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"Sakura-chan!" - Regular Speech

'Baka!' - Thoughts

:Shannaro!: - Inner Sakura

[Quest Announcement] - Gamer Ability/Notification

Beta'd by BigCC

Chapter 26: Sakura and Ino vs. Training Ground 13

The Next Day

Naruto's Apartment, Amekage Apartments, Konohagakure

You have acquired the [Randora Ryū] Scroll. Do you wish to learn this Taijutsu Style?

Y|N

"You bet your ass I want to!" Naruto practically growled, jabbing his finger forward even as the phantom bruises across his body continued to ache and groan, even after a full night's rest and his HP being restored. In order to get the final couple levels he'd needed to max out the [Advanced Hakage] style, he'd challenged the first other Genin he'd come across after getting home to a three-out-of-five taijutsu spar.

Unfortunately, that Genin happened to be Rock Lee.

His flinched as his body was again beset by phantom pain at the mere memory of the beating he'd suffered at the hands of the bushy-browed brawler.

Shaking away those memories, he refocused himself by watching as the scroll quickly dissolved into motes of blue light that quickly shot into his chest. Even after seeing it happen dozens of times already, the sight still filled him with a sense of awe. And the best part was…

Congratulations! You have upgraded your [Advanced Hakage Taijutsu] into [Randora Ryū]! Due to the former style being maxed out, it starts on Level 2!

[Randora Ryū] (Passive) [LV2, 0%]

The Storm Tiger Style was originally created during the Warring Clans Period by a now-extinct clan hailing from a small, independent nation that once existed in the mountainous regions of what is now Tsuchi no Kuni. A hard, external style, the Randora Ryū excels in close-in melee fighting and is marked by both its aggressive nature by modern-day taijutsu standards and by its ability to easily incorporate a variety of enhancement-based ninjutsu into the fighting style itself. However, its aggressive nature is also the source of its greatest shortcoming, a lack of proper defensive techniques or manoeuvres, which has led to the early demise of many of its practitioners. While lacking in proper blocking and guarding techniques, the school does boast a number of evasive and footwork related technique, focusing on a philosophy that 'avoiding being hit in the first place is the best form of defence.'

- Increases attack when unarmed by 14.

- Increases attack speed when unarmed by 14.

- Increases STR while fighting unarmed by 14.

- Increases DEX while fighting unarmed by 14.

- Increases effectiveness of all body-enhancing ninjutsu by 5.

- As the level of this style increases, various taijutsu techniques related to the style will be unlocked and further ones may be created depending on the user's luck.

...that, yeah. Also...

As a result of your [Randora Ryū] reaching Level 2, you have unlocked the taijutsu technique [Randora Ryū: Tora Gari]!

[Randora Ryū: Tora Gari] (Instant) [LV1, 0%]

The Storm Tiger Style: Tiger Hunting Jutsu is a basic rapid movement technique meant to simulate the sudden burst of speed put on by a tiger as when it pounces on its prey. While not sustainable for more than a handful of seconds, using this technique at the right time can allow the user to quickly close in on their targets and deal a devastating blow.

- Costs 25 CP to activate.

- Increases SPD Stat by 5 for five seconds.

- Increases DEX Stat by 5 for five seconds.

Pretty good for the first technique he'd gotten from the style, one that he could easily see working well with the [Kitsunerisu no Binshō] and [Usagi no Sokudo] he already had; though those two technique focused more on a sustained increase to his speed rather than the quick burst of enhanced speed the new one seemed to provide.

Honestly, Naruto thought that this style was pretty much made for him. He didn't mind the lack of defensive techniques in the least, having always been rather firm in the belief that a good offence was the best kind of defence. He doubted it'd be as powerful as Gai-sensei and Lee's Gōken style, but it was definitely a massive step up from the Hakage Style he'd been using, even when it was maxed out.

Leaning back, the Jinchūriki frowned in thought. He was ready for another trip into Training Ground Thirteen, but the problem was Ino and Sakura. Asuma-sensei had (again) no-so-subtly been pushing him to invite his teammates to join him on a training trip into the Training Grounds to blood themselves against the chakra mutations that inhabited the place.

'But how can I do that when they're still working to get a good grasp of the ninjutsu that Kakashi-sensei made them learn?' he mentally argued with the idea.

Like Hyūga Hinata, Sakura was a Primary Suiton Affinity, so she'd gotten a copy of the Suiton: Teppōdama technique to learn. Ino was a Primary Katon Affinity, so she was learning Katon: Kakyū.

Unfortunately, Ino had been dragging her feet somewhat when it came to actually practising with their new technique. She was used to the idea that she'd be the 'rear line' of her team, as would be typical with the traditional Ino-Shika-Chō formation, and had thus never seen the need to train with any other techniques than her family's special ninjutsu. Forcing her to adapt to the idea that that wasn't how their team was going to work was going to take time.

Still, even while being stubborn, the Yamanaka Heiress had shown a talent for ninjutsu, quickly managing to pick up a basic mastery of the Kakyū to the point where she could use it without risking hurting herself producing a fireball of decent size and power. The issue was that she seemed to think that was 'good enough' for a technique she didn't see herself using as anything more than a last resort.

Sakura, on the other hand, was eager in practising with her new technique. As one would expect of a someone who'd earned the title of [Braniac], in addition to practising the jutsu itself during their training, she was also studying a scroll on basic Suiton jutsu she'd gotten from the Academy Library (which they still had free access to unlike the official Shinobi Library). Since the Teppōdama was a fairly basic jutsu, it hadn't taken her long to get a very good handle on the technique and she could now manipulate and scale the jutsu's power very effectively.

