This was not the plan.

The plan had been to use the element of surprise on the foreign team and work in conjunction with Izumo to engage them with the goal of distracting and drawing them away from Chen's vulnerable, limp body. Iruka would then extract him from the situation and retreat somewhere safe to be treated by Kabuto before giving a signal for Izumo and Amaterasu to then regroup.

The plan promptly combusted into ashes in her mind however when she caught sight of the state her teammate was in. The benefits of the Sharingan meant she was drawn to details - every broken finger, every cruel laceration, every bruise was now seared into her memory and Amaterasu could have imagined the screams elicited from her teammate as each piece of damage was inflicted with cold calculation.

No. The plan was gone. Her goals were different now.

She watched them react with initial surprise, which then shifted into a defensive wariness at her appearance... but it was not enough. Her eyes scoured each one from right to left: a girl with a small tantō strapped across her lower back, a dark-skinned teen with a noticeably longer, thin sword within easy reach behind his right shoulder and another male teen with no visible weapons apart from a bloodied kunai in his left hand.

That one. That was the one who spoke about feeling no remorse for the pain inflicted on her teammate. As she watched, he straightened from his crouch over Chen's body, glaring from under his Kumo hitai-ate with dark eyes.

"Oh? It's more Konoha scum. Are all their ranks made up of children?" he mocked, his guard lifting as he surveyed her dismissively. Amaterasu could count four openings, and that was without taking her clones into account. These three were surrounded but with how they focused all their attention on her, it seemed they had no idea.

Everything was crystal clear despite the rage coursing through her - the only thing that was churning was her chakra reserves. It seemed to have even ruffled Kurama and Amaterasu could sense his interest was piqued by her resolve.

She was planning to kill them, she realised. Whether she was good enough was not even a factor in her mind. Was it arrogance that made her believe that they were going to die by her hands if she wanted them to? No... they were markedly larger than her and had at least seven years of experience on her but... She was a Jinchūriki. They weren't.

She had no qualms bringing Kurama out for this. It was the least she could do to repay their cruelty.

The resolve and clear intent seemed to have some sort of an effect on the two on the right, with how stiff they were, but the idiot on the left seemed rather oblivious to her presence. As soon as he turned his gaze towards her teammate she was there and blood sprayed as she gave his arm a good, deep slash with a kunai. Amaterasu's eyes locked with the dark-skinned teammate in the fleeting moment as she passed - he had been fast enough to intercept her attack and was the only reason the other teen had a gash in the arm and not the chest.

Said male let out a howl of pain and staggered back while his teammate advanced, swiping in quick, trained motions that Amaterasu cleared in one back flip, lifting Chen and leaping off as one of her clones released a Fireball jutsu in her wake to keep the opponents away. Chen was still breathing, letting out weak groans at being jostled and Amaterasu's cold, furious scarlet eyes were the first thing he saw when he opened them.

"Boy, am I glad to see you." he managed to murmur before passing out cold. Amaterasu gripped him, bowing her head over in grief at the thought of the pain he had endured before snapping at the sound of someone approaching. Iruka flailed as he barely dodged the projectile, landing beside her in the damp foliage.

"That wasn't the plan! Why didn't you stick to the plan?! Izumo's engaging all three of them right now, give Chen to me, we need to leave now." he hissed with surprising animosity and Amaterasu handed her teammate over carefully.

"Plan's changed. Get him to Kabuto and move somewhere at least two hundred metres away before beginning treatment." she replied quietly. The burst of appalled rebuttal from the other Konoha-nin was quickly silenced by a single look. Iruka's face whitened considerably at something in her face but she ignored it, just glad he was no longer complaining.

"J-just look out for Izumo-senpai." he muttered before leaping off.

The memories from her shadow clones resurfaced and she quickly headed over, intercepting a blow to Izumo's neck by the opposing female's blade and kicking out to gain space between them. Even with Izumo, they were still outnumbered. She wasn't even entirely sure of her senpai's capabilities either.

