Will of Fire, Heart of Stone
A/N: I just finished a story with a wishy washy Sandaime who gets redeemed at the end. Writing the epilogue to that story made me want to work on this one again. This is a stronger, more resolute Sandaime Hokage, but his world won't be an easy one. As you shall see.
A week after the demonic disaster named Kyuubi almost leveled Konoha, notices went out to the ANBU. Several senior ninja now had new, internal duties.
For some reason, the three Hyuuga ANBU began spying on the Uchiha. Two Uchiha spied on the Hyuuga. The Inuzuka ANBU members were tasked with the Ino-Shika-Cho clans. The Nara clan spied on the Inuzuka. Hatake Kakashi was pulled from his grief over the death of his sensei to start surveillance on the civilian council members.
No one knew why they were tasked away from reconstruction or intensified border patrol. Internal spying was usually a matter for ROOT, wasn't it, or the Counter-Espionage group.
A few people tried to get the Hokage or even Jiraiya to explain what was going on. Orders were orders; the Hokage sat resolute and said nothing.
Indeed, most of the ANBU didn't question their orders. The Hyuua were naturally suspicious of the Uchiha; the Uchiha loathed the Hyuuga.
A few ANBU were now getting paid by the Hokage to do what their clans would normally have them do in their off hours.
Reports flowed in to the Hokage. The information he wanted to know was so strange. Were the Uchiha talking with people outside of their compound more often? Did the Yamanaka clan ninjas talk with a lot of civilians?
It was a full week later that notices went out to the clan heads and the elder counselors. There was a meeting at nine…that night…less than two hours distant.
The newly reinstated Hokage wasn't known for being dramatic, so the counselors and clan heads showed up expecting either great or terrible news. Two weeks after the Kyuubi disaster, they were expecting more dire news.
They were proven correct when an unspeakably angry Sarutobi Hiruzen stormed into the room. Normally a genial sort, an angry Hokage had the council nervous. The news was going to be terrible…had Iwa resumed the war?
It wasn't every day that the most powerful ninja in the Fire Country seemed like a raging volcano. Disquieting thoughts bubbled up in the minds of everyone present.
"Sit," he said at barely a whisper, still everyone fell into their seats.
A rather dour-looking Toad Sannin, Jiraiya, followed the Hokage into the room. Then, ominously, the doors were shut and sealed from the outside. This was a rare sort of security precaution. All the evidence pointed to war.
"How many of you in this room like living in a Hidden Village?" the Hokage asked.
The assembled elders and clan heads of the village were surprised at the question. A lot of shrugging and confusion followed. This wasn't the way Sarutobi usually spoke. He was direct and to the point.
"Raise your hands if you like living in Konoha." The barked command shocked the listeners.
Everyone raised a hand. This was embarrassing to them, like being back in the Ninja Academy.
"Raise your hand," the angry Hokage said, "if you love that we're nestled into a vast forest. A forest our Shodai Hokage endowed to us…his greatest and most incredible work, something that could never be replicated, not with all the Earth and Water users in Fire Country."
The counselors and clan heads did nothing. That just made the Hokage angrier.
"If you like living in a forest, raise your hand."
Again, all the hands went up.
"And who here had donated their time to helping those injured in the disaster? To making life a bit better for your neighbor, for the man who sells you daikon, or the woman who bakes your bread. All of you, right?"
Some hands went up without a thought. The more snobbish clan leaders reluctantly raised theirs, as if they had difficulties remembering ever helping anyone.
"I can assume everyone here wants their children, their heirs, to grow up among the leaves, right?"
This was an easy one. All the hands rose up as one.
"Yes. Many of you have just had children. Some are the new clan heirs. Some will, unfortunately, have to replace clan heirs who died during those horrible events when the hospital was damaged and part of a village wall caved in."
That sad history had been discussed among the clans. Why did Sarutobi bring up such a painful subject now? The Yamanaka's had lost a son, the designated heir. The Aburame had lost two children and their clan head, extinguishing that branch of the family. The Uchiha had lost almost ten percent of their ninja, including the third in line to be clan head behind Fugaku's own two sons.
"Yes, it's a fine thing to live in a village like this one. A fine thing. Three Hokages to date have died to keep this place alive; I checked the rolls and another eighteen hundred jounin-ranked ninja have died in our decades of skirmishes, intrigues, and wars. A beautiful forest we have grown from blood, sweat, and ground bone. A beautiful place to raise children…."
The clan heads, in particular, had no idea if Sarutobi had lost his mind. The words coming out of his mouth, this anger, what had happened? If it wasn't war, what was it?
Sarutobi stopped for a moment, looked at Jiraiya, and took a deep breath. "Fine. Everyone in here is loyal to the Leaf. So you attest. Now tell me if you'd all like to have Stone ninjas attack us in a week…. Anyone?"
The elders looked confused. What the Hokage said wasn't a declaration of war, was it?
"No one wants that, Hokage-sama," said the acting head of the Aburame clan. (With the previous head's death, the internal politics of selecting a new permanent head would take time.)
"No one says they want that," Jiraiya said, his tone even angrier than the Hokage's. "But that's what you clout-headed fools almost caused."
"What," the Uchiha Clan head shouted. A number of other people jumped to their feet to defend their patriotism.
"Sit," the Hokage said, barely constraining his rage. "All of you return to your seats. We have much to discuss."
Sarutobi was usually so mild mannered that it was odd to see him stand and begin pacing the way a caged tiger might…and the council knew that this aged man was more deadly than any tiger.
"Because of the devastation from the Kyuubi's attack, we are at our weakest right now," the Third Hokage said, his weariness only exceeded with the vigor of his anger.
"You all know this. It's vital we keep this truth secret. Right? We must repair ourselves as fast as possible giving our enemies as small an opportunity as possible…to learn of our distress."
