Chapter 10

Naruto woke up with a lump of dread deep in his gut. It was the morning of the first phase of the Chunin Exams. He had been dreading this day ever since the day he, Kiba, and Hinata decided to enter the exams in the first place. He had faith in himself and his teammates, as he had told Kiba, but that didn't mean he wasn't insanely nervous about actually taking the exams.

He had heard the exams this time were going to be unusually difficult. Ironically, he had also heard that there were going to be twelve rookies in the exams, which was a thing that hadn't happened in several years. Naruto sighed as he ate his breakfast ramen. Was this year's batch of rookies just that much better than other years...or were they all in for a hell of a time?

Once the blond got done with his ramen, he threw on his ridiculous orange clothes – he spared a moment to consider that he really should get something else some time or another – and walked out of the house; he didn't want to be late.

A few minutes later, Naruto arrived at the Academy, where the first phase was taking place. In no time, Hinata and Kiba arrived as well. "Hey guys!" Naruto called out with a smile.

Hinata gave him a private smile, and Kiba grinned as they waved at their teammate. Kiba's grin became a bit more feral as he said, "You two ready for this?"

Hinata took a breath, then said, "Yeah, I think we're ready. We're as ready as we're going to get, anyway." Naruto nodded. He knew exactly how Hinata felt, and he agreed entirely.

Kiba chuckled and wrapped an arm around each of his shy teammates. Resting a hand on each one's shoulder, he tried to give them a bit of his confidence. "We've got this, guys. I don't know if we'll make Chunin right now or not, but we'll be just fine."

The two smiled at their feral teammate. Hinata said, "Are we going to help the other rookies, too?"

Kiba sighed, sounding somewhat defeated. "I hope we can," he said, thinking of Ino. "I really don't want to have to fight Ino. It would really suck to have to choose between her and us."

Naruto chuckled. "If I ever have to choose between you and me, Hinata, I'll choose you," he said sincerely.

Hinata giggled. "I wouldn't let you choose me, Naruto," she said back, just as sincerely.

Kiba rolled his eyes. "Since most of the exams are done on a team basis, I don't think you two will have to worry about that. Well, not unless you have to fight one another in the finals, anyway."

Naruto raised an eyebrow at Kiba. "The finals? What do you mean?"

Kiba looked at his teammates, both of whom were looking at him with a clueless expression on their faces. "How do you two not know about the finals?" he asked. The two shrugged. Kiba sighed. He should have expected that these two wouldn't know much about the Chunin Exams; as shy as they were, they weren't going to be the ones to go to something like that. "The final phase of the Chunin Exams is a one-v-one tournament. They make a big deal about it, and people from everywhere come to see the fights. I remember one year the Raikage was there, believe it or not."

Hinata shivered slightly at the thought of the Raikage. She was almost kidnapped once by a ninja from the Hidden Cloud. "I hope no one causes trouble during the exams," she said.

Kiba had to use all of his available restraint to not roll his eyes at that. "I've never heard of anyone doing anything like that," he said with a comforting smile. "The whole point of the Chunin Exams is to keep the peace and maintain the balance of power, and all of the villages know that, so there's a hesitance to attack them or anything."

Chuckling, Naruto said, "All right, let's just get this over with. We can't put it off anymore."

Kiba laughed. "Well, I really wish you two were more confident about this, but you are right. Let's get going," he said.

On their way to the classroom where they had been told to turn in their sign-up papers, the team saw some people trying to get into a classroom the floor below and being fought off by two disguised Chunin. Kiba snickered. "Guess the exams have already started," he said as the three continued up the stairs.

One of the Chunin saw the team ignoring them. "Guess that team passed the first part of the exams," he thought with a private snicker.

A minute later, Naruto, Hinata, and Kiba arrived at the classroom where they were supposed to be. Entering the room, they looked around. Naruto and Hinata both shrank into themselves more than usual. Kiba sighed seeing them. "I guess I get it," he thought as he looked around at the other Genin who were in the room.

Aside from the Sand team they had met before, there was a really big guy wrapped up in bandages, some girl with glasses, and a guy with some weird holes in his hands, all of them wearing headbands with music notes. There was a team from the Leaf, one of whom was wearing a mask similar to Kakashi's, except it wasn't form-fitting to his face, and one of whom had really thick glasses. Most of the Genin looked incredibly intimidating. A couple of teams were more nondescript, but for the most part, these "Genin" looked like they were closer to Jonin level; if being scary had been a graded, category, Kiba knew these Genin would have a massive advantage over him and his two shy teammates.

