Naruto: The Mega Gamer

Chapter 21:Readjustments and Improvements

Iruka was hastily making his way through the school hallway towards his assigned class to begin his teaching session as he's a couple of minutes from being late. Soon enough, he arrived and went inside to find that everyone is present and accounted for.

"Good morning class, glad to see that you're all here. I'll start us off with a lesson on usage and maintenance of ninja tools so be sure to pay attention," Iruka announced.

"Yes, Iruka-sensei!" the students responded albeit with some being halfhearted about it.

Iruka took a quick glance at each student before setting his eyes on Naruto who's paying actual attention and showing no sign of goofing off. Naruto seemed to have noticed that he was staring at him as the blonde ninja aspirant smiled at him with a thumbs-up, causing him to smile back and begin the tutoring with more fervor.

While writing on the chalkboard, Iruka thought to the conversation he had with Naruto on the day he came to class in his new clothes and a different attitude.

*Flashback Start*

When classes were over, Iruka had invited Naruto to eat with him at Ichiraku's on the premise of him paying for the ramen, something Naruto didn't waste a nanosecond to accept. Later that night, they were already at the eatery, slurping up the noodles. Teuchi and Ayame were quite surprised to see Naruto's new clothes but quickly approved of it being a vast improvement compared to his old one.

Iruka took a moment to pause from eating his ramen to glance at Naruto who was happily slurping away before finally asking the question that's been on his mind.

"You know, besides your new clothing. You've also been paying attention in class and very responsive to my question. I'm kinda stumped as to where this sudden change came from since I had been trying to do that very same thing since the beginning," said Iruka.

Naruto stopped eating his noodles and placed the chopsticks atop the bowl with a thoughtful expression before responded "During the weekend, I met a couple of people who helped me learn certain aspects about myself; my strengths, weaknesses, traits, ideals and even perspective on the things around me. Because of them, I realize that the past me is not ready for the difficult road ahead and I need to change that. You've been trying to help me realize that and yet I simply overlooked it like it wasn't a big deal, I'm really sorry about that," he looked at Iruka straight in the eyes when he said those words.

The man himself was surprised to see the seriousness in his student's eyes. Whoever they are that Naruto met, they really changed his student "Sounds to me like you're planning to work harder to become Hokage in the future, right?"

Naruto shook his head "Not really, being Hokage isn't my ultimate goal anymore,"

"What do you mean by that?" Iruka was surprised to hear that Naruto isn't entirely focused on becoming Hokage and wants to know the reason why.

"I've been taking the title of Hokage too lightly, wanting to become one just so people can acknowledge me; that's no different from a baby crying for attention. Before that, I need to become a ninja who is capable of facing down any form of opposition, someone you can count on and not be disappointed, to be able to protect those I hold close to my heart. To become the best version of who I can be; that is my new dream!"

"I can see that you've given this a lot of thought," said Iruka, seeing how determined Naruto is in achieving his new dream "I'll do whatever I can to help prepare you to accomplish your new dream,"

Naruto smiled happily in response "Thanks, Iruka-sensei. I really appreciate it,"

"You're welcome, now let's eat before the noodles get soggy,"

"You're right, can't have that!"

With the conversation over, the two resumed with eating their ramen with a more cheerful atmosphere. Teuchi and Ayame had been listening in on their conversation and smiled while silently supporting Naruto in achieving his new dream.

*Flashback End*

Snapping back to reality, Iruka glanced back to see Naruto paying ample attention and smiled mentally, if his own student is taking his lesson seriously then he as a tutor and self-appointed surrogate big brother, he needs to meet his expectations with equal determination.

Meanwhile, Naruto was having a conversation with Kurama and the Elementals.

"It would seem like your teacher is being rather passionate today," Zekrom commented.

"No doubt your conversation at that time is inspiring him to teach you the best he can," Elrath pointed, having come to like Iruka for treating Naruto kindly unlike most of the villagers that refuse to look past their grief and see Naruto for who he truly is.

"Well I do want to better myself now unlike in the past, I want to become a ninja that my friends would be proud of. Iruka-sensei wants to help me accomplish that," thought Naruto.

"Well, you're already on the right track," said Kurama.

Ever since he returned from Gamindustri, Naruto really focused on bettering himself. Setting up a strict training schedule to improve his physical capabilities, purchasing cookbooks to learn how to cook other foods besides ramen, going to the library to gain the necessary information on being a ninja, he would occasionally go camping outdoors and practice on his survival skills. Naruto had also developed a thing for eating various types of pudding, writing short stories, playing other video game genres, all of those he got from Neptune and the others which he certainly doesn't mind as a way of remembering them.

It was obvious that Shikamaru, Kiba and Chouji were surprised by the changes and Naruto explained his reasons to them and they understood, Kiba even began contemplating on asking his mother if it's possible for him and Akamaru to start the training on his clan's techniques earlier than planned because if anything he doesn't want Naruto to get ahead of him, Shikamaru thought it would be too troublesome but the idea lingered at the back of his mind, even Chouji paused in the middle of his eating to think about it and wanted to inquire from his dad first.

Soon it was lunch break, Naruto brought out his bento box and was making his way out of the classroom when he heard a familiar but very annoying voice call out to him from behind.

"Hey loser, what's with the bento box? Did a girl give it to you out of pity?" a snarky voice spoke, Naruto looked back to see Sasuke surrounded by his fangirls with an arrogant smile.

Naruto looked back with a deadpanned expression on his face "Need I remind you that about 99% of girls in this school are after you and you alone, which girl would willingly 'betray' their love for you by giving me a bento box?"

Sasuke opened his mouth to retort and realized that Naruto made a point, he looked at the fangirls as if asking them if one of them did that but they all shook their heads in clear denial that any of them gave Naruto a bento.

The blonde added "Just so you know, I made this bento box by myself. Considering the fact that I live alone, I learnt how to cook for myself and not eat only ramen anymore. It's called being self-sufficient,"

"Stop lying, Naruto-baka! I bet you bought that bento from the supermarket on the way here and pretending to be able to cook in order to impress me! Well, I've seen through your trick!" Sakura yelled out, receiving cries of agreement from the other girls.

Naruto looked at the pinkette "And why on earth would I pretend to be able to cook to impress you?"

"It's all part of your ploy; changing your clothes, paying attention in class, 'ignoring' me, and now pretending to cook. All that to make yourself look better than Sasuke and attract me which is never going to happen!"