The assembled elders all agreed. Who knew what Stone or Cloud might do if they had accurate information as to what had happened. Even their ally Hidden Sand might get some fool-headed ideas given the chance. The main wall hadn't been completely repaired yet and Konoha's surviving ninja forces were mostly injured or despondent in grief at the present moment.
Battle-hardened ninja knew what it was like to fight in battle. But to fight the unstoppable, the juggernaut of a bijuu…that was something else entirely.
Some of the ninja on the battlefield might never be right in the head again.
"Secrecy. We all know the importance. It's common sense. It's been discussed in this very chamber two times since the attack. So how is it that one or more traitors sit on this council, traitors who would draw the Stone army to us?"
That prompted more outcry, of course. The look on the Hokage's face was enough to put down this eruption of self-preservation.
"You, all of you in this room save the Aburame and two of the minor clans now present, were told eight days ago of this village's most recent S-class secret. I even formed a special law to protect this information…to keep Konoha and also the young sacrifice safe."
Danzo, along with Homura, finally understood what this was about. The Head of ROOT began trying to figure out how he was going to survive this. Sarutobi would assign a slap on the wrist, right? Perhaps a loss of political power or a forced retirement. But a retired ninja can maintain unofficial power for a very long time. Danzo's mind churned through his options.
"Less than a week later, what do I find? Defiance; passing of the secret through the clans; even civilians discussing military secrets on the street corner. For a normal secret, I would be angry but dismiss it as a bit of venting, dangerous but potentially necessary. But not for this secret. Now you shall know why I am so angry, so furious: a team of chuunin out patrolling seven days ago discovered something that chilled my blood."
The angry face of Sarutobi became fixed.
"A spy, a spy from Stone, rushing back to Earth Country as quickly as he could."
Cold horror bloomed in the minds of not a few clan heads present. The greater part of the room now saw where this story was going…and they were too weak to keep Sarutobi and Jiraiya from doing what they had now resolved had to do.
"This spy was taken down easily – by surprise – and sent to interrogation. Do you want to know what this spy had learned just from walking our streets? He knew the classified details of what had happened to Kyuubi, even the name of the jinchuuriki; he knew the specifics of the sealing array used; he knew even how long the seal had to be in place – nine years – before we could be absolutely sure that Kyuubi would die when his jailor died. He knew details I released to this council only one day before the spy heard them. These details I only released to this Council under great duress…and under my special law. Why then did a spy learn them so quickly…a spy so green he was taken down by chuunin eating their dinner while out on patrol!"
The Uchiha head had grown paler and paler. "I protest…."
"Sit down, you blowhard. You and your ilk have almost brought a war upon us at the time we're least able to cope with one. To think I thought this Council was worth the frustration; that the idea of participation and semi-representative democracy was valuable; that it would keep us from becoming monstrous and corrupt; that we were different from Stone and Cloud and Hidden Mist because our clans and our villagers could be involved in governance….
"I was a fool. I considered some of you as adversaries or as annoyances. But I was wrong. As a body this council is worthless except to bring down ruin upon us. You can't keep your mouths shut! So many treasonous things have begun in the minds of people who had the privilege of sitting in this room. I should strike these betrayers down as I speak…."
The Uchiha shut up midway through that vitriol. He was a formidable ninja, but 'The Professor' could knock him to pieces in minutes, having developed now-forbidden techniques that negated the Sharingan's predictive and copying abilities.
"You all expected me not to notice you were violating military intelligence protocol; that you were spreading vital, classified information so freely that a green spy from Stone, here on a simple training mission, could learn our most critical secrets within hours of entering our village. I am not a doddering fool; I have not forgotten my job in the all-too-brief time that the Yondaime took the leadership of Konoha. I am the Fire Shadow; I have the will of fire, but today I must also harden my heart and perform a most painful duty.
"For one week I have had my ANBU spying on all of you. I preyed on old hatreds and no one questioned why I was spying on my own people so soon after a disaster. I have a good deal of evidence, enough to pass judgment.
"For breaking the special Kyuubi law, this Council, per my powers as Hokage in a time of disaster or war, is dissolved. All of you will submit to 'informal' questioning as to what you know of this security leak. Those of you responsible will spend time with the ANBU interrogators. Those who maliciously broke the law will receive the full sentence, death; those who are merely stupid or gossips will be removed as ninjas. None of the guilty will ever hold positions of prominence in this village again…."
At this the Head of the Uchiha Clan attacked. It was either he assassinate the Hokage now…or die a traitor later.
The Hokage had expected it.
The Hyuuga ANBU had provided evidence that suggested nearly every Uchiha knew of the jinchuuriki – and it was clear that news was passing to civilians from several Uchiha. Perhaps they expected for village mobs to deal with the jinchurriki, not caring that the seal needed time to bind the Kyuubi's soul to the young boy's. Not caring that it was entirely likely that this act of vengeance would give Kyuubi back all his power.
The Uchiha would destroy anything…even a baby…that had the potential to become more powerful than even their greatest prodigies. It was the Uchiha way. Konoha had always gone along, turning a blind eye, in the past. (Well, save for when the Shodaime and Uchiha Madara got into a battle over their tactics and goals….)
The Hokage batted away the Fire attack as he leveled a massive Killer Intent at the only Uchiha in the room.
This attack was one the Professor had used very rarely…but it worked. The amount of fear generated within the hate-filled Uchiha's mind caused a blood vessel to burst. The man fell over, incapacitated and slowly dying.
"Anyone else care to challenge me?" The Hokage looked over the cowering morons with disgust. "I may be old, but I can kill the strongest of you just by glaring at you."
The quivering mass of the dying Uchiha Clan leader on the floor gave testament to that.
"All of you will be taken for questioning by several people I trust implicitly. The traitors will feel the talents of the ANBU torture squad. You will reveal the name of every person you informed of this secret…and why. This is not a gossipy shougi parlor…this is a military village. Secrets, even one you hate, can kill us if known to a wide audience."
