The Best Laid Plans
Chapter 33: Day that Changed the World
Disclaimer: Democracy and EU. Biggest joke in history.
In the weeks since Itachi reported back at Akatsuki HQ, he noted that Tobi had ordered a room prepared for himself and slept there. Perhaps the stress of the war, the severe reverses that had befallen Konoha's enemies and the long-running failed hunt for the elusive One Tail got to him, but Itachi wasn't going to miss such a gift horse in the mouth.
Itachi did not even have to evade the Zetsu on his tail when he went walking that evening. He activated his backup plan - an unwitting sleeping agent he had emplaced in a strategic position a couple of years back - with a simple shoulder brush in the middle of the street with a little application of chakra.
Pein, Tobi and the rest of the Akatsuki coterie were going to learn the error of their ways. He did not expect either of the two principal actors or the organization to survive the lesson.
The Battle of the Crossing had left Rock's frontlines vulnerable, their troops had conducted an orderly retreat to more secure positions. This allowed Team 7 to walk out of Jiraiya's redoubt and travel unmolested into Hi no Kuni and ultimately, Konoha. Upon arrival, they'd spent a whole day being debriefed, and another waving to the hoi polloi as Kakashi arranged an impromptu festival to celebrate Takamori's victory against Rock and the return of Leaf's heroes. Then had followed an endless series of meetings concluding with the present, which in Naruto's opinion was the most important of all.
"So, that is what I want to talk about, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto wrapped up.
Kakashi cleared his throat and leaned back into his seat. Some days, it just did not pay to get out of bed and after hearing what Naruto had to say, he felt that today was one of them. Never mind that Kakashi thought that there was some merit to the idea, but his children were proposing to step into a jump headlong into a pit of vipers. The fact that they were the heroes of the Fourth Shinobi War was not going to help them any if the wrong people took offense.
"I'm thinking of a word to describe what I feel, Naruto," he replied after a turn. "Pigheaded, stupid, idiot, dead man walking…. None of them quite catch the entirety of my feelings. Frankly, I'm at a loss for words."
"I know that there is a danger, sensei, but these last few months, I've been thinking about my legacy," Naruto returned the Godaime's gaze stubbornly. "Right now, I'm the biggest one day mass murderer in history. I don't want to be remembered for it. I want to leave something worthwhile behind."
Kakashi chuckled and shook his head.
"Not even seventeen and already thinking about your legacy. Hopefully, you have many decades ahead of you, Naruto. You needn't plunge into the world saving business right away, you know. You just got yourself back together after saving Konoha and look what it took out of you."
Naruto pinched his lips, but his eyes did not stray.
Kakashi sighed. He cast his eyes at his other children.
"And the two of you are with him?" he asked.
"We stand with him, Kakashi-sensei," Sakura replied.
"Even when he's being a daft moron," Sasuke added.
"So be it. I'll call for a meeting of the junta. But be aware. I cannot do a damned thing to protect you if they take offense at your ideas. The junta is still finding its feet and I dare not impose any authority over it for fear of upsetting the status quo. Not until Iwa and Kumo agree to peace and perhaps not for the foreseeable future even then."
"We understand, Sensei," Sakura replied flatly. It was what she and her teammates her expected, and under the circumstances, his neutrality was the best they could hope for.
The duty guards paid scant attention to Nakamura Tetsu, maintenance guy at Akatsuki HQ, when he reported at the guard station around midmorning. He was accompanied by six porters – all of whom were vetted and had the right clearances to work in the building – carrying cylinders on their shoulders.
"Morning, Tetsu-san," the lead guard said, thrusting a scroll at him. "Need your signature for the cylinders. What are they for?"
"The building environmental system, Keita-san. Quarterly refill of refrigerant. I'd put in a request a two dats back," Tetsu replied, initialing the form and producing relevant paperwork.
Nagata Keita, the lead guard, checked the documents and nodded approval.
"Everything looks proper. You can proceed. Have a good day, Tetsu-san."
"And a good day to you as well."
The guards turned back to their duty, the minimum requirements of standard operating procedure satisfied and Tetsu walked into the building with disguised cylinders of compressed carbon monoxide. He had the porters lug the cylinders to the top of the building and drop them off at the environmental systems.
For the rest of the day, Tetsu went about his regular work for the rest of the day, tackling the many little breakdowns that occur daily in high rises. At nine in the night, he informed his colleagues he was going to work on environmental systems. Since Tetsu was known for keeping long hours – he was married but he and his wife weren't on the best of terms, and he actively tried to minimize the time he spent at home – none found this suspicious. With a bright smile on his face, he then proceeded to bypass the carbon monoxide filters and hook the cylinders in a daisy chain to the air circulation system. Finally, he turned the circulation down to 0.5 liters per second per person and returned to his seat to catch up on paperwork with a smile on his face.
Such was the power of Shishui's Kotoamatsukami.
Itachi stayed away from Akatsuki HQ the whole day on the pretext of stretching his muscles, taking no steps to elude his tail Zetsu. In the evening, he had a nice long dinner al at a nearby restaurant after which he allowed himself to be invited to the rooms of one of the servers who was sweet on him. He and the girl, Kasumi, had a passionate love making session late into the night. When his partner was finally exhausted, Itachi bid her good night, placed a subtle genjutsu on Zetsu and returned to his rooms.
