Greetings again. I'd first like to thank everyone who reviewed and messaged me, encouraging me to continue writing. I never intended to quit it, but due to some things happening I pretty much lost my inspiration to write for awhile. Anywho, I'm back on the writing wagon, and feel that my writing has actually improved. I'm pretty pleased with this chapter. I also feel like I have little bit more of a plan of where I want the story to go, instead of just a series of events I wanted to happen. Don't know how long it will be before I get another update out. I've got a full time job plus my original novel that I'm working on, but hopefully it won't be nearly as long as last time. As always, reviews are appreciated and constructive criticism is always welcome. Enjoy! Oh, and also, bonus points to anyone who can spot the two things in this chapter inspired by popular books of fiction. I'll let everyone know next chapter so no one can accuse me of claiming someone else's ideas, I just thought it would be interesting to see who could spot them. One is pretty easy and the other, not so much.
Oh yeah, had to reupload to include this: Naruto and Bleach do not belong to me and I make no profit from this. Simply using this medium to try and improve as a writer. So no suing...please.
The Way of the Sword
Darkness surrounded him, enclosing but never touching his skin. He could look down at his hand and see it plainly, but anything beyond a foot from him was nothing but shadows and whispers. The whispers were never ceasing, as if from a thousand voices, none agreeing but all speaking at the same time, and they surrounded his figure every bit as much as the darkness. Nothing, either sight or sound, was distinct, and he found himself turning and seeking, with both eye and ear for something discrete, something identifiable as separate from the mass of shadows, different from the orchestra of whispers. Shadows became human figures, still dark and indistinguishable from each other, and the whispers increased to muttered voices, still sounding the cacophony of a thousand voices speaking at once. There was anger in their voices, and love; hope and terror; hatred and devotion and every other emotion; each with their own representative in the throng, all speaking at once. He spun around still seeking something to hang onto, somewhere solid and true to shelter his sanity as the voices kept getting louder and louder, and the figures crowded closer and closer, each seeking to reach him first, but never pushing each other. The voices continued in their crescendo, reaching their peak until it was as if all the world was shouting their hatred and devotion to him. All he could do was crouch down, holding his hands over his ears, and wait for the tidal wave of sound to pass, and hope that he retained his sanity.
The silence that followed was every bit as deafening as the sound had been, and he found himself missing the voices. The figures surrounding him had ceased their advance, leaving a circle close to ten feet across which was void of anything except himself, standing in the center. The circle itself seemed to have its own light and strength, preventing the shadows from advancing any further, lest they be banished by the radiance that surrounded him. He turned his head slowly, eying the figures and, though he could not see anything more than shadows, he got the sense that they were doing the same to him, judging him, taking his measure, and evaluating exactly how he was a threat. His eyes came to rest on a figure in the crowd that somehow seemed different than the others and he received a strange sense of approval, even as the figure stepped into the light of the bare circle around him.
"Do you remember me?" Shadows still clung to her figure, obscuring her body, but her voice was that of a young woman and her face was unobstructed by shadows. A mask which bore several red markings covered her face, and the way she held herself told him that this was a woman who had seen combat.
"I know your face, but I don't remember." His voice was mournful, almost ashamed. "There is much I don't remember."
He got the distinct feeling that she was smiling at him. "You will, Naruto-kun. You must." A second figure stepped out of the crowd. A petite girl with dark, blue hair; pale skin, and lavender eyes. Shadows clung to her in the same way as they did to the first figure.
"You're memories are what make you who you are." A third figure joined them, this one a young man with black hair in a bowl style cut, and large, over pronounced eyebrows.
"And since you have forgotten who you are, you have lost your power."
The central figures eyes darkened, angry red showing in his eyes, "I do not want that power, it does not belong to me."
The three figures facing him spoke alternating between them, but so quickly and close together that it was almost impossible to track who spoke each word., "That is not your choice. This is your power, cursed as it may be, there will come a time soon when you must bring it out. You may have forgotten who you are, Naruto-kun, but it is not in you to refuse to use the power you have to protect. That is who you are, that is what you must remember. Until you know the reason you fight, the only reason you ever had to fight, you will never remember your true strength. Until then, consider ours as on loan."
They stepped back into the shadows, hiding their features again. And the shadows began to disperse, leaving him alone in the darkness once again.
Junko knocked on the door, more than slightly hesitant. She had only recently been released from the intensive care of the Fourth Division and had just returned to the Academy when she hed received the summons to one the private training rooms. Her wound had been fully healed days ago, but she had been kept under extremely close scrutiny for the past few days, apparently because of the unusual method Uzumaki Naruto had used to heal her. She didn't really understand it, but apparently she had been fully healed even before she had been brought back to the Fourth Division, only suffering from an extreme case of exhaustion, which, from what she heard was more than could be said for her aforementioned rescuer.
He hadn't shown any sign of it until hours after the fighting had stopped, but he had suffered from a serious wound to the chest. Isane, the fukutaichou of the Fourth Squad, had talked to her for a short time when she first awoke and told her that she had no idea how he had been on his feet with that wound, and it was amazing that he had survived it, much less been able to show no sign of it for hours after receiving it. Even more incredible, the next day she said that the enigmatic blond had just about fully recovered from his wound in the same amount of time that Junko had recovered from her exhaustion. Isane had also briefly told her of an encounter between him and Soifon-taichou that had just about come to blows, while also rvealing several interesting details about the mysterious Uzumaki Naruto. She found herself puzzling over this mystery through the days that they kept her for observation, and now here she was. She wondered if she was going to get any answers.
All these things she thought in the moments after she knocked, while waiting for an answer. When one was not forthcoming she turned the doorknob and slowly opened the door. "Hello, anyone here." Her voice almost echoed in the room, a testament more to its utter barrenness than its size. It was a simple training room, floor covered with mats that would ever so slightly lessen falls, preventing most broken bones but doing nothing for bruised skin or pride. It took her a moment to spy the figure sitting in the corner, legs crossed in a meditative position, blade lying, sheathed, across his knees.
Uzumaki Naruto's eyes were closed and he breathed the slow, deep breaths of meditation. Even as Junko stepped into the room, his voice sounded, the emotionless tones she was used to carrying across the room.
"You are familiar with the katas of the sword taught at the academy, correct?" As he spoke his eyes remained closed. She nodded hesitantly, then realizing her mistake she opened her mouth to speak but was cut off. "Good, perform them now, at your best skill level." His voice was not asking, he simply expected her to obey him. This annoyed her more than a little, but kept her silence, seeing no harm in humoring him. She unsheathed her blade and took the First Stance. Letting out her breath she began, losing herself in the dance. Junko was gifted at sword play. She knew because all of her professors told her so. Her body was graceful and flexible, she had a near perfect sense of balance, and her hands held impressive speed for a beginner. She worked through the forms, moving around more as the difficulty and complexity of the forms increased. Her feet took her from one side of the training room to another, blade flashing through the air, never hesitating for more than an instant.
Eventually her feet carried her next to the form of the meditating Naruto, and though she did not alter her feet to avoid his area, she did carefully keep track of where he was in order to avoid any accidents. She stepped as close to him as she dared, still performing the katas, even as she noticed that his eyes were still closed. Turning her attention back to her practice, she was caught off guard by a flash of movement and a sharp pain in her sword hand. It caused her to release the blade and an instant later an impact to the back of her legs swept them out from under her. Her back impacted the ground hard knocking the breath out of her and she simply laid there for a moment, stunned.
Recovering she jumped to her feet, grabbing her sword as she did so, anger flashing in her eyes. She brought her guard up turning to the person who had struck her and stopped short, confused. Naruto still sat in the same position, eyes closed, holding no emotion on his face. What the hell just happened? Junko eyed him for another moment wary of any attack, but still he sat there. Whatever, probably just another strange "reflex". She walked back to the center of the room and restarted her katas from where she left off, though she pushed herself to increase the speed. Once again she ranged around the room blade flashing, though this time, she made sure to stay further away from the other shinigami as she came to his part of the room. Not having to worry about him this time, she put all her concentration into pushing as much speed into the blade as she could. Since her concentration was so absorbed, she was once again caught off guard by the sting of the disarming strike to her hand and her stomach clenched for a terrified instant as her feet were swept out from under her and she hung in the air. Once again she hit the ground hard, but this time she tried to get up almost immediately. "God damn it! What the hell is your pro-" She was both interrupted and prevented from rising by the sheathed sword's point held to her throat.
"You are now dead." His voice never changed emotion and, as he stared down at Junko, she got the distinct feeling that she had failed some sort of test. He held his sword there for a moment before removing it. Junko decided she would just lie there for a moment. "Tell me, why did you leave me be when I first struck you?"
Junko was more than a little confused at the strange actions of the blond, but she sensed that her answer to his question could be important. "I don't really know. I thought that maybe it was just another strange reflex, or something. Your blade was sheathed, so I knew you weren't trying to really hurt me." She got the feeling from his expression, what little of it there was, that there really wasn't a way to explain her inaction, "Beside, you were just sitting there." She felt that her explanation was more than adequate.
"I see. And so, since I obviously meant no harm, you thought it was fine to not only let me be, but to leave yourself open to my attack again." He stared at her for a moment, his cold eyes pinning her to the floor. "Consider this you first lesson: you are never guaranteed a second opportunity to strike, you are never even guaranteed a first. The instant you have it, if something has proved itself to be a threat, you do not simply let it be because it looks or acts harmless, you attack with your full power and hope that it's enough to do the job. If you feel something still has not proved itself to be a threat, you keep your guard up to it at all times. And if you determine it to be a threat, there is no holding back, no gauging its power, you go all out and kill it before it can pull out its aces." He stood there over her staring, blue eyes bearing down on her. "Do you understand me." His voice, though at times had been slightly derisive, had returned to its normal emotionless tones.
She sat there and thought about what he said for a moment, "So you're saying that everything is either a threat or a potential threat. What about trust?" He stared at her for a moment longer before nodding, almost to himself, as if acknowledging that it was a valid question.
"In everyday life, for everyday people, trust is a simple enough matter. They rarely have matters of enough importance to warrant a breaking of trust anyways. But for those who live on the battlefield, those who live and kill and die with sword in hand, trust is not so easy. Trusting the wrong person gets you killed. At the very least." This last he spoke quietly, his voice trailing off into the distance of memories. Silence filled the empty room for minutes before Junko got to her feet. She retrieved her sword and sheathed it. She was just trying to decide if she needed to say something else when his voice spoke again.
"I'm sorry." His voice was no different, but as she looked up and met his eyes, she could not help but see the sorrow there.
"Uh… what?" She felt like she was suffering from emotional whiplash and spent a second contemplating the idea of bipolar shinigami.
He spoke again slowly, hesitantly, as if he feared the very words he spoke. "The technique I used to save you is…imperfect when performed by one such as myself. It demands a heavy price, one that I am unable to pay, and as such there are…consequences." Junko remained silent, not daring to speak as he tried to explain. "You were dying, on the very cusp of death and your wound was such that there was a good chance you'd have died, even if there had been a medic there. This technique, it heals you by sacrificing a portion of the user's soul, and exchanging it with the strain and damage of the recipients soul. The trauma of breaking ones soul is something that cannot be survived, and the very fact that the user is not supposed to survive is instrumental in the successful completion of this technique. My… soul… seems to be unable to truly die, therefore the technique is not completed, because the portion of my soul which is given to you still maintains a link back to mine." He paused for a moment, trying to find the right words for what he had to say. Junko spoke up, unable to hold back the question.
"Since the technique is incomplete…what does that mean for me?" She felt fear of his answer, and they were confirmed as Naruto met her eyes.
"This was not the first time I used that technique. Of the half-dozen people I used this technique on while I was alive, all but one of them died directly because of my using this on them, eventually. Some of them within a year, one of them lived for seven, but only one of their death's was not caused by this technique." Despite the terrible words he spoke, Junko could not contain her curiosity.
"And the one who didn't die because of this technique?"
She couldn't contain the shiver that went through her as Naruto replied, satisfaction tinting his voice, "His death was caused by…something else."
Again silence enfolded them before Junko again spoke, "So… what now? Can anything be done?"
Naurto shook his head, "I really have no idea. The rules could be different from when I was alive, but…there really isn't any way to know for certain. There is only one thing I can do, and its only if you want to. I must repay my debt." He spoke these last words with finality and determination. "Soichiro Junko." He now spoke in formal tones, "I find myself in your debt, if you wish, in order to repay that debt, I will take you as my second and apprentice, teaching and training you, so long as you are willing to put your all into it." His eyes held her transfixed and she considered his words.
"What exactly would you be teaching me?" The corner of his lips curved slightly upward and she was reminded of their first meeting, when she thought that his face was much more suited to smiling. Now, after the first time seeing a true smile, she knew that she had been right.
"Come with me and find out." And with that he spun on his heel, and marched out the room. Junko found herself following him.
There were many things he could teach her. Physical training would be a must. Hand to hand and speed would be hammered into her. Kido, he was no more qualified to teach than those at the academy, at least not yet. Probably the biggest thing would be simply how to think and how to approach combat. She would serve as his second for what Unohana had asked him to do. He needed someone he could train, someone who was not already embedded in the squad, but still skilled, at least when it came to basics of combat. He could train her and drill her and eventually after decades of work she would be one the most capable shinigami in all of Soul Society.
That is, if she didn't die first.
Naruto grimaced at the thought, but discarded it as something that he could not influence and instead turned his thoughts to the last thing he could teach her: the sword. He found himself hesitant to train her in this. He fought differently than most, certainly different than anyone in Soul Society. It was a way of fighting that not all could embrace. Finally he decided to just wait and see. If she couldn't do it, or didn't want to after seeing what his method truly was, he could always teach her one of the countless other styles he knew. They were practically unneccessary for him, but she might find one of them more suited to her than the true form of kenjutsu. He would leave it up to her, though she really couldn't decide until she saw it for herself. The question was how best to demonstrate it.
Two figures appeared in their way, further down the street. Their stance made it obvious that they were intentionally barring the way. Ah, well, no time like the present.
Junko recognized the figures before her, and she was terrified. Of all the people in Soul Society, the only one who was possibly more terrifying was Zaraki Kenpachi. And she judged that contest to be more a matter of opinion than something that could actually be determined for sure. Regardless, she did not like the look on the face Kurotsuchi Mayuri as he stared at her blond companion. It was the expression of someone who saw people as objects for his own study and amusement, an expression that showed he had found a new toy that fascinated him. His vice-captain stood at his side, every bit as expressionless as Naruto ever was.
"Ahhh… Uzumaki-san. I have been hearing some truly fascinating stories about you. Interesting powers, from another world, and most fascinating of all… a jinchuuriki." At this last word, his voice lit up with something similar to lust. "You shall be my most interesting specimen I have had the pleasure of dissecting in a long time." He turned to his subordinate. "Nemu, incapacitate him. He is formidable in hand to hand combat, so you may use your sword." With those words, he tossed her a capsule, that, upon contact with her hand, transformed into a thin, black katana.
"Hai, Mayuri-sama." Her voice was as emotionless as her face as she drew her blade and settled into a guard position facing Naruto. The blond merely stared at her for a moment before asking a question.
"Why are you willing to fight me." Her response was simple and immediate.
"Mayuri-sama wills it. He is my creator, therefore, I am his tool." Naruto's eyes narrowed at her response.
"You remind me of someone of I once knew…" He trailed off, and to Junko, it seemed as if he was struggling to remember. Suddenly a smile bloomed from his emotionless face, catching Junko off guard with its brilliance and purity. "Her name was Haku." He shook himself out of his contemplation and turned his attention back to the vice-captain facing him. "Another question…Are you willing to kill me?"
This time her answer was not so immediate and her voice was slightly puzzled, though still resolute, "I would rather not, but I will if I must."
Naruto nodded, Junko thought he was satisfied with her answer. "One final question." For the first time since they confronted him he laid his hand on his sword. When he spoke, his voice was still emotionless, but now held an unmistakable, cold edge, "Are you willing to die?"
Junko saw Nemu's eyes widen slightly, and knew she had been just as caught off guard by his question and tone as she herself had been. Her voice when she answered, held a waver that had not been there before, "Why do you think this must come to death, Uzumaki-san?"
He laughed, just as he had laughed before he killed the hollow. It was the most terrifying thing Junko had ever heard. "You come here with a mad scientist intent on dissecting me, and expect me to not be willing to kill to avoid that. And even beyond that." His voice grew harder with each word, "You have drawn your sword and pointed it at me. And you expect this to not come to death. How the hell could it not?" His voice never rose, but Junko felt that it was the most intimidating thing she had ever heard. Nemu could not hide the uncertainty on her face now. Junko felt like an intruder, but she spoke up before she could think about it.
"Why do you make a big deal out of her drawing her sword? How is that worse than them wanting to dissect you?" His cold blue eyes met hers, and she flinched as she saw a swirl of crimson deep in their depths.
"This is your second lesson, Junko. Almost every weapon known to man was first a tool. The spear and bow were used for hunting, the staff for walking, the scythe for harvesting, the knife for skinning. Think of any weapon you can and most of them were tools long before they were weapons. Except for the sword. The sword was created with only one purpose in mind." Naruto's eyes returned to Nemu, though his words seemed to still be meant for Junko. "To kill. A swordsman who draws his weapon, at least one who truly understands the nature of the sword, is showing his will to kill and the dedication that is strong enough to make him willing to accept his death. That is the Way of the Sword. You must never draw your sword against something that you are not willing to kill, and never when you are fighting for something you are not willing to die for." A ringing sound accompanied his last words and his sword was in his hand. "You have shown your dedication to your master, Nemu-fukutaichou. But I wonder if you truly knew what you were dedicating yourself to." For the first time, Junko was able to see the appearance of his blade. It was in the form of a katana, though slightly longer than the standard length, measuring probably slightly more than four feet, if Junko judged it right. The first quarter of it was a pale blue, the color of the sky, which faded into the normal gray of the rest of its blade.
They stood there for a moment before a slight chuckle was heard. "Very amusing, but your words are meaningless. Nemu. I'm growing impatient." At her captain and creator's words, Junko saw her determination return.
"Hai, Mayuri-sama." She gripped her hilt hard and prepared to attack.
Naruto shook his head, whispering quietly under his breath, "I'm sorry." Junko knew he hadn't meant her to hear. He spoke again this time louder, but without the edge that his previous words had held. "Junko, you asked what I could teach you. Stand back, and see for yourself." Junko took several steps back at his words, her eyes never leaving the two figures.
His sword was held in his hand as he took several steps forward, halting when he was just out of reach of Nemu's sword. He raised his sword into a low guard position, eyes never leaving his opponent's face, searching for something Junko could not be certain of. They stood like that for more than a few moments, each weighing the other without moving, prepared to attack at the slightest hint of weakness, ready to defend at the smallest show of aggression. Naruto's voice unexpectedly broke the silence, a hint of approval in it intermingling with sorrow.
"You are skilled fuku-taichou, there are not many who have lasted this long against me. But you will still lose, because you still do not understand the true Way of the Sword."
Nemu's voice was more than puzzled, echoing Junko's own feelings. "How can you know how skilled I am, we have yet to cross blades. And it is easy to survive this long when we simply stand here." Her sword never wavered from her guard position as she spoke. "As for your Way of the Sword, you are right, I do not understand it. But how that will guarantee your victory is still uncertain to me."
Naruto smiled, but this one was a smile that was almost an apology. "Then attack me and I will show you." Nemu eyed him for a moment, wary for any trick, before replying.
"Very well." Junko saw the next instant in almost slow motion. She saw the muscles in Nemu's arm tense in preparation to strike, she saw her begin to lift her foot to step forward. She saw the play of emotions on Nemu's face as the fukutaichou attacked the squadless shinigami. She also saw, though just barely and only a glimpse, the glint of steel as Naruto's blade flashed up from his low guard, deftly avoiding Nemu's blade and sending a spray of crimson through the air as it went through her throat before the woman even realized she needed to defend. Naruto sheathed his blade as she hit the ground.
"The Way of the Sword is understanding that to attack is to kill. The Way of the Sword is to determine the victor with the first strike." His voice was dead, holding no emotion as he spoke, never turning his eyes from the woman bleeding out on the ground in front of him, trying to breath around the blood that choked her from the wound in her neck. Blood dripped out of her mouth as she found herself unable to inhale anything else. "There have not been many who understood the need to wait for weakness to show before launching your first attack. That is why I said I was impressed with you for lasting so long." Junko turned away from the sight but she couldn't shut out the sound of his voice, or Nemu's gasping and struggling for breath. She found herself hunched over, emptying the contents of her stomach. A new voice intruded on the scene.
"Troublesome brat, I should let you die for failing me." Junko turned back to the scene and found the Twelfth Squad Captain standing over Nemu.
"You would let someone loyal to you die, simply for failing you." Junko's eyes went to Naruto, surprised at the rage in his voice. Terror held her as she saw the flaming crimson in his eyes and felt the rage of his blood lust once again. "Just like Haku. Her loyalty was to someone who did nothing to deserve it as well. Though at least he had the decency to try to earn it in the end." The oppressive feeling increased and Junko found herself unable to rise from her knees, though Mayuri seemed to be barely effected.
"Ah, impressive bloodlust, Naruto-kun. Ah, well. Maybe another time, I find myself needing to repair my…tool." With those words he bent over and placed a pill in Nemu's mouth. Her eyes had already grown glassy and the bleeding had slowed, but with the contact of the pill it ceased altogether. He picked her up and with a final "Ja ne." He was gone.
Silence fell over the street, mingling with the blood and vomit which were the only sign that a fight had taken place.
"Come on, Junko."
Once again, though this time somewhat fearfully, she followed him.
Naruto entered the office of the captain of the Fourth Division. Blood had spattered his cloak, but he either did not notice or did not care.
"Unohana-taichou, I wish to accept your proposal with the addition of Soichiro Junko as my second." Retsu Unohana looked up from her paperwork and eyed the blond, noticing the blood on his clothes, though she seemed to pay it little more mind than Naruto.
"Excellent, there only remains the question of title. Given your special position, I cannot very well give you an ordinary rank." She thought about it for a moment before continuing. " Uzumaki Naruto, Soichiro Junko you are both hereby accepted into the Fourth Division. Your responsibilities, in addition to those of standard Fourth Division members, will be that of Combat Instructors. It will be your responsibility to prepare medical squads and medics for combat in the field. Uzumaki Naruto, you will be granted the newly created rank of Yondaime Ken, the Fourth's Sword."