The three made their way to some empty seats, sticking next to one another; all of them felt like "safety in numbers" was a sound strategy at the moment. They noticed some other teams they recognized arriving after a few more minutes. Hinata saw Neji and his team and shivered slightly; she'd heard her cousin would be in the exams, but actually seeing him there was different. Sakura and her team was there; Sakura's pink hair was falling over her forehead, as it usually did. Naruto briefly took note of Sasuke and his two teammates coming in, and of course Kiba was ecstatic when he saw Ino come in with her teammates. Kiba waved to Ino, and she, Shikamaru, and Choji came over and sat with Team Seven.

Ino sat beside Kiba, Choji and Shikamaru on her other side. Ino and Kiba wrapped an arm around one another. Naruto and Hinata chuckled at the two of them; there was no way the two shy kids would ever be that open about their relationship. Certainly not yet, anyway. All the same, it was kind of fun to watch the two of them; they were so close, so carefree about their status. It was...not exactly inspiring, but it was certainly comforting to know that their friends were so comfortable with themselves, no matter where they were. Naruto smiled at Hinata. They were comfortable with themselves, too, they just weren't even close to ready to display themselves like that to the world at large.

After a few minutes, a man arrived seemingly from nowhere. He had a bandanna over his head, and his face was scarred. Naruto recognized him immediately; his name was Ibiki Morino, and he was the head of the Torture and Interrogation unit. "Really? They're putting us with this guy, right off the bat?!" he thought to himself.

Hinata noticed Naruto tensing up and said, "What's the matter, Naruto?"

Naruto tried to chuckle, but it came out sounding hollow. "Remember that guy I told you about, Ibiki?" he asked. Hinata nodded, a curious look on her face. Naruto just pointed to the man in the front of the room.

Hinata gasped. "Kiba," she said softly. Kiba and Ino looked at her curiously. "That man, our proctor, is the head of the Torture and Interrogation unit of the village."

Ino snickered. "I thought he looked familiar," she said. "Dad works with him sometimes. I wonder what he's got planned for us."

Shikamaru grumbled, "Whatever it is, it'll probably be a huge pain."

Ino jumped; she had honestly forgotten her teammates were even there. Choji couldn't help snorting at Ino's reaction. "Who cares who he is," Choji said. "It's not like he can torture us physically or anything. There are rules for these things, after all."

Ino laughed. "He's not one for physical torture anyway, trust me, he doesn't need it," she said.

Before she could say any more, Ibiki yelled from the front of the room, "You maggots sit down and shut up! You'll be assigned seats in a moment, and the first phase of the Chunin Selection Exams will begin!"

Within minutes, the candidates were seated and the papers had been passed out. Naruto was seated beside Ino; his other side was against an aisle between seats. Naruto was relieved to be beside a friend, at least. He wished briefly he could have been beside Hinata, but, once the tests were explained, he figured it just wouldn't have been done that way, since the candidates were graded as teams.

Hinata figured out pretty quickly upon looking at the test that the point of the test was to cheat and not get caught. Once the proctors were settled in, she activated her Byakugan and found someone who was writing the answers a little too confidently and copied his answers. Naruto had figured out the point as well, but he was having a bit more trouble figuring out how to copy and who in the world to copy from, so he just sat there, not really getting anywhere.

Ino, beside Naruto, sighed. She had figured it out, of course; she figured something was up, but she knew what the test was really about at least. She had seen Shikamaru using shadows to allow someone writing way too confidently to control him so he got the answers. Choji was writing occasionally, so he must have figured it out, too. Ino was relieved to know her teammates were fine.

Using Mind Transfer Jutsu, Ino was able to look through Sakura's eyes; as she figured, the pink-haired girl had written down answers to every question. If Ino had to guess, Sakura hadn't even had to copy off anyone; the girl always did have a big brain behind those ridiculous bangs of hers. Ino quickly memorized the answers on Sakura's paper, then released her jutsu.

After writing her answers quickly, Ino turned her attention to Naruto, sitting beside her. She considered briefly offering to let him copy her answers, but she knew somehow that Naruto wouldn't do that. "How can I help him? He isn't getting anywhere with this, and I just know he needs help...but what can I do? Oh, wait..."

Ino subtly turned toward Naruto, watching to make sure none of the proctors were watching her, and cast Mind Transfer Jutsu again.