"What the heck was wrong with me to like this girl?" thought Naruto in reaction to the ridiculous theory of the girl he used to have a crush on.

"That very same question has been bouncing around my head for a long time too," said Kurama.

"These girls bring embarrassment to the female gender," said Stiria with disgust.

"Indeed, all of them save for one…," Nix glanced at a particular girl who was sneaking glances at Naruto and trying to be subtle about it.

"I would have been ashamed if you had continued to pursue this girl, hatchling," said Drago in annoyance.

Naruto let out a deep sigh "It seems that after over these past weeks, you still haven't figured it out. So let me give it to you straight and make it official…," he looked at Sakura dead in the eyes which made her back up a bit "Sakura Haruno; I don't like you anymore, I hold no affection for you, I'm moving on, I'll no longer disrupt you in your pursuit for Sasuke's love and wish you well. And I implore you that you leave me in peace like I've done for you these past weeks, thank you and excuse me,"

Naruto turned around and left the classroom with everyone stunned speechless but none more than Sakura herself. She thought that Naruto was still trying to get her to like him, but hearing him say those words to her without a single stutter…she should be happy that he's no longer interested in her and yet it felt…like someone doesn't see a value in her anymore.

Back with Naruto, he had met up with Shikamaru and the others and told them the reason for his lateness. Needless to say, they were just as surprised with how Naruto made things clear to Sakura that he's no longer interested in her.

"I know you were telling her that you don't like her anymore, I gotta say that the way you worded it was like you were breaking up with her or something," Kiba commented.

"Hey, she was the one who thought that I was still chasing after her," Naruto retorted.

"Well, he has been leaving her alone all this time so it's not even his fault to begin with. She kinda asked for it," Shikamaru pointed out.

"Well, enough about that. I'm not gonna let her attitude ruin my appetite," Naruto reached for the bento box next to him only to feel nothing but grass, he heard a munching sound and looked to see Chouji eating from HIS bento box…AGAIN "Chouji, why are you eating my bento again!?"

"Sorry, but I can't help it, your cooking's pretty good. Here, you can have these as a trade," Chouji passed a few bags of potato chips onto Naruto's lap and resumed eating his friend's bento.

Naruto gritted his teeth in anger with his face turning red "Why you gluttonous f-!" he suddenly found a hand clamped to his mouth and saw Shikamaru with a serious look on his face.

"I understand that you're angry with Chouji and for good reason, but remember that particular word is a taboo to his clan and your anger almost let it slip," said Shikamaru seriously.

Naruto glared and pulled Shikamaru's hand off his mouth then turned away with a huff "That doesn't make it any better,"

"I know, which is why I'll be telling his mother what he did," Chouji froze at that and started to sweat while hoping that Shikamaru doesn't tell his mom or he's going to be in big trouble. Naruto noticed and smirked with glee, feeling vindicated that he'll be getting his comeuppance.

"Anyways, I heard that there's a new game being added to the arcade by the end of week. Was wondering if you wanna check it out?" said Kiba.

"Do you know the genre?" Shikamaru inquired curiously.

"No, it's concealed behind a curtain. Probably want it to be a surprise,"

"Now you've gotten my interest, be sure to keep us posted on when it will be revealed so we can all get together and see what it is," said Naruto.

"I hope it involves cooking food," Chouji piped in.

Naruto glared at him "And I'm not talking to you,"

After the lunch break, everyone went back to class and Iruka didn't miss the change in the atmosphere, he noticed that it has something to do with certain students; Sasuke was rather annoyed and for once wasn't staring at the window but rather glaring at Naruto who was ignoring him and paying attention to the lesson, another is Sakura who appears rather unsure of herself, the rest were the girls whispering amongst themselves about something and occasionally glance at Naruto. From what he could gather; something happened and it has to do with Naruto which he finds strange since he hasn't been causing trouble on purpose nowadays.

"I wonder what Naruto did to cause such a reaction?" thought Iruka confusedly.

Classes was over and Naruto left the academy in direction of his personal training ground which he made for himself ever since he returned from Gamindustri, he was walking through a street when he heard someone call out to him from behind yet again.

"Hey Naruto, I want to have a word with you!"

Naruto turned around and frowned a bit once he saw who it is "What do you want, Ino?"

"What I want is to know why you did that to Sakura?" Ino demanded.

"What are you talking about? All I did was tell her the truth that I don't like her anymore," Naruto replied.

"Then why did you have to demean her like that? It wasn't right!"

"What won't be right is for her to continue insulting me and thinking that I'm still trying to date her when my actions made it very clear that I don't feel that way about her anymore,"


"But what? You still want me to keep going after a girl who clearly doesn't like me and even uses me as a means to earn the affections of her crush?" Ino flinched at Naruto's intense stare "I would have to be a complete idiot to keep doing that and hurt myself without benefiting anything in the end while she on the other hand goes scot-free. Don't even try to defend her when you know that's what she's been doing all this time,"


Ino didn't say anything or rather couldn't, she saw how Sakura would set him up as a target for ridicule just so Sasuke would like her or at times hit him to vent her frustrations whenever Sasuke ignores her attempts to gain his affection. Ever since his change, Naruto completely stopped asking her out for dates, doesn't add chan to her name anymore, doesn't even use his recent improvements to impress her. Even Ino could see these as signs that he doesn't like her anymore and yet Sakura thought that it was just a ploy of his until today when he told her the plain truth. Part of Ino wasn't too surprised but due to their past friendship, she wanted to give Naruto a piece of her mind but hearing him say all this rendered her unable to defend her former friend's actions.

"Well it was funny at first, but then Sakura did it too many times to count that it lost its fun. Was I really ignoring how she was hurting Naruto? Even Shikamaru of all people who always found things troublesome kept trying to help him get over his affections for her, he must have known how things would end for him. In my desire for Sasuke's love, have I become insensitive to how others feel?" thought Ino with worry growing in her heart.

Naruto turned away "Ino, I may not know what love really is but even you know that what she did wasn't right considering the fact that you never did that to me. I can only hope that you won't have to go through the same thing I did. See ya later," he left with Ino standing there in silence with many thoughts going through, not knowing what to do next.

"You certainly have a way with words," Kurama commented.

"I can understand her wanting to stand up for Sakura since they used to be friends but I'm not going to let her justify her past actions," Naruto pointed out to the Bijuu.

"At least we can now focus on more important things without her distracting us," said Drago.