It was just over four hours since Tetsu released the carbon monoxide into the air ducts. The guards at the front desk were confused and incapacitated but conscious – which was expected given that the main doorway was open – and the hallways on the upper floors empty – which was again expected as it was the middle of the night. But when Itachi checked the duty stations on each floor, the guards were insensate or comatose.
Not wanting to be exposed to the CO any longer than necessary, Itachi quickly made his way to Tobi's room. Surprisingly, he found Black Zetsu alongside Tobi laid out on the bed. Black Zetsu was almost always with his white counterpart that Itachi had forgotten the two were two separate and intelligent beings. Luckily for Itachi, the Zetsu's presence had not ruined the plan. He was dead and Tobi was clinging on to life, if barely. A slit throat was enough to put an end to that. Before he left the room, he carefully plucked the evolved sharingan out, sealed it and the corpses separately, and set a timed incendiary tag. There was no sense in leaving such a powerful tool lying around for enemies of Konoha to find and use, after all.
Konan and Nagato were dead in their rooms. He sealed the former and left behind an incendiary tag, and dug out and crushed the latter's Rinnegan. The First Hokage had made a serious mistake so many years back when he let his defeated friend keep those eyes. Peace in the elemental nations was elusive enough without the power of a God thrown into the mix and Itachi wasn't ready to trust himself with the Rinnegan much less anyone else. He also sealed Nagato's body, but unlike the other corpses, he did not plan to share it with Konoha for analysis and meant to dispose of it himself at his leisure. Incendiaries may not do a thorough job of destroying the Akatsuki leader's remains and a body that had hosted the Rinnegan could yield secrets that were almost as deadly as the eyes themselves.
His work done. Itachi calmly walked out the building and vanished into the night as Ame's perpetual rain sputtered to a stop. It was time to return his loot to Konoha.
The Raikage stared at the report of the Battle of the Crossing and uncharacteristically scratched his head.
"Boss," Darui prompted, "we need to get this information and our recommendation to the Daimyo fast."
A tilted his head and balefully, eyed Darui.
"I'm not happy at all."
"Because Hi no Kuni won?" Darui asked.
"Don't be an idiot, Darui and use that brain of yours. I'm not worried that Fire won and our allies in Stone lost. We were going to gain territory in Rice irrespective of the outcome. The only difference is the size of our gains. For that matter, I'm even willing to forgo all that new territory if Fire does so as well and the Fuma clan will shift to a neutral posture betwixt us.
"No, what makes me unhappy is that Fire are somehow able to train men who were civilians less than two years ago as a frontline unit of chakra enhanced shock troops. The evidence suggests they have made a fundamental breakthrough in training, tactics and/or capabilities and their recruitment pool has exponentially increased as a result. That bodes ill for us in future conflicts."
Darui looked thoughtful.
"I get it. It takes a village more than a decade and training from early childhood to turn one in hundred children with reasonably strong chakra into a shinobi powerhouse. But whatever Leaf has done allows apparently allows them to take any healthy civilian off the street and pit a few of them against those same shinobi with reasonable odds of victory. That turns the existing power structure completely on its head."
"Precisely," A said.
"So what do we recommend we do?"
"Either Leaf shares the secret of their nuclear weapon or the secret of these chakra enhanced civilians or we have no choice but to form an alliance and declare war when it is still early days still for their advances to tilt the scales overwhelmingly in their favor. Giving them breathing room now would only give them time to grow stronger still."
"They have handily defeated Wind and Rock, Boss. It doesn't look like there are too many potential allies left on the table for us."
"If Konoha is intent on hoarding these weapons and preserving their military superiority, Darui, the balance of power between the elemental nations is shot. Either Hatake Kakashi agrees to share these weapons like Senju Hashirama did the tailed beasts or it is war."
"So, what are you waiting for?" the Raikage asked impatiently. "Compose a message to the Daimyo outlining these thoughts and start shortlisting personnel who'll lead delegations to Leaf, Suna, Iwa and Kiri."
"I didn't think I'd ever feel this way again, but it feels good to be back in Konoha," Naruto exclaimed, walking down Konoha's main street, his voice brimming with joy and excitement.
Sakura and Sasuke who were a couple of paces ahead of him shook their heads. Hard to believe that their friend had made a full recovery from the depression and despondency that had taken him after he destroyed Grass.
"It'd have been better still if you'd kept your mouth shut and not asked Kakashi's permission to address the Council and shinobi and samurai clan heads," Sasuke griped.
"The Gods created you a sourpuss, Sasuke," Naruto responded, "to ruin my day. But it's not going to work this time. I'm walking on the clouds. I'm floating in the air. You cannot disturb my zen."
"It won't be long, I swear. Maybe an hour at most."
Sasuke grunted but did not respond. It wasn't that Sasuke disagreed with Naruto's conclusions – he had helped Naruto crystallize his thoughts, after all – but he knew that it was very probable that Naruto's speech today was going to earn the three of them the enmity of the council and clans who would see his proposals as undermining their authority and upending the established social order. People who fell into that category had a short life expectancy in the Elemental Nations. Sasuke had lost one family and gained another, but it looked very much like he was going to lose this one as well.
"We owe it to Itachi and Naruto, Sasuke," Sakura reminded her friend softly. She thought they were walking to their deaths, too, but they owed it to Naruto to stand by him.
"I know. There's nothing for it but to get this over with," Sasuke grunted. He consoled himself that at least this time he would not survive his family by long.