"Nice of you to show up, thanks a fuck ton for starting this, you little shit." was the greeting she got from him however, and a quick glance showed a few grazes and cuts but he seemed fine overall. Another look at their three opponents made a dry smile curl at the corner of her lips. Yes, she agreed this wasn't the best idea she'd ever had. A full team of genin who survived the last war (probably Chūnin level) from Kumo that were evidently well acquainted with each other, against a nine year old and a teen that had never trained together before... the odds were not in their favour.

"You can leave." she responded simply, drawing an incredulous look from the older teen.

"Don't be an idiot. What kind of Konoha-nin do you take me for?" came the angry retort.

"You've upheld your end of the deal by helping extract our hostage from this situation. Finish the task and meet us for the second exam." she continued blandly, watching how the three opponents stood in a formation to protect the one she had wounded before. So he was the weak link? Or was there another reason - a tinge of green chakra confirmed her suspicions: he was a medic. Unusual, but not impossible.

"This little disagreement is mine. Off you pop." she added, twirling a kunai thoughtfully. "You'll just be in the way. Even Iruka said so."

Izumo was quiet for a while, before huffing a resigned sigh.

"Man, all I wanted was to be promoted to the Hokage's guard and run errands in the village all day so I could have sociable working hours." he muttered. "And now I get looped with a kid with a god complex and will probably die."

Amaterasu shrugged at that, a small sign as she noticed two of their of their opponents disappearing and leaving illusionary clones in their wake.

"But you know what? I am a Konoha shinobi... and I won't forgive them for what they did to one of our own."

With that, a sharp clang was heard and Amaterasu knew he had engaged the only female in the opposing team. At the same time, Amaterasu had blocked the subsequent downward slice of the katana that would have cleaved her in half, and then quickly moved out of its way - the male was much stronger than her and she couldn't hold a block like that for long.

"Keep the girl busy." was her parting words with her fellow Konoha-nin as she dodged the swift and calculated swipes from the dark-skinned male. It was a different style from Kana and he was faster and stronger but her ex-sensei in kenjutsu had more lethality than this shinobi it seemed. A fleeting glance into her eyes allowed her to catch him in a genjutsu and his movements froze long enough for her to plant her hands on the ground and burrow a double footed kick into his lower abdomen.

While that would have floored any civilian, the male, like many shinobi, evidently had abs of steel as while he was kicked off balance he barely moved back a couple steps.

Amaterasu was reminded that she was tiny and had very little relative strength. Unless...

Wanna play?

He's not worth my little claw.

Feed some chakra in please. she pleaded as she continued to dodge another onslaught of attacks, her sharingan keeping track of every feint, every swipe, every change in his muscle movements with ease.


A surge of chakra from her opponent startled her and she barely dodged the fierce bout of lightning chakra that travelled down his sword. Even it passing by her face caused her muscles to twitch and she was surprised by the intensity of the jutsu.

She flipped backwards as another charge of lightning shot at her and eventually had to whip out a futon jutsu to counteract one as it came too close to dodge. A shadow over her caused her to whirl around mid air but didn't have time to do anything but watch as a large water jutsu forced her back to the ground faster than she expected.

Shit, the water -

Sure enough, powerful currents of lightning coursed through her body and she screamed, her muscles spasming erratically until the jutsu was stopped and she fell, limp to the ground.

She had underestimated this boy. To use those ninjutsu with such power and precision took a lot of skill. As footsteps approached her body, her mind was in her seal, staring up at the unimpressed red beast.

Kurama, I want them to hurt. Don't you want to see what we can do in actual combat?

A red slitted eye surveyed her.

You're lucky I'm bored.

The katana aiming to pierce her through the back was halted as it met resistance above her skin. The chakra surging through her body was red, burning almost painfully as it seared her chakra pathways and she focused to try and merge it with her own blue chakra and make that yellow Naruto had done so easily.

"W-what - "

Amaterasu turned to see that the bubble of red demonic chakra had made its way halfway down the katana, and with a simple thought the katana snapped, leaving a useless stump at his handle.

