
Genma looked over the two as called, "Ready". Neji activated his byakugan as Naruto summoned his staff from one of the scrolls at his waist. "Go!"
Both genin stood patiently, each waiting for the other to make a move. Neji chuckled sardonically after a minute of waiting. "It will be fun to watch you fall apart when you discover reality. That's what makes it all worth while."
Naruto sneered as he stared forward, slowly spinning his staff. He knew what Neji was up to and the old him might have fallen for it. The new and improved Naruto was a much better ninja and there was no way he would let this jerk bait him. Naruto suddenly rocketed towards the smirking Hyuuga only to stop just out of his reach and unleash several jabbing strikes with his staff. Neji, his sneer still in place, simply leaned back out of the way of Naruto's attacks. Neji finally saw his chance and instead of dodging he parried with his left hand, knocking the staff to the side and moved forward to counter with his right. Naruto threw himself into a diving shoulder roll, just barely avoiding being hit. He came to his feet with Neji hot on his heels.
Naruto spun around, swinging his staff in a horizontal arc. Neji leaped over the swing and he likewise spun around to deliver a back kick at the blonds' head. Naruto arched his back, bending backwards nearly in half while keeping his feet stuck to the ground with chakra. He snapped back up bring his staff up in an overhand chop. Neji slipped to the side to avoid the blow and backpedaled as Naruto went on the attack with a combination of swings designed to give himself some space.
The Hyuuga prodigy shook his head. "For all your flailing around you have accomplished nothing. There is nothing you can do that these eyes will not see through. It is time to end this farce, your fate was decided at birth and nothing can change it."
It was all Naruto could do to keep from rolling his eyes. "Condescending prick," he muttered. Still, he realized he had to change tactics as the combination of Neji's speed, doujutsu, and taijutsu experience were too great to overcome. Still, it wasn't like he hadn't planned for this.
Neji studied his opponent. It was truly inconceivable that the young upstart really thought he could defeat him. Honestly, he had less going for him than that fool Lee. The only thing that gave the Hyuuga prodigy the slightest bit of concern was the boy's strange chakra. Neji had never heard of someone who seemed to have two different chakras running through their pathways, but so far it appeared to serve no special purpose. "No matter," Neji thought, "it is time to end this farce." Neji slid his feet apart as he entered his clan stance. "It is unfortunate for you that you are within the field of my divination," Neji announced. "Eight Trigrams 64 Palms."
Naruto had no time to react as Neji was suddenly right in front of him. "Two palms." Naruto felt twin jabs in his chest. "Four palms." Naruto crossed his arms defensively, taking two hits, one on each forearm.
"Shit." he thought, "I have to get the hell out of here." Naruto channeled chakra to his legs and leaped back even as he heard Neji's call of "Eight palms". He winced as he felt a strike to his right arm, a jab to his side, and two to his left leg. Naruto swiftly cleared twenty feet with his chakra enhanced jump, thankfully taking him out of his foe's range.
Neji scowled. "I will give you credit for escaping my Eight Trigrams, however…" Neji broke off his comment as he watched the thread of red chakra in Naruto's pathways seep through the blue chakra and pool at all the chakra points he had closed. "What? Impossible!" Incredibly the red chakra was forcing open the closed points.
Several of the spectators were equally as astounded. Hyuuga Hiashi watched as one of the greatest expressions of his clans taijutsu style were negated by the village pariah. "That a branch house member could surpass the main family… and that boy. It has to be the power of that beast."
Kiba turned to his teammate when he heard Hinata gasp. "What? What happened?"
"Naruto-kun, he's healing! His chakra points are opening," Hinata exclaimed.
"Are you kidding me? How the hell can he do that?" Kiba's eyes widened. "Then that means he might be able to pull it off." Kiba leaped to his feet. "Go Naruto, kick his ass!"
The Hokage was similarly surprised. "It would seem there is more to the nine tails 'gift' then we first believed. What else are you capable of Naruto," Hiruzen wondered.
Naruto groaned through the pain of his closed off chakra points being forced open. Still, he couldn't complain about it. "Time to kick this up a notch," he said with a feral grin. Naruto's hands blurred as he reached for the kunai pouches on either leg, grabbed three in each hand and hurled them at Neji, all in one smooth motion.
