Maybe I'm a Lion
By: James D. Fawkes

Chapter One (?): Under Her Control

o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto rubbed his aching head as he came to, climbing to his feet shakily. His knees wobbled unsteadily, "What—?"

He winced at the large, egg-shaped lump on the top of his head, cursing whatever had spawned the wind that flung him away from his team. When he opened his eyes, however, he panicked and wondered, with terror in his veins, if he had gone blind. Everything around him was pitch black, so dark that he couldn't even see his own nose, let alone his hands.

He spun around, looking for some clue, some desperate hint that he could still see, when he saw, behind him, a faint light. He breathed a sigh of relief and, reaching out with his hand to feel the ground, decided that he had tumbled into a cave of some sort, which explained why he couldn't see.

There was a pulse of blue light behind him and a soft, feathery voice whispered in his ear.

"Come," the voice said. "Come, my brave warrior. Come, my courageous hero."

Naruto spun, locking gazes with a pair of blue eyes not all dissimilar to his own. They were much colder, however, and much higher, for they belonged to a fully grown woman. They were set in a smooth, beautiful face with pale blue skin and matched the cool, navy locks that fell down her naked back.

After her eyes, the next thing Naruto noticed was that she was completely nude. She wore nothing that resembled any clothing he'd ever seen and her breasts and nether region were covered only by a thin layer of opaque blue ice. Nevertheless, despite the inhuman features, she was easily the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

The ice-covered swell of her breasts sloped smoothly into a flat abdomen, taut and toned with beautiful muscle. The crystalline water that protected her modesty dipped low, stopping only centimeters away from revealing her most intimate of places. Smooth legs, rippling with tightly-packed coiled muscle, cascaded downwards like water.

Naruto could not help wishing he could appreciate her in full.

A coy smile curled on her navy blue lips. He felt his heartbeat quicken and gulped nervously, his mouth suddenly dry.

"Come, my hero," she said again, her voice soft, yet hard and cold. She extended one welcoming hand for him to take. Her tone turned seductive. "Come and make me yours."

Numbly, as though he were in a trance, Naruto reached out and took her cold hand. She smiled again, triumphantly, and an excruciating icy pain shot up his arm. With a sharp gasp, he snarled and shut his eyes tight against the agony, then it was gone. As if it had never been there in the first place.

When he opened his eyes again, she was nowhere to be seen. Not a thing remained except the tattoo now on the back of his hand, which read, "Shiva". The blue light still gleamed off the walls, which, he realized, were coated in ice, but the woman, the unearthly blue woman for whom his heart had beat wildly, had vanished completely.

"Come, my hero," her voice whispered in his ear as a cold, yet comforting hand trailed down his shoulder. "Take your new weapon. Take the gifts I have bestowed upon you."

As if commanded, the blue light grew brighter, illuminating the back of the cave. Three objects were embedded in the wall. One was a wide, strange-looking sword with a curved hilt and an odd sort of cylinder with six holes (and, even stranger, a trigger of some sort). A cool-looking winged lion was carved into the broad side of the blade and beneath was a single word: Revolver.

The second object was a necklace on a thick chain. The pendant on it was a cross attached to a side-view of a snarling lion's head. With only the slightest hesitation, he slipped it over his head and felt its oddly heavy weight rest against his chest. The third object was a pure silver ring with another winged lion carved on it. He slipped it on his right ring finger and admired the craftsmanship for a moment, then grasped the sword, testing its strangely comfortable weight and design. He swung it a couple times to get a feel for it, then pointed it at the wall and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

Frowning, he shrugged and turned towards the exit. Horror struck him as he realized that he had completely forgotten about his teammates.

"Go, my hero," Shiva's voice whispered in his ear airily. "Show them your power."

With a wide grin, Naruto rested Revolver against his shoulder and took off out the cave like a bullet. The moment sunlight rested on him, however, a loud, shrieking hiss stopped him. Looking up, he came face to neck with a giant snake. He snarled.

"I don't have time for you!" he yelled angrily, but he wasn't sure how to beat the beast. It simply cracked its jaw open again and hissed. He racked his brain for a way to kill it quickly or at least escape it. Kage Bunshin came to mind first and he was just about to lift his hands into the seal when Shiva spoke again.

"Your new power," she said, "use it."

With a calming breath and guided by this strange new goddess, he reached out with mental fingers and pulled on the new power inside of him. A list rattled itself off in his mind, but only one of them had any use. Blue eyes snapping open, he hissed, "Blizzard."

As though he were throwing a shuriken, Naruto swept his arm around in an arc, releasing the tiny, shimmering blue ball in his hands. It streaked forward, curving its path a little as it homed in on the beast. When it struck, there was no escape, for the creature became frozen in ice. Grinning, Naruto leapt over the snake, shattering it with a well placed slash along the way, and into the trees, heading towards his friends.

He was so distracted by that need to rescue them, he didn't even notice that he was twice as fast and his jumps were twice as strong.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"You guys shouldn't relax, even for a moment," the strange man said, rising from the snake's corpse. "Prey should always be trying to run away…"

Body elongating like the beast from which he had come, the shinobi coiled snake-like up the tree. He stopped short, however, as a fireball crashed into the wood in front of him. All three combatants looked over to its origin, where a familiar blonde stood grinning brightly.

"Sorry, Sasuke!" Naruto called, Revolver resting on his shoulder and his outstretched left hand smoking. "I forgot the password!"

"Naruto!" Sakura cried, relieved.

"Naruto!" Sasuke yelled seriously. "I know you think you're here to save us, but forget it! Run away! This guy's on a whole other level!"

Naruto frowned for a moment but didn't speak.

"Looks like you defeated my giant snake, Naruto-kun," the grass ninja cooed amusedly as his body slowly pulled back together. Naruto's triumphant look returned as Sasuke's thoughts turned troubled.

"It looks like you were picking on the weak!" the blonde taunted back. Neither of his two teammates responded to the jab, however, and Sasuke bit his lip. After a moment of debate and indecision, he deactivated his Sharingan and reached into his pouch, pulling out the scroll.

"If you take it and leave," he said, "I will give you our scroll."

Naruto went from triumphant to outraged in an instant and Sakura looked nonplussed. The grass ninja merely smirked.

"Sasuke, what the hell are you talking about?" Naruto demanded, carving a slice into the tree in his anger. "Why would you give our scroll to the enemy?"

