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Trials of Faith by karrafear

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Story notes: Sequal to Faith in Humanity and Restoration of Faith. Part 3 of the Faith Series.
Chapter notes:

Disclaimer: Naruto is an anime and manga series created by Masashi Kishimoto. It does not belong to me; I’m simply using the characters and plot for my own creative devices.

Trials of Faith

Karrafear

Summary: SEQUAL to Faith in Humanity and Restoration of Faith; PG-13. 2 and half years have passed and now is the beginning of the trials of Faith. Chapter 1: Homecoming

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"Demon's talk"/Thoughts/, "Speech", 'Speech emphasis', (FLASHBACK), Titles, (Author's interruptions)

Warning: The story will start off focusing on the Rookie Nine characters first before Naruto will appear (probably from the 3 or so chapters onwards). However, it will slowly become more and more focussed on Naruto and what’s happening to Ruri. Hope you all enjoy the first chapter of the last arc in the Faith Series. By the way, Sasuke will seem very OOC. This is deliberate so don’t complain.

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Chapter 1

Kotetsu yawned as he watched a flock of birds fly off into the distance and disappear past the giant walls of Konoha. Gazing at his watch once more, he was rather put off to find that only 5 minutes had passed since the last time he had checked his watch. This means that he still had 5 hours, 45 minutes and 7 seconds before the end of his shift. /Man... I really hate guard duty. Nothing ever happens... What happened to the good ol’ days when we get invaded, or went under siege and stuff? God! What I wouldn’t give for a little excitement./

“Oi!” His partner nudged Kotetsu’s ribs. “Looks like someone’s coming this way.” Izumo warned. In an instant, Kotetsu’s eyes were zeroed in on the cloaked traveller walking their way.

Said traveller was wearing a long, thick, woollen cloak with a hood that covered off his entire face. His boots - which were the only items not hidden by the long brown cloak - were simple black Ninja sandals, indicating the owner’s own Ninja background.

“Halt!” Kotetsu called even while he readied himself for any unexpected provocation from the stranger. Beside him, Izumo stepped forward in an inconspicuously relaxed manner.

“Please let us have a look at your identify card and travelling papers. What is your purpose for coming to Konoha Gakure no Sato?” Izumo asked in a diplomatic manner even while he held out his hands for the scroll the stranger had pulled out of his cloak.

“I’m returning home.” A young, male voice spoke from within the hood.

Izumo raised an eyebrow in scepticism before unrolling the scroll and reading its contents. Immediately, his eyes widened in surprise before a small smile appeared on his face. “Well, I was wondering when you were gonna come back. Welcome home, boy.” Rolling the scroll back up, Izumo returned it to the cloaked young man. “Better get going now. I know that the Hokage would want to see you asap, and lets not forget all your female fans waiting for your return.”

The stranger shifted slightly in irritation at the last comment. “I was kinda hoping they would forget about me.” He muttered under his breath.

Izumo barked a short laugh. “As if. It’s good to see you home.” The older man nodded before letting the younger man pass without further trouble.

Once the stranger had walked pass the giant doors and into Konoha territory, Kotetsu quickly turned his attention back to his partner. “Who the hell is that?”

Izumo gave Kotetsu a whimsical smile. “Remember those kids that went to the Kuunoki about 2 and a half years ago?”

“Yeah.” Kotetsu shrugged. “A few of them stayed back while the rest returned. So what?”

“Well, he’s one of the ones that have finally come home.” Izumo answered.

And that’s when Kotetsu finally realised the implication. “Which one?” The scarred man asked in excitement.

Izumo lifted an eyebrow and shrugged. “You’ll just have to wait and find out.”

“MEANIE...”

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/There’s gotta be a better way to beat paperwork.../ Tsunade thought to herself miserably. Eyebrow twitching at the mountains of paper staring her way, she threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. “Ah! Stuff it! There’s got to be something more exciting than this happening today that needs my attention.” With that said, she dragged out the Sandaime Hokage’s old crystal ball and started scrying around the village, looking for something interesting to alleviate her boredom. It was here when she stumbled upon the entry of the cloaked stranger and how Izumo was referring to the young man after having read the scroll. It didn’t take long for her to realise who exactly this stranger was. “So, he’s come back.” She mumbled beneath her breath.

“Tsunade-shisou! You need to sign off those documents by this afternoon because the auditors are coming to review the progress on some of these developments!” Sakura called out loudly from the newly opened door in order to catch her part time teacher’s attention.

Giving the younger girl a cheeky smirk. “Say Sakura, why don’t we go out for a walk, seems like one of your old team mates have finally come home.”

“Eh? Who?’ Sakura was immediately interested.

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“This place hasn’t changed all that much since the last time I was here. Strange how I didn’t miss it so much until I’ve arrived back.” The young man snorted to himself sardonically, before pulling his hood back down and revealing his face for the first time. Silky strands of long ebony hair framed the young man’s face on both sides, while spiking behind his head, creating a strange bird’s tail appearance from behind (1). His dark eyes gazed softly across the vision of the Hokage’s monument, which now featured the face of Godaime Hokage upon it. His skin was still as pale as ever, no matter how much time he spends under the sun. And as compared to two and a half years ago, Uchiha Sasuke has certainly grown in height, broadness and stature, but also in presence.

