Chapter 11: No Need for Obstacles

Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura leapt from tree branch to tree branch, speeding through the forest as quickly as they could, attempting to stay ahead of the teams travelling parallel to them. As long as they stayed ahead they had little to worry about with traps, not on this sprint to the first "roadblock" of the challenge, anyway. Any team fast enough to get ahead would want to stretch out their lead even further, so would not be likely to slow down long enough to set any kind of ambush. It would be after this first roadblock they were coming to that they would need to be on their toes as slower teams that completed the tasks ahead of others might attempt to sabotage them.

The trio maintained their breakneck pace, moving so quickly that a civilian looking right at them would see nothing but a streak of color passing by. Soon, though, they came to a clearing and passed by a white chalk line denoting the beginning of the roadblock area. It had been less than ten minutes since they had seen the flare of light spark up from this location.

Sasuke leapt down into the spot first, quickly followed by his teammates. To their surprise, they could see several other teams already there, moving very quickly in another area, already taking on the tasks. Moments later, the princess from Jurai touched down beside the team, flanked by her two wooden guardians. There was a small sheen of perspiration on her forehead from her exertion in keeping up with the genin team.

"Wow, Ayeka-chan, that was pretty good keeping up with us like that," Naruto praised. "I didn't know you were that fit."

"Thank you, Naruto-kun," Ayeka accepted with a blush. "It is a princess's duty to be ready to lead the armies of her people into combat if ever the nation is threatened. Your team was quite swift, though. It required more effort than I am used to needing to exert to keep up with your pace."

"Hn," was all that Sasuke responded with.

Sakura, on the other hand, looked over at the princess with challenge in her eyes. The pink-haired kunoichi had been pushing herself beyond her own typical pace in order not to slow her two teammates down. She'd already greatly improved since her Academy graduation in both speed and endurance. It rankled a bit that the princess could keep up with what was essentially her best traveling speed. Sakura vowed not to be the one to slow down her team and hurt Sasuke's chances of earning a promotion. Nor would she let the purple haired vixen impress Sasuke with her abilities. Or outdo her in front of Naruto. No way was she going to be outdone! Cha!

"You are the sixth team to arrive," announced one a chunin examiner from the Leaf, standing beside a jounin-trainer from the Village Hidden in the Sand. "For your first roadblock, the theme of the challenge will be hidden targets. You may choose either the Path of Genius, where you will be pitted against an obstacle course that will challenge your ability to strike concealed targets using shuriken, or the Path of Dedication, where you will be faced with finding a number of targets buried beneath tons of boulders."

"We'll take the Path of Genius," Sasuke answered for the group without hesitation.

Naruto began to protest the choice, the phrase "not everyone is a genius" ringing out, but Sasuke gruffly pulled him aside and pointed out the activities of two different teams they could see in action out in the challenge areas. On the one side was Might Guy's team with Neji Hyuuga, Ten-Ten, and Rock Lee going through the obstacle course, and another team on the other side, a team from the Hidden Cloud, moving massive boulders using brute strength.

"Look, Naruto," Sasuke hissed as he pointed to the other ninja teams. "We both know you're not the best at shuriken throwing and your shadow clones can get a lot done quickly. But look at how heavy those rocks are. Even with your clones working together we'll have a difficult time lifting and moving them all. The obstacle course will be a lot easier for our team. Even that Rock Lee guy is doing the obstacle course."

"Sasuke's right, Naruto," Sakura chimed in. "We're still only eleven, while a lot of other teams are much older. If we do the other challenge, even if we do finish quickly, we'll all end up worn out and won't have the energy to move quickly to the next one."

Grudgingly, Naruto conceded the point and the team prepared to perform "Path of Genius" task. The trio headed over to the examiner who showed them a flagged off area.

"Alright, here are the rules," the examiner from Suna explained, handing the trio a pouch of ninja stars each, glaring for just a second as he handed Sasuke his pouch. "You will be given these special shuriken which you must use to hit each target. You must make your way through the trapped obstacle course while staying within the boundaries marked with colored flags and hit all targets marked with this symbol." The examiner held up a small cloth with a character for 'target' inscribed on it. "If you miss any target or any of you are struck more than once by any of the traps inside on your way through, you fail the course and must repeat it until you get it right. Do you understand?"

