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The shinobi of Suna who had never experienced the power radiating off of Gaara couldn't quite understand why their superiors were shaking, sweat forming over their brows. To them, all that had changed was that one of their targets had most likely used a forbidden technique to enhance his own power for a short period of time, and in doing so, something drastic would happen to him in the long run. Forbidden techniques were forbidden for a reason, after all, even if they did heal fatal wounds without any medical techniques being employed.
Even around the fight that Kakashi was having with several of the shinobi, they all paused momentarily, the copy ninja's eyes widening as he recognised this chakra from the battle on the bridge with Zabuza and Haku. Unlike then, however, it wasn't fluctuating as randomly, remaining on a steady level while making Kakashi question just how much Jiraiya had been teaching Naruto about how to control such power. Solidifying his resolve to see just what his students were now capable of doing when they returned to Konoha, Kakashi made good work of the confusion as his kunai swung through the air, causing blood to quickly be absorbed by the sand.
A few ninja watching the spectacle steadied their nerves as they looked at the crimson aura radiating around Naruto. As opposed to Gaara who they were used to, the blond in front of them bled. As the saying went, 'if it bleeds it can be killed.'
"I won't be intimidated any longer, not by you and not by Shukaku!" shouted one of the shinobi as he started going through a mixture of seals that both Sakura and Naruto knew well, just before they slammed their palm into the ground and caused a giant cloud of smoke to appear from out of nowhere. Barely a second had passed before a beast of gigantic proportions appeared from the smoke, its claws snapping loudly as its poisonous tail hung menacingly in the air.
"Scorpion, huh?" mused Naruto, seemingly not phased at all by the ominous figure in front of him, which was currently bantering with the summoner. Many of the other shinobi had created some distance away from the scorpion, knowing full well of the poison that was excreted from its tail and how dangerous it was. "Hey, Sakura, do toads eat scorpions?"
Sakura blinked out of her stupor before smiling, not even bothering to respond as Naruto's hands flicked through identical seals to the one his enemy had used before slamming his hand into the ground. The Suna shinobi could only watch in fear as a cloud of smoke much larger than the one that had covered the scorpion was formed before it revealed Gamaken, the clumsy toad standing there in all his glory. "You have summoned me somewhere unfamiliar," stated the giant toad, as he tried to gain an understanding of the surroundings before his gaze settled upon the scorpion opposite him.
"Gamaken," said Naruto from atop the toad's head. "I'm going to go down and deal with all of the remaining ninja. You reckon you and Sakura can handle that thing and its summoner?"
"I shall do my best, Naruto, but know that I am quite clumsy," replied the toad, doubting of his own abilities.
"And that's what I like about you," said Naruto with a smile which showed off his elongated fangs.
"Wait, you want me to take on somebody who can summon that?" asked Sakura, understanding what Naruto was asking of her.
"Sakura," started Naruto as he turned to look at his pink-haired teammate, the red chakra flames still dancing off of his body. "I know that you can do this, even if you don't know it yourself. As much as it hurts me to say this, there will be times where Sasuke, Kakashi, and myself won't be there to help you. So show me that now that you are a capable kunoichi and that the rest of your team doesn't have to be watching over you every step of the way."
"Naruto," said Sakura slowly as she absorbed not only what Naruto had said but also the way he had said it. Hearing something like this come from the usually energetic blond was disheartening, his cheerful demeanor replaced with something so serious that she couldn't help but wonder if this was a result of his training with Jiraiya or a side effect of accessing the Kyuubi's chakra.
She didn't doubt the strength that was resonating off of Naruto, nor did she deny having watched gaping wounds heal in seconds, but she couldn't help but wonder just what side-effect this would cause and if Naruto's attitude was such an example. Had it been because of the infulx of the Kyuubi's chakra, the seriousness of the situation finally bearing down on him or was it because he had revealed the secret he had kept bottled inside for so long? Before she could utter another syllable, the blond teenager vanished from sight as he leapt off of Gamaken and fell towards the sand beneath him.
"Are you prepared, young miss?" asked Gamaken as he readied his weapon and shield, the scorpion's claws loudly clicking against one another.
"As ready as I'm ever going to be," said Sakura as she steeled herself, determined to prove Naruto's words true.
