Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto nor The Gamer. I own nothing, really.

Chapter 40

My first night in the tower in the middle of the Forest of Death was… not the best, if I was being honest.

I spent around half of it meditating and working on my mindscape. I didn't change much though… on the surface, at least. But I did improve it as much as I possibly could. Since I now knew that the trick was in adding details to make it harder for others to make changes, I added small stuff everywhere. I filled walls with internal designs and structures, I painted the inside of houses with pictures and drawings that I had made at one point or another when I didn't actually know how they looked, and I put an intricate maze-like design on the underside of the very ground my mindscape was based on.

Eventually though, the weariness of the second test and all the time I had spent awake and working got to me and I fell asleep. Sleep that was plagued by my usual nightmares, this time also accompanied by yellow slitted eyes, wide fanged mouths and Konoha burning in purple flames. I was grateful that, at least, I managed to actually rest, even if it wasn't peaceful.

The fact that we had completed the test in the first of five days was a boon too, since it allowed me to relax a bit and gather my thoughts, not to mention work on my mind defenses.

My first day in the tower I spent either exploring the place, or what I could explore of it, and, when I found the way, sitting at the top of it making drawings of the sight. Fortunately, I didn't run in with any of the Sand Team's members, especially Gaara, for obvious reasons. I wasn't sure that the Jinchuriki would control himself if he saw me again, which brought all types of worries to my already concerned mind.

Training had also been on my mind, but honestly, I still felt like shit due to the Cursed Mark. I could barely walk around and draw, let alone work out. And that brings me to something that I did do, which is to check the skill I got for all my troubles.

[Cursed Seal: First Stage – Lvl 1

Sacrificing their own chakra, the user can access the well of chakra given by the Seal at the cost of their own mind.

Increases the efficacy of jutsu by 5%.

Consumption – 29 Chakra Points every second.]

It was… something, that was for sure. Overall, it meant that I could basically throw all the jutsu that I wanted to and more through the span of around twenty seconds. Great, honestly, but it wasn't all that. Although, that was mainly because I didn't have Jutsu that used much chakra to begin with. My techniques were great, but I had leveled them so much and they were so low ranked that they didn't require me to use that much energy on them.

The fact that it didn't give me a number for how much this 'well of chakra' actually was had bothered me for all of five minutes before I dismissed the screen and called for my status, mostly to check on stuff. So, imagine my surprise when I found something new beneath the Chakra Points text.

[Cursed Chakra Points: 0/6750]

'That's ten times my actual Chakra Points,' I realized with wide eyes. 'Was the Mark this broken in canon?' Then I paused and sighed. 'Of course it was. Sasuke matched a Kyubi coated Naruto with this shit.'

The problem, however, was the 'at the cost of their own mind' part, obviously. I wasn't sure if that was taken care of with my newly improved defenses or if it would wreck those anyway and affect me like before I made the changes. It would be something to test in the future, that was a given. For the preliminaries, if they even happened to begin with, I would need to avoid using it.

However, I needed to practice using it or, at least, see if I could even use it without any nasty side-effects. With Orochimaru's Invasion looming in the future, that was something that could make a real difference. Granted, there was no way I could confirm that the Snake Bastard would even attack, what with all the changes that had already happened to these exams. I couldn't risk not being prepared though, so I would have to test the Mark during the time between the preliminaries and the Third Test.

I also added to the list of things to work on, to create one or a few Jutsu that were more chakra consuming, if I could work with the Mark. If I had access to all that chakra, and only had so little time to use it, it was better to have something that burnt through it like it was going out of style. Although, I didn't know how much I could get done in just one month. But I could damn well try, that was a promise.

Those were concerns for future Eiji though.

For the moment, I only needed to focus on the green tree tops that could be seen from the top of the tower, the blue sky and the white clouds. Add a few birds flying off here and the distant sight of the village, almost hidden by the green.

