Tithe: Chapter 3

The next morning brought bird song, soft light and an odd snuffling sound from across the other side of Iruka's now cold campfire. He sat up quickly and groaned aloud at the feel of several small somethings dropping off of him and relating their misery at being abruptly awoken in loud, chittery voices. "I did not summon squirrels," he began repeating to himself as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

Finally able to focus sleep bleary eyes on the louder sounds he jumped up with a cry and more mad chittering from the small rodents that had found him to be a comfortable sleeping place. He couldn't decide on an animal for his eyes to rest on as he tried to talk but found himself silenced in amazement. Nearby his travel pack, which had been securely tied in a tree before he fell asleep, were the strangest variety of animals he had never thought would run around together. Two spotted forest cats with tufted ears were calmly sitting away from the few others after having obviously assuaged their curiosity; a torn and empty paper wrap that had once held some spiced and dried fish lay limply between them. Their slit-pupiled eyes went back and forth from watching some wolves play tug with one of his shirts and a never ending line of fluff tailed bunnies that entered and left his small pack with mysterious substances clutched in their mouths.

Iruka wanted to scream, madly tear his hair and run straight back to the governor and cram that stupid summon scroll which was supposed to make him the best chuunin for this tithe right back up the old man's craw. Instead he fell back down on the ground to the amusement and joy of the horde of red squirrels that jumped into his lap and began making a pile. He watched them for a few seconds then turned back to the other animals only then noticing a placid looking doe resting by a tree along with her fawn.

"I don't suppose any of you are familiars," he was finally able to ask in a shaky voice. As one the animal population of his camp quieted and looked at him with eyes that carried more than a normal animal's intelligence. "I guess that answers that," Iruka muttered as one of the many squirrels decided his shoulder was a perfect spot to observe the goings on. A definite and almost human sounding laugh from his left had him turning to a previously unnoticed animal and gulping loudly.

Sitting tall and primly with tail wrapped around its paws was the biggest fox Iruka had ever seen. Even while sitting its head was even with Iruka's own as he leaned against a tree trunk which meant the creature would be hip high when Iruka was standing. The unusual size wasn't the only odd thing about it; the fox also had an even colored coat of amber blonde fur which darkened into red on his tails, nose, paws and ears. If its size was unusual, its coloring even more so, but what drew Iruka in the most was the color of the animal's eyes; a true sky blue.

"Are you my familiar," Iruka inquired after a moments more observation. This animal before him was obviously not the norm of his species which gave him the highest possibility of answering yes to that question.

The fox laughed again and shrugged as best an animal could. "Maybe. Are you sure you don't want the horde of squirrels? They're fun to chase around!"

"No," Iruka replied. "No, I wasn't really thinking of a horde of squirrels when I called for a familiar." He sighed loudly and gave a pat to the now mad squirrel on his shoulder. "If I wanted a flock of animals I could've kept the seagulls. Now those guys could have done damage."

"Seagulls?"

"Big, loud, white birds that eat anything and everything then cover whatever they choose to roost on or fly over with bird chalk."

The fox barked in laughter. "Now those things might be useful." It gave off a toothy grin. "There are some people I know that need a layer of bird poop. Could you call them again?"

Iruka could only chuckle. He'd just met this animal and already it showed true to the prankster ways of a fox familiar. "No, I couldn't," he answered. "But I might be able to call a school of tuna if I tried hard enough."

The fox licked its chops. "Tuna are tasty," it said in a bright voice as he stood up on his four legs and shook heartily sending its ?tails? flying. "Maybe I'll let you keep me if you can feed me tuna."

Not a word came out of Iruka's mouth as the blonde animal stepped nearer. He could only gape at what had been mentioned in the scroll as a rare happening. He hadn't summoned a mage-fox, a familiar animal with higher than normal intelligence. He had actually summoned a demon fox; one of the nine types of tailed beasts with power that most chakra users would kill for. He had heard that of the tailed demons called biju the fox was the most powerful, growing up to nine tails. This one before him, calmly accepting him as a possible master, only had three which meant it was either still young or had already been abused by mages before answering the summons. Iruka was almost too afraid to ask, but he had to know the answer before knowing how to proceed.

The fox had looked down at its gently twitching tails in thought after Iruka's question turned a sad blue eye his way. "I can't remember if I've ever had more than these. Something happened and now all I can remember is the past seven human years. I woke up in a small shrine north of here and decided to stay. Do you think some mage did something?"

Immediately Iruka felt bad for bringing up the subject. "It's possible," he finally answered. "But I can guarantee you that even knowing what you are, I would never presume to take advantage of the power I know you can offer, or that I could take." He stood up shaking off most of the squirrels and held out a hand. "I would be pleased to call you my familiar, Demon Fox-san. I do have some questions, though. I'm not familiar with demon physiology. Are you a male fox or a female? I can't tell from your voice."

