During the early morning Takehiko stood in the courtyard behind his humble shop going through katas. After all it would do him no good to get rusty. There had been some attempts to rob his shop after all. And even without his eyesight he still was an formidable shinobi, despite his already high age. Sure he hadn't been in a serious fight for a while and those he had to fight of were mostly young upstarts who thought that power lies in flashy techniques, but he liked to think that he still hadn't lost his edge.
Well he did loose his eyes a while back, but that didn't stop him from being an skilled assassin like few others. Sure, he had gotten weaker, but as a jounin and a shinobi that preferred to strike in total darkness he was required to train up his senses and it helped him to get over his restriction.
Whipping the sweat from his brow he frowned. A bird was approaching, but it was far too big from the sound of the wings to be natural. Since there were only a few summoning contracts including various birds and their summoners were naturally rare, it did only leave that young boy who reminded him of his old friend so much. Sure, he did not share the same insane glint hat Kenshi had acquired over the years, but then again he hadn't been a shinobi for too long. Few shinobi could ever be classified as sane, and they grew increasingly fewer with both age and rank.
Slowly but surely the oversized bird landed within the courtyard, facing Takehiko. The old man was by now sure that it was one of the crane, and one of the more powerful of them at that. After all most of them were rather small, preferring to appear non-threatening, besides a few that were powerful enough to fend of nearly everything they faced.
"Hamasaki-sama, the fledgeling you allowed to sign our contract has called me to aid him, because he is severely injured. My tribe lacks the means to nurse a human back to health so I decided to bring him to you." the large crane spoke before placing a beaten and bloody bundle of human on the ground. How he was placed on the cranes back or even more surprising how he managed to stay there during the flight was everybody's guess.
"Very well, thank you for your assistance Tsuru-sama. I will take care of the young man." Takehiko answered respectfully. It wouldn't do to anger ones partners and comrades after all. While he had never met that particular bird, and once again questioned how many of them there were, the crane obvious had answered to Naruto's call. Maybe even his own personal summon or somehow connected with the Uzumaki. Well no good pondering the meaning of life, he had a wounded man to take care of.
With a last nod towards the big bird Takehiko scooped up the bloodied mess and entered his house. While he was sure that there were few survivors from the destruction of his home nearly twenty years ago he had managed to find a few of his clan with the help of his summons. He did not know how they did it, but they only ever said that their blood called them. Now there where seven of the once proud six hundred living in Kamome, including one of his granddaughters who had a bit of experience with healing. Quite a lot of others of his clan had decided to settle down in various other villages on the west coast of Fire Country, while other took to sailing the seas from the ports found in that area. If push came to shove Takehiko was sure that he could muster a force counting nearly hundred heads, but unfortunate few of them stronger than the average genin, lacking experience and the few veterans that were left were coming to the age where they slowly were losing their strength.
After informing his granddaughter Kasumi that he would need her help Takehiko looked Naruto over and was not happy with what he saw. The boy wore what would most likely pass as a hunter uniform from Hidden Mist, including even a matching forehead protector on his left arm. His torso and limbs were badly burnt, not helped by the fact that some of the fabric of his clothes seemed to have burned into his open wounds. There were a few shallow cuts, but nothing to worry about. His bones on the other hand were in bad shape. Not only were his legs all but destroyed, but several others were broken all over the body.
Taking in all the injuries he concluded that the young blonde was most likely caught within an explosion, even if it did not explain the legs.
Having been through war himself the old shinobi did his best to support his granddaughter as she patched up Naruto. After that it would all depend on the blonde if he pulled through or not.
Ao frowned. The ANBU sent out to take care of everything that came up connected to the infiltrators had brought him back information he did not like. While he was officially only head of Mist's hunter division most people knew that he was actually considered the number two in command after the Mizukage herself.
Two of the five shinobi had been brought in alive, good thing that Tetsuya was skilled enough to knock them out instead of killing them. It therefore had been confirmed that they were from Rock. On the other hand they had found another shinobi riddled with senbon, not exactly the subtle style Tetsuya was known for. That was one of the details that irked him. It just seemed somehow wrong all in all. Another was that the Ghost mask was recovered, broken, but still recognisable, but no body attached to it. If Tetsuya really had been caught in that suicide bombing the last two enemies performed then there should either have been a smoking corps plus mask or no mask at all.
Heck, they even found bit's and pieces of the two shinobi from Rock, otherwise Mist's shinobi would still be searching the island for survivors. The prisoners after all already gave up on their number of members.
Ao came to the conclusion that something was wrong with the picture, even if he could not place his finger on it where exactly something should have happened that was not supposed to. Well, no time brooding over the matter. They had to decide on appropriate response. Maybe instructing their Genin to kill of all competitors from Rock off...
Two days after arriving in Port Kamome Naruto woke up for the first time. Most of his burns were already healed, but his bones, especially his lower legs were still a problem. Kasumi had actually been very surprised at just how fast the young blonde healed. Then again, having a powerful spirit sealed inside of you had to have it's peaks.
As Naruto opened his eyes and mustered his surroundings he was surprised that there was someone else inside of the room. He tried to ask her where he was, but seeing how hoarse his voice was the woman forced him to drink quiet a lot of water first. Finally being no longer restricted by constant influx of water the blonde was finally able to state his question.
"Your in my granddad's place. Where did you expect the cranes to bring you, as injured as you are?" the woman answered him.
"Your granddad?" Naruto asked, not understanding, before he suddenly connected the dots "Takehiko?"
"Exactly." the woman answered warmly.
