It's a funny thing to really think about, death. I mean; intellectually, we all know we're gonna die sooner or later. Whether it's in your own bed or hit by a car or what have you. The important thing is to not be afraid. Why fear the inevitable? Just accept it and move on with your life.
Of course, accepting and not fearing it doesn't mean you want it or can't be surprised by it.
So when I suddenly woke up as an infant, I can only assume that I'd died.
The shock quickly gave way to despair as I faced the utter certainty that I'd perished and left behind the world I knew. My infantile form wriggled as I squealed and cried, which drew the sounds of footsteps and a large set of hands hoisted me up into the arms of a man who bounced me and spoke with calming tones in a language I didn't recognize. It surprised me enough that I did stop bawling, and opened my tear-filled eyes to look at him.
Above me was an older man, likely in his fifties or sixties or so. He looked to be of Asian descent, had a scar on his forehead, and a scraggly grey beard. He continued to bounce as he walked around and spoke. While he did this, I caught a look at the room around me. It was obviously a child's room, with a crib I had likely just left, several colorful toys that were clearly wooden and painted, a few cubbies and dressers, and some pictures and artworks adorning the walls. Looking at them, I vaguely identified the script as looking Japanese, and furthermore they looked to be hand-drawn and written.
Okay, so I'm reborn somewhere in a likely feudal or similar era Japan? Well thank goodness I took French in highschoo- ah, shit.
Well, no matter. I suppose I'll learn. I've got a whole life ahead of me to figure it out.
You know what the hardest thing to get used to was?
It wasn't the family, or lack thereof. My grandfather was the first person I saw because my mother and father were both dead. My father died in the line of duty and my mother died in childbirth, leaving me only my aging grandfather to look after me and raise me as his own. But the old man wasn't much of a guardian. He fed and clothed and bathed me, made sure I was safe and didn't get into trouble as a small child. But he never extended me much love. Maybe I was just a bitter reminder that the family he once had was dead, and maybe he was just a colder person to start with. As I grew older, he kept using words like "Honor" and "Duty" and "Loyalty," so maybe he was more dedicated to the family name than any particular person in it. Whatever the case was, we were merely polite and formal with each other instead of loving grandfather and grandson.
It wasn't the fact that I woke up in a fictional universe I knew, which I had identified after seeing a few weapons lying around the house and the ninja headbands that people wore when the old man took me out into the village. Yes village, because this was Takigakure from the Naruto universe. A show I'd been quite enamored with as a college student, and had frequently re-watched. While it was shocking to see, I'd already hoped that after I'd died and was reborn, I'd wind up somewhere cool. This was beyond my hopes, though. This was… providence. My shock and surprise quickly gave way to excitement and anticipation.
It wasn't the language. No, that was picked up fairly easily. Fantastically so, according to my teachers and grandfather. Learning a third language can go against the instincts but with a young, developing brain it was easier than I thought. The written part was the toughest, but still done with effort. I, however, kept all of my notes and journals in English. Nobody around here seemed to speak or read it, so it just became my "secret code language" according to my grandfather. Dead useful for cataloguing the important past memories. I also sprinkled these with liberal amounts of French to be doubly sure any code-breaker type analysts would be hopelessly lost trying to figure it out.
It wasn't the name, either. "Ito Ikimono." My Grandfather is Benjiro Ikimono. I originally had an English name, so this was a little weird at first, but soon became natural; like an old nickname you were so familiar with you accidentally signed your name as it once or twice.
It wasn't the technology level, which was annoyingly nebulous for the Naruto universe. I mean, Konoha sported digital screens and indoor plumbing and plastic and synthetic fibers and all other kinds of modern conveniences despite being an otherwise feudal seeming setting. Takigakure wasn't far behind, but were generally lower-tech by comparison. I can't tell you how relieving it was to know I wouldn't have to use a hole and a bundle of straw as a toilet; when I was able to, that is. There were electric lights and plastic and our home had a television, but no cable. It was mostly old movies on VHS and the like. It was more like a step back a decade or two than an era shift.
No. By far, the hardest thing to get used to was my body.
Starting from infancy was bad enough. I wasn't an athlete back on Earth, but I wasn't out of shape, either. I keenly felt the lost strength and motor controls. But on top of that, knowing just how long it would take for me to get back to adulthood… it was demoralizing, to say the least.
But it was all worth it. Worth it, because I knew what lay within me; Chakra. The mystical all-purpose mumbo-jumbo god juice that gave incredible power to the determined and intelligent. I'd seen what it was capable of in the show - hell, I'd seen what it was capable of in person. Grandpa would use a small fire jutsu to light the stove when the ignition was on the fritz, and we'd catch glimpses of jutsu when walking by the training grounds. But big and flashy jutsu like that were so very wasteful of the potential of those powers.
The chakra parts will definitely require some figuring out, but I already had vast knowledge about chakra theory and potential from watching the show many times. I wouldn't need training on the ideas - I probably had more innovative ideas than any of the Kage. Orochimaru may be a sick and stupid son of a bitch, but he had the right idea when it came to the potentials of power. A scientist and a shinobi in one. He knew the power of the mind is more deadly than damn near anything else. I'd just need to emulate him (scientific brilliance, incredible willpower, strong work ethic, determination, and innovative mind) and trim the fat (massive arrogance, megalomania, unnecessary cruelty, poor risk assessment, useless grudges, inefficient resource management, terrible leadership) and I could secure my place in the world, wherever it may be.
