This is the second chapter of the double chapter special. If you haven't read the previous one, click that button now!

Disclaimer: Still nope.

"That terrible incident taught me to keep moving. It was never good to stay in one place for too long. The hunters, the terrible plague that was mankind, sought me out. They screamed for my flesh, the very life that coursed through my bones."


Men of Fortune

"We're totally gonna kick ass!"

The two months had come and gone faster than any of them had realized. Naruto had been released two weeks after the visit from Sasuke and the others, and all had been training hard in the limited time they had. Kakashi had mostly drilled them in chakra control and teamwork, with the occasional C-Ranked supplemental jutsu thrown in for good measure. That wasn't to say he didn't give them one-on-one time, however; he had given them all the individual support he could, but unfortunately there were some things that even Sharingan Kakashi didn't have a good grasp on. Sakura was mostly forced to rely on her intellect to get her through the few medical jutsu scrolls she had found at the library.

They were now walking towards the Academy, paying no heed to the multiple foreign shinobi mingling in the crowds. After the situation with Gaara last month, which resolved itself upon Sasuke's appearance on the tree - "Hey, I did look pretty badass," he had said afterwards. "You mean emo?" was Naruto's retort. - none of the other foreigners bothered them all that much, although they did keep an eye on them like good shinobi would.

"Arrogance will get you killed, Naruto," Sakura replied in a sing-song voice.

"It isn't arrogance if it's true, Sakura-chan!"

"As much as I hate to admit to the dobe's point," Sasuke added, "they don't stand a chance."

This conversation continued until they reached the Academy, where they found the first test: genjutsu.

"You've got to be shitting me," Sakura said eloquently.

"Let's just go," Sasuke replied, watching the freaky kid in brilliant neon green spandex attempt to challenge the "genin" guards. "The less competition, the better."

Naruto watched in fascination as a girl, who reminded him of a panda for some strange reason – grabbed the eyebrows dude and hauled him off towards the stairs, with an impassive Hyuuga following behind. He turned around and followed his own teammates up the stairs.

Once inside, the expected happened.



That was Ino, barreling into the last Uchiha. Sakura had moaned and covered her ears before turning to Naruto, a pleading look in her emerald eyes.

"Please tell me I wasn't that bad?"

Naruto chuckled. "Unfortunately you were, Sakura-chan."

Sakura pouted at him. "Meanie."

"It's not like you're like that now, right? You've gotten much better since we came back from Wave."

"Oi, oi, it looks like the rookies are all here!" Kiba shouted, waving at them.

They walked over to their friends, Ino forcing Sasuke to give her a piggyback ride. Indeed, both Team 8 and Team 10 were all there already. Shikamaru was leaning against the wall, and Hinata quickly hid behind Shino when she saw Naruto approaching. Some eyebrows were raised at Sakura's new hairstyle, but nobody said anything.

"Well this ought to be fun!" Naruto spoke loudly, his eternal grin on his face. "Who would've thought all of our senseis recommended us?"

"We're totally gonna kick ass, right Hinata?" Kiba bellowed.

"A-ano, overconfidence will g-get you hurt, Kiba-kun!"

Sasuke and Sakura shared a grin; it was almost a mirror image of their earlier conversation.

"You people really need to keep it down, you guys. Your loudness might get you into trouble with some of the other groups," a new voice spoke. An older genin had strolled over to them, adjusting his glasses. His white hair was an oddity, but not totally uncommon. A Konoha hitai-ate marked him as one of their own.

"Be careful of this one, boy," the Kyuubi growled in Naruto's ear, "he smells like snakes. Hideous, treacherous creatures they are."

"Who are you?" Sasuke ground out.

"My name is Yakushi Kabuto," he spoke, adjusting his glasses again. It seemed to be some sort of habit. "This is my seventh time taking the exams."

"Ha! You must really suck!" Kiba bellowed. Kabuto's grin didn't fade; in fact, it seemed as though he was waiting to point that fact out.

"You may say what you like, but in my adventures here I've gathered quite the collection of information. I can tell you anything about anyone currently in this room." He held up a stack of cards. They featured information on the shinobi, but the accuracy was anyone's guess. There seemed to be quite the number of cards; the eyes of Naruto, Sasuke, and Shikamaru narrowed. He might not show it, but if even a little of that information was accurate, this guy was a clear threat, Konoha shinobi or not.