A slow smile spread across Amaterasu's face at his horror as the bubble of red chakra encased her and her vision was tinged red. It was oh so clear however, and he seemed to be frozen in time as she moved, planting her feet in his abdomen once again in the same rendition of her earlier move - only this time he was blasted back several feet and rolled countless times painfully across the floor.

Amaterasu cracked her neck - the power was unmistakeable and bubbly and she could do anything - first however, she turned her attention on the blond medic who had by now finished mending his arm and was running at her with a glowing blue hand – a chakra scalpel? It seemed he was running at her in slow motion.

A smile curled at the corner of her lip.

In the next instant her fist, covered by a layer of demonic chakra, was buried into his abdomen, and Amaterasu felt something rupture before he was shooting away and smashed into a rock at her attack. She was there when the debris cleared, holding his arm and staring at his fingers contemplatively.

He had broken every single one of Chen's fingers.


One by one.

A whistle and instinct made her wrench the limp, bloody body in front of her and she watched it convulse as it was hit by the lightning jutsu meant for her back. A scream of rage as she discarded the smoking body carelessly to the side met her sensitive ears and she surveyed the teen she had donkey kicked before. Blood was running down his chin - she must've dealt internal damage - and he was breathing heavily but his chakra rolled in fury as he raced through handsigns.

"Storm Release: Laser Circus!" he roared, and through the haze of the sharingan Amaterasu read both Water and Lightning transformations in his chakra. Interesting. She flitted around to dodge the beams but they were fluid and followed her relentlessly with high speed. Eventually she stopped and faced the beams head on, focusing the demonic chakra around her.

Being hit by a jutsu while inside the chakra cloak was a fascinating experience, not dissimilar to being inside an automatic car wash. The jutsu fizzled around her but the demonic chakra was enough of a shield that the only sensation reaching her was a slight heat. The ground around her however was demolished - a jutsu combining two nature transformations? This boy was good.

He glared fiercely at her despite the sweat running down his temples, and he began to sprint towards her, dark eyes reflecting pure hate. She was surprisingly not afraid. Even when the sting of the demonic chakra corroding away her skin was beginning to become prominent, she didn't care.

I wasn't there for him.

The girl cloaked in painful, red chakra seemed to disappear and immediately reappear a significant distance away to meet the teen running at her with a strike that the boy barely blocked. His skin burned and blistered at the contact with the demonic chakra however, and before he knew it that slight distraction rewarded him a swift kick to the underside of his chin which sent him flying.

The hostage should have been me.

Chakra rolled in huge waves within her, and she worked to shift it into a nature transformation, making sure to keep some in its physical form before she released it at her opponent.

Why did she let him volunteer.

"Fire style: Great Fireball Jutsu"

The fire released from her lips was white hot, churning and curdling and ripped up the ground as it passed, enveloping much of the surrounding foliage and her falling opponent in a blasting wave of heat. A body hitting her from the side and wrestling her to the ground broke her concentration and the jutsu stopped, and soon she realised it was the medic that had done so. A considerable amount of blood had been coughed up from his mouth onto his chin and down his front, and he was grazed and burned from taking the brunt of the earlier lightning jutsu. His skin was worsening now after being in such close proximity to Kurama's chakra.

It was easy to flip the tables and Amaterasu was staring down at him now, a hand on his throat, watching the pale skin blister and peel as her demonic cloak made contact with it.

"It was you." she murmured - was that her voice? It was deeper, gravelly.

The medic's dark eyes were forever defiant.

"Yes, it was me. So kill me, leave my teammates out of it." he wheezed, struggling to breathe as she pressed down on his airways with incremental increases in pressure. She looked at him with scarlet irises, tomoe circling lazily around her slitted pupil and her own skin now raw and bleeding from her bijū's chakra. She stared down at him for a good few more moments, and without her realising, her insatiate anger had formed a ball of chakra in her palm: a bastardised version of the bijū bomb. No rotation, no manipulation, a simple amassing of pure, physical charka. It was exerting considerable pressure that was becoming more difficult to control the more chakra was fed into it. With this...