The group nodded. The Suna ninja's stare lingered longer on Sasuke, but despite the cold look, they were sent into one of several obstacle courses that had been marked off. The course was a series of logs and wooden ramparts suspended in the air with rope and wire that they needed to leap between. There were several different paths all running parallel to each other. Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto took off along the course one behind the other as soon as they were ordered to do so by the examiner, the Uchiha clan ninja in the lead. As soon as their feet hit the first log, a whirring sound alerted them to incoming projectiles. The trio had to dodge out of the way onto alternate paths, only to hear more weapons being shot their direction each time their feet hit the surface.

"Guys, I think the course is rigged to respond to our weight!" Sakura shouted out in warning as she was forced to dodge back out of the way, landing on the log to the left of the one she was on as lightly as possible. She noticed threads of ninja wire tightening as her teammates landed and then were forced to spring away as shuriken flew out towards them in response.

"Right," Sasuke acknowledged. "So we either need to land so lightly that it doesn't set off the traps, or move fast enough that they miss us."

"Well, I say we go faster!" Naruto shouted and began leaping ahead. "These little traps won't even be able to touch us!" The orange ninja sped ahead, the flying darts and shuriken hitting nothing but the air behind him.

"But if we go too fast we won't be able to see all of the targets!" Sakura protested as she began trying to keep up with her speedier teammates.

Sasuke blurred ahead to catch up to Naruto, darts and ninja stars passing behind him, too slow to reach the speedy genin. "Don't worry about the targets, Sakura," Sasuke said looking back with a smirk on his face and the single tomoe spinning around his red, shining eyes. "I've got that covered. You and Naruto just concentrate on not getting hit."

"Like I'm going to let you get all the targets!" Naruto growled out, fingering a pair of the shuriken in one hand with the other held horizontal to his forehead to help him look through the forest for targets. It rankled that this "Path of Genius" obstacle course was much better suited to Sasuke's strengths than his own.

"You just try and keep up, dead last," Sasuke scoffed back, already leaping to the next platform, his eyes carefully scanning the terrain ahead. "There!" he said with a determined look, launching a shuriken towards one of the targets.

As soon as his throwing star hit the target there was an immediate whoosh of needles fired back at his position. The Uchiha rolled out of the way, but the spray of senbon continued on heading straight for Naruto, who was just behind his teammate.

"GYAH!" the orange clad ninja yelled as he leapt straight up in the air, doing a split as the hail of senbon struck into a tree exactly behind where he had just been. "What the hell was that, Sasuke!"

"It looks like the targets are set up to shoot back after they're hit. So, we'll have to avoid the counter-attack after I hit each target," Sasuke answered seriously.

"What do you mean after you hit each target?" Naruto answered with a scowl. "I can hit just as many of them as you can."

"Yeah right," Sasuke retorted with a smirk. "Like I said, you and Sakura just try to avoid getting hit. I'll handle this challenge."

The raven-haired ninja continued forward, throwing shuriken at targets as they encountered them and dodging as throwing needles, darts, and shuriken were fired back. Naruto and Sakura were forced to leap aside several times as the trajectory of the ninja weapons carried them right into the trailing pair's path. With a growl, Naruto bounded forward until he was almost level with Sasuke and let loose with a shuriken of his own. There was no responding hail of weapons.

"You missed, loser," Sasuke teased. "Just let me handle the targets. I'm the best of us at this."

"Oh yeah? Well, let's see if you can keep up with ME now!" Naruto retorted as he put his hands in the cross sign. "Kage bunshin no jutsu!"

Two dozen Naruto copies poofed into existence and immediately charged recklessly ahead, aiming for what hidden targets they could see. Multiple shouts of "Kuso!" were heard as some of the clones missed their targets, but then dozens of senbon and shuriken came showering through the air from up ahead. Clearly not all of the clones had missed. This time Sasuke was forced to leap aside to avoid some of the incoming projectiles.

"All right Naruto, have it your way," Sasuke said as he fixed the blond with a glare. "We'll see which of us can hit the most targets." And then, with a look of determination in his eyes, the blue-shirted genin took off in pursuit of the remaining orange clad clones, leaving the original behind in a burst of speed.

"There!" Sasuke yelled out as he threw multiple shuriken towards multiple targets. With Sasuke's sharingan he could launch attacks from much further away than the clones were attempting, though he paid for the extra distance with a drop in accuracy. As several of the shuriken neared their targets Sasuke made a handsign and called out, "Kage shuriken no jutsu!" Each of the shuriken he threw multiplied into dozens, ensuring a strike on the targets even if his initial throw was off.