Naruto and Sasuke shared a look. "Give me info on Sabaku no Gaara," Sasuke spoke.

Kabuto 'hmm'd as he flipped through the cards. "Ah, here we go. Sabaku no Gaara, genin of Sunagakure. Son of the current Kazekage, along with his siblings Kankuro and Temari. He's completed no D-ranks, nine C-ranks, five B-ranks, and an A-rank. His jutsu are unknown, but it says here that he's never been injured on a mission."

There was a good long pause as that all sunk in.

"We're doomed!" Kiba wailed. The group rolled their eyes at his quick change of outlook.

"Anyone else you want information on?" Kabuto asked patiently.

They were interrupted by a mountain of a man shunshining into the room, along with all of the chuunin proctors.

"Alright, you worms, get to your seats! The first stage of the chuunin exam starts now!"

Naruto was freaking out. He had always been bad a written tests; he wasn't a complete idiot by any means, but he learned practically. It wasn't like there was anything wrong with that – it just meant he was always bad a written tests! The young shinobi took a quick look around. Sasuke was brooding and Sakura was eagerly going to town. He wanted her book smarts like she wanted his chakra reserves. He returned to staring hatefully at this piece of paper that, should it have its way, would prevent him from advancing his career. To hell with that!

Question #4: An enemy ninja is at a range of twenty meters and is behind a tree. There is a hundred meter clearing to your left, beyond which is another tree line. Given that the enemy will break away into the clearing at a speed of thirty-six kilometers an hour, what is the optimal angle of approach? List the proper equation and use it to show your work.

Kami, what the fuck does that even mean? Naruto cried in his mind. How the hell was he supposed to solve this stupidity? What had they ever done to him? Hell, if he wasn't as smart as he was, he could've sworn they were telling... him... to cheat...


"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," he barely mouthed. His hands were held below the desk, and the clone went into a henge as it was forming. He made a farting noise to mask the smoke. When a chuunin along the wall looked at him and raise an eyebrow, Naruto gave him a sheepish grin and acted like he was trying to blow the smell away. The chuunin shook his head a little, but said nothing.

The fly buzzed its way up to the ceiling and planted itself as it looked around for a worthy person to copy from. A sneeze alerted the fly to a particular person. Sakura was idly tapping her pencil on her paper – a paper which had all the answers filled out, save for the tenth one that Ibiki had mentioned earlier.

Thanks, Sakura-chan!

The fly focused all of its mental power on memorizing as many answers as it could, then silently dispelled without anyone knowing otherwise. Naruto quickly wrote the answers down before the memories faded, and it was just in time, too. Ibiki called a halt to the test as soon as he finished on the ninth question.

"Pencil's down!" he bellowed. "It is time for the final question!"

Ibiki gave the tenth do-or-die question: if you attempted to answer the question but failed, you would be prevented from taking the exam forever and would be stuck at genin; if you opted out, you would fail these particular exams, but would be able to take them in the future. Naruto and his teammates wisely kept their mouths shut, but didn't budge in their seats. Hinata, who was sitting next to Naruto, though, was having other thoughts.

M-maybe I should. I mean, I could always try to get stronger and try it again, and I don't want to hold Kiba-kun and Shino-kun back if I fail...

She started to raise her hand to opt out, but someone next to her cleared their throat. She turned to look at Naruto, who was staring her down with intensity. He subtly shook his head, giving her a thumbs up under the desk. Her eyes widened a little, but visibly she had no other reaction other than the small nod she gave him in return. He gave her a soft grin.

No, I can't do that to my teammates. If he believes in me I can do anything.

Her resolve was strengthened and she turned back to face the proctor with determination, much to the pride of her blonde comrade.

"Well then, if no one else wishes to leave..." Ibiki announced, pausing for dramatic effect, "you all pass!"

Team 7 looked at each other and shared victorious grins. One down, two to go. It was after Ibiki finished answering questions about what the hell just happened that the window burst open and a crazy woman flung herself inside, a banner announcing her incredibly glorious (and hot) appearance.

"Listen up, maggots! I am Mitarashi Anko and I am the second, and by far the greatest in terms of sheer sexual appeal, proctor of these exams! From now until the end of my test, you are all my bitches!" She pumped her fist. "Now let's go and die!"

Nobody moved.

