Hey. Here's chapter 8.
I've gotten some questions regarding my other stories, so let me clear up why they haven't been updated in so long. I assure you, I'm not abandoning them.
The reason I haven't updated my Nine and Seven story, aside from the fact that I've come to like this story more, because of some later plans for it and how it diverges from canon later, is because I'm not sure what I want to do with it. There are a lot of things I'd like to change about Nine and Seven. For example, I think I skipped too much character development, made Naruto and Fuu too strong and I'm not satisfied with the earlier chapters in general, so I'm considering rewriting it. On the other hand, I've closely followed stories in the past and have been really annoyed when the writer suddenly decided to start over when I thought it was fine and I'm hesitant to do that to you guys. I'm still toying with the idea and exactly what I'd do differently, ways to make it diverge from canon more, and maybe making it less light hearted, so it's on hold for now.
As for my Shattered Fates story, I'm definitely going to rewrite that later.
I've also pretty much decided on the pairing for this story. It will be Naruto x Fuu and Yugito. However, both of them have already achieved chunin rank, or higher, in this story, so neither will show up for a while. Sorry to anyone hoping to see them in the exam.
Also, some people have voiced that I shouldn't use Fuu again because she's already in the main pairing for my other story. Let me say this about that. Naruto x Fuu is my favorite pairing, and I don't think there's near enough of it on this site. That being said, I get annoyed with writers who only write their favorite pairing. Like many of you I'm sure, I like variety in my stories. To those people, rest assured, I'm planning three other Naruto stories, two of which I've already decided on the main pairing and they will not be Naruto x Fuu. As for the third, I'm undecided on a lot about it, the pairing included. Since I'm focusing on my current stories, you probably won't see them for a while though.
Well, without further ado, let's get to the story.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
All the assembled genin had their full attention focused on the imposing, scarred form of the first proctor who looked past all the examiners, sending a glare at team seven and the sound genin.
"To start with, you six!" He said, pointing to them. "Knock it off, who told you, you could fight!? Do you want to be failed before we've even begun!?"
"Sorry, guess we got a little carried away," Naruto said, placing his hands behind his head and plastering a grin on his face as he looked to the proctor.
The leader of the sound genin turned to the scarred man, his back hunched over and his head bent oddly. "Yeah, sorry. We're a little bit jumpy, this being our first time and all."
"Hn," Ibiki grunted in response, an amused grin briefly crossed his features before his stern gaze washed over all the prospective chunin. "I'll only say this once. There will be no combat without the permission of your proctor, and even then lethal force is prohibited. Anyone who even thinks of disobeying me will be immediately disqualified. Do you understand me?"
The spiky haired sound genin gave a derisive snort. "In other words, this stage of the exams for pansies."
"Now, if you're ready, we'll begin the first stage. Turn in you paperwork and you'll be given a number that determine your assigned seat. We'll start the written test once you're all seated."
Naruto froze. "Wha… written…?" He began. "Damn it!" He snarled under his breath.
Minutes later, the blond and all the other test takers were seated in a rather large exam room with chunin proctors lined up along the walls. Hinata sat right beside him, but aside from her no one he knew was nearby.
The young Rinnegan bearer looked absolutely miserable as he held his head down. It didn't matter how much he'd studied, it didn't matter how much how much he'd learned, it didn't matter how confident he was he'd be able to pass this exam. None of that changed the fact that he absolutely hated written tests!
He gave a depressed sigh as he stared down at the paper before him and awaited the beginning of what he was certain would be the worst part of the exam.
"Naruto…" He heard Hinata say. He turned to look at her and she gave him an encouraging smile with a slight blush. "Good luck. L- let's do our best."
"Yeah," Naruto replied with a smile of his own, causing her blush to deepen.
"Alright listen up! I'm only going to say this once!" Ibiki said gruffly as he stared out at the exam takers. Once he saw no one was stupid enough to interrupt, he continued, taking a piece of chalk and writing on the board behind him without turning to face it. "There are several rules to this exam. I'll write them on the board as I explain, and there will be no questions, so don't even think about interrupting."
After letting this sink in, he turned to the board and wrote as he explained the rules.
"First off, everyone will start with ten points. The test will have ten questions, each worth one point. For every question you get wrong, you will lose a point from your overall score. So if, for example, you miss three questions, then you'll be left with seven points, understand?" He sincerely hoped no one present was dense enough to need further clarification. Thankfully, no one spoke up, so he moved on. "The second rule is that this is a team test. Whether you pass or not will be determined by the combined score of you and your teammates."
"Wha?" Sakura said quietly, her facial expression showing a hint of fear. She knew Naruto was much smarter than he was when he graduated, but even with his clones, was two months of intense studying enough for him to be able to pass?
'Calm Down.' Sakura told herself, bringing her hand to her chest and taking a breath to help in that endeavor. 'Naruto will do fine. There's no way that after all this that he'd let something like this hold him back. Besides, even if he missed every question, Sasuke and I should be able to carry him… but, what's with this point system?'
"This third rule is that during this exam, anyone caught cheating will have two points deducted from their overall score for each offense. Those who lose all ten of their points will be asked to leave."
"We've got our eyes on you." Kotetsu grinned as he reclined in his chair, freaking out several of the genin.
"Anyone caught cheating isn't worthy of being called a chunin." Ibiki said before grinning slightly. "If you want to be shinobi, then show us what exceptional shinobi you can be. Show us that you are all proud ninja."
"And now, for the final rule," The scarred proctor began, pausing to let the tension build. "Anyone who loses all of their initial points or fails to answer a single question correctly… will be failed along with their teammates!" He took a moment to enjoy the reaction of several of the genin, worried either they would screw it up for their teams or that a team member would drag them all down. "The final question won't be given out until the last 15 minutes of the testing period. You have one hour. Now… Begin!"
As soon as he spoke these words, all the tests were turned over and the assembled genin quickly began to read through the questions. In a few seconds, the sound of pencils meeting paper could be heard… but from only a handful of individuals.
'Wha… what is this?' Sakura wondered as she looked over the test. 'These questions are all extremely complicated… it would take either an extreme amount of book smarts, experience, or both to even begin to figure them out. I'm fine, but I doubt anyone else here could answer any of them!' Sakura's eyes quickly darted around the room, discreetly looking at their competition, many of whom were looking at their papers in confusion and in some cases, mild panic.
Sure enough, several seats away, Sasuke had finished scanning the sheet before him. He took a moment to consider everything he'd just read before closing his eyes and sitting back. 'Well… that's interesting…' He said, a small but slightly bitter smile crossed his features. 'I can't begin to answer a single one of these problems…'
Naruto had come to the same realization. He'd skimmed over all the questions at this point, and he couldn't hope to answer even a single one. There was no way this was actually a chunin level test. He doubted anyone aside in his graduating class aside from Sakura could pass it.
But then, he'd noticed something fishy about the rules that Ibiki had come up with. Under normal circumstances, wouldn't you be immediately disqualified if you got caught cheating even once? Unless… 'Unless they want us to cheat!' Naruto realized.
Of course, it was so obvious! This wasn't a test of their book smarts; it was a test of their information gathering capabilities! They were supposed to cheat without getting caught five times.
Around the room, others began to come to the same realization. Identifying a test taker who knew all the answers, Sasuke activated his Sharingan and began mimicking his pencil strokes. Neji and Hinata used their Byakugan to see through other test taker's bodies to their papers. Gaara formed an eye out of sand and used it to spy on others.
Ah, but here the blond had a problem. While Zabuza's training had improved his stealth abilities and that combined with the Rinnegan's shared vision made him fairly effective at gathering information… nothing he had would help him while he was under the hawk like eyes of the chunin proctors. And as far as he knew, his dojutsu had no ability that would really help him here.
Of course, he wasn't alone in this. After all, not every team could be made entirely of individuals whose skills were geared towards information gathering, like team eight. There were several others who had no way of spying on the other test takers, including Sakura and highly skilled individuals like Rock Lee and Temari. But then, Sakura was probably the only genin present who didn't need to cheat, and some of those individuals had the benefit of being on more experienced teams who had ways of either relaying information to them or helping each other under the chunin's radar.
Team seven did not have this advantage.
He racked his brain in slight panic for a while wondering exactly what he was going to do. Then his head jerked as inspiration struck him and a grin spread across his face.
The blond put his pencil to the paper and began writing, making sure no one could see what he wrote. Minutes later, he finished, looking over his work and nodding to himself before flipping the sheet over, reclining in his chair and placed his hands behind his head, tilted his head down and relaxed, much to the puzzlement of those around him and the proctors.
'What's he doing?' Sasuke asked himself, frowning in the blonds' direction. 'He couldn't have gotten the answers that easily? What the hell did he do?'
Sakura looked in the blonds' direction, wondering the same thing as Sasuke before suddenly, her eyes widened and her head fell forward. When she looked up, a mischievous grin had spread across her face as she picked up her finished test.
'Just like I thought. About time forehead's oversized brain was useful for something.' Ino thought, having usurped control of Sakura's body with her Mind Transfer Jutsu. She read over her rival's test, memorizing every inch before she would return to her body and then use her jutsu to relay the information to Choji and Shikamaru.