Sadly, Sakura's issue was mainly a physical one. Even with her nigh-perfect chakra control, she still had the smallest chakra pool of all the graduating genin which limited her to only being able to use the technique a few times before she ran out of chakra and had to recover.

Simply put, neither of them were ready. At their current level, Naruto would end up being forced to play bodyguard for both girls while they were in TG13, which would mean they'd learn jack-all from the experience. Why the hell was Asuma-sensei so determined that he do this so soon!?

'Wait…is he trying to use this to give Ino a kick in the ass?' Naruto thought, blinking in realization. 'Seriously? Does he honestly expect me to save her ass just so she'll double down on her training!? Uh-uh, no way!'

Jumping to his feet, Naruto stomped toward the door, fully intent on visiting a certain tenant to vent his spleen.

Later

Sarutobi Asuma's Apartment, Amekage Apartments

"Have to say kid, I honestly wasn't expecting you to piece it all together so soon." Asuma offered cheerfully, in spite of the glowering genin seated opposite of him.

Naruto snorted like an angry bull. "I can be a bit thickheaded at times, but that doesn't make me stupid. Don't underestimate me, sensei." he shot back. "You've been pushing me to take two people who barely have a grasp on a single offensive jutsu apiece into a Training Ground overrun with Chakra Mutations. It's obvious that something's not adding up."

"Alright, I get your point." the bearded man agreed with a wince, seeing that his student was honestly insulted, and a bit hurt, by his little trick. "But you've seen yourself how Ino's been digging her heels in on this. She needs a good, sharp taste of reality to get her head in order."

"Yeah, I get that. Hell, I even agree with you on it, but putting it all on me to save her ass during this whole setup is crossing the line." the blonde boy returned with a frown. "I'll always be willing to watch her back in the field or when things get tough, but I draw the line at using me as some sort of teaching aid to make Ino understand the way the world works-dattebayo!"

Asuma let out a breath before nodding. "Okay kid, I'll agree that that was a bit of a low blow on my part, but hear me out on my reasoning first, alright Naruto?"

Settling back, Naruto nodded and let the man talk.

"You probably don't know this, but the Sarutobi Clan have a long history with the Yamanaka, Nara and Akimichi Clans, an alliance that predates the founding of the villages and even the Warring Clans Period." The bearded Jonin started. "Even before the Genin-Chūnin-Jonin system came into being, it had always been a Sarutobi who was responsible for the training and fostering the next heads of the Ino-Shika-Chō Clans. My old man was even the one who taught Ino, Shikamaru, and Chōji's fathers back when they were just genin, though they never reached the level of fame that his first team, the Sannin, did.

"Huh, never knew any of that. I don't think it was covered in the Academy." the Last Uzumaki offered with a tilt of his head.

"No reason it would be; it's a Clan tradition, not a law or anything like that." Asuma replied with a shrug. "If you're not a part of any of the Clans involved, its not something that you'd simply just drop into a casual conversation. The fact that our Clans are old allies might be listed somewhere in your textbooks when they talk about the founding of Konoha, but that's about it. Anyway, the point is that Ino has grown up knowing that, eventually, she's going to be under my command full-time until she at least reaches Chūnin, not a temporary formation like our current squad is."

"Uh-huh, so?" Naruto prompted.

"So, Ino, Shikamaru and Chōji are going to be the sixteenth generation to have gone through this process." Asuma stated seriously. "Normally, the Ino-Shika-Chō Trio rely on four traditional formations they've practised and perfected over the generations, each relying on the unique Hiden Jutsu that each of their Clans practice. What, I'm trying to do is change things up a bit in order to add some new versatility into the formation."

"Like having Ino capable of taking the offence before using her Clan's techniques?" Naruto offered slowly, starting to see where this was going.

"Exactly. Normally, it is either the Akimichi or the Nara members who take the offensive step in the formation, while the Yamanaka tend to, as Ino has put it, take the rear guard position in order to guide and support them. That tends to leave the Yamanaka as the most overlooked part of the trio, despite the fact that they play a vital part in the Formation: Ino-Shika-Chō." The older man continued with conviction. "So, the first big step in getting a new formation working is to get Ino used to being an active member of the team's offence rather than acting in a support role like she's always expected to, at least in part."

"That's all well and good, but the point is that neither Ino or Sakura-chan are ready for this!" Naruto protested. "Let them get their techniques down pat and maybe even learn another, then I'll gladly take them in. Not beforehand."

Asuma gave him a measured look for a moment, before ginning and nodding his head. "Good, that's the kind of attitude a team leader should have."

Naruto blinked in surprise at the response, before he frowned again. "This was all some kind of test for me as well, wasn't it?"

"A little bit." the Jonin returned with a grin. "You've got a bit of a reputation for being headstrong and more than a bit reckless. I wanted to be sure that recklessness wouldn't put anyone else at risk."

The Gamer grumbled at that, but couldn't really argue with that. Even he could admit that he was a bit too eager to charge ahead at times.

"So you're gonna wait?" Naruto prodded.

"Yeah." Asuma agreed. "Sakura's got a good enough handle on the Teppōdama now, so I'll add the Tree Climbing Exercise to her training routine to help build up her chakra reserves faster and I'll get her another Suiton technique. Suiton Mizurappa (Water Style: Wild Water Wave) should be a good choice, the basics of it are similar enough to Teppōdama that she should be able to learn it quickly."

"Cool, and what about Ino?" Naruto asked curiously.

