Ch. 52 Lucky

Yakumo went back up to her team since she wasn't hurt enough to go to the infirmary, but not before giving Naruto a parting wink and smile. Naruto had been around enough girls to know what that meant, and wisely didn't respond in an encouraging way. All he did was smile and wave. Then again, that might have been encouraging enough for her.

Naruto went up to his teammates. As he expected, Hinata gave him a frown, but not an accusing one. "Nothing happened Hina-chan. Don't you trust me?" He turned off his Neo-Sharingan, and felt his eyes sting a small bit and his vision go blurry. He expected this from using the Hell Amaterasu, although it would have been worse had he used it outside Yakumo's mindscape.

"Yeah I trust you Naru-kun. But not her." She told him.

Isaribi shrugged it off. "Don't be so quick about that. We do need a ninth girl after all."

Hinata turned her frown towards her purple-haired teammate. "I'd rather it be Hanabi in that case. Rule Number One of our little group: No Konoha girls allowed."

"Y'know, you were born in-" Isaribi started to comment until Hinata sharply cut her off.

"If you want to stay in the group you won't ever finish that statement!"

"Settle down you two. Don't draw attention." Anko told them with much authority, silencing them both.

Meanwhile, Yakumo was greeted by her own team. "Yakumo, I didn't expect you to just give up like that. May I ask why?" Genma, her team's sensei, asked professionally without judgment.

"It felt like the right thing to do under the circumstances." She told him.

"I see he appeared to have calmed you down right away." Shino stated with some suspicion in his stoic tone. He usually had to subdue Yakumo when her inner demon got out in uncalled for times.

"Yeah. In fact, I doubt I'll ever need calmed down again." The artist said with a smile.

This only made Genma more concerned. "He didn't hurt you did he?"

Yakumo shook her head. "Nope. He freed me instead."

"So you can still use your skills?" Yakumo's remaining teammate, a pale boy named Sai asked. She never really liked him, especially with his curiosity about her talents. Both kekkei genkai and artistic, and he didn't seem interested in the first in a comfortable way. Sure, she admitted he was a good drawer, but that was it.

"Yeah, but for now, no more mood swings hopefully. Like my uncle intended before those idiots butted their noses in where it didn't belong."

Genma blinked in surprise and even Shino and Sai looked like they had been lightly blindsided. "Are you sure you're alright?"

Yakumo thought it over. "Yeah, I'm fine. I guess my mind is... a bit more stable now that I'm no longer... only half of myself at a time. It feels good."

The monitor buzzed and the next two names were displayed.

'Kiba Inuzuka vs Sasame Fuuma'

"Hell yeah! Now it's time for the best to shine!" Kiba shouted confidently before he jumped over the railing and into the arena.

"Anything I should know about this guy?" Sasame asked, recognizing the dog nin from Wave but never having any interaction with him.

"Kick his groin and it's all over." Hinata offered, sounding a bit amused.

Sasame nodded and headed down, thinking over what she had heard about the Inuzuka clan. 'Okay, according to Kurenai-sensei this clan produces ninja that partner themselves with dogs and have their moves work in conjunction with them. Also they themselves have heightened senses of smell and hearing and tend to move like animals, specifically dogs. In that case, I think I know what to do. Slow him down or attack from a distance.' She then winced a bit. 'Damn cramps.'

Meanwhile, Kakashi was sizing up his student's opponent. 'So, a member of the Fuuma clan huh? From what I hear, they're native to Land of Rice. Is that where this new Sound Village resides? I better tell Hokage-sama this so we'll know where to look for whoever destroyed the sharingan in me and Sasuke.'

Kiba's thoughts were a bit more simplistic, but not downright simple-minded. 'Okay, I got a kunoichi like that jerk Sasuke hoped I'd get. At least I'm more likely to win with my skills still intact. But if she's anything like the other girl with that symbol, then I'm glad I wore a cup this time.' His nose then caught a peculiar scent. 'Blood? She's bleeding? Oh, it must be that time for her.'