'Not a bad sight for something called the Forest of Death,' I thought to myself with a small smile before it turned wry. 'At least I have some calm before the shitstorm that's surely coming.'

[}-o-{]

Turned out that the first group to finish were the Sand ninja, evidenced by the fact that they were the only ones in the tower with my team, making us the second group. And from there, it was easy for us to tell when someone else did so too.

The third team was the one from Kiri, surprisingly or not. They looked like they had an easy time too, which I supposed made sense. Haku was very much Chuunin level if what I knew was right. And while I didn't know much about Choujurou, he was a named character that had been deemed worthy of a Legendary Sword, and that was enough to vouch for his skill. Their teammate though, I knew absolutely nothing about, but considering his team and how he walked calmly inside the tower, I suspected was at least competent.

The forth team was the only one with named characters from Kumo. They didn't look as fresh as the one from the Mist, but they didn't look like they had a particularly hard time either. 'This sucks,' I grumbled without much energy to myself. 'I barely know anything about these people. Stupid plot deviations.'

And that much was the truth. With all the changes, my foreknowledge was less and less useful as time went by. Which wasn't much of a problem, but since I could have had an advantage, I couldn't help but feel a bit cheated. 'This is what I get for not going civilian.'

Those two were the only teams to come in the second day.

'Come on, guys,' I thought as I continued my drawing of the forest from ground level from the entrance of the tower. Only half paying attention to what I was doing, my thoughts straying more often than not towards my friends that were still in the forest.

After all, changes didn't only mean some more or different teams would pass. It also meant that something could happen to the people that I cared about in the Test.

[}-o-{]

The third day went much the same for me.

Relaxing, drawing, waiting.

The next group to arrive were Kurotsuchi and her teammates. They saw me, of course, but didn't otherwise react besides the nod I received from the girl herself. And that was unexpected enough, in my opinion. The fact that they weren't pointing fingers at me and screaming like Gaara had was shocking in itself. As far as I knew, Iwa hated everything about Konoha. 'Didn't they?' I wondered.

Granted, Kurotsuchi had seemed relatively calm, all things considered. But that could be attributed to, you know, me just having saved her life and her needing my help. Maybe I had gained some respect with that? It would be a nice reward for having brought the Suna Jinchuriki's attention to myself. And it would also be a relief if anyone of my friends faced an Iwa nin in the fights. At least I could count on some restrain if that was the case.

All that was speculation though, but one could dream.

After them came Team Nine and I was immediately on their faces, asking for the other teams. Ignoring Neji's scoff and Lee's screams, I listened raptly to Tenten as she told me how their days had gone. Unfortunately for me, they hadn't met any of the others, which made me hide a grimace. I thanked her nonetheless, and apologized for bothering them right after their arrival.

Nobody else came that day, and my concern started to grow.

[}-o-{]

"Kiddo," Anko came to talk during breakfast on the fourth day. She had dropped by a few times during my wait, but she usually didn't say much. Senseis couldn't offer actual advice after the Exam started, apparently. So, she could only drop by when it was meal time, since every team in the tower gathered in the same room, making it so that the teachers couldn't tell their students anything without the rest knowing. "Team Eight is out of the exams."

"What?" I asked, my eyes growing wide at her words. 'Hinata, Shino and Kiba are out? How?'

"Apparently, they opened their scroll to give up. One of them was poisoned and couldn't continue," She explained with a shrug.

"But… Hinata took the medical course," I pointed out, not sure why I was even saying that. If Anko said they were out, they were out. I just… couldn't wrap my mind around that.

"You know there are dangerous things in this forest. An academy course isn't enough to treat everything and she didn't continue on through that branch, apparently," Anko replied and I nodded slowly. "I just thought you'd want to know. They are all ok."