So as I toddled, and grew, and reached the age of one and a half, I delved deep within myself and finally unlocked my chakra. Grandpa was shocked. It wasn't like my family was some famous ninja clan; the Ikimono family were famous only for most of the family members becoming record keepers in the noble pursuit of retaining and protecting the jutsu, knowledge, and history of the village to the point of aggression and seclusion.
I could've revealed myself. Could've immediately sought to take advantage of the village's newfound interest and support for their young prodigy. But being well-spoken, polite, clearly intelligent, and chakra formative at such a young age would've brought me much attention. And I didn't need that many prying eyes on me. Having influence is good, having spies and assassins and people sticking their nose where it doesn't belong is bad. Besides; true ninjas hide their skills. Grandpa knew, and he offered to teach me what he could when I wasn't attending civilian school as a young man.
This uncharacteristic bout of generosity and interest seemed suspicious to me. The man was, as I stated, not the most loving. But as I we did such lessons, him explaining things a bit too slow and obvious for my tastes (which was to be expected; I was a small child and despite my displayed intelligence, he wasn't going to assume I was THAT smart), it became clear that he was concerned, or perhaps more afraid. Benjiro had outlived his parents, his siblings, and now his only son and his wife. They were all ninja, and he knew that job carried risks, but he hadn't expected to see them go so quickly. I was the last person left to carry our name, and when I unlocked my chakra so early, he knew I was destined for the ninja life. It was therefore his duty to prepare me as best he could to make sure I lived long enough to continue the family legacy and produce offspring. Leaving a nearly two-year old with potential superpowers alone to play with it was a recipe for disaster.
It was a bit cold, and a bit heartwarming to see the concern and attention he displayed on me. Between lessons on chakra, he taught me bookkeeping and honed my handwriting to a keen edge. He was very pleased by my reading skills, and pushed me to read as often as possible. It was his way of preparing me to continue the Ikimono tradition of being record keepers. He grew fonder of me, would spend more evenings talking with me instead of leaving me with some books and toys. I couldn't say we were very close, but we were at least more than just cordial around one another.
I stuck leaves to my forehead, I walked on trees, I eventually walked on water. I even tried to walk up a waterfall, but I still haven't managed that. I played in the dirt and sand and moved it around with just chakra. Control was the key. My chakra would grow as I used it and aged, but control had to be strived for. Control of chakra multiplied your effective chakra capacity and potency of your jutsu, not to mention the importance in medical chakra.
That was precisely what I was aiming for, actually. I wanted to become a mednin, or at least be very proficient in medical knowledge and jutsu. In my old life, I had just finished my second year of medical school and was doing damn well in my classes. Applying that knowledge here would save me a lot of training and time, I'd just need to nail down the chakra parts.
Of course, I didn't do all this cooped up in my home. Going for walks, I got a good look at Takigakure itself. The village was hidden amongst trees, which can be accounted for by the fact that the founder was an Uchiha exile. It's only accessible through a large waterfall in a forest of waterfalls, which is where the actual name comes from. There's a footpath for travelers and a waterway for boats. The central part of the city is a massive tree that hides the village from outside view, and I mean massive. It was easily a mile or two or more across, and nearly as high, though I couldn't be sure since I couldn't see the top. Inside the base of the tree was the village leader's office and other military structures. It was surrounded by a large lake, somewhere around half a mile from shore to shore in any direction. The only passage by land was a long and narrow bridge, mostly for civilian use. Most career ninjas simply ran across the water. You could even catch some young genin teams practicing water walking in the shallow parts (I had simply used the bath in our home).
The outer ring of land was forest and cliffs, though much smaller trees. Buildings were trailed around the perimeter of the lake, and the city grew outwards from there. Small waterfalls dotted across the city and gave a tiered look from the number of cliff faces. Our family home was in the back-leftish part of the city, near the residential district for civilians. It was also near the edge of the city, a feature identified by the fact that the land around the village was mostly cliff walls and tree roots and vegetation too thick for animals to wander through. The only part that wasn't walled away was the back of the city, which had a long stretch of forest and land before dropping off a large cliff, giving it another iconic waterfall.
The city itself was nothing terribly impressive. Takigakure was a minor village, after all. The lush forest and abundance of water meant that most food was gathered instead of farmed in the traditional sense. Tiered farms with hanging gardens were mainly located by the left side of the village, and fisheries could be found every couple blocks. The style was a rough asian and western mix and lacked color or extravagance. Indeed, our village seemed to be quite simple and if you cut out the ninja parts, it would fit in well in the Japanese countryside.
But the ninja parts were very much there, and very prevalent. General ninja supply stores, blacksmiths and weapon shops, a ninja-staffed hospital, poisoners, and more. Takigakure's quite hidden nature and emphasis on military strength meant that as civilian-to-ninja ratios go, it was higher than most, including the big 5. Luckily, the two groups got along well and didn't seem to spark any friction due to it. They also seemed to agree on one thing in particular.
They all hated a little green-haired girl by the name of Fu; the Jinchuriki of the seven-tailed beetle, Chomei.
Unlike Naruto, there wasn't a law against speaking about this village's jinchuriki, which meant that everyone knew who the supposed "demon" was of the town. People being what they are, it didn't surprise me that this particular world was more akin to the manga universe, where everyone was an irrationally hateful bastard and feared what they didn't understand. Best they could tell, there was a demon in that girl and that meant she was as good as the demon itself, and therefore antagonizing it was a good idea.