Remembering what he knew from sparring with his own sister and mother, and at least once his teammate Sakura, Kiba knew that kunoichi on this particular part of their cycle were like a double-edged sword. The hormones added to their aggressiveness and strength in their hits, especially when the target was a male. The downside, they themselves often lost a little of their focus when aggravated and they would feel some discomfort in their abdominal area which would affect their movements. Kunoichi had a standard relief jutsu to minimize the discomfort a bit so they could still be effective, but it usually only lasted a few hours at most. The brief look of pain Kiba saw on Sasame told him she had cast it on herself already but it was losing effectiveness by now.

"Ready?" Hayate asked, and got no objection. "Begin!"

Sasame pulled out four smaller-than-normal kunais and threw all of them at Kiba. He ran towards her at the same time but with his body hunched forward so two kunais easily missed him while two each hit a shoulder. He ignored the pain and made a hand sign. "Beast Mimicry!" With that, his body looked a bit more feral and moving on all fours was easier for him without losing any speed.

"Earth Style: Headhunter Jutsu." Sasame said after two hand signs and placing her palms on the floor. A pit opened up right where Kiba was about to be to trap him in the ground, but he jumped over it and avoided capture. The pit closed and Sasame pulled out a wakizashi when Kiba got close enough to attack. Rather than face her head-on with such a weapon, he and Akamaru leaped over her and used the wall behind her to rebound off of and try to attack from behind.

"He's too fast to catch with most earth jutsus." Kurenai told herself. "She'll have to start out defensively for that to work."

Sasame made the ox sign and literally sank into the ground, causing the Inuzuka to miss her unexpectedly. Akamaru sniffed where Sasame had last stood and listened to the subtle sounds of the ground shifting underfoot, indicating Sasame was moving to another spot. He barked to let his partner know this, lest Kiba search only with his eyes. Kiba got the message, and used some chakra to cling to the walls to avoid any direct surprise attacks when the orange-haired kunoichi emerged. While he waited he pulled out the two kunai stuck in his shoulders and dropped them.

Sasame called out a jutsu from underground, and while Kiba's better-than-average hearing couldn't make it out, he was aware she said something. From eight meters away from him and three meters away from the wall, some sharp points stuck out of the floor then shot out in all directions around them like kunais. Kiba had to jump to avoid the ones headed right for him but with multiple sharp stone projectiles flying around he couldn't avoid them all. Akamaru's smaller size allowed him to get away with only some missing fur at worst.

Sasame came out of the ground with her wakizashi out. She rushed at him looking like she wanted to stab him with it. Unfortunately for her Inuzuka's knew how to handle weapon-users. "Piercing Fang!" He stated before leaping towards her and spinning around quickly, creating a cyclone around himself. Sasame skidded to her right to avoid being hit in the gut and saw the puppy Kiba was partnered with.

Kiba could feel he missed his target when he felt himself connect with a wall rather than a girl so he turned around after impact without stopping the attack. But he did have to stop when he heard Akamaru bark in distress. When he stopped, he saw Sasame holding Akamaru hostile, holding him up by his forelegs as he struggled to get loose. "Big mistake bitch!" Kiba growled, his hand hovering over his supply pouch.

In truth, that wasn't complete banter. For all basic purposes, Kiba was the strongest member of his team if you didn't count Kakashi. He had a set training routine he kept to, one that actually tested his limits and gave him room to improve, and he did it regularly. He motivated himself rather than wait for someone else to tell him to do it and he wasn't afraid to ask for help when learning something new or trying something on the job. Not only that, he enjoyed doing things in training the hard way, as it challenged him more and felt more effective, rather than assuming results would come quickly and/or on a silver platter.