Jiraiya, usually a goofball, looked as severely angered as the Hokage. He finally spoke up. "My greatest student gave his life to save this pissant village…and all of your pettiness nearly took that and threw it away. I counseled against sharing any information with you…I had a more hard-nosed understanding of what many of you were. Sensei decided to trust in your military instincts, your self-preservation instincts. He has already admitted his folly.
"Stone could have mobilized and been here within a week…and they would have known exactly which child to secure. They'd have killed the poor tyke, because they are truly heartless bastards, and Kyuubi's chakra would have been free to reform a demonic body. All of us would have died. We've let you spoiled princesses poke your noses into things for too long. I'm going to start my interrogation with the Hyuuga."
The Hokage just nodded. "As of now, I am sole leader of the village. All of the special dispensations for clans are void…as several clans have brought us to war and should feel the pain of what they did…and I will appoint special advisors to deal with trade, reconstruction, relations with the Daimyo, and other matters. We're done."
The Hokage and Jiraiya left through what had been a sealed door.
The other door to the room opened…and a variety of ANBU who did not come from clans poured into the room and overwhelmed the mostly elderly council members. Some of these people had once been fighters, but they couldn't easily stand up to men thirty or forty years younger. Some hadn't even trained regularly in a decade or longer, so used to sitting in the Council chambers and meddling in things not within their purview.
The civilian counselors, who had not been invited to this meeting, were dragged from their homes by masked ANBU. The kinder ANBU used pressure points to knock them unconscious. A few of the ones who'd experienced Council politics before were a bit more…aggressive. The Hokage had approved all of this in advance; after all, he did understand the power of a bit of theatre for the general populace.
Inside and outside the council chamber, the guiltiest struggled the hardest. They had caused the Hokage to invoke the penalty clauses of his law; they had caused the power of the clans to be somewhat broken. It was possible that none of the clans would be trusted for a long time to come after all the revelations came out.
None of the ANBU seemed at all concerned when they broke arms or had to stab a person to keep him from escaping.
The bloody scene inside the room would keep it from being used as a meeting space for a long time. The Hokage did not have it remodeled for nearly a decade, as he considered it an honest, vicious blot – one that should be remembered – on the Village Hidden in the Leaves.
The ANBU began the interrogation of Danzo a few minutes after three o'clock in the morning.
The man had been a rival for years…but Sarutobi had enjoyed the sparring for a good long while. He had never thought his…perhaps-friend was so deep in corruption.
The more of these interrogations Sarutobi listened to, the more out of touch he felt.
All of this…all this vile, beastly plotting inside his village walls! Minato had asked Sarutobi two months ago what he should do about Danzo; the young Hokage had been considering forcing the aged ROOT commander on a suicide mission just to be rid of him. Sarutobi had counseled against it…a foolish effort.
Sarutobi steeled himself and stood behind the one-way mirror. It was nearing four o'clock in the morning, but Sarutobi subsisted on anger right now.
"Now, Danzo," the interrogator said, one of the few interrogation specialists who weren't compromised in some way by ROOT's blackmail or coercion schemes. "Tell me the names of those you informed about the Kyuubi aftermath."
"You're going to kill me anyway. I have confessed my crimes; fallen on my sword for a once-great, now wasting away village. That is enough, I think."
The interrogator, one of the few remaining who was trained during the Nidaime's reign as Hokage, leaned forward. "You know my reputation, Danzo. Do you really want to see my…technique with your own eye?"
Sarutobi stifled a laugh at the little joke. Mocking Danzo for his infirmities was wrong… Huh? Sarutobi hadn't stayed up for this many continuous hours in a good many years. The hours were wearing on him.
"You wouldn't…. That bastard Sarutobi signed a warrant, didn't he? It's bad enough you're going to kill me…but torture?"
"The kind I practice…well, it doesn't leave much in the way of a mark."
"Do your worst…."
Sarutobi closed his eyes and rubbed them. Danzo's holding out like this said that he knew something important. He was being stubborn to demonstrate something, to win a concession…or maybe to be a bastard until the bitter end.
Yakogi would find the information. The number of failures the man had could be counted on two hands – all due to his subjects' hearts giving out under stress. Less than ten died from the more than one thousand who had 'chatted' with this legend.
Sarutobi watched as the barrel of water was carted into the room.
"Is there nothing I can do to prevent this?" the interrogator asked his subject.
"Die," Danzo spat.
"Not today. Not because of you. You should feel lucky I am your lowly interrogator. Had you been before the Shodai Hokage himself, you would feel living wood piercing under your finger and toenails, growing millimeter by millimeter until you begged for death. My technique…is less refined. Well…we shall begin."
The old interrogator formed some handseals and a thin column of water erupted from the tank.
The first bit form up a collar around Danzo's neck. He was immobilized.
The next bit splashed against the man's lips and teeth, prying them open and continuing down his throat.
The water hung there, holding Danzo and suffocating him.
As Danzo's eyes lit up in horror at feeling a technique that should never have been invented, Yakogi performed another set of handseals…and the water from his throat, esophagus, lungs, and stomach began to draw back…slowly. By the time the water was gone, Danzo was nearly passed out.
It was a pain, Sarutobi knew from watching Yakogi work, the inevitable black outs this technique caused. But Yakogi was always cautious to begin and quick to stop once a subject had broken.
"The names, Danzo. Tell me the names."
"The Leaf is rotten," Danzo's damaged vocal cords rumbled. "The branches are rotting. When the fire comes, the Leaf will burn."
Yakogi made more handseals and the process repeated itself.
Sarutobi left the room and let Yakogi ply his trade. He had other conversations to observe.
The Uchiha elders had been taken as a group a few hours ago. Jiraiya had one of them now.
"You can't do that to us. You can't…."
That was a female voice. Fugaku's wife, Mikoto. Sarutobi stepped into the viewing area and fully closed the door.
"You are mistaken," Jiraiya said. "The clan laws have been repealed by a wartime decree; the village council has been disbanded, too. Now…you will tell me how you were told the true details of the Kyuubi attack."