I nodded again, this time without hesitation. They were alright, that was what mattered. I was almost relieved that they were out, after thinking about it. At least the three of them, even if Kiba wasn't really a friend of mine, were fine and would remain like that. Anyone that passed had a risk of going against Gaara in the preliminaries, which I was sure were going to happen. And that meant a chance of them getting crippled for life or outright dying.

I could try and convince them to give up that fight if it came down to it. But I didn't want to risk them being stubborn and ignoring my warnings. At least I had the excuse of seeing what he could do in the forest. Just telling them not to fight the guy without any evidence wouldn't help my case at all.

"So, how's the Mark going?" Anko asked after a moment of silence and I sighed. She had asked that question everyday, every meal.

"I'm doing fine. Everything still hurts, but it's getting better," I reassured. The only sequels I was having were physical, which I knew wasn't her real concern. My teacher was still worried that the mental aspect of it would hit me again sooner or later.

"And your mindscape-"

"It's still holding strong," I interrupted, already growing tired of her questions. She was concerned, I got that. I understood. I was much the same with my friends. And that's why I wasn't snapping at her. "Everything's fine, really," I continued with a soft tone. "I check several times a day, and nothing's come up so far. I'll continue to do so," I added quickly, in case she told me not to let my guard down. I had no plans to do such a thing. "And was told that Inoichi will check everything himself tomorrow around the time the Second Test ends."

"Good," She replied with a nod, her whole body relaxing as she slumped down on her chair. "Good," She repeated, slower this time. "I've… I've been training with a Yamanaka myself," She informed me and I raised an eyebrow at that. Was she saying what I thought- "Accessing one's mindscape is, apparently, pretty hard," At this, she paused to send me a half-hearted glare that I returned with a bashful smile. "But we are already coming to some theories about how much better your method can be to the solutions with seals we've attempted so far."

"That's… good?" I commented unsure.

"It is," She nodded, growing serious. "Someone has the idea that it may even allow you and me to actually use it without any mental side-effects," 'I think I know who that is,' I thought wryly to myself. "But you aren't going to try unless in a controlled environment, are we clear? And preferably not before I can test it myself. Although that'll depend on how long it takes me to actually use your method."

"I understand," I nodded. After all, I wasn't planning on using it on the preliminaries anyway. The only one that maybe could get me to use the thing, and still it was a maybe, was Gaara. And I had to have pretty rotten luck for that to turn out to be the case.

"I'm serious," She reinforced with a glare. "This isn't like you using your chakra in the Second Test, Eiji. Don't use the Mark."

"I understand," I repeated, this time looking at her straight in the eye so that she could see that I meant it. After a long second, she nodded, apparently getting it.

"Say..." I started when the silence stretched a bit too long. "would you mind if I made a drawing of you?" I asked nervously.

[}-o-{]

"I mean, I have better curves than those."

I groaned before sending an annoyed look at Anko. 'Why am I even putting up with this woman anyway?' A corner of my brain whined. I had gotten the part of drawing her out of the way quickly, so that she would stop messing with me by changing poses and the like. But I hadn't considered that she could still be a nuisance without having to do that.

Now, she wouldn't shut up about me getting something wrong about her figure or whatever. It had started with her hair, then her face, and now she had moved onto how she had a bigger butt or perkier boobs or less fat. 'I regret picking up drawing as a hobby…'

"I mean, really, are you telling me that my legs don't look better than that?" She asked, her serious tone breaking for once, revealing that she was very much having fun at my expense. 'It's official, ninjas are all a pain in the ass to deal with,' I decided with a twitch of my eye. 'No wonder the Nara are like that. They are all the only relatively sane ones.'

"Would you shut the f-"

"Eiji!"

I froze mid sentence. In a second, I stored the notebook and pencil inside a seal and all but flickered over to where Team Seven had entered the tower. Thank God for Naruto's loud mouth. My eyes scanned over the three intently.

Naruto looked relatively fine, all things considered. His clothes were messy and torn here and there, but the boy himself looked alright. Not that that said much, really, since the blonde could shrug off many things.