So in a manner of speaking, Kiba's self-image as deserving alpha of the pack wasn't entirely without reason. The problem was that self-image was his big weakness. He expected others to agree and go along with it, particularly women. Now Kiba didn't disrespect women; having a mother and sister who could kick his ass without breaking a sweat showed him females weren't supposed to be by nature his subordinates. But the fact that they did it so easily made him crave respect from women more than anyone else. And since Inuzuka women had a tendency to like 'macho men', the kind that could prove to be better providers than the women could alone, Kiba habitually tried to enforce a macho status on himself, following his father's lead as an example for such. The way he figured it, if his father Gao Inuzuka was able to get his mother Tsume by such means, surely it would work if he did the same.

"If you don't want your little dog to be neutured, I suggest you surrender right now." Sasame told him. Despite the fact she was holding Akamaru with both hands, one of them also held her wakizashi so she could quickly make good on her threat if she had to.

"Nice way to intimidate him." Kurenai said quietly. "Using the dog has a hostage will give her a lot of leeway here."

"What if it just makes him mad?" Fuu asked.

"Oh it will, but he can't afford to put his partner at risk." The genjutsu expert replied.

Kiba's hand went into his supply pouch when she said that and pulled out a soldier pill. He flicked it with his thumb like he was flipping a coin and the pill shot right into Akamaru's mouth before Sasame saw it move. After swallowing, the ninja dog growled and his fur got red and almost quill-like. Sasame didn't drop him, but holding onto him started proving harder. But when Kiba performed another Piercing Fang, Sasame had no choice to let the puppy go free so she could dodge unhindered. Also, she honestly didn't want to risk actually endangering the dog.

Kiba stopped when he got right by Akamaru, glad his opponent reacted in the way he hoped she would. With Akamaru free, he jumped onto Kiba's back. "Advanced Beast Mimicry: Man-Beast Clone." Kiba declared while Akamaru transformed into a duplicate of Kiba.

'So now I'm not supposed to tell which is which and that'll prevent me from fighting either effectively?' Sasame asked herself. 'Too bad for him that thanks to Naruto-kun I've got experience fighting clones.' Sasame made the ox sign again and sank back into the ground.

"Nice try. Tunneling Fang!" Kiba said as he and Akamaru did the Inuzuka drill attack that was designed to dig thru solid objects like rocks and walls in case they were ever trapped. With it, the two went underground. When they came back up, Sasame was sent flying into the air and hit the ceiling hard. The two Kiba's landed safely and kept some distance, waiting to see Sasame's reaction before potentially wasting chakra.

The orange-haired kunoichi struggled to get back on her feet, her bones aching. 'Damn, that guy hits harder than I thought. And he's too quick and agile for my methods to be fully effective. And now I'm even slower, giving him a big advantage to beat me before I recover. There's only one thing I can do.' With that, Sasame let herself collapse and played dead.

"Winner, Kiba Inuzuka." Hayate announced.

"Yes! Take that Sasuke-teme!" Kiba shouted triumphantly while Akamaru returned to normal in shape and color.

'I'm glad at least one of my students won.' Kakashi thought while trying to divide his attention between the matches and his Icha Icha.

"She did her best. That's all I ever asked for." Kurenai said with a small amount of pride for her student.

Medics came and took Sasame away. Hayate addressed everyone still present. "We'll take a 'cough' a pause to allow the floor to be fixed. So no one 'cough' go anywhere."

Sarutobi was about to empty his pipe of ashes when Kakashi approached him from behind. "Kakashi? What brings you here?"

"Hokage-sama, I've got an idea I think may be of interest to you."

The old man arched an eyebrow and put his pipe down. "Go on."

"In case you're not aware, the Fuuma clan is known to be native to Land of Rice. So if this new village... Oto was it?" Kakashi asked, and the hokage nodded. "So if Oto has a Fuuma has a member of it's ranks, then it's likely that's the country it's located in."

