Chapter 13: Chūnin Exam Finals

The Chūnin Exam Finals happened twice a year. It was a large event that brought daimyos and dignitaries from all over the world, just to see a good ninja battle between excellent Genins vying for Chūnin. Many people have gathered in the stadium, awaiting the fights eagerly. There was a Kage box, reserved for the Kages. The Sandaime was lounging in a seat, his guard standing behind the chair. Various ANBU dotted the crowds, keeping order. People were finding their seats and making bets with each other. The official Chūnin Exam betting pool was a popular choice for civilians to try their luck, betting on various Genins to win or lose, the time taken for the matches to end and even whether the Chūnin hopefuls will die. Sasuke fan girls were occupying a large section of the stadium, waving their Sasuke banners. Naruto fan girls were less obvious, without the banners, but each had some memorabilia that had Naruto’s name on it, be it t-shirts or paper fans.

Eight of the competitors were in the wide dusty arena of the stadium, with a proctor standing in front of them. The proctor had a stick hanging limply from his mouth, occasionally chewing on the end. Naruto noticed the metallic sheen of the stick, but didn’t comment. The proctor pulled out a piece of paper, and showed it to the competitors. “There have been some changes to the fights. Take a look.”

Dosu’s name was off the chart, and the winner of the Rock Lee-Uzumaki Naruto match would have to fight Gaara for a semi-final spot. Otherwise, everything remained the same. No one bothered to ask about the Oto Genin. It wasn’t worth the effort. The proctor, Shiranui Genma, tucked the piece of paper back into his clothes, and turned to face the audience. “Face the crowd, kids. This is your time to shine.”

They did so, facing the raucous crowd. Naruto could pick out Hyuga Hiashi sitting beside his daughter Hyuga Hanabi; he spotted Kiba and Sakura beside Ino and Choji, the latter munching on chips. Neji was sitting beside his team-mate Tenten, a short distance from the rookies. Gai was spotted near the group of Genins, proudly grinning. Kurenai and Asuma sat beside each other, some way from their teams. Hisana, Rikka, Haku and a disguised Kin sat in the stands, silently rooting for Naruto. Kushina was chatting pleasantly with Anko, while Zabuza was recognisable with his gigantic sword, despite his ANBU mask. The Sasuke fan girls were rather disappointed their love interest was not present down in the arena. At this moment, the Kazekage made his way to the Kage box, flanked by two tall guards. The Sandaime stood up and greeted the leader of Sunagakure. “Welcome to Konoha, Kazekage-dono. How was your trip?”

“It was fine, Hokage-dono,” the Kazekage replied. “It’s good that the Exams are held in Konoha this year, no? Travelling at your age must be tiring. Perhaps you should choose a Godaime soon.”

The Sandaime laughed heartily. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I think I can still keep the seat for another five years before I pick my second successor. But we shouldn’t be concerned about my retirement now. Watching the matches should prove to be more interesting.”

“Agreed.”

Sarutobi stood up, clapping to gain the attention of everyone in the stadium. “Welcome, everyone, to the Chūnin Exam Finals! Please enjoy the fights that the Genins will be putting up!”

Genma took that as a cue to start, and he gruffly told the Genins to leave for the competitor balcony except for Sasuke and Hinata. Sasuke was not present, and that left Genma tapping his feet impatiently. Ten minutes passed, and the crowd was booing, and throwing all sorts of things. Most bought tickets just to see Sasuke, the last loyal Uchiha’s fight, and yet he wasn’t present. Exasperated, Genma declared Sasuke disqualified, and Hinata moved on to the semi-finals. The shy Hyuga made her way back to the balcony. Genma gestured for Temari and Shikamaru to make their way to the arena. The Suna Genin confidently glided down to the arena on her open fan, and glared at the unmoving Shikamaru. A helpful shove from Naruto sent the boy flying into the battlefield, and he grumbled about troublesome blonds and troublesome women.

“Sabaku no Temari versus Nara Shikamaru. Hajime!”