Ibiki looked out at the various genin, his brow furrowing as he looked to the blond. He wondered what the kid's game was. Had he gotten the answers without him knowing somehow? He seemed too relaxed considering the situation. Well, he'd find out soon enough, there were only a few minutes left on the clock.
Kankuro interrupted the test, claiming he needed to use the bathroom. He left with a 'chunin escort.'
Ibiki had to resist the urge to smirk. As if he couldn't see through that disguise.
A few minutes later, and the 45 minutes had elapsed. It was time for the tenth question.
'Finally, time for the main event.'
"All right! Listen up, here is the tenth and final question! But before I give you the question, there are some more rules concerning the tenth question you need to know before we can begin."
Just as he was about to reveal the question, the door opened and Kankuro returned. "Ah, aren't you lucky," Ibiki said with a smirk. "You made it just in time. I hope you found your trip to the bathroom… enlightening."
While Kankuro kept up a mask of calmness, inwardly he was shocked. 'He's seen through Karasu's disguise! He's on to us!' Deciding to go ahead with the plan, he returned to his seat, subtly passing a cheat sheet to Temari along the way.
"These rules only apply to question ten, but they're vitally important, so listen closely… and try not to let them frighten you."
Meanwhile, in the jonin lounge, Kakashi, Zabuza, Kurenai and Asuma were all relaxing as their students took the exam. Zabuza sat away from the others while Kurenai and Asuma sat near each other, across from Kakashi. Asuma took a long drag off of his cigarette before looking to the copy ninja.
"Eesh, you really screwed that one up, Kakashi." Asuma said with a slightly amused expression after Kakashi and Zabuza explained exactly what happened during the Wave mission. "Putting a team of green genin through a mess like that without even calling for back up? I bet the old man tore you a new one."
Kakashi chuckled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. "Well… we all make mistakes, right? And everything turned out fine in the end."
"I notice you didn't answer my question." Asuma pointed out with a grin.
Kurenai turned to the sword wielding jonin, raising an eyebrow as she stared at him. "Isn't a little unfair that your genin have been getting extra training from a jonin of his caliber?"
Zabuza just gave her a bored look. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've been told aren't most of your students children of famous clans if not said clan's heirs?"
That statement immediately ended the argument. That was true and they could always look for extra help from their families. In fact, Asuma had mostly left it to his students' clans to train them, and subsequently got chewed out by his father himself for passing the buck.
Even Hinata could have sought additional help from her clan. Though she was viewed poorly by her father and the clan's elders, many among her family found her kindhearted nature endearing and would be more than willing to help her.
Naruto and Sasuke, being orphans, and Sakura, being raised by a civilian mother, did not have this opportunity.
"Besides, I was only supposed to help whip them into shape for the exam." The masked ninja added with a shrug. Of course, he'd help out in their training if they asked in the future, but this was all he was obligated to do.
He also neglected to mention Jiraiya's contribution.
"Hm," Kurenai responded.
"Things are going to be boring for the next month. We can't even carry out missions while our students take on the exam," Kakashi complained, the usual lazy expression he tended to wear holding a hint of boredom.
"Now you know how I feel. I can't wait for this damn probationary period to be over," Zabuza said to the copy ninja, grumbling at the end. "But I have to agree, this is dull. At least before I had something to do."
Haku was currently training with his ice style, which Zabuza couldn't offer any help with, leaving the former missing nin with nothing to do aside from try to learn to use the wind element.
Asuma chuckled. "Eh, don't worry. Those kids might be back sooner than you think."
"Hm? Do you know something we don't, Asuma?" Kakashi asked.
Asuma shrugged. "Just that word is the examiner for the first stage happens to be Ibiki."
Zabuza sat up and frowned. "Ibiki? Ibiki Morino?"
"The very same." Asuma replied.
Kakashi's usual, aloof expression gained a hint of concern. "They put them with that sadist from the start?"
Kurenai's brow furrowed, not liking the sound of that and slightly worried about her team.
Zabuza raised a brow.
"You've never heard of him?"
"She's a new jonin, and unlike you, she never had to worry about being sent to the guy. Not surprising she never heard of him," Asuma pointed out with a grin.
Kurenai rolled her eyes at the slight dig on her status as a newbie.
"So who is he?"
"An expert…" Asuma began, taking another puff of his cancer stick before turning and looking at the sole kunoichi in the room. "… of torture and interrogation. The special jonin: Ibiki Morino of Konoha's T & I department. Don't worry, there won't be anything physical. That's not where his skills lie. His area of expertise … is mental torture."
"First of all," Ibiki began, his stern gaze washing over the room. "It is up to you if you wish to take the tenth question or not."
"Whoa, wait a second, 'choose'?" Temari exclaimed, immediately aware something was wrong with this. "What kind of rule is that? What happens if we decide not to take it?"
Ibiki close his eyes and paused for a moment before giving the test takers a grim look.
"If you choose not to take the tenth question, then your score will automatically be reduced to zero. In other words, you'll fail, along with your teammates."
"What the hell do you mean?!" One faceless genin cried out in shock.
"In that case, of course we'll take it!" Another yelled at the scarred man.
"And now for the other rule…" Ibiki began. "If you decide to take the tenth question and you get it wrong, then not only will you fail, you will lose the right to ever take the chunin exams again!"
The room immediately burst into cries of shock, disbelief and fear. In the midst of it all, Kiba shot out of his seat so quickly that the chair audibly scraped against the floor, jabbing his finger in the scarred special jonin in outrage as his voice rose over all others.
"That's bull man! That's ridiculous! There's plenty of people here who've taken this exam before!"
Ibiki responded with a chuckle, a sinister sound that sent a chill through the spines of many chunin hopefuls.
"You guys crapped out. Those guys didn't have me as a proctor. This year, you play by my rules," He said, flashing the test takers a wicked smile. "But I'm completely without mercy. I've given you a way out. If you don't think you'll get it right, you're free to leave. There's the door! Take it!"
There was a moment of silence as all the genin contemplated what they were facing. Were they really willing to risk ending any hope of advancement they had like this? If they forfeit this opportunity, they could always try again in half a year after all.
It only took a few seconds for the first genin to fold, raising his hand shouting that he couldn't do it. He and his team were sent out, his teammates grumbling at him for costing them their chance as he apologized.
Through all this, Naruto thought about his own future and the nature of the question with his head tilted down, an unreadable expression on his features. Had he been wrong about the last question? Was his chance of ever advancing beyond genin really at risk? Could their proctor really have that much influence?
And what would the old man say if he failed? Their agreement said that the Third would tell him the truth about his family if he became a chunin. What would happen if the scar faced proctor really had this kind of influence? He doubted Hiruzen would keep the truth from him forever, but still…
After a few moments, however, all conflict fled from his mind as he realized something and the words Ibiki spoke at the beginning echoed through his mind.
Show us all that you are proud ninja.
The blond raised his head and looked up at the scarred proctor, a confident grin etched onto his features. There was no hint of fear or uncertainty in his expression, and it didn't waver even as another nearby test taker threw in the towel.
Ibiki noticed the confident look and eyed him appraisingly as he tried to read the young Uzumaki.
'Interesting… he seems sure of himself even knowing the risks.'
The many times he'd been a proctor for the exam, he'd seen a myriad of reactions from the many prospective students when put in similar situations, doubt and hesitation being chief among them. The closest anyone had come to this was what he saw from the male Hyuuga in the group and the red headed sand genin, cold determination to face whatever was ahead of them. However, he'd never seen such a confident expression on any of them before.
He wasn't even sure the blond had gotten any of the answers. His curiosity peaked, he leveled a fierce glare at the young Jinchuriki.
"And just what are you smiling about?" He barked at the boy, causing all eyes to focus on him. "You seem pretty calm for someone in your position, or maybe you're just too stupid to understand what's at stake." When Naruto showed no signs of intimidation, Ibiki pressed. "Well, got something to say? Out with it!"
Naruto chuckled and closed his eyes. "It's nothing really," He said before raising his head, and Ibiki could tell, despite the sunglasses, the blond was meeting his glare with unwavering determination. "I just realized I've got no reason to be scared of some weak threat like that."
Many of the remaining genin were stunned while Ibiki's eyes narrowed. "Care to elaborate?"
"Why should something like this scare me? I've never let anything stand between me and my dreams, and I'm not starting now! So what if you say I'll never become a chunin? I'll still find someway to move forward!" He said before his grin widened slightly and he raised a brow. "Besides, you already said it yourself."
Before Ibiki could question what he meant, Naruto pointed at him and continued. "You told us all to be proud ninja. As ninja, we risk out lives with every mission we take. How could we live like that when we're afraid of something so small like a threat to our careers? Anyone cowardly enough to back out of a mission just because of a little risk-" He slammed is hand on the desk before him. "- doesn't deserve to call themselves a ninja! So you can take that threat and shove it up your god damn ass! Ya got that, scarface!?"
There was silence following that declaration as Naruto sat back in his chair, still grinning at Ibiki. Beside him, Hinata smiled shyly, a slight blush painting her features. Seats away, Sasuke smirked while Sakura smiled as well, any hints of uncertainty the pink haired girl felt washed away by the blonds' words.
The scarred jonin stared at the blond briefly before letting his eyes wander the room. Ibiki was a master at reading people, of analyzing the small cues and tells that show what a person is feeling, when they're scared, when they're desperate, when they're about to crack. Nothing escaped his notice.
