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Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine, he is Kishimoto's

"Dattebayo!" - normal speech

'Dobe' – Thoughts

'{Shannaro!}' - Inner Sakura

"Ningen" - Boss Summon/Tailed Beast Speech

'Brat' - Boss Summon/Tailed Beast Thoughts

"Kage Bunshin!" - Ninjutsu/Genjutsu/Taijutsu move.

Beta'd by BigCC

Chapter 47: The Third Round, Match 1: Two Caged Birds Seeking Freedom

Day of the Third Round of the Chūnin Exams

Uzumaki Naruko's Room, Uzumaki Clan Estate

"Kohenkyo! (Fox Switch Deception!)"

A burst of smoke engulfed Naruko, dispersing a few seconds later to reveal her in her standard kunoichi uniform. Briefly looking herself over in the mirror, she felt a satisfied grin spread onto her lips.

"Dressed to kill and ready to kick ass!" the Uzumaki declared, posing triumphantly for the mirror before turning and leaving the room. Down in the living room, Zabuza, Haku, Tomoe, and Kin were all waiting for her.

The former Otogakure kunoichi briefly stared at her before quickly and uncomfortably looking away, making Naruko withhold a sigh. Kin was still having troubles adjusting to the very stark differences between Otogakure and Konohagakure; she was far too used to keeping everyone at arm's length and unwilling to accept any kindness out of fear of some kind of trap or trick. She was also having an immense amount of trouble accepting her new position as a Spoil, seeing it as little different from how she'd been a slave to Orochimaru for most of her life.

Hopefully repulsing the Snake Bastard and proving that she was safe here would do a lot to settle her fears. After the Invasion was over, Naruko had every intention to start acclimating Kin to the fact that she was indeed safe here and that there were no tricks or deceptions waiting for her in her new home. She really didn't like having someone so scared of her because of something like this. She'd already long grown resigned to having to deal with the fear and hatred that was directed towards her due to her unique status, she wasn't about to do the same for something like this.

"Zabuza, Haku-chan, you're both coming with me to the stadium." she instructed her Guard Captain and first Spoil. "Once there you'll work with the ANBU and be stationed near and amongst the civilian sections of the stadium. When things kick off, Zabuza you're going to bee tasked with hunting down and eliminating any and all Otogakure shinobi in the stadium. Show them exactly why the Demon of the Hidden Mist has such a terrifying reputation."

"Heh…understood." the large man smirked dangerously. "It will be nice to finally cut loose again for a bit."

"Haku-chan, you're going to be doing the same with the Sunagakure Shinobi." Naruko turned her attention to the Hyōton holder. "You are to disable as many as you can non-lethally, but you are to prioritize both your own life and the lives of any Konohagakure shinobi or any civilians above that order. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly, Naruko-sama." the Last of the Yuki clan offered with a brief bow. Naruko had designed Haku's assignment to help as many people as possible while ensuring that Haku wasn't put in any position where she would (very likely) see the optimal response to a situation to be sacrificing herself. By prioritizing her own survival, alongside that of any civilians and Konoha shinobi, above her stated mission goals, she wouldn't put herself into excessive danger…or so Naruko hoped.

Haku's overt willingness to sacrifice herself for the sake of a 'mission' provided by someone she cared for always worried her. While a general level of such was necessary in any good shinobi, Haku took it to an uncomfortable level.

"Kin-chan, Tomoe-chan, before we head out, I'll be leading you two down to the secure bunker at the bottom of the mansion." Naruko continued, turning to the last of her Spoils. "Once I lock you both in, it will be all but impossible for anyone to penetrate it. I'll also be activating the mansion's siege protocols to the highest levels, the Snake Bastard himself will have to get involved if they want to break through those. And he's already got an appointment with Ji-chan."

The savage, knowing smile that played across the redhead's face when she mentioned the Snake Sannin's fate sent a chill down Kin's spine…as well as sending a flush of heat across her cheeks. Just what the hell was going on with her, she wondered.

"If you say so…Uzumaki-sama." Kin offered shortly.

Naruko gave her a nod. "I happen to say so, Kin-chan. Today's the day that the Snake Bastard learns that he's bitten off far more than he can hope to swallow, believe it."

The look of disbelief that crossed Kin's face was less absolute than it had been just a few days previously, Naruko was going to take that as a good step forward.

Later

Streets of Konoha, Near the Stadium

Hinata absently scanned the surroundings as she made her way toward the stadium, hoping to catch sight of her girlfriend. She hadn't seen her for an entire month, something that had put her in quite the foul mood when the Elders had informed her that she would be restricted to Clan grounds in order to 'focus on her training.'

Quite why they had been so forceful on that, Hinata wasn't sure. Were they attempting to wean her off of Naruko-chan's company in case she had to fight her? If so, the Hyūga Heiress thought ever so slightly smugly, then they had failed rather fantastically. The Elders were apparently unaware that Naruko had long since discovered a means to infiltrate the Hyūga compound and had sent a Kage Bunshin to her rooms each night during their month-long separation.

It had been enough to keep her going for the month, but Hinata was growing incredibly impatient with her desire to hold her actual girlfriend in her arms, dammit, rather than a simple clone, no matter how lifelike!

