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Soul of the Seal - (Story#) - (Arc#) - (Chapter#)
Prologue: "Basic Instructions"
At a not-so-proud time in the history of the Village Hidden in the Leaves...
The small scruffy blonde boy ran as fast as he could down a park path in the depths of his so-called 'home village'.
"No... pweeze... not a'gan... not a'gan... why? Why?" He choked raggedly, looking over his shoulder to see the angry woman chasing him with a thick branch she had picked up.
"Get back here you wretched monster! I'll crack your skull open for stealing from me!" She hissed viciously.
Steal? Ha. The four year old Naruto Uzumaki certainly didn't consider it stealing when you catch a half mangled loaf of bread out of mid air when it had been aimed at a garbage can. The bread was perfectly good, the woman simply didn't want it. Naruto had grabbed it, and unfortunately, the woman had seen him. Now she was heartlessly chasing the hungry boy, accusing him of stealing what she would never have missed.
In one of the many parks of Konoha, the two ran along the path at the edge of a moderately steep hill. It was actually no small feat that the small four-year-old could manage to keep a pace ahead of the angry adult. But then again, the boy had lots of daily practice... whether he wanted it or not. He was already developing an instinct for speed and trickery... from his own people.
The woman, loosing ground, took a frantic swing at Naruto in a last attempt to rip his head off, but he dived to avoid the hard branch, clutching his bread in his arms as he tumbled down the hill. The woman didn't see this however, being thrown off balance by her swing as she tripped and fell to her opposite side. Naruto tried to stop himself, clutching the bread with one arm while throwing out his other, along with his legs, to brace himself. But even as he nearly twisted an ankle, and a rock scraped his arm...
"Curl up and roll!" A voice urgently called.
Naruto instantly did exactly that, tucking in tight. But of course, that caused his speed to increase as he hurtled down the hill, crashed through some bushes, and slammed into a tree. Head first.
The woman managed to pick herself up and quickly looked around for the 'demon brat', but saw nothing in any direction. Grumbling, she threw away her make-shift weapon and brushed off her hands on her dress skirt. She went back to the picnic she had been trying to enjoy.
Naruto whimpered as he slowly pulled himself up. He didn't feel too bad, but blinked in confusion as he realized his bread was gone, and he was kneeling in... water? He slowly sat up, looking around at the place he did not remember being in last.
It was a huge room, somewhat dark even with some light that came from nowhere. The ceiling was plain and bare, so was the floor except for the two or so inches of water on it, water that was coming out of multitudes of cracks in the three walls that seemed to be masoned stone of relative new status, despite the obviously quick wear and tear it had been subjected to. In one wall was a opening of a hallway that went off into darkness, and Naruto could see rows of metal doors down both sides of the hall in what light there was. But opposite of the hallway, where the fourth wall should have been, was, in fact, open air. Almost.
The tall bars that made the giant gate seemed to be made of plain iron. In the middle, where the thicker sides of the two massive gates met, there was no key hole, at least not a conventional one. Rather, it had strange spiraling latch mechanism connecting the bars. Beyond the bars was only darkness.
Naruto stood up, trying to understand how he had gotten from outside, to this strange place. His heart beat faster. Maybe someone had caught him and brought him here. Maybe they wanted to lock him away forever. Maybe they were going to torture him, beating him over and over...
"No one can hurt you here. Except yourself." A somewhat loud, if soft-toned, feminine voice rang out in the room. Naruto jumped, but nowhere near as badly as one might expect a child to in such a situation as it is. That's because he knew the voice, in a way. Or at least, he had heard it before.
"Who...?" He said weakly, looking around. His attention was caught by a slight red glow that appeared from beyond the bars. He looked carefully, noticing a massive silhouetted form. Then a pair of bright eyes opened in the darkness, clearly visible and distinct. The whites pristine and clear of any blemish, while irises as red as fine polished rubies encased silted pupils. The eyes looked down at Naruto without hatred or anger.
"So. This is the time. We can finally meet face to face... after a fashion." The feminine voice, now obviously coming from the shadowed form, sighed.
"I... I hear... you... b'for..." Naruto said slowly, struggling with his words. "You... tlk... to... me... b'for."
"Yes. I've spoken to you a few times before now. We are in your mind. That is why, while you could hear me, you couldn't see me." She explained. Silence filled the room for a few moments as she realized her mistake. "I'll try to talk slower." She said as she saw Naruto trying hard to understand what she was saying. "By Arceus... Look at you. Four years old, and yet you can barely even speak." She lamented slightly. After a minute to understand her, Naruto's head drooped as his lip quivered.
"That... b'cus... no one... t-teeth?... Teeth me?" He had to ask his statement due to his uncertainty of the word.
"Teach. Because no one would teach you." She patiently corrected, noticing him mumble to himself.
"Teach. Teach. Teach." He chanted, forcing himself to absorb the proper pronunciation. He looked up at her. "Why... you... here? Why I here?" He asked, feeling calmer, but still a bit unnerved. "We... in... my... h-head?"
"Yes. We are inside you. And I am here, because I will teach you." She replied, instantly getting Naruto's full attention.
"You... teach... me?" He asked, in obvious disbelief. His face fell again just as quickly. "... Why?"
"Because I must. Because no one else will. Because you deserve better!" Her voice increased, accompanied by a massive rumbling growl that caused Naruto to yelp and jump back several feet. Seeing his reaction, she flinched back away from the bars herself. "I'm sorry... I'm not angry with you." She cast her eyes to the floor.
"I... kant... see you." Naruto said, squinting into the darkness. Almost instantly, the light around them increased, and Naruto was able to see her. Beyond the bars lay a giant of an animal with many tails slowly waving around itself. It was not quite like anything Naruto had ever seen, though he did know one thing about it. "You... You...!" He pointed as his eyes widened. The giant red-furred fox dipped her head further.
"So. You do know what I am." She muttered sadly.
"CUTE FUZZY!" Naruto screamed in delight, causing her to snap back to attention, seeing him having repositioned himself to right at the bars with a huge smile on his face.
"Uh... well... I, uh..." She spluttered, quite taken aback by his reaction. 'Then again, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Animals are the only friends he has. But still... cute?' She thought in pleased embarrassment.
"Bunny?" Naruto asked, looking at her long ears.
"No. Kitsune. Kyuubi no Kitsune." She regained her composure and carefully shifted forward, putting her face near the gate bars. Looking into his happy dirty face was enough to cause her to start purring lightly. 'For him to smile at all is a major achievement.' She thought in approval.
"Kyu-... Nnnnine... t-taaaiiiled... f-fox?" Naruto said slowly, wracking his brain for the thoughts.
"Yes. Very good. I think you'll learn plenty fast with your lessons." She nodded slowly, as to not startle him, but she noticed past him that the walls of the room had changed slightly. The water had stopped flowing from the cracks, and even a few of the cracks seemed to be slowly disappearing. Turning her focus back to Naruto, she flicked her tongue over her nose, causing him to giggle slightly. "Just listening to those around you has managed you to learn a little. The words you hear in conversation the most. Very impressive." She said. Naruto paused, tilting his head.
"Worrrds... I hear... most?" He asked, then his smile disappeared as his head dropped again. "Monster, freak, demon, wretch, thing-" He mumbled in misery.
"NO!" Kyuubi barked out, causing him to fall backwards, splashing into the water that was once again flowing out of the cracks in the walls. "Don't say those words. They're not for you." She ordered. Naruto's look of fear was brief as it was immediately replaced by confusion.
"Not... for... me?" He asked, as he hesitantly picked himself up out of the water. Kyuubi forced herself to calm down.
"I'm sorry. I guess this will take some time after all." She sighed. "But it's very important that we don't give up. It'll take a lot to get you a better life." She gazed at him in thought. "And I have one idea that will have a better chance of succeeding than most... but... It'll be very hard." She said cautiously.
"You... get me... b-b-betttter... life? How?" Naruto asked, worried at what could be harder than the life he already had.
"To get people to stop hurting you, to get them to respect who you are, rather than despise what you are... The best way to accomplish that, is for you to become a ninja." She watched him carefully as she told him. As expected, his fear burst out again.
"Ninja? No... bad... hurt..." He trembled, thinking of the terrifying people that were different than the other villagers. He couldn't escape them as easily. They always seemed to find all but his best hiding spots.
"I know, I know. Yes, they can be very scary. But that's because they're strong. If you become strong like them, they won't be as scary anymore. If you become strong, you can help yourself." Kyuubi explained, purring again to try to keep Naruto calm. "That is, unfortunately, the best way to keep yourself safe in this world. Being strong, both by yourself, and in your determination to change what others think of you."
"De-t... De-t..." Naruto frowned slightly at the unfamiliar word.
"De-ter-mi-na-tion. It means... well, it means you won't quit. You won't ever give up. But I'll explain that and other things in due time. Just know, that from now on, just as I've always been, I'll be with you. And I'll help you as best I can." Kyuubi looked past Naruto to the hallway opposite her cage, as a light began to shine from far off. "But now, you have to wake up." Naruto looked at her confused.
"Wake up? What-" He wasn't able to finish.
Naruto blinked as he slowly sat up. He looked around. He was in the bushes next to the tree he had bumped into. He looked down to see his mangled bread still tucked in his arm. His eyes and cheeks were wet, like they strangely always were whenever he awoke from sleeping. After checking to make sure the angry woman that had chased him was nowhere in sight, he scrambled away to find the closest of his hiding places.
Said hiding place actually turned out to be his recent discovery. A vacant and abandoned apartment building that, for whatever unknown reason, was seemingly ignored or forgotten by everyone else. Naruto had found one room that still had running water pipes. It had taken him a week to gather any of the usable furniture and various other objects from the rest of the building to make the one room even half comfortable, if you could call it that. Naruto went over to his 'kitchen' and set down his bread. Taking a moment to take a slightly dented metal cup from the side of the sink, he turned the water on low and spent a few minutes rinsing it out. He kept the water on low because he didn't want to risk anyone hearing the water running through the pipes.
Satisfied that the cup was clean enough, he filled it and sat down on the floor to eat his hard-earned meal. Even though it was just starting to turn stale, the bread was definitely better than most of what he usually had to pull out of dumpsters of restaurants. All too quickly it was gone, leaving Naruto to have to begin thinking where to try to find his next meal.
"I have a few suggestions." A woman's voice said. Naruto jumped five feet into the air and flipped over, landed on his back, rolled into the corner next to his bed and yanked a wooden board up to shield himself.
"NO! NO!" Naruto screamed in panic.
"Shhh, It's ok, it's just me. Remember? Big fuzzy?" Kyuubi purred softly. Naruto looked over top of the board he was holding and looked around to see no one. "I'm inside you, remember? That's why only you can hear me."
"But... it... was... d-drrream?" Naruto asked slowly to the empty room.
"No, not a dream. I'm real. I'm inside you." Kyuubi said again. Naruto slowly stood up and walked over to the small piece of mirror that was set against the wall. He looked at his reflection.
"Wha-... Where... are... you?" He asked slowly.
"Lift up your shirt. Look at your stomach." Kyuubi instructed. After a moment to understand what she meant, Naruto pulled the edge of his battered brown shirt up to his chest. A wonderful warmth suddenly filled his body, and Naruto's eyes widened as a pattern of black marks appeared that surrounded his bellybutton as well as covering a portion of his abdomen. "There, see? That's me. That's where I am. I'm real." Kyuubi clarified.
"You... that..." Naruto fell down on his butt in shock. He looked down at himself, and poked at the black marks. "How... you... get there?" He asked with wondered curiosity.
"Ah... That's probably not the best subject to discuss just yet. But I promise I will tell you eventually. But for now..." Kyuubi's voice became serious, "Lets work on getting you more to eat." She said, which definitely got Naruto's attention.
"Eat? What?" He asked eagerly.
'Well, as much as I'd like to get some real meat into him, it would be very difficult for him to get in and out of the butcher quarter, not to mention that those shops are already full of sharp knives and other things that would be a threat to him. So...' Kyuubi pondered. "Ok, head for the market. It's going to be more bread, fruit and vegetables for you."
"Veg-ies? Yuk." Naruto stuck out his tongue.
"It's either that... or nothing." Kyuubi said quietly. Naruto flinched. He looked around his empty little hideaway.
"Sooory." He mumbled as he exited the apartment.
"There's one more thing, something that's more important than anything else. You can't talk to me out loud when you're around others. If you do, and the bad people realize what you're doing, they'll kill you immediately." She warned. Naruto opened his mouth to respond, but then quickly shut it again. Feeling his worry and confusion, Kyuubi explained. "All you have to do, is think your words for me to hear. Do you understand? Think your words, like when you hear your own voice in your head."
Naruto paused. Most of what he did he did out of instinct. He only ever spent much time thinking when he was alone and temporarily safe. Taking time to think while dealing with the villagers usually caused him to get hurt all the worse. But if the fuzzy said it would keep him from being hurt more...
'Think... like... this?' He tried tentatively.
"Yes, like that. Whenever you want to talk to me while you're awake, you have to think your words. Things will become easier to understand in time." Kyuubi said as Naruto headed for the market area.
The first couple of months were spent with Kyuubi teaching Naruto two things. The first was his language skills. Including speaking, reading and writing. The first was the easiest. With Kyuubi actually talking to Naruto instead of just yelling obscenities like the villagers did, Naruto was able to pick up plenty of the normal, every day common knowledge that had been denied him. His speech became less choppy, and more certain. The reading and writing however was more difficult. Since it was next to impossible for Naruto to get his hands on any specific reading material, mostly due to the fact that he wasn't allowed into the supposedly public library, Kyuubi had to make due with whatever signs or postings were around the village. But there was actually another, more preferable means. With surprisingly little effort, Kyuubi was able to instruct Naruto how to enter the mindscape of the seal nearly at will. She, unfortunately, chalked it up to his desire to escape the pain of reality dealing with the villagers. But the result was that they could sit together, and she could teach him directly.
The second, obviously, was how to get more food of a better quality on a regular basis. She had him looking to get food before it would be missed. Like when deliveries of the wagons and carts of fruits and vegetables came around, to grab one or two things out of them before the store owners or deliverers begin counting out their orders. Despite what Kyuubi said, Naruto, like herself, obviously favored the sweet juice of fruits over vegetables, with few exceptions. Then there was when bakeries are finishing the bread, there are always those smaller ones that are separated from the rest or the ones that are either misshaped for one use or another. When Naruto seemed to get the hang of those basics enough that he was no longer constantly starving, Kyuubi tried to teach him the simplest of fishing skills. Although Naruto was a bit hesitant to harm the fish, she was determined to make sure he had at least a moderate amount of meat in his diet. Whether she was doing it out of a conscious concern for him having nutritional balance, or if she was just doing it out of a kitsune instinct to have a kit eat as it would in the wild, who could guess. Either way, getting Naruto to catch the fish wasn't too difficult, but getting him to cut it up and eat it was another matter. He simply didn't like hurting animals if he didn't have to, which was strange, considering he had a fox teaching him to eat.
It was a sunny mid morning that found Naruto at a slightly out-of-the-way stream at the edge of the village. He was waiting as he sat next to the simple net he had fashioned out of... err... well, it's not important what he made it out of. What is important is that it was strung across the stream and did a fine job of catching the fish that swam in it. Naruto had already caught four fish, but Kyuubi was urging him to catch at least two more.
'Come on, isn't four enough? I can't really eat more than that in a sitting, plus if I'm going to have them for lunch, I need to get back so I have time to... uh.. prepare, yeah, prepare them.' Naruto whined.
"But these fish are a bit on the small side. And there's plenty of time. Just two more won't be that much trouble. Now check the net, I think I noticed it jerking." Kyuubi prodded.
Naruto 'hmphed' as he got up and moved over to the edge of the water where the net was anchored. Peering into the water, he saw that there were indeed three fish that had gotten caught in the net from the flow of the stream. He grabbed the line attached to the edge of the net and began pulling, causing the far side of the net to begin curling around, trapping the fish completely as it dragged towards Naruto.
'Ok, ok, three more. That's plenty. In fact, since you said only two more, why don't I let one go?' Naruto asked hopefully.
"Naruto-kun..." Kyuubi groaned, "Please just do what I say. You don't have to catch any more, but at least try to eat the ones you already-Naruto-kun! Behind you!" She warned. Naruto whipped around to see three teenage boys walking towards him.
"Well well! What do we have here? The freak of the village playing in the mud?" The tallest (boy1) sneered.
"More like a worm crawling through the dirt!" The shortest (boy2) laughed.
"No, even dirt is too good for that pathetic abomination!" The dark shirted (boy3) spat.
'What do I do?' Naruto thought in panic. Kyuubi tensed as she saw, through Naruto's eyes, the clan symbol on the shirt of Boy3.
"Grab the fish and run for the trees!" She ordered.
Naruto lunged for the four fish he had already caught that were laid on a flat rock, trying to sweep them into his net with the others. But even as he franticly tried to gather them up, the three boys charged.
"No way freak! You're not getting away this time!" Boy3 shouted as he threw a kunai that hit into Naruto's back left shoulder. Naruto bit back a cry of pain as he still tried to pull his fish-full net with him, but Boy2 lashed out and grabbed the net to keep him from getting away.
"Hey! Check out this so-called 'net'! Not only is he a monster, he's a pervert as well!" Boy2 laughed yanking at the fishnet.
"Let go!" Naruto yelled, trying to ignore the pain of the kunai in his back as he struggled to pull his lunch away from his attackers.
"Ok then, forget the fish! Just run for it!" Kyuubi ordered. Naruto instantly released his grip to turn to run, but it was too late. His single moment of struggle gave the other two the second they needed to jump him.
Naruto immediately started thrashing around as Boy1 and Boy2 grabbed his arms, wrenching them around his back to hold him, not even bothering to take out the kunai from his shoulder. Boy3 scowled at Naruto as he picked up the fishnet.
"What's this? Am I seeing what I think I'm seeing? You wretched miserable demon actually trying to feed yourself on our fish? Stealing from the village, you pathetic piece of trash!?" He snarled as he took out a second kunai and cut up the net, dumping the fish back into the stream.
"My lunch! Stop it! Let me go!" Naruto struggled against the other two, who fought to hold him down even as Naruto grabbed desperately at their cloths, tearing the pockets of Boy2.
"Damn! This brat is stronger than he looks!" Boy1 grunted.
"IT, you idiot!" Boy3 snapped as he approached them with his kunai, "That is a THING, not a 'he'! That's why we're here, remember? It's time we dispose of this despicable monster!" He sneered. "And it'll never be a threat to the Leaf clans ever again!"
'Damn! I was right! I've got to get Naruto-kun away from that one! But I don't know if his body is grown enough to...' Kyuubi thought desperately as Naruto steeled himself against his fear. Nearly being killed on a regular basis was having a gradual numbing effect on Naruto's fear each additional time it happened. Who could guess how much longer it would be before the threat of imminent death wouldn't faze him at all.
"Time to die, freak!" Boy3 charged, aiming his kunai for Naruto's chest. Naruto shut his eyes, bracing for the terrible pain that he was all too familiar with. But it wasn't what he felt.
Naruto felt himself jerk as he suddenly found his arms free as he fell forward. He caught himself on his hands and knees, and looked up to see a taller man in black ANBU ninja gear throwing the three boys back. Boy1 and Boy2 seemed knocked out already. Boy3 gaped at the newcomer approaching him.
'Did... Did he just... save me?' Naruto wondered in shock, before coughing up a little blood.
'That would be very unlikely.' Kyuubi doubted privately.
"W-what!? What are you doing!? Why are you protecting it!? As long as it's alive, our clan is in danger! We have to kill it before-ARGHK!" Boy3 collapsed after being slammed across the face by the dark man. Now standing over the three unconscious boys, the man slowly turned to look at Naruto, who was still on his hands and knees with a kunai sticking out of his back. Naruto's eyes widened slightly as he saw the man's face.
'Oh no! Not HIM! What the hell is HE doing here!? I don't know what he's going to do to Naruto-kun, but I won't let it happen!' Kyuubi freaked with her fur fluffed out on end. "Naruto-kun, what are you waiting for!? Run for it before-" Before Kyuubi could even finish, the ANBU ninja picked up the three boys and vanished in a 'bamf' of smoke. Naruto just blinked several times, not sure what had just happened.
'K...Kyu-chan? That man... just... saved me.' Naruto thought in shock. 'No one has ever...'
"Don't read too much into it. He probably had his own reasons for doing what he did. Don't think about him anymore." Kyuubi stated bluntly. "Naru-kun, you will have to learn to tell the difference between those that will fight along side you because they truly care for you, and those who try to fight beyond you because they have no respect for you." She warned with complete seriousness. "Or worse, are only trying to manipulate you and have you do as they want, or only intend to use you for their own goals with no regard for your feelings or safety. That man clearly had a look of ill-intent to him." Naruto slowly sat back, and winced as he reached back to yank out the kunai. As usual, a heat spread through his body as the wound began healing at a supernatural rate. He looked at the blood-covered blade.
'But Kyu-chan, his eyes... His eyes looked kinda like yours. They were red, though not as pretty as yours, and... wait, there were some kind of black marks in them... Was he sick or something?' Naruto wondered.
'Sick? Now there's an interesting question.' Kyuubi mused unpleasantly, and was a bit on edge. "I don't know, and I really don't care. Just be glad he's gone. Maybe you can get back to fishing without interruption now." She said, trying to sound nonchalant. "And now you have a kunai. You'd never be able to get one from any of the village shops. And it looks like one in fairly good condition as well. Don't lose it."
'Lose it? Where am I suppose to keep it? My cloths don't have pockets, or rather, the pocket I do have will rip as soon as I put this pointy thing in it!' Naruto fumed. 'Plus there's the matter of what will happen if anyone finds out I have it!'