"Hmmm…probably either Katon: Hotarubi, or Katon: Endan (Fire Style: Flame Bullet)." the man pondered for a moment before shaking his head. "Likely Hotarubi. Endan involves moulding your chakra into oil in your mouth as the first stage, and I can't see Ino wanting to do that."

"I can see why." Naruto pulled a face. Even for him that sounded a bit gross.

"Eh, you can't be too fussy about things when you're a ninja...or a kunoichi." Asuma shrugged. "As for you...how's the progress of that 'quest' I gave you?"

"I've maxed out [Gansetsukon], [Dangan] and [Kaiten Shuriken], and I'm working on [Denkō Sekka], but it's still only Level 14." Naruto replied promptly. "Apparently, all D-Rank jutsu Max Out at Level 25, just so you know."

"Hmm..." Asuma nodded. "Didn't you say going to the Library was a reward for that second part of your Quest?"

"Huh...you're right." Naruto blinked before checking his Quest Log. "It's been updated 'due to outside interference', or so it says. Now the reward is an A-Rank Fūton Jutsu from the Library, or three B-Rank jutsu of any of the other elements."

"Huh. Not sure that we have any A-Rank Fūton Jutsu in the Library." the Jonin pondered curiously. "Still three B-Ranks otherwise? There a war getting started I don't know about?"

"Better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them?" Naruto shrugged. "I think it's for future dungeons. A lot of them are probably way stronger than TG13."

"Fair." the bearded Jonin admitted. God knows the kid was only scratching the surface of what this 'Gamer' thing could do, by all accounts. Wanting a bit of extra firepower just in case was damn sensible, in his opinion. Ordinarily, he'd worry about a genin overdoing it chakra-wise, but Naruto was in a class of his own when it came to chakra.

Well, total chakra, anyway. The part the kid could safely harness and control was tiny by comparison.

The two chatted some more, before Naruto left to practice his Fūinjutsu in his apartment, while Asuma had a date with Kurenai.

Two Weeks Later

Entrance to Training Ground 13

"So, this is where you keep disappearing off to?" Ino offered, hands on her hips as she eyed the slightly rusty gates standing in front of them disdainfully.

"This isn't the place for joking around, Ino. The Chakra Mutations inside this place will be trying to kill and/or eat us." Naruto shot back with a roll of his eyes. The way she was talking, it was like she thought he was coming here to goof off or something.

"I have to agree with Naruto on this one." Sakura put in, eyeing the gates as well while nervously working on her lip. Having been warned a few days ago about where they'd be going, she'd devoured several scrolls and a couple of books on the subject, none of which had left her feeling all that confident about this.

"Oh please, Naruto managed to clear two areas of this place on his own. It can't be that dangerous." the Yamanaka Heiress pointed out.

"And the things living in those areas managed to kick him around something fierce before he managed to get a handle on fighting them." the other kunoichi argued back. "And I know for a fact that neither of us are anywhere near as durable as he is."

"Daddy said he handled Chakra Mutations all the times when he was our age." Ino raised a different point, knowing that she couldn't argue about that. When it came to pure physical combat, Ino knew that she and Sakura couldn't hold a candle to their far more physically-inclined teammate.

"That's because the Second Great War was happening when your Dad was a Genin." Naruto responded, remembering that Ino's Dad was part of the same generation as the Fourth Hokage. "The training back then was a lot harder and more combat-focused since there was a war on. Iruka-sensei mentioned that it was normal for Academy Students back then to be taken into zones like this to get actual combat experience before they even became genin. By the time he officially became a genin, he likely had more combat experience than most Genin a year or two older than us now."

"Yeah, yeah…" the blonde girl just waved the argument off dismissively.

'She's heard her father talk about killing them so much that she just can't see them as a threat.' Naruto realized. It made sense. If Ino grew up hearing her dad talking about how easily he fought his way through them, then of course she wouldn't realize how dangerous they were. They were just things that shinobi could kill.

Asuma-sensei was right, she needed a sharp shock to knock those ideas out of her head.

"Well let's just hope you can live up to your talk, Ino." Naruto relented with a sigh. "Alright, so Asuma-sensei asked me to lead you two in an excursion while I work to clear out TG13. Thing is, this is actually an ongoing D-Rank mission from the Hokage, so mission rules apply. You both know what that means, right?"

Meaning they had to follow his orders.

"That's fine. You know this place a lot better than either of us." Sakura quickly relented. Unsurprising, she had always been one to follow the rules and guidelines.

"Tch, yeah. Let's just get in there and get this over and done with." Ino agreed with a pout. Naruto was willing to admit that it did look rather cute…wait, where did that come from!?

You have successfully resisted the [Charm] attempt from Yamanaka Ino!

Shaking his head at that, Naruto continued, "OK, good. First order of business, did you both pack like Asuma-sensei and I suggested? At least ten kunai and as many shuriken as you can safely carry?" When both nodded, he continued. "Good, try and keep the kunai for close-range and focus on the shuriken for throwing. Unlike me and my tantō, neither of you have a real close-combat weapon outside of your kunai, and trust me, you don't want to try and take some of the monster's we'll likely meet with taijutsu unless you're an expert in it like Bushy Brows or Hinata. Second, a lot of these things are really stupidly strong, so staying mobile is your best bet if you want to avoid getting hurt. Third, no using your family's Hiden on these things, Ino. It leaves you as a sitting duck, and I don't want to risk splitting mine or Sakura's attention to keep your body safe, and both of our clones are too fragile to trust with this."

