People talking, "Hello everyone."

People thinking, 'LET'S GO!'

Demon/beast/other talking, "Back… back again!"

Demon/beast/other thinking, 'This was fun to put my own spin on.'

Jutsu/Unknown names, "Suiton: Mizudeppō no Jutsu."


Italics can be used for certain kinds of emphasis or snide comments.

Bold can be used for forceful yelling/shouting/screaming.

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Tenth Question?


This alert will be removed shortly (explanation attached to bottom of prologue)

The air was thick with anticipation as the first test of the Chūnin Exams began. Below, in the sprawling auditorium, young ninja from various villages and clans hurriedly searched for seats amidst the chaotic shouting of Ibiki, the test's administrator.

From a cleverly concealed balcony, a group of Jounin Sensei and the Hokage looked down upon the proceedings, their eyes sharp and their expressions varied. For these experienced ninja, the Chūnin Exams were not just a simple test, but a chance to witness the potential of the next generation of ninja and ensure the safety of their village. More importantly, an opportunity to learn about the newest kid on the block, so to speak. As they watched, a hushed conversation broke out among them.

"This is a mistake." Iruka, previously an Academy teacher and now Jounin Sensei, was the first to speak up. His words echoed in the hearts of many present. They had all fallen silent as the encounter between the Spirit Nin and Kumo Shinobi played out in dramatic fashion.

It had been the Hokage who had given the order for Ibiki to finally appear. Before someone else foolishly decided to test their luck. Despite how laissez-faire the Seikage seemed to be about hiding the presence of his Jinchuriki, very few seemed to have connected the terrifying dots.

There were three Bijū hosts amongst the naive and helpless Genin below. Sarutobi, Hokage of Konoha, couldn't help but look at them and see wolves prowling amongst sheep. Not to say that the other Spirit Nin weren't dangerous in their own right, but he didn't believe they had the capability to level his village like the three Jinchūriki.

What's more, there was two more Bijū present in his village. Two of the four 'Masters' as the Spirit Nin referred to their Jounin Sensei. Sarutobi wasn't even sure who they were, but he suspected they were the bearers of the Yonbi, the Five-tails, and the Rokubi, the Six-tails.

That there were five Bijū in total within his village filled Sarutobi with a sense of horror. The mere thought of the destruction just one of these Jinchūriki could cause if they were so inclined was terrifying. Five of them was almost unimaginable.

Sarutobi knew he should take action, do something to ensure the safety of his people, but the situation had long since been out of his control. The Seikage was making a clear statement to all that could see it. The might of the Big Five was nothing in the face of the Spirit Nin, and they would do well to remember that.

All of this was ignoring the presence of the Seikage himself, the Shiroi Oni, which could not be discounted.

"We are sending our Genin to the slaughterhouse," Iruka murmured quietly. There were several quiet sounds of agreement, though everyones attention was focused primarily on the test unfolding below.

"The Big Five had intended for the Chūnin Exams to be used as a show of strength against Shinreigakure." Kurenai, the Genjutsu Mistress with a tumultuous past explained, seemingly in disbelief. Asura nodded from beside her at the balcony railing.

"We didn't expect that the Seikage would choose to participate in the Exams this year," He agreed, and many understood. Once the news had spread — and it had taken Konoha by storm — significant changes to this year's exam had been made. Many of them last minute and without much deliberation.

It had seemed wise at the time. An even more rigorous test to hopefully prove that Konoha, and by extension, the Big Five would not be cowered by Shinreigakure. The plan had spectacularly backfired, and the first test wasn't even over yet.

"They can't be Genin," A Jounin Sensei complained half-heartedly. "They're not even Chūnin, and I have no doubt that many of us here wouldn't stand a chance against them one on one."

There was several murmured comments in reply, but they were all silenced as the Hokage finally broke from his introspection, and walked up to the balcony himself. "They are not Genin, you are correct. They are what the Shinreigakure refers to as 'Adepts,' which if compared directly, would equal our Chūnin."

"Then we could have them removed on grounds of being too strong to participate in the exams?" Someone asked hopefully, clearly worried about their students chances.

Sarutobi shook his head, "I've already attempted to make that argument. The Shiroi Oni was prepared, however, and cited our own rules for new villages. They must participate in the Chūnin Exams, and the Jounin Exams, for their ranks to be officially recognized within the Big Five. This is usually not an issue, as the quality of ninja from newly established villages is often worse than the rest of the Elemental Nations.

"Thus, while it is obvious to our eyes, on paper the Adept Spirit Nin are Genin until they pass the Chūnin exams."

"This is bullshit," Might Guy exclaimed in an uncharacteristic burst of anger. He was swiftly interrupted, however.

"Do you wish to go and take it up with the White Demon?" Kakashi drawled dispassionately, his Sharingan in full view as he lazily played it across the applicants. Guy glared at his life-long friend, but eventually forced himself to relax his tightly clasped fists.

"We have to do something!" Guy declared at last, his gaze meeting Sarutobi's. The Hokage shook his head, looking away.

"There is nothing we can do. The Shiroi Oni will not allow us to call off the Chūnin Exams at this point. The die has been cast, and now we must wait to see where it lands."

The conversation lapsed back into quiet murmurs as the test below continued. None of the Konoha Shinobi were aware that they had an unwelcome guest, who stood off to the side.

Arashi watched the myriad of complicated emotions playing across their faces with indifference. He didn't care for Konoha one way or another, it had always been a fantastical place he had never imagined he would visit. The strongest of the big five, Konoha, who had defeated the Bijū at their inception, and given birth to powerhouses such as Minato, Konoha's Yellow Flash, and Hiruzen Sarutobi, The God of Shinobi. Now that he was here, it fell short of his expectations. Enormously.

'Thankfully, this pitiful excuse for a village won't last for much longer.' Arashi mused as he listened to the conversation. Lord Seikage wanted him to ensure that the Hokage would not attempt to stop the Chūnin Exams. While the outcome was irrelevant, its occurrence was crucial. 'For now, let the younglings have some fun showing off.'

Arashi smiled, 'They deserve it.'

"Quiet down you worthless bastards!"

Ibiki's voice reverberated across the auditorium like a thunderclap. The aura he exuded was thick and heavy, filling the air with a sense of foreboding and causing many genin to flinch and quiver in fear. Some imagined themselves writhing in agony as their minds conjured up horrifying images of torture and torment.

Temari and Gaara, however, remained unfazed by Ibiki's display of power. They calmly turned and walked away, their movements graceful and fluid. Ibiki glared at them as they made their way back to the Spirit Nin.

"Thank you for waiting…" Ibiki said after a moment. He retracted his aura for the most part. "I am Morino Ibiki, the examiner for the Chūnin Exam's first test."

Ibiki raised his hand with purpose and pointed across the auditorium, causing several Genin in that direction to freeze in fear. The recent trauma of his terrifying aura returned, causing their bodies to tremble. "Hidden Spirit guys, stop doing as you please before the exam," he ordered sternly.

Gaara's casual footsteps came to an abrupt halt, the sudden lack of sound drawing the attention of everyone in the room. All eyes turned to the Spirit Nin, many of them with worry, curiosity, and fear.