"I have rights. I demand to speak with my husband."
Sarutobi was surprised that she didn't already know. Jiraiya must be saving that information for a reason….
"Right now, you are suspected of treason. I don't think the Hokage cares much about your rights."
"Fugaku would never permit this…."
Sarutobi recognized that the woman had entered a kind of fugue state. Her brain just wasn't processing the questions Jiraiya asked anymore.
"Your husband is dead."
That got a reaction. It wasn't a scream or tears or even shock. The only thing Sarutobi noticed was her lip beginning to quiver. She was a trained kunoichi, after all, and could mask her emotions.
"He attempted to assassinate the Hokage with a fire jutsu. The Hokage…well, he proved why he was Hokage then. Your husband died a minute or two later."
"We are broken, then?"
"All the Uchiha elders are in cells like this one. None of you will ever leave, not until we understand the full extent of this treason…."
"All this, the destruction of our clan, for one simple little baby! He should be dead…."
"I care not for a discussion of policy with a traitor like yourself. I care only for information. Now…speak."
"The Hokage wouldn't kill the child…so the Uchiha Elders, all of us, we decided to…plant the seed of an idea. A bit of overheard gossip here…and eventually some civilian makes an attempt and gives everyone else the idea. That 'child' should be dead."
Sarutobi had heard enough of this. All the Uchiha Elders, six ninja in number now that Fugaku was dead, all conspiring. They would have to be killed.
Minato thought he was ending the chaos and destruction…saving the village. But the method of salvation he chose was now ripping the Hidden Leaf to shreds, exposing the rot that was far more widespread than Sarutobi had feared to imagine.
Sarutobi walked out and picked up a clipboard. The preliminary results were in. Of the twenty-one council members and minor clan advisors, fourteen had broken the law. Of the civilian council members who were informed of the Kyuubi details, all of them had broken the law.
Sarutobi had long debated with himself whether there more danger sharing military information with civilians who did not…and could not…understand the importance of discretion or in allowing only ninja to get restricted information. The answer was still unclear.
He flipped a few pages on the clipboard. Many of the other councilors knew that the law had been violated and did nothing. They would receive lighter sentences, but they were not innocent.
Right now, the ANBU had warrants to apprehend more than forty civilians.
The days of the Uchiha-led Konoha Police Force were over. Civilians would need to get used to being handled by the ANBU. That reminded Sarutobi to have the Police Force records audited and examined…hopefully there would be no irregularities.
It was just another blow.
How much of the village would revolt? Would it lead to a civil war…over something like this…over a baby who kept the raging chakra of a demon held back? Were trained ninja so blind – leaving aside civilians – so given to their passions?
Sarutobi set down the clipboard. He knew that Ebisu, the former head of Ninja Force Internal Affairs, an oft hated figure for his role in policing…well the police and the ninja and anyone else who worked for the Hokage. He was an honest sort, but his days as a line ninja were over. He'd be 'accidentally' killed by teammates while on a mission.
Sarutobi mulled this over as he settled in to listen to another interrogation.
Perhaps Ebisu should go into training the young. It would be nothing at all to make him a Special Jounin…a pity for a talented ninja. It was hard to get someone to take a role in Internal Affairs, but necessary. Ebisu had done a great service then…as he was doing now.
Yamanaka Inoichi was likely innocent, but Ebisu would find out for sure. Sarutobi wanted to make damned sure that his lead interrogation specialist was trustworthy. The ANBU would spend weeks on these detailed interviews if Sarutobi could only trust Yakogi. (He had been retired and living outside the Hidden Leaf during the Kyuubi disaster. Sarutobi had only recalled him a day ago…and was positive the man hadn't been caught up with Danzo or anyone else.)
He settled in to watch Ebisu and Inoichi spar. He had hours to go and his bones were weary.
Three weeks after Kyuubi's defeat, the Sandaime Hokage felt every one of his sixty-five years of life. He walked out onto the balcony overlooking a wide avenue. It was packed with people: villagers and shinobi.
He didn't have to fake the dire look on his face.
"Today, people of Konoha, I must relate a tale of treason to you."
The gathered individuals standing outside the Hokage Tower were understandably nervous. The Hokage hadn't called for a general gathering like this one since Iwa had declared war on the Leaf.
Treason had to be at least as bad as a bunch of Earth Country scum.
"A military secret was revealed to the Village Council about two weeks ago…and they were informed that the information was subject to our highest secrecy ranking. Within the week, the majority of them were freely discussing the secret within their clans. All of the civilian members also violated the military secrecy law.
"This was supremely dangerous, as a young spy from another Hidden Village had just infiltrated our village as part of a training mission. He learned the complete details of our military secret within hours…and it was only luck that a group on patrol caught him before he crossed the border. Our council's loose lips with one of our most important military secrets nearly brought us to war…and at a time we could least expect to deal with it. Instead of repairing the walls and tending to the wounded today, we would have been fighting an enemy force looking to crush us at our weakest point.
"Each person who was told this military secret was questioned…and those who broke the secrecy laws were interrogated to the fullest extent. Twenty-three civilians have been convicted of treason, as have forty-one shinobi. Those convicted of the most minor offenses are currently serving time in our special military prison; those convicted of major offenses will be executed today…."
That brought a gasp from the crowd. Military executions were almost always done in secret, after secret trials, the village at large never permitted to know of what had happened.
Moments later, thirty one people, including seven of the Uchiha Clan, were dragged from an unmarked door on the side of the Hokage Tower. Their guards brought them in front of the city wills near just to the left of where the Hokage was speaking.
"As Hokage, I must protect the people of the village from threats foreign and domestic. These traitors have revealed secrets that only through luck did not end in a bloody war. May you wail for all eternity in the guts of the Shinigami."
