Now that the second test had begun some jounin sensei were waiting in the room set aside for announcements while trying to appear calm and confidant. Others were already making the local bars a bit richer. Danzo refused to cast doubt on his team's preparations in such unseemly ways. He sat in one of the supremely comfortable chairs of the apartment he had chosen to live in for the week and sipped at his excellent cup of tea. While he sat he was occasionally writing on an oversized scroll detailing the wire techniques that had propelled him from a no name chuunin to one of the most powerful jounin in the village.

For awhile he had been confidant he would one day use those techniques to surpass Hiruzen. Of course those hopes had vanished with his arm and eye. The precise movements most of his techniques required were impossible with the replacement parts he had scavenged since. Though his new arm had a few tricks of its own that he couldn't really complain about.

Danzo wasn't sure what he would do with the scroll when he finished it, if he ever really did finish. None of his students were especially suited for his particular brand of techniques. Naruto had the overwhelming affinity to wind necessary but seemed to prefer using the massive power his heritage and tenant afforded him in place of the absolute precision wire techniques required.

Sasuke in many respects was a better choice than Naruto. If he continued to develop his lightning affinity it could be even more dangerous than Danzo's own wind based wire techniques. Though learning the pressure wave technique required for most of the more advanced wire manipulations would be an outright nightmare for Sasuke due to his natural affinities. Which in retrospect Danzo found a great reason to teach Sasuke the technique. The difficulty would be good for the boy; the sharingan made most ninjutsu far too easy.

But for some reason or another Danzo couldn't quite feel comfortable giving his life's work to an Uchiha. Probably because he spent so many years developing it specifically so he had something his old teammate Kagami would never be able to take.

Sakura on the other hand wasn't even a contender. She had the precision necessary for the techniques easily, but they were even more unsuited for her combat style than Naruto's. And despite recent gains in that direction Sakura hadn't even matured her chakra pool enough to develop an affinity.

The slight pressure that proceeded all but the most precise use of the body-flicker technique warned Danzo a half-second before his visitor arrived. Danzo palmed a hidden kunai, but was not overly concerned. The arrival was expected, though even if someone was trying to take advantage of his schedule to preform an assassination then he was in no true danger. If the arrival didn't have a very specific counter seal on them then the seal array around the apartment would tear them to pieces.

Torune appeared a second later and met Danzo's gaze calmly before speaking in his normal slightly detached tone. "Danzo-sama, we have a problem." He sat a scroll on the desk in front of Danzo. "Sasuke-san placed this at the arranged drop. It was flagged as critical using the standard ANBU codes sir."

Danzo didn't let the surprise he felt touch his face. There were very specific conditions for using the critical flag which he had spent a great deal of time impressing on his team. He snapped open the scroll Sasuke had written and quickly read through it while frowning. He froze when he reached the part about Kabuto helping the sand team. His method of beating the toxin he had allowed his team to 'acquire' was interesting but ultimately meaningless besides the fact Kabuto had done it. A dozen possible reasons for Kabuto's actions ran through Danzo's mind as he cursed the fact that the very nature of Kabuto's mission necessitated keeping such loose tabs on the double agent.

It was of course possible that Kabuto was still loyal to Root, but Danzo was long used to planning for the worst case so he disregarded such a happy contingency immediately. Two worse case scenario's occurred to him a heartbeat later. The first was that Kabuto had betrayed them entirely to Orochimaru and had somehow hidden a budding relationship between the snake and the sand. The second was that Orochimaru intended to use the chuunin exams to abduct the Ichibi container and probably Naruto as well for Akatsuki.

Danzo stood and gave orders as he collected the scroll. "Have the second division captain notified of the situation. And tell him I recommend a general alert." Danzo knew that suggestion would go ignored. He realized that issuing a general alert during the chuunin exams would be politically disastrous for the leaf and so did the second division captain. However the suggestion would allow Danzo to quickly impress the potential severity of the situation on the younger captain and even if he was wrong and nothing occurred then the suggestion would only cost Danzo a bit of political capital.

"After you alert the captain tell Fu that his leave is canceled and get our command staff assembled. Have Lain begin passively scanning the village for intruders with abnormal chakra levels, but don't have her scan actively yet. Also, I want the status of all operatives and supply cache's waiting in my office when I return." Danzo waited for Torune to nod before he vanished in a body flicker of his own towards the hokage tower.


Naruto sat on a branch half way up the length of one of the forest of death's massively oversized trees and leaned into a small indention in the trunk. Naruto found the spot comfortable enough and fell into a breathing routine before closing his eyes and reaching out with his charka sense. The first signatures to appear were of course his teammates. Sakura's chakra was a small but tightly focused ball of pink tinted light about six feet above him on another branch. Sasuke's chakra didn't have the focus Sakura's did but it made up for it in shear size. An absolutely massive ball of red light sat a few feet from him where the branch forked; Sasuke's chakra was far from subtle.

Much further out, just inside the wall was team eight, right where they were supposed to be. Acquiescing to Anko's demand of twelve whole plates of dango had been worth it to get the entrance point right next to team eight.

They were outside the expected range of Hinata's byakugan, but Naruto doubted they would be able to remain undetected for long. Team eight had far too many methods of surveillance for any other outcome. Which Naruto suspected the team trying to lay an ambush a few hundred yards from team eight was about to learn the hard way.

Naruto signed Sasuke without ever opening his eyes. "Three combatants. Chakra genin level. Engaging team eight now." The unknowns moved through trees in an obvious ambush pattern until they were within a kunai throw of team eight. A few heartbeats later a sudden spike in chakra signatures was any indication team eight had finally detected their ambushers.

Which really was inexcusably late when one considered the massive advantages that team eight had over most ninja when it came to surveillance in general. Then something funny happened to the ambushers chakra signatures. They started spiking erratically like they were trying to defend themselves. Naruto frowned and wondered if their intelligence on Shino's effective engagement range had been wrong.

