The main problem that fans of this story seem to have is how I have depicted Naruto's chakra levels without the Kyuubi's help. I take what you say into account, but I respectfully disagree. The instances where hundreds of clones appear in the anime/manga are because he subconsciously accessed Kurama's chakra through his anger. Furthermore, the two chakras tend to mix, as Jiraiya pointed out. Please don't trash my chapters just because you disagree with me on this point.


Chapter 18: Unofficial Bouts: Melee Rumble V

Naruto vs. Shino

The heroic genin stood around with Guy, awkwardly listening to the screams of Zōri from the nearby interrogation room. Ibiki Morino had come rushing to meet them in the forest as soon as Lee had explained the situation, and immediately took off with a bloodthirsty expression on his face and Zōri in hand. The Third arrived about ten minutes later with a few ninja who summoned some extremely large birds, loaded up the rogues, and escorted the genin back to the village as well. There was a lot of paperwork to fill out regarding everything that Naruto and his group had heard in their encounter with the Mist rogues; as it turned out, the motives of the Mist assassins were far more ambitious than anyone had previously realized. After several uncomfortable hours, Ibiki emerged with a look of grim satisfaction on his face.

"We cracked him," he informed the gathered group. "You all are free to leave now; your statements helped us to confirm what we got out of Zōri and we are going to interrogate some of the others later, but we've got all we need to act."

"Hey, chrome-dome, you want to tell us a little more than that?" Naruto exclaimed.

A vein in Ibiki's forehead popped, as he turned around. "If you brats want to know, follow me. I'm reporting this to the Hokage." Naruto scurried after Ibiki as the superior ninja took long strides away from the genin. The rest of the group exchanged a look and followed the duo as well. In a short amount of time, they had reached the Mission Assignment Desk.

"Lord Hokage," Ibiki bowed his head before straightening out. "The news doesn't look good."

"What is it, Ibiki?" The Third asked as he twisted his pipe between his fingers, scrutinizing the end of it with interest.

"We successfully got that rogue to confess to his group's goals," Ibiki muttered. "Apparently, they were hired by the Sand to sack the Leaf."

The Third grew stiff and regarded Ibiki with a stony expression. "You're positive?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

"Well, we knew Hayate was killed by a wind-based chakra, but I had hoped that it was an internal issue…another war between nations…I prayed it wouldn't come to this ever again."

"How could this be?" Ibiki asked. "I thought our alliance with the Sand was in a healthy state."

"It's purely political," the Third muttered regretfully. "Our relationship with them is a constant game of tug of war. As soon as they see an opening, they pull."

"Should we call off the Chūnin Exam?" Ibiki asked. An angry outburst forced him to turn around as the genin immediately erupted into protests.

"You can't do that!" Naruto exclaimed. "We all worked really hard to get into the finals!"

"Just allow us to pit our strength against them!" Lee concurred.

"You brats don't get it," Ibiki growled. "We have a potential war on our hands."

"But if we cancel the rest of the exam, couldn't they justify their attack to the other Great Nations as retaliation for us breaching our alliance?" Guy asked.

"That's true," Ibiki admitted. "Even all the certainty in the world won't change the fact that we got our information out of some lowly bandits…what do you think, Lord Hokage?"

The Third rose to his feet deliberately, cupping his chin in contemplation before exhaling a cloud of smoke. "We will continue with the exam as planned. We will take as many precautions as we can afford to though. I want every capable shinobi of chūnin rank or higher to be stationed from now until the exam's end. We will confront the Kazekage and try to reason with him afterward, but right now is not the time."

"I…see," Ibiki replied as he glanced towards the genin.

Naruto threw his fist into the air triumphantly. "Thanks, old man! That's all I needed to hear! I'm gonna use the time I have left to do some more training!" He scrambled away eagerly, leaving the other genin slightly dazed.

"Oh, no! Naruto got ahead of me!" Rock Lee exclaimed tragically. "I'll have to do a thousand pushups to catch up with him!" He took off as well, and the other genin bowed to the Third apologetically before they left.

"I didn't want to say this in front of them," the Third turned to Ibiki, "but at this point, it's impossible to back out of the exam. Rulers, lords, and our richest clients have already begun settling down in preparation for next week. For us to withdraw right now would lead to a devastating financial backlash."

"We'll just have to stay on our toes," Ibiki replied, but the Hokage shook his head uncertainly.

"We still don't have enough intelligence. I trust your judgment; if you say the Sand orchestrated the attack, they orchestrated the attack. However, the Sand is a small and impoverished nation. If they are seriously aiming for a coup on the Leaf, they must have other supporters. We need to find out the full extent of our enemy's backing before we make our move."

"We'll get on that," Ibiki bowed his head. "I have one question to ask before I leave."

"Shoot."

"What would the Sand want with Naruto? The Kyuubi?"

"I imagine so," the Third frowned, "but until we find out the true mastermind behind the Mist attack, we shouldn't draw any conclusions…"

"That brat doesn't think, but he might be right," Ibiki said thoughtfully. "The Chūnin Exam is a way of judging the power balance between the Great Nations. If our genin can overwhelmingly defeat the Sand brats, perhaps the war can be averted."

"I suppose we'll see."

-X-

Naruto swore as his fist collided with the practice dummy. He had lost so many hours thanks to his involvement with the Mist rogues. Stupid Bushy Brow-sensei…it was all his fault that Naruto had lost so much valuable training time. It was probably his plan to weaken him so Naruto would be at a disadvantage during his fight with Lee…

"And freaking Sasuke is off somewhere getting trained by Kakashi-sensei…" Naruto grumbled irritably. "So unfair…" Naruto knocked the dummy into the air with a well-placed uppercut and the Kyuubi inside him chuckled.