A masked man to the side of the condemned let loose a Fire Dragon which seemed to gobble up each person. It was a powerful spectacle with an unmistable message: military secrets will cost you your lives should you ever betray them.
The Hokage continued with his speech. "The Uchiha Clan compound and several other properties belonging to clans and civilians have been confiscated. These Uchiha lands were originally gifts to lure that clan here…and they have been taken back for cowardly, treasonous conduct. Shortly, we will turn those spaces into affordable housing for those adversely affected by the attack. Likewise, we will be moving our orphanage into new quarters there, seeing that we have a massive increase in the numbers of children without living parents…"
"What will happen to the remaining Uchiha?" Predictably it was a civilian shouting out the question. Why the people loved the cold hearted Uchiha Sarutobi couldn't understand.
"Some will choose to resign as shinobi of the Leaf and leave the village…and will be bound with a new protective seal to prevent them from ever attacking Konoha. Some have already gone nukenin…they will be hunted down and killed after I finish teaching my anti-Sharingan tactics to our Hunter Ninjas. Those who remain loyal to Konoha will remain welcome to live with us. However, they will no longer have the right to control our police force nor a right to sit on a council should it ever be reformed. Traitors, among them all the Uchiha Elders, should never prosper from their acts."
The Hokage's speech continued…and the village's opinion of the man changed. While he had cultivated a laid back reputation, he now demonstrated why he was the strongest ninja in the village, even at his advanced age.
Those few who had escaped detection even after learning about the Kyuubi being sealed into a child knew they had to keep the knowledge secret. The Hokage was willing to follow through on his law.
"This is intolerable, Lord Hokage," Hyuuga Hiashi said. He had become clan head only two years earlier after his father retired and joined the Hyuuga Elders. "None of my clan has been convicted of anything. None of us were responsible for letting the secret escape."
"You personnaly followed the letter of the law, Hiashi. But you broke its spirit. Some in your clan, like the two executed Elders, openly flouted my decree after they got the information from the Uchiha or others. Remind me, Hiashi, of how much you knew about the whispering of the other clans…and what you did to stop it."
Hiashi remained stone faced.
"Correct. It is a shinobi's task to maintain secrets, his own, his village's. Your clan failed in that respect. You heard the whispers, your clan associates heard them…and most had enough sense to not pass them along. Why did you not come to me, tell me…my few remaining ANBU have been severely taxed with their reduced numbers, severely wounded comrades, and greatly increased duties. The clans needed to step up…and didn't. This is conduct I should reward? Encourage?"
"Aside from those disgraced old men, who have paid the ultimate price, my clan did nothing wrong." The young Jonin kept trying to argue but a single opinion. It wasn't a strong case to make and Hiashi was still a relatively poor negotiator.
"It is not commission I blame you for, but omission. You did not act to stop this. You are as guilty as any of the fools burnt to cinders for almost bringing us to war. This argument will not wash."
Hiashi, as collected as ever, nodded. "Then I must inform you, Lord Hokage, that the Hyuuga will be asserting the right of severing from the Hidden Leaf."
"You will follow the traitorous Uchiha? The confused Akimichi? The decimated Kentoru? It is solely within your discretion. I will not even attempt to oppose or delay you. But answer me a question: what do you hope to gain?"
Hiashi had not moved during this exchange, but now he looked a bit…irresolute. "We must maintain a position within a village where we are respected. That is no longer the case here, Lord Hokage. We will seek a powerful new alliance."
Sarutobi just nodded his head, not terribly surprised at the continuing Hyuuga arrogance. Their remaining Elder Council was filled with fools who had not held a kunai in decades…and they dictated policy to the clan head. Hiashi seemed to at least recognize the futility of what he was forced to do today.
After all, where would they go? Hidden Mist, the place where the Bloodline Wars were in full swing? Hidden Cloud, which had several times before attempted to capture, not kill, Byakugan users out on missions? Hidden Stone, which had only been deterred from a continuing war after Minato savaged their last, largest armed attempt at invasion?
Hidden Sand? Hidden Grass? Hanzou's Hidden Rain? Maybe petition a Daimyo to form a new Hidden Village…
No, none of these would kowtow to the Hyuuga. Hiashi likely already knew this…but his 'honor' – as defined by the Hyuuga Elders – would demand prominence and privilege.
"I wish you the best of luck then, Hiashi. Be careful."
"The Hyuuga need no luck."
Sarutobi frowned after Hiashi left his office. This would not end well.
But he could not…would not return to coddling of the clans, letting them trample through the village as if no one else mattered.
The Great Unravelling was in full swing. That would be his terrible legacy. But at least the Hidden Leaf might have the opportunity to grow stronger from his difficulty.
"Good bye, Hyuuga Hiashi. May the Kami guide you safely…and may you hide from the hungry eyes of the Shinigami."
Sarutobi Hiruzen, the famed Ninja Professor, could barely keep a civil tongue in his head.
The remaining teachers in the Academy – comprising those not killed by the Kyuubi and not withdrawn from Hidden Leaf by departing clans and minor families – had the…gall to present these records.
It was a disgrace.
The ANBU would have another task to sort out very soon. Retired school teachers would soon be visiting Inoichi. Sarutobi thought he himself might be due for a torture session, as well, for not spotting this mess sooner.
"Let me see if I understand this. The Academy had an 'unofficial' policy of handling disciplinary matters differently depending upon who the student's sponsor was?"
An abashed chuunin named Seiko Noda nodded, unable to form up words. He had never expected to be interrogated by the Hokage of all people concerning the Academy and its running.
"So, if I were to sponsor a student who was disruptive, causing havoc with the other students' learning…how would it be handled?"
"And if a similar student spent his time painting classrooms green or planting traps for the teachers, but came from a civilian family?"
"The Jounin I entrusted to oversee the Academy was a fool then. Best for him that he's now dead. We will rebuild the walls of the building soon enough…but we will not reimplement all the old policies. Do you all understand me?"
He got back a chorus of discouraged "Hai, Hokage-sama."