"Relax, you're going to be using kunai a lot in the future, now is as good a time as any to start becoming familiar with them. As for how to hang onto it, take some of the threads from the net to make a carry-band of sorts. A strap to keep it in place. And don't forget to gather all the other pieces of the net. You'll have to stitch it back together later." Kyuubi instructed.
'But, what about the fish? It's already lunch time, and I'm hungry! I won't be able to catch more fish until I fix the net, and that'll take all afternoon, at least!' Naruto complained as he began picking up the pieces of his ripped net.
"Take it easy, you can still get food at the market in the mass of the lunch rush, and there's still... Hey, what's that?" Kyuubi stopped as she noticed a small folded piece of paper on the ground out of the corner of Naruto's eye. Naruto noticed it and picked it up. Unfolding it, and turning it upside right, he slowly read what looked like a coupon.
+Ichiraku Ramen Bar+
+This coupon redeemable for a meal of two free bowls of ramen of any flavor+
+One time use only+
'Ramen? What's ramen?' Naruto asked. 'I've never heard of that kind of food before.'
"Well well! Things are looking up!" Kyuubi chirped delightedly. "This must've fallen out of the pocket of that boy's jacket you ripped. You want lunch? Well, it looks like you're going to get it!" She said, quite pleased with the turn of events. But Naruto frowned.
'How is this going to help? No store will let me in. It won't matter if I have this, nobody would let me eat at their shop.' He said with disappointment.
"Maybe, maybe not! You might just be surprised if I'm right about my hunch..." Kyuubi purred.
Despite his confusion and doubt. Naruto went along with it. Tying some threads to his new kunai, and gathering his torn net, he headed back to his 'apartment' to drop them off. After, he made his way through the village at Kyuubi's direction. After about a half-hour of searching, and another half-hour having to escape some hateful villagers, Naruto stopped on the street opposite across from a nice-looking, open front eating-stand/building-front. The cloth flaps draping from the top of the wall frame were printed with big writing, Ichiraku's. Naruto could see under the flaps that at least two people sitting on the stools. He could hear and smell the cooking going on inside.
'Are you sure about this?' Naruto asked, looking down at the coupon again.
"Hey, look at it this way, if I'm right, you get a free lunch of decent prepared food. If I'm wrong, you'll just have to run away like usual, and you can head to the market anyway. Just be careful." Kyuubi assured.
Naruto 'hmphed', and slowly made his way over to the side of the entrance. He cautiously peered under the flaps. One of the people sitting at the bar was a oldish woman in plain civilian cloths. The other, on the opposite side of her from Naruto, was an even older looking man wearing some kind of white and red robes. But with the woman in the way, Naruto couldn't see him too clearly. Behind the bar was a man in a white cooking apron and a white chefs hat on top of his head, handling a steaming pot. There was also a girl wearing a blue apron helping out, but she only looked maybe four/five or so years older than Naruto himself. Naruto stood there at the edge of the entrance, hesitating for several long moments, until the girl noticed him.
"Oh! Hello there! Welcome to Ichiraku's! Are you looking for something to eat?" She asked politely as she smiled at him. The two other customers didn't even look up at the normal event, but Naruto looked at her like she was nuts.
'Ok, she must not know who I am. But I bet once the other guy sees me, he'll throw me out.' Naruto swallowed a lump in his throat.
"You'll never get anywhere in life if you're not willing to take risks. Just show her the coupon." Kyuubi prodded, flicking her tails with slight impatience.
"Ah... I... have a... coupon..." Naruto barely mumbled as he held out the paper with a slightly wavering hand. He was tense, ready to run if need be. The brown haired girl reached over and took the paper, giving it a look-over.
"Why so you do! Aren't you lucky! Alright then, one free lunch coming up!" She smiled. "Hey papa! Got a coupon for two free bowls here!" She turned to the man, her father obviously, showing him the paper. He put the lid on the pot he had been stirring to look over at his daughter.
"How nice! And who is the lucky..." The man started to say, but paused as he looked over to see the small scruffy blond boy standing in the entrance. His face went from casual to ridged neutral as he regarded his newest customer. Naruto flinched.
'See! I knew it! He's going to kick me out! That is, if he doesn't try to kill me first!' Naruto though harshly.
"Hold on, hold on, give it a minute. He looks like he's thinking. And besides, that girl seems friendly enough." Kyuubi remarked, trying to keep Naruto from bolting, and wasting the coupon.
'Maybe, but like I said, she probably doesn't know who I am. It's the older guy I'm worried about.' Naruto shot back. While he was worrying however, the other two customers already seated had taken notice in the silent pause, and looked over to see what was happening. Naturally, when the old woman saw who was standing not even six feet from her, she reacted as predictably as Naruto would ever expect.
"Ahh! Get out of here you monster! Get out or I'll smash your skull in!" She screamed as she raised a handbag she had with her, intending to whack Naruto senseless. The chef and his daughter, well, the daughter anyway, looked quite surprised at the woman's reaction. But before the old woman could carry out her threat, and before Naruto had even managed to turn to run, the woman's hand was stopped by the hand of the old man behind her.
"What do you think you're doing, threatening a child!?" The old man demanded harshly. The other four present looked at him, three with shocked surprise, but Naruto just gaped with rising panic.
"B-but, H-Hokage-sama!" The old woman gasped in fear.
"I can't believe anyone would do something so irresponsible, and in my presence no less!" The man, the Hokage, Sarutobi, scolded.
"B-b-but I... That's the..." The woman stammered.
'Hey, what's the deal with that guy? What's he doing?' Naruto wondered as he considered his exit direction.
'Hmmm. This is interesting.' Kyuubi thought as she pondered the unraveling event. As thoughts were thought by the others, Sarutobi released the woman.
"Perhaps, if you're done your meal," He gestured to the woman's empty bowl, "You should be on your way now." He spoke in a calm voice, but there was no mistake at the insistence of his tone. The woman glanced around, and deciding that simply getting away was preferable, agreed. Without even a word, she paid for her meal and rushed out.
"Um, Sarutobi?" The chef asked slowly.
"Ah! Don't worry Teuchi! She must have had indigestion or something! Getting old isn't exactly a picnic!" Sarutobi laughed, causing the chef, Teuchi, to chuckle a little, since, though he clearly wasn't as old as Sarutobi, he wasn't exactly a spring chicken either.
"Ah, of course! Well then, Ayame-chan, this boy has two free bowls of ramen coming to him doesn't he?" Teuchi waved, taking the coupon from her, pocketing it, and returned to the pot he was working with.
"Right! So what'll you have kid?" The girl, Ayame, turned back to Naruto, smiling again, but her mouth twitched slightly as she took a better look at him. His cloths were barely more than dirty rags, his hair, mostly blond, was raggedly unkempt, and was more than a little dirty himself. She was shocked that any child in Konoha would seem so un-cared for. And he wasn't moving. "Huh? Hey, are you listening?" She asked.
"Yes, yes! Have a seat and eat up!" Sarutobi laughed as he sat down again to his own bowl of ramen.
Naruto slowly climbed on the far end seat at the bar, away from the others. He looked around, as if not sure what to do next.
"So, what flavor ramen do you want?" Ayame asked cheerfully.
"Um... Actually..." Naruto scratched the back of his head nervously, "I've never had ramen before... I don't know anything about flavors..." He admitted in an embarrassed mumble. "Just as long as it has at least a little meat in it."
"Whoa... Never had ramen before?" Ayame nearly gasped. "Well then, if it's a bit of meat you want, I'd recommend the miso with chicken or pork to begin with." She offered. Naruto slowly nodded.
"Ok." He said. 'Well, let's see if this really is any good.' He gulped.
"Relax, it'll be fine." Kyuubi snickered.
Naruto sat silently as Teuchi and Ayame worked over the stoves and the pots of boiling noodles and broth. Naruto kept glancing around to keep watch, but no one else entered the eating stand, and Sarutobi was calmly eating his own meal, seemingly ignoring Naruto. After a minute, Ayame set a steaming bowl down in front of Naruto, who looked at it skeptically. Pulling the bowl to himself, he started to reach into-
"Hey, what're you doing? You can't eat ramen with your hands!" Ayame blurted in shock. "Use the chopsticks!" She pointed to the small pot filled with said utensils. Naruto tilted his head quizzically.
"Chopsticks? What are chopsticks?" He asked in confusion. Ayame's and Teuchi's eyes nearly bugged out at the question, and Sarutobi gave an unnoticed glance at Naruto.
"Uh, well... Ok, look, I'll show you." Ayame shook her head in disbelief.
After a minute of getting a crash course in basic chopstick use, Naruto slowly brought a knot of slightly cooled noodles up to his mouth. Taking a bite, he chewed slowly... and his eyes widened.
'W-whoa... Wow! This is... delicious! This is great! This is REALLY GREAT!' Naruto could hardly believe it. He had never tasted anything like it. In moments he was chomping through the noodles and chicken rapidly.
"Ha. Told you." Kyuubi preened. Sarutobi seemed to relax as Naruto gobbled down his first bowl, and immediately started on the second as soon as Ayame set it in front of him. But the moment of relaxation in the normalcy didn't last. After the contents of the second bowl vanished into Naruto's mouth...
"Another please!" He held up his empty bowl with a huge smile.
"Uh, Naruto-kun, you forget that the-" Kyuubi tried to warn him, a fraction too late.
"Sorry kid, the coupon was only for two bowls. If you want more, you'll have to pay like everyone else." Teuchi stated in a nonchalant tone, not even bothering to look up from the pot he was stirring.
Naruto's face instantly shifted to one of shock. He dropped the bowl and turned to bolt, afraid that he had made a mistake, somehow having done something wrong, and that he was in trouble. But he hadn't even gotten two steps, not even passed the drapes of the store front, when he was stopped by Sarutobi putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Now now, there's no reason to get all upset." He smiled at a confused and scared Naruto. "You just got caught up in the moment, and I don't blame you! Teuchi here makes the best ramen I've ever tasted." He gave Teuchi a look, and the chef gave a tiny nod. "Tell you what, how about this once, I'll pay for your meal. Go ahead and eat up. I'm sure Teuchi won't mind." The old man guided Naruto back to the seat. Naruto was looking back and forth between the two men.
'Kyu-chan...' Naruto begged fearfully.
"It's ok. These men don't seem to want to hurt you." Kyuubi said calmly, trying to ease his paranoia.
'But you said-' Naruto tried to argue.
"Naru-kun, this man in the white and red robes is the Hokage. The leader of the whole village. He is the strongest and most respected shinobi in the village." Kyuubi said earnestly. "He decides what is, or isn't, in this village. If he thought you were evil because of me, we wouldn't be alive now. He would've had you killed right after you were born. The fact that he didn't, proves that he doesn't hate you." She explained. Naruto thought about her statement, trying to understand the reasoning.
'He... doesn't hate me? Or you?' He asked, just double-checking.
"No, he doesn't hate you. Though, I couldn't guess how he feels about me... Just go ahead and accept his offer, since you probably won't get another for who knows how long. Eat up, then go back to the apartment. It'll take you the rest of the day to fix the net." Kyuubi instructed.
"O-k..." Naruto said, both to Kyuubi, and the two men that had been waiting for his answer.
"That's swell then!" Sarutobi smiled, giving Naruto a pat on the back, but noticed as Naruto flinched slightly.
So the two of them sat down again to continue eating, Sarutobi still on his first bowl (that was getting cold by then), and Ayame handed a new bowl to Naruto. Then another... and another... The three people could only gape as Naruto polished off (as in, licked completely clean) eight more bowls of ramen before stopping.
"Ooohhh, I feel funny..." Naruto groaned, holding his stomach.
"Good heavens, I don't doubt it. I've never seen anyone that wasn't an Akimichi eat ten bowls before." Teuchi gaped. "You didn't have to force yourself, it's not healthy. You should have just stopped when you were full."
"What do you mean?" Naruto asked, as a sweat-dropped Sarutobi pulled out his wallet to pay for the huge meal.
"What do you mean, what do I mean? When you're full, you stop eating. Eating too much is bad for you." Teuchi said, slightly confused.
"I don't understand. How can someone eat too much? I have to spend all my time just trying to get enough food so I can sleep at night without my stomach waking me up. But then again, I've never been able to eat this much all at once before. It's just weird I guess." Naruto shrugged. "Well, thanks... I think." He hopped off the stool, not noticing the once again shocked looks on the faces of the others.
"You're welcome." Sarutobi said, crying over his empty wallet for a moment before turning to Naruto as he cleared his throat. "Well then, you can go then. Although next time, you should wash before eating. Make sure to have the matrons give you a thorough bath when you get back." He said, pulling out a pipe and lighting it.
"Mat-rons? Back where?" Naruto asked, confused.
'Uh oh.' Kyuubi thought warily. Sarutobi raised an eyebrow at Naruto.
"The matrons, when you get back to the orphanage." Sarutobi clarified, taking a puff on his pipe, but frowned as Naruto cringed.
"Go ahead. Tell him." Kyuubi sighed. Naruto looked up at Sarutobi.
"I... I don't live at the orphanage. They kicked me out as soon as I learned to walk." Naruto mumbled, then ran off down the street.
Sarutobi looked at his hand, holding one half of his pipe, as the other half had snapped in his mouth when his jaw had clenched. Forcing himself not to react outwardly, lest he ruin his dignified image, he tapped out the bowl of the pipe and put the pieces in his pocket.
"That blood stain on his back was fresh. This morning, in fact." Sarutobi said to thin air. A darkly dressed ANBU man stepped out of the shadows from beside Ichiraku's.
"Yes. The three responsible were dealt with." He bowed his head in respect. Sarutobi had to lock his hands behind his back to avoid rubbing his temples to alleviate his headache.
"Should I even bother asking if any or all of them were of your clan?" The elder shinobi muttered quietly.
"One of them. The instigator." The ANBU answered without emotion. Sarutobi began walking down the street towards the Hokage tower, the ANBU falling in step behind.
"Is what he said true? He was thrown out of the orphanage?" Sarutobi asked with a much more grim voice.
"It would seem so. In the time since I began watching him, he has not returned there. He has taken to staying in a room in the abandoned apartment building, several streets over." The ANBU confirmed.
"And why wasn't this brought to my attention?" The Hokage strained not to shout his outrage.
"I have seen him display surprisingly great capability to care for himself. And since he has created a shelter for himself that no one else seems aware of at the moment, it did not seem necessary." The ANBU responded.
"That is not your decision to make!" Sarutobi snapped harshly, but the ANBU showed no sign of reaction. "I will deal with the matrons of the orphanage, and I'll want to inspect the place that Naruto has chosen for himself, while he is out, obviously. He seems to be having enough trouble trusting people, to have him catch someone snooping in his new home." Sarutobi paused in his stride to look at his subordinate. "And as for the attack against him... I must say I can't help but find it strange, your attitude, or lack thereof, about this matter. From what reports I've received, it appears that nearly all of the most serious attacks against him have been committed by, or instigated by, members of your clan. And yet you volunteered for duty in watching over him." The Hokage regarded the highly skilled ninja standing before him. "Perhaps you could enlighten me as to why, when virtually the entirety of your clan seems to want Naruto dead, you would take the duty of protecting him, even if it means jeopardizing the lives of your own clan members. Well, Itachi?" Sarutobi asked, though he suspected he wouldn't get a very detailed answer, and he was right.
"Naruto must be protected from death. I am skilled enough to do so, and I am one of the only ones willing to do so. That is all." Itachi Uchiha replied with complete seriousness. After a moment that made it clear he had nothing further to add to his statement, Sarutobi sighed.
"Very well then. Keep watch over Naruto, and sometime in the next few days, when I get the chance, you will show me his 'apartment'. Dismissed." The Hokage didn't even bother to watch Itachi vanish as he resumed his walk back to the office. It had only been his lunch break after all. 'But don't think I didn't catch that slip, Itachi. You said, protect Naruto from death, not protect him from harm. Hmmm. I don't know what is going through the minds of the Uchiha clan, but don't think you'll be able to escape my scrutiny forever...' He pondered to himself.
After his strange lunch encounter, Naruto had indeed returned to his 'apartment', and worked through the afternoon repairing his fishing net. Sitting on the tattered matting that served as a bed, he meticulously arranged the pieces of the netting, and was tying the parts back together with knots hopefully strong enough to hold the next time a fish would be thrashing against it. Naruto was going over the lunch events in his head, especially about what Kyuubi had said about the old man. The Hokage.
'The strongest and most respected ninja in the village...' He pondered. 'No one would ever try to hurt him, would they?' He asked curiously.
"No, they wouldn't. And even someone who would be a big enough idiot to try would have to go through most of the rest of the ninja in the village to get to him." Kyuubi yawned. It was weird, the first time Naruto had ever had a truly full stomach, and she was the one feeling sleepy.
'So... does that mean... if I were Hokage, I'd finally be safe? No one would try to hurt me anymore?' Naruto asked hopefully. All of a sudden, Kyuubi didn't feel so sleepy anymore.
"Wh-what?" She gasped. "Well, I suppose, in a way, technically, but Naruto-kun you-"
'All right then! Then I'll have to become Hokage!' Naruto smiled.
"Naru-kun, listen to me! It's not that simple!" Kyuubi stated urgently. "Not only would it be extremely difficult to become Hokage, even if doing so meant that the villagers would have finally come to acknowledge you as a real person, there would be others, others that exist outside the village, that would still want you dead for any number of reasons." She tried to make her words sink in.
'Well, ok, I think I can understand that. But still, you've been saying all along that to be able to protect myself and be accepted in the world, I'm going to become a ninja. Well, as long as I'm going to be a ninja, I may as well be the very best ninja of all!' Naruto attacked the net with renewed vigor. Kyuubi remained silent for several minutes before responding.
"I've also been saying that it will be hard to become, and be, a ninja. You'll be putting yourself into as much danger as you'll be trying to escape." Kyuubi said slowly, testing.
'Yeah, but at least I'll know for sure I'll be in danger, rather than always being afraid because I don't know when the villagers will try to hurt me. In a sense, it will be a life... of my own choice. Even if it doesn't seem different... It will be all different... to me. Because it won't be my home that's trying to kill me anymore.' Naruto had slowed in his chore, until he sat utterly still and silent in his little self-made haven. Kyuubi slowly curled up in the cage, wrapping her tails around herself.
"Becoming Hokage will be much harder than just being a ninja. You'll have to work harder and train harder than anyone else. And you'll have to be willing to protect the villagers... the same people that want you dead now." Kyuubi said softly. Naruto chuckled.
'Hey, they're just angry. Everyone gets angry. I can't blame them for that. If it means I'll have to work a little harder at the academy, it's no big deal.' He responded, resuming his net repair.
"No Naru-kun, you don't understand. It is a big deal. Planning for you to be a ninja was one thing, as I was expecting to help you through the academy once you got a little older. But if you want to become Hokage... I'll have to start your training myself, and you'll have to start sooner. Much sooner." Kyuubi said innocently. Far too innocently.
'Sooner? How much sooner?' Naruto asked warily.
"Sooner as in... tomorrow." She said, examining her claws. Naruto paused, blinking several times.
'Wha-... Wha-... WHAAAAAAAAAT!?' The poor blonde drop-jawed at the news.
"Sorry. But that's how it is." Kyuubi said while wondering if it was possible to tickle him by wiggling her tails against the cage walls. "Now, I want to make something very clear. I-AM-NOT-A-NINJA. I can't teach you the things you'll learn in the academy." She said slowly and clearly, making sure Naruto was listening and paying attention. "I can't teach you jutsu or shinobi politics. I never bothered learning the specific ways of the shinobi in my life."
'What? Why not?' Naruto asked curiously as he resumed working on his net. Kyuubi let out a very amused giggle.
"Believe me, if you could see what I'm capable of at my full power, you'd realize that me learning ninja stuff, is like having a shark learn to use a knife and fork. Utterly pointless. My magic is more than enough to handle anything my raw power can't." She paused, a momentary dreamy tone having entered her voice as she recalled several spectacular moments in her life...
'Magic? What's that?' Naruto asked as he tried to pull his finger out of a knot that had snared him.
"What? Oh, never mind. Nothing you need to worry about. Sheesh, I don't even think there's been a genuine human sorcerer in over nineteen hundred-" Kyuubi's train of thought was interrupted by a slightly annoyed Naruto.
'Well, if you can't teach me ninja stuff, what the heck are you going to be teaching me?' He wondered in slight frustration.
"Ah, I only said I can't teach you jutsu or politics. Those are specific to each ninja village. All I can do for you in that area, is to learn as you do in the academy, and help you develop those skills as you go along. With both of our minds working on them, and my much greater experience in studying such matters and explaining them to you, you should be able to advance much quicker than others." Kyuubi explained patiently.
'Swell. But what are you going to teach me?' Naruto asked, pulling the next segment of net to him to attach.
"The most basic of skills. Physical training, mental training, weapon training, though it will be difficult without proper equipment, and most importantly of all, chakra training." She stated proudly.
'Chatora? What's chatora?' The blond frowned a bit at the descriptions his occupant was listing.
"No no! CHAKRA! CHAK-RA!" Kyuubi shrieked while at the same time giving a horrible shudder that sent a wave of nausea through Naruto. "Please, PLEASE, don't ever use the term... chatora... again!" She whined while covering her head with her paws.
'Ok! Ok! I'm sorry!' Naruto cringed, holding his stomach. After a minute for the two of them to regain their composure, Kyuubi tried again to explain.
"Chakra is the energy in a living being, alongside of the actual life-force. Chakra is the energy used for all human ninja skills. And chakra is one thing I know very, VERY well. I figure if I can get a couple of years of training into you before you start at the academy, it should make things considerably better for you. Especially since you have the potential to have more chakra than any human I've met in a long, long time." She purred in approval.