The village leader, a very young man by the name Shibuki. His father was the village leader before him, and it was basically the same as a Kage, but Taki had never boasted a ninja strong enough for such a lofty title. Shibuki was smart and diligent, but somewhat timid. He did a fair job leading the city and was generally liked by the population. Despite this, he was often criticized for his kindness and care of the young jinchuriki, especially given how the rest of the village treated her.
I almost pitied the poor man, having so much to deal with at such a young age, but found I had none to spare. Life wasn't fair. You did what you could and dealt with it.
I rose early, as was my norm. My morning workout was physical training, and my afternoons were chakra focused until I had a proper teacher for physical combat. I quickly donned my running gear and stepped into the living room, where I was surprised to see my grandfather up and enjoying a cup of coffee. He preferred to sleep in most days.
"Good morning, grandfather."
The man looked up from the scroll he had been reading. I knew he'd seen me come in; hell, he'd probably heard me wake up. Retired shinobi do not lose their senses so easily. "Good morning, grandson. Leaving so quickly?"
"Yes?" I was a bit confused. He knew my schedule. "Is there something going on today?"
A slight chuckle escaped the man and a small smile graced his weathered features for a moment. "I thought you would at least like to hear a 'Happy Birthday' before you left."
Oh, was it that time of the year again? Peeking over to the calendar, I confirmed it was June. I was now eight years old.
"You'd forgotten, hadn't you?" he asked.
"It seems I have. Thank you, grandfather."
He waved his mug about. "Tell me, what would you like for your birthday this year?"
Knowing that I was quite mature for my age, and very driven, Benjiro had opted to let me ask for gifts rather than simply give me something. It may have reflected a lack of interest on his part, but we were both satisfied with the arrangement. He knew I would get something I enjoyed, and I gained opportunities to grow. I'd already planned what I wanted to ask, but hadn't thought the day would come up so quickly.
"I'd like scrolls on medical jutsu."
Benjiro paused over his drink. Before he could speak, I continued my request. "I'll be starting the academy next year, but medical jutsu takes a long time to master and I need to start early if I want to get the advantage. You know I'd have better chances of catching a jounin-sensei if I had a notable skill like that. We've been working on my chakra for years now, and my control is beyond excellent. I'm ready for this, grandfather."
At my boast, his eyes narrowed slightly. He stared for a minute longer, then nodded in an approving manner. "You are soon a child no longer. I'm glad to hear you've thought this through." He drained his mug and sat thoughtfully, then carefully stood and handed me a small number of ryo bills. "Go, do your workout and enjoy the day. When you return, I'll have things ready for you."
I accepted them with a slight bow. I wasn't fond of the practice, but it was this world's way of showing respect and appreciation. "Thank you. Take care, grandfather."
"And you, grandson."
Biting into my morning protein bar, I took off from the house at a jog, heading to one of the lesser-used training grounds by a particularly verdant spot near the outer walls with a small waterfall in it. It was pretty out of the way from most of the ninja parts of the city, making it inconvenient for most people to bother with. It was one of my favorite spots. Between the isolation, the scenery, and the waterfall, it was a nice place to train and relax in. I'd worn out a nice jogging track along the outside and set up some boulders for various lifting and traversing challenges, even if it had taken me the better part of a week just moving most of them. If I hadn't had such control of my chakra, I'd have needed to wait until I was an adult before I could move the larger ones.
But as I said; this place was remote and pretty much used only by myself, which is why it was unusual to find someone else already there, slowly wandering around and looking at everything. A girl, probably a year younger than me. She had mint-green hair, tanned skin, and though I couldn't see, I knew her eyes were orange. She was clad in some shabby off-white clothes that practically shouted "neglected orphan" and a large red sack on her back.
To be honest, I hadn't expected to interact with her. Our village wasn't huge, but it was plenty big that you could live your life here and only know most of the people there. If we were going to meet, it would've been possibly years down the line when we were both part of the ninja corps. Yet here she was.
I decided that there was no reason to avoid her, and it would be nice to have someone to talk to.
I made sure to slow my jog down to a walk and came from an angle so she wouldn't spot me until I was closer. About twenty feet away, while she was clamoring on one of the rocks, I called out to her.
She let out a little yelp and fell sideways off the rock. Scrambling up, she finally spotted me. "Oh. Um, hello." She shook herself a bit, then broke out a wide smile. A smile I could easily see was riddled with nerves, fear, sadness, and hope. "Hi! My name's Fu."
"Hello, Fu. My name's Ito Ikimono," I gave a slight bow and smile. "What brings you to my little training ground?"
Her eyes widened a bit. "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't know this was anyone's, I was just looking for a place to hang out and maybe train a little, but I can-"
I held up a hand and let out a little laugh. "Hey, hey, don't worry. If you'd like to stay here and train, you're very welcome to." I leaned in a bit and stage whispered. "Between you and me, I think the training ground gets a little lonely with just me here. It would be glad to have company." I gave her a conspiratorial wink.
The 6 year-old girl seemed a bit surprised, then grinned. "Cool! Can I join you?"
"Certainly," I gestured to the track. "I jogged here for my warm-up, so I should stretch. You'll need to warm up, too. So run one lap around and then meet me back here."
She dropped her bag and took off at a sprint before I shouted "Not too fast!" and she slowed down with a sheepish grin. A few minutes later, she returned, barely breathing hard.
