"It's a straight path from here. Your last half of the trip will consist of a thirty minute drive south to a small town just outside of Konoha. But in order to get to your vehicle, your first objective is to cross the forest to get there. You have until sundown to get to the end of the thicket. If you miss your ride, you fail."

Kotetsu's instructions resonated in Sakura's ears. She ran at a decently high pace, paying close attention to her surroundings. Something still didn't feel right. Running in a straight path to the transportation site was too easy. The timer on her watch seemed suspicious too. The countdown didn't even match when sundown would occur. She was about one hour and fifteen minutes into her run and she could clearly tell that the time of day was just around eleven in the afternoon.

"Something stinks…" she grumbled.

She thought about how much longer she had on her watch. Four hours, fifty three minutes, and forty two seconds. It was counting down to something, but definitely not until sundown. It was summer. Sundown didn't occur until around seven thirty at night. What was it counting down to? Sakura didn't want to know. She increased the pace a little more. She couldn't afford to waste energy lightly. Kotetsu told her she had a straight path past the thicket.


"Its been too long. I should have reached a checkpoint or something." She thought between even pants.

Taking in her surroundings again, Sakura still couldn't find anything wrong with the path.

"I can finish a 5k run in thirty minutes at slow pace… its been an hour and a half… I've ran more than three 5k rounds already. How much longer am I supposed to run?"

A thought occurred to Sakura. What if she really wasn't running? She panicked for a moment. There was no way this could be a genjutsu. She was convinced she would know. But that was the beauty of a genjutsu. You didn't know you were under until it was too late. But if she wasn't under a genjutsu, then she would just be wasting energy to pull chakra to release the hold.

She debated on what to do. She had no briefing or geographical knowledge about the landscaping outside of the city. It was possible that this "thicket" was actually really long. It was possible that this forest was the size of three cities combined.

But if this was a genjutsu, how long had she been under?

The concept of dreaming was proven to be the same with genjutsu. A five minute interval of time in the "real world", would equate to an hour of "dreaming" or being under an illusion. But the rate in which how long time can pass in a genjutsu meant the flow of chakra had to be significant enough to control the victim's chakra as well.

Sakura slowed her running and came to a complete stop. If there really was a genjutsu on her, one probable way of testing it would be to inflict self pain; enough to cause her pain receptors to alert her. But what could she could? It wasn't like she could rip a finger nail off. That was something completely minor and didn't hurt her anymore. Was she really willing to take a significant amount of damage just to test something that probably wasn't even happening?

She contemplated more on the idea that if she just blocks the chakra flow in her body, she can cancel the effects of genjutsu. But as much as Sakura hated to admit it, that was a bad idea. If she blocked off any chakra pathways she'd be a sitting duck and would have to move immediately.

As calm and rational as she was, Sakura bit her lower lip in frustration. All that confidence she had before the exam seemed to be leaving her bit by bit the longer she stood there. What was she supposed to do? It was her first dilemma on her own. If Yamato hadn't psyched her out in the car she wouldn't be in this predicament. But it was his very warning that made Sakura take this much more seriously and consider all other possibilities.

She looked the "watch" she was supposedly wearing and noticed the timer had stopped at four hours and forty minutes. Was the battery dead? She turned her wrist over to remove the watch and noticed something peculiar. The fasteners to her watch were missing, and Sakura was left with nothing but a fixed band around her wrist. Something wasn't right.

She tried to pull it off with no avail. It wasn't her watch in the first place, that much she knew. Thinking back on the required list of items for the exam a watch was included. There were no requirements about the watch, just that you needed to bring one. And at the time she was given the "ok" to leave, there was a compulsory feeling to grab it to abide by the information she was given.

Sakura growled in irritation, not because she was particularly fond of the watch she brought with her, but because it meant she was foolish enough to fall into what the examiners probably planned out from the start. She was a pawn in their exam and was being played the way they wanted her to be played.

Sakura pulled out a kunai and took a risk. She jabbed at the watch band. Nothing changed. The watch was still intact, while her kunai held a lovely chip towards the tip.

She growled again. With only one option left, Sakura blocked off her chakra pathways and dashed with immense speed into the direction she had been running to previously. She had no other option. She was now a sitting duck. If she could get a good enough distance away from her current location, she could re-open her pathways.

Sakura had to wonder if she was psyching herself out too much. And knowing full well she couldn't trust that watch she wore, she took a glance, thinking something would have changed. And something changed indeed.

The timer was now running at a countdown of three hours left. Where did the last hour and forty minutes go? Was it a malfunction with the watch? It was digital. She hadn't been running for very long so why was there a huge gap in her timer?