"Hinata?" a familiar voice suddenly called out to her, calling the lavender-eyed heiress to turn and catch sight of Sakura jogging up to her. "Wow, you've certainly changed your look. Looking good!"

Hinata blushed slightly as the rosette offered a thumbs up. She had allowed her hair to grow out over the month and had tied it back this morning in a short ponytail. Her outfit had also been altered significantly. Gone was her form-concealing puffy cream jacket, replaced with a knee-length trenchcoat of the same colour, the flame symbol of the Hyūga Clan on either sleeve in the same location as her last jacket. The trenchcoat was only fastened at the top button, revealing her plain black top underneath, which in turn hid the traditional mesh armour of a shinobi underneath. Her new outfit was finished by slightly tighter-fitting navy blue trousers that still didn't impede her legs in the slightest, as well as a kunai holster. She still wore her same dark blue ninja sandals.

"Th-thank you, Sakura-san." the Hyūga Heiress offered shyly. "You've also changed your outfit. It's looks…very fetching on you."

The pinkette blushed slightly in return. Her Combat Dress had been switched out for a top and skirt, with a slim line her midriff exposed, save for more mesh armour, while her forearms were now covered in a pair of Battle Gauntlets, kote specially designed to assist the wearer with punching. She also had a set of suneate, armoured greaves, which protected her from her ankles to above her knees.

The biggest change, though, was her hair; where once she had possessed long pink locks flowing down to the small of her back, now it was cut short to around her shoulder blades, and was tied up in a loose braid.

All-in-all, the minor changes had made the Haruno Heiress look far more like an aspiring young professional, as opposed to a green rookie.

"But…your hair…" Hinata continued hesitantly. "I thought you loved wearing it long?"

"Eh, not really." Sakura shrugged, letting out a slight sigh. "It was mostly because I heard that Sasuke-kun liked long hair, but that obviously didn't go anywhere. I guess I did kinda grow fond of it myself after a while, but the amount of time I had to spend taking care of it was just too much of a hassle. This is much more manageable for a kunoichi."

"Mm. I think that's the length most Hyūga keep their hair at." Hinata observed, before changing the subject. "Are you ready for your match against Ino-chan?"

"I think so, but she…" the pinkette seemed to struggle with herself for a moment to find the words. "Ino and I have been frenemies for ages now, and before that she was my best friend for a long time. Fighting her in front of all of these people…it's kind of nerve-wracking."

"Ah." Hinata nodded in understanding. Fighting in the Academy or during training sessions was a very different situation when compared to fighting someone in what amounted to an exhibition match in front of hundreds of other people. "You have it easier than I do at least. I have to fight Neji-nii-san."

"Oh…sorry." Sakura winced. Fighting her old friend was bad enough, but Hinata had to fight her cousin, with added fact that said cousin obviously had some kind of grudge against her. That was just a recipe for trouble waiting to happen! "Are…are you going to be okay?"

"Neji-nii-san is widely considered to be one of the greatest geniuses ever born into the Hyūga Clan." Hinata sighed. "His skill with the Jūken rivals that of some of our clan's Jonin, he has learned and mastered at least two of the three Hakke Strikes that are our clans greatest offensive techniques, and, if I know him as well as I think I do, then he has likely also managed to learn the Hakkeshō Kaiten, a technique that is normally limited to only the Head of The Hyūga Clan and their direct heirs, in the past month. He is precise, capable and utterly ruthless to anyone who stands in his way. In all factors that my clan covets, he is far superior to me as a Hyūga."

"Hinata…" Sakura gave the other girl a worried look.

"But that is neither here nor there." the Hyūga Heiress continued, her eyes steeling as she offered her friend a small smile. "I intend to face him as a kunoichi of Konoha, and the abilities of the Hyūga are but one small part of Konoha. I am not sure that I will win, but neither am I certain of my own defeat. At the very least, I shall not lose easily."

"…you've gotten a lot more confident since you started dating Naruko." Sakura could only blink her emerald eyes at her friend.

"Eep!" Hinata squeaked, blushing hard. "D-Do you think so?"

"Yeah. You never would've said anything like that about you and Neji-san in a million years before we graduated." the pinkette nodded.

"I…suppose so." the bluenette nodded, a shy smile on her face. "I owe Naruko-chan more than I can ever repay."

Just then, the girls made it into the stadium proper and quickly made their way to the waiting box for the competitors. They would need to go down to the arena itself when the opening ceremony started, but for now they were on standby in the box.

Sabaku no Gaara and his sister, Sabaku no Temari, were already there, but standing on opposite sides of the box. The older kunoichi nodded at them before looking out at the arena, which was a small circle of open ground, with a couple of rocks scattered here and there, with a small wooded area take up a corner of the ring. While large, it wasn't somewhere that combatants could hide in for long, which would force a direct confrontation sooner rather than later.

Standing opposite of Temari, also as far away from Gaara as possible, was Aburame Shino. The stoic, silent boy also nodded a greeting at them before returning to his contemplations. He hadn't changed in appearance, but Hinata could swear that he somehow felt more powerful.

Over near Gaara, Rock Lee was busy doing handstand push-ups while balanced on his thumbs, no sign of strain or effort on his face. Both Hinata and Sakura blinked at the odd sight, but as this was Gai-sensei's pupil they quickly got over their surprise.