Neji dodged the first barrage of projectiles but Naruto did not let up. Overcoming his shock, Neji sneered once more as he grabbed his own kunai and began to deflect the flying metal. "You think this will stop me? You should bow to your inevitable fate."
This was what Naruto was waiting for. Even as he kept up the stream of kunai, he reached into the extra holsters he wore to add several of his special kunai to the mix. Unfortunately, Neji kept his byakugan active so he could see the lightning charka enveloping some of the kunai thrown at him. The Hyuuga dodged the electrified projectiles even as he deflected the others. Naruto took that moment of preoccupation to palm two smoke bombs and throw them between him and his opponent.
"You can not be serious," Neji remarked, as a cloud of smoke enveloped them both. "This changes nothing. All you are doing is delaying your inevitable fate." He calmly walked forward as he watched Naruto pull something from his utility pouch that he kept bunched in his fist. Neji sneered, "Let me inform you of a crucial fact. I can still see you."
Naruto snarled as he yanked something over his head. "It doesn't matter asshole!" Naruto threw down two more smoke bombs.
"That was foolish, Uzumaki. Your trick didn't work the first…" Neji was cut of as he screamed in severe pain. The crowd watched perplexed as Neji stumbled out of the cloud clutching at his face. Many in the audience gasped as his hands came away from his face. Neji's precious eyes were red, watery and swollen. His nose was running and he fell to his knees coughing and gagging.
Several moments passed as Neji pulled himself together and staggered to his feet. All watched carefully as Naruto strolled out of the dissipating cloud with goggles covering his eyes and a wet rag over his nose and mouth. Naruto snatched off the rag as he walked forward. "Funny thing about smoke bombs, when you add the boiled down extract of habanero chili peppers mixed with oil they become excellent tear gas bombs. You learn all sorts of things when you spend your time as a prankster. Go figure."
Neji could barely make out the younger genin but he definitely felt the blows to his chest and face. However Neji was not heralded as a taijutsu genius for nothing. He was able to block most of the blows even with his diminished sight. When Naruto activated the conversion seals in his gloves, some sixth sense told Neji he was in danger. Quickly gathering his chakra, he unleashed his ace. "Eight Trigrams Palm Rotation," the Hyuuga screamed as a bubble of chakra expanded outward and blasted Naruto away from him. As Naruto flew twenty-five feet through the air, he flipped around, righting himself. He touched down in a three point stance sliding until his chakra coated feet finally halted his momentum. Naruto checked his position and smiled when he saw the kunai seven feet in front of him. He couldn't have planned this better.
"You think you have it all worked out don't you Neji," Naruto questioned as he stepped forward. "You think you have the right to decide who is a loser? You have no right to decide someone's worth. It's time for me to teach you a lesson." Naruto stopped as he finished talking.
Neji's vision had finally started to clear up and he could see Naruto across the distance waiting patiently for his next move. "You should have tried to finish me when you had the chance. No matter. Since you have come this far then I will tell you the Hyuuga's destiny…" He was cut off by the double handful of shuriken the blond sent his way.
"I didn't ask for your life story. Lets finish this, because I have better things to do."
Neji's eyebrows twitched in rage. No one had been able to crack his impeccable calm like the boy in front of him. He raced forward yelling, "Your arrogance has sealed your fate Uzumaki!" When Neji reached a point six feet away from him, Naruto threw a kunai with an active explosive note trailing behind it. The Hyuuga's highly trained instincts kicked in and he leaped back while throwing a kunai that sheared through the burning paper.
Naruto's eyes lit up and, before his foe's feet could touch the ground, he had crouched down and channeled chakra down through the ninja wire tied to the kunai stuck in the ground at his feet. Neji reached the ground right as the two storage scrolls hidden in the dirt on either side of him released a cloud of metal chaff into the air around him. Before he could react, Naruto triggered his conversion seals and sent a massive burst of lightning chakra blazing down the wire. The lightning leaped up, arcing through the chaff and the surprised Hyuuga.
Neji could barely even scream as the electricity coursed through his body causing his muscles to lock up. Finally it stopped and he fell twitching to the ground. Naruto walked sedately to the beaten genin and crouched over him grabbing a handful of his hair. Naruto yanked his head back until he could look Neji in the eyes. "You want to talk about destiny?" Naruto's calm voice echoed across the arena. "According to you I was destined to lose this fight and yet here we are. You say Hinata-chan is destined to be a loser and yet she pleaded with me to understand your pain. Oh yeah, she told me all about your family and the crap you went through and about that stupid seal. Honestly it sucks. I can't truthfully say I know how much it hurts that your dad died a long time ago, but to decide that everything is fated is a huge mistake. I know how unfair life can be. A lot of people might have thought that I was destined not to be a ninja because of my accident, but look at me now. The dead last has beaten the prodigy." Naruto let him down gently and stood up. "The only fate is the one you make for your self."