Sakura couldn't figure it out.

She stopped again and took a look at her surroundings. She was definitely nowhere near the city. She guessed the sun's temperature and peak to be around noon. She looked to her watch once more and noticed her timer had stopped again.

An idea dawned onto her. What if this watch was counting down how long it would take her to reach her destination? It was possible. But was it really that easy? Were the examiners nice enough to leave her with some peace of mind? What if it was a trap?

"Well, nothing is for certain." She mumbled, and dashed on.


"I'm soo bored!" Genma griped as he slung himself over the couch.

"And I said before, go do something productive then." Yamato gritted, as he flipped through the latest issue of "Nature's Wonders", a magazine dedicated to the beauty and "wonders" of trees, natural grown art, and inserts of creative carving and building.

"But there's nothing to do!" Genma moaned.

Kakashi closed his book and turned his attention towards Genma.

"You could always learn how to cook." Kakashi mentioned with a hint of sarcasm.

Genma frowned towards his direction and huffed in annoyance.

"Or clean your room." Yamato mumbled.

"That's even more boring!" Genma moaned again.

Kakashi and Yamato let out a tired sigh. The three of them stayed silent in the comfort of their living room until Yamato spoke up.

"Sakura passed the initial screening."

Kakashi's ears twitched slightly but placed his attention back to his book.

Genma made his way around the couch and sat down on the floor with the intent of lying down.

"I wonder how she'll handle the rest of the exam." Genma spoke with a genuine concern.

"This year is a little nasty if I do say so myself." Kakashi mumbled.

Genma's attention was interested in what Kakashi had to say.

"What do you mean by nasty?" He asked with suspicion.


Sakura dashed as fast as she could. She never expected to run into other people. It was clear they all had the same idea she did; get to the designated area first. With no further explanations or rules set out, Sakura did not know how many slots were open for transport. She didn't know if they were supposed to fight for a spot or not. And judging by their glares and frowns, someone was bound to play dirty.

Sakura glanced at the two men running by her side; both wearing markers of Konoha on their headbands and fully equipped with weapons and supply pouches, and smaller rucksacks to their backs. It told Sakura everything she needed to know. She wasn't the only contestant from this city; a fact she completely forgot about, she wasn't the only one carrying weapons, and she was definitely bound to run into more contestants.

Sakura enhanced her legs a little more, just to get the upper hand. She couldn't allow herself to get caught up in whatever her gut was telling her "could" happen. She needed to get to her destination, and soon.

She took the risk of looking to her watch. Two hours and thirty minutes left. What the hell was this first part of the exam supposed to be? Was this supposed to be an endurance test? Or was this supposed to be psychological test? Perhaps both? Sakura could only hope it was for her top two suggestions, and not what had been creeping beneath her thoughts; a test of skill and kill.

She didn't want to stay around to find out. She looked back to the two men who seemed to have been struggling to keep up with her pace.

"Good", she thought, "better to have them as far from me as possible."


With fatigue slowly to growing on her, Sakura couldn't risk using any more chakra. The logical choice would have been to keep at the pace she was going to save as much stamina as possible. But her desire to pull forward edged her on.

She took a quick glance behind. The two men were much further away than before. It wasn't like she had anything to worry about considering her pace. But something still felt off about the exam. Not once did the other candidates try to do something to eliminate her as a contestant. They merely tried to keep up with her pace. It was safe to say they were contestants considering they wore the same watch she was wearing. Were they given more information about the test?

There were too many options to consider. The only clue to figuring this out seemed to rely on the watch and the weird timer.

"Ugh!" she shrieked in annoyance. "The watch isn't even a real indicator and its so damn suspicious! I don't know how far or long I'm supposed to run! The psychological pressure is so damn large and annoying!"

Sakura felt her feet sink into the ground as she ran. Her little outburst made her lose some control and she knew it. She was letting the test get the best of her. At this point Sakura was sure this was a test to showcase her mental and physical strength.

Trying to calm herself down, Sakura tried to inhale as deeply as she could while running until…

"Graaaaaaghh!"

Sakura stopped. That shout was almost silenced from the distance, but she heard it. Judging by the direction, it came from behind. She turned. She couldn't see the men she was racing against and the forest grew silent. Not even a breeze broke through.

Sakura knew she shouldn't have been standing around. She knew she had to move. She had to get to the transport area. Something was there and done those men in. She had to move. But she didn't.

