Baki stared at the man known as the God of Shinobi. What response is there to that man asking why he shouldn't kill you and your charges? Bluster may only provoke him to show it wasn't an empty threat. Invoke the law? If he was threatening them then he clearly didn't care about the ramifications, which meant the Sandaime knew. Knew. Not suspected, not had reason to believe but knew. And Baki knew he was well and truly fucked.

If by some miracle, and Baki had no illusions that it would take the interference of a real deity, he could escape the Sandaime and Danzo both there would still be Kakashi, Gai, Asuma, and Kurenai Yuhi; no need to mention the ANBU that were certainly hiding in the shadows like the kill-happy psychos they were. And speaking of kill-happy psychos, Baki should have known something was categorically wrong when his team arrived.

First, he thought nothing of it as they looked pristine and Gaara was reading that accursed orange book. It was Temari that informed him that a black scroll revealing the little, blond demon was the son of Minato Namikaze. Baki instantly knew that karma was real and the Yondaime had gotten his revenge beyond the grave.

The man grimaced at the revelation. He remembered the one and only time he'd met the Yellow Flash. It was as Baki was attempting to, unbeknownst to him, chat up said man's girlfriend. In Baki's defense, he'd recently been promoted as the Kazekage's number two and was riding high. He saw a beautiful redhead in his village and thought he'd take his chances. She was pleasant enough but didn't seem to be picking up his intent and Baki soon recognized why when she openly greeted 'Minato-kun,' in such a joyous fashion.

Baki would never forget those blue eyes. They were devoid of all feeling, of any trace of humanity as he peered into Baki's very soul. The Suna man tried to make a graceful exit but before he could the future Hokage threatened he'd never forget Baki. Never. Baki could still remember how his spine felt exposed to the most frigid air ever created even as they were in the middle of a desert. Fear. He feared that man and felt no shame in it.

"I didn't bring you down here to gaze into my eyes longingly, Baki-san. Don't flirt with me boy, answer my question," Hiruzen ordered and any additional thoughts on the Yondaime's hellspawn completing his father's revenge would have to wait.

"You will have to forgive me, Sandaime-sama, but I don't understand why I would be asked such a question. Konoha and Suna are allies in good standing," Baki said as he had nothing else to go on.

Danzo frowned at the Suna Jounin's response. That was the exact wrong way to play this, especially with Hiruzen in the current emotional state he was in. He almost wanted to help the man out, if for no other reason than to impart some actual tradecraft into the youngster. Damn kids had no soft skills anymore.

"Yes, Baki-san, we are allies. That's why I let it slide that you brought your Jinchuuriki into my village without notice. The boy seemed fine enough, a little too taken with Jiraiya-kun's books but he's a growing lad and I won't begrudge him a healthy interest in the fairer sex. I even ignored your other student following around Naruto-kun. Trying to get information on a competitor is logical and if he could have gotten anything of value following Naruto then he deserves a promotion. But what I'm having a hard time with, and the reason you may get intimately acquainted with the soil of Konoha is Suna working with my traitor of a former student."

Baki schooled his features but that he needed to was as much a confession as a genuine reaction would have been. Internally, he was near a total freak out. His nerves were shot, worn down by the state of his team, by the reveal that Minato had a son and now this. He was trying not to but his body wouldn't stop tensing, preparing for a fight. He might go but he wouldn't go quietly.

"Suna is doing no such thing and for you to even accuse us of-" Baki started, making a show of taking offense but was interrupted by Hiruzen opening a folder. Inside was the dossier of one of the Suna competitors, information foreign villages had to submit to the host for security reasons. But Baki knew this wasn't a true Suna ninja. She was an Oto kunoichi that was given false Suna credentials to hide the alliance between the two villages.