Naruto nodded to the proctor who stood off to one side. Genma walked over and crouched down to check on Neji. The proctor had worked with a few Hyuuga over the years and so he knew about the caged bird seal. The last thing the Hyuuga heard before he finally passed out was Genma whispering, "Even a captured bird, if it's smart enough, will try to open the cage with it's beak. Never giving up it's desire to fly free in the sky." The proctor stood up and shouted, "The winner of the first match is Uzumaki Naruto."
Naruto was surprised to hear many in the audience clapping and cheering for him. All his life all he ever wanted was to be acknowledged and now, finally, it was starting to happen. He smiled up at the crowd and waved graciously before heading off to the waiting area.
Certain individuals watching the proceedings had different reactions. Hinata sat next to Kiba who was jumping up and down cheering. The shy girl had a sad smile on her face. She hoped that her cousin could eventually find peace and maybe her family could begin to heal. But more than anything she was proud of her friend Naruto. He had overcome so much and she vowed to herself that she would follow his example.
Hiashi sat introspective after listening to the two young fighters. For Neji to be carrying that much hatred and bitterness after all that time, he shook his head. "Hizashi, have I failed you so badly?" he thought. "Maybe it is time for him to know the truth." Hiashi rose and turned to where his younger daughter watched with rapt attention. "Stay here Hanabi, there is something I must attend to."
Kakashi smiled at his colleague Gai and stated, "That's one for me. Do you want to call off the bet Gai?"
Gai just gave him a thumbs up and a gleaming smile. "I congratulate you on your student's youthfulness Kakashi, but you have yet to see my precious Lee or the beautiful Tenten. They are both in the Springtime of Youth!"
Kakashi looked up from his book puzzled. "Huh? You say something?"
Anything else said was drowned out in Gai's rant about cool, hip attitudes.
In the Hokage box, Sarutobi Hiruzen sat back and smiled at the outcome. Many had doubted the young blond. To be quite truthful, Hiruzen had his own worries but once again Naruto had surpassed all expectations.
The 'Kazekage' turned to his former mentor. "I must say Hokage-sama, that young man was truly impressive. It was my understanding that he was unable to use jutsu. To have come so far in so little time is rare in one so new to shinobi life."
Sarutobi chuckled, "Indeed, but for those of us who know him it should come as no surprise. Naruto is one of Konoha's most unpredictable ninja. I have high hopes for that young man."
The disguised Orochimaru narrowed his eyes imperceptibly. "I see, that means he is one we should look out for in the future."
Back in the arena, Genma was calling down the next combatants. "Now for the next match, Haruno Sakura versus Nara Shikamaru. Both combatants come down."
Sakura grinned nervously at Naruto's cheerful encouragement. Even Sasuke gave her a half smile and a thumbs up. She tried to psych herself up as she made her way down. "You can do this. This is what you trained for. Get a grip Haruno." Sakura stepped out into the field and saw all the people and decided to hell with it. "Cha, let's get this show on the road!"
Shikamaru leaned on the rail as he looked down at his former classmate. "What the hell is she so eager for. This sucks, I hate this." The Nara was so caught up in his mental pity party he never heard Naruto creep up behind him, not that he would have anyway. The next thing he knew he was being launched over the rail and falling to the ground below.
"Go for it Shikamaru," Naruto yelled down with an evil smile.
Shikamaru lay in a heap at the base of the wall, staring up at that smile on that stupid blond face. "I think I hate that guy, I wish he'd die," he muttered. Even as the proctor called for him to get up and the crowd grew irritable, he just lie there and watched the clouds go by.
The more time passed the more Sakura's eyebrow began to twitch. Here she was anxious to start her fight and the jerk was just laying there. It was really pissing her off. "I'll teach him," she thought. The pink-haired girl turned with a deceptively sweet smile to Genma. "Oh proctor-san, has the match started?"