Ino stood about halfway between Gaara and Temari, and had gone through a similar outfit and hairstyle change to Sakura. Her usual purple outfit was the same, but her armbands had been replaced with cream-coloured kote, with purple highlights. As had been usual since she had acquired it, Ino had her ninjatō slung over one shoulder, and she also had her kunai pouch strapped securely to her right leg.

"Hinata. Forehead." she nodded shortly at them.

"Ino-pig." Sakura shot back immediately.

"Ino-chan." Hinata greeted her teammate. "H-Have you seen Naruko-chan?"

"Nope, which is kinda weird. Knowing her, I kinda expected she'd be the first one here." the Yamanaka Heiress offered, a slight frown crossing her lips.

"Wow, aren't my ears starting to burn." a familiar voice drawled as a pair of arms slipped around Hinata's waist, swiftly followed by a kiss to her neck. "Hmm, you sure are a sight for sore eyes, Hinata-chan."

"N-Naruko-chan!" Hinata eeped, even as she unconsciously tilted her head to the side to allow her girlfriend better access to her neck.

Ino just sighed as her lover-slash-teammate happily nuzzled with her girlfriend. "As lovey-dovey as ever, the pair of you."

"Jealous, Ino-chan?" the red-headed Uzumaki Heiress asked with a knowing look that made Ino flush red and splutter out a denial.

"…why am I the only kunoichi out of our graduating class who hasn't turned into a lesbian or bisexual mess?" Sakura facepalmed.

"Lack of opportunity?" Naruko suggested as she reluctantly released Hinata and stepped back. "I will get around to you at some point, don't worry."

"NARUKO!" Sakura yelped, her face flushing redder than the Uzumaki Heiress' hair.

Temari scoffed as she looked on. "Man, she's a regular lady killer."

The Wind Mistress noticed the other Hyūga, the one that seemed to have an entire tree jammed up his ass, walking in, glaring scornfully at his cousin and her girlfriend before stalking off to lean broodingly on the wall. Eesh, what a jackass; just what was his damage?

"Say, where's the Teme?" Naruko questioned. "Don't tell me he actually picked up Kakashi-sensei's annoying habit?"

"Don't get too caught up in yourself, dobe." the Uchiha said with a scowl, as he Shunshin'd in. His new outfit was a pure black version of his first one, with one arm wrapped in bandages and small black belts around all four limbs.

"Trying to be fashionably late, teme?" Naruko drawled out, thoroughly unimpressed.

"Hn." Sasuke grunted back.

"As eloquent as ever." the Uzumaki Heiress scoffed.

"Can we not fight? We're going to be doing enough of that soon enough anyway!" Sakura sighed as, once more, the Uchiha and Uzumaki glared at one another.

Later

Hokage's Box, Stadium

Sarutobi Hiruzen leaned back into his throne-like as Gekkō Hayate informed the genin about the basic rules of the exam, which were so simple that a concussed lemming could follow them. Sadly, he felt that young Hyūga Neji would need reminding that he wasn't exempt from things simply because he was nursing a grudge. His little 'fate is inevitable' philosophy wasn't all that uncommon among the Hyūga, but Neji took it to a dangerous extreme.

"It seems the Exams drew in quite the crowd this time around." the 'Yondaime Kazekage' remarked absently, and the old Hokage had to stifle yet another sigh. Orochimaru was being very daring in his choice of disguises. It also confirmed to him that Sabaku no Rasa, the actual Yondaime Kazekage, was likely long dead. The younger Kage was far too proud to allow anyone to simply use his face as a disguise.

"Yes, as long as the matches go smoothly it should draw in quite a bit of business for both of our villages." Hiruzen offered pleasantly. "A shame it was only genin from our villages that made it this far; I would have been rather interested in seeing some of the newer minor villages get some attention. Such as that new village…Otogakure I think it was called. I've heard quite a few interesting titbits about some of the unorthodox jutsu that their shinobi employ. Have you heard anything about them yet, Rasa?"

"Precious little. My shinobi rarely take missions outside Kaze no Kuni and its direct neighbours, so I'm afraid we've only ever heard the occasional rumour." the veiled man replied after a moment's consideration. "Given that Hi no Kuni and Tani no Kuni share a border, you would probably know more about them than I, Hokage-dono."

'Sloppy, so very sloppy, Orochimaru.' Hiruzen sighed slightly in disappointment. 'Rasa would have never admitted to any weakness or lack of knowledge on his village's part, particularly when it comes to a new military power. And when we are alone or just with our personal guards, Rasa is never that respectful, he simply refers to me as 'Hiruzen'. As always, you rely too much on the perfection of your impersonation techniques and don't do adequate research on your target's habits and mannerisms. You've had the same problem since you were but a genin, and you've never bothered to fix it.'

If Orochimaru had one serious flaw, it had always been his pride. Even as a child, he'd always had a stubborn blind spot when it came to his own failings.

"So, our first match will be between…two Hyūga?" 'Rasa' asked. "Seems like a rather boring way to start the Exams, Hokage-dono. Though one of them is the supposed prodigy of the Branch Family, is he not?"