However, even a novice at the subtle art could see that the atmosphere of the room had shifted.
'Heh. No one's going to back out after that… Interesting kid, that little speech of his inspired the other hopefuls and blew away their fears. And whether he knows it or not, he realized the question's true nature. This one might have a bright future ahead of him.'
Ibiki turned to look at the clock with an unreadable expression, seeing there were only a few minutes left.
'Well, there's no reason to draw this out now…' A glance at the chunin sentinels told him they all agreed.
"Strong words," Ibiki responded stonily. "Well, if that's how you feel, then let's get this show on the road."
All the genin donned serious expressions and stiffened in their seats, preparing themselves for whatever the scarred proctor had in store for them.
However, none of the prospective chunin could have anticipated Ibiki's next words.
"To all those who remain…"
A grin broke out over Ibiki's face, one that left all the test takers in confusion. There was no malice in this grin. It was relaxed… almost… kind.
"I congratulate you on passing the first test!"
Stunned silence followed that statement as many of the young shinobi gaped at the proctor. Finally, Sakura spoke up. "Wait, what do you mean? What about the tenth question?"
"There was never a tenth question," Ibiki replied, his grin widening to show his teeth, further confusing the genin with his sudden shift in demeanor. "Or more accurately, the tenth question was simply the choice to take it, or not."
Temari, angered over all the wasted effort, shouted. "Then what was the point of the first nine questions?! Are you saying all this was a waste of time?!"
"Of course not, the first ten questions served their own purpose. And that was to test your information gathering abilities," Ibiki said, pausing for a moment to let this sink in before elaborating. "First, as I explained at the beginning, whether you pass or failed depended on your whole team doing well. That would put pressure on each member to not screw things up for everyone. But the questions were not ones most, if any, genin could hope to answer. I'm sure most of you realized 'in order to pass, I have no choice but to cheat'. Basically, you were supposed to cheat without getting caught. For that purpose, we had a few chunin hidden among you, and anyone who cheated obviously, failed."
With that, the special jonin reached up and unwrapped his bandana like forehead protector. When he was finished and unveiled what was hidden underneath the clock, many of those present were horrified by what they saw, some to the point of breaking out in a cold sweat, a sense of unease blossoming in their hearts at the thought that this might one day happen to them.
Naruto could only gape. He'd called the man 'scarface' earlier, but he never could have expected this…
Underneath Ibiki's bandana, the man's head was covered in horrible scars from either slashes or deep gashed where flesh had been torn off by blunt instruments, as well as burns and deep screw holes. There was hardly an inch of the man's head that was left unmarred.
"Because there are times when information is more important than the life of any one shinobi. And on missions and battlefields, people risk their lives to get their hands on it."
With that, he began to rewrap his bandana before continuing.
"This is what could happen should you chance upon misinformation. Important information in your hands can be a powerful weapon for your comrades and village. So we had you gather information through cheating. This separated those who didn't have the right abilities."
"But… what about the tenth question?" An Ame genin asked.
At this, Ibiki smirked and chuckled.
"A bit slow on the uptake, aren't you?"
The genin fumed but before he could respond, Ibiki pointed at Naruto, who was a bit surprised at being singled out, though he only barely showed it.
"That blond brat already told you the tenth question's purpose. It was a leap of faith, a decision to take it, or not. A difficult choice, as one would cause your entire team to fail, and the other put your career on the line." After pausing for a moment, he elaborated. "You can't turn down a mission just because of the dangers you could potentially face. The ability to be courageous and survive any hardships… that is what it takes to be a chunin leader. Anyone who would take the coward's way out…" He smirked as he echoed the blonds' words. "Doesn't deserve to call themselves ninja, let alone chunin! All of you have passed my test. The first stage of the chunin exams are now finished. I wish you luck."
Before anyone could celebrate, Ibiki turned his gaze to the window, his expression dropping as he sensed something very familiar rapidly approaching. The very next instant, the window shattered as what appeared to be a black ball of cloth burst into the room, causing a nearby chunin to jump and a few genin unlucky enough to be nearby to shield their faces as shards rained down on them.
"That's…!" spoke Naruto, sitting up in his seat, having immediately recognized this entrance.
The ball unfurled in front of a slightly annoyed Ibiki, sticking to the floor and ceiling with kunai. Once fully opened, it revealed itself to be a banner reading 'The sexy and single proctor of the second exam, Anko Mitarashi!'. The woman herself stood before the banner with her hands in her coat pockets. More than a few males in her audience had trouble keeping their attention off her assets, several had blushes and in a few cases nosebleeds.
"Alright, you brats! This is no time to celebrate!" Anko shouted to the test takers, waving her arm with her usual dramatic flair. "I'm Anko Mitarashi, the proctor for the second stage of the chunin exams! Now let's go! Follow me!" She pumped her fist in the air.
Silence followed this declaration. Ibiki, clearly annoyed, stepped out from behind the banner.
"Bad timing, Anko. You're early, again."
This caused Anko to blush in embarrassment while Naruto snickered at the expressions of both special jonin.
Anko rubbed the back of her head and chuckled sheepishly before actually looking at the chunin hopefuls. Taking a quick tally, she frowned.
"78!?" She wheeled on her fellow special jonin. "What the hell, Ibiki!? You let 26 teams pass?" She then grinned. "Looks like someone's getting soft."
"Actually, you've got that brat to thank for all the extras," Ibiki responded, pointing to Naruto.
"Huh?" Anko raised a brow before following Ibiki's gaze and seeing the blond.
"Hey, Anko. I was wondering when you'd show up," Naruto called out with a grin, which Anko returned.
"Well, if it isn't my favorite brat. Figured you'd get through Ibiki's game, but what's this I hear about you being responsible for all the extra baggage?" She asked, putting a hand on her hip.
The blond shrugged. "Eh, it's not like I did much. I just said a few words and all the wannabes who were ready to back out sat back down."
The purple haired kunoichi chuckled at that, while Naruto's teammates looked at the young Uzumaki in slight confusion.
'How does he know her? I mean, she acts kind of like him, but when did they meet?' Sakura wondered.
"Oh, stop being so modest. It would take a lot more than that to break this guy's hold over these little brats." Anko jabbed her thumb in Ibiki's direction. "You've gotta have some serious balls to pull that off." Naruto chuckled at that before Anko gave a predatory grin. "But that won't be enough to get through what I've got in store for you. By the time I'm through with you, I'll cut your numbers in half at the very least." She sent out a small amount of killing intent, causing many of the test takers to shiver. "Now, follow me. I'll explain once we get there."
With her piece said she jumped out the window, not giving the genin even a moment to get up. Naruto quickly got up to follow her, the prospective chunin quickly doing the same once they recovered from the shock. Soon, the teams had gotten back together as they followed after the snake summoner.
"Naruto…" Sakura said, stepping up to walk alongside the Rinnegan bearer. "How do you know her?" The rest of the Rookie 9, who happened to be nearby, listened closely, most wanting to find out about their new proctor, and in Kiba's case wondering how Naruto knew such a hot kunoichi.
"Oh, we ran into each other around the village…" Literally. "… and we kind of hit it off. She's given me some great advice, and she's not so bad once you get to know her," Naruto said, placing his hands behind his head.
"Let me give you some advice. There are a few rules to follow when dealing with her," The Rinnegan bearer began before beginning to tick them off on his fingers. "1) If she gives you an order, follow it. 2) Don't sass her unless she likes you. Oh, and 3) whatever you do, do not mess with her dango." Naruto shuddered at the end.
Sakura frowned at his reaction, wondering what the special jonin could do to make someone like Naruto afraid.
"What happens if you break those rules?"
"At best, she'll cut you. At worst, she'll break your bones or feed you to her snakes," Naruto answered nonchalantly.
The other eight genin looked surprised and Ino froze mid-step before chuckling nervously.
"Heh heh… real funny, Naruto," She said to her fellow blond.
Naruto turned to them with a deadpan expression. "I wasn't kidding."
After a moment, Shikamaru spoke up. "Man, this gets more troublesome by the minute…"
Ibiki, meanwhile, was busy collecting the tests now that the first stage was over. As he walked up and down the rows, he came across Naruto's test. He glanced at it as he picked it up and froze. Even that quick glimpse had told him something was off. He held up the sheet and actually read what was written on it.
In place of the first answer was an explanation of the purpose of the first nine questions. On the second answer space, an insult for making it so easy to figure out. The remaining seven spaces contained various insults and obscenities.
Once he'd finished, he closed his eyes and chuckled. 'Definitely an interesting one, that kid.'
Anko and her charges had arrived at their destination, finding themselves before a massive, gated off forest full of trees larger than many of the hopefuls had ever seen. The place seemed to radiate an ominous feeling that made some of the first timers almost wish they were back at the written test.
"Wow, how inviting." Naruto commented as he looked on, not the least bit intimidated. 'Zabuza would probably love this place…'
"Welcome to the 44th training ground, better known as 'the forest of death'!" Anko said cheerfully before giving a happy sigh. "My own little home away from home." Her expression then twisted into a malicious smirk. "Of course, I doubt you brats will think of it as fondly as I do. To you, I think it'd be more fitting to call this place 'hell'."
