The Eternal Chimera – Chapter 22
I do apologise for the huge delay between updates. There have been mitigating factors in my life, for those that would like some accountability I will give a brief explanation after the chapter, though for now, I think it's best that I get straight into the chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto
A sixteen year old Naruto sat next to Jiraiya as they discussed his final preparations for his training. Jiraiya had suggested that he work on his summoning.
"While Hiko is away doing what he needs to for you, you shouldn't be idle. All you can do so far is summon, you need to be able to do more. You need to be able to work in tandem with your summons for greater effect." Jiraiya told Naruto.
"Yeah, that's great and all, but I don't even know where to start." Naruto told him, not complaining, just needing that extra direction.
"The best person to ask is the Phoenix boss. He will be able to tell you what is possible." Jiraiya told him.
Naruto stood up and walked a small way from Jiraiya before he summoned the Phoenix boss.
"Kuchiyose no jutsu!" He called without any urgency.
"Naruto, it has been a while, since we fought the Ichibi If I'm not mistaken." Tobifushicho said after he was summoned.
"Sorry, Tobifushicho-sama, it's just that we haven't really had the chance to summon you." Naruto apologised.
"Then I assume you have something to ask me." The black phoenix stated.
"I would like to work better with the phoenix summons in battle. I would like to know if there is anything that you can teach me and who would be willing to go into battle." Naruto called to the boss. Tobifushicho emitted a deep rumbling laugh.
"Who would be willing? All, of course. The phoenix contract was formed with the Gods as part of our request to remain immortal on the battle field." Tobifushicho reminded him. "How old are you, boy?" The phoenix answered.
"Sixteen." Naruto answered directly.
"Sixteen. I think a clan lesson is in order. In fact, I think I should have told you long ago, however the opportunity never arose." The shimmering bird told him.
"A lesson? I thought I was just about up to date." Naruto asked, not sure how much there was left to learn about the phoenixes' history.
"There are a few minor details that may have been omitted." The phoenix told him. Naruto didn't speak, but nodded to show he was listening.
"First, how do phoenixes join the summoning scroll and how do they appear once they do?" The Boss asked.
"The join when they die. They appear in their phoenix form, the larger the phoenix and greater amount of black in the plumage, the older...at...time...of death." Naruto slowed down as connections he had never made before suddenly appeared in his head. "Tobifushicho-sama, how old was Shinme when he joined the scroll." Naruto asked.
"I see you finally realised. He was sixteen, so the same age as you are now." The phoenix answered.
"Wait, what? How does a phoenix die of anything but old age?" Naruto was astounded that he had never thought of this before.
"There are two ways. The first is if the phoenix dies while immersed in water. The burning process cannot take place. There is a set time for this to happen. If it does not happen within a few minutes then the clan member dies. That doesn't mean any water, ordinary water would simply evaporate, I'm referring to justu based bodies of water. In my day there were those that could summon vast quantities, not pulling water from air, but creating it." The phoenix answered.
"And the other method?" Naruto asked.
"If the member dies with the intention of dying or if they simply lose the will to live." The phoenix answered.
"I'm not sure I understand either situation." Naruto answered truthfully.
"Then let's suppose that Haku or Rei were both being held hostage and your enemy states that they will be freed if you take your own life. There is no resurrection after suicide." The phoenix answered.
"And the other situation?" Naruto asked.
"Every person precious to you is dead. What reason do you have to live?" The Boss asked. Naruto thought long and hard before he answered.
"None. Revenge is useless, it won't bring them back. So I have no real reason to live." Naruto answered truthfully yet again.
"A good answer. For a man who has no reason to live, life and death seem little different. If you die without a reason to live, you won't resurrect." The giant phoenix explained.
"Is it possible to lose your immortality?" Jiraiya asked.
"A wise question and the answer is yes. To betray the Clan and the Leaf Village are forbidden, with this as a widely unknown consequence. You no longer uphold the beliefs of the clan; therefore all clan privileges are forfeited." The phoenix responded.
"Is there anything else that I should be aware of?" Naruto asked.
