~Previously~

-Naruto created a shadow clone to look into several things while he was gone, and study. The clone's conscience begins to separate, and he starts to see himself as a separate entity. He calls himself 'Saito'

Kimimaro works with Team 7 while they wait for the bridge to be completed

-Naruto fights Haku. He wins using genjutsu, but is knocked out by reinforcements and Haku makes it to the bridge

-Haku fights with Sasuke and Hinata. All seems lost until Hinata manages to awaken her Byakugan. She gains the upper hand, but it still doesn't seem to be enough

-Naruto appears in a flash of fury and hatred. Shrouded in a dark chakra, he uses a Mangekyou technique to slice Haku's arm off. Just before he can finish her off, Kisame attacks Kakashi with a large water technique, causing an explosion

-Raizo, Akatsuki Commander, appears on the scene, taking out Kisame, Mangetsu, and eventually Zabuza

-Naruto, his dark chakra now mixed with red, furiously attacks Raizo, blind with anger. Using his secret technique, Equilibrium Destroyer, Raizo sends a pulse of force through Naruto's brain and chakra system, rendering him unconscious

Sinister Chakra

Book 2: The Chunin Exams

Chapter 4: The Fun Is Just Beginning


Hinata: Morning – Konoha

It was a cool morning breeze that finally woke her up, blowing her dark brown hair across her face as she slowly blinked light into her world. She couldn't help but smile when her eyes inevitably fell on Naruto, lying in the bed in front of her, with a peaceful look on his face. He looked so calm…she always loved the way he looked, but these past few weeks had been really stressful times; she couldn't remember the last time that he looked so worry free.

She stood up and walked the short distance to the room's window, which she had forgotten to close last night. The hospital had a strict visiting hour's policy, but sometimes exceptions had to be made. In this case, Hinata had finally been forced out of the hospital room only to sneak in the window she secretly left unlocked just in case they didn't let her stay. It closed with a silent thud, all the while reminding her of the long-gone days where she and Naruto had once snuck in and out of the orphanage that they had grown up together in.

She sighed when she turned to look back at Naruto again. Since their terrible battle in the Land of Waves, Naruto had remained unconscious, even after the medic ninja worked on him for some time. While waiting around in the hospital lobby, she had even heard a rumor that one of the legendary Sannin, the Toad Sage, had come in to work on Naruto. Someone of that prestige…there were only three people in Konoha's system with the rank of 'Sanin', which was directly below the Hokage in terms of authority and power. Sanin hadn't even been a rank until the last Great Ninja War, were three ninja by the name of Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru had been given the title by the leader of another village. The rank had stuck with them to Konoha, and the Hokage had signed it into law. That being said, there was a hole in the system, and ever since Orochimaru defected, there was a spot open for…

Thud!

Hinata quickly turned left, looking toward the source of the noise which came somewhere behind her. To her surprise, the window had been forced open from the outside, seconds before a large man nimbly swung in feet first, landing some distance in front of the opening, dusting himself off.

"Stuck the landing! I'd love to see someone else my age do something like that…well, look what we have here! Naruto got himself another visitor! A lady visitor!"

Standing before her was Jiraiya, one of Konoha's legendary Sannin! She quickly stood up straight as a sign of respect and rapidly tried to think of something to say. Was he going to reprimand her for breaking the hospital rules? Was…was he here to do something bad to Naruto?

She slowly stepped to the side so that she was standing directly between Naruto and Jiraiya. This earned her a low chuckle from Toad Sage, who in turn walked over to the nearby desk and took a seat.

"Relax, please. I'm not here to hurt anybody," Jiraiya calmly said, motioning her to sit down. Hinata looked left and right, before deciding to sit down on the bed next to Naruto, her heart still beating fast from the situation she was in.

"How about this," Jiraiya began, after a moment of thinking. "I didn't expect you to be here, but I think it will turn out for the better, since you're all tied up in this anyway. Let me introduce myself as Jiraiya, the greatest spy and informant of Konoha. From here on out, assume I know everything about you and your team. I think it will be beneficial to let you in on some information, and in return, you do a little favor for me."

Hinata remained silent, thinking over what he had just said, trying to sort out all of her confusion. Jiraiya knew about their team? How much…how much could he know? And why would he care?

He rolled his eyes, obviously following her thoughts. "Still don't believe me?" he pitched in, a small grin on his face. "Hm…I'm sure you'll eventually see that I'm telling the truth, given your excellent eyesight."

Her eyes widened in surprise, and she subconsciously moved a hand up to the side of her face around her temples. The skin was smooth now, but she knew that once she pushed chakra into her eyes, veins would begin to appear. So then Jiraiya knew about her awakening of the Byakugan! That had only happened days ago, and only Sasuke and Kakashi knew about it!

"You seemed more surprised than I did!" Jiraiya continued, obviously feeling proud showing off how much he knew. "I figured that you would awaken the Byakugan at some point in your ninja career. I'm actually surprised that no one else knew…am I the only one who thinks that you look exactly like a Hyuga? Seriously! The second I saw you in the orphanage with Naruto I looked into who your parents were. Your mother was one of the last surviving Senju, but no one knew who your father was…so I did a little digging, and within the week I found out!"

Hinata's head was reeling with the inflow of this new information. Jiraiya knew so much more than she expected. Where should her questions even begin? Lucky for her, he didn't even give her a chance to interrupt and ask questions.

"Yes, although everyone likes to think that your mother was the last surviving Senju who happened to die during childbirth, they all seem to forget that Tsunade, one of the other Sannin, also has Senju blood in her. And again yes, I'm sure you've made the connection now, but your father was indeed a Hyuga. Now, since spiritual and physical bloodline limits mix quite well, it turns out you have both the ability to learn every single element type jutsu and combine chakra, and you have the Byakugan. I'm sure Hiashi is going to have a field day when he finds this out. You have the body of a Senju and the eyes of a Hyuga…I'm serious, if you haven't looked at a mirror in a while, take a look!"

Hinata quickly stood up and walked over to the sink in the room, which happened to have a mirror above it. She hadn't looked at a mirror since returning, extremely busy being taken care of herself and looking after Naruto, and when she looked at her reflection, she found a new face staring back at her. To her astonishment, just like Jiraiya had said, her eyes were pale and lacking pupils, just like that of a Hyuga.

"Awakening the Byakugan has caused your eyes to permanently change. You look just like a Hyuga now," Jiraiya spoke after giving her a few moments of silence. "Now; a quick trivia question! How many people in the Hyuga Clan have mixed bloodline limits like you do?"

It didn't take more than a second of thought for Hinata to come up with an answer, but Jiraiya wouldn't even let her answer before he began speaking again.

"Zero is correct!" he exclaimed with a smile, as she slowly walked back over to Naruto's bed. "The Hyuga Clan is very picky about their special bloodline, and they are careful not to let it mix into any other Clan. When I looked into it, I found that it is law in the Hyuga Clan to either marry another Hyuga, or someone with no bloodline limit whatsoever in special cases. That's when it all made sense why no one knew who your father was; your parent's marriage had to be kept in secret, since if the Hyuga or the Senju Clan found out that their members had broken Clan law, it would have been very problematic. Now, the next question I had was this: is your father still alive and in the Hyuga Clan, or has he passed away like your mother?

"Given that you've never been contacted by your father, I figured that it was unfortunately the latter," Jiraiya continued. "So I looked up all of the deaths of people in the Hyuga Clan around a year prior to your birth…there weren't very many, but his death stuck out quite a bit. You see, I saw that a certain Hyuga happened to die the very same day as the Senju massacre. Now, why would a Hyuga have been killed during a Senju massacre? He would've had to have been in the Senju Clan's compound for one reason or another, and why would there be a Hyuga in the Senju compound? I believe it's because he was spending time with your mother, or rather, protecting her. I mean, the evidence is right in front of us: every Senju in Konoha was killed that night except for your mother, and a Hyuga died that night.

"A final question remains: Why did your father die instead of your mother during the massacre? And maybe that relates to this question: Why was your mother the only Senju in Konoha to survive? I don't have an official answer to that, but I would guess that your father had a major role to play in saving your mom. The Senju murderer wouldn't be expecting someone with a Byakugan, after all."

Hinata swallowed, blinking fast as she continued to absorb this information. She didn't know what to say to him. One of the legendary Sannin had entered the room and began sharing her intricate details of her family that she herself had never even known!

"Why…why are you telling me this?" Hinata asked quietly, looking at him with worry in her eyes. Did he expect something in return?

Jiraiya let out a soft chuckle. "So you believe me? I'm glad, but that's not the most unbelievable thing that you're going to learn this morning. Remember, I said that I'm going to ask you for a little favor…tell me, how much do you care about Naruto?"

"Naruto's my best friend!" she replied without any hesitation. She unconsciously gripped on tight to the bed sheets beneath her. Naruto was more than just her best friend…Naruto was like a guidepost. Whenever she strayed off her path and her goals, Naruto was always there for her with his bright smile, keeping her from falling. Maybe her words weren't that convincing to Jiraiya, but he must have seen her meaning through her eyes, since a huge knowing grin appeared on his face, causing Hinata to slightly blush.

As quickly as Jiraiya's grin appeared, it vanished. "I'm glad that he has someone like you," he evenly said. "He's probably too stupid to even realize how much you care for him. I'm going to do something without his permission, but it's for his own benefit. What I need from you is a promise. Promise me that after you hear what I'm about to say, you won't abandon Naruto."

Hinata's pale eyes widened in surprise, not expecting this in the slightest. What could Jiraiya possibly say about Naruto that she didn't already know herself…unless…

"I'm going to tell you what exactly happened to Naruto on the bridge. I'm going to tell you who Naruto is."


