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A Song for Them @nihilistic_bunny
Written Exam Arc, Head and the Heart

Naruto Fan Fiction!

Adventure! SI-OC!


"A Song for Them"

A/N: A heads up for the next couple of chapters. They're not going to be 'happy' in certain terms because were going to be dealing with a lot a crap. When I first got the idea for this story over a year ago now, it was originally a lot darker than how it's turned out this far. So... I'll try and adds laughs and smiles but I'll tell you now that I don't know how I'll manage it. I'll try though! Enjoy~

DISCLAIMER: I do not own 'Naruto' or any of the cannon characters! I don't even know what to say on this each chapter. I can't be witty all the time!

WARNING! RATED M! For the general things that are wrong with Sora's life. Blood, gore, depictions of death and you must be wondering what the hell happened for these things to be needed to be listed? They're taking a paper test for crying out loud!

Written Exam Arc,

Chapter Twenty-Seven: "Head and the Heart"

"If you don't control your mind, someone else will." -John Allston


空 (Sky)

Question #2:

Line B, seen in the picture, is the greatest possible distance a shinobi can throw his shuriken from a tree of 7 meters. For enemies who appear within the circumference of the shuriken's-

-Screw it!

What the heck kind of questions are these? Is this a cryptogram? Well, that one isn't too bad but most of these other ones are mathematical nonsense that would rarely ever be used in a real combat situation! For all of us non-genius-prodigy people by the time when we actually are able to make these calculations in the field, it will all be done with natural instinct! They want me to cheat? Fine. Then I'm cheating because I know the only question that really matters is the last one.

If the Hero can get away with leaving an empty paper then so can I! I am aware that my information gathering skillset is sucky but that is another problem for another day.

I flip the sheet over and focus my mind on other things. Like... my Regenerating Barrier can always use a couple touch-ups. The other projects can be pushed to another day when we're not under threat of an imminent Sannin attack. -so many problems, not enough time- I can spare an hour to moving some parameters around in my formula. Maybe get some more out of the compressive strength? Make it harder to break and therefore giving it more time to regenerate.

I have no idea how my barrier will actually stand up against a Sannin, my guess is somewhere between paper door and silly string. The result; annoying and utterly ineffective., what a lame, defeatist attitude. I'm starting to sound like Terra!

Oi! my other half cried indignantly.

'Am I wrong?' I challenged.

She was quiet after that and I began writing Fuinjustu formulae on the back of this conveniently provided paper. I spent a good while manipulating the parameters of the barrier's overall size while attuning the chakra output to density of the walls. After a while I sat up and traced my finger over the spiraling design. The logic worked and I'll be able to apply it to one of the many empty scrolls I bought the other day right before we enter The Forest. I nodded to myself, satisfied with the work.

I have about... it's 4:22 now, so I have a half an hour before we get escorted to the aptly named Forest of Death and roughly an hour or two after that before starting our game of 'run for your life'. Speaking of the Snake I-Wait.

A cold feeling ran up my spine as a thought occurred to me.

Is he in here with us?

I closed my eyes and tuned my senses, searching out anything that felt... well, 'evil' I suppose? I don't think I've ever felt what 'evil' chakra feels like. There are some that set me off-balance and some that are absolutely toxic to be around but I don't think-



精神 (Spirit)

I opened my eyes.

Then I shut my eyes because that wasn't right.

I focused harder on bypassing the layers of consciousness and mental barriers and opened my eyes again to see that I was still standing in the middle of a field of tall grass. I looked up and saw a blue sky with the occasional wispy cloud and... I was alarmed to find that there wasn't one sun.

There were two suns.

"...the hell is going on?" I mumbled.

In the distance, further in towards the grassland I could see a tree line of what looked like gigantic red oaks that reached towards the endless blue sky. This wasn't right. This was too.. too... I reached out a hand to brush against the grass blades.

It tickled against my palm.

This wasn't right.

A person's inner consciousness isn't supposed to be this developed without some serious training-even mine isn't this detailed! My inner consciousness is about the size of my room! And Tou-chan's is about the size of the shop, well, the parts he let me see because I know that he's got a 'basement' where he keeps most of his stuff, but this...

Sora must spend a lot of time in her head. Guess it makes sense considering she can't voice her thoughts they all just... stay in here.

Well, I don't have all day before my chakra runs out and I still need to get those answers to the test. Sora had finished writing on her test faster than anyone else in the room. If I couldn't just switch into her body then that meant she was resisting my justu. Annoying but not unheard of before on missions. Tou-chan has had a couple tough customers before but he made sure I knew what I needed to do in situations like this. I haven't encountered this problem before but Tou-chan said if this ever did happen then I'd just have to find the target and overpower them in here and take control of their body.

