A Drop of Poison
Chapter Eleven: Training and tribulations
Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto. Ramen belongs to Naruto. Enough said.
Prank Day 34
Even though the day was a day off from the academy, Naruto called a meeting of those who were in on the prank. The decision the original had made was to be discussed, its effects needed to be analyzed.
"Good day everyone," Naruto said as soon as the three stragglers, the clones in charge of the Clone Network, arrived. He could have started without them, but the real student wanted everyone informed. "I'm sorry for the unplanned meeting, but some things have to be discussed as soon as they can."
"Some of you might already have heard, but I'll repeat it anyway." He continued. "Yesterday, Kiritori offered Muremaru to take him as an apprentice, and so to teach him his family art. I was Muremaru at the time, and I accepted his offer."
"WHAT!?" Iruka said, rising from his seat. He then seemed to realize his reaction, and looked around for a moment. His eyes then came to rest on the original Naruto. "Naruto, can I speak to you alone for a moment?" the chuunin said, his voice visibly tense.
"I don't think you need to..." he started answering.
"NOW," he said, his voice slipping in the usual tones he used as a teacher when punishing Naruto for his pranks. The effect was immediate; All the clones quickly and silently left. Only Ichibo stayed, not moving from the top of Naruto's head.
"What were you thinking?" Iruka started as soon as the three were alone. "The teacher most likely to find you out, and you decide to have him adopt you under a false identity?" He seemed to realize something. "You didn't tell him about the prank, did you?"
"Of course not," Naruto replied. "And he didn't adopt me, actually."
"He might as well have. An apprentice is considered an heir unless the master has either a wife or children," Iruka replied, clearly quoting the law. "Again, what were you thinking?"
"I just couldn't say no," Naruto said, his head down. "You didn't see him before that stone, explaining his story. It hurt to watch, how much he loved his family."
Naruto brought his head back up. "He's dead inside, you know. I didn't realize it before yesterday, but he's nearly empty. The only thing that's left is the continuation of his art, and I couldn't take that away from him."
"I know it's a risk, and that it wasn't a bright move, but it was the only one I could make."
"Will you be living with him?" Iruka finally asked, his tone much more even.
"Good of you to at least think of that."
"It was his idea," Naruto replied. "To keep off any image of favouritism, he said."
The room was silent for a minute. "Will you be telling him about the prank?" Iruka finally asked.
"Not for now at least," The boy answered. "I'd prefer not before the end of the academy year, if possible."
"Ok," The teacher answered. He then withdrew something from his pockets. "Take this with you, then."
Naruto recognized it instantly once he had it in his hands. It was the scroll Iruka had received during his meeting with the Sandaime.
"If anything happens and your identity is discovered, I want you to show Kiritori this, and explain him the situation. Send him to me if he still doesn't believe. If worse comes to worse I'll bring him before the Hokage with everything I found."
"Come on!" Naruto replied. "Don't do that!"
"I'd prefer not too, but it's a valid last resort. Better that than being sentenced with treason, or something similar," Iruka countered.
"Treason?!" Ichibo cried out from his perch.
Iruka laughed a sarcastic little laugh. "I wouldn't be surprised. I've begun not trusting logic when someone else's reaction of you is involved. You don't think there would be people who'd execute you just to get back at the Kyuubi?"
The student had to agree his teacher was right. There would be many clamouring for the death of the beast without care for it's container. "You may very well be right, sensei," he said dejectedly.
"Anyway..." Iruka said. "It's only a last resort." He then smiled. "I'll be counting on your usual good work on the impersonation, Naruto." He then ruffled his student's hair from the side, taking care of not disturbing Ichibo there.
"Can the others get back inside now?" Naruto asked.
"Oh, of course," The chuunin replied. He'd completely forgotten that they were supposed to be in a meeting. "Sorry for the interruption."
The rest of the discussion went as well as it could, considering most of the members were Naruto clones. It lasted only a dozen more minutes before everyone went his own way.