"What's your name?" the young man asked curiously.
"Kasumi. Don't worry, the old man already told me yours. Now it would probably be best if you ate something and then I will try to aid the healing of your bones along. For your legs I can do nothing unfortunate."
"They will heal, it might take a while, but I'm sure it will heal completely. I've been through worse."
"And how are you so sure of that young man? That mangling of your legs far overshadows a humans self healing abilities, and even with my medical knowledge I can't do much. Well maybe Tsunade of the Sannin would be able to heal that, but not anyone less." Suddenly more serious than before.
Naruto frowned, but then answered: "I dislike this information getting out, but it seems as if it has to. I've got a regeneration bloodline. Don't ask for details, all you have to know that those legs of mine will heal perfectly. Can't take more than a week. For the matter, how long was I out, I'm suspected back in the Leaf two weeks after I left."
"You arrived here at sunrise two days ago."
"Two days, huh? Then I should have eight days to get back, or send a message, but let's eat first."
True to his word and to the great surprise of Katsumi and Takehiko the blonde was literally on his feet again after six days. Now to Naruto the simple fact that it took him eight days to heal a wound, with six of them focusing chakra directly towards it, said a lot about it's severity. Since he did not have much to do in that time he wrote down every scrap of information he himself and his Shadow Clones had acquired during their visit in Hidden Mist. Another thing he took great pleasure in were the stories Takehiko told him about his old home before it was destroyed during the last great shinobi war.
He learned a lot about the various shinobi of Whirlpool, as well about their clans and what clearly set Hidden Whirlpool aside from the other villages. While it was recognised as a shinobi village quite a while after the first ones formed it was arguably the oldest of them all. After all five clans had banded together to found the settlement, that resembled more an oversized clan fortress than a village, quite a while before other clans followed their example.
Also the organisation of the village differed from Hidden Leaf. If you were not a member of one of the clans or were married to one you were not considered a member of the village. On the other hand everybody had basic training, even the ones who chose a civilian profession from the start. That led to a low overall population compared to the number of shinobi and a dependants on merchants from other villages in Whirlpool Country, but it did work. And if the village was attacked their forces suddenly swelled in comparison with what the enemy expected.
Also his opponent Tsubasa found his way into those discussions. According to Takehiko there once was a clan located in Whirlpool Country, the only one who did not join the village, that cultivated bats as partners. While the name did not ring a bell in the old man's mind, Naruto's earlier opponent was a different generation from the assassin and therefore it did not count that much.
When Naruto finally started his way home he had learned a lot more about his legacy as a descendant of Hidden Whirlpool and had met all the other members of Takehiko's clan living in the city. After all they were family. Sort of.
Sarutobi was nervous. While a crane summon had appeared with a message for him, Naruto was cutting in close. If he would not appear within the next hour he would have serious trouble to cover him. While he could very well let the whole thing slip, the paperwork involved would most likely be found at the most inconvenient of times and used against him.
Exactly that moment a serious looking blond entered the office. Sarutobi let out a sigh of relieve.
"Yo, old man. I've got a package for you." Naruto greeted him and threw a scroll onto the desk. A short examination showed that it was from an old friend of his, containing an order he had not even thought about since word of the civil war in the Mist first reached him.
Activating certain seals that would protect their conversation Sarutobi asked the returned shinobi: "Any news you've found?"
Dropping into a chair and closing his eyes for a brief moment Naruto nodded. He then opened his eyes and said: "A lot had happened in the Mist. I don't even know where to begin. Well, first of all the civil war has ended. The pro-bloodline faction has come out victorious. Right now the whole island is in lock down, no communication in or out and the only ones allowed out are those hunting for missing-nin, either to recruit them back or to kill them. I only made it in successful was because they have seals on their clothing, and if you lack those you will be found as an intruder."
The Hokage frowned and then asked: "You've written something about an injury in your letter. What happened there if you successfully infiltrated the village."
Naruto scratched the back of his head, such a typical gesture of his and replied: "Well, that's sort of a embarrassing story. When I left the village I ran into a group of Rock infiltrators, and I had to fight them off. They will assume that Tetsuya was killed when a sabotage specialist blew himself up. I've learned my lesson, next time I'm gonna use a Clone to blow that seal up."
"Anything else that I should know immediately?" the old man asked then.
Naruto thought it over for a second and then answered: "Well the current Mizukage is a woman named Mai Terumi, the bingo books list her as a C-Rank, but never mention her bloodline. And well, the Mist is preparing for war. They train their shinobi merciless, now that they are at peace for the first time as well as heavy recruitment with those who left the Country for some reason under Yagura. Plans are set into motion that the smugglers and mercenaries from the war get of light if they agree to act as supply lines for the village. I think they fear that some village will try to take advantage of their weakened state. I also think that they will try to feel out for an alliance during the Chunin Exams."
Naruto then handed over the collected intelligence that he had written down while he was healing from his injuries. Sarutobi leaned back in his chair, light his pipe and thought for a long time. Finally he slowly started to talk: "You know, young man, this information is very troubling. My contacts tell me that nearly every major village is preparing for war of some sort. Now even Mist. Due to the civil war nobody ever invaded there. The shinobi from Water Country are still known to be one of the few trained in sea-combat, what hampers the ability to transfer troops in great numbers there. Also most feared that the warring factions, with their numerous outposts and fresh experience in guerilla warfare, would unite if there was a common enemy. I agree with you that they will now fear that some outside force will try something. Therefore they collect their missing-nin who left do to leadership issues and not for other reasons, while they kill the others of in fear that they will cooperate with the enemy. Rock will now after the failed infiltration most likely change it's focus to Sand or us. The amassing in numbers they currently show does not allow the conclusion that they want to go against a minor village. Unless they expect another experience like Whirlpool. Cloud is equally likely to target Leaf or Mist, they lack the land access to Sand to seriously consider it."
