|Naruto: Rogue Fox
Author: Axenome PM
Fox Hunt: In the depths of the ruins of Whirlpool, Naruto seeks answers, while Akatsuki and Konoha close in from either side. Fox Hunt Chapter One up.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Adventure - Naruto U. - Chapters: 39 - Words: 217,892 - Reviews: 1,288 - Favs: 1,990 - Follows: 1,747 - Updated: 05-09-12 - Published: 08-20-08 - id: 4488167
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Fox Hunt: Chapter Two
"Jinchuuriki are replete with several intimidating strengths- most notably, their enormous chakra reserves and whatever gifts they are able to draw from their bijuu. Each bearer of a bijuu seems to acquire additional gifts from the bijuu in addition to those granted to the previous holder, each new gift seeming intrinsically suited to the personality and capabilities of the jinchuuriki. Thus, despite being host to the 'weakest' bijuu, the jinchuuriki of the Ichibi Shukaku is loaded with an arsenal of tricks, abilities, and powers that the bijuu has apparently been amassing from the many hosts it has been sealed into, an arsenal that exceeds that available to any other jinchuuriki."
-"Demons and Their Uses in War," a manual for jonin instruction from Kaze no Kuni
"The original charter for the distribution of the bijuu doesn't explain why there are records- scattered but existing- of jinchuuriki before the breaking of the tetsugakusha. Either the stones were broken and later resealed, or else there are more bijuu out there somewhere."
-Notice from the Ne ANBU offices, three weeks before Sarutobi's official order to disband the organization.
The explosion was sudden. One moment the proud, slightly battered Hokage tower was going about its business, and the next moment the upper third of it was an expanding cloud of flaming debris blasted in a roughly southerly direction.
The detonation seemed to act as a signal flare of a sort, as a score or so of mutating figures suddenly appeared in the north sector of Konoha, flinging elemental attacks of one sort or another haphazardly into the faces of startled civilians and patrolling ANBU alike.
"Berserkers!" Shouted out one, pulling several fuuinjutsu inscribed senbon needles as he did.
The weapons had proven useful in the past, a brainchild of a little known genin lifer that had specialized in sealing tags of all sorts. The application of blood to the seal on the senbon caused it to react violently in the presence of most other forms of fuuinjutsu, causing them to go awry in myriad unpredictable ways. Given that berserkers were... manufactured by the used of fuuinjutsus that were tailored to the individual being altered, it had proven to be an effect that Oto had yet to figure out how to counter.
Apparently, in Orochimaru's mind, the weakness was not dire enough to warrant too much effort at countering. After all, civilians were cheap, and while somewhat time consuming, creating berserkers out of a few dozen individuals wasn't much more difficult than crafting arrows. Clearly, Orochimaru felt that spending a week or two to create a scattershot weapon that would kill a number of civilians and possibly a ninja or two was cost effective for him.
Depressingly, it seemed that he was probably right- Konoha's latest class of genin hopefuls was still a bit under a year from graduation, and that one under strength. Most of Konoha's civilian families were decidedly lukewarm about the prospect of sending their children to the Academy now that it had been decisively shown that the academy was not proof against attack.
A nearby building went up in flames, staggering the ANBU slightly as the sudden heat singed the right side of his body. Almost in slow motion his Byakugan registered the arc of the senbon that slipped from his fingers and skittered across the ground through a growing puddle of blood belonging to a civilian, before coming to rest atop a sealing scroll.
His Kaiten was sudden and fortuitious- the blood stuck the senbon to the scroll for a moment as the pair of objects tumbled away from him, and even from several yards away he could feel the horrid twisting of everything as the senbon did its work unthinkingly. The ANBU was able to avoid the worst of the wrenching alteration in the fundamental structure of reality- barely- but the berserker wasn't so lucky. The fuuinjutsu in both the senbon and the scroll suddenly burnt out, and the contents of the scroll appeared in a mangled pile next to an equally mutilated and still twitching body of an already grotesquely distorted berserker. Even the ground wasn't unscarred; cobblestones bent and wound in tangled skeins or expanded and bubbled like foam. The ANBU was impressed with the results despite himself.
As quickly as the attack began, it was over. ANBU finished mopping up the berserkers- no shinobi casualties this time, thankfully- and civilians began to pick themselves up from where they'd fallen or cowered. A few civilians had joined in the fighting, as being on the receiving end of a long string of harassing assaults has the effect of galvanizing folk into fighting back. This, too, was a factor in why Konoha had not yet fallen. There was no shortage of people willing to fight for their homes and lives, only a shortage of those trained in the use of Chakra.
