The Fall of Naruto
It was the worst storm Rice Field Country had seen in years. Thunder illuminated the night sky in pulsating bursts, as winds howled and thunder exploded. Inside the forests were particularly deafening. The roar of continuous rain on the leaves and the cracking of branches from the violent winds all but eliminated the sound of footsteps. Making his way through the forest by stepping on high branches between trees, a hooded, slightly hunched-over figure emerged from the dense brush and came to a stop on a rocky crag overlooking a deep valley, almost completely concealed by the clouds and the surrounding mountains. As the wind continued whipping at his cloak, the figure bent down and looked intently over the crag's edge. As the low clouds swept over the valley, several dim lights could be seen. Lantern lights from a village. The figure stood up and quickly proceeded down a narrow gravelly trail to that led to the bottom of the valley.
Despite the storm's ferocity, the taverns of the Hidden Village of Sound were as lively as ever. Ninjas and civilians alike crowded around tables, gambling, laughing and drinking, as sake poured into cups almost as abundantly as the water poured through the drainpipes in the streets. The noise inside one particular tavern all but matched the noise of the storm outside, all except one corner table, where four men sat in silence. Finally, one spoke:
"I see your fifty, and raise another twenty."
The second man laid down 70 ryous on the table, as a cloud of smoke from a cigarette encircled his head. The first man smirked.
"I figured I could reel you in, Taro. Let's see you beat a full house, queens over fives."
He set down his cards revealing his hand, the other men at the table grunted their approval, but the man named Taro simply shook his head.
"Sorry Mugetsu, not this time."
Taro dropped his cards on the table; four nines. Mugetsu cursed and banged his fist on the table.
"You've got a pretty impressive streak going. If I didn't know you better…"
Taro chuckled. "It's not in my nature to cheat. Takes the satisfaction out of the win. Nope, it's pure luck and skill this time."
"Alright, fine, but this ends now. One more hand. I'll buy you a drink if you win."
Taro held up his hand as he stood up. "Can't. I've got guard duty now. Plus, I think I've had enough to drink for the night. I'm starting to get a headache as it is. I'll see you guys later."
Donning his coat and his forehead protector, Taro payed the bartender and headed outside. The wind and rain had calmed slightly, but the thunder and lightning still glared and blared into the night. Taro walked for a couple of miles to the outskirts of the town and entered a narrow alleyway deceptively hidden in shadow. As Taro descended a few stairs into the passage, a rough voice called out "Password."
Taro responded, "Kekkei Genkai Sharingan."
Taro walked to the end of the alley where another man met him. "All yours, Taro."
Yosuke pulled his hood over his head and trudged back to the alleyway entrance as Taro took his place. Taro pulled out another cigarette and his lighter, but was having trouble lighting because of the wind. After finally having success, he put his pack back into his pocket but his lighter slipped out of his wet gloves. Taro bent down to pick it up, and just then heard something heavy hit the ground outside the alleyway. Taro straightened up and cautiously walked toward the alleyway entrance. Turning the corner, he noticed something on the ground. Looking closer, he discovered it was a crumpled, unconscious figure.
Sensing someone behind him, Taro whirled around, and was met by a short crouching figure. Taro instinctively reached for a kunai, but it was too late. At the moment before Taro blacked out, a streak of lightning flashed across the sky, partially illuminating the stranger's head and what Taro recognized as a forehead protector with the symbol of the Hidden Leaf Village.
The stranger looked for a moment at the motionless bodies of the two sound shinobi, then turned and entered the alleyway. Reaching the wall at the end of the alleyway, the stranger raised two fingers and muttered, "Release." What was at first a grey stone wall slowly morphed into a doorway. The stranger entered and the "wall" morphed back into place behind him. In front of the stranger lay a long corridor with torches lining the walls. The torches revealed the walls as being solid rock. Obviously the stranger was no longer in the village, but underground. The corridor continued for several feet, eventually leading to a four-way intersection. The stranger stopped for a moment and turned his head to the left and to the right. Continuing straight ahead, the stranger took two steps and quickly crouched. An object whizzed over his head and embedded itself into the wooden handle of a torch behind him. A voice echoed loudly through the corridors. "State your intentions."
The stranger rose to his feet and answered calmly, "I want to see Orochimaru."
A silhouetted figure suddenly materialized in the corridor on the stranger's left. Walking slowly toward the stranger, the torchlight revealed the figure's face and reflected off his round spectacles and the kunai held in his right hand. "Who are you?" he demanded.
The stranger let out a short chuckle. "I'm surprised you didn't recognize my voice after all we've been through, Kabuto-san."
Kabuto, unsurprised at the stranger's knowledge of his name, brandished the kunai and moved closer to the figure. "I'll ask you one more time, and then I won't hesitate to kill you. What is your name?"
The stranger took one step forward into the light and pulled back his hood, revealing blonde, unkempt hair and thin lines running across his cheek.