Should be easy enough, it's only Zakuro after all.

I began moving through the grass away from the line of trees, which had to be the 'borders' of her mind, towards the opposite direction.

I froze when I heard voices in the distance.

Voices. As in, plural. Two different voices were speaking.

One was soft and childish and spoke softly. "-on't understand. Why did you call me in? We were in the middle of searching the room for him before some... warning instinct went off and we were here. Did you do something?"

The other voice was huskier but the pitch grated on my nerves as she shouted in response. "That's just it! I didn't! I don't know why the fudge you're here right now! One second everything was alright and then we were standing here!"

I followed the voices until I came to the edge of the grass and poked my head out, two heads spun around to face me as I stepped out. I couldn't actually believe what I was seeing.

There were two personas standing on what looked like a sprawling beach.

A little girl around five years old dressed in a white summer dress with short-and-curly coral-colored hair, rosy round pinchable cheeks, huge sparkly periwinkle eyes and pouty little lips covered her mouth in a gasp. "Ino-chan!?" she squeaked.

The other one was a tall, brown-haired, blue-eyed, fully grown woman dressed in ridiculously tiny black shorts on wide hips and a tight sleeveless top that barely held her full bust, Her tan face twisted into a scowl, "Oh, heck NO! You need to get your little ponytailed skirt the heck outta here, blondie! NOW!" she snapped.

The little one turned on the old one, "Terra! That's rude!" she admonished. The old one scoffed in disbelief and then they began to bicker back and forth about me and I was standing there dumbstruck.

They both looked exactly like Sora but, just... older and younger versions. From the shape of their round eyes to the slightly upturned noses they were the same. It was Sora but... it was like she was sepera-

"Holy shit!" I gasped in realization. "You have Dissociative Identity Disorder?!"

They both turned back to me at that.

I ran a hand up my face, -not my face, wasn't really here- "God damn, Zakuro! I always knew that you were a bit weird-but to have a split personality! That's... I had no clue and I've been trained to spot the signs of mental illness! I mean, it's rare to find in shinobi but not unheard of-it's just usually the signs are reported during the Academy years and dealt with then but..." I whistled low, grinning. I'd underestimated Zakuro, she's better at deceiving people than I thought.

"Y'know... you could look a lot less excited 'bout this whole thing." the spinster drawled. And wow, is that what she imagines her voice is like?

"Sure thing, Grandma." I said dismissively. I smirked triumphantly when her face turned red and she started making strangled noises from the back of her throat. She's kind of annoying.

"Ino-chan..." the little one murmured with a small frown, clasping her hands together cutely, "Please don't call it an illness, we aren't sick. And I apologize for Terra's earlier behavior towards you, it was wrong of her to be so rude."

I frowned at the apology. This wasn't like the Zakuro I know at all. She was so... polite and cute. We weren't friends so why was she being nice?

"Why aren't you getting mad like the other one?" I asked. She looked up at me with too-large eyes and a small smile slipped onto her lips.

"Because... even if we don't get along, we know that Ino-chan actually has a gentle and compassionate heart and is the kind of person that would put her life at risk to protect the people she cares about." she looked away with a slight blush on her face, "...we actually admire Ino-chan."

I just stared at her. "I... I don't understand. How can you...?"

"We can't speak, so we watch. We've watched as Ino-chan has grown up alongside us." she looked back up at me with a wide and shy grin, "What we admire most about Ino-chan is how strong her heart is, how she loves her precious people so deeply and without reservation."

I was speechless. This was the same girl that I've made fun of and said mean things to for years? This girl that admires me?

...I don't know what to say.

"...still think that you can be a prissy brat though." the other one mumbled bitterly. Yeah, okay. It was still Zakuro. Just... different. I walked forward and easily picked the toddler up and began to mentally nuzzle her. The old one choked -on air? In here?- and the baby girl just let out a surprised squeak.

"Zakuro or not, you are precious." I cooed. I couldn't help it, she looked like a little cherub and it's obvious that the other one, the rude one, was the day-to-day personality while this sweetie was the emotional alternate persona. I think I like this one a lot better than the old one.

"Ino-chan? Can we ask why you are in our head?" chibi asked sweetly from between squished cheeks, unminding that I was cradling her like a doll. Oh, right, I came in here for something didn't I? I settled the chibi on my hip as I answered her.

