36.36% Birth of the Forest / Chapter 4: Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Chapter 4

"See you later!" Naruto waved to his teammates. They had just returned to Konoha from a very educational mission in Wave country.

Kakashi and Naruto made their way towards the Hokage tower leisurely.

"Will you tell the Third everything?", Kakashi asked Naruto.

"I will. He could pick up signs of deception extremely well even as a boy, and I am not really good at deceiving my precious people. Truth is the strongest weapon, Kakashi-sensei. Lies can be twisted against you always as you may know from your own experience as a shinobi."

Kakashi nodded as they stood in front of the Sandaime's secretary.

"We are here to report the success of our mission to the Third." Kakashi stated lazily.

The secretary gave her customary dirty glance to Naruto and went to find out if the Third was free.

"Doesn't it bother you, the way you are treated in the village?" Kakashi asked Naruto regretfully. He had to have been there for the boy, but it was impossible. The village had needed every ninja on call to recover from the Kyuubi attack and Naruto would have been as good as neglected in Kakashi's home.

"Not really. As Naruto the child, I learned to disregard the glares of the people though it really caused me unutterable sadness. But now, I really feel sad for the Village I founded. They are just like sheep, unwilling and unable to think for themselves. That was not my intention for the shinobi of Konoha…"

The secretary came back. "The Sandaime will see you now"

Naruto followed Kakashi into the office of the Third Hokage.

The more Naruto saw this place, the more he felt the change Konoha had undergone. This office which had exuded a sense of loyalty and patriotism to the village during his reign, now gave off a sense of bureaucratic power mongering.

Hiruzen.

His student had sacrificed much for the sake of the village, but one glance at him told Naruto that he was weary. The will of fire burned in him still, but the village had asked too much of this man; he had given up family, love, and much more for Konoha.

Hiruzen, at least, was everything he had hoped to see in the future generation.

"Report, Kakashi" The third ordered, looking at Naruto and Kakashi with a discerning eye.

"Hai, Sandaime-sama" nodded Kakashi, and began his report.

"On the road to Nami, we were attacked by the Demon brothers of Kiri who were dealt with easily by Sasuke and Sakura. Turns out that Tazuna was lying about the mission…"

Kakashi related the events of the mission up to when Zabuza attacked them on the bridge and Naruto drove him off.

Hiruzen looked surprised.

"How do you know those Jutsus, Naruto?"

Naruto took a deep breath.

"Old Man, this is private. Very confidential. I suggest you send off the four ANBU guarding you. It is only for your ears and will only take a moment."

Hiruzen signalled, sending off the ANBU. If he couldn't trust Naruto, he could trust no one.

Naruto went to the wall behind Hiruzen's desk and placed his hand on it, watched carefully by Hiruzen and an amused Kakashi. He flared his chakra and caused a glowing seal array to appear on the wall.

Hiruzen's eyes grew wide and he stared at Naruto with the full authority of a battle hardened warrior.

"How can you know the existence of those seals, Naruto? How can you use them?"

Naruto unleashed the full might of his chakra, causing cracks to appear on the wall and the plastering to peel off. Hiruzen's table was cracking up.

It felt as smothering, as if the air itself had thickened. Kakashi found it difficult to breathe as he stared with awe at the Shodai Hokage unleashing his chakra. And to think it was only a fraction of his strength…

Hiruzen had his hand upon his heart as he felt a chakra he thought he would never feel again in his life. It was impossible, he convinced himself.

It was impossible for Naruto to have nearly the exact same chakra as his beloved departed sensei. But the boy's actions spoke different.

He had activated that seal.

The seal array on the wall glowed a blinding white and the room lurched violently causing its three occupants to stick their feet to the ground with chakra to stay firm.

The light receded and Naruto turned to look at Hiruzen with an expression of compassion and pride on his face.

"It is safe to talk."

Hiruzen stared hard at Naruto, disbelief written clearly upon his face.

"How is this possible, you should not even know of that seal's existence. No one should, except the Hokage!"

Naruto smiled. "I will answer you, Sandaime. When the mistake happened with the sealing of the Kyuubi into my infant body-"

"How do you know of the Kyuubi?" Hiruzen asked, alarmed.

"I know about my parents too. As I said to Kakashi I spoke to the Kyuubi. Please, Sandaime, listen to the rest."