Sarutobi made a hum of intrigue. Before the exams had started he informed all his jounin of the new village he had been told of by the kazekage and Kakashi told everyone of the music note symbol the group he encountered in Wave bore. Once these ninja got to Konoha, it was easy to confirm that the music note was the symbol of Otogakure. But sadly they had no leads as to where the village was located.

"You make a good point Kakashi." Sarutobi stated. "We must keep this in mind. However, under the circumstances, I fear we can't pursue this lead until after the exams finish."

"Why?" Kakashi asked, not liking the idea. "If we can find this village then we can find out how they negated the sharingan and maybe get it working again." While Kakashi liked having his depth perception back now that he no longer had to cover one eye all the time, he still hated how Obito's memento was basically destroyed.

"I'm well aware of that." The hokage told the perpetually late jounin. "But we still don't know exactly where this new village is or what to look for. I mean, how do you find a village hidden in sound? Sending shinobi to find it would more than likely alert the native shinobi to our presence and only put them in harm's way. So the wise thing to do is wait for these genin to return home and have our guys follow them."

Kakashi didn't like it, but saw the wisdom in such a move. "Understood Hokage-sama. On another note, how do you intend to approach them on their inclusion of a byakugan-wielder."

Sarutobi smiled in a devious way as he went back to cleaning his pipe. "Leave that to me."

After some Konoha jounin used some earth jutsus to repair the arena floor, the preliminaries were back underway. The monitor flashed the names of the next contestants.

'Kankuro Sabaku vs Rock Lee.'

"YOSH! IT'S MY TIME TO SHINE!" Lee shouted out with his fist in the air. But this shout sounded more optimistic than arrogant.

"That's the guy?" Kankuro asked himself. "Best be cautious just in case."

The two went down to the arena and sized each other up. Neither was really certain of what to expect of the other, although Lee was certain Kankuro's bundle on his back had to serve some purpose here.

"Ready? Begin!" Hayate announced.

Lee eagerly ran forward, moving faster than Kankuro expected or could counter against. Lee started with a Dynamic Entry kick to Kankuro's upper body, not bothering to say it's name since he wasn't actually making an entry. The Suna nin went flying towards the wall, everyone hearing a deafening crunch sound when the green-clad Konoha genin made contact.

"Wow! It sounds like Lee shattered that guy's skeleton." Tenten said.

Lee stopped to see if his foe could even stand now. 'I hope it's not over too soon. I enjoy a long work-out over a brief one. Not that I want to torment the guy needlessly though.'

Kankuro haphazardly got back on his feet, his movements making him look like a scarecrow brought to life. Cracking sounds could be heard as he moved. 'Are his bones broken? How is he moving?' was the general thought of those unaware of his skills. But all normal analytical thought ceased when Kankuro showed his face. His wooden grinning face with some of it covered by some sort of synthetic skin mask.

'A puppet user. I expected to see one from Suna here.' Gai told himself.

The wrapped up bundle started to unravel and the real Kankuro emerged from it. "You've got a pretty mean punch there man. I knew it was a good idea to trade places with my karasu beforehand."

Lee smiled. "Thanks for the compliment. I gotta say you sure surprised me there. This should prove to be a nice challenge for us." He then tried some standard moves from his Hard Fist taijutsu to test Kankuro's reactions. The puppeteer waved his hands and the puppet moved to take the hit then basically hug Lee to hold him still. Before the greenclad genin could free himself, several needles burst from Karasu's arms and injected him with venom. It wasn't lethal, Kankuro preferred to save that for the invasion, but for now this would do. And if that wasn't bad enough, Karasu then bodyslammed Lee into the wall behind him, but not with enough force to damage the humanoid puppet.

"Gai-sensei, what is that?" Tenten asked, always eager to hear about new weapons.