The council, clan heads, representatives of samurai warmly greeted Team 7 with well wishes and whatnot. This was the informal junta of shinobi and samurai that had taken control of Hi no Kuni after the late Daimyo's death and the seppuku of his wannabe successors. This was the most powerful group in individuals in the Elemental Nations now that Hi no Kuni had reestablished its preeminence. When everyone was settled in their seats, Kakashi called the meeting to order.
"No urgent business, really, but Naruto wanted to address you folks," he said without adieu. He'd had a word in private about Naruto's intended speech with those he'd considered close allies, and hadn't even been able to get their support. He'd thought that with the war drawing to an end, he'd have to deal with less worry and stress, but as things stood, his children were going to be the death of him. "Naruto, they're all yours."
"Thanks, Godaime-sama," Naruto spoke formally. "I know that you're all busy men and women, overseeing the conduct of the Fourth Shinobi War in its many fronts, and I'm much very grateful to you and the Hokage for making the time from your busy schedules to listen to me. I would be much obliged if you'd hold your questions till I open the floor for discussion at the end."
"Good. Thank you. I want to broach a subject that is also a fond and elusive dream of mine, and I hope, everyone in this room.
"My dream is peace. Before you close your eyes and dismiss me as a raving madman, I'll clarify that I don't mean perpetual peace between nations. Frankly, I don't think we can ever have anything more than brief islands of peace where nations catch breath between wars as they jostle for space, resources, position, et al. No, by peace, I mean rule of law and order within a nation where the weak aren't meat for the strong.
"There are those among you in whom the Sannin Jiraiya has confided his dream ending the cycle of hatred. It is Jiraiya-sensei's fondest hope that there'll come a day when a child of prophecy will appear and put an end to all the hate in the world. Jiraiya-sensei's dream is commendable, but hate isn't something that can be destroyed. Certainly not by a messiah acting alone.
"I've had a lot of free time in my hands these last few months –" there were scattered chuckles at that as everyone knew about Naruto's breakdown and recovery "- and I've spent most of it thinking. I believe hate is the child of our society and an innate part of our humanity. To be rid of it is to cut out a part of ourselves. We would not be the same without it. At the same time, we don't want hate to consume our lives. But therein lies the crux of the problem. The Elemental Nations – this world of shinobi – is a world ruled by fear and hatred, and is out of balance. The four great wars between the Elemental Nations and the innumerable civil wars and failed revolutions in the few decades since the establishment of the Hidden Villages is evidence enough of this. We're better off today than we were during the era of the Warring Clans, but our world is still defined by violence and the application of it.
"We have this wonderful tool called chakra that allows a few of us gifted with copious amounts of it to perform miracles. Be they for good or ill. We have genetic mutations that gives an even smaller number an innate advantage in harnessing and expressing chakra. It is said by the wise that chakra was the gift of the Sage of the Six Paths to all humanity. The way chakra is expressed, harnessed and used, however, it is a curse.
"Chakra is not present in equal amounts in everyone and only a few – most of whom end up as Samurai or Shinobi – have the talent for harnessing and expressing it. Chakra does not care whether its user has a heart of gold or is as black-hearted a monster as ever walked the earth. It simply is. On the other hand, chakra gives those gifted with it, a peerless advantage over those without and creates a disparity in power. The largesse of chakra is the primary criteria for ascendancy to power in the Elemental Nations and other better criteria for leadership are pushed aside, complicating our problems."
A samurai held up a hand.
"I know that you asked us to wait till you're done before we ask questions, but I think this one can't wait. Are you claiming that chakra is the root cause of all evil?" he asked.
Naruto shook his head.
"No. Chakra simply is. Men are evil or good."
"Then where are you going with this?" Aburame Shibi asked in a measured voice, as members of that clan were wont.
"I'm saying that chakra is power. Power over those without or those with less, which opens the way for the strong exploiting the weak. Further, unlike other forms of power, political succession and continuity in this world of chakra is fraught with peril because while a father or mother can be exceptionally strong chakra adepts, it does not naturally follow that the child is as well. This means that power structures within and between families, clans, nations, et al are forever being changed as every new expressed talent tips the balance. And without that balance, it is very hard to achieve long term stability with peace and prosperity."
"All power is fleeting," Nara Shikaku pointed out, wryly. "Is there any particular reason why you're focusing on the power wielded by chakra adepts?"
"Chakra adepts make or break nations in our world. The difference in power between chakra adepts and others is mindboggling. Kisame of the Seven Swordsmen of Kiri, an exceptional chakra adept, decapitated the nation's leadership when he assassinated the Daimyo, his family and advisors. He was acting alone and outside the law without support then. Just think about it. One man, by his lonesome self, being able to do such a thing. Akatsuki's leader destroyed Tea's capital by himself. My actions in Kusa and that of my team in Suna went a long way towards winning the current war. The Yondaime singlehandedly won the Third Shinobi War. Worse still, the death of the First Hokage created enough of a power vaccum that led to the Second Shinobi War. I reiterate, the other forms of power do not compare. They aren't even on the same scale."
"I guess this has become a free for all, after all. And I wasn't doing much good with that speech. I was rambling and I can tell I wasn't moving your hearts with it. So, rather than bore you with a memorized speech, why don't we have an open-ended Q&A session. Go ahead and ask your questions. I'll try my best to answer them."
