Chapter 9: Forest of Death

“This, Genins, is Area 44, also known as the Forest of Death!” Anko grinned maniacally, scaring more than a few Genins. “And this is where the second part of the Chūnin Exams will take place! Aren’t you just excited?”

Several shivered. Anko’s grin grew wider. She pulled out two scrolls from her voluminous trench coat, the white one with the kanji for ‘Heaven’ and the brown one with the kanji for ‘Earth’. “You will be in Area 44, and each team will get one of these scrolls. You will fight each other for the scrolls.”

So that’s what she meant by cutting our numbers in half, Sasuke thought, as Anko continued her explanations. “The Forest of Death has 44 gates, is twenty kilometres wide. A river cuts through the Forest, and there is a tower in the centre. Your objective is to grab a scroll that creates a matching pair of Heaven and Earth scrolls, and head over to the tower. There is a time limit of 120 hours, which translates to five days for those who can’t count.”

“Five days in that forest without food?” Choji said, almost fainting from the idea.

“There’s plenty of game in there. Just be careful of the giant bugs and man-eating tigers,” Anko shrugged. “When you reach the tower, you must have all team-mates alive and a pair of Heaven and Earth scrolls to make it in.”

The purple-haired kunoichi started handing out forms. Shikamaru voiced the question on everyone’s minds. “What are these forms for?”

Anko’s smirk was full of bloodlust. “These are consent forms, to say that if you enter Area 44 and die in there, it’s not my business.”

“And what happens if we open the scrolls in the forest?” Shikamaru posed another question.

“There’ll be a nasty surprise for you. Take this as a test of your credibility. As a Chūnin, you’re supposed to handle sensitive documents,” Anko said. “Take about half an hour to decide if you want to enter the Forest of Death, and we’ll give your teams your scrolls.”

The woman paused. “Oh, and Naruto, as a single candidate, you need two sets of scrolls. I want to see your ass at the Tower in five hours, all four scrolls there, got it?”

The blond nodded slightly. Most teams decided then and there to avoid Naruto as much as possible. The Oto team wondered why ‘Nakata’ was called Naruto, and Gaara just smiled in a way that almost made Kankuro piss his pants.

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Each team entered the tent to collect their gate numbers and scroll. Team 7 was confident mostly, with Sakura feeling inferior until her encounter with Ino, which spurred her competitive side on and gave her ego a boost. Sasuke’s ego was really enough for the whole team, but that guy keeps everything to himself, even his ego. Sharing was not Sasuke’s strong point, and never will be. Team 8 was just as confident, since their skills were orientated towards tracking and reconnaissance. Kiba was bragging about how they bagged the thing already, while Shino was trying to keep to his calm, stoic Aburame character. Hinata was doing her finger-tapping, obviously nervous about the whole Exam.

Team 10 was rather dysfunctional, with an overbearing, infatuated blond, a lazy and unmotivated cloud-watcher and a gluttonous and eternally feeding gourmet. It was a wonder they survived thus far, even if their missions were D-rank. Yamanaka Ino was pumped, ready to impress Sasuke despite the boy not even close by. Shikamaru was plotting a way to escape Ino’s bitching and find a nice spot to cloud watch. Choji was still worried about food. Team Gai was confident and pumped. Rock Lee was the very definition of pumped, as he was doing push-ups with one hand, while spouting stuff about the Springtime of Youth. Yes, it is with the capital letters. Neji was like the stick in the mud most Hyugas were, glaring at most other Genins, and acting cool. Tenten was playing with her weapons nonchalantly, a pro at the use of sharp, pointy objects.

Team Baki was just waiting to finish the damn thing already. Gaara was impatient to fight and kill Naruto, while Temari and Kankuro just wanted to get over with the Exam. Gaara was just too good to be stopped in a measly forest. The female on the team was already thinking about hot baths in a few hours’ time, while Kankuro was planning on reading his secret stash of Icha Icha. Naruto stood outside his assigned gate, giving his equipment a last minute check. Kunai, check. Shuriken, check. Scrolls, check. Arashi, double check. Emergency weapons, triple check. Earth Scroll, check. The blond nodded in approval, before glancing curiously at the rather excited looking Chūnin. He looked like a recently promoted Chūnin, from the excited, jumpy fidgeting he did.

“Is there a problem, Chūnin-san?” Naruto inquired. The Chūnin looked like he was about to faint from sheer joy.

