Chapter Twenty-Three: "Fakers"
(Two Minutes Earlier)
Temari was racing through the forest while avoiding the large predators lurking around. She was still in search of Naruto, wanting to see him in action. She told herself that it was for the sake of the plan, but deep down, she knew that she had her own personal reasons, and she was happy that Hinata wasn't going to get in her way.
She traveled a far distance from where the tower was when suddenly, a huge explosion was heard from a distance with a tremor that shook the ground momentarily. The wind mistress stopped the moment the tremor occurred. She looked up and saw many birds flying from the direction the explosion took place.
"What was that?" Temari asked aloud before taking to the trees and tree walking to the top to see what was going on. She looked out into the distance and saw a huge blaze of bright white fire spreading wide as it consumed the trees and greenery all around it. All of the animals living in that area were completely vaporized by the extreme heat of the white flames. A few minutes later after the flames stopped spreading like spilled water, thick black smoke ascended high into the air as the white flames calmed into yellow fire, leaving a massive section of the forest on fire.
"What the hell happened?" Temari wondered, as could only imagine what kind of battle took place. She thought about going further, but then decided against it. Having no other choice, the Suna kunoichi turned and retreated back to the tower.
Several ANBU, Anko, and Honoka with the Sandaime's permission, were making their way through the forest, jumping from tree to tree after it was discovered and reported that Orochimaru was present and had infiltrated the forest. Honoka had no trouble keeping up and making her way through the forest, despite what Anko told her about the creatures that lived in the woods. However, it was Honoka's special chakra that made Hiruzen decide to add her to the team.
"I still find it hard to believe that Sandaime-sama allowed you to be part of this team," Anko remarked.
"Don't underestimate me. I'm more than capable of getting by and surviving in this forest by myself regardless of what lives in here," Honoka replied.
"You've never seen the animals that live here, and you've certainly never seen what Orochimaru is capable of," Anko stated.
"I've heard stories about this Orochimaru and his crimes against Konoha. I'm not ignorant of his actions, if that's what you're saying," Honoka shot back.
The group stopped and took to the surface momentarily to catch their breaths. A few minutes later, two tigers that were twice the size of normal tigers appeared and began approaching them. Anko and the ANBU with her were about deal with them until Honoka calmly walked over to the two animals.
"Have you lost your mind? What the hell are you doing!?" Anko asked. Honoka gave her no reply as she went over to the large tigers that, to the shock and surprise of the Konoha ninja, docilely purred and cuddled up against her as they licked her hands as though they were gentle house cats. Honoka petted and ruffled the furry heads of the tigers as they lied down at her feet.
"This can't be happening! I've seen those tigers before and they're anything but kind and gentle! The last group that ran into them were eaten and torn apart by them!" Anko said in disbelief.
"I told you not to underestimate me. Animals and insects of all sorts happen to have a thing for me. Even the dogs of the Inuzuka Clan and the kikai bugs of the Aburame Clan submit to me. So long as I'm here, the creatures in this forest will not attack us," Honoka replied.
"I heard rumors about your special insect and animal taming chakra, but I didn't know it was this potent, Uzumaki-san. I understand now why Sandaime-sama allowed you to come along with us," the ANBU with the coyote mask said. Honoka dismissed the tigers, having them leave and go about their business as they speedily ran past the other Konoha ninja without giving them a second glance.
"You surprised me, I'll admit that much. Maybe I ought to let you work here as my assistant!" Anko remarked with a smirk on her face.
"That's something I might consider, though I doubt I'd work as your assistant if all the creatures and animals living here submit to me," Honoka replied with a bright smile.
"Whatever," Anko snorted upon seeing the underlying meaning of Honoka's words.
Just then, a very loud explosion was heard.
"What was that!?" one of the ANBU asked.
"Trouble! No doubt it's my former bastard sensei!" Anko replied before running up one to the top of one of the trees while being followed by Honoka and the others present. Upon reaching the top, they spotted a huge white ball of fire consuming and wiping out a massive portion of the forest. A mushroom cloud of thick black smoke and flames ascended high into the skies seconds later.
"What the hell?!" was all Anko could yell, "What caused that to happen?!"
"I don't know, but that fire will have to be put out before it destroys the rest of the forest," an ANBU wearing a hawk mask said. Anko nodded.
"Naruto-kun, please be OK," Honoka mumbled to herself, "I don't want to lose you like I did my other Uzumaki brethren."
"Let's go!" the lead ANBU commanded as he and the others with him continued to the epicenter of the explosion.
Naruto teleported both himself and the rest of the crew with him to another location in the forest. They were situated on top of one of the trees as a stampede of animals fled from the fire caused by the explosion. Looking around, he found no one else in sight. Turning to the clone, Naruto instructed, "That explosion and forest fire will no doubt draw Konoha ninja to it. Find them."
The clone nodded and body flickered away from them. Naruto focused chakra into his left palm where the seal that was holding the katana was. The sheath for the katana appeared from out of it as Naruto took it and sheathed his katana back into it before tying the sheath to the left side of his waist and hid it under his orange jacket that was still tied around his waist.
Naruto formed a hand seal which caused the chakra restraint and gravity seals around his entire body to energize and return back to their original levels. The Jinchuuriki flinched slightly as the full exerted strength of the seals was forced back onto his exhausted body and chakra coils. He was already feeling fatigue settling in on him as a result of his body and chakra coils being forced to readjust to the seals' full restoration. He breathed hard as the effects of the seals and his fierce battle with Orochimaru kicked in.
His injuries from the Snake Sannin were being quickly taken care of by Kyuubi, who watched the entire battle from start to finish. Though sealed within the Uzumaki, Kyuubi liked that his host wasn't a talentless ninja. Then again, Kyuubi never came across a weak-willed Uzumaki before in the first place.
"Naruto-kun, are you alright?" Karin asked weakly as she looked at her blond clansman.
Naruto turned to Karin and reassured her, "I'm good. I'm just exhausted and in need of some rest and food. But you don't have to worry about me."
"That's twice in one day you saved me! You even went as far as to let yourself get eaten just to rescue me! Thank you, though that was wild and crazy!" Karin said with a smile.
"I lived my life never knowing anything about my clan for many years. Knowing now that I have scattered brethren who're lost and need to be found, I'm not about to let anything happen to you and the others I find so long I'm breathing."
"But I'm affiliated with Kusagakure. Surely this will lead to some problems," Karin replied.