A few stars also struck through a few of Naruto's clones that were too close to the area Sasuke was throwing towards. "Hey!" Naruto shouted, about to berate Sasuke for his disregard of his clones, before Naruto's eyes suddenly went wide with shock.

"Oh, wow, Sasuke! You're so amaz—" Sakura began before her senses registered what Naruto's clones had just let him know. There were dozens of poofs followed by cacophonous swishing and clanging sounds rushing towards them.

The trees just ahead of them were suddenly blasted by a hail of senbon and shuriken, the leaves on the branches of the trees ahead completely torn to shreds and the bark of their trunks suddenly stripped apart. The heavy impact of the incoming missile weapons was having a cascading effect on obstacle course as every pressure sensor on the logs and platforms were struck, causing them to fire as well, adding to the salvo of ninja weapons that was rapidly crisscrossing the obstacle course in a rain of destruction on its way back towards Team Seven. There was simply nowhere on the course to dodge as the air in the entire area was filled with sharp cutting or piercing objects.

Sasuke hurriedly made his way back to a tree, putting his back against it, and whipped his kunai out. He did his best to deflect as many of the deadly weapons away from himself as he could before he was forced to execute a quick kawarimi technique to replace himself with a nearby log. The space behind him was riddled with shuriken and senbon. He cursed to himself as a single needle had broken through his defense to make a gash on his thigh before the onslaught finally subsided.

When the onslaught hit, Naruto was frozen in place. He felt his body pierced dozens of times all at once, his mouth opened in shock from experiencing so many painful hits. And then he came to his senses. He suddenly realized he was completely untouched. Floating in front of him was the smirking form of Ryoko, an energy sword in her hand, swatting away every needle and ninja star with apparent ease. Naruto hadn't noticed the moment she had appeared in front of him because at that exact moment he was remembering the fates of all of his clones all at once. Their memories of what had happened to them had made him feel as if it were happening to him at that exact moment.

When he got his breath back he looked at the grayish blue haired woman who had stood between him and the attack. All that pain could have really happened to him. Naruto couldn't help but feel grateful to her. Even if she was a demon fox. "Uh...thanks Ryoko," he managed to stammer out.

A very pleased look appeared on the Kyuubi no Kitsune's face at the sincerity with which Naruto was thanking her. She could feel it and the thought sent a pleasant sensation throughout her knowing he truly felt grateful to her. "My pleasure, Naruto." Then the smile turned slightly malicious as she brought up the young ninja's previous words to her. "Now what was it you were saying about not needing my help back at the Hokage's office, Naruto-kun?"

Seeing Naruto at a loss for words, she gave a little laugh and then faded back away. 'Someday soon, Naruto-kun, you'll admit how much you need me,' her voice echoed in his mind.

"Okay, come on," Sasuke yelled back towards them. "We're nearly halfway through!"

A cold, masculine voice interrupted them. "Oh, I don't think so, Uchiha." The voice was that of the examiner from Suna, who had just suddenly appeared in the middle of the obstacle course in a swirl of sand. "You have failed to complete the task and will need to do it over again." Then he pointed back to where Sakura was collapsing from her numerous wounds. "Your teammate does not seem to have a magic eye or have a woman protector to keep her from getting injured like the two of you do. That's quite a few more than just two wounds." The man then eyed Naruto, leaking killer intent towards him, a look that the young genin met with a glare of his own before hurrying back for his teammate. "And this one should have ended up the same way."

Sasuke and Naruto were quickly by Sakura's side. "Are you okay, Sakura-chan? I didn't mean for you to get hurt like that!" Naruto cried out. "Someone get a medical ninja over here!"

"No," the cold voice of the examiner commanded. "Unless you want to forfeit this challenge and fail the exams," he said gruffly. "No ninja can receive medical help from their village or the proctors until after a challenge is over. Doing so immediately disqualifies the entire team from the Chuunin Exams selection process."

"He's right, Naruto," Sasuke said with a grimace.

"But…Sakura!" Naruto looked at the examiner with wild eyes and then back to his teammate. The pink haired kunoichi had a look of pain on her face. The red outfit that she wore for her missions was full of rips and tears, blood leaking profusely from several wounds on her legs. Her eyes were streaked with her tears, though to her credit she was not crying out loud.