"Indeed, such things are of lesser priorities," said Zekrom.

Naruto arrived at his personal training grounds but not before making sure that he wasn't being followed there since he doesn't want anyone poking their noses into his personal business.

"So, is there anything new which I'll be learning today?" Naruto inquired.

"What we'll be teaching you today is another aspect of being a summoner of the Elementals, there's more to being a summoner than simply calling upon us into battle to aid you, you can also draw upon our powers which doesn't require for us to be with you physically. We call it Elemental Link whereby you don't summon us but rather summon our powers to use in battle," Elrath explained.

Naruto hummed in thought "So you mean that by using the Elemental Link, I can use Drago's power of fire to fight while he himself isn't directly summoned,"

"That's right, with the power of my flames, you can reduce your enemies to nothing but ashes," said Drago proudly.

Rolling his eyes at Drago's arrogance, Zekrom continued "Not only that, the combat potential of an Elemental Link can be further improved when using the right weapon in correspondence to it. That is where your weapons stored in the Weapon Core comes to play,"

Naruto looked at the Weapon Core which is currently installed into his glove "So how will I know which one is suitable for each of you?"

Garuda spoke up "Worry not, my liege. We can tell you which weapons are suited for an Elemental Link. For me, the Aquila and the Kanshou Bakuya are suitable for my Elemental Link,"

"For me, it's the Monado and Aquila," said Elrath.

"My flames are best used through the Monado and the Kanshou Bakuya," Drago pointed out.

"For me, it's solely the Sunlight Heart lance," Zekrom spoke.

"And for us, it is the Kanshou Bakuya," said the Shiva Sisters.

"I think I got the gist of things; now how do I use the Elemental Link?" Naruto inquired.

"It's rather similar to the basic summoning only that you need to form a connection for one of us to channel our power through it into your body. Now pay close attention to my instructions…," Elrath began.


Naruto sat cross-legged on the ground and listened to Elrath on how to initiate the Elemental Link, things were a bit difficult for him at first but Kurama helped him by having him reference to how it's similar to the mental communication they're using right now but to alter it for energy to flow through. The training went into the night but Naruto was able to establish an Elemental Link with Elrath and the others, the only issue so far was the duration of which he can use it and so he needs to work on increasing the duration before eventually making it permanent until he decides to deactivate it.

Done with the training for the meantime, Naruto made his way home but not before passing by the supermarket to buy some groceries so he could make dinner for himself. The clerk tried to mess with him by increasing the prices but an intense stare from the blonde ninja aspirant stopped that plan in its tracks. Naruto left with his bag of groceries and the villagers looked at him rather warily. They noticed that whenever they glare at him, he glares back as if daring them to try something against him, he's no longer the timid child from before but rather someone who will no longer let himself be pushed around but would rather push back.

After a hot bath and dinner, Naruto was on the bed with the modified Tamagotchi game in his hands and making sure that Herissmon and Gatchmon are being cared for but he could tell that they really miss being with him in the real world, the former would always tuck into his hoodie or sit atop his head while the latter would be researching online but do so when near him.

[Say Naruto, I heard that your graduation exam is about a month away and was wondering if you're prepared for it?] Gatchmon inquired curiously.

"Considering that it would be the same as the last two times, I'll say that I'm 99% prepared for it," Naruto replied.

Herissmon tilted his head in mild confusion [But why the 1%?]

"Because of that darn Clone jutsu, no matter how hard I try, I always end up with dead looking clones. And we know that Iruka would be strict and fair about this, no matter how much he supports us,"

"It's no surprise, that jutsu is meant to utilize the smallest amount of chakra and you being an Uzumaki that naturally possesses large amounts of chakra and being my Jinchurriki means that you won't be able to use that Clone jutsu no matter how much you try to reduce the amount of chakra for it," Kurama pointed out.

"So, the hatchling is doomed to fail? How ridiculous! Your calling as a warrior of the shadows cannot be denied because of one mere basic technique!" Drago scoffed, finding the fact just that technique alone was what prevented Naruto from graduating twice.

"Believe me, I hate that jutsu but then again I wouldn't have found myself in Gamindustri and met you all because of it," said Naruto thoughtfully.

"Nice to see that you still retain your optimism," said Elrath in amusement.

"But the problem still remains, how is the youngling supposed to resolve the issue?" Zekrom pointed out.

"Actually, I happen to know of a particular which far surpasses the Clone jutsu itself. Naruto's father occasionally uses it so I know of it via Kushina's memories. I believe Naruto is born to use it to its fullest potential," Kurama spoke up.

Naruto shot up from his bed "What is the jutsu?!" he asked eagerly.

"None other than the Shadow Clone jutsu created by Tobirama the second Hokage, unlike the Clone jutsu which creates illusions, this one lets you create solid copies which can interact with anything physically and can also act individually. When they dispel, everything that they had experienced will be transferred to the original. However, the Shadow Clone jutsu is a forbidden jutsu," Kurama explained.

"What are its demerits?" asked Elrath curiously.

"Basically, the user is required to divide his chakra with the amount depending on the number of clones created and another is that you not only receive the memories and experience of the dispelled clones but also their exhaustion which could knock you right out. Normally, Jounin level shinobi can create up to five shadow clones with their reserve. But with Naruto, he could create hundreds or potentially thousands of clones with the chakra reserve that he has," Kurama explained, surprising everyone especially Naruto himself.

"Do I really have such a large chakra capacity?" asked Naruto, wanting to confirm the fact.

"Far surpassing that of the third Hokage," Kurama stated as an example.

"Wow…by the way, what exactly did dad use the Shadow Clones for?"

"You wouldn't believe it, but he used the clones mostly for dealing with the paperwork just so he could spend more time with Kushina. For a guy who has a Flee on Sight order in the Bingo Book, he was totally head over heels for your mother. And don't even get me started on the many lovey-dovey moments they had together before you came along,"

"We find it rather romantic," said Nix with Stiria nodding in agreement.

"Of course you two would," Drago rolled his eyes.

Naruto smiled softly "Well, it's nice to hear of how my parents used to live,"

Kurama saw his expression and began to feel rather guilty since he also had a hand in the death of his parents whether or not that mysterious Uchiha was the main cause of everything. He resolved to redeem himself by helping Naruto who besides his father treated him like an individual.

