A Drop of Poison
Chapter Ten: Pranks Aplenty
Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto. Ramen belongs to Naruto. Enough said.
Prank Day 17
Officially, the Special Assassination and Tactical Squad, otherwise known as the ANBU, occupied three different buildings. These were of course simply decoys.
The real ANBU office was a single completely different building in the opposite part of town, hidden within a trading company's offices. It was guarded day and night by at least a dozen different shinobi.
This changed nothing for Naruto, however.
He had long ago learnt how to get near said office unseen at certain hours, where the shadows were deep enough for him to crawl there without being visible. He knew of five people (smokers) who tended to leave their windows open, and the best time to dodge the lines of sight of the rooftop patrols. He could get in the building undetected any day.
Nanabō-oh's genjutsu was overkill, really.
Once inside, he followed a preset path he remembered from long ago, back when he was younger. After a set of pretty bad days, he'd been shifted into ANBU custody while said ninjas tried finding out what had happened. Which, unfortunately, they never did.
Nevertheless that meant that a young Naruto Uzumaki lived along the ANBU for nearly a month, eating in their cafeteria and sleeping on their couches. He even had a locker with what little possessions he owned at the time.
And that was where he was heading. With silent gestures he directed the elder rabbit within the winding corridors of the building, while Ichibo served as a lookout from his usual position from the crown of Naruto's hair. The student was gradually leading both summons toward the place where the ANBUs left their mask when not on duty.
Once inside (the room was never locked, in case of urgent summons), the trio quickly pushed the whole section of lockers off the wall, and gained access to their contents by removing the back panel, bypassing the security of even the most paranoid ANBU ninja this way.
"Now, look carefully." Nanabō-oh said in a whisper, his paws starting to move. Hare, serpent, rat, reverse tiger, hare. He then reached out and touched the ANBU mask in the locker before him. "The important part of this technique is the state of mind of the user," he continued in his low tone. "He must have firmly in mind the thought that everything is normal. Practise it while I set up the rest of the stuff." He reached out and grabbed a scroll hanging from the side of Naruto's backpack.
Naruto's first try failed. As did his second, third, and such all the way to the seventeenth.
"You're using too much. Try the minimum you can," said Ichibo from his perch.
Try was the key word here. The jutsu failed to hold again.
"Still too much," the black rabbit answered.
"I can't put out any less than that! It's already difficult enough to get that little." He whispered, remembering not to shout at the last second.
Nanabō-oh came back from the locker he was working on at that very instant. "Show me, partner."
The student did. "Again," The rabbit leader said, and once again Naruto complied.
The summon shaked his head. "Try this one." Hare, serpent, rat, reverse tiger, serpent, dragon, reverse rat, reverse rat, dragon, hare. "Remember the state of mind."
The boy nodded and tried again. This time, the technique held by the third attempt.
"Good work," the elder summon said as he lightly slapped Naruto's shoulder. He would have ruffled the student's hair but Ichibo's presence made that impossible. "The jutsu you just did is an advanced version of the other one. It is both harder to notice by the affected person and harder to dispel in general, but generally too intensive for my pranks. I unfortunately cannot cast it over and over as I can with the other one." He noted, scratching his chin. "By the amount you've put out in the last few minutes, I don't think you'll have an issue." He smiled. "Now let's go on."
The group went back to work and had whole place done before twenty more minutes had elapsed.
Prank Day 18
Ikazuchi Oboro was officially a chūnin of the leaf, and had been so for the past ten years.
He'd tried three times his chance at a Jonin promotion, and failed all three. He was good enough, though somewhat lacking in leadership. He was usually on long-range courier or infiltration missions, and rarely in Konoha at all.
At least, that what most documents would have you believe. Reality, as usual, was somewhat different.
Ikazuchi Oboro was really a career ANBU, acting under the identity of Bat. He was one of the many who patrolled the town of Konoha proper, acting as both police and counter-espionage officers. And he'd been doing said job for the past five years. He was well-known for a mix of sound-based genjutsus and ninjutsus that he used effectively for both stealth and combat purposes.