"Well, I transferred into your body so I could get the answers off your test but I hadn't been expecting to encounter... well, all this." I waved a hand over the super-realistic mental construction.

"So, 'ya couldn't hijack our body, eh ponytail?" the spinster smirked. "That'll be good to know for the future."

I scowled at her, "No. But I could still fight you for control if I wanted to, Grandma." she scowled again and took a step towards me but stopped when Chibi raised a hand and looked up at me,

"'Could', Ino-chan? What do you mean by that?" she asked with a tilt of her head, causing her curls to fall over her forehead.

"Well, aren't you the smart one." I said with a pointed glance at the other one, She turned red in the face again and I looked back at the sweet one with a charming smile, "I could fight for dominance oooor I could just ask you for the answers! You said that you admire me, right? So you'll help me out, ne?"

"You came here for the answers? Ha!" the old one snorted a laugh and had a crooked smile on her lips, "It's only the tenth question that really matters, everything else is-"

"-Terra." Chibi said sharply, cutting off the other one and earning an 'oh shit' look from the Grandma.

I narrowed my eyes at them both. A tense silence rose from that interruption. What was that? What was she about to say?

"What is that supposed to mean?" I asked warily, glancing between them both. "What do you know that I don't, Zakuro?"

"It's nothing that you need to be worried about, Ino-chan. I have confidence in your abilities." a small hand was placed on my arm and the girl was smiling overly-sweetly at me, "We don't know the answers to the questions. I'm sorry you wasted a trip but we can't help you."

I frowned.

Was she lying to me right now? She stopped writing on her test so she must be done and why does it seem like she knows what the tenth question is? Was everything she said a lie? What did she know?

She was hiding something and I want to know what.

Two things appeared on the beach before us. A shoddy looking beach house and a big metal crate with thick chains wrapped around it.

"What the fudge!? Why are these here?" the old one hissed in surprise as she looked at the constructions with wide blue eyes.

"Ino-chan... did you do this?" the girl asked calmly.

Her sweet smile was gone now, I set her back on the sand and stepped away.

She really was good at deceiving people.

I looked in between the two objects. They were mental constructions of her memories and thoughts. I must have called them forward when I wanted to know what she is hiding. A worn-down house and a locked box. I think I know which one holds the secrets here.

I began moving towards the box. I was going to find out what she was hiding.

"Ino-chan, what are you doing...?"

"He-Hey! Stop blondie, you don't want to touch that! Trust us."

I laid my hand on the cold surface.


I looked back over my shoulder to see Sora. Not the separate personas, but the one I knew outside. She had a blank look on her face and her voices were overlapping in a really creepy way.

"Don't touch that." they warned.

I smirked confidently.

"You had a chance to tell me what you knew but you passed it up, Zakuro. Now I'll just have to find out for myself." I chirped. If she knows a secret about passing the test then I have to know it too. I won't lose to someone like Zakuro. It was a simple matter to slip off the heavy chains and open the locked box.

I looked in.

And... it was empty?

When I looked back up beach was gone along with Zakuro.

I was suddenly alone in a dark, dark place. I turned around and heard her voice echoing around me from all sides.

"First came the screams."

I saw an inn and it was covered in blue flames.

-I looked downstairs and I wish I hadn't-I saw the TWISTED and DARK chakra consume the smaller ones-They'reAllDeadDeadDead-

"Kaa-chan, who're we running from?" I asked with my tiny, soft voice. Her river-blue eyes looked so tired as she turned to me.

"A very bad man, my love."

Was this really my Mother?

-Kaa-chan is standing over me and she's wearing plates and looks so strange-the explosion rocked the world around us and our home was gone, gone, gone-Knifes, I recognize, Kaa-chan has knifes and that man just bLew uP-

"Won't you make this easy for everyone Ikari-sama?" Tar-man asked imploringly, like he didn't want to fight. Foul-mouth wanted to fight. "The Master wished you to know he is willing to forgive you for your... mistake."

She had hesitated.

People kept dying all around us.

-Seven left-they scREaMed as she lowered her sword-Five left-her skin turned grey and her chakra flared-her sword went through his skull and he was dead now-she BRoKe the next one and tore the trees apart with her Force and Release-

Her voice was soothing to my aching, wretched heart as she explained our Art to me. "Chakra is in the blood and the blood is in the ink. See? Chakra is all life and so our ink and blood are also Life. But listen closely, Sora," she warned, a grim look washing over her beautiful face.

"Our blood is Life, but never forget that it is also Death."

My Mother. My beautiful, kind and gentle Mother.