Hinata's eyes widened as she watched the sound ninja down in the arena land a strong blow to Shikamaru's stomach. The fight hadn't been going on for long, but it felt as though it had already been drawn out for hours. The opponents had only used the most basic forms of attacks throughout the fight - a kawarimi here, a clone there - and it had soon become a very stale match to all the onlookers. Hinata noticed that the quiet audience reflected that quite well, while they had been roaring loudly during Chouji and the sand girl's match, they were far quieter now.
She breathed a short sigh of relief when she saw Shikamaru dash out of the kunoichi's range, and watched as what could only be described as a game of 'cat and mouse' ensued. Looking away from the battle, she shot a nervous glance towards Lee. The Hyuga wasn't quite sure when exactly she would be fighting her brother's teammate, and a strong feeling of anxiety shot through her body.
She didn't expect to win the fight. Maybe if she used the cursed seal she would stand more of a chance, since apparently it enhanced her combat prowess by a lot, but Hinata found herself very hesitant to even entertain the thought of using something so dark in front of so many people. The crowd looked like it was housing almost all of Konoha's ninja population, and much of the civilian population too.
Even worse was that her family were within it. What would her father think if she were to lose to Lee after all the training she had gone through? Would she become weak and useless in his eyes?
Then there was Hanabi, and there was no telling what her reaction would be if she were to lose to Lee - especially given the manner in which Hinata had ruthlessly pounded her younger sister only weeks prior. Hinata shook her head slightly as she recalled the conversation she had had with her sensei, not half an hour ago.
"Relax, Hinata, it's all going to be okay." A steady hand placed itself on her shoulder and the girl glanced up to see the smiling face of her sensei.
"I-I have to win, though," said the girl as she shook her head almost as if to dismiss what had gone unsaid between the two.
"No, you don't," said Kurenai firmly. "Lee has much more experience as a ninja than you do, so there's nothing wrong with losing to him. And besides, you've improved a lot recently, so who says that you won't even manage to beat him?"
"But he and Neji nii-san train together," replied Hinata, the eyes of both student and teacher glancing towards the pair of rivals who were standing on the other side of the box. "He knows a-all my techniques, and Neji nii-san is better at th-them too."
"Neji is very strong," admitted Kurenai, "but that doesn't mean that he's better at all of your techniques. And you apply them very differently to how he does."
"Still, I don't stand a ch-chance," said Hinata with a frown. "I'm too weak."
"You know that's not true," said the Genjutsu master as she pat her student on the shoulder gently. "You're very strong, the fact that you have made it even this far is testimony to that."
"But, K-Kurenai-sensei, everyone else did too," the girl gently gestured her head towards everyone else standing in the room.
"You're amongst the first rookie Genin in years to have been nominated for the Chunin exams," said Kurenai with a proud smile. "Then, out of the three rookie teams that entered this exam, you're apart of the the only two that made it to the third stage. I think that's quite the accomplishment."
A smile graced Hinata's features. Maybe she wasn't that horrible a ninja after all. "Thanks, Kurenai-sensei."
"Don't worry about it, Hinata," the woman said with a nod. "Just remember that you're far from weak; I only managed to get past the second stage during my third time taking the exams."
"Really?" the younger girl asked curiously.
"Yeah," said Kurenai. "My team was quite an odd one… I'll have to tell you about it once we're done with these exams."
Hinata beamed as she thought back to her sensei's kind words. It was as though she had known just what to say. Feeling a little less anxious about her ever-looming fight with Lee, she turned back to the arena just in time to see Shikamaru bind Kin with his Kagemane Jutsu, his plan having come full circle. Watching Kin forfeit now knowing the bind she was in, gave Hinata hope for one reason or another that perhaps she too could pull off an upset victory.
"Would Hyuga Hinata and Rock Lee please make their way towards the arena floor for the next match?"
A queasy feeling almost instantly filled Hinata's stomach as she trembled slightly. She knew that she would have to fight Lee and that there would no be getting out of it. Heck, she had even been looking forward to the fight an hour or so ago, but now that the moment had finally arrived, she couldn't help but let her doubts get the worst of her.
