Disclaimer: Naruto does not belong to me.

Key: "Normal person speaking."

Normal person thinking.

'Naruto talking to Kyuubi.'

"Kyuubi talking to Naruto."

Chuunin Exams: Namikaze Revealed

Naruto released a gusty breath as he straightened fluidly, gazing idly around him. He had just completed a series of warm-up stretches to loosen his muscles for the upcoming exam. It was the morning of the preliminaries, and the day he would publicly become a Namikaze. He was understandably excited.

"Naruto-kun!" came a voice from behind him. "We have to go to the exam room!" It was Ino, his new girlfriend. Their relationship, while still very new, was extremely comfortable and easy, as they had been quite close anyway before their relationship morphed. The only thing different was their embraces. The Namikaze turned to the other blonde.

"Coming, Ino-chan!" Moving quickly, he crossed the grass and came to her side, smiling affectionately at her. The two Genin walked inside the building, where their teams awaited them.

"Good luck, Ino-chan," said Naruto, smiling, before he turned and joined Sasuke and Sakura. The Jounin were already in the room. The team exchanged looks, and then entered the room, hearts pounding in nervousness and anticipation.

The room was huge; it was more like an indoor arena than anything else. There were stairs on the wall opposite the entrance door that led to the participants' gallery, which spanned one entire wall. Above the entrance door was a large window-looking contraption, and on that same side of the room were the seats for the Kages and their village delegates. They were already seated; having entered while the Genin made their way to the room. The rest of the room was a large arena, with two doors in one wall for the healers to exit and enter. Naruto looked around, suppressing his burgeoning excitement. All teams from Konoha were there; the Iwa team they had beat up were there somehow, Team Dosu, the teams from Otogakure, Kabuto's team, the Suna team with the Jinchuuriki, and one of the teams from Kirigakure. No one from Kusagakure had made it. As Naruto scanned the Genin, Gaara turned, and their eyes met. The Namikaze suppressed a shudder at the sight of the other Jinchuuriki's deadened, dull eyes. The only emotion the Jinchuuriki emitted was pure, unadulterated murder. Then he looked away, and Naruto turned back to face the exam proctor. He looked familiar…

"Konnichiwa, Genin, watashi wa Hayate Gekko, and I am your proctor for today's exam. You have successfully completed the second stage; however you must take part in today's preliminaries to continue any further. These preliminaries are to lessen your numbers, since almost twice as many expected here passed. You will be matched up against each other in a fight that will last until someone concedes defeat or is unable to continue fighting. Now, is there anyone unable to continue for any reason?" Not a sound was made, as the group of Genin waited tensely to see if anyone would drop out. A few seconds passed in silence, and then Kabuto stepped forward.

"I forfeit." The proctor nodded curtly in acknowledgement, and the silver-haired Oto Genin turned and began to walk away. Naruto regarded him in suspicion. Something was up. First, those shady information cards, then the amount of times he retook the exam, so many people smelling like Orochimaru, Kabuto himself included, and now the other Genin was forfeiting when there was nothing physically wrong with him? Yes, something was definitely going on. Then, suddenly, two ANBU appeared and stopped Kabuto.

"Come quietly," ordered one of them. "You are being arrested for treason." The Oto Genin glanced around the room quickly for a possible escape route, obviously not expecting the arrest, but there was none. Besides, the ANBU had already shackled him with chakra-suppressing cuffs. As the two ANBU escorted Kabuto out, another appeared, bowing before the Kages and delegates.

"Forgive the interruption, Hokage-sama." The Hokage nodded, and waved his hand in dismissal. The ANBU Shunshined away and the proctor turned back to the Genin.

"Anyone else?" The Genin murmured negatives. "All right, you may go to the balcony to await your respective matches." As they walked away, the screen above the Kages lit up and began scrolling through names. It took a few minutes for the machine to come up with a pairing, but it eventually slowed to a halt and displayed two names.

"Uchiha Sasuke, Konoha, and Akado Yoroi, Oto." called the proctor.

Smirking in anticipation of a good fight, Sasuke made his way down the stairs.

"Good luck, Sasuke-kun!" cried Sakura shrilly. He paid no attention to her. Naruto and Ino exchanged a speaking glance, and then turned back to face the arena. Yoroi had already reached the center, and cracked his knuckles menacingly as Sasuke approached, blood-red Sharingans spinning dizzyingly.

"Ready to lose, Konoha weakling?" asked Akado smirking unpleasantly. Sasuke gave no answer, just returned the smirk. The two Genin slipped into fighting stances as the proctor began to step back. When he was completely out of the fighting range, he abruptly stuck out his hand and said sharply,

"Hajime!" The Uchiha sprang forward like a panther, shifting into a graceful, yet deadly Taijutsu style – most probably the Uchiha clan's Taijutsu technique. The two Genin exchanged quick, brutal blows as they danced around each other. It was quickly becoming a stalemate, as the opponents tried to feel each other out; neither willing to give an inch. Then Yoroi seemed to come to an abrupt decision. His Taijutsu style suddenly changed from defensive to a straight-out, harshly offensive form. Slightly disoriented from the sudden change, Sasuke was caught off-guard for a moment. It was, however, just enough of a moment for Yoroi to launch his true attack. Yoroi grasped Sasuke's neck in one hand, his forehead in the other, and slammed him to the floor. The majority of the watchers winced in sympathy at the sound of the impact.

"Chakura Kyouin Jutsu!"

Sasuke's body twitched involuntarily as Yoroi began to absorb his chakra via his special absorption technique. The Uchiha's onyx eyes widened as he realized his crucial position. He had to stop his opponent, now! If he didn't, the match would be over. He relaxed unexpectedly; surprising Yoroi, then suddenly threw a fist into the Oto ninja's face. It was time to get real. Sasuke threw himself into another Uchiha Taijutsu style; this one was more aggressive than the last; borderline animalistic. However, the Uchiha elegance was still present. He liked to think of this particular style as an attacking panther; dangerous, and feral, but still graceful and self-possessed. As an Uchiha should be.

The other ninja never stood a chance after Sasuke's shift in Taijutsu styles. Just as he had momentarily shaken Sasuke only minutes before, he had been surprised by the Uchiha. He had been sure that Sasuke had not had enough chakra to fight anymore when the tension had left his body. Obviously, the Uchiha had larger reserves than normal – other ninjas would have succumbed long ago.

Damn strong Konohagakure shinobi…. was Yoroi's last thought as Sasuke hammered him mercilessly, and yielding to the darkness tugging at the edges of his consciousness.

Sasuke stood tall amidst the applause of his peers and the dignitaries as he looked disdainfully down at his fallen opponent. A smirk covered his thin lips, as he panted slightly. Damn….that Oto shinobi took more chakra than he thought. Hayate Gekko stepped forward, his face inscrutable.

"Winner: Uchiha Sasuke! You may leave the arena, Uchiha-san." The Genin inclined his head silently and positively swaggered off to the balcony, despite his obvious exhaustion. A shriek was heard, and heads turned as Sakura raced down the stairs to meet Sasuke halfway and help him up the stairs.

"Sasuke-kun! You were wonderful out there! You're so strong!" she gushed, ever sycophantic. The object of her slavish worship simply glared dismissively at her, and then shrugging her hand off of his arm, continued up the stairs to the balcony. Meanwhile, the machine had begun cycling through names once more. As Sasuke reached the top, he smirked at Naruto.

"Make sure you win your match, dobe. I want to fight you." Kakashi and Sakura both turned to watch Naruto's reaction. The secret Namikaze simply raised a blonde eyebrow, returning the smirk, and then returned his attention to the arena. Kakashi's gaze lingered on Naruto. His student was such an enigma…. He felt as if he hadn't even begun to scratch the surface of who Naruto truly was. Naruto….who are you really? he wondered morosely. Then he was jerked out of his musings by Hayate's voice.

"The next match is: Abumi Zaku, Oto and Aburame Shino, Konoha!" The spectators applauded politely as the two Genin descended from the balcony to the arena. Zaku's face wore an annoyingly cocky smirk as he stepped into place across from the ever-stoic Shino. Backing away from his position in between the two Genin, Gekko raised his hand, and then brought it down abruptly.