"Nothing of that nature at this time. However, as to your original reason for summoning me, working better with phoenixes in battle; how you work with us up to your ingenuity in how you combine our skills with your own." The Boss replied.
"I'm not sure I follow." Naruto replied.
"Summon Shinme." The Tobifushicho commanded. Naruto complied quickly, the smallest phoenix stood in the clearing.
"Form a rasengan." The boss ordered. Again Naruto complied without comment.
"Good. Shinme, if you please." The Boss spoke. The phoenix flew up, landed on the orb of spinning chakra.
"I get it. That's one hell of a technique. Rotation, power and control." Shinme said, before he flew off Naruto's hand taking the sphere with him. He flew in a circle with the ball in his talons, before flying into the rock wall, the ball boring into the rock with all its usual force.
Naruto looked at the effect and smiled.
"One more time, Shinme-san." Naruto called. He formed another rasengan, though this one was considerably different. Instead of the usual blue it was bright red. Shinme settled down on the orb, deciphering its make-up before taking off with the ball of chakra in his talons. He crashed into the rock wall near where he had the first time, but the effect on the wall was as different as the appearance. The red rasengan exploded in a fiery plume, the heat could be felt from a good 20 meters away, the rock was scorched in some areas, though closer to the jutsu's impact it was clear that the rock had melted a little.
"When the hell did you learn to do that?" Jiraiya asked.
"Well you always spoke of how Otou-san, was trying to combine the rasengan and an element, so I played around with it. The problem was that when I added an element the thing seemed to explode on contact. I have a wind version, and I can throw that because once it gets to a certain stage it maintains its own shape, but the fire style version falls apart as soon as it leaves the hand." Naruto explained to his sensei.
"Can you show me the wind one then?" Jiraiya asked.
"I will, but not here. There isn't enough room, short of you being shredded into pieces." Naruto explained. "And I'd like to try and elemental combination with the katon: rasengan and the rasenshuriken." Naruto explained.
"Rasenshuriken?" Jiraiya asked.
"The name of the completed wind style rasengan. I gave it a separate name as it looks too different from a rasengan to be called one." Naruto explained before turning to Tobifushicho, "Thank you, Boss. Now that I have some idea, I might be able to work with the rest of my clan a bit better." Naruto said with a bow.
The Phoenix Boss only gave a nod as indication of understanding, before both he and Shinme dispelled.
"So you have an idea of what you need to do?" Jiraiya asked his young charge. Naruto nodded in affirmation apparently deep in thought.
It was several weeks until Hiko returned. In that time Naruto worked on combining his jutsu with his phoenix summons. He found that not only could he get his summons to carry his rasengan, but he could channel his chakra through them, resulting in a few interesting jutsu. Jiraiya still hammered home the importance of keeping up his taijutsu skills as well as his ability to break free of genjutsu even if the former was not a part of his main arsenal and he never intended on learning any of the latter.
When Hiko finally did return it was later at night just as Jiraiya was preparing food. He wore a hard to read expression and had with him a long package that was wrapped rather well which had had not taken with him when he left.
Through dinner there was very little meaningful talk, only banter as the three laughed and joked. It held little warning for Naruto about the serious conversation that awaited him at the end of their meal.
Not really knowing where to start, Hiko just started talking and hoped it would all fall into place.
"The reason that I was away for so long is because I was having this crafted. It was made in Iwa. Their blades are practically unsurpassed." Hiko started out as he presented the long thing package to Naruto. Naruto looked at the blade in awe. It had a golden guard and handle, but the blade was black. It was a beautiful thing to see.
"I'm not sure if you recognise the materials, but it was crafted from the metal you melted clean off of my body when we were trying to master you forme shift. The guard and handle are from some of your own that I managed to scrape off in that fight. Your sensei helped with the crafting as well. He provided seals that will allow for the transfer of chakra from hilt to the blade, but not in reverse. In essence you get all the benefits of a dragon hide with none of the drawbacks" Hiko explained.
Naruto looked at both his sensei lost for words.
"Why?" He asked. He was overwhelmed with gratitude.