Soon enough, a month has passed and the day of the graduation exam has arrived. Naruto sat in the classroom along with the others with his eyes narrowed in focus, he looked around saw how most of his estranged classmates were talking about how well they would do on the exam or what they would do when they become ninja. Some few things he noticed was that Sakura wasn't looking at him or rather trying not to, another is that Ino wasn't amongst the Uchiha fangirls but was instead sitting by herself with a look of concern, and Sasuke was being his grumpy/arrogant self. His three buddies were doing the usual; Shikamaru taking a nap, Chouji snacking on a bag of potato chips, and Kiba chatting with Akamaru.

"Um…," a timid voice called out to Naruto, he looked to see a girl trying to talk to him.

He knows her to be Hinata from the Hyuuga clan, he recalls how she's the only girl who doesn't go crazy for Sasuke, quite well-mannered, gentle and always polite. At first he used to think that she's a weird girl, but after his return from Gamindustri and being scolded by the Shiva Sisters for that dense assumption, he realized that she was shy instead with some self-confidence issues. For some reason, they've been pushing him to talk to her often but refuses to tell him why, Drago said something about playing cupid and got encased in a block of ice for his troubles.

"Oh hello, Hinata. Do you need something?" asked Naruto politely.

"I-I just wanted t-to wish you g-good luck," said Hinata timidly.

"She's kinda like a bunny," thought Naruto "Thanks, good luck to the both of us in becoming ninjas,"

"O-Okay," Hinata bowed her head before quickly going to her seat.

At that moment, Iruka and Mizuki entered the class before the former rapped on the chalkboard to gain everyone's attention.

"Alright class, this is the last test for the year, and the one that will determine if you leave here with a headband or fail. If you fail then you are allowed to retake the classes next year and try again. The Exam will be divided into three parts. A written exam, a physical test, and a practical test where you must perform the three standard jutsu to pass," Iruka explained.

"So, it's the same as before. Good to know," thought Naruto.

Mizuki went around with a stack of test papers in his hands and handed one out to each student, Naruto received his and mentally when he sensed the negativity from him due to Kurama having granted him the ability to sense negative emotions. Because of it, he has always been on guard around him.

Seeing that everyone has their papers, Iruka declared "You may begin, you have one hour to complete the exam and turn it in to us,"

With that, everyone began. Naruto looked at his paper with narrowed eyes. He may not be as book smart as Sakura and still isn't even though he's been studying seriously, Naruto has enough smarts to be able to handle these questions. An hour soon passed and all the tests were handed in. Naruto exhaled deeply to release the tension from his body, he still gets the nerves when it comes to handwritten tests unlike practicals which he excels in.

"Hey man, you good?" Kiba called out to him.

"Yeah, just hoping to score well enough to pass," Naruto replied.

"Amen to that, last thing I want is to get low scores and for mom to tan my hide," Kiba and Akamaru shivered at the thought of it, making Naruto smile in amusement and slight envy.

Sometime later, Iruka and Mizuki returned to the classroom with the former making an announcement "We will now begin the physical portion of the exams. This will consist of an obstacle course to test your speed, and a kunai/shuriken toss to test your accuracy. During this part of the exam, ninjutsu is forbidden. Now, let's step outside and begin the physical test," they then escorted the class outside the room to the practice field.

The test went on with most of the students getting average or below passing scores on the obstacle course. Out of the few people to get an above average score, Naruto went through the course with ease thanks to his training and experience gained from battle in Gamindustri. He was amongst the top three of the fastest to clear the obstacle course alongside Sasuke and Kiba in spite of the mysterious bracelet having reduced his overall speed,

There, the two Chuunin proceeded with the next test by having the students take turns in throwing shuriken and kunai at the target from a distance then giving marks in accordance to their accuracy. Many did well while others not so much from Naruto's perspective, he saw Sasuke go next and got a perfect score with the fangirls cheering for him.

Sasuke passed by Naruto and sneered at him "I'd like to see you beat that," Naruto frowned in response.

"Hmph, what a pompous brat," said Zekrom in annoyance.

Kurama scoffed "It's what you can expect from a clan of imitative monkeys,"

"Such arrogance is what leads to fatalities on the battlefield," said Elrath with disapproval at Sasuke's attitude.

"Naruto Uzumaki, it's your turn," Iruka called out, Naruto approached Iruka and was presented with a certain number of shuriken and kunai "You need to hit the marked parts of the target as close as you can in order to gain a good score,"

"Alright, Iruka-sensei," Naruto took the ninja tools and went to stand at the marked spot where he should throw from with everyone watching.

After looking at the target for a moment and taking in a deep breath, Naruto first took out the shuriken and stacked them on top of each other like coins in one hand and the other hovered above it. Suddenly the hand moved swiftly as it consecutively picks up a shuriken and throws it vertically then he switched to the kunai, launching them in an overhand throwing style. Sure enough, each and every one of the ninja tools landed dead-on target with everyone absolutely stunned by his feat.

"A perfect score," Iruka snapped out of his stupor and smiled at Naruto while writing down his result "Well done, Naruto. No doubt the results of your training,"

"You know it, Iruka-sensei," Naruto glanced at Sasuke with a smirk, inaudibly telling him that he responded to his challenge with no hesitation which made the Uchiha scowl at him.

"Nice throws, Naruto. How much training did you do to get that good?" asked Chouji curiously.

"Enough to show Sasuke up when he tried to show off," Naruto answered.

"Well, you definitely turned his smile upside down," Shikamaru commented.

Afterwards, the students were escorted back into the classroom and were given some time to rest for a moment. Then Iruka and Mizuki decided that it was time for the final test.

"Now, it's time for the final part of the exam; the basic ninjutsu test. When I call your name, you will follow us into another room where we will begin the test. I should point out that passing this test is a requirement of the academy. If you fail this test, you will fail the exam entirely no matter how high your written score is,"

The part about failing the exam completely made some of the students nervous with Sakura being vocal about her concerns.

"But sensei, if this test decides everything, why bother with a written test?" asked Sakura confusedly.

Iruka proceeded to explain "The written test was to gauge how you would handle problems out in the field and help the Hokage determine where to place you on a team if you do pass," he paused for his words to be understood before continuing "Now then, if you pass, you will receive your headbands and return to your seats. If you fail, you can stay if you wish, but you can also leave and go home if you wish. No one will judge you. Also, if you fail, you can sign up for another semester and take the test again next year,"

"Already did that twice, there won't be a third time," thought Naruto with determination.