Zaku attacked instantly.

"Zankuha!" The air between the Genin rippled strangely and struck a stationary Shino right in the chest. A victorious smirk flickered on Zaku's face as Shino's body simply began to disintegrate into thousands of kikai bugs.

"Behind you." came Shino's lackluster tones. The Oto ninja spun, ready to counter an attack. But there was no one in sight.

"Over here." came the Aburame's voice again. Zaku spun even faster than before, and came face to face with the emotionless shinobi. Swearing, he drew his arms into position for another attack, but Shino's voice stopped him.

"You might not want to do that, Abumi-san," cautioned the kikai-user tonelessly. "The results would not be pleasant." Zaku threw him a contemptuous look.

"You think you can frighten me into surrendering the fight, Konoha scum?" he asked incredulously. "I know all those dirty tricks. You didn't do nothing." Shino shrugged.

"I warned you." Zaku's features twisted as he sneered at his opponent.

"Zanku- AHHHH!" The Oto ninja fell writhing to the ground at Shino's feet, screaming for all he was worth and hugging his arms to himself.

"…..I told you," said Shino. "While you were looking for me, I made my bugs go into your tubes and fill them so that little to no air or chakra could go through them. You've probably ruptured them at the very least, or popped them out of your skin." Zaku's eyes shot daggers of utmost hatred at Shino as he writhed on the ground. Shino simply looked at him, emotionless.

As the medic nin carried the pain-wracked Zaku away from the arena, Hayate Gekko stepped forward.

"Winner: Aburame Shino! You may leave the arena, Aburame-san." The stoic boy turned silently and returned to the balcony, ignoring the curious and slightly fearful looks from the other Genin gathered there. His lack of reaction soon made the other Genin lose interest in him, and everyone turned back to the machine, which had already begun cycling through the remaining names. Within a few minutes, it slowed to a halt, and Gekko called out the names.

"Subaku no Kankuro, Suna and Hoshigan Kagetsu, Kiri!" As was quickly becoming the status quo, the two Genin silently, quickly descended the stairs from the balcony and assumed their appropriate positions at either side of the proctor in the centre of the arena. Kankuro had a slightly malicious look on his face as he stared down the Kiri shinobi. Said shinobi returned the stare, sneering slightly.

Ino looked over at the rest of the Suna team, and then turned to Shikamaru.

"Do Suna nin mainly use Doton and Fuiton jutsu, like how Konoha mainly use Katon? Because if so Kankuro is at a distinct disadvantage." The lazy Nara shrugged, and looked over at the strange team. As he did so, he locked eyes with the blonde kunoichi, who, it seemed, had been listening into their conversation. He was going to give Ino a positive answer, but then a mysterious smirk spread over the Suna blonde's lips, and he knew she had overheard them and that they were wrong in their assumptions. Kankuro probably had something up his sleeve. Shikamaru turned back to the two figures down in the arena, eyes narrowed in contemplation. Did his secret have anything to do with that wrapped bundle on his back? The Genin mused over the possibilities for a few moments, and then dismissed his thoughts. He would probably find out soon anyway… They were about to start.

Hayate Gekko stepped back and swung his arm down sharply.

"Hajime!" instantly, the Kiri ninja put his hands together in a 'Saru' handseal, and called out,

"Kirigakure no Jutsu!" Mist began to form in the arena, thickening quickly and hindering visibility until the spectators could only just see the two Genin as fleeting, dark, blurred shapes. Then they heard the 'clang' of a kunai, and saw two figures engaged in a Taijutsu battle. The battle continued for a few minute, until suddenly a third figure appeared behind the figure on the right. The new opponent struck out with unparalleled viciousness, eliciting a pained cry from its victim. The injured figure slumped slowly to the ground, and the original opponent cancelled the mist technique, enabling the spectators to see the outcome of the battle. When the mist cleared, the mysteries of the bundle on Kankuro's back and the emergence of a third opponent in a two-person match became clear. Kankuro was a puppeteer. He had substituted his puppet for himself at the very beginning of the match, replacing himself in the bundle at the back. Then he had the puppet fight Hoshigan while he paralyzed by the strong poison on the puppet's blade. When the paralysis set in, Kankuro seized his chance and snuck up behind the Kiri shinobi knocking him out with a vicious, well-placed blow to the back of his head. He had won with nothing more than a superficial wound, caused by a stray senbon needle originally aimed for his puppet. Hayate Gekko stepped forward.

"Winner: Kankuro!" With a shit-eating grin on his face, the Suna shinobi exited the arena to healthy applause behind a medic ninja to get his wound attended to. The unconscious, paralyzed form of Hoshigan Kagetsu was toted away by two medic nin on a pristine white stretcher.

The machine began displaying names randomly again in its two windows, drawing the spectators' attention back to the arena. After a short moment, it halted, and displayed two names. Hayate Gekko stepped forward.

"Yamanaka Ino Konoha, and Haruno Sakura, Konoha!" Jaws dropped around the balcony, including the two kunoichi themselves. The duo had been at odds ever since their first days at the academy, and it seemed that their rivalry would be acknowledged, however coincidentally, even at the Chuunin exams. Sakura shot Ino a heated glare as she descended, but the blonde ignored her in favour of receiving an encouraging smile from her new boyfriend and verbal support from her teammates. A few seconds later, she was hastening down the balcony stairs to the arena, which Sakura had almost reached.

The two kunoichi faced each other in the centre of the large arena, one with the most hateful glare she could muster, and the other with a calm, cool gaze of steely determination. Hayate Gekko took a few steps backward, removing himself from in between the Genin opponents, and then brought his arm down sharply, saying curtly,


The two girls circled each other like birds of prey, each waiting for the other to deal the first strike. This continued for a few seconds until Sakura grew impatient. She needed to beat Ino now! Springing forward, she shifted into an offensive Taijutu stance and attacked her former best friend. Ino's blue eyes narrowed as Sakura charged forward, and she agilely avoided the attempt by executing a few back-flips, releasing a few senbon at Sakura with a minute flick of her wrist each time her hands touched the ground. The Team 7 kunoichi's eyes widened in surprise at the first volley of sharp, deadly needles, and quickly flung herself out of the way of the attack, also managing to narrowly avoid the second. However, she was unable to completely dodge the third volley senbon, and she cried out in pain as a few of the weapons hit home in her arm. Ino smirked as she righted herself. The dangerous thing about senbon needles was that they depended on accuracy and force. So a deceptively weak-looking flick of the wrist to release a few senbon could be the last thing your target would see, based on the accuracy. This was what Sakura had forgotten. The senbon needles were embedded several centimeters into her flesh. Crimson blood stripped down her arm slowly, but surely. Grimacing, the Haruno took hold of the four senbon in her arm and as gently and smoothly as possible, pulled them out, slipping into yet another Taijutsu stance, she attacked again, this time with even more fervor and ferocity. Ino simply countered, and the two kunoichi 'danced' around the arena. But, something was wrong. Sakura's movements were getting more sluggish with every move she made. Ino looked at her shrewdly. It was working; now was her chance.

"Shintenshin no Jutsu!"

Sakura's body jerked, and Ino's fell limply to the ground. The Konoha spectators smiled grimly. They already knew who would win. An attack to the mind was virtually indefensible. For a few seconds, there was absolutely no movement in the arena, then 'Sakura' stiffly turned to Hayate Gekko and said solemnly,

"I forfeit."

Then Sakura's body jerked spastically and fell limply to the ground as Ino's mind released control of it. Not far away, Ino's own motionless body gave a strong spasm as she re-entered it. Ino got to her feet and waited for Hayate's verdict on the match. Sakura's body remained inert, even though she was fully conscious; the paralysis had taken full toll and she was totally incapable of voluntary movements. Only her lime-green eyes moved, as she glared at her victor. Hayate Gekko stepped forward.

"Winner: Yamanaka Ino!"

A rousing bout of applause began and lasted until Ino had settled herself at her original position on the balcony. Meanwhile, medic nin toted Sakura's paralyzed body away for treatment.