Sasuke ignored him and threw the scroll at his foe, crying, "Take it!"

In a blur, Naruto shot through the air and grasped it, landing on the tree next to Sasuke. Sasuke turned and berated his teammate.

"What do you think you're doing?" he yelled. "Don't you understand the situation at all?"

Tucking the scroll away safely, Naruto spun around and decked Sasuke with his left hand. Grunting, the Uchiha flipped in midair and landed on a convenient branch.

"What was that all about?" he demanded.

"I forgot what the password was, so I can't test it," the blonde said slowly, his voice trembling with rage, "but you're not the real Sasuke, are you?"

"You moron," Sasuke shot back, "of course I'm the real me!"

"You're lying!" Naruto called. "There's no way a stupid coward like you is the real Sasuke! I may not know how strong this guy is, but what guarantee is there that he'd leave us alone if we gave him the scroll? You're the one who doesn't understand the situation!"

"My, my, Naruto-kun," the grass ninja chuckled, "how astute! You're correct. Since I could just kill you and take the scroll…" — he bit his thumb and ran it down a tattoo on his arm — "why bother even sparing you?"

"Shut up!" Naruto shouted, turning towards his foe. With a burst of speed, he took off running, Revolver trailing behind him as he prepared to swing. At the last second, there was a puff of smoke and a giant snake appeared beneath the grass ninja. With a grunt, Naruto swung down and slammed his gunblade into the beast's snout, but didn't even make it past the leathery scales.

Effortlessly, the snake flicked him away, sending him tumbling through the trees. He collided hard with a particularly thick branch and began to fall to the ground below. The long-haired shinobi chuckled.

"You can eat him if you like," he told his snake. The beast's tongue swirled out wordlessly, but Naruto twisted in midair, his eyes bleeding red, and swung down once more. With a fleshy squelch, Revolver cut past the serpent's hide and into the muscle and sinew beneath. The beast reared back, but everyone already knew: it was only a paper cut.

In a flurry of hand seals, the grass ninja let out a deep breath and blew Naruto right into another tree, where there was a horrible-sounding thud. Chuckling, the long-haired shinobi egged his snake towards the others and called out, "It's your turn now, Sasuke-kun! What'll you do?"

There was another fleshy squelch and the beast came to a stop. Naruto stood in front of it, sideways and head down, Revolver embedded into its snout all the way up to the six-slot chamber.

In a quiet voice, with Shiva whispering instructions in his ear, Naruto said, "Renzokuken."

He pulled the trigger, then wrenched his sword free, the lion motif glowing with a fiery light. He slashed once, his blade cutting easily through the snake's scales, then again, and again, and again, each time pulling the trigger as he hit. Finally, at some unseen signal, he backed off, sword glowing blue. With a loud battle cry, he dashed forward, leaping up the bleeding serpent and carving a path through its flesh as he went.

"Rough Divide!" he called, slashing upwards at the enemy ninja. To his shock, he managed only to knick the man's cheek.

Before he could gather himself, the snake-man's tongue extended and grabbed him, holding him in place. He struggled, but could not escape.

"So, the Nine-tails brat is still alive, eh?" the ninja said bemusedly as he went through hand seals. He lifted the boy's shirt as his fingers began to glow with purple fire. "Ah! When your emotions are heightened, the beast's chakra bleeds through and the seal is visible." He jerked his hand forward and dug his fingers into Naruto's stomach. "Gogyou Fuuin!"

Even as his energy left him and his eyes began to close, Naruto's grip on his sword never loosened. With one final exhale, black engulfed him.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto woke with a gasp, his head aching and his stomach sore. He felt as though he had been hit with a hammer particularly hard. Something told him that he had been out for quite a while. So why did it still hurt so much?

"…ha!" There was a loud poof. Even with his mind a little groggy, Naruto recognized it as the sound of a substitution being used. An alarm went off in the back of his mind. A substitution meant that there was a battle going on, and he couldn't afford to be asleep during a battle.

"Kin, out of the way!" the words took forever to go from his ears to his brain. A gust of wind swept over him and ruffled his hair, brushing him delicately. There were three sharp thuds, earthy instead of fleshy. It was accompanied once more by the sound of a substitution. "Is that all you know?"

His skull pulsed with pain following every heartbeat, as if someone had filled his blood with fire. A soft hiss passed through his teeth, inaudible over the sounds of battle.

"Useless!" There was another rush of wind, stronger than before. It was harsh against his skin, but the cool air provided some relief from the headache that pounded against his skull. He barely caught the dark scoff that followed. "You aren't fooling anyone!"

Three more thunks, but this time, there was no Kawarimi to follow it. Dimly, another set of alarm bells went off inside his brain. Shiva's voice whispered in his ear, but he could not hear her words. "How many times do I have to say it's useless?"

Another thud, this time heavier, followed by a surprised gasp and the smell of blood leaking from fresh wounds. There was a muffled cry of pain, feminine in nature, and several loud whacks as someone hit something repeatedly. Then, a thud as something or someone was thrown bodily to the ground.

Blue eyes snapped open, the alarm bells finally registering as Shiva commanded him to stand.

He stood in one fluid motion, fingers still clutching tightly to his new weapon as his necklace and ring gleamed in the sunlight. His blue eyes burned with a cold fire as he looked around at the people before him, taking especial note of the beaten and bruised Sakura. A raging fury awoke in him, one that had seldom reared its blazing head.

"Naru…to," Sakura whispered dully, one eye nearly swollen shut and her face covered in her own blood. There were several wet spots on her shirt and pants and her hair was matted with the red liquid.

"What the?" the ninja with spiky black hair looked at him, obviously confused. "Weren't you out cold a few seconds ago?"

Naruto focused his icy gaze on the Sound Genin, lifting a hand and pointing it towards him. There was a soft glow, then a gust of wind followed, a surprisingly familiar gust of wind. Zaku was blown back, landing on his feet and staring at the blonde incredulously.

"That was…" he mumbled. "No way…!"

Naruto grinned, "Way."

Zaku growled, moving to attack, "You damn copycat!"

There was another gust of wind and Zaku was once more knocked back. With a skid, he landed in a crouch, snarling angrily. Naruto did nothing but grin, hand still outstretched as if he had just been…casting a spell.