'Ok, so what kind of training will it be? I mean, what am I going to be doing exactly?' Naruto started on the last piece of net he had to fix.
"Basically, I'll show you how to make yourself stronger, faster, and more agile. I'll help you learn how to think in ways to make the best use of the ninja skills you'll be learning later, as well as how to be able to identify your opponents styles and potential weaknesses." Kyuubi said with all seriousness. "And for the chakra training, I'll teach you how to control it, exercise it, focus it, increase it... as well as a little trick that will prove quite useful, as well as being surprising to your opponents." She snickered mischievously. "You'll be surprised to learn just how much you can do with nothing but pure chakra."
'Right. So what am I going to be doing exactly?' Naruto said blankly. Kyuubi face-faulted.
"Maybe we should just leave this until tomorrow. It's easier for you to try it yourself." She curled up again. "But you'll have to do what I tell you to, when I tell you to. If you don't, it will all just be a waste of time."
'Ok, I promise.' Naruto finally put the finished net aside. Looking out the half-boarded-up window, he saw that it was already dark. Definitely not the time for him to be wandering around the hostile village. He pulled his blanket, which was one of the more intact possessions he had, up around himself. The two settled down to sleep, despite the risks. After a few minutes, it seemed as if they had fallen asleep, except...
"Look Naru-kun, you'll have more trouble getting to sleep if you leave that thought unfinished. What is it?" Kyuubi mumbled.
'Kyu-chan... What's a per-vert?' Naruto asked.
"What the heck!? Where did that come from!?" Kyuubi demanded, shaking her head after she had slammed it into the top of the cage by accident in her surprise. At her sudden outburst, Naruto hesitated, not liking to upset her.
'Well... those boys that attacked me today... when they wrecked my net, they said something about it meaning I'm a per-vert. What does that mean?' He asked slowly. Kyuubi buried her nose under her tails as her ears flattened back on her head.
'Of all the things I DON'T want him to become... So help me Arceus, if you've stuck me in a pervert for the rest of my life...' Kyuubi thought as she resigned herself to explaining one of the things she hated most in the world. And she would later realize that explaining things to him when he was as young as he was, had ensured he would never become a pervert after all, and in fact, would cause him to come to dislike perverts himself, if for no other reason than because she didn't like them.
After the near-miss of pervertedism, Kyuubi took to the difficult task of instructing Naruto in basic training. She directed him to areas of the village that were as out-of-the-way as she could find, and set him about the mission of self-improvement.
Despite knowing how unfairly harsh it was on him, she decided that it was best to train him in the same manner as she deduced ninja life and battle would be. That is, she put him to doing multiple tasks at once. Or at least two at any given time, since whatever he would do with his body, she could still occupy his mind with instruction or questions.
Physical training was very time consuming, as it constituted the bulk of his day. While his other lessons could be done practically anytime, Kyuubi wanted Naruto to go out everywhere around the village for the physical training, in order to get him used to dealing with various terrain and surroundings. She thought it was rather detrimental to confine his work-outs to repetition in a limited space. After all, there was only so much one can do in an old apartment building. As it was, much of what Naruto did was done with rocks and wood logs of all shapes and sizes. Kyuubi had him doing whatever types of exercises she could think of, and that is saying a lot. Even certain things she had learned in distant lands were tried. Though, Naruto was only able to understand her descriptions of some of them. Ultimately, Kyuubi did have to keep things more along the lines of local lands styles and the most basics, despite Naruto's interest in a few xiao-lin exercises... Anyway, everything from trying to lap the great wall of the village, to hand-stand push-ups, to somersaulting across the stones of streams without getting wet at all. Rock juggling, boulder pushing, log rolling and leaf gathering (how many leaves he can gather in a time without them blowing away). Even conditioning Naruto's body to endure further discomfort was considered. Having Naruto punching and kicking trees, and boulders, until he could do so as much as he could and as hard as he dared without even flinching.
Weapon training was, as expected, a bit tricky. With only a single kunai to start with, Kyuubi had to have Naruto make many improvised 'weapons' for him to work with. From carving replica kunai and approximate shuriken out of wood, to grinding down small rocks, to finding pieces of scrap wood and even lucky enough to find a small number of metal pipes and poles to work with. Of course he had to hide his stashes of 'equipment' to keep people from finding out what he was doing, and if they were to rob him of his tools, it would mean wasted time replacing them. Naruto had to do everything from basic target practice, to repetitive target accuracy strikes, to kunai juggling (the wood ones painted in white/red), to using the metal pole as a bo-staff, or the shorter metal pipe as a stand-in weighted non-blade. She had him practice the motions of each weapon type until he began to develop his own familiar rhythm with each that he felt comfortable with. Regardless of whatever progress he made with the 'equipment' he had, Kyuubi knew that it wasn't as good as using the real thing, and had confidence that once he acquired access to said proper ninja gear, he would excel just fine.
Mental training was the easiest to execute, since Kyuubi could work on his mind 24/7, regardless of whatever else he was doing. She would later learn that this didn't always apply to when he was eating ramen. She told him about her travels, and what things she had learned in the lands that had become the shinobi nations that she thought would be relevant to him. She quizzed him on everything she told him. She constantly tested his observational capabilities, having him look in a direction, and getting him to explain everything he sees, compared to what she sees through his eyes. Her reasoning being, if she can see it through his eyes, he should be able to as well. She would exercise his memory, often at the end of the day, she would ask him about something specific that happened, or something he should have noticed. Although she had no experience as a ninja specifically, she had more than enough memories of battles to create scenarios that she would test him on, having him think through the options and decide, not what was best, but merely to understand what the outcome of each possible choice would be. And the most important part of his training, it was kind of a special treat for Kyuubi to tell Naruto about things beyond the human world, about the various demons and creatures that existed, and the ways they lived, and the most important fact of all, how demons traveled to and from the human world in the disguise of 'summon contracts'. Of course, she made sure to tell him all about the kitsune clan. Not that she was biased or anything...
Chakra training was the most important and pressed upon activity. Although some may think improving the mind would be top priority, Kyuubi's reasoning was, what's the point of having Naruto understand life, if he isn't strong enough to survive it? As soon as Naruto had learned how to access his chakra, Kyuubi had him keep at least one part of his mind on it at ALL times. He had to be aware of his own flow of chakra, how it reacted to any situation. How it flowed when he was calm, how it flowed when he was excited, how it flowed when he was scared. She had him constantly 'flexing' his chakra, building up the pressure of energy in his system, then allowing it to relax. She taught him how to allow more chakra to flow in one part of his body while keeping the rest of his body the same, and even to have different levels of chakra in each part of his body and maintain control over each to keep them steady. She even began to allow very tiny amounts of her own chakra to flow into him, and had him learn to be aware of its presence within his own chakra. With it, she taught him to be able to either utilize their combined chakra as his own as a magnified power, or he could direct her chakra separately, as in the case whenever he was injured and he would direct her chakra to the wound to exponentially accelerate the healing. That is to say, while just the presence of her chakra in his body accelerated his normal healing, when he would focus her chakra on a specific wound, it would heal even faster still. And then there was that one certain technique of chakra control that Kyuubi knew would become one of Naruto's most important skills. But it was a skill she insisted he keep secret as long as possible, as it would serve to be a surprise to opponents who would not expect such a thing from him.
For the overall progress of his training in chakra control, Kyuubi explained to Naruto that there was a method, or series of stages that would help to show his level of control. They were: wall walking, water walking, point balancing, flow splitting, immolation aversion, and 'cold' chakra exertion. She explained that if he could even reach the last stage, he would have little to worry about in his life at that point. The stages helped to train the control of chakra not only inside his body, but outside it as well. And controlling chakra outside the body was much harder. The further from the body, and depending on what the chakra tries to move through, the harder still. There was another benefit from the first two stages that would come to help Naruto. Most villagers couldn't walk up walls. Or run across rivers. By learning how to do this, and he practiced constantly, he found himself safer from them for longer periods of time.
A point needs to be made clear. Even as Naruto was going through all this, he still had to find his own food, and the villagers never let up on their abuse of him when presented the opportunity. They never had any idea what he was doing, and they never cared. As the weeks stretched into months, and eventually into years, even as Naruto became more and more enthusiastic with the progress he believed he was making, the village stayed as cold to him as ever. Some even found his growing hyperactivity and cheerful attitude offensive. They believed a 'monster' like him didn't deserve to be happy. And speaking of who was happy and who wasn't, as Naruto made progress in his training, Kyuubi expected him to start fighting back against the beatings he would still receive from time to time. But he didn't. No matter what happened, no matter what the damnable people did to him, he wouldn't fight back at all. All he would do was run, if he could. It infuriated and confused Kyuubi to no end. For even though she could hear his every thought, see his every memory, and even witness his imagination at work, his reason for refusing to fight was so ludicrously simple. They were his people, and he wouldn't hurt them. Even when she tried to convince him that those that hurt him couldn't possibly be 'his people', he merely responded that if he hurt them back, he would be no better than them. He really would be a monster just as they said. And he didn't want to become something like that.
So, as much as it sickened her to do so, all Kyuubi could do was turn his beatings into another means of training. She couldn't stop the beatings, but she wasn't going to let them be meaningless. She began to judge how fast he could recover. How well he could direct his own healing. How much punishment it would take before he went down. When she explained this to him, she said it was every bit as important in battle to last as long as possible as it was to be able to match your opponent. If your opponent initially has the upper hand, the longer the battle lasts, the more time you have to discover their weaknesses, or at the very least, have more opportunity to escape.
In all the training that Kyuubi had Naruto doing, there was only one tiny flaw. Ever since that first real lunch he had, Naruto was constantly trying to find ways to get some more Ichiraku ramen. He kept trying to offer help to Teuchi and Ayame in exchange for meals, since he had neither the money nor the means to earn any. At first, they were willing to go along with it as long as he kept his consumption to a minimum. But soon, as word somehow spread around the village that the two ramen chefs were helping 'the demon', their business dropped off to nearly nothing. Naruto only became aware of this one day when he showed up to help, only to have Teuchi scream at him for 'ruining their livelihood'. Needless to say, a very dejected Naruto immediately ceased his visits. It wasn't until about three weeks later when their business had resumed, that a guilty Teuchi (being insistently prodded by a very cross Ayame) managed to find Naruto and apologize. But he still insisted that Naruto at least try to earn some money to pay for his own ramen. Despite his joy at not being banned from Ichiraku's, Naruto was still a bit miffed at Teuchi's request. It wasn't as if he had any way to do anything about it. Or so he thought...
At one point, just a couple months into his training, Naruto came back to his 'apartment' to find it considerably cleaned up. It had been dusted and washed, and what few belongings he had were carefully set neatly around in the room. And what's more, sitting next to his bed was a box that had cloths in it. Real cloths. About six or so change sets. And on top of the box was a small pouch with a note attached. The note had a brief explanation on how to keep the cloths washed, and said that the pouch, the money pouch, was for him, and he would find another pouch in his room at the beginning of every other week from then on. The note was signed by the Hokage. Before he could rush to Ichiraku's, he received several DAYS worth of harsh lecturing from Kyuubi about how to manage his money, despite her own happiness that things were slowly getting better for him, thanks mainly to 'Old-Man-Hokage', as she and Naruto took to calling him whenever they saw him. And as for when Naruto would need to buy something, he found it much easier to just give the money to Teuchi or Ayame and have them buy it for him. Though, the only things he seemed to really need was cloths washing soap, and a few sewing supplies in case his new cloths got ripped, which was still fairly often. Most of the money, Naruto was able to save for ramen, and even that wasn't all that much, since he was still able to continue to get food by his usual means. So, in fact, over time, he began building up quite an amazing amount of savings. Not that Naruto ever realized just how much money he actually had. He didn't really keep track. He only took out the little bits he would need, and the rest was carefully hidden away in several secret spots in his apartment building. And since he could pay for his own ramen, Teuchi and Ayame were perfectly happy to have him eat at their shop whenever he wanted, regardless of what anyone else said.
And so the weeks and months passed. Naruto worked hard every single day. He didn't stop even during the worst weather. He didn't stop even during those times that the students at the ninja academy were on break. He didn't stop even when it was between class years at the academy. He worked all day, every day, even when others didn't. He had to. Because there wasn't anything else for him to do. Naruto became quite accustomed to his routine. The only variation was the occasions of especially violent attacks against him, only by ninja at this point since ordinary villagers couldn't keep up with him, and he would be saved, always by the same darkly dressed ANBU. But he was never able to thank him or even ask him questions, for two reasons. First, the ANBU never stayed around long enough. Second, Kyuubi was adamant that Naruto have nothing to do with him. This really confused Naruto, since she refused to ever give a reasonable explanation why. Even at one point, when Naruto decided he wanted to find out who the ANBU was, Kyuubi changed his mind after she kept him awake for a week straight by constantly howling in his mind. It was basically the only thing they ever argued about during that time.
The routine continued for upward of nearly three years. In all honesty, Kyuubi didn't really know how long to have Naruto train before having him enter the academy. She could only make estimated guesses on what information she could gather about other kids Naruto's age, and based on what Naruto would see whenever he would pass by to sneak a look into the academy grounds, or even to try to watch classes through a window. But she did know that Naruto made great progress in the time he trained, no matter who's method of evaluation you used. So, in the middle of June, she was delighted to finally tell a seven-and-a-half-year-old Naruto that it was time for him to enter the ninja academy.
Obviously, this was easier said than done. He tried the direct approach, simply going into the academy and trying to apply at the front office, and was promptly kicked out. He tried sneaking into the building and just sitting in on classes like he belonged there, trying to blend into the rest of the students, but was again immediately kicked out the first time he tried to answer a question, and the teacher recognized him. Needless to say, Naruto was quickly growing frustrated. But Kyuubi was able to offer a simple option. She told him to see the Hokage, and ask him for help getting into the academy. But again, this would prove easier said than done...
"Dang it all! I told you, I need to see Old-Man-Hokage!" Naruto shouted, having been arguing with a ninja guard just outside the main entrance of the Hokage tower for over ten minutes. "I'll even make an appointment if I have to! Just let me inside!" He was jumping up and down, but the ninja just scowled at him with his arms crossed.
"Hokage-sama is too busy to waste his time with you. Get lost you little monster, and stay lost while you're at it!" The guard snapped viciously.
"Oh come on! I only need five stinking minutes! Anyone can spare five minutes in their day!" Naruto snapped back. The guard pulled a pair of kunai from his vest.
"I said beat it freak! It'd be too much hassle to mop up your blood, but don't think I won't!" The guard pointed his weapons at the kid in front of him. Truth is, he would have already if they weren't standing out in the open. With the law and all, the chances of him getting caught were far too high for the guard's taste. But there would always be later...
"Yeah!? I'd like to see you try you-" Naruto started to say, but jerked short from a twinge in his stomach.
"Stop Naru-kun. You're just wasting your breath with this idiot." Kyuubi said with a slight growl, unhappy with events herself.
'But this is the second day in a row I've been stonewalled by a guard! How am I supposed to get into the academy if I can't even get in to talk to the old man!?' Naruto fumed while still glaring at the guard.
"Relax, you'll get our chance to talk to him sooner or later. If nothing else, you can go and wait for him at Ichiraku's. He'll show up there eventually. After all, he can't sit up there in his office 24/7." She said, but noted his train of thought at her words.
"Idiot." Naruto grumphed at the guard before turning and walking away. After he had gone out of sight of the guard, he quickly circled around to one side of the tower. Standing looking up at the structure, he smirked. 'His office up there, huh? Well, doors aren't the only ways into a building.' He mused as he focused his chakra into his hands and feet, and with a running leap, scaled up the vertical walls with ease.
Sarutobi was sitting in his chair in his office, and he was having one of those days. He was pestered and bothered at every turn by endless clerks and massagers. He reviewed mission requests and mission reviews and mission reports. He faced a never-ending flow of paper work. Yep, it was one of those days. That is, a normal day for the Hokage. But thankfully, he had the help of his 'special assistance team'. There were more times than he would care for that his 'team' was the only way he managed to get through his days with his sanity intact. Truth was, it was the single best means for a Hokage to get their work done and still have time for themselves.
'There are many in the village who actually think it is fairly easy being Hokage.' Sarutobi though to himself as he leisurely puffed on his pipe. 'Though I suppose I can't blame them. After all, I certainly do make it look easy.' He smirked. 'Keeping such a dignified image is quite deceiving, and difficult in itself however.' He pondered.
'But it's very important to keep the image for the people. They must always feel that they can trust the Hokage. It would be a total disaster if a Hokage and the people of the village were to ever become enemies.' Sarutobi frowned as he leaned back in his chair, taking another long puff. 'Even mistrust of too great a magnitude, to much suspicion, would be devastating.'
Tap Tap Tap
'Yes indeed. It is most important for a Hokage to always put forth an air of confidence and stability.' Sarutobi nodded to himself, puffing contentedly. His new pipe really was of splendid craftsmanship. 'I certainly hope the next Hokage after me will be as patient and calm as I've been.' He daydreamed slightly of the future Hokage.
Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap
'I don't know if I'll live long enough to see little Konohamaru grow enough to become Hokage. It would certainly be nice if I could, but it's likely I'll have to name a successor in-between myself and him, if he is to be Hokage that is.' Sarutobi pondered the future life of his grandson. 'I'll have to be sure to pick someone just right. Someone who understands the ways and people of the village, also-'
'That stupid bird! Doesn't it have anything better to do today than to ruin my peace and quiet!? I'm going to pluck it's feathers!' Sarutobi stood up sharply from his chair. He puffed furiously on his pipe as he angrily turned around to the window-
Sarutobi didn't even pay any attention to the pieces of his now-broken pipe as they fell to the floor. He was too preoccupied staring gape-mouthed at the blond boy that was looking in from outside the window.
"NARUTO!" He cried in shock as he rushed to open the window. But when he did, Naruto just gave him a big smile.
"Hey there old man! I need your help with something!" Naruto said cheerfully. Sarutobi leaned out the window, looking up and down, expecting to see some kind of cable or rope holding Naruto, but saw nothing. He looked at the slightly confused boy. "Something wrong?" Naruto asked.
"N-Naruto? Are you... Are you clinging to the wall with chakra?" Sarutobi asked slowly.
"Of course! How else was I supposed to get up here? The bastards that call themselves guards have been stopping me from seeing you for two days, and I really need to talk to you." Naruto explained, but Sarutobi just stood there blinking at him. After a moment, Naruto gave a slight cough. "Um, Old-man? Mind letting me in? It's a bit drafty out here if you know what I mean." Naruto scratched the back of his head awkwardly.
"Oh! Yes, of course." The Hokage nodded dumbly as he moved aside to allow Naruto to climb in, closing the window behind him. "So Naruto, what is it you want to talk to me so badly about that you decided to, er, drop in?" Sarutobi directed Naruto to a chair as he picked up the pieces of his poor pipe and dumped them in a trash can.
"I need you to help me get into the academy! They won't let me in! And I've tried! Believe it!" Naruto fumed with his arms crossed. The aging Hokage sat in his chair as he regarded his surprise guest.
"Oh? The academy? So you want to be a ninja, eh?" He asked with significant interest, while he opened a drawer of his desk. It was full of pipes.
"Not just a ninja, the greatest ninja of all! Don't take it personally, but I'm after your job! I'm going to be Hokage one day!" Naruto thumped his chest proudly with a mile-wide grin.
"Is that so?" Sarutobi chuckled as he picked out a pipe from his drawer, then set about pulling our a container of smoking incense. "So, what exactly do you need my help with?"
"I told you, they won't let me in." Naruto said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Well Naruto, I guess you're unaware of this, but it's the middle of the academy year, so obviously they can't let you in right now. What you need to do is register to begin at the start of the next academy year, which will be in several months." Sarutobi explained as he packed the bowl of his pipe.
"I know. I already tried. But it didn't work. They won't let me in." Naruto slumped slightly in his chair.
"Oh? Was there something in the registration forms you didn't understand? You need my help to fill them out properly?" Sarutobi asked as he put his pipe in his mouth, then started fishing in his pockets for a match.
"Uh, no, you're not getting it. They won't let me in." Naruto sighed. "As in, they said 'demons aren't allowed to be ninja'." He mumbled.
Sarutobi looked down at the broken pipe hanging from his mouth. He slowly took it and tapped out the un-used incense onto a handkerchief on his desk.
"Didn't even light it yet..." He muttered to himself, before looking back up at Naruto. "Naruto, don't listen to what those morons say, alright?" He said sternly, to which Naruto just blinked and nodded. "Well then. We can go over to the academy and get this problem straightened out-"
"ALRIGHT! YEAH! THANKS OLD MAN!" Naruto instantly jumped up to dance around. Sarutobi sweat-dropped.
"Naruto! NARUTO! Calm down for a moment!" The Hokage waved. Naruto sat back down, but was now sporting a super-smile. "Before we go, I would like to ask you... Why do you want to be a ninja? Or Hokage for that matter? It isn't an easy life you know." Sarutobi asked as he pulled out yet another pipe from his desk and packed his loose incense into it.
"I just want them to acknowledge me as a person! I'll become a ninja to prove I can help the village as much as anyone else, and then I'll become Hokage, and the villagers will stop looking down on me and finally start treating me with respect!" Naruto jutted out his chin determinedly as he crossed his arms. "As for it being tough... well, it's not like it could possibly be any worse than my life as it is already..." He mumbled.
"... Oh. I see." Sarutobi said quietly as he finally managed to get his pipe lit. 'That is most unfortunate... That he would think that anything would be better than his current life...' He pondered as he gazed at the waiting boy. 'It shames me that the village has treated him so badly despite all my efforts, but yet somehow he still has managed to not only endure, but he has chosen a life path that he believes will convince the villagers of his true worth all on his own.' Sarutobi smirked thoughtfully. 'And as for his choice, to become a ninja, considering what I just saw...'