Temari also stopped, a half step behind her brother.

"Are you willing to fail before even attempting the exam?" Ibiki challenged, his hand still raised and pointed at Gaara. He raised a scarred eyebrow, waiting for a response.

'Let it go, Gaara-san.' Temari's voice crackled with amusement as she soothed Gaara, 'Don't mind Ibiki-san. He's just trying to scare us. None of this matters anyway.' Rei joined in, her tone mocking, 'He's not very good at it, though.'

Gaara stopped in his tracks, turning his piercing gaze towards the crowd. The room grew silent, the Genin sensing the overwhelming power emanating from the Spirit Nin. Temari's smirk widened as she watched the fear in their eyes. "We won't be failing," Gaara declared, his voice carrying throughout the room like a quiet whisper. "And neither will any of you, as long as you stay out of our way."

Ibiki's jaw clenched, his hand instinctively reaching for his weapon. The Jounin surrounding him stepped forward, ready to intervene as they sensed the change in Gaara's aura. But then Gaara began to move again, his steps measured and confident. His sister followed in his wake, their presence almost suffocating in its intensity.

"Bah…" Ibiki grunted, pocketing his hand as he waited for the Spirit Nin to return to their seats, as did everyone else. He caught a nervous glance from one of the twelve Jounin standing around him. "Now seems a good opportunity to say this…

"There will be no fighting without the permission of the examiner. Even if permission is granted, killing your opponent will not be tolerated."

The entire auditorium was silent, the many Genin paying close attention to Ibiki's words. Many of them were caught up within the intensity of his lifeless gaze, and heavily scarred face. "Those pigs that disobey me will be failed immediately. Do I make myself clear?!"

'Your report was correct it seems, Yukimi-chan.' Hanabi commented, her Byakugan trained on the collection of Konoha Shinobi standing on the raised podium at the front of the auditorium. 'Its going to be a paper test.'

'A purging test that separates the cream from the dregs,' Kankuro remarked, 'This is far too many participants for Konoha to handle without it becoming a bloodbath in the next tests.'

Before anyone else could reply, the Spirit Nin's attention was pulled toward the front of the room, where Ibiki was talking once again.

"We will now begin the first test of the Chūnin Exam." Ibiki announced, causing a wave of nervous tension to fall across the room. "Instead of your current seating arrangements… you will take one of these tabs and sit in the seat assigned to you."

Ibiki held up his hand, holding a stack of tabs with numbers. "Once everyone is seated, we will hand out the exams." He gestured to one of the Jounin beside him, who was holding a large stack of papers.

There was a multitude of various responses to this information, from confusion, to outrage at the realization that this was a paper test, to excitement. However, the most interesting response came from Hinata Hyūga, who was the first to approach the podium and take a tab in stoic silence.

Hanabi met her biological sister's eyes as Hinata stared at her across the room before making her way to her assigned seat. Kagerō spoke with a hint of amusement, 'It appears that you have captured her heart, Hanabi-hime.'

She rolled her eyes, glancing over at the fairy-like Kunoichi with her Byakugan, which meant her eyes didn't really move at all. Wisely choosing to not engage, Hanabi pushed her intention through the mental link, and as one, all of the Spirit Nin began moving toward the front of the auditorium. The Genin froze in their tracks, their attention drawn to the twelve figures cloaked in white, their steps perfectly synchronized as they moved forward. The Spirit Nin seemed almost ethereal, their faces hidden beneath hoods that concealed their identities, their movements graceful yet intimidating.

As they reached the podium, they stopped in unison, their bodies still and poised, emanating a palpable aura of power and control. All eyes were upon them, and the silence in the room seemed to stretch on forever as the Spirit Nin stood in formation, an enigmatic presence that left the Genin trembling with fear and anticipation.

'Kankuro, its your turn to show off!' Isaribi enthusiastically declared from within the sanctity of her hood and the mental link they all shared. Kankuro chuckled beneath his hood, his hand emerging to point towards Ibiki, who held the tabs. Gasps and murmurs rippled through the Genin as eerie black string-like tendrils snaked out from Kankuro's skin, each wrapping around a tab before delivering it to a waiting Spirit Nin. The intensity of Ibiki's glare was palpable, but Kankuro ignored it, moving with his comrades to their designated spots in a display of flawless coordination.

'That was so cool!' Isaribi shouted, 'Did you hear how everyone gasped in awe at how cool you were Kankuro-san?'

Kankuro's lips curved into a wry smile. 'Yes, Isaribi,' he replied, his tone tinged with amusement. 'But I believe our examiner recognized the Jiongu.'

Isaribi's response was nonchalant, as if discussing the weather. 'Oh, right. It used to belong to Konoha, didn't it?'

Kankuro shook his head, feeling a flicker of annoyance at her indifference. He took his designated seat, sandwiched between a Kiri and Kumo Genin. As the other Spirit Nin settled into their positions with eerie precision, the room fell silent, save for the rustling of clothing and the occasional nervous cough. The air seemed to thicken with an unspoken tension as the assignment of seats continued.

In another part of the large auditorium, the sound of shuffling feet echoed as a Kirigakure Genin slid onto the bench beside a stiff-backed Hyūga Hinata. The girl turned her head slightly, but her gaze remained fixed on the front of the room, her expression unreadable.

"Greetings," The Kiri-nin said, extending a hand in greeting. "My name is Toyoto Yoshio."

Hinata spared him a cursory glance, but made no move to shake his hand. "Hyūga Hinata, Heiress to the Hyūga Clan," she said coolly.

Undeterred, Yoshio withdrew his hand with a shrug. "Ah, titles. Unfortunately, I am unable to regale you with any of my own, Heiress."

Hinata frowned slightly, feeling an unease settle in her stomach. She turned to face Yoshio more fully, studying his features. His eyes were covered by a plain white cloth, but she could feel his gaze on her. His hair was silvery, slicked back with a lone bang hanging over his forehead. His attire was standard for Kirigakure, overall he was uninteresting, but there was something about his open expression that made her uneasy.

"Do I know you, foreigner?" she asked.

Yoshio's smile was enigmatic. "No… no, we do not," he replied softly, turning to face the front of the room as Ibiki resumed speaking.

Hinata couldn't shake off the feeling of unease that Yoshio had evoked in her. She cast a sidelong glance at him from time to time, but he appeared to be paying attention to the exam. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but something about him was off.

"Listen closely to what I am about to say." Ibiki began, "Do not turn your test sheets over until I tell you too."

Picking up a stick of chalk, Ibiki began writing on the large black board behind him without looking at it. "There are many important rules to this first test, and I'll write on the board as I explain. Questions will not be allowed, so listen carefully!"

Guren sent the mental equivalent of a yawn through the connection, only barely resisting the urge to doze off. 'This is so boring. Why do we have to sit through this? In four years of training in Shinreigakure, I have never had to do a test like this.'

Kimimaro only half-listened to the administrator's explanation of the upcoming test, his attention mostly on the mental conversation. His team had been separated, and he found himself sitting alone, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. A group of Konoha Genin chattered excitedly nearby, while a trio of Kumo-nin exchanged glances and whispered among themselves. 'This is what our Kage has wished for us to do.' Kimimaro replied plainly, 'Therefore, it is what we will do.'