Ino looked sour, but couldn't argue. "If I could use some of the more high-ranking techniques like the Shinranshin no Jutsu (Mind-Body Disturbance Jutsu), then that wouldn't be an issue." she complained instead

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." Naruto responded simply, quoting one of Jiji's favourite sayings. "We have to work with what we've got, not what we wish we had. Why do you think I held off on this until you both had at least a couple offensive ninjutsu under your belts? It was so you in particular would have options outside your clan jutsu to keep you alive in there."

"Huh…" Ino blinked at that, giving him an odd look for a moment, as if she was suddenly reassessing everything about him for some reason.

For showing an odd amount of concern for her safety and well-being, you have gained +100 Relationship with [Yamanaka Ino]!

For doing what you can to help keep her friend safe, you have gained +200 Relationship with [Haruno Sakura]!

Huh, cool. Unexpected, but cool.

"Alright, let's get moving then." the blonde boy declared, pushing the gates open and moving inside. After exchanging quick looks, the two frenemies quickly followed him, the gates creaking shut eerily behind them.

"So, what kind of Chakra Mutations are in this place?" Sakura asked as they walked through the short path to the first sub-area.

"When I first cleared this place, it was a bunch of rabid squirrels that were the at least the size of house-cats, with the one leading them being the size of a big dog. The things weren't that strong, but they were crazy fast and attacked like a bunch of furry piranhas." Naruto stated as he reached back and loosened Tsubaki and Sumire in their sheaths. "After I managed to clear the area of them, it helped purify the grounds of the built-up chakra, so now we just have to deal with chakra leaking in from deeper in the Training Ground. That stuff tends to possess bits of dead wood and turn them into these things Jiji said were called Mokujin. They're fairly strong and tough but are also slow and clumsy, so you and Ino should be able to beat one of the regular ones on your own if you work together."

"Mokujin? Wasn't that the name of one of Shodaime-sama's Mokuton ninjutsu?" the pinkette inquired.

"Yeah, don't know if he named it after them or they were named after it, but they honestly don't look that much alike." Naruto replied with a scoff. "The Mokuton: Mokujin no Jutsu (Wood Style: Wood Human Jutsu) was supposed to create a massive golem that was taller than the Hokage Mountain. The largest I've seen these Chakra Mutations get is about seven or eight feet tall."

For demonstrating deep knowledge of the Shodaime Hokage's Jutsu, you gain +100 Relationship with [Haruno Sakura]!

Idly noting that showing off knowledge seemed to get his crush's approval, Naruto slid the second gate open and beckoned the girls through, before securing it shut himself.

"Right, we're officially in the danger area now, so weapons out and keep your eyes open and your heads in the game." Naruto ordered as he drew out his paired tantō.

"Whoa, those are beautiful." Ino offered, passing an admiring eye over the blades.

"Thanks, Tenten's Dad and Mum do really good work." Naruto replied with a grin, before shaking his head and getting serious. "I'll take point. Ino, you keep an eye on our right. Sakura, you take the left."

"Got it."

"Yeah, I'm on it."

Both kunoichi quickly complied and moved to flank him on either side, keeping an eye on their respective sides, both had already drawn a kunai with one hand and were keeping their free hands near their shuriken holsters.

Naruto was pleased and honestly a bit impressed with how seriously they were taking this. He would have said that aloud had the world not suddenly greyed out around him, time sliding to a halt around him once again.

'This again!?' he growled out in his own mind before letting out a frustrated mental sigh as a screen appeared in front of his nose.

You are in a combat-ripe area with people who are not in your party!

Due to this situation, and the [Gamer] understanding that you do not wish to have to explain your status as [The Gamer] to your companions, please select choices from below to resolve the situation. These settings can be changed at will in the [Settings] screen.

Turn Auto-Looting System On while with people who are not added to your party?

(Loot and money will automatically be deposited in your inventory without you needing to touch each individual enemy in order to loot them.)

Y|N

Deactivate Battlespace System?

(During random encounters and boss fights, you will not be warped to a space especially built for fighting and will instead fight in the area in which you encounter the enemies.)

Y|N

Had Naruto been able to move, he would have facepalmed. Where the heck was this stuff coming from?!

'Roll with it Naruto, just roll with it.' he chanted to himself before quickly activating the [Auto-Looting System] and deactivated the [Battlespace System]. This prompted time to resume and colour to return to the world.

No sooner had it done do than Ino's free hand blurred, sending a handful of shuriken spinning right at a Mokujin as it emerged from a tree.

"Contact!" she shouted.

Possessed Mokujin LV 20

[Possessed Wood]

Stronger than they were level-wise at least, but that wasn't a sure indication of how dangerous this thing was, just potential.

Ino's throwing stars quickly embedded themselves into the wooden enemy's torso, seemingly without doing anything more than forcing it to pause for a second before it began to charge at them.

"Sakura, use your jutsu!" Naruto ordered as he moved to put himself between his teammates and the charging monster without blocking their line of sight.

The pink-haired kunoichi quickly obeyed, her hands instantly coming together to form the Tiger Handsign. "Suiton: Teppōdama!" she exclaimed before drawing her head back and spitting out a half-dozen water bullets directly at the Mokujin. Each bullet slammed into the mutation's torso with a sharp wooden crack, one even managing to tear a chunk out of the mobile dummy's torso.

Once again, it didn't seem to do more than slow the monster momentarily and force it a step or two back before it resumed its charge.

"Ino, you're up!" Naruto shouted.

"Katon: Kakyū!" the heiress shouted before spitting out a single volleyball-sized fireball at the Mokujin, which slammed into its head before detonating. The blast was enough to completely destroy the wooden construct's head, but it continued to rush forward utterly unconcerned.

It was starting to get too close for comfort.

