Chapter 10

Upon awaking on the morning of the Chunin Exam Finals, the residents of the Hidden Cloud Village were surprised and confused to find random streaks of paint on the ground, walls of buildings, and just all over the place. No one could make any sense of the streaks, and there was no indication of who had put them there or when. A few of the residents were vaguely annoyed by it, some were even downright angry when a streak of paint landed on their business sign or made a particularly ugly mark on their home, but no one could make any sense of the marks; they appeared to be entirely random.

If it weren't for the fact that the paint streaks were everywhere in the village, the residents would probably have just assumed they were entirely accidental. But they were, in fact, everywhere, and there was an obvious intent behind them. Aside from annoying people, though, no one could figure out what that purpose was.

Naruto Namikaze and his two teammates were chuckling to themselves as they walked to the designated spot for their pre-finals meeting. Of course, being the one who had done this, Naruto knew what the streaks were. Hinata and Neji were aware he had done it, which is why they were chuckling, but even they didn't know exactly what the point was.

There were exactly two people in the entirety of the Hidden Cloud Village, aside from the perpetrator himself of course, who knew exactly what had been done. Ay, the Raikage, and Killer Bee, the finals proctor, were at this very moment standing on the hill above their village and looking down on it. From their vantage point, they could clearly read that the streaks, when seen from this particular angle, came together to spell out "CLOUD SUCKS!" Fortunately for a certain blond, neither of them could prove who had done this. They had their suspicions, of course, but there was absolutely nothing that would prove who did it.

The Raikage snarled. "That Leaf brat thinks he can make a fool out of us, painting our village like this!" he said, his voice clearly angry. He was, so far, restraining himself.

Killer Bee, however, was having a ball with this. "He doesn't think he can, Bro! He has, and what can we do? There's no way it was him to prove; We really have no good move!" he rapped.

Ay glared at his adoptive brother. "You think I don't know that?!" he almost yelled. "That's the problem. I know there's nothing we can do, and it's pissing me off!"

Bee just laughed. "Lighten up, Bro, have some fun; This isn't something that can be undone! Our best revenge for this prank; Is to make sure he doesn't ascend in rank!"

Ay screamed in rage; he had had as much as he could take of Bee's nonsense. Grabbing Bee's face in his huge hand, the Raikage said, "Just go proctor the Finals, and get out of my way. I'll see to it that brat will remember this day and not to underestimate the Cloud for the rest of his life!"

That said, the Raikage threw Bee in the general direction of the Chunin Exam Arena near the center of the village. His aim was shockingly good; Bee landed dead in the center of the Arena just in time for the prospective Chunin to arrive.

Naruto was shocked when a sudden loud sound erupted from right next to him. Turning, he realized it was just their proctor arriving in a...rather unconventional way. Taking this in stride – as it seemed Naruto took everything that happened – he turned to said proctor and simply said, "Oh, good. You're here. I was afraid you were going to keep us waiting like certain other Jonin I know."

Bee stood up and dusted himself off. He was used to his brother doing things like this, so it didn't take him long to regain his composure. Turning to the Genin assembled in the Arena, he said jovially, "The time has come, fools, ya fools! You already know the rules! This is the final test; your chance to be the best!"

Naruto chuckled. To his fellow Genin, he said, "What he means is it's your chance to be second best. I'm winning this thing."

Hinata slapped him on the arm. "You shouldn't make them feel bad, Naruto. That won't do you any good."

Naruto chuckled, then said, "Oh, my bad, it's your chance to be third best. Hinata and I are winning it."

Hinata blushed, then said back, "That didn't help!" She was trying not to laugh, but she knew upsetting their fellow contestants wouldn't accomplish anything except to paint a target on their backs.

In fact, all of the other Genin were glaring at Naruto, in particular, and both him and Hinata once Naruto added her. Naruto must have noticed this, but he seemed entirely oblivious to it. Turning his attention entirely to Hinata, he said, "Well, it's true. I might as well give them fair warning that they don't stand a chance against us."

Before Hinata could respond, their proctor jumped in once again. "All right, enough of that, let's go! The time to start has come, ya know! The audience is all on the edge of its seat; They'll soon see who it is who gets beat!" Naruto looked up and saw that, indeed, the arena was full of people watching them now. He had been so involved in his own thoughts, he hadn't even noticed.