She looked towards Lee who had apparently had the same idea and flashed her an encouraging smile before wordlessly jumping off the balcony and somersaulting onto the arena floor. Her heart fluttered for a moment, and in that second a hundred different thoughts ran through her head. How was he so confident, so self assured… so careless?
As he boldly proclaimed that he would display the fruits of his labour for everyone to hear, Hinata couldn't help but see Naruto within the bushy-browed boy. For the second time that day, a strong, comforting hand made its way onto her shoulder.
"Go on, Hinata, you can beat him no sweat!" exclaimed Kiba, patting her gently. "Show all of us what you can do."
"R-Right," she nodded appreciatively, however it was clear that the girl was still very unsure of herself.
"Just imagine that Naruto is watching," said Shino, knowing that if there was one thing that could motivate the girl it was the bubbly dead-last. "Do the best that you can and I am sure he will be appreciative once he returns from his mission."
"Yeah, you're right," she said breathlessly, her confidence slowly rising. While the queasiness within her stomach didn't feel as though it was going anywhere soon, her head felt a lot clearer and she wasn't trembling half as much. She clenched her fists. "I've got to do my b-best for all of you."
"'Atta girl," said Kiba with a smile. "Now go get 'em. Everybody's waiting."
The female member of Team Eight merely nodded in understanding as she looked down towards the arena one final time before her fight. The crowd was roaring in anticipation, likely excited to see a Hyuga fight, and Lee was doing his best to not look impatient.
She took a deep breath before proceeding to the stairwell; though she was flexible, she did not share her spandex-clad opponent's dramatic flair. Even without the use of the Byakugan, she could tell that all eyes in the box full of the exam's participants were on her, however she did her best to ignore it. According to Neji, not many people knew just how strong Lee was because of his demeanour, so they were probably wondering how a match between two weaklings would go.
Hinata bit on her lip as she reached to push the door open, however the person on the other side beat her to it. Her eyes widened as she came face to face with her cousin for the first time since their little chat the previous night.
"Hinata-sama," he nodded approvingly, a tone of respect audible in his voice. "I wish you good luck and look forward to potentially fighting you in a later round."
Even though she had formed something of a friendship with her once extremely-cold cousin, it was still a surprise to see him genuinely compliment her. He had said that he looked forward to fighting her… that meant that he was expecting her to win. Her cheeks reddened as she found herself unsure how to respond to the subtle but rare compliment.
Thankfully, she didn't have to as her cousin reached forward and placed a gentle arm on her shoulder, slowly guiding her out of the room and down the staircase. "Go," said Neji. "I'll be watching."
"I-I won't disappoint you, Neji nii-san," she said triumphantly as she looked towards him with newfound confidence. A glistening look in his right eye and another curt nod was the only response she got before she hurried down the stairs, figuring that she had wasted enough time already.
Her heart almost skipped a few beats as she ran down the two flights of stairs, and she would have said that it almost stopped altogether when she stepped through the door at the bottom and into the arena.
"Ah, you're finally here," said the proctor, not using the voice enhancing Jutsu as he spoke to her. "It's about time."
She muttered a quiet apology and moved quickly to stand opposite Lee, who was now wearing what looked like the biggest grin possible on his face.
"Yosh! Hinata, I see that you are still eager to see who's flames of youth burn brighter," exclaimed Lee as he threw a fist up.
"Y-Yes, I'm looking forward to this match," said Hinata unsure of how else to respond.
"Being the cousin of Neji, I am sure that you will not disappoint me," he said before extending his hand. "Good luck."
"Thanks," she clutched it lightly and shook it. "I hope you do well too."
"Well folks, if our two opponents are ready," said Genma with a pointed look towards both of them, "let us start. Hyuga Hinata vs Rock Lee… begin!"
Lee did not need any invitation and smashed a fist into her left cheek in what seemed like a second after the proctor announced the beginning of the match. It hurt like almost nothing else she had ever felt before, and she was sure that she would have trouble moving her mouth, but that did not stop her from leaping backwards to evade his follow up, her Byakugan flaring to life as she settled into a stance.
Hinata let her jaw hang slack as she moved it around a little, hoping to somehow numb a little of the pain while she eyed Lee very cautiously. He had displayed incredible speed and ridiculous strength already, so she couldn't help but feel that she had underestimated the boy going into the fight. The fact that she had spent much time mulling over the fight was just a testament to the boy's strength.