"So, to attain peace, we should seal away chakra?" Nara Shikaku asked, eyes narrowed. He knew of Naruto's theory from Shikamaru and Kakashi, but it sounded impractical to his ears. Nevertheless, he was intrigued. "That sounds too much like the Yondaime Kazekage and his bloodline purges."
The room went alive without whispers and mutters at Shikaku's words. Perhaps the war had used up Naruto, after all, and it was better to shelve their plans for him as a leader and sideline him. They could let the general population idolize him as a hero and a model citizen while removing him from public life.
Sensing the shifting mood, Naruto held up his hand. He was losing the members of the junta, which did not bode well for his ideas and possibly, his life. He thought the latter was very unlikely, but one can never predict what paranoid men, which the junta most certainly was made of, would do.
"I suggest no such thing, Jounin Commander," he replied loud enough to be heard over the din. "It would be an abomination."
"What then do you suggest?" another samurai asked, belligerently.
"You've all read the summary of The Battle of the Crossing. It was a great victory for Hi no Kuni and it turns the tide of the war, but the battle is going to occupy a special place in history for another reason. For the first time in history, we were able to take farmers and merchants without strong chakras off the street and with seals of power, put them on an even footing with samurai and ninja who have been trained since they were young in the use of chakra. That is the stuff of revolutions and it gives us an opportunity.
"In answer to your question, Lord, I suggest we go the other extreme. Instead of trying to wipe out chakra adepts, ensure that chakra usage becomes widespread among the general population by disseminating the seals of power."
"We get the importance of what transpired at the Battle of the Crossing, Naruto," Hyuuga Hiashi replied, waving off Naruto's words. He was a staunch traditionalist and conservative, and even he understood that war would never be the same again. But revolutionizing warfare or not, he looked askance at the thought of disturbing the political order on a whim. "However, I'm not sure I agree with this notion of disseminating powerful techniques to the mob. It will not help the security situation at all."
"No offence intended, Hyuuga-sama and other members of the junta, but I'm not sure you grasp all the potential ramifications. These new seals are not quantum advances over earlier ones, but represent a fundamental breakthrough. Traditionally, developing a sizeable chakra pool and learning to express it are time consuming, and have have been the real bottlenecks to training ninja and samurai. Even nature manipulation, the so-called time consuming skill, doesn't take as long. The new seals reduce this time to a fraction of what it used to be. Simply put, it heralds the deaths of samurai and shinobi castes."
There were looks of utter disbelief around the room. Sure, the fancy seals gave oodles of power to civilians. But power alone wasn't enough, wasn't it? Skill counts for a lot, and any samurai or shinobi worth their salt were the equal of a dozen souped-up merchants and farmers, weren't they?
"You don't believe me. Let me see if I can make my case with an example."
"How many men and how many years of toil would civilians need to recreate the Valley of the End?"
"A dozen years? Ten thousand men perhaps?" someone ventured in an unsure voice.
"That's as good a guess as any," Naruto agreed equably. "And it was an unintended artifact of Senju Hashirama's and Uchiha Madara's battle for dominance. The Valley of the End is an extreme example, but it illustrates the kind of power differential that exists between those with chakra and those without. With the new seals of power, that differential will still exist, but it becomes much less. It took those two legends their whole lives, extraordinary talent and natural skill to grow that powerful. The wielders of these new seals, while they will not be that powerful, will need much less time to grow into theirs. Imagine starting from scratch and producing someone as powerful as a jounin in five years. What geniuses such as Uchiha Itachi and our own Godaime did, the new seals will do to the weakest members of our society. These seals will put an end to the lopsided power enjoyed by chakra adepts, and while this will increase political stability, ironically, it will also destroy our two castes."
"Your argument is logical, Naruto. But I wonder if you've extrapolated it to its logical conclusion. If everyone can be as powerful as the men in this room and the seals are really the death knell of the samurai and shinobi, why should we release them to the world at large? I'm sure all of us appreciate your candor and earnestness, but has it occurred to you that you're asking us to help you dig our own graves?" Hatake Kakashi pointed out. The question needed asking and better he do it than some other member of the junta.
There were murmurs of assent. The faces in the room were grim now.
"The answer is twofold, Godaime-sama. First, the seals have been used in battle and you can be sure that there are others among our friends and foes who realize the significance of what happened at the river. It is already too late to censor the news and suppress the technology because we have demonstrated its application in the real world and everyone knows it is possible. You can be sure that right now, or pretty soon, they're all going to start their own research programs on seals of power. And sooner or later, someone's going to make the same fundamental breakthrough or far more likely, steal it from us. When that happens, we'll lose total control of the situation. Second, and this follows the first, since we cannot control its spread without undermining ourselves in the long run, we should get ahead of the problem and be seen as visionaries working for the benefit of the people by guiding them into the new age.
"Our castes have crushed all resistance and generally had a rollicking good ride since the time of the Sage. In the doing, we've made ourselves the objects of fear and hatred among the civilians. Now, imagine if they're suddenly able to stand on an equal footing with us. It'll be worse than any civil war and it'll spell the ruin of our society."
There were some glimmers of understanding in the room, but the suspicious and scornful faces still outnumbered them by far. Naruto signed internally. The meeting was turning out even worse than he feared it would.
"But it would still erode our political power," Inuzuka Tsume noted.
Naruto nodded, taking a moment to collect his thoughts.