"Ha!" Kiba barked, pointing at the special jonin. "You think that scares us?" He said, trying to cover up the creeping trepidation he felt with bravado.
"Hm hm… you're a spirited one, aren't you?" Anko said with a sweet smile. Then, faster than most of the genin could follow, Anko threw a kunai at the Inuzuka, slicing open his cheek, before appearing behind him, bending over so her face was parallel to his with her hand firmly gripping the other side of his head and preventing him from making any move. The dog using boy could only shudder as Anko licked up the blood that was spilling freely from the cut she'd made just a moment ago.
Seeing this, all the rookies remembered Naruto's warning and any lingering doubts that he'd been exaggerating vanished in a heartbeat.
"You know, it's loudmouthed guys like you that end up spilling that blood I love so much all over my training ground," Anko said with a grin as she continued to lap up the terrified boy's blood.
Sakura took a step towards Naruto and said quietly, hoping not to draw the snake summoner's attention. "Naruto, your friend scares me."
Naruto just chuckled, having grown used to Anko's antics. "Yeah, she'll do that. Just be glad no one broke that third rule I told you about… I did when we first met and she chased me halfway across the village with her snakes." This caused Sakura to look at him with wide eyes.
Anko grinned as she savored the metallic taste of Kiba's blood and looked at the shivering boy, whose expression was a combination of terror and arousal. His dog had long since buried himself in his jacket, hiding away from the snake summoning kunoichi. Ah… it was times like these that made her wish the old man would let her take a genin team… and exactly why he never did.
Sensing a presence behind her, she quickly drew a kunai and turned a grass kunoichi wearing a straw hat, holding the kunai she'd thrown mere moments ago in an overly-long prehensile tongue.
"You're kunai," She said politely, her voice unsettling but, strangely, completely understandable despite the tongue hanging out of her mouth.
"Why thank you," Anko replied, her grin returning as she took it. Kiba stared at the two, his feelings for his current situation settling on terror with the new arrival. "But you know, you shouldn't sneak up behind me. Unless, of course, you want to die."
"My apologies," The strange kunoichi replied as she turned away, her tongue retracting back into her mouth as she turned away while Anko placed both kunai back in her pouch. "I just get so excited at the sight of blood. And you cut my precious hair. I couldn't let that go…" She said as she returned to her team, suppressing a smirk at the disturbed expressions focused on her.
"Wow… she's creepier than Anko could ever hope to be," Naruto commented, hoping the woman in question didn't hear him.
Which she did.
"Aw, if that's the case, I'm going to have to try harder," She said with an amused grin before reaching into her coat and pulling out a stack of papers. "Now, before we get started, you're all going to have to sign these." When she saw the curious looks on some of the genin's faces, she gave them all a sickly sweet smile, one that even the most innocent child wouldn't fall for. "They're wavers saying that you know and accept the risks involved if you enter this forest. There will be deaths in this stage and if you don't sign them, I'll be accountable for your lives. You don't expect me to take responsibility for every little genin who goes missing here, do you?"
The reactions to those words were various. Some gained hardened looks in their eyes, some seemed completely unconcerned, while others shivered, anxiety clear on their faces while still others smirked.
"Now, pass these out amongst yourselves while I explain the rules," Anko said, handing the stack to a nearby genin who proceeded to pass it around. "Basically, this is a no-holds-barred survival test. Around the 44th training ground are 44 locked gates." She reached into her coat once again and pulled out a map, holding it up for all to see. "There's a tower at the center of the forest, which extends around it in a 10 km radius, and a river that cuts through it." She put the map away and reached into her pockets, pulling out two differently colored scrolls. "Your objective is to retrieve both of these scrolls."
"Scrolls?" One of the genin asked curiously.
"That's right. You'll be fighting over these scrolls. There are an even 26 teams here, half will get a heaven scroll, and the rest will receive an earth scroll. To pass this test, you must reach the tower with both scrolls." With that, everyone realized what she meant when she said she'd but their numbers at least in half, no more than that could pass.
"However, there's a time limit. You only have 120 hours, five full days, to acquire both scrolls and reach the tower."
"F- five days?!" Ino exclaimed. She did NOT want to spend a day in that creepy forest, let alone five.
"What about food?!" Choji yelled in equal shock.
Anko gave the young Akimichi a cheerful smile.
"Oh don't worry about that. There's plenty of food in there, you just have to catch it yourself. Oh, and be on the look out for the man eating beasts, poisonous insects and carnivorous plants, or they just might make a meal out of you instead."
Choji hung his head down, looking like he was ready to break down at such a prospect and causing Ino to sweat drop. Really, what did he expect, an all you can eat buffet in the middle of the forest?
Ignoring the moping genin, Anko returned to her explanation. "There are two ways you can fail. For those who aren't the sharpest kunai in the pouch, the first is if you don't make it to the tower with both scrolls within the time limit. The second is if one of your teammates dies during the exam."
"Can we quit?" Shikamaru asked, causing Ino to bonk him upside the head.
"If you're scared feel free to back out, just do so before you enter the forest. Once you're in, you're not leaving until the five days are up. Unless of course, you want to die, but I don't recommend that."
Shikamaru seemed to consider taking that offer and just walking away, until a growl from Ino caused him to back down, grumbling about how troublesome it was.
"By the way, I shouldn't have to tell you this, but don't open the scrolls. Anyone who does will be in for a nasty surprise," She said before closing her eyes. "Well, that's it. Take your three forms to that booth behind me and exchange them for a scroll. Oh, and I have one final piece of advice for you guys."
The genin all listened closely as Anko's expression became serious.
"Just don't die! Once you've got your scroll, an instructor will show you to a gate! The exam starts in 30 minutes!"
In a few minutes, the teams had scattered among the gates. Naruto and his team stood before the 12th gate. Sasuke looked down at the light colored scroll in his hand marked 'heaven'. Naruto wore a wide grin as he looked out into the forest, and the Uchiha couldn't help but smirk. Both wanted to know that ahead lied the strong opponents they'd been waiting to face.
Sakura gulped slightly, aware that this would be the first time since she started training seriously where her life would be in danger, before she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and looked forward. Her expression hardened into one of determination. She would not fail her team here.
"Looks like we're in for one hell of a party, wouldn't you say, guys?" Naruto asked, turning back to his teammates.
"Hn." Sasuke grunted in response, though his smirk widened showing he agreed. Sakura simply nodded.
Finally, Anko's voice sounded over the loudspeakers. "The second test of the chunin exams… starts now!
At that moment, every team shot through the gates, vanishing into the massive trees as the all out battle began. Team seven leapt through the trees in a triangle formation with Naruto in front, Sasuke at the center and Sakura pulling up the rear.
"So, what's the plan?" Sakura asked.
Sasuke's onyx eyes turned to Naruto. "I was thinking… the usual."
"What do you know? I was thinking the same thing," He said before scanning the area ahead, looking for a hiding spot. Soon enough, his eyes landed on the base of a large tree with its base and roots above ground, creating a dark and obscure hollow space. Deciding it would make adequate cover, he pointed to it and called out, "That looks like a good spot to hide out."
His teammates nodded before they changed direction, bounding from tree to tree down to the forest floor right before the designated tree, then stepping into the dark base of the tree.
Examining their surrounding with a critical eye, Sasuke nodded, confident that this place would serve its purpose before turning to the blond.
"Good call. Alright, do your thing."
Naruto made a familiar cross shaped hand sign.
"Like I need you to tell me."
'The usual', as they called it, was a method of gathering information and keeping lookout they made during one of the many survival exercises their team undertook under Zabuza's advisement, with their three teachers tracking them. Naruto would use his shadow clones, not only in an effort to throw them off track, for example, scattering spare articles of clothing they brought along when they realized Kakashi was tracking them through scent, but also as scouts and an advanced warning system.
The shadow clone's ability to relay knowledge was useful in this endeavor, but even more so was the Rinnegan's shared vision. The ability had an extremely large range, and better yet, Naruto found he could sense his clones' location, and vice versa when they both had the Rinnegan active. The blond was certain this would prove invaluable here.
An oddity, one Naruto wasn't certain was shared by all dojutsu or unique to the Rinnegan, was that his clones couldn't activate their dojutsu on their own. Either they had it because Naruto had it active when he made them, or they wouldn't be able to activate it at all. That was no big deal though, as once his clones found something he'd create a few more with his dojutsu active and have them tracked down.
In an instant, twenty Naruto clones poofed into existence before bolting away from their location and vanishing into the immense forest.
"Hn. Just a mater of time now," Sasuke said, looking after the clones before walking over to a particularly large root and sitting down, making himself comfortable and propping his arm up on his leg.
Naruto sighed before doing the same, sitting down at the base of another root and placing his hands behind his head, looking up at the roof of the canopy, staring out of their hiding spot at the treetops, watching the rays of light filtering through the dense foliage.
Sakura found her own spot before looking to her teammates.
"Um, shouldn't we have a back up plan? I mean, this is a good idea, but we should have something to fall back on if things don't work out."
Naruto's expression turned thoughtful for a moment before he spoke up. "Well, if we don't find anything by tomorrow or maybe the day after, we can always move to an area around the tower. All the teams will have to come through that area eventually. We could just camp out there, set traps and wait for them to come to us, and anyone we run into is bound to have both scrolls. Unless they have the same idea anyway."