“Yo. Welcome home, Sasuke.” Kakashi’s lazy voice called to the younger man on his right side, hands still holding onto the newest version of the Icha Icha paradise book.

Sasuke smirked at his ex-sensei, eyes slightly sad that it had taken so long for the two to reconcile. “Kakashi-sensei, what are you doing here?” His calm voice asked.

“To welcome you home, as you already heard.” This time, was the Hokage’s voice that called up to him from below the pole that he stood upon proudly. Beside the Hokage stood his ex-teammate Sakura; and behind them were the members of his existing team – Kurenai-sensei (although she seemed to have gained an awful lot of weight it seemed), Kiba (sitting on top of a giant white dog that could only be Akamaru’s grown up form), and Hinata (the ever shy girl stood straight and calm, regal in appearance). Surprisingly, Aburame Shino was also present, with an even longer jacket and hood covering more of his face and head (2).

Sasuke’s smirk turned into a small smile, before jumping down onto the ground to join his friends and team-mates. Straightening up again, he gazed across all of them. “It’s good to see you all again.”

Smiles spread across every face, before Sakura’s eyes dimmed slightly in remembrance. She gave a heavy sigh before slumping her shoulders, as if in defeat. “Now, all we need is to wait for Naruto to get back before the old team 7 is complete.”

Sasuke’s eyebrow raised in confusion. “Hasn’t Naruto returned yet? I thought he was the first one to leave, even before the tournament started.”

Sakura shrugged. “He did leave early, but he never came home. We found out afterwards that he left on a training journey alone, without any escort or even informing Tsunade Shisho. If it wasn’t for the scroll that Kaga had me hand over to Tsunade Shisho, Naruto may well have been labelled a missing nin or missing in action and all that. But yeah, it’s been two and a half years now, and he’s still not back. No one knows anything about his whereabouts or what’s happening to him. We’ve lost complete contact.”

“Actually, we were hoping that you might have some news, considering you were the last one (next to Naruto of course) to have stayed away from Konoha.” Kakashi snapped his book shut before stuffing it away. “But it looks like you’re in the dark as well.”

Sasuke shook his head, denying that he had any more information on the mysterious blond. “I wasn’t suppose to stay as long as I did, but things came up in the last 6 months that forced me to stay behind.” Sasuke’s face tinged slightly with a pink hue, which immediately brought the unwanted attentions of a Hyuuga, Inuzuka and Aburame.

“And what might those complications be, Uchiha Sasuke?” Shino calm voice asked. For those who knew the Aburame well, they could hear the curiosity in his voice, but most would not pick up on that at all. “If I remember correctly, most of the participants of the Hidden Air Chuunin exam – namely those without apprenticeships, left the Kuunoki straight after the tournament. Those that had been invited for apprenticeships stayed with their masters to learn more, at least for a while longer. I, myself, stayed for a mere 5 months before returning to Konoha. I know that a few of the other apprentices had left even before me, but a few stayed behind, yourself and Temari-san included.”

“Temari left to return to Suna about a year ago.” Kiba spoke up this time. “Supposedly, other than yourself, she was the last one to leave and go home.” Here he smirked. “Imagine her surprise when she finally got home and found out her younger brother had become Kazekage. Haha! Shikamaru was there and even he cracked up laughing at her open jawed expression.”

Both Sasuke’s eyebrows rosed to his hairline in surprise. “Gaara is Kazekage?”

“That’s right! You wouldn’t know, would you?! Oh God! Ha hahaha ha ha.” Kiba started cracking up for no reason.

Sasuke frowned again, not at all happy at being laughed at. “What’s so funny now, dog breath!?”

Kiba wiped a non-existent tear from his eyes. “How does it feel to be the only genin out of the Rookie-nine, Mister Rookie of the year (3)? Ahahahahahahaha”

Sasuke’s eyes widened at the implication. He swiftly turned his attention to Hinata. “Is that true?” He whispered in a soft voice full of dread.

Hinata shyly nodded. “Everyone (as in everyone who participated in the Kuunoki exams) either reached Chuunin then or became a Chuunin within the next exam. Neji-niisan, Shino, Shikamaru and Kankuro of the Sand have all reached Jounin status. The rest of us are just taking some time to gain some more experience before we take the Jounin exams later on in the year. Only yourself is still registered as a genin.”

“I can’t believe...” Sasuke almost stuttered in disbelief. “But... I... I’m more... God damn it, I’m stronger than you all put together! Why the hell am I still a genin?!”

“Hey! Who’re you calling weak, GENIN! I could take you!” Kiba taunted from atop Akamaru’s shoulders. The giant dog barked in seeming agreement.

“Hm... That’s one of the things we will have to do later on in the day – testing Sasuke and identifying his level of strength.” Tsunade suddenly spoke up, interrupting what would have evolved into an unmitigated argument. “But before that, we have a few other things to discuss. Let’s go to my office first. Having a serious discussion out on the open road is not something I’m fond of doing.” The Hokage then turned sharply away from the group and started walking towards the Hokage tower. With no further words among them, the rest of the Chuunins and Jounins (and one Genin) joined in behind their leader.