“Is it true? Did you kill the famous Daimyo Killer Hoshigaki Kisame?” the Chūnin asked excitedly. “You must be extremely strong! Why aren’t you in ANBU already?”

“Hai, it is true, but I decided to join ANBU after I become a Chūnin,” Naruto replied, eye-smiling. He felt good vibes about this teen. “Work hard, and you may make it into ANBU or get a promotion to Jōnin.”

The Chūnin nodded, eager to absorb all knowledge the azure-eyed boy imparted. Then, a loud horn sounded. Chūnins all around Area 44 opened the gates, and Genins dashed in, all excited about the prospect of an all out fight, no holds barred. As Naruto moved in, he wondered briefly about the name the Chūnin gatekeeper gave him as he entered the forest. I wonder who spread that name around. Konoha no Fūjin (Wind God of Konoha) sounds corny enough to be Anko-sensei’s work.

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Five minutes into the second part of the Chūnin Exams, and Naruto had sent three man squads of Kage Bunshin to find teams and take their scrolls. He headed for the tower, having planned to wait there for his Kage Bunshin to deliver the scrolls to him. On his direct route to the tower, having been accustomed to the Forest’s fastest ways to the tower, he met a team of Ame-nins. He smoothly pulled out a kunai, and deflected all ten senbon aimed for his vital points.

“Not bad, kid,” a voice sounded from behind the blond. “But not good enough!”

A kunai sliced through the Genin, but suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke. Startled, the Ame-nin looked around frantically, stilling in fear when the cold steel of a sword was pressed lightly against his throat. Naruto was every bit the dangerous, stoic elite shinobi. The blond’s hand reached for the man’s weapon pouch, but quickly formed Kage Bunshin behind him. The doppelganger plucked five senbon from the air, throwing them back at the person hurled them. Two more Ame-nins stood on a tree, looking rather excited. Both had their umbrellas out, ready to be used. Naruto calmly channelled chakra through Arashi. Storm clouds brewed, as a light rain started. Rainwater pattered on the canopy of the Forest of Death. The Genin being threatened laughed loudly. “Are you stupid? Using rain against Ame-nins is just asking for death!”

Naruto plucked the Earth scroll from the (presumably) leader’s pouch, tucking it into his own weapons pouch. The rain was getting heavier, and apparently, the kunoichi of the team was smart enough to realise the rain was not affecting Naruto unduly, but was starting to hurt for them. A lot. “Shimatta! We gotta leave! This rain’s not normal! It’s like an acid! Even my umbrella cannot hold on for long!”

The leader cursed, and Naruto released his prisoner of sorts. The Ame-nin stumbled away, running off with his team “I’ll get you next time!”

The blond shook his head, keeping Arashi unsheathed and keeping the rain around. He was experimenting with the rain, and how it could be used to detect presences in a wide area. It was a perfect time to confirm his theories.

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Team 8 was in turmoil, as Kiba argued with Shino about their tactics. The brash Inuzuka was shouting at the stoic Aburame, while Hinata tried to relieve the tension in their group. A team of Ame Genins spotted this, and smirked. Just as the leader was about to release a whole barrage of needles at the unknowing Konoha-nins, the Genins faded. The leader almost shouted in surprise. Something wet and slimy landed on him with a squelch, and immediately, he felt a sharp pain and a drain. Feeling weak, he tried to get his team-mates to help, but it appeared they were in the same predicament.

“Hah! You guys are so dumb, you actually fell for our Bunshin!” Kiba taunted, as he went over to collect the Heaven scroll. “Great, now we have a match, we can head to the tower!”

“Shouldn’t we help them?” Hinata asked timidly, tapping her fingers together nervously.

“Hah! Why should we? They suck so much, they might as well rot here!” Kiba shouted, puffing his chest out.

Shino pushed his glasses up slightly. “As much as I disagree with Kiba’s reasons, leaving them in this situation will eliminate a threat to our chances.”

“See, even Shino agrees with me!” Kiba boasted. “Why don’t we look around, and take out some more teams! That way we’ll have even less competition!”

Team 8 left the horrified Ame-nins for the Konoha giant leeches, their screams echoing throughout the forest.

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Team 7 heard the screams, and Sakura shuddered in fear. Not ten minutes into the test, and I hear screams…this is getting scarier by the minute. Thank Kami I have Sasuke-kun with me. And Sai isn’t useless, I suppose. Sasuke smirked, anxiously awaiting the challenges ahead of him. As the trio walked towards the tower, Sai suddenly stopped. Sasuke shot him a questioning glance, which he answered with a plastic smile.