Immediately, Shikamaru’s shadow sprung towards Temari, who leapt back, swinging her open fan with a mighty cry. A tornado of slicing winds erupted from the fan, and sent Shikamaru backpedalling quickly for some cover. He made his way to a cluster of trees, wary of Temari’s blasts of wind. He hid behind those trees, sighing in exasperation as Temari tried to destroy the trees. “Get out here and fight me like a man, you coward!”

“Tch, troublesome woman.” Closing his eyes, he put his hands in a strange hand seal. Kurenai turned to her companion Asuma. “What is that hand seal? Never seen it before.”

Asuma grinned at the red-eyed kunoichi, his cigarette hanging precariously from the corner of his mouth. “That’s Shikamaru’s way of thinking up strategies. Whenever he uses that, he thinks up hundreds of different plans and their results. Every time we play Shogi, and he uses that, I lose.”

“But his grades were one of the lowest in the class,” Kurenai said thoughtfully.

“Yea, and when I asked him about it, he just said that homework and tests were ‘too troublesome’,” Asuma chuckled. “I decided to use a puzzle to test his intelligence. His IQ is more than 200.”

The two turned to the arena once more, just as Shikamaru came out of his thinking pose. The boy’s shadow shot out once more, slithering towards Temari. The Suna-nin backtracked, avoiding the shadow jutsu. Just when she thought she was out of range, the shadow crept further, nearly catching her. His guy is using the shadow cast by the wall to extend his range. I must keep distance constantly. She was so focused on the shadow chasing her she nearly missed a kunai headed for her head. She sidestepped the weapon, and kept her eye on the shadow once more. She didn’t spot what was in the air, but Kankuro did, and gladly informed his sister. “Temari, look up!”

She did so, and noticed a kunai hanging from makeshift parachute, made of Shikamaru’s jacket. The shadow that was cast allowed Shikamaru to extend his shadow even further, nearly catching the blond Genin. She moved back rapidly, and embedded her fan into the ground, as a marker for the distance Shikamaru’s shadow could stretch. Temari was sure Shikamaru didn’t have more parachutes, and the arena wall’s shadow wouldn’t be enough to catch her for now. Okay, so I just send a Bunshin out, and let him try and catch it. Then I’ll nail him. She was about to put her hands in the correct seal, when they snapped to the rat seal. He caught me! But how?

Shikamaru smirked. “You want to know how I caught you? Well, I’ll let you see.”

The boy lifted his head, forcing Temari’s head to follow suit. Up in the skies, a few puffy, fluffy clouds floated idly. “That is my Kokumo no Jutsu. I got it from Asuma-sensei because I wanted to watch clouds even on cloudless days, but it turned out to be pretty useful. The shadows cast by those small clouds were enough for me to catch you.”

Shikamaru walked forwards, and soon, they were facing each other, a few metres apart. Shikamaru raised his hand, Temari following unwillingly. “I forfeit.”

Temari looked stunned as the shadow retracted, leaving her free once more. “What do you mean you forfeit? You caught me!”

“Yea, but I’m practically out of chakra. I’ve thought up over two hundred possible scenarios, and none of them resulted in a victory for me,” Shikamaru shrugged lazily.

“Winner, Sabaku no Temari!” Genma declared. Nara, your ability to fight is rather limited, but the way you conduct yourself in a battle…you have a rather good chance of being Chūnin.

Shikamaru made his lazy way to the crowds, and Temari returned to the competitors’ balcony. Shino and Kankuro were called, but Kankuro immediately forfeited. The Aburame looked rather irked, which for him was a slight buzzing from his kikaichū. The crowd booed loudly once more, and Genma ignored them, calling Lee and Naruto into the arena. The enthusiastic taijutsu practitioner leapt into the battlefield, Naruto using Shunshin instead. Lee had his blinding smile on, while Naruto kept his cool. Genma signalled the start of the fight, and Lee quickly went on the offensive. The blond easily blocked or dodged Lee’s quick punches and kicks, opting to stay on the defensive for the time being. Lee finally realised he was going nowhere, and backpedalled. Naruto allowed the green-clad ninja to remove his intensely-heavy weights, and readied himself. His eyes easily caught Lee’s lightning-quick movements, and noticed that the boy seemed unsure of something.