Genma snorted, not fooled in the least. "Sure, if he doesn't want to fight it's his funeral. Match two begin."
Shikamaru wondered what they would do if he just lie there, when he heard the proctor call the beginning of the match. Before he could move he felt a massive wave of killing intent as a shadow crossed his view. He cowered back as much as he was able from his position on the ground. Standing there towering over him, with her hands on her hips and her favorite skillet clutched in her fist was his mother.
"Nara Shikamaru, how dare you lay there when you have a fight. I swear you are just as lazy as your father. I have half a mind to knock some sense into that pineapple head of yours, but you know what, I have a better idea." Shikamaru groaned at the evil look in his mother's eye. "I think what you need is a nice girl to whip you into shape. I think Inoichi's daughter would be perfect."
The Nara shuddered and his eyes widened comically before he shook his head and his hand snapped into the ram seal while he flared his chakra, as he screamed out, "Release damn it, Release!" The illusion faded just in time for him to roll out of the way of Sakura's descending axe kick. Shikamaru leaped to his feet while throwing a few shuriken he had palmed during his roll to dissuade the fiery kunoichi from further pursuit.
Sakura threw her own set of shuriken at him in an effort to stay on the offensive. "I have to keep him unbalanced. He's smart but lazy, keep him running and don't let him use his family's technique or at least make sure it doesn't matter if he does," she thought. Sakura's mind raced. On one hand, she knew she couldn't use all of her tricks since she faced Naruto in the next round. One the other hand she actually had to beat Shikamaru for that to be an issue.
Shikamaru ran towards a grove of trees further along the outside of the arena. Sakura went through a flurry of hand seals in response before disappearing. Shikamaru skidded into a defensive stance when he suddenly found his way blocked by four knuckle cracking Sakura. Each smiled viciously at him as they called out in unison. "Why don't you just give up? This has to be way too troublesome for you. Wouldn't you rather be laying in the shade while watching the clouds float by?" The four suddenly rushed him and each jabbed him with their index and middle fingers. Instead of being paralyzed, Shikamaru burst into smoke only to reveal a log in his place. The four turned as one to the one place Sakura knew the cagey Nara would go, staring at the wooded area they had tried to keep him away from.
Shikamaru crouched down, hidden from view behind one of the trees. He pulsed his chakra to dispel the illusion but all it did was remove the shadows from underneath the feet of all but one copy on the end. Sakura, seeing a shadow streaking towards her, decided she needed to flush her opponent out of those trees. Running from the incoming dark patch, she pulled out three kunai with explosive notes. Shikamaru's shadow reached her just as she started her throw. To the Nara's surprise the technique failed with Sakura suddenly appearing three feet to the left of her previous position and her kunai were released to fly unhindered into the patch of trees.
Shikamaru ran out of the trees only just outpacing the blasts. Unfortunately for him, the spread pattern of the explosions left him with leaving the trees as his only option. If only she would only give him time to think, he could plan his way out of this. He kept running until he was in the shadow of the giant wall of the stadium. He watched as Sakura backed out of the range of his Shadow Imitation.
The two genin watched each other across the expanse between them. Shikamaru crouched down in his favorite thinking position as he evaluated his next moves. Sakura was weighing her options trying to decide what to use and what to hold back. It was Shikamaru who acted first. He used an explosive note throw between them to hide his next move. As the dust settled, Sakura saw the Nara using his signature technique. It stopped just short of where she stood. It was only when she saw a round shadow suddenly appear in front of her that she noticed his jacket and forehead protector were missing. She jumped back while looking up to she them floating in the air as a makeshift parachute.
Sakura knew she only had seconds before she was caught so she put a risky plan into motion. Sakura used the Body Flicker and reappeared right in front of her surprised adversary. Even as she was trapped by the surrounding shadow, her extended fingers jabbed into his shoulder and released a pulse of chakra freezing him with the Temporary Paralysis Technique. Neither genin could move as each was held immobile by the others jutsu. Finally, after several minutes, Shikamaru raised his hand forcing Sakura to mimic him. Sakura readied herself to use her trump card but found it unnecessary when he sighed and said, "That's it, I give up".