"Okay, so now we stretch." I demonstrated by bending over and touching my toes.
"Why?" Fu asked, confused.
"Because if you don't stretch before and after your workout, it won't be as good and it'll hurt more afterwards."
I led her through my morning workout routine. We started with running, then jumping over and on boulders, then core workouts, upper body, moved on to balance, and finished with recovery techniques. Like rolling into a fall, or leaping up from lying down. After that was another stretch.
Fu took it all without much complaint, or I suppose I should say she didn't complain about the difficulty. I was a little ashamed that she managed to keep up so easily, and was probably in as good or better condition than myself. I chalked it up to her status and encouraged her to push herself even as I lagged behind. She was a little unsure, but did so anyways.
During our final stretches, she asked "Ito-san, why didn't we do any, like, fighting or something?"
"I don't really know how to fight," I informed her. "I mean yeah I can throw punches or kicks, but nothing official or directed. I don't want to pick up bad habits by practicing bad combat form." I leaned sideways as she mirrored me. At her confused look, I elaborated. "Imagine throwing a punch the same way a thousand times and getting used to it, only to fight a real opponent and figure out you had an obvious flaw they could exploit. For now, I'm content to improve my body and mind before my fighting."
She pouted a little. "Aw, okay."
"You certainly don't have to hold back on my account, Fu-san," I told her. "If you'd like to find somebody to spar with, I won't stop you."
She turned away, looking uncomfortable. "Well… nobody really likes me. And nobody would want to play with me or help me train. You're, like, the first person who's been so nice to me except for Shibuki-sama."
I winced. I'd forgotten about that bit. We finished our stretch and I waved her over to the waterfall for us to grab a drink. "I tell you what. I'm starting at the academy in a year, and I'd be happy to teach you as soon as I know stuff." I bent over and caught some of the falling fresh water with my hands, pouring it into my mouth.
"REALLY?!" she shouted, jumping over and giving me a hug. I choked a bit on the water, but she was too excited to notice. "You promise? You gotta promise!"
Pounding my chest, I coughed up the water I had swallowed. "Yes, I promise," I assured her in a weak tone. She squeezed me even harder. I returned the hug, albeit more gently. When she let go, both our stomachs growled, and she blushed a bit. "It's about lunch time anyway. Why don't you join me? I could go for some pasta in town."
Fu suddenly looked quite apprehensive. "Ah, I, well, not sure that would be okay. I mean, most people are mean to me, and…"
"I insist." I put a hand on her shoulder. "It's not every day I get to enjoy someone's company. Besides, I have an afternoon training routine when we've finished eating. You could join me for that too, if you like." While obviously conflicted, the girl's stomach growled again and so I shuffled her along with me and headed into town.
We made idle chat as we walked, me pointedly ignoring the looks sent our way and doing my best to keep Fu occupied so she wouldn't notice as well. Some of the looks were more confused or curious than malicious. I should note that while my grandfather had and I weren't hermits, we also were generally isolated and tended to keep to ourselves. Apparently, me walking through town casually with the whipping boy raised more than a few eyebrows.
In any case, we soon arrived at my frequented low-end restaurant. The food was still good and healthy, but pretty cheap. Plus, they didn't overcook the noodles, which I counted as very important. Walking through the front door, the nearby waiter smiled in recognition of one of their more common patrons, before twisting his smile into a surprised scowl when he caught sight of the mint-haired girl next to me.
I forced down a sigh and decided to try heading off the issue before they could speak. "Hey Tanaka-san, I'll take my usual in the back booth, and whatever Fu-san here decides after she's had a chance to look at the menu." I turned to her. "Do you like spicy food? Because they've got good curry here."
"I've never tried it, Ito-san!" Fu said with some wonder. "I think I want something sweet, though."
I chuckled and led her past the front counter to my typical spot, a booth in the back. "We could do dessert, but first we need proper food. Take a look and see what looks good. And just two waters to start," I threw over my shoulder.
Caught between confusion and apprehension, the man decided to go on auto-pilot so he didn't have to think about what he'd just seen. He'd served Ito plenty of times, he was a regular. But he'd never brought anyone along with him, and definitely not that… little monster.
When the waiter returned with our drinks, I ran interference for Fu, deliberately drawing her attention to something on the menu and explaining it while I looked up to Tanaka and gave my typical nod and friendly smile. Even if I didn't really like the man, it's preferable to stay on good terms with the people who handle your food. Still a bit confused and grumpy, he dropped our water on the table with a "thunk" and went back into the kitchen.
It took Fu another ten minutes to decide what she wanted. She was practically climbing all over the table, and fooling around as kids do, but eventually I waved over Tanaka and placed her order for her to undercut whatever spiteful retort he may or may not have had ready. He accepted with a curt nod and took it back to the kitchen. After some smalltalk, our food arrived back and I swiped her dish before she could bite into it. "Hey!" she shouted.
I gave her a teasing smirk as I took a bite out of it. "I just wanted to try it, since I've never had this one before." I swallowed and made careful note of how it felt in my mouth and stomach. Nothing seemed wrong. "Why don't you try a bit of mine? Then we can eat our own."
Her face brightened immediately and she took a big bite out of my dish, happily munching on it. I concentrated on my stomach and couldn't feel anything wrong. Good. I wasn't expecting them to poison her right off the bat, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to check. Even if her food wasn't something I really had a taste for.