Afternoon - Konoha

When Naruto regained consciousness, he immediately sat up and was temporarily blinded by the bright lights that rushed into his vision. It took a moment, but after squinting and rubbing his eyes, he looked around and found that he was once again sitting in a hospital bed. The quiet ambience of rhythmically beeping machines met his senses next, followed by the soft feel of the sheets enwrapping him. The final sense that hit him was the subtle voice that surprised him from the side.

"Sorry to wake you, but I thought that you'd thank me for it later. This is the final night before the exams…they start tomorrow, you know?"

The voice was impossibly familiar. Something about this scene reminded him of the last time he woke up in the hospital. However, he had been temporarily blind, and someone had been in his room when he had awakened. He was almost positive that this man and the one before had the same voice…but when he looked at who it was, that thought all but vanished.

None other than Jiraiya the Toad Sage, one of the legendary Sannin, was leaning against the windowsill, looking out at the orange evening sky. Naruto had only seen portraits of him before, and he was surprised to see how tall and broad the man was, and the ridiculous amount of white hair that he had falling against his back.

"Do you remember me?" Jiraiya asked, turning to look at Naruto with a mischievous look on his face. "I think you were old enough. I had a quick talk with you before when you had been blinded for a little while."

"It was him!" Naruto thought, his eyes widening.

Jiraiya continued, his voice surprisingly steady for what he was about to say next. "Good, I see you do remember. Last time, Madara had taken control over you and you had killed three people using his ocular powers, which is why you were blind for a while. This time, you were lucky enough not to have anymore senseless death on your head."

Naruto's mouth opened slightly in shock. Did Jiraiya just say that…wait, how did Jiraiya know about Madara? It was fairly common knowledge to the public that Naruto was a Jinchuuriki, but he didn't know of anyone else who knew that Madara was sealed inside as well! And since when did he kill three people?

"Don't waste time asking stupid questions, because I won't answer them," Jiraiya bluntly said, completely turning to face him. He grabbed a chair by a nearby desk and spun it around so that he could sit on it, facing Naruto. "It's my profession to know as much information as I can, being Konoha's greatest spy. I was your father's sensei; I taught him the very seal which he used to capture the two demons within you. I was the first to know about Madara…when the old man summoned me to check over your seal, there were several differences that could only mean that an adjustment was made to capture another being with chakra. The Hokage summoned me again to check the seal some years ago after Itachi had reported that you used strange Sharingan techniques to kill three Cloud ninja who were trying to kidnap Hinata at the time. Your father was my greatest prodigy when it came to seals…but even he couldn't adapt quick enough in time. Your seal is imperfect, Naruto. The Kyuubi is sealed within you behind bars that he cannot escape, but Madara is all but free to roam about your subconscious."

Naruto swallowed. Jiraiya didn't appear to be lying.

"Madara, is this true?" he asked within his mind, trying his best to hold eye contact with Jiraiya. "Did you kill three people using me? Well…did you?!"

"There's no use trying to communicate with Madara right now," Jiraiya interjected, surprising Naruto once again. "I've sealed away your mental connection to him for the time being. I have no idea how long it will last, but whatever Raizo, the ex-Cloud Akatsuki, did to you on the bridge, it disrupted your chakra system powerfully enough to give me time to block him from your mind and chakra system."

Naruto's eyes narrowed down in both fear and anger as he tried to reach Madara's subconscious, but to no avail. "Why did you do that?" he yelled at Jiraiya, his voice weak having not been used in so long. "What right do you have? Who are you to-"

SMACK!

Naruto's head flew sideways, his cheek immediately feeling the sting of Jiraiya's palm. He turned back to look at Jiraiya, and before his own anger could ignite, it was immediately extinguished by the cold and deadly look he was receiving from the Sannin.

"What right?" Jiraiya asked, as if he was about to follow up with another backhand. "Your father died sealing Madara within you to protect the village, and this is the second time that you've let Madara take control! Do you ever think of the consequences? Did you ever think that the most renowned and evil ninja of all existence doesn't want to serve you as a pet and that anything he makes you do is for his gain? You've been taken over twice by the very man who dedicated his life to destroying the village your father died to protect, that my friends have died to protect, that my family has died to protect! I think I have a right. There are hundreds of villagers who want you dead because they fear you can't control the power within you, and yet you prove them right by letting Madara take control!"

This hit Naruto. Hard. It felt like someone had just punched him in the chest and taken all the air out of his lungs. Why…why had he never thought of that? Why had he been so complacent to let Madara take over?

"I don't want to even get started on that," Jiraiya continued, his voice calming down. "That's not why I'm here. I'm here to let you know the current situation that you're in. As I said, the Chunin Exams start tomorrow, and despite all that has happened, Kakashi wants you and your team to participate. Not only that, but the Hokage has agreed, despite my arguments. I'm only telling you this instead of him because I'm going to become your next sensei, after these exams. Hello, my name is Jiraiya, it's a pleasure to meet you."

His tone was slightly sarcastic, but Naruto didn't care to say anything. His head began to hurt as all of this new information kept flooding in. The Chunin Exams? However, something finally reached his mind that he had forgotten about up until now.

"What about the mission?" he asked, quickly snapping back to Jiraiya. "What happened to my team?"

Jiraiya nodded, clearly expecting this. "This mission was a success, despite the matter that it became a borderline S-rank mission. Nobody on your team was seriously injured…you arrived in Konoha two days ago and our talented medical ninja were able to heal everyone's injuries almost immediately. Reports also indicate that the bridge was able to be completed. Finally, Zabuza was confirmed killed, and his injured assistant was taken back here with you and is now being held in prison. We are awaiting orders from Kiri as to how to deal with her. She is likely to face the death penalty here, given that it's too dangerous and costly to transport powerful ninja from village to village.

"Finally, we have confirmed that the Akatsuki ninja who killed Zabuza was none other than Raizo, Kumogakure's most infamous ninja, the assassin of the previous Raikage. He is the second confirmed S-rank villain amongst Akatsuki, the other being Orochimaru. We have reason to believe that Akatsuki his housing the world's most dangerous and deadly criminals, which makes them far more dangerous than previously imagined. I'm only telling you this because I know that you have a strong interest in the organization."

Naruto was rightly confused. "What? How did you know that-"

Both Naruto and Jiraiya turned as someone knocked on the door to Naruto's room. After a short moment of silence, it began to open, and none other than Saito walked in the room, a perfect replica of Naruto.

"This shadow clone of yours has been a thorn in my side for quite a while," Jiraiya continued, as if he expected Saito to arrive. "Yet again, you've done something that you shouldn't have without thinking about the consequences. Yes, it is impressive that you were able to create a clone as perfect and lasting as this one here. But you should never create a clone to exist for extended periods of time outside of immediate battle."

Naruto looked back and forth between his clone, who had a strange look on his face, as well as Jiraiya. What was wrong with his clone? He was merely continuing Naruto's studies while he was away on a mission?

"If you give a clone this much time to live, they will undoubtedly begin to separate their conscience from yours. It won't be long before the clone honestly confuses himself for the real you. Don't play God, Naruto. There are reasons why the shadow clone technique is forbidden; it's different than an elemental clone. Dispel him immediately."

He had to take a moment to think about this revelation as he turned to look at his clone, who still had a strange look on his face. Would his clone really confuse himself for the real Naruto? That didn't seem possible. But, as Naruto held his hand up to form a have chakra seal to release his clone, the clone opened his mouth for a moment and spoke.

"You're wrong, Jiraiya," he proclaimed. It was strange for Naruto to hear his own voice coming from someone else. "I don't confuse myself for Naruto. I know the difference, and I understand who I am. My name is Saito."

Before Naruto could do it himself, Saito held up his own seal and dispersed himself. Smoke exploded from where he was once standing, but before he could think of anything else, he was hit with a wave of memories and thoughts so overpowering that his eyes rolled back as once again, he fell into an unconscious state.


Morning of the Chunin Exams

Utakata sat down at what seemed to be a popular ramen stand and sighed with relief. He didn't have much time before he was supposed to meet with his team and head to where the exams started, but he decided to grab a bite to eat. The first test of the three-part Chunin Exam was taking place in Konoha's ninja academy, so he didn't doubt that it was going to be some sort of academic test, or something related to it. Why else would they meet in a classroom? Anyway, he thought grabbing a bite to eat was just what his brain needed to fully wake up and prepare for whatever test was coming up.

He idly blew bubbles out of his special pipe while the kindly old owner of the shop prepared his ramen dish. He couldn't help but think about the sudden turn of events that took place several days ago, the day he and his team where going to leave Ame to head to Konoha.

Kimimaro and Raizo had come back from their mission successful, but Raizo was no longer going to be their sensei. At the last moment, the Amekage had decided that it was too dangerous, as the Cloud ninja at the exams would surely recognize the famous villain. Kimimaro was upset, but the Amekage had already chosen a different sensei for them.

Hidan, the 9th Commander of Akatsuki and, head of a main attack force regiment of Akatsuki, was their 'Jonin' sensei. Again, this seemed like overkill to him. Not only was their team composed of an S-ranked Commander and two Lieutenant Commanders, but their sensei was another commander who specialized in frontal killing and was known to have a short temper. Simply put, he didn't even like Hidan. He hadn't had much interaction with him, but the white-haired man scared him, and seemed to be a physical representation of death and fear. Utakata had heard rumors of Hidan's immortality, and that he had complete mastery of shadows, whatever that even meant.