“I need to take a leak,” the boy said, unzipping his pants.

Sakura yelled, furious. “What the hell is wrong with you! Don’t do such dirty things in front of a lady!”

Sai looked partially confused, his pants halfway unzipped. “What lady? You mean Sasuke?”

“ME!” Sakura screeched, attempting to bonk Sai, but missed. The boy headed off to the woods. “And I thought you, as a fellow male, wouldn’t mind. I should have guessed you were gay and would feel excited seeing my dick…ugly hag.”

Sakura let out a roar of righteous fury, but stopped when Sai threatened to pee right on her. The girl relented, allowing the black-haired enigma to answer nature’s call.

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Thus far, within twenty minutes of the second part of the Chūnin Exams, Naruto had two Earth scrolls, and one of his clone squads had informed via Clone Communication© (mainly, creating a clone and dispelling it) that they retrieved a Heaven scroll. He planned on rendezvousing with the squad near the river. As he moved towards his destination, he sensed about six Genins together. Most likely two teams that is friendly with each other. I must be careful approaching them for scrolls. Naruto was right in his assumption, as one of them somehow detected his presence (well, he wasn’t really hiding, but he was still using stealth) and a barrage of kunai made their way towards the blond’s position. As the blond dodged, more shuriken and projectiles appeared, nailing him. A Genin crowed in satisfaction, until Naruto disappeared in a puff of smoke, revealing a battered log. Kuso! He pulled a Kawarimi out of his ass!

The six Genins clustered together back to back, wary of the new arrival. They were all Taki-nins, and appeared to have a deep camaraderie. One of them, a boy with medium length dark hair, had his eyes closed. Naruto deduced that he was the one to find him, and the cerulean-eyed Genin masked his presence with Meisaigakure no Jutsu. The boy cursed, and the other five turned to him. He had a serious expression on his face.

“That guy…just disappeared off my radar. I can’t find a trace of him,” he announced seriously. A kunoichi looked especially shocked.

“But Akira-kun, your ability at detection is unrivalled! You have even found ANBU while they were hiding!” the kunoichi said apprehensively.

The boy named Akira narrowed his eyes. “That’s why we must be very careful. He was alone, with a very powerful, but hidden chakra signature. I compared him with my father’s chakra signature for that brief moment I sensed his presence, and…he is definitely as strong, if not stronger than father.”

Another boy gasped. “Impossible! A Genin can’t have strength greater than Shibuki-sama! He’s our leader! With the Hero’s Water, he can beat even Kages!”

Akira sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I have no doubt he is watching us now, waiting to attack. This is a dangerous foe, and possibly a spy or assassin after something important. We mustn’t let down our guard. Believe me, for I have never been wrong at judging strength. This guy…he’s a powerhouse. If he goes all out, I will bet none of us will survive.”

“What do we do now? Run?” the kunoichi asked, eyeing her surroundings.

Akira shook his head. “There’s no point. He will just catch up, and pick us off one by one. No, staying here is the best choice, since if he attacks, we can all react to it.”

All of a sudden, a loud sound of moving water could be heard. A roar was the next sound, as a large, dangerous-looking dragon rose above the trees, beady eyes trained on the group. Each of them got ready to run, but as the water construct rushed at them, each of them found a steely grip on their ankles. Looking down, they muttered colourful words, trying to break free. It was to no avail, as the hands pulled them down into the ground in a flurry of dirt. The dragon broke apart, its role of distraction and intimidation completed. Six Naruto clones stood above the Taki Genins, each with slightly fearful but defiant eyes glaring at the clones. Naruto walked out of the woods, trench coat billowing.

“I have to applaud you, Akira-san, for being able to find my presence,” Naruto complimented, something he hardly ever did. He hardly ever spoke to anyone he didn’t know. “It was impressive, the way you kept everyone calm and together. Your logic is also sound.”

“What do you want with us?” the boy asked boldly. “Your chakra signature is one that belongs to someone way past the strength of even ANBU. Are you a spy or assassin sent to kill me?”

Naruto shook his head, as he collected the Heaven and Earth scrolls from his clones, ones that they pinched while dragging the Taki-nins down into the earth. “I am neither. I am just a Konoha Genin trying to complete the second part of the Chūnin Exams.”