Sitting in our booth, I was facing the door while she faced the back by the bathroom. I caught the scowls and glares thrown at Fu's back as we enjoyed our lunch, reading the lips on some of the other customers. Some of the other waiters were expressing sympathy for Tanaka since he had to serve the "monster brat" and expressed some unkind desires involving violence. Luckily, I remembered that Fu at least never suffered physical abuse from the manga, so I could at least count that in the likelihood of things escalating. My mere presence probably wasn't going to enrage them into taking action; hell, it should calm them somewhat. I was the quiet kid training hard to be a shinobi like his family and very polite. It was an image I had honed to a keen edge over my youth. I needed to come off as unassuming but generally likeable, a forgettable face in a crowd. If I can manage that, then half the work of stealth is done right there.
I paid for us both and we left. Despite her earlier misgivings, Fu happily accompanied me and we made good time back to the training ground. She could barely contain her excitement as it came into sight. "So, what are we going to work on now?" She was bouncing up and down.
"We're going to work on chakra, specifically chakra control," I informed her.
"AWESOME! So, what do we do?"
I sat down on a boulder and gestured for her to do the same. "First, we're going to talk a bit about chakra so you understand what we're trying to accomplish." She pouted a little at that. "What do you know about chakra?"
Fu scrunched up her face for a second. "It's, um, well, the thing that lets ninja do cool jutsu?"
I sighed. "Well, you're not wrong, but that's missing the point, Fu-san." I pondered a moment on how to explain. "Chakra is life-energy. Just like your blood, your muscles, and all the other parts that make up living things. Plants have chakra. People have chakra. Ninja have just learned the way to bring it out from deep in their body and wield it. If you run out, you die. Just like with people's height and eye color, your maximum potential chakra is just part of your DNA- er, who you are," he explained to her confused look. "My grandfather is only as tall as he is because that's just how he was born. If he was malnourished, then he wouldn't have gotten that tall, and if you don't train your chakra then you'll never be able to reach your max, just like with your muscles. But everyone can work on their control."
"What does control do?" she asked.
"An excellent question," I said and beamed at her, which she returned. I picked up a rock. "So imagine I wanted to throw this rock to you. I need to control my arm, otherwise I might throw it too hard and it could sail over your head and hurt my arm with the effort. Or I could end up throwing it too softly and it just falls between us." I underhand tossed it to her, which she caught. "Since I am in control of my arm, I managed to do what I wanted without hurting myself or screwing it up. Chakra's the same way. You could end up wasting loads of chakra trying to do a basic jutsu and get exhausted quickly, or you could fail to mold it properly and the jutsu fizzles out. Basically, no matter how much chakra you have, chakra control tells you how much you can really use right."
"Okay, then I want to learn control!"
"That's exactly the attitude you need. It won't be easy, but all the best ninja are really good at control, so work hard to master it." I smiled, but it quickly withered. "You'll probably have some trouble with it, but people with lots of chakra usually do, so don't worry about it too much." I jogged over to one of the nearby trees and broke a branch off it laden with leaves. "So, here's the first step." I plucked one of the leaves off and stuck it to my arm. "You need to use your chakra to stick the leaf to your body. You can choose anywhere, but it's usually easier to start with the arms. Use too much chakra and you'll blow the leaf away. Too little and it'll fall." I demonstrated both examples to her. "Once you can get one to stick for a minute, then you add another, and another, and maybe put them on different spots of your body. That's how you start building it up, and then you can get to the cool stuff like running on water."
She watched and listened with a cute determined look. "Okay, Ito-sensei! I'll get started!" She immediately grabbed a leaf and put it on her arm, which promptly blew off. She looked surprised for a second, then grabbed another and got the same result. And again.
Seeing her start to get a bit red and scrunched her face up, I put a calming hand on her shoulder. "Hey, it's okay. Like I said, it's not easy, especially for someone with as much chakra as you have."
She took a deep breath, then paused. "How can you tell I have lots of chakra? Are you a sensor?" Fu suddenly looked apprehensive.
Hmm, what to say here. I weighed up the option of lying to her and saying yes, but secrets have a way of festering and spawning more secrets. That, in turn, has a way of causing stress for most people, and guilt for someone as kind-hearted as her. She'd feel anxious and doubt herself whenever we interacted. More powerful people have been crippled by doubt than a blade.
All in all, that option seemed untenable for the long haul. The real question is, am I in this for the long haul? I hadn't planned for this, nor had I intended on it in the first place. She'll have the Akatsuki after her and nobody to back her up, what with the village acting like it was. Shibuki will do his best to shore up the damage but he won't be able to do much with all the other things he has to worry about as village leader. Flying under the radar until I was ready was Plan A, not sticking myself in the limelight next to the town pariah.
I put a hand on her shoulder while she looked up at me. "I can tell because I know you're a jinchuriki, Fu. Jinchuriki of the seven-tailed beetle. And having a big chakra creature in you means your chakra coils have lots more chakra to deal with, which means you'll probably always have more chakra than most Kage." I smiled. "I'm your sensei for one day and already you're surpassing me. I'm so proud," I joked.
Fu stared at me, then she started sniffling and tears filled her eyes. I wrapped her in a gentle hug that she strongly returned. The 6 year old started crying in earnest against my shirt as I pat her back and rocked gently, humming a little tune. We spent a good while like that.
Finally, the tears slowed and dried, and she sniffled again. "Y-you're really gonna be my sensei?"