Everyone was speechless and wondering why he would forfeit when he still had her captured. Shikamaru knew the only way to save himself a lot of grief was to explain himself. "Tch, what a drag. Look ,Sakura that last counter was pretty good. Normally I should still be able to hold you for several more minutes but I'm all out of chakra". Surely enough, Sakura found she could now begin to move freely. "The strain of holding the Shadow Imitation while trying to break your paralysis jutsu burned up my chakra faster than normal. Beside, you were right, I would rather be sitting under a tree watching the clouds.",
Genma could barely contain a laugh at the boy's last statement. "Winner of the second match, Haruno Sakura," he shouted. "For the third match, Rock Lee versus Sabaku no Gaara. Report to the floor."
Everyone looked to the waiting area to see Rock Lee was crouched on the railing. The eager genin leaped to the ground and raced over to the proctor. Lee stood waiting as Gaara appeared in a swirl of sand. The two genin stood eyeing each other up.
As soon as the proctor called for the match to begin, Lee took several hopping steps back and crouched down. Everyone looked on wondering what he was doing. Lee removed two weight sets from beneath his leg warmers and stood up. "Gai-sensei said I should take this fight seriously so he gave permission to go all out!"
From in the stands there came a cry, "That's right Lee, let your flames of youth explode!"
If anyone wondered what good losing a little weight would do, then they were astonished when Rock Lee twirled in place and tossed the packs behind him. The twin packets hit the ground with an explosive crash leaving two several foot deep craters in the ground. The green clad genin smiled at the unimpressed Suna-nin. Rock Lee turned slightly, placing his right arm behind his back and holding his left arm forward, palm up. "Yosh, let us begin Gaara-san!" Lee's fist shot up in front of his face to snatch something from midair. He smiled as he dropped the cork from the gourd that Gaara wore on his back. Before the cork could hit the ground, Rock Lee vanished… only to reappear with his fist inches from the face of a now wide-eyed Gaara whose sand had only just blocked it. Lee vanished again only to be seen kicking at the shocked sand ninja's opposite side. Once again his attack was only just stopped by the sand swirling around Gaara's feet. It was a scene that replayed itself over and over. Most of the spectators only saw the leaf-nin when he was in the midst of an attack. All Gaara could do was spin around, trying to track the speedy genin while his sand seemed to block without his conscious direction.
Finally the stalemate broke when a kick from Rock Lee launched Gaara through the air. Once Gaara skidded to a stop, he staggered to his feet with his back bowed hiding his face. Sand poured from the gourd on his back to swirl around him in an eight foot circle. Many were startled when he threw his head back and revealed a face half covered in sand with a manic grin and insane eyes. Tendrils of sand rose up from the circle to cover his face until it was once again smooth and stoic.
Lee looked on but would not let this set back stop him. Lee straightened and slowly began to unwind some of the bandages that wrapped his hands and forearms. When there was a three foot length hanging from each hand he leaned forward and folded his arms in front of his face. Lee had a plan, if the sand covered the area around his foe, then he would apply overwhelming force from above.
Lee rushed forward only to veer off a few feet from the perimeter of sand. All anyone could see of him was a circle of dust that surrounded Gaara as he stood unimpressed. That changed when Lee appeared crouched beneath him, his foot suddenly shooting up to crash unhindered into Gaara's jaw. Only the weight of his sand kept the sand-nin from being propelled more than a few feet, but Lee was unperturbed. Bracing his hands against the ground he launched himself up and proceeded to force Gaara into the air with a series of punishing kicks. Had this been a month prior, the tremendous strain on the young genin's body might have caused him to flinch in pain but his venerable teacher had spent that time training his body to endure the stress he would put it through. All this meant was that Gaara was left with no opportunity to escape before he was wrapped up Lee's bandages, upended and spun around as they both plummeted to the field below.
"Secondary Lotus," cried Lee as they descended.
It was not many who noticed the sand still on the ground pooling underneath them right before impact. Lee landed right outside of the eruption of dust that covered the crash area, peering inside to see if he had finished his adversary. The dust cleared to expose a large pit half filled with sand and Gaara laying in the middle. Gaara slowly stood, his breath coming in gasp. The sand armor that covered his form was cracked and pitted and he glared at Lee with malicious glee.
The sand in the crater withered and lashed out at Lee who, even with his body wracked with pain, was just fast enough to dodge. Gaara formed a hand seal and the sand retracted until it formed a large tidal wave that lunged forward to bury the green clad genin. Lee was able to barely stay ahead of the surging sand until it swept back to it's master gathering itself for the next attack. Gaara fired shot after shot of his sand and while Lee was able to evade most of them, those that got through exacted their toll on his body causing him to stumble and reel in pain.