"Well, are we going to go sign me up or what?" Naruto asked impatiently.
"Take it easy. It seems he's doing some heavy thinking. I think you actually surprised him with your wanting to be a ninja." Kyuubi said as she observed the scene playing out.
"All right, all right. But just one more question." Sarutobi said as he got up from his chair and moved around his desk.
"Yeah? What?" Naruto asked with slight suspicion.
"You say you want to enter the academy and learn to be a ninja. But it seems to me you've already had training. After all, that trick you used to climb up the wall to my window, not just anyone can do that. I find it highly unlikely that you just accidentally figured it out by yourself." The Hokage eyed Naruto while puffing slowly.
"Err..." Naruto paled slightly. 'Please, please don't ask what I think you're going to ask!' He thought in a rising panic. Kyuubi's mind was racing a mile a minute as well.
"I'm just curious... Who's been training you?" Sarutobi asked.
"I can't tell you." Naruto blurted out before Kyuubi could give him any instructions. Needless to say, Sarutobi's eyebrows raised quite high.
"Oh? And why not?" The old man tried to sound casual, but inside he was instantly on alert at Naruto's outburst.
"Be careful Naruto-kun! If you even word your response the wrong way, he might be able to figure out about our connection!" Kyuubi warned so franticly she was nearly hopping up and down.
"Look, I'm sorry, but I won't put my friend in danger." Naruto said with absolute seriousness. Both Sarutobi and Kyuubi froze and blinked in surprise. "Do you really think the people of the village will like the idea that someone took it upon them self to help me in this way?" Naruto shot at the confused old man. "All I ever do is try to get through one day to the next. Yet the villagers hate me so much that they go as far as trying to kill me when I so much as go out to get something to eat. What kind of a person would I be if I let them found out about someone who doesn't hate me like they do? They'd turn their hatred to her in a heartbeat. I won't put my friend in that kind of risk! I just can't." Naruto said, staring down his elder with steady eyes. Sarutobi regarded Naruto while Kyuubi purred vehemently.
"I see. That does make sense, unfortunately." Sarutobi muttered. 'So I'll have to wait to find out who's been helping him. But it's a small price to pay to see his determination to protect someone who is obviously precious to him.' He smiled inwardly, and outwardly. "But you know I don't hate you Naruto. Perhaps you could just tell me if I promise not to tell anyone else until you say so? Just a name perhaps?" He asked with some small hope. Naruto hesitated.
"Well... I dunno..." He said slowly, narrowing his eyes, but was pondering a thought different that what he seemed. 'This could be a recurring problem. If people keep wondering and asking who trained me, what am I supposed to say?' He questioned.
"Stall him. I need to think about this." Kyuubi stated, settling down to do precisely that.
"Tell ya what. How about you help me get into the academy, or rather, sign up to enter at the beginning of the next instruction year," Naruto shrugged as he corrected himself, "And we'll see where things go from there." He said.
"Alright. That seems quite reasonable." Sarutobi nodded, but was still concerned inwardly.
So the two shook on their agreement, then proceeded to exit the tower to head for the academy, though on the way out, more than a few of the workers and clerks were unhappily shocked to see Naruto in the presence of the Hokage. So after a few crossly exchanged words, and the Hokage threatening a few jobs, they made their way along. Of course, the shock wasn't limited to just the clerks in the tower. The villagers on the streets were just as appalled, but they were less to say anything, settling for just glaring at Naruto like he was a corpse.
All the way to the academy, Kyuubi was silent as she pondered over the issue of keeping her and Naruto's secrets. She was trying to keep her embarrassment hidden as well. She was severely irked that she hadn't given their current situation advance thought. She had been so concerned with his training and keeping their connection a complete secret for quite a while, but now she realized they had to change their methods. She would need a cover identity that Naruto could tell others if need be. Otherwise, people would become too suspicious about some unknown teacher that Naruto never talked about. So she began thinking back over aliases she had used over the millennia...
Naruto kept silent himself as he let Kyuubi think. He was considering Sarutobi's actions. The old man certainly seemed interested enough to help. And now in hindsight, his question about Naruto's training should have been obvious to expect. A part of Naruto wanted to just come out and ask the old man what he knew about the tragedy of when Kyuubi attacked the village, but he knew it would be stupid to mention her in any context at the moment. The Hokage may be old, but he wasn't stupid, and he wasn't senile just yet. And mentioning Kyuubi right after talking about a mysterious trainer? Now that would be stupid. But maybe, someday, he would be able to ask the old man what happened.
Sarutobi wasn't silent on the way, as he had to speak to people in passing, but his mind was on Naruto as well as something else. He had been shocked out of his wits to have seen Naruto outside the window. And that he had used chakra to climb the tower... He definitely had been trained by someone who knew what they were doing. It was no small concern. And a decision was weighing heavily on Sarutobi, one he was ashamed to have to make...
They finally reached the academy, and entered into the main hall area. Naruto could feel the eyes on him, but just smirked as they entered the director's office. Sure enough, when Sarutobi addressed the person and said that Naruto was to be enrolled on the Hokage's orders, a variety of shouting matches kicked off as some of the staff outside heard what was going on and decided to add their two-bit opinions to the deal. Naruto just tuned them all out except to keep watch for if Sarutobi addressed him.
"Ok Naruto-kun, I believe I've worked out what you can tell the Old-Man about your 'trainer' when he asks again." Kyuubi spoke up. "And it will be what you can tell anyone else who may ask in the future. But it's very important to make sure you always tell the same thing, or else it'll mean big trouble." She warned.
'Yeah, I figured that much. But I don't really like the idea of lying to people.' Naruto sighed.
"Well, technically, you won't be lying. I've lived in human form before. So I just tell you about that, and you tell anyone who asks. It will be the truth, so there's no lie for anyone to detect and they'll believe it, but it'll also be something no one will actually be able to confirm, so it'll be like trying to find a living ghost." Kyuubi snickered slightly. "This way, even if someone tries to investigate your 'trainer', they'll never be able to find anything. After all, it's been over a hundred years since I last lived as a human." She remarked wistfully. "Unless you count my vicariously experiencing life through your senses."
'Interesting. So, what is it? What kind of person are you as a human?' Naruto watched as a teacher quit from the outrage of the possibility of having to teach 'the demon child'.
"Well, we can work on you memorizing all the details later, but for now, you can tell him what he wants to know. My name." She said. Naruto nearly fell out of his chair, but it went unnoticed by the adults who were still arguing.
'WHAT!? After all we've done to hide our connection, you want me to just blurt out that Kyuubi is my trainer!?' He freaked, struggling to keep his outward face calm. Not an easy task.
"No, I don't want you to blurt out that THE Kyuubi is your trainer. I said you'll tell him my name. Not my title." She said with a slight sigh.
'...What? Your... title?' Naruto blinked in slight shock at the implication. 'But... I thought... You've always... Kyu-chan...' Naruto was so confused, he lost all concentration on the other people in the room.
"Kyuubi means 'nine tails', remember? You knew that the very first day we began speaking to each-other. Do you really think that could be my name?" She asked.
'Of course I did! You told me it was! You always told me to call you... call you...' Naruto felt a horrible pain in his heart. 'All these years... you... you never told me your real name?' He felt sickly all over. He felt like he wanted to go crawl into a hole filled with flesh-eating scarabs to escape the feeling. 'You... never... trusted me...'
"THAT'S NOT IT!" Kyuubi screeched in panic, realizing what Naruto was feeling for the second time in his life. Betrayal.
'Yes it is. There couldn't be any other reason in this situ-' Naruto began to shake. He was unaware that at that moment, Sarutobi happened to glance at him, and frowned at Naruto's apparent distress that seemed to have no cause. The old man turned back to resume his arguing with the academy staff.
"Naru-kun, the reason, the absolutely only reason I've never told you my true name is because it can't be pronounced by humans!" Kyuubi cried desperately. Naruto frowned.
'What are you talking about? How can it be a name if it can't be pronounced?' He was certain something was off. 'If it is really a name, I'll be able to pronounce it. So tell me. I want to know your true name. It's only right that I use it if we're friends, right?' Naruto insisted.
"Alright. I'll tell you, but as I said, you won't be able to pronounce it. Not even mentally." The anxious kitsune warned.
'Ha. Try me.' Naruto challenged.
"Oh sooooo? Well, if you're really sure..." She playfully mocked, trying to quickly turn things light to ease Naruto's feelings. "Alright then, my true name is-" And what Naruto heard, was undoubtedly the strangest sound, or sounds, that he would ever hear in his life. Ranging from a deep rumbling sound that made his stomach do flips of nausea, to a grating roar that was worse than nails on a chalkboard that drilled into his skull, to finally a soothing, almost musical keening that allowed Naruto to relax. It was several moments before he realized his furry companion was finished.
'O-Kaayyyy. So, what was that human name of yours going to be?' Naruto asked sheepishly in embarrassment as the vixen laughed heartily. Even as she told him, Sarutobi walked over, having finally managed to intimida-er, I mean, convince, the academy instructors that it was for the best that Naruto be allowed to attend classes.
"Naruto? Are you ok?" The Hokage asked, watching the blonde intently.
"Sure. Why?" Naruto stood up as he tilted his head at the old man.
"Well, you seemed to be in some discomfort a moment ago. Anything wrong?" Sarutobi looked him up and down very carefully. "You were holding your ears as if some noise was bothering you."
"Noise!? What nerve!" Kyuubi huffed.
"I was just trying to get all my nervousness and jitters out of the way now, so I don't have to go through them later." Naruto said, trying not to giggle at Kyuubi's annoyance at her name being called noise.
"What are you talking about?" Sarutobi asked, motioning as they walked out to exit the academy.
"You know, the whole first day nervousness, and fitting into a new group awkwardness when I start at the academy." Naruto stopped suddenly to look at the old man. "Uh, I am in right? I kinda tuned out the whole yelling curses and obscenities part. So I might've missed..." He looked up hopefully.
"Don't worry, you're in." Sarutobi chuckled. "As I've been saying, you'll start at the beginning of the next instruction year. In preparation, I think it's time your apartment should actually resemble an apartment." He said, causing Naruto to raise an eyebrow in question. "I've looked into hiring a small crafters team, from outside the village of course, to come and rebuild your apartment." Sarutobi held up a halting hand to stop Naruto's comments. "I'm sorry I couldn't arrange it sooner, but somehow, others I've tried in the past have always backed out at the last minute for some reason. But I've finally managed to nail down a group, if you'll pardon the pun, and they should arrive in about two weeks."
"Oh, that's... good.." Naruto said after a few silent moments of walking.
"You don't sound very excited about it." Sarutobi frowned.
"He's right, this is a very good thing! Why are you feeling uneasy? I... ... Oh... I see." Kyuubi trailed off as Naruto's thoughts played out.
"Naruto?" Sarutobi asked again, with more concern over the boy's silence.
"Oh, no, it's fine!" Naruto said smiling. "It's just that... well, if the place gets fixed up and all, then I'll have my own place to live, without ever having to bother anyone else." He said, scratching the back of his head awkwardly.
The Hokage nodded slowly in understanding at Naruto's fear, of winding up staying in that same apartment for the rest of his life... alone. He put a hand on Naruto's shoulder, and was very pleased when he didn't flinch or try to pull away.
"Don't worry Naruto. I'm sure that some day you'll find someone who will be willing to be there for you, no matter how bothersome you are." The old man chuckled. Naruto rolled his eyes at the mild joke, but then straightened up.
"Well, technically, I already do have ONE person like that." He said, stopping to face his elder. "The person who helped train me. And since you helped me get into the academy, and I believe I can trust you, I guess the least I can do is agree to what you asked." Naruto said, capturing Sarutobi's complete attention.
"Oh? You're willing to tell me who it is who trained you?" He asked with total interest.
"Her name is Kyaena Unaikaji. But I hope you'll understand if I'm hesitant to tell you anything more than that right now." Naruto leveled an absolutely serious gaze at the master shinobi.
"That's ok, I understand. All I asked for was her name after all." Sarutobi smiled. "Now, there's one more matter. After your apartment is made proper, we'll have to get some basic ninja equipment for you, since the academy is only required to provide certain materials for courses, mainly due to the fact that most students who enroll are able to provide certain things themselves." He said cautiously.
"You mean because their families provide them." Naruto sighed, his face falling slightly. Sarutobi coughed awkwardly.
"Yes. But since you will be expected to have some materials, I'll see to it. As I said, when your apartment is rebuilt, and you then have a place to keep them." He explained.
"Will I have a say in how the apartment is rebuilt? Because I would like it to be in two parts. A living half, and a training/study half." Naruto said.
"I don't see why that would be any problem. Your apartment is in the top floor of the building, and it only has the few rooms as I recall. It should be simple to turn it into all one residence. And also, just so you know," Sarutobi added, remembering something, "As of last week, you are the sole owner of that apartment building. No one has shown interest in it in years, and there was no remaining record of anyone owning it at this point. After some careful consideration, I thought it would solve some future problems before they got started." He said while in the process of packing his pipe with fresh incense. Naruto just stared at him, blank-faced.
'Great, not only will I have to live in an apartment all alone, but now I have a whole stinking empty building!' Naruto grumbled inwardly. 'What the heck am I supposed to do with an empty building!?'
"Well, at the very least, it's available space for whatever reason might come up." Kyaena commented. "After all, better to have and not need, than to need and be without."
'To need and be without?' Naruto asked sourly. Kyaena flinched.
"Sorry. Anyway, he said the craftsmen will arrive in two weeks. I say we spend that time deciding how we want to have the building changed." She offered in suggestion.
'Agreed.' Naruto conceded and looked back up at Sarutobi who was watching him with great intent. "Well, alright. If you're giving me the whole building, I guess I might as well get back and take a better look around. I'll try to have a plan worked out by the time the craftsmen show up." Naruto shrugged. "I guess I should be going. I'll see you later old man." Naruto waved as he headed off, leaving the Hokage in a state of much greater stress than he appeared on the outside.
Naruto made his way back to his apartment quickly, and he began examining every part of the building. Ultimately, the two spiritually connected friends decided to have the entire ground floor sealed off and turned into a storage area accessible only by a trapdoor that would be in the upper floor apartment. Basically this would mean most people wouldn't be able to get in. The upper floor, as figured, would be mostly a living space, with a room just for studying, and the separate bath room of course. That was unfortunately about the extent of what they could plan for the craftsmen, because all the 'extra' things they thought up, Naruto would have to do himself, so no one would know. So those plans had to be drawn out separately. And also, until the craftsmen were done, Naruto had to find temporary new hiding spots for his few possessions and his astounding sized savings of money, that he still didn't realize was anything impressive.
Later, Naruto treated himself to a six-bowl ramen lunch with a quart of fruit juice and a quart of milk, that Naruto had inexplicably began insisting on once he learned Ichiraku's served it. Kyaena didn't mind at all, since it was obviously something the boy needed in his diet, plus, she had a sneaking suspicion that there were other reasons he would be so insistant... Naruto was heading back to his apartment again, when he suddenly stopped and looked around franticly.
"That same feeling again?" Kyaena asked.
'Yeah. It's been happening quite a bit these last two or three weeks. I'd swear I'm being watched, and I'm not talking about that ANBU that seems to follow me around.' Naruto frowned, carefully looking up and down the street, ignoring the hostile looks from most of the villagers.
"Well, I haven't felt anything wrong. Whatever it is, even if you're being watched, it hasn't interfered with your life yet." Kyaena observed.
'Eh. Whatever.' Naruto shrugged and continued on his way.
After parting with Naruto, Sarutobi headed back to the Hokage tower. He was actually a little disappointed at Naruto's reaction, or lack thereof, to the news that he now had his own home.
'However, home is only where the heart is, and that building is still as empty to Naruto as it has ever been.' Sarutobi thought sadly as he took his seat in his office. Since parting with Naruto, he felt a terrible weight bearing down on himself. The weight of a decision. He truly wished he could choose not to do so, but unfortunately, being Hokage meant that he sometimes had to make sacrifices. Even sacrifices of his own conscience. So he called a pair of his assistants into his office, and they stood waiting. "I have a priority task for you." Sarutobi said at last to the pair. "You are to begin going through records of Konoha, as well as any records of all towns and settlements in Fire Country that are available. The only one not to be investigated at this time is the capitol."
"Um, search for what?" Asked assistant1.
"Yes, that is an enormous volume of information. What are we looking for Hokage-sama?" Asked assistant2.
"What you are looking for," Sarutobi sighed slightly, "Is mention, any mention, of a woman named Kyaena Unaikaji. I'm afraid I have no other information to help narrow the search at this time, however I will be attempting to gather what information I can, and will inform you as I make progress. You will bring to my attention any and all records that mention this woman's name. Since I don't even know how old she is, you are to go back into the records as far as one hundred years." Sarutobi puffed solemnly on his pipe. The two ninja glanced at each-other.
"Forgive us Hokage-sama, but we have to have something more. We have to at least know where to begin looking." Assistant1 said with unease. Sarutobi leaned back in his chair to consider.
"The name itself is slightly unusual. It's the kind of name that would definitely stand out. If it is her real name, which is itself a problem." He said after a few moments. "I suppose the best place to start, is with the traffic reports of Konoha's Gate. A time frame back... eight years." He watched for any reaction from the two in front of him, but the significance of his chosen time frame seemed lost on them. "Start with records of possibly suspicious women who were traveling alone and who live in Fire Country. However, if that doesn't turn up any leads, begin looking into small traveling groups, and after that, those that traveled from beyond the borders."
"Yes Hokage-sama. I believe I understand now. And that is a much smaller area to research." Assistant2 nodded.
"Very well. Begin with that. I will try to find out more specifics about the woman. However, if this doesn't turn up any information, the wider research will have to begin." Sarutobi said as the two assistants bowed and left. After a moment, he slowly bowed his head in shame. 'Please forgive me Naruto. I believe you when you say you trust her, but I must be absolutely certain that she isn't trying to use you for her own purposes. I only wish I could claim innocence of the same.'
The man known as Hokage sat quietly in his office doing paperwork, even as he coped with the guilt of having to investigate someone, the only one, Naruto would call a friend. He tried to remember that it was for Naruto's protection, not just the village's.
Sarutobi worked for a little more than two hours on his paperwork, purposefully trying to occupy himself. However, he was interrupted when an ANBU appeared in his office in a puff of smoke.
"Forgive the intrusion Hokage-sama." Itachi bowed.
"Ah, Itachi. I was intending to speak to you later, but now is just as good. But before that, what is it that brought you here?" Sarutobi sat up to observe the ninja before him.
"I came seeking clarification. I have just heard an... interesting, rumor." Itachi said, keeping his head bowed.
"Oh? And what would that be?" Sarutobi couldn't help but be interested in any rumor that would get Itachi's attention.
"Is it true, that you have allowed Naruto-kun to enroll at the academy?" Itachi asked in a completely even and unsuspicious tone. Which was, of course, suspicious.
"Hmm. That was only just over two hours ago." Sarutobi puffed. "But I suppose I shouldn't be surprise that information like that would get around pretty quickly."
"So it is true. I wouldn't have expected the staff at the academy to agree to it." Itachi said, an observation, not a question.
"I managed to... persuade them. He'll begin in a few months at the beginning of the next instruction year. And speaking of instruction..." Sarutobi's gaze turned quite hard. "I am becoming very irritated at your failure to report important matters concerning Naruto." At this, Itachi finally looked up to meet the Hokage's gaze.
"I don't understand." The Uchiha ANBU said simply.
"When Naruto came to me for help in entering the academy, he did so by climbing up the wall of the tower and knocked on my window!" Sarutobi gestured to the window behind his chair. "You have never mentioned he was already training to become a shinobi!" His voice had raised a bit, something he didn't like happening, as it was a pitifully obvious giveaway to his agitation. "Now, I don't care how long it takes, you are to give me a complete report on Naruto's training, and absolutely everything you've found out about his sensei!" Sarutobi demanded, while pulling out a blank paper and pen, ready to take the appropriate notes. But Itachi just blinked.
"I don't know what you mean." He stated. Sarutobi tried to control himself. Regardless of how skilled Itachi was, his tendency towards monotoning of late was getting irritating, not to mention the aforementioned growing habit of omitting far too much information.
'It's almost as if he's beginning to consider himself above such things. Very disturbing.' Sarutobi took a measured breath before continuing. "The woman who has been training Naruto. Tell me every detail you can about her."
"I'm afraid you've been misinformed, Hokage-sama. No one has been training him." Itachi said, though one eyebrow twitched slightly. Sarutobi leaned forward with a gaze that would have made a lesser man piss himself.
"Naruto himself told me that a woman named Kyaena Unaikaji has been training him in preparation to enter the academy. Are you calling him a liar?" The Hokage demanded.
"I do not know why he would tell you that, but I swear, on whatever you would have me swear on, that he has remained alone. I have seen no one helping him." Itachi replied. Despite his experience, Sarutobi couldn't detect any sense of deception. And it confused him greatly.
'Naruto wasn't lying, Itachi doesn't seem to be lying. But they can't both be telling the truth.' Sarutobi pondered unhappily. "Could she have been hiding? A genjutsu perhaps?" The veteran ninja contemplated.
"No. For a genjutsu to be powerful enough to deceive me, others would feel the exertion of chakra to use it." Itachi answered.
"I suppose that's true. But the likelihood that Naruto learned how to control his chakra like that by accident on his own is slim to none. Something strange is going on." Sarutobi frowned as he puffed on his pipe, deep in thought. "I suppose I'll just have to try to get more information out of Naruto, though I'll have to be careful about it." He looked at Itachi. "Well, if that issue can't be addressed just now, then tell me about what training Naruto has been engaged in."