I could end it. I could kill him.

The chakra continued to grow but Amaterasu focused, stopping the inflow of chakra and concentrating on making it smaller, more compressed.

Why aren't you ending it? came a low voice from her mind, laced with a blend of morbid curiosity.


The trauma was never going to leave Chen. The guilt was forever going to haunt her. If this boy died, it would be instant. He would be mourned a hero, he would never feel pain, he wouldn't feel guilt. He wouldn't feel any of the negative feelings that came with living.


Her eyes went from blank and cold to reflecting some sort of emotion - she was sneering.

I want him to hurt.

She slammed the ball of chakra into his knee.

For a long time.

Iruka Umino was a boy with a dream to nurture and teach the future generations of ninja. Having grown up an orphan, he had seen first-hand the effects that non-familial figures could have on children. He wanted to be a role model: someone kids could look up to and aspire to be like. He also wanted to be the someone who always believed in them when no one else did.

The slight problem in making this dream a reality was that he needed to become a chūnin before he could start training as a teacher. He had been the only member of his genin team who hadn't wished to remain in the Genin Corps, hence why he had been added to Kotetsu and Izumo's team for these particular exams. His previous team had shared his enjoyment and pride of having the title of a ninja - it was a well-respected job within the village and they all relished in being able to help people. They had wished him luck with vigour, shining eyes reflecting their expectation of him passing with flying colours.

This was because Iruka had a fantastic track record with exams. He was book smart, and had performed well above average in the Academy. He studied and worked hard to absorb the strategies, history and calculations required to understand the theories behind their village's techniques. Once he qualified as a genin, he found putting it into practice slightly more difficult, particularly when his sensei tried to teach him any styles that he wasn't used to from the Academy. Despite this, he had never felt as though he wasn't adept at anything shinobi-related - until now.

Because people who were destined to lead the military ranks took this exam.

People that were just another level in this shinobi business. The genin's breath caught as a memory resurfaced against his will.

There was just so, much, blood. The harsh red strokes on a blank white canvas stared back at him, mounted on a body that was his height if not smaller, but the tuft of silver hair and crackling, spiky, hot chakra radiating from the blue lightning caused true fear settle in his stomach. A fear he hadn't felt since the night his parents were murdered by the nine-tailed demon. He had just been saved, but why was he still so scared?

A level that he was not, and never would be.

While he had entered the exam with a fair confidence that he would pass, he now wished nothing more than to survive it and make it home in one piece. He thought he was going to die when he had been hit with the massive water jutsu that started the first exam, and had Kabuto and Amaterasu not been there, he would have been dead for sure from the attack of the Iwa-nin.

Kabuto and Amaterasu... Iruka's years in the Academy and as a genin had made him forget that age was not a reliable factor of shinobi skill.

He had been sure the little girl was finished. In that moment the Iwa-nin had appeared and sprang at the distracted girl, he hadn't had time to shout a warning. But when blood stained the surrounding seawater dark, she hadn't been the one to slump.

What chilled Iruka to the bone was how she had blinked in surprise at her arm, as if wondering why it was covered in blood. She genuinely seemed as though she was confused as to why an almost beheaded boy was on the end of her kunai. The look did not even reflect horror at the traumatic sight - it would have been similar should she have been wondering why mud had gotten on her leg after stepping in a puddle.

The movement had come so naturally to her she hadn't even needed to give it conscious thought. Killing him had been a reflex, and being attacked was something she was so used to she didn't even need to register the threat before dodging.

Just how much training must one have gone through to achieve this level?

Perhaps it could have been labelled as an accident. Something she hadn't fully expected to happen. Just a reaction to an attack, perhaps, a stroke of luck. A product of thorough, repetitive training.

This, however, was not.

Killing intent smothered the area like a thick fog, making it difficult to breathe and a foreboding dread sank in Iruka's muscles, making them shake against his will. His pupils dilated, his mouth dried up and he choked at the mere presence.

This was not going to be an accident.