The Hokage turned to question an ANBU who had been tasked with examining odd caches of paperwork found in the homes of the traitor council members.
"And these papers you wished to discuss? What relevance do they have with schooling?"
"I believe," the masked ANBU cautiously began, "that council members would from time to time pay a visit to certain chuunin at the Academy."
"To what end?"
"To make suggestions, especially on team formation."
"That is my job…."
The ANBU nodded, pausing to think his way through a mine field. "Correct. But the Lord Hokage listens to advice, if I'm not mistaken. Especially the teacher-generated commentary on each student's progress and assessment of strengths and weaknesses."
The Hokage nodded. He turned to look back at Seiko Noda. "Is it true? Was pressure applied?"
The chuunin nodded.
"Were the comments always accurate? Complete and accurate?"
The chuunin shook his head and let out a long-held breath.
"Were favors or money exchanged for these…considerations?"
The terrified chuunin nodded again.
The Hokage looked at the other teachers. That none of them would meet his eyes was proof enough.
"ANBU, what was the end result of these contacts, aside from team placement?"
"I haven't finished reviewing the documents, but the pile I have reviewed suggest a…troubling pattern."
"If Lord Hokage would care to review team composition for the last decade, I am sure he would find that clan team members often find themselves on teams with other clan members…."
"Yes, I agree with that."
"And that the teams formed by civilian or orphan children rarely passed their jounin-sensei's personal examinations…."
"You've got to be kidding me…."
It was so obvious now…now that someone else had unraveled this mess. The Hokage felt like a fool, but he spent so little time on the Academy. Not with wars looming and jounin to oversee and manage in A- and S-ranked missions.
He had felt comfortable delegating most of the Academy issues to people he thought trustworthy…which now seemed misplaced.
"So…the clans look better if their children always 'perform' better than other student ninja, get on better teams, pass out of the Academy earlier. This is ridiculous. Half the Hokages have come from no clan…and the other two came from the same one and were ridiculously talented in their own right, not from long maintained bloodlines. Namikaze Minato, our greatest Hokage, was completely untaught until he reached the Academy…and then he grew like a weed. I confess to having excellent 'tutors' early in life. But…this kind of sabotage. Making the clans look powerful by literally making everyone else fail and look weak. Am I hearing this right?"
The masked ANBU just nodded.
"This sounds like treason to me. Subversion of the village's military strength for favors and money. Have them all taken to Interrogation. Let's get the whole picture."
The masked ANBU nodded…and a few chuunin, fearing this conclusion, tried to escape. One found out it was not possible to shunshin from this room – Sarutobi knew more about sealing than anyone else in Konoha save for his student Jiraiya – and the others found out that an ANBU could subdue several weak chuunin at the same time.
Sarutobi watched with his anger finally ebbing away.
Had he been sleeping all these long years? Not paying attention? Not questioning what he was told? All of these findings made his village seem like something else, something foreign and revolting.
Had his conception of the Hidden Leaf always been a lie? Or had he let corruption eat away at it?
Sarutobi pondered. Hatake, strong clan and exceptional warriors. But that new jounin Maito Gai was easily Kakashi's equal…and was an orphan.
For every powerful clan jounin Sarutobi could think of, there were two or three non-clan ones who were as good or better.
Almost all the remaining ANBU were non-clan. Uzumaki Kushina had come from a clan in Whirlpool Country. She had been the last clan ANBU Captain.
Sarutobi would need to dig deeper. Had the early compromises necessary to fuse Senju and Uchiha – which made Konoha attractive to other clans – rotted the village this way? Could it have been possible for things to have gone differently, for Sarutobi to have managed things differently.
These last weeks had severely disarranged nearly everything he thought he knew.
He hoped there were few more surprises in store…for him or the village.
In a fit of anger his hand snaked out and plucked up one of the many folders discussed in this room in the past few days.
He flipped it open and began reviewing the report.
Graduated one or two genin every year from the Academy. Had 17 active chuunin at the time of their leaving – and 62 'retired' chuunin. Only 7 jounin – four of whom were 'retired.'
More of this 'clan first' garbage, Sarutobi realized. These retirements at chuunin level – it permitted the ninja to be trained at the village's expense and then to be used for the clan's benefit. Many of these 'retired' chuunin had trained hard and long enough to take and pass a jounin examination…but instead they remained behind the clan walls.
The other shinobi had to pick up the slack: the non-clan shinobi.
"There cannot be villages within villages…if the goal is to have a wholly united village. I cannot and will not permit this to happen," he vowed.
"I said no," Jiraiya reiterated.
"I have my reasons."
"That's not good enough."
"You know, I never was good enough for you, Sensei. Wonder why I'm the only one of your students who still talks to you."
Sarutobi sighed. "And, again, the past intrudes upon the present. Why, in my dotage, does everyone see fit to remind me of my more youthful failings? It would have been better to correct me back then…"
"Correct the Professor? Surely you jest. He knew everything. Just ask him; he'd tell you."
"I'm not smiling."
Jiraiya was being…difficult. This was a conversation the Sandaime Hokage had long been bracing himself to have…and now Jiraiya had been in the village to help with the final reconstruction of the village walls.
Sure the masonry had been up for some time. But it had taken three weeks to reinscribe all the sealing arrays and then activate them. Jiraiya hadn't been happy to be stuck in-village for three weeks, but he'd done it.
The man claimed he was born for a life of wandering, women, and worship. The Hokage agreed with the first two, but wasn't sure what Jiraiya meant by the last. His student was a most profane, if amusing, person.
"If you are not willing to become Godaime Hokage, Jiraiya, I must ask you to state your reasons. If it is simple resentment towards me, I am afraid that won't cut it."
"No. No, it's more than that."
The Hokage nodded, waiting.
"I do not trust myself."
"I trust you…."
"No, stop doing that. Just listen to me, would you?"
The Hokage just nodded. This was obviously important to his student.