"We have to face facts. This is the dawn of a new age. Just as Senju Hashirama heralded a new world when he formed Konohagakure, upsetting the balance of power across the world, so will the seals of power. We have two options before us. We can hold onto as much power as long as possible and see the entire edifice crumble around us, or we can open the door to those without today and gain another sort of power over them. And hopefully, earn ourselves a reprieve."
"And you advocate we do the latter," Nara Shikaku stated. He didn't know about the rest of the junta, but he was already convinced. He realized that he, Kakashi and whatever other supporters Naruto had won himself today were going to have the devil's own time convincing the rest of the junta to follow the Uzumaki's advice.
"Yes, that's correct. And while the revolution in society is the greatest threat, the seals are also a huge opportunity to uplift humanity. Shinobi and samurai monopolize chakra adepts because they are so rare out there in the real world. The strongest talents and the most flexible are rarer still. There are scarcely any to be found in science, engineering, sealing, etc., and those are usually burnt out shinobi or samurai. But you only have to look at what Tsunade and Kabuto had done with Orochimaru's research. Or what I have done with physics theories. There's an entire world out there that we have eschewed in our blind pursuit to maintain parity of power with other nations. But these new seals of power will free us from those resource constraints. Who knows what good will come off it!"
"Or what evil. All I hear is idealistic-sounding prattle, boy," Koharu, who'd sat quietly until then, interrupted. She had listened to a similar speech from Orochimaru and she regretted supporting him still. And Naruto was starting to sound like the demented Snake Sannin to her ears with his talk of progress and revolution and opportunities… "I remember Orochimaru waxing poetic in this same room in years past and we know what that monster did with his depraved experiments."
Naruto met her eyes without flinching. He wasn't insulted that the old crone had indirectly compared him to Orochimaru. It was bound to happen and he had been prepared for it. Now, to ward off suspicions in that direction before someone decided they were doing society a favor and knifed him in the back.
"Honored Elder, I'm not advocating perfecting humanity as Orochimaru did. Tell me, how many people die of starvation in Hi no Kuni every year? And we're one of the better off nations. Countless thousands in other nations spend their whole life in subsistence. Scrabbling from one meal to the next, never knowing when you'll have a full meal is no way to live. Granted, our duty is to think of citizens of Hi no Kuni alone, but even within our borders, we can end so many horrors that are commonplace." He turned to the group at large. "A couple of hundred trained adepts in medical ninjutsu – which neither the Konoha nor the samurai clans could ever afford before – would become practical if we do this. Think of all the sick people we can cure and all the families we'll save from starvation or destruction. Think of the increased internal stability that will result because those families will no longer be destitute and driven to extreme actions? Or how about using ninjutsu adepts to ensure the fertility of the land? Or seal experts to generate power… The possibilities are endless."
Koharu opened her mouth to speak, but was stopped by Nara Shikaku, who laid a hand on hers. It was likely that the late Sandaime's teammate was about to say something incendiary. Better to cut it off before it poisoned the discussion. Moreover, Naruto still hadn't answered the most important question of all.
"Even if everything you say is true, Naruto, you haven't address my question. How does any of this benefit the people in this room? We're agreed that empowering people will loosen our hold on them and weaken us badly. So, why should we do it?"
"We'll lose the power of fear we have over them, Jounin Commander, but if we do things right, we'll gain power as teachers, mentors, visionaries, guides and benefactors. And that sort of power is stronger than the one we have over them today. It'll endure longer."
Nara Shikaku granted the point with a nod. The sort of bonds that Naruto spoke of were known to be more stable than the reign of fear that was at the heart of the status quo. Out of the corner of his eyes, he noted quite a few who had been watching him keenly relax and made a mental note to approach them later as potential allies.
"Assuming we agree to your proposal, what do you suggest we do?"
"Release the seals to the general populace. Institute programs to teach chakra use to civilians. We, shinobi and samurai hold a virtual monopoly on chakra. The monks are too few to matter. It'll earn a lot of good will towards us, which we'll need in the times to come for as the proverb goes, the times, they are about to get real interesting."
The junta members shared a laugh at that. As if they weren't already living in interesting times already!
"If we strip the samurai and shinobi ranks bare to train the civilians, what of national defense?" Aburame Shibi asked. "For that matter, a lot of shinobi and samurai are unsuited for teaching or are disinclined to."
"Let those who would teach volunteer to do so. And let those who wouldn't, not," Naruto responded with a grin. If the junta members were not averse to discussing implementation, it boded well for his plan. There was still a wide gap between thought and action, but it was by no mean unbridgeable. Sowing the kernel of an idea is always the hardest, after all.
"And when they aren't satisfied with just learning to use chakra? When they want us to share power?" an old and wizened samurai asked. It was a very important question. Perhaps the most important of them all. If implementing Naruto's idea was going to cause the same sort of social chaos that it was meant to avoid, there was no point in doing it, was there?
"Then we do so. I'll reiterate. The days of the shinobi and samurai castes holding a monopoly on power are over. The world ahead is a different beast altogether and we're going to have to reach an accommodation with it."
"Have you any other pearls of wisdom you want to share with us?" Yamanaka Inoichi asked grumpily, raising a couple of guffaws from the samurai contingent.
Naruto had the decency to blush.
"As it should happen, I do. But first, and without meaning to sound impertinent, allow me to ask the junta a question. Do you sleep tight these days? The legitimate Daimyo is dead and his unworthy pretenders disposed. You're all doing a great job of guiding the country, but you aren't even agreed on a leader to represent you. You must all harbor fears that someone amongst you is plotting even now to seize the Fire throne. Instead of vying for the throne, share the power and declare yourselves as the legitimate leadership body of the nation, but instead of hereditary appointments, select your successors for civic virtue."