"I see you recognize her. She, along with eight other subordinates and Orochimaru infiltrated the second exam so my student could set up a trap for Naruto-kun. Of the ten members involved in that little plot, only two survived and none escaped. It was effortless getting Kin to talk," Hiruzen mocked. He hadn't spoken to the girl at all, his ANBU had found her tied up just outside the blast zone of Naruto's barrier. She was suffering severe chakra exhaustion but they were able to stabilize her enough for a Yamanaka to perform a mindwalk.

What he learned had only increased Hiruzen's fury. It wasn't hard to put the pieces together, to see the finals of the Chunin Exams as a perfect time to stage an attack. It would dishonor Konoha and possibly display Suna's strength. Orochimaru would have gotten to burn things down and possibly, if it were his aim, kill Hiruzen. Even with the mercy he'd shown his student, Orochimaru hated Hiruzen.

"Your team will continue to participate in the exams, going as far as their talents allow them. Once the second exam is over you will send word to Rasa, he will attend the finals if he wishes to ever see his children again. Two escorts, Baki. Two, and I wouldn't see this as an opportunity to demonstrate his cleverness."

"I won't lure my Kage into a trap," Baki said firmly, causing Hiruzen's eyes to thin into slits. It seemed the man thought they were undertaking a negotiation.

"Your letter or your head, I make no comment on which I'd prefer but understand those are the choices before you. Get out of my sight," Hiruzen commanded and Baki obeyed, returning to his team with two ANBU as escorts.

"You need to calm down," Danzo advised.

"I am calm."

"Really? Because Baki isn't the only one that thinks you plan to kill Rasa once he arrives, consequences be damned."

"I trust you put together what their plan was, yes?" Hiruzen asked and Danzo looked mildly offended.

"Of course, I'm not an asshole."

"Then, should I not want to extract some pain from Suna for daring to betray us? To plot to invade us? None of the Gokage would be so calm about this. Ay would already have his people mobilized."

"Uh-huh," Danzo answered, making no secret of his true position on Hiruzen's argument. "And if I thought the invasion that clearly isn't going to happen was your motivation I might entertain your argument. It'd be nice to kill a Kage before I depart, just a great item on the resume. But you're acting the same way you behaved when Enzo died." The room turned frigid as the Hokage stared at Danzo but the man felt no fear. This needed to be said.

"You were blinded by rage, Hiruzen. You let your students run wild to claim your revenge. So, if you're sitting here saying it isn't in you to do it then save it."

"Naruto-kun isn't dead nor is he my s-"

"Isn't he? Are you really so unaware? It is only your age and respect for Minato's sacrifice that you claim him as a grandson but I know a father's pride when I see it."

"Of course I'm proud. Naruto's deficits were directly and indirectly caused by me. He was barely verbal when we first met. He worked hard to overcome them, making the best of what little time I could devote to him. He was and is owed more than I can ever give him and has turned out fantastically. Minato and Kushina deserved to be here to see his growth so any excess of pride you see from me is my feeling so on their behalf. He'll be the future of this village so to correct you, Danzo, if I decide Rasa is to die at some point in the future it would be with the village in mind. Hurting Naruto hurts the village."

"Now who's being clever?" Danzo quipped.

"Get out," Hiruzen ordered but there was no heat to the words.

"I will but only because I don't want to have to deal with Tsunade when she finds out her student is laid up. You might end up digging that mass grave anyway. Have fun with that," Danzo said as he departed. It was Hiruzen who now facepalmed thinking of his most volatile student he could only will the headache away.


Hiruzen sat in his ceremonial chair as he watched the start of the preliminary round. Five days had elapsed and he'd been incredibly busy adjusting to Orochimaru's capture as the aged shinobi was not satisfied with using a standard cell. He also saw Naruto off before he was taken into protective custody for the duration of the remaining exams. Even with all he'd done, there was still much to do but for now he had to sit and watch as the next generation took their first steps into becoming the protectors and not the protected, from kings to knights of the great tree. Hayate had done a serviceable job of explaining the rules and the first match was to be decided.

Ino Yamanaka vs Karui of Kumo the screen displayed.