Sakura, for her part, was a mess. Her clothes were in a similar state to Naruto's and she looked a bit paler with bags under her eyes. But that didn't really tell me much, since I knew she wasn't the best kunoichi out there. She would have looked like that even if the Test went normally. Her hair was still long though, but that was no surprise since my team had taken out the Sound one.

My eyes turned to Sasuke and my heart dropped. He looked even whiter than normal, his hair was sticking out in all directions, almost like he was trying to imitate Naruto, there were little cuts here and there and his clothes looked worse than his teammates. But the true tell was how he hunched forward to the side, how his left arm twitched and how his right hand moved, as if to massage his shoulder, before he thought better of it. All that, combined with the worried glances the other two sent his way occasionally, told me everything I needed to know.

Sasuke was Marked too.

"Of course, you arrived before us," Naruto boisterously exclaimed, hands behind his head. The boy couldn't quite hide how tired he was, but he did an admirable job nonetheless. "Should have guessed you would."

"Why aren't you three getting checked at the infirmary?" I demanded to know, ignoring his words. My eyes narrowed at the three of them as their backs straightened at the tone in my voice. 'Good, I'll put the fear of God in you three if I have to.'

"What do you mean? We are f-"

"If you say you are fine," I interrupted, my voice growing annoyed. "There will be consequences."

"I- Well, you see… he he," The boy grew nervous as he tried to come up with something to say. In the end, he only could let out a strained chuckle. I simply stared at the three of them. Sakura was looking at anything but me. Sasuke was doing his best to appear to be mute.

"What happened?" I asked this time, the annoyance bleeding out of me, leaving me with just my fear and my concern.

"We… were attacked," Naruto finally admitted, deflating as the will to hide it left him.

"You three are coming with me to the infirmary, right now," I stated, leaving no room for arguments. "You've already dealt with the scrolls stuff?"

"We… just arrived," Sakura replied this time and I stopped and sighed.

"Then finish the Test so that we can get going," I ordered, nodding towards where they had to open the scrolls. 'Good thing I didn't say anything that would have them disqualified.'

"Damn," Anko muttered next to me. "You are going to make a scary dad when you are old."

"You say that like I'm not one already," I grumbled as I followed the trio. "I feel like a goddamn parent half the time."

"An overprotective one, yeah," She nodded and I sighed.

"I guess," I admitted as I took a deep breath in to calm myself. "I'm trying to work on that."

"Then everything's fine," Anko shrugged. "Are you gonna talk with the Uchiha?"

"I was going to ask if I could do that part, yeah."

"Go ahead."

[}-o-{]

"We don't even know what actually happened," Sakura explained once they got their scrolls done and Kakashi appeared.

That last part had been a bit of a surprise, but not much, really. It had gotten me thinking though. I was very sure that Iruka was the one that appeared for Team Seven in canon. So, why had Anko appeared for my team then? And why had Kakashi appeared for Naruto's team? Was it just a small butterfly effect or was it something else?

I ended up pushing those questions to the side though. I had more important things to focus on, after all. Like the health of two of my brothers and a friend.

"One second we were just moving through the forest, looking for a team to get a scroll from," The pinketted continued. "And the other someone appeared from nowhere, grabbed Sasuke by his neck and bit his shoulder. When we tried to fight him, he just..."

"He kicked our asses," Naruto explained eloquently, getting a glare from his female teammates and a grudging nod from the male.

I shared a look with Anko.

"Nothing else?" I prodded, not too forcefully though. I wouldn't have taken it well if someone interrogated me after having to deal with Orochimaru and the Mark. The Uchiha seemed to be dealing much worse than I had, judging by his permanent scowl and his silence. That made sense though. At least I had managed to fight back a bit with Inner Strength and my mindscape.

"He mocked us a bit too," Naruto added with a shrug, looking more than a little annoyed. I was just glad that he said it. It was little, but everything helped when it came to the Snake.