"Young Neji is indeed a prodigy with the Hyūga Clan's Jūken Taijutsu Style, but sadly I think he lacks the maturity needed to earn a promotion at this moment." Hiruzen offered with a sad shake of his head. "His opponent is the current Heiress of the Hyūga Clan's Main Family, Hinata, and I'm afraid the boy holds quite the misdirected grudge against her due to the death of his father during 'Hyūga Incident' all those years ago. Between the two of them, she is the one that has grown the most since she has become a genin, so I do believe we will be in for quite the exciting display of skill from this match-up."

"Hoh? If 'the Professor' himself is willing to say that much about a genin, then I shall certainly watch with great anticipation." 'Rasa' offered with a nod.

Beneath his disguise, Orochimaru silently scowled. He knew very well that the Hyūga chitling was far stronger than what a rookie genin should be; the reports that his various spies had been able to gather, plus what limited information Kabuto had managed to acquire through his own observations, had told him that she practised some form of variant of the more traditional Jūken, which was quite rare. The Hyūga Clan always tended to be quite homogenic in more ways than simple appearance; the clan as a whole rarely innovated with their treasured fighting style, instead emphasizing exact replication and careful enhancement of their bloodline's prized art as the only way forward.

It was just one of the reasons why the Snake Sannin had always carried a minor distaste for the Hyūga Clan. As a man obsessed with learning and creating new forms of jutsu, he found such a widespread disinterest in, and even outright scorn for, new developments to be quite distasteful.

'I will simply have to judge her skills for myself.' the Snake Sannin mused quietly. 'Those rare few innovators among the Hyūga always tend to be far more…interesting than their more staid counterparts. Those are always so dreadfully boring to deal with.'

Settling into his own throne-like chair, ever so slightly smaller than the Hokage's own, the Traitor decided to simply sit back and observe until the sand's precious weapon was ready to be unleashed on his unsuspecting homeland. He had always enjoyed watching the Chūnin Exams, not only did it offer a chance to…acquire an interesting Kekkei Genkai bearer, but it also offered an interesting chance to see new and/or novel techniques that he could either steal or reverse-engineer.

With his Furō Fushi no Jutsu (Eternal Youth and Immortality Jutsu), after all, he had all the time in the world.

With Hinata

As the proctor dismissed the rest of the Chūnin hopefuls to the box to wait for their own matches, Hinata took a deep breath before she turned to face her cousin. For eight years, he had blamed her for the death of his father, and now, he had the chance to attack her without her father or the elders being able to interfere.

'The look in his eyes…it's just like most of the Elders.' the Hyūga Heiress thought as his pale white eyes bored into her own lavender orbs. 'Cold, superior, and utterly contemptuous of those 'beneath' you. It is really rather ironic that, in your rage and hatred, you have become so similar to those you claim to despise, Neji-nii-san.'

"Hinata-'sama', I would suggest that you save yourself and our clan the embarrassment and simply surrender now." Neji stated coldly. "You cannot defeat me; fate has already decided this match."

"As m-my girlfriend would say, Neji-nii-san, f-fate isn't fighting you right now…I am." Hinata stated, assuming the stance of the Jūho, which was different enough from the standard stance of the Jūken that someone of Neji's skill could easily see such. "If you wish to say that f-fate is on your side, then p-prove it with your taijutsu!"

"Be warned, I shall not hold back." the older Hyūga warned her darkly as he slid into the opening stance of the orthodox Jūken. "You shall regret attempting to fight against fate, failure of the Main House."

Up in the stands, Hyūga Hanabi gently worried her lip as she saw her beloved elder sister face against their older cousin. "Onee-sama…"

"Calmly does it, Hanabi." Hiashi soothed her. Looking down at his oldest daughter and only nephew, the Hyūga Head would admit only to himself that he was equally worried for Hinata; Neji was a legitimate prodigy in the Jūken, and according to the Hokage's reports, he had done the unthinkable and somehow reverse-engineered the Hakkeshō Kaiten in just a month's time. The sheer amount of insight, ingenuity, and sheer, raw talent that such a feat would take to accomplish such a task was far above even what his deceased brother Hizashi would have been capable of, which was saying something.

And that was only one thing he had mastered.

He did not voice this to his already worried youngest daughter. Instead, he said, "Have faith in your sister, Hanabi. While Neji is indeed talented, his fatal flaw may prove to be his downfall."

"Hai, Otō-sama." Hanabi nodded obediently, her pale eyes not leaving the pair in the middle of the arena.

"Are both (cough) combatants ready?" Hayate asked. Both Hyūga nodded almost in unison, eyes not leaving one another. "Alright then. (cough) Begin!"

""Byakugan!""

Almost at once, Neji leapt in and started exchanging blows with Hinata, veins pulsing on both of their heads. Looking at it from the outside, it just looked as if they were poking at one another with their index and middle fingers, but to those with awakened chakra, they could sense the small flares of energy that seemed to accompany each jab and strike.

"I've never felt such thin and precise chakra from Hinata-chan before!" Ino blinked.

"Yeah, her control has gotten even better over the month." Naruko agreed, her eyes narrowed. "When it comes to raw control then I'd say she and Neji are on about the same level."