Lee's next move was something that she didn't expect. Instead of utilising his speed and lashing forth once again or tossing a shuriken at her, he smiled. Hinata couldn't help but feel nervous as he did so, concentrating on looking more carefully through her bloodline as she became worried about just what he was up to.
"I think you will prove to be a truly worthy opponent, Hinata," Lee said with a nod. "Yes, I now see that Gai-sensei was right in saying that Kurenai-sensei truly knows how to throw the branches in the fires of her students."
Hinata's eyebrow raised suspiciously. Lee seemed like an odd character; a nice guy sure, but an odd person nevertheless. The power he had on the battlefield, however, was undeniable… what was his next move going to be? Was he trying to trick her or maybe prepare some powerful technique?
She decided that this time she needed to make the first move. "I think you are very s-strong too, Lee," she said, biting down on her lip to conceal her true intentions as she flashed him a smile.
Within a moment's notice, she had connected with the tenketsu located in his right forearm and had another Jyuken strike aimed at his left shoulder blade, the boy with a bowl cut managing to pivot on one foot in order to avoid it before spinning around and smashing a foot into her shin. She grimaced as she crumpled to the floor, managing to keep enough of her balance so that she remained on two feet.
An arm grasped her shoulder and attempted to swing her around, but the Hyuga managed to break free by thrusting her kneecap into Lee's stomach, the force of the move forcing him to let her go. Both parties leapt backwards to catch their breath and trade a few words.
"A most unexpected move," commended Lee, referring to Hinata's use of a non-Jyuken move. "Neji rarely uses other moves, but I digress; I should have not assumed that you were him."
The concentrated look on Hinata's face broke, a smile replacing it as she thought back to very similar words that her sensei had said earlier in the day. 'Neji is very strong... but that doesn't mean that he's better at all of your techniques. And you apply them very differently to how he does.'
"You can use momentum very well," said Hinata, figuring that she needed to compliment him too. "And I have never seen someone move their arm after being hit there with a Jyuken strike."
Lee merely grinned, a cocky look on his face which promised that everything was not as it had appeared. "Though you are different to Neji, the two of you use similar techniques."
She decided to take a page out of the green clad Genin's book and lash out with a strike, but Gai's prodigy was ready. He grabbed her extended hand and twisted around elegantly before letting go, sending her crashing towards the floor with a mighty thud.
She leapt back up a second later and threw a kunai - which had been carefully concealed up until this point - at the boy. Though it wasn't a conventional move for a Hyuga, Lee could not use Ninjutsu so he would have to evade or deflect it. However, almost no matter what he did, she would be on his tail a moment later, and given that the Gentle Fist could shut down the body in almost half a minute, she was willing to wager she could do so good damage to the boy.
He raised up his left hand - the one which didn't have a damaged tenketsu - as the kunai approached, but Hinata could not see what the boy intended to deflect the weapon with, despite her Byakugan. Paying it no mind - the chance was far too valuable to pass up - she rapidly closed the distance between herself and Lee, preparing to strike out with her right hand, however what the boy did next caught her by surprise.
Just like that, he plucked the kunai out of the air as if it hadn't been flying towards him with enough force that it could probably dent steel. Her eyes widened further when she realised what the boy was about to do next and quickly threw her arms in front of her face in attempt to defend it. It was to no avail, however, as the very kunai which she had fired towards Lee came flying at her and pierced through her shoulder.
Lee's face became more serious, but the boy made no attempt to attack further as Hinata winced in pain, forcing herself to yank the embedded kunai out of her body. A glance to her left shoulder confirmed her suspicions; it had made its way straight through her jacket and had come in contact with skin.
"I apologise for that," said Lee as though the hadn't been in the middle of a fight. "However, I will have to inflict further damage upon you if you do not give up."
"I can't give up," she said, absentmindedly looking towards her father in the third row of the crowd. "I n-need to try my hardest."
"Then so be it," nodded Lee in understanding. "It is not surprising that your flame of youth was not so easily snuffed. Shall we resume?"
