Title: Path of the Ninja; Iruka Edition
Summary: Videogame fic! It's not a genjutsu and he hasn't gone mad, but Iruka isn't sure how many options that leaves. It can't be real, can it?
AN: I've been sitting on this one for a while, because I was holding onto the hope that I'd get re-motivated and finish it. But that doesn't seem likely, and the first part is coherent enough for people to enjoy.
Iruka sighed, watching Naruto shuffle sadly out of the room, having failed to graduate yet again. That left one lone forehead protector, still shiny and new, sitting on his desk. It looked forlorn. Forgotten. Unable to fulfil it's purpose.
He picked it up, shaking his head at the folly of assigning feelings to an object like that. It was just a headband. Nothing special. The same as a thousand other Konoha headbands, and it would go back on the shelf for another year.
"Did you hear that?" Iruka asked, looking up sharply at the sound of chimes, completely missing the way the words 'Ninja Headband Acquired!' floated over the new forehead protector in his hand.
"Hear what?" His grey haired friend asked with disinterest, rolling up the last of his scrolls.
Iruka narrowed his eyes. He might have said 'it sounded like music' except he had been a teacher – and a teacher of ninja at that – for far too long. "It sounded like breaking glass."
He stood, but the trailing fabric of the forehead protector caught on his paperwork, knocking it off the desk. He cursed, fumbling to catch it.
"You deal with that," Mizuki suggested, sidling away from the desk. "I'll go see what the little bastards have done this time."
Iruka would have admonished him for his language, but the assistant teacher was gone before he could so much as look up. "If that was you, Naruto," he grumbled, half-heartedly. He couldn't have passed the boy, not with the way he'd behaved, let alone his failed jutsu, but that didn't mean it was easy to turn him down.
Next time, he decided. He would help Naruto along, and next time he'd be sure to pass. It was bound to only take a little bit of tutoring.
Firm in his resolution, Iruka swept his papers up into his arms and marched out of the room, completely ignoring the strange pair of glasses that had appeared on his desk. 'Ninja Heads Up Display Acquired!' It sent up plaintively.
"I'm coming!" Iruka shouted, as the thumping on his door roused him from his sleep. A quick glance at the clock showed him it was only barely midnight.
"Iruka!" Mizuki blurted out, as soon as the door was open. "You have to come quickly! It's Naruto!"
"What?" Iruka said, more irritated than alarmed. "What's he done now?"
"He's stolen the Forbidden Scroll!"
"What?!" Iruka repeated again, faintly. "Even Naruto wouldn't think he could get away with that."
"Well obviously he did!" Mizuki said impatiently. "The Hokage already has Jounin and Chunin out searching for him. But I thought you should know."
Iruka shoved his sandals on his feet, grabbing the vest hung on the back of his door. His pyjamas were simply a clean set of ninja blues, for exactly this reason. "Yes, of course," he said hurriedly. "Thank you. Are you going to get Suzume and Daikoku as well?"
"Good idea," Mizuki agreed. "I'll join you shortly."
Iruka shut his door behind him and jumped off into the night.
Now, he thought, if I were Naruto, where would I hide?
He checked the Academy first, but it was dark and empty. The training grounds around it, second. They too had no signs of life. But there was a station in the forest where the Academy students learnt woodcraft, and it was there that Iruka came across his wayward student.
"I found you," he said, ominously hovering over Naruto. The boy looked exhausted, and filthy.
"No!" Naruto shouted back. "I found you!"
"Idiot! That doesn't even make any sense!" Iruka countered. But it wasn't right. This whole thing wasn't right. "What were you doing here?" he asked, cautiously.
"I only learnt one thing," Naruto said sheepishly. "But watch! I can graduate now!"
"Graduate," Iruka echoed.
"Yeah, Mizuki-sensei told me all about the secret test! He said if I learnt one thing off it, I'd definitely pass."
Naruto formed a strange seal with his fingers, a cross, and prepared his jutsu. Iruka frowned. This wasn't right at all. And it was only because he was worried, only because he was on edge and alert, that he noticed the wave of kunai and shuriken in time to shove Naruto out of the way.
Not enough time to get himself out of the way, but he had been hit by worse than a few shuriken.
"Nice of you to find the moron," Mizuki said. He was fully outfitted now, bandanna, fuma shuriken and all. He looked like he was about to set off on a long mission.
"So that's what's going on," Iruka breathed, hardly believing it.
Mizuki smirked at him. "Naruto, give me the scroll."
"No!" Iruka countered immediately. "Whatever you do, don't give him the scroll!"
Naruto froze, hovering, uncertain of what action to take. "Why… why did you attack Iruka-sensei?" He asked. "What's going on?"
"Mizuki used you to steal the scroll," Iruka said, pulling the kunai out of his thigh with a grunt. "He is… He is a traitor to the village."
Maybe it was the pain. Maybe it was the betrayal. But everything felt so unreal.
He stepped forward. His leg trembled, but held. That would need treatment, later.
Mizuki scoffed and pulled one of his fuma shuriken off his back. "So high and mighty, Iruka." The giant shuriken became a lethal silver blur as he spun it around. "But we both know I'm the better ninja."
Yes, Iruka thought grimly. That was true.
"Go, Naruto," he said. "You need to get that scroll back to the Hokage. That… is your mission as a ninja."
Then Mizuki let lose. Not for Iruka. But for Naruto.
Iruka cursed. There was no time for deflections or counters. Instead, he jumped, using his own body to protect his student.
It smacked into his chest with a mighty thump, knocking the wind clean out of him. His heart gave a stuttering thump.
"Oh," he said, wonderingly. "This is it."
Iruka blinked at his surroundings. The white… wasn't completely unexpected. It seemed foggy. Cloudy. There was faint, ethereal music. That fit.
The giant hovering letters… not so much.
"Kai," he said, clasping his hands together in the release seal. His chakra twisted, blasting out, ruffling the fog swirling around his feet. Nothing changed. It wasn't a genjutsu. Or, at least, it wasn't a genjutsu he could break.
He touched a hand to his chest, where there had been a giant gaping wound. There was nothing. His vest was whole, untouched. It wasn't even dirty.
Iruka took a deep breath. Nothing hurt.
"I'm dead," he said, testing the words out. They fit. He had known that, as the giant point of the shuriken had lodged itself in his chest. "Mizuki… killed me."
That one was harder. Mizuki had been his friend all his life. Ever since they were twelve, and the Kyuubi had devastated the village. They'd been on a Genin team together. They'd become Chunin together. They'd become teachers together.
"He killed me."
It hadn't even been an accident. He had told Iruka, come to find him in the middle of the night, just so he would be there. Just so he would be a target.
And he couldn't even ask why.
Would it matter, knowing why? He obviously didn't know Mizuki as well as he thought, if it had come to this. Iruka chuckled bitterly. He'd always wondered how people couldn't see, when someone close to them turned. Now he knew.
The music started to get louder, reaching a crescendo.
The strange words 'Game Over' faded, replaced with a different set. 'New Game' and a greyed out 'Load Game'.
Iruka stared at them. "Is this some kind of joke?" he wondered. It wasn't even cruel, just … bizarre.
He reached up, touched his fingers lightly against the hovering words. They seemed solid, but they disappeared in a flash of light.
Then the white fog seemed to recede with a rushing of wind, and Iruka twisted, alarmed. "Wait-!" he started, and then-
He watched Naruto shuffle out of the room, disappointed to have failed once again. A single, lonely forehead protector sat on his desk. Next to him, Mizuki shuffled his paperwork.
Iruka didn't move.
"Well, that's the last of them," Mizuki said. "I'm going to go catch a drink. Want to come?" He looked over expectantly.
Iruka stared at him, eyes taking in details so familiar. "Why?" he croaked.
"Why what?" Mizuki asked, confused.
"Why did you kill me?" Iruka said, the words spilling out of his mouth. "Why did you betray the village?!" His hand clenched on the table. "Why send Naruto to get the Forbidden Scroll?!" He was shouting now.
"Naruto?" Mizuki repeated, as if he'd only heard one word of the whole rant. "I just figured if he passed now, then we wouldn't have to deal with him for another year. That'll be such a joy," he said witheringly. "A faulty clone jutsu isn't going to kill anyone, anyway."
Iruka stared at him, disbelieving.
Mizuki shrugged. "You can stay and do you paperwork if you want, I'm going to go get a drink. Who knows, maybe Anko will be there."
Iruka sank back into his chair. "What just happened?" he asked his desk. The lone headband seemed to wink back at him, mockingly.
He reached out and thoughtfully picked it up. He hadn't been daydreaming. That was absurd. The whole thing was too real. Was he in a genjutsu now?
There was that strange rushing of wind again, and the sound of ascending chimes. 'Ninja Headband Acquired!' floated over top of his hands, the way the words had in the strange white place. Iruka tried to cup them in his hands, but they evaporated.
"Kai," he said firmly. Nothing around him changed. He picked up the headband again. It was just a headband.
And then, one of the scrolls on his desk unrolled itself. Iruka paused.
That wasn't even one of his scrolls. It was a double scroll, with a wooden roller at each end, too long to be used for school paperwork.
Congratulations! It said.
You have received a Ninja Headband! This is the official symbol of the shinobi of Konohagakure and may only be worn by once a ninja has graduated. This is your first step on the path to becoming a legendary ninja, so treat it well!
"What." Iruka said, looking from the scroll to the headband and back. "Kai," he tried again.
The he put his head down on the desk and started to laugh.
It felt like hours later when he put himself back together and rose from his chair. The Scroll – capitals needed – rolled itself back up, untouched. Iruka avoided it, stacking his paperwork, exactly identical to what it had been before, right down to the slight ink smudge on Shikamaru's.
"What is this," he asked, almost wearily, eyeing the strange looking glasses that appeared beside the Scroll. They almost looked like a visor, metal along the top and curved lenses that would wrap straight around the face.
'Ninja Heads Up Display Acquired!' It announced. The scroll helpfully unrolled itself again, displaying different writing even though he was sure the positioning of the rollers was exactly the same.
The HUD – Heads Up Display – is how a ninja keeps track of key information! On your HUD you will see a Mini Map, Chakra Bar, Stamina Bar, Targeting Display, Tutorials, Recent Actions and much, much more. All HUD are fully customisable, though upgrades may require special parts! Try it on now to initiate the tutorial!
And Iruka knew he shouldn't touch it. It would just encourage the… whatever this was. But curiosity, as it was, killed the ninja and he was no exception. The glasses fit snuggly on his face, and didn't hinder his peripheral vision at all. They were slightly tinted blue, but only barely.
Welcome to the tutorial! Popped straight up in the middle of his vision and he recoiled, scrambling to remove them. But the words did nothing, just sat there.
And he was in so far already, that he might as well go on. "Yes, tutorial," he said impatiently. "Go on."
The words blinked out, a tiny circular map appearing in the upper right of his vision. It was transparent, he could see the wall behind it clearly enough to spot the kunai hole in the wood a foot below the roof, but also see the lines that delineated the room on the map at the same time.
This is the Mini-Map! The area around you will be shown on the Mini-Map as you explore. Enemies and Allies will be shown on the map as you detect them, so be careful!
It switched through several other features, bars that apparently measured his stamina and chakra levels, a list in the lower left hand corner for something called 'xp'.
Iruka shook his head. Bizarre. He had wasted enough time here, anyway. He needed to go and see the Hokage. To work out what was really going on. If it was a genjutsu, then the Hokage would be able to break it. If it wasn't… then the Hokage would know what to do.
He went to pick up the spare headband, only to find it was gone. 'Item placed in Inventory; Ninja Headband'the lower left of his visor said, before it scrolled downwards off the glass, leaving his vision mostly clear again.
He strode out of the room, determinedly ignoring the way the Scroll vanished from the table, and the blinking flashes of 'Tutorial' on his glasses.
His students were still milling around outside, and he glanced at the clock, surprised. But it was only three. He couldn't have been in the room alone for more than a minute. It felt so much longer than that.
"Yes, congratulations," he forced a smile as some of the parents tried to talk to him. "But please, excuse me, I need to get these to the Hokage." He hefted his papers in demonstration, even though they were nothing more than the end of year tests.
For once he was thankful that no one offered to help as he hurried up to the Hokage's Office. Sarutobi was sitting inside, peacefully writing at his desk, and Iruka felt a surge of relief. The Hokage would know what to do.
"Sorry to disturb you," he said politely. "But something strange has happened." He began with Naruto's failed graduation, went to Mizuki's betrayal, and his death. Then ending up back at Naruto's graduation.
The Hokage nodded sagely. "Don't be too hard on yourself, Iruka," he said. "It might even be for the best that Naruto is held back another year. Life as a ninja will be especially difficult for him." He stood and moved to stare out the window, clasping his hands behind his back. "He will need to be prepared for it, and I fear that he is not."
Iruka sank into a chair, staring at the Hokage, aghast. "Didn't you hear me?" he asked weakly. "Mizuki is a traitor. He stole the Forbidden Scroll. He killed me."
"Mizuki has been acting strangely?" The Hokage said, as if repeating Iruka. "Not just end of year blues, hmm? No, I see. You wouldn't bring this to me unless it was something serious, would you? Very well, I trust your instincts, Iruka. I will have someone keep a covert watch on him."
The Hokage couldn't hear him. Not while he was talking about what had happened.
Iruka felt very, very alone.
"Now, why don't you stay? We'll have a cup of tea and go over the new Genin Teams together." The Hokage gave a grandfatherly smile. "No need for you to bring all those papers by again tomorrow."
It was dark by the time he left the Hokage Office, and he noticed with dread there was a countdown at the bottom of his glasses.
'Find Naruto' it said, and a too short period of time counting down from it.
He made to join in the search, planning to head straight to the Academy Forest Station, but was turned away. "The Hokage has already assigned ninja to this search," the Jounin said. "Please return home."
"He's my student," Iruka argued weakly, watching the numbers run out.
"Please return home," the man repeated, with the exact same inflection.
Iruka withdrew. He wandered home, watching the numbers run out on the clock, dreading what would happen.
The words flashed across his vision, before fading out and being replaced with two still pictures. One of Mizuki fleeing the village, the Forbidden Scroll across his back. The other of Naruto, bandaged and unconscious in hospital.
Mizuki has fled the village to become a Missing Nin, and taken with him the Forbidden Scroll! Naruto Uzumaki lies gravely wounded in the hospital.
Iruka stared at it numbly until it was replaced. Continue. Restart.
'Restart'. Did that… did that mean what he thought it meant? Iruka stifled a hysterical giggle. Was he truly contemplating going along with this mad farce?
But Naruto was injured. Injured because Iruka hadn't shown up on time. He had known, somehow, what was going on, and failed to act. And because of that, one of his students was hurt.
"Restart," he said firmly. Three options appeared. 'Load Last Save' 'Load Save' and 'New Game'. The first two were greyed out, just as they had been before. "New Game."
And he found himself sitting at his desk, watching Naruto shuffle out of the room.
He sat in silence as Mizuki picked up his papers and left. He was too numb to try shouting. It wouldn't matter anyway. Mizuki would just ignore it – wouldn't be able to hear it, no matter how loud Iruka shouted. It was as if there was an impassable void separating them.
The door banged shut.
Iruka picked up the headband. He stared carefully at the floating writing, but it looked real. It was possible he was hallucinating, but what kind of hallucination was this?
"Kai," he tried, not even expecting it to work.
This time, he reached for the Scroll, carefully examining it. It unrolled slightly further under his touch, revealing a list of options to the left underneath the words 'SCROLL OF SEALING'.
Carefully, he touched the word 'Map' at the top of the list. The information about the headband faded away, as though the ink had been drained right out of the paper, and was replaced with a floor plan of the Academy.
Iruka stared at it, fascinated. Was this fuiinjutsu? If it was, it must have been of a very high level, because he had never heard of anything like it. To be able to erase and draw at will…
And the glasses. The HUD. He eyed them, and wearily picked them up and put them on. The scroll changed automatically to the information he had seen before, but he was more interested in the flashing announcements on the visor.
'Tutorial; Map' One of them read. 'The Area Map displays a top down view of your current location. You may zoom in and out, switch between the Area Map and World Map and mark important locations with beacons. The Map updates as you explore the world around you.'
He tapped the word 'Map' again, bringing back the floor plan of the Academy. At the top there were several symbols. One revealed itself as a sketchy map of Konoha, the other of the Elemental Nations.
"Right," Iruka said, and started going through the tutorials. If he was going to be dealing with this, then he would have to know what he was dealing with. Information was key.
The Inventory seemed to be a simple storage scroll, though he wasn't sure how it quite worked. The new Headband had ended up in there, shown with a little pictorial representation, without Iruka doing anything to put it there. There even seemed to be sections – Key Items, Weapons, Usable Items, Ingredients - and a little section at the bottom that seemed to list how much money he had. How it had found that out, he didn't know.
The Encyclopaedia was easier, and it just seemed to absorb information. That could be quite handy, he supposed, for quick reference. It even had a section for listing the Tutorials he was covering, and he found it slightly easier to read them from there than the HUD.
It was easier to pretend everything was normal when he was reading from a scroll.
The Bingo Book had a sole entry; Mizuki. Morbidly, Iruka read it, but it said nothing he didn't already know – and still listed Mizuki as a 'friend'. Clearly this thing didn't know everything, then.
The Journal seemed to simply be a continuation of the announcements on his screen – listing everything that had happened or been acquired. The Mission's Log was empty, but that one seemed more self-explanatory.