"I do not trust myself. I thought myself at the pinnacle of my craft a few years ago. I had just trained a ninja to exceed my own remarkable feats. I had a name. I had money. I had a woman in every village and two in every city. I felt happy. But, it wasn't to be. It was all a lie.
"My teammate, I distrusted him but I did not see him for what he was, what he was doing. My student, I taught him to be great, but I taught him too well. His knowledge of sealing came to exceed my own. So when I tried to take his place, to offer my life to the Shinigami to save Konoha, I found I could not. I did not have the skill to create and understand and control the arrays. People seem to think it was a simple matter to call down the Death God and get him to do what you want…but, after he was called, his actions were all guided and controlled by the seal. Every bit of it. A man made seal instructing and leading a God…it is as momentous an accomplishment as I make it sound.
"Minato created the arrays out of whole cloth in less than four days. Arrays to guide the Death God; arrays to restrain the Kyuubi once inside of the boy; arrays to leech off the Kyuubi's power to make a true powerhouse of a child; arrays to tie the Kyuubi's lifeforce to that of the host. It has taken me eight months since then – every day since his death – just to begin to unravel it. He was a genius. I gave him knowledge and power as a ninja, he exceeded me by age twenty, he eclipsed me by age twenty four, the self-sacrificing bastard.
"I was ready to knock him unconscious and do this myself, but I felt like a toddler attending a physics convention when I tried. I now know that what he did just isn't theoretically possible. No other jinchuuriki was created this way. All of them required a quirk of the Shodai's genetics to even capture them.
"It wasn't possible…as I said…and Minato did it anyway. It would be like me calling down Kami, giving her a corporeal body, having my way with her to her ever increasing pleasure, and then letting her take my soul in payment. It is the stuff of dreamers and poets and mystics.
"I trained and lost the most valuable person this village has ever known. I permitted the most horrible person this village has created to betray us for years…and then leave without a scratch because of your order to 'let him go.' I suspected my teammate a lot longer than you did. For a decade or more, I watched him and told you to watch him.
"I feel that I am both not strong enough to have my warnings believed and not strong enough to step in and take the fatal swing of a katana should my village ever demand it. I cannot be Hokage. Not now. Not ever."
Sarutobi Hiruzen looked for a place to begin unraveling this mess inside his student's mind. But, he realized that Jiraiya wouldn't listen. He had convinced himself to feel unending guilt…and nothing would shake that loose.
"I will honor your statement, my student. But I will ask again in one year's time…."
"You may, but I don't see how my answer will be any different."
"I have failed you then, my student. I should have struck Orochimaru down myself. That is my failing, not yours. I trained him; I knew he was powerful and a bit twisted; I allowed him to grow unrestrained, like a cancer. It fell to me to end him…but my heart was too soft. This is my shortcoming, not yours."
Jiraiya nodded, but said nothing.
Sarutobi was stuck. He had the same feelings of guilt – for not seeing the rot in his village for so long – but he couldn't just call himself 'unfit to be Hokage' and leave.
He had held the office on and off for all of his adult life.
There was, by definition, no one more fit to be Hokage than Sarutobi.
He wanted to smoke, but just sat there, trying to think his way through this problem. The trouble was there was no easy or simple solution.
Three Years Later
The fire was everywhere. His family was expelling fireball after fireball, not caring that they hit the tents or the fragile wooden buildings.
The boy looked for his younger brother…and bit back a sob when he saw the boy crushed under a fallen log. He wasn't moving at all and the fires were almost on top of him.
Sasuke had only been three. He did not deserve this. None of the Uchiha did.
Little Itachi scrambled away from the fighting. He had activated his Sharingan almost two years ago, on his seventh birthday. He was now nearly nine and skilled, but…he had never seen a fight before.
He was utterly terrified and slunk into the shadows.
Soon the ninjas stopped and someone began to douse the flames.
A pale man rode on a snake into the area where his adoptive parents' dead bodies lay. Itachi knew they were actually his aunt and uncle…but they had encouraged him to call them 'mother' and 'father.'
The pale man jumped down from his snake and pulled out a surgical knife.
The moment he saw his mother's severed eyeball in that man's hand, Itachi clamped down a groan.
His brain felt like it was filled with stabbing kunai. And his eyes, he'd never felt so much pain.
It would be days later when Itachi, all alone, realized that his Sharingan had changed. It was what the old scrolls had called Mangekyo.
He had salvaged very little from the fires, but he had managed to bury his disfigured mother and father…and what the fires spared of his little brother.
He vowed vengeance that day.
He vowed he would be stronger than that pale man. He vowed he would step on that man's neck and carve his eyeballs out of his living head.
He was Uchiha. Nothing would stop him.
Two Years Later (5 Years After the Great Unraveling)
It felt like she was flying. Yes, definitely flying. She opened her eyes, realized she wasn't dreaming, and began to struggle against whatever was keeping her arms and legs bound.
The flying stopped. The darkness around her head disappeared.
Hyuuga Hinata blinked. "Yes. Where is my mother?"
"She couldn't take of you anymore. I have adopted you."
That didn't make sense to her. Her father was really strong. "Where's my father?"
"He was hurt with your mother. If they get better then you can go live with them again."
"Well, I'm going to put this hood back on you so you can sleep. It'll be getting light out soon."
Hinata didn't like the dark, but she didn't argue. "Thank you."
She was back in the dark, and flying again, and the story she had been told made no sense. Where were her mother and father? They were ninja. They were powerful.
Sarutobi tried to clear his mind from all the awful news he'd gotten. Jiraiya had reported in that the entire Hyuuga had been slaughtered in Wave Country, where they'd been petitioning to form a hidden village.
The Wave Daimyo had apparently decided that his country's future lay not in ninja, but in shipping. He'd made a deal instead with the Gato Corporation. Sarutobi knew that man had a…less than shining reputation.