Sasuke thought it over for a moment before conceding he couldn't come up with anything better.
"Good plan. Looks like you're finally starting to pull you weight."
Naruto glared at the Uchiha heir.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Sasuke shrugged before looking away and closing his eyes, a small smirk gracing his features.
"Just that last time we were actually in a serious situation, you weren't really good for much other than drawing the enemy's attention."
Naruto growled indignantly and clenched his fist.
"What am I, a human shield!?"
"Well, you did draw Haku's needles away from me for quite a while."
Sakura had a mischievous glint in her eyes as she brought her finger to her chin and looked up with a pensive expression.
"You know, your clones are really good at soaking up damage…"
Naruto gave both of them a deadpan look.
"I'm really feeling the love here guys."
A moment after those words left Naruto's mouth, screams echoed through the forest, causing the three to frown as they turned their heads in the sounds direction.
"Looks like things are already starting to heat up," The young Uzumaki observed.
Sasuke grunted in response while Sakura remained silent.
A silence fell over the trio as they focused their senses on their surroundings, making sure that they weren't being watched. After a few minutes, Naruto suddenly shot forward, gasping in shock before twisting his body to look in a seemingly random direction, drawing both his teammate's attention.
"Naruto?!" Sakura said, concerned.
Sasuke's eyes widened briefly before they narrowed. He leaned forward, wanting to know what he'd just seen.
"One of your clones?" He asked rhetorically. "What did you see?"
Naruto said nothing for a moment as he continued to stare in the direction his clone had been in, his face a mask of shock and his breathing slightly labored as not just the memories, but the emotions of his clone hit him all at once. Finally, he lifted his head, staring at each of his teammates before saying, "… Guys. If we run into Gaara and his siblings, we need to run. If there's any chance we can avoid a fight with them, we take it, understand?"
Sakura seemed slightly taken aback by that. She knew that, like Sasuke, Naruto wanted to test himself and had never seen him shy away from facing a powerful opponent. What would make him not want to fight Gaara?
Sasuke was thinking along those same lines, but he wasn't going to keep quiet about it.
"What did you see?" He asked again, a bit more forcefully.
The Rinnegan bearer gave him a serious look.
"I'll tell you if we have to fight him, but trust me, you're better off not knowing."
The Sharingan user's expression didn't change.
"And what happens if something goes wrong and we wind up fighting them without whatever you have on him? Now tell us, what did you see?"
Naruto took a breath and began to recount his clone's memories.
Minutes ago, a Naruto clone had gone to investigate the scream that the original had heard. He soon reached the source of the sound, finding a trio of leaf genin who looked a few years older than him. All three of them wore similar clothing: a black suit with the Konoha forehead protector stitched into the forehead.
The three were trapped in a net suspended a few dozen feet off the ground. One was struggling weakly, his expression a mask of anger and frustration as his teammates seemed to have given up and were resting to recover their strength. All the older genin were pale, seeming to have suffered from severe blood loss.
Looking down, the shadow clone saw the culprits of their condition: large leeches, many of which had been sliced open or pierced with kunai lying dead on the ground between many wires. From the looks of it, someone had used the leeches in combination with a trap for an easy take down. A lucky break for whoever had used the leeches, not so much for the unfortunate trio, who would be stuck there until they regained their strength. Listening in, he heard one complain about being taken out and losing their scroll so early in the exam.
The clone left the three other genin, given that they were rivals in the exam and even if they weren't they had taken out all the leeches, and looked for signs of the lucky team. Figuring they'd probably head straight for the tower, he took off in that direction and soon happened upon a torn branch. Picking up the trail, he pursued the team he knew would have both scrolls. There was the chance that they'd stop to rest, or maybe try their luck and attempt to take out more competition or run into another team. In any case, it was as good an opportunity as any.
Eventually, he found three chakra signatures on the ground, hiding in the bushes. From his position, he could see it was none other than team eight. However, their attention was focused on the clearing ahead of them.
Naruto was a little torn here. Since the last time he'd butt heads with the dog using genin, something of a rivalry had sprung up between the two and he really wanted to show him who was boss, on the other, part of him didn't want to take a scroll from another of the rookie teams, and Hinata and Shino were alright in his book. Whatever he decided about their scrolls, he wanted to see what it was they were observing.
Keeping to the upper branches of the trees and concealing his presence as best he could in the sparse foliage of the massive tree and peered into the clearing.
It was the Sand Siblings, with Gaara at the front, standing across from a team he didn't recognize from Ame, each of which had two large umbrellas on their backs along with an oxygen tank and wore similar suits. Their apparent leader was larger than his teammates and wore a dark green cloak. The clone strained his ears to listen in, but with the distance between him and the two opposing teams, he could only hear them if they raised their voices.
The leading Ame genin threw one of his umbrellas into the air and made the tiger hand sign. The umbrella hovered in the air and began to spin rapidly before unleashing a hail of senbon. Using his chakra, the Ame genin manipulated the needles, causing them to change trajectory and fly towards Gaara, closing in on the youngest of the sand trio and circling around him in all directions.
"Up, down, left, right, there's no blind spot in this jutsu, and it's deadly accurate!" the doppelganger heard the Ame genin boast loudly before directing the senbon to rain down on Gaara from every direction with such force that the impact kicked up a cloud of dust, obscuring what the attacker was certain would be a needle ridden corpse.
However, much to the surprise of the Ame genin and everyone present aside from the sand siblings, when the dust cleared it revealed a completely unharmed Gaara, protected by a shell of sand that had formed around his body.
'A wall of sand? So that's why he's never been injured.' Naruto observed as he eyed Gaara's jutsu critically. 'He must channel his chakra through the sand, allowing him to harden and control it like an extension of himself. That's an almost unbeatable defense…'
Down in the clearing, the Ame genin had apparently realized his efforts were futile and charged forward, intent on turning this into taijutsu battle.
This would prove to be his undoing. With a wave of his hand, Gaara sent a wave of sand at the older boy. Tendrils and hands of sand gripped the boy's legs, preventing him from fleeing, before quickly entangling his torso and arms as well. In only a few seconds, the Ame genin was completely encased in sand, only his face, a mask of shock and terror, was visible.
'… and a powerful offence.'
The blond could tell that something awful was about to happen, but still, he watched as Gaara manipulated the sand, lifting the trapped genin into the air as he stepped forward, grabbed and opened one of the umbrellas.
Naruto's feeling was proven true a moment later. Mercilessly, Gaara tightened the hand into a fist, causing the sand to crush the young man he was facing with such pressure that his blood exploded out from the coffin, raining bitter crimson tears down on the clearing and covering his terrified teammates in the red liquid while the Naruto clone and team eight stared, eyes wide with horror.
The remaining Ame genin set their scroll down on the ground, obviously hoping to be spared if they just relinquished the object, not like it would do them any good now.
Sadly, their hopes were dashed when Gaara extended both his hands, sending more sand to enclose the surviving Ame genin. In moments, the two shared the fate of their leader. This time, Gaara covered their faces too. Screams of terror echoed throughout the area before two more showers of blood erupted across the clearing.
Naruto had known Gaara was dangerous, but this was beyond what he'd expected. He'd seen people killed back on the bridge in Wave, though he hadn't taken any of those lives himself, but this was just brutal.
Then, Gaara turned his gaze towards him before looking elsewhere and raising his hand once more, this time his focus was team eight! The clone's gaze hardened at that. There was no way he was going to let that happen to them! If it came to that, he'd throw himself at them as a distraction. After all, he was just a clone, worse came the worst, he would simply be dispelled, although the real Naruto would do the same in this position.
Then Kankuro, apparently disagreeing with Gaara's actions, began to argue with him, going so far as to step up to him and grab him by the collar of his shirt, though the redhead brushed his hand aside shortly thereafter.
Temari seemed to agree with Kankuro, trying in a placating manner to convince Gaara to stand down, only for both siblings to freeze when their younger brother pointed his palm at Kankuro, the threat very clear to both. The sand user then pointed his hand at team eight again.
Naruto tensed and focused his chakra, preparing to save his fellow leaf genin if need be, but, much to his relief, Gaara only used the sand to reform the cork of his gourd. He called the sand back, replaced the cork and walked away.
All those present breathed sighs of relief as the sand user backed down. The doppelganger took a few moments to get his breathing under control, placing a hand on his forehead as calmed himself. While he was a clone, he still had survival instincts and team eight had been in real danger. After that, he knew the original wouldn't wish to pursue Team eight. He dispersed himself to relay what he'd seen to the original.
Both Sakura and Sasuke stared at Naruto with wide eyes as he finished his tale. What Naruto hadn't wanted to tell them was what his clone had seen moment ago, Sakura had agreed with Sasuke. After all, this could be something they'd need to know later.
Now, Sakura wished that Sasuke had just left it at that.
There were a few moments of silence as the three processed what they'd just learned before Sasuke spoke up. "Alright. As much as I hate to say it, if we do run into those three in the future, it's probably best if we rely on Naruto to take that guy on."
Sakura seemed taken aback by that.
"Sasuke, how can you-?"
"Sakura," Naruto cut in, causing her to turn to him. "He's right. I'm best suited for it."
Sakura seemed to want to say something before Sasuke said, "I wasn't saying we should leave him high and dry if we have to fight Gaara. I meant that his water jutsu has the best chance of countering that sand."
