Disclaimer: I own nothing except the computer. And someday, the world.
October 10, P.K.E. (Post Kyuubi Era) Year 6
The forests of Konohagakure were normally silent, but not today. A mob of villagers, more than a few of them shinobi, were chasing after a small boy under cover of night. Torches filled the air with harsh flickering light; curses and yells to "Kill the demon!" were in large supply. In the shadows, hidden from the light by a huge oak, a tall figure stood, musing over his thoughts.
'There is another of my kind here, in Fire Country? Sarutobi never told me of another youkai. The fact that his soldiers are trying to kill it does not bode well...'
The shadow moved off at top speed to intercept the mob's prey, becoming nothing but a blur.
It found whatever they were chasing a few minutes later. Not far ahead of the mob, there was a brown-haired Chuunin with a scar over his nose, running hard for his life. But it wasn't him that the shadow was focused on: it was a dirty bundle of rags that he held in his arms.
The man ran and ran until, sensing that the mob would not catch up for a few more minutes, he stopped to take a rest. His follower stopped as well.
The shadow stepped out and became a man who looked to be in his late 30s. He was not of this world, to say the least. His bearing was regal, and his golden eyes regarded everything in a cold, detached manner. He wore a red and white haori, with a breastplate and two swords. Only one of his hands was visible.
The Chuunin instantly knew that this man commanded respect. He seemed to wear power like a cloak, easily and well. He was acting as if the other was a bug- able to be squashed without any trouble or qualms- and yet, somehow, he couldn't find any energy to protest.
He bent down to the Chunnin, who was staring at him in both fear and awe, and said, "What is the bundle that you hold in your arms?"
"It's a boy named Uzumaki Naruto," he replied carefully after being glared at for deliberating.
'Clearly a demon vessel,' he thought, irritated. 'Why are there so many human-demon crosses these days? There are quite enough in the world without inventing a new way to make them and mass-producing the stupid things. I thought Sarutobi was beyond the quest for power. Oh, but it was the Fourth who sealed the fox. Well, he certainly didn't choose a very good successor.'
"Give me the boy," he told the brunet bluntly.
"I don't think you understand. It was not a request."
The younger stared into his eyes, then said, "Kami-sama, doesn't look like I have a choice. At least tell the Hokage?"
"I will. What is your name?"
"Iruka. Umino Iruka."
The Third Hokage was just pulling on his Hokage hat when the shadow jumped in through the window. It was on him in an instant.
"Sarutobi," he growled through gritted teeth, "why have you not told me that there was a demon vessel here, why were your soldiers and civilians chasing him, and why the hell were you asleep through most of it?"
"Sesshomaru, please calm down," the Hokage said in alarm. "What do you mean, my soldiers and civilians were chasing a jinchuuriki? My ANBU would have told me-"
The Taiyoukai glared him into silence. "We've been through this before, Sarutobi. You trust people too much. Why would they tell you if they hated the boy? It would be in their best interest to let him die. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that not one single ANBU is in any way watching over that boy at this very moment. They'll all be trying to find him in that godforsaken forest you have out there."
The Third winced. "All right, all right. But you really do need to have a little more faith in people, Sesshomaru. It wouldn't hurt."
"Oh yes, it would," the other said darkly. "Look at what just happened."
"So maybe I trust too much. That's probably why Konoha is one of the strongest villages, because I trust too much. I'm not about to execute anyone because my friend's uncle's cousin's dog's hairdresser's niece said that they were going to let Orochimaru in through the South Gate."
"And with that kind of an attitude, a Gennin could steal that dratted cursed scroll of seals that you won't hide. Getting back on subject," Sesshomaru continued, "I refuse to leave this boy here. It would strangle most of his potential, growing up like that."
The Hokage jumped up to stop him from leaving. "Sesshomaru! You can't do that! He may be the vessel of a demon, but he's a human by birth and right. You know absolutely nothing about taking care of humans. And what'll happen, when he grows old and dies, and you still look like you're 40? It's happened before!"
"And you know absolutely nothing about taking care of demons," Sesshomaru growled at the other man. "What'll happen when he gets older? He'll be destructive, Sarutobi. He won't have any outlet for his youkai, so he'll destroy stuff. Maybe even become a prankster. He'll grow up immature and angry all the time, because of something he couldn't control."
The argument raged on for another half an hour, the subjects ranging from the training grounds in Sesshomaru's city were not adequate for all ninja ("Well, he's not going to be a ninja, he's going to be a youkai") to how Sarutobi "had not taught his students well" ("As if you've ever taught anyone"), as Jiraiya now spent most of his time peeping on women in the bathhouses.