Naruto felt like something slammed into him from nowhere. He thought about trying to fight it off for a moment, but then he realized, whatever it was, it wasn't hostile. It felt...warm, comforting. As he thought this, Naruto felt himself losing control of his body.

Suddenly, Naruto was watching his hands confidently writing answers to all nine of the questions on the paper. He worried briefly that whoever was doing this was trying to sabotage him, but then he remembered how warm and comforting whatever hit him had felt, and he shrugged that off. Within minutes, his paper was fully filled in, and control of his body was returned to him.

Hinata saw Naruto writing; she smiled. "Good, he figured it out. I wonder who...ah, it doesn't matter, at least he got the answers somehow or another," she thought to herself.

Before anyone knew it, the first team had been dismissed. Someone got caught cheating five times. It wasn't long after that that another team was kicked out, then another and another. Soon enough, the time had come for the last question to be given.

Ibiki gave everyone a sadistic smirk. "It's time for the final question," he said. "But before I give it, I have to tell you about the special rules for this question."

Naruto gave a small smile. "So, he's finally decided to reveal the real test, huh?" he thought. Ibiki explained that, if they stayed and took the final question and got it wrong, they would never be able to take the Chunin Exams again. If, however, they dropped out before it, they would be given a zero and fail. Naruto considered this, then thought to himself, "I get it. He wants to make sure we're willing to take risks and put ourselves in danger to complete the mission."

One team after another started to drop out. This was...just too much for them. Naruto was slightly surprised when he saw Sakura drop out. She and her team left. Ino worried briefly that either Naruto or Hinata would chicken out, but neither of them did. Naruto felt sure he knew what Ibiki was up to, and Hinata wasn't worried about this phase of the exams. It was the finals that she was worried about, not a written test. Ino smiled; they really had come a long way.

After a few more minutes, the test's time limit came up. Ibiki smirked. "Well, I guess we have a pretty decent crop of brave Genin here. There's only one thing left to do," he said. "And that is to tell you, that you all pass the first phase of the Chunin Exams!"

Naruto snickered. "I knew it!" he said, more loudly than he had intended. When everyone near him turned their attention to him, he blushed and shrank into himself.

Ibiki smirked at Naruto; he remembered the times in the past he had encountered the kid. He should have known the kid would figure out the real test. Ibiki spent a few minutes explaining the real purpose behind the tenth question.

Before Ibiki could finish, Naruto got an honest shock. A huge ball of what looked like cloth came bursting through the window. Two kunai shot out from the ball, and it was revealed to be a huge tarp with "Second Phase" and beneath that "Proctor: Anko Mitarashi" written on it. Inside the tarp – now in front of it – was a woman with purple hair, a fishnet shirt, and an open trench-coat that fell almost to her feet. Naruto figured this woman must be Anko.

"All right, you lot!" she said with a sadistic grin on her face. "I'm your next proctor, and the second phase of the Chunin Exams starts right now! Follow me to the 44th Training Ground, and we'll get this farce under way!"

Ibiki, behind the tarp, groaned. "You're early, Anko," he said. "Again."

Anko sweat-dropped. "Or you're just late, Ibiki," she said after a moment. "Regardless, get there as quickly as you all can. We have no time to waste!"

Everyone left the room and headed to the training ground. Anko was there, waiting for them. She said, "This is the 44th Training Ground, also known as..." She trailed off in an ominous manner, then finished, "The Forest of Death!" Naruto, Hinata, and Kiba were all a little worried, but they all tried to not show it so as to not worry their teammates.

Anko explained that the teams would each be given a scroll, either Heaven or Earth, and would be fighting to get the other scroll. Once they had both, they had to make their way to the tower in the center of the forest. They had five days to make it there; if they made it with both scrolls, they passed. If not, they failed; the second phase of the exams was that simple.

Anko smirked. "One last thing. We need you all to sign these waivers," she said, holding up a sheet of paper. "There's a chance some of you might not survive this test, and if you don't sign these, that would be on us, and...we can't have that!" she said.

Within a few minutes, everyone had turned in their waivers and received a scroll. They were assigned a gate in the fence that surrounded the forest. Once they all made their way there, the teams were all let into the forest at the same time.

The second phase of the Chunin Exams had begun.

A/N: Yeah, I know, this one is kind of quick. I don't want to dwell on the first phase for a long time. Trust me, the second phase will probably take a bit more time. Probably at least a couple chapters. After all, I've got Orochimaru, Sasuke, the Sound team, and all of the teams getting scrolls (the ones who do, anyway) to cover. See you all for the next one!