Hiruzen nodded, withholding his turbulent emotions at the sudden onslaught of information.

"Go on, I will withhold my questions for now"

"The mistake awakened a new aspect for me. I found myself remembering my previous life, old man. That should be impossible, but it happened. I think you can deduce the rest, can't you?" Naruto said looking at the wondrous realization blooming on the Hokage's face.

"Hashirama-sama...?" Hiruzen asked with a hushed voice, his eyes shining.

Naruto looked at Hiruzen with happiness and nodded.

"I am him, but I am Naruto as well. I think you can appreciate the merging of my two lives better than anyone, as you knew me intimately in both lives. I am proud of you, Hiruzen…"

Kakashi looked at the reunion between Sensei and student with his hairs standing on end. He was watching history unfold here in this room.

Two of Konoha's greatest figures, who should have met again only in the afterlife, stood facing each other in the most unlikely reunion of all.

Sarutobi Hiruzen was lost for words. He sat dumbly, staring with awe at the legendary First.

"That is how you could activate the seal. I guess I have no choice but to believe you, Hashirama-sama…or Naruto, what should I call you?"

"I am Naruto, Hiruzen. I should never have remembered my old life normally. It was a one in a million chance, and it happened to me. I am Naruto who remembers his old life as Hashirama. I am both Hashirama and Naruto in essence…"

Hiruzen stared at his mentor as he described himself. He could see both Naruto and the Shodai in the boy.

"This is most unexpected…"

"Forgive me, Sandaime-sama. What was that seal Naruto just activated?"

Sarutobi cleared his throat.

"It is a most advanced seal created by Mito-sama and Tobirama-sensei for Hashirama-sama's use. It was attuned to his chakra and his chakra alone. This is irrefutable proof of Naruto's claims…"

Kakashi looked at Naruto, seeing as the Sandaime was off on a mental tangent.

"Why is it safe to talk after the seal was activated?"

Naruto's eyes glazed over as he recalled the memories of past days.

"My wife Mito and my brother Tobirama made that seal for me to insulate the Hokage's office totally from the outside world. It is a space-time seal. The way Tobirama explained it to me; it transports those occupants of the room I choose into the space between moments…"

Kakashi looked confused. "What does that even mean?"

"Don't ask me, Tobirama and Mito-chan designed that thing. It was Tobirama who was always into things like space-time techniques, and my wife's mastery over seals was unheard of even during the age of founders."

Kakashi still looked quizzical.

"Fine, all I really understand is this: as long as I hold this seal active whatever happens between the chosen occupants of this office for that duration will happen in a single instant of the flow of time in the world outside, effectively sealing the required conversation completely from the outside world…"

Kakashi looked at the clock, which had frozen. But on close observation with Sharingan he could see that the second-hand was moving very slowly.

Kakashi eye-smiled. "Now I understand. To be able to do something like that…not even Sensei would have been able to do that."

Hiruzen who had come out of his funk shook his head in disagreement.

"Minato was just tapping into his potential and had invented the Hiraishin no jutsu as a teenager. I think he would have surpassed Tobirama-sensei if he were to still live"

Naruto could feel the drain on his chakra as he held the seal active.

"Hiruzen let us get on with it please. I think I can hold the seal for another quarter hour maximum. I don't yet have the amount of chakra I possessed as Hashirama and this seal is very draining. Let me tell you of what happened in Wave from my perspective"

Naruto launched into a narrative of how he had drove off Zabuza the first time, and how he had defeated Kisame. He also told the Hokage of how he had confronted Sasuke's brother.

"You need to tell me what is up with that Itachi kid later, Hiruzen. He is really not the sort to kill needlessly from what I sensed of him. I can smell something wrong with the entire Uchiha affair…"

Hiruzen sighed sadly. "You are right. The Uchiha slaughter was not the work of a maniacal Shinobi. I will tell you of it later…"

Naruto nodded.

"We will need to speak of my mother as well, but we do not need the seal active for that anyway. It is my right to have that information."

Kakashi interjected smoothly. "I believe our time is running out. Let me complete my report…"

Kakashi finally finished relating his part of the mission.

"This is troubling indeed. I must ask Jiraiya of the connection between Itachi and Kisame and their similar clothing. It implies that they are part of an organization, and any organization that employs such powerful Ninja is to be treated with caution."

Naruto agreed completely.