The heiress of the Yamanaka clan made her way down to the floor, her back experiencing phantom pains from where her opponent slashed her in the forest of death. She wasn't looking forward to experiencing that again. She tried to shake off an uncharacteristic bout of self-doubt. She never suffered for confidence but she'd come up short against this kunoichi, her whole team against the duo from the Hidden Cloud.

"Your boyfriend won't be here to protect you this time," Karui said as she walked up to Hayate. Ino grimaced. She couldn't disagree, if not for his timely interference Team Ten may not have survived the forest. Three clones backed off the two from Kumo, Naruto managing to sink two shuriken in the side of Omoi as he was attacking Choji.

It was a revelation to the heiress as she'd never seen Naruto in mission mode so to witness him so focused and cold was quite the departure from the sweet, awkward boy she'd come to befriend. A glancing, traitorous thought also noticed he looked cute in all black and backing down enemy ninja.

Ino didn't bother to respond to Karui's insult, more focused on how jittery her hands felt as they reached to the sheathed blades at her back. One benefit of this rematch, the Kumo genin's ambush had been so successful she hadn't had time to retrieve her knuckle knives. Whereas she knew Karui was a kenjutsu user with knowledge of at least one raiton jutsu.

"Are the combatants ready?" Hayate asked. The two girls, now just a few meters apart both nodded. "Fight."

A clang was heard through the spacious room as Ino deflected Karui's downward slash. She rotated away from the blade, hoping to find an opening. She hadn't had a lot of time with her knives but Asuma-sensei drilled her on the basics. Constant motion, in and out, never overcommitting. Hers was not a style built on power, at least not yet. Karui must have read her intention as she swiftly brought the sword around in a horizontal motion, ensuring Ino couldn't charge in. The Team Ten kunoichi backed off and the two ninja reset.

Karui went on the offensive again, Ino deflecting the sword strikes and moving away but she'd allowed herself to get predictable. After another defectly, she was shifted into a kick to the ribs as Karui had accurately guessed her escape route. The Kumo swordswoman followed up with a right cross strong enough to send Ino stumbling back, until she completely lost her footing and fell. Karui stuck her sword in the ground and performed a series of hand signs before pointing her glowing hand toward Ino.

The Electromagnetic Murder Jutsu hit true but Karui was too slow to realize she'd made contact with a substitution log. Slow enough for Ino to deliver two cuts to the back of Karui's legs, one each. Karui tried to spin kick Ino but the Yamanaka was moving in the same direction and dug in a body blow before she backed away. With the proper form and her knuckle knives she knew the punch hurt. She could see Karui fighting the urge to cover her ribs.

Angered that the Konoha princess managed to actually wound her, Karui retrieved her sword and began a furious attack. The sound of metal on metal echoed throughout, neither fighter willing to back down. But it was clear to every senior ninja, Ino was fairing well but unless she came up with a plan she'd lose to her technically superior opponent. As if they willed it, Ino blocked another downward strike but misjudged the distance, Karui being much closer than times previous, Ino was closer to the hilt.

For the first time in their fight, Karui's blade tasted blood. Ino bit her lip in response. It wasn't an incredibly deep cut but it wasn't shallow either. Her purple attire was staining itself with her life essence, a shoulder wound was limiting and painful. If she didn't end this soon, the blood loss may start to affect her. Sacrificing some of her defensive power, Ino used one of her knives to nick the back of Karui's hand. Ino ducked, feeling the sword leave her body and hit Karui with a short uppercut that snapped the red haired kunoichi's head back. As she circled away Ino finished her assault with a leg kick to the back of Karui's knee.

Knowing her enemy was behind her, Karui deftly performed a backward stab. It hit nothing but it allowed her to shift away from Ino and get back to her feet. She wouldn't broadcast it, would do her best to never let anyone know but her legs were feeling more and more numb. And that the hand that had been cut was starting to feel it as well let her conclude that the knives were poisoned with, she hoped, a paralytic. Karui was in an undesirable position.