As the clapping died away, the machine began cycling through the remaining Genin names, stopping on two after a few moments. Glancing at the luminescent screen, the proctor stepped forward to announce the next match.

"Tenten, Konoha and Subaku no Temari, Suna!" The spectators watched as the second consecutive pair of kunoichi descended from the balcony to the centre of the arena.

The Suna kunoichi had the same self-assured smirk on her face as her sibling, Kankuro had at the beginning of his own match. She coolly surveyed her opponent, obviously sizing her up. When the kunoichi's smirk widened, it was evident that she had deemed Tenten of not much consequence. Tenten herself was gazing back at the smirking Temari with an earnest, determined look on her face. Both of her hands were almost touching her pant legs, and all of the Konoha nin knew that that particular stance meant that the weapons mistress was going to whip out either a pair of senbon or kunai from her double weapons pouches, and release them at their opponent with her usual 100% accuracy. Naruto, however, looked back to Temari and frowned. He didn't think that Tenten's accuracy would help her all that much during this match somehow. But…they would see.

"Hajime!" declared Gekko Hayate, bringing his arm down in the now very-familiar action. Just as the Konoha ninjas had predicted. Tenten, moving at a lightning-fast pace, whipped out two kunai and launched them at Temari. Said Suna kunoichi smirked, even as the kunai continued to fly across the arena. Then, in the blink of an eye and a few incredibly speedy movements, she had procured the folded metal fan from her back, unfurled it, and blew the kunai away with nothing more than a twitch of the wrist. Tenten's determined, focused expression faltered slightly, but she steadied herself, and slipped into a Taijutsu stance. Since long-range attacks were obviously out of the question, close attacks were almost mandatory. The Konoha kunoichi braced her left foot against the arena wall, and then used it as leverage and took off running, throwing kunai randomly around the arena as she went. Some she threw viciously in the ground, others in various places in the stone walls. As she approached, Temari's smirk turned into a full-fledged grin, and she called out,

"You sure you want to do this, Konoha kunoichi?" Naruto looked at the other Genin on the balcony. Most people's faces showed agreement with Temari's statement. But, Naruto knew better. Tenten was up to something. She never, ever threw her weapons carelessly. Besides, he had noticed that she was running with ther fingers splayed, and that she had thrown exactly ten kunai. She had even gotten two behind Temari. The Suna kunoichi brandished her fan again.

"You're committing suicide," she commented idly.

Tenten made no answer, but her face subtly shifted to one of acknowledgement, and everyone on the balcony had some idea as to what she was going to do. Sometimes you had to sacrifice something in order to get the desired object or outcome. Tenten was mere feet away from Temari now, and without waiting any further, the Suna Genin flicked her fan at the same moment that Tenten put on an extra burst of speed. The resulting display of Taijutsu skills was amazing. Tenten had managed to reach within arm's distance of Temari via the burst of speed when the other kunoichi flicked her fan. Instead of letting it blow her away helplessly, Tenten did a back flip in the air, using the briefest of touches of her foot against the flat of the fan, and the augmented breeze as extra support. The Konoha kunoichi flew throught the air, buoyed by Temari's winde, directly towards the adjacent wall. Ino gasped in anticipation of the painful collision, but she needn't have. Tenten's feet touched the wall and…stuck there. Naruto grinned. Tenten was going all out – if she didn't, Temari would defeat her with no more than a casual flick of her huge metal fan. As she hung on the wall by her feet, Tenten made a slight jerking motion with her hands, and suddenly there were ten airborne kunai flying around the arena. Almost immediately, Temari let out a pained cry, and the spectators swiveled their heads as one, to find out the cause of her cry. It was obvious. A kunai had sunk into her right shoulder, and a red tinge had already begun to seep through her flimsy clothing. The Suna kunoichi's face contorted in pain and anger as she gingerly removed the ninja knife from her shoulder, even as Tenten's face displayed a smile of accomplishment.

Temari growled. This stupid kunoichi had humiliated her. She would pay. Temari shook her fan slightly, ignoring the sharp frisson of pain that shot along her arm and neck.

"You have fought well, Konoha kunoichi," she said patronizingly. "But this is the end of this fight. You see this red circle on the fan? It represents the stage of my attack. There are three circles on this fan." As she spoke, she gave her wrist a strong flick, and the folds of the fan unfurled a little more, exposing a second red circle. The fan now dwarfed her feminine figure, looking just as pretty as it wielder, but with an obvious edge of danger. Temari's smirk resurfaced and she waved the fan, watching in triumph as Tenten, who by now had descended from the wall, went flying helplessly into the stone behind her, despite her best efforts. The wind was just too strong for Tenten's earlier tactics. Temari walked forward across the arena, approaching her fallen opponent. Seeing Tenten struggling to get up – the impact with the wall gave her quite serious injuries – she twitched the fan, and Tenten was again bowled over, as defenseless as a stray leaf in autumn wind. But this time, she stayed down, and Temari grinned victoriously.

"Are you giving up, then?" Tenten's eyes opened, and she glared at her opponent, one of her buns spilling haphazardly from its tie, her clothing torn to shreds from the vicious winds.


And then her hands twitched, and a veritable volley of throwing weapons flew at Temari: senbon, serrated-edge knives, shuriken, kunai, and even makibishi. She was just quick enough and close enough for some of them to hit Temari before she could blow them away with her fan, or at the very least, dodge them by employing Taijutsu. Temari screamed in rage, and with an even stronger wave of her fan, Tenten flew across the room, smacked her head against the wall and slumped to the ground, unconscious. Temari stood still amongst a veritable sea of fallen weapons, her fan almost completely unfurled, breathing heavily and rivulets of blood running down both her arms and her temple where senbon and kunai had struck or grazed her. Hayate Gekko stepped forward.

"Winner: Temari!" Everyone clapped in appreciation of the good fight, and a vestige of Temari's prior smirk returned as she followed the medic nin out of the room, whilst Tenten was carried out on a stretcher, bleeding profusely. Meanwhile, the machine began to cycle through the remaining Genin names, the fluorescent screen flickering randomly. Finally, it stopped and Gekko looked at it, and then stepped forward to announce the next match.

"Omizu Kaiiki, Iwa, and Hyaku Umi, Kiri!" Everyone looked around, wondering who was who. No one knew the identities of the Genin called out. Then a person stepped out of the small crowd at the far end of the balcony. He had long black hair, worn in a ponytail, and was clad entirely in black: a black mesh shirt, worn over an equally black jacket, with black shinobi pants and shinobi sandals. His nails on both his hands and feet were also painted black, and violet eyes were lined with black kohl. All in all, he made an imposing figure. The hitai-ate around his neck proclaimed a Kiri ninja, giving the spectators a face to attach to the name Hyaku Umi.

On the other end of the balcony, another Genin shinobi stepped out of the shadows, his face absolutely black, even more so, if possible, than Subaku no Gaara's. He cut just as intimidating, if not as imposing, figure as his opponent Hyaku. His Iwa hitai-ate was worn in its traditional place on the forehead, and his outfit consisted mainly of grey and dark brown. Omizu-for that was only who he could be – wore a full-body suit similar to Gaara's, except his own suit was made of a rougher, thicker material and looked more like a pair of long, loose trousers and a shirt, as it was cinched in the waist by a wide, thick brown leather belt. A brown jacket completed the ensemble, along with fingerless gloves. Strangely, his hair was a mixture of greys and whites, and his eyes were blue. The Iwa ninja walked across the balcony and past Naruto and the Konoha Genin, breaking his expressionless act to send a look of pure hatred and loathing at the blonde. Kiba whistled as Omizu descended the balcony.

"Maa, Naruto, what did you do to him?" Naruto smiled grimly, exposing his fangs.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you right now. Just wait and see. It'll be explained in a while; before the end of today, probably." Kiba looked at Naruto quizzically, but accept his explanation and turned back to the arena, where Hayate Gekko had just stepped back.