Something kept her there. It wasn't fear. It could have been curiosity. But the more Sakura stood there, the more she felt as if something were pulling her in. Before long Sakura unconsciously took a step into the direction she heard the shout. And then another. And soon she found herself taking a few more steps. The closer she moved, the more her mind began to empty. There was a suspicious scent she couldn't shake. It was faint. It was sweet, and it was very appealing. Something wasn't right. But Sakura couldn't stop walking towards the smell. Not until she saw a body in the distance. No blood, no movement, nothing to tell her what the situation really was. Only the unknown clung in the atmosphere; though, not that she seemed to have cared.

As her feet finally came to a stop, Sakura shook her head and took a step back. Her senses were dulling. Something or someone was there. Glancing around the area Sakura took a few more steps back. Her legs felt strangely heavy. And before she could move to grab for a kunai, Sakura froze in fear. She felt an immense, murderous aura coming from the thicket behind the body. She broke into a cold sweat. Never before, had she felt something so malicious. Her knees began to shake. Sakura could feel her fast, beating heart shaking her with every beat. It felt as if the aura alone would kill her.

"…"

Sakura's eyes darted straight ahead as she heard something. Too faint to make out, but loud enough to ring in her ears. Someone was definitely there; sitting, waiting, and definitely taunting her.

She swallowed hard and managed to grab for a kunai. And although she felt some sort of comfort, the aura grew much more. It felt as if death was slowly creeping into her skin. The aura crept further and further, and encompassed her back, edging her to move closer to its source.

There was a slight breeze that broke through which made her skin crawl. The scent grew stronger and Sakura felt something stinging against her left cheek and her arms. Slowly the stinging began to burn.

Her senses finally kicked in. Its a trap.

"RUN" her body cried to her.

She bolted. Someone was there. Sakura knew better than to say. There was no way she would win if a fight broke out with an unseen and dangerously feeling enemy. She had never felt such fear before. Not even Sasuke nor her father, could strike this much fear into her. She knew she didn't have a chance. The situation didn't need to be evaluated any further.

Pushing as much chakra as recklessly as possible, Sakura increase her speed. Forget saving it. Something wasn't right. There was no way Konoha would pass or even consider a candidate with that type of projection of murderous intent. But Sakura had no idea if it was a candidate, or an official, or someone a part of the exam.

She definitely didn't want to find out who it was. Humans are mammals; and mammals were animals. And in the animal kingdom, someone was always on a higher level of the pyramid. She had no place against whoever was there. She was the wounded gazelle in the desert, and there was a starving lion ready to make its move. She only had three options: fight, flight, or submit. She chose flight. It didn't make her any less of a shinobi choosing to run. It meant that she was smart enough to save a fight for another day and get her mission done. But as prideful as she was, even in fear she cursed at herself for fleeing.


Genma stood in rage.

"That's not fair!" he shouted.

"It is fair." Yamato grunted in frustration.

"No its not! They're using Sakura as an example for what happened years ago!" Genma argued back.

"No one said each year had to be the same." Kakashi commented. "Sakura's situation is unique."

"But that doesn't mean shit!"

Yamato sighed. Kakashi pinched the bridge of his nose.

"It does…" Yamato mumbled.

Genma looked towards Yamato. "What are you trying to say?"

"I can't disclose too much information but Sakura isn't the only non-resident participating in this year's exam anymore. Her existence alone sparked a debate against international security during the delegation of the exam."

"She's just a girl!" Genma barked.

"A girl who hails from a place no one wants to start a problem with." Yamato grunted.

Kakashi raised a brow, and Genma calmed down with a bit of shock. If the situation wasn't bad, there was no reason Yamato would be in distress with the fire of questions.

Genma bit his lower lip, and Kakashi grew curious. He had known the exam was catered to be more difficult and perhaps much more harsh because of Sakura. But he had no idea it was because of where she came from.

"Yamato are you sure?" Kakashi interrupted. "Are you sure she's from "that" place?"

"…I can't disclose any more information… There's still an ongoing investigation so nothing can be confirmed…"

"If nothing can be confirmed then why is she the pinnacle of the issue?" Kakashi inquired.

"I can't say anything else. Not unless its disclosed to you by Tsunade herself." He answered quietly.

Kakashi eyed Yamato carefully before dropping it. His pained expression said much more than he needed to know. Genma too, began to understand the situation.

"Someone must have made a deal with the devil." Kakashi said quietly.


Sakura panted hard and fast. She couldn't steady her breathing. Running took a toll on her but it was the best option she had. No one had bothered her since. She ran past a few other candidates and lost them along the way.