The examiner gave a snort. "She's not in any danger, kid, but you'll have to wait until she recovers to try to attempt the course again. No way she can make it as she is." The Suna jounin pointed towards a recovery area. "Your team can sit it out over there until she's recovered enough to try it again."

The Suna ninja paused for a minute before turning back towards Naruto and Sasuke. "That is, if you're allowed to continue. I'm going to see to it your squad disqualified for cheating."

"What?!" Sasuke yelled. "You can't!" Sasuke and Naruto were helping Sakura hobble over to the recovery area while arguing with the Suna ninja, but at this they both turned their attention back to the examiner.

"Oh, I most certainly can," the Suna ninja replied in a casual voice. "Getting outside help is strictly forbidden, and your teammate there definitely received some outside help!" The last phrase was spoken loudly so that all could hear it as the Suna jounin pointed towards Naruto.

"What's going on here?" the examiner from the Leaf village asked, appearing in a swirl of leaves.

"This team should be disqualified for cheating. During their exercise a fourth person intervened, preventing this one from getting hit," the examiner from Suna said pointing to Naruto.

"If that is true—" the Konoha examiner began before he was quickly cut off.

"It is not," called out an authoritative voice. The examiners and Team 7 turned to see a rapidly approaching group of people. At their head was the First Princess of Jurai, flanked by her two wooden bodyguards. Trailing behind them was a small contingent of ANBU. When Ayeka reached the group a few seconds later, she turned her attention towards Naruto and gave him a small bow.

"What is this?" the examiner from Suna asked, his gruff voice taking on an angry tone. "What does Jurai have to do with any of this?"

"I happen to have been observing the progress of this team as part of my diplomatic duties," Ayeka said stressing the importance of her position. "And I can say positively that at no time did Lord Naruto nor any other member of his team call upon or receive outside assistance."

The jounin from the Village Hidden in the Sand looked murderous. "You lying—"

Azaka and Kamidake quickly interposed themselves between the ninja and the princess, electricity crackling around their blocky wooden forms menacingly. "YOU WILL NOT INSULT THE PRINCESS. AN ASSAULT UPON HER PERSON WILL BE MET WITH DEADLY FORCE." Their warning voices projected loudly in unison.

"Azaka, Kamidake, stand down," Ayeka calmly ordered. "This man's insult will be overlooked this time," she said primly, "as his error is understandable. He believes I am not speaking the truth and feels his own honor is being insulted." Ayeka turned to the Konoha examiner. "It is true that Lord Naruto was defended from the attack by other than his own teammates. But, as I said, at no time did any of them receive any outside assistance."

The Suna jounin's anger quickly faded and was replaced by a perplexed look. "What do you mean? I saw that woman—"

"What you saw was no woman," Ayeka said, her voice full of irony. "What you saw was a demon. A demon bound by the power of Lord Naruto. If you would Naruto, please summon…Ryoko."

Naruto shrugged his shoulders and performed the summoning technique, though without the use of a blood sacrifice as was typically required. Instantly, the Nine-Tailed fox appeared directly in front of the Suna ninja, compelled to appear by the power of the seal.

"Nameless ninja not important enough for me to ask the name of, meet the Kyuubi no Kitsune, Ryoko. Ryoko, meet some ninja or other from Suna who is causing some trouble for Naruto," Ayeka said almost conversationally.

"Hi there," Ryoko said with a sardonic smile right in the man's face. The ninja took a rapid step back. "The Village Hidden in the Sand, huh? Been a long, long time since I was there last." She gave a very predatory grin in the man's direction. "How's my older brother, Shukaku, doing?" The Suna ninja visibly paled. "Still as insane as ever, eh?"

Ayeka smiled as she gestured towards Ryoko. "As you can see, the Demon Fox is bound to Naruto, and hence, is a tool at his disposal as any of the creatures commanded by ninja are."

"Who are you calling a tool?!" an incensed Ryoko yelled, whirling to face the princess. Ryoko's face was a heated red, her mouth twisted into a snarl and her hand clenched in a fist. The ninja from Suna and the Konoha examiner backed away from the dangerous woman, feeling her power suddenly increasing.