"Now then, let us begin."

Iruka then began calling out student's names in alphabetical order by their last names.

The least noteworthy students went inside and returned with either a smile on their faces and a headband, with their heads hung in shame, or not at all; the latter two of which indicates that they had failed.

Of the more notable students, Shino (an: totally forgot about him LOL) went first, returning with his headband silently.

Chouji was next, also returning with his headband and a satisfied smile on his face. He returned to his desk and began munching on another bag of chips.

Sakura came back from her test with her headband and was positively giddy, trying yet failing to get Sasuke's attention.

Hinata returned with her headband, she looked up to see Naruto smile and give her a thumbs up, causing her to blush.

Kiba returned from his test with his headband and a cocky smirk on his face with the others merely approving on him earning his headband.

Shikamaru came back with his headband, went back to his desk, and then proceeded to fall asleep, causing everyone to sweat drop but then again it's not much of a surprise being who he is.

Sasuke went next, returning with a headband and an arrogant smirk, with his fangirls cheering for him. Naruto merely rolled his eyes but noted the oddity of Ino not being amongst the girls cheering for him.

Ino followed afterwards and came out with her headband wrapped around her waist like a belt, she looked up at Sasuke with hopes that he acknowledges her success only for him to snub her which made her feel depressed and went to sit away from everyone.

Finally, it was Naruto's turn as he entered the empty classroom and stood before the two instructors, who were sitting behind the teachers desk.

"Alright Naruto, do you understand what's expected of you?" Iruka asked.

Naruto nodded in affirmation "Yes Iruka-sensei,"

"Good. Now to begin, please demonstrate the Transformation Jutsu."

Naruto nodded in response and formed the required the handsign before he was engulfed in a burst of smoke which obscured him from view before dissipating to reveal him in the form of the Sandaime Hokage.

"Good" Iruka said as he began writing down the score, seeing that the transformation has met the required standards and Naruto undid the transformation "Next, please perform the Substitution Jutsu,"

Naruto smirked as he suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke to reveal a shocked Mizuki in his place. Iruka heard a whistle next to him and looked to see Naruto sitting on his seat in a relaxed manner.

"Wassup," Naruto disappeared to switched places with Mizuki again and stood at his original position with a foxy grin.

"I-impressive" Iruka said, stunned.

The Substitution jutsu is capable of swapping places with living beings but requires a lot of skill and chakra which is normally done by Jounin level shinobi, yet an Academy student like Naruto is able to do the same thing.

"Finally, please perform the Clone Jutsu. You need at least three healthy clones to pass," Iruka told him.

"If I know a different form of clone jutsu, can I use that instead?" Naruto asked, seeing as how his chakra levels are too high to create a regular clone.

Mizuki scoffed, "Of course you can't-,"

"Yes, Naruto, of course. As written in the rulebook; if you are capable of creating another type of clone aside from the basic clone, you are free to do so," Iruka said, interrupting his fellow Chuunin. He was well aware of the rules and glad that Naruto had gone to find a way to get about his issue.

Naruto nodded and formed a familiar cross shaped hand seal "Shadow Clone Jutsu!" there was a burst of smoke which vanished to reveal a grand total of ten Narutos standing before the teachers and appearing just as real as the original.

"Th-That was…Naruto, where on earth did you learn to use the Shadow Clone jutsu!?" asked Iruka in shock while also noting that Naruto didn't look the least bit tired in spite of creating ten shadow clones which would normally use up a shinobi's entire chakra reserve.

Naruto knew he can't reveal that Kurama taught him the jutsu and so had a story prepared for this "You see it was a month ago and I was doing some training when I came across two ninjas sparring and I saw one of them form the handsign to create a solid clone to help fight, so I'd thought I could try it and found that I could make lots of clones without them looking horrible,"

Iruka wanted to groan at his soon-to-be graduate about his reckless action and wondered how those shinobi didn't notice Naruto but then recalls that this kid can also hide from ANBU.

Signing in exasperation but smiling a bit at how fortune smiled upon Naruto to discover the jutsu that would help him pass this year, Iruka spoke up "In spite of the oddity, I'm happy to congratulate you on passing and welcome you as a fellow shinobi of the Hidden Leaf," he presented the headband for Naruto to take.

Naruto looked at the headband in his hand and felt a sense of finally taking the first step forward to becoming a powerful ninja and smiled brightly "Thanks Iruka-sensei, I'll wear it with pride and responsibility!"

Iruka smiled back "I know you will,"

As Naruto left the room with his new headband, neither he nor Iruka noticed how Mizuki was shaking with barely restrained rage at how the former was able to graduate when he was expecting otherwise the entire time.

After meeting up and receiving congrats from his friends as well as Kurama and the other Elementals, even Hinata mustered up the courage to congratulate him too, Naruto left the academy with the headband strapped to his forehead and pride in his steps. He purposely went through a busy street just so he could let the people see the newest addition which they did and realized with shock and disbelief that the supposed demon fox is now a ninja of the Hidden Leaf as well as the ramifications should they try anything against him.

"Rubbing it in their faces, are we?" asked Drago in amusement.

"…maybe?" thought Naruto playfully, his prankster side showing itself before he got serious "But there's somewhere I need to be right now,"

With that said, Naruto walked out of the market district and made his way to a more secluded section of the village where e now stands before a large diamond-shaped stones with many names etched on its surface. This is the Memorial Stone which bears the names of shinobi that fell in the line of duty for the village, Naruto traced his fingers along two particular names with eyes full of melancholy.

Minato Namikaze

Kushina Uzumaki

"Hey there… mom and dad," Naruto spoke softly, Kurama and the Elementals chose to remain silent so he could have his moment "I was finally able to graduate and become a ninja, guess the saying that the third time being the charm to be something true. But I know I can't be lax about my new role as the life of a ninja isn't just black and white but also has the shades of gray in between them. I promise to make you two proud and thank you for loving me with all your hearts to the very end,"

Naruto bowed his head with both hands clapped together in prayer for peaceful rest upon their souls before leaving in a much lighter mood. Noticing that the sun has gone down and feeling like splurging, Naruto decided to eat at Ichiraku's to celebrate with them.

Sure enough, Teuchi and his daughter Ayame were very happy to learn that Naruto was able to graduate and become a ninja that they let him have a few bowls on the house which the blonde ninja was more than happy to accept. He was slurping on a bowl when Iruka showed up.