“But how? Your aura tells me that you are no normal Genin,” Akira questioned, trying to wiggle free. If only he could move his hands…

“Don’t bother. I have chakra reinforcing the earth surrounding your bodies,” Naruto said offhandedly. “As for my strength, it is from training, nothing more. I already have two Earth scrolls, and I was planning to meet my Kage Bunshin to get another Heaven scroll. This Heaven scroll here will allow me to get to the tower. I will leave you with this Earth scroll. The chakra around you will fade in approximately twenty minutes’ time, and you can free yourself by then.”

“You have potential,” the blond said as he walked away. “But remember, ninjas strike when the enemy is distracted. Never assume the first move is the real move, no matter how grand it appears.”

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Sai walked back into the clearing where Sasuke and Sakura were waiting. The pink-haired girl huffed angrily, pointing an angry finger at the boy. “What took you so long?”

Sai smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. “Sorry, but I got lost.”

At this point, three kunai were thrown at the male, only to be dodged with a loud yelp. The shinobi glared at Sasuke. “What the hell was that for, teme?”

Sakura voiced her opinion too. “Sasuke-kun! Why did you attack Sai?”

“Sai will never rub the back of his head, and he smiles like a fake. He doesn’t curse, only insults people. You’re a poor imitation of Sai; you even got his weapons pouch put on wrongly. Drop the Henge already,” Sasuke said arrogantly.

“Hehe, rumbled,” the boy muttered, and in a puff of smoke, an Ame Genin replaced Sai. The boy drew a kunai. “I’ll be taking your scroll now.”

Sasuke fell into a taijutsu stance, adrenaline rushing though his veins. “Bring it on.”

The Ame-nin tried to stab Sasuke, but the boy knocked the hand away with ease, starting a quick barrage of punches and kicks that left the beige overall-wearing Genin dazed. A Katon: Hōsenka no Jutsu later, the Genin was unconscious, slight burns adorning his body. Sakura gushed at Sasuke’s strength. Sasuke searched the body of the Ame-nin, finding no scroll. At this point, Sai walked back. Sakura looked relieved. “Sai! We got attacked, but Sasuke-kun beat him! Where were you?”

“I was taking a leak, hag. Are you deaf as well as ugly?” Sai asked pleasantly, incurring the wrath of Sakura. Sasuke sighed. No one can imitate Sai to that degree. It’s the real him. “We should make a password, in case we are split up.”

Sakura nodded, impressed with Sasuke’s brains. “Sasuke-kun, you’re so smart! What should be the password be?”

Sasuke thought for a moment. “The password will be ‘Sakura’.”

The Haruno blushed, as Inner Sakura did cartwheels in the delusional girl’s head. CHA! He made us his password! It proves that he loves us deep within his heart! We just gotta make that bit surface, and he’ll be all ours! Take that, Ino-pig! SHANNARO!

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Naruto collected his last scroll, and bounded off for the tower. He skipped his way past a few teams, wishing to make it to the tower as soon as possible. In three minutes of non-stop sprinting, he made it to the tower, four scrolls in hand. The blond pushed open the door, musing about whether he broke the records for reaching the tower. The doors closed with a loud bang. Naruto found himself in a large hall, a huge board positioned on a wall. The ex-jinchūriki read the text, remembering it as something the Sandaime told him before.

I guess it is time to open the scrolls. Anko-sensei implied that the scrolls should not be opened in the forest; however, she never said anything about opening them in the tower. The blond pulled out all four scrolls, creating three Kage Bunshin to help open all four at one go. They did so, and Naruto recognised the seals immediately. A summoning seal, for a person? Interesting…

The four Narutos threw the scrolls to the ground, and in a puff of smoke, a man appeared. Naruto’s eyes curved into upside down Us as the man was revealed to be none other than Iruka. The man’s eyes were wide open in confusion and shock. “Naruto? But how? It’s not even an hour since you entered the Forest of Death!”

The blond shrugged. “I assume you are the one to greet me and tell me that I passed the second part of the Chūnin Exams?”

To his credit, Iruka got over his shock quickly. “Hai, Naruto. Seeing as you completed so fast, you have about five days of rest before the third stage begins. You can re-enter the Forest if you wish, but that will mean you are an open target for other teams.”

Naruto nodded, wandering off to explore the tower.