"She's still being put on the defensive though." Temari observed absently. "The guy she's fighting is not only more experienced, but he's physically faster as well. It's only a matter of time before he manages to break through and land a solid hit."

"He already has, several times even." the Uzumaki Heiress corrected with a shake of her head. "He's mostly been targeting the tenketsu on Hinata-chan's hands and forearms, he's trying to seal off her ability to fight with the Jūken."

"Then…then how is she still fighting right now?" Sakura blinked in confusion.

"I taught her a trick I came up with that lets you forcefully reopen a tenketsu that has been closed by the Jūken using your own chakra." Naruko offered with a smirk. "Neji and I have sparred several time in the past and I managed to figure it out during one particularly rough match with him. All Hinata-chan had to do to learn it herself was jab me a couple times and then watch as I undid it with her Byakugan active. She even managed to refine the process a bit and taught me her newer version, make the entire thing a lot less painful and a bit faster and less chakra-intensive."

'This girl managed figured out a counter to the Jūken, all on her own?!' Temari thought in astonishment, her teal eyes snapping back to the fight as Hinata snapped a counterattack back with a cry of, "Jūhopō: Shōtei! (Gentle Step Art: Palm Bottom!)"

Countering it with the same technique, Neji glowered at her, frustration beginning to show as he realized why his attacks were having seemingly no effect. "I see that your 'teammate' taught you her bastardized countering technique."

"Hakke Kūshō! (Eight Trigrams Vacuum Palm!)" Hinata snapped out an arm, sending a wave of chakra at her cousin. The time for words had long since passed; she and the one she called her brother had to face one another as shinobi.

"Hakke Kūshō!" Neji countered. To his shock, his vacuum palm was overwhelmed by hers, forcing him to dodge!

'No…it didn't overwhelm my Hakke Kūshō, it drilled straight through mine, scattering it without losing much of its own force!' he thought in shock. "What did you do?!"

"I thought you would notice." Hinata nodded. "That was my altered version of the Hakke Kūshō…the Hakke Renkūshō (Eight Trigrams Drilling Vacuum Palm). It is actually less effective as an attack than the original Hakke Kūshō, but it is particularly suited for countering opposing ranged chakra-based attacks."

Outrage swept through Neji. Creating new techniques for the Jūken was strictly forbidden to any below the rank of Jonin!

"So you flout your status in order to violate Clan Law!?" he snarled out.

"I was not the one who invented this technique, it was my mother." Hinata clarified. "Just like she was the one who invented the majority of the Suiton-based variation of the Jūken, the Jūho! If you will recall, Neji-nii-san, my mother was a Paper Jonin."

A 'Paper Jonin' was precisely what it sounded like, someone who held the rank of Jonin on paper only and lacked the experience, skill, and/or fitness required to officially hold the title. Several smaller villages used them to 'pad' their rosters by selling titles to foppish nobles who thought the rank would add to their prestige. In Konoha, Paper Jonin were usually limited to elderly or medically retired shinobi who kept the rank due to political, bureaucratic, or clan-based necessities. The Hyūga had a small number of them in each generation who specialized in refining, researching, and experimenting with the Clan's sacred Family Art.

Naturally, as the Clan Head's wife, Hyūga Hitomi had been granted the rank upon her husband ascending to his position.

"…tch!" Neji clicked his tongue in frustration at the failure slipping by on a technicality.

"Of course, much of the Jūho was left unfinished since my mother passed while brining Hanabi into the world." Hinata continued calmly. "Fortunately, Otō-sama is a full and proper Jonin himself, and he has been working to see that his wife's work was not left incomplete. This day you face the fighting style crafted by Hyūga Hitomi, perfected by Hyūga Hiashi, and first truly wielded by myself."

"Enough of your babbling!" Neji shouted angrily, incensed by the (to him) blatant boasting of the spoiled child in front of him. Drawing his right arm back, he shot it forward with a loud cry. "Hakke Hazangeki! (Eight Trigrams Mountain Crusher!)"

From his outstretched palm, a thick, near-solid wave of pure chakra was unleashed, barrelling straight towards Hinata, who simply shifted her stance to a more fluid one.

"Hakke Kakuyoku Sanren! (Eight Trigrams Triple-Linked Crane Wings!)" Hinata declared, whipping both of her arms around before unleashing three 'blades' of chakra from each, all slamming straight into the Hazangeki, one after another. As each struck, one after another, the attack slowed down, halted, and then scattered from as the last blade swept through it.

"Impossible!" the Hyūga Prodigy declared, his voice cold and flat.

"Not impossible." the Hyūga Heiress merely shook her head. "Were I using the orthodox Jūken then perhaps it might have been, but the Jūho is quite different. The less solid, more fluid stances allow for a completely different set of attacking and defending options compared the more rigid and straight-forward Jūken. Kakuyoku Sanren utilizes that fluidity to release and sharpen a flow of chakra into sharp, cutting blades akin to a Suiton jutsu. All six blades combined were enough to overcome your Hazangeki. Then again, you lost control when you used it; the Hakke Hazangeki is supposed to be used from close or even point-blank range. You let your anger get the better of you; the Hakke Kūhekishō (Eight Trigrams Vacuum Wall Palm) would have far better served you instead."

Even as Neji seethed at being talked down to by Hinata of all people, he was forced to (silently) admit that his cousin had a point; he had acted impulsively and made a critical mistake because of it. He needed to regain his centre and calm himself, lest he lose this match because of his own foolishness. Eyes sharp and cold, he slowly began to re-close the distance with Hinata, who merely narrowed her own eyes as she did the same.

"I will admit that this…unorthodox style of yours momentarily disrupted my expectations." the Hyūga Prodigy stated coldly, the words making him feel like he was biting into a lemon. "However, a few paltry tricks will avail you nothing in the end. A loser will always be fated to lose, and you are within range of my divination!"

"As you are within mine, Nii-san." Hinata returned softly as they faced off.

""Hakke Rokujūyon Shō! (Eight Trigrams, Sixty-Four Palms!)""

"Isn't that the same rapid attack that Neji used against that Amegakure guy?" Sakura asked with a frown.

"It is. Though it's usually only taught to the Clan Head and their heir; Neji must have been able to learn it entirely on his own." Naruko answered with a frown, Hinata having mentioned the technique before. "Jeez, for one person to be so talented, it kinda pisses me off. Being able to strike at sixty-four tenketsu in rapid succession, allowing them to block or disrupt the flow of chakra in the body to the point that it completely robs someone of their ability to use chakra or even move. And that's when they aim for the tenketsu; the Hyūga's Byakugan lets them see internal organs just as easily as the chakra circulatory system and tenketsu. They can just aim for those and utterly destroy an opponent from within. This is why only an idiot tries to fight a member of the Hyūga Clan in close combat, the Jūken is a nightmare to face in even an average Hyūga's hands."

Down in the arena, the two young Hyūga met with a clash, their arms blurring as they struck through the air.

""Ni Shō!"" Two paired strikes glanced off each other.

""Yon Shō!"" Another set of paired strikes clashed.

""Hachi Shō!"" Eight more strikes were deflected from each other.

""Jūroku Shō!"" Thirty-two chakra-infused strikes crossed paths.

""Sanjūni Shō!" Sixty-four attacks met each other.

""Hakke Rokujūyon Shō!"" One-hundred and twenty-eight strikes met in mid-air, chakra sparking in the air before dispersing.

Neji stepped back, his utter disbelief that his weakling failure of a cousin had somehow managed to learn and properly execute that strongest attacking technique of the Hyūga Clan was obvious. That disbelief faded a moment later as he began to notice several things with his still-active Byakugan and a smirk appeared on his face. "You may have managed to perform the Rokujūyon Shō, but it is painfully obvious that your skill with it lacking compared to my own. You were just forced to reopen several of your own tenketsu, and I know for a fact that the trick you're relying on takes considerable chakra to utilize. With you burning through your chakra so quickly, your reserves will fail you far quicker than mine, and then you will be all but helpless. Despite being the heir of the Main House, you are truly unsuited for the Jūken."

"You are not wrong." Hinata responded simply and unashamedly, making Neji frown as his attempt to finally break through whatever false bravado his failure of a cousin had managed to erect around herself failed again. "The Final Attack of the Hyūga, like most of the Jūken, is a fundamentally Earth-element Taijutsu that makes use of rigid lower stances and explosive power and speed. My body is more suited for Water-element taijutsu, making it fundamentally misaligned with the Jūken. Even if you and I had mastered it at the same time, I would not be able to perform it at the same skill level because of that. I merely utilized it today to show that I could; when we next clash, I shall used the Final Attack of the Jūho Taijutsu Style, one that can stand as an equal to the Hakke Rokujūyon Shō!"

'An attack that stands as an equal to the Rokujūyon Shō? Ridiculous.' Neji silently scoffed at the very idea. 'It has been the pinnacle of the Hyūga Jūken for generations. Only the most talented and capable have been able to master it, or even reach past it and learn the Hakke Hyaku Nijūhasshō (Eight Trigrams One-Hundred and Twenty-Eight Palms). If she believes that such a blatant bluff will have any effect, than she is an even bigger fool than I thought!'

"Hmph, very well then. I shall accept your little challenge, Hinata-'sama.'" the older boy sneered as he once more fell into the stance for his technique. "I shall tear down this false confidence of yours and reveal the truth of fate to you. You are within range of my divination!"

'Oh Neji-nii-san…I wasn't challenging you. I was merely stating a fact.' Hinata sighed sadly to herself as she fell into her own stance. 'Over the years you have truly let the anger and resentment that has been building within you blind you to reality. You take everything said or done to you by a member of the Main Family in the worst possible way, especially when it come to me…'

She had absolutely hated that this kind of ill-feeling existed within her clan. Both the Main and Branch Families were part of one clan, one family, and yet no one seemed to understand what that should mean but her. She had never wanted her uncle to die, not in the least, but Neji refused to accept that and he probably never would unless she forcefully dragged him out of that mire of hatred and anger that he was wallowing in. In order to save her beloved cousin, she would have to beat him.

So, as her girlfriend had put it, she had to kick ass until he finally sat down, shut up, and actually listened to her.

Hinata started slowly weaving her arms through the air as Neji yelled out, "Hakke Rokujūyon Shō!"

"Shugohakke Rokujūyon Shō! (Protective Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms!)" Hinata countered, her weaving arms suddenly blurring into action. Her hands erupted in a bright glow of chakra and, to the astonished eyes of Neji and many of the other Hyūga watching, weaving a massive lattice of chakra between her and Neji, just as he launched the first two strikes of his attack sequence.

'What?! How is this possible?!' the Hyūga Prodigy growled as his fingers discharged their chakra against the lattice to no visible effect. As he continued with the Hakke Rokujūyon Shō though, he gained insight into the technique. 'Wait…now I see. My strikes are having an effect, but she is repairing and reinforcing them with chakra for every repetition of the pattern her arms are moving in. This technique is a nigh impenetrable defence to most jutsu, even to my own strikes. As expected of a creation of Hyūga Hitomi.'

Even he could not deny his deceased aunt's skill when it came to developing and perfecting new forms of their clan's treasured taijutsu, not with a perfect example of it staring him in the face. It merely astonished him that the woman's failure of a daughter could actually make use of such a technique!

As he finished the fruitless taijutsu attack, Hinata also ceased her defence, likely to save what remained of her chakra.

"Impressive. A truly powerful defence." Neji admitted, once again forcing the bitter words out of his mouth. "However, it tells me several things. First, that you are unable to use the Hakkeshō Kaiten. Second, that this is likely what consumed the vast majority of your training time over the last month. Such a technique cannot have been either simple or easy to learn."

"Otō-sama, how can Neji-nii-san know the first one?" Hanabi asked, having lip-read her cousin's words.

"Because the Hakkeshō Kaiten is the ultimate defensive technique of the Hyūga Clan, Hanabi." Hiashi replied. "With it, there is no need for other defensive jutsu. There has only been a handful of instances in history since the technique was created that it has been overwhelmed in force, and nearly all of those instances have been when the wielder has faced an opponent of at least S-rank in power and ability. And Neji has learned it."

"…! Onee-sama…" Hanabi fretted.

"With your best jutsu a defensive one, and my knowledge of the Hakkeshō Kaiten, you really have no hope of victory." Neji stated, his voice and tone radiating superiority. "Surrender now."

"It is truly a pity that you are so full of contempt and anger, Neji-nii-san." Hinata stated with a shake of her hand as she shifted her stance slightly, her form growing more aggressive. "If you were to open your eyes to the truth, you would not have overlooked a single, simple fact in your analysis."

"And what have I missed?" the Hyūga Prodigy replied coldly as his eyes narrowed.

"You are correct that my technique is in part to compensate for my current inability to utilize the Hakkeshō Kaiten, but kindly remember its name: Shugohakke Rokujūyon Shō." Hinata offered him a small, sad smile. "It is a technique that mixes aspects of both the Hakkeshō Kaiten and the Hakke Rokujūyon Shō…that means that it is a technique that can be used both defensively and offensively. And you are within range of my divination!"

'Impossible…! She truly means to attack with that technique?!' Neji stared at Hinata in disbelief for a fraction of a second before his 'Hyūga Glare' redoubled. 'Just how much further does she plan on insulting me?! Very well, I'll tear your little attack to shreds! A defensive technique used for the offence cannot be victorious! It is fated so!'

Palms moving fluidly and precisely, Hinata leapt to the attack, calling out, "Shugohakke Rokujūyon Shō!"

"Very well, I will rip your pathetic technique to shreds with the Ultimate Defence of the Hyūga Clan!" Neji shouted; lowering his stance and starting to spin in place. "Jūkenhō Ōgi: Hakkeshō Kaiten! (Gentle Fist Secret Technique: Eight Trigrams Palm Rotating Heaven!)"

In an instant, the spinning Neji was replaced by a solid dome of chakra, with Hinata and her technique slamming into it seconds later. The lattice of the strongest Jūho technique contended with the ultimate shield of the Jūken.

"Incredible…to think he learned the secret of the technique from watching me perform it just once…!" Hisashi said, in shock. It was one thing to read a report stating his nephew had learned a Clan Secret, but quite another to see it performed in front of his eyes. "Hizashi…you would be so proud of him…! But…!"

Tenten, sitting in the section reserved for Konoha Shinobi, frowned as she watched. Neji had bluffed pretty well with Hinata, but he had only managed to finally recreate the Kaiten three days ago, and it was still far from perfect. The distribution of the chakra used as the shield was off, thinner in places, and too thick in some.

'Neji…don't think that just performing it will guarantee your victory.' the aspiring Weapons Mistress thought seriously. 'Just because you've managed to use a jutsu without it blowing up in your face doesn't mean that it's perfect!'

Inside the Hakkeshō Kaiten, Neji scowled as the pressure from Hinata's attack continued. 'Fool! The greater the force exerted on the Kaiten, the greater the force that will be sent right back at you. But…but that should have happened immediately after she struck my shield. So how and why is she still pressing on!?'

Hidden in a private box near the Hokage's box, Jiraiya smirked. "That girl isn't too bad, is she? Can you guess how she's doing that, Tsu-hime?"