He shuddered. He preferred Raizo, who seemed just as relaxed as he was, but Hidan wasn't known in the ninja world as infamously as Raizo was. Hidan was more of a myth than anything else. The Amekage seemed to expect something strange to happen at the exams, and he wanted to ensure that the Ame team made it to the finals and that a Hidan was present throughout. What's strange is that-

Utakata's thoughts paused when he felt a strange presence to his side. He turned to his left, where three Konoha ninja had just entered into the ramen bar, in the middle of their own conversation. None of them looked out of the ordinary, but there was something strange he felt about the blonde kid in the middle. He was surrounded by a strange, and yet familiar aura. He couldn't quite put a word to it, but it was almost as if he could sense the presence of…

Utakata's eyes widened in realization. That ninja was a Jinchuuriki.

"…surprised that Kakashi would even let us take the exam, considering what happened," the blonde one spoke out, Utakata catching the latter half of his sentence. "Honestly…I'm just happy that we all made it out alive, and that I didn't accidently hurt either of you."

Exam? There was another Jinchuuriki taking the exam? Crap, this made things complicated. Not only did they have to look out for Masahiro, Sasori's apprentice who was a part of Orochimaru's team, but now there was apparently another Jinchuuriki.

"…we're going to have to watch each other's backs," the blonde one continued. "Saito, a clone of mine who I left at Konoha, discovered that Suna has sent their own Jinchuuriki to compete, a red-haired boy about my age who had a murderous persona."

Another?! Three Jinchuuriki, an Akatsuki Commander, Guren and Sasori's apprentice…he wondered for a moment if there were any actual genin competing in this. He was going to have to tell his team about the two other Jinchuuriki. He wasn't worried about Kimimaro, but Guren could easily be caught off guard by a-

"There you are; we've been looking all over for you!"

Guren's recognizable voice interrupted his thoughts and caused him to turn around. Consequently, the team of Konoha ninja turned around as well. To his annoyance, Guren was standing behind with her usual irritated look on her face. Well, there went any chance of him having a peaceful meal before the exams.

"I told you I was probably going to get something to eat," he responded. "It's not my fault if…"

He trailed off when he noticed that Guren was no longer paying attention to him. In fact, her usual look of irritation was replaced with another look that he knew just as well; the look she usually gave him before trying to slice his head off, though this time it seemed even stronger than usual. Strangely enough, she wasn't even looking at him this time. He looked to his side and noticed that while all three of the Konoha ninja were looking at her, the dark haired guy in the center seemed to be the receiver of Guren's death glare. He couldn't help but wonder if they had met before, as unlikely as that was.

When he turned back to Guren, she had already closed half the distance to the Konoha ninja, and a jade crystal the size of a small katana was growing out of her arm like a makeshift tanto. Caught off guard, Utakata was barely able to jump out of his stool before she closed the distance entirely.

Clang! As quick as Guren was, the Konoha ninja was just as fast, and had managed to pull out a kunai in defense before Guren could slice his head off.

"What are you doing?!" Utakata shouted out, quickly wrapping his arms around her while trying to pull her away from him. Lucky for them, it was early enough in the morning where there weren't many people on the streets who could see this. The last thing they needed was to inadvertently start a feud or war with Konoha because Guren decided to kill a random genin.

"Get off me!" she hissed in protest, struggling violently. "He killed my parents! I've finally found him!"

Utakata couldn't help but pause for a moment in confusion, which Guren took advantage of, elbowing him in the gut and knocking him backwards. Once she was free, she charged forward once again, preparing to strike the Konoha ninja. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blonde Jinchuuriki pull out his own kunai with lightning speed, jumping forward to intercept Guren. Crap, crap crap…this wasn't good!

Time seemed to freeze for a moment, and both Guren and the blonde ninja stopped where they were, frozen to the ground. After a long, noticeable second, Utakata realized that time hadn't slowed down, but instead, the two were actually frozen to the ground, unable to move.

"Kimimaro…remind me again why I haven't killed your petulant, loud-mouthed…teammate."

The smooth sounding, evil and dark voice that came from behind him was none other than their 'sensei', Hidan, walking toward the scene with Kimimaro close behind. How had he managed to stop both Guren and the Jinchuuriki? Hidan wore the typical Akatsuki robes, but as a Commander, he wore the straw hat which shielded his face in shadow. Kimimaro had abandoned his Commander's outfit for the usual Akatsuki one, which had a hood instead of a high collar.

"Listen up, you little bitch," Hidan continued, still walking forward calmly. His voice was tranquil but a sharp sense of hate and anger seemed to be boiling off of his persona. Something was definitely off with how he spoke. Utakata couldn't quite pin it, but it seemed as if the Commander's voice seemed to cut to his very core. "If you do anything else like this to jeopardize us being here…I'll fucking kill you! Kimimaro won't be able to help you! I'm not a babysitter…Kuso! I should be able to take my eyes off you three minutes without having to worry about you killing somebody!"

The blonde ninja staggered to the ground for a moment when he was released from Hidan's jutsu. Utakata's quick eyes noticed a shadow underneath the ninja dart away, a small circle, heading directly back to merge with Hidan's own shadow. Once the blonde realized that his friend was no longer in apparent danger, he sheathed his kunai, and backed away slowly to his friends.

"What's the deal, Sasuke?" he asked as soon as he returned. "Who is this girl? How do you even know her?"

The look on 'Sasuke's' face told it all. "Naruto…I've never seen this girl before in my life."

Hearing that seemed to both confuse and enrage Guren, who was still trapped under Hidan's shadow. "Liar!" she spat out at him, although no longer struggling to free herself. "You're…lying…"

The second time she said it, she sounded less convincing. She stared deep into Sasuke's face, as if she was trying to relive her memories and confirm something that Utakata had no idea about. He didn't even know that Guren's parents had been killed. Most young ninja, like himself, either had no parents or had broken off all ties to their former village. But how could someone who wasn't any older than Guren have killed her parents that long ago? Guren must have been realizing the same thing…Sasuke would have had to been a young child, which wasn't possible.

With an inaudible noise, the crystal on her wrist began to disintegrate into nothing, light sparkles flying off with the breeze.

Before she could say anything else, the dark shadow beneath her sprang up to her body so quickly that Utakata barely noticed it, before forcing her to spin and face Hidan. He continued walking toward her until he was inches away from her, staring down with a devilish smile. He licked his lips, and he was about to say something before Kimimaro jumped next to Guren, putting an arm around her in a friendly way.

"Guren," Kimimaro said, trying to calm his subordinate who now seemed to be shaking in either anger or fear. "Relax; everything's going to be alright. Hidan-sama, you can let her go now, she's under control."

Hidan seemed to consider something, but after a second or two, the faint shadow covering Guren shot down to the ground before returning to Hidan. He gave them both a faint smile before walking away, somehow disappearing into the crowd despite his unusual outfit. Guren followed suit, and as soon as Hidan was out of sight, she sprinted away from the group, jumping off and out of sight.

Several moments of silence seemed to roll by, before the sounds of the early morning bustle of the streets began to fill the environment. Utakata exhaled a breath he didn't even know that he was holding, realizing how close he had been to seeing someone die before exams even started.

"Hey!" Kimimaro interrupted, seeing the group of Konoha ninja at the bar for the first time. "Naruto, Sasuke, Hinata! What's up?"

Once again, Utakata had to sit back, utterly confused when the three Konoha ninja all stood up to greet Kimimaro. First, Guren had thought that she knew Sasuke, but now Kimimaro apparently knew all three of them? He sighed, downed his ramen bowl, and headed off toward the first exam, trying to get away from this strange and bothersome situation as quickly as he could.


Academy

Team 7 walked into a rear entrance to the Academy, hoping to avoid the large crowds of ninja and observers who were entering through the front. Reacquainting with Kimimaro had been fairly brief, as the Exams officially started within the hour. According to Kakashi, the Exam would take place in a huge classroom that would fit the large amount of Genin participating, but he had asked to meet them in a side hallway just before they entered.

Talking with Kimimaro had been disconcerting, to say the least. They all knew that Kimimaro himself was absurdly strong, but according to the white haired young teenager, the rest of his team was high above Chunin level.

"I know you three are really strong, and you definitely deserve to become Chunin," Kimimaro had told them before departing, "But stay away from my team. They're really, really strong, and Guren apparently wants to kill you, Sasuke. I honestly have no idea why, but I would watch out for her if I were you."

Naruto sighed. Each respective Great Village had the right to promote their own ninja to whatever ranks they deemed appropriate, so the Chunin Exams was more of a 'showing off' of each village's ninja. He wondered for a moment if he and his team were going to be the only ninja who were actually genin at this exam.

"Hey guys, I'm going to go and use the bathroom really quickly," Naruto eventually said before pulling off down a familiar hallway. Hey, he had just consumed a lot of ramen, and he preferred not to have to use the restroom during whatever the first test was going to be. If it was in a classroom, it was probably going to be a written test. The thought made his stomach turn. Sure, he was really smart…smarter than most actually, since Madara had always made him study, but test taking had always been something he hated. It had been fairly easy when Madara could communicate with him…the ancient Uchiha may be renowned as an evil and powerful ninja, but he was surprisingly knowledgeable. But thanks to Jiraiya, that communication had been indefinitely severed.

He entered the academy's cafeteria, where a bathroom was located, and couldn't help but feel a wave of nostalgia pass over him. He remembered what it was like to be a student, always waiting to graduate, excited to be on the same team as his two best friends. A chuckle escaped him when he thought about how naïve that seemed to him. He wasn't even a Chunin yet, and he had been face to face with death on multiple occasions. He couldn't help but wonder if his future was going to…

Naruto's thoughts trailed off when noticed something standing out in the cafeteria. When he turned his head to look, he immediately froze in place. Locking eyes with him was the red haired Jinchuuriki from before, standing in the middle of the room with his arms crossed. Almost immediately, Naruto was hit with a palpable wave of killer intent, which made his hand inch down to his side where his kunai pouch was.