Hyuuga Hiashi slowly relaxed behind his ANBU mask and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck, before barking out to a nearby ANBU, "You! Find out how they got past the walls this time."
"Hai, taichou!" the man responded, before dashing off to the North.
"You!" Hiashi snapped at another. "Find me genin Takeru in the armaments district and bring him here- he needs to see what his latest brainchild has worked."
"Hai, taichou!" The second ANBU likewise departed.
Hiashi thought grimly, I'd kill for a bath.
"What a mess," Jiraiya mused sourly as he surveyed what remained of his operations room.
Everything was singed and sooty, and former support beams and stone work made it look like the aftermath of a demolition. The room would have reeked of scorched wood and rubble for days, were it not for the fact that it now served as roof to the remnants of the tower rather than as an enclosed space of any kind. The papers that had been strewn about in an organized disarray were simply gone, probably a distribution of ash and smoke that was scattered to the four winds and beyond. The Hokage's office was only a memory now, and worse yet, there was no sign of the scrying stone that had sat on the Hokage's desk.
The consolation prize of a potential new weapon discovered by accident served to make the loss more pronounced. Only blind luck had it that neither he nor any of the councilors had been in the tower during the attack.
The loss of the Tower and the Scrying stone are bad news. Trading a national symbol and an irreplacable, refined tool for a makeshift weapon is a poor exchange.
"Hokage sama, we have an estimate on the damages, and we think we've pinpointed how they got past the security seals on the wall," someone said from behind him.
"Go ahead," he responded, turning to face the ANBU captain. "I can already guess part of it, Hiashi."
The white masked ANBU nodded. "The North wall was compromised by some sort of space time jutsu. Apparently they found a way to bypass the intervening distance completely. Chakra remnants seemed to indicate the group apparently skipped the distance across the wall entirely."
Jiraiya grunted. "Sounds risky. The difficulty of such techniques aside, a slight miscalculation and they'd occupy something more solid than air on arrival. Even attempting this would have taken an accomplished practitioner of space-time jutsu. Something else I need to seal against, then."
Hiashi nodded. "We believe that he only stuck around long enough to enact the technique then left. Traces indicate that the jutsu was executed from one hundred fifty yards past the wall. Furthermore, the entire attack itself was performed by berserkers."
Jiraiya shook his head in disgust. "In other words, the only thing this cost Otogakure was ammunition- again." He sighed. "And how did they get the tower?"
"We... still don't know that, Hokage sama," Hiashi responded uncomfortably.
"Keep looking, then. Damages?"
"Fourteen civilian buildings, ten of which were dual story business residences, thirty-one civilian casualties, seven fatal. And..." Hiashi trailed off, a slight incline of his head somehow indicating the wreckage around them, as well as the few staff that had been in the upper stories.
"And the sealing scroll accident?" Jiraiya asked- crude weapon or not, they needed better ones, and this one had shown potential.
"Unryuu san assures me that he can have the first prototypes within a week." Hiashi paused, then commented, "It will be nice to have throw away weapons of mass destruction of our own, for a change."
"The can't guide themselves- not much use without an arm to throw them. We're being nibbled to death by ducks," Jiraiya grumbled, before looking out past the shattered wall at the four and a half faces (the Nidaime's had been blown half off six months ago by a summoned snake's venom) on the monument staring sightlessly across the village. "How degrading."
Chouji didn't understand this business with Naruto thinking he was the Fourth Hokage, and frankly, he didn't much care. He cared about Konoha, and his pregnant betrothed there. He cared about his unborn child. He cared about his mission, and completing it so that he could get home before something happened while he wasn't there to defend it. But right now, a dozen summoned rats outfitted in ninja kit were standing in between him and everything he currently cared about.
He had never heard of a rat summoning contract before- toads, of course, as well as slugs, snakes, dogs, monkeys, spiders, and even bees, but not rats.
Within the first few seconds of the renewed conflict he understood why Naruto chose them. Rats were natural ninja. They moved well, dodging and striking unpredictably. The summons worked together with one another like a machine, planned a dozen steps in advance without speaking, covered each others' blind spots, and all of them were as adept at using actual ninjutsu as the monkey summons.
His first reaction had been to summon several combat toads, only for them to been dispelled almost immediately by Naruto as his hands touched each one with some strange, dark chakra. A trio of rats flung nets and bolas at Neji, who used Kaiten, while Shikamaru lanced out with sharpened shadow, which was deflected by a wall of earth. Naruto and Gaara wrestled over control of the ground for a few moments before Naruto released his manipulation and jumped, dodging a bludgeoning blast of wind that Temari conjured, the best she could manage without her fan, before she fell back as a pair of rats blasted dust into the air around her, causing her to release her technique in favor of clearing the air before she choked.