"You guys should really give up!" he called triumphantly. "I just Drew sixteen of those air thingies! I have enough to last me all day!"

"As if I'd ever give up to a loser like you!" Zaku yelled back angrily. "All you can do is copy me! Why don't you use your own shit? Or are you too pathetic to do even that?"

In a blur, Naruto stood in front of Zaku, sword in mid-swing. Zaku stumbled backwards in his shock, watching as several strands of his black hair fell to the ground. He had just barely missed being decapitated by the blonde's strange sword. There was no follow up, though, as Naruto rested Revolver against his shoulder and grinned wider.

"Still won't give up?" he taunted. "I've got twenty-three Hastes that I Drew a few days ago. Even if this one wears off, I've got enough to last for a while to come."

Zaku flung up a hand, "Get lost!" and launched another Zankuuha. By the time he had, however, Naruto was already gone. Zaku spun around, only to get a kick to the gut that sent him flying. A moment later, a fireball easily twice his size came barreling towards him. With a grunt, he used his attack again and dispersed it, but sent himself crashing into a tree in the process.

He groaned as he slowly sat up, only to find Naruto standing over him triumphantly. He looked up at the blonde and blurted out, "What are you? You don't even use hand seals!"

The only response he got was a swift kick in the stomach, followed by the bliss of unconsciousness. Naruto turned, then paused for a moment, Revolver resting against his shoulder.

"Maybe I'm a lion," he said.

Naruto spun around, sword humming and vibrating as he blocked an attack from Dosu's gauntlet. The one-eyed genin had time to look surprised before a supercharged kick caught him in the stomach and sent him flying. Impossibly, Naruto had managed to move ahead of his path and landed an axe kick into the same spot, sending his foe to the harsh, unforgiving earth. If it weren't for the fact that he could feel his legs, Dosu might have thought his spine had broken.

"Had enough?"

Growling, Dosu pushed past the pain and flung his arm out at the same time as Naruto swung, pulling the trigger on his strange sword. There was a clang, and then, to his shock, Dosu's gauntlet fell to pieces. There was a moment of silence, then a strange sensation overtook him and Dosu pitched forward, emptying the contents of his stomach as the world swayed around him.

"You," he breathed darkly, "how did you…? When…?"

"Don't feel too bad," Naruto grinned. "I'm a whole new animal!"

The sound of steel whistling through the air prompted Naruto to turn, flinging out his free hand and sending the senbon whirling back at their owner with a gust of wind. Kin slammed into a tree, crying out in pain, and her senbon slammed into her a moment later, sinking through her shoulder and pinning her to the bark behind her. Naruto grinned, Revolver slung over his shoulder in what amounted to a victory pose.

It was rather short lived.

"I came here," a voice began quietly, "because I thought some minor Sound nin were bullying a few second rate ninja."

A teenager stood with his arms crossed up in a tree, his long brown hair flowing down his back and his milky eyes narrowed dangerously. Next to him kneeled a girl whose hair was done up in buns, also possessed of a very serious look. Naruto squinted at the boy, frowning. Those features looked familiar, so he was probably related to Hinata.

"I can see, however," the boy continued, "that we were not needed." He looked to the downed boy in green spandex. "But it seems that this will not be a total loss. That knocked out freak is my teammate, so we'll just be collecting him."

Dosu scoffed, "Like cockroaches…"

A very deadly looking blade was pressed against his throat, "Hey, hey, you've got a scroll, right?"

Dosu looked up the sword and into Naruto's eyes. Naruto's grin twitched, "So I'll just take it off your hands, alright?"

Dosu grimaced beneath his bandages, but reached down and slowly pulled out his team's scroll and set it on the ground. He set his visible eye into a glare, "I promise you, if we meet again in this exam…we will neither run nor hide."

Naruto's grin turned malicious, "Lookin' forward to it."

Picking up his teammates, Dosu leapt into the foliage and vanished. Naruto grabbed the scroll he had left behind and examined it victoriously for a moment, then hefted it up proudly, "Oi, Sakura-chan, I got us a scroll!"

"That's a pretty strange sword you got there," a voice said slyly. Jumping, Naruto spun around to see the grinning face of the bun-haired girl from Lee's team. He let out a quick, relieved sigh, then grinned again, brandishing Revolver.

"Pretty sweet, huh?" he said, watching with satisfaction as her eyes scanned the gunblade up and down. She herself was grinning, devouring the sword in front of her and committing every detail to memory.

"I'll say," she said, running a finger over the lion motif. "So what's the trigger thing for, anyhow?"

"Well, if you pull it when you swing," Naruto demonstrated, "it'll send vibrations up the sword, making it easier to cut through stuff, you know? Pretty cool, right?"

"I'll say," Tenten giggled, eyeing it hungrily.

"Tenten!" the brown haired boy barked. A groggy Lee was propped against his side. "Let's go."

Tenten sighed, rolling her eyes at Naruto playfully, "Looks like I have to go. Stay safe, all right, Naruto-san? I'll be real disappointed if you die out here!"

Without another word, she and her team leapt away. Naruto rested Revolver against his shoulder and could not help the grin that stretched over his mouth.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"I say we open the scrolls," Naruto said, Revolver slung over his back in a makeshift sheath. There was only an hour or two left in the second exam, since they had needed to pick up a scroll to replace the one that snake freak had burned to a crisp. They were currently inside the tower, trying to figure out where to go next.

"Idiot!" Sakura punched Naruto over the head, a vein popping out on her brow. "Anko-san said not to open the scrolls! We'd get disqualified!"

"She never said anything about what to do when we reached the tower," Naruto shot back. "And having to get that scroll from those Rain nin set us back way too much! If we don't do something, we're done!"

"I don't care!" Sakura fumed, glaring at him. "I'm not about to let you and your stupidity get Sasuke-kun disqualified from the Chûnin Exams!"

"There's nothing else to do!" Naruto argued, blue eyes burning. "We're in the tower with no one to greet us! If we don't do something soon then we'll be disqualified and won't get to the next part of the Exams!"

"And I'm saying that I don't care!" Sakura shouted. "I'm not going to let you take any chances! This is one of the most important milestones in Sasuke-kun's life! You're not going to mess that up!"

"Hey, guys," both of them froze as Sasuke looked at them with his serious face. Naruto thought it made him look constipated. "I think we should open the scrolls."