"You," Ayeka said flatly, turning her chin up, not backing down an inch from the incensed demon fox. "As far as this challenge is concerned, your power is Lord Naruto's to command." The princess pointedly turned her hair away from Ryoko to look at the examiners, her long flowing purple hair whipping around in front of the incensed fox.

"Nobody commands me, princess! And I will show you—"

"Ryoko, stop," Naruto quickly interceded. The Nine Tailed Fox, two red tails swishing behind her, stopped her fist mid-swing. She gritted her teeth as she turned her head around to face the orange-clad ninja. Then anger slowly melted away from her expression, eyes that had begun to glow red fading to their normal yellow hue.

"Only for you, Naruto," Ryoko said in a low growl, throwing a final glare Ayeka's way before fading back away. "But next time that princess is gonna get what's coming to her," she let the threat hang as her form completely vanished.

Ayeka crossed her arms with a haughty smirk on her face. "I think I have demonstrated my point."

"Fine then," the examiner from Suna relented with a grumble. "It won't matter anyway. With Pinky here injured, this team will fall so far behind they'll be eliminated quickly, if they can even pass this first task at all!" The man's face lit up with a vengeful glee. "Konoha's precious last little Uchiha brat will be a failure."

The Konoha chuunin examiner and Ayeka looked at the Suna examiner reproachfully, but he ignored their looks. He even chuckled maliciously, his hands placed on his hips as he mocked them. Sasuke's eyes narrowed dangerously, his hands gripping his kunai tightly. He looked ready to—

"Hey, what do you have against Sasuke, anyway?" Naruto demanded, his fists clenched in anger as he stepped right into the veteran ninja's face. "I thought we were supposed to be allies!"

"Allies?" the jounin scoffed. "With Konoha?" The man spat on the ground. "Sure Sunagakure signed the Allied Shinobi Treaty like all the other major ninja villages, and we were on the same side against Iwa all those years ago, but don't think we are all friends here, kid." The Suna ninja glared harshly at Naruto. "One of these days we'll be back at war again and then every village will be for themselves. And I will throw a party when Konoha burns to the ground.

"And the Uchiha? My problem with him is that he's an arrogant, heartless Uchiha. They're all heartless killers who think they're better than everyone else!" The venom in the man's voice set Naruto back a step. Sasuke however, was bristling in fury.

"What did you say about my family?" he asked coldly.

"What do you mean? What makes you say that?" Naruto asked accusatively.

"Who are you to demand anything of me brat? But you really want to know? I'll tell you." The man took a breath. "My father was in a squad fighting against Iwa invaders along our northwest border together with some of our Konoha 'allies' and he was paired up with someone from your village to scout ahead. Kenichi Uchiha. And it was the arrogance of the Uchiha that got most of my father's team killed in an ambush. He told my father that nothing could escape his eyes. Well, he was wrong.

"My father survived, but he lost a hand in the fight and nearly bled to death. I remember it like it was yesterday, the Uchiha bringing my father to back to the city gates after the mission, dropping him outside the city like he was discarded rubbish. I was waiting there with my brother. He looked at me with those cursed red eyes of theirs and told me that my father was too slow. TOO SLOW! And then that Uchiha creep turned his back on me and my father and walked back out as if we didn't matter. My father told me he was going back for another mission and the creep didn't even take the time to get my father to a hospital because it was just too far into the city." The Suna ninja was visibly shaking at this point. "So, you tell me, do you think I should care for any Uchiha?"

Sasuke and Naruto stood together silently for a minute, not sure what to say as the Suna ninja glared daggers at them. And then Naruto lifted his head.

"You know, I can't understand how you feel," he said quietly. "I never knew my father, so I can't say how I would feel if someone did that to my dad. But I do know what it feels like for someone to hate you because of what someone else did. So I think I know what Sasuke feels right now." Naruto paused before continuing, the others nearby going quiet as they could tell this was coming from the excitable ninja's heart. "At first I didn't know why everyone hated me. I only found out about the Nine Tails not long ago. But I could feel all the anger and all the coldness for as long as I remember. And that's not a feeling anyone should have to feel, no matter who their family is.

"And maybe Sasuke is a jerk. And maybe he is stuck up and thinks he's better than everyone else. But he's still my teammate. And he's my friend. So I'm gonna stand by him and I'm not gonna let you or anyone else look at him with hateful eyes like that. Not when he didn't do anything to earn it." Sasuke Uchiha looked at his teammate, eyes wide, as if he'd never seen him before. Ayeka's eyes began to tear up. Even the ninja from the Village Hidden in the Sand reflected on what the young man before him was saying, mulling it over.