(And no, his parent were not killed in front of him while he was young by career criminals, unless by young you mean sixteen and that the Kyuubi is a career criminal.)
He was in position, overlooking the merchant district, when his superior Rat signed for a hidden meeting in their usual spot.
A quick Shunshin brought him there, and his captain appeared the same way a second later. "Inspect your belongings, ANBU."
'A surprise inspection? Now?' Oboro thought. Nevertheless, his hands automatically went through the motions of checking his equipment. Armor, in place. Sword, also. Holsters, present and full. Mask, worn and undamaged. Rainbow wig, still there. He even went and confirmed that his poofy nose was still glued on. 'All equipment present and accounted for, captain.'
Rat visibly reacted under the mask, something which was evident to anyone used to ANBU. "You are summoned before the Hokage at once. Go," he said, visibly sighing.
'That explains the inspection, that least,' he thought. "Yes sir." Another Shunshin brought him out.
"Bat reporting as ordered, Hokage-sama," he said. Said person wasn't alone. The Commander-in-chief of the ninja forces, Shikaku Nara, was there, along with both the ANBU Commander and Kurenai Yūhi . He was pretty sure by now that something was up, but he couldn't see what it was. The snickers from the ANBUs watching the entrance had been illuminating in that regard.
"Bat, turn the the side." He did so instantly, coming face to face with a mirror. "Tell me what you see."
"More details, please."
"Myself in ANBU suit, Hokage-sama." The village leader didn't stop him, so he continued. "I am wearing my regulation armor over a black suit, with my sword strapped at by back. My mask is as usual half lime green and half hot pink, with a blue teardrop on the pink side and a purple star on the pink side, both below the eyes. My regulation poofy nose is in place, as are my exaggerated eyebrows. My multicolor wig is in proper position and still curly. Should I go in more detail ?"
"No, that will be enough, Bat." Besides him, the ANBU Commander did a facepalm. "Continue looking at the mirror."
He did so. It barely took a moment before Kurenai brought her fingers in a ram seal.
At that very instant, Oboro instantly noticed what was wrong. He quickly ripped out the nose and the eyebrows, and the wig joined them on the floor barely an instant later. The paint on the mask proved more resistant, however, so it ended up staying.
"Hokage-sama, I have… no excuse," he quickly realized. He remembered the previous hours perfectly, and could not think of anything else to add. "Do with me as you will," he said, head down.
A ninja came down and gathered the items he had just removed, and added them to the contents of a box. Judging by the number of noses and eyebrows, he wasn't the only one who'd fallen to this prank. There even was a a full ANBU mask in the box. It had a horn, like that of a unicorn.
"Bat, return to the ANBU quartermaster, who will give you a new mask. Then, please have Hamster sent our way."
The ANBU in the clown mask wasted no time in leaving, glad to have gotten out of any horrible punishment. Once he was gone, Sarutobi turned toward the jonin next to him.
"So, what are your thoughts, Kurenai-san ?"
"I have never seen the like," she answered. "Most genjutsus affect the five senses : sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. A few rare go directly to the sense of balance while bypassing the others." The only woman in the room was visibly thinking. "But I've never heard of something like this one. The technique behind this prank somehow affects one's perception of normality, making the subject of this jutsu seem perfectly normal to everyone noticing it. I have no clue where such a technique could come from. Not from Konoha for sure."
"Thank you, Kurenai-san. Please write down anything you can think that might help," the Hokage said as a ninja with a carrot-like nose and exaggerated lips came in. He sighed. "Anything," he quickly added.
The Third could finally, as the other ninjas had left, indulge in a somewhat inappropriate laugh. As a leader of men he had to stay calm to the situation, but as a person he could not help but laugh. All the while he'd had the various ANBUs in his office he couldn't help but think 'Naruto would laugh at this'.
And that was the crux of the issue. This was very much a Naruto-style prank, but the genjutsu made it impossible for him to perform. As if an academy student with issues in the simplest of techniques could perform a genjutsu Konoha's foremost mistress of the art had no knowledge of ! And where would he have learnt it anyway ?