The character sheet was where things got interesting. He was immediately bombarded with something called a 'Level up!' And several tutorials on all the different aspects. He read them carefully, because this was the first thing that wanted him to do something.
There were three levels, Attributes, Skills and Talents. His initial alarm faded when he realised that no, it did not intend to modify him like a mad scientist. The effects seemed to be limited to the actions of the Scroll and HUD.
"Attributes," he said warily.
Attributes are the base stats the modify skills and talents, as well as information gathered and assessed by the Scroll of Sealing.
- Perception increases how much information can be gathered from the world around you. It modifies talents such as Scan, increases chances of locating collectables, and will help in locating targets and identifying ambushes.
- Awareness determines how much information gets recorded in the encyclopaedia and bingo book. A ninja with high awareness will have access to greater, more detailed articles than one without. This may also affect crafting recipes.
-Range determines the reach of game abilities, such as mapping and target acquisition. Talents such as Scan and Subtitles are limited in range.
-Identify increases precision in targeting, as well as in locating the correct collectables and quality of ingredients and weapons.
-Luck modifies random chance rolls to your favour. It may be useful for game events, or for finding rare items.
Iruka scratched the back of his neck. He had 20 points and five categories, so the easiest thing to do would be to simply put four points into each one. Given that he had very little idea what any of it meant, that might just be the best way to go about it.
He sighed. Why was he even giving this so much thought? He should be going to look for Naruto. It was… still only three o'clock? He frowned at the clock. Surely not. That would mean that no time at all had passed while he was reading. In fact, the clock wasn't even ticking. It must be broken, that would explain it.
But there was still sunshine coming in through the window, so he might as well finish this first. It did seem important. After all, it had only really started after he'd died. How much more important could you get?
Skills seemed a little more straightforward. It related to the crafting section of the scrolls, which seemed to indicate that it would – if provided with a recipe and ingredients – fabricate certain items. There were six categories this time, four crafting related (Trap Making, Poison Making, Potion Making, Seal Making) and two for collecting ingredients (Herbalism and Huntsman).
This time, he had twenty four points to allocate but he hesitated before putting four in each slot. Iruka had never got on particularly well with Poisons – they were too temperamental, too likely to result in friendly fire incidences, and required a lot of fuss and care. So instead, he took those four points and slapped them into Trap Making, which he did know how to use properly.
"And lastly, Talents."
This one was easier because he had two points and three options to spend it on. Each option seemed to branch onwards to 'Advanced' versions, but they were greyed out to clearly suggest he need the basic version first.
Scan and Target seemed to be versions of the same thing – one to locate overall strengths and weaknesses, and one for locations you could hit now. Title was the odd one out, who needed people's names displayed in front of them?
Then again, he reluctantly, that might actually come in handy for Parent-Teacher conferences and at the Mission Desk. With a shrug, he selected that and Scan, which brought the option of Improved Scan into colour.
There was a rushing of wind, and a sound of chimes. 'Level Up Complete!' It announced cheerily.
Name: Umino Iruka
Position: Academy Teacher
Iruka flicked through the rest of the tutorials quickly, the swept his paperwork up. It vanished easily into the Inventory, which was a least one perk of… whatever this was. There were a few items that were outlined on his HUD visor, pens and books and small things left scattered behind in the classroom. He picked them up, more for a desire to keep the room tidy than to take them for anything.
His visor did note that he had acquired them, with a little amendment of '2xp'.
Iruka shook his head. He really was wasting too much time.
But his students were still milling around outside, showing their new headbands to their parents. Iruka smiled at them, hiding his confusion, and gave his congratulations.
If he ignored the way his visor sent consistent 'Bingo Book Updated' messages, and the way that everyone's names were hovering over their heads… it was almost the same as the end of every other year.
"And don't forget about team selection on Friday!" He called, waving the last of them off. He glanced at the clock out of habit, and frowned. Half past. That meant it wasn't stopped. Except… it had taken him hours to read the tutorials, yet his students had still been waiting outside. There was something more to it than just the working of a single clock.
He locked the Academy up, and went to find Naruto. Except, Naruto wasn't in the forest. He wasn't at his apartment and he wasn't at Ichiraku. What time had Mizuki met up with him? What time had he stolen the scroll?
If he tried to tell the Hokage again, he might end up being forbidden to search, as had happened last time. But if he just waited for Mizuki to come and fetch him….
Iruka turned, and went back to his apartment.
He waited. He paced. Frustratingly, the clock didn't move. He read the tutorials again. He read the bingo book updates and learnt a surprising amount about the parents of his students. Still the clock didn't tick.
"I don't understand," Iruka said, glaring at the sun where it hung in the sky. It should have been sinking towards the horizon. But it wasn't. It was still half past three, the same time as it had been when he left the Academy.
"Time passed when I talked to them," he said to himself. "But not when I'm alone. Except, I was alone when Mizuki came to get me…" He'd been asleep even.
He eyed the bed. There was no reason it should help. But there was also no reason it shouldn't.
"Well, if it doesn't, at least I'll be rested," he decided, and shucked his vest. "Taking a nap at three in the afternoon… I feel like a teenager again."
When he woke, it was to someone hammering on his door.
"Iruka!" Mizuki blurted out, as soon as the door was open. "You have to come quickly! It's Naruto! He's stolen the Forbidden Scroll!"
"I see," Iruka said, grabbing his vest. "I better go find him then."
Mizuki nodded curtly. "I'll go spread the word. The more people that know, the better."
A countdown appeared at the bottom of his screen, giving almost half an hour. Iruka ignored it, making a beeline for the Academy Forest Station, where Naruto had been before.
"I found you," he panted, arriving at the clearing where Naruto was training. "Come on, we have to get back to the village. This is a trap!"
"No, I found you!" Naruto cried back.
Iruka had the chilling feeling that Naruto hadn't heard the most important part. "Mizuki framed you, Naruto. This is a trap."
"Yeah, Mizuki-sensei told me about the secret graduation test!" Naruto exclaimed. "I only learnt one technique though. But I'm sure to pass now, right?"
"You have to demonstrate it to the Hokage," Iruka lied, hoping that it would work. When he tried to say things that had happened in one of the other… times, then people didn't seem to hear. But that didn't mean he couldn't use other methods to get Naruto out of here.
"Oh, well, what are we waiting for then?" Naruto said brightly, hopping to his feet. He began to pull the scroll onto his back, but Iruka was struck by an idea.
"I'll take that," he said, and placed it into the Inventory. 'Key Item Acquired; Forbidden Scroll' Mizuki would have a tough time getting his hands on it there. "Let's go find the Hokage, right?"
"Not so fast," Mizuki said, stepping out of the shadows into the clearing. Iruka's visor outlined him in red, making him stand out against the trees even more.
"Mizuki," Iruka said levelly. "Why?"
"Why?" Mizuki repeated. "Why? Because this place is worthless. Because I was given a better offer. Because I want to see you dead before I go."
'Bingo Book Updated; Mizuki'
"What are you talking about?!" Naruto shouted. "Mizuki-sensei?"
Mizuki sneered at him. "And because you," he said. "Are the Nine Tailed Fox."
Iruka gaped. He hadn't thought that Mizuki would go so far. He spluttered. "Mizuki!"
"That's… that's not true," Naruto said, except his words faded into uncertainty. "Is it?"
"Don't look to Iruka," Mizuki said, scowling. "It's true, and he hates you for it. Just like everyone else hates you."
"That," Iruka said darkly, "isn't true. Naruto is my student. I don't hate him at all."
"He killed your parents. I remember, Iruka. You used to be such a cry baby about it."
"Enough!" Iruka shouted. "Stop this Mizuki!"
Mizuki sneered again, and pulled the giant fuma shuriken off his back. Iruka felt a flash of terrible Déjà vu.
And then everything froze.
'Tutorial; Combat' piped happily on his screen. 'Combat is one of the most important skills for a ninja to master.' Iruka skimmed over the information, which included suggestions to equip a weapon – did it think he was an idiot?- the use of healing items and stimulants in battle, and interestingly, about the talent he had selected earlier. Scan.
"Scan," he ordered it. A light swept over Mizuki, and the Scroll of Sealing unrolled itself, hovering in the air. Mizuki's Bingo book page was displayed, but unlike earlier, he was now labelled 'enemy' and it had much more detailed information about him. Affinity, weapons, known jutsu, taijutsu style… and a whole lot of numbers that seemed to represent chakra and stamina, much like the bars on Iruka's screen did. Actually… there were now bars floating over Mizuki, giving the same information.
Apprehensively, Iruka noticed that those Mizuki had, had much higher numbers than his own.
He took a deep breath. He just had to think. And he had, apparently, unlimited time to do just that. He tried not to laugh hysterically.
Firstly, he had to get Naruto out of here. That was key. That would involve making a diversion and running. He had a bit of wire and some extra kunai, so he could make a few traps, and yes, he might even have a few barrier tags in his vest from a mission a few months ago. If he could get Mizuki into the middle of them, he could set off a Sealed Square Perimeter…
Iruka took a deep breath and rolled up the scroll.
Everything snapped back into action. He grabbed Naruto by the scruff of the neck, body flickering them both into the trees. Mizuki's shuriken whirred ominously behind them, but missed. "Go!" Iruka barked, setting Naruto down with a hasty shove, and creating several clones to dart in different directions.
Naruto stared up at him with wide eyes, but Iruka hardly had time to console him. "Get the Hokage."
He retreated a little, spooling wire out of his pouch and setting up a very hasty tripline. It would hardly work on Mizuki, but it would probably catch his attention. That was the important thing.
It did. His visor barely had time to blink a warning at him, before a wave of kunai and shuriken pelted out of the foliage at him. Iruka spared a hasty glance to check that Naruto was gone, and retreated further into the forest, slapping the four tags on tree trunks.
"You always run," Mizuki called. "It won't save you this time."
Iruka crouched under cover, and waited. "No," he agreed, when Mizuki was inside the square. "But this might." He set the four off trapping Mizuki in a barrier that then exploded very violently.
The bars representing Mizuki's chakra and stamina took a massive hit, but didn't empty. Iruka felt like he knew what that meant.
He darted backwards as Mizuki exploded out of the trap, barely managing to deflect the strike that tried to take his head off. He wasn't a slouch at taijutsu, but there was also no denying that Mizuki was taller, stronger and faster.
"HEY! You leave Iruka-sensei alone!" A young voice shouted, and Iruka's heart dropped to see that Naruto hadn't run away like he was supposed to. "I'll show you my new jutsu, believe it! Mass Shadow Clone Jutsu!"
Then there was not one Naruto. There were hundreds.
Mizuki snarled, and Iruka powered a kick into his stomach, launching him backwards just in time to be mobbed by the clones.
"I told you to go," Iruka panted, watching Mizuki's stamina bar bottom out. His visor was blinking at him, messages about a Team, Mission Log updates, and Enemy Defeated (which had an xp tag of 1500, whatever that meant), a Level Up, Encyclopaedia updates and more. He ignored them.
Naruto grinned sheepishly at him. "I got lost."
Iruka didn't believe that at all. "Uhuh. Well, I guess people will find us soon enough, anyway." Explosions drew attention, especially if so many ninja were looking for them.
He made sure Mizuki was properly knocked out, tied him up – somehow managing to get all the weapons off him in the process, even if they ended added to his Inventory – and sat down to read through his new notifications. Like what had happened in combat, he noticed that the world froze when he pulled out his Scroll of Sealing, Naruto pausing in mid bounce.
That was … handy to know, if he didn't think too hard about how.
There was a new Option to his main menu 'Party' and Naruto had been selected as a 'Temporary Team Member'.
And that reminded him.
He snapped the scroll shut. "Naruto. Come here for a second, would you?"
Naruto bounced over, curiously. "What, Iruka-sensei?"
"Close your eyes?" Trying to get the new headband out of his Inventory would have taken too long. So instead, Iruka unwrapped his own, the one that had seen him through ten years of shinobi service. "I want to say… congratulations, Genin."
He'd probably get in trouble for this. But it was worth it.
Iruka waded through the messages that were clogging his HUD. The Level Up seemed much the same as the situation he had encountered in the Academy room, though this time there were only two Attributes and Skill points and no Talents at all. (That was a shame. Iruka was beginning to think that Target might have been a better pick than Titles. It wasn't like he'd been reading them anyway, and it might have come in handy against Mizuki.)
He put the Attribute points into Perception and Range, because they both seemed to affect Scan, and the two Skill points into Trap Making.
A little curiously, he looked at the number representing his 'Level'. It said thirteen, which meant next to nothing to him. He flicked through the scroll to the Party section and found that Naruto was Level eleven.
Wait, that was the same number that was hovering above his head, wasn't it?
Iruka looked over at Naruto. There, clear as day, hovering above his head, were the words:
Genin - 11
Shouldn't there be more difference between us? Iruka thought, bemused. And why is Naruto both a Student and a Genin? I field promoted him.
Maybe it didn't take into effect until the Hokage authorised it? But then why was it showing up at all?
What level had Mizuki been, then? Iruka flicked through the BingoBook, and found that the whole page was now stamped with a huge 'Defeated' red stamp. He smirked.
"Level fifteen," he read. That was… a bit of difference. But that would make Mizuki as much stronger than Iruka as Iruka was than Naruto. And that wasn't true at all.
Although, he did make hundreds of shadow clones, Iruka thought ruefully, casting a glance at his student. Maybe these numbers should be the other way around.
He sighed. That was just depressing.
The answer, he found further along in the Tutorial section. "So, not a student, but my student?" Iruka said thoughtfully. "What's the difference between the two?"
There apparently was a difference, and it came with whole host of related bonuses. "Plus one to all Attributes, plus two to Luck, plus two to Seal Making, Talent: Charisma," Iruka found. "Talent Unlocked: Teacher? But I already am a Teacher."
He thought about throwing the Scroll away. What on earth was it good for? So far it only made things confusing and irritating.
Then he thought about the countdown. About how he had failed Naruto twice, and had still had another chance to make things right. About how Mizuki had killed him, and Iruka had, somehow, someway, survived it.
He knew that there was no way he was throwing this away.
"Okay, fine. Naruto is a Genin, but my student, and having him as my student gets me bonuses," he said. "What about the rest of my students? They're not listed on here. Is it because they all graduated before… this? And being a teacher increases something called Reputation… Right, of course there is a tutorial for that. What was I thinking?"
There seemed to be endless tutorials popping up. He hoped that this was only because he was new at it, and not going to continue for the rest of his life.
Eventually though, he had read through them all, struggling to understand and make sense of the barrage of information. He had the feeling that he'd have to go back to them in future because some of it had just sailed right over his head.
Is this how the kids feel in class? He wondered.
But keeping the Scroll active wasn't really helping the time to pass. Naruto was still frozen in mid bounce. Nothing would progress until he closed it.
Well, it was good to buy time to think, Iruka acknowledged. Handy in combat. He might not have done so well against Mizuki if he hadn't had that space.
He grabbed the Scroll of Forbidden Seals out of the Inventory – so he could give it back to the Hokage – and closed the Scroll.
"Ne, are you going to learn a jutsu out of it too?" Naruto asked, cheerily. "Shadow Clone jutsu is the best one, believe it."
Iruka was appalled. "No! Why would I do that, you little idiot?! The Scroll of Forbidden Seals is a village artefact, and it's forbidden for a reason!"
Naruto scoffed. "It's just got a bunch of really boring jutsu in it."
Iruka hmph, and turned away. Really. That kid.
His hand itched. If Naruto had looked at it, then it couldn't be so bad, could it? And he should check to make sure it was the right scroll, surely. It would be irresponsible not to.
Iruka ignored his own bad reasoning and cracked open the top of the scroll.
'Encyclopaedia Entry Acquired!' his HUD blinked at him. Iruka paused, pulled open the Scroll and found that, yes, it had just copied what looked like the entirety of the Forbidden Scroll into his Jutsu page. Guiltily, he looked over it.
"Shadow Clone Jutsu. Activation cost, 200 units of chakra, remainder split by number of clones." Iruka paused, flicked to his stats page and found that he barely had enough chakra to manage the activation, let alone do anything useful with it. "How much chakra does that kid have?" he wondered.
The answer, it turned out, had too many zeroes for Iruka to be comfortable with.
"That's not fair. It's just… not fair."
He closed the Scroll, watching Naruto bounce, and resolutely pretended he had not read the Forbidden Scroll. None of the Jutsu were useful to him anyway, with prohibitive cost and terrible side effects.
Then the Hokage showed up, in a flurry of leaves, two ANBU standing ghostly at his sides.
Iruka jumped to his feet. "Hokage-sama!"
Almost unwillingly, his eyes drifted to the names above their heads. Sarutobi Hiruzen, Sandaime Hokage – 60. Yugao Uzuki, ANBU- 26. Yamato, ANBU – 27.
Iruka could barely stop himself from gaping. Firstly, knowing the names of active duty ANBU was bad form, and secondly….
Is that the level of skill…
Suddenly, thirteen did not seem so very high after all.
"Congratulations," the Hokage said. "On a Mission Completed."
Iruka frowned. But there was a cheerful sound of wind chimes, and another popup echoed the sentiment.
The traitor Mizuki has been apprehended and the Scroll of Forbidden seals is in safe hands. Continue. Restart.
Carefully, Iruka selected 'Continue'. There was another chime, a '2000xp' sign floating in the air in front of him, and the Level Up alert back again.
Saving Progress. His HUD informed him. Tutorial section completed.
Carefully, Iruka opened the Scroll of Sealing, keeping one eye on the frozen Hokage. It seemed rude to do this in the middle of a conversation, but the Hokage didn't appear to notice at all. Like before, all the people around him just… froze.