Kabuto was again unsurprised at the Konoha ninja standing before him, yet his brow furrowed in confusion. This was not the Naruto he knew. The Naruto he knew would have answered Kabuto's threat with one of his own, and then proceeded to immediately, but foolishly act on that threat. The Naruto that was standing in front of him now showed no sign of hostility, and instead stared back at Kabuto with a somber expression. No wonder I couldn't recognize his voice, Kabuto thought to himself. He's not speaking with his usual arrogant and immature tone. And his eyes…something is drastically different with the eyes.
So extreme was this divergence in Naruto's semblance that it caused Kabuto to lower his kunai, something he would never dream of doing when facing any enemy shinobi, much less the one standing before him. A smile crept onto Kabuto's lips. Perhaps this was all just a façade. "Ah, Naruto-kun…come again to rescue Sasuke have we? It's a shame you haven't learned by now that Sasuke will never return to Konoha…that is, until Orochimaru takes over his body and returns to destroy it. I assure you all your efforts are in vain."
Naruto shook his head. "I didn't come for Sasuke."
His docile expression seemed to cement the integrity of his claim. This time Kabuto was surprised. Could it be that Naruto gave up in his hero's quest? Why so sudden? Kabuto could remember only a few months ago when Team Kakashi arrived at their hideout in another attempt to retrieve Sasuke, only to be repelled by Sasuke's growing power. What could have possibly happened in those few months that changed Naruto's mind? There's those eyes again…what could they possibly mean?
Kabuto couldn't help voicing his thoughts. "Then why are you here?"
"I need to ask a favor of Orochimaru."
Kabuto thought he detected a slight pause in the middle of that sentence, as if the words were somewhat hard to get out. Despite his request, Kabuto knew that Naruto still harbored extreme animosity toward Orochimaru. However, still sensing no sign of possible danger, Kabuto saw no further reason to deny the shinobi admittance.
"Fine. This way, and walk in front of me."
Naruto complied, first stooping down to pick up a large bag that had been lying next to him, strapping it on his back. Kabuto led him down several winding corridors which led to Orochimaru's chambers. When they had arrived, Kabuto opened the door and announced, "Orochimaru-sama, Uzumaki Naruto is here to…see you."
A lantern illuminated the back wall of the room where a thin, pale figure rose from a chair positioned at a desk. He turned to face Kabuto and Naruto, his snakelike eyes glinting in the lantern light. His mouth turned up into a devious smile.
"Ah, our friend the ever-loyal Konoha Genin. My complements on once again finding our lodgings. Nice of you to enter so politely, quite a difference from your usual rude, barging entrance. Tell me, is this a new tactic for your retrieval of your friend Sasuke? Perhaps you thought that if you just came in nicely and asked, we would hand him over to you, is that right?"
Naruto remained silent, and shifted his gaze away from Orochimaru. Kabuto spoke up. "He says he isn't here for Sasuke, but I don't completely trust him."
Orochimaru raised his eyebrows. "Oh? And just what is he here for?"
"I want you to do something for me." Naruto replied.
Orochimaru cackled. "My, what a surprising turn of events! I never thought I'd see the day when the proud Nine-Tails Jinchuuriki of the Hidden Leaf would come to me asking for help. In what possible manner would you ever require my assistance?
Naruto's eyes had once again shifted away from Orochimaru's. It was then when Kabuto realized what was so different. It was as though all of Naruto's passion, all of his fighting will, all of his dreams that could once be seen in his gaze, were gone. He had become a mere shell of a human, devoid of all purpose and of all livelihood.
After a brief pause, Naruto turned his attention to the bag he was carrying. Kabuto noticed it was an elongated bag, only slightly shorter in length than the carrier. Naruto gently set the bag onto the stone floor, located a zipper, and proceeded to pull it down to open the bag.
Inside lay the lifeless body of Haruno Sakura, Konoha Chuunin and Naruto's fellow team member.
Suddenly everything made sense to Kabuto. If anything could cause Naruto to lose his will to live, it was the loss of her. Just from the information he gathered during his time with them at the Chunnin exam, Kabuto could tell that Naruto was fiercely protective of Sakura, and was willing to give his life to save her, if need be. Now it seems, he had failed in that respect, and there was nothing else more important than getting her back, not even saving his best friend.
Orochimaru apparently sensed the same thing. "Hm, I see, so your lady friend was tragically taken away from you and you want me to revive her?"
Naruto silently nodded.
Orochimaru turned and slowly walked back to the table where he was sitting. "It's not going to be very easy, you know. This jutsu requires a sacrifice in order to be completed."
"There are two shinobi lying unconscious outside." Naruto replied. "Take your pick."
Orochimaru acted as though he were taken aback. "Such disregard for human life! My, this has certainly changed you, Naruto-kun. Perhaps there is hope for you after all, ku ku ku."
He turned again to face Naruto. His slitted eyes narrowed as he continued. "But of course, you do realize that I won't be doing this for free. And here in lies the problem and the reason why I will never be able to help you. What could you possibly have that could be of value to me?"
This time, Naruto met Orochimaru's cold stare. "If you revive Sakura for me, and allow me and her to leave your hideout alive…" he reached around his neck and pulled out from beneath his shirt a necklace with a glistening crystal on the end. Orochimaru recognized it instantly.
"…then I'll give you the Demon Fox."