Prank Day 35
Jinei and Anei were waiting for Ichiraku's opening, faces down in shame. They felt like they had betrayed one of the few real friends they, as Naruto clones, had.
It had taken nine days to fill Teuchi's order.
While the two first thirds where en route by day after the ramen chef's request, the rest took quite a bit longer to acquire. People were out of stock, others put severe markups on their prices or simply wouldn't sell at all… The group had to improvise. It took a few days to find other suppliers, and in some case the even had to go to the source and buy directly from farmers and fishermen.
Then it was found that some of their suppliers had used the opportunity to unload rotten or otherwise outdated merchandise, and they had to do that part all over again.
They'd expected to take three, maybe four days at most. It took more than twice as much.
Still, they'd learned quite a bit. The merchant network would be much more vigilant in the future, and they'd found that storage scrolls kept perishable things from rotting. They had new and better sources for the items Teuchi had ordered, which would make it easier for future orders.
The two clone hoped dearly there would be future orders. Outside Ichiraku, they had nothing.
The chef finally came out of the kitchen and greet the two merchants. "Good day... I suppose you are here for more ramen? Chicken like last time, or something else?"
"No, we're here for a delivery" Anei said.
"Already?" Teuchi said, surprised. "You must have good contacts. Can I inspect the merchandise?"
"Sure. We have a space rented in a warehouse near the east gate," Jinei said. "I can show you right now if you wish."
Teuchi nodded. "Ayame, please take the counter. I'll be out for half an hour."
"Sure, dad," came her voice from the back of the shop.
The three did small talk as the clone led the elder Ichiraku to the warehouse. Once inside, the chef waited no time before inspecting the merchandise.
"Good, good..." he finally said. "Everything is fresh enough. Some of the fish will have to be cooked soon, but everything seems in order." He turned toward the two Naruto bunshins. "Can you have this brought to the shop this afternoon? I'll have a bank draft ready for you then."
"Sure," Anei replied.
"Pleasure doing business with you," Teuchi said, then shook hands with both clones before leaving.
Later that day, the two bunshins came out of Ichiraku with both the money from their first sale, and a second, smaller order from the ramen stand. They'd also given the chef their address, and he said he'd contact them if he knew anyone looking for products they could get.
With all the loses and errors the network had made, they wouldn't be doing much profit over their first order, but their name was now out there.
The clone network was now officially in business.
Prank Day 40
The Fire Ninjutsu team now understood why the Scroll of Forbidden Seals said the technique they were training in tended to kill its practitioners. They'd finally had the breakthrough they'd been waiting for, and could now fully perform the technique, albeit not in the traditional manner.
Five clones had already died from failing to maintain the jutsu. And by damages which would have killed or maimed a normal ninja.
The thing was that once you had the trick, putting fire-aspected chakra in the sphere was easy, and frightfully so at that. There was however no way of knowing how much heat was inside outside of the fact that it became more and more difficult to handle when greater amounts of energy were inside.
And when said sphere collapsed, it would release all that energy in a single burst, however much that was.
The only defence the group had found up until now was to use another instance of the techniques to absorb the fire from the first. And even that had its drawbacks, as it could only be used upon a sphere bursting, since two stable spheres coming into contact with one another would destabilize both.
Nevertheless, the group persevered. They currently were training to maintain powerful spheres without issue, and there were six clones maintaining the black balls in an isolated corner of the underground base.
The record for now was a seven days old sphere, having been traded back and forth between clones day and night. The bunshin leading the group had no clue how strong it was by that point, but didn't want to find out.
He probably would turn to smoke if he did.
Prank Day 44
Kiritori's family owned a simple dojo built on a large piece of land on Konoha's eastern side. It was visibly built over the foundations of a much-bigger building, as traces of the old were still easily discerned.
"Now that the paperwork is all done and signed, we can finally start," the older man said with a slight smile. He had been noticeably happier in the last few days, and many had discussed the changes. Naruto was simply happy to have made someone's life better.