There were two more options to his Main Menu, and he touched 'Save/Load'. The ink faded away, opening up a new page, with a whole lot of empty squares and a single picture that looked like a photograph of them Iruka standing in this very clearing with the Hokage, his ANBU and Naruto. Unnerved, Iruka looked around, but of course, there was no one hiding in the bushes with a camera.
He ignored that, instead checking out what the 'Achievements' tab showed. That was less unnerving, but still strange.
'Genin,' the first line proclaimed. 'You have taken your first step along the path of the ninja. Unlocked Genin ranked areas, missions and items!'
The next was called 'Man on a Mission' and complimented him for taking his first mission. Iruka was almost offended. This was not his first mission. Sure, it had been a while since he had done anything but teach, but that was no reason to ignore his entire past.
Then there was 'Master and Disciple' for taking a student to teach the ninja ways, and 'Knowledgeable' for having 100 Encyclopaedia entries and seemed to give a bonus to his Awareness Attribute.
He closed the Scroll with a snap.
"It is a sad day when tragedy like this occurs," the Hokage continued, as if he'd never been interrupted. And from his point of view, he hadn't been. "But as with all tragedy, there comes a time when we discover what our hearts are made of, and how deeply the will of fire burns within them. I am glad to call you shinobi of Konoha."
"Ah, thank you, Hokage-sama," Iruka said, flushing and bowing. He held out the Forbidden Scroll, and was relieved when the Hokage took it off his hands. Something like that was better kept safe.
"Well done. I look forward to seeing you grow. Make sure to hand in your registration paperwork and be at team selections on Friday."
Iruka assumed that the Hokage was talking to Naruto, even if his eyes were still squarely trained on Iruka. It just… didn't make sense otherwise.
"Yes, Hokage-sama," he repeated, putting a hand on Naruto's head and forcing it to nod. They were lucky to be getting away without repercussions, so the brat had better be grateful.
"Aww, whatever," Naruto said. "Can't we go and get ramen or something?"
Iruka laughed nervously and smacked Naruto on the back of the head. "Show some respect."
The next morning Iruka mostly ignored the oddness to the world. He was still wearing the HUD, already it seemed so integral to the way he saw the world and it had only been a day.
There was still a lot to be done at the Academy to finalise the Genin teams – more so now that he had to do it alone.
Iruka hadn't given much thought, to what it really meant that Mizuki was gone. Even if he wasn't dead yet, he was gone. He'd been too confused, too busy trying to work out what was going on to take in what it meant. He had felt betrayed, yes, but didn't understand the depth of it until he was standing in front of the Academy - where they had trained together, where they had taught together - and trying not to cry.
"Easy, Iruka," Suzume-sensei said, putting a hand on his back. "Come and have some tea with me."
Iruka nodded, but said nothing. He couldn't, over the lump in his throat.
"We know very little about what happened," Suzume said. "Which of course, tells us quite a bit. How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine," Iruka managed, taking a sip of slightly-too-hot green tea.
She looked at him very sternly. "I won't say that I don't feel betrayed," Suzume said. "Because I do. And most of the other teachers do too. We worked together. But you were friends and there's a difference."
"We were teammates," Iruka said. "And then we taught together. I never expected it. Not until he attacked me… I never saw it coming."
"Nor did I," Suzume said. "And it was more my job than yours. I teach infiltration, after all."
"You couldn't have been expected to see," Iruka protested immediately. "Until yesterday, Mizuki hadn't done anything out of the ordinary."
Suzume raised an eyebrow at him.
Iruka flushed. "Yes, sensei. I see your point."
Something flashed on his HUD, but he ignored it.
"The best arguments are the ones you make yourself," Suzume said. "You can say as much as you like that it's different, and I acknowledge that it is. But we can never hold ourselves responsible for the actions of other people, Iruka. The only person we control is ourselves."
"Yes, I know," Iruka murmured. "I just can't help feeling like there should have been some way…" he trailed off.
They drank the rest of their tea in silence.
Then Iruka excused himself to go and finish assigning Genin Teams, which was a task he would have to start from scratch with Naruto's promotion. Well. Not from scratch, but there would be a few reshuffles, in order for combinations to work.
Almost thoughtlessly, he summoned the Scroll of Sealing to see what the notifications from his meeting with Suzume had been. There were updates to her Bingo Book page – and he was surprised to see that she was level 20, though she was a Special Jounin, so maybe that was why – and an increase on the 'Relationship' bar that seemed to measure their level of friendship. There was also the addition of a 'Teacher' label to her.
Puzzled, Iruka flicked through the tutorials. Given that 'Student' had meant that Naruto was his student, it seemed unlikely that Suzume had just gained a title for being a teacher in general.
"The best and fastest way to progress is to have the guidance of an experienced ninja as a sensei. Each teacher generates specific bonus's and upgrades, as well as providing an increase in experience gain," Iruka found.
It made sense, of course, which was why they assigned Jounin Sensei in the first place. But it was… a little strange to hear it applied to himself. Suzume was his friend, more than she was his sensei.
Having Suzume listed as his sensei, he found, gave him an increase of twenty percent to experience gain, a one point increase to Perception and Identify, and a two point increase to Herbalism. Since she was the one that taught the academy girls all about infiltration and flower arranging codes, he supposed that that fit her.
Still, it wasn't particularly pressing. Mystery solved, Iruka went back to finishing his paperwork, having to rescue some of it from where it was stashed in his inventory.
He finished that. Completed the student records. Summarised interactions in the team assessments that he suspected no Jounin Sensei ever read. Annotated his lesson plans for next year. Found three lost text books in his desk drawers.
But Iruka was efficient, and there was only so much end of year paperwork to do. And when he checked the clock, it was still only eight am.
Right. Time is broken, he remembered. But his body wasn't, and he was starving. That much work would probably have taken all day, if the day was moving, so it was at least lunch time.
The teacher break room was deserted, except for Daikoku making his morning coffee. "Good morning, sensei," Iruka said, surreptitiously checking out the words floating above his colleagues head.
'Daikoku Funeno, Chunin – 17'
Stronger than Mizuki, not as strong as Suzume. Interesting.
"Morning, Iruka," Daikoku said back. "Lunch break already?"
Iruka laughed awkwardly, taking his bento out of the fridge. "I've been working hours already," he explained. It was true, if only from a certain point of view.
"Yeah, bet you want to make sure everything is square, right?"
Iruka paused. "Yeah," he said, though he hadn't even considered it. Surely, Mizuki wouldn't have… but yesterday, he would never have thought Mizuki was a traitor at all. Maybe he had better check everything, to be sure.
"It's a terrible business. Such a shame."
"It is," Iruka agreed. "Look, I have heaps to do. Oh. But- I always forget. When we compile the class consumables list, do I put in for a full set of practice kunai, or only the ones that were broken last year?"
"Put in for a full set," Daikoku advised. "You'll destroy half of them anyway, so better to have too many."
"Thanks, sensei," Iruka said, watching as his HUD blinked confirmation, and the magic work 'Teacher' appeared above his colleagues head. "You've been a huge help."
It wasn't, he thought, that he really needed to have Daikoku listed as his teacher. But it was nice to work out what made the change happen. There had to be a rule for it, and as far as he could tell it went with the offering of advice – teaching, in other words – and the response of 'sensei'. Simple.
When nothing else was simple, it was nice to be right about something, Iruka thought. It did seem that the bonuses he got from having a teacher were less than those he got from having a student – or maybe it was just Naruto? – except for the experience gain increase.
What any of this actually meant in practical, useful terms, he didn't know. It would be something that he would have to find out. Because if he was sticking with this strange Scroll business, he might as well do it to best effect.
Iruka ate his bento hastily, then hesitantly sat down behind Mizuki's desk. It was only slightly different from his own, yet the small change in perspective felt so wrong. It was clean, too. Cleaner than Mizuki ever left it. Iruka suspected that the Hokage had already had someone in to look at it, and was mostly relieved about that.
He hadn't been holding out hope that this would reveal anything about why Mizuki chose to betray them.
"Let's see what you left behind," Iruka said.
"Hokage-sama?" Iruka asked, knocking on the door even though the secretary had given him the go ahead to come inside. It was still – nominally – eight o'clock, even though he'd already finished redoing the team assingments. The extra time could come in handy, he admitted, even if it was strange and abnormal.
"Ah, Iruka, are you here to register?" The Hokage asked.
Iruka blinked. "I… have the team assignments?" he said, confused. Then he decided that the Hokage had probably just seen so many new students already that it was automatic.
"Of course, of course," Sarutobi said, "come in."
They went over the assignments easily, and Iruka had the strangest feeling of Deja-Vu. This was how he had spent that second repeat – in this office, going over these papers.
"You seem distracted, Iruka," the Hokage commented.
"Sorry, Hokage-sama," Iruka stammered. "It's just…" Well, how could he explain that? He'd already seen that attempts to explain what was going on met a brick wall. "I just feel like I should be doing something."
Missions Unlocked! His HUD informed him.
Iruka's heart sank.
"Ah, you want a mission," the Hokage said, nodding knowingly. "You know, I think I have just the thing for you."
"No, that's alright, I mean, Hokage-sama-" Grimacing with resignation, Iruka took the scroll that was thrust in his direction.
There clearly wasn't any getting out of this. "Thank you," he murmured, politely. "I'll get right on that."
He left the Hokage's office and paused in the hallway to open the scroll.
Iruka felt his eye twitch. "It's a meet'n'greet," he muttered in disbelief. "I can't believe it. 'Just the thing', my ass."
Meet'n'greet missions were what you gave the newest of new Genin, to get them used to running around Konoha and introduced them to all the people that they should reasonably be expected to know. It was generally given as running messages, or delivering paperwork.
"I work at the mission desk. I know what this is," Iruka continued. Impolitely he thought, that old man is going senile, and then felt both horribly guilty and paranoid about it. The last thing he needed was to invite accusations of treason onto himself.
Meet'n'greet it was.
The first stop was the mission desk, to get whatever things it was that he was supposed to be running around Konoha delivering.
"Please provide your ninja ID. If you don't have a ninja ID, please submit your registration paperwork, complete with photo in order to receive one. Missions cannot be taken without Ninja ID."
Iruka twitched. "Izumo! It's Iruka."
Izumo blinked. "Oh. Hey. Iruka. You aren't on shift, are you?"
"No, Hokage-sama gave me a mission," Iruka explained, internally cringing at the reaction that he knew was going to come when Izumo saw the kind of mission it was. "Can you get me the package?" He handed over the mission scroll.
Izumo took it, opened it, read it and stood to get the items from the back room. All without a word or expression to indicate that this was in any way unusual.
"Deliver these, and then return to the mission desk to complete the mission and receive payment," he said.
"That's it?" Iruka asked, morbidly wondering why he was. It wasn't like he wanted Izumo to tease him.
"That's it," Izumo confirmed. "If you have any queries, please refer to the mission scroll."
Numbly, Iruka took the box and left. Thinking back, the whole spiel sounded … route. Maybe Izumo had seen too many new ninja today too?
The meet'n'greet turned out to be a good thing, in the end, in terms of discovering things about his new abilities. The map function seemed to learn as it travelled, so it couldn't display things in places that he hadn't yet been to with it. Simply walking the streets of Konoha had given him most of the map, which was handy, he did have to admit.
More strangely, people seemed to recognise him more often than not. Iruka wouldn't have called himself 'well known' especially amongst the civilians. Yes, he would have expected a large portion of the ninja to know him, from either the Mission Desk or the Academy, but it was a little strange to have merchants address him by name.
Still, they seemed happy to talk to him, and happy to share things they knew. Which, Iruka did have to admit to being an incurable gossip, so it wasn't any hardship to listen to some traders complaining about having trouble shipping in supplies from the east, due to increased charges from the shipping company. Pretty soon that would start to drive prices up, even in Konoha.
Privately, Iruka suspected that if it got that far, there would be a very quiet and very sudden resolution to the matter.
"Ah, but of course, you wanted to buy things!" The merchant said, nearly cutting himself off.
Iruka was set to decline, but instead of a very persuasive argument, his Scroll of Sealing opened up. The Inventory page displayed, and next to it a complementary inventory page, containing the merchants goods also opened up.
"That … is so weird," Iruka said, sighing. He still skimmed the goods with a practiced eye. "No. Definitely not."
He closed the Scroll. The merchant beamed at him like he'd just made a fine sale. "Please come again."
Iruka smiled awkwardly. "Right," he agreed and fled.
The next weird conversation occurred when he delivered to the Hospital.
"Thank you, we've been waiting for those. Oh! You're here! Excellent, we were told the tower was going to send a Genin. I need you to collect twenty pieces of willow bark for our medicine. Please bring them straight to me!"
Iruka blinked. "I'm only here to deliver these," he protested. "I'm not a genin either! I'm sure the tower is still sending someone."
"Are you back already? No? Oh, okay. I need you to collect twenty pieces of willow bark for our medicine. Please bring them straight to me!"
Iruka took a step back. That had bypassed 'strange' and gone straight to 'creepy'. "Right," he agreed warily. "I'll do that."
His HUD blinked at him, encyclopaedia entries about willow bark and it's properties and locations, as well as adding the task to the Missions Log.
Iruka wasn't sure he actually wanted to do that.
In the end, he finished the deliveries and went back to the missions desk to hand the scroll over. It hadn't taken as much time as it should have, but at least it was later than eight o'clock now.
Mission Complete – 350xp, 5000ryo
It wasn't until he was out of the missions room, and blinking at the sunlight, that Iruka realised it was strange.
"Wait. Didn't the mission scroll say 250 xp?" He opened the Scroll to double check. It had. Five thousand ryo, which was normal for a D-rank, and two hundred and fifty experience points. So why had he got three hundred and fifty instead?
The answer was staring him in the face.
"Teaching bonus," he murmured. "Twenty percent from Suzume. Twenty percent from Daikoku. Huh."
He'd noticed that being level fourteen put him as the lowest levelled Chunin he'd come across. Mizuki had been fifteen, and people like Izumo and Kotestu were nearly twenty. And that was the kind of group he should have been associated with.
Guiltily, Iruka wondered if he'd been putting off his training a little too often.
"It wouldn't hurt to do some missions," he said. "But first…"
He headed back to the Academy.
"Thank you, Nigiri-sensei," Iruka said. "You've been very helpful."
He'd only been able to find ten of the other Academy sensei, but they'd all come with 20% xp bonus's in addition to other things. And that meant that right now, he had a 240% experience points bonus.
It seemed almost wrong that he could do that.
"So a 250xp mission would then be 875xp instead," Iruka calculated. "And if I need just over three thousand xp to level up… I need four missions?"
That was perfectly possible. Easy, even.
Iruka nodded to himself and headed back to the missions desk. Along the way he stopped at a Takoyaki stall and brought himself is third lunch of the day.
Having more time was great, he mused, but actually bad on his wallet. Maybe missions were a good idea in more ways than one.
"D-rank," he requested, when he got to the missions desk. "I'll take the training fields one."
Missions to clean up the training fields were pretty common and no one ever liked doing them, so they languished in the pile until there was nothing else to do. Which always made the neat freak in Iruka itch to take care of them.
Now's my chance, he thought wryly. Besides, it didn't sound too bad.
"Whatever you say," Izumo said, throwing the scroll to him. He seemed more awake than earlier. "You know the drill, Iruka."
Iruka gave him a salute with the scroll, and shunshined away. Because he could.
Picking up stray kunai and winding strands of ninja wire wasn't actually hard. Iruka found that his HUD was excellent at picking out and highlighting items for him to collect – which appeared to work on his Perception and Identify scores. Each item he picked up stashed itself away in the Inventory, and gave a little xp bonus as it went, so that was something. And there were a few highlighted items that clearly weren't refuse to be collected – plants and flowers – that actually appeared to be crafting ingredients.
Iruka collected them too.
It was a little tedious, picking everything up, but tedious didn't mean it was hard, and he found he was enjoying himself a little, outside in the fresh air, without anything to think about in particular.
And he couldn't even stress himself out by thinking about all the things he could be doing instead, because it – literally – took no time at all.
"Next training field," Iruka requested, when he dropped it off at the missions desk.
"Look at you go," Izumo said, leaning back in his chair. "Leave some work for the kids, why don't you?"
Iruka scoffed. "I'll only do a couple."
He did four, and that got him to level fifteen. He put the two Attribute points into Identify, because it was the lowest, and that brought everything but Luck up to ten, counting all his bonuses. He still put both skill points into Trap Making, which was far outshining all his other Skills.
And finally, at level fifteen, he had another Talent point.
What to spend it on? He wondered. There was the two original ones he'd chosen, or Target, which might have come in handy. Or there was Teacher and Charisma, the two Talents he'd managed to unlock.
Scan, he decided. It had come in handy, and deciding where to target something was something he ought to be able to do himself, without some outside force assisting him. He knew where to hit someone, for crying out loud.
"Hey, Iruka," Izumo said, when he handed that scroll over. "You know the Chunin Exams are in Konoha this year, right?"
"Are they?" Iruka blinked. "I didn't know that. Are you proctoring?"
Izumo blinked slowly. "Y- yeah. I am. I think."
Iruka's HUD updated with a new Mission Log, and he opened it curiously.
Take part in the Chunin Exams? He frowned. Unlocked at Level 15.
"But I am a Chunin," he said aloud, bewildered, before snapping the Scroll closed.
"Another mission?" Izumo asked, and Iruka agreed before he really thought about it.