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Akamaru barked nervously as Team 8 trekked through the trees towards their goal. Kiba frowned a bit. “Akamaru says that there’s a very strong guy nearby. He can detect chakra, and see the strength of the guy. He’s getting pretty scared of this guy.”

Shino tucked his hands in his jacket pockets. “We should investigate possible threats.”

Kiba grinned, punching his palm. “Yea and maybe if they beat each other up, we can get even more scrolls! C’mon team! Let’s go!”

Team 8 went closer, and Akamaru’s whimpers got louder. Kiba shushed his dog and whispered to his team-mates. “Akamaru’s really scared. We gotta be careful.”

“Hinata, please use your Byakugan,” Shino requested. The timid girl nodded, putting her hands in a seal. Byakugan! The kekkei genkai allowed the girl to spot the powerful team quickly. “It’s the team from Suna. They are fighting a team from Ame.”

Team 8 moved closer, hiding in a bush while observing the fight. The Ame team’s leader was cocky, as he sneered at Gaara conceitedly. “Look at what we got here. A bunch of snot-nosed Suna Genins. Hand over your scrolls, and we’ll let you go.”

“And why should we?” Kankuro snorted. “It’s not as if you can do much against us.”

“Oh yea?” the Ame-nin smirked, pulling out three umbrellas. “Let’s see what you can do against me!”

“Mother desires blood…” Gaara said softly. “I will kill all of you, to give Mother blood…”

Kankuro and Temari quickly stepped back, unwilling to keep any closer to a bloodthirsty Gaara. When Gaara wanted blood, they preferred it not to be their own blood. Better let the foolish Ame-nin be sacrificed than they die. The Ame-nin threw his umbrellas up, opening them with a hand seal. Hidden on the inside of the umbrellas, were thousands of needles. With a grin, the Ame-nin released all his needles in a burst of chakra.

“You want blood? I’ll give you blood…your blood!” the man cackled, as his needles sent up a cloud of dust where Gaara once stood. Kankuro and Temari looked on, unfazed by the attack. The Ame-nin was confident of his victory, until the dust cleared. A sand barrier was wrapped around an impassive Gaara, blocking every single needle. The Ame Genins clearly weren’t expecting this.

“Impossible! How can some flimsy sand stop my needles! My needles can pierce through three inches of high quality tempered steel!” the man said, unable to believe his eyes.

“Gaara is a manipulator of sand, and uses his sand for attack and defence. He can use the sand to protect him from all directions, blocking the most powerful of attacks. What’s more, Gaara cannot control his sand’s defence, which means it’s completely automatic. So no matter what you do, you can’t hurt Gaara,” Kankuro explained. “Just give up. Genins as old as you ought to retire already.”

“I won’t lose!” the Ame-nin declared, throwing some more senbon, which were blocked by the rising sand. The sand then swiftly moved towards the man, who couldn’t escape its grainy clutches fast enough. The sand wrapped around him like a tightly woven cocoon, preventing any escape. Gaara picked up a discarded umbrella, opening it up over his head. “You made it rain needles…I will make it rain blood.”

Sabaku Sōsō!

Bloody sand rained, as the Ame-nin was crushed within the sand. Gaara lowered his clenched fist, as the remainder of the team shivered in pure terror. They quickly put down a scroll, begging for mercy. Gaara didn’t give any. He wrapped both in his sand, making the coffins of Sabaku no Gaara’s creation rise above the ground.

“I applied more than enough pressure to crush your leader. He felt no pain. I will grant you the same courtesy,” Gaara intoned, as he crushed the two to oblivion. Kankuro sauntered over to the scroll, whistling happily as they found a matching scroll to the one they have. “Hey! We got a pair! Now we can go to the tower!”

“I want more blood,” Gaara said coolly. Kankuro narrowed his eyes at the youngest sibling of the Sabaku trio.

“You may be invincible, but Temari and I aren’t! We’re going to the tower!” Kankuro demanded. “Why won’t you be a good little brother, and listen to me for once!”

“I never regarded you two as my siblings. If you get in my way, I will kill you,” Gaara replied coldly. He shot a glance at some bushes, which Temari caught.

“Gaara…please listen to me once, as your older sister. Let’s go to the tower,” Temari pleaded. The red-haired boy gave one final stare at the bushes, and left quietly. The Suna triumvirate were soon gone, and Kiba tumbled out of the undergrowth, where Gaara had been gazing intently at. Kiba scratched a whining Akamaru’s head absentmindedly, trying to keep his bile down.