Naruto deflated as Sakura squealed and crooned about how right her Sasuke-kun was, and about how he always had the best ideas. Even after the mess with the three Sound ninja, she still wouldn't look at him as anything less than dead last.

"Ugh," he muttered to himself. "Why is it always about Sasuke?"

"Come on, baka!" Sakura pulled him by the sleeve of his jacket, shoving the Heaven scroll into his stomach forcefully. "Help me open the scrolls."

Grudgingly peeling open the scroll given to him, he stared at its contents. Several characters were written down, focused around single kanji in the center. Naruto blinked, "'Jin'?"

As soon as the word left his lips, the scrolls began to smoke and sizzle in their hands. Naruto nearly dropped it as Sasuke spoke again, his tone urgent, "Naruto, Sakura, throw the scrolls away!"

Trusting the Uchiha to know what he was talking about, his teammates hurled the scrolls at the floor several feet away, watching as the smoke rose to an apex and exploded outwards. As the smoke began to clear, however, a shape could be seen within the dispersing cloud. Team Seven tensed, prepared to fight whatever had appeared from their scrolls.

Naruto blinked in surprised, then grinned, "Iruka-sensei!"

True enough, the smog dissipated, revealing their trusted Academy teacher, Umino Iruka. He grinned at them, waving in a friendly gesture, "Hey, guys. It's been a while, huh?"

Sakura stared, confused, "Iruka-sensei…what just happened?"

"Oh, well," Iruka rubbed the back of his neck, "the summoning spell on the scrolls was designed to let us Chûnin greet the applicants at the end of the second exam. It's just luck that I was the one who wound up meeting you three. Congratulations! You all pass the second exam!"

He checked a watch, smiling, "And just in time, too! To celebrate, I'd like to take you all out to ramen, but—"

"We did it!" Naruto shouted excitedly, jumping up and down and pumping his fist into the air. "We did it, we did it, we did it! WE DID IT! Yatta!"

Iruka chuckled, "You haven't changed a bit."

"If we had sneaked a peek at the scrolls before the exam was over," Sasuke started, "what would you have done, Iruka-sensei?"

Iruka scratched his temple with his index finger, "Sharp as ever, huh, Sasuke?"

"As you may have figured out, this exam was designed to test your ability to follow orders on a mission," he shrugged, "so if you were to break the rules and open the scrolls too early…Our orders were very specific. Anyone who opened a scroll too soon was to be knocked out until the end of the second exam."

"Sensei," Sakura pointed to the wall, "what's the meaning of that scroll?"

"It's the Chunin motto, as written by Hokage-sama," Iruka answered. "'If you lack heaven, seek wisdom and be prepared,' which means that if your brain is your weakness, gain knowledge. 'If you lack earth, run in the fields, seek advantages' means 'If you're not that strong, train hard'. And if you have both heaven and earth, you can succeed even in the most dangerous of missions."

Iruka had gone into what Naruto termed 'lecture mode', "These words represent a Chunin. The word from the scrolls, 'person', goes into the empty spot. The last sentence reads, 'These rules will guide a person's extremes'. I want you guys to step into the next test with this Chunin motto in mind."

His expression softened, "Listen…about the third exam…don't overdo things, okay?"

The three Genin looked at him, blinking in surprise. He continued, "I mean it. I worry about you guys. Especially you, Naruto."

"Don't worry about me, Iruka-sensei," Naruto grinned, fingering his new ring. Belatedly, Iruka realized he'd had it the entire time they'd been talking. "I've grown a lot these past few months. I'm not an Academy student anymore!"

Iruka's eyes widened as, for a second, a beautiful, spectral woman with blue skin rested her hand on Naruto's shoulder. Then, an instant later, it was gone and he seemed to be the only one who'd seen it.

He grinned, rubbing his neck sheepishly, "Yeah, I guess so, huh?"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The Hokage looked over the assembled Genin, resisting the overwhelming compulsion to smile when he saw Naruto among them. Twenty-one had made it, the majority of them from his own village. Nine of them were rookies and another three were a team that was only about a year old, having graduated the year previous. It did his heart good to see such strength and courage in ones so young.

In the front of the room stood a group consisting of Chûnin, Jônin, and the Hokage. Protruding from the front wall was a pair of stone hands forming the seal for "Ram".

Anko smirked at them from where she stood, "Congratulations on passing! Hokage-sama will now explain the third test, so listen carefully!"

The Sandaime took a step forward, "Before we begin, there is something I'd like you to know."

He tugged his hat down slightly, baring the kanji for fire imprinted upon its center, "Why do we have all the alliance countries taking this exam together? 'To promote friendship amongst the countries' 'To raise the level of Shinobi'… I don't want you to be confused about the true meaning. This exam is a replacement for war among the allied countries."

Sandaime's face was impassive as he took a puff on his pipe, "If you go back in time, the current allies were enemies who fought each other over who would rule. In order to prevent wasteful fighting, the stage that those countries chose for fighting…That is the origin of the Chûnin Exams."

"What do you mean?" Tenten asked confusedly.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Inuzuka Kiba shouted. "I thought the point was to select Chûnin!"

Sarutobi continued, undaunted by the questions thrown at him, "It is true that this exam decides who is to become Chûnin, but it is also an opportunity for the different countries to show off their ninja to the important figures who watch this third exam. A shinobi village is only as strong as its weakest link."

"Whatever," the redheaded Gaara muttered darkly. "Could you wrap up this philosophical talk and get down to the life and death stuff any time soon?"

"Hmph! If you insist," he paused for a second, "on to the third exam…"

"Actually…" A sick looking Jônin appeared in front of the Hokage, "As referee…Hokage-sama, if I may…?"

Sandaime nodded, a small smile on his face, "By all means…"

The Jônin turned toward the Genin, revealing his weary face and the dark bags under his eyes, "I am Gekkô Hayate and I am the referee. Before the third test, I'm afraid we'll have to hold a preliminary. Since we are going to begin right away, I must ask any who wish to quit to do so now."

"Preliminary?" Kiba echoed. "Right now?"

"Well," Gekkô coughed, "it's not as if the first two tests weren't challenging enough. On the contrary, they were quite difficult. We still have too many applicants, however, and, like Hokage-sama said, there will be plenty of nobles watching."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Kiba retorted.