That said, the muscular man ushered the Genin to their own private viewing area. Then he left them to their own devices. Bee made his way to the Kage's viewing area and stood at his brother's side. The Raikage nodded to his brother, then he stood up and addressed the assembled crowd. "Thank you all for coming!" he said. "I hereby welcome you to these, the Chunin Exam Finals. What follows will be a series of one-on-one matches. The data collected from these matches will determine which, if any, of the eight Genin who have made it this far deserve to be Chunin. It is my honor and privilege to hereby declare these Chunin Exam Finals BEGUN!"

At this declaration, a huge roar of applause and cheering rose from the assembled crowd of spectators. Naruto couldn't help it; he was caught up in the moment, and he was cheering, too. Turning to his side, he saw that the other Genin were cheering and clapping too. He smiled; it was good to enjoy life!

The first match was between the two remaining Genin from the Cloud Village, so Naruto, Hinata, and Neji took the opportunity to stretch and work out a bit of tension. Naruto took just long enough to mention in passing, in reference to the ongoing fight, "It would really suck to fight your own teammate right out of the gate like that." His teammates and the Mist team agreed, and that was the last thought any of them spared for the two Cloud Genin.

After a few minutes, the fight ended, and the two Genin arrived in the viewing area. Naruto was up next, so he jumped to the ground from where he was. Standing up, he grinned when he saw his opponent was Kimimaro. Kimimaro smiled and said, "I know how you took down Jugo in Wave. I won't be so easily defeated!"

Naruto grinned and formed his signature handsign as soon as the match was declared underway. "Shadow Clone Jutsu!" he yelled, and hundreds of Narutos were suddenly there. "We'll see about that," they told Kimimaro.

Kimimaro grinned and began firing off bits of bone from the tips of his fingers. Some of them hit clones, who dispelled. Other clones dodged. Once his attack was finished, there were about half as many clones as before. Naruto grinned. "My turn," one of them said, and the horde rushed Kimimaro.

Kimimaro had expected this, and he responded by growing a bone out of his arm and forming it into a sword. He then wielded this sword to dispel a handful of clones before they could grab him, but there were just too many of them, and they were all coming at once. One Naruto separated himself from the crowd and snapped his fingers once he was fairly sure Kimimaro was well and truly grabbed. The huge number of clones exploded, sending Kimimaro flying into the far wall of the Arena.

Naruto was turning away when he heard a voice. "I told you I wouldn't be so easily defeated," Kimimaro said. Naruto turned in shock. Kimimaro was pulling himself out of the wall, seemingly unharmed. Naruto couldn't make sense of this, so Kimimaro explained, "I can make my bones harder than anything else on the planet. It's a great defense, as you've just seen."

Naruto thought about this. Every jutsu has a weakness, he knew. "I wonder…" he thought. "I would imagine that puts huge stress on your body," he said aloud.

Kimimaro nodded. "It does. I can't keep it active very long."

Naruto snickered. "All right then," he said as he formed another huge group of clones. "Let's see you block this." As he said this, the clones began running at Kimimaro one at a time, exploding as soon as they got within range. Kimimaro was forced to harden his bones for a rather extended period. Eventually, his defense dropped, and the final clone got him. This time, he fell over unconscious, and Naruto was declared the winner. Naruto chuckled. "Never tell your opponent your weakness," he said to no one in particular as he made his way back up to the viewing area.

Hinata made her way down to the Arena after Naruto left it. Her opponent, Jugo, was there as well. When their fight was declared underway, Hinata immediately activated her Byakugan and rushed at Jugo. He activated his kekkei genkai, expecting it to block Hinata's attack. When Hinata hit him, however, he was shocked to feel his chakra points closing one after another. Within seconds, the boy was unconscious even before he fell to the ground. Hinata rolled her eyes. "You should never assume your jutsu will work," she said simply and left the Arena.

Neji chuckled. He knew already how this fight could easily end. "I don't think we should waste anyone's time, do you, Haku?" he asked his opponent once both were in the Arena.