"The term 'Sharp Fist' is actually a misnomer," the teacher continued. "It is mainly based on how the style looks more that how it works. I will show you."
The chuunin took a specific stance, one different from any he had seen before. Kiritori was half-turned before him, with both arms at ninety degree angles on either side of his body.
"Now, attack me," Kiritori said.
Naruto as Muremaru did so, going for one of basic combinations of the academy style. The opening kick the chuunin parried with his left arm, and Naruto tried twisting for the follow-up attack, but found he couldn't.
His leg was was glued to the teacher's forearm.
It was Kiritori who turned, and the added momentum for the pulling forced the student to follow. The hold only released once Naruto had passed his teacher's position, and he was sent tumbling and rolling on the ground.
"What was that?" the person disguised as Muremaru replied as he got back up. "That way you grabbed me..."
"It is both a common chakra control exercise and the core of the Sharp Fist," the chuunin explained. "While the Sharp Fist does have cutting techniques, at its base it is a soft style that manages its opponents. As such it has more in common with the Gentle Fist of the Hyuuga than with any other style in Konoha."
"That poking style of theirs?" Naruto said.
"Both try to control their enemies. The Hyuuga do it by limiting the offensive abilities of their opponents, while my family's style does it by controlling the attacks themselves," Kiritori explained.
"How does the Sharp Fist attack then?"
"The same techniques can be used offensively. The style focuses on attacks upon weak points, and what it uses to defend it can also use to open defences, granting access to those areas." He went to one of the training dummies standing near the walls of the dojo, which was standing straight in a defensive position. Hitting first with an elbow, the teacher then forced the dummy's guard open by making its arm stick at the point of contact and twisting it out of the way. He even struck the dummy straight in the throat in the same movement. "Like so."
"Effective..." Muremaru said, visibly impressed.
"Yes," the teacher said, continuing. "But each part in turn. The first technique to master is the chakra control exercise, which is commonly called the Tree Walking Technique. One simply channels energy to the area he want to stick with, focusing in such a way as to stick like glue."
"It is used as a control exercise because one must regulate their chakra correctly. Too little and one doesn't stick..." He demonstrated on a piece of wood at the dojo's side. The chuunin managed to lift the piece of timber only a single centimetre before the wood fell back to the ground. "Too much and one damages the surface." This time, the wood wrapped as he placed his hand, sending a few splinters in the air.
Kiritori then turned toward his student. "Start with the hands, as channeling chakra is easier there." He moved to the side, leaving Muremaru to take his place before the planks. "Don't worry, I will be watching and correcting you if necessary. Now, go!"
Prank Day 49
The trio of Naruto clones sighed as the shore became visible through the fog. One last Kawamiri and they were finally back on dry land after nearly a full day in the water.
The Naruto group was finally in Wave.
They were all that was left of a team of twenty who had tried swimming from the coast of Fire, and the seventh such team to try their luck at it. The first four teams had tried boats, but the traitorous currents, the hidden reefs and other such dangers combined with the ever-present fog meant they'd failed half-way at best. The ones swimming did better, but still faced constant loses in clones. Only the last and largest group had managed anyone getting there.
The next day, after a night's rest, the three made their way along the coast and found themselves outside and in sight what they supposed was the closest settlement to Fire Country.
"We split up," the leader said. He wasn't one of the original network bunshins sent to Wave, who were all gone by the fifth attempt, but he was the oldest amongst those left. "We transform into unremarkable citizens and check things out. If you see anything interesting for the merchant network, note it, but I'm more interested in what's making it so difficult to get here."
He turned toward his two compatriots. "I'll be Shiro and I'll hitting the merchants and the shops. You..." He pointed to the clone on his left. "Will be Niko and you'll look at the coast. Maybe we'll have more luck with finding passage on this side." He then turned to the last copy. "You'll be Sanryu and I want you to hit the bars. Try to get as much information as possible on what's happening around here."