Gekkô coughed again, "The nobles will be traveling from all over to see the third exam, so the exam itself has to be quick and speedy to maintain viewer interest. To do that, we need to cut down the number of applicants with this preliminary round. As I said earlier, any who wish to quite may do so now without adversely affecting your teammates' chances of success."

"Well," Yakushi Kabuto raised his hand, "I'm out of here."

"What?" Naruto demanded sharply. "Kabuto-senpai, why are you quitting?"

"I'm sorry, Naruto-kun," Kabuto sighed, "but I got the crap beat out of me in the second exam. And ever since that little fight I got into with those Sound ninja right before the first exam, I've been totally deaf in my left ear."

Kabuto shook his head, "Now they're saying this could be a fight to the death! I'm just not up to that."

Questioning stares followed his retreating back as he left, sparing a short, unnoticeable glance at Naruto and Sasuke.

Hayate looked around, "Right then, (cough, cough) if no one else wishes to forfeit, let's begin the preliminary rounds. If you'll turn your attention to the screen behind me…"

Everyone turned his or her gazes to the large screen behind the sickly Jônin, watching as the blackness faded into a dark gray. The letters 'vs.' lit up in the very center. Above them was the name "Uchiha Sasuke" and below it was "Akado Yoroi".

"Now," Hayate said, "If these two participants would come to the front…"

Sasuke grinned as he and Yoroi moved towards the examiner, each confident of their own ability. Gekkô Hayate made a motion towards the stands, "Now if everyone else would please leave the arena."

When everyone had left the area for the stands, he said, "Please begin."

Yoroi made a hand seal, teasing, "Are you ready, Sasuke-kun?"

He slipped his left hand into his kunai pouch, his right hovering in front of his stomach. He withdrew a few shuriken, while, simultaneously, Sasuke withdrew a kunai from the holster on his thigh. Without warning, Yoroi flung his shuriken at Sasuke, who knocked them away with a swipe of his kunai.

A flash of inexplicable weakness brought Sasuke to the ground, kunai still in hand. Yoroi took the opportunity to try and attack Sasuke, trying to bring his hand down on Sasuke's head. Sasuke rolled and dodged, watching the other Genin's hand sink into the tile floor. Plunging his kunai into ground as a brake, Sasuke spun around and brought Yoroi's legs from under him, pulling the older Genin into a painful looking arm lock.

Yoroi's hand grabbed Sasuke's shirt firmly and, suddenly, Sasuke felt himself growing weaker. Too weak to prevent it, Sasuke could only watch as Yoroi twisted himself free of Sasuke's grip and brought his hand down on the Uchiha's chest. Hard.

Jerking up, Yoroi spun around and latched that same hand on Sasuke's head, sapping the younger boy's strength.

"You're…stealing…my chakra," Sasuke gasped weakly.

Yoroi chuckled darkly, an evil grin hidden beneath the cloth on his face, "So you finally noticed."

With a sudden surge of strength, Sasuke kicked him off, standing up as fast as he could. A scowl lit up his face as he tried to reason out the cause of the unexplained weakness, but no answer would come. Was it the Curse Mark? But wouldn't he feel something from it if that was what was bothering him?

Yoroi growled as he stood back up. He rushed Sasuke again, his technique charged and ready to go. With a burst of speed, Sasuke ducked under his attempt at grappling and sent a kick into the boy's chin, forcing the Genin into the air. As fast as his body would allow, Sasuke followed him, appearing beneath Yoroi's airborne body.

Sasuke sent a light poke to his opponent's back, "It's over."

Using the other Genin's spine, Sasuke flipped over his enemy's body, kicking towards his stomach. It was blocked and Sasuke used the teen's arm as a springboard, landing a vicious backhand in his face. Still twisting, he fired a punch into Yoroi's stomach, knocking the air from his body. Now only a few feet above the ground, Sasuke used his momentum to bring a solid kick into Yoroi's body, forcing him to collide painfully with the ground and Sasuke's foot at the same time.

"Shishi Rendan!" Sasuke said.

With his opponent unconscious and his fight won, Sasuke collapsed on his butt, panting heavily.

Hayate bent over Yoroi, checking for signs of unconsciousness. When he found his answer, he shouted to the stadium, "Akado Yoroi is unable to continue. Uchiha Sasuke wins the first round."

As Kakashi took Sasuke from the stadium and medics took away Yoroi, the screen lit up with the next combatants, "Zaku Abumi vs. Aburame Shino"

Zaku smirked, confident of his victory, and his wounds wrapped in bandages, "Who's this loser?"

When both had entered the stadium and stood in front of Hayate, the referee said, "We will now begin the second match."

The remaining Genin watched the match unfold, wincing a bit as Shino got hit by Zaku's Zankuuha.

Hinata was worried about him, "Will Shino-kun be alright?"

Kiba, her other teammate, smirked, "I wouldn't worry about Shino. He's one of the guys even I don't want to fight."

Neji gazed lazily at the fight, disinterest in his pale gaze, "For a rookie, this guy isn't so bad. But can he win this?"

Tenten grimaced when Zaku's arms were damaged, severely hindering their movement "It seems he can and did."

Down in the stadium, Hayate shouted, "Winner, Aburame Shino!"

The screen lit up again as Zaku was carried away on a stretcher, "Tsurugi Misumi vs. Kankuro"

Kankuro bested his opponent relatively quickly. Tsurugi had attacked and supposedly broke his neck, only to discover that he was attacking a puppet. Kankuro had pulled himself from the mass of bandages on the floor revealing that he was safe and unharmed. With practiced ease, Kankuro crushed his opponent, almost literally.

In less than a minute after it started, Hayate said, "Winner, Kankuro."

Ino and Sakura's match ended in an anticlimactic draw. They were too evenly matched to take the other down, so they finished with a double knock out.

The screen lit up for the fifth time, reading "Temari vs. Tenten"

This turned out to be the worst match up for Tenten. Her weapons couldn't reach her opponent at all and she was defeated easily. Temari had beaten her brutally, as evidenced by the fact that she had caught the weapons mistress on her fan, Tenten's back bent at an unhealthy angle.

Lee had gotten angry and was ready to fight, but Gai held him back. Lee, still angry, nodded and relinquished his fighting pose. For now.

Nara Shikamaru vs. Kin Tsuchi

"A girl?" Shikamaru asked, as if looking for confirmation. He sighed, "Mendôkusai."