Immediately, Omizu whipped through a series of hand seals, before calling out,

"Doton: Gurando Ue-bu!" There was a loud rumbling noise as the floor began to crack and rocks broke above the surface in a tidal wave motions, sweeping towards Hyaku. The Kiri shinobi coolly sprang over the ineffectual, yet strong attack, managing to keep his balance on the shaking ground. In one fluid motion, he whipped out a katana from the black sheath Naruto now just realized was on his back, and advanced on Omizu, feinting and slashing viciously at him. Omizu, flipping quickly out of the way of a particularly vicious sword attack, quickly managed to create a rock shield and used it to block the volley of blows. But it soon became apparent that the rock shield was not enough, as it began to crack under Hyaku's chakra-reinforced, relentless attack, and a quick swipe nearly took off Omizu's shoulder – as it was, it did cut him quite severely. Abruptly, Omizu dropped to the ground, his arm bleeding profusely. Flashing through some hand seals, he yelled,

"Doton: Daichi Yutori!" The ground morphed yet again, this time forming high walls that the spectators could only see over because of the balcony's superior height. The two opponents were blocked in. However, this was Omizu's undoing. Hyaku's face broke out into a truly intimidating smirk, and, making a one-handed seal, he called out,

"Suiton: Joushou Mizu!" Omizu's face grew panicked as water began to well up in the rock enclosure, beginning at their ankles. The only way out was to climb up the walls by channeling chakra to the feet, but the ferocious swipes and slashes of Hyaku's katana ensured that he remained in the rock room. Omizu could only back into a corner as Hyaku steadily advanced, until finally, his back was against the wall and Hyaku's katana almost slicing his throat.

"Do you yield?" asked Hyaku, his violet kohl-ringed eyes staring intensely at Omizu.

"I yield," said Omizu sulkily, his face showing the displeasure he felt. The walls of the room dropped, and Hayate Gekko stepped forward.

"Winner: Hyaku Umi!" The Kiri swordsman walked off of the arena, scowling.

"Che… That was too easy." Naruto's face split into a large, eerily fox-like half-grin, half-smirk as he overheard the muttered comment. His fellow Konoha Genin looked at him strangely, but he ignored them in favour of speaking to Kyuubi.

'Kyuubi, I want to fight that Kiri Genin… Imagine my kodachi clashing with his katana, and sparks flying! Man, I wish Kana-sensei was here to see it if it happened! He's just like me, you know: way stronger than the average Genin.' Kyuubi sighed.

"You really miss using that kodachi, don't you?" Naruto replied with a murmur of assent.

'Uh huh… But if I get to beat an Kiri ninja like Hyaku, all will be well!' The great fox made a sound of exasperation.

"Just go back to watching the match. I'm sure one should have almost started by now." In reply, Naruto faded from his mindscape and back to the material world, instantly focusing on the arena, where, as Kyuubi had said, the match was just about to start.

Hmmm… Shikamaru and Tsuchi Kin… I would say that Shikamaru could take her… but I don't know her strength. Naruto studied the Otogakure kunoichi.

The female Genin wore her Oto hitai-ate on her forehead, using it as a sort of headband to hold back her long, dark hair. She wore a sleeveless green vest similar to the Chuunin flak jacket, and a gray and brown mottled scarf, with mottled brown and grey shinobi pants and brown sandals. On her face was that same self-assured smirk that both Temari and Kankuro had worn. She looked ready for battle. On the other hand, Shikamaru merely stood there almost lazily across from his opponent. Only the tension in his muscles gave him away, and even so, if you didn't look closely, it would be easy to miss. Shikamaru was a master of deceptive appearances, and from Tsuchi's smirk, she had already underestimated him. Naruto rested his elbows on the railing of the balcony as he settled in to watch the match. It would either be short and fairly entertaining, or long and bitter. That was how Shikamaru's strategies almost always were, and it would only be the fact that Kin could be just as good at strategizing as the lazy Nara that would keep her from unknowingly playing right into his hands and subsequent defeat. The proctor swung his arm down.


Both Shikamaru and Kin took a few steps backward, clearly uncomfortable with such a close space between them. Suddenly, Shikamaru made a hand sign and called out,

"Kagemane no Jutsu!" His shadow stretched sinuously towards Kin, who immediately jumped away as quickly as she could. As Kin backed away, she reached behind her, and in a sudden blur of motion, her hands returned to her sides, her wrists twitched forward, and three senbon needles hurtled through the air towards to stationary Shikamaru. The Nara Genin froze. Kin's solitary figure had suddenly multiplied into 8 identical figures, all throwing three senbon at him. Then he realized. Genjutsu! he thought.

It was then that the kunoichi obviously realized that she had underestimated her opponent. The surprise was clear on her face as Shikamaru sprang into motion, expertly dodging the tiny, well-thrown needles. Then he jerked, and the crowd saw that she had managed to hit him twice; once in the shoulder and once in the arm. Naruto smirked. Even though she had managed to hit him, senbon wouldn't get Shikamaru that easily, what with Ino forcing him to practice with her by attacking him with the miniscule, deadly needles. The Namikaze jerked slightly as a faint ringing sound reached his and the rest of the spectators' ears. Bells?

Shikamaru frowned. Bells? Turning slightly sideways so he could survey the wall behind him and still keep a wary eye on his opponent, the lazy Nara eyed the senbon sunken halfway into the stone wall. His grey eyes narrowed as he noted the bells attacked to two of the senbon embedded into the wall. Turning back to the kunoichi, he smirked, already forming another strategy to compensate for the bells' presence.

"Bring it on, Tsuchi-san," he invited. The female Genin smirked and readied herself to throw another volley of senbon, this time forgoing the Genjutsu. In a flash, she had thrown them, and Shikamaru began to dodge, hearing the sound of bells. Out of the corner of his eye, barely in his peripheral vision, the Nara saw the kunoichi barrel forward for a Taijutsu attack, mid-dodge. Kuso… he thought furiously. As he parried her relentless blows, something suddenly occurred to him. There had been no bells on the second set of senbon! He was sure of it, having sent chakra to his eyes and managed to get a better look at the end of the needles as they passed, now that he knew what to look for. Blocking a strong kick and returning it viciously, smirking as it connected painfully with Kin's knee, Shikamaru twisted quickly to survey the wall, just to make sure. His sharp eyes scanned the senbon embedded in the wall, and he nodded to himself. Yup! Of all the senbon there, only two had bells attached. So how did he hear them again when he was dodging the second volley? Was it a Genjutsu? He immediately dismissed that idea. The tell-tale distortion of his peripheral vision would've given away the Genjutsu. Just then, the bells rang again, and he tensed, eyes narrowing even further. Shikamaru stared at the girl, noticing her first and second fingers on her right hand were together, and curled slightly. Wait…. Abruptly, the Nara forward-flipped in a blur of motion in order to get closer feeling a grim sense of victory when he saw what he wanted to see. Tsuchi Kin was going down. His kunoichi opponent quickly moved out of the way as Shikamaru advanced, her back nearing the opposite wall. Then the bells rang again, and Shikamaru whipped around to look at the wall behind him, his face creased in apparent puzzlement. His hands flew up as he turned around, and Kin smirked, preparing to attack from behind. That Konoha freshie was sooo dead. But her triumphant grin soon turned into a scowl. She couldn't move!

The Oto kunoichi looked up at her opponent. He's holding me in place! she thought. But how? That shadow jutsu of his! The kunoichi looked down as Shikamaru looked down, and saw a thin shadow on the ground, following her string. She gaped in disbelief, blurting the first thing on her mind.

"That's impossible! The height of the string should make any shadows disappear!" Shikamaru smirked.

"It should… but that shadow is not following the string…" Looking down again to allow her to see what he meant, his smirk grew wider as he watched her reaction. Her eyes bulged slightly in disbelief as she watched the thin shadow broaden until it was obvious that his shadow was attached to her own shadow and not that of the string. Shikamaru looked up, forcing Kin's head up also.

"I stretched my shadow as thin as possible and made it follow the string," he explained, smirking. The Konoha Genin took a few steps backward, smiling slightly as he heard snickers from the balcony when Kin was forced to do the same. Shikamaru then reached into his weapons pouch, feeling around for a shuriken, and threw it at Kin, watching as she mimicked him. An idea occurred to him. He would make her sweat a bit. So he stood still as Kin's shuriken sped towards him and his towards her. The kunoichi screamed in fear and Shikamaru made no move to dodge the oncoming weapon.