"I can't speak for Jiraiya, but your training with me has almost come to an end, the blade is in celebration of that. There is one technique left for me to teach you. When that is done then you will be the new successor to our sword style. The undisputed master of the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu."
"Great. When can we get started on it?" Naruto asked, ever eager to learn more.
"Tomorrow. Tonight we rest." Hiko declared.
"Sensei. I've been meaning to ask. How did the Dragon clan meet it's down fall? The phoenix boss has explained how it was possible to kill a phoenix, but how did the Dragons meet their end?" Naruto asked.
Hiko regarded the boy for a minute before answering.
"You've been to the Hall of Eight Fathoms so I don't think that there is any harm in telling you. You are aware that our immortality was for superb performance in the first ninja war." Naruto nodded to show that he was listening, "Well then you might have some inkling about what some of the other clans requested." Hiko continued.
"Only, the phoenixes, the Dragons and the request made by the leader of a lightning village clan. To wield the power of the Gods. So he received the power of Raijin, the Thunder God, something that mortals were previously unable to harness." Naruto summarised.
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean. The Dragons grew arrogant after the first ninja war. Taijutsu, katon, futon, suiton all these techniques didn't seem to faze Dragons all that much. They were considered walking destruction. So when the second ninja war came, so confident in their transformations that most of the clan didn't bother to practice any other techniques, only expecting to need to stay on the field for as long as it took to transform before they levelled everything." Hiko explained.
Naruto and Jiraiya listened with rapt attention.
"So when they went into battle against the Kumogakure army, they were obliterated. This new type of chakra nature seemed to be the anti-thesis to the Dragons. They were countered easily and the Iwa army was crushed as a large part of their strategy was to have the Dragons deal with their enemy while the rest of the army mopped up any stragglers." Hiko recounted, a distant look in his eyes.
"As simple as that? They were destroyed?" Naruto asked shocked that the entire clan was brought to its knees in such a way.
"The news of how to deal with a member of the dragon clan quickly spread. And because of the prisoners held in different countries as well as mingled blood lines people with lightning chakra turned up everywhere. The only members of the Dragon clan that remained were the ones that had not neglected their training, particularly in our sword-style." Hiko told Naruto.
"I see." Naruto offered, taking the words to heart and realising just how true Jiraiya's words were about keeping all his skills high.
"I think it's time for all of us to go to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a hard day for you Naruto." Hiko announced.
The three made their own arrangements for sleep. Jiraiya pulled out a sleeping bag, Hiko retired to a hut for the night while Naruto decided to sleep right where he was sitting, using the cloak he was wearing as a blanket.
The next day the sun was shining, Hiko, Naruto and Jiraiya were outside, preparing to teach Naruto the final technique in the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu.
"The concept of this technique is quite simple. You must not hold back, consequences be damned. Trust your instincts." Hiko instructed, before coming at Naruto full speed. Never in all their time sparring had he come at Naruto with such ferocity. Naruto ducked the hit and transferred his motion into a battoujutsu technique, a sword stroke used to kill in the draw from the sheath.
Hiko blocked the hit before repelling the attack and sending Naruto sliding away a few metres. He saw his opportunity and made to strike.
"Kuz Ryu Sen!" Hiko intoned harshly. The strike, designed to strike its opponent at the nine different vital points simultaneously hit its mark. Hiko backed off after the technique.
"You held back." Hiko accused.
"So did you." Naruto countered.
"If that were anyone else they would be dead. I told you that if you want to learn this technique you would have to trust your instincts. The consequences be damned." Hiko continued as though Naruto hadn't spoken.
"But if I hadn't then you…" Naruto started.
"CONSEQUENCES BE DAMNED!" Hiko roared as he moved in again.
Naruto readying himself for a fresh onslaught. Their blades met, sparks flying between them, neither one opting for any of the Hiten Mitsurugi's special sword techniques, simply choosing to strike, block, parry and counter continuously. Their blades met again before once again, Hiko sent Naruto skidding along the floor.
"Kuzu Ryu Sen!" Hiko called the name of his attack. Naruto saw his opening and this time didn't hesitate. He charged head on into the attack, performing one last battoujutsu, though this one was far more powerful than any other he had ever performed. Hiko was sent flying from the sheer force of the attack, before he was dragged back in by an invisible force for a second strike on the outstretched blade.
When Naruto next saw his sensei properly, the man was a bloody mess.
"Th…that was the A…Ama…Amakekaru Ryu no Hirameki. A sword strike so p…powerful it displaces the air, then the void creates a v…vacuum and drags the enemy in for a s…second strike." Hiko's breathing was laboured, and there was blood tricking from his mouth.
"Just wait. My blood. You'll be fine. You'll live to see…" Naruto sobbed.
"Don't you dare." Hiko managed to growl out in one hit. "I…I have waited a long t…time for this. Do not d…deny me this mercy. Use the sword I have left you. P…Protect your loved ones and live well." Hiko uttered with his dying breaths. When he was finished he neither said nor breathed no more. He had a calm look on his face and it almost appeared that he had a smirk on his face.
"He's gone Naruto. Let him rest. I'm sure that his life was longer than you could imagine. He was trapped, Dragon clan rules forbid suicide, you allowed him to die with his honour intact." Jiraiya tried to console his student.
"I know. I know all that. But it still hurts." Naruto confided.
"It will lessen with time. Never forget the man he was or what he did for you. Honour his memory, use the sword he gave you and carry out his dying wishes." Jiraiya told him.
"Hai, sensei." Naruto said, taking Jiraiya's words to heart. "Could you get me some sake, please. It doesn't have to be a lot. Just good quality sake. Please?" Naruto asked.
Jiraiya looked at him for a second before he agreed. He didn't say another word, simply leaving Naruto there with the body of his now dead swords instructor, turning to head to town for sake.
Naruto turned and looked at the body before making a shadow clone. The clone then transformed into a shovel and fell to the ground with a clang. He could have just as easily used a jutsu to dig out the grave site, but he felt that it would hold little meaning and be disrespectful to the man who had taught him so much.
Two hours later Naruto had complete digging the grave and was carefully placing his sensei's body in the hole. He then began covering closing the grave site.
Jiraiya returned a short while later, in time to see Naruto finish tamping down the gravesite before driving in a wooden cross and Hiko's sword at the head of the tomb.
"I got the sake as you requested. There's not a lot, but it's quality stuff just like you asked for." Jiraiya said, offering the bottle as well as producing two sake saucers.
"Thank you, Sensei." Naruto sid as he reached out for the items.
"I knew you for three years, and yet it still seems like it wasn't enough. I thank you for everything that you have done for me. The tutelage in sword skills, imparting life lessons and even helping me understand who I am. I swear to uphold your teachings and live to your expectations." Naruto said solemnly before lifting up his saucer. "Here's to you! Kanpai!." He said before draining his saucer.
Jiraiya looked at his student before looking at the grave site.
"You taught us both so much. You will not be forgotten. Kanpai!" Jiraiya offered before he too drained his saucer.
Naruto then poured the remainder of the sake over the head of the grave and offered a silent prayer.
"So, what now?" Naruto asked Jiraiya.
"I've seen you grow over the last few years. I don't think that there is a lot that you can do in isolation anymore. For you, it's all about getting experience." Jiraiya told him.
"So what does that mean?" Naruto asked, not sure what his sensei was getting at.
"You're still a genin. Perhaps we should return to the village and get you promoted. I have word from Tsunade that your teammates have remained as genin in order to take the chuunin exams with you." Jiraiya informed.
"They what? Surely they would be high chuunin by now though." Naruto quizzed his sensei.
"More than that, you all have low jounin to high jounin ability. You lack experience though and they wanted to graduate with you. To that end our first task is to return to Konoha."
With one last look over the grave site they both set out for Konoha.
"I can't thank you enough for all your help here, Kazehana-sama." Haku said with a bow.
"Think nothing of it. That boyfriend of yours did more for me than I could ever hope to repay. And how many times have I told you over the last month to call me Koyuki?" The Daimyo of Spring country replied kindly, as she watched the girl lightly blush.
"That would make number two hundred and thirty seven." One of Koyuki's guards replied.
"Rhetorical question, Fubuki" Koyuki replied with an exasperated shake of her head. "You, Naruto and Rei must all come and visit one day. I would like to see you all again."
"I'm sure that we will see each other again." Haku replied "Once again, thank you for all your help here. I must set out if I am to make my boat. Sayonara, Koyuki-sama." Haku offered as she turned to set out for Konoha.
"Well, it's a start. Sayonara, Haku-chan." Koyuki farewelled.
Koyuki and her guard watched her leave until she was no longer visible, then turned to head back into the city.
"Hokage-sama, what a pleasure to see you again. What can I do for you today?" Teuchi asked as he saw the Hokage enter his ramen stand.
"I'm not here to eat today, Teuchi-san. I was under the impression that Rei-chan would be working today." Tsunade explained as she entered.
"She's in the kitchen right now. I'll go and grab her." Teuchi said as he bowed then turned on his heel, hearing Tsunade offer her thanks as he entered his kitchen.
"Tsunade-sama, Teuchi-san said that you wished to see me." Rei greeted with a bow.
"I just received a messenger toad from Jiraiya. He and Naruto are returning. I just thought you'd appreciate the news." Tsunade told the redhead. She expected some kind of reaction, but the girl just gaped at her, unable to form a proper response. Slowly her wits came to her, and she gave a dazzling smile, and uttering her thanks to the Hokage while bowing.
"They say that they will enter the village a little before nightfall. Well that's all I had to say. I'm heading out. I'm sure the rookie twelve and their sensei will want to know as well." Tsunade said as she left the establishment.
Just as she got outside Tsunade heard Rei cry "YATTA!". She wanted to tell Rei personally, just to see her reaction, but would ask the ANBU to inform the rest.
Teuchi approached Rei from behind and cleared his throat. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I overheard the conversation." He told her. "You were supposed to work tomorrow, but in light of the news, I'll give you the day off." Teuchi offered.
Rei didn't respond with words, she just gave the aging man a huge hug before skipping back into the kitchen to finish the rest of her shift.
"So, he's coming back." Sakura said to no one in particular.
"I can barely wait. I'm dying to spar against him." Sasuke replied.
"You may have to get in line for that. I imagine that there are quite a few people that wouldn't mind going a round or two with him. Myself included." Kakashi interrupted their conversation.
"Kakashi-sensei." Sakura greeted in mild surprise.
"We do have training today Sakura, don't be so surprised to see me." Kakashi responded.
"It's not so much that you're here, it's that you're on time, Sensei." Sasuke replied with a chuckle.
"I needed to inform you that you are all being entered into the chuunin exams, this time in Iwa." Kakashi go straight to the point. "You will all have exactly one month to tune your teamwork the day after Naruto arrives. You need to use that time to find out each other's skills and learn to work in a team once again." Kakashi continued.
"Brilliant. This will be fantastic. Let's get training then." Sasuke said with vigour.
"You worried you're gonna get beaten by a first year rookie?" Sakura teased.
"We're in Naruto's team. While I might not get beaten by anyone else, I refuse to be dead weight that gets carried through by my absurdly powerful teammate." Sasuke replied.
"You think you're giving him a little too much credit?" Sakura asked.
"You tell us Sakura. He's spent the last few years training under one of the strongest men in the Elemental Nations. Not to mention that Jiraiya said that his sword instructor was immensely powerful as well. Add to that Naruto's own desire to improve, you might find that you will be calling him Hokage-sama sooner rather than later." Kakashi told her.
Sakura gained a steely gaze in her eye before readying herself into a sparring stance.
"Excellent. Let's begin then." Kakashi said as he prepared to referee.
"Haku, it's good to see you back in the village again." Tsunade greeted as she saw the Hyouton user enter her office.
"It's good to be back, Tsunade-sensei." Haku greeted in return.
"So tell me, what did you learn?" Tsunade asked, directly to the point.
"I learned to use the ice coffin jutsu and perfected it to my needs. I can now freeze and thaw a person in a block of ice for easy transport. I have taught the altered jutsu to the Haru no Kuni ninja. It can be used for transporting the injured and keeping them in stasis, or for moving prisoners. Spring Country will be sending designs for the suits of armour that our medics will need to wear in order to use the jutsu. The suits also protect against nin and genjutsu, increasing the survivability of an on field medic" Haku reported.
"Very impressive. Well in light of your hard work, I'll give you a few days rest before I'll ask you to return to usual hospital juties." Tsunade told her.
"That won't be necessary sensei, the trip was easy. I don't mind restarting tonight." Haku offered.
"Are you sure? I just thought you might want the night off seeing as Naruto was returning at sundown." Tsunade told her.
"Trust me I really don't…SAY WHAT!" Haku started before interrupting herself.
"Did I stutter." The Hokage replied.
"I'll take it." Haku replied quickly, a brilliant smile gracing her lips.
"I'm guessing that you'd like to talk to Rei and get ready. It is the first time you'll be seeing him in so long after all." The Hokage told her student. The black haired girl bowed quickly before shunshinning away.
"Come on, Ero-sennin." Naruto urged Jiraiya.
"Slow down you dolt, Konoha isn't moving anywhere anytime soon." Jiraiya replied. He was grinning, as he chided his student. He could understand Naruto's enthusiasm to return to Konoha. Jiraiya also felt it would do Naruto some good to be surrounded by his loved ones. Even though the blond was trying not to let on, Jiraiya could tell after being with him for so long that he was hurting after the loss of Hiko. The man had been a solid fixture in his life for so long it would be unnatural if Naruto hadn't been fazed by his death, particularly when it was at his own hands.
"Where is he? It's almost sunset already and he's still not even visible." Rei moaned, craning her neck as though the extra inch was going to make a difference in how far along the horizon she could see.
"A ninja should never arrive before or after he intends, only at the exact moment. Too early and you leave yourself open to counter attack, too late and you miss your window of opportunity."
"This isn't a battlefield, Haku-chan." Rei deadpanned.
"They are good words to live by though." A voice called out from behind them.
"See, even Jiraiya-sama agrees with me. JIRAIYA-SAMA?" Haku yelped when she recognised the voice. "Where is Naruto-kun?" She asked, almost pleaded with the Sannin.
"Dear me, for a group that boasts two Kage, as well as an assortment from high chuunin to high jounin, you really are oblivious." Jiraiya said with his trademark grin.
"Stop kidding around pervert where is he?" Tsunade said as she took a threatening step towards her old teammate.
"Right here Baa-chan." Another voice called to them, this time from the direction they were originally looking in.
"NARUTO-KUN!" A unison yell came from both Haku and Rei. The next thing Naruto was aware off was that he was flat on his backside with two slightly hysterical girls firmly attached around his midriff.
The girls got off of the blond ninja long enough for him to get to his feet before reattaching themselves again.
"You have no idea how much we've missed you." Rei said to Naruto as she inhaled his scent, before giving him a peck on the lips.
She then stepped aside so that Haku could give him a proper hug as well. The black haired girl took in his scent with her arms wrapped around his chest, before her grip got frighteningly strong. The entire situation seemed vaguely familiar to Naruto and before he knew it, he could feel his face smarting from the hard slap that Haku gave him.
"That was for keeping the both of us waiting for two years, six months, three weeks and two and a bit days." She explained, before pressing her lips hard against his. "And that is for returning to us." She told him with a reddened face.
"Well now that the girls have said their hellos, would it be possible for me to say hello to my little brother for the first time in what was it? Two years, six months, three weeks and two and a bit days." Kakashi taunted the girls, though Haku more particularly.
They both stepped back so that the others could say their hellos.
"Well it seems you've grown some. I can't wait to see just how much you've grown." Kakashi said as he appraised his adoptive little brother.
"It's good to see you again Naruto-kun. The village has been far too quiet without you around." Shizune greeted, giving him a brief hug after Kakashi.
"Well brat it's good to see you again. Kakashi isn't wrong. You've grown a hell of a lot. You're as tall as Kakashi is. And if I find that the pervert has done anything to corrupt you over the last two and a half years I will kill him, then use my skill as a physician to bring him back to life so I can kill him again." Tsunade said, giving Jiraiya a very pointed glare towards the end.