Rei groaned, adding her contribution to the boredom-fueled conversation. 'Bones, you have to lighten up! I know you feel indebted to Naruto-sama with your life, but relax. No one here would ever even consider the idea of not following our Kage's orders.'

As the administrator droned on, Kimimaro absently studied his surroundings. The auditorium was large and imposing, with high ceilings and rows upon rows of wooden benches. The air was thick with the scent of musty books and old paper. Large windows lined the walls, their shutters thrown open to let in the afternoon light, which filtered through the dust motes in the air and cast intricate patterns on the polished wooden floor.

'Exactly!' Guren added, 'Though I can still point out that this is boring as hell, right?'

'Leave the dry-bones alone, he doesn't do humor on a mission, you know that.' Temari interjected teasingly, which got laughter from Kimimaro's teammates.

Kimimaro's attention, however, had returned to the administrator, who was now explaining the scoring system for the test. He found it mildly interesting, but couldn't help but feel a sense of detachment.

"Whether you pass or fail will be determined by the combined score of your teammates!" Ibiki continued, and Rei giggled. 'You better not fail the team, fish brain!'

'Hey! I resent that!'

Kimimaro ignored the inane chattering in the back of his mind, his eyes on a Kunoichi from Kumo who had just gotten to her feet. It took him a second to recognize her from behind. She was Shiroyuki Mizuko.

Her long, yellow hair was tightly braided behind her. Her Chinese Qipou style outfit, in shades of pale blue, dove grey, and white swirls, was unremarkable, and her fully closed shin high boots with metal plating and silvery metal-backed gloves up to her forearms were standard gear for ninja.

It was her kekkei genkai, Ranton, that made her a formidable opponent, with a mastery of water and lightning nature types. Mizuko's preferred weapons were senbon and wires, and though she seemed to have a passing knowledge of kenjutsu and swordplay, she rarely used her thin wakizashi. Kimimaro noted her skills and equipment with a clinical eye, analyzing them as he would any other target.

"Wait a second, administrator-san!" Mizuko said, interrupting Ibiki. "I don't understand this initial points system either, but why is this a team test?"

Ibiki's hell-filled gaze bore down on Mizuko until she crumpled beneath its weight back into her seat, breathing heavily. She managed to resist for a few moments, which was mildly impressive in Kimimaro's opinion.

"Shut up." Ibiki said calmly, "You do not have the right to question me. There is a reason for this, now be quiet and listen. All of you."

'That's Kumo arrogance for you,' Fū commented airily.

Ibiki's gravelly voice filled the room, commanding attention from all the exam takers. "Pay attention now," he said, his eyes scanning the room for any sign of distraction. "The third rule of this exam is simple: anyone caught cheating will have two points deducted for every offense. And let me assure you, our testing officers are very good at catching those who try to pull a fast one."

The room fell silent as Ibiki's words sank in. His tone was almost gleeful, as if he relished the thought of catching cheaters in the act. The tension in the room was palpable as the exam takers shifted nervously in their seats. Some stole furtive glances at their neighbors, wondering if they would be the ones to get caught. "Those that lose all of their points will be asked to leave.

"We'll have our eyes on you guys… As Shinobi trying to achieve the level of Chūnin, realize that the pathetic ones that get caught cheating will be destroying themselves. Be proud ninjas."

'He did not.' Guren said, her words following close on the heels of the administrator. 'He did not just say that…'

Rei's infectious giggling overtook the mental connection, 'He did! He really said that! Hehe!' Temari groaned, echoing Guren's earlier complaint. 'This is going to be sooo boring.'

Ibiki paused, letting the tension in the room reach a fever pitch. His eyes gleamed with sadistic pleasure as he watched the panic spread through the exam takers. He could feel their eyes on him, and he knew that every word he spoke was being scrutinized for any hint of weakness or vulnerability.

"And now, for the final rule," he said, drawing out the suspense. "Listen closely, because this one could make or break your entire team. If you lose all your initial points during the test, or fail to answer any questions correctly, you will be failed along with your two teammates."

The room erupted in outrage at his words, with some of the exam takers muttering curses under their breath. But Ibiki remained unmoved, his expression one of cold, calculating superiority. He had seen it all before, and he knew how to manipulate the crowd to his advantage. His only complaint was the Spirit Nin, not only were they unbothered, but none of them had moved even the slightest inch since taking a seat.

But as the murmurs died down, Ibiki allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction. He had accomplished what he had set out to do - instill fear and uncertainty in the hearts of the exam takers. Now, it was time for them to prove their worth, or face the consequences of failure. "Ok… the exam will last for one hour."


'So, are we going to bother with pretending to care about this test?' Kagerō inquired, her test laying untouched on the table in front of her, not yet flipped over to reveal the questions.

Five minutes had passed since the beginning of the first test of the Chūnin Exams, and many of the Genin present were just beginning to figure out the true purpose of this whole ordeal.

Hanabi had already used her Byakugan to spy on the test papers, and relayed the questions. And while they could answer several of them, many of them didn't have any answer, and were impossible. It was evident that the purpose of this test was not how intelligent or experienced a Genin was, but how well they could gather information.

Ergo, Hanabi had already located the six Konoha Genin that were plants and had the correct answers. All of them had just finished filling out their sheets with the 'correct' answers, and were now pretending like they were agonizing over the test like everyone else.

'This test is laughably easy for anyone with Byakugan,' Yukimi commented, speaking up for the first time today. 'Ugh, whatever. How are we playing this, guys?' In the case where a decision needed to be made for the entire group of twelve, everyone usually deferred to the decision of those with seniority. In this case, Gaara. He had been with Naruto-sama from the beginning, there was no one higher.

After a moment's pause, and when there was no answer from Gaara, the others turned their attention elsewhere. 'Its amusing to watch those who haven't figured it out yet. Yugito-chan, your arch-nemesis is in a right tizzy.' Kagerō's angelic voice came through the connection. Yugito's heterochromatic eyes shifted beneath her cloak. She smiled.

'Revenge!' She declared with exacerbated enthusiasm.

'Personally, I think the ones that are actually trying to answer the solvable problems without cheating are more entertaining,' Hanabi commented, her Byakugan in full display beneath her hood as it shifted constantly, veins pulsing around her eyes. 'Do you think the administrator will point out that we haven't touched our papers yet?' Yukimi wondered.

'No, he won't. We have already solved this test…' Temari paused briefly as a Kirigakure Kunoichi of little interest finally broke under the strain. Getting up to her feet, she demanded to know how many teams would pass the test. Unsurprisingly, she received the same treatment as Mizuko, and was promptly slammed back down into her seat by Ibiki's aura. '…if our guess is wrong, we can just put down the 'correct' answers before the end of the allotted time. Drawing attention to us would detract from the atmosphere the Konoha Nin are trying to create.'

'So, this is all just an elaborate test of endurance, then? To see who succumbs to the pressure first?' Rei's gaze drifted over the competitors, some sweating profusely. She felt a pang of sympathy for them, knowing all too well the mental and physical strain of such trials.