“Lee, do it! Prove your Flames of Youth!” Gai yelled from the stands, causing anyone in his immediate vicinity to clutch their bleeding ears in pain. Lee apparently heard the words, and regained much confidence. His movements sped up, and all most people could see was a green blur zooming in a circle around Naruto. At some moment, Lee dashed at Naruto, crouched and his foot ready to crash into Naruto’s jaw. The blond coolly grabbed the rising leg, halting it inches from his chin. Lee tried to extricate himself, going on his hands and aiming his other foot at his opponent’s chest. Naruto sidestepped, and tugged at Lee’s leg. The Genin was thrown bodily across the arena, and landed painfully.

Izumo and Kotetsu, sitting in the stands, admired the taijutsu spar. Kotetsu’s eyes looked like they were about to pop out of their sockets. “What speed, and only Genins…that Naruto kid is really a boy wonder. The way he fights is energy-saving, using the opponent’s momentum against him. He’s only countering that Lee’s move, and he’s done more damage than Lee did to him.”

“This is just combat, and any decent ninja can fight. Let’s see how he deals with sticky situations,” Izumo mumbled, feeling rather envious.

Lee sprung up from his position on the ground, looking even more determined than ever. “Yosh! Naruto-kun, your Flames of Youth burn very brightly! But please, stop holding back! You defeated my eternal rival with such ease, and I wish for you to go all out as well!”

Naruto slipped into the Gōken stance. “As you wish.”

The azure-eyed Genin flickered out of view, and his kick was barely dodged by an excited Lee. All the inexperienced people could see was two blurs clashing rapidly, with large chunks of the ground or the walls being demolished at a frightening rate. Those with sharp eyes could spot the red that was splattered on the ground. When the two boys broke apart, everyone could immediately tell the skill difference. Lee was panting heavily, various cuts adorning his body. Naruto looked fresh, without visible injury. Lee straightened himself with difficulty, the Kaimon taking its toll on his body. “Naruto-kun, I must apologise…for I will use a technique that may end your life.”

Hachimon: Kyūmon! Hachimon: Seimon! Hachimon: Shōmon! Hachimon: Tomon!

One by one, five gates were opened, releasing a torrent of power that gushed from Lee. His skin was red, from an increased circulatory activity, and chakra was pouring out like tsunamis. With speed that Jōnins couldn’t match, Lee nearly nailed Naruto in the head with a punch. The Namikaze aimed a fist at Lee’s stomach, but the boy manoeuvred beside the blast of wind and gave Naruto a backhand. The blond flew, and then turned into a log. Lee spun around, nearly hammering Naruto’s head in with a fist if the blond’s reflexes didn’t kick in. Lee kept up the offensive, and Naruto was having difficulty coping with the boost in speed. He was sent flying by a brutal kick to the solar plexus, and crashed against the arena walls. Lee didn’t waste time, dashing towards Naruto. He did an uppercut, and followed with a rising foot to the chin. Lee blurred into motion, and all the audience could see were green streaks knocking the blond around like a toy. Finally, Lee stopped for a second, enough time for people to spot him. He gave Naruto a kick to the chest, and sent his bandages to haul the boy back. With an almighty punch, Naruto was sent careening towards the ground, hitting it at high speed. A large shockwave emanated from the collision, and Lee fell to the ground, landing awkwardly. The Gates were closed, and the green-clad boy’s skin tone was back to normal. Lee’s eyes widened considerably as Naruto walked out of the dust cloud, panting heavily but seemingly unharmed.

“Lee, I am honoured you have gone all out to defeat me. For that, I will give you the same courtesy. Let me show you the ultimate technique of my taijutsu,” Naruto said.