"I have to release the seal soon, Hiruzen. Is there anything else that is to be confined to this room, anyone?"

Kakashi and Hiruzen shook their heads.

"One last thing, Hiruzen. Let me tell you that I am truly proud of you. But do not worry; I will get that hat back from you in no time."

Hiruzen looked ten years younger after the day's happenings.

"You deserve it more than I do, Hashirama-sama."

"You have become a great shinobi and Hokage, Hiruzen. You fought for Konoha all this time and sacrificed much for my legacy to continue. You have more experience in this world than me, and I will not disregard that. Don't get any idea of just handing over that hat to me, though. I will earn it rightfully as Naruto".

Hiruzen gave a true smile.

"I should have expected that. I understand, Naruto. You can release the seal."

Naruto deactivated the seal with a sigh of relief and the room lurched again, denoting them slipping back into the true flow of time.

To the ANBU outside it had just been two seconds.

Naruto now looked at Hiruzen seriously.

"Tell me of why my mother left Old man. I need to know. Please tell me."

Hiruzen looked sad.

"I will tell you, Naruto. It is a long story, and I need you to listen carefully. You do know of the reputation of the fourth, don't you?"

Naruto nodded impatiently.

"Alongside the fourth fought a Kunoichi almost as strong as him. It was your mother, Uzumaki Kushina also known as the Red Death of Konoha. Together the couple were so strong that they ended the third war almost by themselves."

Naruto knew all this, but listened proudly as Hiruzen described his parents. They were strong indeed…

"Your father's name was feared in Iwa beyond anything else. Namikaze Minato singlehandedly destroyed an army of Iwa shinobi by his Hiraishin no Jutsu, earning him the name of Yellow Flash of Konoha, as all that the enemies of Konoha saw was a glimpse his yellow hair before he killed them in the hundreds."

"Your mother however, inspired the same fear in Kumo. When Minato was engaged with the now Raikage of Kumo A who was then a Jounin, the army of Kumo which had assaulted Konoha was free to rampage through our thinly spread forces.

Kushina then arrived on the battlefield and annihilated the entire army. She too was extremely fast and a master of Kenjutsu. Kushina's long red hair flying as she flashed through the battlefield and she cut down her enemies earned her the name Red death"

Naruto listened closely as Hiruzen continued.

"The war was ended after some time, and none of the other Villages dared to aggravate Konoha again fearing our strength. Your mother was pregnant with you after marrying Minato in a ceremony known only to the council of Konoha and its high ranking shinobi. You know of the consequences of the Kyuubi affair better than I; Minato was dead, and Kushina was barely alive.

Her Uzumaki resilience was not for nothing though, and she made a full recovery in another two months during which time you were placed under the care of Uchiha Mikoto."

So Sasuke and he shared a very personal past. Sasuke felt even more like a brother to Naruto after hearing this.

The Sandaime continued.

"The moment she recovered fully, she took you back and began to raise you. But when you were about half a year old, Iwa got word of your existence as did Kumo. To this day we do not know how the leak happened…"

"Anyway, something terrible began to happen in consequence. There were nearly daily assassination attempts made on you, sometimes causing you terrible wounds. But you always healed yourself. It was the fox's chakra…"

Thanks for that, Kurama. Naruto thought gratefully.

"Think nothing of it, Hashirama. You are the best vessel I ever had, you know. Even as an infant your chakra calmed me and made me think of my days as a young kit…"

Naruto smiled, motioning for Hiruzen to continue.

"Your mother always thwarted those attempts. We tried to impose sanctions upon Kumo and Iwa but they always denied their actions. Konoha was weary of war and they had lost their beloved Yondaime so morale was at a low. We were still recovering from the Kyuubi attack…."

Hiruzen looked really sad at this point.

"However one day when you were about a year and a half, an assassin stabbed you right through your gut. The assassin was killed of course, but it left your mother absolutely distraught. She had lost her husband whom she loved, and she had seen her darling son nearly die. She then reached a conclusion."

Naruto looked at the old man, his emotions churning. He could hardly remember these events.

"It was her and Minato's reputation that brought down such hatred against you. You would never be safe as long as you were associated with her. She had too many enemies…

So she came to me with a plan. Though it broke her heart completely, she had to let you fade into anonymity and outside her life. Namikaze Naruto would be killed in an assassination staged by Konoha itself and Uzumaki Naruto would be quietly enrolled in an orphanage. The plan went perfectly…"

Naruto was now unsure of what to think. So he asked questions.