He wasn't some fresh out of the Academy rookie genin anymore. He had been in danger before. When it mattered most, he had fought off assassins as well as Zabuza. While the red haired ninja may have intimidated him in the past, he was stronger now, more experienced, more-

"I'm going to kill you."

His thoughts were halted once again. The ninja's voice rang out so clearly, and confidently, that Naruto couldn't help but believe him. He wore a sadistic and murderous grin on his face, as if he was fantasizing about killing Naruto that very moment.

"You're a weapon, just like me," he continued, still grinning manically. "I can feel the hatred within you! Killing you will prove my worth…I'm…so excited!"

Pop!

Something on the ninja's back…maybe a lid of some sort…popped off, immediately followed by a hissing noise of sand. Sand began to flow out of the thin scabbard on his back and float in the air around him. This was crazy! The exams hadn't even started yet! If Naruto attacked, he could risk getting him and his team kicked out. But if he hesitated…he had little doubt that the red haired ninja was about to strike. What was wrong with this guy? He definitely wasn't right in the head. Could Naruto make it out of the room quickly enough to avoid contact?

THUD!

In the blink of an eye, a shield of sand appeared on the ninja's side, the instant before a pointed chain forcefully embedded itself into it. The spear-headed chain had flown into the shield with enough force that Naruto didn't doubt it would have continued directly through the sand-ninja's head if it hadn't been stopped. The sand ninja, just as surprised as Naruto was, looked down the chain to the side of the room, where a cloaked and hooded ninja was holding out his arm, the origin of the chain seeming coming from somewhere inside his sleeve.

Just as quickly as the chain had appeared, it retracted back into the ninja's sleeve with a rapidly clicking gear-like sound. Two other ninja stepped out from behind the original newcomer, wearing similar cloaks without the hood pulled up. The one male had grayish white hair, while the other female had bright red hair, falling past her shoulders. Upon another second of focusing, Naruto recognized the unmistakable marks on their ninja headbands…these ninja were from Ame!

"Masahiro-sama," the girl worriedly spoke to the hooded one who had attacked Gaara. "Be careful! They're both Jinchuuriki! The blonde one has an especially powerful and dark chakra in him!"

Naruto sharply inhaled, shock and fear running through his veins once again. How did Ame girl know about him? She immediately had recognized that both he and Gaara were Jinchuuriki…was it possible that she was a sensory-type ninja?

"I don't care about the blonde one," the hooded ninja slowly articulated, his voice dark and strained, as if he was seething in anger. In the blink of an eye, jumped forward using a shunshin and appeared in between Naruto and Gaara, his back toward Naruto for the most part. "Sabaku no Gaara…Gaara of the Desert! What a pleasure to see you again!"

The momentum of his body caused the bottom of his cloak to blow to the side momentarily, which caused Naruto's eyes to focus on something that clearly stuck out. Masahiro wasn't wearing the purple pants that he had seen Kimimaro wear with his uniform; instead, he was wearing dark shorts made in a similar fashion. It was obvious why…Masahiro's right leg from the knee down was completely metallic, like a puppet part, with small gears moving as he shifted his weight to one side. After a half a second, his cloak returned and hid his leg. His cloak, along with his two partners, was also different from the Akatsuki robe Naruto had seen Kimimaro wearing. It was black in color with several red clouds on it, but it was much looser, and instead of the high collar that covered much of Kimimaro's face, his robe had a hood. Directly in the upper center of his back, Naruto read the kanji of four, and that same kanji was on the each shoulder facing out. He also noticed that Masahiro's sleeve had two blood-red stripes going diagonally across the forearm sections, while his partners didn't. His hood also fell back in the process, revealing read hair slightly darker than Gaara's, though it fell loosely down his face.

Gaara's demeanor seemed to return to the emotionless slate that it normally was in. "I can't say the same," he replied stoically, his murderous rage from before seemingly gone.

"No, no you shouldn't be happy," Masahiro continued, a maniacal smile growing on his face. "Definitely, not, happy! You see, I've been training rigorously, every day since we last met. I've pushed myself beyond all of my limits, with the sole intention of becoming strong enough to kill you. That's the only reason I joined Akatsuki; to train under the greatest and strongest so that one day I could stand in front of you again with the power to slay you, you pitiful monster!"

Naruto's eyes quickly darted over to Masahiro's teammates. Strangely enough, they seemed just as surprised as he was, as if they had never known this about their teammate. It was obvious to tell that Masahiro was excited and telling the truth, from the emotion in his voice to the way that he was breathing heavily. Naruto knew that he had to get out of this situation, as quickly as possible. Every moment he stayed made it more likely that he was going to get thrown in the middle of a fight that he strongly wanted to avoid.

"Unfortunately," Masahiro continued, his excited tone coming down slightly, "with your 'absolute defense', I wouldn't be able to kill you in time before other ninja were alerted and stopped us. But don't worry. As soon as we're done with classroom testing and get out into the field I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities."

Gaara, as usual, seemed unfazed. "Don't flatter yourself. I see you're nothing more than a clueless pawn in Akatsuki's organization if you think that you're going to be able to kill me. That doesn't matter to me though. I'll be on the rooftops at night. If you can find me, then I would be more than happy to end your misery there."

With that, Gaara vanished in a swirl of sand. Letting out an aggravated snarl, Masahiro shimmered back over to where his teammates were standing. Without saying anything, he started walking out of the room, with his team following close behind him.


Academy

This was it.

Team 7 stood in front of rear doors that led to the testing room. Chattering could be heard from the other side, where there was sure to be a large group of participants gathered. Naruto had managed to meet back up with his team, making sure to tell them about the strange encounter he had with Gaara and Masahiro, especially Masahiro, since Naruto had never heard of him before. It seemed like there was yet again another ninja competing in these exams who was incredibly powerful, assuming that Masahiro had to be strong if he thought he could kill Gaara. Suddenly, Naruto felt much better about having the first test be a written exam…maybe Gaara and the Ame ninja were terrible at math and would fail out of the Chunin Exams before the fighting even began!

"Are you guys ready for this?" Naruto asked, getting ready to push the doors open. He looked at Sasuke and Hinata, who both had calm and confident looks on their faces. Naruto couldn't help but feel a little bit better looking at them; Team 7 had been through so much together already, in such a short time. They were ready to become Chunin, and they knew it. Sasuke and Hinata had both been in life or death situations, and he knew that he could absolutely count on them if he needed to. Sasuke's ocular powers were as strong as Naruto's, and his ninjutsu was even better, and Hinata's special mix between taijutsu and Jyuken was an incredible asset to their team. Also, with the addition of Hinata's Byakugan, their team based on fighting skills had instantly become akin to a recon team, as her eyes were able to see through anything and detect chakra for miles.

Hinata's Byakugan had come as a shock to the few people who knew about it as of now. Naruto almost didn't believe it himself when Sasuke had told him that she used her new ocular powers to fight Haku on the bridge, but Hinata was able to activate her eyes at will and showed Naruto. Her eyes were also a light, pale color, almost light purple. The largest question that had yet to be answered was 'how'; being a Senju, it was obviously impossible for her to somehow awaken a kekkei genkai that had nothing to do with her bloodline. Naruto, after learning a lot about kekkei genkai in the past, had to assume that one of Hinata's parents was a Hyuga, but for some reason, Hinata had been a little distant from him ever since the bridge and they had avoided talking about anything at all.

Either way, that didn't matter now. What mattered now was the Chunin Exams. And he didn't know why, but he had a strange feeling that these exams were going to change everything.

Pushing the doors open, a calm breeze hit Naruto in the face, along with the incoming flood of voices that filled his ears. His heart was pumping in his chest, but as nervous as he was, few people in the room even turned to look at him or noticed his team's entrance. His eyes darted left and right as he took his first few steps into the familiar classroom-he remembered taking tests in this very room not too long ago as a student in the Academy. His eyes were drawn to the hundreds of different ninja headbands; cloud ninja over here, grass ninja there, ninja from Iwa…

His eyes landed on the familiar Konoha headband symbol, and he instinctively started walking towards what he recognized as a group of Konoha ninja. With Sasuke and Hinata close behind him, he immediately recognized the faces of the group immediately; there were the six other Genin that had graduated from the Academy with him! Team 8 and Team 10!

"What's up dorks?" Kiba greeted loudly as Team 7 joined the group of Konoha ninja. Naruto looked at Kiba directly in his eyes, lifting an eyebrow in curiosity. He quickly scanned the other Genin. They…they didn't know. They didn't know death like Team 7 did. They still had some sort of naivety in their faces, something that just wasn't present in Naruto, Sasuke and Hinata anymore. Granted, while ninja know that they have signed their lives away to Konoha and the Hokage, it isn't likely for a Genin to be put on many deadly missions. He saw confidence in the Genin before him, but it wasn't the grim confidence that he had seen in Kakashi's eyes, or Gaara's eyes, or even Masahiro, the ninja who had appeared before him earlier.

Kiba, or any of these other Konoha genin, had yet to take a life. Naruto wondered for a moment if the other Genin were even ready to become Chunin.

Kiba must have somehow seen the look in Naruto's eyes, because his happy demeanor dropped surprisingly quickly. "Hey man, we all heard a little about what happened on your C-rank mission," he said, looking at Hinata and Sasuke next to him as well. "Are you guys alright? People are saying that you were attacked by multiple A-ranked Jonin, and that even Akatsuki showed up. That's not all true is it?"

Naruto zoned out a little while Sasuke began to explain what happened to them, and his eyes once more darted around the room. He saw the Ame team for a little while earlier, with the ninja named 'Masahiro' coolly leaning against a far wall, his hood once again up and his two teammates behind him. Masahiro appeared to be yet another large obstacle in the test, another powerful-seeming ninja who Naruto hoped to avoid altogether. Perhaps before, Naruto would be eager to prove himself fighting against strong ninja, but after fighting Zabuza and experiencing what it felt like to know that any slip or mistake would result in either his death of the death of a teammate, Naruto wasn't eager to jump into another battle like that.

