A/N: Sleeping Monsters is a Kakashi-centric story which also features an original character. This does not mean that Sleeping Monsters will end up as Kakashi x OC. In fact, it probably won't, but we'll see. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the story.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
As the young woman crested the peak of the anticlinal ridge, she hesitated, interrupting the smooth pace she had kept since morning. She looked out over the land stretching before her—rolling hills covered in lush forests of oak and poplar. The sky was clear, and a few large carrion birds lifted slowly on invisible currents. For May, it was unseasonably warm, but the breeze at her back still felt cool due to the elevation of the highlands she was about to walk out of. Overall, any average person would have stopped to acknowledge the beautiful vista, but she was not there to appreciate the scenery.
The border of Hi no Kuni, she thought to herself quietly. She was reluctant to take one more step forward. The desire to turn around and avoid the place altogether bubbled forth uninvited. And though she understood the source of these feelings, she chastised herself for allowing such irrational emotions to surface. In truth, she had absolutely no justification to change her course. There were no bounties or arrest warrants issued for her in Hi no Kuni. There were no wars or local conflicts to become mired in; it was a politically stable country with a strong hidden village to keep the peace. On top of that, the citizens of Hi no Kuni enjoyed a high standard of living compared to most places she had been. Simply put, this country did not need her or anybody like her. Her presence there would be insignificant and unremarkable.
It was childish to think that the Hi no Kuni would be any different from the many other places she had been. Yes, childish, and she was an adult. And adults know that sometimes, you don't get to do what you want. She had responsibilities, and she was obliged to go wherever they took her. Honestly, she could not have expected to avoid this country forever. Still, upon reaching the border, she made an unspoken promise to go in, capture her target, and get out as quickly as possible, neither making a scene nor attracting unwanted attention. If she encountered any local ninja, she would slip away and try again later. This was not her first time doing this sort of thing, and she was no amateur.
Feeling better after the internal pep talk, she adjusted her backpack and took a step down the ridge, into Hi no Kuni.
Chapter 1 - Monsters in Niokou
So many choices!! What to try? What to eat? I want to sample it all!
Naruto, grinning uncontrollably, looked back and forth at the diverse booths lining the street of the border town's food bazaar. The multitude of smells was overwhelming, and he was so hungry that he couldn't focus on any specific vendor's offerings. He wanted them all, and he felt slaver build at the corners of his lips. Kakashi-sensei had ordered Naruto to eat some lunch, after Naruto's rumbling stomach kept interrupting the complicated conversation with their inkhorn client. Kakashi and the rest of Team 7, slightly annoyed and embarrassed at the time, stayed to discuss the mission while Naruto scampered to the busy plaza. Kakashi figured he would just have to explain the mission later, using simpler language.
Naruto was not disappointed about missing the conference. They had traveled a day and a half to reach the small town of Niokou for just another D-Rank cakewalk mission, and the three genin would probably end up doing all the work, anyway. Kakashi-sensei would likely just lounge around, reading his stupid book and 'supervising'.
Finally, Naruto decided to start with the takoyaki, and follow that up with about five other street delicacies. He opened his mouth to place his first order when he heard a scream. He looked towards the noise and saw an emaciated boy, maybe five years old, pushing his way through the crowd. The child's brown eyes trembled wide with fright, and he kept glancing back anxiously. He was panting and struggling to wade though the sea of legs, when he took one misstep over a townsman's foot and fell face-first in the middle of the street. The child rolled over, gripped his ankle, and winced in pain. Naruto immediately forgot his hunger and ran over to the boy, who now had tears streaming from the edges of his eyes.
"Help me…," said the boy in a small, out-of-breath voice, as he nervously glimpsed past Naruto, through the crowd.
"What's wrong?" Naruto asked, concerned.
However, before the boy could answer, Naruto heard a voice—a female voice—bark at him from behind, "There you are!" Naruto whipped around to find the townspeople backing away from a slender young woman who stood a good distance behind him. She gazed straight at him and the boy, her jaw tense and her body in a forward-leaning stance suggesting that she was the one chasing the boy, and that she meant to catch him.
A ninja? thought Naruto. He saw no forehead protector or insignia to indicate she belonged to a hidden village. Still, several pouches hung from her belt, and a walking staff was secured across her lower back. Those pouches could conceal kunai and shuriken, and that staff could easily be a weapon. Her backpack could carry scrolls or explosives. The woman's clothing was practical—not a ninja uniform, but something a kunoichi might wear in the field. Naruto didn't see any pieces of armor, like suneate or kote, but her engineer-style boots and fitted black pants were not common in this area. The sleeves of her loose, untucked white shirt hung slack just below her elbows, where Naruto noticed bandages wrapped from her wrists to halfway up her forearms. Whatever this woman was, she did not look like a normal villager. He had to assume she was dangerous.