"He hasn't been doing training." Itachi said, but it was clearly the wrong thing to say as Sarutobi finally lost his temper as he bolted to his feet and slammed his hands on his desk.
"Then just tell me what he HAS been doing! Anything! Everything! That is an ORDER!" The Hokage shouted, actually causing Itachi to take a single step backwards.
"Very well, Hokage-sama." Itachi said, and proceeded to list the various routine tasks Naruto busied himself with from day to day. But after only a few minutes, Sarutobi again lost his composure.
"How can you call that 'not training'!? It sounds like Naruto has been working on everything he can other than jutsu!" The seriously steamed shinobi shouted sternly.
"How can it be training if he has no sensei? He doesn't know what he's doing, he's just guessing." Itachi commented.
"And I'm guessing that you're no longer the best person to keep watch over Naruto! That assignment is, as of now, over! Your inability to follow the simple directive of reporting on Naruto's well-being is disgraceful!" Sarutobi fumed. "If Naruto hadn't come to me to help him enter the academy, who knows how much longer this would have gone on! You're withdrawn from all duties until I can arrange an evaluation to reassess your capabilities! Consider yourself lucky if I get around to it sometime this decade! Dismissed!" The Hokage sat down in his chair abruptly, intending to resume his never-ending paperwork. But after a moment, when he looked up, Itachi was still standing right where he was.
"Hokage-sama, you shouldn't allow Naruto-kun to enter the academy." Itachi said with calm evenness. Sarutobi's eyebrow twitched. "The risk of death as a ninja is too high."
"Itachi... You are bordering on insubordination. Naruto has as much right to enter the academy as anyone. It'll be up to him to see if he truly has what it takes to be a shinobi. Now. You. Are. Dismissed." Sarutobi's tone was one that had inspired fear in the enemy of the last shinobi war. But Itachi just bowed and disappeared. The Hokage just stared at the empty space where Itachi had been. 'This was not the end of it. Something bad is going to happen with the Uchiha...'
Sarutobi puffed on his pipe in thought.
The next couple days were strangely aggravating to Naruto, as he worked on the notes for the craftsmen when they would come to rebuild the apartment. What was aggravating was not that he had to make sure things would be as he wanted, it was that he had to make sure things would be as Kyaena wanted. It seemed she was changing her mind constantly about things, or was never satisfied with details, no matter how many times they went over them.
First it was that the window had to be on a certain side of the room. Then a certain height. The frame had to be divided into a top/bottom. The window had to open outward vertically, and have double latches. The glass couldn't be to thin or thick, and it would be better for double panes for temperature control. And that was just for the one window.
Kyaena fussed over every detail. What percentage of floor space would be allocated to what. Where to put the bed and turn it which direction. Where to put the refrigerator (planning that they would get one). Why the bathroom had to be arranged a certain way, with the sink and tub and toilet. Where to put the trapdoor to the lower floor storage area. Where to have the cloths dresser (planning to get one). Even down to which way the grain in the floorboards would run, either lengthwise or widthwise to the room. Naruto was getting quite annoyed, up till the point where he just had to ask...
'Dang it Kyaena-chan! Why can't you just leave things as they are!? Why does everything have to be so exact!?' He had demanded.
"Eh. What can I say. We kitsune are obsessive over the quality of our dens/homes, no matter what shape or form, whether in fox or human form. And while your apartment is far from good enough for you, since it's all I have to work with, I'm at least going to get the most out of it." She had replied.
Well, there wasn't really anything Naruto could do to curb her natural instincts, so he just had to grin and bear it. But to make matters worse, while fussing over the apartment, Naruto wasn't getting as much training done. They both agreed to have to make up for it after the craftsmen were done.
It was about nine days since Naruto had gone with the Hokage to the academy. The majority of the day had been spent moving his few belongings, and his new collection of bulging froggy-wallets, to safe hidden spots nearby to keep them out from underfoot. As he cleaned what few odds and ends were left, it occurred to him that he would have to find someplace different to sleep for the time that his apartment was being worked on. Deciding that asking to stay with the Hokage or with Teuchi and Ayame would just be impolite, not to mention problematic due to the hassle the villagers would probably raise, the boy and his vixen spent the last hours of daylight managing to find a few comfy spots in the various parks around Konoha.
Returning to the apartment, Naruto turned in for a nights sleep, but neither he nor Kyaena were aware that there was about to be a rather nasty turn of events...
"Wake up! Wake up Naruto-kun!" Kyaena shouted franticly as she slapped the sides of her cage with her tails, sending twinges through her host.
Naruto groggily cracked his eyes open a bit, blinking slowly in the dark to get the usual wetness from his eyes. And it was still dark, not morning. Wondering what his friend could want, he went to yawn, only to find that he couldn't. Something was covering his mouth. He tried to sit up, only to find he was hanging face down. He tried to move, but found his arms and legs were bound tightly. And he wasn't in his dark apartment, he was outside, moving rapidly as buildings passed below him. Now shocked to the point of full consciousness, he looked around in alarm. He was being carried under one arm of a man who was making his way leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Although the man was darkly dressed, in the full moon light he still seemed familiar.
"Mmmph! Mmmph!" Naruto mouthed into his gag as he started to squirm.
The man carrying Naruto gave only a single glance down at him before his free hand came up and struck Naruto in the back of the head. The blast of pain that sparked white lights behind Naruto's eyes almost caused him to pass out again. Almost. But it was hard even on a good day, or bad, considering your point of view, to knock Naruto Uzumaki down. Even before the pain of the impact had completely registered, the familiar warmth of healing was washing it away, allowing him to hang onto his awareness.
"Stay still for a moment! Don't let this guy know you're still awake!" Kyaena ordered. Naruto let himself go limp, however uncomfortable it was at the moment.
'What's going on!?' Naruto felt cold. And it wasn't from the night air. It was because when his apparent abductor had looked down at him, that was all it took. A single glint of the moonlight off his red eyes. 'I don't get it! This is the ANBU that's been protecting me for the past few years! What is he doing!?'
"NOT protecting you, obviously!" Kyaena snapped angrily. "Damn it Naruto-kun! I warned you about staying away from this guy!"
'Well it seems he doesn't want to stay away from me!' Naruto snapped back. Very carefully, he slowly tried to pull apart his hands, feeling a pinch as what felt like cord or wire was tied around his wrists. 'I can break these.' He noted.
"Wait! Remember that method is only good for a single surprise action! Once he realizes that you're capable of it..." She warned urgently.
'He'll adjust his plans. I know. So, what, do I try to go for his neck?' Naruto asked as his captor paused his rush upon a rooftop.
"That would be a good idea, if you were capable of reaching it with your first move." Kyaena pondered as the ANBU dashed onward again.
'Uh, Kyaena-chan, I'm getting the feeling that this guy isn't planning on stopping at the village edge...' Naruto said as, even in the darkness, the giant wall of Konoha was becoming visible far off.
Kyaena was pondering her next advise, thinking that it would best for Naruto to attempt his escape as they reach the wall, since there was a higher likelihood of the presence of patrols. But the problem with that was the chance that the patrols would probably try to kill Naruto and blame the ANBU.
'It's not right. This wierdo wants Naru-kun alive more than anyone in the village other than Hokage-jiji, but only until he gets what he wants. Naru-kun means nothing to him. It's me he's after. He wants me alive, the villagers want me dead. But Naru-kun dies either way. It's almost impossible to tell what's the safer route to-' Kyaena's thoughts were interrupted when the ANBU carrying Naruto stopped sharply.
Deciding to take a chance, Naruto slowly looked up to see what was happening, trying to be subtle enough to not alert his captor. Two rooftops in front of them stood someone in dark ninja gear, but the moonlight also reflected off a few metal plates on his outfit, including the neck guard hanging from his skullcap. Naruto's eyes widened in recognition of the aged face beneath.
"Put Naruto down Itachi. You're not going anywhere." Sarutobi warned darkly. It was several moments before Itachi responded, again in his annoyingly calm and slightly detached tone.
"They will never tolerate him being a ninja, and I cannot risk it. The power inside him must not be lost." He stated. Naruto's eyebrows rose a bit at that.
"Such things are best left undisturbed, and undiscussed. Now, release Naruto, and I'll promise you a merciful death." Sarutobi adjusted his stance and brought his hands up, ready to unleash his jutsu. Itachi merely tilted his head slightly.
"Naruto-kun, I think this might be as good a chance as you'll get. Get ready. Angle to the left when you strike." Kyaena said. Naruto silently began focusing...
"You can't beat me Itachi." Sarutobi called. "And you only have barely a minute before others arrive."
"I believe the others will be occupied elsewhere, as you will soon learn." Itachi pulled three shuriken into his free hand. "And if we fight, you'll only prove that you don't care for Naruto-kun's safety. But I must fulfill my true duty to-"
Itachi's eyes widened in shock from the hit that sent him flying nearly forty feet to crash into the side of a building. An instant before, Naruto had wrenched his hands free and slipped down in Itachi's grip, enough to bring his still-bound legs up to deliver a single impact to Itachi's back. Even as the ANBU went flying, Naruto fell, bouncing on the roof, sliding towards the edge until he managed to catch himself, gripping at the tiles until he came to a stop.
Itachi leapt out from the damaged wall up to the roof, but it was already too late. Sarutobi had immediately positioned himself between Itachi and Naruto.
"Loss of position." Sarutobi smirked as his hands moved at a blurred pace. "Earth Art! Dragon Rock-" He began, but there was a sudden red flash from where Itachi stood, as the air itself seemed to bend and warp. Suddenly Itachi was gone. "Damn it! Release!" Sarutobi spat as he had to abruptly change hand-signs. But there was still no sign of Itachi.
Mumbling curses under his breath that would shock many of the ladies in the village, Sarutobi turned to look at Naruto who had managed to sit upright and remove his gag.
"Hey Old-Man! What the heck is going on!? Why did-" Naruto tried to ask, but didn't get the chance.
"Naruto! Go back to your apartment and stay there until I come to see you!" Sarutobi ordered in his full 'Hokage voice'.
"But why-" Naruto tried again.
"NARUTO! GO!" Sarutobi shouted, making Naruto flinch back in surprise.
"Just do it Naru-kun! It's for your own safety!" Kyaena urged.
Naruto didn't feel he had much choice with the both of them against him. He reached down to break the wire around his ankles with a 'twang', got up, looked around to orient himself, then sprinted off, leaping back across the roofs that he had been carried from. He never saw the look of shocked disbelief on Sarutobi, who turned to head in his own direction to search for Itachi.
'That was standard issue ninja wire.' Sarutobi thought as he raced along. 'It's meant to hold up against even jounin prisoners. For Naruto to have been able to break it that easily... Great Kami... If his sensei has taught him THAT, at his age no less, it will be incredible to see what he's capable of once he enters the academy!' A small proud smile creased his face for a moment, though then a curious look came over him. 'Could his sensei be... No, that's impossible. She left the village years ago. Naruto couldn't have been barely more than two at the time. But of all the people who have ever been able to harness that ability-' His thoughts were interrupted as a squad of ANBU raced up and fell in formation next to him.
"Hokage-sama! We have a severe emergency!" One of the dog-masked ANBU spoke up.
"Report!" Sarutobi snapped.
"It's the Uchiha clan sir!" The ANBU replied, causing Sarutobi to whip around to look at them.
"They're attacking!?" The Hokage gasped at the unthinkable. Even with the mask on, Dog-BU seemed taken aback.
"N-no sir! They're... dead!" The ninja exclaimed. Sarutobi actually stumbled before stopping completely, the four ANBU landing in front of him in a rough line.
"What!?" The master ninja gasped. "How many!?"
"... Nearly all of them. So far... we've only found a single survivor." ANBU answered solemnly.
"This... isn't what I was expecting." Sarutobi whispered in shock to himself. He turned to the squad. "Itachi Uchiha is alive and on the run! I just prevented him from kidnapping a villager! I presume he is headed out of the village! Find him!" He pointed in the direction Itachi had been headed with Naruto.
"HAI!" The four ANBU zipped off, as Sarutobi changed direction and headed for the Uchiha clan estate.
'What Itachi said about the other ninja being occupied... Did he kill members of his own clan? What the heck is going on!?' Sarutobi thought in confusion.
Naruto yawned as he sat waiting in his apartment, trying to stay awake. He had been waiting for the Hokage for at least a couple hours, and there was already light beginning to grow on the horizon. But both Naruto and Kyaena felt it was best if Naruto stay awake until the old man showed up, recent events considering.
Naruto had tried asking questions, but Kyaena was being strangely quiet, only speaking up whenever Naruto was about to nod off. But finally, a knock came from his worn and battered door.
Naruto had his one and only (real) kunai in hand before the door even stopped vibrating.
"It's not like it's locked!" Naruto called. The door opened and Sarutobi walked in, dressed in his usual white and red robes, hat on his head, and pipe in hand.
"You don't look too good." Sarutobi commented as Naruto relaxed and set his kunai down next to himself.
"Well, if I had known you were going to take so long, I would've taken a nap. I hope that's out." Naruto pointed to the pipe. "This place is a borderline fire-trap you know."
"I haven't lit it yet." Sarutobi replied as he looked around the room once before looking back to the boy. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but your little outing earlier wasn't the only problem that happened."
"Oh? What else happened?" Naruto raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sorry, I can't discuss it right now. I'm afraid I can't stay either. I just need to ask you if the man that tried to kidnap you said anything to you. Anything at all." Sarutobi held a serious gaze.
"Nope. Nothing. I went to sleep like a log in here," Naruto gestured to his bed, "And woke up being carried off like a log out there." He thumbed to the window. "I had only just woken up right before you stopped the guy. His name was... Itachi, right?" Naruto asked. "That's what I heard you call him?"
"So, he didn't say anything to you." Sarutobi fingered his pipe a bit. "I'm sorry Naruto, but I have to go. Thank you for the information." He turned to leave.
"Wait! What information!? All I said was he didn't say anything! What else happened last night!?" Naruto asked, slightly afraid that something else was going on. "I know that Itachi has been watching over me the last couple years!" Naruto blurted, making Sarutobi stop at the door. "So why would he suddenly do this? Why now when he's had plenty of opportunity before? Why didn't he want me to become a ninja!?"
"I thought you said he didn't say anything to you!" Sarutobi whipped around to glare at Naruto, who shook his head.
"I said I woke up right before you stopped him. I heard what he said to you, but he didn't say anything to me." Naruto clarified. Sarutobi relaxed a bit, but then adopted a slightly worried look.
"You heard what he said?" He asked slowly.
"Yeah, and that's what makes no sense! He was contradicting himself! In one breath he said I shouldn't be a ninja, then in the next, he goes and says how I've got so much potential! What was he thinking?" Naruto asked.
"I'm sorry Naruto." Sarutobi said, relaxing again as he shook his head. "I don't have the answer to that question. Unfortunately, the motives of traitors are often known only to themselves."
"T-traitors?" Naruto asked, wide-eyed.
"A sad truth of the life as a ninja. No matter how rare, it is always difficult to deal with." Sarutobi sighed, and Naruto was surprised at how much older the Hokage seemed for a moment. "Seeing someone you thought you could trust turn their back on everything and everyone. Betraying the bonds they had..."
"Well you don't have to worry about me! I swear I'll never betray the village!" Naruto jumped up with a determined, stern-set jaw. Sarutobi blinked in surprise at the boy's declaration for a second before smiling.
"I certainly hope not." He chuckled as he gave the boy a pat on the head. "It would certainly mean disaster if Naruto Uzumaki ever turned against us." Sarutobi said with jovial sarcasm, before reaching for the door again. "Don't worry about that man anymore. I doubt you'll ever see him again."
'Hmph. We could only be so lucky.' Kyaena thought as the Hokage left, pulling the door closed behind him.
Naruto stood motionless for a minute or so, just looking at the door.
'So. You think he bought it?' He asked casually with a slight twitch of his mouth.
"Seemed to." Kyaena responded equally casually with a gentle flick of her tails. "It was pretty obvious he was concerned about you learning of, 'something better left undisturbed and undiscussed'. I must say, I think that's the first time I've ever heard myself described like that." She snickered as Naruto sat down on his bed with a yawn. "And speaking of describing me, since you're sleep got messed up tonight, go ahead and lie down. Then come to the cage. While your body is resting today, I'll tell you more about my human life." She instructed. Naruto was almost half ahead of her as he curled up, and let his mind focus inward.
Outside the apartment, on the street, the Hokage walked quickly towards the tower, where grave matters awaited his attention. At least he believed one other potential problem had been nipped before it could cause trouble.
'It may seem cruel, but I suppose I should consider myself lucky.' Sarutobi thought to himself. 'Naruto misunderstood what Itachi said. The death of the entire Uchiha clan, save one, will be causing me enough headaches for a while. The worst thing that could happen now would be for Naruto to learn of the horrible, merciless monster that's trapped within him... And I'm sure Naruto will find out about the Uchiha clan deaths soon enough.' He sighed as he let the matter drop from his mind.
Oh, how he would have reacted had he known that at that moment, the 'horrible monster' was giving her host an interesting 'show and tell' lesson...
In the mindscape of the seal, Naruto stood in the clean, dry, well-kempt room in front of the cage.
"Wow! So that's what you look like as a human!" Naruto gaped as he looked through the bars at a transformed Kyaena.
"Well, it's one of my human forms, and admittedly, definitly my most favorite." The vixen smiled as she turned around in place, examining the royal-quality kimono she was dressed in. "I'm just glad I was able to change my appearance inside here. Now, back to my history. In the lifetime that I looked like this, I was an artist and calligrapher, and a damn good one if I do say so myself..." She sat down next to the bars as Naruto sat down right next to her on the other side of the bars.
Naruto spent the next few days learning Kyaena's cover story, until the craftsmen finally arrived in the village. When they showed up, Sarutobi came out just long enough for Naruto to give him the building notes, look over them for approval, then hand them to the craftsmen. Once Sarutobi had left, there was nothing for Naruto to do except keep out of the craftsmen's way. It would be approximately two weeks to have the building re-done. Quite a quick timeframe, but the workers had been contracted to focus ONLY on the one building. So, with it as their priority, and the seemingly always good weather of Konoha, Naruto and Kyaena thought that two weeks was excellent.
Naruto set about his training while waiting for his apartment to be finished. But something unusual caught his attention. After only two days, he noticed the villagers acting a bit out of the ordinary. In addition to the normal loathing and annoyance, they looked terrified. Many would even rush out of sight upon seeing him, or jump into the nearest building to get off the street if he so much as stood still for more than a few moments. It was very confusing, so Naruto decided some stealthy snooping was in order. He managed to find a spot just above a intersection of the market that he could simply wait, and listen.
"Is it true? The demon killed them all?"
"I heard that one survived! A boy!"
"The Uchiha were so strong! Only a demon could have killed them all so viciously!"
"An entire clan wiped out! Who knows which clan might be next!"
"No no, I heard the Uchiha had a specific hatred that caused the beast to kill them in revenge!"
"How could it happen in the quiet of the night without anyone seeing or hearing?"
"Why would the boy be spared? Was it just luck?"
"Maybe we shouldn't risk angering the demon further..."
"I heard it was a ninja, not the demon!"
"From another village? Which one?"
"Impossible, no one ninja could take out the whole Uchiha clan!"
Naruto listened for a long time as he and Kyaena tried to pick out the truths from the gossip, rumors and speculations. Most of the people didn't really know what was going on. Only two things were repeated enough to most likely be true. One, the Uchiha were wiped out except for a single survivor. Two, it happened the night that Itachi tried to kidnap Naruto, though the villagers didn't know about that part, Naruto just heard them saying what night it happened.
Naruto was concerned about the villagers thinking he did it. He found himself surprised at his own unhappiness at their sudden fear of him. Kyaena was concerned that the village might demand for Naruto's death to allay their paranoia, regardless of what was the truth.
But as quickly as it started, it actually passed. In only another two-three days, the 'truth' had become known. A ninja had killed the Uchiha clan, and had been driven from the village. It was actually a mixed reaction in the village. Some were of course upset at the thought of the life that was lost and the ninja escaping, but others were relieved. Though it wasn't spoken at all, many were glad that the 'demon' had not been responsible, for that would have only added to their fear that the whole village would be destroyed. No, the demon was still 'under control' for the time being, and Naruto was back to being the village pariah as usual... almost.
There was one last result of this disaster. The short, extreme fear that the villagers had experienced at the thought of the demon getting free. Even though they knew Naruto hadn't been responsible, thinking too much about the possibility caused people to want to stop thinking about it at all. When people looked at Naruto now, they saw something they didn't want to see. The villagers came to realize that they couldn't touch him anymore. Not only had Naruto's training made him uncatchable by most of them, but the Uchiha massacre left them afraid of their own fears coming true if the monster really were to go berserk. To them, Naruto became a looming shadow in the background. Stare at it too long and fear would overwhelm you, even if you knew it couldn't touch you. The only was to escape it was to ignore it. Don't look at it, don't speak of it. Pretend it didn't exist, and foolishly believe it wouldn't exist. Many had always blatantly refused to accept Naruto's presence, but now it became a numbly casual distancing.
Even when the day came that the craftsmen finished Naruto's building apartment, Naruto wasn't sure how to deal with the rapidly shifting attitude of everyone. While in the process of moving his things back into the apartment, he had walked right through a group of talking women. They didn't look at him at all, they didn't speak to him in any way. They just shifted aside to let him though like some invisible breeze that parted grass then allowed the blades to return to exactly as they were.