Following Masahiro's gaze, Naruto saw Gaara on the other side of the room, somehow isolated despite the crowded number of people the room. Unlike many others, Gaara seemed indifferent to just about everyone else around him. Naruto thought back to when Masahiro had confronted Gaara…how had they known each other? Had Masahiro originally come from Suna, or did Gaara somehow have a connection to Akatsuki and-

POOF!

A small cloud of smoke filled the front of the classroom, causing all sound of chatter to cease in the large room as everyone's attention snapped to the source of disruption. After several seconds, the smoke cleared to reveal a large man in a dark coat, standing with his arms crossed. Naruto immediately recognized the ninja as Ibiki Morino, a special Jonin and the head of Konoha's torture and interrogation force. His head was covered in a bandana and scars covered the rest of his face, giving him a menacing look.

"On your feet!" Ibiki commanded with a voice like cracking thunder. After a half second of utter silence, the room was filled with the scraping of chairs as any ninja who had been sitting down immediately stood up, knocking chairs back in the process. His voice wasn't augmented with chakra in any way that Naruto could sense, but it was just naturally loud and sharp enough for most people in the room to flinch at its volume. Once everyone was standing and silent, Ibiki spoke again. "I don't care to tell any of you my name, just like I don't care about any of your names. I will be the facilitator of the first test of the Chunin Exams. For those of you who don't know, the Chunin Exam will be broken into three parts…I won't go into any detail about the second two parts, seeing as more than half of you won't make it past my first test. I'll make that my priority."

Silence continued to loudly penetrate the room. For the first time, Naruto began to worry less about the powerful ninja he might face in the room and more about what Morino had in store for them.

"At the command of 'take seats', you will all have 15 seconds to find a seat in any of the rows in this room. Any person standing after 15 seconds will be immediately released from the exams as a failure."

More silence. Naruto's eyes began to dart around to the seats nearest him. He and the other Konoha ninja were closer toward the door, and there were already many ninja standing right in front of chairs that they had been sitting in.

"TAKE SEATS."

The room immediately exploded with sound once more as everyone darted for a seat, some going as far to dive into the chairs, slightly skidding across the ground. Naruto would most likely have found the situation funny if he hadn't been entirely focused on finding his own seat. The first two that he had planned to sit had been taken moments before he reached them, and without hesitation, he sprinted to the back of the room where there were still empty spots in the rows. He sat down with several seconds to spare, and the seats on his left and rights were filled shortly after.

"FREEZE."

His heart was still racing as he looking around the room for his scattered teammates, having a better view of everything now that everyone was seated…everyone, that is, apart from Ibiki and the unlucky ninja who stood in the front with a deer-in-the-headlights look plastered on his face, frozen in a nearly comical posture. Naruto recognized the Konoha headband that the ninja was wearing…he wondered for a moment if Ibiki would give the older genin some slack because-

"Konoha, Team 27, on your feet!" Ibiki commanded once again. Two other ninja in the crowd slowly stood up, fear plastered on their faces as every turned to look at them. Naruto recognized them as Konoha ninja, but he wasn't sure of any of their names.

"You all fail. Task force 1, escort these disappointments out of the room."

Naruto's eyes widened with most of the room as the doors opened and dozens of uniformed Konoha ninja filed in the sides, three of them forcefully grabbing the standing genin and dragging them back to the doors.

"W-wait!" the original genin who had been left standing began to shout out as they neared the door. "What the hell? You can't do this! You can't-"

SLAM

The doors slammed behind him, causing silence to fill the room once again. With some sort of unknown cue, the task force Konoha ninja who were lined up on the sides of the rows took their seats at the same time, and all attention fell again Ibiki, the last one standing in the room.

"Let me make this crystal clear," he began, clasping his hands behind his back in a professional manner. "I am not here to help you. My task force along the walls are not here to help you. We have been assigned by the Hokage to weed out the weak of mind, the weak of body, and the weak of spirit, in whatever way I deem necessary. From here on out, I am your enemy, and if I can fail every single one of you before the second part of the Exam begins, then I will have done my job well. For the few of you who may pass my portion of the Exam, there will be no one to say that you didn't deserve it.

"The rules will be simple," he began again, his voice cuing the ninja on the sides to stand up and begin to distribute a written test in front of each ninja. "You will each be given identical tests of 10 questions. Your objective is obvious: score as high as you can on the test. Whether or not you pass depends on your final score. That being said…cheating will not be tolerated. If you have been caught cheating three times, you will be immediately failed along with the rest of your team."

Naruto's mental gears immediately went spinning. So it was a written test? If he cared so much about cheating, why would you be allowed two chances to get caught? Naruto looked down at the test that had been placed face down in front of him…without even looking at what type of questions there were, he immediately noticed something odd. There were only nine questions, but Ibiki had definitely said 10…where was the tenth question?

After the task force had distributed all of the tests and lined back up along the rows, Ibiki glanced left, then right, then bellowed out, "BEGIN."

The sound of papers flipping over to the front side filled the room, but Naruto took the time to double check that there were in fact only nine questions on the test. There were only nine! He slowly turned the page over and when he looked at the first question, his heart slightly sank. It was a physics problem…find the angle necessary for the kunai to be thrown to reach the given target with an initial velocity of….

Naruto's ears quickly picked up the familiar scribble of someone several seats down from him furiously writing down the answer to what seemed to be question one. He risked a quick sideways glance, and to his disbelief, past two genin who were nervously sweating with their heads in their hands, an older looking genin was calmly writing down the answer. Naruto averted his gaze quickly before the task force Chunin thought that he was cheating. How had someone already begun to work out the answer when he had yet to read the problem?

When he listened closer, there were two or three other people in the room who were also already furiously writing down the answers. It was as if they had already known what…

It suddenly clicked in his head. He briefly scanned the rest of the questions, and although Naruto was one of the smartest genin in his graduating class, he had little doubt that he wouldn't be able to answer any of them on his own. Ibiki had given them three chances to get caught cheating because there was a team currently taking the test that was a part of Ibiki's task force, a team that already knew the answers! The purpose of the test wasn't to see how smart each genin was, but to see if each genin could cheat and get away with it! That's why the task force was lined up on the sides and-

"Iwa, Team 4: fail."

Ibiki's voice cut through the studious quiet like a hot knife through butter. Three genin in the crowd slowly stood up and were escorted out of the room by one of the Chunin. Someone had gotten caught three times already? Naruto quickly looked around for Sasuke and Hinata in the massive room, hoping to find them and see if they knew what the test actually was, but while his eyes were darting around, he made eye contact with a Chunin on the side who immediately grinned at Naruto before marking something down on his clipboard.

"Crap!"

Naruto's eyes snapped back down to his own test, and he felt his hands start to get sweaty with nervousness. Had the Chunin just given him his first strike already? Okay, so he knew that he had to cheat to succeed on the test, but just exactly how was he going to cheat?

The Sharingan? That could work…he bet that he could activate his eyes and copy the hand motions of someone nearby him…but that would only work if the person was at some angle in front of him. There was a person two seats to his side who was writing down all of the answers, but Naruto couldn't copy his movements with his Sharingan without very obviously turning his head to the side and risk getting caught. He might as well just look at the answers then instead of using the Sharingan at all. If only he had a better angle.

What else did he have? The longer he took to figure something out, the less time he had to copy down someone who knew all the answers. What else, what else?

The shadow clone? No, he couldn't think of any way that he could…wait!

He glanced to his left, down the row, past the Chunin observer, and to the window which was currently allowing the morning sunlight to pour in. Naruto smiled, looked down at his test, spent several minutes looking over all of the questions once more, and quickly held up a single hand in a half-seal.


Outside

Naruto deeply breathed in the fresh air outside, smiling to himself as he felt the rays of sun hit him and fill him with warmth. He was sitting with his back against the Academy wall, just below the window that separated him from all the other genin still taking the test inside. He wagered that he had no more than an hour to sprint over to the library and track down the answers to the questions of the test. He would also need to head back over to his apartment and dig up his old notebooks that held the math and physics equations that he needed for a few problems.

Deciding it would be fastest to split up the work, he darted to the side, crouching low as not to be seen through the window, and as soon as he was in the clear, he held up his hand just like he had before and created a number of shadow clones, two which headed to his apartment and the rest which sped off to the library. The feeling of dividing his conscience into the clones was a strange one, but it reminded him of something, something faint that was bugging him ever since he took his first breath moments ago.

He wasn't Naruto, was he? No…he was just a clone of Naruto. What was his name? Who was he?

He smiled for the second time as the memories started coming back to him. His name was…Saito.


Elsewhere – Konoha

"These Chunin Exams will be something to remember," Jiraiya began, standing on the rooftops of the Academy with Kakashi Hatake. Both of them were currently watching Naruto's clones sprint off in different directions. "Ha. Clever of him to use shadow clones…no doubt he's figured out that shadow clones can pass information on to him after they disperse. But as I was saying, something is going to happen during these Chunin Exams, which is one of the few reasons why I'm hanging around here."

Kakashi turned his eye to look at the senior ninja. Despite Kakashi's own renown, it was quite thrilling to be standing next to such a powerful legend as Jiraiya, well known to be one of the most powerful ninja in the world. "I thought you were here to replace me as Naruto's sensei?" he asked, his voice pleasant and light, as if he was making a joke.

Jiraiya snorted in amusement. "Naruto doesn't need a sensei anymore. I'll be more like a patron to him, sponsoring him some of the missions I receive, and sticking around to guide his own training. But that's not the reason why I'm here. I've only told this to the Hokage so far…but I'm tracking Orochimaru. That's why I'm here."