Naruto had the feeling that the whole speech was more to order his own thoughts than for his benefit. Therefore he stayed silent while the Hokage was looking through him into the distance, obviously lost in thought.
When he snapped out of it he addressed Naruto once again: "War will come, one way or another. By now I think that if no outside force attacks within a year we will have to face a civil war. I know I can trust you. I know I can trust my ANBU, even if I have to be careful, because someone has his own forces running around, disguised as ANBU. I have a pretty good idea of what the clans are up to. I know what many of the high level shinobi think, because I constantly read their reports. Even if they disguise their opinions, read enough of those reports and you get a good feeling for them.
That makes up for about half of the force that serves under my command. I have started my investigations with that seal of yours and since then carefully manoeuvred that nobody finds out. I am already disposing of potential threats to the village and me, but at this time I have to be careful not to alert anybody with too much deaths.
I have started to have a few of those shinobi I trust sound out the opinions of those in their bracket, where they can do that without suspicion. I would like you to do the same for the Genin that graduated with you, maybe a few others of the younger ones as well. Try to find out where their loyality lies if push comes to shove. The position of Hokage? Their families and clans? Me as a person? Nobody in the Leaf at all? Be very careful not to let anyone become suspicious. And if you accept, try to focus on the orphans more than the others. As hard as it sounds it is easier to assume that a shinobi with family will fight for the Leaf village, in order to protect them, than to trust an orphan with no such ties. Also those with families at your age most certainly follow the path of their parents. Can you do that for me? It'll count as a C-Rank mission, weakly reports, classified for the Hokage's eyes only, but I think that should be clear by now."
"It would be an honour to be your ears and eyes, Hokage-sama" Naruto answers with a small bow, with took the old Hokage aback.
"Who are you, and what have you done to that blonde bundle of energy?" Sarutobi asked jokingly.
The two part ways laughing.
The next few weeks pass rather fast with routine. D-Ranks in the morning and individual training in the afternoon. Well, in Naruto and Sasuke's case, Sakura preferred to spend her afternoons gossiping, chasing the Uchiha or shopping. Naruto on the old man's prompting also spend his time reconnection with old classmates and trying to befriend others of his generation. While those who managed to get onto a team were busy most of the time, since the jounins seemed to take team training more serious than Kakashi, he still managed to reconnect to a lot of his other classmates.
He learned that those who did not manage to get onto a mentored team were sent back to academy, but their curse load was different than the previous. While the academy before the 'true' Genin test focused on general education and shinobi basics the classed for those who failed were separated into specialisations. Administration, interrogation, assassination, infiltration, field medic and the like. The three man teams, while most had a focus, were considered all around teams that had fixed set-ups so that the members were familiar with each other and therefore could perform to their best. Those with specialised classes were put together as the mission required. Also for those Chunin and in rare cases Special-Jounin was the highest achievable rank, unlike mentored Genin.
And while Naruto in his narrow, seal inducted world-view always thought that there was only his own class and no other the same year there were actual several. Ten classes a thirty students per year, separated on several buildings spread over the village. The main building with the survival training ground and the library had by chance been the one he had attended. While usually only one or two teams per class were chosen for further training with a Jounin, approximately ninety percent of the Students graduated into the ranks of the Leaf shinobi. And due to the time of the Kyuubi attack many of the graduates were orphans or raised by single parents.
During his talks with the others, mostly by Shadow Clone proxy, unless they offered to spar, Naruto went even a step further than Sarutobi asked of him and not only assessed the other Genin, but also tried to subtle manipulate them into a direction that was agreeable with him. Loyalty not to a position without question, but to an ideal or a person that had proven himself. In other words, the third Hokage and the idea of protecting the village even at the cost of his own life like the Fourth had done.
He might have not been as subtle as the Hokage would have liked, but it was an idea Naruto felt strongly about.
What Naruto didn't know was that behind his back the others of his generation also talked with each other and therefore he was established as a kind of leader figure for those his age. Sure, there were those who's parents warned him from coming into contact with the jinchuuriki, but since the conversation happened between peer that did not happened that much, and those of even further questionable affiliation, but those were a minority.
Especially the other orphans had taken a liking in Naruto. He was one of them, one of those many who had to grow up neglected in overcrowded orphanages, one of those who had to decide early in life what they wanted to do, or suffer the consequences. No surprise that many of them tried the path as a shinobi, since it would allow them to work at the young age of twelve.
This acceptance of him as a leader, of those he addressed as 'we orphans', a phrase taken from Tenten, led to some of them taking on his surname. According to the official version of events all the paperwork concerning the orphans had been lost in a fire, even if it was suspect since there should have been copies at every orphanage, the Hokage tower, as well as the offices of the civilian council, where the fire happened. As a result only very few of the orphans had a surname, and taking on the name of a fellow orphan gave them a sense of family.
Naruto took great care to discourage this notion, but his explanation that he was strongly disliked because of a combination of his pranks, his birth date, his whisker marks and the overall association of those facts with a certain kitsune only led them to tone it down. As long as they were among themselves, among 'us orphans' many continued to use it as a surname. Even pointing out that there were elements within the village that wouldn't hold back from using physical harm against him only forced him against the wall, since many of them wanted to know exactly what was going on. As it was he promised them to tell them the whole story when he could be absolutely certain that it would never get out.