"It's one of Suna's trademarks." Gai told his kunoichi student. "Suna is well known for three skills they excel in, their use of wind jutsu, botanical toxins, and of course puppetry jutsu. Puppetry jutsu basically gives the wielder a stand-in for the actual fighting, allowing them to fight at any range without actually putting themselves in harms way. The beauty of it is that the puppets can come in virtually any form and be equipped with virtually anything, and a powerful puppeteer could even manipulate more than one with experience and focus. The downside is that the puppet's in general are slow and breakable, and give the puppeteer little ability to use anything along with them as they basically make the wielder's hands full."

"So Lee should be fine since he can move fast enough?" Tenten asked, faithful in her enthusiastic teammate but also curious about anything else her sensei could tell her.

"In theory yes." Gai answered, making the weapons mistress flopsweat in worry. "He did get caught just now, so we need to see what the puppet actually does before assuming Lee has the upper hand."

Lee didn't look physically affected so he continued the fight like nothing had happened. Kankuro moved his puppet, waiting for the posion he injected into Lee to take effect. It wasn't lethal, but rather it temporarily thickened the blood a little, making the heart struggle to pump it as effectively for approximately 17 minutes. Movements would slow, breathing would become labored, and increased physical stress could cause severe circulatory problems and organ malfunction in some cases. So if Lee knew what was good for him, he'd stopped when it hurt to keep going.

Too bad Kankuro didn't know that this Konoha genin just loved to test his limits.

Lee ran right past Karasu and up to the one pulling the chakra strings. He unwrapped his bandages and used them to tie up the Suna genin, who couldn't react fast enough to get away. "Primary Lotus!" Lee announced. Kankuro was turned into a duplicate of the disguise he wore when this match started and Lee threw him up into the air before jumping up and kicking him down. "Secondary Lotus!"

At the same time Kankuro tried to get Karasu to fire some more senbon from it's mouth, these ones tipped with nothing to prevent a dangerous mixture of toxins. Lee took a hit in his left calf but his training weights ended up blocking them from actual penetration.

Kankuro took a pretty hard crash landing and the bandages were removed. He knew he could easily keep going, but for the brief moment before Lee continued his assault, he thought it over. 'This guy is good and he hasn't even used any jutsu yet. If I keep going Karasu may get broken too much for me to repair before the final round and I would have to reveal all my best maneuvers to win here. If I do that, then I won't have any surprises later on when we need it. The wise thing to do is pull out now, cut my loses, and save my strength for later on.'

Lee was more than ready to continue, but Kankuro raised his hand up in surrender. "Proctor, I give."

"Really?" Hayate asked, holding his hand up to tell Lee to halt. Not receiving an answer from the Suna genin, the coughing jounin shrugged. "Alright, winner by 'cough' forfeit, Rock Lee."

"YOSH! I DID IT GAI-SENSEI!" Lee shouted triumphantly,adding a thumbs up and shining grin to his instructor.

"WAY TO GO LEE!" Gai proudly shouted back in an identical manner. Lee then quickly joined him up on the balcony and the two created their abominable sunset jutsu, with only Tenten knowing ahead of time to shield her eyes.

The Suna and Oto ninjas of all ranks, and even most of the Konoha ninja too, all watched this in horror and revulsion.

"Dear Kami! Even I think that's one genjutsu the world's better off without!" Kurenai claimed.

"Can I go back to never sleeping again so I can't have that for a nightmare?" Gaara asked.

'I think I'm actually getting sicker.' Hayate told himself.

Kankuro was offered to be taken to the infirmary but he declined. "I'm fine, just sore. I just need to relax for a moment." He picked up Karasu and went back up to his team.

At the same time, Lee started feeling lightheaded and out-of-breath. "All you alright Lee?" Gai asked, ending their unintentional horror show.

"I'm fine sensei. Just a little worn out more than I expected. But I will not let that bother me." The green-clad genin said, looking a little pale.

"Maybe you should relax just a bit Lee, in case that puppet got you with something." Tenten suggested.

"I agree. Take a small break and sit down Lee." Gai told his star pupil, who instantly obeyed.

The monitor buzzed and declared the next round.

''Shikamaru Nara vs Zaku Abumi'