He slipped off his glove, and swiped blood across the gravity seal. The induced gravity removed, Naruto proceeded to close his eyes, and wind chakra sprung up around him like armour. The blond crouched slightly, and in a black and yellow flash, was in front of a startled Lee, sending him airborne with a kick. Naruto joined Lee in the air, and smashed a wind-chakra covered fist into Lee’s stomach. The boy winced, and as he flew backwards, the Namikaze formed a shimmering platform in the air, kicking off. He went past Lee, but he evidently hit the spandex wearer, judging by the shocked and pained expression Lee had on his face. Another ‘air jump’ followed suit, Naruto once more hitting Lee. The process continued, speeding up until Lee was in the centre of what the audience saw as a whirlwind of black and yellow. Naruto then appeared above Lee, dealing a heel kick to the taijutsu practitioner’s gut. Lee fell to the ground, and everyone watched with abated breath as Naruto’s right arm had intense wind chakra swirling around it. The chakra took the form of a fearsome dragon’s head, and it opened its mouth in a powerful roar. Naruto glided after Lee, his fist cocked back. His right arm crashed into Lee’s body just as the spandex-wearing boy hit the ground. A massive explosion was observed, as Genma backtracked from the sudden appearance of cutting winds swirling around the two Genins’ position, creating a whirlwind of large proportions.

The vortex of slicing winds died down, and people could make out the figure of two people in the settling cloud of dust. One stood above the other, and when the dust cleared, it was obvious who won. Lee was prostrate in a crater, unconscious. Naruto was standing at the edge of the crater, breathing heavily. His right arm’s sleeve was shredded, and blood was trickling slowly down his arm. The crowd was stunned into silence, as they had just watched an intense match, when most had deemed it pointless to watch. Kushina looked especially proud of her son, while Gai cried Tears of Youth, at the Youthful display that both his students had put in. Kurenai had her jaw firmly on the ground, and Asuma got his cigarette on his foot. Naruto fan girls cheered wildly, as Genma declared Naruto the winner of the match. Kotetsu smirked at the awestruck expression on Izumo’s face.

“Heh, you wish you had such slick moves huh? Then maybe you can go date a kunoichi without being embarrassed when you spar,” Kotetsu chuckled, slapping his friend on the back playfully.

“What skill level…based on the ability alone, Naruto is the bookmaker’s favourite for becoming Chūnin. To be able to defend against the famous Ura Renge and then deal his final attack is nothing short of miraculous. Not to mention he waited for his opponent to wear himself out before attacking,” Izumo muttered, ignoring his friend’s friendly teasing. “The Council will be hard-pressed not to promote him.”

Any Naruto detractors promptly got a wake up call, as they just realised that they were ostracising and attacking a boy with the potential to be the next Uchiha Itachi, and had developed much of that potential. Itachi slaughtered his clan; the more obsessed ‘demon-haters’ nearly pissed their pants when they thought of how Naruto would slaughter them. They decided that refusing the Genin any service from their shop could have dire consequences on their health. This was especially true, since some have realised Mitarashi Anko was his sensei, the hard way. If they found out that the Kyūbi was living in Naruto’s home and visiting their shops, they would probably all get heart attacks.

Medics came to the field, and gave on-field treatment to Naruto, treating his various cuts that resulted from his own jutsu. The blond declined the idea of a break, and Sabaku no Gaara was called down, for the fight that would determine the last semi-finalist for the Chūnin Exams. The boy Shunshin-ed into the arena, arms crossed. The serious look was destroyed by the manic smile on his face, and the muttering he did at infrequent intervals. Genma was about to start the match when leaves started to flutter, spinning in a hazy dance. Then, standing between Naruto and Gaara, were Hatake Kakashi and Uchiha Sasuke. Kakashi looked the same, bored man, with his Icha Icha out, while Sasuke grew his hair out further, opting for a brown outfit. Bandages and a strap were around his left arm, and his arrogant smirk would not be wiped off by even the appearance of Uchiha Itachi. Kakashi snapped his book shut, eye-smiling at Genma.

“Gomen nasai, we got lost on the road of life,” Kakashi said good-naturedly.

Sasuke just snorted. “Just let me thrash the Hyuga weakling already. I’m winning this tournament.”

Genma chuckled. “You? Win the tournament? I doubt that, Uchiha Sasuke, not with the Uzumaki still in the fight. But anyway, you have been disqualified for being late. Can all spectators, which include you, go to the stands? You are currently disrupting the fight between Sabaku no Gaara and Uzumaki Naruto.”