A little antsy, aren't you?

"Shut up," Naruto muttered. He had no clue where Pervy Sage had run off to; he probably wouldn't be back before the finals began anyway. Plus, it was already this late, so there probably wouldn't be anyone up for a brawl…

Naruto stopped for a moment and sighed. "Hey fox, what do you think my chances against Thick Brows are?"

The kid with the bowl haircut? He left you in the dust during that last mission and his physical abilities are far above yours. You don't stand a chance…not without my help at least.

"But you won't offer your help," Naruto accused.

The Kyuubi chuckled. This is true.

"So I guess I just gotta do everything myself," Naruto reasoned, pulling the dummy back up. As he raised his fist back, a sly sounding voice cut him off.

"I can't help but think that it would be more effective if you were physically fighting someone…" Turning around, Naruto jumped in surprise.

"Shino! What're you doing here?"

The creepy shinobi stalked towards Naruto with his hands stuffed into his jacket pockets. He peered through his black shades as he scrutinized Naruto.

"I want to fight you, Naruto."

"Huh? Where did that come from?" Naruto asked confused.

"You beat Hinata," Shino reasoned. "My first opponent in the finals is Neji. If you beat a Hyūga, I should be good to go if I can beat you."

"But you guys are teammates," Naruto pointed out confused. "Haven't you fought her by now?"

"I don't attack my comrades," Shino replied seriously. "But you aren't my comrade. Just another victim for my bugs."

"That right?" Naruto cracked his fists together with a smirk. "Don't get cocky…you bastard!" Naruto charged at Shino recklessly, his fist connecting with the surprised genin's face.

"Gotcha!" Naruto cheered, but he gasped in surprise as Shino's face cracked into a smirk and converged around Naruto's hand. "What the hell is this?"

"A trap," Shino replied simply, his voice a thousand little buzzes. Naruto retracted his fist as hard as he could, but the doppelganger wouldn't give. Shino disintegrated into a thousand creepy crawly insects and Naruto yelped in surprise as they consumed him and sank their tiny teeth into his flesh.

"I…I'm getting so tired…what is this?" Naruto groaned.

"I really hate repeating myself." Naruto weakly pivoted to his right as the real Shino dropped from the trees. "My kikaichū absorb chakra, remember?"

"S…shit," Naruto put his hands together, ready to activate his Shadow Clone Jutsu, but Shino shook his head.

"I wouldn't do that if I was you…you'd just be squandering your chakra quicker," Shino pointed out.

"Shut up!" Naruto groaned. "What else am I supposed to do?"

"Just give up," Shino suggested as he aimed a punch at Naruto's jaw. Naruto was somehow able to deflect it with his forearms, but as he attempted to punch Shino, he grew weaker and weaker. Shino sidestepped each attack with ease and his enemy screamed out in frustration before collapsing to the ground. Naruto attempted to push himself up but his arms shuddered and he collapsed once more. Shino stood on Naruto with one foot, looking down at his foe with a trace of pity.

"How sad. This is all you had against me? I thought you'd be a better opponent. Guess I had nothing to worry about after all."

Naruto, get up you stupid brat, the Kyuubi growled. I won't allow for my host to experience a defeat this humiliating. It reflects badly on me.

"What am I supposed to do?"

Rise to your feet and I'll loan you some of my power.

"Humph!" Naruto's back arched and Shino slid off in surprise. "NOW you feel like helping? Fine, I guess this is the first step to our friendship."

"What…is this?" Shino gasped as the beetles slowly began to drop from Naruto's body. Struggling to his feet, Naruto's head was the last part he brought up, and his eyes were dilated fiercely, red chakra seeping from his body.

"That's…much better," Naruto sighed in relief as the bites on his skin instantly closed up. Turning to Shino, Naruto bared his teeth. "Now it's your turn!"

"Damn," Shino muttered recoiling as Naruto dropped back down to his hands and feet. What was with him? He was suddenly so fierce, so…primal.

Naruto's fingers extended out and sank into the dirt beneath him as he eyed Shino. "Are you ready for me?" His voice rippled viciously.

Shino crouched defensively in anticipation of Naruto's attack, pulling out a kunai with the edge pointed towards his opponent. Naruto grinned. "Here I go!" He charged.

"I give up!" Shino threw up his hands in surrender, causing Naruto to crash to the ground stupidly.

"W-what do you mean you surrender?" Naruto spat dirt out of his mouth. "We were just getting started!"

"This would only result in my complete loss," Shino turned away from Naruto quietly. "My goal was only to see how you defeated Hinata, but it looks like you had another trick up your sleeve. I'll have to work much harder to be ready for my fight with Neji. Thank you, Naruto."

"Uh, no problem?" Naruto muttered weakly. Shino walked away with a wave and Naruto swore loudly. "I don't understand that guy!"

Still, one good thing came out of this fight, Naruto thought with some measure of satisfaction. At least now I know the Kyuubi is willing to team up with me.


Author's Note: Wow, I didn't realize it's been over two months since the last chapter…my bad, guys. Lots of things have been happening for me. Some of it good, some of it bad, a lot of it time consuming. A few of my big projects right now include a rap battle, a poetry competition (won $100 for fifth place) and helping my boy out with his children's book. Not that I mean to make excuses…just telling you guys what's been happening with me. I know this update was hardly worth the wait, but now that I've finally finished this annoying chapter, the finals can begin (and I'm going to go all out on them).

Crow