"If I chose to leave now and take him, you would not be strong enough to stop me," Sesshomaru pointed out.
The Hokage glared at him. "But that would be kidnapping. You can't train the child if he doesn't want to be trained!"
"I can try."
Naruto himself yawned and shifted slightly on the chair where Sesshomaru had left him. The shinobi and the demon immediately shut up and looked at the six-year-old rubbing his eyes and yawning.
"Why is Oji-san yelling?" he asked slightly petulantly. "You woked me up!"
"'Woked'?" Sesshomaru asked Sarutobi. "He doesn't even have basic grammar!"
"He's only six," the other protested. "How could he?"
"Ano, ano, Oji-san, who's he?" Naruto asked again.
The taiyoukai knelt on the ground in front of him. "My name is Sesshomaru. I'm from the western lands."
"Sesshomaru-chan looks funny," Naruto laughed.
Sarutobi sweatdropped, then remembered what he had to tell Naruto. "Listen, Naruto. Sesshomaru saw how you just got chased by a mob, and he wants to take you to his home and train you. There's no doubt that you'd be very, very strong under his tutelage. But you wouldn't be able to return to the village for a long time. An extremely long time."
"But I wanna be strong, like Dog-chan!" Naruto protested.
"'Dog-chan'?" Sesshomaru asked Sarutobi dryly.
"One of our top Jounin, Hatake Kakashi, has occasionally watched Naruto while in ANBU uniform. Sometimes Naruto would see him," he explained, then turned back to Naruto. "Are you sure you want to go? You can't go back on your word once you're gone."
"Of course I want to go!" Naruto exclaimed.
Sarutobi sighed heavily. "Fine. Wait a moment and then I'll go with you to get your stuff."
"Ano, Oji-san," Naruto said more seriously, "would I be able to see you or Iruka-sensei at all?"
"No, Naruto," he sighed. "You wouldn't be able to see us at all."
As the two powerful men watched Naruto pack, Sarutobi turned to Sesshomaru. "Please, Sesshomaru. Promise me three things."
"One: that you teach Naruto not only youkai techniques, but shinobi jutsus as well. I'll give you scrolls."
"Two: that you give Naruto this when he comes of age." The Hokage held up a battered blue bag that he had carried from his office.
"Three: that you allow Naruto to come back here once he is twelve."
"Sesshomaru, he is not only a jinchuuriki of two demons, but the last member of that ancient and most secret bloodline. You cannot hold him from his destiny."
He snarled again. "Watch me."
"The village needs him! There isn't a single person in the village who doesn't know his father's name and title, and the Jounin will fight for the honor to train him!"
"That's exactly why I'm taking him away. Until he's powerful enough to defend himself, which won't be for at least another ten years, you can't reveal his heritage, and once you do, the only thing people will see when they look at him is his father's shadow. That's no way for him to grow up."
"But it's here that we have the necessary information to train that bloodline," the Hokage pleaded. "Please, Sesshomaru, let him return."
The Taiyoukai considered it for a minute, then said, "It will be up to him. When he is twelve, only graduate eight gennin. Then, lump them together under three senseis. Bring them to Inuyama for the winter, and let Naruto choose whether he will stay or go."
"Agreed," Sarutobi said and shook hands with his longtime friend.
Naruto finished packing and walked back to them. "Okay, I'm ready."
Sesshomaru sighed, then picked him up and settled him on his back, taking his bag in hand. "Don't let go, now."
Naruto squealed with delight as the demon took off in a rush of air.
"Come back soon, Naruto," Sarutobi whispered to their retreating backs.
September 12, P.K.E. 12
It had been six years now, and the gennin in Naruto's year had reached graduation level. While nearly none of them were mature, eight had been picked to graduate- Aburame Shino, Akimichi Chougi, Haruno Sakura, Hyuuga Hinata, Inuzuka Kiba, Nara Shikamaru, Uchiha Sasuke, and Yamanaka Ino- and put under three senseis, Hatake Kakashi, Sarutobi Asuma, and Yuuhi Kurenai. They didn't have set teams yet, though it was widely thought that Kakashi would definitely at least take Sasuke and Kiba, as he had techniques in common with both. Kurenai was likely to take either Sakura or Hinata, while Asuma's probable squad- Shikamaru, Ino, and Chougi- had thrown themselves together on the first day of being gennin (their parents had been training them in a group for the past four years).
Sasuke had grown steadily colder over the years, and was clearly traveling fast down the path Itachi had set him on. He closed off everyone and spent nearly all of his free time training.