Her thoughts drifted to the sweet, sugary taste of a sucker, a small indulgence she denied herself in the name of discipline. She could feel the weight of the scroll pouch at her side, the promise of its contents a tantalizing temptation. But she knew better than to succumb to such weakness, having been trained by the exacting Zetsu. The memory of his grueling regime sent a shiver down her spine.

'Someone is about to get pulled out, they just got caught for the fourth time.' Hanabi informed, her Byakugan playing across the Konoha Jounin lining the edge of the auditorium, carefully watching the Genin.

Gaara's voice entered the connection, and everyone respectfully fell silent. 'How are our interests doing?' Hanabi immediately focused, as did the rest of the Spirit Nin who had angles on their targets.

'Sasuke has figured out the purpose of the test, and is unsurprisingly using his Sharingan to copy one of the plants across the room.' Hanabi reported quickly, 'The Yuki are using ice mirrors near the ceiling to gather information. Most of the Kirigakure nin are using water techniques to sense the moisture in the still-drying ink of the plants.'

'Satoshimaru is using small snake summons that are darting around our feet,' Fū continued, having spread out her entourage of loyal bugs before Ibiki had even arrived. She had been entertaining herself by fighting for territory in the auditorium with the Aburame Clan genin.

A few moments passed before Hanabi finished up the report, 'All of our targets are on the right path to pass, assuming they understand the purpose of the tenth test question.'

Gaara nodded, 'Good.'

The Land of Bears was a country shrouded in dense, evergreen forests and jagged, rocky outcroppings that jutted out from the earth like serrated teeth. It was a place of rugged beauty, where nature had yet to be fully tamed by the hand of man.

Against this breathtaking backdrop, three figures cloaked in white with golden trims moved with an almost otherworldly grace. Their cloaks billowed around them as they leapt from tree to tree, their movements fluid and effortless. The Kanji for "Master" emblazoned on the back of their cloaks shone brilliantly in the sunlight.

The figures moved around each other in perfect synchronicity, their movements timed to perfection as they kept pace with one another. They moved with a silent efficiency, their powerful physiques allowing them to traverse the treetops with ease.

Behind them, twelve more figures trailed closely, lacking the Kanji that marked the first three as masters. These figures moved in a way that seemed slightly off, their movements less fluid and less graceful. As they moved through the treetops, the landscape slipped by at a dizzying speed. The trees blurred together, their trunks and branches becoming a kaleidoscope of green and brown. The occasional rocky outcropping jutted out from the forest, forcing the figures to leap even farther to clear them.

It was a beautiful and dangerous dance, this journey through the Land of Bears. However, there was none to see or appreciate it.

'We will be within sight of Hoshigakure soon,' Tsukino's gentle and silvery voice came through the mental connection the three Masters shared.

'We passed a group of scouts a few moments ago,' Itachi informed, his Sharingan in full display beneath his hood, which covered his face in impenetrable darkness. Anko joined in, though with more idly commentary than useful information, 'I don't understand why we're bothering with negotiations. We all know how this is going to end.'

Tsukino sighed quietly in the privacy of her hood, refraining from sharing her feelings on the matter. Anko, the wife of Uchiha Itachi, wasn't someone she tended to get along with. There was no particular reason. Their personalities were simply too divergent, with Anko being far more expressive and devil-may-care than she was. However, on this matter, she didn't disagree.

In her meeting with the Seikage, the internal matters of Hoshigakure had not been discussed. Nonetheless, she had no doubt that Naruto-sama was aware of the way the village was run, and how it mistreated its people.

Normally, this would provoke some sort of response from their kind-hearted kage, but over the last year and a half, Naruto had become more reserved. He oftentimes left the injustices playing out in the world to his subordinates, which was just as well, as otherwise they wouldn't get a chance to learn and grow.

What worried her was the cause of Naruto's change in demeanor. It was evident that something was worrying him, something that he hadn't shared with the rest of the Administration in its entirety. She had no doubt that those closest to the Kage knew, but she was left with only her imagination.

The thought made Tsukino reaffirm her decision to ensure that the proceedings with Hoshigakure, whether they be negative or positive, not become a matter that Naruto had to deal with personally. It would be frankly ridiculous anyway, Naruto's absurd power was rarely required, and nowadays only prevalent when he choose to resurrect one of his Spirit Nin.

'The Valley of Death lies ahead,' Tsukino announced, her voice firm and resolute. 'We should expect resistance, but I'll try to negotiate first before resorting to force.' Her fellow Masters nodded in agreement, while the Warrior Puppets continued to follow stoically. Although some of them had emulated Kawata's individuality, most preferred to remain part of the Tenseigan hive mind. Tsukino leapt from tree to tree, her white cloak billowing behind her, as the rugged terrain of the Land of Bears rushed by beneath them. She knew that they were getting closer to their destination, and she steeled herself for the challenges ahead.

As they approached the Valley of Death, Tsukino and her group could feel the air grow thick and acrid, the noxious fumes that emanated from the chasm threatening to overwhelm them. They slowed their pace, wary of what lay ahead.

As they drew closer, they could make out the outlines of the Hoshigakure Ninja, stationed on the other side of the chasm. The ninja had clearly built up their defenses, with walls of sharpened logs and wooden towers.

With the eerie synchronicity that the Spirit Nin had become infamous for throughout the Elemental Nations, Tsukino and the rest of her companions dropped from the treetops and alighted on the ground at the edge of the acidic chasm. The Hoshigakure Ninja on the other side had built up their defenses, and Tsukino knew they would demand that she and her group stop or be attacked.

"Who goes there? State your purpose!" came a loud shout from the other side of the chasm.

The guard's voice was filled with suspicion and hostility, but Tsukino remained calm. "We are here to parley," she said firmly, with a hint of regality in her tone. "We seek an audience with your leader to discuss a peaceful resolution to this conflict."

She could sense the tension in the air, and knew that the defenses on the other side were formidable. But Tsukino was a skilled fighter and a Spirit Nin Master, and she was determined to negotiate a peaceful solution to this conflict.

Of course, her view wasn't shared by everyone.

'I say we just blast it to bits,' Anko proposed, somehow conveying the sense that she was munching on food as she said it. Tsukino sighed aloud this time, her shoulders slumping slightly. 'Do you ever take anything seriously, Anko-san?' She inquired, a hint of exasperation in her voice.

Anko paused to consider her question, but before she could answer, Itachi spoke up. 'She does,' he said, a sly smile playing at the corners of his mouth, 'but only rarely does it have to do with fighting.'

The implication was clear, and Anko's cheeks flushed with a mix of embarrassment and annoyance. She was always the one to tease in their relationship, but this time he had clearly hit home. She glared at him, but he just smirked back at her, clearly enjoying her discomfort. 'Jerk!'

Tsukino adroitly blocked out the couple's mental bickering as she focused on the Hoshigakure Shinobi across the chasm who seemed to have finished deliberating amongst themselves.

"We will allow you to enter under guard, and your word you mean our village no harm." The original Shinobi shouted, and she gave a slight curtesy.