Sakura calmed at that. Now that she thought about it, it was true; the Rinnegan bearer had the best chance of taking Gaara on. Water would weigh the sand down and cause it to clump, making it much less effective if not render it completely useless. On top of that, he was the only one of them who might actually survive getting caught by the sand, as he could simply use Shinra Tensei to blow the sand away.
Sasuke, meanwhile, wasn't happy at the thought of needing to rely on someone else against an opponent. He knew it was the smart choice, but that didn't mean he had to like it. His fist clenched as his mind dwelled over the idea of another opponent Naruto could defeat that he couldn't. He resolved that, if he did have to face Gaara, he would find some way to defeat him. It would be the next milestone on his path to reaching his brother.
Naruto's head suddenly jerked in another direction, the memories of another clone reaching him.
"Looks like we've got some live ones. My clones found another team of Suna ninja with an earth scroll." He stood up, still looking in their direction, activating his dojutsu and making the cross shaped hand seal for his shadow clone jutsu. "Let's go."
As Naruto and his team made their way to the group his clones had scouted out, another of his doppelgangers was leaping from branch to branch, focusing all the chakra in its existence to increase its speed to the absolute limit as it tried to lead its pursuer away from the direction it now knew its original was heading in.
Its eyes widened behind its sunglasses as it felt a wave of killing intent crash down on it from above. Its head jerked to look above it to find an enormous snake lunging at it from above, its massive maw wide open and ready to swallow him whole.
The doppelganger barely managed to jump out of the way, leaping off of the branch a moment before the serpent reached it, tearing the large branch off of the tree as easily as one would snap a twig.
The snake quickly slithered up the tree the Naruto clone had landed on, wrapping around it as the clone jumped out of it.
The chilling chuckle of the serpent's master reached the clone's ears as it flew through the air. Looking out of the corner of his eye, he saw the scales of the serpent part as the creature's master: the creepy Kusa kunoichi, rose out, covered lightly in mucus.
"This has been quite amusing, but I believe it's time this game of cat and mouse came to an end, wouldn't you agree?"
The clone had been trying to escape, hoping not to reveal any of its original's abilities against the obviously dangerous adversary, but now it was clear it wouldn't get away. It raised its hands to make hand seals, but it only managed to form a single one before, much to its surprise and disgust, the woman's tongue shot out of her mouth with insane speed. In the blink of an eye, the appendage had wrapped around the clone's ankle.
The doppelganger could do nothing as it was suddenly, violently whipped through the air by the prehensile organ and slammed into the trunk of a tree, bursting into smoke on impact.
"Hm…" The woman mused at this, sensing no other presence nearby. "Taking advantage of the boy's reserves by having clones scour the forest for targets, eh? How clever, if simplistic. Now… I wonder where they're hiding."
Naruto's head shot up as he received the memories of his most recently destroyed clone, the feeling of the snake summoner's killing intent bearing down on him flashing into his mind causing him to come to a dead stop, leaning against the trunk of the tree he'd just landed on and suppressing a shiver, his breathing hitched in his throat as a single bead of cold sweat rolling down his face.
That… That was insane. The combined killing intent Kakashi and Zabuza had released at their first confrontation didn't hold a candle to that of the Kusa kunoichi. When she first appeared, the clone was met with the full brunt of her killing intent. It had felt to his clone like the icy fingers of the Shinigami itself had wrapped around it throat, choking the life out of it as its nails dug into its flesh. That kind of killing intent couldn't be human, and begged a single question from his mind.
If the Kusa kunoichi wasn't human, what was she?
The clone had managed to shake off the crushing terror and immediately fled, hoping to and successfully leading the dangerous adversary away from the three of them before being destroyed.
The blonds' teammates came to a halt on nearby branches and turn to him when they saw him suddenly freeze.
"What's wrong, Naruto? Another one of your clones show you something?" Sakura asked.
"Yeah…" Naruto said as his mind raced to process everything he'd just learned. Perhaps more ominous than the apparent strength of the woman, the kunoichi was apparently a snake summoner. He had asked Anko about the snake contract out of curiosity, and that, combined with what he'd learned in the history books, suggested something very bad about creepy genin.
Naruto looked back and forth between his teammates.
"Guys, listen. Don't ask me why because there's not a story behind it like what happened with Gaara, but trust me, that creepy Kusa kunoichi with the long tongue? If you see her, run. Don't try to fight her if you can avoid it, don't try to pull one over on her, just run. Got it?"
Sasuke's eyes narrowed while Sakura looked concerned, each remembering the warning Naruto gave them not too long ago, and nodded.
"Good. Then let's get this show on the road. Our target's in my sights," He said, seeing the Suna team they were looking for through the Rinnegan's visual link.
The three Suna ninja, who looked a few years older than the rookies, had come to a stop and were currently resting under one of the massive trees as Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura looked down on them. It seemed that they had recently been in a fight, as one of them was eating a soldier pill and all were covered in dirt and light scrapes.
Suddenly, one of the Suna genin whipped around and threw a kunai in Sakura's direction. Her eyes wide at seeing she'd been detected, she quickly leaned back to avoid the weapon and drew a kunai of her own, only for one of the Suna ninja to breath out a stream of wind, kicking up a cloud of dust that obscured them from view.
Their senses warning them of danger, the three members of team seven turned to see kunai levitating in the air behind them before they all shot towards them simultaneously.
The three leaf genin jumped out of the tree just in time to avoid certain death. When they landed, Naruto moved forward to attack before coming to a dead halt. Surrounding the three were nearly invisible wires which crisscrossed all over their bodies. Chakra ran through the threads, increasing their strength and sharpening them to the point that they could easily cut through flesh and bone. If the genin of team seven even moved a muscle, they'd be as good as finished.
"Heh, that was pretty sloppy of you three." The leader of the Suna ninja spoke with an amused tone, the numerous wires that immobilized his opponents trailing back to his fingers. "Too bad, one move from my fingers and these wires will reduce you guys to cold cuts. I'd say 'surrender your scroll or die', but since you can't move, it'd be a pretty pointless question to ask, wouldn't you say? Well, them's the brakes."
However, the three apparent victors were alerted to the fact that something was wrong when their three captives smirked. Suddenly, three kunai hit the ground in a triangle formation around them, each with a small bomb attached. Before the Suna ninja could react, the bombs exploded, releasing purple clouds that quickly enveloped the area.
Cursing as he brought his hand up to shield his face and hopefully prevent him from breathing the smog, the lead Suna ninja clenched his hand, causing the wires to shift, but instead of the sound and sight of the three rival genin being sliced to pieces, there were three poofs of smoke. Their apparent captives had been clones.
They leapt back and out of the clearly dangerous purple cloud. The leader sensed something behind him and turned to see Naruto diving towards him, his arm reared back to punch him.
Normally, the Suna ninja would be able to block this and counter, but his body was feeling sluggish. It didn't respond quickly enough and all he could do was watch as Naruto fist closed in on his face, confirming what he already knew: that cloud had been poison.
Naruto's fist collided with the Suna ninja's face, sending him to the ground with a small trickle of blood escaping his mouth. He brought himself to his knees, only for a kunai to press up against his neck. He turned to see Sasuke standing behind him, holding the weapon. His eyes darted to his teammates, to see one buried in the ground up to his neck and the other in a similar predicament to his own, in his case it was Naruto who held him at knife-point.
"So…" Sasuke began. "I think this is the part where we say 'surrender your scroll or die'," He said, throwing the older genin's words back at him.
"Damn it!" The Suna ninja cursed.
"Don't bother with him, Sasuke," Naruto said, and his teammates turned to see he was holding up the Suna team's earth scroll, his captive now laying on the ground unconscious. "This guy's the one who had the scroll."
"Hn." Sasuke grunted in response as his captive glared daggers at the blond, before he was knocked unconscious with a single swift chop to the neck. Normally, that wouldn't have been enough, but with the poison in his system weakening his constitution and slowing his heart rate, that was all it took, Sakura's hostage suffering the same fate soon after, though she used the bottom of her kunai.
"Alright, you hold on to the scroll," Sasuke ordered the blond. "Now let's get out of this forest. If we hurry, we can make it before sundown."
Naruto gave an amused smirk.
"What's wrong? Scared of being out in the forest after dark?"
"Hardly. I just don't want to deal with the other teams attacking under the cover of night when we've already got both scrolls."
Naruto rolled his eyes.
"Whatever you say, Sasuke."
Of course he'd already known Sasuke's reasoning, he just couldn't help making a remark. A moment later, he turned and looked out to the forest with a slightly grim expression as a set of memories reached him.
That Kusa kunoichi had just destroyed another of his clones, which he was still using to gather information on the other teams and the forest. This was not a good sign as this was the seventh one she had destroyed. There was no chance she couldn't have found another group more easily by now, which could only mean she was targeting their team.
Sakura gave him a concerned look at his change in demeanor.
"Naruto, is something wrong?"
"No," Naruto replied after a moment. "I was just thinking I agree with Sasuke. We should get out of here." Naruto then made the hand sign for his most used jutsu, and three clones burst into existence, his dojutsu still active and blazing on him and his clones.
Sasuke looked curiously at the blond.
"What are you doing?"