"MOVE IT YOU 'TARDS! Training ground 44, go go go!" she shouted. At once the collective remaining genin hauled ass outside towards their destination.

She turned towards Ibiki. "There are more than last year. Are you getting soft? And did I see that brat among the crowd?"

He grinned at her. "No and yes. They all have good wills in them this year. Harder to break. And yeah, the brat was there. You should've seen how he passed. Sneaky little bastard, he is."

"I'll be sure to keep an ear on him, then. Well, I'm off. Seeya scarface!"

Outside, Team 7 was walking towards the legendary Forest of Death. Naruto had his hands behind his head.

"Hey Sakura-chan, have I ever told you how much I love you?"

She stuck her tongue out at him and grinned. "You're welcome."

"Get a room," Sasuke grunted, only to be whacked by two different hands. "Hey, it's true!"

"Alright, this is the aptly named Forest of Death. People die here! Isn't that fun?" Anko gushed. Multiple children looked at her like she was crazy. Which she was. Kinda.

"Anyway, here's what's happening. You're going to go over there," she pointed to a booth behind her, where two chuunin were sitting, "and you're going to pick up a scroll. The scroll will be either a Heaven scroll or an Earth scroll. After getting it you will sign the wavers and go to your assigned gate, where you will wait for us to give you the start signal. Your goal, once in there, is to get the scroll you don't have. If you have an Earth scroll, you're trying to find a squad with a Heaven, and vice versa. Only a limited number of teams will pass. You have five days to get to the tower in the middle of the forest, where you will turn in both scrolls and wait for the second exam to conclude. Oh, and don't open your scroll while you're in the forest."

"Why not?" a random genin asked.

Anko's grin was positively frightening. "Bad things happen. One other thing! Try not to die. It's too much paperwork, you see."

With that last shiver-inducing statement, the genin waited for the chuunin proctors to call them over.

"Konoha's Team 7!"

They went into the booth and closed the flaps behind them. A proctor handed Naruto a Heaven scroll. Kakashi's genin shared a knowing look and then nodded. Naruto handed the scroll to Sakura.

"All set? Your gate is number ten. Good luck, kids. Make Konoha proud," one of the chuunin spoke to them. They gave him a nod and a collective thumbs up.

Once all the squads had their scrolls and were lined up at their entrances around the tower, Anko projected her voice through the microphone seals that were attached to the gates. "I wish you all luck. Make your villages proud. BEGIN!"

All the genin rushed into the forest, eager to cause bodily harm for meaningless wrapped-up paper.

Team 7 rushed through the trees as a unit. For two months Kakashi had drilled the essence of teamwork into them to the point where they couldn't think otherwise. And with Sasuke actually willing to work with others and Sakura getting her head into the game, they had been able to come into their own. It had shocked them when they realized how well they meshed with most of their negatives out of the way.

Naruto headed the front with his advanced senses, primarily his nose, and his hard-hitting power. Sakura brought up the middle as the medic, even if she was still working out the kinks in her technique. Sasuke brought up the rear as the mobile and ranged support. His Sharingan also gave an advantage in eyesight that was only rivaled by the Hyuuga's Byakugan.

"So what's the plan?" Naruto spoke up. "The Kiri squad was in the gate to our left, the Ame freaks were in the one to our right."

"Let's get further into the woods, I say. People will be trying to start fights right away. If we set up an ambush point at a likely point of crossing I might be able to snare something with my wire traps," Sasuke spoke up.

"Sounds like a plan," Sakura added, "If we wait a while we can attack a group when they're either complacent or tired while we've remained fresh, and there will be a likelier chance that they have both scrolls."

"Alright then, full steam ahead!" Naruto exclaimed.

They pushed further into the woods, well into the end of the first day. By midday of the second, they had successfully secured a likely point of convergence – a clearing by a stream that would easily qualify as a resting and regrouping point. Sasuke had laid traps all around the tree clearing, while Naruto had henged some shadow clones into flora and fauna. The original members hid in various parts of the forest, making sure that, while staying well-hidden, they still had visuals on each other and could communicate via hand signals. As a secondary means to communicate, a clone accompanied each of them. They settled themselves into their positions and waited well into the evening.

It wasn't until eleven in the night, when they were preparing to get settle for their shifts, that the plan struck gold. A squad of Mist nin – the same ones that started to the left of the squad – had come into the clearing. Apparently they had attempted to follow the Konoha team, thinking them to be easy pickings. Instantly Kakashi's students were on alert and ready.