"Really," I assured her. "And I want us to be friends, first of all. Can we do that?" She nodded against my chest. I gave her a squeeze. "Then, as your sensei, I say we should get started on your training. Okay?"
Fu looked up at me and gave me the most genuine smile I'd seen from her. I lowered my arms and she did likewise, then she tried to pull away and found she was stuck. She looked down and saw her shirt was stuck to mine. "Aha, I have you now! I've used my chakra control to stick to your clothes!" I took a step back and she yelped and had to follow. I chuckled and released her. "One day, you'll be able to do that and more, but first…"
"Yes sensei!" she shouted, and immediately set to work on the leaves.
While she did that, I went over to the waterfall and removed my shoes, then dug around in the water for some sand. When I had found a good handful, I stood on the water and tried to make shapes and letters by moving the sand around with my chakra. Since I had to do this while maintaining my balance on the water, it was great for working on control and concentration, even if I could only slowly walk around at the moment. I'd actually planned on doing some jutsu work today, even if I was pants at handsigns, but figured that Fu didn't need colorful distractions while she was working. I very much wanted to start on the Shadow Clone jutsu, but I wasn't about to test if I would drop from chakra exhaustion with my young body's reserves. As it was, I was mostly practicing elemental jutsu and trying to minimize the handsigns required. It was exhausting work, but I'd found through trial and error that my main affinity was water, with a side of earth. Since I was focusing on medical jutsu, this was good news for me. I also liked working with lightning, though it was very difficult to do.
I kept an eye on Fu and occasionally gave some direction if she started getting frustrated. Deciding to try a little experiment, I told her to pause on the leaves and instead took a slab of bark off one of the trees roughly the length of her forearm. I suggested she try sticking that to her arm instead, reasoning that it may be a better starting point for her. Sure enough, she managed to stick it to her arm for about ten seconds by the end of the day. She squealed and jumped for joy.
"Now young student, I expect you here tomorrow morning at the same time, understand?" I said in a formal tone.
"Yes sensei! I will be here!" She assured me.
I suddenly had a worrying thought. "Fu, you do have a place to live, right?"
She nodded. "Shibuki-sama gave me a little house on the other side of town, near the tree, so I can come visit him."
Thank goodness. I wasn't sure where my grandfather stood on the whole "demon" arrangement, so I couldn't simply offer my home only to have him shoot her down on the doorstep. Plus, I preferred having my own space. Adding a permanent guest would complicate matters.
"Then I shall see you tomorrow morning."
"You too. Bye!" she called out as she took off towards her home. I watched her leave, then returned to the waterfall and stripped to clean myself. I had a functioning bathroom at home, but I enjoyed the open air and heavy water. The cold water was bracing and good practice for cleanliness in the field. After that, I dressed and made for home.
I found my grandfather in the living room, half-interestedly reading a book. He'd already heard me come in, and was almost out of his chair by the time I saw him. "Welcome back, Ito-kun. How was your training?" It was a rote conversation, one we'd repeated many times.
"It went well, grandfather. I even made a friend from someone I found in the training ground."
He at least perked up a bit at that. "Did you now? Well done. It's important to make friends in life." We both politely ignored his own lack of friends. Most of them were dead. "Come now. It's time."
Curious what he meant by that statement, I followed him down into the basement. Our basement was locked behind a thick, almost vault-like door at the bottom of the stairs. It actually required a blood sample to open, keyed specifically to our family. It was a piece of fuinjutsu that was gifted to our family generations ago. This is because the basement of our home contained a vast underground library. The door was designed especially to maintain the difference in air and temperature conditions, as paper and the like preferred less humidity than our village generally had. I'd been down here a few times, but the place was intentionally disorganized. Apparently, our family had a unique filing system to dissuade thieves and spies. When I'd tried searching the place myself for jutsu, my grandfather had let me go on for a few hours before he revealed himself and gave me a lecture about not being ready yet.
He walked to a corner of the room and stared at the many shelves. "You are the last of our family, Ito." He ran a hand across a shelf, staring at the dust. "It will be your responsibility to carry on our family's legacy. We must preserve knowledge, all knowledge, so that we may never forget the lessons of history and never allow the power that knowledge gives us fade away. Here we have sheltered what many have thrown away, hidden what the greedy and undeserving have sought. Many forgotten things lay in these shelves…" he trailed off, reminiscing about something. Benjiro turned to face me. "It's time I taught you how to sort through our library, so that you may take your place as heir to the Ikimono family and safeguard this knowledge. Lessons will be every day after your training. Normally you would be a genin by the time you were handled this responsibility, but fate has not been kind to our family and I cannot afford to wait. When you have learned our ways, all of it shall be yours. But first," he took a few books and scrolls from the shelves, seemingly at random, "I believe this is what you need to learn medical jutsu."
I flipped through a few of the books. Some of them were anatomy and detailed human construction. I intended to skim those. I hadn't been to medical school for just over eight years now but I was careful about recording and keeping as much of my medical knowledge sharp as I could. The others were more chakra based and even included the Mystical Palm jutsu. This was exactly what I needed. I gave a bow to my grandfather. "I will take up this responsibility with my heart, grandfather."
To be honest, I didn't really care about my family's legacy any more than I cared about Takigakure. I was a man who already had a life under his belt and had seen enough to know I wasn't fond of many of the people here. But I could respect preserving and protecting knowledge, especially to this scale. And I fully intended on searching every shelf of this place to find what I wanted.
"I know you will, grandson. It is your duty. Now, let's have dinner, shall we?"