"Of course, Shinobi-san."

With that, the Hoshigakure Shinobi did something, and a long bridge began to form out of purple translucent chakra over the entire chasm. The bickering couple abruptly stopped, their attention shifting to the impressive and mystifying display of magic. 'Is it really solid?' Anko inquired in disbelief.

Tsukino drew a kunai and lightly threw it at the bridge. 'It is. How interesting.' She remarked. She had already known about this unique property of the Hoshigakure Shinobi's chakra, but seeing it in person was different. It was remarkably similar to the Seikage's own technique.

With her curiosity satisfied for the time being, Tsukino relayed her intention to move, and as one, the fifteen cloaked figures began walking across the bridge in lockstep.

A kunai sailed through the air, its metal glinting in the light as it hurtled towards the desk. The Genin sitting there was lost in thought, completely unaware of the danger that was about to strike. Then, with a resounding thud, the kunai buried itself deep in the wood, shredding a sheet of paper that had been sitting innocently on the desk. The unfortunate Konoha Genin jumped in surprise, their heart racing as they looked around in confusion.

'There goes another one,' Temari remarked lazily as the Genin in question shot to his feet. "What was that for?!" He shouted.

"You messed up five times," The Konoha Jounin who had thrown the blade said, a slight smirk on his face. "You fail."

"No…" The Genin stumbled over his seat as he tried to take a step back. "…No way!"

Ibiki looked over and raised an eyebrow, "The two on his team, get out of here. Right now."

While the temporary show of dramatic removal of a participant removal's unfolded, Ibiki's gaze drifted back to the dozen Spirit Nin scattered across the large auditorium. He had noticed that not a single one had touched their sheet, let alone even moved. He suspected that they already knew the purpose of this whole fiasco, and that irritated him.

Glancing over at the clock on the wall, he noted the time remaining. Only half. Most of the ones he had expected to pass had already figured out the purpose of this test, and were skillfully using their skills to spy on one another. Now it was up to the middle-tier genin to make their play. Already, several of the higher-class Genin were defending their test answers while being subtly about it. He had to admit he wasn't completely sure how some of them had even gathered information.

The only ones who hadn't finished yet were, as previously mentioned, the Spirit Nin. He resolved to wait another fifteen minutes, and then reveal the tenth question. Drawing attention to the Spirit Nin's immobility could make the Genin realize more than he wanted them too.

'Its about to begin,' Hanabi reported to the group, getting a giggle for Isaribi, who wished she had popcorn. As predicted, participants began to be fall out in rapid succession over the next fifteen minutess. Hanabi had been keeping track of who the Jounin were marking down, and many hit their limit around the same time.

"Number 102, stand up. You fail."

"Number 23, you fail."

"43 and 27."

"156, you fail."

The whole time, Isaribi giggled intermittently at the various reactions of the genin. Which ranged from anger to complete depression. The reactions of the caught cheater's teammates was equally entertaining. 'Number 56, over toward the front right,' Guren said, drawing the attention of her companions to the Genin in question. 'I think he's about to do something stupid.'

True to Guren's prediction, a moment later Number 56, a Genin from Kiri got up in a huff as his number was called. "Do you have to prove that I cheated five times?! Are you guys watching all—"

'Heh,' Yugito chuckled, her eyes following one of the Konoha Jounin as they leaned forward ever so slightly from their spot on the wall.

The atmosphere in the room shifted as the Jounin suddenly appeared, moving so fast that he was a blur to most of the Genin. With a swift motion, he seized the irate Kiri Genin by the front of his vest and lifted him off the ground with effortless ease.

The room erupted in gasps and murmurs as the Genin cried out in shock, his exam paper crumpling beneath him as he was slammed back down onto the desk. All eyes were fixed on the two figures, their attention captured by the sudden display of raw power.

"Listen, little child," the Jounin spoke in a low, menacing voice. "The difference between a Genin and a Jounin is night and day. We haven't missed a single thing you have done. You could say this strength is our proof."

As he spoke, he casually hurled the failed participant toward the entrance of the auditorium, his body sailing effortlessly over the heads of the rest of the Genin. The display of strength and control was both awe-inspiring and terrifying, a stark reminder of the power wielded by those who had attained the highest ranks of the ninja world.

Well, to most people anyway.

'Such theatrics,' Kagerō scoffed. Thankfully, the drama didn't last for much longer, as the rest of the failed participants were called out and escorted out in various fashions.

Finally, Ibiki took the center stage once more. "Ok! We will now start the tenth question." His voice boomed through the auditorium, silencing the murmurs and shuffling of the Genin. The air felt thick with tension, the atmosphere charged with anticipation. Everyone knew that the tenth question would determine their fate, separating the ones who passed from the ones who failed.

Nervous glances were exchanged between the Genin, some wiping their sweaty palms on their pants or fidgeting with their headbands. They knew that even if they had managed to answer all the previous questions correctly, getting caught cheating too many times could still result in a failing grade.

The weight of the moment hung heavily in the air as Ibiki's eyes scanned the room, his gaze sharp and unyielding. Finally, he cleared his throat and spoke, his voice cutting through the silence like a knife. "The tenth question is...

"Going to need some explanation, as there are a few rules specific to it." Ibiki continued smoothly. "These are the rules of desperation."

'Thus begins the real challenge of this test,' Kankuro commented, his test paper still untouched before him. He briefly glanced over at the Sunagakure Genin beside him, who had been giving him uneasy looks the entire time. It amused him, he had to admit.

"First, for this tenth question…" Ibiki paused, "You must decide whether you will take it or not."

There was an immediate reaction to this information, although no one spoke aloud. The rise in tension was palpable. The aura Ibiki was subtly releasing only contributed to the pressure weighing down upon the Genin. "If you should choose to not take the final question, your points will be reduced to zero. You will fail, along with your two teammates."

"Then what is the point of that?" The Kumo Kunoichi, Kawa Akari, who had been launched by Temari earlier, demanded. "Of course we will decide to take the question!"

Ibiki's expression hardened, "And now… the other rule.

"If you choose to take it and answer incorrectly… that individual will lose the right to take the Chūnin Selection Exam again."

A wave of shocked horror washed across the auditorium, followed by disbelief. Of course, this wasn't true for everyone.

'Hahaha!' Isaribi laughed uproariously, barely able to keep herself from deviating from her training and rolling off her chair in laughter. 'I can't believe it! Haha!'

Guren chuckled as well, 'I must admit, this is quite entertaining.'

'As if we need his approval to be recognized as equal to Chūnin,' Yukimi snarked, 'He is disrespecting our Kage's authority!'

Temari entered the conversation, her tone soothing, 'Calm down, Yukimi-chan. This is all simply theatrics, and even if he was disrespecting our Kage. Don't you think Naruto-sama can deal with himself?'

Yukimi's pout was palpable through the mental connection, 'I know, Temari-chan. But Naruto-sama shouldn't have to deal with such minor things. That is our responsibility as his Spirit Nin.'

As the internal conversation amongst the Spirit Nin played out, Ibiki continued on to explain the rest of the details. Adroitly shutting up the Genin who protested his rule, and brushing it away as them simply being unlucky this year. It was his test, his rules. However, he offered a deceptive olive branch, those that didn't want to take the risk could leave and try again next year.