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It didn’t take them long to reach Tsunade’s office. Once there, everyone pretty much settled down, sitting on chairs, leaning against walls, doors or tables. Tsunade then opened the discussion for more serious matters.

“First thing you should know Sasuke, is that the original teams 7, 8 and 10 have been reformed during your time away from Konoha. For me, it just seemed easier that way, since Naruto isn’t back yet, and having Sakura study under me full time, the other members of the Rookie nine needed to be reformed into their original teams so that they can be useful. This is why you won’t be joining back up with Kurenai, Kiba and Hinata; instead, you will regroup with Sakura and Kakashi to form team Kakashi. When Naruto comes back, he too will be placed in this specialty combat team.” Tsunade paused slightly to study Sasuke’s expression. The boy seemed a little disappointed but at the same time he also looked relieved. Shrugging the tension away, she continued on with the rest of her explanation.

“Now, I want a full recount of events regarding why you were so late in your return. Not only that, but I also want a report on your current level of skills and what you’ve learnt so far.” The Hokage demanded in a commanding voice.

Standing tall and saluting his commander in chief, Sasuke started a detailed summary of his time at the Kuunoki. “During the first year of my stay at the Kuunoki village, Katono-sama had me learn the basic art of fire bending, as well as the use of the Dual Dao-sword (4).” The Uchiha heir paused in explanation as he pulled out his scabbard from beneath the cloak. There was only one scabbard, but in it there were 2 swords. One was the mirror image of the other and the two fit together perfectly to form one sword.

“After I’ve mastered the sword technique, it took me another year to perfect much of my fire bending moves. Fire Bending is an art that will take years, maybe even a life time, to perfect. I’m still only an intermediate ‘bender’ on the scale of things, not yet a master. But I am getting better. After two years of training, Katono-sama fell ill with old age. 6 months ago, he finally passed away peacefully in his sleep. That’s what I meant when I said before that I was supposed to return 6 months ago.” Sasuke paused for a moment, his eyes glazed in remembrance at having lost his master for the last 2 years. But unlike the Uchiha massacre, he was prepared emotionally for Katono’s passing. His master was not murdered but instead passed away during the night in a peaceful sleep. It made a world of difference to Sasuke, and also helped him slightly in mourning for his past relatives as well. He finally understood that everyone dies, how they die may or may not be in their control, but they all share one destiny – death. As such, he realised that he could mourn, but should not dwell too long on other’s deaths. For as long as he himself was alive, he should live in place of those that had passed away.

Clearing his throat and refocusing his thoughts, Sasuke continued with the rest of his explanation. “After Katono-sama’s passing, I was stuck halfway through my training and had to come up with ways to improve myself. Kaga-san supplied me some of the ancient scrolls on the bending arts and I learnt from them. Lady Ruri also released me from the 2-star seals, hence why both my Sharingan eyes as well as the curse seal can be activated now.”

After the last sentence, a few gasps of surprise were heard from behind Sasuke; even the Hokage narrowed her eyes in slight anger. “I can understand why she released Naruto’s seal on the Sharingan. But why the hell did she release the Curse Seal as well?” Having heard of what had happened to the Uchiha from Sakura after she had returned from her training in the Kuunoki, Tsunade was very surprised that Ruri would willingly dissolve a seal that Naruto had placed on the last Uchiha himself.

Surprisingly, Sasuke squirmed a little on his feet under the scrutiny of everyone in the room. “She said that since it was my actions that resulted in my having the curse seal, I will eventually have to deal with the fall out of that. I did the deed, now I need to face the punishment. Part of the last 6 months of my stay in the Kuunoki was spent in training myself on how to use and control the curse seal. Luckily, the Lady Oracle isn’t as cruel as to let me train with the curse seal on my own. She or sometimes Kaga-san would supervise me when I’m in either the curse seal stage 1 or stage 2 forms. I’m not completely able to control myself, but at the very least, I’ve come to a point where I can manage to keep my head pretty well. I will always be far more aggressive in either forms, but I won’t go off on a killing spree or let Orochimaru manipulate my mind anymore. The last I heard from Ruri-sama, is that I’m pretty much on the same level of sanity (or insanity as the case may be) as Mitarashi Anko. That’s pretty much it.” The last Uchiha shrugged in a non-threatening way, trying to ease the tension in the air.

Unfortunately, Tsunade’s eyes were still narrowed in suspicion. “I’ll let it go, Uchiha. But if you take any untoward action against any one in this village, and I do include the most minute of actions against any Konoha civilian or citizen, then you will face MY wrath, understood?”

It didn’t take an idiot to figure out she was referring to Sasuke’s original defection from the Leaf village to the Sound village, and Sasuke himself knew well how lightly he had gotten off regarding his act of treason. He wasn’t about to make such a monumental mistake again. “I understand, Hokage-sama.” He bowed in acknowledgment.

“Good, continue with your story. What else has happened to hamper your return?” Tsunade switched the conversation topic neatly away from Sasuke’s curse seal matter.

“Um... well.” For the first time in... ever, Sasuke seemed to be showing a bit of nervousness and shyness. “I kinda... um... that is.”