-She was laughing at my face screwed up in concentration-the strokes of the brush had to be alive, she said-she is mad I splashed her with water instead of focusing on catching dinner, she looks like a drenched cat-she tells me stories about endless crystal clear teal oceans and of a city of stone filled with music and family and life-

"Tell me more, Kaa-chan! Tell me 'bout Otou-san, how did'ja meet him?" I asked with my unfortunate lisp, I'd just lost my front teeth. Kaa-chan hummed under her breath before pulling me onto her lap to play with my hair, I leaned into her touch.

"Well... I met him while I was traveling-" I asked her why she was traveling, "I had been looking for something and your Father was a tradesman. He had what I'd been looking for and that's how we met." She smiled serenely, her chakra twisting oddly. "You know, you look a lot like him actually. He had curly hair and beautiful periwinkle eyes as well."

She would pull me from the darkness and keep me safe and warm.

-We were sent flying and PaIN-I cried and my arm was broken from the impact-Fighting and blood and bodies and my hair was being pulled-Something cold pressed against my neck-Foul mouth was snarling at her-she scReAMed-

"She's bleeding out. I'm keeping pressure but the wound is deep, I think her trachea was damaged." A young voice said calmly. Their chakra wasn't calm at all. A gloved hand came up to wipe my cheeks. "What's wrong with her eyes? I don't see another injury, are they hemorrhaging?"

My eyes were closed but the hand was warm on my neck and face.

"I need to do a tracheal intubation, move aside Tora. You need to remove your hands so I can work." the voice sounded so cold, so serious. Did they ever smile? You can hear it in their voice when someone is smiling. Their chakra felt tingly against mine. "Her lungs are filling up with too much blood too fast, I can't stop-"

"Move." That was Kaa-chan's voice, her voice was really cracked, like she needed a glass of water. Kaa-chan's cold hand was cupping my face, it was wet and sticky. She really needed a bath. A warm bath sounded nice.

I felt so cold.

Kaa-chan's lips were on my forehead and it must've been raining because my face was getting wet now. Strange. It didn't look like it'd rain today. "I'm so sorry, my Clever girl... but I'm going to be leaving you here." she whispered against my skin. Where were you going Kaa-chan? Couldn't I come along too?

She slipped her fingers into my mouth and opened it, I tasted like nasty copper and pennies and her other hand went to my jaw and-she slammed it between my teeth and warmth trickled down.

It was hot as it filled my mouth.

It burned as it reached my throat.

-She is running her hands through my hair and it feels so nice-I'd never see a smile prettier than my Mother's-she looks so sad and tired now, she shouldn't look like that-I lift my hands and ask to play for her, to make her smile that beautiful smile again-

My Mother, my light, the only person who loved me in this world.

"-what? What just happened. She... the wound is gone. It's healed, what did you do?" the young voice sounded awed, before gasping, "Hey, wh-Ushi, get over here! She's stopped breathing!"

-She was gone-

-I was gone-

-Hadn't I been gone for a while now?-

I am alone.

Green cat-like eyes and dirty blonde hair, with a smile like the sunrise. His laugh is my favorite sound in the world.

"Hey Babe?"

I am in pain.

Silky soft blonde hair, bright blue eyes and a grin on her face so wide my cheeks are aching just looking at her.

"I looooove you~"

It was dark.

If his smile is like a sunrise hers is the sun itself! So bright and warm, they will always able to pull me out of the darkness.

On the other end I could hear the smile in his voice as he spoke,

It was cold.

"Yeah, we lov-"

I was fallin-





空 (Sky)

I opened my eyes and I was me once more.

There was a shrill and terrified scream as Ino came back to consciousness in her own body, she soon turned into a gasping and stuttering mess and everyone in the room turned their heads to look.

...she should've listened to me.

I absently listened as Ino slowly calmed her panicked breaths down and it was quiet again, save for the scratching of pencils against paper. It was good they didn't disqualify Team Ten for that scene she made. Hopefully it was only a markdown on her points.

Something was wrong with me.

Something happened and now I felt oddly numb inside. Emotionally and physically. I felt a bit... empty? Was that the right word? And I couldn't feel my fingers or most of my body for that matter. My tongue was fuzzy again too, I hate it when that happens.

I looked up at the clock above the blackboard.

4:27? We were in there for only a couple minutes.

It felt like hours.

I blinked when I noticed that Ibiki-san was staring at me. Like, right at me. I... should probably feel something about that. Nervous, intimidated, maybe a bit worried? As it is, I felt nothing as his dark eyes bored into me.