Sakura was more insecure than she would have been, had Naruto not left. She and Ino were still best friends, and she kept her crush for Sasuke mostly under wraps, as Ino was pursuing him.
Ino, on the other hand, had an unusually bad temper. Without a more confident Sakura to draw off more of her aggression arguing, she needed another source, which took itself out mostly on Shikamaru (for being lazy) and Kiba (for being arrogant and annoying her out of her mind). She did have a crush on Sasuke, but she occasionally dropped subtle hints that he wasn't her main focus. Sasuke was relieved.
Kiba was incredibly arrogant, and didn't get along with Akamaru as well as the others in his clan got along with their dogs. Akamaru himself was more cautious, while Kiba, the dead-last of the class, was the loudest ninja ever to graduate. He still managed to proclaim his superiority somehow, mainly by beating up random Academy Students.
Shino was pretty much the same...
Hinata kept mostly to herself. Shino was nice, as were Shikamaru and Chougi; but being from the lesser ninja clans, her father had forbidden her from associating with them. She didn't have any friends at all, and could barely talk because of her self-confidence issues. Kurenai had been helping her develop genjutsu skills, but it wasn't really her sort of thing (not like she'd ever tell Kurenai that; anyone who saw her as anything other than worthless, she'd be glad to do anything for).
Shikamaru and Chougi were largely unaffected; however, Chougi had a lack of self-confidence (though not as badly as Hinata) and Shikamaru was even lazier. Both of them wondered, from time to time, where that loud blonde kid with the whisker marks had gone. They assumed he had dropped out, but they hadn't seen him around the village.
The Hokage had arranged things with Sesshomaru; as it would be a long winter, they would be going to Inuyama a few days from now. They'd get back sometime in April. He was classifying it as an A-rank mission, due to the long duration and the amount of demons around. Their parents had been notified, and all had agreed (as the Sandaime had told them that its rank was because of its delicate diplomatic status. Upon hearing this, Inuzuka Tsume had flatly stated that Kiba had better stay at home before he offended some foreign Daimyo into starting a war.)
So at last, the time to take Naruto back to where he belonged had almost come. He could tell by the letters that Sesshomaru did not believe he would go; but he thought he could convince the jinchuuriki to come.
Sesshomaru, on the other hand, had told him that they had made a rather startling discovery a few months ago while talking with the Kyuubi inside Naruto's head. It was apparently too delicate to discuss over paper, in case it was intercepted (highly unlikely but still possible). Shippo himself, though, would be coming to escort them to Inuyama, as they had to go through Boar territory- one of the dogs' enemies.
Speak of the devil...
The guard opened the door to let in the young fox-demon. He still looked as if he was an eight-year-old child; but he was at least 350 by now. Fox demons, having a longer life-span than most other kinds of youkai, also matured later, one of the reasons that they were wiped out- they hadn't had enough soldiers to fight back at Naraku when he attacked them.
Shippo, however, would hit his growth-spurts very soon- a quirk of most demons, where they spent about ten or twenty years growing as fast as normal humans- and would then be considered an adult.
For now, though, he looked like an eight year old. He wore his long red hair in a knot at the top of his head. The fox's haori was turquoise blue, as was the crescent moon tattoo on his forehead. He didn't carry a sword yet, since he wasn't old enough.
"Ohayou, Shippo-san," he smiled as he stood. "How's life?"
"It sucks," he groaned. "I still haven't hit my growth spurts, so I can't train extensively. But because I'm one of only 3 Taishos, I still have to do a lot of paperwork!"
Sarutobi chuckled slightly. "I know how that feels. At least you have a few weeks off to travel with us."
"That reminds me," Shippo remarked. "Aren't there supposed to be more people coming?"
"They'll be along any minute now."
And true to his words, the Rookie Eight, their three senseis, and Iruka slowly drifted in over the next ten minutes. Finally, Kakashi walked in, tried to avoid a punch from Kurenai for being late, failed miserably, and took a seat. Sarutobi motioned for the guards to close the doors and not let anyone in, then regarded the Gennin, Chuunin, and Jounin gathered in front of him seriously. The ninja, in turn, squirmed uncomfortably under his gaze, until he finally stood and spoke.
"Some of you already know this, but I'll tell you for the benefit of those who don't. Tomorrow, we will be leaving on a seven-month A-class diplomatic mission."
The gennin whispered for a minute before calming down under the Hokage's sharp gaze.
"Some of you are elated at the high-class mission. Others of you are afraid that you'll get killed, so listen to me now. This mission is diplomatic. You will be doing little if any fighting. If we get into a skirmish on the way there or back, there is a high possibility that the enemy will be at least Kage level. You are ordered to run away as fast as you can.