Oh well. He'd just do one more.
Of course, then he fell into the classic 'just one more' trap. There was something productive about being able to reset a training field, and to hand a scroll in for a 'complete' stamp. Different to teaching, which was, day in and day out the same long drag.
The fifth training field was the most interesting one, however. It was training field 7, which had a river complete with waterfall. Iruka barely paid any attention to it, right up until the point where his mini-map nearly had him walk straight into the thing.
"There is a wall there," he told it, like that would make it change. Stubbornly, the little picture continued to insist that he could keep walking. "… Or is there something behind the waterfall?"
Concentrating, he closed his eyes and sent off a pulse of his Echolocation Jutsu.
Secret area found!
Blueprint acquired – explosive tags
"A secret area?" Iruka opened the tutorial screen.
Secret areas are hidden locations. They can be discovered with genjutsu release, exploration jutsu or plain old fashioned sleuthing! They may contain treasure, enemies or dungeons so be careful!
"Interesting," Iruka said, before hopping through the waterfall to investigate the little cave. It was small, only about the size of a room, and completely empty. "Wait, didn't it say that I'd picked up a blueprint?"
How had he managed that, before he'd even set foot in the cave.
"Wait. Can my Echolocation Jutsu… pick things up?"
It was just a pulse of chakra. But… then again. How much of a touch did it take to put things in his Inventory? Not much, just a tap would do it.
Iruka's eyes gleamed. "This is going to be so easy."
Izumo leant back. "Uh, Iruka? I can't. You've done them all." He made a weak gesture at the pile of scrolls spilling off the table to the floor. "No more training fields to clean up."
Iruka paused. "What. Really?"
"Fifty training fields. Fifty missions. And that includes Forty Four and Twelve. I can't believe you did those, man."
Iruka blushed and scratched the back of his neck. "Well, to be honest, I wasn't paying much attention? The Forest of Death was pretty interesting anyway…." As long as he'd avoided the wildlife. There had been a couple of secret area's there, a couple of blueprints, and a couple of really interesting weapons scattered around. He'd probably have to sell them – he wasn't really sure what he'd do with a three-section-staff.
Besides, he'd gone up two more levels, and was halfway to level eighteen. And he'd picked up a couple of Achievements about completing 10 missions, and one for 10 D-ranks, that increased the amount he got paid for it.
He was on a roll.
"Well, what other missions are there then?"
"Well," Izumo shuffled the papers on the desk. "The hospital needs some herbs and medical ingredients collected. Or there have been complaints about giant rats in the sewers. Or… you can file these D-rank scrolls." He looked hopeful.
Iruka rolled his eyes and swept the pile into his inventory. "Fine. Mission accepted. I'll be back for the others."
"Take 'em now," Izumo said generously. "No rule that says you only have to have one at once, right? As long as you do them?"
Iruka paused. "In that case… give me them all."
He already had the ingredients that the hospital was looking for. Blanket scanning each training field with Echolocation Jutsu had picked up a lot of things, and his Inventory space seemed infinite, so Iruka hadn't bothered to take them out. It was coming in handy now.
It meant he could complete a whole lot of missions very quickly, without any effort at all.
"Thank you so much!" The hospital receptionist – Aiya Hanato, according to the words floating over her head, she was a civilian and level 6 – chirped, seeming not at all confused that he hadn't moved at all during the whole conversation, despite having filled five different requests. "That's all we need for today. As a reward, please take this!"
Iruka blinked and took the pouch that she was holding out towards him.
Med Kit Storage Pack received. His HUD told him. Expanding it got a bit more information. This pouch can but used to hold medical items for quick use in combat.
Curiously, he checked inside it to find that it was outfitted with not just the regular set of first aid items, but also bottles of potions.
Health Potion? He looked at it curiously. It almost seemed like it was a bottled healing jutsu. That was… new. He'd never heard of such things.
Cautiously, he asked the receptionist about it. She was perfectly willing to explain, not just what it was but also how to use it, which was nice but unnecessary. She didn't act like they were anything new, but then… people had been strange all day. The day had been strange all day.
"Well, thank you," he said lamely. "Are there any more… medical items?"
"There are many. What would you like to know about?" She asked.
That didn't really help much, Iruka thought gloomily. How could he ask about something when he didn't know it existed. A quick skim through the encyclopaedia gave him a few leads, though. There were a couple of items that had been mentioned that he hadn't recognised.
"What about… stimulants?" he asked, uneasily. The thing was, it didn't read like they were drugs. Well, obviously they were drugs, but in the same way that Soldier Pills were – regulated and approved.
"To use stimulants in battle, you'll need a Stimulant Launcher," Aiya replied immediately. "Stims can come in many different varieties, but the basic use of them is to boost for vital stats for more efficient combat. Stimulant Launchers can be purchased from the Hospital Merchant."
Iruka blinked. "There's a Hospital Merchant?" he asked, surprised. That was new too. Wasn't it?
"Certainly. The Hospital Merchant is located in the cafeteria. What else would you like to know about?"
"That's all. Thanks," Iruka said, thoroughly unnerved. There was just something about the repetitive nature of the conversation. Maybe she was just… a little strange.
It was mid-afternoon now, judging by the position of the sun outside. But Iruka figured that this day had probably been as long as several, if he'd managed to complete his Academy paperwork and clear out all fifty training fields.
He was a ninja. He could go several days without sleep if it was required. But that didn't change the fact that he was starting to feel tired now.
I'll finish the rest of these D-ranks. I don't want to get Izumo in trouble for giving them to me, he thought sheepishly. Taking them all might have been unnecessary.
It had seemed like an excellent idea when he was standing there.
He sorted through the list of missions, and used the beacon on the map to tag the places that he needed to go. As usual for D-ranks, there were a lot of deliveries, which he could do quickly. There were a few Konoha citizens that needed help with regular household chores like cleaning and gardens and fence painting. And there was Izumo's 'giant rats' mission.
Really. Giant rats. I don't believe it.
He dropped into the first garden, confirmed it was the right house, and swept out an Echolocation Jutsu. Iruka only realised that was a really bad idea when it was too late.
"Oh," he said, staring at the garden, stricken. "I'm so sorry."
"Are you finished already, dear?" The old lady said, appearing not to notice that her entire garden had been massacred. Even the flowers were gone. "You ninja work so quickly! It's always worth hiring a D-rank when it gets so overgrown."
"Ah, well. If you're happy with it?" Iruka said carefully. He knew there'd been more than one complaint come into the mission desk of people uprooting flowers instead of weeds.
He was a little more careful after that, actually doing the work at the next houses instead of just sweeping everything up with an Echolocation Jutsu.
It took longer – for a given value of 'longer' when time only passed when he was talking to people – but at least he didn't have to deal with accidentally clearing out someone's house of all their possessions.
And that just really left the 'giant rats in the sewers' mission.
Iruka followed the Mission Log prompts to a specific training field, and lifted the manhole cover to one of the sewer entrances. Then he blasted an Echolocation Jutsu down it, just to see what he had to work with.
"Giant rats," he said wonderingly, getting the feedback. The thing was swarming with them. "Right. Scan."
His first impulse was to drop an exploding tag down there, but that wouldn't do anything good to the village infrastructure. He considered, then flicked open the Inventory to check if the vague memory of picking up some poison bombs in one of the training fields had been accurate. He hadn't even seen them, just swept them up with Echolocation Jutsu, and been glad about it.
"How do I have so much stuff?" he muttered, trying to scan through it all. "This is such a mess." He really needed to sort it out, he thought, absently. But now really wasn't the time.
Poison Gas Bomb; Contact Paralysis Poison.
"Perfect," Iruka said, fashioning his t-shirt into a makeshift gas mask. As long as he didn't breathe it in, he would be fine.
He dropped the bomb down the manhole, equipped a set of kunai and dropped down after it.
What followed after was… messy.
The rats were knee height and quick, with teeth. Not so different from students, really, except for the fact that he was supposed to stab them. He didn't have much trouble keeping track of them, and they weren't particularly strong, but he did get bitten a few more times than he was perfectly comfortable with.
He swept out another Echolocation Jutsu after, to ensure that they were all taken care of. It picked up… money? Had they been hoarding ryo? How strange.
The sewer system was interconnected, and it took a bit of exploring to ensure that the entire area was clear. There weren't big nests of the rats like the entrance, but there were several smaller groups that he'd had to destroy.
More than enough for one day, he decided, dropping off the missions and going home. More than enough.
Iruka puttered around the kitchen making breakfast and determinedly ignoring the way his alarm clock had woken him at six and then just … stopped ticking. It was obviously too much to hope for that the whole thing had been a hallucination brought on by over work.
Still. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day. All universal mysteries could wait until after.
Eventually, he had to concede that he was stalling. Breakfast had been made and eaten. Dishes had been washed and put away. The apartment had been cleaned. The laundry had been done.
Iruka picked up the HUD and slid it on.
Unlike after a mission or combat, it didn't barrage him with messages. He felt a little silly for avoiding it for so long.
Until he opened the inventory page and twitched. "Where did all this stuff come from?" It wasn't just kunai or shuriken, either. There were boxes filled with 'Assorted Trash' and 'Small Rocks' and dozens of types of plant matter. And bones and teeth and claws and animal pelts…
Maybe using Echolocation Jutsu so indiscriminately hadn't been the best idea, he thought sheepishly, poking at the selections. He'd have to throw it all out. Well, maybe he could sell some of the rusty old kunai, which was what people normally did after searching the training fields, and the plants and things would probably come in handy if the hospital wanted more… And oh, that was a nice set of senbon. Had someone just left that lying around in a training field? The waste of it.
Iruka withdrew them from the Inventory and stashed them in his kunai pouch. He might as well keep the things that were better than his own equipment.
Also, that reminded him. He was out of exploding tags, after that fight with Mizuki. And while he didn't actually use them all that often, it was probably best to resupply.
Though, hadn't the Scroll said something about Exploding Tags?
There was a selection for Seal Making. And it only listed the requirements as 'Paper' and 'Chakra Conductive Ink'.
"That's just ink mixed with blood," Iruka said, doubtfully, and rummaged around in his desk until he found an ink bottle. It was sadly nearly empty. He sliced a small cut into his hand and dripped blood into the bottle.
Blueprint acquired; Chakra Conductive Ink! His HUD informed him.
"So then… I just put the ink and paper onto the Scroll?" There were … boxes lined on it, and the items slid into the scroll as easily as they went into the Inventory page. He tapped the 'create' kanji below them.
And out popped a single exploding tag.
Chakra Conductive Ink required,it said, greying out the 'create' option. It had obviously used all the ink, but not all the paper.
"That." Iruka said, and found himself speechless.
It had created a seal. That was…
The explosive note looked perfect. He wasn't an expert, but he would put money on it functioning exactly like a grade-A explosive note purchased from any of Konoha's approved merchants.
And it had cost him nothing.
Iruka took a deep breath. "I need more Ink," he said, aloud. "What other seals do I have here?" There was a paralysis seal, and a containment one. There was a blueprint for a chakra repressing seal, only it seemed to require a higher level of Seal Making than he possessed at the moment.
Iruka switched tabs, opening the Trap Making, where he had put almost all of his skill points. There were simple traps like Wire Traps and Snares, medium ones like Kunai Launchers and Pit Traps, and options to create disguises and camouflage cloaks. There were options to disguise weapons as harmless objects – or disguise harmless objects as weapons.
The little part of Iruka that had spent most of the Academy goofing off looked at that option for a very long moment. It may have even had ideas.
And there was, of course, his Sealed Square Perimeter trap, which wasn't particularly difficult but required exploding tags. The little ¼ helpfully informed him that he didn't actually have enough for it.
"To the merchants," Iruka decided. First, he would get rid of some of the rubbish he seemed to have picked up. Then he would get some ink. Even if this Scroll did nothing else – and that clearly wasn't true in the slightest – the ability to make seals on command made it worth … well. Worth a lot.
Because this was Konoha, there was at least one weapons shop open twenty four hours a day. Which was lucky, because it was not a minute after six am and most of the village was shut. Iruka hadn't factored that into his plan.
At the very least, he didn't have to face the embarrassment of dropping a whole arm load of rusty knives onto the counter, because the second he suggested he wanted to sell things, the Scroll of Sealing opened up and he was able to directly deposit the items into the merchants Inventory.
"Thank you," Iruka said, rubbing the back of his neck. "You don't happen to sell Chakra Conductive Ink, do you?"
"Please, take a look at my wares," the merchant said. Iruka was just about to protest that he was asking so he didn't have to search the shop, when the Inventory screen popped back up.
That… made things easier.
Normally, the cost of special ink was high enough that he didn't bother, and just mixed his own. But if he wanted it in large quantities, then he'd start risking blood loss. And besides, he'd just made a fair amount of money, what with running D-ranks all day yesterday and selling the results.
"If a fraction of a bottle made one… then a whole bottle should make about ten? Explosive notes, anyway. The others might take more, or less. I'll get two. That should be more than enough." And he really needed to stop talking to himself. He was going to start sounding crazy.
He left the weapons shop feeling cheerful and headed to the Missions desk. There would be no more work at the Academy until it was time to assign teams to the Genin, and after that it was summer break. During that time he usually filled in at the desk, so he really ought to remember to sign up for it.
"Please chose a D-rank," the ninja at the desk said, bored. He wasn't one that Iruka recognised – and his name, Tsuzumi Sarugaki, wasn't familiar - but the arm in a sling hinted at the reason why he was stationed there. It wasn't terribly unusual for injured shinobi to take on positions in less active roles, and Iruka hoped that he came away from it with slightly more respect for how difficult it was, since some field shinobi never seemed to believe it.
Iruka cleared his throat. "I'd actually like to sign up for shifts at the Missions Desk," he explained.
"That's a position only available to Chunin. Please choose a D-rank."
Iruka glared. "I am a Chunin," he snapped. "Iruka Umino. Zero, one, one, eight, five, oh. Look it up!"
The shinobi squeaked and leant backwards. Iruka toned down the radiating anger, just a little bit. He didn't lose the glare, however. Some people were just like Academy Students, if you took your attention off them, they seemed to think you no longer expected them to do what you asked.
"Sorry, Umino-sensei!" the man blurted out. "I, uhm. The desk roster is full!"
Well. That was a different story. "Really?" Iruka asked, sceptically. "It's not usually so busy."
Tsuzumi shrugged helplessly. "Sorry, I don't know why. But there's no empty shifts for you to take. Would you like a D-rank instead?"
Iruka sighed. "Give me them all," he said.
A surprising number of training fields had apparently been used overnight. They were, once again, littered with the shrapnel of fighting.
Iruka considered his thoughts on using Echolation Jutsu to clear them out, and then how long it would take to actually go through and pick all those things up.
"Echolocation Jutsu," he said, definitively.
He'd just have to start a rock garden, or something.
And even though the Forest of Death wasn't on the list of training fields that he had to clear, Iruka went there anyway. He stuck to the tall tree tops and kept a nervous eye out for the wildlife, but there was something that he had encountered yesterday that he wanted to explore further.
His Echolocation Jutsu had shown him a cave, nestled underneath the roots of a giant tree, that seemed to tunnel down even further. But when he had jumped down to explore it, it had been … blocked, by what looked like a barrier of blue light.
Yesterday, he had left it alone. It had exceeded the limit of weirdness that he had been prepared to deal with. Today, well, today he was in a good mood.
Cautiously, he reached out to touch it. It felt like smooth glass under his hand, completely impassable.
Would you like to enter the cave? Yes. No.
Iruka blinked, and instead opened the tutorial message on his HUD that explained what he was getting himself into.
Caves, or dungeons, are types of secret areas that are non-congruent with the map around them. They may be part of a mission, or contain enemies or items that would not be found in that area naturally. It is suggested you save before exploring a cave!
Obediently, Iruka flicked to the 'Save' page and tapped the icon. It seemed to take a snapshot, filling the next slot with an image of him in this time and place. Although the tutorial had explained the save system, he had been… reluctant to try it out.
Then he closed the Scroll.
"Enter the cave. Yes."
"It's a Konoha-nin! Get him!"
Iruka back pedaled frantically, more shocked at coming face to face with a team of Kumo ninja (IN THE MIDDLE OF KONOHA, WHAT?) than anything else.
Then he took a look at their ranks and levels (Jounin 26, Chunin 18, Chunin 17, Chunin 17) and decided that retreat was most certainly the better part of valour.
"Echolocation Jutsu," he muttered, sending his chakra out so that he could map the tunnel ahead of him, hoping that he wasn't running blindly into a dead end. Yes, there! There was a particular little nook, that would be just big enough for him to squeeze into…
He pulled open the Traps menu, and hastily pressed the icon for a camouflage blanket. The Kakuremino Jutsu was an E-Rank that he taught to Academy students and mostly relied on having properly prepared camouflage to blend in with the surroundings.
Time to see how well this Scroll works, he thought grimly, covering himself and closing the Scroll.
The Kumo team blasted straight past him.
They're fast, he thought, before sending a 'Scan' after them. It didn't really do more than confirm his impression that he was out classed.
How did they get here? He wondered. How long have they been here? I can't let them get to the surface! They could attack the village and no one would be ready for them!
He could set traps, though. Slow them down long enough to get to the surface and warn everyone that there was going to be an attack. Tunnels were good for that, anyway. There's only one direction that they could travel, if they wanted to chase him.
It was as much of a plan as anything.