I let out a jaw cracking yawn.

Having my mind hijacked is really tiring, oddly enough. There's something wrong with me. I know I should be feeling sorry or guilty for not stopping Ino sooner but... I just felt tired right now. Maybe that's what happens when The Box gets opened? I had felt too much and now I don't.

...I think I'll take a nap.

Maybe I'll feel better when I wake up. I hope I feel better. As it is I didn't feel like even bothering to deal with whatever it is Ino dug out of that Box. There were some things in there we saw that I should review at some point soon -RedEyesRe- but, right now I felt like I deserve a nap. Kami knows that I won't be sleeping tonight. I hope I'll be better when I wake up.

So I ignored the scarred man's evil-eye as I laid my head down on my arms and closed my eyes, letting the exhaustion take over and drifting off. I dreamt of old songs played by a small pond and nimble fingers combing through my wild hair.


教授 (Professor)

When Kakashi-kun had asked for a private minute of my time followed by Asuma, Kurenai-chan, Gai-kun and Yūgao-chan, I knew it wasn't going to be good at all.

The information Kakashi-kun had brought me was troubling to say the least. More so when Yūgao-chan had corroborated his story with evidence of a missing time and long absences. I watched the expressions of the other jonin-sensei that had followed Kakashi-kun in as they heard this all for the first time as well, including the parts relating to Sora-chan's abduction.

I found it odd that Kakashi-kun was open to discussing such of personal subject of his student's in front of the others, my former ANBU was usually more discrete in regards to these matters. But, if he thought it was best to inform them of the circumstances then I would trust in his judgment.

When he had finished I gave my consent to the added surveillance of the exams and approved of an ANBU squad to investigate Yakushi-san's movements and his motives for attending the exams under this guise. Unsurprisingly, Yūgao-chan volunteered her squad to take lead on the investigation.

Even though they have been separated for years, Yūgao-chan has held a strong bond of loyalty to her former squad leader. It showed in Kakashi-kun's demeanor as exchanged a grateful nod with the current ANBU Wildcat. He was relieved that she would be handling it.

I dismissed them all so they could kept a close eye on their students themselves and was left to my thoughts as I awaited Shukaku-kun's arrival to discuss this new development.

Yakushi Kabuto... the name was vaguely familiar to me. I think I recall the unassuming boy from his applications to the last few exams. Each time he made it to the third round of the Exam he would drop out with an excuse of being out-skilled or something along those lines.

To think he was one of Danzō's ANBU all along...

I wonder if my old friend has something to do with all this? If there was something going on during these exams that I wasn't made aware of then it is essential to find it out before any of our foreign guests get unwittingly involved and we have a diplomatic incident on our hands. Kami knows that Cloud and Rock have been looking for reasons to kick up dust of late, not to mention the intentions of minor Villages.

Like Otogakure.

The new ninja Village of the former Land of Rice Patties, now rebranding itself as the Land of Sound. The same Village Jiraiya-kun has told me that he has heard whispers of Orochimaru's heinous activities starting up again. It was a gamble allowing the genin team from that Village attend the Exams but a necessary risk to learning more about what we suspect to be Orochimaru's new base of operations.

If half the things Jiraya-kun has heard are true then I cannot allow to let my former student continue without consequence. For every life he takes or leaves behind in ruins is ultimately my responsibility to bear, I had failed to turn him from his dark pursuits when he was younger and then again to stop him when I discovered his... 'projects'. many lives could have been for the better if I had only been stronger? My thoughts eventually turned to the elegantly written scroll I received from squad Ko so many years ago...

My fault. My responsibility.


空 (Sky)

I startled awake to a loud 'SLAM!'. Blinking away the drowsiness I absently reached up to wipe the drool I may or may not have acquired while dozing. I was glad to note that I was feeling better than before I fell asleep. Still a bit numb in places but at least my tongue wasn't fuzzy anymore.

"DON'T UNDERESTIMATE ME! I WILL NOT RUN!" someone shouted boisterously.

That someone sounded suspiciously like my Hero.

Wait... lifting my head slightly I looked around the room as my Hero continued shouting. It's a lot emptier than when I fell asleep. Did I sleep through the rest of the hour? That's weird. Why wouldn't anyone wake me up for the tenth question?

It was then I noticed how Sasuke was death-glaring at me.

...he's sooo pissed at me.