She glanced around continuously as she ran. After what she experienced earlier Sakura wasn't sure if she would be followed or not. She had no idea if killing or fighting was against the rules or not. What if there were no rules and it was a free for all? Up until now no other candidates seemed to have bothered her. Maybe something was set in stone somewhere?

As she finally reached the edge of the forest, Sakura found herself running through an open clearing. The sun was beaming. The wind felt amazing. And there were candidates resting in the clearing; a lot to be specific.

She glanced up at the sky and slowed down for a moment to judge the heat of the sun. It had to be around four in the afternoon. She looked to her the timer on her watch. Thirty minutes left on the clock. She must have been close. If so, then why were a bunch of candidates resting in the open field? Sakura couldn't understand what was going on. There was so much she didn't know and so much she had to assume. Her focus was primarily on getting to what the countdown could have suggested.

Noticing the odd looks from other candidates, Sakura's dashing came to a jog, and her jog came to a fast walk. Soon her fast walk came to just a simple left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, stroll. What were these people doing here? Shouldn't they have been heading to the transport area? And what the hell were they staring at?

"Oi! Pinky!" someone shouted from afar.

Hating the nickname, somehow she knew someone was referring to her. She turned, seeing a three man group of children relaxing as they munched on some snacks.

Sakura said nothing as a brunette kid with a long blue scarf stood and shouted as loud as he could.

"Aren't you a little late? You might as well give up!"

Why he was wearing a scarf in this heat, Sakura would never know, but she certainly wasn't amused by his words. She frowned and raised a brow. Who was this brat anyway? Judging by his appearance he seemed no older than twelve. Maybe fourteen, give or take genetics.

"Its been two days pinky! You're a wreck. You might as well quit now!"

What did he mean by, "you're a wreck"? Curious about the rest of what he said, Sakura walked closer to the boy, noting the features of his comrades; a cute, red-headed little girl with the weirdest pigtails and a young man who didn't seem to stand out much besides his extremely large, round glasses.

Just as she reached a good distance, Sakura spoke.

"What do you mean by, "a wreck"?" she asked.

"Did you fall and hit your head or something? Who the hell did you get into a fight with?"

"Excuse me?"

"Did I stutter? Or are you stupid? What's with the cuts and scratches? You're barely standing."

Scratches? Cuts? Sakura looked at her arms and legs and noticed some fine slices here and there. She felt her cheek and winced in pain. What the hell was this? Sakura's stomach dropped as she vaguely remembered feeling her skin sting and burn in a few places the moment she found the body. What the hell kind of technique was that? There was a heavy aura, a suspicious scent, and a mysterious force pulling her in. Standing in that mess left her with cuts and slices? Was it another candidate? But forcing to put that out of her mind, Sakura was desperate for other information.

"What do you mean two days?" she asked.

"Hah? What do you mean by that? Don't tell me you were stupid enough to get caught in someone's genjutsu? Probably did considering you're old."

Something switched on the moment he called her "old". Sakura grabbed for the boy's cheeks, pinching and stretching as wide and hard as she could.

"So some brat wants to play with the big kids huh? Before you do that, you have to learn some respect. Tell me little one, just who are you talking about getting caught in a genjutsu? And what do you mean by "two days" huh? I started at ten this morning. There is no way in hell its been two days."

The boy yelped in pain over again, "ow ow ow ow ow ow!"

It wasn't until the red headed girl spoke up with confusion that stopped Sakura from tormenting the boy. He tried to get away but she held onto him for leverage in case things didn't go her way.

"You mean you didn't start two days ago?" she asked with a curious, but honest face.

"No. I was told ten in the morning today." Sakura responded.

"That's odd." The girl pondered.

"Why?" Sakura asked.

"Why? Because everyone gathered at the south entrance for our briefing two days ago at four in the afternoon. The rules were explained to us as well and we all set off."

"Rules? What rules?"

Sakura felt her heart stop. Things weren't adding up. Why was she told to start two days after the supposed start date? Wasn't that against some kind of rule? Were these kids messing with her? It was possible, but they wore the same watch. How could it be that everyone had a two day head start? She ran passed a few contestants along the way. None of them seemed interested in deterring her from anything. Anyone she passed could have been argued that she was using chakra to gain an advantage. Was chakra against the rules? Why did she pass them if they had a two day advantage? If they started this morning like Sakura they would have all arrived around the same times anyways.

The young boy with glasses suddenly cut in.

"Miss before we tell you anything else, you're the most suspicious out of everyone here. I don't recognize you from the starting point and you're injured. Who are you and would you please let the stupid one go?"