However, it is said that the lotus in Konoha blooms twice. "Watch me Gai-sensei, Sasuke-kun, Naruto-kun as I protect my way of the ninja," Lee yelled. The air in his vicinity distorted and rushed upwards sending his hair flailing in the updraft. His chakra became visible as it flared around him. Lee's veins bulged and his skin became red as it flooded with oxygenated blood. There was only one way he could finish his fight. "Gate of Life, open!"
Kakashi stared flabbergasted at his friend. "Gai, how could you teach a genin something that dangerous? I've lost faith in you."
Gai glared back at his rival. "What do you know about that boy? He has a dream that he must protect! He is willing to risk it all for that dream, how can I do any less?"
Kakashi shook his head. He could only hope that this would not end in tragedy.
Lee wasn't finished. He knew he had to end this and it had to be decisive. While Gai had increased his ability to withstand the stress of the Lotus and the opening of the Gates, he was still nowhere near his sensei's proficiency and it still was a massive strain on his maturing body. This would be finished, one way or the other, in the next few minutes. Focusing his concentration he continued. "Gate of Pain, open!" Lee locked on to his target and disappeared. Less than a second later, Gaara seemed to vanish as well only to be seen suspended in midair. Very few could see Lee moving but all those assembled could tell the only thing keeping Gaara aloft was the constant barrage of blows from the juiced up genin.
Gaara's sand could not keep up with the speed with which Lee punished his foe. Even the Gaara's reconstructed Armor of Sand crack under the pressure of the brute force Lee exerted.
"Impossible, I can't block," thought the Suna-nin. "My sand can't keep up."
Then Gaara heard the words that sent an unfamiliar chill down his spine. "Gate of Limit, open." All Gaara could feel was pain as a fist slammed into his gut, finally shattering his protective layer and cracking two of his ribs. He was sent rocketing away from the sand that struggled to protect him. A hand grabbed his sash before he could fly too far. Lee flexed his arm, yanking Gaara back to him for the coup de grace. "Primary Lotus," he screamed.
Spittle ejected from Gaara's mouth as Lee's fist and foot found there home in his abdomen. With his sand left behind the only thing that saved the sand genin was his gourd dissolving into sand to cushion the blow. Gaara rolled over clutching his stomach as he finished regurgitating his breakfast.
Rock Lee was only in slightly better condition with the effects of opening the gates having worn off. He was stunned to see that his opponent was still not out of the fight but he was at a loss as to how to finish him off. He was already teetering on the edge of exhaustion. That sand was truly the ultimate defense.
Gaara lay in his sand quaking with rage. He would not let his existence end, no. He would crush all who stood in his way. He fought past the pain and willed his sand to rise up and take the form of a hand. He gestured and sent it rushing to extinguish the life of his enemy. Lee saw the oncoming sand and tried to flee on legs that could barely support his weight. It was close and the sand almost had him but he was able to push through into a rolling tumble that carried him out from under the grasping sand. Lee dragged his tortured body to his feet even though his muscles screamed in agony. He stood gasping for breath as his vision swam and in full view of everyone that had witnessed his amazing performance, his body finally gave out and he stood unconscious on his feet, refusing to yield even in defeat. The only thing that saved him from certain death as the sand closed in was a blur that resolved into Genma.
"The match is over. Rock Lee cannot continue. The winner is Sabaku no Gaara."
Genma stared at the Suna genin. "It's over. I've already called the match. You've won. If you continue, you will be disqualified and detained."
Gaara snorted. "I don't care about your exam. Mother thirst for his blood!" Gaara's sand drew around him and all those watching waited to see if he would attack.
"No, Gaara. Please stop."
The redhead looked up to see Temari floating down on her fan. "If you try to interfere, I will kill you," he stated.
Temari trembled in barely restrained fear. Their village had a lot riding on the events of today. If Gaara wasn't placated, everything could be ruined. She decided to try a different tactic. "Don't you wish to face that Uzumaki kid and the Uchiha? They won't let you face them if you get disqualified. Please, just let this one go."
Gaara contemplated her words and even though his mother cried out for blood now, he could see their wisdom. Still, he was growing impatient. "Very well, Temari. I will wait but not for long." He stared at his sister before smiling cruelly. "You will forfeit your match against the Uchiha. If you don't I will use your blood to satisfy mother."