The ambushers pressed forward, jumping down from what Naruto assumed was tree level to the ground near team eight before promptly returning to just below their starting position. It took Naruto a moment to realize that the ambushers had walked right into a trap. The ambushers chakra signatures started falling sharply right past the point of normal exhaustion to something that was outright dangerous.

Naruto suspected that Shino was using his insects to drain their chakra ruthlessly. He signed, "Team Eight – Victor" and idly wondered if team eight had somehow kept their chakra signatures stable while observing so as to not tip off their ambushers. It made as much sense as a team with three surveillance specialists failing to pick up on ambushers until they were dangerously close, but Naruto couldn't shake the feeling that he was giving them too much credit. Or maybe he just didn't want to believe that Kiba had the chakra control to pull something like that off.

Team eight hovered around the ambush sight for a moment more before setting off straight for the tower. Naruto opened his eyes and announced as much to his team. Both of his teammates stared at him a moment before Sakura finally asked aloud, "Did they just clear the second exam in the better part of a half hour?" Naruto nodded, it was likely. Without the correct scroll team eight was unlikely to venture towards the tower so early in the exam. "Why are we guarding these people again?"

Sasuke smirked, "Think of it like ANBU on Hokage duty," before he switched back to hand signs to signal for them to move out in pursuit of team eight. They went right over the ambush sight were three unconscious genin were laying in a pile of dead leeches. Naruto wondered if team eight had thought they were being merciful by leaving their competitors alive; even this close to the edge it was unlikely that in their current condition the three would be able to escape the forest before something much worse than leeches found them. Team seven didn't pause in their pursuit of team eight.

Naruto was not concentrating terribly hard on his chakra sense, it wasn't really necessary to get more than a general direction at this point, and Sauske was excellent at tracking in his own right. But even if he tried Naruto couldn't ignore the absurdly large signature that suddenly appeared well outside of his normal range. Worse still Naruto recognized the signature; it was Gaara. He came to stop suddenly. Leaving Sakura to scramble wildly since he was in her intended landing place, something she hurried to inform Naruto was unacceptable with an absolutely startling vocabulary.

Naruto ignored the small tirade and rapidly calculated the approximate position and velocity of each group. By the time Sasuke had turned around and jumped back to the branch that was serving as their impromptu meeting place Naruto was finished. "On their current course team eight is going to rendezvous with Gaara's team in less than ten minutes."

Sasuke didn't react to the news at all. For a few moments he just stood still on the branch. Then he slowly blinked and shook his head. "No they are not. Because before that we are going to engage team eight."

The way Sasuke said engage Naruto knew that he intended to fight them. Naruto managed to not frown outright. Sakura was a little less restrained, "Are you sure that is wise?"

"I agree with Naruto." Sasuke paused in shock when he realized what he had just said before continuing, "Team eight does deserve a fair shot at these exams. But fighting Gaara is way beyond anything that can be expected from a chuunin candidate. We try talking first; but we will remove team eight from the exam before we let Gaara anywhere near them."

Naruto didn't particularly like it, but Sasuke was the assigned leader for the second exam, and Danzo-sensei had long since impressed the importance of following orders on him. The three members of team seven set off again at a much faster pace.

The first indication that team eight knew it was being followed was Kiba hurtling a kunai towards Sakura. It didn't come close, but the members of team seven found it more than a little upsetting. Kiba was about to throw another one when Naruto shouted, "What the hell mutt!" Through the trees.

Kiba faltered for a second before plastering on an almost insultingly confidant look as team seven came to a stop on the branches above team eight. "Well if it isn't stupid, loud and cocky."

The members of team seven glared at Kiba a bit before Sasuke finally asked in an even voice, "What sort of idiot throws a kunai without confirming his target. That's something only Naruto would do." Naruto was about ready to throw a few kunai of his own at their team leader when Kiba blustered back, "Don't pretend, this is an everyone for themselves sort of event!"

That remark caught Naruto blindsided. His world reeled a bit and he actually gaped at Kiba. He couldn't believe a leaf ninja, much less one from a clan famed for their loyalty was ready to fight another leaf ninja over a political stunt. Sakura summed up his thoughts nicely, "What an idiot."

It was really too bad she underestimated the sensitivity of Kiba's hearing. Kiba went through the roof and shouted, "Don't you dare look down on me!" He took a deep breath before continuing in a darker and more angry voice, "And don't you dare pretend. Mom told me all about that sensei of yours. How he will stab his allies in the back the moment he thinks it will benefit him. He is just a traitor that the hokage is too caught up in the past to bring to justice."

Naruto had a half second to wonder exactly what Danzo-sensei had done to the Inuzuka to prompt that sort of reaction before Hinata quietly said, "I'm sorry," and Kiba charged them.

Naruto couldn't really read Shino's face with the sunglasses and high collar, but to his credit his first action was to cover his idiot teammate's charge with a small swarm of insects. Tactically it was a poor move. The cloud might reduce accuracy from a kunai or shuraiken attack, but against a team with two ninjutsu users it was meaningless.

Politically on the other hand it was genius. In a signal move Shino had expressed that he didn't really want to fight team seven but he would try to protect his team first and foremost. And people say that the Abrume have trouble with communicating.

It was a lot harder to determine Hinata's reasons for hanging back and covering Shino. It could have been a carefully considered action in the same vein as Shino's. It could have also been a lack of confidence. But Naruto personally suspected that Hinata was just unwilling to fight against people she had been classmates with.

In the time it had taken Naruto to make that deduction Kiba had closed the remaining distance. His opening move was what appeared to be an over committed hay maker, the sort that would leave you off balance after you took a swing. But it was actually a feint for his other hand which was going to execute some sort of wide area claw attack if the way he was holding his hand was any indication. It might have even worked if he wasn't up against someone with a sharingan, someone who could literally sense the chakra flow of the attack and someone who spars every other day with Rock Lee and Maito Gai.

As it was Sasuke interrupted the attack before it ever got started by ignoring the fake haymaker in favor of grabbing Kiba's other wrist before the claw attack could gain any momentum. Kiba snarled and was about to snap off a low kick only to freeze at the feeling of Naruto's razor sharp tanto pressed against the back of his neck. It was a terrible position to make an actual strike from since the vertebrae would protect most of the neck, but Kiba didn't know that.