The elements, who he always described as spies and others who want the village harm at large, were another reason why many of the orphans flocked to him. Others had their families for protection, but they were alone out there. And it was common shinobi knowledge that everything that you don't know is a potential death trap. Seeing how close Naruto seemed to be with the Hokage they concluded that he would warn them, when those elements would move against them. Because the old man was obviously the source of Naruto's information on many going ons in the village, even if he never clearly commented on them, but only made vague statements.
Those who came back to him every so often were included into the training Naruto went through. He even sometimes taught something out of his by now impressive collection of scrolls. Minor things mostly, an addition to the standard academy style taijutsu, some basics of close combat weapon handling, or if there were only those present that he trusted more even a few techniques like the Water Clone.
A few who used to be friends of his, before he was forced to leave the orphanage and due to the seal more or less forgot about, even managed to pester him from time to time to part with one of his precious scrolls or one of the weapons he looted from Gato, but even those instances were rare. It wasn't as if he was disliked at the orphanage, Sarutobi had made sure that the matron harboured no ill feelings against him, before he placed him there, but the civilian council held a lot of influence over all those who were no shinobi and were able to force him out of the orphanage.
Naruto suspected that the reason why no further C-Rank missions or even D-Ranks that would lead them out of the village come up was linked to the fact that he made good progress with his task and the weekly meetings seemed to be appreciated by the old man.
It was just another day. Kakashi had them waiting for what seemed to be an eternity before he appeared only to ditch them soon after. Naruto suspected that it had to do something with the messenger bird up in the sky, but then again, who was he to prove it.
Not soon after slowly making his way to his favourite training ground far off the village proper Naruto noticed a square rock following him. He smiled, because he knew who was hiding in there. Since he had sent clones all over the village to socialise with other Genin, he had expanded onto some of the older Genin, a few Chunin he knew either from his pranking career or otherwise as well as a few academy students. As such his clones had taken to spend quiet some time with his self proclaimed rival and played with him. Not that Konohamaru or his friends gasped that most of the games were actually training exercises in disguise. Or maybe they did, but simply didn't care.
Since Sakura was following him for some reason or other, maybe because of Sasuke's loud proclamation of her uselessness, he decided to put up a show.
"You know, rocks tend to be irregular in shape and rarely have eye holes." he spoke, mirth shining through.
"Ah, I knew you would see through my disguise, my youthful rival!" Konohamuru shouted loudly, his two friends nodding along.
Naruto was suddenly serious: "You haven't taken to spending time around Maito Gai? You do know that if you turn up in a green, tight jumpsuit I will no longer be you rival." Three heads nodded enthusiastic. "Now I guess you want to spend some time with me, right? Even if you should be at the academy. You do know that Iruka is pretty good at finding missing students."
"Iruka's not around, so we have the day off. You coming to play with us?" Konohamaru nearly begged.
"Sure thing." Naruto answered.
At this point Sakura interrupted: "Your playing with little children, pathetic. No wonder your dead-last."
"Who's that girl with the big forehead?" Konohamaru wanted to know.
"My teammate." Naruto answered and then added, "But you better run."
Sparing a glance to a fuming Sakura the young boy and his two friends decided to do just that and ran as fast as they could. Even if they were a lot smaller than the girl and younger as well they were gaining in distance. A statement of Sakura's physical condition.
Naruto decided to follow along, since he had after all promised to spend time with the three academy students.
Not even three corners later the chase stopped because a gruff voice called out: "That hurt, brat."
Coming around the corner himself Naruto saw that the chase had stopped and a shinobi, who's most noticeable features were face-paint and a hood the shape of cat-ears held Konohamaru up by his scarf.
The girl standing next to him, a blonde wearing purple clothing and a large fan on the back, who commented: "That might not be that good an idea."
The boy answered: "You know, as long as he isn't around there's no problem."
Then Naruto decided to interfere: "You know, it might cause an international incident if you were to attack the Hokage's grandson. And with the current political situation in Wind Country I doubt that you would be able to afford war."
While the jinchuuriki was calm on the outside he was slightly worried. Even though he still hadn't talked directly to the fox since that time in Mist, the tailed beast had gotten more active since then. He sometimes sent pulse of chakra through Naruto's pathways, or yelled something at the very back of Naruto's mind. Naruto was intrigued by this behaviour, but assumed that he wouldn't get a straight answer out of the trickster and therefore decided not to ask. So he had no idea what had caused the change. But at the moment he was worried because the nine tail kept on muttering about a 'crazy tanuki'. At high alert Naruto infused chakra into the surrounding water to find what caused the fox to react like this.
"Bah, weaklings all those Leaf shinobi. Can't even stand for themselves in a fight." the boy answered arrogant.
"Well, if you want we can take this to the nearest training ground and fight about this. Though that one might object." Naruto answered pointing up into the trees.
And sure, there was a redhead up there, hanging upside down from a tree branch, who had rather unique markings under his eyes. Not even two metres below sat a very surprised Sasuke, who hadn't detected the presence behind him.
The boy with his cat-ear hood paled as the redhead performed a Sand Body Flicker to appear next to him. "You are a disgrace to your village. I should kill you.", the boy with the dark markings around his eyes stated emotionless.
"But they started it." the boy wearing black answered.
"Shut up. Even if we are here to early doesn't mean you can play around." the obviously younger boy answered. Since he was now on the ground Naruto noticed the large gourd he carried around even more. "We should leave now." the redhead then stated matter of fact and turned to leave. The other two followed.