"Hey Naruto, room for one more?" asked Iruka fondly.

Naruto smiled back "Sure, Iruka-sensei!"

Minutes later, the two were eating ramen together and enjoying themselves when a shinobi suddenly came inside with a concerned expression on his face.

"Iruka, I need you to come with me right now!" said the ninja urgently.

"What's the matter?" Iruka inquired.

"The Scroll of Sealing has been stolen from the Hokage's office, and the person who did it was Mizuki!"

"!?" Iruka was stunned speechless by the revelation that his childhood friend has done such a thing. Naruto on the other hand was frowning, he had always been sensing negative emotions from the guy and so hearing this didn't shock him too much but knows that this is a serious matter.

"Come on, we need to go and search for him before he gets away!" said the ninja urgently.

Iruka snapped back into focus "R-Right, I'm on it!" he turned to Naruto "You head home while I deal with this!" then he took off, leaving Naruto behind.

"You don't plan on leaving him on his own, are you?" asked Zekrom.

"You know me well, I get the feeling something bad will happen if I don't go after him," thought Naruto, he rose from his seat and followed after Iruka but from a distance so he won't notice.

Meanwhile, Iruka was leaping through the trees swiftly before landing in a small clearing next to a small wooden hut and looked around with narrowed eyes, he had been tracking Mizuki down for some time and it led him to here.

"From what I could gather, this must be where Mizuki came to and is the least likely place for anyone to check. Now, where is he…?"

Suddenly, from out of nowhere a barrage of kunai and shuriken shot out from the darkness and struck Iruka before he could react in time, pinning him to the side of the wooden hut. Iruka groaned in pain and struggled to free himself when he heard laughter from amongst the trees.

"Figures that you would find me here given how you've always been chasing down that brat all the time, keeps that particular skill sharpened,"

Someone landed in the clearing, revealing to be Mizuki. Gone was the friendly smile and now is a look of madness as he sneered at Iruka with the Forbidden Scroll strapped to his waist and a pair of large shuriken strapped to his back.

"Mizuki…why? Why did you steal the scroll, don't you know it's a serious crime that can't be overlooked or pardoned?" asked Iruka, wincing in pain from the wounds on his body.

Mizuki scoffed "Like I would care about the village thinks when all it has done was hold me back from being what I can truly be…a powerful ninja, one the likes of those feared and revered like Orochimaru-sama,"

Iruka's eyes widened in shock "Orochimaru?! You're betraying the village? Betraying me to join Orochimaru?!"

"Not when the village and especially you betrayed me first! To think you would actually allow that brat to pass when you know exactly what he is, it goes to show that this village has become weak and I don't want to be a part of it anymore!"

"Please stop this, Mizuki! There's still a chance to make things right, you just need t-," Iruka appealed to Mizuki for the sake of his friendship but was interrupted.

"The only chance I'll be taking is getting rid of you, consider this a consolation prize for not be able to kill my true target!"

Mizuki took out one of the giant shuriken while spinning it in his hand and threw it at Iruka who struggled but was too slow to escape. Suddenly, an orange blur shot out from the trees and deflected the giant shuriken to embed itself in a tree trunk, revealing himself for all to see.

"Naruto, what are you doing here?" asked Iruka confusedly.

"Saving your life, obviously. I got worried that something like this would happen and this confirms it. Plus…," Naruto held out a gaming console in his hand "I've already recorded everything he said, he won't be weaseling his way out of this,"

"Why am I not surprised that he's a traitor through and through," said Drago.

"Our liege shall bring him to justice," said Garuda, ready to aid Naruto in capturing the criminal.

Mizuki sneered at him "Well, look who it is; the very person I was hoping to kill,"

"Doesn't surprise me, you been glaring daggers at me every time with no one looking," Naruto retorted.

"But I bet that's the only thing you would know…,"

Realizing what he's planning to do, Iruka yelled out "No Mizuki, that's forbidden!"

"Do we have to go through the fact that I don't care for the village anymore again?" Mizuki turned to Naruto "What you don't know is a truth that everybody including Iruka knows except you who isn't supposed to know, it's to the point of being made into a law,"

Naruto quirked an eyebrow "What are you going on about?"

"Mizuki, don't say it!" Iruka tried to stop him.

Mizuki smirked evilly "The secret is that nobody is supposed to reveal that the Nine Tailed Fox that attacked the village 12 years has been sealed inside of you. The fox that killed Iruka's parents and destroyed our village has taken over your body, making you nothing more than a monster that needs to be destroyed and yet Iruka of all people actually pitied you which makes me sick!"

"…," Naruto didn't say anything, Kurama flinched in guilt while the Elementals, Digimon and Biometals were outraged at the bias of Mizuki.

"Frankly, I was hoping to use you to steal the scroll instead but then seeing that I can get it myself shows that I don't even need you," Mizuki took out his second shuriken and spun it "Now do me a favor and die!" he threw the shuriken at Naruto who simply stood there motionlessly.

"Naruto, get out of the way!" Iruka cried out desperately, wanting to save him as the projectile drew closer and was about t-


Suddenly, the giant shuriken was knocked out of the way and sent flying elsewhere. Iruka and Mizuki looked to see Naruto still standing there but was now holding a single-edged shortsword with a white blade which has less of the shine of a polished metal in its ore that it has the haze of a cloud and bears a Yin-Yang symbol on the hilt.

"I knew…I've been aware of the truth the whole time," Naruto stated, shocking the two Chuunins "It's rather obvious; the birthmarks on my cheeks, the black markings on my stomach that would often appear and disappear occasionally, how people ALWAYS refer only me to foxes with derision and not stating it directly. But you're wrong about one thing,"

"And what would that be?" Mizuki sneered.

"I CONTAIN the Nine Tailed Fox; you can't pour water into an empty glass and expect the glass to become the water. How on earth did you get a teaching license and yet not know something as simple as this?" Naruto smirked at Mizuki who was now glaring at him.

"Naruto…," Iruka was surprised to hear of this, could this be what led to his change?

Naruto glanced back at Iruka "Hang in there, Iruka-sensei. I'll get you to a hospital after dealing with this traitor,"

Angered at being looked down upon, Mizuki jumped down to the ground and armed himself with a kunai "I'm gonna cut you into many pieces, demon brat!"

The blonde ninja simply pointed Bakuya at him "Why you don't come on over and try to?"

Music Start: Sengoku Rance OST; Drive back the enemy!