She didn't want to waste chakra, the procter had explained that three of the participants would have to fight twice and she didn't want to risk depleting herself should she be called again. But she couldn't continue taking damage. She needed to end this and receive treatment. The brash kunoichi settled on a blitz, a final, all-out assault to make the girl in front of her crumble. She sent chakra to her limbs, hoping the minor enhancement would be enough and dashed toward Ino.

If the previous exchanges had been intense, this felt murderously rabid to Ino. Karui had committed to an onslaught of fast and powerful strikes. Not as technical as she had been but this was almost worse. Ino was being pushed back, barely defending but even the defense was taking a toll. She was getting tired, worn down and would be open for an unguarded attack soon. She had one more ace up her sleeve, but like almost everything else she hadn't mastered it so was reluctant to use it. However, the situation demanded she either gamble or concede. She chose to gamble.

First, she switched her tactics from deflecting the sword to dodging and evading it. The only reason she could manage it now, instead of when Karui was fresh, was Ino could see her poison had started to work. The attack was frenzied but Karui was ever so slightly slowing down. Ino used it to get in close, arms pulled toward her chest as she did so. Karui, taken off guard, lashed out with another right cross. It hit Ino square in the jaw but as it was in motion she ran her blade along the inside of Karui's forearm. The heiress hit the ground with a thud and it confused all that Karui didn't follow up.

"I QUIT, I QUIT, I NEED HELP!" the Kumo kunoichi shouted in mortal terror. Hayate was shocked but called the fight just as Ino got to her feet. "I NEED A MEDIC, I DON'T HAVE MUCH TIME!" she screamed, not understanding why no one was coming to her aid; not even Samui. She put pressure on her arm trying to buy her precious moments and was so relieved when a medic appeared beside her and then whisk her off. Another medic doing the same for Ino.

Hayate performed a simple water jutsu to clean up the blood as the next two names were selected:

Gaara of Suna vs Seki of Kusa

Gaara arrived on the floor, eyes having never left his book. He was getting to a good part and didn't have any interest in fighting some child. "Forfeit or die," he warned his fellow genin but tuned the boy out when he didn't hear some version of "I quit". The sickly procter called a start to the fight and Gaara felt his sand intercept something. Probably a kunai, he didn't really care. The main character had finally proven his valor and worth to his first love and was going to get to sample her sweet, sweet fruit.

"You could at least fight back, coward!" the boy yelled. Gaara rolled his eyes in annoyance. He'd warned the fool, hadn't he? All of this was utterly pointless. Gaara willed all of his sand back in his gourd, all but a single grain. It floated peacefully on his index finger until he made a swiping motion toward his opponent. The projectile entered the Kusa genin's brain before he could even consider moving. Gaara was back with his siblings before the body hit the ground.

"How unyouthful!" Gaara heard someone shout. He didn't bother to respond. Age was an illusion that gave false value to life. Fast or slow, death was simply the end of a meaningless existence. The Uzumaki showed him that, had given Gaara the gift of nothingness. Gaara longed to repay the Uzumaki by ending his life.

After another pause to clean the arena floor, two more names were displayed:

Kiba Inuzuka vs Sakura Haruno

"Yea, finals here I come!" Kiba exclaimed as he dashed downstairs, eager to get this over with. While offended, Sakura understood why Kiba was so confident as the academy version of her would be a total gimme fight for the Inuzuka. Even before her time in the Forest of Death she would have assumed she was overmatched. The pink-haired kunoichi had such a low opinion of her abilities because she was continually comparing herself to her team and her disastrous missions. It wasn't until she faced off with normal genin did the Haruno realize she wasn't as weak as she thought she was.

Sasuke was a genius and obsessed with training to reach his goal of killing a certain person. She didn't have his drive, certainly hadn't had it at the tender age of eight. Kakashi was the Konoha Jounin and while he could come off lazy, she'd seen what he could do when he turned it on so of course she couldn't compare herself to him. And Naruto… well, she didn't really understand Naruto even after having trained with him for months. Having Kakashi-sensei inform Sasuke-kun and her that Naruto survived his face off with Orochimaru, though the pride in Kakashi's eye led her to believe he did a little more than survive the encounter, made her conclude that Naruto was just different.