Sakura found her courage and asked: "What are foreign ninja doing here? Even if our villages are allied it is not common."
"Chunin exams obviously." Naruto stated, earning him an surprised glance by both his teammates as well as from the three academy students and a nod from the girl.
Sasuke in the meantime had jumped down and demanded: "What's your name?"
Once again Naruto answered: "Read the Bingo Book Uchiha. Even if they are Genin those three are pretty high profile, as they are the children of the Kazekage. Right, Temari?" The girl, who had hung back while her two companions were already on the leave nodded.
Walking away Gaara stated to his siblings: "That blonde is intriguing." The statement sent shivers down the other two's back, since they knew what their brother found interesting.
Temari frowned and added: "He is pretty well informed. Something one would expect from the big clans, but he carried no marking of one. Unlike the Uchiha, who seems to be ignorant about the world around him."
When Sakura took her eyes from the visitors she noticed that Naruto and his three followers had disappeared in one direction, while Sasuke had left into the other. She then slowly left herself.
Up in the trees, a bit away from the one Sasuke and Gaara had waited in, three Genin from Hidden Sound were talking. "What do you think?" one of the males asked.
"There was no real confrontation. Nothing to draw any conclusions from, but that redhead seems dangerous." answered the other male.
Meanwhile in the Hokage's office close to thirty jounin as well as Iruka as representative of the academy had gathered. Sarutobi was proud that he had managed to place the meeting so that Iruka was sent, because the headmaster of the academy already had an appointment.
The jounin were all those who had taken on a three man cell, that was still intact. From the average fifteen that were formed every year two usually only lasted six months until a member dropped out do to various reasons, from unsuited for duty to death. An additional five usually didn't make it to a year of duty together. After eighteen months most took their first chunin exams, if it wasn't in Rock, or for Hyuuga's in Cloud. While every major village hosted the exams every five years and it was custom to send a team, unless one was at open war, one usually only sent one team to villages you had strained relations with. While the minor villages now and then hosted an exam in-between the ones by the major villages, they weren't as popular, and the major villages rarely attended. After that period, even if the team didn't participate for whatever reason, promotions usually started. After all the exams weren't the only way to rise in the ranks. It also meant that only two in fifteen teams usually made it to two years of duty together without being promoted.
For the still intact Genin squads their respective sensei was demanded to attend this, but since the chunin exams were held in the Leaf this time there were a few who only had two Genin under their care, for various reasons. Iruka, since he worked at the academy, but was also involved with mission assignments and inspection of mission reports, was in attendance to evaluate if any other Genin should be considered for the exams. After all those two man squads had to be filled up somehow.
Usually rookie Genin, as in those only on duty for six month were rarely considered for the exams, but Sarutobi had made some observations about the latest batch. Not to mention the reports Naruto had made on those, even if he had little contact with the other teams his age, due to clashing schedules. Asuma and Kurenai were working their teams pretty hard, and from what he heard and saw Shino and Shikamaru might even be able to be promoted. Granted, they had to depend on their team a lot, but the ability was there. Kakashi on the other hand had two individuals who one might consider chunin level in terms of power in his team. Naruto might even depend on this chance, because all other ways of promotion could be vetoed by the elders. Well unless you counted battlefield promotion during wartime, not something he wanted to consider, but was forced to. Sasuke on the other hand might have the skill, but in Sarutobi's eyes, and Naruto's as well, lacked the mentality, the reverse of Shikamaru and to a lesser extent Shino.
Making his decision he asked into the room: "Do the sensei's of any of the new teams consider their teams ready for the exams?"
As expected Kakashi stepped forward and nominated his team. While he had held him in high regard for a long time, and was still trustworthy, the old Hokage had come to the conclusion that the team would be too much responsibility for the former ANBU, and that the man wanted to get rid of his teaching duty.
It did surprise him a little more, but not much that Kurenai and Asuma also nominated theirs.
Of course Iruka had objections to this. After all he was the teacher of that group until recent and remembered their problems. Naruto's inattentiveness, Sasuke and Kiba's hotheadedness, Ino and Sakura's fangirl tendencies, Hinata's shyness and Choji and Shikamaru's tendencies to slack off. The only one who had no such obvious flaws was Shino, and there he questioned if he was so suited as a squad leader, but then again other Aburame's had managed just fine, despite their lack of many words. But most of all was probably the fact the he was fiercely protective of Naruto since the incident with Mizuki. Every time his team went onto a C-Ranked mission the Hokage had to calm him down afterwards.
Kakashi answered quiet harshly, stating that they had grown and now were no longer students but soldiers.
Sarutobi interrupted there: "Iruka, calm down. I for one have seen the rigorous training teams eight and ten went through. In teams seven's case I think their accomplished missions speak for themselves."
The last statement peaked a few people's interest and one jounin of a veteran Genin team asked: "Care to elaborate?"
The old monkey summoner just smiled and recited: "2 C-Rank, 1 B-Rank and 1 A-Rank" 'Another C, B and S-Rank in Naruto's case, if you count the Mizuki incident.' he added mentally. Surprised whispers filled the room, but Iruka finally accepted the arguments, but decided to test some of the more likely unsure members of those teams.
Naruto was a bit peeved that Kakashi had told them of their nomination for the exams on such short notice. On the other hand he had already known that they were nominated from his weekly talk with the Hokage. He was confident that he would be able to pass, because he had expanded his technique arsenal since his visit in Mist. Then again the Leaf Village was famous for their three man tests. Other villages had other modi operandi, for example Mist had one man competitions, while Rock usually demanded five man squads according to their respective policies of few strong shinobi and winning through masses. Leaf on the other hand held to their famous three man cells. It brought them an advantage after all, since all other villages usually patched their team together for their current need and didn't held to long-standing fixed groups.