"I may be too young to know what you've been through, but from what I've seen of this shinobi world, there's already enough hate in it from what people have done to each other that we don't need to add to it for what people haven't done." Then a fox-like grin spread over Naruto's face as he thumped his own chest with his thumb. "I'm Naruto Uzumaki, a genin of the Leaf Village, and I'm going to be Hokage one day. I don't quit and I don't go back on my word."

"So, I don't care if you're a jounin. I don't care if you're our examiner. We're gonna go back in there and beat that course! Believe it!" And then Naruto turned and headed back towards the obstacle course, determination in every step.

It was then that Ayeka's voice, very quiet, called out to him. "Um, Naruto? Your teammate, Sakura, is still too hurt to go on…" She let the sentence hang for a moment.

"Oh, right! Sakura-chan!" Naruto did a quick 180° turn and sprinted back to his team with a concerned look on his face. "Um, are you alright?"

"Naruto! You baka!" Sakura complained with a grimace.

"Sorry, Sakura-chan," Naruto apologized. "I got a little overexcited there for a minute, hehe. But we'll get you healed up and get through that course together in no time! Believe it!"

The Konoha chuunin looked uncomfortable, speaking with a touch of reluctance, "I'm sorry, but the other examiner was right. The exam proctors and observers are not allowed to interfere in the exam process. That includes providing healing. To do so would disqualify you." The Konoha examiner spread his hands out apologetically. "Either you continue as best you can with her wounded, or you forfeit and we can see she gets immediate treatment."

"Perhaps I could try to…" Princess Ayeka began before quickly before being cut off.

"Sorry, but you are an observer here. If they accepted any help from you it would mean their disqualification," the Leaf nin explained apologetically.

A new voice suddenly broke in. "But if she were healed by someone on another participating team that would be within the rules."

Everyone turned to see a familiar smiling silver-haired genin standing a few feet away with Shino and Hinata beside him. Kabuto adjusted his glasses and then addressed the proctor, "We're forbidden from attacking another team within the boundaries of the task, but helping another team is not against any rule, is it?"

The Leaf chuunin examiner looked back at Kabuto in surprise. "That's true, but you're not here as comrades. You should know that better than any other genin, here, Kabuto."

Shino frowned from within is coat, his voice quiet and even. "I don't understand why you would offer to help here, Kabuto. This time there is nothing we can get out of it."

"Think of it as putting the needs of the village above our own ambition for promotion," the silver-haired genin said as he adjusted his glasses. "Team 7 is probably the strongest of the rookie teams and they have a good chance of doing well if they don't get held up here. And I'm sure that later on down the line when they're all big important shinobi in the village that they'll remember this moment and who helped them out."

Shino frowned. "I won't try and tell you no, but I don't really like this."

Kabuto smiled. "So, that's me for helping, Shino abstains," then he looked over at Hinata. "And I think I can safely tell what Hinata's vote will be on the issue of helping out Naruto's team without having to ask her."

The lavender haired kunoichi bowed her head shyly.

"You are skilled enough to do this?" Sasuke asked with a touch of doubt in his voice.

"Your teammate's injuries are not very severe, most of the injuries are superficial. It seems they are using low tensile strength needles and blunted shuriken to make sure nobody is injured too badly. I do help out around Konoha hospital a little and have a modest talent with medical ninjutsu," he said with just the tiniest hints of a smirk.

"Actually, Kabuto is one of the best young med-nins in the village," Sakura said. "He's always modest, but I've seen him working while I was there with Tsunade-sensei. He's really talented. Much better at it than I am, that's for sure."

Sasuke nodded, accepting Sakura's assurance.

"Okay, then, I'll heal her up. On one condition," the glasses wearing ninja said with a smile.

Team 7 looked at Kabuto suspiciously.

"My team gets to start on the obstacle course before you do," he said with a smile.

At that, Naruto smiled in return. "Of course! I guess you are alright after all!"

With broad smile, Kabuto knelt down beside Sakura and ran his hands over her wounds as a green glow surrounded his hands.

Naruto Muyo!