A few feet away Sakura stood holding a very confused looking Akamaru. Sasuke calmly looked at the cloud of insects hovering a few feet away from them and calmly said, "Call off the insects please."

Kiba ignored the blade against the back of his neck and shouted, "Don't do it. They are going to demand our scrolls next!" Kiba giving away that team eight did in fact have a complete set of scrolls caused Shino to make a face that almost made Sakura giggle.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed for a moment before he said, "Naruto, Sakura let them go. We're not here to fight ninja of the leaf." Sasuke paused, obviously waiting for Naruto to intervene if they hadn't bought enough time to prevent team eight from running into Gaara. When Naruto sheathed his tanto and took a step to the right, Sasuke hit Kiba, hard, in the face.

The insects got a lot louder all of a sudden, but Sasuke ignored them to look coldly at Kiba. "We didn't come here to take your scrolls. From the moment we arrived you have tried to pick a fight with us. Going as far to make wild accusations about our sensei. I don't know or care why you want to fight us, but we aren't going to let personal grudges take precedence when all of us leaf ninja should be presenting a unified front to the outsiders." Sasuke caught Naruto make the emergency sign subtly out of the corner of his eye and finished, "If you can't do that then reconsider your reasons for taking this exam," before vanishing in a body-flicker.

Sakura and Naruto vanished in body-flickers of their own a half second later, leaving Kiba alone with two unamused teammates. The three of them rendezvoused in a tree just outside of the suspected range of Hinata's byakugan. Naruto didn't wait for a prompt to explain the nature of his emergency. "Two inbound chakra signs moving rapidly towards us. One is jounin class and the other is really funny, I can't get a solid read on it. They are moving along our old path...Sasuke neither of these signatures were in the first part of the exams." Naruto didn't need to explain further, an unknown, dangerous, and potentially hostile pair chakra signals were tracking either them or team eight.

"And Gaara?"

Naruto shook his head. "He's to the north, they paused for awhile then started moving again towards the tower. They are moving slowly, presumably because of his sister and brother."

Sasuke looked about ready to curse, but didn't let any of it color his voice. "Alright, first we need to determine if we are the target or not and if the target is hostile or not. If its hostile I'll lead with a genjutsu and we go straight to lethal techniques. Someone else can deal with the politics of this one. If we can't instantly down the target we burn the special clones and make straight for the edge of the forest to alert the ANBU."

The plan was solid if a bit risky depending on just how far above their level that jounin class chakra signature was, so Sakura nodded and asked, "And if the target is team eight?"

"Then we do the same thing and hope that they run when we tell them to." The three crossed their own trail towards where the confronted team eight a few seconds later, before falling into impromptu ambush positions. Their general strategy for an ambush in team exercises had been to have Sasuke lead with a ninjutsu or genjustu while Sakura and Naruto engaged from the sides.

It was a strategy that worked better when the opposition didn't start the fight with a large scale wide area wind attack that forced them to give away their positions in order to not be simply blown away. It also worked better when the opposition didn't arrive on a giant snake which Naruto realized far to late was the jounin class chakra signature.

The members of team seven were not naive or ill informed. They knew instantly that the snake summon meant they were either facing the infamous Orochimaru or a recruit of his important enough to entrust a snake summon to. Either way each and every member of team seven instantly knew they were totally outclassed, but they continued with their strategy. To do otherwise was to invite miss-coordination and an even quicker death.

Sasuke's eyes flashed sharingan red and met his opponent's slitted eyes with a whisper of Black Coffin. The genjutsu consumed a monstrous amount of chakra, over half of Sasuke's total reserves and was as far from subtle as possible. Nothing quiet screamed genjutsu like having a black box come up around you for a second before every part of your body was perforated with shadowy swords. However it had a single, outstanding virtue that made it worthwhile. It was fast. The technique required no hand signs or careful setup. The only requirement was to make eye contact.

Sakura quashed the tiny bit of frustration she felt at Sasuke dumping more chakra than she had into a genjutsu and used her accel to vanish towards her target before his eyes were even finished widening. She caught him across the back of the head with nasty kick combination that did no favors for her already burning ankles just as the snake underneath them had a nine inch hole ripped straight through its throat and spinal column. Sakura snapped off a final blow, sending the summoner towards Naruto just as the snake summon disappeared in a cloud of dust.

The real Naruto stood there, surrounded by eight of his clones. He quickly pulled a tanto free from its sheath with a badly burned hand to complement the kunai he already had clutched in the other. He wasn't fast enough. The summoner had already recovered enough from the illusion and beating to twist his hand underneath the first strike of the tanto and sweep it wide. In the barely perceptible delay between the defeated tanto strike and the follow up thrust with the kunai the momentum momentum of the battle shifted. Three clones died to save Naruto from being gutted instantly by the kunai the summoner had produced from somewhere.

The snake eyed summoner slipped his foot inside of Naruto's stance and in a move Naruto couldn't quite follow forced both his tanto and kunai high with just the hand holding the kunai. Naruto had just enough time to see the summoner's hand form into a strange flat thrust before it dug a hole right through his flack jacket and shattered two of his ribs. The next attack was strong enough to send him skidding along the ground while gasping for breath. The next blow would have probably killed him if Sasuke hadn't sent a hail of shuriken and wires through the clouds of smoke the remaining shadow clones left behind as they dismissed themselves.

Angry white fire rushed down the wires a moment later, turning the wire to faint white ash and burning green afterimages across Naruto's vision as it passed. The summoner jumped a split second before the fire would have eaten him alive. He never saw through Sakura's concealment technique until she buried her kunai up to its hilt in his neck. Sakura rode the body down into the still burning pile of magnesium wire with a bit of relief showing on her face just as an impossibly large chakra source right underneath them gave Naruto a blinding headache to complement the sharp pains through his chest with every breath.