Haku formed a whirling cloud of razor sharp ice shards, surrounding himself in a storm of blades, when a pair of rat hands thrust up from the ground to grab him by the ankles. A sudden motion and water poured from his vest, dousing the ground, which Haku instantly froze before he could be pulled completely under, instead remaining stuck ankle deep.
Kakashi finished his own set of seals, swiping blood across a long scroll that he'd apparently held out on when disarming earlier. "Kuchiyose no jutsu!"
Temari was hard pressed even with her own weasel summons to counter the rats- they seemed to have no pattern to their attacks but every strike, every jutsu or tool was aimed and calculated to take her out of the fight. Several dogs burrowed up from the ground suddenly beneath Naruto, but the rat Naruto had addressed as Suteru was suddenly there, and the dogs found themselves floundering in sticky mud, unable to get any real traction. Naruto turned the dispelling black chakra on them, and one by one the dogs too were dismissed.
Chouji stepped back from the combat- all that either side was accomplishing was a stalemate, and Naruto's massive chakra reserves ensured that a sustained stalemate was a win for him. Chouji briefly considered using expansion, but only briefly. They weren't trying to kill Naruto- even though in the darkest recesses of his mind he had to wonder if it wouldn't be better- so for the time being he was going to hold back on the expansion techniques, and only minimal use of the sage chakra he'd gathered so far.
Naruto was supporting the summoned rats, reshaping the terrain, taking and giving hits, and Chouji suddenly wondered- why, if Naruto wanted to get away, would he stay and fight alongside his summons?
Either he didn't really want to get away, making a show of resistance, or else...
Or else, Chouji suddenly guessed, he's already gone.
But when could he have made the switch? Wouldn't the Byakugan have caught the change out?
"Neji, Hinata!" Shikamaru shouted suddenly, apparently coming to the same conclusion that Chouji had. "Sweep the area as far as you can see!"
The Naruto they'd been fighting swore, before dispelling into smoke, and after exchanging a glance with one another, the rats dispelled as well. Neji and Hinata pumped chakra to their eyes, but it was Hinata who saw Naruto retreating from the direction where their mutual blind spots had been while they were focused on the rats and the clone. "He's getting away!"
"How the hell did he get out without either of you seeing him? WHEN did he make the switch?" Kakashi growled, bewildered.
Neji shook his head. "I have no idea," he admitted.
"Do we pursue?" Gaara asked, looking at Kakashi flatly.
"I really don't see what other choice we have at the moment. We NEED him," Kakashi answered, cursing the loss of their shinobi gear. "Sasuke-"
Sasuke snorted, before he pulled out a scroll, bit his thumb, and swiped a streak of blood across the paper. Suddenly the ground was littered with several pouches, spools of wire, kunai, senbon, testubishi, three model 6 Ninjato, a model 7 Ninjato, a number of smaller scrolls, and an assortment of chain weapons. Temari winced. "I don't suppose you have a battle fan in there somewhere?"
"I'm a fire user," Sasuke answered with a grin. "I don't have a full sized fan, but..." He rooted through the scrolls before finding the one he was looking for, then tossed it to her.
Unsealing the scroll revealed a small, functional combat tessen, only fourteen inches, but the tines and steel weave both razor sharp. "Yeah, this'll do. It's not..." Temari faltered a moment, her eyes reflexively scanning the area for any signed of her sealed weapon. "Yeah, it'll do."
There weren't enough pouches for all of them, but Neji, Hinata, Chouji, and Haku didn't use them anyways, preferring their tools to be concealed in pockets and loops in their clothes. After rearming themselves as best they could, they set off to follow Naruto's trail.
"Hey, Sasuke." Neji's tone was amused.
"Hnn?" Replied the raven haired chunin.
"How do you afford to carry all this crap with you on a mission?"
"Heir to the Uchiha clan. Remember?"
There was a moment of silence, then, "Hey, Sasuke." Neji again.
"You don't mind if I keep these, then."
"Sure thing. The senbon are 15 ryo apiece, kunai 120, and the net is 600 ryo."
An hour later, only the torn and muddied ground remained to testify to the scuffle, until a hand suddenly burst up, scrabbling for purchase, then a second one beside it. The hastily constructed shelter underneath, one whose properties Naruto mimicked from Uzugakure earlier to the best of his ability, had apparently managed to fool the Byakugan. Shaking dirt out of his ears as he clambered out of the ground, Naruto shot one last look in the direction the decoy had taken, before he headed due south.