I felt a rebellious smile curl my lips. Well, I got to take a nap so I was finding it really hard to care about his moodiness at the moment. Getting any amount of sleep unassisted by stress relief methods was usually a blessing for me. Ibiki-san spoke and my attention was pulled back to the front. "I'll ask you again. Your life is riding on the decision, this is your last chance to quit."

Naruto grinned and his chakra was soaring with that warm glow that was completely unique to him. The inextinguishable light that draws everyone in.

"I will never go back my words. That's my ninja way."

The emotions in the room skyrocketed with confidence at his words, washing away any doubt and hesitance left. My own emotions were soothed as he continued to burn bright. I smiled, proud that he still found his way even with my meddling.

That was my Hero.

Ibiki-san smiled darkly -or maybe that was just his face?- as he observed us. "Good decisions. Now, To the eighty-four who remain..." -hold for dramatic pause- "I congratulate you on passing the first test!"

Then there was a rush of shock that flooded that the emotions of room. That was actually kinda funny to feel.

I heard someone ask about the tenth question and... huh, Ibiki-san actually has a 'nice' smile. He began to gently explain that the test and that the questions were not expected to be answered by the genin and that we had to cheat like ninja do. When he took off his hitai-ate to make an example of the risks of information gathering, I cringed in sympathy. Then he was smiling cheerfully again and explaining the true purpose of the last hour.

We are ninja, we will get sometimes get assigned a dangerous mission. Will we be able to raise our hand and not accept the risks that come with it? "-Because you don't want to die... because you don't want your comrades hurt... can you avoid the dangerous mission?" he asked.

"The answer is no! No matter what the danger, there are missions you can't avoid. The ability to be courageous and survive the hardship... this is the ability needed to become a Chuunin Captain."

'The ability to be courageous and survive the hardship', huh... I'd never really considered myself very courageous before. I just want to protect my loved ones is all.

"You have made it through the entrance, the first test of the chuunin selection exam is now finished. I wish you guys luck." he said sincerely. Then Intent spiked and the window on the side of the room exploded with a crash and flying glass and a dark figure came tumbling into the room in a dramatic fashion as kunai were thrown out from it and a banner was raised in front of Ibiki-san.

"YOU GUYS! THIS IS NO TIME TO BE CELEBRATING!" a purple-haired woman clad in a mesh bodysuit, orange leather mini-skirt and a... why does everybody have cool-looking trench coat? The woman stood brazenly in front of the banner as she shouted at us. "I am the examiner for the second test! Mitarashi Anko! NOW," she pointed skyward in an epic fashion. "FOLLOW ME!"

There was a stunned silence as nobody moved.

Ibiki-san poked his head out from behind the banner and murmured something and Mitarashi Anko, examiner of the second test, blushed tomato-red in embarrassment. She then whirled around and yelled at the scarred man for making the test too easy for there to be so many of us still left, made a ominous comment about cutting us all in half and ordered us to follow her again before marching off. Thankfully she marched towards the door instead of jumping back out the window like I was half expecting her to.

A few teams, like the Sand siblings, stood and followed her without any further hesitation while a majority of us looked back to Ibiki-san and he gestured us to... go follow that strange and possible dangerous lady. Slowly, people began getting from their seats to follow out the door.

As I sat up there was a yip before a white ball of fur hopped onto the desk in front of me and greeted me with a lick to my nose. I melted and nuzzled my nose against Akamaru's own wet one. Adorable.

"Akamaru was worried about you." Kiba announced as he came to stand on the other side of the desk, his teammate plus Naruto slowly making their way towards us. "He says that you've been stressed out about somethin' since you walked in here."

I looked back at the pup and he made a small noise that I thought sounded like concern and felt a rush of affection for the pup. It was nice to be cared about. I raised my hands to assure them I was fine and-

-my face bounced off the desk as someone punched the back of my head. OoOOoOUch! I hissed in pain and quickly raised my arms to protect myself from any further attacks. I knew who the attacker was and it was more than likely he'd do it again just to get the point across that he was not happy with me.

I could feel Duckie standing behind me.

"You're an idiot!" he snapped at me. Kiba just snickered and I heard Hinata gasp as she quickly ran over and laid her cool hands over my forming bump. She didn't say anything and I hope she was death glaring at the stupid Uchiha on my behalf.

"You bastard!" my Hero shouted, then there was the sound of running footsteps, a grunt and then a thud followed by a groan. I don't think it was Sasuke that was put to the ground unfortunately.

I looked up and the Uchiha was alternating between scowling at at me and Naruto. "Both of you better start to take this seriously." he warned, "I won't be disqualified because you two are being idiots!"