"What happened to my mother then?"

The third sighed.

"She accepted a series of S-class missions outside Konoha to draw attention to her and away from you. I was to call her back only when I felt that you were strong enough to defend yourself. I think she lost a piece of her soul back then…"

Naruto looked down sadly. He understood what had happened and hated the necessity for it…hated the circumstances.

"Now that I know you are strong enough, I will call her back. Do not judge her too harshly Naruto. She sacrificed even your love for her to keep you safe, and that is a great sacrifice indeed."

Naruto sighed. He did understand and deeply respected and admired Kushina's actions.

But the suffering he had endured without her still lingered in the depths of his mind. He could not help but slightly resent her.

But as the reborn Shodai, he could view the situation objectively. Kushina had indeed chosen the option that was most feasible, and the choice had to be made fast anyway. He could empathize as he had made many such choices in the First war…

He needed to sort his feelings out a little more.

"When will she be back?" Naruto asked Hiruzen.

"Within a fortnight. You will be reunited with her in a fortnight. Please treat her at least civilly Naruto, she has suffered deeply. Being reunited with her son will heal at least a part of her…"

Naruto nodded.

"You have given me much to think about, old man. I need to go" so saying Naruto walked out with a thoughtful face.

Kakashi looked at Sandaime.

"He will be far greater than even the Shodai Hokage, won't he Hiruzen-sama?"

Hiruzen smiled brightly.

"He will indeed."

….

THREE DAYS LATER

Naruto walked leisurely with Sakura and Sasuke. They had just been told by Kakashi that they were nominated for the Chuunin exams and could make the choice whether or not to compete.

All of them had decided to say yes. They were to come to the academy tomorrow where the first test would be administered.

He had thought hard on the issue of his mother and decided that she was a great Kunoichi and mother. Anyway, he felt no real need for a parental figure now, so what resentment he would feel at her was lessened.

He would wait to meet her and then see.

He felt a tug on his consciousness.

"What, Kurama?"

"Hashirama, I definitely feel the presence of at least one bijuu. There might be another as well. I think it has to do with how well they are sealed. The one I sensed for sure is the Ichibi no Shukaku. Be careful…"

Naruto flared his senses and could clearly feel the presence of Shukaku's Jinchuuriki just around the corner. The chakra of the container felt too chaotic to him, so he could conclude only one thing.

The container was losing his sanity. He assumed it was due to a weak sealing method. He suddenly felt a spike of the container's bloodlust….

They would damage nothing in Konoha on his watch.

"Thanks for the advice, Kurama."

He turned to his teammates "I sense trouble in the next street. Foreign ninja. Do you want to come with me? We might meet some of the competition early…"

They nodded.

The three of them walked purposefully towards the source of the commotion and saw what looked like a clown bullying a kid.

A kid that Naruto recognized as Hiruzen's grandson, Konohamaru. He walked towards the clown and called out to him.

"What do you want?" said the clown in what was meant to be an intimidating tone.

"Let the kid go, my friend. That is the Sandaime Hokage's grandson you are so busily bullying. It is not considered polite for visiting Ninja to assault the relatives of the village's Kage, is it?" Naruto said calmly.

The blonde girl turned to the clown, "Kankurou, let the kid go. Imagine what would happen if Gaara finds us fooling around…"

The clown called Kankurou gave an involuntary shiver. His face then hardened, "Alright, Temari.I will let the kid go if he begs for my forgiveness…"

Naruto looked at the boy exasperatedly.

Sasuke stepped up and performed a fast series of hand seals. "Shunshin no jutsu!"

He disappeared, and only appeared on the other side some distance from the group, holding Konohamaru who he set back on the ground.

Kankurou's and Temari's eyes bugged out. The kid was fast…

Naruto could sense the Jinchuuriki of Shukaku within their proximity. Obviously he was trying to hide, supressing his chakra as much as possible. That would not work on sensory type ninja…

"Come out, Ichibi no Jinchuuriki." Naruto said, looking directly at Gaara's hiding spot.

Temari and Kankurou turned pale. The blonde knew Gaara's secret! This put the entire plan at jeopardy. They had to inform Baki-sensei of this development as soon as possible.