She wasn't weak, just weaker than the trio of monsters she'd been teamed with and felt no shame in it. It was simply a goal to reach, she'd close the gap by hook or by crook. It was why she understood Kiba's confidence but she still planned to kick his ass. Both fighters got in their stances, Sakura making sure to stay light on her feet and waited.

"Fight" Hayate yelled and Kiba dashed toward Sakura, a feral swing aiming to knock her out in one blow. He was fast, faster than the Team 7 kunoichi but not fast enough to completely overwhelm her. Sakura timed the strike, as she slid back just out of range while grabbing Kiba's wrist and pulling him forward. Out of position and defenseless, Sakura slugged him with an overhand right, landing on the Inuzuka's jaw. On instinct Kiba spun through the blow and kicked Sakura in the gut, forcing her off her feet as he rolled away.

Kiba tried to fix the swimming feeling in his head by shaking it repeatedly. The fangirl was much stronger than he'd expected and while rash, he wasn't stupid. He couldn't treat her like a scrub. Finally clear, Kiba rushed at Sakura again but this time with a plan. As he entered striking range, he circled to her left and sidekicked Sakura on her hip. Stunned from the quick change of direction and power of the blow, Sakura absorbed a follow up kick as Kiba's shin met her neck.

The pinkette was in a world of pain and couldn't think, forcing her to act solely on instinct. This surprised Kiba as he expected her to either curl up from his attacks or try to create distance, which was why he was attempting to close the distance before she could retreat. Sakura opted to get closer and throw a pair of short uppercuts. The first was off the mark, it landed but under the jaw bone near Kiba's left ear. The second one was right on, landing under his chin.

Once again Kiba was startled and dazed by Sakura's power but sobered up immediately when he felt her clinch the back of his head. Clinching was something Hinata did so he knew how bad the position could be and how to get out of it. He dropped low, dug his shoulder into her stomach as he grabbed her legs and took her down, mounting her in one smooth motion.

"Ahh, fuck!" Kiba yelled, denied the chance to enjoy his advantage. Not thinking he went to reach for the kunai stabbed into his leg, not paying attention to Sakura at all. For his momentary lapse he was awarded a meeting of his head to the floor as Sakura reached up and pulled him down. The thud could be heard by all in attendance. Sakura pushed Kiba off her and returned to her feet, gearing up to kick the potentially concussed boy in the head to end this but Sakura had her own oversight to pay for.

"Oofff," she gasped as Akamaru dove into the girl, his head buried in her gut with enough force to lift her off her feet. The little dog barked in warning.

"Good job, buddy," Kiba complimented. He'd torn off part of his sleeve to wrap his leg with, having removed the kunai. It hurt to put pressure on his leg and he'd be noticeably slower because of it but he was still confident he could win. "C'mere Akamaru, let's show her why she shouldn't mess with us." Sakura witnessed Kiba give Akamaru a pill, then the appearance of a cloud of smoke before it revealed a perfect replica of Kiba.

The two got on all fours, chakra briefly surrounding their bodies. She didn't know why but performed a Substitution Jutsu, narrowly avoiding the Tsuga. She didn't have time for a repeat so while attempting to dodge the second passing fang Sakura felt her exposed side get shredded. She suffocated a scream as she held her side. Taking stock of her situation, she was outnumbered by a physically superior force, one at her front and the other at her back. She was injured, bleeding and her mobility was hampered. It wasn't good. The smart play would have been to forfeit as she'd done more than anyone expected of her. But she couldn't bring herself to do so. Utilizing her intellect she formed a plan.