Iruka pulled open the scroll and used it to produce the materials he needed for the traps. It helped, it really did, especially when it set up a pit trap and he didn't have to dig the hole underneath it. He kept going, laying traps until he was down to two meters of ninja wire and the kunai in his pouch. If it came to a fight, he'd probably need those.
He was nearly done, inching towards the exit, when a glint of light made him look up. He rolled backwards, narrowly avoiding the kunai aimed at his head, and watched in morbid horror as the Kumo team raced down the hallway towards him.
The first trap to go off was a tripline, peppering all four of them with spring launched shuriken. Then the first Chunin took an unwary step and landed squarely in the bear trap. Iruka winced. He'd lose that leg, unless they had a great medic nin with them.
Not that he was going to let them leave, obviously. But even if he did….
The second Chunin ran afoul of the pit trap, and his red Health bar plummeted as he disappeared. Iruka couldn't see him… but he doubted the man survived.
The third did better, and made it halfway down the gauntlet of traps before disappearing in a fiery explosion.
It was the Jounin that Iruka had to watch out for. Even though the man set off several traps and lost a portion of his health bar, he was still going strong when he made it to Iruka. Iruka ducked around him, was caught with a brutal kick that slammed him against the wall and nearly finished him. He disengaged, dropped a smoke bomb, and wove his way back through the traps, hoping he remembered where they were perfectly.
He hesitated for half a beat, when he closed in on the Chunin trapped in the bear trap and slapped an explosive note on him. Then he tore on past, evading the sluggish grasps, and waited until the Jounin had nearly caught up before he set the tag off.
The explosion knocked him off his feet and Iruka pressed himself flat against the floor.
Enemy defeated; 8500xp
Enemy defeated; 8500xp
Enemy defeated; 8500xp
Enemy defeated; 10200xp
There was deafening silence.
Level Up, his HUD informed him.
Iruka ignored it and swept out an Echolocation Jutsu. He barely flinched as all his traps vanished, collected by the chakra and returned to his inventory. That could be a problem in future.
But the information that his jutsu returned was clear. There was no one still alive in this corridor but him.
Body thrumming with adrenaline, Iruka opened his scroll and completed the level up. Attributes went to Perception, Awareness and Range, but he hesitated before putting the Skill points into Trap Making and pressed them into Seal Making instead. The traps were good – he could hardly contest that now – but if he could make more seals, or better seals, or whatever it was, then he could combine the two easily. And traps he could do himself, even if it took him more time. Seals he couldn't.
There was another Talent point, but he put it into Scan, almost automatically.
I better keep exploring, Iruka thought. Who knows how long they've been down here? There might be clues.
He crept onwards with more care than before, exploring carefully. Then he froze.
There was another team.
Iruka collapsed outside the cave, wide eyed and frazzled and another level higher. He'd depleted his stash of ninja equipment, used up both bottles of ink, and had to resort to a bit of hasty first aid.
But he was alive. And the Kumo ninja in the cave were not.
He was even a little proud of himself, for having managed to survive ambushing three teams of shinobi all on his own. It had been foolhardy, yes, and risky, yes, and maybe even stupid… but he had done it.
Three Jounin. Nine Chunin. Against him and his traps.
"I need to tell the Hokage," he reminded himself, and hauled himself to his feet. He winced. "And possibly visit the hospital."
He smiled apologetically at the woman manning the secretary's desk – whose name title informed him that she really was an ANBU like he'd suspected all along – and rushed into the Hokage's office. Normally he wouldn't be so rude, but this was an occasion that merited it. He didn't think the Hokage would mind being disturbed in order to hear about Kumo ninja running around Konoha training fields.
Luckily, the Hokage wasn't actually in a meeting.
"Hokage-sama! There are teams of Kumo ninja in training field forty four! They were in a tunnel system beneath the ground!"
The Hokage glanced up at him, not seeming too distressed by that news. "Ah, Iruka. How nice of you to visit. You seem to be injured, do you know that Konoha Hospital is free for all shinobi to use? You should go there."
Iruka gaped. "Kumo ninja?" he repeated weakly, having the most horrible sense of deja-vu. This was exactly what had happened when he tried to explain the Mizuki situation.
"Don't forget to meet your team on Friday!" The Hokage added cheerily.
Iruka slunk out of the room.
He stood, staring blankly at the door, wondering just where things had started going wrong.
"If you're in need of assistance, I can transport you to Konoha Hospital," the secretary said.
"Thank you, Shuei," Iruka said listlessly.
He barely had time to blink before he was swept away, arriving at the entrance to Konoha Hospital faster than any method of transportation he knew of. That hadn't been a shunshin. And Shuei hadn't come with him.
He sighed, and pushed the door open.
The day had started so well, too.
After the hospital, Iruka resupplied, replenishing the depleted stores of weaponry he'd used up in the fighting. Mostly ninja wire, which he couldn't seem to recoup the way he could kunai, after the traps had been sprung.
And ink. He'd brought five more bottles of ink, which seemed hugely extravagant.
Then he headed back to the Forest of Death, bound and determined to find something to prove to the Hokage that the Kumo nin had been there. Maybe if he grabbed a headband. Or even took the whole damn corpse with him.
No one would be able to ignore that.
"Enter the cave. Yes." Iruka said, pushing his way through the barrier.
Something is wrong, he thought immediately, creeping onwards.
Wait. Are there more ninja here? Already? Alarmed he pressed flat against the wall, peering round to see who the voices he could hear belonged to.
No. Wait. Those aren't just more ninja. Those are the same damn ones!
He had killed them. He knew he had killed them. How were they back, and walking around? How?!
Maybe the Hokage was right to ignore him, Iruka thought grimly. He was clearly going mad.
Iruka glared blearily at the sky, at the cave, at the trees, at anything within his line of sight.
He was, to put it lightly, astonished to find he was still alive. Taking on three teams of ninja once was foolish. Doing it twice was suicidal.
"But how?" He asked. "People don't just… come back alive." Not even when you wanted them to.
It had to be something about the cave. The barrier. There was a reason there was a barrier there. Was it some kind of… time locked, zombie animating, prison cell…
No. That's just stupid.
"No. Wait." He felt like smacking himself in the face. With a knife. "Tutorial; Caves." He reread the information in silence. "…are non-congruent with the map around them… enemies that would not be found in that area naturally…" Both of those were true, weren't they? But what did it even mean? Non-congruent? How did it not match the surrounding area? Was it some kind of sealed space? Was it… not real?
How could it be not real?
But he couldn't tell the Hokage about it, the same way he couldn't tell the Hokage about Mizuki, or Naruto or, he suspected, the Scroll. And if he went inside the cave again, he would bet actual money that those ninja would be perfectly healthy once again.
"But they can't leave, can they?" He asked. If they couldn't leave, then strange sealing space or not… it was okay. They couldn't attack Konoha. They weren't a threat.
He went back to the hospital. At least they didn't seem to notice that it was his second visit in as many hours.
For the rest of the week, Iruka stuck to running D-ranks and collecting ingredients for the hospital. If he stopped by the cave more frequently than required, it was only to make sure that the barrier was still in place and that there were no Kumo nin running around Konoha.
He didn't go back inside.
The funny thing was, even if he cleared the Missions Desk one day, by the next there was a new stack of D-ranks to take. Iruka had worked at the Missions Desk, and he knew that missions weren't generated anywhere near that quickly. Especially not if there were ninja other than him taking them.
Oddly, he had the thought that maybe there weren't. Maybe he was single handily running all of Konoha's in village missions.
Other things grew back over night, too. Plants and flowers… even if he picked them all, the garden returned to normal the next day.
And even with all that, he hadn't managed to get another level out of it. Level twenty was taking a long time to surpass, compared to the quick rise for the first few levels. The experience required was scaling with the levels he gained, and pretty soon D-ranks wouldn't be enough to make it go up. At that point he'd have to decide whether he cared about abstract levels or not.
For now, he put it out of mind.
"Good morning, students," he said. "Today is the last time you'll be in my classroom."
He paused, because he hadn't expect that to hit him quite so hard. "I'm very proud of you, and I know that you'll all go on to be great shinobi. It will be hard, and it will be difficult, but if you believe in the village and the will of fire, then there is nothing that you won't be able to accomplish."
There was a raggedy murmur of 'yes, sensei' from the students.
Iruka blinked away the information that informed him of their new status as his students, because that wasn't why he said it. That wasn't why at all. Information buzzed across his HUD, distracting him.
He took it off.
"Starting today, you are all shinobi of Konoha. But the journey ahead of you has only just begun. Today, you are assigned to a three man squad of Genin, under a Jounin-sensei. In future, this is the team that you will take missions with, you will train with and fight beside. I wish you nothing but the very best of luck with them."
He cleared his throat. "Team one-"
In the break between assigning the teams, and the Jounin coming to collect the students, Iruka caught up on the changes to his Scroll of Sealing.
Like Naruto, several members of the class room had been labelled as his students, after his little speech that morning. And with the label, had come a whole host of changes.
He'd picked up two new Achievements; 'Jounin Sensei' and 'Teacher Teacher' for having three and ten students respectively – and really, did this thing think that only Jounin ever taught?
Each student gave not only bonuses to various different attributes and skills – and Iruka had been shocked to see how much his points had jumped just from the handful of students – but each also conferred a 'Talent'.
Some of them made him smile, like Kiba's 'Taunt', designed to attract attention and aggravation, and Chouji's 'Teamwork'. Others made his eyebrows raise, like Shikamaru's 'Plan Ahead' which seemed to interact with the Missions Log to determine a route and travel plan and highlighted the direction to go on his HUD. It was smart and efficient, which actually fit the lazy Nara, who wouldn't have wanted to do more work than he absolutely had to.
Ino's 'empathy' had been responsible for the wave of information on his HUD – little emotional signifiers rising above the heads of people he was talking to. Helpful, he supposed, if a little unnerving.
And Sasuke's 'Survival' had plastered his mini-map with the blue dot signifiers of every person in the room. If he'd thought to guess beforehand, Iruka would have assumed that to have been related to Hinata, but that kind of tactical observation also fit the stoic Uchiha.
These kids, he thought. They're really going to go far.
It was with that in mind that he greeted the arriving Jounin, paying careful attention to their levels and discretely hitting them with 'Scan'. The lowest levelled Jounin was Team 8's Kurenai Yuuhi at level 25, and his Bingo Book helpfully informed him that she had been promoted only this last year. The highest ranked was Team 10's Asuma Sarutobi at level 28, which would have made him even stronger than the ANBU that Iruka had seen accompanying the Hokage.
Not that that was surprising, given who he was.
"Eh, where's our sensei?" Naruto demanded, as the room emptied out.
Iruka looked awkwardly at the door. "I don't know, Naruto. I'm sure he's on his way."
Naruto looked like he was going to work up a full blown sulk, and Iruka didn't think that any of them had the patience to deal with that.
"Well then," Iruka said, eyes glinting with mischief. "Since you're still in my classroom, that leaves me with time for one more test."
"Aww, what? No, Iruka-sensei!" Naruto protested immediately. "You can't! We're ninja now, believe it."
"This is a vital skill," Iruka continued. "Something every ninja must know, or face the scorn and mockery of their comrades."
Sakura and Sasuke, at least, looked a little bit interested.
Naruto crossed his arms.
Iruka withdrew a pack of cards from his vest and tapped them on the table. "Who knows how to play Crazy Eights?"
"Well, it looks like you all know how to wait patiently," a voice drawled from the doorway. "That's a good skill for a ninja."
Iruka's neck snapped up, because he hadn't noticed anyone arriving. But leaning casually against the doorframe was the last Jounin that they had been waiting on.
Three hours late.
"Who are you?" Naruto demanded belligerently.
Iruka smacked the back of his head. "Kakashi Hatake. Kids, this is your Jounin sensei."
Level 32. That far outclassed even Asuma. In fact, apart from the Hokage, that made Kakashi the strongest person Iruka had met. Iruka hit him with a 'Scan' and was glad that no one ever seemed to notice those abilities. There were facts in his Bingo Book that Iruka was pretty sure were above his clearance level.
Naruto scoffed. "I don't like him, can't we have a different one? One that's not late." He crossed his arms and pouted.
"Show some respect!" Iruka snapped. "He's been a Jounin longer than you've been alive."
"That just means he's old," Naruto dismissed.
Iruka sighed, and pressed a hand over his eyes. "I tried," he sighed.
"Well, I can tell that this is going to be an interesting team," Kakashi said. 'Amusement' the HUD indicated, but Iruka could read that in the crinkled skin of the single visible eye, and the irritatingly smug body language.
"That," Iruka said dryly. "I'll believe."
Running D-ranks was a little… lonely, Iruka thought, winding his way through the training fields. He usually felt a little out of sorts at the end of the school year, but never quite this much.
Even getting the last xp necessary to level hadn't done much to raise his mood, though it had come with another talent point to spend. That decision had been harder to make than previously, and in the end it had gone into the Survivor talent, enabling the mini map to also so the location of enemies as red dots.
Not that Iruka expected to be running into that many enemies in Konoha, but you never knew.
"You know," Izumo said, when he came to hand the completed missions in. "The Chunin Exams are in Konoha this year."
"I know," Iruka said wearily. "You mention it every day. Give it a rest." He thought he might have to agree to help proctor it, just to get everyone to shut up about it. Granted, it was one of the biggest events in Konoha of the year, but still. They really were harping on about it.
"Sorry, sorry," Izumo muttered. "You want another mission?"
"Yeah," Iruka considered it. "You know what? Give me a C-rank."
"Those are only for teams," Izumo said automatically.
Iruka's eyebrow ticked. "Teams of genin," he said. "I think I can handle a C-rank, Izumo. Quit being an idiot."
"… Right," Izumo replied, shaking his head. "C-rank. Deliver a letter to Otafuku-gai?"
Iruka groaned. That sounded terrible. "Fine. I'll take it."
Izumo threw the scroll to him. "Say hi to Kotetsu for me, wouldya? He's working the gate today."
"You two get split up for causing trouble?" Iruka asked. It was a tactic he used in the Academy and he wouldn't have been surprised.
"Us? Trouble?" He looked offended, but Iruka didn't need the floating 'mischievous' caption to smell trouble. "I don't know what you're implying, Iruka. We weren't the ones who came up with-"
"Yes, alright," Iruka cut him off, laughing nervously. "I don't know what I was thinking."
There was something strange about the gate, Iruka noticed as he approached it, steps faltering. Not the gate itself… but there was a blue tinge to the air between the doors. Not as strong as the barrier in training ground forty four, but still noticeable.
Everyone else was walking through it without appearing to notice. He stepped closer. It didn't budge beneath his hand.
"Shinobi may only exit Konoha with proper authorisation," Kotetsu said crisply.
"I know that," Iruka shot back, irritated. "I have a mission." He held up the scroll for proof.
The barrier vanished.
"Oh, well. In that case." Kotetsu chuckled and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Have fun exploring!"
Area unlocked, his HUD informed him.
Iruka took a deep breath and vowed to figure out what the hell was going on with all this nonsense. "Right. Oh, and Izumo says 'hi'."
Friend quest completed!
He'd travelled the road to Otafuku-Gai more than once, and didn't really feel the need to do any exploring. Right up until he came across the first treasure chest - and that was the only real word for it – containing a poison recipe. He had quite a few recipes and blueprints already, courtesy of stopping by the Academy library and Konoha library, but he hadn't expected to run into them just… lying around like this.
Even finding them on the training fields was a little plausible. Maybe.
Iruka barely even managed to be surprised when the treasure chest vanished entirely after he emptied it.
I picked up all the rest with my Echolocation Jutsu, he thought. So I wouldn't have seen the chests.
If he didn't want to miss any of these, and leave the around for people to stumble across – if they even could – then that would be the best way to do things.
It would take time, to scan the entirety of the path to the next town, but time was something he had plenty of.
If he went far enough in any one direction, he ran into the barriers again. They seemed to be a giant wedge shape containing both villages, and completely impassable.
Iruka paused to take in the scenery of the eastern coastline of the Land of Fire. It really was stunning.
Technically, his mission didn't take him this far out, but this C-rank had unlocked another section of the map, so he'd wanted to explore. It was funny how places that he'd been before seemed so new, now that he was taking the chance to poke around.
Red dots blinked into existence on his mini-map and Iruka kawarimi'ed out of the way before the ambush landed. The wooden log he left in his place was perforated with kunai, and Iruka sent a mental thanks towards Sasuke for the Talent.
"Scan." Bingo Book pages bloomed into existence, and identified the three who had attacked him. Missing ninja from Kiri, which was really just what Iruka got for travelling so far east.
He readied traps, grimly resigning himself to a long, hard fight.
"Well, well, well, look who it is," the apparent leader of the team said. "Iruka Umino himself. Can you imagine what they'll say when we bring back your head?"
Iruka blinked, thrown. "What?"
Who on earth would care? It wasn't that Iruka didn't think he did a good job, but he was a school teacher and a Chunin and had been both for years. That wasn't the kind of history that got you bounty hunters chasing you.
That pause was a mistake that nearly cost him more than just the fight.
Iruka grappled frantically to throw off the opponent that had tackled him, gaining a little distance and pulling out his Scroll to pause time and let him assess. He was bleeding from a shallow cut along his forearm, and he quickly wrapped it with a roll of bandages from his Medical Kit.
"Pay attention," he scolded himself, like he was a student getting distracted in class. His heart was pounding and he felt shaky with adrenaline. "Three ninja, with classic close-middle-long range attacks. General weaponry, probable advanced taijutsu; no displayed ninjutsu. Possible genjutsu abilities, according to the briefing. You've got advantages. You can do this."