"Not too many. I'll make sure of that," Naruto reassured. After the group saw that the stampede had passed, they descended down to the ground. Naruto made sure that both scrolls were in his possession and in good condition before placing them both inside the pouch that he was using to carry the earth scroll earlier.
"Sweet! We got two scrolls, kicked Orochimaru's pale ass, and blew something up, all in one day! We're great!" Naruto cheered loudly. It was clear to Sakura and Sasuke that Naruto had reverted back to his other persona while Karin had an expression of confusion after seeing a complete change in Naruto's personality. But Naruto's sudden change in character caused a built up dam of frustration and exasperation within Sakura to break.
"Why do you act like such an imposter?" Sakura asked.
Naruto turned to Sakura and replied, "Excuse me? What are you talking about?"
"Why are you such a damn pretentious phony?!" Sakura replied as she became further incensed, "You give off the impression of being the worst dead last of our village, but the truth says otherwise! You go off acting like some idiotic, shameless, flirtatious pervert who reads smut, peeps in bathhouses, fails exams and everything else at the academy and cuts class! Yet at the same time, you've proven to be far smarter, faster, and stronger than anyone thought! Your caliber and expertise are that of an S-Class Elite Jounin, if not higher, considering your fight with Orochimaru! Kakashi-sensei, Sasuke-kun, and I have been at a total loss trying to figure you out, but all we got from you is that you're a walking contradiction! We don't know who you really are, and it's sad that even Karin, a total stranger and foreigner, was able to see this! Really, which one is the real Naruto, the flirty pervert or the one that fought Orochimaru?!"
Naruto saw the look on Sakura's face and saw clearly that she wanted answers. Naruto wanted to talk less and keep moving but the strain the seals were putting on his exhausted body and chakra coils left him weakened and in need of a full recuperation.
"You have a funny way of thanking Naruto-kun for saving your life, Sakura," Karin remarked.
"Don't humor me and don't act like you know Naruto better than any of us!" Sakura retorted. Karin was about to reply but Naruto shot her a gesture that told her not to say anything further.
"Who's the real Uzumaki Naruto, you asked," Naruto calmly stated, "I can't really blame you for asking me this after everything that's transpired up till now. I will honestly admit that there was a time I wanted to share that and everything else about myself with you Sakura, but that changed."
"What do you mean?" Sakura asked.
Naruto sighed and replied, "…Tell me, Sakura, truthfully, was there ever a time while at the ninja academy you wanted to know who I truly was?"
Sakura was about to give an answer, but before she could she thought hard about it and found that the answer was a two-letter word.
"No," was Sakura's reply.
Naruto nodded and continued, "That's right. There wasn't ever an occasion. In the early days of the academy, you and everyone else knew I had a huge crush on you, and I used to refer to you as "Sakura-chan," which you thought was both disgusting and annoying. You ignored me, slapped me or punched me whenever I came near you or asked if you'd like to hang out or have lunch with me; hell, even the thought of being my friend sickened you because you looked at me as an obstacle between you and Sasuke.
"Back then, I never knew or understood what it meant to be appreciated, cherished, or loved, until Hinata-chan showed up and expressed it to me. She was the only person at the ninja academy who truly wanted to know me. She saved me, and filled the hole in my heart that I, at one time, thought you would do, Sakura."
Sakura visibly flinched before lowering her head, unable to give a verbal reply.
Seeing her silence, Naruto went on, "You already know my life story, Sakura, so I won't waste time and breath repeating it. The fact of the matter is that you never wanted to know me. You and everyone else only saw me as a talentless, useless orphan who would never measure up to Uchiha Sasuke, the proclaimed prodigy and Rookie of the Year.
"So I decided to live with that image as my illusion, and allowed everyone to believe what they wanted to about me since they never sought to learn the truth. It was my best disguise, as no enemy would suspect me. I grew and matured as I became more than I let on underneath everyone's noses, leaving no one suspecting anything. Even the Hokage, the Civilian Council, and the Shinobi Council were deceived by my illusion. All they saw when they looked at me was a weakened Kyuubi. All the while, everyone looked to Sasuke and others like him as tomorrow's ninja of promise."
Sasuke, Sakura and Karin saw the sarcasm in Naruto's last words, but understood entirely what he was saying throughout his speech.
"I knew it! From everything I heard from that Kabuto guy the other day to everything that happened up till now; you became the dead last on purpose when in fact you're the true Rookie of the Year! It makes perfect sense now! What a brilliant and ingenious deception to throw all of your enemies off! You're so cool, Naruto-kun!" Karin realized.
Naruto grinned and replied, "I wouldn't really call myself cool, Karin. But I will say that the only reason Sasuke became the Rookie of the Year of our class was because I allowed it."
Something within Sasuke triggered upon hearing those words:
"You don't know Naruto. You know only what he wants you to know. Though you graduated as the Rookie of the Year, the truth of the matter is that you don't deserve the title. Your performance and actions over the past weeks certainly hasn't been Rookie of the Year material."
Those were Kakashi's cryptic words to him a few days ago, the night before the Chuunin Exams began. Sasuke's anger rose as he thought hard about it until he finally understood what Kakashi was saying to him.
He knew! Kakashi knew all this time! Sasuke thought furiously.
"I'm...the only one who truly knows Naruto-kun. E-Everyone else knows what h-he wants them to know about him…You don't know Naruto-kun as well as you think."
Those were Hinata's words to him and that added to the fire as Sasuke's rage boiled.
"You bastard!" Sasuke growled as he looked back at Naruto with loathing. The spot where Orochimaru had bit him started spreading dark markings about Sasuke's body and face.
"You used me! And you deceived and manipulated Hinata into playing a role in all this!" Sasuke said with his bloodlust rising as his Sharingan reactivated.
Despite the situation, Naruto maintained a cool demeanor and said, "Don't lie to yourself to soothe your wounded pride Sasuke. You and I both know that I never deceived or manipulated Hinata. And there's more to why I willingly became the dead last. Tell me something, Sasuke. Haven't you ever stopped to truly wonder how I knew Hinata would never be on either of our Genin teams before the process of team formations started?
"I did a little investigating, and learned how the ninja system of our village formulates new teams of ninja based on their skills, knowledge, expertise, and sometimes bloodline limits. But most importantly, they always pair the Rookie of the Year with the top kunoichi and the dead last. So I allowed you to assume my role as the Rookie of the Year while I played the role of the dead last, waiting to see whether it would be Sakura or Ino who would be the girl assigned to our team."
The fact was that Naruto knowingly left out that he instructed Hinata not to score high on any subject or become the top kunoichi of their class. Though she wanted to be on his team, Naruto advised against it, since both of them being the top ninja of their class would draw unwanted focus on them too early on, especially from enemy ninja. Plus, he didn't want to risk having Hinata being placed on Sasuke's team because she wanted to be their class' top kunoichi.
"You mean to say you planned this team formation Naruto?" Sakura realized with a shocked yet amazed expression, "But didn't you try to graduate a year early?"
"I did try, which was a careless mistake on my part that I had to correct by formulating our team. That was why I couldn't afford you guys failing Kakashi's bell test, as I had to persuade you both to cooperate and work together with me. Me being on the same team as Sasuke was the best way to keep him away from Hinata and allow me to keep an eye on him as he repeatedly went behind my back in an attempt to try and seduce my girlfriend after graduating.
"I also know that Sasuke here tied to persuade Jiisan to have Hinata placed on this team instead of you, Sakura, as he claimed that the Sharingan and the Byakugan would make a formidable team. But deep down, Sasuke was trying to use that ploy as a means to get close to Hinata while not knowing that a team with the Sharingan and the Byakugan was attempted before, and it failed horribly with major financial consequences to Konoha. It was made clear that the Sharingan and the Byakugan don't mix."
"How did you learn about that?" Sasuke snarled venomously as the Cursed Seal continued to influence him.
"I have my sources," Naruto replied before turning back to Sakura and adding, "Just so you know, I punished Sasuke for his latest attempts at Hinata a few days ago, before he went to the hospital for medical treatment, making it clear that if he learns to behave and not cross certain lines again, he won't end up as a casualty under my care," Naruto explained.
Sasuke recalled that day and everything that happened to him from his clothes being tampered with, the incidents at the restaurant and bathhouse, the kids with the hostile cat, and the fangirls that made his injuries from the same cat worse. Sasuke realized that all of those bad events happened because Naruto staged those incidents. Sasuke's growing anger at Naruto rose to higher levels as the Cursed Seal intensified his negative emotions.
"You son of a bitch!" Sasuke yelled as he flared with chakra. The Uchiha felt strength and power suddenly rising within him fast. He felt far stronger than he ever felt before, and he was getting a kick out of it. Karin felt the chakra and found that it was corrupted and filled with huge amounts of hatred and darkness.
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura called to him worriedly as she and the others saw dark glowing markings continue spreading around Sasuke's body.
"Shut up! I don't have time for you! I have an issue to settle with this trash here!" Sasuke replied harshly as he stared back at Naruto who didn't look the least bit intimidated.
"Wow, you're ungrateful. You honestly want to fight me, after I saved you from Orochimaru and his pet snakes?" Naruto remarked. Sasuke didn't reply as he and the others heard the sounds of a fight taking place nearby.
"Sounds like something is happening," Karin deduced as she and the others hurried to where the sounds of the skirmish were taking place. They came to see Team 9 and one of Naruto's clones dealing with the Oto Genin.
Sasuke saw Rock Lee fighting the Oto ninja and Lee used the Primary Lotus on Dosu, who was saved by Zaku but admitted that the Lotus had still almost killed him. Dosu Kinuta, the leader of Team Dosu, mentioned that Neji could "see through them," but before Neji could attack, Sasuke, under the seal's influence, intervened.
The Cursed Seal had started to take a stronger effect on Sasuke since he heard Naruto's words moments ago. And, in a state of insanity and bloodlust, Sasuke battled and defeated Zaku Abumi, going as far as to dislocate Zaku's shoulders for no other reason than to cause him pain and to vent his rage from earlier. Before Sasuke could do any more damage to anyone else, however, Sakura hugged Sasuke, crying and begging him to stop, allowing Sasuke to regain control of the seal. The tainted chakra vanished as did the dark markings on his body. Dosu left with his teammates, wondering why Orochimaru had sent them to kill Sasuke if Sasuke had the Cursed Seal.
Naruto's clone, after seeing that Dosu and his team had retreated, dispelled and merged all of his knowledge and experience with Naruto's.
"Naruto-kun! You and your team made it back safely! But who's this Kusa Genin with you and why is she in your company?" Lee asked.
"She's an Uzumaki like me and Honoka-nee. I found her today just hours ago," Naruto said briefly.
"Yosh! How splendid, that after a youth-testing battle, your effort was rewarded with the finding of a fellow clansman!" Lee shouted enthusiastically.
What a weirdo, Karin mentally remarked.
"You guys fought against Orochimaru but we also heard a huge explosion. What was up with that?" Tenten inquired.
"It's a long story, and frankly we really don't have much time to explain it. I'm just happy that we came out alive as you all can see," Naruto replied.
"Clearly, it was fate's decree that it wasn't time for any of you to die," Neji remarked offhandedly.
"Your belief in fate can kiss my ass, that's my decree," Naruto retorted before he went over to a tree and relaxed as he sat on the ground up against it. Exhaustion and fatigue caught up to the now weakened Naruto, which left him vulnerable.
"Tenten, Lee, let's be on our way. We still have the Chuunin Exams to continue, and Team 7 is of no need of our assistance as the previous threat is over," Neji said casually. Reluctantly, Lee and Tenten complied, following after Neji and leaving Team 7 and Karin by themselves. There was an awkward silence among the four of them.
Sakura had nothing to say after listening to Naruto's speech and seeing what Sasuke did while under the Cursed Seal's influence. While processing everything that happened, Sakura stayed by Sasuke, who had calmed down and was meditating on everything Naruto had revealed to him. Karin, in the meantime, went over and knelt next to Naruto.
"Are you hurt?" Karin asked, concerned.
"My fight with Orochimaru and that damn giant viper took a toll on me. But I'll manage," Naruto replied with a reassuring smile.
Karin saw his condition and saw that he would be vulnerable to an ambush. Wanting nothing to happen to him, she moved closer and offered in a low tone for only Naruto to hear, "I have a special ability that no one knows about yet. I can help heal you faster, Naruto-kun. Please let me heal you. It's the very least I can do."
Naruto looked at her and replied, "You're a medic nin?"
"Not exactly, but my chakra allows anyone who utilizes it to be completely healed, regardless of the severity of the injury or exhaustion of chakra," she explained.
"You're the third Uzumaki woman, besides my late mother and Honoka-nee, that I know possesses special chakra. I'm starting to believe that the men were singled out," Naruto snorted, then added, "In any case, I'll appreciate the help."
Nodding, Karin rolled up the left sleeve of her shirt and exposed her arm before she extended it toward Naruto's mouth.
"Bite me," Karin instructed.
"What?" Naruto asked incredulously.
"This is the only way my special healing chakra can be utilized. You have to literally bite me in order to use it," Karin explained.
Naruto looked at her with a bewildered expression and remarked, "Your special chakra makes you look like a masochist! There's gotta be another way!"
"If there was, Naruto-kun, I'd have resorted to it. Please, trust me, just bite me," Karin insisted.
Naruto was skeptical and started wondered whether or not to go through with it.
"Naruto-kun, after everything we went through in less than a few hours, are you seriously going to start doubting me now?" Karin asked.
Embarrassed by Karin's words and seeing the look in her eyes that told him that she was being sincere, Naruto, after taking a breath, went and bit down on Karin's arm. Karin winced with a muffled moan as chakra left her and traveled into Naruto. True to her word, he felt his body and chakra coils being healed and completely restored back to normal. Before long, Naruto felt good and revived.
"Incredible! You were telling the truth! I feel totally better! Sorry for doubting you, and thanks! Though the method is pretty weird," Naruto remarked.
Karin rolled the arm sleeve on her shirt back down and replied, "Don't worry! I'm sure Hinata won't mind that you tasted another girl besides her!"
Naruto blushed darkly and clasped his hands over his mouth after hearing Karin's flirtatious reply to him.
I'm gonna have to remember that line! I'll definitely use that line in my new book, Naruto mentally giggled lecherously.
Karin moved her lips to Naruto's right ear and whispered, "My chakra and body will be available whenever you're in need of my attention for your physical needs and private healing, Naruto-kun."
This girl is a total pervert! This is a first! Naruto thought as a lecherous giggle escaped his mouth. Sakura turned to look at the two Uzumaki and saw that Karin had told him something that led Naruto to laugh lecherously.
"What are you two talking about over there?" Sakura asked.
"Nothing!" Naruto and Karin said simultaneously.
"Just private clan affairs," Karin joked, causing Naruto to heartedly laugh. After his laughter died down, Naruto carefully meditated over everything that happened with regards to the Kiri Chuunin that asked for his help in finding Zabuza and Haku, and his battle with Orochimaru. Needless to say, Naruto learned a great deal from that fight, as it helped him gauge his abilities. Having forty clones take on Orochimaru served to not only help weaken and tire out the Sannin, but all of the knowledge and battle experience the clones acquired better prepared Naruto for his fight. Even the information from the lone clone that fought the giant viper helped Naruto calculate how to properly deal with that monstrous reptile.
Orochimaru's Gogyo Fūin was a hindrance that knocked his chakra and coordination off balance until he was able to undo the problem while inside the snake. However, what puzzled Naruto was that lightning bolt that shot out of his body and struck Orochimaru. He made a mental note to look into that later.
(Meanwhile, in Another Part of the Forest)
"Honoka-nee!" the clone greeted after having found them. With Honoka and company were additional water-type ninja that were instructed to use their water jutsu to put out the blazing fire that was burning the forest. So far, most of the fire was extinguished, leaving behind thick clouds and debris.
"Naruto-kun!" Honoka called out as she and the others hurried over to him.
"I'm happy to see that you guys made it, Honoka-nee! I was sent to find you guys and bring you to where my boss is," the clone said.
"Your boss?" Anko asked with raised eyebrows.
"I'm a kage bunshin," the clone clarified.
"We got a report from one of the Jounin that Orochimaru infiltrated the forest," Anko replied.
"He did, and he got his ass royally kicked! But I'm sorry to say that he survived my boss's last attack," the clone replied.
Anko sneered and replied, "What nonsense are you talking about?"
"Did I speak another language, hot lady? I said Orochimaru got his ass kicked. Boss had to fight him while protecting his teammates and a fellow Uzumaki he found in the forest," Naruto replied.
Honoka's eyes widened after hearing that information. Anko was about to say something when Honoka abruptly moved past her.
"Where are they!? Are Naruto-kun and our fellow Uzumaki alright!? Lead us to them!" Honoka replied urgently wanting to get to Naruto and their fellow Uzumaki as soon as possible.
"No need to. I got a better idea. Wait here," the clone suggested before dispelling itself. After a minute, Naruto appeared after he body flickered with Karin, Sakura, and Sasuke in company.
"Honoka-nee! I found and saved one of our lost kin!" Naruto said as he took Karin by the hand and led her over to Honoka. A faint blush appeared on Karin's face after having her hand held by Naruto, but she kept herself in check considering the number of Konoha ninja present. Honoka went over to Karin and said, "I'm happy to meet you! I'm Uzumaki Honoka. I'm sure Naruto-kun told you about me."
"He told me some things, but not a lot considering the circumstances. I'm Karin," Karin greeted.
"Look, as happy and emotional that this little family reunion must be, we still have a mission to do and the Chuunin Exams are still in effect with Orochimaru still on the loose," Anko reminded abruptly.
Honoka was more than tempted to use her chakra chains on Anko to shut her up. But she decided to ignore the woman.
"By the way, would you happen to know what caused that fire that almost burned down my forest," Anko asked Naruto.
"An Uzumaki kinjutsu I used in an effort to finish Orochimaru off. Unfortunately, he escaped, though not in one piece," Naruto said.
"After that explosion, I don't see how he could have survived," Sakura remarked.
"Don't underestimate the caliber of a Sannin, Sakura. I'm more than certain that Orochimaru resorted to some means to escape that attack, though I too wish that wasn't the case," Naruto replied.
"Regardless, we'll need a full report about the incident," Anko stated. Naruto made a clone and instructed, "Tell them just what they need to know."
The clone nodded.
"Karin, stay with Honoka-nee for the time being. We'll work something out with Jiisan later about getting you to be registered as a member of Konoha," Naruto advised. Karin complied, considering that both of her teammates were already dead.
Turning to Sakura and Sasuke, Naruto said, "We'll head to the tower now."
Naruto went over to them. Holding the both of them, Naruto body flickered with them to their intended destination.
"You'd think the gaki already knew where the tower was," Anko remarked.
"After everything I saw, I wouldn't be surprised if he did," Karin replied.
Naruto and his team arrived at the tower.
"It's about time you three showed up," a Naruto cloned greeted, "I didn't know how long I had to stand guard here after my partner and I found this place before he sent you the information."
"Well, consider your job done," Naruto said before dispelling the clone. Karin fully reviving him made Naruto stronger than before; especially after his fierce battle with Orochimaru.
"Let's go inside already," Sasuke said plainly. Right now, Sasuke wasn't in the mood for talk, as a great deal was on his mind at the moment.
The trio then entered the tower. They opened one of the numerous doors and walked in. What greeted them was an empty room with a board on the wall. Naruto read the writing on the board, "A balanced person needs both heaven and earth. If you have heaven, but not earth, run in the fields and gain strength. If you have earth, but not heaven, go to a wise man and seek help. When you have gained them both, use them well."
"What does that mean?" Sakura wondered aloud.
"We have both the heaven and earth scrolls," Sasuke said, "I'm guessing that it means that we're supposed to open them here."
"It's worth a shot," Naruto said as he took out the scrolls and opened them simultaneously. Realizing that they were summoning scrolls, the Jinchuuriki placed them on the floor across each other. A puff of smoke later revealed a smiling Iruka
"Excellent work you three. Congratulations on passing," Iruka said.
"Iruka-sensei," Sakura asked, "What are you doing here?"
"To welcome you, and explain that," Iruka said and pointed at the board, "It's a poem that we use to explain, very simply, how you should train. The heaven it speaks of is skill and experience. The earth is strength, speed and stamina. If you have skill, then train your body. If you have strength, then seek help to train your skills."
Naruto simply nodded. Iruka then went on to explain the whole purpose of their time in the Forest of Death and the role that Chuunin take in the shinobi world as well as the responsibilities they carry as leaders, instructors, and soldiers in missions. After a brief talk with them, Iruka saw that all three of them grew from the students they once were, but he especially knew that Naruto was far more than he appeared to be.
(All the While, in Another Room in the Tower)
"It's hard to believe that Naruto caused this much trouble, Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto said as he healed Orochimaru's injuries.
Orochimaru chuckled darkly and replied, "That gaki, combined with Sasuke's Sharingan, would have made the perfect host for me. But him being the Jinchuuriki of Kyuubi makes having him as my vessel a dangerous risk I'd rather not chance. A pity, really. But something about that Uzumaki troubles me."
"Besides the fact that he managed to go toe-to-toe with you?" Kabuto figured.
"That, and the fact that he knew things about me that no one but Jiraiya, Tsunade, and myself knew, and used them against me. And twice, he could have ended me, and he would have succeeded if I hadn't escaped at the last second on both occasions. It disturbs me how he reminds me of Itachi," Orochimaru said.
"Would you want me to deal with him, Orochimaru-sama?" Kabuto asked.
"Don't ask me such a thing! Your words imply that I don't have what it takes to do the job myself!" Orochimaru growled with bloodlust seeping out of him.
"My apologies, I forgot my place," Kabuto said as he continued healing Orochimaru's injuries.
"Regardless, I still managed to mark Sasuke with my Cursed Seal, so all is not lost. Sasuke's envy of Naruto will bring him to me without fail. After he tastes the power of that seal, he'll want more of it. And when he does, we'll be ready," Orochimaru stated. Kabuto spent another hour tending to Orochimaru's injuries. Before long he was done.
"Aaaahh! That is ever so much better," Orochimaru remarked.
"I'm happy I was able to provide you with my services Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto said. Just then, two of Orochimaru's ninja, Yoroi Akadō and Misumi Tsurugi appeared.
Akadō said, "Orochimaru-sama, we received word that the preliminaries for the third portion of the Chuunin Exams is about to begin."
"It's been five years since preliminaries had to be held. This ought to be interesting. Kabuto, you and these two here know what to do," Orochimaru replied before he body flickered and left the room.
(Fifteen Minutes Later)
The Genin teams that had managed to get both scrolls and made it to the tower stood in front of Hiruzen, the examiners, and their Jounin sensei. Behind the higher-ranked ninja stood a statue of two arms holding the ram seal. The Genin teams stood in an arena, and along the walls there was a heightened floor for spectators.
All of the Konoha rookies were there, as well as Team Gai and the Oto and Suna Genin. Hinata was happy to see Naruto was present, though she didn't get the chance to talk to him about that what happened in the forest. Frankly, all of the Genin, including the Suna Genin, wanted to know what happened between Orochimaru and Naruto.
"You look totally refreshed and back up to speed, Naruto! Last time I checked you looked pretty worn out," Tenten observed.
"I'm happy to see that the sight of my restored health pleases you, Tenten! It's clear to me that all females desire to see a strong and healthy alpha male stand before them!" Naruto replied.
"Aren't you full of yourself," Tenten remarked.
Hiruzen gave Anko a look that told her to redirect everyone's attention to the real reason why they were all assembled. She nodded in understanding.
"Welcome, and congratulations on passing the second exam," Anko said, and stepped back as Sandaime prepared to speak. All of the Genin turned to face the aged Hokage.
"Allow me explain to you the true purpose of this test," Hiruzen said.
"True purpose?" Chouji asked.
Hiruzen nodded and continued, "This exam, the Chuunin Exam, is to show a village's power to potential customers. If a village shows it has a large number of talented and strong ninja, then missions will increase for that village. Also, instead of killing each other, the ninja villages compete under these exams, keeping relations good between allies, as well as showing off their power to enemies, keeping them from attacking. Likewise, if a village's representatives, the Genin teams in this exam, show that they are weaker, the amount of missions will decrease, and the threat of invasion is greater. Therefore, it is very important that you take these exams very seriously.
"The next stage will be one-on-one fighting where many daimyō and other important people will come to see you fight. The selection on who becomes Chuunin is made by several judges among those important people."
A Special Jounin then jumped in front of Hiruzen, kneeling in front of him.
"Sandaime-sama, allow me to explain," the Special Jounin named Gekko Hayate requested before Hiruzen nodded to him. Hayate stood back up and face the Genin squads.
"As Sandaime-sama explained, for the third exam (cough) there will be a lot of important people and officials watching. However, since these important guests have limited time, we can't simply have so many matches. (Cough) For this reason, we must have a preliminary round at this time.
"Before we commence with these preliminaries, could those that don't feel well and want to forfeit raise their hands? As it is individual fighting from now on (cough), your decision won't affect your team. (Cough) So, does anyone here wish to withdraw from the exam? We will begin the matches immediately, so you won't have time to rest. (Cough)," Hayate said, and a murmur arose from the groups of Genin. Naruto saw that Shikamaru was about to raise his hand when…
"I give up," Kabuto said with his hand raised. Naruto narrowed his eyes at the suspicious Genin. Nobody would take these exams so many times and just forfeit when they're so close to winning.
I'm sure he wasn't taking the exams for the fun of it, considering what he knows. I better keep an eye on him, Naruto thought.
"You're Konoha's Yakushi Kabuto? Very well; you may leave," Hayate said and wrote something down on the clipboard he was carrying. Kabuto left and once again Shikamaru was about to raise his hand when Ino shot him a glare. Half-heartedly, he conformed and lowered his hand, not wanting to deal with Ino yelling at him later for quitting because of his laziness.
"What should we do about the Uchiha," Anko asked. Both she and Hiruzen could see something was bothering Sasuke, confirming Naruto's clone's explanation and report about what Orochimaru did after the Snake Sannin bit him. The clone gave them only a brief summary of Naruto's battle with Orochimaru but when asked again about the explosion, the clone told them that it was an Uzumaki kinjutsu that would killed the user if attempted since they don't have the required chakra to execute it. Although the fire was put out, the extent of the damage done was immense as acres of the forest were completely destroyed. It would be decades before the forest was restored back to how it previously was.
"Hokage-sama," Anko started, "I can practically smell Orochimaru's Cursed Seal on Sasuke, and he did survive the ordeal of the Cursed Seal. We have to stop that Genin from competing. If he gives in-"
"Sasuke isn't the type to just forfeit and listen to you. He's here to test his strength," Kakashi interjected.
"But…," Anko began.
"I can place the Containment Seal on Sasuke. Don't worry," Kakashi stated. Kakashi was well informed by Hiruzen about the incident involving his Genin team and Orochimaru, and the Jounin made it a note to watch Sasuke more carefully now.
"Well, if there is no one else (cough) withdrawing, then let's start the first match," Hayate said and a part of the wall behind the statue slid down, revealing a screen. There, names began to flash before they stopped.
"First match of the preliminaries: Uchiha Sasuke vs. Yoroi Akadō," Hayate called.
Before the fight started, Kakashi warned Sasuke, "If your Cursed Seal gets out of control, I will have to intervene and stop the match to control the seal."
This barred Sasuke from using any jutsu, as the seal responded to flows of chakra. The match started with Yoroi stealing Sasuke's chakra with his chakra absorption. The match appeared hopeless for Sasuke, until he heard Naruto's taunts of him losing to a non-elite ninja. When he saw Lee next to Naruto, it gave Sasuke an idea. He used the Lion Combo, a partial copy of Lee's Front Lotus, which had been captured by Sasuke's Sharingan. Yoroi was knocked unconscious, and Sasuke advanced to the next round. After the fight, Kakashi took Sasuke away to seal the Cursed Seal.
As the preliminaries continued, events went as followed:
Second match: Abumi Zaku vs. Aburame Shino. Zaku apparently only had one functional arm, but he bet that he could win regardless. But this despite his best efforts, he still lost with Shino rising as the victor.
The third match: Kankurō vs. Misumi Tsurugi. After an intense battle, Kankurō came out the winner.
The fourth match: Sakura vs. Ino. Both exhausted each other out until a duo knock out. Hayate declared that their match ended in a draw thus neither of them was allowed to move on to the next round.
The fifth match: Nara Shikamaru vs. Tsuchi Kin. Shikamaru was at a disadvantage at first, since Kin had seen him use his Shadow Imitation Technique in the Forest of Death without showing her own fighting style. But Shikamaru managed to devise a plan to bind his shadow with hers and knock her unconscious, leaving him as the winner.
The sixth match: Temari vs. Inuzuka Kiba. Kiba was certain that he would win against her but Temari had another agenda in mind, proving her strength before the Konoha ninja watching, and if possible, gaining some of Naruto's attention and acknowledgment. The match was intense as Temari was forced to use her knowledge on stronger wind jutsu to keep Kiba and Akamaru at bay and from getting close to her, especially after Akamaru transformed into Kiba with the Beast Human Clone technique. With her weapon of choice, her large fan, she combined that with her knowledge on wind jutsu at her disposal to block and counter all of their attacks. She warned them that their match would end once her fan reaches three stars.
Before long, both Kiba and Akamaru ended up heavily battered and cut up by her wind-jutsu attacks. After her fan reached the second star, Akamaru was the first to lose consciousness and change back to normal after Temari performed another wind jutsu on him and threw him into a wall. In a rage, Kiba sought to avenge his partner. But Temari managed to take to the air momentarily through the use of her fan to avoid Kiba's attack. After her fan reached the third star, Temari glided back to the ground and performed her Futon: Tatsu no Oshigoto (Wind Release: Severing Pressure) on Kiba, trapping and cutting him up in the process before having him land painfully on top of her large fan on his back and then tossing him to the floor in a heap next to his dog.
Amazingly, Kiba managed to remain conscious despite his injuries. Hayate, examined Kiba and afterwards declared Temari the winner.
"Surprising," Naruto remarked, "Though Kiba and Akamaru really gave a good fight that Suna chick still managed to beat both of them without so much as having a scratch. Now that, I respect!"
Temari shot Naruto a flirtatious smile and replied, "I'm happy you expected nothing less of the daughter of the Kazekage, Naruto. I'm sure you can understand that I have a dignified image to maintain after all."
The other Konoha Genin couldn't believe that Temari was openly flirting with Naruto after beating one of their comrades in front of them. Meanwhile, Hinata went to check up on Kiba as he was being carried away on a stretcher.
"Hinata…listen to me," Kiba pleased weakly, "There's only you, Naruto, Lee, Chouji, Tenten, Neji, Gaara and some guy from Oto left. If you're your match is with Gaara, forfeit immediately. And if it's with Neji, forfeit your match with him also."
Hinata was surprised at Kiba's words and replied, "B-But Kiba-kun…"
"Hinata…Neji will show you no mercy. He's cruel to you and will beat you to a pulp," Kiba warned.
A moment the scene started flash names again, and after it stopped, two names appeared on it.
Seventh match: Hyuuga Neji vs. Hyuuga Hinata.
"Damn it…," Kiba muttered.
Hinata, Kurenai thought with concern and worry.
What an interesting matchup, Hiruzen thought. Gai looked at the screen and wondered about the outcome. Kiba wasn't allowed to continue as he was carried away. Neji had a cold and hardened look as he looked over at Hinata.
The two Hyuuga members came forward onto the arena floor. As everyone watched, Sasuke returned and stood alongside his teammates. Kakashi followed close by from behind.
"You're back already? I didn't think I'd see you again so soon," Naruto remarked.
"I wanted to see the rest of the matches. I heard just now that Hinata has to battle against Neji," Sasuke said.
"She does. And unlike Kiba, I will not coach Hinata-chan to forfeit her match," Naruto replied.
"But aren't you worried about what might happen to Hinata?" Sakura asked.
"I have confidence in my girlfriend as should all of you," Naruto answered.
"Don't get me wrong Naruto, but Neji's a strong fighter and even Lee and I have a hard time with Neji whenever we spar. He is a genius and Hyuuga prodigy after all, not to mention last year's Rookie of the Year," Tenten said.
"In that case, let's see what my genius girlfriend can do," Naruto replied. The Konoha ninja figured that Naruto referred to Hinata as a genius as a means of giving moral support to Hinata. Sasuke had no knowledge of Neji's skills, but he had seen Hinata's sparring matches at the academy from time to time. In the beginning, she barely won any of her matches, but towards the end of their time at the academy, she started showing signs of improvement.
"Hinata told me several days ago that she improved from how she used to be though I don't know how that compares to Neji's skills," Sasuke said.
"What a troublesome match-up," Shikamaru remarked.
Meanwhile on the arena floor…
"I never thought I'd be facing you," Neji stated.
"Niisan," Hinata said in return.
"I didn't know your girlfriend and Neji were siblings," Sakura said.
"They're not; they're cousins and they don't get along due to internal clan issues and traditions that's strained and divided the members of their clan. There are two houses of their clan: the Main House which Hinata-chan as the clan heiress is part of, and the Cadet Branch House which Neji is a part of that was established to protect and serve the Main house," Naruto explained.
Temari was staring down at Hinata who stood face to face with Neji.
"She doesn't look like much," Kankurō said. Baki and Gaara gave no comment as they simply looked on. Hinata looked over at Temari and saw the 'I wish I was the one fighting you instead' expression the Suna kunoichi was giving her.
Hayate stood between Neji and Hinata.
"The seventh match will now begin!" Hayate announced before stepping away.
"Before we begin this match, I'd like to say something Hinata-sama," Neji said. Hinata meekly awaited his words.
"You don't make a good ninja, forfeit now. You're too kind. You wish for harmony and avoid conflict. You agree with others, never resisting. You have no self-confidence and I always feel your sense of inferiority. That's why I thought it would be best for you to remain a Genin. But the Chuunin Exams could only be taken as a team of three. You couldn't turn down your team's request, thus you entered unwilling. Am I correct?" Neji spoke while carrying feelings of false concern.
"I joined this exam of my own f-free will…to test my skills and see…h-how much I've changed," Hinata replied humbly. Everyone was watching the scene play out. Everyone knew that the fight would be tragically one-sided. However, only one saw whose favor the match was truly in. Kurenai, though thought about her time with Hinata and how hard she worked to improve despite setbacks and difficulties.
"Hinata-sama, as I thought, you're a spoiled brat of the Main House. People can't change themselves. Losers are losers…Their personality and strength will not change. Because people can't change, differences are born. Expressions like elite and loser are created. Looks, brains, ability, size, personality…all people judge and are judged based on these values. Based on their unchangeable factors, people discriminate and are discriminated against, and they suffer with what fate dealt them; just like how I'm from the Cadet Branch House and you're from the Main House.
"I've seen many things with my Byakugan so I know. You act like you're strong but deep down you actually want to run away from here."
Sakura turned to see Naruto's reaction to Neji harsh and vicious words. Much to her surprise, Naruto silently watched while waiting to see Hinata's next choice of action. She couldn't tell if he was angry or passive about what was happening.
Kakashi said, "It's believed that the origin of the Uchiha Clan lies with the Hyuuga Clan. The Byukagan is an advanced bloodline limit passed down in the Hyuuga family. In terms of the ability of insight, the Byakugan surpasses the Sharingan."
Sasuke stayed quiet after listening to Kakashi's words while watching the scene on the arena floor play out.
Neji activated his Byakugan and continued his attempt to psychologically break Hinata down, "You can't fool my eyes. Against my pressure just now you shifted your eyes to the upper left, a sign that your remembering your past, your painful past. After that, you looked to the lower right, that's a sign that you're imagining physical and mental pain. Basically…you're thinking about yourself…and from all the experiences you've had until now you're imagining the results of this match…imagining that you'll lose!"
Hinata lowered her head and took a deep breath and exhaled. After a short moment, she unzipped her jacket and removed it before tossing it away to the side. She then took her forehead protector around her neck and tied it around her forehead, allowing some of her hair to drape over it.
"Neji-niisan…," Hinata said meekly as she activated her Byakugan. Without warning, Hinata charged at Neji at a fast speed and threw a right Juuken punch at him. Neji easily side stepped and avoided the strike.
"Weak-," Neji said but was immediately cut off when Hinata in the same fluid motion spun on her right foot and swiftly brought her left leg up and swung it hard across Neji's face. The male Hyuuga, caught off guard by the surprise attack, was sent spinning off the ground before hitting the floor with a thud.
Tenten and Lee sported shocked facial expressions with their mouths gaping after seeing how Neji was so thoroughly humbled and knocked off his feet within seconds after speaking in abusive terms to Hinata. Gai was speechless at how his student was knocked to the floor so effortlessly. He was wondering what kind of training Kurenai was giving Hinata.
And speaking of Kurenai, she too was totally caught by surprise at how the first attack was in her student's favor.
"Did you see that?!" Sakura exclaimed in sheer disbelief.
"No freaking way! She decoyed him right into her attack!" Ino shouted after getting over the shock.
"Hinata-chan, you little copycat," Naruto snickered affectionately.
"She utterly humiliated him!" Tenten managed to voice with a still shocked expression.
"Maybe that'll help keep his sharp tongue in its place," Asuma remarked with a grin.
"And yet I always thought I'd be the one to battle Neji like this," Lee said. Sasuke quietly looked at Hinata and saw that she was manifesting a spirit and character that he and clearly no one else except Naruto was familiar with. He didn't want to admit it, but it was starting to remind of Naruto.
With the Suna ninja…
"It looks like this said to be inferior kunoichi has some hidden thorns to her. I wonder what more she can do," Temari commented.
"Considering what that guy said to her just moments ago, this fight ought to be interesting," Kankurō added.
A moment later, Neji, momentarily dazed, gradually got back on his feet while rubbing his face which now had a shocked expression and a most noticeable bruise. As much as he would have liked to deny it, Hinata's surprise attack hurt a lot, and left him dizzy for a moment. He couldn't believe that Hinata not only managed land a swift blow on to his face with her foot, but she made him look stupid in front of everyone after his demeaning speech. Feeling something warm with an iron-like taste seeping down his chin, Neji rubbed his lips only to find that he was now bleeding from a swollen and busted lip. The bruise in his jaw was even more painfully felt.
"That, Niisan, was the same move Naruto-kun, our class' dead last, used against our class' Rookie of the Year several years ago during the Academy Field Day event. And I thought it would be fitting that I use that very same move just as effectively against last year's Rookie of the Year, seeing as you consider me the dead last of our clan. I believe it's called "poetic justice" Niisan," Hinata explained.
Neji looked back at Hinata with unadulterated hatred.
I'll kill her! I'll kill her! Neji thought to himself as anger and bloodlust leak out of him.
"He's obviously mad now," Shikamaru remarked while stating the obvious, "I wonder what'll come out of this."
"Don't worry so much. I'm more than sure that Hinata-chan will show that narrow-minded bastard who's truly weak," Naruto said.
Neji charged at Hinata with his palm raised and extended. As his coordinated attacks came one after another, Hinata was able to evade and deflect every last one of them easily. But to the eyes of all the onlookers except Naruto, it was as though two prodigies were blurs. The speed they were moving at made it look like they were at a stalemate.
The two Hyuuga backed away and stood ten yards away from each other. Neji looked at Hinata carefully and found her looking completely calm and confident with no trace of doubt, fear, or insecurity.
She's always been weaker than me. I refuse to be defeated by her. No, fate will not allow it, Neji thought to himself as he gritted his teeth in frustration. He was the Hyuuga prodigy, a genius, the one who was given the strongest Byakugan abilities in the Hyuuga Clan, and he wasn't going to be defeated by the one he regarded as the weakest link of the Main House.
"Not bad, Hinata-sama, but it'll take more than just fancy dodging to stand against me in this fight," stated Neji, as he assumed his Juuken stance and prepared for another round.
At this Hinata replied, "I didn't think we were getting serious yet."
Snarling at the heiress while Hinata looked as composed as ever, the two combatants charged at each other. They met and began throwing open palms strikes at each other. Neji tried to palm Hinata's stomach, but the Hyuuga heiress blocked and sent a palm towards Neji's chest. He dodged to the left and tried to strike back. Hinata evaded as well. This fast paced sidestep-block-evade dance continued for a while as neither landed a blow on the other.
"Did Hinata go through a complete personality change? It's like she's possessed! She was never like this when we were at the academy!" Ino said while observing the match.
"I'll say," Shikamaru remarked as he watched with amazement.
"The only form of possession Hinata-san is dealing with is the possession of her youth!" Lee said as he watched the match excitedly.
Kurenai was watching Hinata carefully and found that what she was seeing was nothing like how Hinata had always performed during her sparring matches. Shino, too, while not externally showing it, was baffled by what he was seeing.
What is this I'm seeing? Kurenai wondered with bemusement.
While watching with his team, Naruto was simply smiling with his arms crossed over his chest like a master watching his apprentice's excellent progress being demonstrated in front of onlookers.
Sasuke, while seeing Naruto's expression, recalled Hinata's words to him in front of her clan's compound.
"Naruto-kun fully understood my pain, my suffering, and my loneliness…He changed and saved me from that life, and helped me become smarter, stronger, and faster than others believed I could become."
What kind of training did Naruto have Hinata go through to make her excel this far? Sasuke wondered before turning back to look at the match again.
Neji rushed forward again, and the two continued battling with their Juuken. He tried going for her chakra points to strike and shut them down. Though Neji's raw skills were known for always making their mark, Hinata's agility and lithe figure allowed her to level the playing field as she swiftly moved around Neji and all of his attacks without getting hit even once.
After ten minutes and failing to hit even one of her chakra points, Neji and Hinata pulled back from each other. He was breathing a bit heavily while Hinata didn't even look warmed up yet. That served to infuriate Neji, though he stayed calm regardless.
"Is this the best your training did for you?" Neji asked after catching his breath.
"No, I was merely getting an assessment of your fighting style and your pattern," Hinata answered calmly. "I think I've seen enough."
"Don't talk big, Hinata-sama. The outcome of this match was already decided from the time you were set to fight me, and you're fated to lose disgracefully at my feet," Neji sneered.
Hinata turned to look up at the spectator floor and looked directly at Naruto, as though she was asking something of him. Seeing the look in her eyes, Naruto grinned and gave her a particular nod of approval, which she clearly understood. She turned her attention back to the arena floor.
"You're only delaying the inevitable through that clown's moral support. You can't undo what fate has already predetermined for you. All you're doing is wasting time," Neji said coldly. Hinata stayed quiet momentarily as she gathered herself together while solidifying her resolve.
A minute later, she was ready. Hinata looked directly at Neji with a polite expression and said meekly, "I learned a lot from Naruto-kun over the years and during my time with him, I also learned to properly utilize my time and develop from all that I've learned and all that I've experienced. What's also true is that a clock has nothing but time, Neji-niisan. But in terms of the duration of this match as a result of the time I utilized to study you…"
Hinata balled her fists and held her arms in an upright position. She focused her chakra into her arms and before long, her arms flared with chakra. She increased and strengthened the output of her chakra, which then took on the form of two large lion-head-shaped shrouds of chakra with glowing white eyes around their hands. The intense roaring of her chakra gave the impression that the lion heads were truly roaring fiercely.
"…Time has grown short," said Hinata said with a determined expression.
After three years, Naruto finally gave Hinata permission to drop her restraints and show what she can really do. Find out exactly what Hinata does to Neji next time.
A/N: As for Chapter 631 of the manga, Kishimoto trolling the pairing wars after all that development is tiring. And Sasuke declaring he's going to become Hokage? Ridiculous! And what was up with Minato going Kyuubi-mode? I know he sealed the yang half of Kyuubi into himself but still, going Kyuubi-mode without the same training Naruto and Killer-Bee had to go through!? I know many of you won't agree with me but that whole chapter was like reading a bad fanfiction.