'Gaara-sensei,' Rei whined, 'Do we have to keep pretending?'

Gaara glanced over at the cloaked figure that was his first and only student, her posture immaculate and her appearance pristine. To anyone else, she was an intimidating sight, but he only saw a whiny brat. Sighing, he reached over and touched the seal on his wrist.

"Now, lets begin… the tenth question!" Ibiki declared, "Those that do not wish to take the test, raise your hand. Once your number is confirmed, you and your team must leave."

The tension rose dramatically, but before anyone could reach a decision, everyone's attention was pulled away from the question before them.

All at once, in perfect sync, the twelve Spirit Nin stood up and began making their way to the center isle of the auditorium. Many of the Genin leaned out of their way, watching with wide eyes this new and unexpected development. Ibiki also watched, waiting until all the Spirit Nin had gathered before speaking up.

"Is this your declaration that you wish to withhold from taking the tenth question?" He inquired in a mocking tone.

There was no reply from any of the Spirit Nin for a few moments, and many of the Genin leaned away, or backed up from the twelve eerie figures.

Finally, one of the white-cloaked figures spoke. "We have had enough of this farce. We will be continuing on to the next test."

Ibiki's eyes narrowed, and his aura unfurled in full force. Many of those near the Spirit Nin faltered under its indomitable weight, but the target's themselves seemed unaffected. "You do not make the decisions here, Spirit Nin." Ibiki thundered. "You will follow my rules, or I will fail you!"

A different Spirit Nin responded this time, this one having a distinctly feminine voice, almost angelic. "We answer only to the Seikage, and we participate because it is his will. However, our Kage would not wish for us to waste time listening to a theater play." With this indifferent dismissal, all twelve Spirit Nin began to glow and a second later disappeared in twelve identical spirals of white light.

Ibiki gritted his teeth in anger, resisting the urge to growl aloud.

Sasuke's mind raced as he watched the Spirit Nin brush off Ibiki's authority. He admired their nonchalant attitude and the ease with which they asserted their power. Sasuke knew that kind of strength came from a place of deep confidence and skill. He couldn't help but think to himself, 'That's what true power looks like. I must achieve it for myself.'

Neji felt a rush of excitement and admiration as the Spirit Nin disappeared in a flash of white light. He couldn't help but be envious of their effortless power and how they dismissed Ibiki's commands. He longed for that kind of command over his own abilities and confidence. 'That's what I need to achieve,' he thought to himself, 'true power, unchallenged and unyielding.'

The four Konoha shinobi scrambled to push the cage over the cliff, their movements quick and frantic. The creature inside roared and thrashed, slamming into the cage with such force that the men were nearly thrown off. But they persisted, each pushing with all their might until the cage was tilted over the edge, held in place by chains.

With a cry, one of them unleashed a water style technique, causing high-pressure streams of water to burst forth and push the cage towards its final descent. The Jounin in charge ordered for the cage to be opened, and the one on top quickly grabbed the lever and pulled it to the left.

As the creature within roared and fell hundreds of feet below, Toneri watched from his hidden vantage point, his blind eyes scanning the scene with precision. He had been sent here by Naruto-sama to spy on the shinobi and learn of the second test of the Chūnin Exams.

The Konoha shinobi spoke of the threat of the Hidden Spirit and the Council's decision to increase the difficulty of the Exams. Toneri listened intently, his senses heightened by chakra.

But amidst the chaos of their dangerous task, there were whispers of dissent among the shinobi. One spoke of his son participating in the Exams and his concern for the safety of the children. Another declared that the children were not ready for such a level of training.

Toneri watched as trees tumbled over in the caldera far below, the power of the monstrous creatures on full display. He knew that the shinobi were right to be concerned. This threat was too much for common Genin, but were unlikely to be of much concern to Spirit Nin. He decided to recommend that their students were not informed ahead of time to Naruto-sama.

As the commotion died down and the shinobi dispersed, Toneri stood at the edge of the caldera, marveling at the breathtaking beauty before him. The sky above was a brilliant shade of blue, unbroken by any clouds. The sun bathed the entire area in a warm, golden light, casting long shadows across the village in the center.

The village in the center of the caldera was an architectural marvel, with tall wooden buildings that seemed to reach up to the sky. The roofs were sloped, covered in ceramic tiles that shimmered in the sunlight, and eaves that extended far out from the sides. The walls were made of polished wood panels, carefully crafted and decorated with intricate carvings of dragons, flowers, and other designs. Lanterns hung from the eaves, swaying gently in the wind, casting soft light on the streets below.

Despite the lack of human inhabitants, the village was alive with the sounds of nature. Birds chirped and fluttered from tree to tree, and the leaves rustled in the wind. The air was heavy with the scent of blooming flowers and fresh foliage.

The caldera walls were rugged and imposing, rising high on all sides. They were made of dark, jagged rocks that formed deep crevices and caverns. Waterfalls cascaded down the walls in some areas, adding to the serene ambiance.

Toneri was enraptured by the peacefulness of the scene, the beauty of the village and the nature surrounding it. The occasional roar of the monsters was jarring, but it did little to spoil the tranquil atmosphere that surrounded him.

"It is a pity," Toneri mused, "that such exquisite beauty will inevitably be marred by the ugliness of war and the shedding of blood." With a heavy heart, he turned away, disappearing in a swirl of radiant white light.

Ibiki was livid, and the only reason he wasn't outright furious was because the Spirit Nin's show of disrespect hadn't had quite the effect he had feared. Instead of emboldening the Genin to take the test, it had had the opposite effect, and vast majority of the remaining teams refrained from taking the final question.

What irked him was that it was obvious the Genin were doing it more out of a fear of the Spirit Nin, than him or the Chūnin Exams themselves.

"I'll ask one last time," Ibiki said, refocusing on wrapping up his part of the exam. "Your life is riding on this decision. Do not be so arrogant as to think that you have the backing of the Spirit Nin." He glared at everyone remaining, "This is your last chance to quit."

As he had expected, those that were going to leave had already folded under the pressure. It was pointless to continue for any longer.

"Good decisions. Now to everyone still remaining…

"I congratulate you on passing the first test!"

The Hokage's office is a grandiose and imposing space, with high ceilings and ornate decorations that exude power and authority. The walls are adorned with paintings depicting great moments in Konoha's history, and the shelves are lined with ancient scrolls and tomes that are a testament to the village's extensive knowledge. The room is mostly made of rare and expensive wood, and the floors are covered in a deep, plush carpet.

The Hokage himself is seated at his desk, which is a magnificent work of craftsmanship, made of polished oak and decorated with intricate carvings. Behind him stand two ANBU, their faces obscured by their animal masks, and their posture exuding vigilance and readiness. Around the room, other ANBU are stationed in strategic locations, poised to act at a moment's notice should tensions escalate.