"Not raw ability?" Hyuuga Hiashi asked with, what was for him, a big and engaging smile. Only his closest friends could tell it was fake. Succession within his clan was headache enough. He wasn't going to worry about the problem of succession in the junta and he honestly wanted to throttle Kakashi's boy for raising the subject.
"Leadership ability and charisma are all well and good, Hyuuga-sama, but no one doubts Yondaime Mizukage's leadership or charisma and look where Mizu no Kuni ended up under him. Look also at the examples of the dead Hokages. Better yet, look at yourselves. All of you rose above clan and caste loyalties to put the good of the nation before everything else when you united against the usurpers. It is this characteristic we have to select in our leaders."
"You ascribe altruism to our actions, Naruto, but we were acting to save our skins. Speaking for everyone gathered here, I don't know if we would have made the right choice if we were at peace. I don't want us to be teetering on the edge of the precipice forever just so that we will all make altruistic decisions and neither do you," yet another samurai lord noted with a grunt of laughter and a slap of his thighs.
"Lord, you're right that the junta originally made the decision because of the dangers confronting the nation and that your decision may have been different if circumstances were different. But how many other nations have faced similar challenges and had their leaders fail to rise to the occasion? How many of those before you in other nations have made the absolute worst decision in similar circumstances? The very fact that you made the right decision is a big mark in your favor. I take it to mean that there is something right with the gathered group," Naruto finished, expectantly eyeing his audience.
"I note that you haven't addressed the second part of my statement," the samurai pointed out, worrying his teeth.
Naruto nodded solemnly.
"You're correct. Having the country totter on the edge is no way to run it and I do not suggest that we do. The stress of leadership is bad enough without adding the threat of disaster to the mix. But imagine the benefits if we could always select the right people to lead the nation."
"I can imagine pigs can fly, Naruto, but that doesn't mean a thing in the real world until I have a pig in my hand with wings. So, answer this. How would you select the right people to lead the nation? I will note that hindsight is perfect, but we don't have the benefit of it until we've acted and seen the consequences for ourselves. I will also point out that we seem to be heading away from the topic of your address," Nara Shikaku pointed out, taking the lead once again.
For good or ill, he realized that he was now firmly in the Uzumaki's camp. He suspected that Naruto's ideas weren't his alone. The boy simply wasn't that intelligent, and it was clear that Shikamaru, Sasuke, Sakura and others must have helped him frame his thoughts into a coherent vision. In a moment of ephiphany, the Nara clan head realized the similarity between Senju Hashirama and the boy. No great thinkers, both, but charismatic visionaries who surrounded themselves with great thinkers and effective leaders. The First Hokage had reshaped the Elemental Nations. Nara Shikaku suspected that the boy would go one step further than the First.
"We're on topic, Nara-sama," Naruto responded, flashing a smile. "It was always my intent to address this group on the seals on power and selecting leaders. Going back to your question regarding the selection of leaders, I have the kernel of an idea, which I'm hoping that this group will develop into something practical.
"But before we get to that, I'll try to point out the problems with the current leadership succession processes. Our current system is one of hereditary succession at the national and clan levels. We'll ignore the issue of clan succession because that is the prerogative of the individual clan. Election of kage is slightly different in the hidden villages, where it is de facto a popularity contest among the shinobi based on their prowess and the political support of various cliques. In hereditary succession, problems arise if the current leader dies without issue, is unpopular, is weak in character, isn't a natural leader, or is an uninterested one. More often than not, clans and nations have had to settle for less than ideal candidates because the alternative is worse. That political skill and acumen, and long vision are not inherited is a driving reason behind the short-lived nature of political dynasties, though in comparison to chakra power dynasties, political dynasties are much longer lived. Whenever someone worthy of the title takes the mantle, clan and country prosper, but more often than not, the entire edifice drags along with neither guidance nor verve. Nevertheless, since the sine qua non of leaders are not clearly understood or well defined, and being helmless and lacking political continuity is worst of all possible worlds, the current system is better than nothing. And while it is far from ideal, it has the advantage of one important virtue in particular. It is practical.
"On the other side of the equation, we have the example set by the hidden villages where leaders are elected. Some would argue that this system is better than hereditary succession, but I have my doubts. The kage election process is in essence a popularity and patronage contest. It is only workable because the shinobi are an unified community that considers non-shinobi as outsiders. Imagine getting the majority of various merchant guilds, farmers, samurai clans and other factions to agree on a single candidate at the national level and the idea soon loses its luster and we begin to understand why nations chose hereditary succession. And even within the confines of the hidden villages, kage elections are risky endeavors. Konoha seems to have lucked out in this regard with a succession of strong kages, though the same cannot be said of either Sand or Mist as the examples of the Yondaime Kazekage and Mizukages and the resultant losses suffered by their villages illustrate. The likely issues are that when electing kages, their administrative ability is not taken into consideration and being modeled on the culture on strongmen, there are no checks and balances to ensure that the strongmen aren't utter nuts. In essence, while it appears better on the surface, the system followed by the hidden villages is actually worse because the risk of failure is higher and the results of such failure are much worse.
"So much for existing succession mechanisms. The need for a better leadership selection process exists because of the immense gap in resultant rewards between a mediocre or average leader and a great one. Exhibit #1 among the shinobi is Senju Hashirama and the manner he re-engineered society with his idea of hidden villages. This visionary was able to unite clans that were diverse and at odds with each other into a single political entity and in the doing, he forced the rest of the Elemental Nations to follow his template. He ended the age of endless warfare between and within shinobi and samurai, and established some semblance of peace. Imagine where we would be if we could only have a succession of leaders of his caliber, which his successor Hokages – no offense intended to their honorable names or the good they did – were not as demonstrated by the simple fact that they haven't changed the world in a similar manner. My apologies, Godaime-sama."
Hatake Kakashi smiled benignly at his cheeky student. There was scattered laughter as the rest of the junta mulled the idea.
"None taken, Naruto. To be compared with the First is honor enough and to be judged against his achievements is high honor indeed. But while your vision is grand indeed, you haven't yet addressed Shikaku's question on leadership selection. I'll grant that I think you've successfully argued the need for a better system."
There were numerous ayes and nods of assent among the members of the junta with only a few looking askance at to the wisdom of challenging convention. Clearly, there was more support for Naruto's ideas on leadership selection since he'd openly declared his support for them and was only discussing who would succeed them.
"There are many qualities that an ideal leader must have – wisdom, vision, political savvy, charisma, respect, etc. These are all rare qualities and finding them in combination is rarer still. Even worse, those who are led must believe in their leaders and that is a whole different kettle of fish. I don't think anyone's ever conducted an exhaustive study of what made historical leaders great and I'm not sure we can trust such a study because the records are certainly biased and tampered with.
"However, if we limit ourselves to merely searching for a better than existing leadership selection mechanisms and the obstacles we face aren't nearly as herculean. So, what defines our better leader? What are the qualities such a leader must possess? I have a list, though I'm neither sure of its completeness nor its correctness. It is a list, all the same, which I hope you'll all grant, is better than nothing. The qualities are: patriotism, altruism, discipline, character, ability to listen and the willingness to lead. Patriotism is self-explanatory, but the others aren't nearly so. Certainly, my list is notable in that it does not contain many of the innate qualities of the ideal leader I highlighted mere moments before. This is by design.
"I selected altruism because someone who can only think of themselves and not of everyone has no business on the throne or anywhere near it. The Daimyo of Wind and the late claimants to the Fire throne are excellent examples in this regard. Similarly, someone who favors one group over another within the nation would be a disaster in the long run as they would create factions that work against each other instead of together for a better future.
"I chose discipline because so much power is vested in a leader and they must have the self-restraint to not give into the temptation to misuse it. Consider the examples of the Yondaime Mizukage who initiated the bloodline purges because the bloodline clans opposed his plans one too many times, or of Orochimaru who had the confidence of all the senior leaders in this room and misused the power entrusted upon him against innocent and powerless civilians and clan children of Hi no Kuni.
"I chose character because honesty within members of the group – which everyone in the nation is to a leader – is paramount. How can one be expected to lead when one cannot be trusted by one's subordinates, after all? Character also includes dealing fairly with members of one's own as well as opposing factions within the overall community of citizens. Non-citizens aren't exactly fair game, but leaders don't have a duty and responsibility to be honest with them and neither does their honor hinge on it.
"I chose willingness to listen because lacking all the characteristics of the ideal leader, our candidate needs to have advisors who are skilled in those areas where they are lacking. How can someone who is unwilling to listen to others lead everyone when they demonstrate ignorance and a propensity to make enemies by turning a deaf ear to the helpful advice of others?
"Finally, I chose willingness to lead because if a person is unwilling to take the mantle of leadership, no good will come of fostering it on them."
"Why not wisdom or education?" Nara Shikaku asked to smiles from the gathered members. Those in the know knew that it was a swipe at the Hyuuga clan head and part of the informal, undeclared and continuing "war" between the two friends.
"As you'd stated earlier, Nara-sama, wisdom is only clear in hindsight and can be recognized only after the fact. Formal education is good for maintaining continuity of knowledge, but isn't even necessary for research or engineering. Experience serves just as well in both. I have little formal education in physics, but I was able to develop a practical nuclear weapon by boning up on the theory, and through perseverance and sheer bullheadedness. Orochimaru was certainly more educated and knowledgeable than everyone in this room. It did not stop him from delving the depths of human depravity. Senju Hashirama was an idiot if the classified records are to be believed. Look at what he wrought and what so many more educated and intelligent men than he did."
"But clearly, a leader needs to be a strategist," Hyuuga Hiashi stated, sounding for all the world like he truly believed his statement. He did not.
"Why, when there are advisors like our Jounin Commander who are good at thinking strategically? So long as a leader is willing to listen and has good advisors, it doesn't matter if he is lacking in one area or another," Naruto replied with a knowing smile and wink. The Hyuuga clan head was responding to his friend's challenge. The things that men in power did out of ennui…
"But who selects the advisors? A lot of good it'll do when the advisors are idiots themselves, as is largely the case today when those positions are filled by patronage," Koharu spoke, taking a sideswipe at the Godaime's advisors – her successors.
The worthies smiled benignly at the Sandaime's teammate. It was a known fact that Koharu was still angry about the way she and Homura had been pushed out of their jobs.
"Select them for merit," Naruto replied deadpan. Hopefully, the meeting wouldn't devolve into political infighting.
"You said, I quote, 'those who are led must believe in their leaders', unquote. Where does that enter in your leader selection process?" a samurai asked.
"You've jumped the gun a bit, I think because we haven't gotten to that part. But I was about to segue to it so I'll answer your question.
"The selection process I envision is also an election of sorts – a popularity contest, if you will – among a pool of candidates who have already demonstrated some of the qualities of a leader. Namely, patriotism, altruism and discipline. The candidates must volunteer themselves for the contest, which takes care of willingness to lead."
"Are you thinking of a test?" Inuzuka Tsume asked, leaning forward in her seat.
"I suppose you could call it a test, though it is like no other test you've ever heard of," Naruto spoke, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "What I have in mind is service to the nation. Not short term service, but long term, preferably a decade or so of danger, discomfort, low pay, hardship, etc. where volunteers make consistent, long term sacrifice for the good of society."
"As in infantry, cavalry, shinobi?" a samurai asked.
"Among others, yes. A doctor who spends a decade or so in a far off corner of the country helping the needy there for a little stipend and little material comfort would qualify as well. I'm sure you can think of similar cases. Those who have served their term of service honorably and to satisfaction become eligible to volunteer for the contest."
"And who will vote for them? What's to prevent those with ulterior motives from rigging the election in favor of a particular candidate? If wisdom is clear only after the act – and we're agreed it is, - by implication, all ideas are equal until put to the test in the real world whereupon those that pass are called wise. What's to prevent someone from choosing an altruistic contestant who publically favors a policy that favors their group and rig the elections to put that person in power? The end result would still be determined by groups that are out to enrich themselves, increase their powerbase, etc.," Hatake Kakashi asked.
The junta members nodded their agreement. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and just because the intent of a leader is good didn't mean that the end result is.
"First, only those who are qualified – namely, those who have provided service to the nation – will be eligible for vote."
"Why not those currently serving?" a senior samurai lord asked.
"Because then even those who joined those fields of service for other reasons will gain the ability to vote. Imagine a warrior who became a ninja or a samurai because they loved the thrill of the battle or because they loved to kill or because of the chance for loot and rapine. Or imagine a doctor who became one for money. These are precisely the people we don't want to have a say in the selection of next generation leaders. Hopefully, those who joined for ulterior motives will be pushed out by the rigors of the service or in the case of ninja, samurai or other services, die in service.
"Second, the offices up for election will not be life, though it'll be reasonably long – perhaps a decade. It must certainly be long enough to give the elected representatives time to implement their vision and for the nation to judge the results of their actions. Third, though the elected representatives can enjoy a long term, there should be a mechanism to recall them from their posts if they lose the confidence of the voters. Fourth, the election will be to elect representatives who will in turn elect one of their members as the leader of the nation."
"Sounds fine in theory, Naruto," Nara Shikaku pointed out, intentionally trying to dirty the waters. If there were opponents to the Uzumaki's plans, he wanted to spot them now so as to create strategies to counter and coopt them. "But we don't have the pool of people who will elect the representatives. In their absence, is your plan practical?"
"We have the gathered members of the junta," Naruto responded with a wide grin. Now, he knew he had them. "You'll be kernel around which the new political system grows. Add members to the junta whom you judge have demonstrated those qualities I've described. Release the seals of power to the public. Create programs so that those willing can render service to the nation. When enough time has passed and the pool is long enough, run elections."
8/18/2015: I should have waited a day before I posted the chapter. Here is, I think, a better version where everything isn't as contrived. I had one complaint that Itachi appears godlike with the ease with which he took out Obito and Nagato, but Itachi is the perfect shinobi. Everything he does, he does for a reason – even torturing Sasuke (throw off any suspicion that the village had anything to do with it, implicate himself as a madman mass murderer, and give sasuke the motivation to grow strong enough to take on Itachi and subsequently, Obito. A man who does that sort of planning while killing his family is going to take one look at the monsters of the Akatsuki and prepare plans to take them out if need be. This is how I visualize what that plan might be like. As for Naruto being a messiah, well he is the avatar of the sage's second son, isn't he? And since reincarnating Kaguya was never on the cards – I thought the whole shinobi war arc in the manga was stupid anyways with so many backstabbings that it was hard to keep track of who backstabbed whom – I had to have Naruto do something as big. When I started writing TBLP, I had an inkling of the problems with shinobi society – which the last seven years of manga helped gel into a cohesive idea – and Naruto's plans to reshape society are the result. As Senju Hashirama reinvented the world, so will Naruto.
I'm now the proud father of two absolutely beautiful and bratty daughters. That and a reader's block – I didn't know how to write Itachi dealing with the Akatsuki. I'm not still sure I did it justice. – are the only two excuses I have for one and a half year gap between the last update and this.
This chapter is not proof read and I'm not sure I got any of the scenes right. They feel contrived to me. You, the reader, are free to judge as harshly as you desire. That said, this chapter is my take on the cycle of hatred in the Narutoverse. I meant to do this from the time I started TBLP seven years back. I wanted to do it before Naruto ended, but unfortunately, that did not happen. On the other hand, I became a father for the second time. So guess things even out in the end.
The succession system that Naruto proposes should be clear to anyone who has read Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Lt. Col. Tom Kratman's Legion del Cid or Carrera series. Maybe one or two more chapters to go before the story wraps up. Hopefully, they won't be long in the coming.
My apologies to everyone whom I'd promised to red or brownshirt. It's been too long and I lost the list. Sorry.