“That was cruel and bloody…we gotta stay clear,” Kiba shivered.

“You are right. We should give them a head start, so as to avoid clashing,” Shino commented, holding back the urge to hurl. Hinata gave in and vomited, right after she stepped on a pool of blood.

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Team 7 travelled almost leisurely through the forest, and their bickering was almost acting like a beacon for enemy teams, if not for the fact that the Uchiha clan’s reputation was acting like a deterrent. The Uchihas were elite, and no one dared approach. It was this kind of highest regard that made Sasuke’s ego inflate to something larger than a hot-air balloon, but we’ll keep it at that.

It came all of a sudden. A small breeze suddenly turned into a gust of wind, and Sai, being nowhere close to an anchor, was sent flying away. Sasuke managed to grab hold of a tree, and dragging Sakura along, he kept himself holding on with chakra. The gust died down quickly, and Sasuke took a quick look around. Sai was nowhere to be seen, and Sakura was acting like a lovesick idiot after being ‘rescued’ by her ‘heroic knight-in-shining-armour Sasuke-kun’, imagining herself as a ‘damsel-in-distress’. Honestly, the girl should just wake up and see that she was not a damsel, and thus couldn’t be classified as a damsel-in-distress. Moreover, a ninja wearing shining armour would just paint a huge target on him. Kumo-nins would love to attack the ‘knight’, that’s for sure. Metal, incidentally, is a great conductor of electricity.

Sai reappeared soon enough, several scratches and bruises, but otherwise fine. Sakura looked reassured when their team was back in order, but Sasuke was naturally suspicious of Sai. “What is our password, Sai?”

“It’s ‘Sakura’,” the boy replied confidently. Sakura was smiling, just slightly happy to see her team-mate without major injuries, but Sasuke just threw a kunai. The boy dodged, and smiled in a sick, twisted way.

“You’re not Sai,” Sasuke deadpanned, readying another kunai in his hand.

Sakura hated to reprimand her crush, but the paranoia was getting out of hand. Seriously, that was the second time he attacked Sai, even if the first time was an impostor! “Sasuke-kun, what are you doing! That’s the real Sai! He said the password correctly, didn’t he?”

“He did say the password correctly, but Sai would have said something along the lines of ‘ugly hag’ instead of ‘Sakura’,” Sasuke explained. “I knew someone was watching us when we made the password, so I deliberately chose your name.”

Sakura grinned happily when she thought of how smart her Sasuke-kun was, totally ignoring the fact that it was something she, as the brainiest kunoichi, should have picked up on just as easily. Inner Sakura was applauding Sasuke in her mind loudly, setting up banners and hugging an imaginary Sasuke. Yes, she was one obsessed girl, blinded by her crush, and walking the ninja way with all her senses blocked and her legs broken. Basically, she was courting death, and ruining the image of all kunoichi in the process.

“Well done, Sasuke-kun. I expected as much from you,” the Sai fake said, before turning back into a tall Kusa-nin. “Let’s see if you can live up to my expectations…”

The Kusa-nin’s hand went to her yellow, serpentine eyes, drawing Sasuke and Sakura’s gazes to the eye. In an instant, a large, concentrated burst of killing intent hit the duo, sending them images of their death with a subtle genjutsu right on top. The combination made the feeling of death so real, when it was over in a second, Sasuke found himself unable to move in fear. Sakura collapsed on her knees, sobbing silently. Sasuke tried to get away from the ninja, but his body wouldn’t react. The Kusa-nin tutted softly as she approached the two, two kunai in hand.

“I expected much more of you, Sasuke-kun. Killing you will be so simple, now that you can’t move,” the Kusa-nin remarked, throwing both kunai, one at Sasuke and the other at Sakura. Sasuke’s eyes widened as the kunai inched closer to his forehead and marking his death. His hand twitched, slowly moving for his holster. Move, move, MOVE!

In a flash, the Uchiha was gone, bringing Sakura with him. The two kunai hit a tree with a thud, causing the Kusa-nin to smirk. Using pain to overcome your fear…very innovative, Sasuke-kun. I can’t wait to see what else you have learnt so far.

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Sasuke clutched his thigh tightly, gritting his teeth in pain. The rash act of stabbing his own leg was effective at getting him to move, but it was restricting his movements currently. Sakura was still incoherent, but was slowly recovering from the ordeal. Sasuke looked around nervously, afraid of the Kusa-nin. That person is not normal…we must run! We have no chance against her!