Sending a glare at her teammate, Tsunade huffed. "Those streams of chakra that she's using are different from before. When she was on the defence, she was emitting multiple streams and weaving them together into a semi-solid latticework chakra barrier designed to absorb and disperse attacks. Now that she's shifted onto the offence, she's instead woven them together into a handful of sharp blades of chakra that are far stronger and more focused. It's like she's formed her chakra into thin, flexible, razor-edged blades, almost like the Chakra Mesu technique. She's quite literally slicing through the Kaiten's chakra shield just a hair slower than the other brat can pump chakra into it."

After a moment of continued observation and consideration, she continued. "She's very efficient with her chakra. Although the boy started off with the usual shinobi over kunoichi advantage when it comes to raw chakra reserves, the Kaiten is probably the most chakra-intensive jutsu in the Hyūga Clan's arsenal. There's a reason only a few ever learn it and why they only use it in dire circumstances. Just using it for about thirty seconds now has already dropped him down to parity with her. From this point, it's going to be who is more efficient with their chakra that will determine the final victor."

"It doesn't exactly help that this Neji brat seems to have gotten the hang of that hidey hole technique of his very recently." Jiraiya agreed. "He's got hardly any control over it and is burning through chakra constantly trying to correct his imbalances with it. If the girl's teammates were there, that little bubble would pop under their ninjutsu barrage, especially the gaki's, don't you think?"

"If she managed to learn the Rasengan beforehand, then very likely." the Senju nodded, eyes focused on the determined form of Hinata as she carved into the Kaiten. "Naruko did recommend Hinata, and Ino, as possible students for me to take on, but the Hyūga Clan have never had much of a talent for Iryōjutsu. Which is honestly a goddamn shame considering how useful that Dōjutsu of theirs would be for a medic."

"Give the girl a try." the Toad Sage offered with a shrug. "Even if she doesn't have a talent for it, the basics would still be useful for any shinobi in the field and it'll be one more warm body in your little Med-nin program."

While the two Sannin were enjoying a light conversation, both of the Hyūga in the arena were feeling the strain. Neji had never had to endure an assault for such a length of time, while Hinata had never had to maintain her assault for so long.

'Unbelievable…she's actually cutting through my Kaiten!' Neji thought, strain etched across his face as he spun. 'I…I can't keep going…for much longer!'

'As expected, Neji-nii-san is so strong! He's holding the Kaiten together with his will alone!' Hinata thought as she continued to slash with her palms. 'I can't…keep this up… for much longer…!'

"Keep going, Hinata!" Naruko shouted. "Beat his ass!"

Seeing the faith on her girlfriend's face (thank you, Byakugan), Hinata hardened her resolve. She wouldn't give up! Not until the end! Redoubling her efforts, the Hyūga Heiress pressed on.

'I…can't…anymore…!' Neji thought desperately. The Hakkeshō Kaiten had never been intended to be used for more than a handful of seconds, certainly no longer than a minute, and it had been almost twice that by now. He was suffering from seasickness-like symptoms and he was beyond his ability to tolerate them. He had to stop!

His refusal to lose clashed with his inability to continue and the former finally capitulated. Abruptly ending the Kaiten, he staggered out of the way of Hinata and fell to one knee, panting from exertion, and looking distinctly green.

Ending her own jutsu, Hinata wasted no time in taking advantage of her cousin's temporary debilitation, charging in, she drew back both of her arms, putting half of her chakra into the next blow she would use, even as Neji staggered to his feet and spun around to face her.

"Jūho Sōshō! (Gentle Step Double Palm!)"

"Haaah!" Neji yelled as he struck out with a single arm in one fluid movement, his strike seeking Hinata's vitals. Sadly, he misjudged both Hinata's speed and his own degree of debilitation, and so missed her completely, by just a bare millimetre, even as Hinata's strike impacted on his torso, the built-up chakra throwing him back as if Rock Lee had just punched him without his weights on.

Landing on his back, Neji skidded across the grass before coming to a stop, gasping for breath. Hinata, however, wasn't finished. Clapping her hands together into the Tiger Handsign, she inhaled

"Katon: Endan!" she muttered before unleashing a fireball at her cousin.

"Aagh!" Neji yelled as he was struck by it. He had actually been stunned by disbelief that she was actually lowering herself to use mere ninjutsu in a battle between them. Just how desperate was she to emerge victorious between them?!

Rolling around, he managed to put the flames out, and then tried to stand up…only to fail. Astonishment and disbelief on his face, he managed to force himself to one knee, but no further.

"Proctor-san, I believe my c-cousin…is no longer able to move." Hinata said, panting slightly herself.

Hayate looked between them for a moment before nodding slowly. "Agreed. The first match is over. Winner, Hyūga Hinata!"

Applause rained down on Hinata from the crowd, led by a beaming Naruko, and an astonished, but happy, Hanabi. Hiashi nodded in approval of his daughter's victory, before beckoning Hyūga Kō, the usual bodyguard to Hanabi whenever he himself wasn't available.

"Look after Hanabi." he instructed, as Neji was removed from the field by medics. "I must go and have a work with young Neji. The time has come for him to know the truth. Past time, I would imagine."

Standing, the Hyūga Head left the Hyūga Box and headed to the medical room, where Neji was undoubtedly being tended to by the on-call Med-nin.

'I only hope I am not too late to break his hatred.' the man thought with a sigh.

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Next Chapter: Third Round, Match 2: Flames of Youth vs. Flames of Vengeance

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