The Raikage sits in a chair across from the Hokage, flanked by two of his own bodyguards who are dressed in Kumo's distinctive black-and-white uniform. His imposing figure dominates the space, his chiseled features and muscular physique lending him an air of formidable strength. The Mizukage, elegant and regal, is seated to his right, her own bodyguards standing behind her with an alertness born of years of civil war. The Tsuchikage, a short, wiry old man, occupies the seat next to her, his own personal guards standing at attention behind him. The Otokage's identity is a mystery, but the purple hue of his attire is unmistakable, his own guards standing at the ready behind him.

The Tsuchikage looks up as the door opens, revealing the Kazekage, Rasa, flanked by his own bodyguards. Rasa, with his auburn hair and stern expression, enters the room wearing a simple black jacket and pants, with mesh armor underneath. He carries a small canister strapped to his hip. The Kazekage's signature green kimono with a white collar and hat bearing the kanji for wind (風) contrasts against the other Kage's attire. His dark eyes dart around the room, sizing up the other Kage and their bodyguards before taking his seat next to the Mizukage. Two creases around his mouth deepen as he assumes his usual stern expression.

The atmosphere in the room remains tense and charged, with a palpable sense of distrust and unease hanging in the air. The kage are all spread out around the room in various sitting chairs, each flanked by their own bodyguards who stand with a quiet intensity that speaks to their training and expertise. Despite their polite and respectful demeanor, each leader is clearly on guard, their eyes scanning the room for any hint of treachery or danger. The silence is heavy, only punctuated by the occasional rustling of papers or the soft sound of a guard shifting his stance.

All eyes were fixated on the entrance, waiting in anticipation for the arrival of the Seikage. Each kage was lost in their own thoughts, wondering what the future held for their respective villages and the Elemental Nations as a whole.

And then, the moment they had all been waiting for arrived. The Seikage made his entrance, but it was not through the usual double doors opposite the Hokage's desk. Instead, the floor beneath him split open, and he rose up from the depths below. The room fell silent as the Seikage emerged, dressed in pristine white robes that contrasted sharply with the dark, shadowy surroundings.

As he rose higher and higher, his large pointy hat obscured his face in shadow, making it impossible to discern any expression. But a distinct purple glow emanated from within, dissolving all illusions that he wasn't gazing back at them all. The air grew even more charged with anticipation as the Seikage finally came to a stop, his feet resting on the floor as the fissure from which he emerged sealed itself shut.

Hiruzen was the first to break from the fugue the Seikage's unorthodox arrival had but them all in, getting to his feet and gesturing toward one of the seats. "Welcome, Lord Seikage." He said in greeting, "I am grateful that you chose to meet with us today."

The Seikage nodded, "My apologies for being late, I wished to spectate the proceedings of the Chūnin Exam's first test." As he spoke, he glided over to the offered seat. At the same time, two flashes of white appeared behind him, forming into two of the anonymous forms of the Spirit Nin Masters. Immediately, all of the Kage noticed the Kanji for Tailed on the back of one of the Masters, and their unease grew.

The Raikage spoke next, his voice booming, "We finally meet officially, Shiroi Oni. I am Ay, the Raikage of Kumogakure," he said with a self-assured nod.

The Mizukage followed suit, her regal demeanor in stark contrast to Ay's rough edges. "I am Mei Terumi, the Mizukage of Kirigakure," she says with a small bow from her seat.

The Tsuchikage, despite his age, stands tall and proud although he still is shorter than everyone sitting. "I am Ōnoki, the Tsuchikage of Iwagakure," he says, his voice surprisingly strong.

The Otokage remains silent, his purple-clad form a mystery to the others in the room.

Finally, Rasa stepped forward, his stern expression giving way to a small smile. "I am Rasa, the Kazekage of Sunagakure," he says, his voice carrying a hint of self-deprecation.

Ay snorts at Rasa's introduction, knowing the pointlessness of the introduction. After all, Rasa was the largest contributor to the Shiroi Oni's bingo book entry. The brat had once been his subordinate. "Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way," Ay said gruffly as he turned and glared at the Seikage. "You have a lot to answer for, boy. Stealing from my village, both ancient artifacts and Bijū."

Rasa doesn't flinch at Ay's words, instead maintaining his polite smile as he casually steps back and takes a seat. Unwilling to get engaged should the Raikage chose to do something foolish.

Naruto's purple eyes shifted to the irate expression of the Raikage with a detached interest, unconcerned by the ardent aggression. He noted expression of the others, his eyes lingering on the Otokage.

The Raikage's rage nearly boils over as the demon brat ignored him, and he started to get to his feet when Rasa's voice cut through the swiftly returned tension.

"I know that I have no right to ask this," Rasa started, "But I must know. How are my children? Are they alright?"

Naruto met the Kazekage's eyes with a contemplative expression beneath his hat. "They are well. Temari has become an accomplished mistress of the wind in her own right, capable of creating vast gales and fearsome tornados. Kankuro's path has been less assured…"

Rasa's grip tightened on the arm of his chair. "During an attack by the Seijo-ki years ago, Kankuro sacrificed himself to protect his sister and the rest of our family." Naruto continued, causing the Kazekage's eyes to widen. Hiruzen glanced between the two. He distinctly remembered Kankuro's name among the participants for the Chūnin Exams.

"Luckily, I was able to revive him due to a unique… artifact." Naruto explained with a smile, and Rasa sighed quietly in relief. After recovering his composure, he steeled his will before asking, "And Gaara?"

Naruto raised an immaculately cut circular eyebrow, "You consider him to be your son?"

The Seikage's words were like a physical blow, causing Rasa genuine pain. He knew that he had failed as a father, in every single way, and he couldn't hope to even beg for forgiveness. The last few years had been significantly eye opening for him, but he couldn't say he would be a better parent now than he had been back then. Finally, he spoke, "Yes… I do. As much as I do not deserve to believe such a thing."

"I see," Naruto said, placing his hands in front of him, his finger tips touching as he thought. "Gaara has progressed significantly, and is close to becoming a Master amongst our ranks. Much of his instability has settled as he spends more time amongst a family that cares for him and supports him."

Rasa wisely realized that the conversation was over, and any further would be pushing it. For all of the Seikage's polite responses, there was an undercurrent of disgust and disdain.

Before the Raikage could resume his antics, Sarutobi spoke up, revealing the reason for this meeting in the first place. It was, after all, extremely uncommon for all the Kage to meet at the same time before the third and final test of the Chūnin Exams. "I wished to inform you all that we have discovered that a large-scale attack on Konohagakure is planned, and we suspect that it will happen at some point during the third test of the Chūnin Exams."

The various Kage had a diverse set of reactions to this information, from indifference to interest. "Why do you believe this to be the case, Sarutobi-san." The Mizukage, Mei Terumi inquired.

"It is information from an unquestionable source," The Hokage responded, not deigning to explain in more detail. "That is not what is important. The attack is a certainty, and I wanted to inform you so that you could all take precautions to protect your Genin. We will do our utmost to ensure their safety, of course, but the villagers will be our first priority."

'It seems the toad sannin isn't entirely useless,' Roshi commented, earning a chuckle from Arashi. It was common knowledge amongst the inhabitants of Shinreigakure that the 'legendary' sannin had been trying to locate their village for years, with no success.