Hinata took one last look towards the wound which was now leaking a small amount of blood across the sleeve of her white jacket. Oddly enough, the pain had already become easy to ignore. With a nod that she was prepared for what Lee would throw at her, Hinata leaped backwards almost immediately as Lee's foot crashed into the ground where she had been standing a split second earlier.
As soon as her foot touched the ground she had sprung forward, hoping to get some manner of surprise upon the spandex-wearing Genin, and as her pointed fingers jabbed forward, she found that even with her Byakugan activated she couldn't follow his movements as he vanished from sight.
Pain exploded forth as Hinata's jaw was kicked upwards, Lee having gotten within her guard and knocking her head backwards with enough force to rattle her skull. Not slowing down on his assault, Lee's elbow was driven into Hinata's stomach, causing bile and blood to escape from her lips.
For several seconds nothing moved before Hinata's form slumped off of Lee's extended limb and she dropped to the ground. With a sigh that the battle was over, Lee pumped his fist up in excitement as he turned around and looked into the stands, hoping that Gai would be happy with his youthful display.
Several painful jabs landed through Lee's back, making the boy gasp out in pain before he jumped a safe distance away and turned around to see that Hinata was standing once more, albeit on shaky legs. Heavy breaths escaped her lungs as she struggled to keep her Byakugan activated. That had been her last chance, and while she had managed to deal several blows, she had nowhere near the strength necessary to unleash one of her more powerful techniques.
Lee couldn't help but feel pride swelling up at the youthful display that Hinata was showing, but knew that her flames were dwindling and that sadly he would be the one to snuff them out. Bounding forward with explosive speed, Hinata watched as Lee's fist burst through the air towards her face, but she didn't have the strength needed to lift her arms to block the attack.
With a sickening crack, Lee's fist was driven into Hinata's nose, blood spraying through the air as the Hyuga heiress was knocked off her feet and into the dirt of the arena. The proctor watched as Hinata failed to move for the better part of ten seconds before lifting up Lee's arm.
"Winner: Rock Lee!"
The audience, which had remained silent as they watched the Hyuga battle the youthful Genin, erupted in applause as they cheered not only for the victor, but for the defeated who had given everything she had had to give upon the battlefield.
There was no shame in this defeat.
Sakura watched from atop Gamaken's head as the giant toad and scorpion did battle, the amphibian blocking several venomous tail stings with the brunt of his shield. Even though it had only been a couple of minutes since the two colossal-sized beasts began battling, it had been enough time to recuperate and analyse her situation.
For her opponent to have summoned such a sizeable creature, it would have meant that they would have been Chunin in rank. A thought went through her head that they could potentially be Jounin, but since they had lost their composure just before summoning the scorpion, she doubted whether such a title would have been bestowed upon somebody who couldn't keep control of their emotions. If her theory was correct, then she could imagine that a good percentage of their chakra would have been used during the technique, and they wouldn't be restoring their chakra reserves as quickly as they could be as they would have to use their energy in order to remain standing atop the summon, much like how she was at the moment.
Even though she roughly knew all of this, it didn't make the upcoming fight any easier. There were only two things that kept her running away from the battle. One was that she couldn't wait to tell Ino that she had leapt off the head of a giant toad in order to engage with an enemy in close combat before emerging victorious. Secondly, was that Naruto had faith in her.
Considering the abilities she had just witnessed from her blond teammate, she couldn't blame the change in attitude. His words, however, had held so much meaning behind them, it was as if he was a different person entirely. During the battle in Wave, she had temporarily frozen defending Tazuna while her teammates fought Haku. Had the ice-wielder been able to defeat her fellow Genin, then there would have been nothing she could have done with her limited abilities at the time. Even now, she didn't know whether or not she would have been a match for Zabuza's apprentice, but she knew one thing for certain: She wouldn't have gone down without a fight.
As Gamaken knocked a claw to the side, Sakura saw her chance as she leapt from the toad's head and dove head first towards the beast beneath her. Noticing that her opponent hadn't even reacted to her speeding towards him, Sakura's hands flicked through multiple hand seals as she prepared to unleash the one jutsu she hadn't learned from a scroll but rather from her teammate.