"[Fūton: Reppūshō]!" Naruto called, thrusting his own arm forward and unleashing a concentrated gale at the battered being, sending it flying backward to skid across the ground to come to a rest several meters away from them. The wooden golem laid there, twitching violently as it tried to right itself before it finally collapsed and started to glow.

"What's going on?" Sakura asked curiously, starting at the glowing mutant as it seemed to bend, twist and dissolve before their eyes.

"We beat it hard enough that it can't contain the corrupted chakra that caused it to transform any longer." Naruto explained simply. "Now it's reverting back to what it was before it was possessed."

After several seconds, the wooden being had reverted to its original form, a large lump of wood that looked almost exactly like the kind they used for the Kawarimi no Jutsu. While Ino and Sakura just stared at the wooden stump in curious awe, Naruto took a moment to discreetly check his spoils.

[Wooden Figurine: Senju Hashirama (Battle Armour)] has been looted and added to your inventory!

[Jutsu Scroll Fragment (1/3)] has been looted and added to your inventory!

789 Ryo has been looted and added to your inventory!

You have slain a [Possessed Mokujin]! You earn 500 EXP!

Not a bad haul. He might end up giving the figurine to Jiji, he was sure the old man would appreciate a memento of his old teacher and mentor.

"So, what did you two think about the Mokujin?" he asked aloud, pulling both girls attention away from the stump.

"It was honestly kind of freaky that taking off its head didn't stop it." Sakura answered with a shiver.

"Yeah, since the Mokujin are just lumps of wood animated by chakra, they don't really follow most normal rules of biology." Naruto agreed. "For animal-based mutations aiming for the head and other vitals still works, but for stuff like these things, you should usually aim for the torso, particularly the centre mass, since that's where most of the chakra accumulates."

"It was really slow though." Ino opined absently as she tried to pull one of her shuriken free from where it was lodged into the former Mokujin's mass. After a moment of effort it came free, though the tip of one of the prongs had broken off. Ino absently discarded the broken weapon with an annoyed huff.

"Yeah, the basic ones are pretty slow and straightforward." he agreed dryly. "The big ones, which I tend to call Elder Mokujin, are slightly faster and way more durable. They also split in two when you beat them and form a pair of regular Mokujin that you then have to take care of."

"Ugh, sounds like an utter pain." Ino sniffed in annoyance.

"Yeah, these bastards are annoying to fight, but trust me you don't want to get hit by one. A solid hit from the smaller ones is enough to fell a good-sized tree and the big ones can crater the earth if they miss. One wrong hit from any of these wooden bastards and you're done." Naruto pointed out. "Also, if you see any Mokujin that's an unusual colour, fall back and let me handle it. Those things are on a whole other level of dangerous."

"Wouldn't that mean we should stick together? To better support each other?" Sakura asked with a frown.

"Not with those things. The golden ones can somehow use bastardized knockoffs of some of Shodaime-sama's Mokuton jutsu." the Jinchūriki answered with a shake of his head.

"Oh crap." Ino gulped out, quickly realizing what that could mean.

"For real?!" Sakura just looked shocked at the very idea.

"Yeah, ran into one while I was here a couple of weeks ago. They are tricky bastards." Naruto agreed. "Luckily, they seem to be really rare, so we hopefully won't run into one today."

Several minutes, and one more fight against a [Possessed Mokujin] later, and Naruto was wishing he'd not decided to tempt Benten to show her dark side today.

Possessed Golden Elder Mokujin LV22

[Greater Blessed Wood of the Forest]

"Didn't you say these things were rare?!" Ino yelped as the massive wooden figure started lumbering towards them.

"I did and they are! Maybe the thing just has an attraction to kunoichi or something!" Naruto shot back, trying to keep himself calm

Aside from its golden colouring, the giant Mokujin (several feet taller than a normal Elder Mokujin) looked almost exactly like the drawn images of the Mokujin jutsu that he'd seen in the history books; a brawny Oni-faced man with a wooden dragon wrapped around its torso.

"Both of you, fall back! You're nowhere near ready to fight something like this!" Naruto shouted out as he prepared himself to try out his new [Fūko no Tsume Ryū] tantō style against this new threat. He hadn't gotten a chance against either of the normal Mokujin, instead letting Sakura and Ino practice with their jutsu. "Snipe the thing with your jutsu when you see an opening, but only when I'm out of the line of fire. Otherwise, focus on staying clear of the thing, I've got no idea what tricks this bastard has got hidden up its sleeves."

"R-Right." Sakura agreed with a quick nod, obviously unnerved by the sheer size of the wooden golem. It had to be at least ten feet tall and built like a house.

Ino was oddly silent as she fell back along with Sakura. Her eyes nervously darting between him and the giant Mokujin.

Naruto simply rolled his shoulders and temporarily sheathed his blades so he could form his needed handsigns. "[Ninpō: Kitsunerisu no Binshō], [Ninpō: Usagi no Sokudo], [Ninpō: Sai no Kawa]." he incanted softly as he activated each Kemono Clan jutsu one after the other, before drawing out both his tantō again and letting his wind chakra flow through them to activate the [Fūton Chakra Nagashi] technique. As prepared as he could get, Naruto blitzed forward with a call of, "[Tora Gari]!"

In a blur of movement he was right at the feet of the massive Mokujin, and his blades were already streaking through the air to bite into the golem's wooden shin, both glowing slightly as he activated [Hasamigiri] in an effort to cripple at least one of the monster's legs and further slow it down. Unfortunately, the dense, chakra-infused wood was even tougher than normal metal, so his blades were barely able to cut more than a few inches into it even with the added cutting power from his [Fūton Chakra Nagashi].