Angered even more, Mizuki rushed at Naruto and swung his kunai at him but the blonde swiftly deflected it with his shortsword. The two repeatedly clashed blades with each other and Mizuki was both surprised and angry at how Naruto was proving to be skilled in the use of his sword, that he could keep up with him. Mizuki suddenly broke away and began throwing shuriken at his target, Naruto twirled Bakuya to hold it in a reverse grip and began to rapidly deflect the incoming projectiles before throwing the shortsword towards Mizuki who tilted out of the way for it to miss him and noticed Naruto dashing towards him.

"And here I thought that you were competent with a sword, how stupid can you be?" Mizuki swung his kunai straight at Naruto's head only for him to move his hand as the was a flash of light then there was a metallic clang then it was revealed that Naruto was holding another shortsword but this one has a black blade embossed with red hexagonal patterns which was currently holding the kunai.

Naruto smirked "If you think that I'm stupid, then you're about to feel dumb,"

"Wha-argh!" Mizuki cried out in pain as something cut his shoulder, causing him to stumble back with a hand on the wound which has started bleeding. He glanced back at Naruto to see that he was holding the white shortsword which is stained with his blood "How did you…?!"

Iruka who has been watching the battle saw what happened "That sword which Naruto threw came flying back to him, could it be some sort of ability that they have besides being summoned? Just where did Naruto get them?"

Naruto twirled both shortswords in his hands before taking a combat stance "Coming at ya, teme! Charger!" executing the skill, Naruto rushed up to Mizuki and attacked with a horizontal slash from the Bakuya then followed up with a spinning vertical slash of the Kanshou before leaping into the air and attacking with a rising knee strike to Mizuki's face before ending the combo with a powerful cross slash which sends the traitor tumbling away and dropping the Forbidden Scroll onto the grass.

Drago scoffed "Pathetic, just how weak is this fool?"

"Either that or this is the result of Naruto's training," said Elrath.

"Perhaps a bit of both," said Stiria.

Naruto looked at Mizuki who was struggling to get back to his feet "Just do us all a favor and stay down, teme. No need to embarrass yourself any more than you already have," he turned to go and pick up the Forbidden Scroll.

Hearing those words finally made Mizuki snap, to hear that from the demon brat of all people…he refuses to give up until the demon lays dead at his feet! Mizuki reached into his clothes and took out a vial containing a red glowing liquid, he remembers when Orochimaru gave him the recipe to a formula that would give him ultimate power, he stole the ingredients from one of the Nara clan's research centers and created the formula in one of Orochimaru's hideout which he now holds in his hand.

"To think that demon brat is forcing me to use it…," Mizuki removed the stopper and began to drink the formula.

Iruka was quick to notice "Naruto, Mizuki is drinking something!"

Naruto spun to see Mizuki finish drinking and his body already began to transform; his body enlarged itself and took on a more muscular build which tore off his upper clothing and revealing black markings on his biceps, forehead and cheeks, Mizuki grinned and revealed his teeth having become pointed as he leered at Naruto.

"What was that he drank?" Naruto muttered lowly.

"His chakra level has skyrocketed, it's so much that it's making my skin crawl," said Iruka, worried for Naruto's safety.

"It must be whatever he drank, it might have been designed to enhance his overall physical capabilities. I advise that you exercise great caution," said Elrath warily.

"Should a push come to a shove, you may have to use the Elemental Link," said Zekrom.

"Got it, just became a ninja and I'm involved in something major, all in one day. Wait till Nep-chan and the others hear of this when I see them again," thought Naruto.

Mizuki continued to leer at Naruto when he took a step, Naruto's instincts suddenly made him cross his shortswords in front of him with his body tensing up right as he felt a powerful impact which sent him skidding backwards, then he looked to see Mizuki standing at where he was with his fist outstretched before realizing what happened.

"Like Elrath said, his speed and power have gone way up," Naruto looked to see Kanshou and Bakuya seriously damaged "Even my shortswords nearly got broken,"

Mizuki on the other hand looked at his fist and began to smile "So, this must be the power Orochimaru-sama promised. I've become unstoppable that I almost scare myself, even those butter knives of yours don't stand a chance,"

"If that's what you think…," Naruto concentrated on his shortswords, making them glow for a moment before fading to reveal that they're fully restored "Allow me to prove you wrong,"

"I'm going to enjoy tearing you apart,"

Naruto's instincts flared again as he quickly tilted his head sideways to dodge a punch aimed right at his face then moved a forearm to block another punch but the force sent him stumbling backwards and got kicked in chest which made him grunt in pain.

"I am the bone of my sword…," blue circuit-like markings appeared on Naruto's arms and spread across his body before forming a marking on his left shoulder, resembling an unknown emblem "Projection!" he began materializing copies and throwing them at Mizuki only to miss when the enhanced traitor used his speed to evade them and rushed to attack him.

"Sword Wall!" Naruto conjured multiple copies of Kanshou and Bakuya and having them float around him in a protective circle, forcing Mizuki to abort his attack and immediately retreat much to his annoyance.

"Tch, I don't know where you got those swords but I'm going to enjoy using them after I've killed you," said Mizuki with a glare.

Naruto frowned in response "Sorry to disappoint you, but that ain't gonna happen. Time to step things up a level. Speed Rave!" he crossed his arms together in front of himself as his body began emitting a light-blue aura then he broke his arms apart while air was pushed out from around him and his twin shortswords are now glowing with the same aura.

"I don't know what you just did, but it changes nothing!" Mizuki armed himself with a kunai and dashed at Naruto and attack with a horizontal slash.

Naruto's eyes narrowed in focus as he dashed around the incoming slash then countered with a spinning slash that struck three times, Mizuki turned to retaliate but Naruto had already repositioned at the other side and attacking with a four-hit combo of horizontal and vertical slashes. Not letting up with the assault, Naruto moved to position himself right in front of his opponent with the twin shortswords held close together as he stood sideways before attacking with a powerful rising vertical slash to knock Mizuki into the air. He waited for Mizuki to drop back down before lunging forward while performing a barrel roll then attacking with a series of rapid thrusts of his shortswords and blasting him away with a powerful dual thrust.

The Speed Rave is a combat style centered around highspeed attacks, evasion and counterattacks while not giving the opponent any chance to recover or react. Kurama mentioned that this style was used by someone in the past who was close to him.