The fallen young ragamuffin let out a pathetic whimper. Naruto became riled. He stood up straight, boldly pointed at the newcomer, and shouted, "I don't care who you are. Adults shouldn't harass little children!"
"Stay out of this, kid. This doesn't involve you," she yelled back aggressively and made a blunt horizontal slicing motion with her hand to emphasize her point.
Naruto clenched his jaw, angry that the woman dismissed him like that and angry that she was terrorizing such a small child. "I'm not going to let you hurt anybody. I'll kick your ass! Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Suddenly, in a puff of smoke, twelve Narutos stood between the woman and the boy. The woman's eyebrows rose up in surprise as she realized she had a new problem.
The twelve kage bunshin ran at the woman simultaneously, while the real Naruto used the moment of confusion to the rescue the injured child. Naruto heaved the boy onto his back and ran off down the street. "Don't worry kid. I'll take you somewhere safe." And then go back and beat up that stupid woman.
- - -
"Damn it!" the woman hissed to herself. She saw the leaf-emblem hitai-ate tied around the foreheads of the clones. Only three days in Hi no Kuni, so close to her goal, and she had to run into Konoha ninja. So much for self-made promises of low profiles.
The squad of orange-clad clones ran towards her, and she narrowed her eyes as she analyzed the situation. As half of them broke away to come at her from the sides and back, she sucked in a quick breath when she realized the truth. These aren't illusions. These are solid clones! However, common sense quickly overcame her initial surprise. But it's fine. Judging from his age and this abrupt, obvious attack, he's probably a genin, or maybe a rookie chuunin. A jounin would begin with a more subtle attack to conserve chakra and test my abilities. These clones won't be too powerful. I just need to dispatch them quickly.
The woman held her position in the center of the now empty street while she patiently let the clones come to her. Her body relaxed in practiced preparation for a fight. Calm but ready to react, she bent down slightly and reached back with her right hand, resting it on the grip of her jou, the short staff that served as her preferred weapon.
Wait. Closer. The Narutos closed in, and she watched the space between them shrink. Now! She swiftly pulled the jou out of its sleeve, flipped her wrist to drive the end into the first clone on the right, and then swung her arm around in front of her, stepping into the move and twisting her body to give more weight to the blow. Four more clones were hit, disappearing in puffs of smoke as she swept the jou through them. Seven left. Now, turned around partially, she saw the clones about to attack from behind. Four behind me. The other three will be above or below.
She passed the jou to her left hand and dug the end into the ground. Putting her weight on it and using it as a pivot point, she swung her right leg around in a straight kick. The stiff, metal-lined toe of her boot connected with three of the clones coming from behind, but the kick had lost too much momentum to take out the fourth. The other three should be almost on top of me. Got to dodge it. She planted her right foot on the ground and pushed off with the jou, lunging horizontally across the ground into the fourth clone she had missed with the kick. That clone dispersed in smoke as she connected hard with her shoulder. She dove into the ground, rolled on her back and side, and came up in a crouch facing the location where she stood a moment ago.
The three remaining clones were indeed hurling down from above, fists extended to take out the enemy. Two of them collided at the spot where she had been, conveniently taking each other out. The woman let out a brief snort. Definitely a genin. The surviving clone tumbled to the ground, adeptly rolled to his feet, and charged. She waited motionlessly in her crouch with her hand lightly resting on the jou lying on the ground in front of her. When the clone was about hit, she swept the jou up, knocking the clone's fist away from her face and then driving her own clenched fist into the clone's gut, causing that one to disappear as well.
The woman stood up and looked around. The townspeople were quickly evacuating the area, but the real Naruto was nowhere to be found. Of course. Distract your enemy with disposable clones and give yourself time to get away. Not a dumb plan, but still a waste of chakra. Her target was also missing, and she assumed the Konoha genin was trying to rescue it. She slid her jou back into the silk sleeve attached to the back of her belt and took a deep breath. Then, she took off after the pair.
- - -
Naruto had cleared village streets and was running through the dense cedar forest that surrounded the town of Niokou. He listened for sounds of pursuit, but it seemed he had outrun the woman. Maybe now, he could take a minute to decide what to do with the child he carried. He looked over his shoulder at the boy's face, which stared back at him with eyes moist from tears. Naruto slowed his pace.
"Hey, kid, what's your name?" asked Naruto.
"Ryu," the boy responded in a shaky, timid voice.
"Well, Ryu, is there some place I can take you? Does your family live near here?"
Ryu sniffled slightly and shook his head from side to side. "My parents died last year. I don't have any other family. I…I just live off of what the villagers hand out to me."
Naruto immediately felt sympathy for Ryu. He understood what it was like to be an orphan. What it was like to be alone. Maybe there was some way he could help the boy. "Why was that noisy woman chasing you?"
"She called me a street urchin and said that I stole her money purse, but I didn't, I swear!" Ryu exclaimed with such emphatic sincerity that Naruto believed him. Naruto wondered if he could convince the woman that Ryu was not a thief, although she sure did not look like she was willing to talk things over.
Abruptly, a figure dropped down from the branches above, landing not more than half a meter in front of them. Naruto immediately recognized the aggressive woman from the village, but it was useless. She was too close, and he was not going to be able to stop in time. He tensed, prepared for a collision that never came. With unexpected speed, she had her forearm on the back of his neck, forcing him down and forward. Naruto was already unbalanced from the combined weight of his backpack and Ryu, and he started to plunge uncontrollably towards the ground. As he fell past her side, she swung her opposing knee over his back and into Ryu. The small boy went flying sideways, and his thin body smashed against the broad truck of a tree. The woman's bandaged forearm slid across Naruto's neck, until she gripped the nape with her hand. She pushed him down further and along the direction of his momentum, and, significantly lighter with Ryu off his back, Naruto tumbled violently face-first into the dirt, stopping several meters behind the woman.
Naruto rolled over quickly, ready to get up and counterattack, but he was only fast enough to see the woman's final hand seal. "Nekko Shibaru Jutsu!" she shouted. Small, wiry roots pushed out of the ground and wrapped around the limbs of both Naruto and Ryu. Naruto fought against the restraints, but more roots wound around his body until he was immobilized. From his position, he could see Ryu struggling under the same technique at the base of a tree, and Naruto was surprised that the boy was even conscious, considering the force of Ryu's impact had left the bark of the tree splintered and dented.
The woman's techniques had been fast, and events had moved rapidly, but suddenly, everything was still. Naruto and Ryu were bound tightly, and the woman was standing casually between them, her weight resting to the side, over her hip. The ends of the jou stuck out from the sides of her back, and she absent-mindedly rested her elbows on the weapon. She was not out of breath at all, and if someone came across them, they would never guess she had just been fighting. Naruto could see her in profile, as she was facing Ryu. However, she looked like her thoughts were kilometers away, pondering economics or something equally as mundane.
It appeared that the woman had completely forgotten about Naruto. She walked a few steps towards Ryu, stared down at him, and sighed.
"You've given me a bit of trouble. But, I guess that's to be expected," she said flatly.
"No…no. Please…don't." Ryu was begging for mercy. His voice was small and desperate, causing Naruto to strain even more against the roots holding his body down. Ryu's imploring words did not even register with the woman.
What kind of cold-hearted monster is she? She's looking at him like he's nothing but a dead rat, thought Naruto, disgusted.
Without taking her eyes off Ryu, the woman reached into the pouch on her hip and took out a small, brown drawstring bag. She poured a portion of its contents into her hand and put the bag back into the pouch. Then, she opened her hand as she swept it away from her body, and a fine, greenish dust clouded the air over Ryu, whose unacknowledged pleas continued. To Naruto's horror, Ryu started screaming in agony, but even more horrifying was the change in Ryu. His skin turned dark and oily and started to squeeze out from between the roots holding him in place. Ryu's screams turned to mucus-laden gurgles as the more dust settled onto his writhing form.
The woman intently, yet disinterestedly, watched the whole process. When enough dust settled, she brought her hands together in a seal and gathered the chakra needed. "Hisui Kihanfuuin!" The gurgles stopped, and the viscous, gooey mass that had been Ryu instantly shrunk back into the nest of tree roots.
"What the hell is going on?!" Naruto spat out between clenched teeth. A root restrained his jaw, and he had difficulty enouncing the words. The woman ignored him as she bent over and groped around in the roots where Ryu had been. After a minute, she pulled something out and put it in another, larger drawstring bag that she took from her hip pouch. She closed the bag and regarded it for a minute before placing it back in the pouch. Finally, her attention turned to Naruto.
"Are you stupid, kid?" The calm demeanor from a minute ago was gone, as if it never existed. She was not hiding her anger, and she walked over to him and crouched down to his level. She glared at him. The gaze from her pale blue eyes was so intense, that Naruto felt like it was about to cause him physical pain. It reminded him of other kunoichi he knew—Sakura-chan and Ino, for example. Scary Eyes must be a special technique taught exclusively to females—a technique that you never saw coming.