In the end, sixteen ANBUs were found with tampered masks, while a search of the lockers found twenty more still unused. The prankster, however, was never caught, the only clue they found being the smell of rabbits.
Prank Day 21
"So, report. Anybody found anything?" said the clone leading this group to the numerous other copies before him.
A stream of "No" in various formats were his answer from his partners at learning Katon: Akiraka Jigokuhi.
They were well and truly stuck.
Which is not to say they did nothing. They had kept on training with the black spheres, managing even something similar to dodgeball in the last few days, but nothing on how to fill said constructs with the fire.
"Any clue on how to proceed?" the clone added.
Again, all answers were of the negative sort.
The clone sighed. Whatever lead they might have had in the informal competition between the jutsu-learning bunshin was evaporating like mist at high noon, if it hadn't vanished completely already.
Another of the blond copies was looking around. "Shouldn't we be more than this ?"
The leader did a quick headcount and realized that this Naruto was right. They were missing at least three people, and he didn't remember any part of his group bursting since the last meeting.
The group as a whole debated for a few minutes on what to do about this, when the point became moot.
One of those missing had arrived.
A few clones went and started questioning, while others just stared out, waiting for answers.
"We might have a solution." And then he had all ears.
He basked in the feeling for a while, then gave a single instruction.
The group did, and he led them through the sewers to a grate that hadn't seen much usage, by the looks of it. The leading clone stopped right beside the ladder going up. "We all went the wrong way about this. We mainly focused about how, when we should have put effort on who and where…"
"So tell me," the clone asked. "Who were the best known in Konoha for their fire techniques?" Smirking, he then climbed the ladder three rungs at the time.
When each member of the Katon group finally were back on ground level and saw where they were, they all wanted to hit themselves. The answer was evident, and they hadn't even thought of it.
Before them was the Uchiha district, which had long been home to some of the most famous fire users in history. The technique they were trying to learn was even based on stealing that very power from exactly this family.
Naruto had, long before the start of the prank, tried infiltrating the Uchiha district, mostly as a way to escape his pursuers. It had bounced back on him, as all points of entry were alarmed three ways from Sunday. That particular chase was cut very short at that point, and he got a double lecture and punishment for his trouble.
But now they had a way to bypass such seals, and the two other missing clones were already doing so, negating the alarms on a half-hidden side door in the walls of the district.
The group quickly made its way inside, while the pair of bunshins kept their position, maintaining the hole in the wards.
"So, what now boss?" the guiding copy said.
Said clone looked around for an instant before replying. "You found this, so it's your show," he answered with a smile. The rest of the group nodded their approval.
The new leading bunshin looked around for a moment. Even if he hadn't known of what had happened here in the past, he could have guessed. While there were no bodies or blood in sight, the signs were evident. Charred spots on the walls, the results of fire jutsu, could be seen here and there, leftover marks from kunai and shuriken dotted the place, and there were gouges in the grounds from the usage of ninja techniques.
Any ninja worth his salt would have noticed what had gone on here.
"We split into three groups. The first two will go methodically and create a clone while holding anything interesting, especially whatever looks like a jutsu scroll. We then put it back where it was. Be careful about traps, as we might have only bypassed the first layer. The last group will go back out and gather blank scrolls for copying. We'll work the same way we did with the forbidden scroll, ok?"
The rest of the clones nodded.
"Outside of that, we leave everything as it is. This is not like whatever items we found abandoned, this is somebody's family legacy. As much as I like Sasuke (and I don't), even he doesn't something like that."
Another series of nods was his answer.
The guiding clone smiled. "Then let's go, people!"
It took an hour and a half of searching before the Katon group found what they were looking for. Surprisingly, they ended up finding it in Sasuke's own former home, in his brother's room. Said room had been completely ransacked, but whatever scrolls were there hadn't been destroyed but only neglectfully strewn around.
The specific scroll the group now had contained instructions for the clan's Great Fireball technique, but aimed at those whose elemental affinity wasn't fire. It contained various training exercises to improve ability with fire techniques, along with tips on how to tackle them.