"You're crazy!" she yelled in fear and rage. Shikamaru grinned.

"Not really." Then, at the last moment, he threw himself back and to the side, smirking to himself as Kin's head collided with the wall that she was too close to in order to mimic Shikamaru's dodge properly. Releasing the jutsu, he walked over to her cautiously and kicked her feet. Not even a twitch. Chuckles rang out in the room at the way Shikamaru defeated the kunoichi. Gekko Hayate stepped forward.

"Winner: Nara Shikamaru!" The Nara trudged back up to the balcony amidst loud applause whilst Kin's prone body was carried way via a stretcher for medical attention.

"In a way that was kinda troublesome…" the Nara Genin muttered. "Having to fight a girl. Che." Unfortunately for him, he had almost reached where Ino stood, and her sharp ears picked up his comment.

"What did you say, Shika-kun?" she queried in a deceptively sweet voice. Drops of cold sweat began to roll down Shikamaru's temples.

"N-nothing, Ino-sama," he stuttered. "N-nothing at all." Ino beamed, executing a perfect 180-degree mood swing.

"Good! 'Cause then I'd have to teach you about girls…" Shikamaru suppressed a shudder at her menacing tone, and gulped, nodding in panicked agreement. Man, he'd take on an S-class ninja any day before he'd fight a pissed-off girl. They were scary. He shuddered again, and turned back to the arena.

Naruto stared contemplatively down at the arena. He wanted his turn, dammit! All those good fights had gotten him worked up, and now he was just itching for a rousing match. I hope I get a fierce opponent, he thought eagerly. Maybe someone hostile…. Kyuubi sweatdropped at Naruto's thoughts.

"You're crazy, kit,"he muttered to himself. "Only you would ask for a hostile opponent."

'Yes, well, I'm desperate,' replied Naruto. 'I haven't had a good spar since two days ago.'

"Don't get me wrong, it's actually wonderful having such a strong host, but could you please give sparring a break…" The demon shook his head. It was useless. Naruto loved sparring too much. Changing the subject, the kitsune demon asked,

"Are you nervous about the big reveal?" Naruto grunted.

'Yeah… Who wouldn't, what with the other Kages here, and whatnot…' Kyuubi growled slightly.

"Just make sure you win your fight and avoid all political agreements and conversations, and you'll be ok." Naruto chuckled.

'Hai.' He replied, fading out of his mindscape to see what was going on. 'That'll be okay, Kyuubi.' Receiving a positive feeling, Naruto gazed down in the arena, finding that he had missed the declarations, again. However, he didn't need to declaration to identify the participants of this particular match. His cerulean eyes widened as he took in the two Genin in the centre of the arena. Hyuuga Hinata and …. Hyuuga Neji? By the silence that blanketed the entire room, he could tell that everyone present was just as flabbergasted as he was. It was not entirely unusual for members of a team to fight at the exams, or even best friends, but two members of one family, and an extremely powerful one at that? Extremely rare. Naruto looked down at the arena again. He was looking forward to this match. It would definitely be interesting, especially since Neji was admittedly a prodigy and Hinata herself was quite strong. Recovering from his shock, Hayate Gekko went through the series of now expected motions and stepped back.


Instantly, there were two cries of 'Byakugan!' and the tell-tale bulging veins of the Hyuuga Genins' temples emerged. The two cousins circled each other, and Naruto felt a distinct sencse of foreboding at the cold, callous determination on Neji's face. This match was more than it seemed. To anyone but ninja from Konohagakure, this was simply a formal match between family members; but to anyone from Konohagakure no sato, it was more than that, so much more than that. It was a match between the Main Branch and Secondary Branch of the Hyuuga clan. Naruto watched Neji closely. Before he had left Konoha, the Hyuuga brunet had been quite the charlatan, his jealousy and anger at the then 'untalented' Hinata being a part of the Main Branch, whilst he, the prodigy, had to wear the shameful 'caged bird' seal, which could kill him if the Hyuuga elders wished it to. He couldn't run away like Naruto, nor could he attack the Hyuuga elders like Itachi. He was trapped. Obviously, his anger and sense of indignation had only festered over the years, hidden skillfully behind his stoic mask. Naruto sighed. So many of his Genin friends wore masks… He looked over at Hyuuga Hiashi. Did Hiashi-san know of Neji's inner turmoil? Or was today the first time he had been confronted with it? Staring contemplatively at the Hyuuga clan leader, Naruto only vaguely realized that Neji had begun to taunt Hinata; he was so lost in thought. Hmm… the enmity between the branches is definitely something I would have to change if I ever became Hokage, he mused. A particularly loud clash of steel against steel awoke him from his thoughts, and Naruto looked down again. Neji and Hinata had just discarded their kunai, and were now going at it with the Jyuuken. Naruto winced as Hinata absorbed five hits to the side in quick succession.

"You're worthless," taunted Neji as he landed blow after blow on Hinata. "Weak."

Hinata's face contorted in soul-deep agony as her older cousin attacked all her weak points. She thought Neji had forgiven her, if not anyone else, for being in the Main Branch, but itseemed now, that he didn't. But she was not weak. Not anymore. Glancing up at the balcony, she saw Kiba's encouraging face. She would prove that she was not weak, even though she would probably lose. It was the truth. Yes, she had gotten stronger, and yes, she practiced as much as she could, but the hard, cold truth was that Neji was a prodigy, and the only reason several of the Hyuuga Jounin could even beat him was because they had more fighting experience. Hinata dipped her hand into her weapons pouch, and in a blur of movement, launched a dozen senbon at Neji. She had taken to using senbon after a few joined practices with Teams 10 and 9, when she had seen how useful they were. Hmm… maybe she could force Neji into Kaiten. He hadn't perfected it yet, after all. Hinata began rapidly emptying her two weapons pouches, launching everything she had as fast and as hard as she could at her cousin; and following it up with a few roundhouse kicks and well-aimed Jyuuken thrusts from the other direction. Just as she predicted, Neji was forced to try Kaiten, as there was no way for him to escape unhurt otherwise. However, as he had not properly completed it, he could only make a Kaiten weak enough to stop the weapons, and that only for a very short time, so when Hinata's roundhouse kicks and Jyuuken attack reached him, he was particularly susceptible. The female Hyuuga slipped into the Taijutsu taught to her by the Main Branch. But Neji had gotten his second wind, and his newfound strength was also fueled by anger. His haunted, empty lavender eyes were the last thing she saw before her body could withstand no more of the Jyuuken and she blacked out.

The arena was silent as Neji stood, panting and victorious; and then the proctor stepped forward.

"Winner: Hyuuga Neji!" There was polite applause, and as Neji walked off the arena beside a medic ninja, he looked up at Hyuuga Hiashi, whose face looked as if it was set in stone. Their eyes met, and Neji knew he would face the consequences later, but he didn't care. He had tasted a moment of freedom, and he wanted more.

As the Hyuugas left the arena, the remaining tension in the room began to dissipate, and the spectators returned their attentions to the luminescent screen that was now jerkily displaying the names of the unmatched Genin present. After a few moments, it halted, and the proctor stepped forward.

"Inuzuka Kiba, Konoha, and Rock Lee, Konoha!" Everyone applauded politely, and the Konoha 12 groaned as they espied the beginnings of the strange Genjutsu that always occurred around Maito Gai and his mini-me when they were celebrating 'youthfulness.' The two males were now hugging tightly and crying noisy tears as they babbled about 'youthfulness' and 'joy' and the 'springtime' and 'fountain of youth'. Naruto swore he also heard something about 'youthfully pleasing the youthful spectators with the youthful flames of joy!' Weird. Definitely weird. After the horrible display, Rock Lee made his way down from the balcony to the centre of the arena where Kiba was already waiting. Kiba's decidedly feral features had been enhanced by the expression of determination he wore, along with his excitement of a good spar. The last good spar he had had was with Naruto…

"Hajime!" barked Gekko Hayate, bringing his arm down like a drill sergeant. The Genin leapt at each other, slipping into a fierce Taijutsu fight. Kiba's style was exactly like his name; animalistic, and dangerous, whilst Lee was a blur of green and loud yells. Kiba tended to bound, and leap, almost on all fours, whilst Lee was more upright, and leaned more towards jumps and coiled springs. The ferocious Taijutsu battle lasted for a few minutes before an impasse was silently declared between the opponents. Not that Kiba was anywhere close to equaling, or even surpassing Lee, but their styles were entirely different; a fact that in itself was enough to neutralize more than a few advantages and disadvantages against each other. Panting slightly, the Genin slowed to a halt, eyeing each other from opposite ends of the arena. Kiba attacked first.