Naruto could sense the anxiety and tension of the two in front of him. It was not normal. Either these two feared the mistreatment of their teammate, or it was something else.

A redheaded kid with bags under his eyes appeared in front of Naruto. He studied the blonde for a bit and turned to his teammates.

"You have disgraced Sunagakure by your actions, Kankurou. Now come both of you, we are leaving."

"But Gaara-"Kankurou opened his mouth and stopped when killing intent flooded the entire street.

"Shut up or I'll kill you!"

Kankurou shut his mouth after that.

"What is your name?" asked Sasuke.

"Who, me?" Temari said bashfully. The dark-haired boy was very attractive, as was the blonde.

But there was something about the blonde that transcended them all, something different. Even Gaara felt that.

"No, the one with the gourd" Sasuke clarified.

"I am Sabaku no Gaara. I am interested in learning your names as well…" he looked at Sasuke and Naruto.

"Uchiha Sasuke."

"Uzumaki Naruto."

"I look forward to fighting you. Mother thirsts for your blood, Uchiha. And yours as well Uzumaki. She craves yours" said Gaara ominously before leaving with his teammates.

Sakura went to Konohamaru to confirm if he was alright to which the boy nodded. The honoured grandson then started ranting about Sasuke's and Naruto's awesomeness. It was obvious to Naruto that the kid was starting to idolize team 7.

"Shukaku made his Jinchuuriki think he was his mother? What happened to that raccoon? He was always a little on the loose side, but this is too much even for him…" Kurama sniggered.

Naruto though was a strange mix of emotions. He wanted to help his fellow Jinchuuriki but could not do that as Shukaku would immediately recognize him as Hashirama. He could hardly let his secret out so easily.

The poor kid would have to control the bijuu himself, which meant he had to realize love and conquer hatred. That would be tough for him from what he saw…

It would be nigh impossible with the Shukaku passing himself off as the Kid's mother, of all things. He started laughing out loud at that joined by Kurama in his mind, causing Sasuke and Sakura to look at him strangely.

"What's wrong with you, dobe?"

"Nothing Sasuke! Um…I need to go and train…see you tomorrow at the academy for the first round!"

Still laughing quietly to themselves, bijuu and Jinchuuriki made their way back home.

…..

Naruto sat happily on a seat in his beloved Ramen shop, Ichiraku Ramen bar. He was currently in the process of scarfing down his eleventh bowl of the precious dish.

Ayame turned to him and asked. "You really have to stop eating so much, Naruto. It's not good for you, you know. I bet that if I stab you right now with my fork, you will bleed Ramen soup!"

Naruto did not reply and began to stuff his mouth with his twelfth bowl of the dish. He had definitely not lost his love for Ramen after his awakening.

Oh no, it had definitely increased.

"Do you really have to stuff yourself like that?" came a female voice to his right.

Glancing, he saw two blonde females eating ramen sedately. Both had strong chakras, one with Raiton and the other with both Raiton and Katon. They both seemed to be mildly irritated.

The chakra of the one who had spoken to him felt familiar in a strange sort of way. He sensed deeper.

"MATATABI!" came the hugely surprised voice of Kurama.

Naruto started. What was it with all these Jinchuuriki popping up in Konoha at the same time? He looked at the Niibi Jinchuuriki.

"Who are you?"

"I am Nii Yugito, and this is Samui. We are Kunoichi from Kumogakure here for the Chuunin exams along with our other team member, Omoi."

"I am Uzumaki Naruto" Naruto introduced himself.

Samui just waved at him. Naruto waved back at her enthusiastically and focused on Yugito.

"You are special, aren't you Yugito-san?"

Yugito narrowed her eyes at him. "You too are special, Naruto-san."

"A sensory type, are you?" Naruto asked her, surprised.

"So are you. Let us walk together. Samui, I am out" Yugito said her teammate.

Naruto and Yugito walked out of the Ramen shop, Naruto waving goodbye to Ayame.

"Nice to meet you, Niibi Jinchuuriki." Naruto greeted her, looking at her properly. She was quite pretty, not that he was attracted to her. Her chakra felt extremely strong, filled with pure power that was beyond most humans.

A Jinchuuriki in control of her bijuu.

"Nice to meet you as well, Kyuubi Jinchuuriki." Yugito chuckled.