Their match didn't last very long either. Kin had had Shikamaru caught in her trap for a few moments, but Shikamaru had come back and out done her. Using his Kagemane no Jutsu, he forced her to hit her head against the wall. She knocked herself unconscious and Shikamaru was declared the winner.

After Kin was carried away on a stretcher, the screen flashed again, revealing the combatants of the next fight, "Uzumaki Naruto vs. Inuzuka Kiba"

"Ha! We got lucky, Akamaru!" Kiba gloated, jumping down into the arena. Akamaru, his dog, gave an enthusiastic bark of agreement.

Excited to finally have his match, Naruto flung himself over the railing, landing on the tiled floor with surprising ease. There was a huge grin on his face, one that was easily matched by his opponent. Hayate stood between them.

"Heh," Kiba clenched his fist. "I feel bad for you, so I'll end this in one punch!"

"Yeah right, dog-breath!" Naruto shot back. "Why don't you and your master go back to chasing cats?"

"Akamaru isn't my master!" Kiba shouted vehemently, glaring. "He's my partner!"

"Prove it," Naruto called coolly. Kiba growled.

"The Seventh match, Uzumaki Naruto versus Inuzuka Kiba," Hayate said calmly. "Begin!"

Kiba's hands instantly clasped together in a hand seal, "Ninpô: Shikyaku no Jutsu!" (Ninja Arts: Four-legged Technique)

The Inuzuka heir got down on all fours, his body becoming more feral and animalistic in appearance. His canines lengthened into fangs and his fingernails into claws, sharp and pointed. Without warning, he dashed for his opponent, intent on winning with a single attack. Naruto, too surprised to do anything, was hit solidly in the stomach. He collided painfully with the stadium wall, a portion of which crumbled from impact.

"It's over, Hayate-san," Kiba said confidently, a smirk on his lips. "He won't be getting up."

Up in the stands, Yuhi Kurenai, Kiba's teacher, smirked over at Hatake Kakashi. While it could be called cruel, her next words were spoken out of the rivalry between the genin teachers, "Looks like your student doesn't belong in this exam, Kakashi."

Kakashi and Sakura shared a look, and also a tiny smirk, though Sakura's was bigger.

"N-no," surprisingly, it was meek little Hinata that spoke up. "Naruto-kun is m-much stronger than-n that."

As the smoke and rubble from the collision dispersed, Naruto stood up, rubbing his stomach with a wince. He grinned, "Ow, ow, ow. You're stronger than I thought."

He reached up and pulled his gunblade free, "So I won't take it easy on you!"

"What the hell is that?" Kurenai asked bewilderedly. "It's nothing like any sword I've ever seen! Kakashi! Do you have anything to do with this?"

"I've never seen it before," Kakashi admitted neutrally. "He must have found it during the second exam."

Face twisted into a snarl, Kiba leapt at his opponent, clawed fingers swiping towards Naruto's chest. Naruto ducked under the swipe and dug his left fist into Kiba's exposed belly. The air left Kiba's lungs with an audible woosh and he doubled over as Naruto stepped back, triumphant grin in place. Kiba stumbled backwards, grasping at his burning stomach.

"Hey, hey, Referee-san!" Naruto called. "I think I've won!"

Pride stung, Kiba leapt forward again, growling, "Like hell you did!"

This time, his fingers struck true, and Naruto's head whipped to the side, his body jerking with it. There was a moment of victorious glee in Kiba's still aching stomach, but it left him the moment Naruto turned back around, revealing four shallow, minor cuts, ones that wouldn't even come close to scarring.

A throbbing pain in his hand drew the Inuzuka's attention, and he looked down to see that two of the four claws he had just slashed at his opponent with were chipped and broken. Bewildered and slightly intimidated, Kiba looked back up at the blonde, eyes wide. The blow that struck his face a second later was far too fast for him to see coming.

Kiba tumbled backwards, ears nearly deaf to Akamaru's worried whine. He could see it now, like he hadn't before. There was something different about Naruto, now, a sense of confidence and power, along with an almost icy chill. This was not the same Naruto he had known in the Academy, even if he acted the same as he had back then.

Now that he realized his mistake, however, he was going to bring Naruto down, and bring him down hard. Even if he had underestimated his blonde opponent, as long as he stuck to his advantages, he could win this. So he reached into his utility pouch and pulled out a few smoke bombs, allowing the smirk on his face to blossom.

He flung them and watched with glee as they exploded and shrouded Naruto in a thick cloud. He grinned and gave his canine companion his cue; Akamaru bounded forward towards the smoke. This was a tactic Kiba knew would work and it played to one of his greatest advantages. His foe was blinded, but he, Kiba, could smell where his opponent was and that left him with the upper hand.

"Tornado!" Naruto's voice cried. Kiba realized too late what this meant and he had barely started to scream for his pup to get back before a swirling wind howled to life and swept away the smoke. Akamaru, who had been too close to the vortex, was flung backwards and slammed into the wall.

"Akamaru!" Kiba cried despairingly. He made to go to his companion but had managed no more than a few feet before he was stopped.

"Aero!" Naruto's voice called. A bullet of compressed air roughly the size of a basketball slammed into Kiba and hurled him into the wall. Chips of plaster and concrete and brick spewed outwards and all the dust and debris hid Kiba from view. There was silence throughout the stadium as everyone took a moment to absorb what had happened.

From out of the smoke, however, came Kiba, walking unsteadily with Akamaru cradled to his chest and an angry snarl on his lips.

"You'll pay for that," he promised. He reached into his pouch again and pulled out a small pill, then fed it to his dog. An instant later, Akamaru stood on the floor again, confident and strong, his fur stained red. Kiba, too, ate one of those pills and, seconds afterward, seemed to have regained his strength.

"Now!" Kiba bent down, hands in a seal as Akamaru jumped atop his back. "Jujin Bunshin!" (Man-Beast Clone)

In a burst of smoke, a second Kiba had appeared in the place of the dog, smirking viciously at his opponent. Naruto blinked, surprised that such a technique even existed. Then, he grinned broadly, brandishing his sword offensively.

Kurenai turned to Kakashi, her expression smug, "I don't know how well you taught that boy, Kakashi-san, or even what you taught him, but he can't beat Kiba."

"No," Sakura said confidently, eyes glued to the battle before her. "This isn't the limit. Naruto can do…much more."