I stuck my tongue at his retreating back as he followed that trail of genin and I stood up. After picking up the Hero from where he was sprawled on the ground, we all headed towards the Forest of Death together.

It was far more intimidating than I ever imagined it to be. I realize Konoha is widely known for it's ridiculously big trees but fudging hush puppies, people! Do you do nothing in moderation!? These things were taller than all of the buildings in the Village proper! These trees were stories high! And the width-don't even get me started on the width!

Anko-san grinned evilly as she looked over our expressions, "Welcome to the stage for the second test, Training grounds Forty-Four... also know as the Forest of Death!"

Naruto gulped beside me.

"You'll all soon find out just why it's called the 'Forest of Death'." the lady-proctor said ominously as she chuckled darkly.

Anxiety spiked in Naruto's chakra and I heard him inhale deeply. I knew his nervous tic's and I had my hands over his mouth in the next second before he could spout bravado. There was a muffled shout against my palms and when Ms. Crazy-smile raised an amused brow at us, I grinned like I wasn't currently gagging my best friend.

I felt a wet tongue against my palm and shivered in disgust but didn't let go until Anko lifted up a stack of papers. When I removed my hands Naruto gave me a disgruntled look but I was entirely unapologetic, I did not want Orochimaru anywhere near my Hero. I then wiped my spit covered hand on his sleeve with an utterly disgusted look on my face, earning a small chuckle from the sunshine blonde, also relieving some of his tension.

"But before we start this you have to sign these consent forms." she then grinned cheerfully, "There will be death in the one and if I don't have you sign these then it will all be my responsibility, hehehe!"

She... should really not be so cheerful about that. The purple-haired woman handed the pile of papers over to the nearest genin and began to explain the second test as the forms were passed around to everyone.

She unrolled a small and not very detailed map of the Training Grounds, I still tried to commit it to memory. Ten kilometers all across, a river that runs straight through the grounds and right by the central tower. That'll be good to remember. She pulled out two scrolls as she continued to explain and I focused on them intently. They weren't anything special on the outside, just simple vellum scrolls in two different colors. The characters on them wouldn't be difficult to copy either.

We had one-hundred and twenty hours to get both scrolls and make it to the tower to qualify for the third round.

"A final word of advice?" she said as she finished her explanation, "Don't die."

Wow. Just... wow.

As people began to sign their forms and turn them in one-by one, Duckie had us walk to the side out of the way so he could observe the newly curtained booth while I, against all of my better instincts, found myself looking for him. Looking for long black hair and a hideous purple rope belt. I'd tried sensing for him again but I couldn't find anything unusual before getting a headache from the large concentration of refined chakra from everyone. Scanning the faces I ended up seeing crystal blue eyes and locked gazes with Ino.

There was a frozen moment between us until she averted her eyes and began dragging her teammates off toward the tent hurriedly.

Well... that wasn't awkward at all. Yeah, I'm not going to touch that steamy pile with a 40-foot pole. I've got way too much other stuff to deal with today. I can't even begin to think about how I was going to deal with an innocent twelve year-old potentially looking into the limbo of the afterlife or wherever that was and coming back to the land of the living.

Not today.

"Sora-chan can I use your pen?" Naruto asked and my focus shifted back to my team once again. I nodded as I reached into my tools bag and pulled out my mechanical pen. I also let him use my back to write on and I did the same on his, I offered it to Duckie but he only borrowed the pen and gave me a look.

We waited until a few teams had gone in and out before Sasuke deemed it okay, sure that there was no way someone could spy in. Well, by ordinary means anyway. We turned in our forms and we were assigned to enter at gate twelve and given a Heaven scroll to keep. I took the pale scroll in my hands and did a quick once over of it.

I think I could work with this.

I lifted the back of my tunic and placed it in the tools bag along with all the other blank scrolls I bought, Sasuke watching me curiously, I grinned at him. I would let Naruto and Sasuke in on my plan later when we were alone.

"Everyone, follow an instructor and go to your gates! We will start in thirty minutes!" Anko barked after each team had their scrolls.

The three of us trailed after a chuunin and I watched as everyone began to split off towards their destinations, I waved one last time to Hinata before she was out of sight. As soon as we were at our gate I pulled out an empty scroll and filled out the adjusted formula for my Barrier and when I finished I turned to the boys, raising my hands to speak.

'You guys should sign instead of talk when we get in there so that we can know who's not an imposter if we get separated.' I told them. Duckie's eyes widened as he quickly understood and nodded while the Hero scrunched up his face, he nodded too but I had a feeling he didn't quite understand.