"Katon: Gyogaku no Jutsu!" she shouted before exhaling a giant fireball from her lips, immediately feeling the drain on her chakra reserves. Her opponent was able to react and leap out of the way of the incoming projectile, but the scorpion, however, had no time to react as the flames burned upon its carapace. While the animal was used to the heat, by no means was it used to fire burning into its flesh.
Nearing the tender spot, Sakura released her jutsu as the scorpion thrashed about in pain before she landed on its back. She then reached into her back pocket, pulling out a vile she had been carrying. While the Suna Chunin still watched on, stunned as they tried to regain their balance, Sakura used a kunai to cut open a small hole in the burnt flesh that she was standing upon before uncorking the container in her hand. Due to both the price of the ingredients and their rarity, she had only been able to produce a single vile's worth of poison, and while it should have lasted several battles, she knew it would all be used in a single go.
This poison was the creation she was most proud of to date, one that with a single drop would cause paralysis in a human after half a minute, provided that her target didn't know a way to cipher the poison out of their system or slow the rate at which it travelled to their nervous system. For the scorpion, however, she knew that more than a single drop would be needed as she poured the entire contents into the hole she had made.
"Get away from there," shouted the Suna shinobi as they tossed several kunai at Sakura, who did her best to dodge many of the projectiles but wasn't quick enough to avoid all of them as one of the blades lodged itself in her shoulder.
Ignoring the pain, Sakura yanked the kunai from her shoulder and held it defensively as she felt the summon underneath her begin to slow in its movements, almost swearing that she heard it mutter the word 'poison' through chitinous teeth. To be honest, she really hadn't planned much further than this, and now that she was in direct conflict with the enemy, it would be all improvised from here. She just hoped that her training paid off.
It did - to start with, at least - as she ducked underneath a swipe that would have seen her bleed out from the neck. Leaping backwards to gain some distance between her and the shinobi in front of Sakura, she managed to deflect the next attack with the kunai in her right hand before swinging out with the blade in her left hand, managing to leave a cut in the fabric of their shirt but unable to draw blood. They didn't seem to mind, however, as they pressed the attack, and Sakura couldn't figure out whether they simply weren't thinking straight or if they wanted to kill her just that badly.
Weighing up her options, Sakura didn't notice that, while she was stepping backwards, she was getting close to the edge of the scorpion until it was too late and she began to fall backwards. Flailing wildly, she managed to grab hold of a piece of the carapace only to find herself looking directly into the scorpion's eye, the beady pupil staring directly at her.
"It ends now!" shouted the Suna shinobi from above Sakura, who looked up to see the enemy holding a kunai above their head as they prepared to drive it into her skull. Sakura's mind quickly raced over all her possibilities as the weapon was thrust towards her. It would never strike true, however, as the Suna shinobi was mercilessly swatted to the side by Gamaken's sasumata, knocking the foe sideways with all the force a giant toad could muster.
"We will meet again," muttered the scorpion before it vanished in a giant puff of smoke, causing Sakura to drop towards the ground below her. Before she hit the sand, however, she found a sloppy appendage catch her and she couldn't help but be incredibly grossed out by the fact that Gamaken had stopped her fall with his tongue of all things. While she wanted to voice her disgust, she couldn't deny the fact that he had just saved her life, and as such, she would keep her anger at bay for the moment, although she would be sure to wash herself very thoroughly later on.
"Are you alright?" asked Gamaken as he placed Sakura upon his head.
"I'm fine," said Sakura as she did her best to shake the saliva off of her body.
"I'm sorry for my clumsiness," apologised Gamaken.
A broad smile crossed Sakura's lips at the giant toad's unnecessary apology. "You did great," she said before her eyes focused on the task ahead. "Now let's end this fight."
Hiashi sat by the unconscious form of his daughter, the rest of the competition as far away from his mind as possible. While many of the people in the stands wouldn't have witnessed a spectacle where the competitors chucked Jutsu after Jutsu at each other, in his eyes he had watched the greatest match of the day.
First and foremost he had to give credit to Rock Lee, the Genin who had managed to put his daughter in this state. For anybody to be able to go toe to toe in a Taijutsu match against a Hyuga would normally be seen as suicidal, but the kid was impressive; very impressive. He guessed some of the credit would have to go to the fact that Lee was on the same team as Neji, and as a result, would have been able to understand the Hyuga style of fighting and create a counter way to attack a Hyuga if the need ever arose. Even though he had pushed Hinata's speed, strength, and endurance to their peak, against an opponent like the one she had faced it was always going to be an uphill battle.