Kurenai didn't look convinced and Kakashi ignored the comment in favor of watching, but Hinata was silently agreeing with her fellow kunoichi. There was no way Naruto would lose this close to becoming Chûnin. There was something different about her crush, something stronger — an air, a presence of sorts, that wasn't there before.

Naruto spun the chamber on his sword and made to thrust it forward, finger beginning to squeeze the trigger.

"Oh no you don't!" one Kiba cried as the two of them bounded forward on all fours. They spun, creating two vortexes that rushed forth side by side. "Gatsuuga!" (Fang over Fang)

Naruto rushed forward as he pulled the trigger on his gunblade and his sword was suddenly surrounded by a swirling red cone that stretched up over Naruto's head and down to his feet. Spiraling gouges were carved into the floor, "Revolver Drive!"

The three spinning forces collided, but the round shape of Kiba's technique left it vulnerable to the piercing point of Naruto's. The two vortexes spun away and crash landed into the tile, kicking up debris as Kiba and Akamaru, identical, tried to regain their bearings. A swipe of Revolver and the red energy cone was gone.

"Aero!" Naruto called again, holding up a hand. A bullet of air blasted into one of the Kibas, sending him skidding across the floor. A puff of smoke revealed an injured Akamaru, clearly on the verge of unconsciousness. The other Kiba wobbled, glaring with all the intensity he could manage.

"And then there was one," Naruto said with a grin.

Kiba looked as though he would have liked nothing more than to rush Naruto again, but he bit his hand — drawing blood — to calm himself down. After he had managed to reign in his anger, he regarded Naruto with an angry, but calm, glare. Naruto's grin widened.

"So, you're finally ready to take me seriously?" he asked rhetorically. "Good. Then I will, too. I'm gonna show you my new special technique!"

Kiba rushed forward, "Not likely!"

"Too slow! Scene Drive!" Naruto dashed towards him, but spun to the side and landed a slash with his sword, horizontal. Spinning, he landed a roundhouse kick, then another horizontal slash, followed by a third to mirror the second. He backpedaled a few feet, throwing a fireball into Kiba's gut, then leapt upwards and flipped in midair and, parallel to the ground and falling, slammed a kick into Kiba's shoulder with a loud crack. The moment his feet touched the floor, he swept into Kiba's hips with another roundhouse kick, then slashed downwards. As he rose from his kneel, he carved another slash upwards, spiraling into a jump and landing one last kick against Kiba's cheek before his feet hit the ground masterfully.

Kiba was sent flying by the last attack and tumbled to a stop, his wounds bleeding sluggishly. He tried to pull himself to his feet, but collapsed back down with a groan.

"Don't worry," Naruto grinned, thumbing his nose victoriously. "None of those are deep enough to kill you!"

Hayate bent down and checked Kiba, then stood and declared, "Winner: Uzumaki Naruto!"

Grinning, Naruto leapt back into the stands with an excited whoop. He gave his team a thumbs up, the corners of his mouth pulled up near his ears.

"Hyuga Hinata vs. Hyuga Neji"

"I never thought I'd be facing you," Neji said, a cold grin on his lips, "Hinata-sama."

"Neji-niisan," Hinata whispered.

"Before we begin, I'd like to thank you, Hinata-sama," Neji's mouth twisted into an angry snarl, "For causing my father's death!"

"N-no! I-I— "

"Still stuttering," Neji scoffed. "I can sense your inferiority complex from here! I bet you didn't even want to enter this exam! You just did so because your teammates wanted to!"

"No!" Hinata interrupted. "I e-entered this exam…t-to change myself!"

Neji's eyes narrowed, "You really are a spoiled brat of the Main House, aren't you? Don't you understand? People cannot change! A loser like you will always be a loser!"

"Shut up!" Neji's hateful eyes flickered to Naruto, the origin of the angry command. "You and your destiny crap aren't worth shit! Hinata-san, kick that jerk into next week!"

"Hm!" Hinata moved into a stance. Neji caught it out of the corner of his eye and smirked, mimicking her.


The battle that followed was brutal and devastating and while Naruto would swear they were evenly matched, to the trained eye, it was apparent that Neji controlled the flow of the fight the whole time. He landed blow after soft blow until one finally sent her to the ground.

Hinata stood shakily, "It's n-not over…"

"Just give up," Neji told her. "Go back to being the weakling of the Main Branch. Go back to suffering at the fate of our family's differences."

"You s-say you c-can see e-everything," Hinata stuttered weakly. "But I th-think you're o-overlooking s-something. Th-the one s-suffering from the differences in o-our family…is you."

Rage leapt across Neji's features and a snarl curled across his lips as he jerked into motion, hands blazing with chakra and the intent to kill clear in his movements. Hinata, weakened and barely conscious, could not have hoped to dodge.

In a flash, several people had moved to stand between the two Hyuga. Several Jônin, including Hayate, surrounded the white-eyed boy, poised to intercept if he chose to move further and kill his cousin. Naruto, to the surprise of the adults standing with him, had his blade set and positioned right between Neji's eyes.

"I see," Neji mumbled. "So, even now, the Main House gets special treatment."

"You bastard," Naruto said, voice quiet but trembling with emotion. "Trying to kill your own cousin—! I should—"

"Enough, Naruto," Kakashi said firmly.

A pained cough dragged Naruto's attention on to the Hyuga heiress, Hinata, as she fell backwards and, in an instant, he was by her side. Kakashi had to blink, wondering if the boy hadn't mastered some sort of speed related Jutsu.

"D-did I…?" Hinata coughed violently, small amounts of blood mixing with her saliva Her eyes were closed. "D-did I do good…Naruto-kun?"

"Yeah," Naruto whispered soothingly, even knowing that she couldn't hear him. She'd lost consciousness barely a second after asking. "You did great."

Blood trickled from her mouth and Naruto panicked. He wasn't an expert, but even he knew that that was not good. The only explanation was internal bleeding and considering the numerous internal injuries she had to be suffering from, she might not make it all the way to the hospital. He swore mentally, discarding his sword as he fumbled for the right spell.

"Cure!" he said strongly, flinging his hand out. A green aura flickered to life for a moment around Hinata, then faded. She took a deep, gasping breath, then breathed much easier than she had before. Naruto let out a relieved sigh and sat back on his haunches. He might not have healed her completely, but even a single Cure would keep her alive for a while.