Kakashi's eye widened at this, and he pushed off from the railing, unable to keep his cool composure. "Orochimaru…is in Konoha?!" he asked incredulously. That was just about the worst thing that could happen apart from the appearance of the Kyuubi itself. Or so he thought.

"Yep," Jiraiya grimly responded. "Him, along with several other Akatsuki top dogs. Kimimaro, the white haired kid who seemingly tagged along with your team during your mission in wave…I'll admit that I had never even heard of him before your report, but he's participating in these Exams! Now, if what you said is true and Kimimaro had partnered with Raizo in the Wave, then I'm going to make the bold assumption that he just might possibly be another Akatsuki commander. Before you ask questions, let me continue. Why would the Amekage go so far as to put Kimimaro in the exams? My guess compliments some theories I have surrounding Orochimaru.

"Orochimaru is defecting from Akatsuki," Jiraiya stated, causing Kakashi's eyebrow to shoot up in a questioning manner. "That's been my theory for the past few months. I don't think the Amekage is aware, but Orochimaru has been secretly communicating with the Kazekage. The Amekage is highly secretive, and he never allows anyone within Akatsuki to communicate with other village leaders, which is why I believe Orochimaru is doing so on his own terms. Now, my moles in Suna strongly believe that Orochimaru and the Kazekage are planning an attack on Konoha together. Even though Orochimaru is a part of Akatsuki, he still has hundreds of his own loyal defects from his pseudo-village of Sound, and paired up with Suna, my bet is that they are going to attack the village during the third round of the Chunin Exams, when our defense is the thinnest.

"So how does this tie in with Kimimaro? Why would the Amekage send in such a powerful ninja to the exams if not to ensure that Ame makes it to the final round? Remember that the respective Kages of the finalists are invited to the stadium…if Orochimaru is planning on betraying Ame, and perhaps the Amekage has some sort of hint at this like I do, then he's making sure he'll be there for it…either to stop the action, or to help it.

"Best case scenario: the Amekage is on our 'side' and will help Konoha fight off Suna and Orochimaru. Worst-case scenario: I've been missing several bits of information, and the Amekage is behind everything, and Akatsuki, Suna, and Orochimaru will attack Konoha at the same time. Obviously, this is the worst case, because Konoha would inevitably be destroyed within the hour.

"Of course, I've told all of my theories to the Hokage, but the best we can do for now is wait," Jiraiya concluded. "We need to wait for Orochimaru to make some sort of slip up or something that would confirm my beliefs, and we need to wait and see whose side the Amekage is on. The Kazekage has been unreachable to me for some time now. Also, virtually no one outside of Ame apart from the five Kage has even seen the Amekage in person, even I don't know what the man looks like, so we'll have to approach him during the third round."

Kakashi ran his hand throw his wild gray hair, sighing heavily. "And where will you be during all of this?"

A large smile grew on Jiraiya's face. "I'll be watching over Naruto closely. I don't know if you've noticed, but that boy has a 'main-character glow' about him. He's not even a teenager and he's already had enough drama happen in his life to make a Jonin jealous. Plus, I need to keep an eye on his seal. The last thing we need to happen is for him to let the Kyuubi loose in the middle of the auditorium during the final round.


Academy

About 45 minutes after Naruto had created his clone outside the window, his patience was beginning to wear thin. He tapped his fingers impatiently, staring down at his test which was still blank. He had considered dispersing his clones from here, to get whatever information they had, but he decided to trust his main clone to disperse as soon as he was ready. Ibiki had given a 15 minute warning, and the majority of the room was still filled with the scribbling of pens, most people undoubtedly having found a way to cheat.

At least 10 teams (30 people!) had been dismissed from room, members of the teams having been caught cheating three times. Every time Ibiki opened his mouth, Naruto's heart leapt to his throat, especially when Ibiki dismissed Konoha teams. So far, none of Konoha's nine newest genin had been released, much to his relief. But that didn't mean that-

Naruto's eyes widened when over the course of three seconds, his head was rapidly filled with all the information he needed to know to pass the test. The feeling was almost addicting, reliving hours and hours of studying in several seconds was quite the experience. He realized what took so long was that his clones had actually worked out the solutions to all of the problems themselves, making Naruto now feel as if he had already completed the test.

He smiled to himself and began to fill in his blank test easily, ignoring the strange feelings he received from the clone who named himself 'Saito', since he didn't have time to dwell on them. He did, however, spare a moment to wink at the Chunin task force observer at the end of his row who was undoubtedly confused as to how he suddenly knew all the answers.

By the time Naruto finished the ninth question, Ibiki had announced that there was only a minute remaining. Despite the fact that Naruto had a correctly completed test in front of him, he was still brimming with nervousness; he had no idea how Hinata or Sasuke had done, and there was still the fact that Ibiki had claimed there to be ten questions, meaning that there was likely a final question he would give at the end.

"Cease work!" Ibiki barked, his sharp voice immediately followed by the sounds of pens being dropped or placed down on the desks. For several moments, he and the task force searched for any signs of movement that would indicate someone still trying to write, but people seemed to have taken Ibiki seriously and didn't dare try and write an extra letter down.

Now that all the pens were down, Naruto again tried to search the room for either of his teammates. There was nothing he could do to help them at this point, but he still hoped that they had done well. After about thirty seconds of nervous searching, he spotted Hinata two rows in front of him and all the way down at the edge, closest to a Chunin observer. Given that she had a Byakugan, he imagined that cheating had been the easiest thing in the word to her…she could see every single persons test in the room! However, instead of looking confident in herself, she looked close to tears. Naruto couldn't help but silently curse; she had the look of someone who had just failed miserably, a look Hinata wasn't all that familiar with when it came to academics.

"I'm sure that some of the smarter ones among you are beginning to wonder," Ibiki eventually began, "why there were only nine questions on the test that you just took. I did not lie; this test is composed of ten questions, the tenth and final question being the hardest of them all. Task force, collect the tests."

The Chunin on the sides quickly stood up and swept through the rows, picking up tests along the way, some obviously chuckling at the people who had barely filled out the tests. Naruto proudly handed his test off with a small smirk, proud of the glare he earned himself from the Chunin who couldn't catch him cheating. Snooping around was a hard-earned skill that Naruto had mastered in his early childhood in the streets of Konoha, and it paid to be sneaky in the ninja profession.

As soon as the tests had been piled on the desks in the front, the task force returned to the sides, and Ibiki spoke out again. "I have been giving out the first round test for Chunin Exams for many years," Ibiki said, his voice covering the room. "Solely for my legendary 'tenth questions'. Each year I change the question, and each year I successfully weed out the ninja who are not prepared to become Chunin. In light of the numerous amount of genin who are present this year, I am willing to give you all a gift."

There were several snickers in the room; despite most people not having known Ibiki before this, any gift from the menacing ninja seemed like a humorous idea.

"Here is my gift: you all have two minutes to leave the room if you so choose. However, know that if you decide to stay and challenge my last question, and fail…the Kage have wisely given me the authority to strip you and your team of your commissions and prohibit you from ever joining the shinobi ranks again. Of course, if you choose to leave, your team will be forced to leave with you. That, however, may be an unknowing gift to your comrades. Your two minute window begins now."

For what felt like the tenth time in the past hour, Naruto's heart jumped up to his throat and silence filled the room. Was this guy serious? Had the Hokage actually given Ibiki permission to do this? What about the other Kage? Naruto had never heard of anything like this happening before…was it possible that-

Naruto's thoughts were interrupted when the ninja next to him slammed his hands on the desk and stood up abruptly, sweat gleaning on his face. "I…I quit!" he shouted out, his voice cracking an embarrassing amount. It wasn't surprising that no one found the situation funny in the slightest. "I'm sorry guys…I failed his first test! I couldn't find the answers to any questions, and I got caught cheating twice! There's no way…there's no way…"

Thirty seconds into Ibiki's two minute window, and a team already began to file out of the room. Naruto could tell from faces of that guy's teammates that they were relieved themselves. After the first team went, several other people followed suit, followed closely behind by their angry or relieved teammates. Naruto couldn't help but shake his head and take a deep breath to calm his nerves. There was no way he was going to quit, not after everything he had been through. Something sounded fishy about this last question…Ibiki had already failed around half of the hundreds of ninja who were in the room. It was impossible to think that he would fail even more than that with a final question, let alone ban each failure from ever becoming a ninja. The more Naruto thought about it, the more he realized something: Ibiki was tasked to 'weed out the weak', as the man had claimed himself. But he was already doing that right now…the people who were leaving were ninja who were weak, afraid to take on a challenge.

If there was something Naruto had learned during his time in Wave fighting for his life in an A-ranked mission, it was that hesitance and fear were something that didn't belong on a ninja team. Every time his life was in danger, or his team's lives were in danger, there was a moment where he had the choice to run away, to save himself, to abandon the mission. He couldn't help but feel as if Ibiki was emulating that moment right now. There were life and death moments on the battlefield where every decision you made would determine if you died, or your friends died. Not only that, but you had to trust your teammates with the same decisions; you put your life in their hands, even knowing that if they failed, you might end up with a kunai in your unsuspecting back.

Quitting now would mean failing the mission. Quitting now would be accepting defeat. Quitting now would be abandoning his comrades in their time of need.

Every Academy student at some point had to memorize a part of the Shinobi creed. 'I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.' Naruto remembered that the Hokage himself had taken his class on top his own tower in front of the Hokage monument to recite it together.

"Thirty seconds left," Ibiki announced. "This is your last chance to save-"

"I will always place the mission first."