The purple eyed blond turned to his teammate as two of his clones used henge'd Sakura and Sasuke's forms.
"I just thought it be a good idea to send some decoys ahead of us. You know, in case anyone had the same idea we had and decided to camp out near the tower."
Sasuke frowned, knowing that there was something more Naruto wasn't telling them, but nodded.
In short order, the three genin had returned to the trees and were making their way to the tower at top speed, leaping from branch to branch faster than the untrained eye could follow as they made their way to the tower. They hadn't even made it a quarter of the way before Naruto's head shot up.
Just a moment later, a giant serpent shot out of the canopy above the trio. The three genin leapt out of the way as the serpent slammed, jaws wide open, into the tree with such force that the entire thing, massive as it was, shook from the impact.
Just as Naruto landed he sensed something coming towards him, fast. He jumped backwards just in time to avoid a swipe.
When Naruto could see his attacker, he found himself rather disturbed by the sight that met him. It was the Kusa kunoichi, but then, he'd expected that from the snake. What he hadn't expected was for the woman to have her body in such a distorted state. She had her body coiled around the branch, as if she were a serpent herself.
The mysterious kunoichi gave a sinister sounding chuckle, the sound a mockery of what such a gesture should be that unnerved the three genin.
"Well well…" She began as she slithered up the branch, her body righting itself as it uncoiled until she was standing up straight, looking down on her three targets. Of course, at this point, the Kusa kunoichi bitterly expected them to be decoys, and had decided to make the blond suffer for it if he didn't provide adequate entertainment, but one must always be thorough. "It would seem this little chase of ours has come to an end. You've worked hard to throw me off your trail. So, I wonder…" She took a step forward, bringing a clawed hand over her face. "… what will you little mice do, now that you find yourself cornered by your predator."
Naruto took a moment to swallow any hesitation he might be feeling before shooting back at the snake like kunoichi.
"'Predator'? More like stalker. You've been dogging us since we set foot in this forest. What's got you so interested in the three of us, or is it just because you have some sick obsession with kids half your age?"
"Kukukuku…" The Kusa kunoichi released another unsettling chuckle, amusement clear in her eyes and a wicked smirk on her face. Deciding to humor the boy, she responded, "Would it really matter why I'm fixated on the three of you? But if you really want me to give a reason for your misfortune, then perhaps I'm simply the type who gets excited by the hunt and chose you because you seemed like a challenge. Perhaps I have something against you three. Perhaps you're correct in your assumption." Her smirk grew a little when they shuddered before she decided to give a more serious answer. "Or maybe… it's something you have that caught my eye."
Before they could answer the snake like kunoichi burst forward, moving at such a speed that her image blurred. In an instant she was upon them, but to her mild surprise, they were ready. Wanting to get rid of the annoyances before going after her true objective, she targeted Sakura first, but the young kunoichi had already dropped into a combat stance and intercepted her punch, though she was unable to counter as the older kunoichi lifted her foot, attempting to kick the pink haired girl's chin, forcing her to step back, then leap away when the snake summoner brought her foot back down, the impact shattering the bark of the branch they were on.
The serpentine woman ducked as Naruto jumped into the air and unleashed a sweeping kick aimed at her face, before catching a punch from Sakura while Naruto used the momentum of his spin to throw another fist her way from above, which she deflected by grabbing his wrist.
She then became aware of Sasuke, who had pulled out a trio of shuriken and sent them flying her way. She twisted her body around the weapons before throwing the two of them away. Normally, she would have brought them into the path of the weapons, but it wouldn't do if one of them died at this point.
However, that didn't mean it wasn't a prime opportunity to take one of them out of the battle. While Sakura was rapidly speeding towards a branch, Naruto was on a collision course with the snake, which had silently slithered up the tree.
She watched as the giant reptile opened its mouth to swallow the blond whole, but the next moment something occurred that would shock the snake summoner.
Naruto, who shouldn't have been able to see or sense the snake, pulled out a kunai with an explosive note and threw it at the snake's mouth. The serpent jerked back, hissing in pain as the weapon lodged into its upper jaw before it detonated, blowing its head away in a shower of blood and gore.
The snake like kunoichi then frowned as, out of the corner of her eye, she saw 'Sakura' dispel into smoke, revealing it had been yet another clone. Sensing 'Sasuke' was coming to attack from behind, she whipped around with a clearly annoyed expression and unleashed a multitude of serpents from her sleeve, which grabbed onto the boy and bit him in various places, causing him to burst into smoke as well.
She then turned to the sole survivor of the trio of clones, who was diving down at her from an upper branch. Her mouth twisted into a scowl, she prepared to intercept, only for her expression to take on a hint of curiosity as the clone reached for the zipper of its tracksuit, a slightly predatory grin on its features.
Her eyes widened as the clone unzipped its jacket, revealing well over a dozen explosive tags. A second later, she found herself on the receiving end of an improvised imitation of the Shadow Clone Explosion Technique. The resulting blast was strong enough to destroy the branch, sending flaming chunks of wood falling to the forest floor.
When the smoke cleared, the snake like kunoichi was standing on the still intact base of the ruined branch, completely unharmed. She let out a furious snarl at the fact that it had just been another set of clones. She then calmed herself, knowing that she was near the real ones and reminding herself to be patient. That was the only reason she would suddenly be faced with decoys like this. The boy was only delaying the inevitable. But that in itself was an issue as she didn't have much time to accomplish her goals.
Her face then took on a contemplative appearance as she thought about what she'd seen in that fight. The blond was pretty clever, and with his ability to detect that serpent when he should not have been able to… she gave another malicious chuckle as she thought about what she'd witnessed.
"Well… it seems there may be more to you than meets the eye, Naruto Uzumaki."
Far removed from the conflicts taking place in the aptly named Forest of Death, Kotetsu kneeled down to observe a rather gruesome discovery, Izumo and another Leaf chunin looking down over his shoulder.
Lying on the ground before them were three corpses, each having been dead for several hours and had already grown cold. More alarming however, were their identities and the condition of the bodies.
All three were genin meant to participate in the exams.
"This has to be some kind of kinjutsu…" Izumo stated, looking slightly disturbed as he scrutinized the bodies.
"Geez, this early on and there's already a problem…" Kotetsu murmured before looking up at the series of statues behind the corpses. He ran his hand through his hair before giving out an order. "Go and alert Anko!"
"Right!" The nameless chunin said before vanishing with a body flicker to do just that.
Anko, meanwhile, was sitting on the roof of the booth where the genin had received their scrolls, letting her legs hang in the air as she enjoyed a meal of dango and red bean soup.
"Ah… is there anything as delectable as dango?" She wondered aloud. "Once I'm done eating, it would probably be a good idea to head to the tower. The fast ones will probably be done by tomorrow."
She took the two remaining dumplings off the stick she was on and munched happily on them before throwing the now bare stick at a nearby tree, where it joined dozens of others in a perfect imitation of the symbol of Konoha.
"Anko, we've got trouble!" The chunin yelled as he arrived on the scene.
The snake summoning kunoichi tilted her head to the side. "Hm? What's the problem?"
"We found bodies, three of them! And there's something strange about them." Anko frowned at this.
An ill wind blew through the area as Anko and the nameless chunin joined Kotetsu and Izumo before the bodies, sending leaves and blades of grass soaring through the air as she looked down at the three corpses, her face a mask of apprehension and sweat rolling down her face as she registered their condition, and exactly what it meant.
"As you can see…" Kotetsu began. "They have no faces, it's like they've been melted off." And just as he said, the faces of the three corpses were blank, possessing no eyes, nose, mouth or any real structure.
Anko's breath quickened slightly as her mind raced at the implications. 'There's no doubt about it… this was his jutsu! But what's he doing here? Why now?'
"Show me their pictures!" She barked out the command as she rounded on the chunin.
"Yes, of course!" Izumo said before handing her the pictures. It hadn't been hard to discover their identities, even in their condition, as there had only been two teams from Kusa.
Anko grit her teeth as she saw the top photo and immediately recognized it. It was the Kusa kunoichi who'd handed her back her kunai!
'This is the face he stole? Then at that time, he'd already… Damn it!'
"This is bad! You three, report the situation to Lord Hokage and have some ANBU sent to the Forest of Death! I'm going after them now!"
While the chunin made their grisly finding, both Sakura and Sasuke wondered what had suddenly gotten into Naruto. Just a few minutes ago, he'd ordered them to change course, even though they had already gone off the most direct path to the tower, and was now leading them on a winding, (ironically) serpentine path as if he was trying to throw something off their trail. More worrying was the sense of urgency Naruto gave off as he did so.
To some degree, the two were glad he'd changed to this degree. His old self wouldn't be so cautious and would likely just charge headfirst into whatever awaited them. That being said, they'd also never seen Naruto so close to panic before. The fact that they didn't know what had gotten the young Rinnegan bearer so alarmed didn't do much for their nerves either. What had he seen that could have scared him to this degree?
Finally, Sasuke had had enough wondering and voiced the question that was on his and Sakura's minds.
"Naruto, this has gone on long enough." The young avenger spoke with a slightly irritated tone. "You've been acting strangely ever since we took out that Suna team back there, and now you're acting like we've got some kind of devil on our tails. What's got you so worked up?"
Naruto grit his teeth, though his frustration was focused on the situation.