"I do not share this with the expectation that any of you or yours will come to our aid, but I do not wish to worsen our relations by withholding this information." Hiruzen continued.

Before anyone else could speak, Ay finally reached the end of his patience. "How do you know the attackers isn't Shinreigakure?" He accused, pointing to the Spirit Nin who didn't react in the slightest. Hiruzen glanced between them, and sighed.

"I do know it isn't Shinreigakure, although I won't explain why. However, I encourage you to consider why the Hidden Spirit would do such a thing." Hiruzen replied, "The Spirit Nin have no quarrel with Konoha beyond our grievances with the Shiroi Oni's crimes within our village."

"And why, pray tell, do you allow him to walk about your village as if he owns the place?" Ay challenged angrily. He got to his feet, "We should all attack him together. He has committed crimes against us all, has he not?!"

Sarutobi shook his head, refusing to agree. Rasa followed suit, while the Mizukage simply watched along with the Tsuchikage, and the Otokage. Ay began to visibly fume.

"Cowards! Why won't you stand up for the honor of your villages?!" He roared, making many of the bodyguards twitch nervously and move their hands toward their weapons.

"Calm yourself, Raikage." Hiruzen sighed, "I can not condone a fight on the scale of Kage within the borders of my village, and I certainly don't condone a fight with the Shiroi Oni within my countries borders."

The Raikage fumed, glaring into the purple glow from within the darkness obscuring the Seikage's face. He could sense the indifference radiating out from the brat, and it infuriated him. It was only due to the circumstances, and lack of support that he didn't strike here and now.

"Well," The Seikage said, ignoring the Raikage entirely, "Out of gratitude for your gracious warning of the coming danger, I will offer something in return.

"The preparations you have made to defend your home." Naruto said leadingly, "They are woefully inadequate for what is coming your way."

Hiruzen's knuckles turned white as he gripped the edge of his desk, his voice strained. "What are you implying?"

Naruto chuckled, shaking his head slightly. "Do not worry, I have no quarrel with you or your people. However, you seem to have forgotten Konoha's dark shadow, and it will return with a righteous vengeance."

The Hokage's breath rushed out in a pained wheeze, "Nakada…"

Naruto smiled, tilting his head to the side. "Did you perhaps think he was with me? Or maybe you even hoped that was the case? Or worse, you lied to yourself that he was still safe and sound in Amegakure with his cousin?"

Hiruzen's body was rigid with tension as he stood before the gathering of Kage, his hands clasped together tightly in front of him. He could feel the sweat on his palms and the beating of his heart in his chest as he struggled to find the courage to speak.

"I...I-" he stammered, his voice barely above a whisper. He could feel the eyes of the other Kage upon him, their gazes expectant and impatient.

Ōnoki, the Tsuchikage, leaned forward in his seat, his bushy eyebrows furrowing in suspicion. "What have you done, youngling?" he growled. "You speak of the Nine-tailed Jinchuriki, Minato's brat, do you not?"

Hiruzen swallowed hard, his throat dry. He knew what he had to say, but the words seemed to catch in his throat. He could feel his face growing hot with embarrassment.

Suddenly, Seikage's laughter rang out across the room, cutting through the tension like a knife. Hiruzen turned to see the legendary ninja smirking at him from beneath his hat, his arms folded across his chest.

"You've kept it a secret from everyone, haven't you?" Naruto said, his tone mocking. "How amusing."

Hiruzen felt a surge of anger rise up in him at the Seikage's insolence, but he quickly suppressed it. He couldn't afford to make an enemy of the Shiroi Oni, not now.

Getting to his feet, Naruto began walking toward the exit. "Nakada Uzumaki, Jinchūriki of the Nine-Tails, has been missing from Amegakure for the last three years, and despite my efforts, I have been unable to locate him. However, my intelligence assures me that he is coming for you, Hokage-sama."

The other Kage looked at him in surprise and confusion, but Hiruzen ignored them. He focused on Naruto, who had paused at the door and turned to face him.

"And when he arrives," Naruto said, his eyes blazing with purple light, "he will bring the full force of his power down upon you and your precious village. He will see Konoha burn and your legacy crumble to ashes, and I will relish every moment of it."

Hiruzen felt a chill run down his spine as Naruto delivered his chilling message. He knew that the threat was real, and that he would have to do everything in his power to protect his village.

END CHAPTER - 10,754 words

(IF YOU HAVEN'T GONE AND READ THE NEW PROLOGUE YET, DO SO NOW! Unless you left a review, in which case read my response to you below!)

I don't have a lot to say today, other than that I enjoyed writing this chapter, although it took a lot longer than I thought it would. There was a lot that happened in the Chūnin Exams in cannon that I completely forgot about, and I relied heavily on it for inspiration in this chapter. However, the similarities to the tests will mostly end here, with the next test being rather different in some key ways. I can't say that this chapter is my best work, but I'm not trying to be perfect anymore, just enjoy writing. I hope you enjoyed!

YonKleteng: Yes. (I tried to put your full name in, but uhh... the site censored it because it thought it was a website lol)

Antex-TheLegendaryZoroark: Thank you for pointing out that error, I'll go and make sure I fix that and it'll be fixed on here… eventually. I apologize that I forgot you submitted Satoshimaru, and that will be fixed when I push an update as well! I'll have to go back and look at this issue with Yoshio's team, but I'll do my best :)

IgniousLupus: Hello again, and I'm so glad that you enjoyed the chapter. I hope this one was equally enjoyable, if not more so. I tried quite hard to juggle the information this chapter, without overdoing it, and I will totally admit some characters didn't get any screen time this chapter. There just is simply too many of them! I'll be exploring them more in the next few chapters, as I think the next test will take… 2-3 chapters most likely. We'll see though. I'm glad you enjoy the Hinata dynamics, look forward to more of those. Glad you enjoyed the nin-card reference, I just couldn't resist. And since Kabuto is dead, then resurrected again, but is supposed to be dead, ya know ;)

N1cok: Enjoyed the review!

Amavgupta0: And now we come to you, Mr. NothingIsEverGoodEnough. I'm just going to reply to all your many reviews in one place. Here is my genius reply: "I have always enjoyed this story, I just had a level of… dislike for what I will totally admit is terrible writing and plot. However, that is part of what I enjoy about this story. I'm not trying to make it perfect, but enjoyable for you and me, to the best of my abilities." - Excerpt from Author's Note on Chapter 21. Don't take me too seriously though, you did say it was a good story. Lots to criticize I know, which is why I tried to do a rewrite… and look where that got me ;-; (Coming back after reading more reviews. Please work on your spelling I can't understand what you are saying in half of these reviews.)

RamsesJames05: Thank you, you too ;)

777torn777: Hello again, and I know, right?

Thor94: Takumi is an OC, and is meant to be a reference to Kabuto, since Kabuto was killed by Naruto in a previous encounter with Orochimaru, and then later revived with Edo Tensei. Glad you enjoyed!

Guest1: I'm glad you enjoyed the story! And yeah, anyone born on the moon is an alien, I suppose haha.

Lara5170: I hope you enjoyed this chapter then!

Guest2: That'd be a funny fanart, to say the least.