This was her filled to the brim with full intention to maim, destroy and kill.

'Monster.' was the only thought that crossed his mind as he watched her engage the three considerably older ninja in horror. When he could see glimpses of her, the air around her was tinged in red, and he couldn't move, he couldn't think, since the chakra was painfully familiar but he couldn't quite put a finger on -

"Iruka. Remember the plan." came a low voice from his side and he snapped out of his mental panic, turning to stare at his teammate.

"Yes." he replied hoarsely, noting how Izumo's face was unusually serious. His brows were furrowed, jaw clenched as he shuffled through hand signs before rocketing forward. Iruka watched as a wet glob escaped his teammate's mouth and immobilised one of the opponents, and despite everything in his body screaming protest, he forced himself up and ran towards the person he was currently most afraid of as soon as he saw an opening.

A burst of verbal anger left him before he could stop it but the child wasn't fazed, simply handing her his teammate before ordering him back in the blandest voice he'd ever heard. His voice was silenced when he met her eyes.

Iruka was going to have nightmares about those eyes.

Powerful elemental jutsu were thundering down on his surroundings at this point and he winced at the state of the small boy before getting him on his back. The acrid smell of vomit filled his nose and Iruka tried not to gag as he began the journey back to the meeting point. The intensity of the battle seemed to increase as the opposing team realised their hostage was being taken away - the bangs and crashes were deafeningly loud and made Iruka flinch and slip more times than he was comfortable to admit - but the defending two members seemed to match the increase in power. A volley of kunai shot towards him and Iruka froze in panic, catching one in his leg with a pained hiss. The fear-driven genin kept running despite his injury and even as a searing heat wave made him wince - he ran until he could see the meeting point where the medic would be on standby.

Yugao was waiting, her lips thin and face frosty as she waited for him to reach the tree. Upon their arrival, her and her coughing teammate promptly disappeared - presumably to go and find their own hostage teammate. Their side of the deal ended here, now that Chen was safe at their temporary base. Kabuto immediately took the young boy off his back and his hand was coated in green chakra, analysing the extent of the damages and checking if there was anything life-threatening as planned.

A few tense moments later, Kabuto locked eyes with him and shook his head, making Iruka draw two hands to his mouth and let out a high pitched whistle - the signal to retreat. He took Chen on his back once more and they continued running before taking to the trees once they reached the familiar forest.

It was here, high in the familiar branches that Kabuto started proper treatment on his teammate, face devoid of emotion as he went through the injuries one by one. Iruka was on the lookout, hand clenched on the handle of a kunai. The other two were taking a while - had they gotten lost? He was very aware of the sun's descent - they had probably only a couple hours until nightfall, and they still needed to find Kotetsu. Seeing Chen's state made him worry more - was his third teammate going to be okay?

He remembered the look and the size of the Kumo-nin - what if they had won? What if they had been overpowered, even worse... killed? What were Chen and Kabuto and him going to do then? Would they have all failed the first round?

"Some look out you are." came a low hiss from behind him and he whirled with a shout of surprise, almost falling of the branch he was balancing on. While the eyes he met were now dark, flashes of the earlier scarlet still plagued his mind and he froze.

"Put the claws away, we're among friends now." came the lightly admonishing tone of Izumo, and Iruka felt relief flood him as his teammate landed between them, blocking her view of him.

"S-sorry. Are you both alright?" he stuttered, and then paused, eyes widening as he keened his senses. "Are we being followed? Did you lose them? How did you get away?"

The little girl said nothing and simply hopped over to her other two teammates, exchanging curt, hushed words with Kabuto. Izumo gave him a comforting squeeze on the shoulder.

"They won't be following us any time soon." the older boy said vaguely, eyes also focused on the small Uchiha who had now got up and started setting traps along a small perimeter of their makeshift camp. Iruka had done the basics, of course but he didn't want to set too many should one of them accidentally have been caught in one.

Although, he thought with a twinge of shame at the lithe body walking through his traps like they weren't there - maybe he needn't have worried.