Naruto moved. He hit Sakura hard with his shoulder, sending her tumbling across the ground just as a sword pierced the earth clone they had been fighting. Just as Naruto cleared the clone the sword twisted as the clone fell apart into rubble and in a hot flash sliced open the back of Naruto's leg. It burned a moment, then suddenly went numb. Naruto immediately noted that he was poisoned, but doubted he would live long enough for it to matter.

Orochimaru – and there was no longer any point in pretending that was not who they faced – rose from his hiding spot in the ground without any apparent effort and leaned his freshly blooded sword on the ground in front of him before clapping. "Splendid. Immediately analyzing the situation then using a high level genjustu to disable your target before moving in for the kill; you are very like Itachi in that regard."

Sasuke was already making handsigns when the snake sannin began to talk, and showed no signs of stopping because of the barb about Itachi. If that bothered Orochimaru, he didn't show it. "And not just you either." He turned to Sakura as she pushed herself off the ground and continued, "Little girl, I'm quite interested in how you did that to my clone. Even jounin level genjutsu users would have trouble pulling something like that off well enough to create such an opening, much less capitalize on it."

Sakura paused and then nodded in acceptance at the complement before proceeding to try and keep attention from her teammate's preparations. "So why are you here Orochimaru? I know Anko is your old student, but isn't crashing her exam a bit petty?"

"My, my… witty under pressure. I'm not sure if that's praiseworthy or annoying. As for why I'm here..." He looked over to where Sasuke was still rapidly signing, totally unconcerned. "I'm here for Sasuke-kun of course." He sighed dramatically, "Sasuke and I, we share a vested interest in Itachi. We both want him very very dead. I came here to evaluate whether or not Sasuke was capable enough to be an asset in my little ambition."

Sasuke paused for a half-second before continuing to make hand signs. Orochimaru looked a little miffed for a second before shrugging, "Well then I'll just leave you with a token of my regards." Orochimaru lunged forward almost invisibly fast towards Sasuke as his neck stretched out to an abnormal length. He only got half way there when Sasuke slapped his hands against the ground and shouted Earth Style: Dust Crater. There was a dull thud and then the ground suddenly fell apart underneath them. Cracks in the rock spewed poisonous dust everywhere forcing Naruto to close his eyes or go blind.

Luckily Naruto didn't need his eyes to execute his own addendum to their escape plan. He flooded the shadow clone seal Jiraiya had placed on him with as much chakra as he could force through it. Enough to make the seal glow an angry red and hiss as it branded its way deeper into his skin. Less than a hundred clones appeared and launched themselves at Orochimaru.

The real Naruto started moving the same instant Sasuke completed last sign of the six hundred in the combo he had copied precisely from Kakashi. He smashed the three vials of blood he had been palming the entire time with a whisper of Secret Medical Technique: False Life Creation Art and got clear as the seal arrays on them flared a sudden blinding shade of orange that Naruto would have loved.

Orochimaru had been cocky enough to give him time to calm down and plan. He would make the snake regret that. The sannin had been using the snake to track them based on scent, which meant that backtracking their own trail while the special clones fled deeper into the forest should give them enough of a head start on Orochimaru to make it to the edge of the forest and the ANBU.

Naruto caught his whole and not bleeding clone just as it was about to exit the cloud with the two others. In the span of a heartbeat they had a conversation with just small pulses of chakra. The real Naruto had sustained distinctive injuries during the fight that the clone couldn't replicate. Orochimaru would immediately notice a henge and wonder why it was necessary, and anything more would take too long.


Sakura's ankles burned, it was well past the point where Gai would have forced her to stop in training and beginning to enter the point where every step was doing real damage that would take weeks of rehab to recover from. She still ran as fast as she could towards the wall anyway, and chanted to herself as a ward against the pain. Sasuke and Naruto were lagging behind, but not by very much.

Finally after what seemed an enternity alone with nothing but the sounds of her and her teammates bouncing across through the trees and the constant pain in her ankles the forest came to an abrupt end. Sakura cleared the wall and what to Sakura looked like a living shadow. A moment later the shadow resolved into a chunnin examiner as she appeared besides team seven and dully asked, "Team Registration."

Sakura could barely breathe but she managed to gasp out, "General Forces Genin Team xa-7, Team Danzo."

"Right then, Team Danzo is disqualified for violating the conditions of the exam, your sensei won't be informed until the end of the shift so if you want to think up an excuse you have some time to collaborate it with the rest of your team." The chuunin examiner marked something on a form while Sakura just stared at her like an idiot for a few seconds.

It took the sound of Sasuke and Naruto clearing the forest wall to snap her back to her senses. "We ran into Orochimaru! I have a case rhino!"

The chuunin examiner gave her a flat look back then spoke as if talking to a very small child, "Am I supposed to be impressed that your sensei taught you ANBU code words? Illegally I might add. Running into a big snake doesn't mean you get to call in the ANBU. Orochimaru indeed!"

Killing intent is a very strange thing ill understood by even experts. In its most basic form it is considered to be a clash of wills, the aggressor's desire and belief that they can kill the target is forced against the target's will to live and their confidence in their own abilities.

At that moment if the six paths sage himself had stood between Sakura and the little shit who had just dismissed what had happened over the past hour as a story then he wouldn't have even lasted a second. Sakura's killing intent hit the chuunin examiner with all the subtlety and power of the Kyubi on a bad day.

The chuunin's back instantly went ramrod straight and her pupils contracted into pinpricks. For all of her anger Sakura's voice was super naturally calm, "I have a case rhino, Orochimaru is in the forest of death. Go get the ANBU." The 'or die' part of the message was left unsaid but understood. Sakura waited a heartbeat for the examiner to move; when she did not Sakura met her eyes and shouted, "Move Shinobi!" The chuunin squeaked then vanished in one of the fastest body-flickers that Sakura had ever seen.

Sakura turned around and walked over Naruto and gave him a single, unamused, look over before driving a kunai into his chest. As the clone started dissolving into a black ichor Sakura half shouted half sobbed, "Naruto you idiot – You had better promised."

Sasuke had a more than a little panic in his eyes when she turned around and looked at him. He half said half barked, "I'm not a clone."