"It's that Kusa kunoichi from before." His voice was clearly stressed as responded without looking back. "She's the reason why I sent those decoys ahead of us. Ever since this test began, she's been destroying my clones left and right, and just now she destroyed those three clones I sent ahead."
'I hope that stunt with my clone slowed her down some, but I doubt that was enough to stop her. We have to get out of this forest before she finds us.'
"But…" Sakura began, a sinking feeling growing in the pit of her stomach as she began to understand. "There's no way she wouldn't have run into another team that was easier to track down by now. If she hasn't given up after all this time then…"
"She's not interested in the scrolls," Sasuke finished for her, realization clear on his features. "She's targeting us."
"And the more I find out about her, the worse she gets! She's good, way beyond a genin or chunin, and her chakra's huge, I mean like Jiraiya's…!" Though it wasn't as massive as his own reserves, he assumed that the fact that he had a ridiculously powerful demon sealed inside of him had something to do with that. "… and her signature is just… disgusting."
Sakura frowned at that.
"Disgusting? What you mean?"
"Exactly what I said," Naruto answered. "Not even counting the fact that her chakra's purple while everyone else's that I've seen so far is blue, every chakra signature has a unique feel to it. Hers is not only twisted, it's like she's added all kinds of things to herself and warped her body and chakra to the point that I can't even tell if there's really a human buried underneath it all! It almost made me sick when I saw it! And that's not even the worst part!"
His description of the snake like woman's presence had sent shivers down the pink haired kunoichi's spine, and she paled slightly at hearing there was something worse about her.
"What is it?" She asked, afraid of his answer.
Naruto's expression turned grim and he said, "She summons snakes." At that, Sakura's face lost all color and her breath hitched in her throat. After meeting Jiraiya, she'd looked up what she could about the Sannin out of curiosity, and knew what Naruto's words meant. The Rinnegan bearer saw this and knew she was aware of exactly how screwed they were if someone this skilled associated with him was targeting them.
Sasuke quirked a brow at his answer and he tilted his head to the side, trying to understand what was so bad about that. Amusingly, given that he was the rookie of the year, he was the only member of the team not in the know.
"So what? You said that Anko woman summoned snakes too."
"That's exactly the point!" Naruto responded harshly while still keeping his voice down, turning his head to look at Sasuke over his shoulder. "I asked Anko about that, and there's only one other guy in all the Elemental Continents that has that contract! If she didn't get it from Anko, then she got it from him!"
Before Sasuke could ask who this person was, Naruto's entire body jerked, his face a picture of shock before hardening. Through his Rinnegan, he saw a glint of the sickly purple chakra that belonged to the Kusa kunoichi.
"Shit, she's on to us! Guys, move!"
Both his teammate's eyes widened before all three focused their chakra to speed up. A moment later, just as they took to the air for their next jump, their bodies locked up, their breathing reduced to struggled gasps as their minds were numbed by sheer terror.
The awful, overpowering killing intent of their hunter rained down on them. So powerful was the Kusa kunoichi's bloodlust that it caused the three genin to hallucinate, each saw themselves being brutally killed. In the blink of an eye, they saw themselves being slashed with swords, torn open and ripped to pieces, their blood painting all the surrounding trees red, before finally, it ended with the image of kunai flying straight at them from ahead and digging into their skulls.
As the visions ended, the members of Team Seven found themselves back in reality as the bloodlust vanished as quickly as it appeared, falling through the air as their bodies refused to respond as the crippling fear continued to grip their hearts.
Naruto was the first to shake it off, having endured killing intent from Zabuza on a regular basis and this Kusa kunoichi's through his clone, but even so he wasn't unaffected. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and his hands trembled slightly for a moment. He turned to his teammates and was slightly relieved at what he saw.
With the threat of impending death by falling staring him in the face, the Uchiha heir managed to compose himself by biting his lip hard enough to send a trickle of blood down his chin, using the pain to overcome the fear as one might a genjutsu, and had grabbed the still immobile Sakura.
It was at this moment that Sasuke fully realized how much danger they were in. While his teammate's actions were enough to set off alarms. After all, the blond had never been one to shy away from a powerful opponent, and he didn't think that his recent growth in maturity would change that. Still, he'd thought that whatever it was, they could handle it. But this…
'That… that was no genjutsu! That was just pure killing intent!' The Sharingan wielder realized as he tried to get his breathing under control, the cold chill of fear he hadn't felt since the day he saw his clan slaughtered making itself known in his core. 'Whatever this is, we need to get away or we're dead!'
The two of them managed to reach a lower branch rebound off of it, bolting forward at top speed.
"Sakura, are you alright?" Sasuke asked the girl he was currently holding to his body, who could only choke out an unintelligible, strangled sound, still under the affect of the killing intent and being unable to articulate a response. Her entire body was trembling and despite the warmth natural to the Land of Fire, the girl felt as if ice water was flowing through her veins.
'Damn it, she's frozen! Not that I can blame her, but this doesn't make our situation any better.'
"Naruto!" He said, about to tell the blond to throw some clones at whatever monster was on their tails.
"I know!" Naruto shouted as he made a cross shaped hand sign, preparing to use the Shadow Clone Jutsu when he froze. That sickly purple chakra signature was now ahead of them, and gathering chakra for something. "Get back! NOW!"
At that moment, dozens of serpents, each large enough to choke the life out of a fully grown man, burst from the foliage, speeding towards them with their jaws wide open, poison gleaming on their fangs.
The two genin immediately reversed direction, leaping backwards off the branch they landed on away from the snakes, but it wasn't enough. The serpents were soon upon them, biting into their flesh, only to taste wood as they suddenly found they'd sunk their fangs into a pair of logs.
Hiding on the branch of a nearby tree, Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke did their best to conceal their presence as they tried to gather themselves and come up with a plan.
"Sakura, can you move?" Sasuke asked.
"Y- yeah… I- I'm better now." The kunoichi responded. Even though she'd regained use of her limbs and mental faculties, her body still trembled from the after effects of the killing intent.
"We need to get out of here before she finds us again. Any bright ideas?" Naruto asked, looking at his teammates out of the corner of his eye as he tried to formulate a plan of his own.
"Oh, I'm afraid it's far too late for that." The unsettling voice of the Kusa kunoichi resounded throughout the area, before a dozen snakes shot from both sides of the tree they were hiding behind, causing the three genin to jump back to avoid them.
The members of team seven quickly leapt to another branch and the snakes coiled together into an obscuring mass of shifting serpents. A shape rose out from the center of the group of snakes, which gave way to reveal the Kusa kunoichi, most of the snakes bared their fangs and hissed at their master's quarry, while a single one wrapped around her form.
"Well, you've led me on quite the chase through this forest, haven't you? It's been fun, but sadly, all good things really must come to an end, as they say." The woman chuckled as she gazed at her prey.
"Congratulations," Sasuke said sarcastically "You finally found us, though it looks like someone really put you through your paces to pull it off."
The snake summoner's smirk didn't falter in the slightest.
"Oh, indeed your friend did; a valiant effort, and a wise one, using those clones to scout out the competition and lead me astray. But then, it's only common sense to desperately evade the eyes of a superior opponent."
Naruto glared at the Kusa kunoichi, doing his best to keep his emotions in check and keep her talking in hopes of learning more and stalling for time while they tried to think of something.
"So you found us. Now why don't you tell us what the hell your game is, you freaky old bat?"
The serpentine kunoichi let out another chuckle.
"My, how persistent, making me repeat myself. Haven't your clones already asked me something along those lines? What makes you think my answer will be any different now than it was then?"
"Then how's this? What's your connection to Orochimaru of the Sannin?"
Sasuke swerved on his teammate, shock written on his features while the snake like kunoichi's gaze trained on him, malicious amusement dancing in her brown orbs.
"You don't seem too surprised. Then again, you didn't really try to hide it. Anyone who's read the history books would see it. The snake contract originally belonged to Konoha, until Orochimaru betrayed the village. Before that, he allowed his student, Anko, to sign it. Those are the only two people in the entire continent that could have given you that contract, and you obviously didn't get it from Anko."
The Kusa kunoichi chuckled, but in an even more sinister manner than before, as she brought her hands together in a slow, mocking clap.
"Oh, bravo. You've certainly done your homework; although you're slightly off." She once more brought her hand to her face. "Nevertheless, that was an impressive deduction. As a reward, I'll tell you who I am; it is only courteous, after all, since I know so much about you three. Although first, I'll have to discard this face I'm wearing."
The three genin frowned at that, wondering what she meant, before their faces twisted in disgust.
The snake like kunoichi's fingers dug into the skin of her face, ripping through it as if it were a mask of some sort before literally tearing it off.
As the false face fell to the ground, the three genin stared at their adversary's true self, eyes wide and mouths agape.
Before them stood not a woman, but a man with skin so pale it was as if he'd never seen the sun a day in his life. He had waist length black hair and purple markings around his amber eyes with pupils slit, giving them a snake like appearance. He wore a beige tunic with an odd, purple rope belt tied with a large bow around his waist over a long sleeved black shirt and matching pants.
He gave them a grin even more wicked and malicious than his previous ones, his features making the expression all the more menacing, as his snake-like eyes gleamed in the few rays of light.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am… Orochimaru."
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