Glaring to the boy Sakura deemed a "nerd" out of frustration, Sakura let the brunette go and squatted to meet his level of eye contact.

"My name is Sakura."

"Sakura, what?"

"That's it. Just Sakura. I don't have a last name." She answered with a genuine expression, trying to convince them otherwise. Her last name wasn't something she wanted or needed to share.

The boy didn't seem convinced but let her answer slide.

"I've never seen you around before the exam. Who is your instructor?"

"That information is classified."

"Then we can't tell you anything else." He answered quickly.

"Oh?" Sakura asked with curiosity.

"How do we know you're not a proctor trying to trick us?"

So there were examiners active in this test? At least she's getting some information out of this kid. Assuming what the boy said was true, Sakura had to assume the examiners played a role in picking out or picking on the contestants. If she wanted more information she had to give some.

With a heavy sigh Sakura frowned and answered honestly.

"Kakashi Hatake."

What the hell? Why did his name come out? Tsunade, Genma, and Yamato taught her too. Why the hell did she go and spit out Kakashi's name alone?

"Eh?" The brunette boy shouted with excitement. "Then you know Naruto nii-chan! How is he?"

Sakura was somewhat taken aback with his excitement. Naruto nii-chan? Was he related to this kid?

This brat had been taunting her earlier and now he was suddenly being chummy? Though, seeing that stupid, excited face of his reminded her of Naruto so much she couldn't help but forgive and give in.

"The last time I saw him was a month ago. I've been busy with work so the only chances I get to see him are at the hospital." She blurted, feeling oddly comfortable with "the brat".

"Ah! Now I know why you look familiar!" the girl cried. "You-"

Before the girl could finish her sentence, every watch in the clearing began to beep with one of the most annoying, persistent pitches Sakura has ever heard; and for quite a while too. People tried bashing their watches with rocks, cutting it off with kunai, and worse, someone was desperate enough to use an explosive tag before someone tackled it out of the person's hands. Nothing had an effect. All she knew was that something was about to happen.


Author's Note:
Hello all! Thank you for waiting so patiently. I'm so grateful and appreciate your creative criticism, comments, and support. The chapter has finally been posted after soooo long! Whoo hoo! I finally got my handicapped ass able to write! Being sling bound is soooo difficult, but I did it! I hope you guys like this chapter. I didn't mean to make this take so long but seriously when you only have one hand to work with you lose a lot of motivation.

I've been going through the stages of grief since my fracture. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and most recently I've hit Acceptance.
Been going to a lot of physical therapy and pushing my butt 10x harder because I can't stand being useless. I think what's worse is that I haven't gotten workers comp yet for being out of work. I've tried contacting my boss and he won't take my texts, calls, or emails. If this goes on for one more week I'm getting a lawyer. His cheap butt is the reason the floors are nasty and wet because he won't get non slip mats for me and the rest of the servers. He hasn't even fixed the leaks from the freezer, the sinks, and the airconditioner. I follow the rules. I wear proper non slip shoes and I still fell. I'm tired of working in a swimming pool of a restaurant.

As for my heartless teachers, they can suck it! And for the students who whined and moaned about the work load, you can suck it too. I worked until recently, I have a broken arm, my car is busted (had to call people and ask for huge favors to get to and from school for the last 2 weeks of class), it takes me longer to get things done and I still passed all 10 classes with an "A". I'm gloating and feeling smug but damn I deserve it!

I've dumped a lot of people who I thought were friends too. I don't need to be taken advantage of. I don't need to be remembered when someone needs something. I certainly don't need people who avoid to help someone who is injured but still bug me like I wasn't and expect me to fufill their wishes.

After my injury, I've had a lot of time to really think and re-evaluate who I am and who the people around me are. I am now a changed person and I feel so much happier because I'm doing what I want and I'm not being used anymore. I've made new friends who appreciate me more. Its an actual real friendship. I'm glad I changed now at 22 instead of waiting until i was 70.

Guys, don't wait until you waste 3+ years on people who just use you. Don't be like me. Really think hard about your friendships and your roles. Is it fair? Is it give give give all the time? Is it take take take all the time? Or is it give and take? I tried talking about how I felt used and unappreciated for all the giving I've done and only gotten attitude and snarky remarks which finally gave me the motivation I needed to dump the people I called, "friends" before. I'm a person who was a bit more kept to myself too so the idea of making new friends scared me but when you're ready to change, you'd be surprised with what you can accomplish.

Sorry for the rant hee hee XD

I'm in the process of writing the next chapter. Please stick around and let me know your thoughts XD

-Rusala