“Spit it out, UCHIHA.” Tsunade simply did not have the patience or was she in the mood to deal with a temperamental Uchiha.

“I kinda got engaged.” Sasuke finally answered.

There was a long pause of silence.

“You WHAT!!!” Suffice to say, that was the thought of everyone’s mind at the moment.

Giving an uncharacteristic sigh of defeat, Sasuke bowed his head slightly to hide his blushing face. “It was after a long day of training and I was exhausted. I didn’t have the energy to walk all the way back to Katono-sama’s home for a well deserved bath, so instead, I just went to one of pristine lakes near the Oniyoubu forest, as that’s where I’ve been spending my time training. I wasn’t really paying much attention when I stumbled into the clearing. Hell, I didn’t even realise I wasn’t alone until a squeak of surprise was sounded off right at my face.”

“wait. Wait. WAIT!” Tsunade interrupted, her face flushed with sudden understanding. “Did you just say Oniyoubu forest?”

Sasuke could only nod and kept silent.

It took a little bit of time before the others finally caught on to the hidden meaning. “Oniyoubu forest? As in the Oniyoubu clan forest?” Hinata, being best friends with a member of the Oniyoubu clan was the first to pick up the clue.

“You mean those guys with their face always wrapped in bandages. And whoever sees their face first gotta marry them?” Of course Kiba would be the one to remember the obscure things about a clan’s traditions.

“And you just stumbled into a clearing often used as an outside bath for members of the Oniyoubu clan, didn’t you?” Sakura didn’t know whether she should laugh at her ex-now-current team mate’s predicament, or whether she should throttle him in not noticing he had walked into someone’s bathing time.

“Hmm... are you marrying a male or a female?” Shino couldn’t help but add in curiously, which immediately set off Kiba’s funny bone, resulting in the dog boy howling with laughter.

Glaring at the red faced Inuzuka with all his worth, Sasuke growled out the last of his explanations. “It was a girl! And not just any girl! I stumbled into the path of a half naked Oniyoubu Maya – one of the Proctors for the Kuunoki Chuunin exam. (5)”

Again, a long silence ensued after Sasuke’s abrupt declaration.

“You were spying on MY BEST FRIEND/A MEMBER OF THE GATE GUARDIANS?!” Both Hinata and Sakura spoke up in unison. Both sported looks of wanting to bash the Uchiha’s head in.

Sitting before all the drama, Tsunade could only shake her head in exasperation. “ENOUGH!” Silence followed her order. “Let’s get back to the discussion at hand. Sasuke, you said you got engaged, which is why you’re return was delayed, is that correct?”

“Hai, Hokage-sama. I had to prove my worth in the eyes of the Oniyoubu clan leaders, which just so happen to be Maya-san’s father. After that, I had to prove to them that I won’t run away from my responsibilities, or else they refuse to let me leave. That’s why it took so long for me to finally get home.” Sasuke finished his story.

Tsunade nodded in understanding. She had heard wild stories about how the Oniyoubu clan would literary keep captive their chosen mates because they were afraid that their mates would somehow escape and runaway from their responsibilities to the clan, not honouring the contract. It wasn’t unusual and she wasn’t that surprised that it took the Uchiha such a long time to prove that he wouldn’t back out of the contract. In fact, having heard his story, she was surprised that they would let him leave in the first place, considering his history of abandoning villages and such, but that was a completely different context.

“I see.” The fifth Hokage nodded to herself. “Well then, let’s update you on the happenings around Konoha while you were gone then. You want to start, Sakura?” Turning her attentions back to mulling over what the Uchiha had said, Tsunade indicated that Sakura and the rest would fill the Uchiha in all the going-ons in the village instead of having her ramble on.

Immediately switching to gossip mode, Sakura turned to face Sasuke directly, clearing her throat in an attempt to sound official. “Well, as Kiba has already told you, all of the Rookie nine members that took part in the Konoha Chuunin exams 3 years ago have reached Chuunin or Jounin status, other than yourself. Hinata has also mentioned that Neji, Shino and Shikamaru are all Jounins already. In fact, talking about Shikamaru, he’s proctoring the Chuunin Exams that’s gonna be held in the Leaf village a few months from now, I wonder if you would be able to enter? But you’ll need to go in a team of 3 though...” Sakura trailed off as her mind drifted.

Kiba took up the reins of explanation from that point on. “We’ve pretty much reformed back to the old teams 8 and 10. Me, Shino, Hinata and Kurenai are a team; although, due to Kurenai-sensei’s condition, most of the C or B-ranked missions are just done by us three.”

“Condition?” Sasuke turned to his ex-sensei, looking confused. “What condition, Kurenai-sensei? Are you sick?”

Flushing slightly at the Uchiha’s attention and sending a slight glare at Kiba, Kurenai explained in a calm but rather uncomfortable tone of voice. “No, I’m not sick or anything. There’s nothing physically wrong with me. I’m just... well... pregnant... would be the term.” She finally admitted.

Sasuke’s eyebrows rose into his hairline. “Really?” He stated in a stunned voice. “Wow... Ah... Um... congratulations!” Forcing himself to refocus his thoughts, Sasuke was able to finally blurt out his congratulations, even though he was still shocked and confused. “Um... could I please ask, whose the father?”