The fox barked again in laughter and thumped its tails on the ground causing the trees all around to shake slightly. "Kyuubi, my name's Kyuubi, and I'm a guy!" He jumped up and placed his paws on Iruka's chest and gave his new master a lick under his chin. "I think you might have gained another friend," he mentioned nosing towards the squirrel now clawing Iruka's shirt to keep from falling. "Squirrels are too stringy for my taste so I won't mind sharing."

Iruka laughed and introduced himself. "My name's Iruka, Umino Iruka. I've just traveled here from Wave country." He gave Kyuubi a pat on the head and then scowled at the squirrel on his shoulder. A growling brought his attention back to the animals still across his cold campfire from them. "What about them," he inquired.

Kyuubi shrugged and sat back on his haunches. "They follow me around sometimes. One of them probably would have spoken up if I hadn't." He peered at the brunette with a gleam in his eye. "Are you sure you don't want one of those juicy looking rabbits for a familiar? They make very good mittens." He yipped in humor at Iruka's face and gave off a low sound that caused the animals to leave. "So," he said twining his tails around his legs again. "Where do we go from here?"

Iruka began fixing the mess his pack had been turned into. "I'm going to Konoha," he answered while taking stock of the one bag of dried fruit and nuts the rabbits hadn't gotten into yet. "I've been given a teaching position in the hidden village and needed to call a familiar before arriving." He looked over to Kyuubi and was startled. "What's wrong?"

The fox had hunched down as much as he could and dug his nose into the pile of fur that was his tails. "Konoha doesn't like me," he mourned. "I can't go in there. They keep throwing things at me."

After a few blinks Iruka was able to stammer. "Is there… Is there a reason for this?"

Kyuubi shrugged. "They don't like me," he whined again.

"Well," Iruka sat and crossed his arms and legs in a thinking pose. "We'll have to think of a way to get you in without them knowing, or maybe I can just tell them that if they want me then they have to accept you."

Kyuubi's head shot up and he bared a foxy grin. "You want me to trick them?"

"Well, I like the idea of having you for a familiar," Iruka told him while scratching his nose. "Even in this short time you've sort of grown on me."

The fox bounced around for a moment then barked and disappeared in a puff of chakra smoke. Once the dusty red clouds had dispersed a much smaller, more normal looking animal sat calmly scratching its ear. "I can look like this," the little red fox said with a satisfied grin on his face. "I can change into other things, too!"

Iruka laughed and began working on his pack again. "If you're sure they won't throw things at you in that form…" Kyuubi yipped in reply and settled down to watch Iruka pack up his campsite.

The teacher was going slowly to check for any trash the animals might have strewn around, but was on his way well before noon. The two companions, fox and man enjoyed walking through the forest in sun dappled shade as they got to know each other better. Kyuubi was full of questions about the seaside which he'd never visited. Iruka was given a full run down of the pranks and tricks the fox had played on the shinobi who had seen him and tried to catch him.

"No wonder they throw things at you," Iruka muttered after hearing about trees falling on pursuing shinobi. "I'd throw things at you too if you broke my arm."

Kyuubi laughed. "Those two deserved it. I'm nice to some of the villagers. There was one nice old man, but he doesn't come around anymore. He would bring me treats and talk to me. I told him about everything I saw in the forest. He liked to hear about the fish runs. There was even once when one of the little guys saw me. I think something bad had happened; he was covered in blood. I led him away from the village to a safe tree I know about."

"Was he alright?"

"Well, he was pretty crazy when they pulled him out. There's a shinobi who likes dogs, he doesn't throw things at me when he sees me, just stares really really hard with one eye so I figure he's a safe guy. I found him and led him to the tree. That was years ago."

Iruka leaned down and patted his familiar. "Well, you've been very good to the village even if you haven't been treated nice."

The little red fox ran in circles and barked. "There was one time I was watching a wagon come in, and they fed me. They gave me this tasty soup with noodles in it! I made sure none of the other animals bothered them at night."

"You keep getting fed by the villagers, huh? Do you even know how to hunt? We are going to need dinner soon."

"I can hunt! Rabbits are easy, but birds are tastier."

Iruka laughed at Kyuubi's indignant tone and sent him off with orders for dinner. He planned on taking his time as they traveled through Konoha's territory and not showing up at the gates for at least two more days. Having the fox find food would allow him to relax and look upon the journey as a well deserved vacation.

Though he felt a bit odd at keeping secrets from the village from the start, Iruka felt that finding out the story behind Kyuubi before revealing him would be the best idea. He would, of course inform the village's Hokage without being asked. The currently little fox seemed like such a nice companion, and Iruka didn't want to give him up.

He shrugged and put his thoughts away to focus on their campsite. Iruka planned to have a nice fire going before his familiar came back with dinner. He'd try to get more information out of the fox tonight before they slept. There was definitely an interesting backstory to the village's hatred of the fox and he planned on finding out what it was.

To Be Continued…

A/N: Yes, yes, I apologize for the wait but here you go. This story has NOT been discontinued it has just been trying to make itself more complicated than it was originally supposed to be. There is more already in the works, but no guarantees for when it goes up, only please know that I AM still trying to work on it. Thank you for putting up with such a long wait.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy my little bit of fun that I'm going to have with this story. XD