Kyaena told Naruto that dwelling too much on the opinions of the bigoted villagers would only cause him needless headaches, and Naruto didn't put up any argument as there were still a few things left to be done. After a day to get all his things back into his apartment, Naruto went to see the Hokage about his ninja equipment. Seeking to avoid unnecessary hassle, Naruto didn't even bother with the front doors, he just went right up the wall and knocked on the window like before. Sarutobi asked Naruto to use the main entrance in the future, but Naruto just said it was too troublesome trying to deal with the guards. Besides, it was good chakra training.
They went to what was traditionally jokingly called 'Armament Alley', even though it was just a regular street. It was so named, obviously, due to the high number of equipment and repair shops along both sides. Most of the best equipment used by the village ninja was obtained from these shops, and as such, the owners of the shops were accustomed to seeing and hearing all sorts of situations and mission objectives. But none of them ever expected they would see the day that Naruto Uzumaki would walk into their shops.
Naruto had a list that Sarutobi had given him, and took care to check off everything. Some of the shop owners were less than thrilled to have Naruto poking around, but couldn't dare even say anything with the Hokage watching over their shoulders. Kyaena wanted Naruto to get a few other things extra, but as soon as he tried to pick the items up, Sarutobi told him to stay limited to the provided list. Naruto argued that he wouldn't be allowed to get things on his own later, and offered to pay for his own picks of equipment. Sarutobi relented, and was a bit surprised at the specific choices Naruto picked. Nothing extreme, but just unexpected.
With the equipment, and a few new cloths, placed securely back in Naruto's apartment, the two took a late lunch at Ichiraku's. It would be a most unfortunate meal, as Sarutobi had some bad news...
"WHATDAYA MEAN I CAN'T ATTEND THE ACADEMY!?" Naruto seethed.
Sarutobi, Teuchi and Ayame gaped in shock at the suddenly vicious boy, and the half-full bowl of ramen that had just been crushed between his hands.
"This year, Naruto!" Sarutobi waved in defense. "I said you'll be unable to attend the academy this year!"
"WHY NOT!?" Naruto was tense, his right hand fingernails digging into the wood of the counter. "Does this have to do with the Uchiha?" He tried to speak through his clenched teeth.
"Ah, yes, I'm afraid so." Sarutobi cleared his throat awkwardly as he recomposed himself. Teuchi went back to his cooking as Ayame came around the bar with some rags.
"Don't mind me." She squeaked as she cleaned up the ramen. Sarutobi sighed.
"Naruto, you have to realize, our village has lost an entire clan! It has caused a severe disruption to everyone!" The elder explained. "We're still in the process of reassigning ninja all over the village, and trying to cover existing contracts due to the loss of ranks."
"All the more reason I need to get into the academy and graduate! Why restrict entry now of all times?" Naruto paused then narrowed his eyes at the Hokage. "Is the academy being closed this year only? Are the other clans wanting to hold off for a year to let things reorganize?" Naruto asked slowly. When Sarutobi broke eye contact, it was all the answer Naruto could tolerate. "No, it's just me, isn't it? It's a political thing right? Just because of everyone's hidden fears..." Naruto grumbled.
"Take it easy. With the unexpected deaths of the Uchiha, I suppose this was unavoidable. Give the old man some credit, after all, he's got lots of responsibilities to cover, including preventing panic and riot." Kyaena said, though she couldn't hide her own irritation from her voice.
"I'm sorry Naruto. I wish I could explain everything. But at least you can enter the academy next year." Sarutobi said.
"I'll be nine when I enter! There are some kids that have already graduated by the time they're nine!" Naruto complained.
"Not at all. That is actually quite rare." Sarutobi corrected. "You have nothing to worry about. From what I've seen, you're doing quite well for yourself, and I'm sure your sensei will keep you busy enough that you won't even notice the time passing." The old man smiled. "You'll be entering the academy before you know it!"
"Well, Kyaena-chan has never wanted me to consider her 'sensei'. She isn't even a ninja, after all." Naruto shrugged, and Sarutobi's eyebrows tried to follow in the wake of his slightly receding hairline.
"What? Not a ninja?" He sputtered, as Ayame finally got the messed all cleaned up, and put a new bowl in front of Naruto.
"Thanks Ayame-chan. What? Oh, yeah. She's an artist. So she can't teach me jutsu or shinobi rules or anything like that. That's what's taught at the academy." Naruto clarified as he blew on his fresh ramen a bit.
"But... How then... But you, I've seen you using excellent chakra skill! How could your, er, teacher, have taught you that if she isn't a ninja?" Sarutobi asked in severe confusion. Naruto paused in his olfactory appreciation of his new meal to give a strange look at the old man.
"Uh, because chakra exists in all living things and in all people, not just ninja." Naruto said like it was obvious. "How could you not know that? Anyway, Kyaena-chan, regardless that she was never trained as a kunoichi, is an unrivaled expert when it comes to chakra. She even uses it in her artistry, from what she's told me." Naruto paused as he slurped up a few noodles. "I would've thought it'd been obvious by now. She's only ever helped me with basic exercises. Physical training and mental exercises, but she's always stressed chakra training the most. She says it's more important for me, because I have more stamina and chakra potential than anyone she's seen in a long time."
'Well, she's certainly right about that.' Sarutobi thought to himself. "Fine, fine. I guess I can't really question the methods of someone I've never met." Sarutobi said as he gave a meaningful look to Naruto, who pretended not to notice as he chewed a mouthful of noodles and chicken. "Well," Sarutobi coughed awkwardly, "If nothing else, perhaps I can suggest something for your chakra training. The next level past the wall walking exercise you've been doing. It might sound fantastic, but if you suggest to Kyaena-san the possibility of walking on water-"
"I'm past that." Naruto said between bites of what was in fact his fourth bowl. Sarutobi stopped, blank-faced.
"What?" The Hokage asked numbly.
"I said I'm already past the water walking exercise. I'm working on point balancing, but it's slow-going." Naruto said, looking back up at his idol. "Since, of course, every time I fall, I puncture something, and I have to work with each section of my body and chakra points in turn. I wasn't expecting to be done with it by the time I entered the academy." Naruto paused to consider when he took a gulp of milk. "But maybe waiting will be worth it. If I can progress to flow splitting by the time I enter..." The boy pondered.
Sarutobi was gawking, drop jawed, gob-smacked, or whatever you want to call it. The look on his face was too much for Kyaena, who burst out laughing.
"HAHAHAHA! I don't believe it! The great and wise Sandaime Hokage struck speechless by a child's training progress! HAHAHA!" She guffawed.
"Um, snort, are you ok Old-Man?" Naruto asked, struggling to keep a straight face.
"Y-you... You're working... on p-point balancing...?" Sarutobi forced himself to start breathing again. "That is a very advanced and dangerous training method! And flow splitting... Naruto, most jounin could spend their entire lives without ever fully mastering that exercise!"
"Have you?" Naruto asked with sudden interest.
"Naruto, flow splitting is also known as the waterfall exercise. And since waterfalls come in all shapes and sizes-" Sarutobi explained.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. You start small, and work your way up to the biggest, fastest flowing ones. That's why it takes so long to work with. Kya-chan told me." Naruto huffed in annoyance. "But she says I have to do it. Because my chakra is so large, I have to work on it as much as I can. No shortcuts, no quitting, no excuses." Naruto returned to his ramen with gusto.
Sarutobi sat in stunned silence for a few minutes as he tried to come to grips with what the almost-but-not-quite-eight-year-old boy had just told him. The thought that not only was his sensei teaching him such advanced and difficult lessons, but that Naruto was actually progressing with them at an impressive rate. Sarutobi was infuriated that matters and events were against Naruto at the moment. That his own old partners had been so adamant at keeping Naruto out of the academy was abominable, especially at the more and more proof that showed Naruto did indeed have all the right qualities to be a great shinobi. If it were up to the old man, he'd march Naruto over to the academy himself on the day of entrance. He had more than a few promises he had made that gave him every right to do so. But, unfortunately, since those promises could still be kept even if Naruto had to wait an extra year, it meant that easing the tension in the village came first. But Sarutobi refused to keep pushing the matter back forever. A year, year-and-a-half, should be, and would have to be, enough time for the people to calm down. He wouldn't wait any longer than that.
"Well, Naruto, I have to get back to the office." Sarutobi handed his empty bowl to Ayame. "I'll see you later."
"Hey wait a minute." Naruto called, making the Hokage pause at the flaps of the ramen bar. "Next year. You promise?" Naruto glared hard.
"Yes Naruto. You can enter the academy next year. I swear on my nindo." Sarutobi nodded, then smiled. "And look at it this way: Now that you have proper ninja gear, having a year to practice with them will help you be even more prepared for the academy."
"That's true." Kyaena nodded.
"That's true." Naruto nodded.
"Alright," Sarutobi chuckled, "So be sure to work hard, and if you have any problems, remember, please, no more window visits?" He shook his head in amusement as he placed his hat up. Ayame giggled, as Naruto had told her about a few of the Hokage's reactions when the boy had knocked.
Sarutobi left the stand, and after vacuuming up the rest of his bowl, Naruto paid and walked out as well. But once on the street, he paused. He frowned as he looked up and down the street at the villagers. As he began heading back to his apartment, he kept watching at the reactions or non-actions of the people. Most were trying to ignore him, but some still rushed off when he approached, or even looked at them.
'I don't like this. They're afraid of me. They're still afraid of me! Even though they know I didn't do anything!' Naruto complained as he quickened his pace.
"I don't understand why you're getting so upset over this. They're certainly less likely to be trying to kill you if they're afraid to even come near you." Kyaena replied, swishing her tails around with slight agitation. She didn't like Naruto feeling the way he was.
'First of all, you of all people know that's not necessarily true. Secondly, fear is worse that anger!' Naruto argued. 'Come on! You taught me this! Before, they were just angry at me, and you. Angry because they thought as long as you live on in me, they've somehow been cheated out of some kind of resolve after the disaster. Which you still need to tell me about, don't forget.' Naruto commented. Kyaena just cleared her throat nervously as he continued. 'Anger doesn't last though.'
"It's lasted for seven years already." Kyaena interrupted with a sour tone.
'My point, if you'll allow me to make it, is that anger often gives way to regret. And when it does, the villagers wouldn't have anything left to judge me against. I'd be able to finally show them who I really am.' Naruto paused as he had to leap up to the rooftops. 'But fear... That digs down deep into people's spirit. It almost never goes away, because there's always that lingering uncertainty and doubt that just keeps repeating over and over in their minds.' Naruto reached the balcony walkway that served as his front porch as he let himself into his apartment.
"Maybe if their minds weren't so small, they'd have room for more reason and compassion." Kyaena snorted, as Naruto walked into his study room where all the new ninja gear had been piled up. He slowly started unwrapping and sorting the equipment.
'It's just not fair. Before, I had a real chance to belong, if I could just wait them out. But now... They might never stop fearing me. No matter what I do, no matter how great I might become...' Naruto stabbed a brand new kunai into the table top. 'It's all because of Itachi and that damn Uchiha mess! I know it isn't right to blame the dead, but-'
"It is when they are to blame! Now you listen real good, Naruto Uzumaki!" Kyaena snapped, only calling him his full name when she was deadly serious. "The Uchiha have been around longer than you, but not longer than me! I know them, and believe it, they had this coming!" She growled, causing Naruto to fumble a pack of shuriken.
'Wh-what? How... How can you say such a thing!?' He drop-jawed. 'How could someone, anyone, deserve to be slaughtered like that!?'
"Because they're all spineless, arrogant, greedy, scheming, sadistic, back-stabbing worms! And what's more," Kyaena seethed with her fur bristling like needles, "If you need proof, realize that in the past seven years, they have tried harder than anyone else in their attempts to kill you! I never let you know, but in all the worst attacks on you, it was always an Uchiha calling for your blood!"
Naruto fell back onto his but in shock, both at the secret his best friend had been keeping, and the hatred in her voice when she said it.
'B-but... Why? Why would they specifically hate us? What did they have against me? Were they afraid of you that much?' Naruto struggled to understand.
"What they were afraid of, was loosing their self-imposed superiority! They knew that with my help, you would become stronger than any of them could've ever begged to be! Their bloated egos couldn't stand the thought of being surpassed by an honest, hard working shinobi, who fights to uphold the honor of his name, rather than the glory of it!" Kyaena hissed furiously, wishing she had something to tear apart in her jaws.
Naruto got back up and continued organizing his equipment for several minutes. He arranged the kunai hooks on the walls, the punch dummy, and the scroll rack/stand as he thought about what his partner had said.
'Were... Were they really that bad?' He asked at last. She gave a snort.
"They would attack a innocent child without provocation, and that bastard Itachi, who was also an Uchiha incidentally, was a three-fold traitor! He betrayed his clan, his village, and the duty he supposedly had of protecting you! Does that answer your question!?" She growled in frustration, but attempted to calm herself as she felt Naruto's stunned disappointment. "Too many idiots wrongly call you and me monsters, and forget that those who only seek destruction and chaos, the traitors, that they are the real monsters."
'Traitors...' Naruto frowned as he paused. 'They give up on everything they have, just for...' His hands balled up in tension.
'Come on, say it... If there's any lesson you need to learn, it's this one...' Kyaena waited in silent anxiety.
'I...' Naruto's face contorted into a true scowl. 'I... HATE... traitors!'
Naruto worked even harder now than before. Obviously, slightly more emphasis was placed on his weapon practice, since it was the most behind, due to his lack of proper equipment for so long. But it didn't take any time out of the rest of his training schedule, all it meant was that he worked faster and harder, and got a little less sleep.
The only ones who noticed the slightly greater wear on Naruto were, of course, Teuchi and Ayame. After all, if Naruto was going to keep up the pace on his training, he certainly couldn't afford to slack off on his ramen intake now could he?
Despite his routine being almost the same from day to day compared to what it was, it certainly felt different for Naruto. He was working with real ninja gear. He had the promise of the Hokage that he would be entering the academy, even if it was a bit delayed. And now, because of what had happened, he could actually feel the loneliness when he was training out by himself.
Of course he wasn't actually alone, since Kyaena was always with him, but there was a certain presence of physicality to consider, or the lack thereof. Before, when he trained, when people were still trying to find him and hurt him, there was the feeling of eyes watching him. The feeling that people were hiding just our of sight, but were there nonetheless. Their hostility made themselves known.
But now that was all gone.
Except for the birds and fuzzy critters, it was often silent. Empty. Sure, Naruto trained in places away from the mass of the village proper, but it was only now that he realized what he had done to himself. Self-isolation. It was a less than pleasant situation for him. In fact, if it wasn't for Kyaena being able to talk to him, coach him, encourage him, and keep him focused, there's no telling what the endless days of silence and repetition might have done to Naruto. In fact, because he was so accustomed to always being hunted and spied on, he even occasionally felt and thought he was still being watched, though since there was no hostility in the air, he could only guess that he was imagining it. Even Kyaena wasn't entirely sure.
Naruto kept pushing himself, and Kyaena kept pushing him as well. It was hard, and painful. But Naruto endured. He had to. Becoming a shinobi had become his purpose in life, and every day was a day closer to that goal. The sad truth was that there wasn't anything else for him. He had dedicated himself to his chosen path, and had already spent so much time to it. If he gave up, there wouldn't be anything else he could do. The only other option would be to leave the village, and that was possibly the worst thought of all as far as Naruto was concerned. How unfortunate he never did though, not realizing that he could have had a far better chance elsewhere, someplace he could have started with a clean slate, where people didn't hate him. But only Arceus knew this, so there's no point in dwelling on it.
So for one last stretch, the one-and-a-half years, Naruto trained. It was like a final sprint. Every last ounce of energy Naruto had, and that's saying a lot, was pushed to the limit. He worked so hard, there were even a few times Kyaena actually had to make him take a day off to avoid over-straining his body. It wasn't the physical injuries she was worried about, since those could be healed almost instantly, but the overall stress Naruto was placing on himself would take it's toll even if he was in otherwise great health.
Month by month passed, and Naruto continued progressing in all his training. Everything physical, mental, and chakral... er, if that's even a word, and weaponal... ok, that was just ridiculous, sorry. But he kept at it anyway. And even though he used all the new ninja equipment, Naruto still had his original first kunai. It was special to him, not only for being his first ninja weapon, but also due to the fact that it was practically a part of him. Because he had used it so much, it had been covered in his own blood so many times that the metal had somehow been stained permanently red. He had promised himself that he would never get rid of it or loose it. It was his personal reminder of his hard, bloodied beginnings.
Eventually, it came down to be only one month before Naruto's entrance to the academy. Kyaena told him he had to stop his usual training, which made Naruto confused, to put it mildly. When he asked why, she told him it would be best to spend the last month pondering how he was going to handle being around the other kids in class at the academy.
Ouch. Talk about a bucket of iced water. Not ice water, iced water. As in, being hit over the head with a solid block of ice, wrapped in metal.
Naruto, who had been nearly desperate to start his ninja schooling, was now so nervous that he couldn't even look in a mirror without scaring himself. He didn't have any idea how to deal with other kids. After all, what could he possibly have in common with them, beyond the desire to become shinobi? Even the few kids he would occasionally encounter at Ichiraku's never really talked to him. Either they were too busy with their own friends, or their parents wouldn't let them talk to the 'trouble maker boy'. Well, at least that was a step up from 'demon brat'. But the point was, Naruto had never done anything except train, eat and sleep.
Naruto tried watching other kids, like at the parks or playgrounds, to try to see how they acted around each other. It was very strange to him. To him, it seemed they just wasted time running around, doing effectively nothing. Oh sure, they would 'play ninja' and such, but it wasn't real training, so it confused Naruto as to the point of it. Kyaena was trying to explain that most of what kids did was for fun, but at a base level, it was also about building bonds between them. To make friends. Obviously, for Naruto, who had been shunned by virtually the entire village for his entire life, this was not a concept easily grasped. Their were only four people he could even say he knew to any degree.
Kyaena, who he couldn't even introduce to anyone.
The Hokage, who was always busy and only ever really spent time with Naruto either during lunch, or when it had to do with official matters.
Teuchi and Ayame. Well, Teuchi would often be busy with most of the cooking while Ayame served the customers. He usually would only make small comments or ask the occasional question from over his shoulder. So that left Ayame.
Naruto found himself spending a lot more time than usual at Ichiraku's, trying to ask Ayame about how to handle the other kids at the academy, without getting her in trouble with her father. But between the fact that she wasn't a kunoichi, the fact that she didn't know why people avoided Naruto like the plague, and how he couldn't keep a conversation going between himself, Ayame and Kyaena without things becoming too confusing, there wasn't much help to be had. All the sweet ramen girl could say was for Naruto just to relax and be himself, and to remember that the other kids would be the ones he would be working alongside after graduation.
So the day finally came. Dressing as best he could, with Kyaena's ever fussy opinions only taking two hours rather than twelve, Naruto had the sense to meet Sarutobi at the tower and walking together to the academy. When they got there, more than a few of the adults and teachers were obviously less than happy that Naruto had shown up. But what could they do? Take ALL their kids out of the academy? That just wouldn't work. Naruto was in, whether they liked it or not.
After the Hokage gave his speech to the new academy entrants, said new students were placed in their class homerooms. When Naruto was seated, he began to take in the surroundings that would be crucial to him for the next year. He was actually surprised to see a few familiar faces. Namely one Choji Akimichi, who was a semi-regular at Ichiraku's, and his occasional companion, Shikamaru Nara. Each seemed to follow the other around. Kyaena found them to be acceptable, and Naruto had to agree. After all, anyone who liked Ichiraku's ramen couldn't be that bad. Right?
One thing that surprised the two of them was the discovery of a Hyuga in the class. From what Naruto had learned over time and what little Kyaena knew about them, he might have thought that all the Hyuga would be privately taught. Being the current greatest bloodline clan, they were just a bit snobbish, though not to the point of overt arrogance. But still, there she was. A girl with short midnight-blue hair, and her eyes, the defining Hyuga trait, a very pale lavender, as opposed to the deathly-ghost-pale-white that Naruto had seen in other Hyuga in the past. Kyaena seemed strangely interested in her, and learned her name was Hinata when the teachers ran through the roll-call.
The two teachers for the class were one Iruka Umino, who sported a interesting scar across the bridge of his nose, and one Mizuki Touji, whose hair couldn't make up it's mind whether it wanted to be white or silver, despite the man obviously not being that old. Strange.
Naruto immersed himself in the lessons. He listened to everything, whether it was something he knew already or not. It was what he had been waiting for, and he was determined to do the absolute best he could. Kyaena also paid attention, to be sure that Naruto didn't miss anything, and to add her own opinions on what might most benefit her blonde spirit partner. She would be learning to be a ninja at the same time as Naruto, and she knew that combining their insights would get the most out of every lesson.
For the whole first month, Naruto was on cloud nine, or tail nine as Kyaena liked to jokingly say. Everything Naruto learned in class during the day, he brought home and practiced and memorized in the evening. From the basics of ninja-chakra theory that he would compare to Kyaena's long standing chakra instruction, to repeating through the basic hand-signs over and over until he could do them on reflex with his eyes closed. And of course, he made careful study of how his chakra was channeled and arranged with each hand-sign. The more interesting lessons were the combat strategy scenarios. Kyaena usually got a bit of a laugh at those.
At the end of the first month was the first comprehensive testing day. The day would be a long written test in the morning, then lunch, then the afternoon would be practical skills and weapon training evaluations. With the written test would come a most important question...
Naruto sat quietly in his seat as he rapidly worked through the written test. Most of them were plainly easy for him, with only a few of the one hundred questions posing even a slight speed bump. Those were ones that were likely thrown in that weren't necessarily covered prior, and were to see if the students could work them out with what they had learned so far. Of course Naruto's and Kyaena's minds crunched through them like crackers. As he turned to the last page, Naruto came to a question that he himself had been wanting to know the answer to for a long time.