Luckily, Sakura was gaining her composure back, as she started to shout. Sasuke slapped a hand hurriedly over her mouth, keeping her silent. The pink-haired kunoichi pointed wildly behind the frantic boy, and when he turned around, he wisely let go of Sakura, jumping out of the way of an enormous snake. The huge maw of the reptile smashed the tree they sat in, sending wooden splinters flying in all directions. The snake reared its scaly head towards Sasuke, whose fear was driving him. With a loud cry, he fired numerous shuriken at the serpent, following up with a Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu. With an unearthly screech, the snake fell. Sasuke and Sakura breathed a sigh of relief, until the scales at the top of the snake’s head started to rise in a lump, forming the Kusa-nin.

“Impressive, Sasuke-kun, to defeat my summon so easily,” the tall ninja praised. She retrieved an Earth scroll from her clothes, brandishing it around. “You need this scroll don’t you?”

Her jaw stretched widely as she swallowed the Earth scroll in one gulp. The scroll was visible as it travelled down the gullet. The sickening sight almost made Sakura puke. The Kusa-nin smirked. “Then let us battle for the scrolls, with our lives on the line!”

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Sai got out of the small trench he dug when he flew off due to the attack. He brushed off some dirt from his clothes, and looked around. There was no sign of his team-mates, and the boy resolved to search for the Uchiha and Haruno. He stopped in his tracks when he heard a loud hissing, reminding the ink-user of a snake. Twisting his head slowly to the side, he saw a huge snake, forked tongue flicking in and out of its mouth. The snake stared at Sai with what looked like hunger.

Kuso, Sai thought as he jumped away, dodging the gaping mouth intent on swallowing him whole.

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Anko sat at the top of a shack, munching happily on a stick of dango. Finishing off the treat, she casually threw the stick at a tree, completing her Konoha leaf image made solely of dango sticks. She wondered if some teams have made it to the tower already. The good teams should already be there by now…I wonder if the gaki made it in the five hour time limit I set him. At this point, a Chūnin hurried to her.

“Anko-sama! Come take a look at the footage from the tower!” the Chūnin panted, urging the kunoichi to follow him. Wondering what seemed so important, she followed languidly. The two reached a room, where Kotetsu and Izumo were seated in front of a television, watching the video with barely veiled shock. Kotetsu pointed at the screen, and then stared at Anko.

“Did you pump your student full of steroids?” he asked suspiciously, earning an incredulous glance from Anko.

“What do you mean? If he’s a single candidate, obviously he’s more skilled. He made it in five hours, I presume?” Anko said, sauntering over to the screen. Heh, maybe I get to hold this over Gai and Kakashi’s heads! Those two are the best to mess around with. Izumo sent a withering glance at the second examiner, which caused her to glare right back. “And what exactly is the problem here? Jealous that you can’t match him?”

“Look at the time, Anko-san, and tell me if you’re trying to kid us,” Izumo replied calmly. The scantily clad Tokubetsu Jōnin rubbed her eyes as she looked at the time indicated in the video. She rubbed her eyes again, before sitting down beside the two Chūnins, gobsmacked. Izumo sighed.

“It’s not doctored, Anko-san. Your student did make it to the tower, all four scrolls present, in forty minutes. That’s unprecedented in the history of the Chūnin Exams. The record was five hours, and that was your very own team, Anko-san,” Izumo remarked. “Why the heck did you even put him in the Chūnin Exams? He’s easily past ANBU level!”

The purple-haired woman shrugged. “He said he’s not entering ANBU until he becomes a Chūnin, plus I thought it will make it a good experience for him. It’s not often you get to fight shinobi of other countries without repercussions.”

“He’s most likely to end up as Chūnin,” Kotetsu remarked, as they watched the tape. “I mean, he doesn’t even have a scratch or a speck of dirt on him! I doubt a squad of seasoned Chūnins can complete this in forty minutes without getting injured.”

“Meh, I bet he’s not even trying,” Anko snorted. “That kid holds back so much, I’m starting to think he’s stronger than the Sannin. Mark my words, in three years’ time, he’s going to be past Kage level.”

Before the three could continue the discussion on the blond Genin, another Chūnin burst in, panting like a dog. “Anko-san! We found three bodies of Genins supposed to enter the Chūnin Exams! Their faces look like they’ve been melted off. Come and take a look!”