Sakura blinked heavily to clear her vision, then pretended she didn't hear the remark. "I'll wait on the ANBU, go find Danzo-sensei and tell him everything."


The plan had been for Naruto to follow the other two clones for a little while before breaking off and going on his own towards the edge of the forest. The plan was not going well. He had not planned for exactly how painful running with a pair of broken ribs was. He had not planned for his increasingly numb poisoned leg to make even simple steps treacherous. And he had certainly not planned for the sannin to be less than a kunai throw behind them riding on top of a newly summoned giant snake by the time Naruto and his fake teammates had cleared the first tree.

Orochimaru sent a volley of blisteringly fast kunai after them. Which neither Naruto nor the clones could quite dodge. In the first few minutes Naruto had a half dozen superficial cuts trailing fresh blood. The clones weren't doing much better. It took another painful slice across the side of his arm for Naruto to realize that Orochimaru was somehow judging their agility and reaction speed and sending kunai just a bit to fast for them to dodge.

The snake sannin was playing with them. Naruto didn't know or care why, but he took his chance and split off from the fake clones before the sannin got bored. Orochimaru's voice cut through the woods behind him, "You naughty boy! Showing everyone the true character of a leaf shinobi like that!" The shout broke down into weird keening laughter that sent a shiver down his spine. The shiver got progressively worse when Orochimaru continued, "Naughty boys should be punished – bring him back so he can watch everything."

Naruto couldn't help but look back to see that Orochimaru had leaped from his snake to close the range against the clones of Sakura and Sasuke. Which Naruto didn't find nearly as alarming as the giant snake which was now bearing down on him. A half dozen plans flirted through his head in an instant. If he could get a clean hit off on the snake he could probably kill it; snake summons were not known for their fortitude after all. But that would probably just draw Orochimaru's attention to him and away from the clones.

So he tried to pour on the speed and get as much distance between him and the snapping maw of the snake summon as possible. It proved a bad decision a second later when he landed on the next branch and his poisoned leg abruptly decided to fold underneath him. Naruto desperately channeled chakra and managed to stop from falling outright. Naruto dimly noticed that the world around him had begun to spin a little bit. He couldn't tell if it was from his injuries or the poison.

Then the crack of timber torn apart by overwhelming force reminded him that he was supposed to be running from the giant snake. He half leaped half fell just barely in time to avoid being eaten along with the branch he was standing on. Naruto landed roughly on the forest floor as his poisoned leg bent weirdly underneath him. The snake loomed over him for a minute, staring down with obvious and malicious intelligence as the forest twisted into a nauseating swirl of colors behind it. It was disconcerting, an animal's eyes had no business looking like that.

Then its head came crashing down, with its maw spread wide ready to swallow him. Naruto didn't react at all. He had one chance if he wanted to avoid being swallowed and presumably carried back to Orochimaru inside of the snake. He wouldn't waste it on a long range jutsu too weak to do the job. As time seemed to slow he held a chipped tanto in front of him and focused.

The distorted world his eyes showed him fell away as he desperately tried to force his battered body to do something that he could barely perform after hours of careful preparation. The only thing in the world was his tanto. The gouges that crossing blades with Orochimaru had cut in the once finely honed blade we're suddenly visible in absolute clarity. Sudden violent overpowering hatred totally out of character with the minor annoyance of a chipped blade flowed through him but couldn't touch him. He poured everything into the sword until it was wrapped in a misshapen bundle of seething power.

Naruto looked at it with only the faintest feeling of disdain, it was a long way from the precision and sharp edges of a true chakra flow technique, but it would work. The world suddenly crashed back to full speed and the tip of Naruto's tanto touched the roof of the summon's mouth.

The snake wasn't cut apart and it wasn't burned. The energy transfer was too sudden and too massive for anything like that to occur. The snake's head and a goodly portion of the body behind it simply disappeared. The rest of the snake hit the ground with a dull thump behind Naruto before vanishing back to the summon realm in a stream of smoke. Naruto held the hilt of the tanto tightly and stared blankly at where there had once been a blade attached to it before blinking once and falling unconscious.


Orochimaru felt his summon's violent dismissal and frowned. He spent a second idly wondering if he should track the brat down himself to insure he didn't die from the sword of Kusanagi's poison before dismissing the thought. If the brat died it was no big loss, he could just force Sarutobi to pass the team with only two members. His thoughts were cut off as Sasuke executed another taijutsu combo as his pink haired teammate tried to snare him an yet another genjutsu.

It was a nice combo, the genjustu was extremly low power, little more than a distraction really. But when combined with pink haired girl's precise timing it was extremely effective at disrupting Orochimaru's ability to defend against taijutsu. Against a chuunin it would have lead the pink haired girl and Sasuke to victory. Against one of the weaker jounin it would have been a very close loss. But against Orochimaru it was useless.

He feinted just long enough to draw Sasuke in before pinning him. Orochimaru was happy with the additional abilities that Sasuke and his team had shown off, and did wonder what else they might have up their sleeve, but he also knew he was running short on time. So he stretched his neck and bit down on the shoulder of the boy struggling underneath him. He pumped the boy full of chakra and precisely calibrated venom before standing to admire the new mark on Sasuke's now shivering body.

Then to Orochimaru's horror the body he intended to make his began to dissolve. It started at the seal, which abruptly burned away, along with most of the nearby skin to reveal what Orochimaru could only describe as black rot. Other similar sores began to open all over Sasukes body as it destroyed itself. Orochimaru snapped a kunai into the pink one's chest and saw the same black ooze start to poor out of the wound a second later.

His analytical mind told it was some sort of clone technique, but Orochimaru wasn't in a particularly analytical mood. He raged, "I'm going to find them and test out a few of my more violent reconditioning experiments on them until their brains are mush and they cant do anything but moan." He slammed his palmed into a convenient tree and listened with satisfaction as it came tumbling down in a series of perilous cracks.