"They're around here somewhere. Probably sleeping or something," snickered one of the Kiri genin. He walked towards the stream, assuming their targets had set up camp there... only to fall into a concealed pit.

At the unspoken signal Team 7 sprung into action. Sakura, remaining in the treeline, set loose a trio of kunai from each hand, which then multiplied into twenty four via the Kage Shuriken no Jutsu. Sasuke, Sharingan blazing like an inferno in the night, rocketed towards the genin that Naruto's clones had chosen to distract. He ducked easily under the wild punch the Kiri nin had thrown towards his face and snapped a kick towards the back of his victim's knee. It connected, and as the genin of the Mist dropped onto his knee Sasuke delivered a devastating uppercut to the chin. The enemy collapsed without a sound.

While Sasuke had been busy dispatching his enemy, Naruto had tackled the one that had been focused on Sakura's thrown kunai. He had gotten onto his back, and using his body weight to keep him pinned, had relentlessly slammed his head into the ground until there was no more movement. It was dirty and brutish, but it was damned effective.

The clones that hadn't gone to assist Sasuke had continued to flow into the hole in which the first Kiri-nin was trapped. He had put up a valiant fight, but in the limited space and against the sheer numbers there was only so much he could do before he too succumbed.

When Sakura jumped onto the forest floor, Sasuke turned to her with a kunai held ready.

"I hunt silently, I hunger wordlessly."

"I'm an owl," she responded quickly. Satisfied, he sheathed the kunai.

"Nothing on this one, guys!" Naruto called over after finishing his search. Sasuke turned to his own unconscious foe and swiftly searched his backpack and pockets. He gave a satisfied smirk, flashing the scroll to his teammates before tossing it to Naruto as they had all agreed upon earlier.

"Earth scroll."

"Booyah! Let's tie these suckers up and get out of here!"

They traveled for another mile, leaving the Kiri-nin gagged and tied to separate trees and out of line of sight from each other. They found a relatively secure, easily defensible position and set up camp for the night.

The next morning they set out bright and earlier towards the tower. Everything went smoothly for around two hours, until a flurry of kunai and shuriken forced them to dodge.

A lone Kusa-nin blocked their path.

"Well, isn't this interesting. You three have fantastic teamwork," she hissed. The Konoha squad had stopped on a branch above her's, giving them an optimal position for either an attack or a retreat. They had their eyes narrowed, but didn't bother questioning her goals or motives, given the outline of the test. Instead, they kept an eye out for any teammates that might have attempted to flank around them.

Kurama was hissing. "Orochimaru."

Naruto's eyes widened. They had all learned about the rogue member of the Sannin. He knew how outmatched they were. "Sasuke, Sakura, we need to leave now," he urged quietly.

The definite pedophile chuckled at them. "Glad to know I'm still remembered, even among the bijuu." He then proceeded to simply rip the Kusa-nin's face off of him, revealing the glowing yellow eyes he was so infamous for. Team 7 tried to suppress their shudders. It wasn't easy.

"Why are you here? Why bother interfering in the exams?" Sasuke asked carefully. The nuke-nin simply leered at him and licked his lips.

"Why, it's simple, Sasuke-kun. I'm here for you!"

And with that, he lunged.

Knowing they were at a severe disadvantage, the loyal Konoha shinobi jumped further back into the woods, but this time they stayed together. Kiri genin they could handle, but it would be suicide to split up and let the snake pick them off individually. Naruto flung kunai in an attempt to distract him and buy time for break-away, but Orochimaru ignored them like the nuisances they were and closed the distance even more. He made a grab for Sasuke, who was only able to dodge due to his Sharingan and timely interference from Sakura, who had flung shuriken at the snake's arms. Orochimaru hissed and sent a trio of snakes out of his sleeve towards the pinkette, who backpedalled, which allowed Naruto to come in and quickly dispatch them with kunai to their heads.

"Goddammit he's persistent!" Naruto growled. Sakura nodded wordlessly and they sped off towards their third teammate. Their primary objective now was to not get separated and make sure Sasuke stayed safe; he was Orochimaru's target, and they didn't want to know what would happen if he got his hands on their friend.