“That would be Asuma-sensei. Kurenai sensei and Asuma sensei plan on having a wedding a few months from now, after the Chuunin exams that is.” The ever gentle Hinata explained, seeing as Kurenai was once again a little too embarrassed to answer.

“Wow, looks like a lot of things have changed.” Pausing in his speech, Sasuke’s eyes dulled slightly in understanding that he had lost a lot of time with his friends. They had all moved on while he had pretty much stayed the same. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He did somehow managed to get himself engaged to an incredibly powerful Shinobi of the Air, but still, compared to some of his other comrades; it sometimes feels as if he hasn’t grown a lot.

“Anyway, Team 10 is currently a little split up at the moment. You’d be happy to hear that Ino is now semi-permanently stationed at Suna, working directly under the Kazekage as a representative of Konoha as well as one of his close advisors. How that blonde bombshell managed to talk or manipulate her way into the top seat, I have no idea, but she did. So yeah, you won’t see much of her at all.” Kiba jumped back into the rhythm of things by continuing his description as to what’s happened to Sasuke’s close relations in the past 2 and a half years.

“Kiba-kun. That’s mean.” Hinata interrupted Kiba’s enthusiastic descriptions. “You know as well as anyone else that Ino-san has worked incredibly hard these last 2 and half years. She would have been able to ace the Jounin exams had she wished to take it. Her medical skills are on par with Shizune-sans, and swordsmanship is now being compared to those of the legendary 7 swordsman of the Mist. Let’s not mention all those new techniques that she developed for herself that are completely unique, and plus she’s mastered all her family techniques. Ino-san is truly a warrior to be feared and respected (6).”

“Yeah. Yeah! But you and I both know that she jumped at the chance to live in Suna, just so she can stay close to Gaara (7). That girl is obsessed with supporting that weird dude. I have no idea what she saw in him. Hell, her obsession with Sasuke during her younger years pale in comparison to her dedication to the Kazekage. If Konoha and Suna weren’t allies, I sometime think she might switch sides you know...” Kiba grumbled as he remembered Ino’s excitable departure from Konoha to Suna. The blonde girl had become truly dedicated to the lifestyle of Shinobi. No longer the atypical blonde stereotype; Ino had become serious regarding her Shinobi duties, but more than that, she had matured to become an incredible diplomat and manipulator of politics. Sometimes, Ino reminded Kiba a little too much of the Lady Oracle.

“So yeah. With Ino now semi-permanently stationed in Suna. Suna sent their own representative to stay semi-permanently in Konoha in the last year, and this person turned out to be Temari-san. As such, the new team 10 consist of Temari, Shikamaru and Chouji. As you’ve just heard, Shika’s working on the Chuunin exams, Temari is helping him; leaving Chouji and Asuma-sensei to take on missions assigned to their teams.” Having refocussed herself now, Sakura jumped back into the conversation.

“In regard to Team Gai, their team didn’t change much at all. They’re still the best combat specialist team of Konoha. And although Neji is a Jounin, he opted to stay in his original team, instead of working alone. Of course, considering he’s dating Tenten-chan and wanting to keep her safe might be a factor. And or he just didn’t want to leave her alone with Gai and Lee.” Kiba grinned sardonically as he imagined what Neji’s reaction would be if he ever saw Tenten in one of those green spandex suits Gai and Lee always wore. God, what he wouldn’t give to have a camera that could capture his imagined thoughts and print them out so he could use it as blackmail material, irregardless of the fact that they were imagined in the first place.

“Anyway, with the rest of the teams formed and stable, yourself and Naruto having not yet returned to Konoha, Sakura opted to work permanently as Tsunade-sama’s assistant until a team vacancy was available for her. Now that you’re back, you and Sakura will be working with me to form team Kakashi.” For the first time, Kakashi actually put his infamous book away and looked directly at Sasuke and Sakura.

“Talking about reforming team Kakashi, I will need to evaluate your skills with my own eyes, Uchiha. It’s all good and well to describe what you can do, but until I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I can’t give an accurate judgement as to what kind of missions you should be given. As such, Kakashi will be giving both you and Sakura an exam of sort late this afternoon. Meet him at Training area 7 at 4 pm sharp. Until then, go and resettle yourself.” Tsunade concluded the discussions before she shooed everyone out of her office.

Once out the door, Kakashi pretty much disappeared with a wave of his hand, head stuck back into his book. This left the rest of Team Kurenai, Sakura and Sasuke standing around. The group spent the rest of the afternoon reacquainting Sasuke to some of the changes that had occurred in Konoha in the last few years – one of which being the Godaime’s face becoming an addition to the Hokage monuments.

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Time passed quickly and before long, both Sasuke and Sasuke were standing in training area 7, waiting for their tardy sensei’s appearance just like old times.

“Heh. I never thought I’d visit this place again.” Sasuke added quietly, his gaze soft upon seeing the memorial stone.

“Yeah, this place certainly brings back memories, or should I say nostalgia.” Sakura agreed.