None of the Narutos had any ideas what was their elemental affinity, what it entailed, or if they even had one at all, so they guessed that was at least part of the issue they were having. The copy of said scroll joined their expanding library in a position of honor.
In the end, it took a little more than four hours for the Katon group to go over the totality of the Uchiha Compound, and the result was 29 different justu scrolls, some even containing more than one technique. Their various power levels were all over the place, from a complex A-ranked fire release technique they didn't think they would ever master, to a large scroll of E-ranked cleaning and grooming jutsu. They had even managed to learn and perform a few techniques from that one and used them to clean up their tracks.
And by the end of the day the group had managed the first of the fire training exercises, which meant that all of them could generate a flame similar to that of a match from their hands.
Prank Day 26
Things were not going well for Jinei and Anei.
The two copies who represented the elder civilian couple were in charge of finding customers for the products the clone network could get their hands on, both for funds as the group did not want to live on Iruka's money, and for their cover.
It was not going according to plan, however.
The two of them had visited dozens of stores, factories and other such enterprises. People seemed interested, some even glad, until the following question came out:
"Who's the seat representing you on the Merchant Council?"
That killed everything. Once Jinei said that they had no one representing them, their prospective customers at best became shy and evasive, and at worst had them thrown out of the building. Regardless of what happened, they were out of luck.
They of course tried getting such a person to represent them, but that was not to be either. The most polite simply said no, while others tried buying them off. No one seemed to want to work with them. The one who came closest asked for an outrageous sum along with half the money from their sales as 'administrative fees', which were clearly bribes.
As such, the merchant couple went and did what any clone of Naruto would when things were not going well.
That is, go eat at Ichiraku Ramen.
They were making headway into their second bowl when Teuchi came up to join them on his side of the table. "Good day, my name is Teuchi and I'm the owner and head chef of Ichiraku Ramen. The young lady who served you is Ayame, my daughter." He had a serious look. "Is the ramen not to your liking?"
Jinei guessed that the man had seen their unhappy faces and had wrongly thought his food was the cause. "Of course not. The food is excellent!" He managed not to add 'as usual' at the last second.
"Then what is bothering the both of you, if you don't mind me asking?" Teuchi continued.
Naruto, and by extension, his clones, had an ingrained respect of Ichiraku's owner that bordered on the religious. As such, both Anei and Jinei had no issue answering the man.
The story came out piece by piece, just as the clones had prepared it. They were a family of four who'd left Grass country not to compete with Jinei's elder brother Mattaki, who'd inherited their father's business. They'd chosen Konoha because they wanted security, and they thought one could not be more secure than in the middle of a ninja village. And Konoha was the greatest of them.
When the problems the two bunshins had with the various merchants came up, Teuchi pronounced himself unsurprised. "You're not the only one whose had issue with that group. Ichiraku Ramen has been in Konoha for more than thirty years, and even before my tenure the owner butted heads with them," he said with a sad smile.
"It got worse after the Kyuubi's attack, when half of them died suddenly, but it's pretty much always the same…" the chef continued. "They simply try to make more money for themselves by applying economic pressure on other people. Though there are rumors of worse things…"
"But enough about that," Teuchi said, a real smile going back up. "What did you say you dealt in?"
"Pretty much everything," Anei said, joining the conversation. "We're a family of traders, and we have contacts in a lot of different places. Why, are you interested?"
"You could say I am. There's been a surge in business in the last few weeks and my usual suppliers are struggling to keep up. I might try you out if you can supply me with what I need."
Both Jinei and Anei forced themselves not to react. They knew very well what had caused this upswing in sales. As of a little than a month ago, there were more than a thousand kage bunshins of Naruto living in the city. And whatever money the clones got their hands on automatically went on one of two things: pranks or ramen. And ramen meant Ichiraku to Naruto.
Jinei handed Teuchi his copy of the network's catalog. It was the latest version, which included the products from both Tea Country and Vegetable Country. Wave, however, was still late.
The couple went back to their bowls as Teuchi pored over the scroll. Ayame brought each a third bowl before the chef came back up from reading. "The prices on this scroll aren't the final prices, are they?" He said. It would be too good to be true otherwise.