"Come back here, Sasuke-kun! I just want to make you an offer you can't refuse!" the rogue shinobi sung. He was easily keeping pace with Sasuke's fasted speed, but he didn't bother catching up to him; the end result was only as glorious as the chase, after all. He sent more snakes after his target, who finished them with some well-placed shuriken.

"I am impressed at your growth," he continued. "You could learn so much from me, you know. Don't you want more power?"

"I have already made up my mind in that regard," Sasuke shot back, not slowing down in the slightest, "and there's no way I'm giving you another boy-toy."

"Why Sasuke-kun, you wound me so," Orochimaru chuckled. Feeling the game was reaching his conclusion, he easily caught up to his prey and began to extend his neck – only to be interrupted yet again.

"Leave him alone, you freak!" Naruto shouted, assaulting him with kage bunshin and some fireballs from the Hosenka no Jutsu. The snake narrowed his eyes at the interference; it was time to end this. He easily ended the clones that went after him, even as he jumped back to prepare a summoning. Biting his fingers swiftly, he flew through the necessary hand seals and slammed his hand down on the bark of the branch he had landed on. The snake that appeared was massive.

"Deal with the jinchuuriki," he commanded. The snake rushed at Naruto, who was caught off guard. It proceeded to simply swallow him whole, branch and all, and saunter off into the forest.

"Naruto!" Sakura shouted; she turned to Orochimaru, growling, and breathed life into her own fireballs. Dodging subconsciously, he stalked towards the two remaining genin, who had been pushed up against a tree trunk and were clearly running out of options.

Inside the giant serpent's mouth, Naruto was having the time of his life throwing all his jutsu and weaponry around, to no avail. He simply did not have enough high-powered jutsu to blast his way through the damn thing, and the creature was responding remarkably well to shadow clone beatings. If he didn't figure something out soon, he would be swallowed, and that stupid pedophile would succeed in doing whatever to his best friend, and just possibly the girl he kinda liked!

Think, think! He commanded his brain, but nothing he tried worked. As time passed, he grew more and more desperate – they were out there, possibly suffering or worse, and he was stuck in a fucking snake's mouth. No, no, that was not okay! He had people to rescue, things to do, a life to live! None of that couldn't happen if he was digested. He could not become Hokage in a reptile's stomach. And what kind of person would he be if he couldn't protect his team, which had only recently actually gotten its shit together? What kind of friend would that make him? Would he have to go up to Sakura's parents, up to his sensei and up to Iruka and up to the old Hokage and tell them he had failed?

His vision swam in front of him. He pictured Sasuke, a strange mark on his neck. Sasuke, going off with that creep. Sakura crying – never the same, never as vibrant and callous and alive. He pictured he and Sasuke, no hitai-ate around his friend's forehead, fighting, always fighting, never laughing. Sasuke, consumed in his darkness that he almost succeeded in fixing and solving.

Sasuke, dying.

No, he mentally screamed. The fox was silent to his rage, his grief, his hopelessness. No, no, nonononono!

His eyes flew open.


In that instant, the snake holding him simply ceased to exist.

Orochimaru was not expecting the hurricane-force winds.

In an instant, he had gone from relishing in his success, creeping ever-so-closer to his prey, to being flung back against his will like a leaf in the wind. The trees shook, the branches quaked. Sasuke and Sakura had not retained their footing and had dropped to the forest floor, gone. In their place was a figure, its form shimmering in and out of existence, like it couldn't make up its mind as to what realm it wished to remain in. The air, without warning, was sucked away, rushing inwards to circle in that nefarious, unholy spot; only vacuum remained in the absence, and Orochimaru suddenly found himself struggling for breath. Fortunately for him, as quickly as it was gone, it existed once more. He took in a gulp of air, relishing the coolness that sated his burning lungs.

The flickering continued; the accursed thing had not moved from its spot.

"Who are you!" Orochimaru demanded, more than a little upset at having his victory stolen from right under his nose.

It was here that the thing took a step forward; it was also here that Orochimaru noticed the scimitars in its hands. The winds had grown even more violent.

The voice was that of ten thousand angels.

"I am your judge, jury, and executioner."

It really is great to be back. I've missed you guys; no excuses, really. I've been doing stuff. Also been helping beta my broski swagosaurus's grand fic. If you haven't read it, what in the hell are you doing? Go! It's just been updated!

I'm breathing new life into all of my works. See you guys soon, hopefully (I know I say that a lot).