Kakashi looked somewhat shocked, while Sasuke spluttered, his face red with anger and embarrassment. “How can you disqualify me? I’m an Uchiha! The pride of Konoha! Konoha would be made a mockery if I was disqualified just for being late!”

“And Konoha would be made a bigger fool if we don’t disqualify you,” Genma replied frostily. “Tardiness is not tolerated in our line. What if you were late to protect a client? Late to save a comrade? Hatake Kakashi may be late, but he’s never late for important things like, say, a war. This is an adequate lesson, Uchiha, that you cannot always have what you want in the world. Now go to the stands, or I will evict you, forcibly.”

Kakashi sighed, and patted Sasuke’s shoulder, leading them to the stands. Gai welcomed his eternal rival with open arms, spouting the details of the intense fight between Naruto and Lee. Kakashi pretended not to listen, just to irritate Gai, while Sasuke bumped a willing civilian off his seat, revelling in his anger and his influence. He glared at Genma hotly, before switching his gaze to Kushina and other occupants of Naruto’s Namikaze estates. He noticed another attractive girl chatting happily with the white-haired one, and his jealousy grew. All around, despite the fact that the civilians worshipped the ground he walked on, they were talking about Naruto’s match earlier, and how this match was going to be just as exciting. No longer the centre of attraction, he huffed, and decided to see what made Naruto so strong. Of course, he conveniently turned on his Sharingan.

He gazed at Naruto, and sucked in a startled breath. He couldn’t see the movements of Naruto’s chakra, at all. All around the blond Genin was just a haze of dark blue, making him a huge target for any dōjutsu, but making sure no one could copy his techniques or see his tenketsus, effectively countering both the Byakugan and the Sharingan. He gritted his teeth, grinding them together. He couldn’t believe it. Ever since they became Genins, Naruto was time and time again the saviour of the day, undermining Sasuke’s supposed skill without even trying. And when he tried to gain a foothold, he found out that he couldn’t even copy the Konoha-nin’s jutsus. Damn this! Am I destined to be weaker than him?

Genma started the match, and quickly moved back, knowing the potential damage the two could do. Gaara smiled maniacally. “You have defeated me twice, Uzumaki. Mother wants your blood!”

His sand shield sprung up a moment later, but failed to block the slash from Arashi. The sand shield was cut open, and the ōdachi cut a thin wound across Gaara’s torso, from left shoulder to right pelvis. The boy screamed in agony, and his automatic shield came on once more, attempting to block Naruto’s kick. The wind chakra blasted the sand away like a hurricane would blow a sandcastle down, and Gaara was sent flying by the force of the attack. Temari and Kankuro both shivered in fear of the deadliness the Konoha-nin possessed. Temari gripped her fan tightly, her only solace at the moment. He was able to evade the shield with pure speed back in the Forest of Death, and now he’s penetrating the shield with sheer power. He even cut through the Suna no Yoroi like it was paper! How are we supposed to win against such a monster?

Gaara stood up, growling. He sent an avalanche of sand towards his opponent, hoping to engulf the azure-eyed Genin and complete the deed. Naruto merely raised his own shield, sending the speeding sand scattering around him. Gaara grinned bloodthirstily, as the sand crept up Naruto’s legs. The boy’s eyes widened, as the sand covered his lower half, up to his waist. With a clench of his fist, Gaara crushed the bottom half of Uzumaki Naruto.

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The explosion was spectacular, sending debris and sand flying in all directions. Genma shielded his eyes from the dust, as Gaara roared in frustration. His Suna no Tate was penetrated once more, this time from behind, as Arashi cut though layers of sand, slicing his gourd of sand in half. The gourd dissolved into grains. Naruto continued his dominance, stabbing his sword through Gaara’s right shoulder. The insomniac’s eyes bulged, while Naruto removed his blade, readying another blow. The Suna-nin clutched his shoulder, the wound being the very first deep wound he had ever received in his life. What is this feeling? Such intensity…red…so much red…is this my blood? So much of it is coming out…MOTHER! I’m dying! ARGH!

A tsunami of sand erupted from Gaara’s position, forcing Naruto to backpedal quickly. A cocoon of sand surrounded Gaara, giving him protection. An eye of sand formed outside the sphere, observing things on the outside while Gaara prepared whatever he was doing. Naruto frowned slightly as he studied the sphere. This sphere is evidently a part of his arsenal, meant for buying time as he prepares a jutsu of large magnitude. I have no doubts that the sphere will have defensive mechanisms to protect the user within. I will have to discover these mechanisms and formulate a plan to penetrate the sphere before Gaara completes his technique.

Naruto formed a clone, sending it towards Gaara’s cocoon of sand. Spikes of sand erupted from the surface of the sphere, impaling the clone and blowing it up. When the dust cleared, the sphere stood, not a scratch on the grainy surface. Naruto closed his eyes, analysing the technique. The sand is sentient as proven by the shield earlier, and will defend Gaara with spikes. The Bunshin Daibakuha did not work, which means that blunt damage will not suffice. I would need a piercing attack, or something that can harm Gaara without having to penetrate the sphere. I do not possess many piercing attacks, most of which are Raiton jutsu which I am not as proficient at. The way I see it…

Naruto opened his eyes, forming several hand seals, ending at the tiger seal. He took a deep breath, and from his mouth, a concentrated jet of flames shot out. The attack hit the sphere, and while the sphere was strong, it was not built to counter high temperatures focused on one spot of the sphere. Slowly but surely, the sand was melting, coagulating at the base of the sphere as a puddle of glass. A hole was gradually formed on the sphere. The intense heat was felt by even Genma, who was sweating at the intensity of the jutsu. Gaara, the recipient of the attack, felt the effects almost immediately. The cocoon of sand did not allow for any ventilation. The air within was quickly heated, and Gaara was sweating profusely, despite having lived in the desert of his whole life. He could also see a red spot forming in front of him, growing in size as the sand was turned into molten glass. His turquoise eyes widened in fear.

Naruto released the jutsu just as it was about to punch through the barrier. He was lacking enough breath to finish the technique, but he doubted anyone would use Katon: Karyū Taiga as a piercing technique like he did. The sphere took a long time to reform, partly from the loss of sand and partly from the heat. Naruto regained his breath. Normally, I would have pierced the sphere already, but it seems more resilient than I originally thought. If I can’t defeat the user before he completes the jutsu, then I will have to disable his ability to fight right now. Arigato, Jiraiya-sensei.

Naruto formed several hand seals. “Doton: Yomi Numa.”

The ground beneath Gaara became a swamp of dark, bubbling mud. The sphere sunk into the swamp quickly, and was halfway buried in the swamp in a matter of seconds. Knowing that the Suna Genin could easily surprise him with an attack, he created a Kage Bunshin, which formed hand seals, erecting a swirling dome of wind. Hisana gasped loudly, which drew the attention of most people around her. “He’s going to use it? But that’s too dangerous, especially if he loses control! What is he thinking?!”

“What is this jutsu you are talking about?” Kushina asked hurriedly, worried for the well-being of her son.

Hisana sighed. “Well, he learnt Kaze no Yaiba, and created a variation of it. He first managed to create the blade fifty metres away from his body, in any position he wanted. Then he made more and more. The technique is basically to have a thousand blades of wind flying everywhere, controlled by the user. If he loses even a bit of concentration, the blades will either dissipate or fly aimlessly, killing one or two people before it runs out of chakra holding it together. With a thousand of it running out of control, can you blame me for being worried?”

Eyes were once more riveted on the battle, as Naruto shut his eyes. A large output of chakra was detected by the Jōnins, and one after another, shimmering blades of wind formed all over the arena, forming a dome of a thousand blades, aimed at Gaara’s sphere of sand. Genma was far, far away from the powerful Genins, but he heard Naruto’s words clear enough.

Senyaiba Arashi no Jutsu.