"No, this is the price we can get these items at. We add a…" He thought for an instant. "A ten percent charge for transportation, along with the usual Konoha import tax." This is something the two clone parents had learned while dealing with all the paperwork. Konoha had both an import and an export tax, which went directly to the Hokage, and was used to fund village security.
Teuchi thought visibly for an instant, evidently calculating the numbers in his head. He then smiled. "I think we can do business. Who knows, if the quality is good and the delivery rapid, I might have some other contacts who could use your services. Now, let's discuss particulars."
Teuchi and Jinei shook hands on a deal an hour later, and both made their way back to their respective shops. It was only a start, but the network had its official first client.
Prank Day 29
"Come on, try it!" said Ken on his left.
"Try it!" added Jishi on his right.
"I don't know… It feels like a waste," replied Goro. He was a Naruto clone working in Tanzaku-Gai in an hotel as general help. "Not to be insulting."
Thing was, Tanzaku-Gai very much had a gambling culture. The tourists came here to play, the ones living there played, everyone played, except maybe the casino owners. And even that wasn't always true.
"You just got a bonus yesterday, so ya won't even affect yer finances," Ken said, crossing his arms. "Live a little!" he exclaimed.
Jishi came up and decided to try another way. "You ever tried it?"
Goro was taken aback by the change in tactics. "Eh…No."
"Then how can you say it's a waste?" he continued. "You think we're lying?"
"Then come. If you don't like it, you can at least say that you've tried. We won't badger you anymore," replied Jishi.
"Samurai's honor," Jishi answered, putting his hand on his heart. Ken emulated him a second later.
"Ok… Just once," Goro finally acquiesced. It couldn't hurt, could it.
That night, the three of them ended up in one of the many casinos of the city. They played for tiny sums, nearly nothing, just for the fun of it.
After thirty minutes, Goro had doubled his bonus.
After an hour, Ken and Jishi caught on their comrade's luck, and moved to the roulette table. The Naruto clone had doubled his monthly salary by then.
It took three hours before casino employees asked them to come back another day. Security had watched over them like hawks but couldn't see any proof of cheating. Goro left the building telling the others that he did have fun, and with enough money to single-handedly pay for Ariko's house. His two partners left each with the equivalent of a few months' work.
He did make a couple of bunshin as soon as he was alone, and these hit three different casinos with similar results.
The word was out in the entirety of Naruto's clones before the sun was back up: All Narutos had luck at games of chance to spare.
Prank Day 33
The real Naruto did not always go to class as himself. Sometimes he was Ariko, sometimes he was Muremaru, Sometimes he skipped school entirely to train, and all of this never on a fixed schedule.
For the first Tajutsu exam, he went as Muremaru.
This was planned. Kiritori, the Taijutsu teacher, had started being quite a bit more demanding of the male clone than he was of everyone else. Not a punishment, but looking more like a test of his endurance than anything else. As such, Naruto expected that the first exam would be rougher for him as his orphan copy than it would be for everyone else. He was there mainly as a preventive measure, to insure the continuation of his prank.
And Kiritori did not disappoint.
Where everyone faced someone roughly their level, the teacher took on Muremaru personnally. And while Naruto was pretty sure the man was pulling his punches, it sure didn't feel like it.
Nevertheless Naruto gave the fight his all, and managed to last longer than the rest of the class had in their own battles. By the end, Naruto was tired, sweating and sore even in places he hadn't known could be that way. Kiritori stopped the fight barely a second before Muremaru dropped to the ground, exhausted.
The teacher then left his student recover while he went over the results with everyone else. Said student ended up going last, classes having ended a while ago.
"First, your notes," The chūnin teacher said in his usual monotone. "You have a clear A for the exam. The only things keeping you from a perfect grade are the facts that you still are wasting movements and that you are still telegraphing your attacks a touch too much. Fix those two flaws and you will be as good as someone your age can be."