Naruto's voice cut through the room, silencing even Ibiki, and causing most everyone to turn and look at him in surprise. Heat rose to his face at an astonishing pace as he realized he had stated the first part of the creed out loud, unintentionally. He tried to look as confident and proud as he had felt a moment ago, and luckily, before he could die of embarrassment in his seat,

"I will never accept defeat," a low voice sounded the second part of the creed from the left side of the room, coming from a Kiri ninja who Naruto had never seen before.

But before everyone could pinpoint the person who had spoken, yet another voice rang out from a different spot in the room.

"I will never quit." A female voice this time, that sounded a lot like Hinata, spoke out the third part of the creed. Naruto quickly turned to look at her, and to his surprise, tears were spilling down her cheeks as she clutched her own seat with enough force that her arms were shaking with tension.

"I will never leave a fallen comrade!"

Of the many memorable things in Naruto's life, he would never forget the surprised look on Ibiki's face when nearly the entirety of the room shouted out the final part of the creed together. It was by no means a loud shout, but to be fair, you would've had to have been sitting in the silent room for the past hour to fully understand how loud defiance can sound.

Perhaps even louder than the shout was the fifteen seconds of unified, rebellious silence in the room that followed, where not a single ninja stood up to leave.


Konoha, One Hour Later

"You pass."

As relieved as he was to find out that he everyone left in the room had passed the first test, Ibiki hadn't given them any sort of time to celebrate the fact that there was no 'tenth question' beyond merely staying in the room. Within the hour, everyone was to report to the entrance of an area just outside of the village known as the Forest of Death.

As soon as Naruto and his team had left the Academy building, albeit through one of the lesser known exits to avoid the large crowd of relieved Genin, they took a moment to take a deep breath together.

"Well…that was an interesting first test," Naruto grinned, hoping to lighten the mood. Sasuke looked like he had just taken a beating and Hinata appeared to be on the verge of-

Without warning, Hinata quietly broke down into tears, desperately embracing Naruto in a hug. It wasn't the forceful type of hug that one might expect in this situation, but then again, this was Hinata, and Naruto wasn't expecting a hug at all. All he could do for the first minute or two was look at Sasuke helplessly, and anywhere else beside the crying teammate pushed into his chest.

Sasuke urgently pantomimed a hugging motion at him, and taking the hint, Naruto wrapped his arms around her. Anything is better than standing there uselessly like he had been for the past eternity…or so he thought. If anything, Hinata's sobs increased when he returned the light hug, and Naruto took a moment to glare at Sasuke, who raised his hands in helpless defense.

"…" Hinata mumbled something incoherent. Naruto jumped at the opportunity to find out what on earth he had done wrong to her.

"What did you say?" he gently asked, prying her away from his chest by taking hold of her shoulders. Her face was soaked in tears, much like his shirt was now, and Naruto unconsciously decided that tears did not suit his female friend. Not at all; in fact he would rather break a bone than see her like this again.

"…I was so close," Hinata muttered, barely a whisper. He wondered if Sasuke could hear her.

Rather than ask the obvious question, Naruto wisely chose to remain silent in fear of making her cry again. "I was just about to stand up and quit, right before you started the Shinobi Creed. I didn't answer a single question right on the first test…I f-forgot that I had a B-Byakugan until the last t-two minutes, and I was too afraid to use it b-because I was sitting on the edge…"

Naruto's and Sasuke's eyes widened. He looked nervously at his male teammate, both realizing how much closer they had been to failing then they had previously thought.

"Being a ninja is my dream," she luckily continued, as Naruto had no idea what to say himself. "It's your dream…it's our dream. I couldn't bear the thought me being the reason why you and Sasuke couldn't be ninja."

Naruto wanted to tell her that it was unlikely that Ibiki had ever made such a dramatic deal with the Kage's, but he decided against it. Even he had his doubts during the test with himself.

The walk over to the Forest of Death had been a quiet and slightly awkward one for Naruto. Looking back, he wished that he could say that he had smiled broadly at Hinata and told her that everything was going to be okay, and that he had absolute faith in her as a teammate, but he had ended up uncomfortably patting her on the head, which made him inwardly twinge in incompetence. Hinata had needed just another ten minutes before she apologized and told them that she was ready to go, and by the time they merged with the larger group of genin by the forest gates, Naruto was almost wishing that the next test would start already.

As usual, looking back, he realized that starting the second test was the last thing that he actually wanted to do, and that if he had turned around and quit right there, then perhaps…


Beginning of the Second Test

"Listen here, you filthy little maggots!"

The next special Jonin that appeared before the large group was a female with outrageously colored purple hair (if he didn't know that Sakura had natural colored pink hair, he wouldn't have believed that this Jonin's was natural either) and an even more outrageous outfit, that seemed to be composed of tight fitting clothes which left nothing to the imagination, barely covered by a tan trench coat. If Hinata hadn't been standing next to him and suspiciously watching him closely, Naruto might have made a…comment about the outfit to Sasuke.

It didn't take more than two sentences out of the special Jonin for Naruto to realize that she most likely had no 'guy-problems', despite her outfit. "My name Anko Mitarashi and I'll be in charge of this second test here. Listen quickly, and listen clearly: Ibiki may claim to have the mentally toughest test, but I assure you that you will be tested to your limits in my Forest more than you have ever been tested in your pathetic little lives; mentally, physically and spiritually. I can also assure you that only half of you will pass this test, and I'm not bluffing in the slightest."

No one doubted for a second that she was.

"The purpose of my test is to evaluate teamwork and leadership under stress. And what more stress can you find than in my lovely Forest of Death? Let me explain to you all why my Forest has such a fitting name; some of you here, right now, in this group, will die."

Silence rolled through group after she painfully annunciated the last two words. Naruto swallowed nervously, knowing deep down in his stomach that she wasn't lying.

"If that thought scares you, it should," Anko continued, a malicious grin spreading across her face. "Ibiki's test threatened to take away your ninja titles…my test will threaten to take away your life. If you can't handle that idea, feel free to step away now. I'm sure your families would understand; every year since I've run this test, I get complaints from all over the country from family members of the deceased genin. But I can sleep well at night after I burn those letters, because I'd rather the weak die here than on a mission where the lives of civilians are at stake."

When no one moved to leave, her grin managed to grow on her face. "Ha! Perhaps Ibiki already weeded out the weak and pitiful. That was his job, after all. Well, my job is to weed out the ordinary and talented. Only the great among you will pass this test…it's true that at most only half of you can succeed, but only a third will, because my Forest will devour anyone who is less than Chunin material.

"Let me introduce you to my Forest," she continued in her militaristic voice. "Behind these large, seal protected gates, everythingis designed to kill you. You'll find rats as big as tigers, and tigers as big as houses. Thousands of mosquitoes as big as your hands. Carnivorous trees that will grab your feet with their roots and drag you under. Flowers that will paralyze you if you so much as breathe around them. The sun will be blisteringly hot. The nights will chill you to your frozen core. Hunger will gnaw at you to the point where you may resort to cannibalism, like some genin have in the past. My Forest of Death is where killers are forced to survive, and survivors are forced to kill.

"Your mission is a simple one. In the center of the forest, miles and miles and days and days away from where you are standing now, is a tower. Each team will be given one of two scrolls: a heaven scroll, or an earth scroll. Apart from the scrolls, the only items that will be entering my forest will be weapons, a map, a compass, and a red flare gun that you can use to signal my task force that you and your team has given up. In order to pass my test, you and your entire team must enter the tower with a heaven scroll, and an earth scroll. Yes, that means if one of your teammates dies, gives up, or gets lost, the rest of your team will fail. That also means that before you reach the center, you must steal a scroll from another team. You have one week to get this done. Yes, one…full…week…in the forest of death. The fastest teams will probably get there in three days. The slowest teams…well, the slowest teams are still out there somewhere, probably in the bellies of colossal tigers or in the roots of hungry trees."

Anko gave the genin a moment to let that sink in. "I will state the rules once more for clarity. Steal a matching scroll. Get to the tower. You have one week. Don't die. And don't open the scrolls until you are inside the tower, or you fail. Any questions or quitters?"

Naruto looked around, hoping that someone would ask something if only to delay the inevitable. A full week? His mind went back to survival topics that they constantly studied in the Academy. Which plants you could eat, how to skin and cook an animal, how to tend to a fire…he hoped he could remember everything.

"Are we allowed to kill?"

Anko, and most everyone else, snapped their attention to the red haired Suna ninja who Naruto knew as Gaara. Although there was already a considerable amount of space between him and the next nearest genin, that space immediately began to increase as people nervously shuffled away from him.

"…yes," Anko seriously answered. "As a Chunin, you will be tasked again and again to kill. You will be tasked to protect. That is what this test will determine…can you kill others and protect your team?"

When her speech was finished, all of the teams grouped together and began to file through a series of tents where each team was issued a map, a compass, a red flare gun, and either a heaven or earth scroll. Despite just being warned, Naruto had to resist the temptation to open the scroll before he put it into his useful side leg pouch. There were numerous ninja stores toward the end of all of the tents, all selling items that seemed useful for the test. Naruto already had a special sealing scroll in one of his pouches that he always brought on missions that held his bedroll, a sleeping bag, and a few other essential items that he had sealed away into it, so he didn't end up buying anything. The last station was a pat down, where several Chunin patted down him and his team to make sure there were no contraband items entering the Forest. Naruto couldn't help but smile and pity the Chunin who had to pat down Gaara.


Later

Time was winding down to the start of the second test. By now, every team was spread out along the perimeter of the forest, and Naruto knew that the first and last genin teams were miles apart. He didn't know which teams were on his left and right, but he knew that they were a good distance away from him, as he couldn't even see them. A task force Chunin sat bored around a rock close to their entrance, probably having been stationed there since morning if Naruto had to guess.