Izumo was sobbing in a corner of his mind, wishing he had such skills as a Genin. Kotetsu had stars in his eyes; he planned on asking for an autograph and the chance to do a biography for the blond later on. To say the Kazekage and the Hokage were amazed was like saying Sasuke was mildly arrogant; a huge understatement. “Hokage-dono…you have a very powerful young Genin here. I have no doubts that technique will leave even me with trouble.”

The Hokage nodded. “He didn’t use it during our spar, so I never knew of its existence. Perhaps I should take up your advice, Kazekage-dono, and groom a Godaime. Naruto, to be exact.”

Anko munched on a stick of dango, deep in thought. Gaki, you amaze me time and time again; to be able to analyse the technique’s ability and purpose, and picking a jutsu that would suit your needs. And when that didn’t work, you went on to make sure whatever is prepared will not come to fruition. Not to mention you went one step further, preparing an attack that would basically kill any ninja below S-rank. Good planning, but a bit heavy on the chakra usage…and a lot of overkill. You have the mark of a Chūnin, that’s for sure.

The sand sphere slowly dissolved, revealing a snarling, half-demon Gaara stuck waist deep in the swamp. The redhead’s right arm was encased in sand grotesquely, while half of his face was covered by sand, forming the features of a ferocious and mad tanuki. Gaara thrashed about in the swamp, unable to escape the hold. Naruto sent about ten of his swords towards the immobile Suna-nin, cutting deep gashes across his left side, and tearing through the sand arm. Gaara howled, the sand quickly reforming on his arm. Slobbering, Gaara clawed his way out of the swamp, Naruto directing more blades at the Genin. Once the Suna-nin was out, he dashed at Naruto with impressive speed.

The blond brought all his wind blades bearing down on Gaara, earning a roar of pain from the jinchūriki. Blades pinned down the bloodthirsty Genin, half-transformed into a miniature Shukaku. The audience was shivering at the sight of the monstrosity, while Temari and Kankuro were nervous wrecks, not prepared to see Gaara transform so early. Temari was especially anxious. Why isn’t the signal released yet? Gaara’s already transforming!

A cloaked ANBU was trying to initiate a jutsu, but was spotted by other ANBU, and quickly, it turned into a ninja fight, the civilians ushered away by Chūnins disguised amongst them. A blanket genjutsu was placed to cover up the fight, avoiding any suspicions from others. Back in the arena, Gaara was screaming loudly, demanding release, while Naruto watched on calmly, ready to react to any attack. The Kazekage seemed rather tense at that moment, and the Sandaime easily spotted the tension. “Kazekage-dono, are you worried about your son? Don’t worry, Naruto-kun will not kill him.”

“Iie, I am not worried,” the Kazekage replied coolly.

Gaara tried to wriggle his way out of the bind, but the blades of wind held firmly. Genma was about to call the match, when the Suna Genin released a concentrated burst of golden chakra. The chakra disrupted the chakra flow of the blades, causing them to collapse into wisps of wind. The boy lunged at Naruto, with the blond hopping nimbly out of the way. Naruto narrowed his eyes as he dodged the mad leaps of the jinchūriki. Gaara laughed crazily, saliva flowing out of his gaping mouth. “Uzumaki! You entertain me greatly! Your death will prove my existence!”

Naruto quickly considered the situation. Taijutsu is not viable at the moment, due to the overwhelming strength Gaara possesses at the current moment. Weaponry will not harm him, so my only hope is ninjutsu. Earth is not useful in current context, but the other elements are possibly effective. Naruto formed numerous hand seals, and from his outstretched palm, yellow swallows crackling with energy emerged, soaring at Gaara. Gaara swung his sand-swathed arm, swatting away half of the swallows with little effort. The rest of them crashed heavily against the redhead’s exposed left side, sending hundreds of volts of electricity into the body of the Genin. Gaara roared in pain and anger, as the electricity numbed his nerves and disorientated him. Unable to focus his attention on Naruto, he thrashed about in the centre of the arena, attempting to catch Naruto with a stray hit.