The kunoichi’s eyes narrowed as she processed the news. He’s back…but what is he after? “Lead the way.”

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Anko, an ANBU squad and two Chūnins stared at the bodies of three Kusa-nins, all with their faces seemingly peeled off. Anko picked up the identity card that belonged to the tallest ninja in the team, narrowing her eyes. It was the face of the Kusa-nin currently fighting Sasuke and Team 7. Orochimaru…what do you want, masquerading as a Genin? What are your goals?

“Go inform Hokage-sama that Orochimaru has infiltrated the Exams!” Anko barked. “I’m going after him! Send in a few ANBU squads as well!”

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Ibiki stood before the Sandaime, who was smoking his pipe. His brows were furrowed as he looked at the note from Naruto. The man sighed heavily, age having seemed to finally catch up with the legendary shinobi. “This is problematic…”

“If the Yakushi is a spy, we’ll just send an ANBU squad to clean up,” Ibiki said. “I don’t see the problem here.”

“You don’t understand the whole situation, Ibiki…” the Sandaime said, rubbing his temples in frustration. “Naruto has reported that the Oto Jōnin smelled suspiciously like snakes. It is a clear indicator that the Jōnin is very close to Orochimaru, or is Orochimaru himself. If Kabuto is an Oto spy like Naruto has suggested, then Kabuto is most likely a spy for Orochimaru, who is likely the leader of Otogakure no Sato. Those rumours that Naruto and Anko overheard on their diplomatic mission were not false…”

“So Orochimaru will possibly help his spy out?” Ibiki asked.

Sarutobi shook his head. “That’s not the problem. If I am not wrong, Kabuto has gone into the Chūnin Exams for six times, all six times failing. All six times were because he gave up before the third round of the Chūnin Exams. The fact that he has stayed undetected shows that he has much skill. To stay a Genin for four whole years is obviously to continue joining the Chūnin Exams. After all, being a Genin will not allow for any access to archives. But why does he want to keep monitoring the Chūnin Exams?”

“Orochimaru is a paedophile?” Ibiki suggested, earning a short chuckle from the aged leader.

“Orochimaru must be interested in taking a Genin, most likely Konoha’s. He’s watching for the participants, and once he sees the one he wants, he will come to Konoha to get the Genin himself. Kabuto has been going into the Chūnin Exams for three years, this year his fourth. What happened about three to four years ago?” the Hokage hinted.

“The Uchiha massacre,” Ibiki took a deep breath. “But the Uchihas are dead.”

“Except one,” the Sandaime said grimly. “Uchiha Sasuke is participating in this Chūnin Exams. I believe that Orochimaru desires the Sharingan. My wayward student wants to learn all the jutsu in the world, and the Sharingan‘s copying abilities is a perfect way for him to learn the jutsus.”

“Won’t it be easier to get Kabuto to kill him, and deliver the eyes for transplant?” Ibiki enquired. “Kakashi’s Sharingan is very effective, even if it is transplanted.”

“Hai, but it does not work well without Uchiha blood. He needs the Uchiha,” Sarutobi explained. “He will use Sasuke’s body as his own…I think it is enough proof that he has completed his soul hopping technique.”

“Soul hopping?” the investigator echoed.

“He was experimenting on transferring his soul to other people’s bodies. He will want to transfer his soul into Sasuke’s body, thus possessing the Sharingan,” the Hokage puffed, smoke spiralling out of his pipe. “The Uchiha blood will ensure that he will not have problems with chakra consumption. He will not transfer now, however. He will want to train Sasuke, and mould the boy into someone that will willingly give his body up. Itachi’s murder of the clan is causing Sasuke much distress, and his obsession with revenge will lead him straight into the devil’s hands.”

“He will approach Sasuke, display his strength and just leave?” Ibiki remarked. “Sounds like very little for him to infiltrate Konoha for.”

“He will not have any hiccups in his plans…and I think he will want to give a cursed seal to Sasuke,” Sarutobi took off his hat, laying it on the table. “The cursed seal will influence Sasuke’s thoughts, and bring him under Orochimaru’s control. The power the seal provides will also push Sasuke further towards him. I also have a feeling this is not all Orochimaru is planning.”

At this point, a Chūnin burst into the room. “Hokage-sama! Orochimaru has infiltrated the Forest of Death!”

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

Chapter 10

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