The biggest advantage, was that he could still set traps now. He didn't have to have them prepared before combat, and he didn't have to try and set them up in combat.
Iruka checked his inventory, hoping he had enough materials. "One…. thousand, six hundred and twenty seven kunai," he muttered. "Well. That's. Enough."
How on earth had he found that many? And nearly two hundred meters of ninja wire? That was just ridiculous.
He opened the Trap Making tab, and set one of the most basic Kunai Launcher traps on the ground in front of him, angled towards his enemies. Then another. Then another. And another.
When he was out of ground, he smiled grimly, gripping the launch triggers tightly in his hand.
And snapped the scroll closed.
The ninja stepped forward.
Iruka stepped back.
The traps all went off, launching dozens of kunai into the air in a haze of metal that blocked sight.
Only two, Iruka noted, and snapped open his Scroll so he had time to assess the scene. The long range fighter had survived, far enough away that he'd been able to react and use a kawarimi in time. His face was grim and set, but the word 'fear' floated above his head.
He closed the Scroll. "If you surrender-"
Only a quick Kawarimi saved him from being riddled with holes. Grimly, Iruka opened the Scroll again.
"But I just don't understand how they knew me," he lamented to Izumo and Kotetsu when he arrived back at Konoha. They'd dragged him out for drinks, and he usually declined, but for once he felt the need.
"Well, with a reputation like yours, it's not really any wonder that you attract enemies," Izumo offered, and it would have sounded logical if it hadn't been so wrong.
"What reputation?" Iruka demanded.
"You know," Kotetsu chimed in. "You have a reputation. You're famous."
"For what?" Iruka asked. "I haven't done anything!"
Izumo opened his mouth like he was going to answer, then paused. He frowned. "I'm sure there's something. You've done a lot of missions. And… taught students."
"D-ranks," Iruka said and rolled his eyes. "Very impressive. And something tells me that missing ninja aren't particularly impressed by a well designed syllabus."
The two Chunin exchanged looks. Kotetsu scratched his chin. "I could have sworn there was something."
"You know," Izumo said. "The Chunin Exams are in Konoha this year."
"Oh for the love of-" Iruka bit off. "Fine, Izumo. The Chunin Exams are in Konoha. I would be delighted to join the Intelligence Division in testing our best and brightest Genin. When is it?"
Izumo held out a ticket. "Be at the Academy tomorrow at three o'clock. Don't be late!"
"Tomorrow?! What? Isn't that a bit soon? How am I supposed to know what to do? I haven't gone to any of the meetings." He really was going to throttle Izumo, Iruka decided. Friend or no. A day wasn't enough time to prepare for something like that! Honestly, Iruka had given enough tests during his time at the Academy to be aware of how much preparation went into them.
"It'll be fine, relax," Izumo said, waving a hand.
He really was going to strangle him, Iruka decided, snatching the ticket and stomping away. Doubly so, when he saw that the ticket was a Genin registration one.
It crumpled in his hand.
Iruka felt distinctly awkward, standing with all the other Chunin in his normal vest and blues. Someone – he glared at Izumo – had neglected to tell him that the dress code was the Intel Division greys.
He gripped his clipboard tighter and pretended he absolutely knew what he was doing and was supposed to be there. Ibiki Morino (Lvl 22 and utterly terrifying) had given him a very long once over when he arrived, but Iruka had greeted him cheerfully and apologised for not attending the pre-briefings, and he seemed to have been forgiven for it. He hoped he had been forgiven for it.
According to his Bingo Book, that was the head of T&I. Iruka really didn't want to get on his bad side.
"Tch," Ibiki said, watching the classroom containing the Genin. "Fighting already. Who wins the betting pool?"
"You do, Ibiki-taicho," Tonbo Tobitake (lvl 19) said, without even consulting his clipboard.
Ibiki grinned, which was a little frightening. "Well. Imagine that."
There were a few rolled eyes and scoffs amongst the rest of the group. Iruka tried not to feel left out of the in joke.
"Ibiki always wins," Iwashi Tatami (lvl 18) said, in an aside. "I don't know if he just knows people that well, or if he cheats."
Iruka smiled, lopsided at the attempt at inclusion. "Well, if you can't catch him-"
"-Then it's not cheating," Iwashi finished. "You're alright, Iruka. Don't worry, it's not going to be too tough out there. Just glare at the kids a bit. Ibiki is doing the hard part."
He gripped Iruka by the elbow and dragged him along into the group shunshin, which was impeccably timed – and had a large enough cloud of smoke to disguise the few stragglers that weren't. Iruka suspected that more than a few meetings had been spent practicing the entrance, and that thought amused him.
Then he caught sight of who had been fighting and the smile turned into a glare.
Of course it was Naruto. And what on earth had he been up to? He was level 18! And so were Sasuke and Sakura! Iruka had seen them just before their C-rank and they'd only been level 13! C-ranks did not give five levels!
He might have over done the glowering a little bit, but so were the other Chunin, so he felt perfectly justified.
He wished, by the end of it, that Naruto's outburst surprised him, but it really didn't. He'd taught that kid for long enough to know how he reacted to being told he couldn't do something.
He might have worried on Naruto's behalf, but the little 'respect' floating off Ibiki said it hadn't been a bad speech at all.
"Forest of Death tomorrow," Iwashi said, nudging him in the side. "It'll be a long week."
"Yeah," Iruka agreed, worrying that some of the Genin might stumble across the cave with the Kumo ninja in it. He hadn't had any indication that others could interact with it, but at the same time, he had no indication that they couldn't. There would be almost a hundred ninja running around in the forest tomorrow, it was almost certain someone would stumble across it.
There wasn't actually that much to do for the second exam. The Chunin Proctors had to monitor through the surveillance videos, stop Genin from opening the scrolls, and greet them when they got to the tower.
"An hour and a half. That's a record," someone said, as the first team arrived at the tower.
"That kid is a monster."
Privately, Iruka agreed. Gaara had a level of 24 which put him very nearly at Jounin level. And that was without the additional crazy bloodlust he seemed to carry around with him. Iruka didn't want to face him, and he pitied whichever kid had to for the tournament.
Still, Iruka made a point of being there when team seven came in, squeaking into the tower at the very last minute, looking incredibly battered.
He ushered them into the main hall, and took up a position near the Hokage, where the other proctors were waiting.
"Would anyone like to withdraw from the exams?" The Hokage asked calmly, after announcing the preliminary exams would begin.
"Well, that's me," one announced. "I'm beat." Kabuto Yakushi (level 27) his title said. Iruka frowned. What was with these Genin with such high levels?
Uneasily, he looked around the room. None of the other Genin stood out so badly, but the Jounin that came with the team of Sound Genin? His entire name was a question mark.
Scan, Iruka ordered, and swallowed when the information came back. Whoever it was using an infiltration technique high enough level that he couldn't penetrate it, even with the Scroll of Sealing.
That was not good.
He glanced at the Hokage, who was still speaking to the Genin. Should he try and inform…
But no. No one would listen if all he had was information from the Scroll of Sealing. It would be a waste of time.
The decision was made after the first fight, Sasuke vs Yoroi. Sasuke had scored a narrow victory, but been whisked away by Kakashi shortly after.
The mystery Jounin slid out the room after them. It was very smooth, no one appeared to notice.
Iruka followed, carefully. The man went outside, where he had a brief conversation with Kabuto – he knew that kid was up to something! – before heading towards the hospital wing.
Iruka had a bad feeling about this. He hadn't risked getting close enough to hear what the two had been talking about, but this was different. If there was a wounded Konoha shinobi in danger, then Iruka had to know.
He crept closer.
"-Sasuke will come to me for power," the Jounin remarked towards whoever was in the room, voice low and … charismatic. "It's simply a matter of time."
There was a strange sound, like crackling of electricity. "Over my dead body," Kakashi said.
Iruka swallowed. Oh. This was not good at all. If Kakashi Hatake thought that this man was dangerous, then Iruka was in a lot of trouble.
"That can be arranged," the stranger said. "But, oh, we should invite Iruka-sensei inside. I'm sure he has so much to contribute to this conversation."
Iruka froze. There was nothing quite so wracking as being caught out, he thought, then marshalled his courage and stepped into the doorframe.
"Yeah," he said. "I do."
Scan, he ordered again, and apparently the disguise was gone now. Because the Bingo Book clearly showed that this was Orochimaru. Of the Sannin. Level fifty seven.
There was nothing quite so wracking, he amended, than being caught out by a Sannin, who apparently knew your name.
His mouth went dry and his palms began to sweat. The room was full of heavy chakra killing intent. Kakashi was braced to attack, his famous Chidori at the ready, and standing guard over an unconscious Sasuke.
Their eyes met, and they both understood that they had no chance here. Not really.
Iruka took a deep breath, and pulled open the Scroll.
"Well, well, Iruka-sensei," Orochimaru drawled. "I had expected better from a man of your reputation; I've heard so much about you. I have to admit… I'm disappointed."
He dropped Iruka to the floor. Iruka cried out as he jarred what was undoubtedly broken ribs, if not more.
"You should feel lucky," he said. "I don't feel like killing you today. But next time… you should offer a better challenge."
Iruka panted in pain and in fear. He and Kakashi had thrown everything at Orochimaru – and not a thing had come close to doing damage. Iruka had used every advantage he thought he could get, sinking seals and traps, and it hadn't been anywhere near enough.
He listened numbly as the eerily echoing footsteps faded away. The lingering laughter took longer.
Beside him, laid out flat on the floor, Kakashi shuddered. "Are we still alive?" He was staring absently into the air, Sharingan bare and turning in slow circles.
Iruka shuddered too. "For now." He levered himself up on an elbow.
"We're idiots," Kakashi said, almost cheerfully. "Picking a fight with Orochimaru. What were we thinking?"
Iruka made a scoffing sound that hurt his ribs. "Clearly not very much."
Kakashi shrugged, but didn't really attempt to move. "That was some nice trap work you had there, Iruka."
Iruka paused, surprised, though he couldn't have said why. "Thanks. I don't actually see much combat these days."
On a whim, he pulled open Kakashi's Bingo Book page, and looked at the sliding bar that represented relationships. It was very nearly full, which was strange. He'd had maybe one or two interactions with the man. Maybe getting their asses kicked together had been a bonding experience.
The revelation that the Chunin Exams were going ahead despite their over powered party crasher was not one that Iruka was particularly happy about. It was also not a decision he could argue, since the Hokage was the one that made it.
It also made Orochimaru's threat much, much more immediate.
I'm dead, Iruka realised. There was nothing he could do if Orochimaru wanted to kill him. Even if he trained the entire month there wasn't time-
- But time was something that he had plenty of. Not enough to really fight on that level… but if he got some traps, or seals, or…
Maybe he wasn't completely dead. Maybe he was just mostly dead.
Iruka had never been the type to give up. Even in the face of 'mostly dead'.
He excused himself from the meeting and tried to work out what he would need in order to survive. The traps had done next to nothing against Orochimaru, but the seals had had slightly better luck. He had fewer seal blueprints, however, and little that was on level with the enemy he had just made.
"So, find more blueprints," Iruka said out loud. That meant exploring. He could do that.
The other tabs on his skills list were less promising. Poisons was his lowest skill, and trying to use poisons against a man famous for his snake summons? Then again, there were more types of poisons than just venoms and no one could be immune to everything. It was… an option.
Potions was even less promising. Though he could probably stand to pick up some Soldier Pills from the hospital. And while he was there he could see if they had any alertness stimulants. The idea of taking drugs to stay awake didn't sit well with him, but time passed greatest when he was asleep and talking to people. If he didn't need to sleep as often… then he had more time to work out how to survive.
Apart from that, it came down to the fact that Iruka just… wasn't an experienced fighter. And that wasn't something that could be fixed with a mysterious Sealing Scroll and cheated around.
Not cheated around. But, Iruka thought about the cave full of Kumo ninja hidden in the Forest Of Death, it might be improvable.
Iruka gave himself one night of good sleep – admittedly not feeling 100% even after the tender care of Konoha's esteemed medical ninja – before kicking into his new training routine.
But he was incredibly surprised to wake in the morning to find someone had pinned a note to his door (with a shuriken, no less), listing a time and place and signed with a henohenomoheji.
He stared at it, baffled. "What?"
Turning the paper over did not result in more information appearing. His mission log seemed to take it as an active mission, listed as 'for training' no less, but was not forthcoming with any more. Iruka put it out of mind and headed for the Hospital.
He traded ingredients with Aiya at the front desk until she ran out of missions for him – and rewarded him with a Potion of Healing that he tucked gently into his Medical Kit – and headed for the cafeteria and the merchant that supposedly traded there.
He was a little surprised to find the sheer range of goods that were being sold, because he was certain that most of these were contraband. The ones that he'd heard of at all.
Gulping, Iruka looked through it, determinedly ignoring the prices and selecting everything that looked even remotely useful, up to and including the Stimulant Launcher armband. He could use every advantage that he could get – there was no point in turning his nose up at things like this, just because of the dangers of addiction.
It's only because of Orochimaru, he promised himself. After that I won't need them anymore.
He also sold off all the miscellaneous items he seemed to have picked up, somewhere. At least that meant the hole in his wallet was less noticeable.
The first problem he ran into was that the missions desk didn't seem to want to give him any missions while the Chunin Exams were going on. Iruka – very calmly, if he said so himself – argued that he wasn't necessary for the continuation of the exams, and he would like a mission, please and thank you, and specifically one to a place he hadn't been assigned recently.
He walked away with every C-rank on the desk.
That meant he could leave Konoha, so he did.
Achievement earnt! Small Nation – You have explored all of the Land of Fire!
Iruka blinked hazily at the message on his HUD and thumbed the button on the Stimulant Launcher that jabbed a hit of No Doze into his system. He'd discovered the recipe for it … some time… and had mournfully sacrificed his coffee beans to create it, but he did have to admit that it was effective.
Almost instantly, he felt more awake and aware.
It was midmorning, if he could guess by the sunlight, and time had increased in little fits and starts as he delivered items and engaged in combat. There had been little but bandits on the missions requests, or wild animals, but he had been set upon by a few missing ninja as he travelled and discovered two more caves that had needed exploration.
After all of that, however, he was only level 23 and felt dissatisfied with his progress.
He turned to head back to Konoha and complete his missions.
Unfortunately, like he'd discovered with D-ranks, once he'd cleared the Missions Desk there were no more missions of that rank till the next day. There were still D-ranks, and Iruka took the lot with the intention to gather items and equipment before restocking for the cave.
His plans were derailed when he made it to Training Ground 3 and found that there were already people there.
"Ah, Iruka," Kakashi said. "Right on time."
"Sorry?" Iruka blinked. "You were expecting me?"
"Didn't you get my note?"
Puzzled, Iruka opened his Sealing Scroll and searched for a hint. Oh, that was right. Someone had left a note pinned to his door. That had only been this morning, really. "That was you?" he asked. "Why?"
"Well, since Orochimaru is trying to kill you, I thought you might like to do some training." Kakashi shrugged. "But if not…"
"No. Yes. Of course," Iruka blurted out, because he wasn't going to turn down training with the Copy Ninja. "I just didn't expect… I mean. Thank you."
"What kind of teacher would I be if I didn't?" Kakashi said, a little oddly.
Iruka was growing far too used to ignoring strange comments. It barely even fazed him.
"The thing is, I'm not sure what to teach you," Kakashi continued. "I specialise in ninjutsu, and specifically chakra transformation. It's really quite difficult to learn, though. Other than that, I could teach you how to summon, but you'd still have to find a contract to sign, or impress an animal kingdom."
They were both priceless offers. Iruka considered them deeply. "What would they entail?" he asked.
"The summoning jutsu itself is fairly simple," Kakashi explained. "It's a C-rank jutsu with five handseals. Boar, dog, bird, monkey and ram. Using it without having a current summoning contract will take you to the realm of the summoning animal that most closely matches your personality. Gaining a contract with them will depend on the nature of the animals involved, and how you react to whatever kinds of tests they employ. Alternatively, you can find a ninja with a current summoning contract and ask to sign, or find an abandoned contract."
Iruka thought, almost immediately, that after that explanation he hardly needed Kakashi to teach him any more than that. It was something he could do alone –
"Chakra transformation, on the other hand," Kakashi continued. "Comes in two parts; shape transformation and elemental transformation. First, you would need to discover your elemental affinity. Then you would need to master the elemental transformation to alter the properties of your chakra for maximum effect, and then use shape transformation to create a jutsu. The Chidori is an example of both shape and elemental transformation."
"That one," Iruka almost squeaked. "Please."
"You want to learn chakra transformation?" Kakashi asked. "Good choice. Sasuke is also learning this skill for the final exam."
Iruka noticed the way that Kakashi's status updated to 'Teacher' for him, but hardly even minded. Chakra transformation! From a ninjutsu expert. Holy hell.
"So when do we start?"
Kakashi held out a piece of paper. "Take this and channel chakra into it. That will tell you your elemental affinity."
Iruka wasn't even surprised to find that it was water. His name was Umino. He'd have been more surprised if it were anything else.
"Okay, we'll start with a simple exercise. Gather enough water natured chakra to make a piece of paper wet."
It took a few very pointed questions to get more than general directions. However frustrating it seemed to Iruka, Kakashi wasn't being deliberately obtuse, he just seemed to feel that 'gather water natured chakra' was basic instructions.
He'd have been eaten alive at the Academy.
Iruka worked on that until his chakra supply ran out – which was an embarrassingly short time – after which Kakashi took off, with instructions to come and find him when he'd completed that step. Iruka didn't begrudge him that; the man did have actual students to teach and was giving up his time to help someone he had no ties to at all.