"This is Taisho Shippo," he continued, motioning to the fox youkai. "He's a lot older and smarter than he looks, so don't go challenging him to fights. That's the last thing we need, since he's our guide to where we're going.
"The mission parameters are such: we will depart tomorrow at 800 hours from the Northwest gate. It will take us three weeks to get to Inuyama, the capital city of the Western lands. We'll have to pass through enemy territory to get there, so be on guard. Once we arrive, then we will have a very difficult mission to do.
"About six years ago, some of you may remember, there was a small boy in the academy. His name was Uzumaki Naruto, and you all would probably remember him by his blonde hair, blue eyes, dream to be Hokage, and loud prankster attitude.
"Some of you may also remember that he disappeared about six years ago. I don't know what you thought happened to him, but what did happen was horrific.
"On the night of the annual Kyuubi Festival that year, the villagers worked themselves up into a frenzy against the Kyuubi. But without the fox itself, the villagers needed something else, preferably something or someone defenseless.
"Naruto had whisker-like birthmarks, three on each cheek. He was also born the day that the Kyuubi attacked. They decided that he was the Kyuubi's reincarnation, formed a mob, and attacked him. Iruka here tried to help him get away, but he didn't have enough speed or stamina to carry him far enough away. Lucky for them, though, a longtime friend of mine- Taisho Sesshomaru, the lord of the Western lands- was passing. He took Naruto from Iruka and brought him to me. However, not coming from these parts and having no opinions on the Kyuubi whatsoever, Sesshomaru was the perfect person to take care of Naruto. So, for the past 6 years, Sesshomaru has been taking care of Naruto. In fact, he adopted him 4 years ago.
"But to be honest, Naruto is far too useful and has too much potential for Konoha to let go of him completely. I knew this ever since I allowed Sesshomaru to take him. So when we parted, we struck a deal. This year, I purposely only allowed 8 Academy Students to become gennin permanently. We will go up to Inuyama for the next seven months, over the winter. While we're there, you are to do your best to befriend Naruto and convince him to come back here.
"After three months, he will decide whether to stay or to go. If he stays, then we will head back as soon as possible and choose another Academy Student to replace him; if he comes, then he will pick his team, and I will pick the others. We'll stay another four months, then head back here again."
"Hey!" Kiba yelled. "How come this Naruto kid gets to choose his own team?!?"
"To be honest, Kiba," the Hokage said bluntly, "not everyone is happy with their teams. He's more likely to come if he gets along with or likes his teammates."
"I know that, but why do we want him so much?" he complained. "It's like he's some ultra-powerful ninja!"
"That's not far from the truth. Naruto has the most potential I've ever seen in a ninja. Sesshomaru's probably tutored him himself, and he doesn't do anything halfway; add into that Naruto's Kekkei Genkei and his clan techniques, and he will truly be strong," Sarutobi answered.
"Pardon me, Hokage-sama," Kurenai interrupted, "but... 'Kekkei Genkei'? Plural?"
"So you picked up on that," he smiled and puffed on his pipe. "Yes, Naruto has plural bloodline limits. Four of them, to be exact."
'Four bloodline limits... that's insane,' Sasuke thought. 'Perhaps he would be worth a fight.'
The Hokage sighed and stretched. "Well, don't let me keep you any longer. I expect to see you all tomorrow morning at 8:00 at the Northwest gate. Oh, and Kakashi? Don't be late."
Kakashi was, in fact, early, and the mission started on time. They were all ready, packs and all; and they made good time the first few weeks, going through the forests, across the grasslands (which took the better part of a week, and had even Chougi complaining), and into a mountain range that Sakura was absolutely sure did not show up on any of the standard maps.
Then, the winds started.
From the beginning, they were hard enough to almost knock Sakura or a few other lighter ninjas (read: Ino, Hinata, and Shikamaru) off their feet, and there was one particularly bad day when Akamaru got blown up a tree and they nearly lost him. Kiba only managed to find him through their mental link.
At last, Shippo told them that if the weather didn't clear up the next day, then they'd head back, cause they sure as heck wouldn't be able to get through here. If they tried, then they died. Simple as that.
The next morning was the worst one yet, but soon before noon it cleared up most of the way. Shippo led the way through the passes, running at top speed until they reached the end of the mountain range.
Finally in warmer lands, the Konoha team gave a sigh of relief and started making very good time. However, after a few days, the members of the party became quieter and more aware- almost as if they knew they were being watched by some unseen enemy. Hinata finally got up the confidence to ask what was wrong.