Question #100: What happened in the battle between the Yondime Hokage and the Kyuubi no Kitsune?
Naruto sat for a few moments, staring down at his test paper. He tapped his pen a few times. He flipped through his test packet to be sure he hadn't missed any of the other questions. He glanced up at his teachers sitting at their desks. Then he returned to staring at the last question.
'Well?' Naruto prompted.
"Well what? Having one blank answer won't cause you to fail." Kyaena answered in a far too nonchalant tone.
'Kya-chan... You've been promising to tell me what happened for a long time.' Naruto scolded. 'And now the question is staring me in the face.'
"You can't seriously be planning to write down what actually happened!" She slapped her tails down sharply. "They'd lock you away in a cage even worse than mine! Just write down: 'Nobody knows'. I'm sure that's the answer that they're expecting!" She huffed.
'Yes, I'm sure it is. And I'll happily write it. But seriously, please, I want to know.' Naruto said as he filled in said last question with said expected answer. 'Or do you want me to always wonder if I was somehow to blame for your current condition?'
"NO! No. Alright. I guess there's no more avoiding it. How much time do you have left?" Kyaena sighed in defeat.
'Plenty.' Naruto looked up at the clock on the wall as he turned his test over and placed his interlaced hands on it. Didn't want anyone cheating off him, after all.
"Ok then. Since we can't risk anyone noticing your facial expressions while we talk, come to me and I'll tell you." Kyaena instructed.
Naruto closed his eyes...
Naruto seated himself in the large plush chair in front of the cage. He was getting better and better at controlling the form of the manifestation of the mindscape that represented the seal. Kyaena, in her full kitsune form, enjoyed lying amongst a multitude of giant soft pillows as she smiled in gratitude to her 'warden'. The room was now akin to a great hall of an ancient castle. But the bars of the cage could not be changed, no matter how hard Naruto tried. But all things considered, they were better off than they once were.
"Ok. Lay it on me." Naruto said eagerly.
"It actually starts a year, maybe a year and a half, before I came to the village. I was at my own den, just minding my own business, when it started. A high-pitch sound, somewhere half between a whistle and a scream." Kyaena began."I didn't really pay it any mind. When it became annoying after a hour or two, I just cast a minor spell to block the sound from penetrating into my den. And at first, that worked."
"Heh, magic. Gotta love it." Naruto smirked.
"Anyway,"Kyaena chuckled, "A few days later, the sound returned, even though my spell was still in place. Again, I didn't really think much of it, and I just cast a much stronger spell to block all sound from outside my den. I was shocked when it didn't work, at least not completely. The sound was muffled significantly, but was still there. But since it was so low and faint, I decided I could just put up with it until it went away. I figured whatever was causing it would stop eventually." She sighed.
"I take it, it didn't." Naruto raised an eyebrow.
"Not only did it not stop, but despite my efforts, it began increasing. Getting louder and seemingly more shrill. It's the kind of sound that just drills into your skull. It got so bad, I couldn't even get to sleep." Kyaena gave an annoyed huff at the memory.
"Couldn't you just block it some other way? Surely you could just ignore it? Just not listen?" Naruto asked. Kyaena raised an eyebrow.
"Uh, hello? Ears like these don't miss much." She twitched her long ears at him. "So, after about a month of this, and after I tried all sorts of things to block it without success, I got fed up. I left my den to track down where the sound was coming from, and no, I didn't come to the village. Not yet. Because just an hour after I left my den, the sound finally stopped."
"And this is still more than a year before you came to the village?" Naruto prompted clarification.
"Right. To be honest, I just thought it was coincidental timing, and was glad it was over. So I returned to my den, and for several weeks, it was peaceful. Then the sound returned again, and that time, I immediately bolted out to find the source, but then it stopped just as suddenly."Kyaena said as she saw the frown on Naruto's face.
"I'm beginning to see a pattern, and I don't like the picture." Naruto grumbled.
"Yeah. When it happened a third time, I could tell also. Someone was doing it on purpose." She shook her head in disappointment.
"But... Who the hell could be so stupid as to piss off the Queen of Kitsune?" Naruto continued to frown. "Why would someone from the village-"
"I'm not convinced it was anyone from the village." The pondering vixen interrupted. "I can't be sure of course, but it just wouldn't make any sense. My guess would be some enemy of Konoha that was hoping I'd destroy the village." She gave her variant of a shrug. "But back to it, it was actually a longer stretch of a wait between the third incident, and the fourth and final incident. A number of months. When the sound started that final fourth time, it didn't stop. It was then that I was able to follow it all the way to Konoha. But by that time, I was seriously pissed. I was so angry, and with the sound still piercing my hearing to the point of madness, I wasn't able to think straight. I wanted the sound stopped, and whoever was doing it, killed. I intended to simply crush everything in my path until I found it."
"So, if the Yondaime hadn't stopped you... you really would've destroyed Konoha?" Naruto asked with a sadness to his voice. Kyaena lowered her head in shame.
"Unfortunately yes, but don't get ahead of me. On the way through the forest, I ran across, and ran over, a few people. Travelers and a few ninja that were moving through the area... I guess they were on patrol, or on missions... but they... they were just nuisances to me. I just blew by them without care..." Kyaena paused for a few moments with a unhappy frown, getting caught up in her memories. Naruto decided to stay quiet, not wanting to upset her and potentially loose the rest of the story, but he could almost swear he saw a shadow of guilt pass across her face over something... specific. She finally refocused her eyes on him. "So, I guess some patrol got word to the village, though it would have been pointless since I was far from inconspicuous. As I approached the outer border of Konoha, that's when the first mass of ninja came out to confront me."
"Did they hurt you badly?" Naruto instantly asked in regret at the thought of his one true friend being attacked by the people of his own village. But she just raised a surprised look at him.
"Are you kidding? They couldn't even touch me. Remember, the reason I'm the Queen of Kitsune is because I'm not just a demon, I'm a para-elemental demon of fire. Their weapons melted before they ever got near my body, and my every breath and wave of my tails were as powerful as the eruptions of volcanoes. The whole of Konoha would've become a crater of ash and melted rock, except..." She paused again.
"The Yondaime." Naruto said simply.
"Yes. No. Yes. Well, it's complicated. As I approached the wall of Konoha, I was shocked when an old friend of mine suddenly appeared." Kyaena shifted amongst her pillows to get more comfortable.
"A friend of yours?" Naruto's eyebrows threatened to leave his face.
"Yep. A huge poof of smoke, and who should jump out from behind the wall but the Old Horny Toad." She snickered.
"Um... Right." Naruto sweat-dropped. "And 'Old Horny Toad' would be your adorable nickname for..." He waved for her to continue.
"Gammabunta. The chief of the demon toads that are allied with Konoha." She waited for Naruto to nod in understanding before continuing. "Anyway, seeing him was enough of a shock that I was able to regain a little of my senses. I started to make my way over to ask him what the hell was going on, but by the time I noticed there was a person on top of his head, it was too late. There was a colossal burst of light, then the next thing I knew, I was staring down the gullet of a seemingly irate Shinigami." As she said this, she couldn't help but smirk in amusement at the ghastly face Naruto made.
"Hold it! Shinigami!? THE Shinigami!? THE GOD OF DEATH, Shinigami!? THE SPECTRAL REAPER OF DAMNED SOULS, Shinigami!? The guy who, when he says die people drop like flies, Shinigami!?" Naruto grabbed at his chest as he gasped for breath at the terrifying thought.
"The same. I have no idea how the Yondaime managed to call on him, but needless to say, when I realized who it was I was looking at, I went from boiling mad to scared shitless in half a heartbeat." Kyaena sighed. "That's a lesson everyone has to learn sooner or later. There's always someone stronger in the world."
"Wait, you're saying that nobody tried to talk to you? They didn't even try to understand why you were there? They just attacked you?" Naruto asked in shamed confusion. Kyaena leaned forward as she purred gently.
"Naru-kun, stop feeling so guilty. None of what happened was your fault. And in hindsight, the reaction of the village was understandable as well, since I wasn't in a very talkative mood myself. I mean, come on, if you had a giant, pissed-off demon charging at you, wouldn't you be a bit freaked out too?" She chuckled, but stopped when she saw the strange look he was giving her.
"No." He said, gazing at her meaningfully. "No, I wouldn't." Kyaena blinked at him a few times, and when the implication of what Naruto meant hit her, her purring jumped in intensity. "So, um... You were saying about Shinigami?" Naruto scratched the back of his head in mild embarrassment.
"Um, yeah. Look Naru-kun, I would never belittle what you've had to endure in your life so far, but there just isn't any way to describe... when Shinigami reached into me and took hold of my soul... the pain of having your very essence ripped apart..." The giant fox gave an unpleasant shudder.
"Skip ahead." Naruto said in understanding.
"Well, I blacked out. And when I next became aware, I had somehow been sealed inside you." She shook her head. "It had to be the strangest sensation I'd ever felt, finding myself suddenly seeing the world from inside a tiny human baby. It actually took me quite a while just to-"
"Who're you calling 'tiny'?" Naruto grumphed as he crossed his arms, causing Kyaena to burst into giggles.
"Well, sorry, but that's just the way things seemed to me at the time!" She snickered as she wiped a tail over her eye. "Anyway, from there on, the rest is pretty obvious. I spent all my time trying to learn about you, and understanding how I was connected to your body, especially in regards to your chakra system. Over time I became able to speak to you in short bursts, until that fateful day when I finally was able to connect our minds fully. The day you first saw this cage." Kyaena glanced at the bars.
"So, that's it, huh." Naruto leaned back in his chair as he thought over everything. "Wow. That's some intense stuff. But, isn't there a fairly big gap of missing information here?" He frowned.
"Unfortunately yes. Things happened so fast when I reached Konoha, that I never found out what, or who, had caused the whole mess. And after I was sealed into you, it became impossible for me to do any investigating."Kyaena shrugged, lying her head into a pillow.
"Why didn't you tell me this earlier? I'd gladly look into things for you. If I just asked Old-Man-Hokage-" Naruto offered.
"You KNOW that's not an option!" She scolded harshly. "I didn't exactly make a good impression on everyone! To them, I'm a raging, uncontrollable, bloodthirsty demon. If they found out I've had any influence on you at all, the Hokage would probably loose whatever ability he has left in protecting you!" She snapped. But when she saw his downcast face, she added, "But I appreciate your thoughtfulness." She purred again. Naruto smiled, then sighed.
"So, you don't know who was tormenting you, you don't know why it was originating from Konoha, you didn't get a chance to talk to Gammabunta-sama, you don't know how the Yondaime-... Wait a minute." Naruto sat upright. "Something doesn't add up." Naruto began counting on his fingers. "You were drawn to the village in self defense out of pain."
"Right." The fox nodded.
"The village didn't know this, and just thought you were rampaging because you're a demon." Naruto held out a second finger.
"Right again."Kyaena smirked, knowing where he was going already.
"So they sought their own self defense, which is why the Yondaime came out to fight you." Naruto held out a third finger. "He was attempting to save the village, and intended to make sure you couldn't be a threat anymore. But, if the Yondaime had somehow managed to make a pact to get Shinigami to appear in that battle, then-"
"-I should be dead. Bingo." Kyaena nodded in approval of her friend's reasoning. "That's the one major thing I've never been able to figure out these past years. I may be extremely powerful even when compared to many of the other demons in the world, but in the shadow of Shinigami, I'm about as threatening as... well, as a rabbit in a den of foxes." She chuckled at her own little joke.
"So then how... why...?" Naruto questioned.
"Maybe because it was a ninja technique that called him rather than a magic ritual, Shinigami limited how much aid he would give to a mortal. Maybe the Yondaime didn't know he could've killed me, and settled for what he thought was the next best thing. Maybe the Yondaime thought he could endow a member of his village with my power for the future protection of the village. Or maybe," She smirked as she fluffed her fur a bit, "The two of them just couldn't bring themselves to kill such an exotic beauty like myself." When Naruto looked up at her with a raised eyebrow, she sweat-dropped. "Well it's possible..."She mumbled in embarrassment.
"That's an awful lot of 'maybes'." Naruto shook his head. They both sat in silence for a few minutes.
"Sorry, Naru-kun. I guess I haven't really made you feel any better about all this."Kyaena sighed at length.
"No, it's ok Kya-chan. But I guess we'll never really know the whole story. I mean, the only ones to know exactly what happened would be Arceus and Shinigami, but they're a bit out of our reach. The Yondaime might have had some knowledge, but him being dead also removes him from the option list." Naruto tilted his head slightly. "What about Gammabunta-sama?" Naruto looked up at Kyaena who gave it a bit of thought.
"Well, you'd have to find a way to contact him, and that alone is not going to be easy. Plus there's the fact that considering when he appeared in the whole mix-up, he might know even less than the Yondaime did." She looked down at Naruto with a smile. "But at least it's possible. We'll have to remember to look into it eventually. If we can ever manage to catch any of the demon summons running around the village. But that's kind of hard when they keep returning to our world out of fear of me." Kyaena flipped her tails flippiantly. "Don't worry we'll catch one of them someday, and then send a message back to my people so we can figure a way out of this mess we're in."
"Absolutely!" Naruto smiled back.
(NARUTO... ...NARUTO... ...)
The blonde jumped out of his chair in surprise at the voice that echoed into the room from far off.
"Go!" Kyaena blurted.
"Oh crap!" Naruto grunted as he vanished from sight...
Naruto's eyes snapped open to see a slightly annoyed Mizuki standing in front of him, and many of the other students were staring at him with snickering whispers.
"Ah! Yes! Yes, Mizuki-sensei?" Naruto stammered.
"The time limit is up." Mizuki frowned, tugging at the paper that was anchored under Naruto's hands. "Let go of your test paper."
"Oh, right! Sorry!" Naruto chuckled awkwardly as he handed his test over. "I was just going over some of my answers in my head, and I guess I lost track of the time." He shrugged.
Mizuki rolled his eyes and continued through the aisle of students until all the papers had been piled up on the teachers' desks.
"Ok everyone, remember, after lunch, gather in the training field outside for the practical skills and weapon evaluations." Iruka addressed the class. Naruto put up his hand.
"Uh, Iruka-sensei, I was wondering, wouldn't it have been better to have the practical evaluations before lunch, then the written test?" He asked, as some of the students looked on curiously. "I mean, won't we be risking cramps, or worse, vomiting, if we're exerting ourselves right after eating?" Naruto's eyes widened in realization, even as the other students' eyes widened in surprise. "Or is that also part of the test? To see who'll be able to keep themselves composed in a potentially disorienting situation?" Naruto asked intently.
Iruka and Mizuki exchanged surprised looks as the students were now whispering to each other. The ones who had been confident were now worried, and the ones that had already been worried were now looking half-panicked. The teachers were a little annoyed. Of course the lunch factor was intended to be part of the test, but the students weren't supposed to realize that.
"Well, if you're concerned about that, you could just not eat your lunch." Iruka said, trying to avoid the question while sounding casual.
"But that's not good either!" Naruto frowned. "Being too hungry would affect our performance as well!"
Iruka and Mizuki had to restrain themselves from cursing out the blond boy.
"Well, it's a little late to worry about it now, and besides, when on missions, you often don't get to be picky about when you eat." Iruka scolded.
"Yeah, I guess that's true." Naruto tilted his head in acceptance.
"If we can't eat, but we can't not eat, what are we supposed to do?" Asked the girl on Naruto's left. He looked at her in surprise for a moment before answering.
"Well, if you normally have a large lunch, I'd say eat roughly half of it, and try not to drink too much liquid. That way, your food can't slosh around in your stomach, making you queasy." Naruto said plainly, having experienced the situation a number of times himself. But even though his reasoning made the other students nod in understanding, the way he had said it was enough to make a few of the weaker-constitutioned ones already a little green.
"That's enough, Naruto!" Iruka shouted. "Class dismissed for lunch!"
Everyone filed out, and Naruto saw the annoyed looks still on his teachers' faces.
"I think you ticked them off." Kyaena commented in an amused tone.
'I wasn't trying to.' Naruto thought back innocently as he headed to the lunch room, thinking that the practical test would be as easy as the written test had been.
After a slightly disappointing lunch where Naruto had once again found himself sitting alone, despite another failed attempt to befriend the magically dissapearing Hinata, Naruto went to the practice field, eager to finally see how much his own training had paid off when compared to real ninja evaluations. And both he and Kyaena were shocked at how almost impossibly hard it was.
When Naruto's turn came at shuriken and kunai accuracy, he couldn't believe how dull the edges were on the ones he was given to use. Sure, he expected certain measures to be taken for student safety, but they were practically blunt it was so ridiculous. The weapons wouldn't stick in the targets or trees he was to throw them at, instead just bouncing off. And when he threw them harder to try to compensate, they would either ricochet badly, or just smash the targets. And after one kunai ripped clear through the center of a circular target and nearly hit another student, Naruto was viciously yelled at for his carelessness and immediately pulled from the thrown weapon test, with no notice given to the fact that his throws had been, or would have been, bulls-eyes. Naruto stood to the side as he watched the other students take their turns, and frowned when he couldn't help but notice how much easier a time they were having, even the worst of them. It seemed they were using much sharper weapons than Naruto had used.
When Naruto's turn came to demonstrate his knowledge of basic taijutsu on a practice dummy, he knew his style wouldn't be as refined or 'by the book' as the others, but he was at least confident in his basics of strength, speed, and accuracy. He knew that five years of constant work couldn't possibly be for nothing. He was again shocked when he had only been striking the dummy for barely five seconds when he was berated for poor form, and how his moves were overly direct and easily readable. Kyaena, getting irritated at how unduly critical the teachers seemed to be being, and smelling something fishy, gave Naruto permission to demonstrate his ace in the hole. Everyone watched as Naruto charged the dummy, and with a single punch, blew right through it in a burst of stuffing and wood splinters. His fellow students were obviously amazed, but the teachers just forbade Naruto from using the technique again, as well as telling him he wouldn't be allowed to partake in the sparring evaluation for fear of him hurting the other students.
Naruto and Kyaena were getting pissed. The whole afternoon progressed in the same pattern. Anything Naruto tried to do, he was immediately criticized, berated or penalized for, as Iruka and Mizuki seemed determined to find fault in everything. Several tests, like the sparring, Naruto wasn't even allowed to participate in. But rather that being given a stand-in equivalency test to compensate, he was just given a failing grade. By the end of the academy day, Naruto had obviously failed the practical exam with the worst grades in the class. Naruto tried to talk to Iruka afterwards to ask for another chance, or at the least, be given stand-in tests for the ones he hadn't been allowed to take. Even Naruto knew it was completely unfair to fail someone on a test he didn't even take. But Iruka refused, scolding Naruto for both his 'recklessness' in the exam, and his attitude in thinking he deserved more chances than the other students. Oh boy. Kyaena was hissing mad at that comment.
Things only got worse the next day when the written tests were returned after grading. Naruto had failed that as well, only getting one right answer out of the hundred, and the one that was marked as correct was #100. But all the other answers were marked as wrong. Answers that Naruto and Kyaena knew he hadn't put down. They were all different. They weren't what Naruto had written, and they both knew it. But when Naruto loudly protested that the test he had been tested on was in fact not the test that he had tested, it was a test to Iruka and Mizuki's patience, making them a bit testy. Mizuki had the nerve to say that since Naruto finished the written test so much faster than almost everyone else, he must have 'carelessly rushed', and therefore the mistakes were Naruto's own fault. Kyaena would have torn the academy apart if given the chance.
It was only the start for what would become the most aggravating time of Naruto's life.
He was never called on in class, even if he was the only one who knew the answer. Whenever he tried to just say it out loud, he was always yelled at for disrupting class. Every written test came back marked as failed, and always with his answers having been changed, a few times not even in Naruto's handwriting. The one time Naruto deliberately put down wrong answers, the test came back exactly intact. Now convinced beyond doubt that someone was doing it to him on purpose, Naruto tried to tell someone. Anyone. He tried to tell Iruka and Mizuki, who wouldn't believe him and told him to stop trying to beg for special treatment. He told Teuchi and Ayame, who couldn't do anything about it even though they did believe him. He tried to tell Sarutobi, even going as far as having the old man quiz him there in his office. That at least got a bit of results, as the Hokage then accompanied Naruto to a day of class. But somehow, when Naruto finished another test, even as he sat right there and watched Mizuki hand his test directly to Sarutobi, the master shinobi expressed his disappointment in Naruto's poor performance. After that, the Hokage wouldn't bother taking any more time out of his busy schedule.
Naruto was left to deal with the matter himself. Month after month, Naruto worked his absolute hardest, but was never given the right chances, never given the benefit of the doubt, and usually wasn't even allowed to participate in most of the practical skills evaluations. But it didn't stop him from working on everything on his own time. Even when the other students went home, or were out playing with friends, Naruto was either in his apartment, studying, or at a training field, practicing (when he wasn't at Ichiraku's, of course). And this was especially true when the first of the basic academy jutsu were taught. Naruto picked them all up easily, and set about to mastering their use in a multitude of situations. The most important of which was the use of the Transformation Jutsu, that finally allowed Naruto access to the village library, among other places of informational import.