"Gatsuga!" he yelled. Beside him, Akamaru transformed and an identical copy of Kiba appeared next to the original, completely similar in every way except for slightly stronger animalistic features and similarities. The two Kibas braced themselves, and suddenly there were two grey-and-black blurs, spinning in a deadly furious path towards the still-stationary Lee.

Lee sprang into motion, executing a series of highly acrobatic flips to evade the attack, kicking the blur of color that was Kiba in the side and disrupting the Gatsuga attack. Kiba and Akamaru ground to a halt, digging clawed hands into the unyielding ground in an attempt to gain control of their body speed. In that split second, Lee made his attack, and unfortunately for Kiba, he was caught off-guard. The Inuzuka's body jerked as Lee's blows landed perfectly, each hit or kick coming hard and fast enough that Kiba was unable to regain his standing and either block or return the blows. Then, with one final roundhouse kick, Lee sent Kiba flying backwards and into the stone wall of the arena. The observing ninja winced as Kiba's body struck the wall, and slid down to crumple in a heap, where he began to struggle up. Meanwhile, Akamaru had already attacked Lee, giving Kiba some time to recover. The large brown and white dog had already gotten a good swipe in on Lee, and the manic Taijutsu user was bleeding quite profusely.

"Akamaru!" called a voice, halting the nin-dog's attack. Kiba had returned to the fight. The dog returned to his master's side, still growling at Lee. Steadying himself, Kiba attacked Lee with renewed determination and ferocity. He knew he would probably lose, since Lee's Taijutsu, whilst completely different, was so much better than his. The Inuzuka and his dog bounded forward, attacking from different sides. This strategy enabled Kiba to land a few well-placed blows on Lee, but they were still no match for the Taijutsu apprentice. One last, even stronger, roundhouse kick and Kiba's body did a repeat performance with the wall as backup. A few strong punches and kicks later, and Akamaru was similarly dispatched. Neither opponent was unconscious, but they were definitely incapable of continuing the fight. Hayate stepped forward.

"Winner: Rock Lee!" Cheers resounded in the arena as Lee returned to the balcony, and the vanquished Kiba limped off the battlefield with the aid of a medic-ninja.

After a few exuberant congratulations to Lee, the Konoha ninja returned their eyes to the machine, which had already begun to flit through various pairings. Naruto was getting impatient. He wanted to fight too, dammit! Why'd he have to wait so long? The Namikaze vaguely noted that two Genin were heading down, a Tsurugi Misumi from Otogakure, and a Kebi Shikon from Kirigakure. He was too busy grumbling to himself. 'I want my turn, dammit!' he whined. Kyuubi grunted.

"Stop whining, brat. Your turn will come. Pay attention to the fight. What if you have to fight one of them later?" Naruto scowled mentally. 'I know…' Then he brightened. 'Hey, Kyuubi! Which one would you prefer me to fight, Subaku no Gaara, or that Iwa leader? Personally, I want the Iwa.' Kyuubi actually growled.

"Kit, you're supposed to be watching the fight! Kami, you're twitchy today. Calm down." Naruto began to retort, but he suddenly tensed and grew silent. 'Hold on Kyuubi. Something or someone's going a bit strange out there.' The Jinchuuriki faded from his mindscape, leaving the fox demon behind.

Naruto blinked as the scenery changed. Frowning slightly as he looked down on the still-fighting Genin in the arena, he tried to ascertain the source of the unsettling feeling he was currently experiencing, simultaneously cursing himself for letting his guard down. Someone was watching him… He tried to pinpoint the slightly hostile, strangely unnerving chakra. It reminded him of snakes, and it was strangely familiar. The Konoha Genin looked discreetly in the shadows at the other end of the balcony. His heart almost leapt out of his throat as his eyes landed on the Oto Jounin and leader of the Otogakure team. It was Orochimaru. The rogue Sannin in disguise smiled a slow, evil smile at the unsettled Genin. They both knew that Naruto knew who the Jounin really was, and the fact that he could do nothing about it. Orochimaru looked at Naruto steadily, snake-like eyes gleaming in the shadows.

"I'm coming for you too, Naruto-kun," mouthed the Sannin cruelly, smiling in triumph as Naruto's pupils dilated. Naruto and Sasuke were his.

Naruto watched in fear as the Sannin mouthed something at him; then faded away. Wha? he thought frantically, his eyes quickly scanning the arena. Orochimaru was gone. How did he get in here? How many times has he snuck into Konoha? Shuddering at the thought of Orochimaru prowling around Konoha with no one the wiser, Naruto returned his attention to the fight, which incidentally, was over. Mou… I missed it! Naruto hoped fervently that he wouldn't have to face the victor, Tsurugi Misumi, as he had no knowledge at all of his fighting style, or anything.

The next battle was between Subaku no Gaara, from Sunagakure, and an Iwagakure shinobi named Kyohaku Soen. The Ichibi Jinchuuriki was as stoic as ever, showing neither a favourable nor unfavourable reaction to Kyohaku's sneers. Kyohaku himself looked quite dangerous. He had dark blue hair, worn in a short, sleek ponytail, with two long side bangs framing his face. His hitai-ate was worn on his forehead, and his clothes were all either dark blue or black. The Iwa shinobi sneered menacingly at Gaara, who simply ignored him in favour of focusing himself on the imminent battle.

"Hajime!" barked Gekko, and the duo began to attack each other. Gaara's face was still expressionless. Then Kyohaku began to make some hand seals, crying out,

"Doton: Soudai Ude Raishuu!" A large arm quickly began to form out of the ground, its fingers forming a fist. The arm grabbed at Gaara, and then stopped abruptly mid-air. Kyohaku's eyes widened, along with the spectators'. There was nothing visible stopping his attack, so how-? Then something strange happened.

A sand arm had begun to form in front of the rock limb, particles of the golden-brown material seemingly attached to the new arm by a magnetic force. Gaara shifted, and the crowd gasped. The sand was coming out of the Suna Genin's gourd.

Hmmm… That must be the Ichibi's power, mused Naruto, looking contemplatively at Gaara. The sand limb had fully formed now and was in the process of crushing the rock arm created from Kyohaku's attack. Quickly retreating, the Iwa shinobi tried to form another attack.

"Doton: Senbon Raishuu!" What seemed like thousands of senbon needles began to form in the air around Kyohaku; multiplying in the blink of an eye until the Iwa Genin was almost obscured. With a jabbing motion from Kyohaku, the needles sped towards Gaara. The sand arm instantly morphed, changing into a type of shield, whilst even more sand streamed from the gourd on his back to strengthen the shield. Seconds later, the veritable storm of senbon slammed into the sand shield. The attack was unsuccessful for the first few nano-seconds, but as even more senbon connected roughly with Gaara's defense, the sand began to succumb, and a trickle of blood seeped from behind the shield. Kankuro, across from Naruto, groaned.

"Kyohaku is now breathing his last moments. Gaara's hardly ever gotten hurt before. Actually, this is the fourth time he's ever bled. That damned sand protects him all the time. Now he's gonna be in a blood rage." Temari moaned agreement. And Kankuro was right.

Immediately after the last few senbon were deflected by the sand shield, it dissolved into a hovering golden-yellow mass behind the Jinchuuriki, like some demented sand demon, and Gaara was revealed to the audience. His face was just as stoic as before; and his turquoise eyes were almost blank, but his chakra aura screamed murder, and a small, yet steady trickle of blood ran down his arm where a senbon had struck true. Naruto winced as a wave of particularly vicious youkai hit him. Kyohaku was doomed. Gaara spoke.