"How's it going guys?" he called out to them as Team 7 walked up to their respective gate. He was obviously happy to see a Konoha team…it was a matter of pride between the villages, after all, to see how many of their teams made it to the finals. "Did Anko spook you all? Every team that's walked by me so far looks like they're ready to piss themselves."

Naruto huffed in amusement; pissing himself wasn't all too far off from how he actually felt right now. The Chunin must have realized this, because he stood up and had an apologetic look on his face.

"Hey now," he started again by the time Team 7 all reached him. "The majority of Konoha Chunin have had to take this test at some point or another…I passed it too. And the Hokage made this test mandatory for all Jonin. They have it harder too, the Jonin come out here in larger groups and practice team and squad leadership roles for about a month!"

When that didn't seem to improve the mood, the Chunin sighed a little bit. "Alright guys, lighten up a little bit, you're making me nervous. You have a little bit of time before all the other teams get into place and the horn goes off…I'll have to let the gates open then, and close them five seconds later, with you in the gates or out. So try and come up with a strategy until then. I'm not allowed to help you, but…are you going to run straight in the woods for a couple miles? Or are you going to run sideways and try and trail another team right off the bat. Split up, or stay together? Think about things like that."

They took his advice and sat down in a circle outside of the gate. Naruto had taken the scroll, Sasuke had taken the flare gun, and Hinata had taken the map and compass. Along the walk over, they decided that she would be the best guide for them since she was good at land navigation during the Academy field training exercises, and because of her Byakugan.

"I think we all can agree for now that we should stick together," Naruto eventually voiced out. Sasuke and Hinata both nodded in agreement, no one liking the idea of having to split up in the woods.

"Let's go with a wedge triangle formation," Sasuke offered up. "With Hinata as the lead ninja. We can travel as long as she has her Byakugan up, and that way, she'll be able to see all of the key terrain features as well as any enemy ninja or traps set ahead of us."

Hinata pulled out the map and laid it flat in the center. He noticed that she must have laminated it at the store, which was something Naruto hadn't even thought about. It was great thinking…this way, if it rained or they fell into water, the map wouldn't be ruined.

"I think we should cover as much distance to the tower in a straight line today," she started out, pointing a pen and drawing a dot at a particular point. Naruto looked closely at the point and tried to read the map…it looked to be in the middle of a wooded area, close enough to a swamp where another team definitely wouldn't come from the west. It seemed like a good place. "But we shouldn't stay there for more than just the first night. If we run straight there, we won't have to worry about traps or ambushes, but if we stay there, the following nights we'll always have to worry about enemy attacks from the north, south and east. If we can find a cave or something in the hills over here…"

She point to the large hills somewhat north-east of the position. "…then we'll only have to worry about enemies coming from the entrance. We'll sleep better, have better security, and any campfires we make inside won't reveal our location."

Naruto and Sasuke nodded, both impressed with their teammate. Naruto felt particularly glad that she had recovered from her morning breakdown and was showing her stronger side again.

He decided to add he own two cents. "After we set up a solid base, we can scout around and try and ambush other teams that are getting closer to the tower. Hinata's Byakugan can help us out with that, but it will be easier to return to our camp if we happen to get split up."

They planned a few other minor things in the next couple of minutes, but they were stopped short with three short horn blasts sounded loud enough for everyone to hear. Naruto and his team stood up quickly, but the Chunin who had been standing over and nodding along with their planning, quickly told them,

"That's just the warning blasts. It means everyone it set, and that we have to be ready to open the gates in the next minute. Good luck, guys."

The Chunin headed over to the gate where there was some sort of button that he pressed that turned a yellow light over the gate. Naruto jumped from foot to foot, all of a sudden filled with nervous energy and excitement. This was it! Life or death again.

But he smiled. They were ready. Team 7 was prepared. They were Konoha's best. They were finalists in the making.

The final horn sounded out, loud and triumphant. The yellow light switched to green, and the gates immediately sprang open. Five seconds, the Chunin had told them. Five seconds until the gates would close either in front of them, or behind them, sealing away their fate.

Hinata sprang forward, Sasuke and Naruto close behind, on her left and right. By the time the gates closed behind them, they were already well into the forest. It was a mere distant thud behind them that signified that they test had truly begun, that there was no way out but forward. And Naruto couldn't help but smile as they jumped to the trees, propelling forward with chakra boosted jumps. He would make Shisui proud of him. No matter what, he would protect the two people closest to him.


Moments Earlier

"There's been a change of plans."

Masahiro and his two teammates, Karin and Suigetsu, stood before their own gate, turning around at the familiar sound of the voice of their sensei. Walking toward the group from seemingly nowhere was a man clothed in the Akatsuki robes, the lower half of his face covered by a high collar and the upper half covered by his large straw hat. Though they couldn't see it from the front, they knew that on the back of his robe was the kanji 'six'.

"Excuse me sir," the Konoha Chunin who was standing by the gates voiced out. "The Jonin sensei are not allowed to be in this area at this time…you should have been briefed earlier on where…"

Something about the evil aura the new Akatsuki was giving off seemed to temporarily silence the man. "Masahiro," the robed man began again, ignoring the Konoha Chunin. "You will no longer open the scrolls in the middle of the forest like we had planned. Rather, progress as you normally would. You are forbidden from fighting Gaara. Gaara is to make it to the final round, is that clear?"

The hooded redhead ninja glared at the robed man, but nodded. The robed man grinned back in return. "Good, good. If you want your chance at fighting Gaara, you'll just have to make it to the final round then. Also, there is no need for your team to confront the Konoha team I mentioned before. Guren from Hidan's team will take care of that, as will I. Yes…as of now, I will no longer be in charge of you and-"

"Sir," the Chunin desperately interrupted. "You are notallowed to be communicating with your team! It's strictly against the rules, and if you don't immediately leave, I'll be forced to disqualify-"

Quicker than the time it takes to sharply inhale in surprise, a snake shot out of the robed man's sleeves, thicker than any snake any of them had seen before. The speed at which it flew by Masahiro caused his hood to fly back, and when he turned to follow it, his eyes were quick enough to connect with the eyes of the Chunin who now had the impossibly large snake biting into his neck. His eyes were wide and quickly filling with tears of pain and fear; the look of a man who knew he was about to die. But before he could even gasp or cry out, the snake released its grip and quickly enwrapped the Chunin.

Masahiro's eyes hardened when the next few moments were filled with the sound of cracking bones and snapping tendons. The man seemed to scream out for just a second, but any chance of him being heard was deafened by the roaring of the horns and the opening of the gates. Karin, his female teammate, let out an audible yelp in shock, but he was wise enough to keep quiet. Sasori had warned him of Orochimaru's fickle temper, and the last thing he wanted when he was so close to Gaara was for Orochimaru's wrath to turn on him. What was Orochimaru doing here? What would the Amekage do when he found out that Orochimaru had killed a Konoha ninja? Had all of Orochimaru's 'plans' been insubordination all along?

Orochimaru smiled as he calmly walked through the open gates. He turned around and motioned for them to follow. But before he disappeared, he laughed,

"Come along now, the fun is just beginning!"


End

A/N: Finally! Chapter 18 is done. I'm sorry for the long wait; life has been busy and my free time has been limited. I'm finally home from summer training, and before my girlfriend gets here I've had about a week to write this chapter and I got it done.

It's been a long time since I've read the Naruto manga or watched the anime; seeing as I already have the end of the story planned, I almost don't want to catch up. I've spent hours and hours planning things out for my story, so I don't want to read the latest manga and find out that Naruto's been a Hyuga all along or something stupid that will mess my story up. So if things start to diverge, let's roll with it. We are starting to really split from canon now anyway.

I'm excited for the next chapter, since it starts with action and ends with action; I'll get to do multiple fight scenes, and I'm really excited to split even farther from canon with the story.

As normal, here are the faithful reviewers who motivate me to keep going. They make me a better author, and it's always amazing to know that other people actual enjoy the effort I put into this.


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Q&A

Q: Who is this Saito character? Is his role gonna be epic? And why did you make Haku a girl? Is "her" role gonna be big as well?

A: Saito is Naruto's clone, who starts to view himself separate from the original Naruto. He will play an epic role later on…Naruto obviously won't take Jiraiya's advice about creating clones for a duration. Haku is a girl for a single reason, which will make sense after the Chunin Exams. Her role won't be big…but it will tie in with Neji.

Q: Why is he [Naruto] going to betray Sasuke like that? What is the point?

A: I really hope to make this realistic in the future. I won't spoil everything now, but in canon, Naruto chases after a rogue Sasuke with the sole intent on 'converting' him into someone good again. Just like how I changed Akatsuki's leadership from Nagato to Yahiko and made Akatsuki different because of this, I want to change Naruto's and Sasuke's role. Naruto will be the rogue, but Sasuke in my story is different than canon Naruto. He won't be out to 'convert' anyone, he'll be out for revenge, which is more like his personality.

Q: Will there be an explanation for Hinata's future-sight ability, maybe something along the lines of Shion, or will it never be explained and is purely for plot purposes?

A: Madara already slightly hinted at this a few chapters ago…he mentioned that among some of the doujutsu, there is a rare ability where they can see into the future, especially among the Hyuga. Hinata has this ability, and it will come to play in the future.

Q: Are Hinata's visions guaranteed to come true, or can she change the future by telling Naruto about this stuff?

A: If you looks closely at the visions, they can change slightly each time, and Hinata has been able to get several new details out of them. So there is the possibility of changing them.


A/N

Again, I'm sorry for the long wait, but the Academy does a really good job at sucking up my free time. I'm going to start the next chapter right now, while I still have summer time free. I'll get to it. I don't think the wait will be nearly as long, since of course the fun is just beginning.

Special thanks to Kyuubi123 for helping me through the beta work.

Thanks for sticking with the story! Leave a review if you want me to know your thoughts.

-williams5505