“Ah. Hard to believe it was 3 years ago, that you, me and Naruto became Genins here. Thinking back, we were such brats back then.” Sasuke couldn’t help but laugh. Now that he had matured and released much of the anger, hatred and darkness which plagued his soul for so many years, he could almost see the humour of his past.

Half an hour of lounging around doing nothing but waiting and reminiscing, Kakashi finally turned up. “Yo!”

“You’re LATE! Sensei!” Sakura couldn’t help but snap. His tardiness was still irritating her, no matter how long it has been since the last time she had been his subordinate.

“Ma! Ma! No need to be so hasty.” Placing his precious book away in his ninja pouch, Kakashi then turned his gaze upon his students/subordinates. “Well, let’s get down to business huh?” Pulling out two very familiar bells and tying them to his waist, Kakashi grinned behind his mask. “I’m sure you remember these. The rules are the same as before. Do everything in your power to try to get these bells from me. You have until sunrise tomorrow.”

“You start NOW.” Kakashi’s commanding voice even as he pulled up his hitaite and showed off his single Sharingan eye in preparation. In response to his command, Sakura quickly pulled on firm, black gloves onto both her hands, while Sasuke pulled out his dual Dao Swords and took a swordsman’s stance in preparation.

Impatient to start, Sasuke suddenly rushed towards Kakashi while taking the moment to activate his newly learnt fire bending skills. The flames flicked into life near Sasuke’s wrists and quickly engulfed the whole of his twin Dao Swords. Swinging both swords in a graceful arc, Sasuke released twin half-moon shaped fire blades flying directly towards Kakashi, ready to slice the man’s body in half.

Kakashi’s eyes widened at the surprise onslaught, but being the veteran that he was, he avoided the deadly flames by simply ducking beneath the attacks. Pulling out several shuriken, the Jounin flicked his wrist and threw them towards Sasuke.

With his Sharingan eyes activated, Sasuke easily manoeuvred his burning swords to block and deflect all of Kakashi’s shuriken. With the flying projectiles dealt with, Sasuke concentrated once more on his fire bending and Dao blades. Crossing the two swords together to form an ‘X’, Sasuke took a deep breath before blowing out a large fire ball that simply sat seemingly comfortably in between the crossed blades. Readying his attack, Sasuke shouted as he uncrossed the blades, and released the giant fire ball towards Kakashi. This attack was very dissimilar to the Gokakyu no jutsu, the only difference being the fire ball continued to get larger and larger as it flew across the air, seeming absorbing more an more oxygen fuelling itself as it progressed.

Knowing instinctively that ducking won’t help in this situation, Kakashi quickly performed some lightning fast hand seals. “Doton! Gaeshi” (Earth Element, Mud Sheild). Slamming his hands onto the ground, a large but flat piece of square land suddenly flipped vertically up, protecting Kakashi from the incoming fire ball.

Fire and earth smashed together in an explosion of ash and burnt soil, but keeping Kakashi unharmed for the most part. However, Kakashi knew that that wasn’t all his ex-student’s had up their sleeve, and he quickly jumped backwards just in time to avoid Sakura smashing her way through his signed by still standing earthen wall. Sakura’s glove covered first was blazing with blue chakra, and Kakashi knew that one hit from those dangerous fists and it would be all over.

Needing to create some distance, Kakashi flipped, jumped and spun backwards until he landed safely on a pool of water created by the river that passed through the training area 7. Rapidly performing a long set of hand seals in only a few seconds, Kakashi performed his second jutsu for the day. “Suiton! Suiryuu dan no jutsu! (Water Element: Water Dragon Blast)” A large water dragon head emerged from the once calm river. Roaring its intent, it flew towards the two teens without mercy, leaving the two young Shinobis with no time to prepare. Sasuke at least was able to avoid most of the impact by jumping away onto a branch of a near by tree when the water dragon smashed its way onto the ground they once stood on. But poor Sakura was not that lucky as she was caught by the full scale impact of the collision between water and earth, resulting in her being swept away by the power of the waves and slamming roughly against a tree trunk.

Angry that he hadn’t been able to land a hit yet, Sasuke jumped off the safety of his branch, landing lightly on his feet before running across the still rushing water towards Kakashi, the young teen gave a feral yell as he attacked with all his skill. His dual swords danced in the air both elegantly and dangerously. Had Kakashi not been an experienced Jounin with decades under his belt, he would have surely suffered some major damage on his body. Unfortunately for Sasuke, Kakashi was as powerful as the legend states, and hence easily outmanoeuvred Sasuke’s strikes at every point.

Having somewhat recovered from being swept away by the torrents of water just moments ago, Sakura ran towards her teammate with a high pitched battle cry. She jumped just metres away from Sasuke and Kakashi’s battle before landing with a mighty high kick worthy of Tsunade’s legendary power. Suffice to say, the entire training ground within a 10 metre radius of ground zero (Sakura’s foot in the literal sense) was fractured and crumbled into hundreds of chunks of earth and stone. Kakashi, being the smart man he was, managed to escape Sakura’s legendary power by jumping away in the nick of time. Sasuke, having never seen either Sakura or Tsunade pull such a stunt before, was unaccustomed to the power the technique unleashed, and hence was completely unprepared, resulting in him tripping over his own feet, landing rather comically upon his butt.