Two months later, things had progressed nicely. Fu had fallen right into my pace and diligently followed my lessons and always tried her best. I managed to get her on tree walking, and planned to start her with water walking next week. I taught her what few wind jutsu I could remember or scrounge from our library, which she took to very well. She continued to outpace me in physical areas, even when I explained to her how she was subconsciously channeling chakra to her limbs that gave her such a boost and asked her to try without. Physical enhancements like that were innate jinchuriki.
Because of our constant proximity and time together, Fu latched onto me very dearly. Propinquity was funny that way. She trusted me completely and I at least shared with her some of my minor secrets as long as she promised to keep them, which she had. Things like how much jutsu I knew and my plans to study medicine. At the moment, I couldn't say where I was compared to Shibuki, but it was probably close. We trained, ate, and sometimes washed together. Fu's lack of care for decorum or modesty made things easy between us as we shared waterfall showers. It may have been partly due to her insectoid instincts to seek out companionship and latch onto a perceived superior, but I wasn't too sure on that last bit considering how insect queens usually are treated. In any case, while she continued to try and fail to make friends outside of myself and Shibuki, she leaned on me more and more. I'd need to talk with her about it soon. But it was late at the moment and tomorrow was a special day.
I'd also been making good progress on my medical training. Thanks to my massive head start and not inconsiderable intellect at a young age, I'd been buying some live fish for "Fun fishing days" at my training ground. I'd built a small net at the outlet of the pond area at the foot of the waterfall and let a few fish loose in there. Hopefully, with the edible algae and whatnot down there, they'd repopulate from the ones I took out. Fu had been amused at my frustration when I tried resuscitating fish over and over again, and a bit put off by how I would give them small cuts to practice the Mystical Palm technique. It was very tricky stuff, and I had barely started to get the wounds to heal properly. I was confident I'd be at least passable at the jutsu before school started.
At the moment, however, I was in our family library. It was gruelling learning what was practically a code inside a dead language, that's the best way I could describe our organizing system. I doubted some village's records archives had the kind of security through obscurity out family did. But after all was said and done, I was picking through the shelves with only minor difficulty and singular purpose. I was searching tirelessly for a scroll of a specific jutsu. I needed to find it. This was the tenth night in a row I had spent "cleaning" and doing other menial tasks in the library. After all, it was my new responsibility. I blazed through the chores and spent as much time as I thought I could without making my grandfather suspicious looking for it.
I was about ready to call it a night when I spotted a particular book case in the middle of the room. It was completely nondescript and looked just like the rest, but it caught my eye. There was a scroll nestled between a few books of unrelated subjects, which was also normal for our library. It was also very old, but again, normal. What caught my eye was the paper itself. The material of scrolls had changed over many years and this one was identifiably from before the First Shinobi War, at least to anyone who had been taught paper handling by an expert. With careful hands, I took out the scroll and unfurled it. My heart stopped in my chest, which nearly made me burst out laughing from the irony.
I'd fucking found it.
I'd found the scroll for the Earth Grudge Fear jutsu.
I quickly scrambled over to a stack of blank scrolls and used a text-copying jutsu my grandfather had taught me to copy it over. After a few minutes, it was complete. I placed the original carefully back where it belonged and the copy on a very obscure shelf in the intentionally wrongly catalogued manner to our family. I couldn't risk leaving something like that in my room, having Benjiro find it would be the best case scenario and even that would be terrible.
This. This jutsu, this would see me through this world of horrors and death, of murderers and liars and schemers. Kakuzu was a damned fool, proven by how little he had changed or adapted in the years he'd lived. I was going to master this technique. All of its unappreciated, undiscovered potential would be brought into the world, an abomination of a jutsu.
I just needed to do it before the world killed me first.
Fu wandered into the training ground in her usual clothes, looking confused that she was there first, as well as a lingering sadness that hung about her. I had told her to skip the morning workout today and meet here at our lunch time. I stealthily waited in the trees behind her, waiting for my moment. Carefully, I took a rock and hurled it over another tree, where it impacted with a hard "thunk" and shook the leaves. Fu immediately jumped a bit and looked over to it, so I dropped down and quickly snuck up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She yelped and took up a defensive stance, which was good instinct, but immediately relaxed and smiled when she saw it was me. "Sensei, that was mean! Why did you do that?"
"Well, I thought it would be worth doing something different for a special occasion." I smiled and pulled the storage scroll from my pouch and placed it on the ground. With a little chakra application and a puff of smoke, out popped a picnic banquet for two, complete with blanket. "Happy Birthday, Fu."
Fu gasped a bit, eyes watering as she took in the sight before her. "How did you know it was my birthday?"
I didn't want to tell her that A) I'd known from the Naruto wikipedia it was August 8th and B) had been hearing grumblings from the population around town all week. I'm surprised she hadn't guessed the second option, given she no doubt heard the same things unless she was intentionally ignoring them.
Instead I just gave her a mysterious wink and said "A good sensei knows these things about his student. Now, let's have some food. I hope you like it."
Fu gave me a rib-breaking hug and wiped her eyes. Always so emotional. She immediately tore into the food, and was very excited to see the assortment of sweets I'd procured especially for her. She had quite the sweet tooth, which I attributed to her tailed inhabitant.
Speaking of that being; when the food had been finished off, I sat up straight and turned to her with a serious look that she called my "sensei mode". She immediately noticed and paid close attention. "Fu, I have two gifts for you today. The first is, how would you like to make a new friend?"