"Indeed not. Perhaps you would rather forfeit," Haku said back with a glint in his eyes.

Neji snarled. "You know I can beat you," he said.

Haku smiled back. "Sure, I know you can. But neither of us knows if you will or not," he said in a flat voice.

Neji activated his Byakugan and rushed the boy in a rage; Neji rarely got upset or showed emotions, but this boy's reactions were just getting to him for some reason. Neji attacked Haku quickly, but Haku was faster, dodging every move Neji made as if he were made of water. The more Neji tried, the less success he had, and he was quickly getting annoyed.

Jumping back, Neji began forming handsigns to cast an Earth jutsu. Haku was having none of this, however, as he formed a dome of ice mirrors around Neji.

Neji watched in shock as the boy stepped into one of the mirrors. "I underestimated you before, Neji of the Hyuga clan. I will not make the same mistake today!" Haku said from seemingly everywhere. Neji couldn't pinpoint where the boy was, even with his active Byakugan. Haku moved.

Neji tried to block the attacks, but he could never tell where they were coming from, so he didn't have the best success at it. He used Rotation twice, but he just couldn't keep that going forever, so he was taking a lot of hits. Most of the hits were shallow, but he was feeling it.

After a barrage ended, Neji glared at the mirrors, trying to figure out just what this jutsu was. He stared at them for a long time, but his mind just couldn't make sense out of what he was seeing. Eventually, he gave up and just started rushing the mirrors. He would get close to one, then get thrown back as an attack came from a different one. Haku laughed. "Look all you want, you'll never figure it out," he said.

Neji snarled. He didn't want to admit it, but he had a feeling Haku had him this time. Neji ran at the mirrors yet again. He found himself getting hit seemingly from at least three different directions at once, all while Haku's image stared at him from the mirror in front of him! Neji yelled out in pain and frustration as the needles Haku threw hit their target – Neji's back and sides.

Neji tried again to cast an Earth jutsu, and Haku decided it was time to put an end to this. He threw a set of three senbon needles, which all hit Neji in the side of his neck. Neji froze, his hands still forming a sign, then simply slumped to the ground.

Haku dispelled his mirrors and stepped back onto the ground. "He is beaten," he said simply. "He'll wake up in a while, but he can't fight now."

Naruto and Hinata stared in disbelief at this outcome. They had been sure Neji could defeat the Mist boy, and now Haku was untouched, and Neji was unconscious. "Well, that just goes to show, we're not immortal, and no fight is determined until it's over," the two thought.

Naruto sighed. "Guess it's my turn again," he said. "You should see to Neji while I take care of this."

Hinata nodded. "See you in a minute," she said back. That said, Naruto made his way to the Arena for the second time, and Hinata relieved the Chunin who carried Neji back to the viewing area. Neji was still out of it, but she could tell he wasn't really hurt.

Haku spoke from beside them. "I didn't think that would work," he said. "I hope you don't hate me for this."

Hinata shook her head. "Of course not, Haku. We're all friends here. Just...I hope you realize I'll have to take you down for this," she said, pointing at Neji as she said the last part.

Haku chuckled. "Of course you will fight to avenge your cousin. You would not be human otherwise," he said.

Hinata nodded. Yes, they were all human. Ninja might try hard to forget it at times, but they were always human in the end. "I hope none of us ever lose our humanity," Hinata said to herself. Haku looked confused, but he didn't question it.

Naruto returned to the viewing room just then. "Sorry that took so long, Hinata," he said. "It's your turn now."

Hinata rose and made eye contact with Haku briefly. "Yes, it is," she said as she made her way to the edge of the viewing area and launched herself down into the Arena.

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "What was that about?" he asked.

Haku chuckled. "She seeks revenge against me for defeating her cousin," he said simply. Naruto chuckled as well. Haku smiled. "Let us see if she can get it," he said. He then followed Hinata down to the Arena, although he took the more sedate path – the stairs.

A/N: Dun dun DUN! Yeah, a bit of a cliffhanger this time. Neji got beat! I know, I wasn't really expecting that either. Anyway, hope you guys enjoyed this one, and I'll be updating something soon. Hope you all come back for that, too. See you next time when Hinata tries to avenge Neji!