The more rational part of Orochimaru caught up a moment later and he abruptly started laughing. He had been tricked by a trio of genin – though that moniker seemed wildly inappropriate – and he had no one but himself to blame. Sure the brats had used a few truly exceptional techniques, like the interesting clone technique he made a mental note to steal when the opportunity arose, but he could have still easily completed his goals if he had been the least bit serious.

Orochimaru had underestimated them and he understood that. So he reconsidered his plans to insure it wouldn't happen again and vanished in a body-flicker.


Sasuke walked into a particularly unremarkable gardening store and asked if the flower in the red pot on display was an Amaranth. Any idiot could see it was a bluebell of course, but the question activated long dormant contingencies Danzo had made. Three minutes later Sasuke was waiting in the study of what he could only assume was Danzo's home with what looked like a rather irritated Yamanaka. Two minutes later a sleepy looking girl with orange hair was more or less dragged in by a girl with light blue hair and red eyes. Sasuke considered activating his own eyes in case it was a doujutsu of some kind, but decided against it since the others in the room obviously knew her.

The redhead grumbled to herself while organizing notes written in some strange cipher. She made a bit of a mess with what were obviously classified materials and the lack of professionalism was somewhat annoying, but it was still much better than the blue haired girls stare. She absolutely would not stop staring at him. Sasuke was about to ask what her problem was when Danzo's opportune arrival with what Sasuke assumed was an Abrume saved him.

The old man had an absolutely blank face that Sasuke was smart enough to interpret as either irritation or anger. The others in the room stood for his arrival, but he waved them all back down and abruptly asked, "Sasuke that method of contact was for emergencies."

The look Danzo gave Sasuke wasn't quite a reprimand, but Sasuke knew it would rapidly become one if he didn't explain instantly. "This isn't a clone sir. Orochimaru is in the forest of death."

The entire room focused on him at once. Danzo's voice had a tone in it Sasuke had never heard before, "Are you sure?"

Sasuke wanted to scream yes, but kept his cool and tried to give a full report. "We fought and escaped from a snake summoner that was at least Kakashi's level sir. Sakura has called a case rhino and is waiting on the ANBU response. Naruto is still in the forest in an unknown condition. He chose to not escape with us, presumably because wounds received from the initial confrontation with Orochimaru could have compromised our attempt to get away."

Danzo spent a second digesting the information before he started issuing orders, "Fu, Torune go get my wayward students. Mai I need you to go over what has happened in the forest with Sasuke and see if you can figure out what is going on. Rei you're with me. We are going to raise the alarm if Sakura hasn't managed to get the second division mobilized already."

The blue haired girl spoke up in a cool tone. "Captain, this could become an international incident if it becomes known that you are sending men into the forest to help your team."

Danzo frowned for a second then coldly addressed the two who were going to be sent into the forest, "Kill anyone who sees you."

Sasuke was left alone to wonder what exactly was going on with the red head girl who he assumed was Mai. She was asking him something but he was a to little busy worrying to care. Apparently his teacher was an ANBU commander at the very least, or even worse he was the head of an illegal military force. Oh and that didn't even get started on the whole 'kill whoever sees-"

"Pay attention!" The red headed girl finally got frustrated and shook him roughly before looking him dead in the eye. Sasuke's brain distantly informed him that was a really cocky move against a sharingan user, but Mai didn't seem to know that. "Everyone gets through things one step at a time. Your first step is to report." It struck Sasuke's frazzled mind as good enough advice, so he followed it.


Naruto wondered what exactly the poison had done to him. Because he was pretty sure that the Kyubi didn't normally wear a surprisingly stylish top hat made of fire. Also the floor was a wash of psychedelic reds and blues mixed with a sickly gray, but that wasn't nearly as interesting as the top hat. He really really wanted to flip it off of the overgrown fox's head, but the oversized bars kept somehow getting in his way.

The kyubi's voice rumbled, "So my host has arrived at last, to plead for his life no doubt."

Naruto wondered if the fox did the whole earth shaking deep voice thing on purpose and got a delightfully interactive hallucination of the fox spending years standing in front of a mirror trying to learn how to speak in something other than its natural falsetto voice. Naruto giggled at the image and asked, "Did you really once speak in a falsetto?" He laughed even harder when the fox's giant eyebrows twitched. The fox took a swipe at the bars where Naruto was standing and hit it hard enough to send the blonde on the other side skipping across the multicolored mess of water covering the floor.

Naruto pulled himself back into a sitting position with a groan and mumbled, "Stupid tsundere fox."

The fox smashed the bars again and shouted, "What was that you brat?"

Naruto hopped to his feet despite his pounding headache and shouted back, "I called you a tsundere. It means you are insecure and act all tough to hide the fact that you care." Naruto walked back up the cage while the fox shouted something else unimportant. "I read Mito's book Kurama." The fox fell quiet at last and Naruto spread his arms wide. "She left everything behind – your fears and goals and fate – I know them all."

When the Kyubi finally spoke its voice didn't have any of the rage or bluster Naruto had come to associate with the demon. It was cold and empty and all the more terrifying for it. "Speak my name so carelessly again and I will see you dead, seal or not Naruto Uzumaki."

Naruto abruptly realized that taunting the greatest of the tailed beasts was the height of idiocy, and wondered why it had seemed like a good idea at the time. He opened his mouth to reply but the words wouldn't come out. The Kyubi snarled, "Abandon your arrogance human. You are a worm elevated only by stolen power and borrowed knowledge. You are not her, you are just a vessel and a dying one at that."

The Kyubi's words slipped past Naruto without really sinking in. On some level he understood that he was dying from Orochimaru's poisoned sword, but he couldn't really grasp that he would actually die. So, he met the Kyubi's slitted eyes and told him, "Don't look down on me. A worm? Maybe I am. Did you know all beasts are in the end the food of worms? I am a proud shinobi of the leaf; I will keep my worm like pride and steal and borrow as I please Kurama."

"Then die as you have lived Naruto Uzumaki." A red, burning wind gathered behind the Kyubi and swept out from the cage. For a single immeasurable moment Naruto felt like he was being roasted alive, then a faint layer of blue light sprung up around his still smoking form to protect him from the Kyubi's onslaught.