"We should go and find Kotetsu. I have a vague idea of where he might be." his senpai said with a grimace.

"W-wait, aren't they going to help us? We helped them!" Iruka asked, alarmed. He wasn't particularly comfortable around any of them but he felt they'd be safer with them than just with Izumo.

"They'll hold us back with the state Chen's in. This is us repaying them saving you earlier." Izumo reminded lightly. "Let's move out."

Iruka felt a sting of shame at that, before nodding.


The end of the first round was tense but anti-climatic. After Chen had been sufficiently healed, which was a good hour or so of healing from Kabuto's side and some first aid from Amaterasu, they made sure he was clean in a nearby pool of collected seawater. To make sure he was less trackable by smell, Ama released spare clothes from his storage scroll for them to change him into.

They then slowly made their way back to the port, taking care to put stealth over speed as Kabuto was drained of chakra, Amaterasu wasn't much better and Chen was... well. He was still out of it, on Kabuto's back.

You're going to crash soon, you used a fair bit.

The rumbling growl in her head made her temple throb in pain and Amaterasu grimaced.

'If I didn't know you so well Kurama, I'd say you were concerned.' she shot back.

That shut him up with an irritated snarl, perfectly in time for Kabuto to find a terrified and very much concussed genin from the land of Waterfall. From what they could glean from his slow, incoherent mumblings, his teammates hadn't believed him when he said he had not been given a code and had abandoned him to search for another hostage they could get the 'code' from. Amaterasu didn't find out whether the damage done to him had been caused by said teammates or not.

From this information, the young Uchiha concluded that the focus of the first exam was, in a slightly roundabout manner, about teamwork (or, considering the specificity of the instructions, how closely they listened to orders). Whether the team stuck together despite the hostage teammate supposedly 'failing' was presumably the main focus of this part of the exam. It wasn't what she had expected from what she knew of the Mist and how they did things, but she guessed she'd know for sure once they got to the port.

Amaterasu felt nothing when they abandoned the wounded Waterfall genin, and Kabuto's slight hesitation was met with a swift reminder that they didn't have much time to get back to the port. While a small part of Amaterasu knew they could have healed the Waterfall genin a tad before moving on, her mind was on Chen and getting him to the safety of a Konoha jōnin as soon as possible. She felt... nothing currently. She was numb but her mind was clear, hyperfocused on the task and getting back to the port without attracting attention, meaning they travelled in tense silence.

They ran the last stretch of open land that had been ravaged by the large water jutsu in a line formation with Kabuto still running with Chen on his back and Amaterasu taking up the rear. A few lazily thrown kunai from people already at the port were easily intercepted by her own shuriken and they were given a grunt of acknowledgment from the evidently bored blue giant of a proctor... and that was that.

The three settled down in a corner as night fell and the participants present were named through to the second round. From a brief headcount, Amaterasu would have said only about twenty-ish genin had made it. Their little huddle with Chen sandwiched tightly in the middle was not joined by the other successful Konoha shinobi - they all stood in a group a fair ways from them with a certain purple haired kunoichi occasionally giving Amaterasu cold looks. Iruka, Izumo and Kotetsu were worryingly not among the ones that passed. Kisame had bid them all goodbye after gleefully informing them that the second exam was going to happen throughout the night with the genin not able to have contact with their jōnin-sensei until it was finished.

Amaterasu felt very, very alone.

The burden of needing to protect her two teammates from the much bigger, scarier group of late teens around them weighed heavily at the forefront of her mind. It was because of her greed for new challenges that they were here. Perhaps it was the stress that kept her sharingan active - she was feeling the chakra drain but couldn't deal with having them off just in case something happened like the water jutsu - if she had known, if she had read his chakra surge and reacted that little bit faster -

"I'm okay."

Her eyes slid over to the boy tucked into her side. His brown eyes were vacant, his form relaxed, but he was finally awake.

"I didn't say anything to them. I didn't break." he spoke quietly.

Ama's breath caught, a sudden surge of emotion catching her off guard.

"I'm sorry. It shouldn't ever have happened." she whispered.