"How could you sense the Kyuubi? Its chakra is suppressed by mine at all times…" Naruto queried.

"It is suppressed quite well, Naruto-san. But I am not Kumo's strongest sensor for nothing. I assume you met Ichibi?"

"Of course. Careful of him, he is slightly crazy and will slaughter anything in his path, living or otherwise. I didn't sense any other Jinchuuriki in this exam, did you?"

"No I believe it is just the three of us. See you later, Naruto-san. We have a team meeting about now, let's meet in the exams. See you!"

Naruto waved back, watching her thoughtfully. He had no doubt Sarutobi knew of these developments. Three Jinchuuriki competing in a Chuunin exam?

He had to be on his guard and watch out for Konoha's sake.

….

THE NEXT DAY

Naruto stared exasperatedly as Sasuke accepted a challenge to fight from a weird green spandex wearing Genin called Rock Lee.

They had successfully detected a Genjutsu on the entrance to the exam antechamber and Sasuke had in his usual style attacked the door guards.

But their fight was interrupted by Rock Lee who caught them with his superior speed. Naruto sensed little chakra in the kid, so he concluded that his speed was pure Taijutsu.

The work that must have taken…The kid had his utmost respect for his hard work. He was a genius of hard work indeed.

Though Sasuke had lost much of his drive for vengeance in wave, he still kept most of his pride as an Uchiha. Elite.

So he was currently headed behind Rock Lee to fight him in a more open space. Naruto had a feeling that Sasuke would get a rude awakening.

They stood opposite each other in the hall, Naruto and Sakura watching interestedly.

Lee extended his palm, bending his fingers.

"I will prove to you that hard work is superior to genius, Uchiha Sasuke. I am the strongest Genin in Konoha" he said, and proceeded to do just that.

He absolutely pummelled Sasuke, kicking him all over the place. Sasuke could see the kicks but could not keep up with his body.

Lee suddenly unwrapped his hand's bandage, yelling.

"I will show you the meaning of effort with this move, Sasuke-kun!", and leapt into the air.

"LEE!" came the voice of a…tortoise? And an older clone of Lee.

"YOU WERE TOLD NOT TO USE THAT MOVE!"

Lee who was back on the ground stared with a devastated expression, crying anime tears.

"I am sorry, Gai-sensei! I only wanted to prove myself. I accept any punishment you give me!"

"This is your punishment, my student!" yelled Gai-sensei and appeared before Lee and gave him a devastating punch.

Lee then walked back from his crater, and stood opposite Gai.

"I am sorry, Gai-sensei!" Lee exclaimed.

"It is alright, my precious student, you were only trying to show the flames of your youth! I can understand youth better than anyone…"

And to the horror of Team 7, Lee and Gai flew into each other's arms causing a sunset to appear with waves washing up to them.

"KAI" yelled team 7 in unison, but it was in vain. The sunset did not break until the weird duo had disengaged from their hug.

Gai just appeared before them again with stunning speed. "You are the Youthful students of Kakashi, aren't you?"

"How do you know Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura questioned Gai warily.

"He is my youthful and eternal rival! Currently the score stands in my favour! Well, youthful students of Kakashi it is time for the first round. Good luck!" so saying Gai disappeared.

Lee left as well but had a word of advice for Sasuke.

"I am not really the strongest Genin in Konoha, Sasuke-kun. That would be my team mate Hyuuga Neji. Be wary of him"

Sasuke snorted derisively. However strong this Neji was, he was sure that no Genin in Konoha even held a candle to Naruto.

"We need to go, Sasuke…" came Naruto's voice.

Sasuke just nodded and followed him into the waiting chamber.

The first thing he could sense was a multitude of rather weak chakras. He looked around carefully and evaluated the potential threats.

Gaara as usual felt strong, as did Yugito whom he acknowledged with a wave of his hand. Yugito smiled back.

There was another team from a new village he heard was called sound that had entered a team.

They too felt moderately strong, their emotions felt dark as well.

But one person truly caught his attention. An unassuming Genin wearing a Konoha headband was quietly rearranging a deck of cards.

This person was actively suppressing his chakra, but he could not escape from Naruto's acute Sensory capabilities.

This Genin felt of deception and he had at least Jounin level chakra. Naruto leisurely walked towards him…

"Hey there, who are you and what are those cards about?"