In response the Kyubi just increased the intensity of the red wind, driving Naruto to his knees in the process. The floor itself started to burn as the blues and reds scattered across it waged war on each other, burning and crushing the sickly gray spots in the process. Naruto knew he was in trouble, for the first time in his life he could feel how strong the kyubi really was. Only a fraction was making it pass the fourth's seal, but it would be enough.

The red wind's pressure was too much, it was like Naruto suddenly found himself at the bottom of the ocean; all Naruto could do was try and maintain the thin layer of blue light he had somehow summoned to protect himself against imminent immolation as the Kybui's power ground him to nothing. But that realization didn't help him at all; it took everything he had to maintain the thin layer of blue light he had somehow summoned to escape immolation.

Then the Kyubi increased the intensity of the wind again and it slowly began to eat away at Naruto's little shield of blue light. Naruto felt despair creep over him as the shield got thinner and thinner taking the fight out of him well before it finally gave out. When the red wind tore into him at last it was almost a relief.

Then the hallucinations came. Hundreds of visions of death and despair danced across Naruto's mind. In one he cut down Danzo-sensei himself then mocked Lain as she tried to avenge him. In another the old man hokage died at Naruto's hand with his face locked up in despair, unwilling or unable to kill Naruto to save the village. He saw Sakura with little tears in her eyes half shouting half sobbing, "Naruto you idiot – You had better live …. you promised."

Everything stopped. The red wind fell to nothing and the haunting hallucinations fell apart in its absence. Then light, bright and blue spilled across the floor around him and Naruto stood before quietly acknowledging, "I did didn't I?"

The kyubi sounded more unsettled than outraged to Naruto's ears when it rumbled, "How?"

Naruto forced a cocky smile on his face and said, "That's my ninja way Kurama. I will never give up. I will never abandon a comrade. And I will never break an honest promise." Naruto took a deep breath before continuing, "And I have a promise for you Kurama. Tell me your desires and I will fulfill them. Tell me your fears and I will banish them. Tell me your enemies and I shall eliminate them. Tell me what you have lost and I will reclaim it. Become my sword and I shall be your shield against all those who seek you."

The fox snorted in relief at the dramatics of its host. "That oath was better when it came from Mito's mouth."

The corner of Naruto's mouth twitched in response, but before he could think up a reply the Kyubi spoke again. "You are an adequate host after all Naruto Uzumaki. Array the heads of my enemies before me and let me hear the lamentation of their kin. Then we will talk of you being more than that."

Naruto smirked and said, "Good enough." before turning from the cage and leaving.

After Naruto was gone a voice called out to the Kyubi, "You like him."

The Kyubi rumbled back, "Quiet."


Naruto felt like he was being bathed in fire when he finally woke. His brief war with the Kyubi had definitely affected his body, but he didn't have the time or the equipment to determine exactly how much damage had been done. All he could do was put his faith in the seal and deal with more immediate concerns, like why he was surrounded by the sounds of battle.

His ability to sense chakra came to him easier than ever. The dark little wooden hallow someone had stuffed him into fell away as his chakra sense expanded; he could suddenly feel Kiba and Hinata standing outside trying to protect him against three vaguely familiar chakra signatures. Shino was no where to be found.

And team eight was losing. It wasn't obvious yet, but the slight fluttering of Hinata's and Kiba's chakra signature was more than enough to tell Naruto that they were already desperate and exhausted. The battle came to a pause for a moment and the largest of the three enemy signatures, presumably the leader shouted, "This is your last chance, hand over the Uchiha."

Naruto froze at the words and a slow cruel smile spread across his face. It was too much of a coincidence for Orochimaru to come and evaluate them immediately before an assassination squad came after Sasuke. They were obviously Orochimaru's men, which meant they might know something useful about the snake's actions.

Two months ago Naruto might have jumped out of the hallow to help the other team without another thought. A series of bitter training exercises where he had been totally outmatched combined with Orochimaru's recent demonstration about the perils of underestimating opponents stopped that reaction cold. Naruto ignored Kiba's rather rude reply to the sound trio and tried to evaluate his combat status. He had just recovered from a poisoning and he hurt badly. His chakra flow was stable though and as far as he could test in the confines of the little hallow he could make a full range of movements. Which was more than a little shocking honestly; he had expected his leg at the very least to be severely damaged.

He hurt, but he could deal with that. After all, Danzo-sensei had assigned them to protect team eight and pain wasn't an excuse to abandon duty. And if he was being just a bit reckless, well, no one could complain about it.

Naruto fed a bit of chakra into the burned mess of a seal on his shoulder and winced at the spike of pain he got in return. But the seal still functioned and the little hole he was hidden in abruptly became a lot more crowded when four shadow clones appeared around him.

Naruto waited for them to dig themselves into the ground using a simple earth technique before he pushed the cloth covering the entrance to his little hallow aside, and smiled at the largest of the three enemy chakra signatures while surging his own monstrous chakra as high as his battered body could stand. The battle fell quiet as he stood up, an opening which Naruto used to ask, "You said something interesting earlier. Am I correct in assuming that you are Orochimaru's?" They didn't answer, and they didn't have to. Their expressions were more than enough confirmation for Naruto. So he continued, "I thought so. Now I can't just let you leave."

Hinata and Kiba spoke at once and Naruto couldn't really make either one of them out. He thought Hinata sounded relieved and Kiba's was a warning of some kind, but he ignored them. Naruto couldn't afford to let them distract him if he was going to fight properly.

Naruto recognized the three opponents as the sound team of Dosu, Zaku and Kin he had been briefed on. They had not faired well at all in their fight against team eight if the way one of Dosu's arms was hanging limply and the big claw mark on Zaku's face was any indication. Danzo-sensei had seriously underestimated team eight, especially if Naruto was right and they were about to execute some sort of desperation attack. It wouldn't be necessary now; Naruto already had a plan to destroy the sound team.