He needed to start visiting the seamier sides of Hi no Kuni- it was time to hunt down Tsunade and ask those questions she owed him.
After a moment, he paused, flashing his Kamigan. Within a second or so he'ed located the scroll, sodden but intact, that held Temari's fan. He'd spent a hefty favor to acquire that- how hefty he hadn't known for a long time after he'd done so- so he'd be damned if that weapon was going to be lost out here in the wilderness.
Besides, maybe some day he'd be able to give it back to her.
After fetching the scroll, he continued on his way.
Jiraiya stood hunched over a relief map that had been hastily constructed in what was serving as operations central. The room itself was fourteen feet below the street level, a quarter of a mile south of the Hokage tower- or at least, what was still standing of it. Several chunin teams were performing the B-ranked mission of cleanup, in case anything of a sensitive nature remained behind to be found.
Jiraiya looked up into the sharp grey eyes of the head of the Koemi clan. He hadn't noticed him entering the room. "Yes, Koemi dono?"
Temetatsu held a look of regret on his face. "Are you familiar with the traditions of the Koemi clan? Did Hiruzen give you any familiarity with our customs?"
Jiraiya shrugged, rocking a flat hand in the air. "A little. What's on your mind?"
Temetatsu sighed. For a moment Jiraiya could feel how old the man was, could feel his weariness. "Jiraiya, the Koemi clan has always kept its word. Our original charter to join Konoha was specific in its wording. But more than this, the Koemi clan has always, first and foremost, been weaponsmiths- and as such, we are technically neutral in all respects."
Jiraiya felt his blood turn cold. "You're taking your clan out of Konoha."
"I am." Temetatsu confirmed. "Konoha is dying. It has been for two years, now. If you're smart, you'll relocate to elsewhere, somewhere that's actually hidden. But that is outside the topic of conversation. The Koemi clan's presence as a component of Konoha is dependant on the clause, 'for such duration as the solvency, security, and unity of Konoha remains hale.' And that is precisely why the clan is leaving."
Something in Temetatsu's voice caught Jiraiya's attention. "But?"
"I will not be going with my clan," Temetatsu answered. "My place is here, and I've already chosen my successor as clan leader. I will be joining the active duty forces of Konoha."
Jiraiya scowled. "That's insane. You're ninety seven years old."
"Ninety eight in two months."
"You won't last five minutes on the field at your age."
"Care to stake a wager on that claim?" The master smith's grin was tight, almost eager. "I haven't had a good workout in at least four decades."
Jiraiya winced at that. Four decades meant- oh, sometime around his own chunin exam. Even so, the Koemi patriarch had not diminished in size or strength in any fashion Jiraiya could determine, his skin lined and leathery and grey as old iron and apparently just as hard. Clearly, only sharing half the blood of his father was still more than enough. "I'm too old myself to be playing ego games, and you've got more years on me than it's been since your last workout. Think through what you're saying."
Temetatsu laughed loud, and Jiraiya thought he could hear the hollow ring of metal echoing somewhere deep in the man's chest. "Jiraiya, what would you have me do? Just stand by and watch, act less and less until I become an iron sentinel for all eternity?"
Jiraiya suddenly understood, now. "It's already begun for you."
Temetatsu nodded, the mirth not leaving his eyes as his laughter died down. "Yes. I am indeed my father's son. And I have no taste for what falls on those of his line who live too long."
"Then there will be one more iron dragon before Konoha falls."
"Not so, not so!" Admonished the smith, waving a correcting finger whose skin tone had barely begun to take on a metallic sheen. "Remember, I was not his wife's child- so at best I am a bastard dragon. And so I was named."
The unspoken subtext- that all iron dragons died fighting- remained silent but present.
Neither of them chose to acknowledge it as they shared a flask of unfiltered sake.
The unfiltered sake swirled lazily in the sake cup, its milky lustre like pearl and its bouquet like silk. Tsunade couldn't taste it at all through the misgivings in her mind.
Complimentary hotel suite. Courtesy of the casino, as a subtle bribe to halt a client on a winning streak without alienating its customers. Standard for the industry, really. Lush furniture, fancy wall paper, tasteful decor.
For all she cared, Tsunade could have been staying in an overnight dive.