The newly named Shiro looked away at the town in the distance. "With all the issues we had there's definitely something going on here, and we need to know what." He turned back to the other two. "You okay with that?"
They nodded, faces serious.
"Good," the leader said. "We meet back here at sundown." He clapped his hands. "Let's go people!"
Each went his own way. By the third step all were unremarkable civilians, each different from the previous. They were inside the city less than a minute after that.
Following the water, Niko found boats.
He might not be a specialist in maritime construction, but even he could identify damage done by a sharp object upon wood. The boats he saw had been destroyed purposely, and he would bet that some group had taken axes to them. With the numbers he found he was pretty confident this was the work of more than a single person, as it would have taken days for a determined man to wreck that many.
He also saw people fishing, but the catches were few and the sizes small. Asking did not help, as the people were surprising defensive of what little fish they had. He was looked at carefully, as if everyone expected him to steal the little they had.
It did not fill the Naruto Bunshin with confidence.
By the time the sun came down Niko had found only two boats that might be sea-worthy, and he wasn't even sure about that. That was out of more than two hundred wrecks, which meant that unless they swim back, the three of the were stuck in Wave for the time being.
There was nothing on sale.
No, that wasn't quite true. There was a little on sale, but nothing at any kind of reasonable price, and no food at all. The people were guarded and unhelpful, and there were beggars at every corner, emaciated and visibly suffering.
There was nothing here that could be of interest to the merchant network. Not in the state the town was in.
Shiro tried asking around to find out what was the issue, but no one was talking. Everyone ran or hid when he came close, and even the beggars were silent when asked what was was going on.
The clone was pretty sure there was some group or organization enforcing this no-talking policy. The fear in the eyes of those he asked was particularly illuminating in that regard.
After an hour going around and having no success at gathering any more information, Shiro made his way back to the meeting spot. He hoped the other two had better luck.
It was only midday, and the bars were already full.
Sanryu, noticing the noise, had wisely decided to wait and watch before entering the first bar he found. A few minutes of observation revealed a half-dozen mercenaries coming and going, and his civilian appearance would have struck out like a sore thumb there.
So he changed it.
His new look he took from a memory of a female clone serving in a bar. Tall, broad shoulders, and few facial scars. That and a scratched-out Mist insignia on his forehead. The female clone had clearly seen how missing-nin were treated, and that was exactly what Sanryu needed right now.
Nobody stopped him as he made his way inside, and a single glare cleared him a spot at the counter.
"Beer," he called, and a fearful bartender handed him one instantly.
He took in half the glass in a single glup, thanking in his mind the fact that clones didn't seem to be able to get drunk. He then slammed back the glass. "Tastes like piss," he said, keeping in character.
The mercenaries around relaxed at that. "I know, right ?" one said, the laughed. A good half the men in the tavern followed suit.
While they did so, the Naruto copy took the time to look around. The whole place was filled with fighters and warriors, visibly swords-for-hire, with weapons in plain sight.
Taking his glass, he tossed back the rest of the beer and swore. "I gotta get myself some better booze than this," he said, then looked at the tables opposite the counter. "Any of you scum know anybody paying ? There's bound to be someone in need of dying around here…"
A few drinkers were offended and reached for their weapons, but it didn't go farther than that. Then a mousy dark-haired man came up. "Well…"
Shiro and Niko were deep in discussing when Sanryu came up. He was back in his civilian guise.
"Are your news as bad as mine?" he asked as he stopped before the two.
"Depends on what you have..." Shiro replied. "What we can say is that there are no boats, nothing to buy and that everyone seems to be starving, all of that because of some unknown group."
"Gato Company," Sanryu said.
"That's who's in control of this place. From what I remember, they're a shipping outfit doing import/export," he explained. "Gato has at least a bar full of mercenaries under his command, and at least another missing ninja. And I wouldn't be surprised if it was at more than twice that much."
"If they're starving the place and cutting communications that means they're hiding something, probably drugs or smuggling," Shiro replied.