After Sasuke and Sakura had appeared they made it wordlessly into the academy, where the first test would be held. Well, not wordlessly, but Sakura's mindless chatter on the sight of the Uchiha didn't count anyway. The old Hokage's parting words from their last meeting were still in Naruto's mind. 'Remember, not everything is as it seems on first glance.' Not a new concept, but Naruto had a suspicion that it did involve the exam specificly.
Arriving on the second floor a sign reading 301 was guarded by two leaf shinobi. A reappearing feeling every time the fox's chakra pulsed told Naruto that there was a genjutsu active. He smiled once again. It was a very nice surprise when he found out that a foreign chakra the body is accustomed to made it a hell lot easier to recognise and disrupt genjutsu. For now the blonde was content in the knowledge that he had enough time to spare to watch Rock Lee letting himself be pushed around by the two shinobi guarding the entrance, who were under genjutsu as well. Naruto was quiet surprised how good an actor the taijutsu fanatic was.
Suddenly Sasuke disrupted the gathering of chunin hopefuls: "Remove that genjutsu."
Naruto groaned. Not only had it taken the Uchiha nearly a minute longer to find anything worng here, but he had also announced it out loud. "I swear Uchiha, you clan was born without common sense. You just had to tell all those weaklings here that this was a point to sort out all those too weak to even consider the exam."
Naruto was not even fazed by the killing intent the assembled Genin were directing at him and walked past all the staring others. He greeted the two guards with a nod before turning back to his team: "You two coming, or have you decided to give up?"
Needless to say that his team was running to catch up with him. Another team joined up with them. "Tenten, Lee, Hyuuga-san" Naruto greeted those as well. "So Gai finally decided to let you participate? Then again last year was Cloud, not a good choice for a Hyuuga, even if you had the skill for chunin."
The three greeted politely back, even if Tenten sometimes complained about the stick up the Hyuuga's ass. But then again the argument was true and Naruto had complimented them, so Neji had no reason to complain. In silence the six made their way to the real room 301, followed by a bunch of other Genin not far behind.
Before the double doors Kakashi and Gai waited. When Gai started to enthusiastically shouting about 'flames of youth' and whatnot Naruto simply grabbed his teammates by the sleeve and pulled them past. As soon as they passed Kakashi the jounin Body Flickered out with a last "Good Luck, you'll need it."
Entering the room they were immediately subjected to the collective killing intent of a large crowd of people. Naruto roughly estimated a hundred and fifty people, about a third wearing a Leaf headband. And then there were those who were still outside to consider. On Zabuza's prompting Naruto decided to show the crowd his broadest prankster grin and unleashed killing intent of his own. About a third of the competitor reeled back, while the others decided to up the level. Oh yes, Naruto had taken a liking in killing intent since he had learned it from the swordsman. The blonde was slowly rising his own killing intent when his concentration was suddenly broken, just when he was approaching what was considered unusual for a chunin. Ino had glomped the Uchiha with a loud squeal of "Sasuke-kun" and had caused the avenger to stumble into Naruto.
"I was having fun scaring that team from Hidden Grass over there." Naruto complained to the other blond who gave him a weird look.
"Naruto?" the girl asked hesitantly.
"Yes he has changed." answered Shikamaru from behind her. "You here as well? Troublesome" he than added towards team seven.
"So all nine rookies are here." stated an approaching Kiba for team eight. "We'll going to show you just how strong we have gotten."
"Well not all rookies, only those from our class, but then again what do you expect if someone decides to place five clan heirs and a clan prodigy in one class." Naruto interjected, once again getting weird looks by some of his classmates in attendance. He shrugged it off, not offering anything further, and then turned and leaned against the back wall of the room, leaving the banter to the others where he was soon joined by Shikamaru and Team Gai.
When another Leaf Genin left the crowd to approach the group Naruto frowned. "Keep it down, you rookies bickering isn't taken favourable by those over there." the silver haired young man told them loudly drawing the attention of the crowd, silencing them for a moment.
"I see what you are doing." Naruto stated after a few seconds of silence.
"And that would be." Asked the older boy sounding confused.
"You are drawing attention to us, stating we're easy targets, so that your team doesn't have to fact so many enemies and is able to slip by." Naruto stated matter of fact, causing many of the others to search for the silver haired Genin's teammates.
"You are wrong. You see, I took those exams before and collected quiet some data. I just wanted to help the rookies out a bit." The older one stated cheerful. "Let's see. I should have a info card on you somewhere. Ah, there it is. Uzumaki Naruto. Genin for six months. Teammates: Sasuke Uchiha and Haruno Sakura. A bit of trivia: known for pulling pranks all over the village and on occasion escaping ANBU chasing him afterwards. A budding sabotage specialist, huh? Not much other skills, pathetic tai and genjutsu, scrapped the ninjutsu part of the Genin exams, skilled with tools and no known bloodline. 53 D-Ranked missions, and the rest of the mission information is missing. Weird, I thought I copied all the public available mission information from your files in the library."
Naruto's grin had grown larger with each piece of knowledge. The information was rather outdated, and the fact that he had participated in classified missions didn't seem to occur to the older Genin. And with the information he had given the crowd was likely to underestimate him.
Of course the bits and pieces of knowledge of possible opponents had hooked the Uchiha. After all one could not expect him to look up such things himself. So he demanded from the older Genin: "Do you have any information on the Kazekage's children, the redhead in particular?"