"We're in Boar lands," Shippo said grimly. "The lord here, Osu, doesn't like humans much, or dogs and foxes. He's the newest taiyoukai- slavering for war and power, and completely mad. If he were to catch us- well, let's just say we'd rather he not catch us."
Hinata nodded weakly and spent the rest of the day jumping at shadows.
It took only three more days to get to the wall on the border between the dog and boar lands, but on that morning, Shippo woke them up early, telling them that a boar hunting party had scented them and would catch them if they didn't make it over the border.
Even though he drove them hard, it took the better part of five hours to reach the wall. By that time, a dust cloud was visibly gaining on them. But as the boar party arrived, Shippo jumped up on the wall, did a very strange hopping dance for joy, and beckoned the others up. They took him up on it, and when the demons stopped, the Konoha party had made it to the top.
"You dogs!" the leader, a large man with a piggish face, dressed in tattered samurai armor and brown furs, and armed with a tarnished spear, oinked angrily. "Bringing humans onto your lands again! We'll mention this at the next Council, you can be sure of that!"
"Nyah nyah!" Shippo yelled, turning around and presenting them with a lovely view of his bushy red tail. "Like it'll make any difference. You boars are too new to make any real demands! You're not even one of the original clans, so you don't have kamiatae like the rest of us do, either! The only reason that they even considered making that Osu one is because a few of us are extinct!"
The boar growled and turned away. "There'll be blood over this, you hear, Taisho? You always steal our meals!"
"Hmmph, if you tried to eat them, they'd not just stick in your great ugly throats, they'd cut them to boot," the Kitsune laughed at their retreating backs. He jumped down on the other side of the wall. "Shall we continue?"
Three days later, they arrived at a huge mountain, at least three miles high. It was absolutely covered in a city, every single inch, and Sasuke could see tunnels leading inside, so there could be more in there. But despite its relative bigness, the city itself (which was built on terraces carved into the mountainside) had a small population- Konoha had about 40,000 people. This city had to have about 45,000, but in a much larger area.
Shippo saw his puzzled look. "Inuyama, capital of the Taisho lands. Despite the only slightly higher population than your city, ours has to be much bigger, because our race in general is solitary and not used to much contact with others. Too many in too little of a space- what might be considered acceptable for your culture- will provoke fighting. Since all of us are trained in fighting from an early age, that could be disastrous and fatal to the race."
"All of you?" Sasuke asked keenly. 'Wonder what their average soldier is like at fighting...'
The group slowly made their way up the mountain. Most of the people were not in the streets, but those who were had an astonishing array of hair colors, ranging from plain white, brown, yellow, red, black, or another color, to mixed or even spotted or splotched hair. However, the basic shape of their faces was all the same, most of their eyes were amber or black, and they were all tall and pale, with a proud and distant cast. You could tell that, despite the differences in hair color, these people were highly isolated and slightly inbred.
Shippo took them up to the top of the mountain, which, despite its high altitude, was occupied by a lush garden. In the middle of the garden was a door leading into the inside of the mountain. The Konoha group descended into it, though not without some dubious looks, as if questioning whether it would collapse or not.
The walk continued for another three hours, as they traveled through a maze of rock passages. There was very little noise down here, and the passages that they were in had very few inhabitants; there were a number of small summon-like dogs traveling, but they all seemed to have somewhere to go, and none of them were over three feet high at the shoulder. Every so often, they'd pass gigantic tunnels, as tall as two hundred feet high; but nobody was in these, either, and Shippo never turned down any of them.
At last, the group reached the end of a passage. It opened out into a large cavern, with another of the larger tunnels coming out above the smaller one they had been in. The tunnel had apparently run parallel to them for the last half an hour. On the far side of the cavern was a pair of black lacquer double doors, inlaid with gold and silver carvings of dogs. Only the bottoms of the doors were covered, as if they were unfinished.
Shippo laid a clawed hand on the doors, and they swung open as if of their own accord...
A/N: Edit, 10/27/06: Well, that's the first chapter done. I really didn't like how it turned out; mostly, it was just rephrasing it. I did change the relationship between Sarutobi and Sesshomaru; in the original, they were more equals than what I intended, which was more of a 'master-student' relationship, with the difference in age and experience evident. This might have come into play during the later chapters, so it's really a good thing I did this. Sesshomaru was going to need to have the ability to order the Sandaime around in some of the chapters farther on (really far on, mind you; more like twenty or thirty than two or three). Well, I can't wait to get to the other chapters; some of those will require more than just a little changing of the plot. I'll also be changing a few of the review responses, so look out for any of yours.
R & R,