"Maybe even slave trading," added Niko.
"True," the leader said. "Any opposition?"
"Not much," the bar infiltrator replied. "Main rebels were eliminated pretty throughly some time ago. Only one left seem to be an old man who's building a bridge to the mainland. It's about halfway done, but the man is now missing."
The other two whistled. "He's got courage, I'll give him that," Shiro said. "Question is, what do we do about it. This place is worthless to the network, but I don't like leaving it like this. And bringing more money here to improve things will only make it worse."
The three were silent for a good minute, then Niko answered. "We kick thing up the chain. As much as I want to get involved, the clone council needs to know about this before we try to do anything."
The other two nodded.
"And I have an idea how," the clone continued.
Prank Day 50
Saruboti Hiruzen sighed, looking down at the boy who was seated in the chair opposite his desk. If only he could focus all this talent toward better applications, the Third Hokage thought, he'd be one of our best genin. "I suppose you know why you are here, Naruto?"
"I didn't do it!" The boy in orange replied instantly.
The Hokage noticed he was at least getting better at lying, since he had none of his usual tells present. "Oh, and I suppose you don't know who painted Kazuhi's classroom bright pink, right?"
The academy student rose as if to exclaim something, then fell back down in his seat. "No." He said, and Sarutobi could clearly see the lie this time.
"This has got to stop, Naruto," the Hokage explained. "This is your fourth year at the academy. Fourth! It's clear you don't lack the talent, with everything you manage to accomplish, but you have to do better! It won't be possible for you to stay in the academy forever until you pass! Already, I've been having some issues keeping you enrolled." The fact that he'd started young was the only saving grace he had. There were still students Naruto's age enrolled, so he'd been able to argue for another year.
"Tell me, what are you doing differently this year?" the Hokage asked. "How do you expect to pass this time?"
Let it not be said that the Hokage wasn't curious about this prank of his. He was glad Naruto had at least an idea, but curiosity was gnawing at him.
This time, Naruto didn't even rise. He simply stood there in his chair, arms crossed and refusing to say anything.
"This is the fourth prank on the teachers in two weeks, Naruto, and not small scale ones either," Sarutobi said. "And I suppose you'll say that you had nothing to do with the teacher's offices getting filled with cats?"
Naruto smirked at those words, and Hiruzen had him then. "I see you did," he said, voice serious.
"Yeah, I did that one," Naruto said, sighing. "But you had to admit it was funny, Old Man!"
The Hokage took a deep breath. "Let's make a deal, Naruto. I won't punish you for those pranks of your, not right now," he explained. He hadn't planned to, since he didn't want to interfere any more into the boy's school life. "But you have to pass this year. I'm not even sure I'll be able to get you a place in the academy in the next session. You do that, and there won't be any punishment for those pranks of yours." He then glared down at the boy. "Fail, however, and I'll see you on trash duty until you turn eighteen. You have that, Naruto?"
"No sweat!" the boy replied.
"It's a deal, then?" the Hokage said, extending his hand.
The boy shook. "It's a deal!"
Sarutobi smiled as he sat back down. "I'll hold you onto that," he said seriously, then smiled. "So, tell me about those pranks you most assuredly did not do."
Naruto smiled back. "Well, first there was..."
Prank Day 51
Iruka had been surprised earlier at being called for a meeting, especially since the next one planned what only in two days. He'd stressed for a moment, imaging the worst, before relaxing. Naruto would have informed him directly if something really dangerous was going on.
Still, it occupied his thoughts until classes finally ended. This time, he used the Urahara passageway closest to his home to reach Naruto's base. By now, he was quite used to the darkened paths, and found himself at the council table less than two minutes before the appointed time.
He was also starting to recognize the different council members: The trio with the books at the end of the table was the group in charge of the trading network, followed by the two merchant parents. The Naruto next to them wasn't the real one, only a clone who was currently taking his place in class. Ariko was next, talking with the clone in charge of the underground training.