Iruka guiltily bit into a soldier pill and continued working. He was determined to get this.
Three infinite days of missions and training later, Iruka felt like he had a handle on it. It was lucky that no one seemed to be monitoring his purchases from the hospital, otherwise he would have raised suspicions.
Suspicions that he was running a drug smuggling ring.
He'd put a few more points into Potion Making at his last level up, but he really wanted to focus on getting Seal Making as high as possible. Seals were, he'd often been told, the most dangerous and versatile shinobi art – if you knew what you were doing.
Kakashi seemed pleased but not surprised at the progress and how quickly it had occurred, and Iruka winced, imagining how hard a task master he must be when you didn't have excess time to train. Then again, knowing Naruto and Sasuke, they probably would thrive under that kind of pressure.
"The next step is to increase the output," Kakashi said. "So instead of creating a small puddle, you want to create a river."
Like it was that simple, Iruka thought.
Again, Kakashi stuck around until Iruka ran out of chakra and then left. That was fine. Iruka didn't need constant supervision. In fact, he was happier without it.
He ground along, stretching his days until even No Doze did no good and he simply had to sleep.
"Finished?" Kakashi asked. "The third step is to use shape transformation to manipulate the water into a unique jutsu. Water has the ability to be crushing, so you might use large amounts as brute force, or it can be piercing by ejecting a thin stream under high pressure. You can also take advantage of the non-compressible nature to create weapons or shields, or restrict the movement of other shinobi."
"Could you explain shape transformation a little more?" Iruka asked wearily. "How does it differ from chakra moulding?"
Kakashi paused. "Very little, actually, except that it's an external property. The Fourth Hokage's Rasengan is a prime example of shape transformation, without any additional elemental transformation." He held out a hand, and Iruka watched in awe as chakra condensed into it.
"That's amazing," he breathed.
Kakashi beamed. "Pure shape transformation is very rare. Do you have any idea what kind of jutsu you want to create?"
Iruka paused and redirected his thoughts. "Nothing too big," he said. "I don't have enough chakra to sustain that. I typically work at mid-range if I can, so I'd prefer something that has a bit of distance, though a close quarters move might be a good backup."
"That sounds like you want Water Beam Emission, or Water Jet Cutting," Kakashi said sagely. "Water Beam Emission focuses on projecting streams of compressed water for crushing force, while Water Jet Cutting uses high pressure streams to cut or pierce. Does that sound good?"
Iruka thought about it. "Water Jet Cutting," he decided. "I'm not bad with precision work."
How many times had he told his students that all the training in the world was no match for real experience?
Too many, Iruka decided, as he approached the cave in the Forest of Death. But that didn't mean he had been wrong. He might have called himself 'proficient' with Water Jet Cutting, and Kakashi had had no more advice to offer on the subject, but the levels against which Iruka was used to judging himself didn't matter anymore.
Enter the cave? The barrier prompted him, and Iruka grimly clicked 'yes'. He didn't like the idea setting out on a mission solely to kill people – a mission not endorsed by Konoha, at that – but it… well… it wasn't like these ninja were 'real' anyway. Even if he killed them, they would return, unharmed, as though it hadn't happened at all.
"Hey! It's a Konoha ninja! Get him!"
Iruka didn't pause, and didn't set traps. Instead, he folded his hands together in a slow and deliberate set of handseals, before extending his right palm towards the enemies. "Water Jet Cutting," he intoned.
The jutsu blasted out, a beam only about the width of a pencil, but it sliced through the ninja in front of him like butter and carved chunks out of the rock wall behind him.
Iruka swung his arm around, dragging the beam towards the other two ninja, only to find that they were already moving.
Shit, he thought, and had to drop the jutsu in order to dodge or risk getting caught in its path himself. There – the first issue he had to work on.
It was a valuable lesson to learn, but Iruka was a little more focused on staying alive than being thankful, right this second. He thumbed the button on his Stimulant Launcher that would inject a speed booster, and darted back out of range to prepare his attack again.
"Water Jet Cutting!"
He exited the cave level 25, with the knowledge that individual skills capped out at level thirty – at least until he was promoted. That meant his Seal Making was as high as he could get it… and he doubted that he could make Jounin before Orochimaru came back.
Iruka assessed his own health, took a Potion of Healing and a Soldier Pill, and turned around to re-enter the cave.
Eventually, the cave stopped becoming useful. Either he had improved or –more likely – he knew the inhabitants well enough that they could no longer surprise him. The xp from it was no longer enough to help him level, and level twenty eight seemed out of his grasp.
He'd managed to explore several more countries, and acquired more blueprints and loot, but there was nothing that stood out as immensely useful to defeat a Sannin.
Almost in desperation, he tried the second path that Kakashi had described.
Iruka ran through the handseals, bit his thumb and pressed his hand to the ground.
The tug of chakra was immediate and almost violent.
He landed warily, chakra going automatically to his feet to suspend him on top of the water, and looked around.
Well. Like with his ninjutsu – it would have been more of a surprise if it hadn't been.
He knew what he'd see before the first fins even cut through the water.
"Hello?" he asked, as the first dolphins leapt gracefully into the air.
It wasn't that he was disappointed in his summons, because that would have been incredibly rude, but Iruka had a few doubts that they would be immediately useful. They needed a special environment to be effective, and it wasn't one that was found inside Konoha, which was where he spent most of his time.
They were wonderful, and pleasant, and had invited him to explore their home – which he had done, with the aid of a rebreather he'd picked up from one Kiri ninja or other.
Iruka sighed. He was less than halfway towards the level 57 that Orochimaru sported, and fast running out of options.
I'm doomed, he thought glumly, walking down Konoha's main street in search of an eatery still open. It was much later than he normally ventured out, the moon hanging full and bright in the sky, and he'd spent a longer time in the summon realm than he'd expected.
And then he stopped walking, shivers rising at the bloodlust cutting through the air. A red dot blinked into being on his map, turned blue, and blinked red again.
"Not good," Iruka said, out loud, looking towards it. Someone was standing on the rooftops of Kikyo castle. After a moments hesitation, he jumped to the rooftops and closed the distance to it.
It was the boy from the Chunin Exams – Gaara. Somehow, Iruka wasn't even surprised.
"Mother," the boy said, clutching his head with a hand gripped like a claw. "She wants… blood."
Iruka steeled himself. "Are you alright?" he asked, as gently as possible.
Then he saw the crushed remains of the Sound Genin spread across the rooftop, and froze.
Gaara's eyes snapped towards him. Around his feet, sand whipped up as if in a storm, despite the still heaviness of the night air. "You," he rasped. "I'll kill you! That will prove my existence!"
Sand whipped towards Iruka and he yanked out his sealing scroll, making it pause in the air.
"Scan," he ordered softly.
That kid… was a Jinchuriki, just like Naruto. Iruka knew what that meant. And it didn't mean anything good for him, or the rest of Konoha. If Gaara let loose here… it would be like the Kyuubi attack all over again.
And Iruka couldn't stand the thought of that.
He tapped to create a sheath of paralysis tags, and withdrew a roll of ninja wire. Maybe if he could restrict the kids movement…
But the sand appeared to not need very much physical direction. Almost like it had a mind of its own. And… something strange was happening to Gaara. Sand was climbing over his torso, stretching over his limbs, streaked with purple.
Iruka's apprehension increased.
A tendril of sand caught him around the legs and he yelled, struggling to get free. The grip was too tight, but he'd have to – he'd seen what that sand could do to people.
A blade sliced through the sand, cutting it off from the main body, and turning it to harmless dust.
"Iruka," coughed Hayate Gekko, sword held out and ready. "Need a hand?"
"Yeah," Iruka said, leaping away from the sand in case it became mobile again. "We have to stop him."
Teamwork synergy bonus activated
Hayate coughed again. "What's the plan?"
And wasn't that a good question. Iruka swallowed. "I tried paralysing him, but it didn't do very much and he broke the seal. I was going to try knocking him out. But that sand is dangerous… we definitely don't want to get caught in it. It makes it difficult to get close."
Hayate nodded. "I'll clear a path," he offered. "You do what you have to do."
Iruka readied the low level knockout poison, coating it along the blade of his kunai. His pulse was hammering in his throat, but at least Hayate seemed calm and collected. The man was a special Jounin. He was probably used to this sort of thing.
"Dancing Leaf," Hayate intoned. "One thousand cuts."
He blurred into motion, strikes of his sword sending sand flying as he disrupted it from Gaara's control, doing as he'd promised to clear a path. Iruka took the advantage, sliding through the gaps and using Water Jet Cutting to blast through the last defensive shield that created itself around Gaara.
The kunai struck awkwardly into Gaara's leg, hardly a fatal or debilitating blow – but he screamed.
The sound was terrible.
Then it faded off, and he collapsed.
Iruka withdrew, panting heavily. "I think we should inform-"
The sand around them was slithering back to its master. Iruka paused, and watched it. It was like watching an avalanche in reverse. It gathered, more and more than ever existed in the first place, piling around Gaara until he was double, quadruple, ten times his own size… until he had crushed the roof they were standing on, and towered over all of Konoha.
That was, Iruka thought, not good. He was suddenly more than afraid; he was utterly terrified. What had he done?
Bleakly, he looked to Hayate, who looked just as stunned. They'd managed to jump backwards onto another building and avoid falling with the roof, but that didn't mean they were safe.
"Hehehe, I'm free! And look at all the things there are to destroy!" It rasied a giant foot, and prepared to slam it down on the next building.
"HEY!" Iruka shouted, his experience teaching combining with the Taunt Talent to create a yell that caught the attention of even a bijuu. "Pay attention!"
Slowly, it's giant head swivelled so it was staring right at him.
All the words died in Iruka's throat.
He barely had the presence of mind to pull open the Scroll of Sealing to buy himself time to think.
He hadn't thought that through. Now he had the attention of a bijuu, focused straight on him.
Forget Orochimaru. He was dead now.
"Think, think," he instructed himself, paging through the tabs for something, anything, that would help. "What works on giant beasts made of sand? Think."
His hands were shaking. Every few seconds, he had to look up again, just to be sure that it wasn't moving.
"Scan. Come on." He read over the attributes frantically, trying to find a weakness. "Takes over his host when sleeping …. Shit. Shit. I knocked him out. Dammit, Iruka." It wasn't just his fault. He'd actively caused it to happen. "This is why I don't use poisons," he muttered, semi-hysterically.
He pawed his inventory, hoping he had an antidote. There wasn't anything, but he had stacks of No Doze…
"It can't be that simple," he said. Out loud. "Just because getting knocked out caused him to materialise, that doesn't mean that Gaara waking up will cause him to vanish. And I still have to deal with Gaara, afterwards."
Though the thought of dealing with a monstrous Genin was much less terrifying than the thought of dealing with an actual monster. For some reason.
It wasn't exactly simple either. He'd have to work out how to actually get to Gaara… and without destroying Konoha while he was at it. No simple task, that. Maybe he could just stall until the Hokage got here, or people better equipped to deal with a rampaging Bijuu.
Iruka swallowed and looked at the houses all around them. No. That wasn't an option. His parents had died, trying to protect Konoha from a Bijuu, how could he do any less than everything to try and do the same?
He'd never be able to face them. He'd never be able to face himself.
No. His resolve was diamond hard. He would do everything he could to protect Konoha from his own mistakes.
His hand hovered over the Sealing Tab. "Three Directions Barrier Seal," he murmured, almost thoughtfully. He'd never used it, because he had to be in the centre of it to set it, which meant that he locked him in with whatever was attacking.
But it would mean that Shukaku couldn't get out. It would mean that all of Konoha outside the barrier would be safe, for as long as it lasted.
Iruka bit his lip. And then he'd have to find some way to slow it down. Water Jet Cutting might do, if he severed the limbs like Hayate had been doing. It wasn't exactly a bijuu grade technique, though. Maybe if he called his summons and they were able to blast it … but there wasn't any water for them to swim in, so they'd have to shoot and go, and it would be a huge chakra sacrifice if it didn't work.
He could pack it with explosive notes. Given the danger, a little damage to the infrastructure would be forgiven.
Grimly, Iruka used the Seal Making tab to produce hundreds of explosive tags, and then used the Trap Making tab and ninja wire to string them up all over the buildings around them, in the biggest and most dangerous wire net he'd ever created. It wasn't nearly big enough, barely reaching knee height on Shukaku.
Iruka swallowed harshly, and thumbed his Stimulant Launcher, injecting himself with a full set of boosters. His head swam with the sudden, forced clarity of it. He let his finger fall onto the Three Directions Barrier Seal. "Create."
The Scroll snapped shut and a triangle of seals bloomed out from his feet, covering the ground until it reached its maximum area coverage. Then the sides flared up, triangles of light that joined at a point directly over Iruka's head, creating a tetrahedral separated from the outside world.
"NO!" Shukaku howled. "I will not be trapped again!"
It spat an air bullet at him, wickedly fast.
Iruka snapped open the Scroll. "Barrier Seal," he croaked, before grabbing Hayate and using Kawarimi to get them as far out of the way as possible. The air bullet hit the barrier and shattered it, barely buying them a split second. He could feel the backlash from it rip open cuts in his skin, before the replacement jutsu tore them free.
From the next roof, Iruka watched the building they'd been standing on be demolished.
Cold sweat dripped down his back. Or it might have been blood.
He bit his thumb and raced through the handseals. "Summoning Jutsu!" He cried, hand thrust into the air and not at the ground.
Kinshachi burst forth, arcing upwards like he was leaping out of the water.
"Water bullet!" Iruka shouted. "Knock it to the ground!"
He pulled the Scroll open to pause and bit a chakra pill to replenish. Then quickly decided to drink down a Potion of Healing while he was at it.
Kinshachi let loose a veritable tsunami of water, pounding down onto Shukaku and causing the bijuu to stagger. It wasn't enough to make it fall, but given the size disparity between the two it was an impressive effort.
The dolphin completed his arc and started to fall, and there was no comforting water to welcome him, so Iruka twisted and cut the jutsu prematurely, letting his summon vanish in a puff of smoke.
At the same time, he pulled the ninja wires he'd set up in a trap. "Gathering Technique!" The wires pulled tight, Shukaku's legs caught in the center of them. "Detonate!"
Even so far away, the back blast from the explosion of hundreds of tags knocked him back a few steps. Iruka pulled open the Scroll to assess the situation.
The bijuu was knocked down, and its lower half was a mess, but it was made out of sand and Iruka suspected it could regather itself perfectly fine. That wasn't damage that would stop it. But now that it wasn't so tall… he could see where Gaara was.
The Jinchuriki was resting, slumped, on Shukaku's forehead.
This was probably the best opportunity that Iruka would get.
Cold fear gripped his heart. He didn't let it stop him. Iruka closed the Scroll and took off, using shunshin to race across the rooftops to get closer.
The rooftops were shaking underfoot with the sheer force of the bijuu's bellows. Iruka pushed himself faster.
"Water Jet Cutting!" He called, slicing through a Wind Bullet and feeling the two halves separate around him. He leapt, landing on the bijuus, and staggering forward. Immediately, the sand gripped his ankles, dragging him down.
If he didn't wake Gaara…
If this didn't work…
He was done for.
Iruka stretched and fumbled until he could jab the awakening stimulant into the Genin Jinchuriki.
Gaara gasped, and his eyes flew open.
The sand began to crumble.
Iruka sagged in relief, almost faint with it, and grabbed the boy as they fell. They landed awkwardly, but Iruka could barely believe he was alive.
"How?" Gaara muttered, looking up at him in terror. "How are you so strong?"
Iruka very nearly laughed hysterically. Strong?
"I can't let you hurt the people that live in this village," he said, trying to sound as resolute as possible, and not utterly giddy with fear and relief. "Please surrender."
Gaara nodded, mutely.
Hayate landed in a crouch beside them, sword drawn and eyes on Gaara. "Iruka?" he asked.
"He surrenders," Iruka said, though he didn't take his eyes off of Gaara either.
Enemy defeated! His HUD blinked. 30600xp. Enemy defeated! 170000xp.
Iruka nearly choked at the amount. That was definitely the result of fighting a bijuu. Even Gaara had been worth nearly three times as much as a Jounin.
Still. He wasn't doing that again.
Item Received! Key Item; The First Key!
Iruka pulled open the Scroll. That didn't sound good.
Key Item; The First Key! Given by Shukaku the One Tailed. What does this key unlock? Where does it lead?
That was… ominous.
He ignored it, for now, and used the Scroll to shut down the Three Directions Barrier Seal. Almost immediately, ninja began pouring into the battle arena – including the Hokage, dressed for combat.
"Hokage-sama," Iruka said faintly. "I… humbly apologise."
"Iruka, my boy," Sarutobi said, gravely. "You've done us all proud. I have seldom seen so great a Will of Fire burn within the shinobi of Konoha, as that that drives a man to confront a bijuu alone. And you have survived it, which few can say."
Iruka choked at the sheer ridiculousness of comparing him with the Fourth Hokage. He was speechless with it.
"Now. This has become a diplomatic incident. I'm sure Baki of Suna will have much to say about it," the Hokage continued dryly. "Would you like to attend the meeting?"
Frankly, the only thing Iruka wanted was to go home and sleep. And for everything to be over. "No, sir," he said. "Diplomacy isn't my forte."
The Hokage nodded benignly, apparently accepting that. "Come along then, young Gaara." There was something steely about his expression. "Do not think that you will get such latitude twice."