Sakura dipped her hand in her kunai holster and charged at the Kiba in front of her. This was a desperation play and if it didn't work she'd lost anyway so she'd hold nothing back. Ignoring the agony from her wound she continued charging, the Kiba behind her slowed due to the shock of her suicidal run toward his copy. The Kiba in front of her, taken by surprise as well, didn't perform another Tsuga, opting to just finish her with a single blow.

Sakura through the disc and performed the desired hand sign. The timing had been tight, the Kiba behind her had closed much of the distance between them but was still far enough away to not be affected while the one in front of her was within the radius. He didn't know how to react when he was suddenly pulled toward Sakura with no control over his body but the pinkette did as she unleashed as much force as she could. The full extension of the punch was reached just as Kiba came into range. Perfectly, perfectly placed.

Which is why it was so disappointing when she saw the puff of smoke as she was tossed back. No time to dwell, Sakura turned in midair, the clapback seal essentially providing the entirety of the force for this next move. The real Kiba and she collided in mutual lariats, each proved to be too much for the other as the genin slumped on the floor in a double knockout. The medics escorted all three combatants to the medbay, all had come around before ever leaving the tower hall.

Karin of Kusa vs Neji Hyuuga

Karin was unsteady as she walked down the steps. Her time in the forest had been traumatic, if she were being frank. She'd sensed several copies of a chakra signature moving throughout the forest and everywhere they went other signatures vanished. So, when she felt three of them heading toward her team she was terrified. She wasn't a fighter, she wasn't even really a medic. She was one step above a tool and hated it. Kusa was going suck her dry like they had her mother.

She'd warned her teammates and they chose to run, of course managing to cross paths with the largest bear in existence. Seki had gotten wounded by the beast's paw and she resigned herself to dying and being eaten by a wild animal. Until one of those cloned signatures showed up and knocked the bear out with a staff. She instantly recognized him, Uzumaki Naruto, and her other teammate had as well.

The coward actually grabbed her and held a kunai to her throat, threatening to slit her open if he didn't leave. The boy looked confused, as he should have. She wasn't a valuable hostage, they didn't even know each other but Kuro pressed the knife to her neck hard enough to draw blood. She remembered the boy telling her to make it to the tower but Kuro thought it a challenge presented to himself. She healed her idiot teammates and somehow managed to make it but had no clue why she even bothered.

The Hyuuga looked… menacing? Just short of evil? He clearly had a lot of anger and she didn't need her abilities to pick that up as she stood across from him. The Special Jounin called the fight and Karin was struck before she could even consider throwing up a guard. She dropped like her strings had been cut and a small trickle of blood dripped from her mouth. The medics rushed to her but could feel no heartbeat. They tried to revive her there but their efforts failed and the head medic called it.

Neji walked back to the overlook. He didn't know why Gai-sensei had asked him if he knew how to put someone in a false death state or why he'd be earning $30,000 ryo and the thanks of the Hokage to do just that but Neji could use the money and wouldn't turn down the opportunity to impress the Hokage. He quickly looked up to his failure of a cousin as she was watching him intently. She then held her hand out, palm down and rocked it back and forth. So-so.

She'd just rated his performance, a flawless execution of precision Jyuken, ok. Meh. Mediocre. Average. If he thought he'd make it he'd strike that arrogant brat down where she stood. So-so. So-so! The arrogance.

Kurenai saw the interaction between cousins and leaned over to Hinata inquiring, "Was that wise?" No one was more proud of Hinata gaining confidence and letting her real talents flourish but she didn't want it to become hubris, especially not if it would endanger her.

"If your enemy is of choleric temper, seek to agitate him."

Kurenai just nodded but said no more. All looked to the board to see who the next combatants would be.

Temari of Suna vs Tenten of Konoha

It confused all in attendance when, for vastly different reasons, both girls adopted murderous grins.


Had to do the Prelims in two parts or you'd get this chapter in October and my brains would leak out of my ears. Part 2 coming… eventually. So many fight scenes. Why did I do this to myself? Finally, like Gentleman Perverts, Black Lives Matter. Stay safe, skinfolk.