The Genin smiled at him, but it felt all wrong to Naruto.

"I am Yakushi Kabuto, and I am a Genin of Konoha. I have taken these exams seven times and have gathered information on the competition in these nin-info cards. Would you like any information on your opposition, Uzumaki Naruto?"

Naruto smiled pleasantly and shook his head. But Sasuke queried:

"I would like information on Gaara of the sand, Yugito Nii, Rock Lee and Hyuuga Neji."

"You even know their names? That will make this easy…. Gaara…yes, 10 B-ranks and 30 C-ranks, not even a scratch on him and has strong ninjutsu…"

Everybody's eyes widened.

"Nii Yugito… great Taijutsu, powerful Ninjutsu, a Kunoichi to watch out for. Her mission stats are unknown…"

Naruto looked at Yugito curiously. The Niibi Jinchuuriki winked at him.

"Finally we have Hyuuga Neji and Rock Lee both on team Gai. 33 D-rank and 5 C-rank missions completed.

Rock lee is a powerful Taijutsu specialist, Ninjutsu unknown. Hyuuga Neji is a known prodigy of the Jyuuken style and a strong competitor"

Naruto just glanced at them all. They were all quite powerful for Genin. He could feel Killer intent coming from the team from sound.

"Play time is over, now it is time for the first round of the Chuunin exams, brats! Follow me." came the gruff voice of a burly scar faced examiner who gave off an air of extreme intimidation.

They nervously followed scar face into a spacious hall full of desks.

"I am Morino Ibiki. First round will be a written round. You need to answer at least one question to pass and there will be nine questions. At the end of the examination, there will also be a tenth question the rules for which will be defined on the spot."

The Genin just stared at him, surprised at the strange rules.

"There will be observers for this test, and if you are caught more than five times you will be disqualified. Clear?"

They all nodded.

"Then let us get started."

….

Naruto stared at their newest proctor, a Kunoichi named Mitarashi Anko who was passing around waivers of death for the Genin to sign.

They were to enter the Forest of Death with a scroll and survive there for three days. Their objective was to get a scroll, heaven or earth, to complete their set.

With both scrolls, they were to head for the tower to complete the test.

Great, I get to see what has happened to my forest.

The first exam was quite innovative, really. Ibiki had put together a good information gathering test, as the questions were all well above Genin level. He had cleverly planted a few Chuunin test-takers from whom the Genin were expected to gather information.

The ways of gathering information too really surprised him. He of course could answer all the questions. They were too simple to him.

Sasuke had predictably used Sharingan, the Hyuuga their Byakugan and Sakura of course actually knew the answers to the questions.

Gaara though had used an innovative trick; he made an eye out of sand to spy on the others. That left him impressed. The Jinchuuriki was good!

Ibiki had ended their party though, asking if they were confident enough to take the tenth question. Those who answered the question wrong would never be Chuunin, he said.

Those who left right then would have a shot next year.

To Naruto it was obvious that it was a test of confidence, so he stayed right where he was. Most of the competitors had stayed too.

Ibiki then ended the test abruptly, saying they had all passed. Apparently, the question he had asked just then was the mysterious tenth question and the remaining had all proved that they were worthy of continuing with their conviction in remaining.

Putting off thoughts of the first exam, he glanced at Mitarashi Anko. This Kunoichi's chakra felt essentially the same as Kabuto's.

That was intriguing…What was the connection between those two?

His attention was occupied suddenly by a Kusa Kunoichi who handed Anko back her dagger. Her chakra felt full of malice!

What was more, her chakra felt a bit like his own. Just what was such a shinobi doing in the Chuunin exams?

She easily had Kage level chakra. No, that was no normal Genin and she seemed to be shooting unhealthy glances at Sasuke.

They would need to be careful with that Kunoichi. She was a real danger, unlike these other children.

"Be careful of that Kusa Kunoichi, Sasuke! She seems really strong…."

Sasuke turned to him and nodded discreetly. Sakura just looked intimidated.

"Alright, brats! It is time for you to begin! Enter the forest through your designated gates…NOW!" Anko yelled.

They shot through their designated gates, entering the forest in rapid blurs. Naruto signalled them to stop after about half an hour of travelling.

"We are deep enough into the forest, and we really need a plan. What do you say we do?"

Sakura spoke, "I say we follow the river. We have a heaven scroll, and we may encounter some team eventually as they too would naturally gravitate towards the river. We can take the scroll from them easily by ambush as we have a sensor on our team…"

"An excellent plan." Sasuke said, nodding to Sakura causing her to blush.

Thus they had moved steadily, finding and following the river on its course.

Naruto was impressed; his forest had grown quite a bit! The trees seemed to recognize him, and a warm comforting feeling filled the air as he walked by them.

….

It had been a day since the beginning of the second exam and Naruto was getting alarmed. He could sense not even a single team on their path, and that was fishy.

Naruto turned to his teammates. "I find it odd that we have not been attacked at all, and I can sense no one in our vicinity. I don't like this…"

Sasuke nodded.

"I too can feel it. Something feels wrong about how easy all this is becoming…"

Sakura looked worried.

Naruto decided to just pause and consider their next move. They were just about out of rations, but still had plenty of water. He decided.

"We need more rations. You know I can get fruits enough for the journey…"

Sasuke nodded. "But we need to agree on something only the three of us know, in case we are impersonated by someone."

Naruto just had the perfect thing. "We say the name of my most secret technique, what do you say?"

Sakura agreed. "That should work."

"Alright then, time for me to go…" said Naruto and vanished.

…..

Naruto reached a clearing not the far away from his teammates and threw around his senses for any eavesdroppers or spies.

Nothing.

"Mokuton: Ringo no ki no taito"

A good sized apple tree with luscious apples rose up from the earth causing Naruto to grin. A well placed punch later, Naruto was happily collecting dozens of apples that fell on the ground.

This would do for the remaining duration of their stay. His Mokuton was truly powerful, be it to heal or to destroy.

His senses suddenly perked up. Heading towards him was a good sized chakra that felt distinctly….slimy.

It did not feel even remotely human. So it had to be a summons.

Naruto put aside his sack and awaited the hostile summons that was about to attack him. Sure enough, he heard something crashing through the trees in front of him.

He waited patiently.

With a thunderous crash, the summons broke through the trees in front of him and lunged. Naruto avoided easily enough with a well-timed shunshin no jutsu.

He examined the huge snake in front of him. There were only two recorded snake summoners: one was Mitarashi Anko, the crazy proctor, and the second….

Oh no.

The snake sannin Orochimaru was here. The only reason he would bother to send a snake against him was to separate him from Sasuke and Sakura.

Damn, he knew there was something about that Kusa ninja…

Sure enough, he felt Sasuke's absolute fear and Sakura's numbness. He must be attacking them even now! He had to get there and stop the sannin as soon as possible but first…

"Doton: Yomi Nuuma!"

A deep swamp formed beneath the snake and swallowed it up easily.

He dimly heard Sasuke scream. His anger skyrocketed, and he began radiating his chakra as he ran to Sasuke's aid with a series of shunshin.

What he saw disgusted him. Sakura was paralyzed with fear and Orochimaru was retracting his elongated neck from Sasuke's where he had bitten him.

Naruto calmed himself and appeared behind Sasuke. Placing the first two fingers of his right hand, he felt for Sasuke's chakra.

It was corrupted. He could see a seal forming on Sasuke's neck and it was faintly red in colour.

He was no seal master even if he was adequately proficient in the sealing arts. Sasuke's ailment required attention and care neither of which he had now.

A makeshift solution had to do for now.

"Kukukuku. thus enters a new player! I thought I had you with that snake I had sent, Naruto-kun!" Orochimaru said, amused.

Naruto paid no attention to the slimy Sannin as he stabilized Sasuke with medical chakra. Orochimaru just watched interestedly, making no move to stop him.

Sasuke was breathing a much easier. Now to take care of that troublesome seal.

Naruto gathered up his chakra to his fingertips, forming five Kanji characters for sealing.

Orochimaru's eyes widened. No! That would waste all his effort! He gathered his chakra and appeared before Naruto intending to stop him.

But before he could do anything, the sealing was done.

"Fuuinjutsu: Fuja Hoin!"

Orochimaru's seal was surrounded by an outpouring of other characters. That would contain the snake's corruption for the time being.

Orochimaru kicked out too late at Naruto, but Naruto stopped his leg nonchalantly with one hand.

He faced the enraged sannin and tossed him so hard into the tree beside him that it shook.

"Hello, Orochimaru."


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