"You…hurt me…" Kyohaku looked up, only to meet his demise. The sand behind Gaara moved forward quickly, and in seconds, completely surrounded the Iwa Genin. Gaara's black-rimmed eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, and the sand around Kyohaku began to tighten. The other boy was fully encased in the sand; not even his head could be seen. Every ninja in the room fought back a wince at the sound of bones cracking, and a thick red liquid began to drip from the enclose sand. Moments later, Kyohaku's mangled body slipped from the now-open sand tomb, and dropped to the floor in a crumpled heap amongst an ever-widening pool of blood. The room was deathly silent. A Genin had just murdered his fellow Genin with no more than a blink, and that murder was horrendous even to the more seasoned ninja in the room. Then Hayate Gekko stepped forward.

"Winner: Subaku no Gaara." The stoic victor trudged out of the arena whilst medic nin scraped the corpse off of the ground and endeavored to remove most of the blood from the floor. They were largely successful, and as the last of the healing personnel exited the arena, the machine began to jerkily display Genin identities once more.

Naruto watched the emotionless Suna ninja as he passed. 'Hmmm… that was the influence of the Ichibi, wasn't it?' he asked Kyuubi. The demon sighed.

"Hai. That tanuki was always so bloodthirsty…" The kitsune demon grew serious. "Kit, as your inhabitant I am asking you to get close to the Suna Jinchuuriki. When you get close enough for him to trust you, I will be able to help him with the Ichibi. Obviously, his seal is not like yours, where you have semi-control over me, as evidenced by the leaking youkai." Naruto nodded mentally, and looked over at Gaara again. He must be lonely, he thought to himself. Everyone, even his siblings, is too afraid to truly befriend him. I guess his blood rages don't enhance his charisma… As if he actually feltNaruto's gaze on him, the Sunagakure redhead turned slightly, looking back at Naruto. The Konohagakure Genin met his turquoise eyes calmly, steadily, feeling a slight oneness with the other Jinchuuriki. They were the same… Then Gaara blinked, and the moment was lost. Sighing, Naruto turned back to the machine, which was already displaying pairings for the next fight. It soon slowed to a halt, however, and Naruto's excitement rose as he saw his name. Namikaze Naruto.

Gekko Hayate looked incredulously at the name on the screen, then getting a discreet nod from the Hokage he cleared his throat and announced the next fight.

"Namikaze Naruto, Konoha, and Kuro Adauchi, Iwa!" The reaction was immediate. Every Kage and important official in the room began to murmur amongst themselves. The Namikaze clan had re-surfaced. From where? Everyone thought that the great clan, descended from the Senju clan, had died out with the untimely demise of the Yondaime Hokage. Then someone moved in the balcony, and even Gekko himself gasped. How did that not see the similarity between father and son before now? It was almost as if Minato himself stood there, with his bright cerulean eyes and golden-blonde hair, even that commanding aura. But his son was different; he had three whisker marks on each cheek, and an air of experience and slight jadedness that Minato had not had at the young age of 13. Naruto had been forced to grow up too quickly, and this no-longer-child-who-should-be-a-child was the result.

Naruto took a breath as he saw his name appear on the screen. It was now or never. Otou-san, wherever you are, I hope I live up to your expectations… he thought, as he listened to Gekko's announcement. The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki could feel all the eyes on him; expressing different emotions: surprise and slight guilt from the Jounin who had known his father; more surprise, disbelief and a hint of betrayal from his fellow Genin; compassion from Ino; curiosity from the other hidden village Genin who had heard of the legendary Yondaime; and last but not least, outright, potent hostility from the Iwagakure ninja who still held a grudge against Konoha and the Namikaze clan in particular. Naruto closed his eyes briefly, gathering himself for the upcoming fight. This would be so much more than two genin battling each other, just like the match between the two Hyuugas. It was the rebirth of the Namikaze clan into the shinobi world, the reassertion of strength – showing that the Namikaze clan was still one of the strongest clans even though it had been dormant for 13 years; and for him, showing all of Konoha that he didn't need them, he was strong, and he was not a demon. His cerulean orbs opened, and he turned to Ino. His beloved girlfriend was already watching him collect himself. Naruto stared deep into Ino's baby blue eyes, feeling the tinges of nervousness that had been creeping up fade away. Ino's presence always calmed him. She was his focus, his rock.

"Good luck," murmured the Yamanaka kunoichi. Naruto didn't reply; there was no need to. They didn't need words, not right now. A slight smile graced his lips, and Naruto turned away, ignoring the searching gazes of Kakashi, Sakura and Sasuke. He didn't need them; they didn't need him.

The large room was completely silent as Naruto descended from the balcony. Every eye was riveted to the Namikaze hair, taking him in as if for the first time. The Konoha ninja were speechless. Naruto had fully cast off the vestiges of his 'dobe' mask, and now looked every inch a Namikaze and a member of Konoha's most important clans. The blonde quickly crossed the arena to the center, where the proctor and his opponent were already waiting; Kuro sneering nastily at him. Naruto countered the sneer with a steady look, and slid into a Taijutsu position as Gekko Hayate stepped back. He was completely focused. The sounds of the spectators around him faded away, and Kuro Adauchi and himself were all that remained.

"Hajime!" he heard Gekko say, and he sprung into motion, using the same animalistic Taijutsu style he had used against Kiba in their earlier spar. Kuro countered with a style just as ferocious, and the Genin duo began a feral dance, slashing viciously at each other with kunai and dodging, executing and blocking potentially bone-breaking kicks at random intervals. Then Naruto abruptly whirled, introducing a slight Hyuuga influence into his routine. His hand glowed briefly blue, and his outstretched open palm hit his opponent flat against the chest. Kuro staggered backward, reeling. Naruto's sudden, lightning-fast change in routine had shaken him, and the speed made it difficult for him to the counter the attack.

"T-Toyuu monodatta?" he gasped to himself, clutching his chest. He had never felt such an attack…it felt as if his very breath and blood were on fire. He had to give himself time to recover, and that meant no more Taijutsu. That Namikaze scum was going down.

The Hokage and his fellow Kages stared incredulously, as Hyuuga Hiashi fought back a triumphant, predatory smirk. Naruto had just used a form of Jyuuken, the Gentle Fist attack. There had never been a non-Hyuuga, until now, who could execute the most basic Hyuuga attack, the Jyuuken. Nor could they; the Hyuuga, like all other important clans, guarded their secrets jealously. The Hokage turned to Hiashi.

"Did you teach him that?" Hiashi only smirked in reply. He knew the Hokage and important persons surrounding them would take that for a yes, which it wasn't. Besides, he couldn't let the world know that a non-Hyuuga had figured out the basis to the Jyuuken by himself now, could he? Hmm… if Naruto-kun had not had a relationship with the Yamanaka heir, and Hinata-chan a liking for the Inuzuka boy, I would've tried a bit of matchmaking… the Hyuuga head mused. Sighing almost inaudibly, Hiashi turned back to the fight. No time for musings now…

Naruto watched as Kuro's face contorted, his mouth open and gasping for air. He had hit the tenketsu points near the lungs and heart. It wasn't fatal, but definitely very painful, and detrimental to winning a fight. Kuro caught his breath back, and his features settled into determination. Naruto knew that the fight had now truly begun.

"Doton: Senbon Raishuu!" called Kuro. It was the same attack that had caused Kyohaku Soen's demise only a few minutes before. Senbon began to form in the air, hovering around the Iwagakure shinobi like miniature birds of prey. The Kuro made the familiar jabbing motion, and the volley of senbon began to move. A smirk stretched across Kuro's lips as he watched his attack bear down on his Konohagakure opponent. There was no way that the Namikaze could neutralize or avoid the attack. Right? Not. Naruto's hands flashed through a series of hand seals, and he said,

"Fuiton: Kaze Yaiba!" A vicious wind whipped up, and every senbon was cut into pieces. For a second or two, the only sound was the slight tinkling the pieces of small rock made as the ruined senbon felt to the floor. Kuro was in disbelief. No one had ever simply neutralized that attack before; even Gaara's previously impenetrable sand defense had suffered. Naruto smirked ferally. It was his turn to attack. He was tired of being on the defensive. Running through another set of seals, he said quietly,

"Fuiton: Daitoppa!" A wind, even greater than before, began in the arena, and before he knew it, Kuro had been slammed painfully into the stone wall, the vicious wind cutting away at the exposed skin of his face and hands. The Iwagakure Genin staggered to his feet, hatred contorting his features.