She smiled brightly at me. "I'd love to, Ito-sensei! Who is it? When can I meet them?"
"I'm hoping you can meet them today, Fu. They're very old and lonely, and could really use a friend themselves. I bet you two will get along great." I took a deep breath. "They're the Nanabi inside you."
Fu was quiet, and looked like she wasn't sure what to say, so I continued. "I have it on good authority that jinchuriki can communicate with their biju. Some, like the container of the Hachibi, can talk with them in their mind as easily as you and I. But to get there, first you have to talk to them in your mind. To do that, you need to meditate and find them in yourself. Once you've made the connection, it'll be easier in the future."
I didn't have to be a ninja training in observation to see how conflicted she was. It was her instinct to want to make new friends and from what I'd just said apparently they'd be happy knowing each other. But she was just a seven year old girl who had spent her childhood being treated like shit because of the demon living inside her. How could a child not blame the creature for something like that? But I wouldn't have any of it.
"Fu," I put my hands on her shoulder, which warmed her at the touch. She visibly relaxed. "You need to remember that it's not their fault for anything that happened. The Nanabi didn't ask for this, they probably wanted to just live their life and not be disturbed, but they were hunted down and locked into the body of someone they didn't know and treated like a prisoner. The Nanabi is just as much a victim as you are for this. Don't blame them or yourself. Instead, realize you've both got that in common, and probably a lot of other things. You're partners, you should be nice with each other." I squeezed her shoulders. "You can do this, and then you'll have another friend to count on."
She took a deep breath. "Okay," Fu said quietly, before gathering herself. "So how do I do that?"
"Sit comfortable, don't slouch, and then meditate. You'll find her in your center."
Fu nodded, then sat still and frowned hard in concentration. She sat like that for twenty minutes before she finally got too agitated. "I can't do this, it's not working."
"Hey, hey, calm down, it's alright." I stood up, walked behind her, and sat down with my legs on either side of hers. She meeped and fidgeted. "Okay, let's try this. Take a deep breath and close your eyes"
The amber-eyed girl did so, slowing her heartbeat down. Leaned against her sensei, her best friend, and feeling his warm body against her own, plus all the food she had just scarfed down, she was feeling more than a little drowsy. She felt his hands grab her own, which made her a bit uncomfortable, and guided them to her stomach, right over where her seal lay.
"Listen to my voice. Breathe in, and out." Fu slowed her breathing. "Feel the chakra in your body, feel it move. In, and out. Feel your stomach, the ink and seal that holds the Nanabi. In, and out. Now just think about your mind, think about a place deep inside yourself. In, and out." Fu was nearly asleep by this point. "Feel how your chakra connects to that spot, feel how another being's chakra also connects there. In, and out. Now think about that place, and who is in there. Think about sinking down into that place yourself. In, and out. Just concentrate on going there in your mind." Fu continued taking deep breaths, and eventually fell unconscious.
I felt her body completely relax and fall asleep in my arms. Knowing I was in for a likely long wait, I carefully removed my hands and placed them on the ground. There were some quiet earth techniques I could work on.
A couple hours later, Fu stirred against my chest. She yawned and stretched, nearly bopping me in the chin as she did so. The seven year old blinked a few times, then turned at me and grinned. "I saw her! I met her! You were right! Oh my gosh, she was so cool! And she was huge! But she said not to say that around her since it wasn't nice to talk about how big girls are. And she was so funny! And nice. She wanted to be friends, so we are! She even said she would be friends with you! She said she'd help me out and would work on learning to use her chakra some time! I can't hear her right now, but she said that you were right about how we could eventually do that! She can see and hear the stuff I do, too! She even wished me a happy birthday!"
I chuckled and pat her on the head. "Easy, young student. I'm glad you're so excited, it sounds like things went very well."
"They did!" Fu turned around and gave me a hug. "Oh, and she said I could tell you her name, but to keep it a secret. She said I could trust you since you're my sensei and good friend."
Well, that was unexpected. I already knew it, but I suppose this is better than me name-dropping it some day for shock. "Oh? And what is her name?"
Fu gave me a wide smile. "Her name's Chomei!"
I looked into Fu's eyes and smiled. "Since we haven't been properly introduced yet; Hello, my name is Ito Ikimono. It's a pleasure to meet you, Chomei-san."
We sat there for a bit before I pulled away. "Okay, student, it's time for your second gift, and I think it'll be just as cool and awesome as your first."
Fu's eyes widened at that, excitement all over her features. "Oooh! What is it! It's gotta be so cool!"
I felt I was close, very close, but not quite ready for the jutsu yet. I don't see that problem for Fu, though. "Let me show you a very special jutsu called the 'Shadow Clone' jutsu."
Heyo there, folks. I honestly had no intention of stepping away from Zoor Zeymaha Nah any time soon, especially to do a Naruto fic. But my brother and I have some really awesome ideas for this universe, including about four or five fanfic Ideas we'll probably never get around to writing. If you're interested in some inspiration material, feel free to message and I'll happily share.
Anyways, we felt the the Jiongu is a frankly waaaaaaaaay fucking overpowered and fucking scary power even by this universe's standards, and after reading a few disappointing Jiongu fanfictions here, I decided to tackle this one myself.
Please do leave a review, they're what push me to write more and improve if you've got decent criticism. Hope you all have enjoyed. And look forward to the next few chapters.