"Sure thing." the silver haired shinobi answered, smiling once again. "One moment. Ah, here. Temari, Kankuro and Gaara. Don't have much on them since they're from another village and compete for the first time. The girl 's known as a prodigy of wind techniques, the middle child seems to be a puppeteer and the redhead, well, there wasn't any information on skill beside the fact that he never got injured on a mission. That's something, considered that he's been on 8 C-Rank and one B-Rank mission."
The Uchiha just scoffed at that. After all he had been on a A-Ranked mission, and while he got injured there, he came back healthy from their B-Rank.
The silver haired Genin added: "Mist, Cloud, Rock, Sand, Waterfall, Grass, Rain and Sound, all of them have sent the best their best Genin. Well besides Sound they just popped up a short time ago, no chance that they have trained their Genin to a competitive level."
That comment wasn't taken easily by the attending Genin from Sound who decided to attack the older Genin. One jumped high to throw kunai at the silver haired shinobi while the other cornered him where he dodged to and swiped at his face. The Leaf Genin was able to dodge, but his glasses shattered and he started to stumble, then he threw up.
The three Genin from Hidden Sound just watched proudly while Shikamaru called out: "Interesting, sound waves to attack his vestibular system." Yes, nobody could say that the Nara was dumb, even if he rarely showed his intelligence.
A large cloud of smoke appeared at the front of the room and killing intent washed over the room. "Quiet down, maggots. And no fighting without permission, that clear?" A voice boomed from the cloud before it disappeared, revealing a man wearing a black trench coat who had a collection of scars on his face as well as a group that had to be chunin in uniforms behind him.
The rather intimidating man said: "I am Morino Ibiki and will be your examiner for the first test. Now everybody grab a number so that we can spread you through the room. From now on you will only be referred to by number. That clear? Good. Before everybody gets started some ground rules. Rule one: No questions allowed. Rule two: Everybody starts with ten points. For every wrong or missing answer one point is subtracted. You will be scored as a team with up to thirty possible points. Rule three: If you are caught cheating you will lose two points. Rule four: If one teammember scores zero for whatever reason you fail. Now begin, you have one hour."
All that was said while keeping up a constant, but low pressure with killing intent. Most Genin didn't even seem to realise why they were suddenly so nervous, but it worked to weed out the weak. Naruto was thankful that paper test were the one thing Sakura was good at, because otherwise she might have already quit.
While he had caught on the subtle notion that cheating was allowed he decided to take a look on what he could manage. Cryptogram, check, Mathematics, skip, obscure knowledge about the second Hokage, the only history lessons he really paid attention to, check, Geography, that he had read up in library a while ago, check, formula of a poison using a certain seaweed, Zabuza knew that as it was often used in the Mist, check, another mathematics question, skip, a crossword of all things, half-solved, question about Fire Country diplomatics, skip, sort summoning contracts to their users, monkey, bear, toad, slug, salamander and a few other, check, a question on the mechanics of elemental manipulation, check, a blank question, to be posed 45 minutes into the test, had to wait.
All in all it did not seem that hard to Naruto, but thinking it over the cryptogram and the question about summoning contracts were the only ones possibly solvable by the average Leaf Genin, and even those were not granted. And assuming that the team needs 50 percent plus points to pass it would be a bad ending for most. So cheating was the method of choice. Naruto in the meantime decided to twiddle with the mathematical questions, because he knew he had no knowledge about diplomatics or the needed knowledge to finish the crossword. Then again his spy techniques included locating enemies and gauging their chakra levels quiet accurate as well as the knowledge retaining Shadow Clone, but those both were of little use for this task. Having a jounin living in your mind as well as the opportunity to leave clones to read the library for weeks had it's peaks, so he was positive that he would pass. And immersing himself into those problems allowed him to pass the time for the last question faster.
While he was going through his questions kunai got thrown by various proctors, stating that the Genin had been caught five times at cheating.
Shortly before the last question was revealed about a third of the chunin hopefuls were eliminated.
"Now onto the tenth question." the proctor announced. Looking up around the room Naruto noticed, that the Genin from Sand, who had threatened Konohamaru, just entered the room. Even if the proctor who accompanied him seemed off, Naruto decided to ignore it. After all it wasn't his job to find the cheaters.
"There will be a few additional rules concerning this question. Rules of desperation." Morino subtly increased the killing intent he had been projecting the whole time. "You will be allowed to chose whether you take this question or not."
"What will happen if we chose not to?" the blonde girl from Sand asked. Another subtle increase of killing intent followed. Naruto was intrigued by this mastery, because one who didn't monitor the feeling closely, which mean about every Genin in the room, wouldn't notice the increase, and just chalk it up as one's own nervousness.
"If you chose not to take the question your points will be reduced to zero and you fail along your teammates."
Some of the more excitable Genin started to shout that they would take the question on those rules.
"However, if you take the question and fail to answer it right you will be banned from ever taking the chunin exams again." Another sleight increase of killing intent followed. Even with Zabuza's expertise in that particular area Naruto was impressed. This took some well honed skill to pull off.
Kiba started to shout: "But there are some here who have taken the exam before."
"My test, my rules. You can always leave and try again next year." Ibiki simply answered.
Waiting a few moments the proctor said "Now then, if you not to attempt the question raise you hand and leave with your teammates."
Slowly Genin began to raise their hands, and after their teammate's numbers were called out left the room. Naruto observed with interest and noticed, that two single participants left, without any teammates. 'So they had some insiders with the right answers in here.' he concluded.