Thankfully Sasuke explained for him in an almost non-condescending tone, "If we get separated or if somebody gets captured while we're in there, then if an imposter shows up disguised as one of us they won't be able to understand what we're saying. It's a good plan." he actually praised. Wow.

The Hero's blue eyes widened in realization and then he grinned at me, "Hehe, that's to be expected of Sora-chan, 'ttebayo!" I preened under my Hero's praise and Duckie just rolled his eyes at us.

"Unless it's one of the other rookies." Sasuke murmured a glint in his dark eyes, "If one of those teams show up then we'll need a code to recognize each other."

"Like what?"

Duckie closed his eyes and thought about it for a moment. When he opened them again he looked at the chuunin guard who was looking like the most bored individual in the world as he stared at his watch.

"...I'll come up with something." he murmured.

Then the chuunin turned around and the gate was opened.


観察者 (Observer)

As I collected the tests I had a gut feeling that Anko would have a harder time cutting the size down than she thinks.

It's certainly an interesting group of applicants we've got this time around. That Uzumaki boy was certainly something else. It's not everyday you encounter someone so headstrong and wholly honest like that in our line of work. With only a few words the boy had rallied the rest of the applicants and gave them the confidence they needed to stay and continue.

I felt a smile grow.

He'll be one to watch.

What's even better is that in the end the brazen idiot hadn't answered one question on the test! Speaking of Hatake's students... I picked up the paper from the desk in front of me and examined it closer.

That girl hadn't spent more than a few minutes on the questions before turning it over and... is this Fuinjutsu? During the course of the hour she had ignored the test to instead work on her other skills and catch up on her sleep. Unlike both her teammates however, she had remained completely calm, bordering on uninterested the entire time she was conscious.

Hatake's got a couple odd ones on his hands, for sure.

The girl's name is 'Sora'. Coincidentally one of the three Uzumaki that are attending this exam, though in her case, she's officially a clanless without a surname. By all aspects she's a nobody with no formal training out of the orphanage. Still... I hadn't missed how her eyes glazed over at the same time Inoichi-senpai's daughter went limp.

Little Ino went into that girl's head and whatever she encountered in there had her come out screaming.

I found myself wanting to know what she saw.

It was one thing to resist the Yamanaka clan's jutsu, I know from experience that it's a bitch and a half, but then to eject the mind-walker from what was essentially their domain? The girl must either have a will as strong as Lady Tsunade herself or... it was something else entirely.

Then I remembered the look in those glazed eyes after the justu ended and was distinctly unsettled again. And there are very few things that put me on edge these days. But that look... I'd become intimately familiar with that look many times over the course of my career, but never before have I seen it in someone that still drew breath.

That sightless, empty gaze of a corpse.

Written Exam Arc,

Chapter Twenty-Seven: "Head and the Heart"


A/N: So, Ino. I've been picturing that scene happening for so long now. Unlike when it was with Sakura, it's was dealing with her 'inner' personality, the part she suppressed in order to appear to be the perfect student and faultless girl she pretended to be. It wasn't actual psychological issues like having a split personality. Inner Sakura went away when she stopped pretending to be someone else. Sora has serious mental issues. I don't even want to get into how she unhealthily denies dealing with certain things and locks it away in her 'Box'. Ever notice how you've yet to see Sora get angry? Like, really angry. Just like Terra carries the more immature aspects of their personality Sora is the best of them. It's also why she doesn't get scared much.

What else happened? Sora mind trip and bad stuff got dug up, repressed trauma and such. Kakashi's doin' stuff and ANBU are moving, we learned Sasuke is physically and emotionally abusive. Annnnnd... Ah, right... they entered The Forest Of-Oh-doublefudge-my-life and Orochi-friggin'-maru is showing up to completely mess with my head and hijack my story for a while.


As for last week's Author question, thank you guys SO much! My Hero Academia got so many recommendations that I had to watch it and my bro and I are loving it right now, so thank you! Have taken all your guys' recommendations and have made a list! It's great and we'll be busy for quite a while!

Have I recently mentioned just how incredible you guys are? All your feedback to the last chapter was beyond helpful and so encouraging! I was a bit wary of doing Kabuto's POV but you guys relieved me of any worries I had.

This story really wouldn't be possible without you guys and your feedback. I wanted you to know that.

Author Question!

"Are you guys excited for the next few chapters?"

I really can't come up with another question because I am SO worried and excited and a buncha other emotions I'm feeling about the next chapter. I REALLY hope I don't tank it!

Eeep! I wuv yew all!


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