The winning streak had started out slow- a few thousand ryo here and there- but gained momentum. Tsunade's almost desperate need to burn through the money she won, going higher and higher stakes, had only backfired. A ten thousand ryo stake becamse a three hundred thousand ryo pot, a two hundred thousand ryo wager on a single toss of the dice came up seven, paying out a cool million. One by one she paid visits to her bewildered creditors, herself as bewildered as they, and her debts began to dwindle. Shizune still chided her, but the strain was leaving her face, and the worry departing.
Yesterday Tsunade had paid a visit to Hatori Echigoya, and suddenly she realized, on walking out of his office, that she didn't owe money to anyone. He had been the last.
Five thousand ryo on Keno last night over dinner. Thirteen hits out of fifteen.
Six million ryo, now.
There was no thrill in a game she couldn't lose. She found herself entertaining the idea of never gambling again.
She tossed back the sake cup, no longer wanting to taste the alcohol, only to feel its effects. Then, suddenly, a voice from the past hit her.
Your body is metabolizing the alcohol quickly. Your bloodstream is filtering it through your liver at a high rate. And you almost automatically heal your liver through the damage you do to it. Almost as though you want to be drunk... but you don't dare fall asleep. Alcohol inhibits judgement. It lowers the barriers we use to hide our deepest pains and fears... so you want to be drunk, but you don't dare go to sleep.
A wave of revulsion hit her as she relived Naruto's words, and she threw the sake cup away from her in a swift, sudden motion, like it was a scorpion. The ceramic cup smashed against the wall, and was followed by the still warm flask a split second later.
I wonder... what do you dream of?
"Nothing..." She bit out angrily in a vicious whisper. "I don't dream."
How would you know? The bottom of a glass makes a blurry lens to look through.
"What the hell do you think there is to look at, you little brat?" She snarled.
I see a woman under a henge, hiding from us, from Konoha, hiding from herself. I see an old woman trying to crawl into a sake bottle, so that when she leaves herself on a counter in a pachinko parlor one day, that the waitress can carry that bottle away, and that old bag never has to look at herself again.
"I know what I look like." She hissed, her hands whiteknuckled on the edge of the end table as she stared sightlessly at the wall.
I can't help but wonder what you saw... what you remember... what you still see when you sleep, when you're awake and sober, what images you see every time you blink your eyes... that the only thing you'll do is hide from it behind a haze of alcohol.
"God damn you, Minato!" Tsunade yelled, the end table suddenly tumbling end oveer end the smash through the wall when the sake had struck. "Why won't you leave me alone?"
Because that's what a medic does.
"No..." She whispered, burying her face in her hands. "That's not what a medic does. A medic doesn't help and a medic doesn't save. All a medic does is to eventually fail."
I know that you were a medic nin once, called one of the greatest of all time, and you don't get that way unless being a medic means something to you.
"But every medic nin faces an invincible foe. And they cannot save anyone. Not even themselves."
Tsunade suddenly let her henge drop, noting the wrinkles and veins on the backs of her hands, how thin the skin had become. The slender fingers had become outright bony, and the nails themselves grainy and weak. "I can't... save myself." She suddenly said out loud, and a wave of dread washed over her as the words left her lips. "I can't stop time from destroying me."
And that was it. That was the thing, she suddenly realized, that she'd been running from for all these years. Watching Dan die... each wanting to save Konoha but themselves dying to protect it... "I'm... I'm going to die."
The chill she felt had nothing to do with the night air that drifted in through the hole in the wall. It was the chill of finally turning to face Death, who had been at her shoulder the whole time while she'd hidden under henge from herself, hidden from the fact that she was aging and that someday she too would be taken by the hand by the grim fellow before her. And Death was so patient even now, no recrimination, no disapproval, simply smiling back, having known all along she'd come to her senses eventually.
Tsunade would pay for the damages to the hotel. She would collect Shizune from her room early in the morning, not acknowledging the one night stand who sat blinking sleepily at the two as they collected Shizune's bags.
Tsunade would not, however, drink or gamble again.
And she would never use her henge to hide her age for the rest of her life.
End Chapter 2
-AN: Right. Well, my attempt to boycott storywriting in an attempt to make FFdotNet acknowledge that there needs to be a yaoi filter... has completely failed. Screw it. Chapter is up, but I severely miss reading the really good fics- you know the ones, that DIDN'T rely on sex and mpreg and yaoi to attract all the fanboiz/grrlz.
Feh. Dunno why I'm writing this on ff, considering I haven't read a fic start to finish here in two or three months. Must be getting very sour in my old age.
My faithful readers, please ignore the rant. Hopefully this chap will be a welcome break in the tidal wave of cookie cutter crud.