Remembering that this woman had just done something horrible to a little boy, suddenly Naruto did not care about the Scary Eyes. Even tied down, he could still yell some sense into this woman. She cut him off by mere microseconds when she continued castigating him. "Do you know what that was?" She pointed straight out to side, to where Ryu had been. The obvious answer was no, and Naruto was not too stupid to recognize a rhetorical question. He said nothing. "That was a kokyuuma, a shape-shifter. A goddamn monster without a soul. If you had managed to escape with that thing, it would have eaten an idiot like you for dinner!" She let the words sink in while she continued to glare. "You really should not interfere with things you know nothing about."
"What are you talking about, you crazy bitch? You're the monster! He was just a boy! You're just making shit up so that I won't beat you to a pulp!" Naruto retorted. The woman found his threat ironically hollow, considering the Konoha-nin was tied to the ground.
"Why the hell would I seal up an innocent little boy? Huh? And, if I am such a monster, why are you still alive? Trust me, you have irritated me beyond patience, and I am currently reaching into the bottom of my very human store of compassion just to keep from strangling you." She apparently liked rhetorical questions.
Naruto was frustrated, but something sensible made it through his anger. "If that kid really was a monster, how the hell was I supposed to know? He was in danger. What kind of ninja just ignores that?" He braced for more venomous lecturing, but instead, the woman glared at him some more, as if trying to properly assemble the next barrage of words. However, instead of speaking, she reached a hand into her pouch and withdrew a kunai.
"Hey, hey! What are you going to do with that?" Naruto still couldn't move, and he thought it extremely unfair for the woman to attack him when he was all tied up.
She looked down at the ground and did not say anything for a few seconds. Then, she blinked slowly. "Geez, you're incredibly loud, for a ninja." She slid the kunai under his body, cutting away the roots wrapped around his arms and chest.
Finally able to move again, Naruto propped himself up on his elbows and wondered if he should still beat the woman up. He reached out and started pulling the roots away from his legs, but the woman was unconcerned. She spoke again, more calmly now, while looking past him off into the thicket. "That's their trick, kid. The kokyuuma can read your nature and turn into whatever form will get them what they want. I was after that one, so it changed into a helpless child. It must have known that you would protect it. That you would feel some sense of duty. It may have been convincing, but it was just an act. It probably would have continued to use you, maybe even draining your soul once it was safe. Things aren't always what they seem, you know."
She continued, distantly, "I've seen them take on the form of beautiful women to draw desperate men. They become parents to orphans, babies to barren women, and best friends to outcast children. Even when the victims realize something is very wrong, they don't care. They just allow themselves to waste away into empty shells as the monster drains the life from them. The kokyuuma—they're barely sentient, but they know. They know how much people will deceive themselves to escape from their loneliness. There aren't many people who can resist them."
Naruto was unsure if the woman was still talking to him, but he did understand some things about loneliness. A creature that preyed on people's loneliness was truly a monster in his mind. The woman glanced back at Naruto, who looked concerned. She had touched on something personal to him, and she felt a tad guilty for yelling at him. She smiled gently and decided to distract him. "But, it's ok. There was no harm in the end, right? Hm? What's your name, kid?"
"Uzumaki Naruto." He was more subdued than normal, still thinking about Ryu. The woman stood up and held out her hand. It was a gesture of peace and friendship. Naruto guessed that she was probably not an enemy. Accepting the offer, he grasped her hand, and she pulled him up into a standing position.
The woman tilted her head sideways and looked at Naruto. Her expression became warmer and less threatening. Naruto actually found it comforting. "My name's Kodora," she said. "I'm sorry for all the trouble." Naruto's stomach let out a loud growl. He still had not eaten. Kodora laughed lightly. "Tell you what, Naruto-kun. I saw a ramen stand back in the village. My treat, ok? Consider it my way of saying 'no hard feelings'."
There was no way that Naruto could turn down ramen. He smiled and quickly forgot about Ryu. "You got it! Let's go."
Takoyaki (たこ焼き), fried octopus dumplings, are a yummy Japanese snack that you can buy on the street. Check out Wikipedia for more information, or try Google for some mouth-watering pictures.
A jou (杖) is a 1.28-meter wooden staff used as a weapon in some Japanese martial arts.
Kage Bunshin no Jutsu – Shadow Clone Technique. B-Rank. This is Naruto's signature jutsu, where the user creates clones that are real, physical bodies.
Nekko Shibaru Jutsu – Root Binding Technique (original). C-Rank. This technique causes small, flexible roots that are present in the ground to wrap around and immobilize the target.
Hisui Kihanfuuin – Jade Bond-Seal (original). C-Rank. This sealing technique was developed for capturing kokyuuma. The user coats the kokyuuma in jade dust and then performs the seal. (More about the kokyuuma and the seal later in the story).
Next chapter, Kakashi appears!