"No, Amaterasu." A stern look and a barely noticeable tremor. "Just...tell me I did well."

Both the boys pretended not to see her lightly tremoring fists.

"You did well, Chen." Kabuto spoke finally into the tense silence.

They continued to wait quietly after that, three kids preparing to take on the world.

Amaterasu satiated her guilt with the knowledge that the boy who had done that to her friend wouldn't... well, no. Couldn't do something like that to anyone again.

She had made sure of it.

Magenta irises reflected boredom as the Fourth Mizukage listened to the reports by his subordinates.

"So Mangetsu Hozuki disabled every participant that crossed his path. As expected." he sighed. "But did I hear you correctly when you said the total number of participants through to the second round is twenty three? I understand maths may not be your strong point but surely you mean eight teams, so twenty four genin, Kisame."

Rows of sharp teeth and a cackle was not what he expected from the proctor.

"I must stand by the number twenty three, Mizukage-sama. There was... an interesting case that I just had to let through." he spoke, and the slight frown gracing his leader's features made him explain without further prompt. "A team from Kumogakure arrived at the port with all three members, but one was unable to continue."

The frown remained.

"I believe the rules were that all three must be alive and able to continue in order to pass the first exam." Yagura asked, irritation creeping into his voice.

"The three were alive and technically able to continue, Mizukage-sama. However it would have not been viable for one of the members to proceed as... all his limbs had been amputated rather professionally. The Kumo-nin barely lost any blood and was conscious and medically stable when the field medics looked at him. They didn't have much to do, but as you can appreciate, it would have been cruel to force him to proceed to the next round."

A blonde eyebrow rose and a headache began to make itself known at his temples.

"...What?" he intoned furiously. "Was it Mangetsu? I told him - "

"N-no, Mizukage-sama. I assure you he heeded your words and would not do anything more of the sort during these exams." spoke up the jōnin recognised as Mangetsu's sensei. "I also do not believe he has the capacity to inflict such damage and ensure the victim's survival afterwards... he is more likely to have left them for dead."

Kisame's grin stretched from ear to ear.

"It was a brat from Konoha, Mizukage-sama. It seems they were hiding their ace, the nine-tails jinchūriki." the blue giant chuckled. "A little girl, not even ten years old, and yet - "

"Why go to such the lengths to heal him, though?" Terumī Mei interrupted disbelievingly. "Why not just kill him? It doesn't make sense."

Magenta irises gleamed with interest.

"A little girl?" the three tails jinchuriki repeated quietly. "Heh. She knew exactly what she was doing. You said all four limbs were amputated?"

Kisame nodded.

"Yes. Both legs from the knee down, the arms from the shoulders. They seemed to have been blasted off by some jutsu and immediately cauterised to prevent bleeding out according to the medics. It wasn't a neat job by any means, but effective. He's not dead... though I suspect he wishes he was."

There was silence after that, followed by a light chuckle which preceded full blown, hearty laughter from the Kage. It was chilling and forced and the jōnin in the room dared not react.

"How... interesting." Yagura whispered. "Even Isobu is unsettled by the nine-tails it seems. I didn't think the Fourth Hokage had it in him to actually send such a piece straight to me."

"...Should we disqualify her, Mizukage-sama?"

"On what grounds?" he responded sharply, making the person who made the suggestion cower instinctively. "No, on the contrary I am heavily vouching for her to make it to the finals. It would be a shame for a clash between her and Mangetsu to happen without anyone watching."

The Fourth Mizukage turn to face the field of bleak concrete outside his windows, a cold glint in his eye.

A nameless Mist genin destroying Konohagakure's jinchuriki?

What better way to show to the world that the Mist was back in the game... and that his days as a puppet were no more.

Dark eyes watched the small huddle of children, haunted and pained.

"There she is." his female teammate breathed quietly. "She's smaller than I remember."

"Yeah." Darui replied, voice thin as the memory from just a few hours ago resurfaced. "That's the one."