The cerulean-eyed Genin moved a safe distance away, noting with slight displeasure that lightning would not work. Fire, as proven by the earlier attack on the sand sphere, would take too long. So Earth, Lightning and Fire are all not viable. That leaves Water and Wind. A spinning mass of water grew in front of the blond, and once it was blocking the Genin from sight, it blasted a swirling torrent of water from its centre, flooding the arena. Gaara held on by sinking his monstrous hand into the ground, but it was to no avail as the water quickly took him of his feet and smashed him against the arena wall. Genma wished he had protested when the Sandaime asked him politely to be the proctor of the Chūnin Exam Finals, as he was forced to use chakra and stick to the walls, avoiding the water. Geez, do these kids know what is holding back? Preventing collateral damage?

Kakashi smiled indulgently as he watched his student use techniques that could devastate entire squads of ninjas with ease. Sasuke fumed silently, as Sakura vehemently told herself that her ‘Sasuke-kun’ could do just as well against the force of nature that is Sabaku no Gaara. Anko rubbed her hands in glee; she placed her dango money on Naruto, and the odds were impressive. No one believed the Genin could get past Gaara. Zabuza could only smirk behind his mask, watching Naruto throw jutsus all around like they were nothing. What amazing chakra capacity…to be able to use so many chakra-exhausting techniques in quick succession. Even I would need soldier pills at this point of time, but he doesn’t even look winded!

The other Genins were in awe of Naruto’s strength as they watched the battle progress. None had truly expected the blond to possess that much strength. Shikamaru ran through various simulations of a battle against Naruto, and he was quickly convinced he would end up defeated every single time. The Naruto fan girls were cheering madly for their crush, as the boy dominated his fights. Hisana grinned widely, pleased with the Konoha-nin’s performance. Kushina never looked prouder, watching her son fight. You’re just as amazing as Minato-kun. A prodigy among prodigies…you certainly inherited your father’s genes. I’m sure he would be proud of you too, Naruto-kun.

The water would have reached the waist of Naruto if the sapphire-eyed Genin was not standing on the surface of the water. Gaara stumbled out of the hole in the wall, breathing heavily. The sand around his arm was drenched and bit by bit, it fell into the water with small plops. The half-crazed boy howled, and swung his arm at Naruto. The Namikaze sliced the wet balls of sand into pieces with Arashi, the missiles breaking apart as they dropped into the water, sinking. Gaara did not give up, throwing more sand at Naruto. The Konoha-nin ignored the second barrage of Suna Shuriken, instead forming hand seals. A tornado of huge proportions was created in front of Naruto, easily dispersing the bullets of sand. The water levels were lowering, but much was sucked up by the tornado, creating a concentrated hurricane. As speeding winds roared, and a light spray of water hit everyone, Naruto brought out Arashi‘s powers, striking the towering vortex with lightning. Yellow arcs of lightning crackled in the jutsu construct, and as rain pattered against the ground, Gaara felt an emotion he had never experienced before. Fear. Why…why hasn’t he died like others? Why is he still standing? Why am I…losing?

The rain was slowly eroding the sand that covered Gaara’s right arm, and despite Gaara’s increase in speed, he was easily caught by the whirling vortex of destruction. The winds tore at his exposed skin; the water threatened to drown him, while lightning fried his body. A whole minute later, the rain cleared, and the jutsu died down. Gaara crashed heavily on the ground, seemingly exhausted. Genma landed lightly on the wet ground, about to declare Naruto the winner, when a loud, high-pitched laughing was heard. It emanated from Gaara, and when the boy stood up shakily, his eyes were no longer turquoise. They were replaced by a golden star in each eye, his sclera a jet black. Sand rose from underground, enveloping Gaara’s left arm as well. Remnants formed a crude tail, and the Suna-nin’s features were covered by a thick layer of sand. Gaara resembled a mini-Shukaku with human legs, but was no less dangerous.

I’m free!” Gaara exclaimed, laughing maniacally. “I can have so much fun now!

The possessed jinchūriki turned his attention to Naruto, before grinning widely. “YOU! You are strong…you must be really tasty!

With a powerful lunge, the Shukaku-controlled Gaara closed the distance between Naruto and him. At this moment, a loud explosion occurred at the Kage box, and all hell broke loose.

<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>

Chapter 14

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