He saw many struggle with the decision, especially the younger Leaf Genin, but it did seem as if some villages either knew something was up or were to proud to quit. Naruto was certain that there was some ruse to this question, after all the first part wasn't what they were told.
At some point after the first rush had stopped the blond observed that Sakura was slowly and shakily starting to raise her hand. While he wasn't that concerned, because banning one from participating in the exams was not something easily organised and there were always other ways to be promoted, Sakura either had forgotten that fact, or never read up on it. She was considered the best concerning bookwork during the academy time after all.
Going over his options to stop Sakura from capitulating he frowned. If he still had that seal on him he would most likely shout something about becoming Hokage, or the likes. While it would further serve to make his enemies underestimate him, it would ruin his image. Well going with plan B.
Slowly concentrating he delved deep into his subconscious, pulling up the primal instincts of a hunter. In the early times killing intent was something that came natural, the feeling of someone used to death and ambush that a bigger predator was looking for him. The art to detect one's enemies by this feeling soon enough followed, immediately followed by research on how to suppress one's own predator instincts. At that time killing intent was less more than an annoying feeling at the back of one's head that you were watched and targeted by a hunter.
Some more inventive shinobi soon found out that focusing this feeling out would bring results as well, because an enemy that fears you might be more careful, but all in all is less of a threat. A feeling that got stronger the more of a predator the shinobi was. The more enemies he had killed, the more prey he had ambushed, the more superior foes he had stared down.
When a shinobi became experienced enough one would usually teach him the basics of killing intent. After all unconscious release during an ambush could still be detected, or at least set the enemy on edge. While few ever made it a real skill to use, Naruto had the advantage to have stared down two threats that could be considered monsters in terms of the killing intent they could release. Zabuza, who had worked on honing it as a weapon as much as possible and the Kyuubi, to whom it came naturally. Having faced both and maybe even gained a few splinters of their own skill his killing intent was impressive, for a genin at least. Gaara clearly outstripped him in terms of possible heights, but the Sand shinobi had a half-sealed bijuu on his side.
The effect was instant. While Ibiki's killing intent was present it was on a level where most genin did not even conscious realise it. Naruto knew that some civilians were able of that level. After all he had some experience with drunks how had something against a certain fox. Now most genin were unprepared. The killing intent that hit them was about what one would expect from a chunin and appeared so fast and without warning that most of them froze in surprise at least.
Some of those more experienced with killing intent, Ibiki foremost, were scanning the crowd for the source of the new killing intent. Naruto had his eyes closed and a grin that would not have been out of place on the Daemon of the Hidden Mist's face when he said: "Sakura, don't."
Then he abruptly cut off the release of killing intent, suppressing it to the point where even very skilled shinobi could no longer detect it. The message was clear to everyone in the room and the pink haired girl slowly let her hand sink down. She clearly got the message and understood the implied threat if she did not act accordingly.
Ibiki on the other hand now faced a dilemma. If he resumed projecting his killing intent he would have to considerably rise it, therefore destroying the stealth aspect he used up till now. Deciding to act quickly he used the complete absence of killing intent for a moment, what made some nearly as nervous as before, because a suddenly vanishing predator can't be a good sign, now can it, to ask a last time for genin wanting to give up. On the inside he was impressed with the young brat to challenge him so openly.
The other two rookie teams, while toying with the idea before, could not back down now that team seven wanted to take the question. Similar many of the older genin faced the dilemma that they did not want to be shown up by their juniors. Therefore very few teams actually left the room.
With a wicked grin spreading on his face Ibiki announced: "Well then for everyone who had decided to stay I have only one last thing to say. Congratulations for passing the first test."
While Ibiki Morino was explaining the importance of information gathering as well as the do or die decisions sometimes coming up on missions, Naruto was mustering the remaining competition. Eighty-four Genin, twenty-eight teams. One from Rock. Two from Waterfall and Mist. Three from Rain and Grass. Four from Sound. Five from Sand. Eight from Leaf. Three of them rookie teams.
It did surprise him that all four teams from Sound had passed as well as five of six from Sand. That the team from Rock and all two from Mist had passed was less surprising, because those villages obviously only sent the very best.
Turning his thoughts back to the proctor of the exam Naruto listened to the speech on how some missions had to be done, even if one did not know what lies ahead.
And then a ball of something crashed through the window. It turned out to be a woman wearing a beige trench coat and featured dark purple hair. She yelled out: "No time for celebration brats. I'm Anko Mitarashi, the examiner of the second test. Follow me!"
Ibiki commented rather dryly: "Your early."
AN: Well, it has been a while. This chapter, and to be honest the next one as well, is a pain in the ass. I have rewritten this whole thing no less than two times and have made minor adjustments even more often. I'm still not happy with it, but it is somewhat acceptable. Therefore I will upload it now, otherwise it will likely take another month till I'm somewhat happy with it.
As mentioned before the part of the next chapter that I have started is just as difficult to write. I'll try to get it done quickly but my gut feeling tells me it's unlikely. I somewhat regret the decision to write the chunin exams at all in a form close to canon, since many of my problems stem from the fact that I am keeping close to canon, but in the end the rest of the storyline would not work out otherwise.
Similar were tries to construct other tests, but it just made sense to use one psychological part and one simulated mission. As far as simulated missions go I had a few different ideas, but the form that was used in canon was in the end probably the easiest.
If there are any jumps of thought in there that are hard to follow tell me. Those will likely come from constant rewriting and well, after a time I no longer see them, because it's logical to me.