Gaara wasn't looking anywhere but at Iruka. "Why?" he rasped. "Why would you fight so hard for the people of this village."
Iruka was a teacher, and he could recognise a teaching moment when he saw one. It didn't matter that he was exhausted, and that this was the enemy that had come so close to destroying him. For one moment, Gaara was a confused little boy, no different to any of his other students. No different to Naruto.
Iruka's heart hurt with how little difference there was.
"Everyone has things that are important to them," he said. "Parents, siblings, friends, lovers… Those people that trust and help each other… That creates a bond between them, and the string that binds them becomes thicker and stronger as time goes by. It's beyond reason. To be without bonds like that is a very lonely thing, so we do everything we can to defend them, even if it means laying down our own lives." He laughed awkwardly at how strange he sounded. "What I mean is… there are people that are very important to me in the village, and it would hurt me a great deal if they were killed or wounded. More than any wound I could take fighting."
"A wound of the heart," Gaara rasped. "More difficult to heal than a wound of the body… yes, I understand, sensei."
Iruka's heart stopped beating.
Iruka seriously contemplated not getting up. He stared at his non-ticking alarm clock, and listened to the absolute silence of the village.
Eventually he groaned, and decided that there was nothing for it. He would have to get up and face his messes.
He shuffled into the Hokage's Tower, every sense on high alert and neck prickling awkwardly as every single person stopped to stare at him as he went.
The Hokage's secretary didn't even say anything as he went in.
"Ah, Iruka, you're right on time," Sarutobi said.
Guiltily, Iruka wondered if he'd missed a summons, but since he was here now, it apparently didn't matter. There were two others in the room – Baki, who Iruka recognised as the Jounin Sensei for the Suna Team, and Gaara himself.
"This situation is, as you know, quite serious. I've spent a lot of time going over the matter with Baki of Suna." The Hokage's lips thinned. "He does insist that it was not a deliberate attack, merely the high spirits of a young man getting out of control."
Iruka nearly spluttered at that. High spirits. The man was crazy.
"Indeed," the Hokage said dryly. "And when the Kazekage arrives, I will converse with him about it. Until then, it would be … unwise, to risk such high spirits occurring again."
And abruptly, Iruka didn't like where this was going.
"Since you've already proven to be capable of restraining him, should the situation arise, I think you're in a perfect position to guard Gaara for the rest of the month."
"Hokage-sama!" Iruka protested. "I … couldn't possibly! It was simply luck that I was able to succeed last night. In fact, it was my fault that the situation escalated as much as it did."
"I'm aware of what happened," the Hokage said. "Never the less, I feel it's for the best. There's only a week to go, anyway, so it will not be for long."
Iruka closed his eyes. "Yes, Hokage-sama," he said numbly.
"I must report the situation to the Kazekage," Baki said stiffly, staring out the window. "So that he is aware of what occurred. And is prepared… to make amends."
"I'm sure he cares for nothing more than the peaceful relationship between our countries," the Hokage said, sounding perfectly sincere. "You are free to go."
Iruka coughed awkwardly after the Jounin left. "Hokage-sama… last night… what were the damages?"
The Hokage shifted a few papers around on his desk. "Well, I'm sure you know that Kikyo Castle is a museum, and the curators are still assessing the damage. In terms of our history, we have lost a fair bit, and the monetary damages will be high. However, it was deserted late last night, so I'm pleased to say there were no casualties."
Iruka blinked, feeling a heavy weight lift off his chest. "None?" he repeated, in disbelief. "There was… a lot of damage."
"Indeed. And more than a few people were awoken with a nasty shock. But things could have been much worse if you had not been there, Iruka."
Awkwardly, Iruka really had no idea what to do when going about 'guarding' Gaara. It was a struggle to get even basic information out of him, like where the rest of his team was or what he normally did all day.
In the end, Iruka gave up. "Well, why don't we go and get something to eat?" he suggested brightly, like he would with much younger student. "I'll treat you to Ichiraku."
Gaara appeared to neither agree nor disagree with the idea, and trailed after Iruka as they walked towards the ramen stall.
Iruka really regretted going to his habitual eating place, when he saw who was already there.
"Eh, Iruka-sensei!" Naruto said cheerfully. "He-hey, wait! Why is that guy with you?!" He stood, and pointed an accusing finger at Gaara.
"Don't point; it's rude!" Iruka scolded him, hoping like hell that this wasn't going to escalate into another fight. He didn't think he could handle it. "Sit down and eat your ramen!"
Naruto pouted. "Okay, okay. But you're paying, right, Iruka-sensei?"
Iruka felt like pointing out that he hadn't offered, and in fact, hadn't even been here when Naruto arrived and ordered, but felt like in the grand scheme of things, paying for ramen was no great sacrifice. "Fine, fine," he said hastily. "Can I get a bowl of miso, Teuchi? And… what would you like, Gaara?"
Gaara looked at him blankly for a long moment. Then… "Miso," he rasped.
"Two bowls of miso," Iruka corrected, putting a hand on Naruto shoulder and literally shoving him back into his seat so the two Jinchuriki would stop glaring at each other.
"I want miso too," Naruto said, mutinously.
"Naruto is my student from the Konoha Academy," Iruka explained to Gaara, a little awkwardly. "He's also competing in the Chunin Exams this year, so you two might face each other in the Exams."
He regretted saying that. And really hoped it wouldn't come to pass.
Naruto brightened. "Oh for sure! I'm going to kick Neji's ass, and then I'm going to kick your ass!" He pointed at Gaara again. "Believe it."
Gaara examined Naruto carefully but dispassionately, like he was a bug under a microscope. Then he switched the intense stare to Iruka. "This is… one of the people that you have a bond with?" He asked.
Iruka nodded firmly. "Absolutely. Naruto is one of my precious students." He hoped he wasn't painting a bigger target on Naruto's back.
But Naruto lit up like the sun. "You're one of my precious people too, Iruka-sensei!"
Iruka smiled at him, fondly.
"I see," Gaara said, lowly.
It's going to be a long week, Iruka thought.
"Welcome all!" The Hokage's voice echoed around the stands. "And our deepest thanks for coming here to the Village Hidden in the Leaves for our Chunin Selection Exams."
Standing beside the Hokage, Iruka did his best to look professional, and not cheer his students on as they started fighting.
Naruto even won.
"Truly Konoha's most surprising ninja," the Hokage said sagely.
"He really is," Iruka agreed.
He was even more surprised when Sasuke won, to tell the truth. Not because Sasuke wasn't a good ninja – he was – but because Gaara had so clearly thrown the match. Or at least, restricted himself to such a level that he hadn't tried for any lethal moves, and hadn't tried to transform, which had been, in the end, as good as throwing the match once Sasuke brought out the chidori.
The Kazekage was furious.
And then the Kazekage was not the Kazekage and was, in fact, Orochimaru, and Iruka had to pull out his Scroll of Sealing just to deal with the surprise.
The two bodyguards standing beside the Kazekage were in fact four ninja, who had split up immediately to put up a four cornered barrier, trapping them inside. Outside the barrier, there were fights breaking out, but Iruka couldn't see the details from here. His mini-map was flooded with red 'enemy' signals, which was not a promising sign.
And the Hokage was now dressed for battle.
"Shit." Iruka breathed. "Oh shit, oh shit." But at the same time, he was so, so relieved that the Hokage was here with him. If he had to face Orochimaru again, there was no one else he wanted by his side. If he couldn't survive with the Hokage of all people, then he'd never be able to survive at all.
"Hokage-sama! I'll follow your lead!" He said, snapping the Scroll shut but being prepared to pull it out an any moment.
Orochimaru chuckled sinisterly. "With both of you here, it looks like I will need to use this jutsu." He appeared to summon a set of coffins, that opened to reveal the features of the First and Second Hokage's.
"No!" Sarutobi shouted, apparently recognising what was going on. He pelted the third coffin with rooftile shuriken until it retreated. "How could you, Orochimaru?"
Orochimaru sunk kunai bearing tags into the corpses. And… they blinked.
"Ah," the First Hokage said, with a dry rasp. "Hiruzen. It's been a long time."
Iruka froze. Oh, no. What in the world… This couldn't be possible. Grimly, he prepared himself for the hardest fight of his life.
Enemy defeated; 51000xp
Enemy defeated; 51000xp
Enemy defeated; 30600xp
Achievement Unlocked; Double Time – defeat two Kage in a single match
Iruka rushed to the Hokage's side, as the old man gurgled on Orochimaru's poison blade. His hands fluttered, not wanting to touch it and make things worse, but needing to do something.
"Drink these," he commanded, pulling out potions of healing, and adding stimulants. "We need a medical ninja." He wasn't sure there was any medical ninja in the world short of Tsunade that could heal this – but she wasn't here.
And first, somehow, he needed to get the barrier down so that that could happen.
Grimly, he looked at the four shinobi guarding the corners, and pulled out his scroll. They'd doubled the barrier, one on the inside, and one on the outside, so that they were defended from both directions. He could try using the scroll to set traps in between the barriers with them, or…
"Water Jet Cutting," he commanded, aiming his palm at the rooftop itself, and carving the corner off.
The barrier broke, as the ninja who was holding it was dropped out of alignment.
"Fetch a medic!" Iruka commanded the ANBU as they surged onto the rooftops.
"Without Tsunade, he won't survive," the medical ninja told Iruka softly.
He swallowed. "I see." The Hokage, more than being the leader of the village, was important to Iruka. It would be a stretch to say he was like a grandfather, but… he had always been there to offer comfort and advice.
Losing him would be a blow.
Mission accepted; Find Tsunade, the HUD blinked at him.
Iruka sank into a waiting bench tiredly. If only it were that easy. He pressed his hands to his face. Maybe he could repeat the mission, like he had that very first time with Naruto. Except… he had no idea how that fight could have gone better. Maybe if they had stopped Orochimaru from summoning the past Hokages in the first place… or discovered the invasion before it had begun… but people didn't listen when Iruka told them about things like this. He'd never be able to explain it.
Winning that fight had been a miracle. Expecting to do it twice – and better – was foolishness.
I have to find Tsunade, he thought. And fast, otherwise…
But how to find an S-rank ninja who hadn't been seen in years? Who he knew nothing about and had never met before. If only he had –
Iruka paused, and thumbed through the scroll until he found 'Talents'.
There was a new one 'Double Time' earned from defeating the Hokage's which promised to slow the world down around him. It would have been more brain breaking if he hadn't already been able to pause the world at whim, though he could see how it would be exceptionally useful in combat. But for now, that wasn't what he was looking for.
"Plan ahead," he murmured, picking the talent that he had never used before. "Mission; Find Tsunade."
On his HUD, a wavering yellow line burst into existence, tracing a route for him to follow.
His breath caught. Could it be… could, somehow, this thing know where Tsunade was?
Iruka surged to his feet to follow it.
Finding Tsunade didn't take long, objectively speaking. Convincing Tsunade to return to Konoha in order to heal the Hokage took a little longer.
Not that much, if he were honest. Tsunade might have been grouchy, and quick to inform him that she was done with being a ninja, and on the verge of belligerent… but she hadn't wanted to lose any more precious people either.
Not even if it meant returning to Konoha.
"There might be nothing I can do," she warned him.
Iruka smiled wanly. "There's nothing that I can do to help him," he said. "Except find you." He shrugged. "So I had to try."
She sighed. "So do I. What a mess. Orochimaru…."
In the end, she pronounced he would live.
The entirety of Konoha turned out to cheer in the streets when the news was announced.
"I won't be fighting any more battles," Sarutobi said, from his hospital bed. "It's time for me to retire, again, I think. Perhaps you're looking forward to the Hat, Iruka?"
Iruka choked. "Hokage-sama!" That had to be a joke. There was no way… no way at all…
The Hokage chuckled. "Perhaps it is too soon, just yet," he agreed. "Though that reminds me, I must announce the promotions from the exam."
As if that were his cue, Shikamaru shuffled into the room, followed by Hayate who was carrying two Chunin Vests.
"Shikamaru Nara, for demonstrating exceptional tactical abilities during the exam, I hereby promote you to the rank of Chunin. From now on, you will be expected to lead missions, and I hope that you continue to do the village proud."
Shikamaru looked like he wanted nothing less than promotion, but took the offered vest. "Thank you, Hokage-sama."
"Why two vests?" Iruka asked Hayate, puzzled. Were they waiting on someone else?
"This one is for you," Hayate said, holding it out.
Iruka took it, puzzled. His had been nearly destroyed in the fighting it was true, but usually that just meant he'd have to buy a new one. "Thanks?"
Chunin vest acquired; Chunin ranked missions, areas and items unlocked!
"Ah, Naruto," Iruka said, finding the teenager who had just returned from his training trip. "Just the person I was looking for."
"Eh, Iruka-sensei! You're a Jounin now? That's so cool."
Iruka was too used to people having heard of him now, even if he considered it one of the strangest aspects of the Scroll. It had given him a lot of trouble, over the years.
"I was wondering if you could do me a favour –" he began.
"Of course!" Naruto said enthusiastically with no pause whatsoever.
"Let me finish, idiot!" Iruka said, but grinned fondly. "What I want isn't a simple thing. I want… to be able to fight the Kyuubi."
Although it seemed insane, he had managed to defeat the other eight bijuu. First Gaara, all those years ago in Konoha, and then the other seven. Some of them had been in Jinchuriki, and those fights had been easier, because it was simply a matter of stopping their release, but some had been under the control of 'Akatsuki' and some had been roaming freely.
All of them, no exception, had dropped a Key.
Iruka had even found the doors that they belonged to. And he knew, without exception, that behind those doors was the answer to why the world had become strange.
The grin froze on Naruto's face, and he seriously considered the proposition. "Alright. But we can't do it in Konoha."
"I know just the place," Iruka said. "And hey, afterwards? I'll treat you to ramen."
Iruka slid the first Key into the first door. It swung open with an ominous creak.
As he stepped into the dark tunnel, his HUD went blank. Any attempt to open his Scroll of Sealing, or activate any of the talents failed.
He swallowed, and walked forward.
The second door was carved with a likeness of the Niibii. The Third, of the Sanbi. The corridors between them were straight and empty, no traps or enemies.
Iruka continued onwards, until he stood at the door with a snarling representation of the Kyuubi.
It swung open, and he stepped inside.
In the middle of the darkened room, there was an old man sitting cross legged. He had spiky, shoulder length red hair and a white coat marked with black magatama.
"Hello?" Iruka said, nervously.
"Greetings, Iruka," the old man said, opening his eyes. They were Rinnegan, just like Nagato.
"You're the Sage of Six Paths," Iruka breathed. "Was it you… who did this?"
"Correct," the sage said. "Though that is not the full truth. Tell me, do you know of the Nine?"
"The bijuu?" Iruka questioned. "Yes. If you mean of their creation… I have heard stories." Whether it was true was another matter entirely.
"I created them," the sage said, unperturbed. "Nine beings out of one. They were supposed to keep the world stable… anchors, if you will. And they did, for many years. But the world began to change, as all living things do, and they were no longer enough. So I needed a new Nine. Nine beings able to interact with the world in ways other people cannot, able to hold the power to reshape the world."
Iruka absorbed that. "It was all a test," he said. "The… It was a test. But why me?"
The Sage regarded him. "That is the interesting thing, Iruka," he said. "I did not pick you at all. Nine I wanted and nine I found… all of them already connected and joined. Nine children of extraordinary ability, in the same place at the same time. It is not so common as you think."
Iruka frowned. "So how… ?"
"Perhaps the test itself had its own ideas," the Sage said with a shrug. "The form it took was created upon interacting with the Nine, I did not control that. Perhaps it simply… selected you instead. Or perhaps…"
He regarded Iruka for a long moment.
"Perhaps?" Iruka prompted.
"Perhaps you were not meant to be one of the Nine. Perhaps, you were instead meant to be me."
Iruka couldn't breathe at the outrageousness of that statement.
"Because Nine have already been to visit me," the Sage continued. "Eight having completed the test, and followed my clues to me. And one… one without hints or help, without guides or rules, or second chances… one found me all on his own."
"Naruto," Iruka said, because who else could it be. He remembered, right back to the start, and picking up the headband. Who else's chance could he have taken?
His heart swelled at the implication that Naruto had managed anyway.
"You were their teacher, as I was the teacher of the first Nine." The Sage nodded. "Yes, I think it's a good fit."
He reached out and set his hand on Iruka's forehead.
There was… a feeling so intense that Iruka would never be able to describe it, like the shattering of the world around him, like it was being formed anew. Like he could suddenly see it all.
And around him, standing evenly spaced in a circle, were the Nine.
"Eh?" Naruto said, confused. "Iruka-sensei? What's going on?"
Iruka smiled at them all, taking in the changes from the students he knew. "I'm so proud of you all."
AN: So I really wanted a videogame!fic that didn't directly alter the player character. They're not puting in points and getting mysteriously stronger or more intelligent - instead, the level up process works on their interaction with the world itself, and the tools given by the 'game'.
That said, it was also mostly an excuse for munchkinning. Iruka was inserted into a game designed for Jounin Track students and then proceeded to break it and get a handful of endgame acheivements pretty much immediately (Jiraiya is the only other one with close to that many students) and, in doing so, pumped his reputation up to well beyond his ability to handle. Ooops.
I quite like the idea that the end then devolves into a cooperative multiplayer type thing, but who knows. You can see where I ran out of momentum, but I wanted to include the conclusion and 'it's all the SoSP's fault'. Heh. Poor Iruka. He never asked for any of this.