"What did you do?" Kurenai demanded hotly.

"I just saved her life," Naruto mumbled.

"Hey, you, the loser with the obnoxious yellow hair," Naruto turned to look at Neji, whose cold white eyes were staring him down. "If you're a shinobi, then stop that pathetic, pointless cheering. And second…A loser will always be a loser. You can't change that."

"Are you…"Naruto began lowly, a chill rising in the air, "tryin' to start something?"

The superior look on Neji's face was answer enough. Suppressing a snarl, Naruto dipped his hand down into Hinata's blood and stood slowly, holding his dripping fist outwards. In the most serious voice any had ever heard of him, he said, "I swear, on Hinata's blood, in the finals, you're going down."

"He's so clueless, it's funny," Kankuro whispered to his teammates. "He hasn't even noticed the difference in power between them."

"You're even more clueless, Kankuro," Gaara said caustically. "That blonde boy…I want to fight him."

"Erm," Kankuro glanced at his brother nervously, "whatever you say, Gaara…"

"Naruto-kun, your flames of youth are most passionate," Maito Gai said seriously, more to himself than anyone else. "Yoshi! If Hinata-san makes a full recovery, I will run around Konoha on my hands five hundred times! And if I can't do that, I'll scale the Hokage Monument with nothing but my teeth! And if I can't do that, I'll do one hundred thousand push ups using only my right index finger! Yoshi!"

"Gai-sensei!" Rock Lee cried excitedly. "Your youthful passions are overflowing! Yoshi!"

The ninth match was "Gaara vs. Rock Lee".

Lee's eyes blazed, "Yatta! It is finally my turn!"

Lee put up a good fight and was able to land a few good hits on Gaara, but Gaara was just too strong. In the end, Lee had shown that he could open the "Celestial Gates" and the power they held. But it wasn't any match for Gaara's sand, which crushed the bones in Lee's left arm and leg. He was carried off on a stretcher, the medics saying he wouldn't be able to be a shinobi ever again.

The last match was "Akimichi Choji vs. Dosu Kinuta".

Choji lost pretty quickly. He simply couldn't win against Dosu's sound techniques. Even his "Baika no Jutsu" and his "Meat Tank" he wasn't able to win against the Oto-nin.

"Now then," Sandaime stood in front of the remaining examinees, "each of you will draw a piece of paper from the box Anko-san is holding. This will decide who faces who in the finals."

All of the remaining participants drew a lot from the box and held it out.

Naruto: 1

Sasuke: 4

Dosu: 8

Shikamaru: 9

Temari: 7

Kankuro: 5

Gaara: 3

Neji: 2

Shino: 6

Ibiki showed them a chart. It depicted the opponents for the Finals.

Match One: Uzumaki Naruto vs. Hyuga Neji

Match Two: Sabaku no Gaara vs. Uchiha Sasuke

Match Three: Kankuro vs. Aburame Shino

Match Four: Dosu Kinuta vs. Temari

Match Five: Match Four victor vs. Nara Shikamaru

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Inside a cave behind a great waterfall, a pair of gleaming red eyes opened, bright and glowing in the dark. The roar of water rushed over the rocks, pounding against the ears and deafening in its intensity. There was a moment as the eyes peered outwards shrewdly, motionless, thoughtful, contemplative, then the cave began to shake.

Dust fell down from the ceiling and rocks and vines were flung outwards as pair of massive wings stretched after centuries of inactivity. Mosses and ferns and all sorts of plant life were brushed off and fell to the rocky floor as massive arms and thick, powerful legs slowly ground into motion.

Standing slowly and awake after an inordinate amount of sleep, the powerful dragon stretched, snapping its jaws open and grinding its limbs into activity after countless years of motionlessness. Joints cracked and muscles long still contracted and stretched taut once more, aching from their long slumber.

The dragon paused, satisfied with the state of its body and fresh from its centuries of hibernation. It looked out, unseeing, past the rushing water that protected the entrance to its abode. It stared for a long moment and seemed almost to have fallen back into sleep before it moved once more, craning its neck.

"So," it mused, its voice deep and masculine, "it has begun."

Miles away, Uzumaki Naruto slumbered away, unaware of the events that had been set in motion by his finding that cave in the Second Exam, unaware of what was to come, unaware of the forces now at play, unaware of the future.

He twitched his nose, frowning, then rolled over and kept sleeping.

o.0.O.O.0.o —

To be continued…?

This has been on my mind for a little while. It's kind of pathetic, yes, but I just recently got and played Final Fantasy VIII (though my disc 4 won't play on my PS2, so I haven't finished it yet. And I refuse to look up the ending online!). And, after a little while, I thought, "What if Naruto got a Guardian Force? And Squall's necklace and ring to go with it? What if he got a gunblade, too?" So, this was born.

This is also a shameless plug for my new "Lion Heart" challenge. So, any takers?

Anyhow, I doubt I'll continue this. I didn't even have enough inspiration for it to make it a full ten thousand words (at least, according to my word processor, it isn't). That said, maybe I'll revisit it later. Right now, all I've got on my mind is "Reach…Reach…Reach…" So…yeah. If I do anything right now, it'll probably have something to do with Halo, Halo: Reach in particular. I don't know, I've been thinking about a Halo: Reach and Harry Potter crossover (still working out how that would fit).

How many of you expected Shiva and Naruto to have sex in that first scene? I must admit, I was sort of tempted to write it.

For those of you who didn't understand, Naruto learns magic two ways in this story. First, through the "Crystarium" of Final Fantasy XIII (which advances automatically for him instead of manually) and second, through the process of "Drawing" from Final Fantasy VIII. The latter, of course, is limited in how many times he can use a spell he "Draws". And also, the way the spells work is borrowed from several different Final Fantasy games, including VII, VIII, X, XII, and XIII.

Naruto Skillset (current): Black Magics:: Fire, Aero, Thunder, Blizzard
White Magics:: Cure, Esuna, Libra, Barrier, Reflect
Drawn Magics/Techniques:: Tornado (9), Zankuuha (16), Haste (23)

Limit Breaks: Renzokuken, Scene Drive (One Man Army)
Finishers: Rough Divide, Fated Circle

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy XIII

Gone talkin' to a wall…

James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes

J. D. G. A. F.
James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes
(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)