The one with the holes in his arms broke under the pressure Naruto was deliberately exerting first. The idiot shouted something about how he wouldn't be scared of a half dead freak an launched an impressive wind attack out of his arms.

It might have even killed Naruto if Zaku hadn't telegraphed his attack so badly. As it was Naruto was already enacting he first stage of his plan before the attack was even launched. When the attack hit where Naruto had been standing it kicked up a huge dust cloud; Naruto gladly used the cover to create second wave of shadow clones before pulling his spare tanto free of its sheath. Stage one of his plan to deal with the sound trio was to capitalize on the multiple shocks he had given them by telling them he knew they were working for Orochimaru and surging chakra his chakra so high had caused. He needed to use the brief period of disorganization to eliminate one of his opponents.

Naruto's first shadow clone slashed its tanto towards Zaku's face intent on ending the fight then and there. It wasn't quite fast enough, but it did force the targets arms high, leaving his core wide open for Naruto's own tanto to cut a mortal blow right underneath his ribcage. The third and fourth clone died a moment later to shield Naruto from some kind of vibration based counterattack Dosu launched in a vain attempt to save his teammate.

The battle froze again as Zaku gasped uselessly, trying to force air into his collapsed lungs. Naruto suddenly felt sick, but couldn't let that distract him any more than he could afford to react to the shocked looks that Hinata and Kiba had plastered on their faces. So Naruto shoved the dying sound ninja off of his tanto and tried to ignore what exactly was splattering on him. He must have looked horrifying covered in blood as he was because when he turned to face the remaining two members of the sound team, Kin broke and ran at the sight.

Naruto modified his plans on the fly and pulsed his chakra through a meaningless hand sign while shouting Wood Release: Thousand Hands Prison. It was a signal to the clones he had hidden at the start of the fight. They had long since henge themselves into wooden monsters covered in bark instead of skin. Kin got another two steps before wooden monsters that were horrifying to even Naruto burst from the ground around here and grappled on to her. She had a few moments to shriek and flail wildly before they dragged her back underground with them.

While the clones could survive underground almost indefinitely, their prisoner had a minute or two at the maximum. Luckily the fake wood release jutsu had done its job and further unbalanced the last member of the sound trio, and a fight was no longer necessary. Naruto used his advantage to grab Dosu, one hand on his rather dangerous arm and one hand on his vest. He looked the last member of the trio in the face and said, "Go tell the snake what happened." Then he shoved Dosu to the ground and wondered what the two rather familiar chakra signatures watching the fight thought they were doing.

Dosu didn't question his good fortune and ran head over heals into the woods. Naruto waited a moment before he had his clones deposit a thoroughly tied Kin back on to the surface. Naruto grabbed the ninja wire bindings where they all came together in a knot on her back and pulled her over his shoulder, earning a squeak of pain from her for his efforts. He turned back towards team eight and said, "I owe you guys for what you did and I will repay it, believe it. But for now you two need to find Shino and get to the tower as soon as possible." Then he made the signs necessary for the body-flicker.

Before he could finish Kiba replied, "Its just something leaf ninja do. You can tell that to your insane sensei too."

The last thing Naruto heard before he vanished was a whispered 'thanks'. He smiled at the words and gave Fu and Torune the 'all clear' hand sign.

A/N Chapter:

Sasuke can use the sharingan to learn the pressure wave technique in specific way, but that particular technique is only important because of its versatility which the sharingan can't help him with. To use that particular technique in a useful manner Sasuke would have to learn it the hard way.

The whole dust crater / clone thing was something else team seven designed to kill Gaara. He still needs to breath, ergo forcing him to chase around clones in a poisonous cloud would kill him.

Remember this Sasuke is wearing goggles b/c Kakashi threw chilipower in his eyes one time.

The original escape from Orochimaru involved both team eight and Gaara, but I didn't like it very much so you got this instead. This is also why team eight are either apparently incapable of detecting numerous high level jutsu in quick secession on their doorstop or decided that a place where numerous high level jutsu are used is a bad place to be. You decide which.

Case Rhino means a s-class hostile has penetrated village security. Most chuunin and above memorize the cases, thus they are neither particularly secret or secure. Gennin aren't taught them because they are normally with jounin who already know them. Sort of like someone in a hospital shouting code black. (Please don't actually do that).

Rei is Root's third company commander and is the last named non-cannon member of ROOT who will appear. Out of the Ocs she is the least developed in general and is a bit of a last minute addition. The fate of the first company commander will be a minor plot point later but he never will get a name. You can call him Leeroy Jenkins if you want though.

I rewrote the Kyubi scene several times and am still not really satisfied with it. The whole scene played out like an acid trip in the first draft, but Naruto and the Kyubi coming to some sort of resolution while one of them is tripping out of their mind seemed a bit cheap. So then I rewrote it where the kyubi actually took control of Naruto's body for a bit, but it seemed like it came from nowhere when I reread it. So you got this instead. I'm not sure if I like it better or not.

Shino is out looking for the other two members of team seven. He's doing that because I'm quite confident an intact team eight would smash the sound trio. If you're a Shino, Kiba or Hinata fan don't worry they will eventually get fights that are described.

The wood release thing is a bit of a joke toward that guy who keeps telling me Naruto needs a bloodline. For those of you who are confused I would like to clarify: Naruto does not have the wood release, he was just tricking the sound team and team eight.

A/N General:

This actually came out pretty different from the original version that I story boarded almost a year ago. In that version team seven pretty much camps the tower to ambush teams and Orochimaru doesn't want to start a fight where a bunch of jounin are liable to appear at a moments notice.

Team Eight continues to prove themselves to be a lot better than suspected and Team seven hears some rumors about their sensei for the first time.

I'm going to try to have the next chapter up on 2/10 for the one year anniversary of this Fic. Thank you for your continued support. Two arcs left and maybe three or four chapters until the half-way break point of the series. At the break point I'm going to work on some of my other stuff for a bit before I start what I'm going to call the side stories arcs, which will detail what occurs over the Naruto time skip. I'm not sure if the side stories will be posted in this fic or if I will start a new one for each side story.