The teacher then took a deep breath. "Which brings me to the second item..." he suddenly sounded twice as serious. "I have a proposition for you. Something outside of school. I'd like you to meet me at the memorial stone tonight at eight." He put his hand on Muremaru's shoulder. "Now, go home and have a good supper." The teacher rose and left. "Oh, and good work on the exam," he added as he was crossing the door.
Naruto didn't know what to think about that, but knew one thing for sure: Two heads worked better than one.
As such, he quickly made his way home. The council needed to be informed of this, if only to discuss it. Maybe they'd even be able to have an idea about what was the proposition.
He'd eat during the meeting.
The council had no more clue what was the teacher's proposition the Naruto himself had. The only thing they were sure was that it wasn't the prank being found out, as everyone agreed that Kiritori would have gone straight to the other teachers (or worse, the Hokage), with his news.
It comforted him somewhat, but not enough. Naruto did not like having too much attention paid to his clones outside of school. The girl gang was ok, not even being ninjas yet, but the focus of a chūnin, high-skilled at that, was something he wanted to avoid.
Nevertheless, he made his way to the memorial stone at the appointed time. Not being there would scarcely make things better. Still disguised as Muremaru, the real Naruto found Kiritori waiting for him where he had set up this meeting.
"Follow me," the man said, and his voice was unnaturally tight.
The chūnin led the boy to a specific stone on the side of the area. It was somewhat taller than the others, with a single name at the top in bigger letters than the other names.
Minato Namikaze, Fourth Hokage of Konoha.
"You might not have known, but less than a year before you were born a demon attacked this village: the Kyūbi. It was taller than anything living has the right to be, and its malevolence was so great some people died simply by looking at it."
"The fourth Hokage, whose name is at the top of this monument, ended up fighting the beast. Using a forbidden technique, he defeated the monster at the cost of his own life." Kiritori took a deep breath. "But not before the demon caused incalculable damage to the village."
"Every single person on this stone died that day." He sighed. "I have seventeen family members on that stone. Both my parents, a single grand parent, my wife, my two sons..." he trudged on. "Both of my brothers and my sister, all of their spouses of their children."
Naruto couldn't say anything about that. He'd know mentally that the Kyūbi had killed hundred, maybe thousands of people, but it was the first time that he really saw the impact it had. He could almost see Kiritori's family in his mind's eye, and couldn't help but shed a tear at their loss.
"I would have happily joined them, but I made an oath to my father. The same oath my brothers swore, the same my father had years earlier… To keep the family art alive, and not have it fall in the hands of other clans," he continued. "My sons had made the oath, but their time has unfortunately passed," he said, looking down.
"I am getting old, and with the job I'm in I probably won't last another ten years. As such I've been searching for the person who could be the next master of the Sharp Fist. And you're the best I've seen in the past five years, and the only one I can entrust this too."
"I've been testing you these past weeks, pushing you to your limits, to see if you could handle it. You did even better than I hoped, better than I did at that age. You have what it takes to be a master of the Hyōjin family style." The teacher looked directly at Naruto. "As such, this is my proposition: Should you accept it, I will take you as my student and heir of my family. I will teach you everything there is to being a ninja, and how to survive it both physically and mentally. It will harsh, and you may have a very different opinion of me once it is done, but I will make you ask great as I can."
"Are you in agreement?" Kiritori said after a pause.
Naruto did not know what to answer. There was too much thoughts slamming together in his head. There was the prank and the disguises and all the clones and SOMEONE who wanted him and…
In the end, as usual, Naruto Uzumaki went with his heart.
"I accept," he said solemnly.
M.W. Midnight's character makes his appearance here, as one of the challenge winners from chapter 9.
Drac-frst, the second winner, hasn't replied with his choice as of yet. If he does, his character will pop sometimes in tthe future.
As for the update speed I can only give my most sincere apologies. Writer's block and computer issues were mostly to blame, but I should have been able to do better. I will try my best to improve the chapter rate, as an entire year without an update makes me feel like a loser.
I do reiterate however that short of death, I will not abandon this story. I know the scenes and the end points, and finding how to write them down his the issue.
Anyway, a good 2013 to you all, and may your favorite fanfictions update repeatedly.