"Can I talk with Sasuke alone?" I asked both, the rest of Team Seven and Anko.

"Come with me, you two," The Tokubetsu Jounin nodded to the door, forcing the other two to follow. They did so, grudgingly, but saying no to someone a few ranks higher wasn't something that many did. And Naruto probably controlled himself because I was the one that asked first.

"I'm fine," The Uchiha tried to look like he meant it, I had to give him that.

"No, you are not," I denied instantly, and his scowl deepened, the anger burned behind his black eyes. I smiled sadly at him. "I know you are not. I went through the same thing."

At that, his eyes widened, disbelief replacing his annoyance. I turned my head to the side and pulled my shirt so that he could look at the Mark on my shoulder. His hand moved to his own, probably without him even realizing.

"Does it stop?" He asked, and he almost sounded vulnerable. I hated seeing him like that.

"The pain will go away after a while. It'll be faster if you don't use chakra at all though," I explained softly. "The anger though, is a bit more complicated. But it helps to know that it's fake. So, try to remember that."

"So, that's why everything is so..."

"Annoying, yeah." I nodded. "The Yamanaka can help you get it under control. They'll teach you how to," He grimaced and I put a hand on his other shoulder to comfort him. "It sucks, I know. But it's necessary."

His eyes moved to my shoulder, before he nodded.

"Good thing you are so good at Taijutsu, right?" I commented, my tone lightening a bit. The corner of his mouth twitched up. I counted that as a win. "If you really need to use Jutsu though," I got his attention again as I continued. "It'll hurt just as bad as when he put that thing on you. So, be prepared for that. And if you do, make sure it counts."

He nodded.

"Who was he?"

"Orochimaru of the Sannin," I answered truthfully. No need to lie to him about that. His eyes widened again, this time in fear. "So, there's no need to feel weak, or anything. He kicked my ass too," I reassured, echoing Naruto's words from before.

"Why did he do it?" Sasuke asked this time and I remained silent for a moment.

"I have no idea," I lied. Although, the man himself hadn't actually told me why either. I just could make a very good guess from my knowledge of the series. For all I knew, he had a different goal this time. "But with any luck, I'll kick his ass next time we meet and I'll find out."

"You are spending too much time with Naruto," The Uchiha replied with a shake of his head.

"I mean, if I'm going to be the God of Shinobi, then I better be able to beat up a Snake."

"...Eiji."

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it, Sasuke… That's what brothers are for, right?"

"... Right."

[} Chapter End {]

Hey guys! How's it going?

Well, this chapter kicked my ass just as Orochimaru did to everyone else during this Test. Honestly, I had so many changes of plans during the writing of this thing that I'm getting a headache. But I've got it done, so that's a win for me, I guess.

On another note, we finally get to read the Cursed Mark's skill screen… Don't look at me if you think it's broken. I checked with the wiki and that's what Stage One does. Or, at least, that's what I understood it does. I'm actually nerfing it by making the Jutsu Efficacy be level dependent and maybe with how much the skill costs.

I had half a thought to just say 'fuck it' and nerf it to balance things a bit. But honestly, there's more broken shit out there than the Cursed Mark, and I don't feel like trying to balance everything. Especially since there's stuff that one can't really balance at all (looking at you, Sharingan and Bijuus).

Anyway, that's the only thing I wanted to point out from the chapter.

As always, if you can't wait until next week for next chapter, there's up to three new chapters in my Pa tre on:

P a treon . com (slash) AdrianKing

Random Question: What's your favorite weapon (that's not a gun or something of the sort, you know what I mean)? I like scythes a lot. Yes, I'm an edgy motherfucker, deal with it. If I had to choose something to actually practice and use though, then I would go for a bow. Because I'm a fucking coward, that's why.

Random Recommendation: "A Gamer Tries His Best" by GoMagikarp.

See you.