'Jinchūriki. She's a jinchūriki.' Darui thought, horror creeping into his bones as the blistering fire jutsu roared from her tiny body and raced towards him as he fell, still mid-air. He barely finished the handsigns for the counter water jutsu in time and the lower half of his body suffered from severe burns from the resulting steam of their collision when he crashed back to land, head ringing from the earlier kick to his jaw and everything hurting.

"Chikao." he gasped, struggling up despite his injuries and beginning to crawl towards the horrific chakra. Suddenly however, it was gone. Darui slumped to the ground, breathing heavily and wondering if by some work of heaven Chikao or Samui had managed to kill it - but that brief thought was ended by the sound of something heavy hitting the mud beside him.

Darui's eyes widened and he suddenly couldn't breathe at the sight that met him.

"I've cauterised the ends so you don't have to worry about him bleeding out." came a high voice and Darui screamed, throwing himself forwards to shield his deformed teammate from further harm. The small girl stood a few feet away, poised and eyes now a cool obsidian. Her pink, bloody skin was healing as he watched, and he knew she would look as good as new within minutes.

He couldn't speak.

He couldn't breathe.

"He'll be able to live for a long time, don't worry."

A slight tilt of her lips, as if amused by a joke only she understood. Darui couldn't react, still not breathing and feeling his lungs start to hurt. Thoughts were running at mile-high speeds but he couldn't say anything, simply staring, searing her face and voice into his mind.

"Spread the word to your folk that this is what happens to shinobi that treat Konoha as enemies, despite our current peace treaty." she continued. "Make sure your Raikage understands that the next war he decides to start for fun... I'll be there."

Her eyes flashed crimson.

"And I give back what I get."

She was then gone, as if she was never there in the first place, and air finally swept into his lungs, making him gasp. Darui wheezed, sweating and trembling as he fixated his stare at the ground, unable to process what had happened and whether this was a nightmare, one he could wake up from - he couldn't bear to turn his head and see his teammate's state, Chikao couldn't be... W-what monster, what demon was capable of - '

"Darui. DARUI!"

Samui's pressed voice made him snap out of it and he directed his attention to her, eyes questioning, for her to pass him a piece of paper.

"We're lucky they let us through to the next round despite Chikao being out of commission. We're in the second task now, we'll have plenty opportunity to kill her as long as you stay focused." she said quietly, piercing blue eyes surveying the rest of the group.

"We passed fair and square. He made it to the end, he just..." the dark skinned teen trailed, forcing the images of his teammate out of his mind by reading the paper. "Eight?" Darui murmured questioningly at the number that was written on his note. Samui rolled her eyes.

"Were you not listening? The original teams are being separated. The next round is a free for all fight between groups, continuing until there's only one winner per group who'll proceed into the finals. Think there's seven rounds of groups of three and one 1v1. So eight in the final." his female teammate showed her piece of paper, which read one.

"Looks like you're the lucky one and only have to fight one huh." she tutted. "Let's hope one of us gets that demon bitch that did that to Chikao, yeah."

Her stare turned chilling as she stepped forward, and Darui could only nod. He wasn't sure if he could face her again just yet but... he would. For Chikao. And he'd be more prepared this time.

The genin gritted his teeth, barely noticing as the new Mist proctor made a flourishing show of creating an arena from lava alone. He wished Samui good luck with a simple nod, eyes returning to the small girl still sitting in her original spot at the port.

He was going to kill her. No matter what it took.

Hi all! Happy happy happy 2021!

Question for you:

- Looks like what Jiraiya said was true about Amaterasu's true colours... was her actions because of the Kyubi's influence, Uchiha vengeance or ... was it just her?

Congratulations to those of you that guessed Mangetsu correctly, the other unknown character from the last scene of Chapter 23 will be revealed veeryy soon! But I was very impressed with your answers, maybe I'll up the difficulty on the next ones :'))

Hope you're excited as I am (and Yagura is lol) for how these Chunin exams develop!

Lots of love and bestest of wishes for the upcoming year and all your goals. I wish you endless happiness and love.

Lei xoxo