"Shit!" Naruto cursed, leaping back just in time to avoid one of the wooden golem's fists slamming into the ground where'd he'd been standing with enough force to leave a large crater behind. Clumsily forming the Clone Seal around the handles of his blades, Naruto shouted, "[Kage Bunshin no Jutsu]!"

In a large puff of chakra smoke, nearly two dozen clones popped into existence around him before immediately charging the golden Mokujin, an audible shriek of wind rising across the clearing as they brought their wind-enhanced tantō to bear.

He knew they couldn't do much against the monster's impossibly sturdy hide, but it gave Naruto time to think and plan.

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted when several water bullets shot out from the surrounding woods and slammed into the side of the wooden mutant, followed quickly by a fireball that detonated against the monster's opposite side. Naruto couldn't hide his grin, the girls were adding their weight to the fight from the sidelines, and they were even being smart about it. Their little pincher manoeuvre was distracting the golem as the wood-brained lummox was torn between which side to attack, leaving it open for his swarming clones to rush forward and recapture its attention.

Seeing the burnt and scarred wood left from Ino's attack had also given him an idea on how to actually hurt the wooden behemoth. Naruto quickly cut the chakra flow to his weapons and re-sheathed them before starting a series of handsigns.

"[Fūton: Fūjinheki]!" the blonde roared out as he finished the last seal, causing a wall of wind to swirl into existence a few feet ahead of him. He quickly started a new, shorter set of handsigns, finishing with a Hare Seal. "[Katon: Hotarubi]!"

His clones, having recognized what was happening quickly cleared out, jumping back and leaving the giant Mokujin standing on its own in the middle of the clearing. The monster actually looked confused for a moment as all its targets suddenly pulled back.

Exhaling explosively, Naruto released a positive flood of miniature fireballs, each no bigger than a dice, and sent them flying forward at good pace. As each reached the [Fūjinheki] they suddenly bulged outward, swelling to the size of a large grapefruit and accelerating even further as they passed through the barrier. They began to reach the Mokujin a moment later, each detonating in a large, fiery blast as they slammed into the colossus' body. Even the ones that missed quickly started detonating as they were caught in the explosions of the ones that did, filling the entire area around the mutant with flames and smoke.

Every time [Hotarubi] was used, it generated anywhere from 150 to 500 miniature fireballs at random based on how the chakra used to make it formed together, so the giant golem was taking hits from at least a hundred and fifty explosive fireballs at once.

Even Asuma-sensei was wary of being caught in his [Fūjinheki]/[Hotarubi] combination technique, having referred to it as a 'damned effective wide-area attack.' So the Mokujin must be taking some serious damage right now!

…Right?

As the smoke and flames began to disperse, Naruto couldn't help but let his jaw drop in stunned disbelief as he saw the Mokujin still standing. While it was obvious that the [Possessed Golden Elder Mokujin] hadn't emerged entirely unscathed, with its body covered in craters, rents, and fractures and the vast majority of its formerly shimmering golden 'skin' having been charred a dark black, it was also just as obvious that it was far from being taken down by Naruto's best jutsu combo.

...granted it was his only jutsu combo at the moment, but the point still stood!

Growling in both fear and frustration, the blonde Jinchūriki decided it was time to start playing hard-ball. "Heavy jutsu bombardment on that thing! Give it everything we've got!" he roared out to his clones as he ran through the handsigns for the most powerful offensive Fūton technique he had.

"[Fūton: Daitoppa]!" he shouted.

"[Suiton: Daibakufu]!" one clone added.

"[Fūton: Ryūha]!" another added.

"[Doton: Dangan]!" yet another shouted.

"[Katon: Hibashiri]! (Fire Style: Running Fire!)" one decided to try one of his newer techniques

"[Fūton: Shinkū Taigyoku]!" another called out.

"[Fūton: Hanachiri Mai]!"one more clone called.

"[Fūton: Kūdan]!" still another clone roared.

"[Doton: Gansetsukon]!" two clones called.

"[Fūton: Senfūkyū]!" another one yelled.

"[Raiton: Denkō Sekka]!" three called in unison.

One after another, Naruto's remaining clones fired off their own jutsu in rapid succession. One even used the [Shinkū Taigyoku] that he wasn't supposed to use in public yet, while three more used that damned Raiton jutsu that so slow and arduous to level up.

Powerful blasts of gale force winds, explosive orbs and arrows of cutting wind, powerful streams of water, whip-like flames and earthen missiles of every size bombarded the wooden behemoth, the constant assault battering and rocking it, one hit from a particularly lucky [Dangan] managing to crack one of its arms so badly that it was only barely staying attached.

And yet, as the assault slowly started to ebb, the behemoth still stood.

Then it began to form handsigns of its own! Snake, Ram, Hare, Dog, and finally Snake again.

"Mokuton: Mokuryū no Jutsu! (Wood Style: Wood Dragon Jutsu!)" a voice like the rustling of a thousand rustling leaves seemed to echo from the giant.

"What the hell, it can fucking talk!?" Naruto barely heard Ino shriek from the surrounding woods. He was much more concerned as he watched the wooden dragon that was wrapped around the Mokujin's torso detached itself from its body, sliding through the air for a moment before it started barrelling straight toward him with a roar that sounded like creaking and groaning wood.

"Oh crap!" Naruto shouted, activating [Tora Gari] to quickly dart out of the way, allowing the serpentine dragon to plough through the earth, digging a waist deep trough through the ground and ploughing through several trees before it rose back up into the air and twisted around, launching itself back at him again.