Temari felt her mouth run dry. She could not believe her brother would do this to her but she realized she had no choice. Gaara would not hesitate to carry through on his threat. She swallowed her resentment and nodded. "Alright Gaara. Whatever you say."
Gaara nodded and without further ado disappeared in a swirl of sand. When he reappear in the waiting area all the genin made sure to give him a wide berth as he stared intensely at Sasuke and Naruto.
"It appears that your son could learn some self-restraint," Sarutobi commented.
Orochimaru seethed at the jibe. The little unstable whelp had nearly put a crimp in his plans. "Yes. I had thought he had better control of himself. I will see to it that he manages himself better in the future," he replied.
"See that you do," the Hokage admonished.
Genma, seeing the situation resolved, handed Rock Lee over to the medics before continuing with the exam. "Next match, Sabaku no Temari versus Uchiha Sasuke. Report to the field."
Sasuke glanced back over his shoulder where Gaara watched him as he walked down the stairs. He walked up the proctor to see Temari standing with her head down.
Genma shook his head and called for the match to begin.
"I give up," Temari said through clenched teeth.
Genma just looked at her. "You really mean to go through with this. Are you sure? It's your match so I won't stop you."
Sasuke could clearly read the anger and humiliation in her rigid posture. "Yes, I give up. Just call it."
Genma sighed, "Fine then. Sabaku no Temari forfeits. Uchiha Sasuke wins."
Some in the crowd booed as the young woman left the stadium floor, but many felt sorry for her. Naruto in particular glared at the redhead and vowed that if Sasuke didn't beat him, he would definitely kick his ass. You just don't treat family that way.
Sasuke didn't like winning like this. He was a warrior. He wanted to test his mettle against the best and he could tell the Suna girl was strong. However, if it meant he was one step closer to truly testing his strength then he would put aside his disgust and deal with it.
"Final match of the first round, Tenten versus Aburame Shino. Come on down."
Both contestants headed for the arena floor with Shino strolling along unhurriedly.
The two genin faced off in front of the proctor. The two took a minute to size each other up after he called for the match to begin.
It was Shino who acted first. The quiet Aburame started forward causing Tenten to jump back. The bun-haired girl quickly retrieved several shuriken and threw them at him. Shino halted in his pursuit and dodged to the side to avoid the projectiles. This gave Tenten the time she needed to pull out a scroll and leap into the air. The young kunoichi rose high, unfurling the scroll as she went. Multiple symbols could be seen drawn along the length of the scroll, and at the height of her jump she began to spin around, her fingers brushing the symbols and unsealing weapons that she hurled at the Aburame.
Shino valiantly attempted to dodge or deflect the weapons but Tenten's aim proved to be too accurate. Two kunai, a kama , and a short handled axe found their way to his torso. Tenten's smile of accomplishment shrank as the bug user burst into smoke to reveal a charred log impaled with her weapons. She looked over to the remains of the trees off to the side to see him run from cover and head directly towards her.
The kunoichi decided to go all out and end this before he could use the insects his clan were most famous for. Keeping a calm eye on the approaching genin, Tenten quickly kneeled down and pulled out two scrolls. She placed them down on either side of her and quickly made the hand seals for her most deadly technique. The scrolls shot up releasing twin plumes of smoke that took the forms of dragons that twisted sinuously around each other. Tenten once again leaped into the air as the smoke dissipated to expose the two unrolled scrolls. With even greater speed than before, Tenten unsealed the arms stored in the scrolls and hurled them at Shino. The deadly metal rained down on him so quickly he had not a moment to react.
A multitude of weapons pierced his body, stunning the audience. No one was more surprised than Tenten when he dissolved into a swarm of insects that flew right for her. Shino walked calmly from behind the charred remnants of a tree as his kikaichu descended on the hapless girl.
"It's over," Shino stated as he stood with his hands in the pockets of his jacket. "How do I know this? In less than a minute, my kikaichu will have drained you of all your chakra. Give up while you still have the opportunity."
Tenten, however, was not out of the fight yet. The kunoichi pulled a small canister from her pouch and pulled a pin inserted in the top. The canister released a burst of greenish yellow smoke that sent the insects fleeing back to their host.
"The fight's not over yet," she exclaimed. Tenten decided to capitalize on the Aburame's bugs being out of commission by unsealing a pair of tonfas. She took off towards Shino intent on finishing him off before the insects could recover.
Shino drew kunai from his jacket and braced himself as he clashed with the female genin. The two strained against each other but ultimately Shino's superior strength allowed him to force her back. Tenten didn't let this discourage her, instead she went back in using the long shaft of the tonfa that lay along her forearms to block while jabbing forward with the shorter end. Shino, who held his kunai in an ice pick grip, fought in a style reminiscent of a preying mantis: with sweeping strikes and raking backswings.
The two fought back and forth with Shino's greater strength and economy of movement balanced against Tenten's greater facility with weapons and superior speed. Unfortunately for the stoic Aburame, Tenten's advantages proved to be the victor. Catching one of Shino's backhands with her right tonfa, the kunoichi quickly jabbed him in the wrist with the other, causing him to release the weapon while she crouched to avoid his follow up strike. Tenten' quickly spun around in an attempt to sweep his legs that he hopped over. Tenten completed her spin and used the momentum to strike out with both weapons simultaneously, connecting with Shino's gut. He released a grunt as he stumbled back to put space between them.
Tenten stood, her chest heaving after the exchange. She couldn't understand why she was tiring so quickly until she saw several insects drift slowly to the ground. She looked up at the Aburame in surprise. He stood not much worse for wear despite the blows he had received. "How? I poisoned your kikaichu. How could they possibly have recovered so fast?"
"You thought to use poison to remove the threat of my hive did you not? An admirable strategy," Shino stated. "However, we Aburame have bred our kikaichu to be resistant to most commonly used insecticides. While you did slow them down, our extended melee battle allowed them the time needed to begin draining your chakra. I'm afraid this match is over for you."
He raced forward, blocking her reverse crescent kick cold with his forearm. Shino retaliated with a brutal elbow to her diaphragm that stole her air and dropped her to her knees. Tenten gasped for air as her vision started to dim. Shino carefully walked behind her and grabbed one of her arms while placing his remaining kunai to her throat. "It was a superb effort on your part Tenten-san. You do yourself credit as a kunoichi, however, I believe that it is time to call the match. Do you not agree proctor-san?"
Genma waited to see if she would be able to free herself but she could not. With no choice left he called it. "Aburame Shino is the winner."
Kakashi turned to Gai, who had returned from checking on Rock Lee midway through the match. "Mah mah, your genin did extremely well Gai, but they seem to have had bad luck in their match ups," the jounin stated as he smiled while waving his favorite orange book at his friend.
Gai stroked his chin in contemplation before turning to his rival with a thumbs up and sparkling smile. "Yes, Kakashi your students burn with the fiery power of youth. You shall have your most unyouthful literature as promised. This just means I must increase their training so that they may truly blossom in the Springtime of Youth! If my genin do not pass the exam then I will climb the Hokage monument with one arm and if I cannot do that then a will run around the village 500 times. What do you say to that, Kakashi?"
Kakashi had been waiting for this. In a ritual that was nearly as old as their friendship, he looked up from his book and asked, "Hmm, you say something?"
Of course Gai did not disappoint, as he completed their tradition by yelling out, "Curse you Kakashi and your cool, hip attitude!"
Next to them, Asuma and Kurenai could only shake their heads and laugh. It was hard for someone like Kakashi to truly express any real emotions in public but anyone who knew the duo and knew of their long friendship could easily interpret their exchange.
"Your my best friend, Gai, and I'm sorry about your team."
"I always will be, my brother and thank you."
Genma waited for the cheering audience to settle down before announcing, "this ends the first round of the Chuunin Selection Exams. There will be a thirty minute break until the next round begins."
A/N: How was that? This was a pain in the posterior to write since I had already written 75% of the chapter before my computer got as virus and I lost the whole thing. Of course that meant rewriting it but I honestly think it turned out better this time anyway. Writing an action intensive chapter was really hard. I try to strike a balance between description and brevity to avoid getting bogged down and cover for the fact that I have little martial arts experience.
A few people have wondered about Naruto's relative lack of power at this point. All I will say is that I'm trying to boost him up organically so he doesn't get uber-powerful overnight. There has to b a solid progression to his growth. And don't worry he will be gaining a sword but not until midway through the time skip. Please just bare with me and I promise that he'll get to be the true badass we all want him to be. Until next time, later.