Hiruzen Sarutobi sat behind his desk smoking on his pipe as he heard the report from his former student. "So, someone is impersonating one of our young medical ninja during the Chuunin Exams. One of our genin who was killed recently," he said thoughtfully. "But we have no idea why, or who they are working for. Or even what their intentions are." He took another puff on his pipe while Tsunade stood there in front of his desk.

The Hokage turned his head to the left, his eyes locking on one of the hidden ANBU in his office. The black cloaked and hooded ninja was kneeling before the leader of the village in an instant. "Bear. Summon Ibiki to me immediately." With a nod the ninja vanished.

A sudden movement at the window to his office caught the Hokage's attention. He turned his head to see the long, flowing white hair of one of his other former students. This exceptionally tall ninja was dressed in a standard olive ninja outfit, but with a bright red, sleeveless vest worn open at the front over top, a large pair of geta on his feet, and twin red lines drawn vertically down his face from the bottom of his eyes. Those eyes now bore a very serious look on them.

"I think I know who is behind this," Jiraiya said as he slipped into the office and walked over towards the Hokage's desk. "And if I'm right, he is the one who is impersonating that poor genin. The one I've had my spy network trying to discover for years."

"You mean, it's... him?"

"Yes. Him."

Sarutobi's eyes widened. "I will handle this, personally."

Jiraiya shook his head. "That may be exactly what he wants. I will go," he said with a fierce look in his eyes. "I want to face this bastard as much as you do."

After a moment of hesitation, Hiruzen nodded.

Jiraiya leapt back up to the window ledge. He gave a soulful look back to his old teammate. "Tsunade-hime, look after sensei. I wouldn't put it past our enemy to try to assassinate the Hokage as a diversion."

And then the Toad Sage leapt off the window sill to make his way back out of the village once again. He only hoped he could arrive in time.

Naruto Muyo!

Team 7 stood together at the start of the obstacle course with a determined look on their faces. Naruto, dressed in his orange jumpsuit, peered ahead towards the course. Sakura, freshly healed, pulled on the pair of tight leather gloves she had been given by Tsunade, adding a serious element to the otherwise colorful cherry red outfit she typically wore on missions. Sasuke, always serious, checked his pouches for the stored ninja stars, making sure everything was secure.

"Alright! Let's go!" Naruto enthused. "This time no way we're going to get stopped!"

"Hold on, Naruto!" Sakura scolded. "Don't be an idiot like last time. Just let Sasuke lead."

Naruto pouted, but before he could protest, Sasuke was already speaking. "Sakura, Naruto wasn't the one who held us up last time."

Sakura looked down in shame. "I'm so sorry, Sasuke, this time, though, I swear…"

"It was me," Sasuke interrupted, to both of his teammates' shock. "I let my pride get in the way and tried to do it all on my own. Not only that, but we just rushed into things without a plan. We should have scouted ahead and seen what the dangers were instead of charging ahead and fighting over targets. But that's not happening this time. This time, we're doing this as a team."

Sakura and Naruto both nodded agreement.

"We'll start with you, Sakura. You were the best in the Academy at analyzing and solving problems. Not just the best kunoichi, but the best in the class." Sasuke looked at the female ninja intently, making it clear that he was taking her opinion seriously. "So, tell us what you saw."

Sakura got a proud look on her face. "Right! Well, first off, we already know that there are pressure sensors on the logs and platforms. Too much force in one place will set off a trap fired from the periphery just ahead of where the pressure point is placed. And when we hit a target with shuriken, it sets off a counter-attack back in the direction it was struck from. So, of course we have to deal with those challenges.

"What I noticed as I followed you guys was that whenever one of you followed right behind the other, the traps only fired at the first person. There's a delay of two to three seconds after a trap is triggered and before it can fire again. If we time it right, the first person can get past the trap fast enough that the weapons will all miss; the second person can run through two seconds behind them, after the senbon and shuriken have been fired."

"Good idea, Sakura," Sasuke complimented her with Naruto nodding his agreement.

The pink clad ninja continued. "As for the targets, they are set up to fire back right at where the thrower attacked from. Obviously, the one throwing the star will see the attack coming and dodge out of the way. The real danger is to the ones directly behind the one who hits the target. If we space out our approach so that none of us are right behind each other when we aim for a target it will be easy."

"Yeah, but what about if all the traps fire at once at us like last time?" Naruto asked.

"Well," Sakura said thoughtfully, "that only happened when you and Sasuke hit too many targets at a time. There were so many throwing stars and needles that they were colliding in the air and falling onto the pressure plates along the course, setting off those traps as well. If we avoid hitting too many at a time that won't happen again."

"Alright," Sasuke said. "We'll each take a separate path, staggered behind each other. Naruto," he looked directly at his teammate, "you'll lead the way."

"Naruto?" Sakura asked. "Are you sure, Sasuke? I mean, you are better at hitting targets than Naruto."

"She's right," Naruto admitted. "You are better at throwing shuriken than I am," Naruto admitted grudgingly, getting into the spirit of teamwork

"That's why I'll take the middle route," Sasuke said with a smile. "But you'll lead all three of us. With your shadow clones. You'll keep clones running just ahead of us so that we can concentrate on hitting targets. I'll be able to hit most of them from the center path, but you and Sakura will get the ones out of my range on either side. That way we won't have to worry about setting off the traps on the course."

"Hey! Why don't I just send shadow clones through first and let them hit all of the targets first? Then we can just run through after all the targets are taken out!"

Sasuke shook his head. "That's a good idea Naruto. But unfortunately, it won't work. According to the examiner, we only hit eight targets last time."

"What? I know I hit more than that!" Naruto exclaimed.

Sasuke nodded. "So did I. But according to the results, only eight counted. And I think I know why." Sasuke held up one of the throwing stars. "These stars are all marked with a fuuinjutsu seal. The target only registers that it is hit if it is hit with a weapon carrying this seal. But when you used shadow clones and I used the shadow shuriken technique, none of the cloned shuriken counted as if they had hit the target. However this works, duplicated shuriken don't duplicate the seal correctly."

"Oh, I got it!" Naruto said. "So we have to only use real shuriken to hit the targets."

"Right. But your clones can still set off the traps ahead of us."

Naruto nodded.

"Okay, let's go then," Sasuke said.

"Good luck!" Ayeka's voice called out from behind them where she stood with her Juraiyan guards.

Naruto gave her a wave then put his hands together into the cross sign. "Kage bunshin no jutsu!" A half dozen copies of Naruto appeared and prepared to lead the way. "Alright guys, make sure you go fast enough that you don't get hit by anything."

"Right boss!"

And then Team 7 jumped into action on the obstacle course for the second time. Sasuke took the path in the center while following behind Naruto's clones, while the original Naruto and Sakura each jumped on the logs to either side of Sasuke, following behind in a staggered order. With the clones triggering the traps ahead of the team they were able to make quick time without danger of being struck. And with Sasuke aware of his teammate's positions, he only attacked a target when neither of them were in the path of the senbon counter-attack.

It was all going well, only two of Naruto's clones had been dispelled.

And then Sakura tripped on a shuriken that had lodged in the log she was on after Narutos clones had passed by.

When she fell, she set off several traps simultaneously. Several dozen senbon, shuriken, and darts all converged on her prone form. There was on way she would be able to dodge in time.

And then several dozen Narutos jumped between her and the oncoming attacks. Two of the clones managed to form an energy sword and use it to knock away the needles. The others failed to get the technique to work, but still managed to block the attacks. With their bodies.

"Thanks, Naruto!" Sakura called out to her teammate.

After that, Team 7 had no problem completing the course. When they got to the other side the examiner was waiting for them. The ninja from Suna inspected them, making sure that none of them were struck more than once. Seeing there wasn't a single scratch on them, he nodded.

"Alright, you have completed the course. I will give you directions to get you to the next checkpoint. You are the 7th team to complete this task."

"Did any team manage to pass on their first attempt?" Sasuke asked neutrally as he received an envelope from the examiner with the instructions for getting to the next roadblock.

"So far, only two teams have managed that. One team from Suna and one from Konoha," the proctor acknowledged. "But I'll admit, I was impressed by you brats. Even you, Uchiha. I heard you talking to your team. Maybe you aren't like the rest of your clan."

Sasuke Uchiha looked at the Suna ninja for a moment, and then gave a polite nod.

"Hmm, make that three that made it through on their first attempt," the examiner said as he noticed another team in the distance. "Your friends from earlier just made it through as well. Not quite as fast, but they did get it on their first try."

Kabuto waved to them from the distance, a cunning smile on his face.