But the Hyuuga were slaughtered to a child. The eyes removed, the bodies charred beyond recognition.
Just like the Uchiha two years earlier in their makeshift private village in Lightning Country. All dead, all the known Sharingan possessors with their eyes cut out. Jiraiya was sure that that was Orochimaru's work
The Hyuuga…not even Jiraiya could guess at. There was too little evidence left behind. Orochimaru had left shed snake skin, like he didn't even care who knew.
He turned and began to walk through a park. Nature was good for restoring mental balance. This was a civilian park, rather than a military training ground, so it was filled with children.
He hadn't expected it, but he saw a bright shock of yellow hair near the swings.
Just another orphan tucked in among so many others.
Leading a happy life, as far as Sarutobi could tell. And he was watching. Every active duty chuunin now did a regular shift at the orphanage every few weeks. The children had competent watchers, in addition to the full time civilians, and got to be exposed to ninja every day.
It was an unorthodox recruitment method, as many little boys and a few girls declared they would become ninja, but it wasn't primarily done for that reason. The Hokage wanted Naruto – and the other children – kept safe.
The village was smaller now.
After the Great Unravelling nearly fifteen thousand civilians had left, almost a quarter of the village population. In the elapsed time, around five thousand new civilians had moved in.
It was a different place.
For the clans who'd remained in the Leaf, life was more integrated. The Aburame had mostly stayed as had the Yamanaka. All of them had integrated more into the overall Hidden Village. The few remaining Akimichi – those who had broken with the rest of their clan – didn't even bother living next to each other. (Instead, they had a favorite restaurant in town that served as a communal meeting hall.)
The Nara, predictably, found it too troublesome to leave, but had largely taken over the top positions in the ANBU division that dealt with civilian matters. Their clan techniques were quite effective in detaining any errant civilians…and without the cost of much effort.
The Inuzuka loyalty had kept them in Hidden Leaf, too. They filled many of the top spots among the Hunter-nin. Indeed, they had prospered by joining in with the community. Three Inuzuka had made small fortunes opening up public veterninary practices. The people of Konoha and Fire Country – not least the Fire Lord's wife – loved their animals.
However, for every 'clan ninja' working in Konoha, there were five or six non-clan ninja now. The head of ANBU, the top three in charge of the hospital, the jounin in charge of the academy…all non-clan.
Since they'd reformed some of the older practices of the Academy – namely 'graduating' 30 or so genin a year only to immediately fail 21 of them out of the shinobi lifestyle, claiming they were too old to rejoin the Academy – they had a lot more ninjas to go around. The Hidden Leaf finally had the strength, in pure numbers if not talent, it had before the Kyuubi's attack.
Sarutobi, over loud protest and several forced retirements, had declared that no jounin-sensei would be permitted to test and fail out a team. Instead, they would all witness a common skills test held for all potential genin. (The terrible practice of favoring clan members hadn't quite faded yet, but team compositions had shifted. There were no more 3-clan-member teams and 3-nobody teams. That much the Hokage could ensure.)
The Hokage felt embarrassed at all those years of wasted shinobi. Potential genin who'd been forced into a civilian life or to enroll in the samurai training program in Fire City. That was a lot of wastage ended…so many potentially excellent shinobi tossed out after all those years of training.
Sarutobi sat on a park bench and enjoyed the sun's warmth on his face. His head was covered with his special hat, but his eyes were fixed on the boy. He really looked like the Yondaime had when he was a boy. Over the years that boy grew and grew, like an out of control weed. Naruto was still a bit on the short side, but he made friends easily, it seemed, and enjoyed running, climbing trees, and causing chaos.
This anonymity had served Naruto well. The villagers as a whole did not pay attention to the orphanage…and none of the spies who penetrated Konoha (Sarutobi didn't kid himself to think that infiltration didn't happen once a month or more often, even if they had tightened up security) would ever think to look in the new orphanage for the village's most precious military secret, the boy who saved them all every day from the Kyuubi.
Naruto would start taking classes at the orphanage school in a few days…and would start at the Ninja Academy in two years.
The orphanage school was much improved in the last five years. The visiting chuunin often helped manage field trips outside the village walls to look at trees and plants or try to walk local wildlife. Naruto would have a chance to learn reading and writing. Math and bits of history and pride in the Fire Country. He'd be ready to attend the Academy on time.
The only thing that Sarutobi still wondered about was when Naruto should be told about his tenant. A part said just as soon as he started learning about chakra. If the Yondaime's seal worked as intended, and Jiraiya swore it would, the boy would have access to a massive store of chakra. Possibly, if he were trained correctly, an unlimited supply.
Another part cautioned him to hold off on telling the boy for a while. Until he made genin at least.
Sarutobi had already decided he would visit the boy personally – not just walk by or look at him in the park – when he began the Academy. He had had a good life so far it seemed. Sarutobi could give him a few more years of comfort. Given that Sarutobi had begun taking a more active role in the Academy the last few years, no one would think it odd for Sarutobi to visit with a few young students from time to time.
The boy wasn't yet a hero to the village – as the only people who knew of the boy's sacrifice weren't telling – but he would be someday.
Jiraiya had already stated he would be willing to train the boy in the future. Sarutobi was sure he would take to teaching the boy as well. Kami knew that the boy could become stronger then even the best jounin-sensei could handle.
Yes, that was settled. Sarutobi would take on a new student; one last student. And teach him all that he could, leadership along with the skills of a ninja. Strong in body, mind, and soul.
The new generation had the Will of Fire, Sarutobi would ensure it. One could only hope they wouldn't have to have a Heart of Stone. But…if it came to it, Uzumaki Naruto would be trained in that as well.
After all, Orochimaru was still out there with a few dozen sets of Uchiha eyes…and someone had killed and mutilated more than a hundred Hyuuga bodies. The world would be heating up in a few years, wouldn't it?
Uzumaki Naruto would need everything Jiraiya, Sarutobi, and anyone else could teach him. Everything.