Realizing that he wouldn't be able to dodge this thing for long, Naruto decided it was time to take the direct approach. Drawing Sumire once more, he reactivated his [Fūton Chakra Nagashi] before channelling more and more chakra into the blade and activating [Fūton Chakra Nagashi: Dantō], forming a massive blade of wind around his tantō's blade. Raising his enhanced blade over his head, he waited until the dragon's head was just a few feet in front of him and then brought it back down.

The massive wind-blade slammed down with the force of hurricane, knocking the dragon's head down into ground before it finally managed to split the wooden beast down the middle, the two halves carving thin craters to either side of Naruto as they continued to lurch forward for a moment.

Naruto let out a deep breath of relief. 'Thank the kami I got the timing on that right, otherwise I'd have been splattered. Guess Sakura and Ino weren't the only ones who benefited from a couple extra weeks of training.'

Twisting around, the blonde Jinchūriki refocused his attention on the Mokujin itself, quickly noticing that a new wooden dragon was already starting to grow out of its chest.

[Golden Possessed Elder Mokujin] cannot use [Mokuton: Mokuryū no Jutsu] again until the dragon on its body regenerates! Time remaining: 1:59!

"Shit! No way in hell am I letting that thing fire off another of those!" the Uzumaki declared, redoubling his grip on his tantō, the massive, shrieking blade of wind still engulfing its blade. After all of the training he'd put into it, the [Dantō] could now last for up to two swings before it destabilized. Bisecting the wood dragon had only counted as a single swing, thankfully, so he still had one more before he needed to reapply the jutsu.

"Time to cut you down to size, fucker!" Naruto roared as he charged forwards toward the golden Mokujin.

"Mokuton: Tossō no Jutsu! (Wood Style: Charging Lance Jutsu!)" the golem's rustling voice once more filled the clearing as it thrust its nearly destroyed arm outward. The mass of wood quickly erupted into numerous pointed branches. However, only a few branches managed to fire themselves off before the entire mass was destroyed by a barrage of water bullets and a single explosive fireball from the surrounding woods.

Naruto easily wove through the few spears that had successfully managed to launch themselves, ducking under the last before he finished closing the distance with a chakra-empowered jump toward the oversized statue's head.

Bringing his [Dantō] up over his head once more, Naruto let out a roar as he brought the massive Fūton-empowered blade downwards in a powerful vertical chop. With the power of [Fūton Chakra Nagashi: Dantō] far outstripping the normal [Fūton Chakra Nagashi], he was finally able to break through the Mokujin's chakra-enhanced body. With a single swing he managed to cleave it from crown to groin before the blade finally dispersed and he was forced to fall back.

Naruto let out a whop that quickly turned into a groan as he noted the two halves of the Mokujin's body start to twist and warp. "Damn it all, there's even more of them this time!" the blonde boy groaned out as the two halves each seemed to split in half themselves, reforming into a total of four normal [Golden Possessed Mokujin].

"Pile on them!" Naruto shouted, as he and his clones charged forward again. Keeping the wooden golems tied up in close combat would not only keep them from pulling any more jutsu bullshit but would also keep them from going after Ino or Sakura. He didn't want to risk either girl going up against these tricky bastards while he was distracted dealing with the others.

"[Tori Gari]!" the clones all shouted as one, dashing in to mob the still clumped together Mokujin. With over a dozen blondes leaping at them from all sides, each wielding chakra-enhanced blades, it didn't take long before all four golden-coloured Mokujin were lying in pieces on the ground.

"Sheesh, alright now that was a pain in the ass! The big fucker was bad enough, but having to deal with four of the smaller bastards right afterwards was just plain overkill!" Naruto huffed out, slightly out of breath from the frenzied melee and the fight from before. Most of his clones had popped in their wild attempt to quickly removed the Golden Mokujin before they could try anything. The few remaining after the fight was done had quickly let themselves pop in exhaustion.

Ignoring the multitude of pop-ups around him, Naruto instead turned to see Ino and Sakura emerging from the woods, both staring at him slack-jawed. He couldn't help but smirk a bit as he caught his breath, it wasn't everyday he managed to leave the two brash kunoichi speechless.

"What the hell was that thing!?" Ino finally broke the silence, waving at the massive, bisected log that was all that remained of the larger Mokujin.

"Beats the fuck out of me." Naruto denied, shaking his head. "I've run into big ones and golden ones, but I didn't know that there were big and gold ones out here. Trust me, that thing was just as much of a surprise to me as it was for you two."

"We were completely useless against that thing." Sakura muttered, looking depressed. Naruto had carried the entire fight, she and Ino had barely managed to distract and annoy that thing. Without their male teammate they would have been helpless against it.

"Hey, none of that now." Naruto argued, stepping up and planting a firm hand on her shoulder. "You both got a couple good shots in and helped keep it from focusing on my clones at the start. Plus, if it wasn't for the two of you intercepting that wooden lance technique, I'd probably be looking like a pincushion like now. You both saved my bacon back there, so thanks."

The pinkette perked up a bit at that, giving him a small smile.

"Hey, hate to break up the love fest, but what do we do now? There might be more of those things hanging around." Ino put in, glancing around them nervously. Looks like seeing just how dangerous things could get out here had shaken her self-confidence a bit.

Good, mission accomplished then.

"I'll leave it up to the two of you. Give me a minute to catch my breath and I'll be good to go, but…" Naruto trailed off.