There was also a new one, one he hadn't seen only differences between him and the original were a set of goggles tied to to his left arm instead of over his head, and a patch on the other side with what seemed to be a pair of waves depicted. The chunin didn't know what that meant, but he suspected he would soon find out.
"Sorry, I got intercepted below," the original disguised as Muremaru said, finally taking his place at the table. Since Ichibo's arrival, he was easier to find: outside public situations, the rabbit could always be found on or around the real academy student. In the last few days, Naruto was always Muremaru, as the training his new master was giving him was too intense for a Kage Bunshin.
"So…" the real student started. "Sorry all for the surprise meeting, but the network heads have something to discuss which they claim is urgent." He turned to the three. "Your show now."
"Let me guess," Jinei, the civilian father, interrupted. "Wave?"
"Yes, Wave," The center merchant head answered.
Iruka remembered something about Wave being late in some way. "And what's so urgent about it?" he asked.
The unknown clone stepped up. "I'm Niko, fourth generation jumper as part of the original Wave expedition."
"Fourth generation?" Ichibo interjected.
"Clone of a clone of a clone of a clone," responded four different Narutos around the table, Niko included. "Two days ago, me and two other clones finally managed to swim our way to Wave," he continued.
The chunin teacher's eyes grew wide. The waters around Wave were well known to be treacherous and usable only by knowledgeable sailors. He'd known genin who'd died in places like that one. He didn't want to know how many clones had vanished on the way.
"There's nothing valuable in Wave for the trading network at the moment, and a simple reason to that: Gato Corporation," the jumper explained. "They amassed a large force of mercenaries along with some missing ninjas, and used that force to close down all access to and from the island."
"Ouch," Iruka said, then continued when he saw everyone was looking at him. "Gato Corporation is big. VERY big. Big enough that it is economically more powerful than a good number of ninja villages and countries."
Niko continued. "One thing is sure: whatever they're planning in Wave, it can't be good. The population is starving, fearful and untrusting. There's no law, and the mercenaries are basically doing what they want with the population."
"I suppose you have a plan?" the real Naruto asked.
Niko nodded. "The three of us do. You see, there's someone building…"
Iruka rose, interrupting the shadow clone. "I'm sorry?" He said, eyes wide. "You're planning to take on Gato Corporation? Did you miss the part where I said it was as powerful as some ninja villages?"
The entire membership of the council looked back and forth at each other, then nodded. "I've been oppressed enough that I won't let others be so, not if I can do anything about it," the original Naruto said, and you could hear the finality in his words.
The chunin teacher fell back into his seat. "It's much too dangerous! You'll be killed!"
"He won't be there," Niko countered. "The boss has to stay here to keep the masquerade up. We clones are the ones who'll be taking on this mission." There were nods all around the table. "And it's not like we won't be making any profit out of this."
Iruka signalled him to continue.
"Right now, everything the trading network has done has been based out of Konoha, right here." He explained. "However, the farther we get from Fire Country, the less useful this becomes. The network has been for new place to base itself out of, but hasn't met much luck until now." Niko stopped to take a breath. "For operations in the East, Wave is perfect. It's right between Fire and Water, and is very close to the main shipping lines in the area. Once Gato is out of Wave, there would be no competition against us, and some of the natural products of the island are sure to sell well."
Iruka nodded in confirmation. "Wave Island tobacco is well known to be the best in the elemental countries, and there are numerous plants used in the fabrication of medicine that are originating from there." The teacher then sighed. "I'm not happy about this, but I'll listen. What is your plan then?"
"Well…" Niko said. "Here's what we came up with. First, we'll need to have…"
I have not abandoned this story.
I have, however, been focused on another story, not this one. For those who are curious, please check my profile as I've put a link there. I won't promise anything regarding the next chapter, as my other story is my main focus at the moment, and I don't know how much time I'll be putting on this one. My most sincere apologies to everyone who waited.
Thank you all for reading.