Iruka was in awe of Naruto's combat skills, seeing that he could face Mizuki in spite of buffing himself with that unknown drug. But he also felt confused as to how he learnt these skills and acquired those swords, did he get them from those friends he spoke of?

Mizuki struggled back to his feet with his body covered in slash marks while in complete disbelief and denial at what's happening right now. He was supposed to be the more dominant one in this battle and that the brat is supposed to be laying bleeding and broken at his feet especially with the formula he drank, so what the heck is going on and how is he losing? He looked to see Naruto staring right back at him with a stern expression as if looking at an enemy meant to be taken down which seems to enrage him even more.

"Why you…you're just begging to be killed by me. No more games, I'll be using my full power and destroy you once and for all!"

Mizuki gritted his teeth and clenched his fists as steam wafted from his body which bulked even more then grew actual beast fur, giving him the appearance of a humanoid tiger which took Naruto and Iruka completely by surprise.

"What the heck, did you just turn yourself into a furry?!" Naruto exclaimed in shock.

"We have bigger concerns than a traitor's choice in physiology, he's attacking!" Nix called out in alert.

Sure enough, Mizuki lunged at Naruto with a fist reared back, Naruto was quick to dart out of the way but saw how the missed attack created a small but slightly deep crater upon impact which also threw up a cloud of dust.

"His force is even greater than before but…something's off," Naruto muttered to himself.

Mizuki ran out from the dust cloud and attacked fiercely but also recklessly with a barrage of punches; Naruto tilted from side-to-side while backstepping to avoid the punches but he could feel the wind pressure from the missed attacks which told him that he mustn't let a single one land on him.

"Hang on, is it me or has he gotten slower?" thought Naruto.

"It would appear so, apparently he must have sacrificed his speed in exchange for more power," said Zekrom.

"A foolish and naïve choice, this only gives you an advantage. It's time to end this," said Elrath.

"It goes without saying," Naruto dashed backwards then sent away Kanshou and Bakuya, confusing Iruka and Mizuki when he took a fighting stance.

Mizuki scoffed "Do you seriously think you can take me on without those fancy swords of yours?"

"Not that I think, I know! Why don't I show you exactly what I mean?"

"Your funeral!"

Mizuki rushed while Naruto stood there calmly with Iruka watching on with nervousness and hoping that he'll be okay. Naruto waited and watched for his opponent's next move then saw it as Mizuki attacked with a full-force haymaker punch aimed straight at his head. Naruto swiftly ducked underneath the punch with a tightly clenched fist reared back for a counterattack.



Naruto attacked with an uppercut so powerful that it crushes Mizuki's jaws upon impact, judging by the sound of bones cracking with both rising into the air before landing back on the ground albeit with Naruto landing on his feet and Mizuki crashing back first on the ground and clearly unconscious. However, Mizuki's body reverted back to normal but it didn't stop at that as his skin turned grey and became shriveled, almost like he had aged rapidly.

Music End

"What just happened, was it something I did?" asked Naruto confusedly.

"Doubtful, it must be a side effect from the formula he drank. It may have given a boost in power but I suspect that his body couldn't handle the foreign effects and deteriorated as time went on then it got worse when he forced that transformation, you will do well to be cautious of such things in the future," Elrath explained before advising Naruto in the end.

"I will, plus I'm totally against doping," thought Naruto.

"Mizuki…," Iruka was saddened to see how far his friend has fallen and is now paying the price for his actions against the village, he looked to see Naruto having picked up the Forbidden Scroll and strapped it to his waist before coming over to him.

"Can you move a bit, Iruka-sensei?" asked Naruto, clearly seeing that he's not that okay and needs medical attention.

"I can try, gonna hurt a lot though,"

"I hope you can tough it out until we get you to the hospital," Naruto slung Iruka's arm around his shoulder and helped him stand up albeit wincing due to the wounds on his body "Just take it easy, okay? One step at a time,"

"Naruto, about what Mizuki said earlier," asked Iruka as they walked.

"It's okay Iruka-sensei, I've come to terms with it. A part of me is upset with how the village treated me but I won't resent them. Just need to prove to them and have them see the true me, I owe a lot to you for caring about me in spite of everything. Really Iruka-sensei, thank you," said Naruto with a fond smile.

Iruka was stunned at first but smiled, seeing that Naruto has really matured "You're going to go far, Naruto. I can feel it,"

Inside the Hokage's Office, Hiruzen Sarutobi the third Hokage was staring into a crystal ball which showed him everything; all from the confrontation to Naruto escorting Iruka to the hospital and he heard Naruto's words.

"It would seem that he knew the truth but kept it to himself, there's also the skills which he has displayed in the battle against Mizuki; the likes of which I have never seen before. Just how strong have you become and how will your new changes affect the people around you, Naruto?" Hiruzen wondered to himself before calling for a shinobi to be sent over to pick up Mizuki for questioning.

This is Hussbek online with the latest chapter, Naruto has resumed school and many around him can see that he has truly changed and for the better as his academics have greatly improved, he takes his training very seriously and hardly plays hooky. A conversation at Ichiraku's has Iruka learning that Naruto is focusing solely on becoming Hokage but rather on becoming the best first.

In the middle of all this, Naruto has been undergoing training from Kurama, the Elementals and Biometals in preparation for his career as a shinobi, even learning the Shadow Clone in order to pass the graduation exam. However, Naruto didn't go without confrontations as Sasuke and Sakura tried to get into his business but were rebuffed and even Ino was forced to consider certain things. Sometime later, Mizuki stole the Forbidden Scroll and tried to defect from the village but Naruto served as a very effective deterrent and put a stop to it while rescuing Iruka from being killed. Now Hiruzen is curious about Naruto's true skills and how it will affect the ones around him now.

As you can tell, Naruto won't let himself be pushed around anymore and will be friendly only to those that respond in kind. It may look like I'm bashing Sakura but I'm not really aiming for that, but his new attitude and approach is already causing new changes for the people around him, for the better or worse. I also tweaked the fight between Naruto and Mizuki to make things a bit more interesting and took a bit from the filler episodes so don't expect to see Mizuki again after this. As for Naruto knowing the Shoryuken, he learnt it from Model X since in the Games; X knew how to use it along with the Hadoken after acquiring the full set of armor or learning from Dr. Light. Keep in mind that there will be a few timeskips before Naruto returns to Gamindustri. So be sure to read and review like always.

This is Hussbek from Ghana.

Signing out and staying alive.