"We…we should head back." Ino stated after a moment, an irritated frown on her lips as she kicked the ground before letting out a defeated sigh. "With the gear we've got right now, neither Sakura or I will be of much use if we run into another of those things and we've already burned through a lot of chakra just trying to help take one of them down. We need better weapons, amour and probably some explosive tags before we can even think about trying to actually take on anything close to that monster."

"I'm with Ino." Sakura quickly agreed with her frenemy. "If you weren't with us that thing would have ploughed through me and Ino; we'd have had to make a run for it to even have a chance of surviving. If we run into another one, or worse more than one at once, as we are now, we'd both be in trouble."

"Alright them, about-face it is." Naruto agreed, thankful that he'd learned some 'tact' from his time with Asuma. Both girls were doing exactly what he wanted them to; no need to rub it in and risk setting off either of their tempers.

As they started making their way back toward the exit, with Ino and Sakura keeping a weather out for more Mokujin, Naruto took a quick moment to start going through his notifications. First there were the immediate notification about what he received from the battle.

You have defeated X1 [Golden Elder Possessed Mokujin]! You gain 3000 EXP!

You have defeated X4 [Golden Possessed Mokujin]! You gain 10000 EXP!

[Wooden Figurine: Sarutobi Hiruzen (Battle Regalia)] has been looted and added to your inventory!

[Jutsu Scroll Fragment (3/3)] has been looted and added to your inventory!

[Mokuton Kekkei Genkai Journal, Vol. 2] has been looted and added to your inventory!

30000 Ryo has been looted and added to your inventory!

Mentally, Naruto fist-pumped as he saw that second-to-last entry. He honestly hadn't expected to just stumble across another one of the Mokuton journals until he got into the deeper zones, but he wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. Jiji would certainly be pleased to hear about this.

Next came the level ups from the fight itself.

[Kage Bunshin no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV11-LV12!

[Fūton: Daitoppa no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV4-LV5!

[Suiton: Daibakufu no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV3-LV4!

[Fūton: Ryūha no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV7-LV8!

[Katon: Hibashiri no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV4-LV5!

[Fūton: Shinkū Taigyoku no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV1-LV2!

[Fūton: Hanachiri Mai no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV3-LV4!

[Fūton: Kūdan no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV4-LV5!

[Fūton: Senfūkyū no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV20-LV21!

[Raiton: Denkō Sekka no Jutsu] has levelled up! LV14-LV15!

[Randora Ryū: Tora Gari] has levelled up! LV3-LV4!

[Randora Ryū] has levelled up! LV3-LV4!

[Fūko no Tsume Ryū] has levelled up! LV2-LV3!

As a result of levelling up [Fūko no Tsume Ryū], the Jutsu [Fūko no Tsume Ryū: Mōko no Gyōshi] has been learned!

[Fūko no Tsume Ryū: Mōko no Gyōshi] (Active) [LV1, 0%]

Claws of the Wind Tiger Style: Gaze of the Fierce Tiger is a basic technique that is used by the practitioners of Fūko no Tsume Ryū that straddles the line between taijutsu and ninjutsu. Similar to how a shinobi can layer their bloodlust with their chakra in order to create Killing Intent, a practitioner of Fūko no Tsume Ryū quickly beings to learn to focus their fighting spirit into their eyes and then enhance it using chakra. When this is properly focused through a glare at an opponent it can cause them to momentarily freeze up. Advanced users can even render those far weaker than them unconscious with a simple glare and masters of this technique can even kill those that are weak of body with a single use.

- Costs 40 CP in order to use.

- Has a maximum range of 5 meters.

- The user must be able to look their target in the eyes in order to use this technique.

- When used, there is a 10% chance to paralyse your opponent for thirty seconds.

- There is a 0% chance to cause Unconsciousness or Death with this technique, currently.

'How can glaring at someone kill them?!' Naruto thought in befuddlement. He resolved to ask Jiji about it next time he saw him.

"So where are you going to get your equipment from?" he asked the girls as they made their way through the gate out of the first sub-area, causing both girls to visibly relax.

"I'm pretty sure the clan has some stuff that I can grab." Ino answered with a shrug.

"I'll have to buy something, do either of you have any suggestions?" Sakura asked.

"Ask Tenten about her family's shop, it's where I grab all my gear." Naruto offered. "Their stuff is really good and most of the genin equipment is pretty reasonably priced."

"Yeah, I've heard a few of my clansmen mention the Higurashi shop and they all say it's one of the best weaponsmiths in Konoha." the Yamanaka Heiress agreed. "I'll come with you and we can look around."

"T-Thanks…" Sakura replied, blushing slightly but smiling at her old friend.

Another pop up appeared in front of Naruto's nose.

Facing down a foe stronger than they were expecting made you stand out to them! +250 Relationship with [Yamanaka Ino] and [Haruno Sakura]!

[Secret Quest discovered and completed!]

Friendship Rekindled!: Yamanaka Ino and Haruno Sakura used to be the best of friends, until their mutual crush on Uchiha Sasuke forced them apart as rivals. Thanks to your actions, the first, tentative steps in that friendship being rekindled have been taken

Quest Reward: [Katon: Kakyū no Jutsu] Scroll, [Suiton: Teppōdama no Jutsu] Scroll, +500 EXP, [Armoured Kote (Left Arm)].

Cool. He'd been meaning to ask Asuma-sensei for those jutsu. And it was nice that he had helped the girls start being friends again.

Smirking, he invited the two of them to Ichiraku's for ramen, his treat. To his surprise, they both accepted.

Beaming in happiness, Naruto led his kunoichi teammates off to his favourite eatery, content in how life was going at the moment.

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Next Chapter: High D-Rank: Escorting Ayame

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