Eyes terribly wide and focussed on Sakura’s furious face, Sasuke made a mental note never to tempt Sakura’s wrath ever again. With his attention focussed on his female teammate, Sasuke was rather put off when Sakura seemingly abandoned him in pursuit of their ex-sensei, whom had literally ran off into the distance.

Shaking his head clumsily and clearing his mind, Sasuke to himself, wondering why they were having such a hard time dealing with Kakashi. /Think, Uchiha THINK! Kakashi’s always sprouting about look underneath the underneath. What the hell is underneath this test then? He said he wanted to test our skills at the beginning. Well, we’re both a hell of a lot more powerful than we use to be, so why the hell are we having so much trouble dealing with one opponent. Sure, he’s a jounin and all, but with our skills, we should be able to be beat him... if only we could... OF COURSE! I am SUCH AN IDIOT! Teamwork! Me and Sakura hasn’t exactly been working together since the beginning of the Kuunoki exams. Sure, we’ve went at Kakashi one after another, but neither of us actively helped the other achieve something, it was more like avoiding each other’s hits. Well, if we have to work together in order to take Kakashi down, then I’m all for it./

Having reached this revelation, Sasuke was finally focussed on completing the true test regarding this little conflict. /Now, to find Sakura. Where the hell could they have gotten to?/ Deep inside Sasuke’s psyche, he couldn’t believe that this time, it was he who is following Sakura, instead of the other way around. /It feels so weird stalking my former-fan-girl in such a situation./ Sasuke silently laughed to himself. /But then again, Sakura had stopped being a fangirl of mine for a damn long time. I think... since the Wave country incident. She slowly but surely grew up, and now, she’s a damn powerful and scary Kunoichi to boot. Damn, how time changes everyone.../ Sasuke’s mind continued to wonder even while the rest of him automatically tracked Sakura and Kakashi’s trail by following the line of destroyed trees and crumbled ground as evidence of their passing.

It didn’t take him long to finally track Sakura down as she had finally lost Kakashi somewhere between the tress. Having calmed the rather frustrated girl down a bit, both Sasuke and Sakura finally put their brains together in order to devise a plan to catch Kakashi unaware. It was their only hope; that by working together, they can finally achieve something they had never been able to achieve before – beat Kakashi-sensei.

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Time passed, and when Kakashi looked upon the darkening sky, he estimated that close to two hours had passed since he last saw Sakura. /I wonder what they’re up to at the moment./

With nothing else to do, Kakashi bunkered down beneath a fallen tree, sighing a little tiredly. /It’s starting to get dark. And unless I want to start a fire and give myself away, I won’t be able to read my precious Icha Icha Paradise./ He thought mournfully. Some things just doesn’t change.

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Several hours passed in tensed silence. Kakashi knew he was the hunted in this game of predator and prey. He didn’t have the luxury of sleep or relaxation. He knew the minute he let his guard down would be his downfall. And although hours had passed in relative peace, this was only the calm before the storm.

And just as Kakashi had predicted, not two minutes later, the attacks began once more.

From behind several trees, a multitude of Sakura and Sasuke clones rushed out to meet Kakashi. However, with a kunai in each hand and his single Sharingan eyes blazing, it was child’s play for Kakashi to cut down all the Bunshins in seconds. Eyes narrowed at the amount of smoke caused by the Bunshin’s dispersing, it was instinct that led Kakashi to sense the presence of the real Sakura bearing down on him from above. Jumping off the ground and twisting around, Kakashi witnessed the fact that he barely got out of harms way when Sakura’s chakra enhanced heel smashed into the ground he had been standing on, crushing the earth into a giant crater of stone and rubble.

Not out of danger yet, Kakashi’s eyes widened as a strange flaming whip like appendage (8) suddenly swung towards him while he was trapped mid air. Thinking quickly, Kakashi created a shadow clone floating right beside him, and had the clone grab onto his arm’s sleeve and pulled him out of the way of the fire whip just in the nick of time to avoid being burnt.

Landing on his feet, Kakashi immediately had to duck and swerve in order to dodge several smaller fire balls that were released by Sasuke’s fists in a series of punch like motions. Unfortunately for Kakashi, Sasuke’s fire bending required far less Chakra to perform compared to most of his high end Katon jutsus, as such, Sasuke could very well spend the entire day punching out fire balls at Kakashi without ever feeling any real tiredness.

Punch after punch after kick after punch, Sasuke kept the barrage of fire balls going, leaving Kakashi no room but to jump, duck, summersault and doge in order to stay alive. During a short half second intermission, Kakashi somehow managed to throw several shurikens into Sasuke’s direction. Sasuke ducked beneath the flying projectiles and did two consecutive low sweeps with his legs, releasing two walls of fire crossing the ground towards Kakashi.

Seeing the incoming flames travelling towards him, Kakashi quickly performed a set of seals in response. “Suiton! Suijin Heki! (Water Element: Water Barrier!)” A wall of water condensed from the moisture of the air around him and from underground before erupting into a circular wall of water protecting Kakashi from the flames.