"Doton: Bunshin no Jutsu!" he cried. A clone began to form from the ground. By the time it had fully formed, Kuro had regained his footing. The clone turned to its maker and healed some of the Genin's superficial wounds. Then the identical duo turned to Naruto and attacked; one from either side. Naruto now began to fight in earnest; the other genin was quite good at Taijutsu, and two of him meant that there was actually a challenge' since he couldn't go all out. Not yet. He would only go all out or almost all out if he felt that his opponent deserved or could take it, and this Genin, even though he was quite strong, was no match for Naruto's skills, which he had honed under the guise of Akuma Hiai.

Naruto dodged a particularly vicious kick from Kuro's doppelganger, and fought back a grimace as he caught the last of a series of hand seals in his peripheral vision. Spikes began to rise from the ground, and Naruto knew it was time to step up the game. Kuro wanted to play dirty, then so would he. This fight would be over in no time at all. But first, he needed to get rid of the annoying spikes.

"Fuiton: Kaze Kamisori!" The now-familiar feeling of wind picking up caressed Naruto's skin, and moving his hand discreetly to direct the sharp breeze, the spikes were decimated. An extra sharp wave, almost on the verge of being a jab, took care of the clone, and Naruto was left to deal with the original.

"Fuiton: Rensa no Inbijiburu!" he thought, whilst finishing the last seal. Across the arena, Kuro's hands slammed down, parallel to his sides, and his legs suddenly locked themselves together. He was trapped. Smirking, Naruto made his way over to the Iwagakure Genin, and stood victoriously over him. There was no doubt as to who was the winner. Hayate stepped forward.

"Winner: Namikaze Naruto!" The applause was thunderous. The Konoha 12, with the exception of Sasuke and Sakura, were all clapping as hard as they could, whilst simultaneously trying to scrape their jaws off of the ground. Naruto was formidable. There was no other word to describe him. The Namikaze strolled across the arena and back up the balcony stairs, suppressing the triumphant smile threatening to take over his features. Shikamaru gave him a steady look as he passed. Naruto raised a brow in answer. The Nara Genin somehow knew that Naruto had not broken a sweat out there on the arena; and the Namikaze in mention was aware that he knew.

A small smirk appeared on Naruto's lips as he felt Sasuke's jealous stare on his back. The Uchiha was pathetic… Instead of becoming even more determined to get stronger, he got envious of Naruto's strength and only ended up hindering his own progress. Sasuke, you should stop obsessing over me and Itachi, and turn your envy into determination, and your 'ambition' into a goal.

Ino watched a smirk appear on her boyfriend's face as he noticed Sasuke's envious stare. The Yamanaka looked at the 'last' Uchiha pityingly. Sasuke was so insecure. According to him, Naruto was nothing more than a 'dobe', a dead-last. So how come he was so jealous of the so-called dead-last? Truly stronger individuals never envied their weaker individuals. Her gaze returned to the Uchiha. She pitied him. When Naruto left Konoha, 3 years ago, Sasuke had ruled the Genin, being the strongest in terms of raw power, and no one had bothered to challenge him. And now Naruto hadn't been back for even 6 months, and already his conceptions of strength and self were being crushed mercilessly. Not even his Sharingan, which he wrongly believed made him all-powerful, could handle Naruto's jutsu – Naruto had told Ino and Shikamaru about the incident. Clapping drew Ino out of her introspection, and the Yamanaka looked towards the arena to see that Chouji and an Otogakure ninja had been chosen for the last match. The kunoichi looked at the machine's screen. The Oto Genin was named Kinuta Dosu. Ino frowned. She had no idea how this match would turn out. Settling more comfortably against the railing of the balcony, Ino gazed down at the arena.

"Hajime!" cried the proctor, and the match had begun with a clash of kunai. It ended as quickly as it began, however, when Chouji executed his Nikudan Sensha Jutsu and literally crushed Kinuta Dosu to defeat. The Konohagakure Genin broke into loud applause, and a slightly bloodied Chouji grinned in pleasure. The plump Akimichi ascended the stairs to the balcony, accepting friendly congratulations from his fellow Konoha Genin. Below, Hayate Gekko stepped forward into the centre of the arena.

"Thank you for watching or participating here at the Chuunin Selection Examinations," he began. "The winning participants for the 3rd stage will now be called: Uchiha Sasuke, Aburame Shino, Subaku no Kankuro, Yamanaka Ino, Subaku no Temari, Hyaku Umi, Nara Shikamaru, Hyuuga Neji, Rock Lee, Tsurugi Misumi, Subaku no Gaara, Namikaze Naruto and Akimichi Chouji." The Genin named by the proctor descended from the balcony as he called their names, until all 13 were assembled in the arena. Hayate made a small motion with one hand, and a slightly apprehensive Chuunin came forward, carrying a wooden box. Hayate began to speak.

"You will each step forward and withdraw a piece of paper from this box. Each piece of paper will contain a single number from the range 1-6, except one, which has the number 0. Whoever receives the zero will not have any specific matchup, but will instead fight the winner of the 6th fight. In other words, anyone that has received the number 6 will have to fight twice in succession. There is two of each number except the zero in the box. You will come forward when your name is called." Gekko looked down at a clipboard in his hand, and then called out,

"Uchiha Sasuke." The stoic Uchiha stepped forward and took a piece of paper from the box.

"Aburame Shino." And it continued, until Chouji, the last, stepped up and took out the last paper. When he regained his original place in the group of Genin, Hayate began to speak again.

"You may open your papers now." Rustling was the predominant sound as the Genin unfolded their respective papers.

"Will the Genin with number 1 step forward?" asked the proctor. Beside Naruto, Ino stepped forward, as did Lee, from the other side of the group. The Jounin nodded once, indicating to them to step back, and wrote down something on the clipboard.

"Genin with number 2?" Shino and Kankuro came forward.

"3?" questioned Gekko. Gaara and Sasuke stepped forward, equally stoic; then Chouji and Tsurugi Misumi claimed the 4th match; Shikamaru and Subaku no Temari stepped forward with number 5, and finally Naruto stepped forward with Hyaku Umi as the Genin of the 6th match. Hyaku stared at Naruto, before dismissing him, and the Namikaze smirked to himself. Hyaku would never know what hit him. Only Neji was left, as the number 0. Hmm…thought Naruto to himself. Either I or Hyaku Umi will be fighting Neji in the finals. Hayate cleared his throat.

"The matches will be as follows: Yamanaka Ino, Konoha, and Rock Lee, Konoha; Aburame Shino, Konoha, and Subaku no Kankuro, Suna; Subaku no Gaara, Suna and Uchiha Sasuke, Konoha; Akimichi Chouji, Konoha, and Tsurugi Misumi, Oto; Nara Shikamaru, Konoha, and Subaku no Temari, Suna; and Namikaze Naruto, Konoha and Hyaku Umi, Kiri. Hyuuga Neji, Konoha, will face off with the winner of the match between Namikaze-san and Hyaku-san." Hayate stepped back and to the side, allowing the Hokage to stand and speak.

"Fellow Kages and other officials, thank you for coming to see the 3rd stage preliminaries of the Chuunin Selection Examinations." Sarutobi sat down, and the Genin were allowed to leave behind the nervous Chuunin with the wooden box. They had more trials to prepare for. At least this time around, they had some idea of what and who they were facing.

Hey readers! Sorry about the long absence! Hope you enjoy this chapter.. its so long, I actually considered splitting it into 2 - its over 12,000 words! Review and tell me what you think - these exams are a bit unconventional.


ps: is editing out all my paragraphing... so just bear with it, please!