Surprisingly, in the course of all of this, he discovered there was one thing he wasn't half good at. Genjutsu. He discovered that canceling them was very easy for him, due to the magnitude of his chakra level, as well as Kyaena being able to send pulses of demonic chakra through him to break anything he couldn't. When Naruto tried performing genjutsu however, they would either not work at all, or were so pathetically weak or unstable that they couldn't be effective. This was the problem he had with the Clone Jutsu. Even though his form and chakra control were more than good enough, there was something that just wouldn't click in his mind when he tried. And of course, his teachers were no help, because the Clone Jutsu was officially categorized as a ninjutsu, not a genjutsu. This, combined with the fact that the Transformation Jutsu (which Naruto found quite easy) was categorized as a genjutsu, not a ninjutsu, made Naruto's claim that he was no good at genjutsu seem like a blatant lie. Naruto did not like that at all. Still, as far as Naruto and Kyaena were concerned, having discovered only a single weakness so far in Naruto's skills, and half a weakness at that, wasn't too bad.
When the academy year came to its end, Naruto was looking forward to the graduation exam. He was certain that whoever had been screwing him over couldn't possibly mess up the exam, as it constituted primarily of practical evaluation, and unlike the rest of the year, he would have to be allowed to complete the entirety of it if he chose to take it. Which was something Naruto found a bit unusual. Instead of the entire class having to take the exam, it was by individual choice of the students. But that didn't really matter to Naruto. The exam came. He took it. And with the Clone Jutsu being his only problem...
He still failed.
Naruto was as burning mad as Kyaena. He nearly strangled Iruka when he was told that all graduates had to be able to perform the 'basic three jutsu', as they were traditionally called. And since Naruto couldn't do an effective Clone Jutsu, he failed. Naruto was so upset at that, he spent several days abusing one of the outer fields of the village that he occasionally trained at. But regardless, he fully intended to keep trying, despite multiple efforts of the academy instructors to get Naruto to drop out and give up. Naruto kept his name registered for the next academy year, and because his attendance had originally been personally ordered by the Hokage, no one could stop him.
With the start of Naruto's second year at the academy, he noticed something slightly different. Because of those that had graduated before, considering those that hadn't yet, homeroom classes were rearranged slightly to compensate. As such, Naruto saw a few new faces in the class to replace the absent. Amongst whom were one Kiba Inuzuka (and his dog partner Akamaru), who was a bit loud and brash, but otherwise a seemingly nice guy, and one Shino Aburame who... well, he just creped everyone out.
In the course of the second year, it was actually Kiba's presence that would change things for Naruto, who was having as miserable a time as the first year. First of all, as Naruto and Kyaena learned about some of the talents of the Inuzuka clan, Kyaena suggested attempting some similar methods in Naruto's training in using enhanced senses akin to that of animals. While normally attempting to just jump into such a thing would be next to impossible without having an innate ability for it like the Inuzuka clan, Naruto did have some success, mostly centered in hearing and smell. Kyaena theorized that it was her presence that allowed him to do so, especially with how thoroughly they were connected in both spirit and energy. One strange side effect of this sensory training was that Naruto's whiskers began to tingle on occasion at seemingly random moments. Kyaena didn't have any explanation for it at the time.
The second thing that Kiba's presence introduced to Naruto was... pranks. Oh yes. It was truly an interesting discovery for Naruto. Not to say that there hadn't been pranks being performed by students the previous year, it was just that Naruto had been more focused on trying to learn rather than pay attention to what other students did in their own free time. This was offset by the fact that Kiba's pranks occasionally happened in class instead of during lunch or whenever, making it impossible for Naruto not to notice. What caught Naruto's interest was that the concept of the prank, despite the possibility of some hurt feelings on the part of the prankee, was that one sets up a situation to catch another off-guard, and not get caught in the process. In other words, it was a demonstration of skill. Something Naruto was desperate to prove to those responsible for deciding his fate as a shinobi. So, since he was being blocked from showing his skills in the text-book manner, Naruto turned to pranks to get his abilities out in the open, intending to finally be recognized for his good hard work.
Unfortunately, the road to detention is paved with good intentions.
Naruto didn't bother with anything small. He wanted big recognition, and that meant big pranks. And so in the middle of his second year at the academy, the village witnessed the beginning of a truly bizarre time in it's history. And it was marked on that day, when people awoke to find the great gates of Konoha glued shut with a mixture of rubber cement, stone plaster and... mint bubble gum. How Naruto got that much gum and pre-chewed it in one night is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.
Naruto's pranks were big. They were complex. They were even quite imaginative. And the best part of all, no one ever got hurt. Except Naruto that is. He had failed to take into account that if you prank one person, that one person might get mad. If you prank half the village, half the village might get mad. So for the first time in a while, Naruto found himself spending some of his afternoons running away from angry villagers. But it wasn't any big deal since they could neither catch nor hurt him, and Naruto quickly found himself enjoying the opportunities to give a bit of payback to those who had mistreated him for so long. As long as it wasn't anything dangerous, despite some of Kyaena's opinions. But she couldn't deny that she had fun too.
His new hobby not withstanding, Naruto still tried his hardest in the academy. But at least he wasn't quite as stressed over the constant unfairness and neglect anymore. Not since Iruka and Mizuki had to constantly watch where they sat. And speaking of, Iruka actually began taking interest in Naruto's pranks, though he didn't outright say it. And for some strange reason, he took it upon himself to try to round up Naruto after most of the pranks were completed. Since Naruto was looking for attention, he didn't put up too much of a fight whenever Iruka 'caught' him. It seemed to develop into a patern of sorts. Though the bigger picture behind that pattern was still a little fuzzy.
For the last two months of his second year of the academy, Naruto dropped most of his training to focus specifically on attempting to correct his slight problem with genjutsu. He practiced the Clone Jutsu every day and night. But he just couldn't get it to work. No matter how precise his chakra control, no matter how exact his hand-signs, no matter how hard he tried to focus on the seemingly simple matter of projecting the basic image illusion of himself, the best he could do was some kind of pale, pathetic, half-dead and knocked-out barely-there phantom. Naruto wasn't happy, but strangely, Kyaena wasn't as upset. She told him that as long as his ability to cancel genjutsu was as strong as possible, they would never really have to worry. She even went so far as to suggest the possibility that it was in fact because of his almost natural ability to cancel genjutsu, that it was inherently trying to cancel his own as well. It wasn't a theory that could be proved very easily, but it gave them an idea for how Naruto might be able to pass the graduation exam a different way. But the exam wouldn't be the only thing different this year.
Just a week before the end of Naruto's second year and the graduation exam, Naruto was returning from his hiding in the forest, as was his custom to do during the three day festival surrounding his birthday, to discover a small wrapped package sitting outside his apartment door. I'll forgo the description of the hour long process Naruto took to make sure it wasn't a bomb, or trapped or anything. When he opened it, he found inside a new pair of protective goggles and a small card note. The note read:
Protecting your eyes to see through the lies is only one-half of the game.
Work through it all, don't stop if you fall, and you'll never have cause to feel shame.
Happy Birthday Naruto Uzumaki.
Naruto was more shocked than he had ever been in his life. Someone had actually given him a birthday present! After eleven years, after thousands of beatings, after hundreds of murder attempts, after having to bear the burden of every hateful glare of the villagers... Someone had actually acknowledged the good of his very existence, for his birthday no less! Naruto would have given up ramen for life if he could have just known who had done this special thing for him. But there was no evidence of any kind. He spent the day examining the box, the goggles, the note, even the floor of his front balcony, but there was nothing. The lack of evidence gave rise to a fear that it was just some kind of prank being pulled on him, but Naruto refused to care. Even if the whole village laughed at him, he walked out his door the next morning wearing those goggles, and would wear them every day after throughout his time at the academy. And as he had once done for his first kunai, Naruto vowed that he would never loose or get rid of his goggles... his first present... ever.
When the graduation exam came up a few days later, Naruto took it again. But when he was told to perform the Clone Jutsu, he requested that he be tested on his ability to cancel genjutsu instead. That they throw whatever they could at him, and rank him on how far he could keep going. But they refused, again bringing up the ridiculous fact that the Clone Jutsu was categorized as a ninjutsu. Naruto screamed that anything that created a non-solid, non-real image that didn't do anything except fool the eyes had to be a genjutsu. But they ignored him, and failed him again...
"Those idiots are REALLY trying my nerves!" Kyaena hissed as Naruto slowly let himself into his apartment. He was fairly scuffed up, and was covered in a thin dusting of dry dirt.
Like after his failure the previous year, Naruto had been quite upset and had gone to one of the outer fields of the village to safely vent some built-up aggravation. He had made sure no one was around, then had proceeded to physically beat on the ground, rocks and trees until he was sore enough to consider stopping. He had slunk back to his apartment feeling somewhat depressed.
'There's not really anything we can do about it.' Naruto sighed to himself as he locked his door, then went to the bath to change out of his dirty cloths. 'If they never give me a chance, I'll never be able to prove myself. All I can do is keep trying until they realize they're the ones that are screwing up.' He threw his cloths into a basket, then turned on the shower.
"You're the best in the entire class! They're being so stupid by denying you!" Kyaena fumed. "I'd even bet you could beat the stuffing out of that bastarf Mizuki if the chance came up!"
'Why do you always rant about Mizuki-sensei? He's not doing anything that Iruka-sensei isn't.' Naruto frowned as the water was rinsing the dirt from his face.
"All I know is the more time goes by, the more I hate him! You know I've disliked him from the start!" She growled.
'But it's Iruka-sensei that's been giving me more hassle lately! He keeps punishing me for my pranks, even if they're no where near the academy, or regardless of who I pull them on!' Naruto scrubbed at a stubborn grass stain on his knee. 'And he's gotten a little too good at catching me after my pranks. Almost as if he's had some experience himself...'
"Maybe." Kyaena smirked a little. "But what I find interesting is that he catches you after you've completed your pranks." She waited a moment for Naruto to think. "Could it be, just perhaps, Iruka is trying to give you a chance to prove yourself? He might not be able to, or willing to, in the classroom, but I think there's hope for him."
'Are we talking kitsune instinct again?' Naruto couldn't help the smile and slight shake of his head, partly in amusement, partly to get some water out of his ear.
"I'm serious. It's happening much too slow for my liking, but I think it is happening. I think you're slowly getting through to Iruka." She said.
'Peh. I think he just likes yelling at me. He yells at the class in general, but he doesn't yell at anyone else in the specific way like he does with me.' Naruto finally got the worst of the dirt rinsed away and started washing in proper with the soap.
"Different people show their feelings in different ways. Or, conversely, even if two people act the same way, they are still different people, and so the action means something different from person to person." Kyaena said in a very soft, almost tantalizing voice. Naruto paused in his washing as he blinked.
'Where did that come from?' He asked in confusion, both at what she said, and the tone in which she had said it.
"Just always remember, sometimes people can be confusing, and sometimes they can be completely clear." She sighed slowly. "Sorry. You know that things like that drift up from time to time." She purred slightly. "So, it seems you're feeling better."
'Well, I'm back to feeling as I usually do. I don't know if it's 'better' or not.' Naruto finished washing as he rinsed off a last time. He shut off the shower and dried off. Putting on his favorite pajamas, he got himself a cup of fruit juice before getting into bed.
"So what do you think the plan for your third year should include?" Kyaena asked in mild contentment as she curled up.
'I'm not sure if there will be that much new material for me to pick up on. To be honest, the classes are too easy that they're boring.' Naruto thought dully as he tried to calm his mind enough to sleep.
"So, I guess that means you'll have more time for pranks?" Kyaena giggled, but Naruto was silent. "Naru-kun..."
'I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I can't help it.' Naruto cringed. 'I just keep wondering. Always wondering about what it would be like to have a different life. If something was different. If anything was different.'
"Like what?" Kyaena sighed. They often had these kinds of conversations after a frustrating time. Naruto wondering about lives he'd never have.
'...Well... what do you think my life would be like... if... if...' Naruto hated feeling uncertain. He knew that even Kyaena didn't always have all the answers, but at least she was confident and decisive. He often wished to be more like her. ... Like her. ... Hmm...
"N-Naru-kun?" Kyaena stuttered as her eyes widened at his line of thought.
'What do you think my life would have been like if I had been born a girl?' Naruto asked with nervous curiosity.
It took several minutes for Kyaena to carefully consider her response. After getting over her shock, that is.
"Well, for one, you'd have the problem of dealing with all the perverts in the world." She said slowly. Naruto started slightly, not having expected that.
'What are you talking about?' Naruto asked in confusion. 'Why would perverts come after me?'
"Simple. Perverts go after the most beautiful girls and women, regardless of who they are. And it's obvious to me that you would have been a very beautiful girl." Kyaena said with a hint of approval, but Naruto misunderstand the meaning of it.
'You mean unlike the scruffy runt I am as a boy?' He snorted. Kyaena giggled a bit.
"No, I mean that men are just more obvious in showing their interest. You're in great health now, and boy or girl, you'll have the others interested in you eventually, without a doubt." She said with a knowing smirk.
'...Well, what do you think I'd have looked like? I mean, what's it like being a girl?' Naruto asked after a moment of consideration. Kyaena was about to reply, but stopped when she got a idea. A very, VERY interesting idea.
"Why bother asking, when you can just find out for yourself?" She said with far too much amusement in her voice.
'Er... What are you talking about?' Naruto asked nervously, but Kyaena kept silent to let him figure it out. It took him a few minutes. 'AH! The Transformation Jutsu!' He realized.
"Exactly! If you want to know what it's like to be a girl, just become one! And although it might take a bit of work, you should even be able to get it so that you can transform into yourself as a girl." Kyaena was a more intrigued in the idea than she was letting on. 'This could be incredible. I can't imagine any other boy willingly wanting to understand girls from a girl's perspective. If he does this right, when he gets older, he'll have more females coming after him than he'll know what to do with!' She giggled.
'Eh? What's so funny?' Naruto asked suspiciously.
"Um, nothing. Anyway, you can start on this project tomorrow, although if you want to avoid insults and ridicule, I suggest you do it in private, and not tell anyone about it. Make it your own project." Kyaena suggested.
'I already have a project! Fixing my genjutsu skills so I can pass the stupid graduation exam!' Naruto argued, tossing a bit in his bed.
"Genjutsu isn't the be-all end-all of a ninja. You know how to cancel it, be satisfied with that. And don't forget, just because the idiots that run the academy say you're not good enough doesn't make it true in the slightest!" Kyaena took a breath, to try to bring up a topic that never ran well. "Experience is experience! You're getting stronger and better all the time!" She took another breath and dove in. "There is no law against civilians traveling. If you just tell the Hokage you want to visit some other lands, then just find an opportunity to ditch your escort-"
'NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!' Naruto bolted upright, fists clenched. 'I can't! It won't work! This is my home! This is where I have to prove myself!' He was shaking from tension. 'I can travel once I've proved myself and become a ninja!'
"Of course they'll let you travel once your a ninja! Because once you're a ninja, even if just a genin, they'll have you on a leash! If you're ever going to leave the village, it has to be now! Because the instant you're a ninja, if you so much as set foot outside the wall without permission, they'll declare you rouge and order you executed on the spot!" Kyaena argued. The same argument, every time. They always run in circles.
'That's not going to happen! I'll never betray the village! The old man knows that!' Naruto flopped back down.
"Naru-kun, no one outside the village could possibly know about me! If you can just get to another village and ask to stay, then these temes won't be able to do anything without blowing the secret to all the shinobi nations! Not unless they want to tarnish their so called 'good names'! Please Naru-kun! This might be your last chance!" Kyaena pleaded.
'My parents died here. I know you didn't mean it, it wasn't your fault. But this is my HOME. If I can't live here, I'll never be able to live anywhere else. I'd always remember this place, and I'd always feel like a failure if I had to run away.' Naruto pulled his blanket over himself. 'I haven't made it this far just to take the easy way out! The cowards way out! Only the weakest and most heartless person would throw away their true self just for some easy fix to a problem!' He cringed down from the unpleasant thoughts. Knowing that once again she would be unable to push the issue without seriously upsetting him, all Kyaena could do was start purring to calm him down so he could sleep.
"Have I told you lately how proud of you I am? How courageous and honorable you are?" She cooed and purred as Naruto relaxed. "How your dedication and enduring spirit are remarkable to behold?" She felt him relaxing more as he readjusted his blanket. "How your pranks are creative and memorable?" She smirked as Naruto chuckled a bit. "How you would make the most adorable little golden kit?" She snickered.
'Hey...' Naruto chided slightly. He sighed as he rolled over. 'How is it you're always able to calm me do so easily?'
"One of the talents of being female." She giggled a little more. "Once we've worked out the Transformation Jutsu specifics, you'll be able to try it yourself."
'You know...' Naruto smirked as his eyes finally closed. 'There could potentially be other uses for that technique...' Kyaena suddenly balked at the images in his imagination.
'Uh oh. I think I might have oopsed.' She sweat-dropped to herself.
A short time later, at the beginning of Naruto's third year at the academy, he once again found a few new faces that had been transferred into his class homeroom. He didn't know that he would be changed from that moment on, when he met those new class mates.
Naruto's life just got a whole lot more complicated.
END OF PROLOUGE
I know it's long. But I couldn't cut it up. It's a prologue, and prologues by definition are only one chapter, even though they're not technically a chapter. And for the length matter, come on, I had to put seven years worth of important events into this. Why seven years and not twelve? Because it starts when Naruto is four, and ends just as he turned eleven after the end of his second year of academy and the beginning of the third.
For those of you who say that Itachi wasn't old enough to have kept watch over a young Naruto, well, it's obvious that Itachi will be a bit older in my fic. But it doesn't have any effect on events. Just a convenience.
Yes, this is a helpful femKyuubi fic. If you don't like it, feel free to look elsewhere for stories you prefer. But I hope you'll give my story a chance with thoughtful consideration. I'm hoping to make this story interesting enough to keep your interests.
I tried to make Kyaena more of an actual character, rather than just some formless voice in Naruto's head. Note the descriptions of her actions and manerisms. But the tricky part is to remember that, one, only Nartuto can hear her voice. Two, while awake normally, Naruto can NOT see her inside himself. He can only 'see' her when he enters the mindscape of the seal. Also, note that while awake normally, Naruto 'thinks' his talk to Kyaena, but scenes inside the sealscape, he "talks" to her. I understand that this might be a bit difficult to visualize in a written story, but if you can imagine, if this style were aplied to anime, every scene that includes Naruto would have a 'picture in picture' that has Kyaena in a corner of the screen that would allow the viewers to see her reactions and speech. I thought it would be interesting to try to do it this way.
One more thing about the Naruto-Kyuubi seal connection. As I mentioned (once) in this prolouge, Kyaena experiances the world through Naruto's senses. So she can see through his eyes, hear through his ears, etc. Also, she can look through his memories and imagination at will, and hears his every thought. However, Naruto can only hear what she "talks". He can NOT hear her 'thoughts'. How frustrating for him to have a girl in his head, and still doesn't know what girls think about. I'm a real meannie, aren't I?
I dropped a number of foreshadowing hints in this prologue, so feel free to re-read it as may times as you like to see if you can pick out all the various little things that you think might be more than they seem. But I warn you now, some of the things won't be covered till much later in the fic. You might find yourself coming back to this prologue to re-check things you read later.
I deliberately noted in the story that Kyaena is NOT the lord (or in this case, lady) of all demons, or the lord(lady) of hell, or any crap like that. I made her a HER, and made her Queen of the Kitsune (Fox Demon Clan). The bijuu are not the only demons in the world, they are simply the more/most powerful of their individual clans, and are the most widely known about to humans. I suppose I might have had the Inuyasha world in mind in this regard, to the various 'tribes' of demons, as it will make interactions between demons more interesting. I also thought it would be interesting to add the para-elemental factor, to both give Kyaena a more interesting background, as well as it's important for certain things about Naruto that will be covered later.
I hope my interpretation of how certain events lead into one-another is convincing. I was aiming to try to have Naruto turn out to be approximately how he would be by the start of the 'series', but make no mistake, there are going to be differences.
It's possible I'll have to edit this prologue a few times as I progress through the story, so I'll make sure to note if and when I do.
As you saw at the start of this chapter, as well as you'll see at the beginning of other chapters, I've created a simplistic index system.
Chapters are listed as SOTS-(#)-(#)-(#). First is the story number (I've already planned at least four), then the arc number (you know, like the land of waves arc, or the chunin exam arc), then the chapter number within the arc. That is to say, arc one has a chapter one, but then arc two begins with its own chapter one. You'll see what I mean. And even though I fully intend to give titles to the chapters (though some may not be that imaginative or original), I thought this indexing system would make it easier, both for posting matters, and for anyone who wanted to remember a favorite chapter that they could simply make note of the index numbers. Better than trying to remember some long, obscure title, isn't it?
For the record, I have access to the manga, the original japanime, and the uncut american anime. I compare them as I go along, using some material from one, and other material from another. With that in mind, know that what I write I do with a reason and purpose, including what I change and that of my own that I add. I suspect, however, that I'll be leaning more towards the anime, for the simple reason that it draws out longer than the manga. In other words, I intend to include a lot of the anime fillers in my story, though not all. Most of them happen after the 'Retrieval of Sasuke' arc, so those much are obvious. I'd like, and need, the opportunity to work out character development and event issues. I hope you'll enjoy it.
Jutsu will be in name grammer english (example - Shadow Clone Jutsu), because I haven't been able to find a website that's capable of accurate translation of Japanese phrases. Only ones that translate individual words. If someone knows of an accurate phrase/sentence translation site, please message me.
I have a plan on how to write out the chapters, but my method will mean that chapters may be of any size. Some might be longer than this one, and some might be absurdly short. But those short ones will probably only be neccesary due to important events that can't be cut out, but occure between two other events, and can't be included in either successfully. So again, chapters: Any size. Right.
If you're still unsure if you want to bother reading further in this story, then I will give you two last little incentives.
One, Kyaena is not as nice or as stupid as this prologue might lead you to believe.
Two, and this is the one I think you'll find the most intriguing...
Naruto is not as SANE as he seems.
This chapter edited: