Kishimoto owns Naruto.
This is the second chapter posted today. If you have jumped straight to this one, go back one. Do not pass Go, do not collect two-hundred pounds.

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Chapter Eighteen

Resolution

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The meeting room was large and well-lit with many people sat around the half-circle table. At the midpoint, where the table was raised, the Daimyo sat with Itachi to his left and Tsunade to his right. Beyond Itachi sat Inuzuka Tsume and Aburame Shibi while Jiraiya and Elder Hisen sat to Tsunade's left, the latter there due to Taki's determination to form still-closer ties with Konoha.

Opposite them stood all those who had been summoned to offer their opinions on the matter in hand.

"Let us begin." Itachi stated. "The first on our list is Higurashi Tenten. One loss, but she put up a good fight and showed good self-control. However, she failed to achieve victory due to her inability to adapt to unexpected situations, so she is not to be promoted at this time, but placed on the List of Interest. Any disagreements?"

All eyes turned to Gai, who slowly shook his head.

"Next, Hyuuga Hinata. One win, performed a tactical withdrawal on her second round because the injury she had taken would have left her exceedingly vulnerable in the finals. Good weapons techniques demonstrated as well as an unexpected jutsu…"

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Fugaku stared at his youngest son, who stared back at him, his eyes neither red nor black, but purple.

"I have never seen such a thing as this before." Fugaku finally admitted as Sasuke let his eyes return to their natural black hue. "I have never heard even the faintest rumor of this form of Sharingan. It is not listed in our Shrine."

"But I have seen it before." A voice spoke from the doorway and both Uchiha looked round to see Jiraiya entering the room. "Or at least, something very like it. One of my previous students had it. His name was Nagato. His eyes were a pale purple with rings surrounding the pupil… the Rinnegan."

"That was the Dojutsu of the Sage of the Six paths!" Fugaku gasped and Jiraiya nodded.

"It was. The tales that the Uchiha and the Sharingan are descended from the Sage seem to be proven. We already have independent confirmation that the Hyuuga and their Byakugan are descended from the Sage's twin brother."

"But… how does my son have it?" Fugaku asked in confusion and Jiraiya shrugged.

"I don't know. If I had to guess, I would say it was something to do with being engulfed in the Chakra of the Taki Jinchuuriki, but I would not bet any money on it."

"Can you teach me how to use it?" Sasuke asked and Jiraiya smiled.

"I know a few of the techniques that he developed before he was slain by Hanzo the Salamander. I will be happy to pass them on to you."

"My son activated his dojutsu through joy and awakened a new level our clan did not know existed." Fugaku mused to himself as he watched Jiraiya pull out a small notebook which he presented to Sasuke, who began eagerly leafing through it. "What else do the writings in our Shrine have wrong…"

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"Thank you for bringing my youngest daughter back." Hiashi gave a slight bow to the silver-haired masked Shinobi.

"It isn't the first time I've had to carry a young Hyuuga princess." Kakashi joked. "I would stay, but I'd better get back and find out what Asuma's been teaching my cute little genin in my absence."

"By all means." Hiashi agreed, then he turned towards the Hyuuga Mansion as Kakashi vanished, his daughter almost scampering into position beside him. "So, how was your sleepover?"

"It was fun." Hanabi admitted. "We got to watch Tazuna-Oji and his men start building Akika's new treehouse… it's going to be bigger than ours."

Hiashi hid his amusement at Hanabi's pout.

"The Daimyo is above us in the hierarchy of the Land of Fire, my daughter, and the burdens that he must bear are greater. That is why his life seems so filled with luxury. Without it to help him recover, the harshness of governing would cause him to break."

"…still bigger."

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Hiruzen stared at the Kunoichi before him. "…what?"

"I checked with one of my Summons." Anko sighed. "According to her, Orochimaru's signature is still on the scroll. He's still alive."

Hiruzen put down the broken stem of his pipe. "Any idea how?"

Anko shook her head. "No. Sorry. For what it's worth, I really thought that you got that bastard."

"As did I." Hiruzen seemed to slump in his chair. "As did I…"

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"Greetings." Itachi looked at the assembled Chunin-hopefuls before him. Unlike previous promotion ceremonies, he was not the only village leader in the office, Hisen sat beside him ready to announce the portions relating to Takigakure.

"Elder Hisen and myself were both impressed at how well you all performed during the Exam. However, we must confirm that not all of you proved yourself worthy of promotion… this time. Nevertheless, those of you who are not promoted this time will be looked upon favourably in future tests."

"The Hokage has agreed to my request that we work our way through according to the order in which you were assigned your first battles." Hisen added. "Admittedly, this means that the first two will be his."

"Hyuuga Hinata and Higurashi Tenten, step forwards." Itachi commanded and both Kunoichi almost leapt to obey. "Tenten, your techniques were almost flawless and are combat-tested, but in a one-on-one fight with someone who could shield, they were less useful. Your move to engage in melee would have worked, had Hinata not made sure to have at least one technique that you did not expect."

"The Rasengan." Tenten confirmed as Itachi paused.

"Using your primary technique against someone who had already proven she could block long-distance attacks was a mistake, however."

Tenten nodded ruefully.

"It is the decision of the Council that you shall not be promoted this time, Tenten. Conversely, for showing adaptability, improvisation and unexpected techniques, Hyuuga Hinata is granted promotion to Chunin. That being said, you fought well, Tenten."

With a smile, Hiruzen passed Hinata a small scroll containing her Chunin Vest.

"Next, Daisuke and Hyuuga Neji." Hisen took over as the two Kunoichi returned to their previous positions. "Daisuke, your skills with your Suiton techniques were impressive, but proved rather limited in execution. After you discovered Hyuuga Neji's ability to counter them, you were unable to change tactics. Until you become more flexible in combat, you will not be promoted. I'm sorry."

Daisuke sighed as he nodded in understanding, then Itachi spoke.

"Hyuuga Neji, your ability to analyse and counter Daisuke's techniques was unexpected and very impressive. Your mastery of your clan's fighting style shows your abilities are well honed. Your ability to adapt to the unexpected was displayed during your fight with your cousin. As such, you are being promoted to Chunin. Congratulations."

Neji bowed deeply, then he accepted the scroll from his Sensei.

"As the Sand Siblings are not here, Fuu and Uchiha Sasuke, step forth." Hisen reclaimed control of the ceremony. "Fuu, your mastery of the Kage Bunshin gives you a massive number of tactical options in combat. Using them to distract everyone from you concealing yourself was inspired. Using your other techniques to claim victory in your second match only confirmed my decision. Congratulations, Chunin."

"Sasuke, your first match showed that you are willing to go for efficiency over showmanship, something that many of our clan never get to grips with." Itachi stated. "Although you lost your second match, you demonstrated the ability to overcome high numerical odds and counter the deceptions used against you. Congratulations, Chunin Uchiha."

Sasuke accepted the scroll containing his new vest, then returned to where his team-mates were waiting to quietly congratulate him.

"Sho, Rock Lee, you're up." Hisen prompted. "Sho, as the first of your clan to be able to use your Bloodlimit without the usual aftereffects, you have already set a good example for those yet to follow your path. Your misfortune was to go up against one of Konoha's taijutsu specialists, yet you more than held your own for far longer than almost any other genin in Takigakure could have. It is rare for any of your clan to make it past genin, but you have done just that. You have proven to me that you are skilled and flexible enough to deserve promotion. Congratulations."

Rock Lee grinned and gently slapped Sho's shoulder in congratulation, giving his opponent a thumbs-up.

"Rock Lee." Itachi's voice caused the black-haired Genin to snap to attention. "Despite the many obstacles in your path, you have proven yourself to be a truly skilled Shinobi of Konoha. Your determination and hard work have paid off. Congratulations, Chunin."

Only a quick glower stopped Gai from exuberantly proclaiming his pride in his student as he presented Lee with the proof of his promotion.

"And last, but certainly not least, Senju Ruto." Itachi looked at the masked blond. "You demonstrated a very large number of techniques during your matches. Tsunade's strength enhancement abilities, the Kage Bunshin, used in many different ways, the Chakra Chains that let you defeat Gaara of the Sand, the Hiraishin, the Rasengan… Given all this, I cannot find it within me to promote you to Chunin."

Everyone stared at Itachi as if he had ripped off his face to reveal himself to be Hanzo the Salamander, then his lips twitched slightly in amusement.

"I have discussed matters in depth with your mother, your brothers and your Sensei. They all agreed with me. Congratulations… Tokubetsu Jonin Naruto."

For a long moment, no-one moved as the assembled Genin and (new) Chunin stared at the blond, then Hinata let out a squeal of joy as she glomped him.

"Well done." Sasuke clapped the flabbergasted boy on his shoulder. "if anyone deserved it, you do."

"I… I… thanks…" Naruto managed.

"And since you three have proven yourselves to be a solid team, you will generally remain so." Itachi added, earning a smile of thanks from his younger brother.

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"Tokubetsu Jonin." Hinata marvelled as they walked out of the Hokage tower. "Even my father did not get past Chunin until he was seventeen and you just… wow."

"I know." Naruto shook his head. "I just… I know that I learned a lot from my brothers and Kaa-san taught me loads, but… even so…"

For several moments, the trio walked in contemplative silence, then Sasuke smirked.

"So, Senpei, any ideas what we're doing to celebrate?"

Hinata muffled her laugh at Naruto's new title as the boy in question gave Sasuke a bemused glare.

"I don't know why I'm suddenly the leader." He half-grumbled. "You know that I'm the only one of us three without a dojutsu, right?"

"That probably factored into it." Sasuke agreed, then he caught the look that the other two were giving him. "Itachi doesn't approve of those who rely purely on their bloodlimits. As soon as someone counters their trick, they're helpless. Why do you think I was so eager to learn Fuuinjutsu? I'm actually the first Uchiha to make it past journeyman."

Both his team-mates stared at him in disbelief.

"You're kidding… right?"

"I'm not." Sasuke shook his head. "Most of my clan don't have the patience to become Sealmasters."

Silence descended on them as they made their way down the road, then Hinata spoke up.

"Ruto-kun, I'm going to ask Tsunade-oba for more training in Iryojutsu."

"Makes sense." Sasuke noted. "We're good, but we can always be better. My Sharingan gives me an advantage in combat… but I'm going to have to do a lot of experimenting with the type I now have and with the amount of Chakra it needs, I'm going to need new exercises to boost my reserves. Thank the Sage that Jiraiya-Sensei is overseeing my tuition…"

"Honoka-nee-san said something about overseeing my training with my chains." Naruto extended a chain from the hand not occupied in hugging Hinata, the chain slowly twisting and flexing as he looked at it. "Honoka says that once I get it down, it'll be like an extension of myself. I should be able to use it like my own arm… maybe even using them to perform jutsu."

Sasuke shuddered. "I just had an image of you waving around multiple chains tipped with Rasengans. I would not want to be on the receiving end of a move like that."

"It would be rather difficult to counter." Hinata agreed with a smile.

"In the meantime… maybe we should see if Haruko is cooking anything special tonight." Naruto prompted.

"Let me check my family haven't planned anything for tonight." Sasuke vanished in a swirl of leaves.

"…I hadn't thought of that." Naruto admitted. "Come on, Hime, let's check in with your father."

Hinata rested her head on Naruto's shoulder, then the two of them vanished.

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As the sun set towards the horizon, a graceful figure stepped out onto the balcony, gliding to a stop beside the man already sat there. The two of them looked at the growing dusk, visible despite the curtain of rain which surrounded them.

"How goes… the search?"

"Slow." Konan sighed. "We are still seeking viable candidates, we only have two at the moment and they still need to be prepared."

"But we will… be able to… continue."

"Yes, we will." Konan agreed. "Our agents in Konoha tell us that the Leaf believes Sasori to be the leader of Akatsuki."

Nagato blinked. "…why?"

"They do not know." Konan shrugged. "Sasori was dealing with an issue in Kumo for us during the invasion. They should not even be aware of his membership."

"A puzzle… for another… day." Nagato wheezed. "Once the… Snake Sannin… decodes the Hiraishin… we will… resume our… mission."

"It will take a while." Konan sighed. "He contacted me, asking if we have any Seal-masters among our ranks who could help him. Apparently, the Hiraishin is extremely complex… several levels above his own so-called masterpieces, his Curse Seals of Heaven and Earth."

Nagato closed his eyes. "I see. Do what… you can… to help him."

"It could easily take several years… maybe even a decade." Konan warned.

"It will take… as long as it takes. In the meantime… we shall increase… our strength."

"Yes. We shall." Konan sighed, looking at the rapidly darkening sky.

Perhaps the new dawn would bring a new chance for peace.

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Authors Afternote – Well, I reached the Chunin Exams and powered up Team 7. Naruto got all three versions of the Hiraishin, the Rasengan, Chakra Chains and the ability to talk to Kurama, opening the way for Kyuubi Chakra Mode etc. Sasuke got the Rinnegan (and really, who saw that coming?) as a result of his Chakra reacting with that of Chomei via Fuu, so he's powered up too. As for Hinata… not as powered up as the other two, but she is the heart of the team with potential for the future. Under Tsunade, she'll learn the Strength Boost too, with far better control than Naruto has.

I won't be continuing past this point as I have other projects to concentrate on, therefore this series is up for adoption. I hope you enjoyed it.

TheBeardedOne.