Above Kakashi, Sakura smashed her way through the water barrier with a chakra shield of her own, completely taking Kakashi by surprise. With no where to run or dodge due to the wall of water surrounding him still, Kakashi had no choice but to put both his arms up in a shield, hoping that he could grab onto Sakura's fist and twist it away before being hit by Sakura’s imminent punches.

So distracted was Kakashi with Sakura, he did not realised that the second the water barrier dispersed, a kunai shot forth towards him, cleaning sliced through the strings that held the bells to his waist. The bells effectively dropped onto the ground unnoticed by Kakashi.

Having her fist blocked and grabbed by Kakashi’s arms, Sakura twisted in mid air creating a half summersault, forcing Kakashi to release her arms less he wish to dislocate her. Sakura managed to still cause damage though as she slammed her heel into the earth, causing an intense earthquake and rupturing the ground into a crater of rumble. Jumping away as fast as possible, Kakashi only had enough time to blink when he watched Sasuke rush headlong into the spot where he had been located just a second before. Sasuke performed a short cartwheel across the rumble of rock and sand, gripping something off the ground before it fell into one of the cracks and stood back up away with both his Sharingan eyes ablaze and an arrogant smirk on his face.

Noticing his teacher’s curious expression, Sasuke opened his hand to reveal two small bells. “Looks like we won, Kakashi-sensei.” He noted confidently, while Sakura grinned from beside him giving Kakashi a ‘V’ for Victory.

Kakashi only blinked, checked his waist once more to make sure that the bells really were gone, before giving both his ex-students a sheepish expression. “Well, I guess you did.”

After a short awkward pause, Kakashi coughed and recomposed himself. Looking up at the full moon that glowed brightly in the dark sky, Kakashi gave both Sasuke and Sakura a smile behind his mask. “Well, looks like you got it done on time. Good work. You can all go home and relax now, but remember to be up bright and early tomorrow morning. I’ll meet you at the old bridge where the old team 7 usually meets up, at around 7 am and then we’ll go to the Hokage’s tower together. As of now, I need to go and report back to Hokage-sama. Ja ne!” With that said, Kakashi shunshin-ed away, leaving his two befuddled students behind to make their way home.

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In a dark cave somewhere in the distance, 9 shadowy figures emerged from the darkness.

“So. Is it time for us to move yet? Hmm...” One of the dark figures asked from his perch hanging upside down from one of the stalagmites.

“Ah. It is time. We should start gathering the Jinchuriki and Bijuus. You all know which ones have been assigned to you already, so get to it. I wish to have the first of the bijous sealed within the next week.” Another figure, obviously the leader spoke in a calm but commanding voice.

“What of the Kyuubi Jinchuriki? What do we do about him?” A third member piped up, this one had red eyes glowing brightly in the dim room – red Sharingan eyes.

“We leave the Kyuubi Jinchuriki to last. If we are unable to capture him, I have another option up my sleeve.” The leader answered and the discussions were over. Each of the shadowy figures disappeared from sight, each already on their way pursuing their various targets.

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Even farther away from the main land, standing on a small fishing boat rocking with each rise and fall of the raging sea, a white clad figure gazed upon the dark clouds covering the once deep blue sky. “And so it has begun; the trials of faith.” Sweeping some of his long blond hair away from his brilliant sky-blue eyes, the young man whom spotted three whisker-like scars upon each cheeks of his face, gave a determined look towards the dark clouds. “Bring it on. I’m ready now!”

Chapter one end

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(1) Hehehe... How many of you thought it was Naruto coming back alone. Nope, in this story, it starts off with Sasuke and Naruto will appear from the next few chapters onwards.

(2) Other than Sasuke, I’ve left most of the characters’ clothes as they are in the Cannon series. Although I may change my mind at any time! After all, people don’t wear the same clothes everyday.

(3) Ah, I like taunting Sasuke. It’s fun.

(4) Say thanks to Quathis (A reviewer of mine). He/She gave me the idea to incorporate more of Avatar the Air Bender stuff here by giving Sasuke the skills in using Dual Dao swords, just like Zuko and the Blue Spirit. You can see a picture of this on my website (although the image itself is from Avatar)

(5) Sorry to any SasukeXSakura or SasukeXwhoever fans. I’m making this story a SasukeXOC, this is NOT NEGOTIABLE. But don’t worry, it won’t be very deep nor will it happen very soon. Sasuke and Maya have barely been on talking terms and even though they’re engaged, it’ll still take a while for romance to bloom or what have you. Not only that, I’ve said it before: I’m not very good at romance. I may even decide to finish the story before the romance even starts.

(6) Just like I’ve made Sakura stronger and more dedicated through out my story. I’ve done the same to Ino as well.

(7) Here are the first hints of the pairings that are in this story:

SasukeXOC (Maya)

InoXGaara

TemariXShikamaru

TentenXNeji

And yes, NarutoXHinata is still on the horizon

Once again, don’t expect miracles. I’m mostly hinting

(8) This is the fire whip thing that Zuko used in his fight against Katara in the final episodes of Avatar the Last Airbender – Earth series.

Yay! I've finished the first chapter of ToF. Tell me what you think, please submit a review.

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