That didn't mean that he wasn't proud of her. Every time she had been knocked down, Hinata had gotten back to her feet just as quickly, determination burning in her eyes. Somebody must have said something to her before the match that had allowed her to put everything into the bout from the get go.
He doubted whether any of the family members who had watched the fight would have anything negative to say about the result. Hiashi was well aware that, in the Chunin Exams, it didn't truly matter if one won or lost so long as they provided enough skill for the judges to decide whether or not they were worthy of a promotion. While Hinata had fought bravely and with everything she had in her arsenal, he doubted it was enough to garner her a promotion, though. After some much needed rest, he would resume her training personally so that by the time the next set of exams came around, his daughter would proudly wear the title of 'Chunin of Konoha.'
He swore this, not as the head of the clan, but as the father of Hyuga Hinata.
The Suna shinobi, for lack of better phrasing, were practically on the verge of shitting their pants. Whenever Shukaku went on a rampage, one knew what they were up against and that was lots and lots of sand. Sand was something one could combat with the right equipment and enough preparation. The red demon in front of them was not Shukaku by any stretch of the imagination, but if anything, he was able to draw out more fear than the one-tailed beast ever could.
The path of scattered limbs was testament of that.
A recently graduated Chunin held out a kunai defensively as Naruto approached him with lightning speed, and a brief pause occured as he felt the weapon in his hand impale Naruto. Whatever relief had covered his face became no more, as Naruto's arm struck forward with unseen speed and extended directly through the teenager's chest, his still beating heart clutched within Naruto's palm.
As Naruto tossed the body to the side without a hint of remorse, his eyes scanned the horizon for his next victim, but before he could make a move, a shinobi appeared in front of him, a Sharingan eye staring directly at the Jinchuuriki.
"Naruto, calm down. The battle's over," said Kakashi as he put a reassuring hand on Naruto's shoulder, ignoring the pain that the venomous chakra did to his hand. "We found the body of the Kazekage. Someone killed him beforehand and set up this entire thing. We were played, none of this had to happen."
Naruto's feral look started to change into one more reminiscing of a human once more, elongated fangs retracting to look like normal teeth. Behind Kakashi, the shinobi that had been fighting the Sharingan-wielder explained to the remaining fighters that when they had been battling the Konohagakure Jonin, they had stumbled upon the body of their leader, and a ceasefire was immediately put into play.
The fight had ended.
As the last traces of the Kyuubi's chakra exited Naruto's system, he looked behind him to see Sakura walking towards him, a giant plume of smoke indicating that Gamaken had gone back home for the time being. The look on Sakura's face was one of stunned disbelief as she looked upon the bodies lying in the sand, some twitching while others were unmoving in the slightest. The pink-haired Genin looked at her teammate, trying to understand just how the usually cheerful boy in front of her had been able to kill these people, not by a simple slash across the neck, but by ripping them to shreds with his bare hands.
Sakura knew that Naruto was struggling to come to grips with what he had done, the look on his face as he held the heart in his hand a dead giveaway. As the organ dropped from his fingers, he collapsed to his knees and expelled the contents of his stomach. Sakura closed the distance between them and patted him on the back, not sure what else to do in this instance.
Kakashi stood protectively over his Genin, knowing that what Naruto was feeling right now was natural. He still had his guard up, however, as he didn't put it past any of the ninja nearby to get revenge on any of them for what they had done. They would need to sit down and break down what happened and who they should direct their anger towards.
He knew where they would be heading, however. They'd be making their way towards Konoha. Kakashi remembered how he and his team had supposedly come across the 'Kazekage' on their journey to Suna. By now they would already be in the village, and the only thing he could really do would be to send a hawk and hope that his message was received in time.
There was one other thing niggling away at his senses, though, as he covered his Sharingan lest he suffer from chakra exhaustion. As he looked over the endless plains past where shinobi were helping themselves back to their feet and treating serious wounds, there was one thing that stood out most of all.
Sasuke was nowhere to be seen.
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