"Don't worry Baa-chan. We were working so hard that he didn't even get time to have his own fun let alone try and lead away from the path." Naruto placated.
The Sandaime stepped forwards to greet the young man next. His arms were still bandaged from battling with Orochimaru all those years ago.
"You've grown so much." He offered, before leaning in. "I can only imagine that you are becoming a man that your parents would be proud of." The previous Hokage stated.
"Thanks Oji-san, that really means a lot to me." Naruto replied.
"Well I can't keep you. From the look that your two teammates are giving I can tell they are being politely impatient." Hiruzen said with a grin.
As he backed away Sasuke and Sakura approached.
"It's so good to finally see you again. We've been waiting for you to come back. We refused to get passed into chuunin without you and we've been training hard so we can keep up with you when you returned." Sakura gushed as she gave him a quick hug.
"I've been waiting for so long for you to return. I can't wait to see what you've learned in the last few years. Lee and Kiba are the same. I'm sure they will come and fine you when they hear about your return." Sasuke as he gave Naruto a firm handshake.
"Seriously? Is that all you three can think of? He's just returned and all you want to see is how much he has improved?" Haku said in disbelief.
"You mean you're not interested. I mean if someone left me for two years, six months, three weeks and two and a bit days he'd better have something to show for it." Kakashi replied, grinning under his mask.
Haku and Rei looked at one another.
"Naruto, you'd better put on a damn good show when we see you spar next time." Rei said.
"You'd best be able to beat Sasuke and Sakura with one hand tied behind your back." Haku threatened.
"How am I supposed to sign for jutsu like that?" Naruto asked incredulously.
"One handed like I do." Haku replied. Naruto looked at her for a second, then realised that she might be onto something.
"How about for now we all just go to a welcome home dinner?" Tsunade interjected.
The group had gathered at Naruto and Kakashi's house and were getting seated. Naruto was between Haku and Rei. On the way there he had described his training to his friends and family. There was a general banter in the room, Jiraiya was talking to Shizune and Kakashi and had a perverted grin on his face that Tsunade noticed all too quickly and punished him for.
"Welcome back Naruto." Teuchi greeted as he entered the room with serving bowls full of food.
"Welcome back, Naruot-kun." Ayame chimed in not long after her father as she entered the room also carrying food.
Naruto stood to greet them, receiving a firm hand shake from Teuchi and a brief but warm hug from Ayame.
"You guys prepared the food tonight? This is going to be great." Naruto commented with a big grin on his face.
"Not just us, we had two helpers. The girls made some of tonight's selection as well." Teuchi noted as he waved a hand in Rei and Haku's direction, both of whom were sporting light blushes at the mention.
Through the night there was general talk as well as people asking what new things that Naruto had learnt and the things that he had seen.
"I would really love to meet your kenjutsu sensei just once." Sarutobi commented. Jiraiya gave him a look that only Hiruzen, Tsunade and kakshi caught.
"Sure, I'll take you to meet him one day." Naruto replied with as genuine a smile as he could muster. Haku and Rei immediately picked up the pain behind the facade, but didn't mention anything.
Some hours later the food had stopped coming, Ayame and Teuchi were still just finishing off their food as they were the last to eat after serving everyone else.
"It was so good having your ramen again for the first time in years. There were some good places on the road, but nothing ever compares to your stuff, Teuchi-oji." Naruto complimented.
"You liked it that much?" Teuchi asked?
"Liked it? I loved it!" Naruto exclaimed.
"Then you had better direct your thanks to Rei-chan. She was the one who prepared that dish, after all."
"That was you, Rei-chan? That was brilliant."
"While you were away the girls each developed a skill or two. Haku pioneered a new technique for medical transport and Rei-chan worked on becoming a brilliant chef. We've all had meals prepared by her in the last few years. Suffice to say when you get the cash you might need to help her open a restaurant." Tsunade explain.
"You guys were holding out on me when asked what you had done over the last few years. That is all so amazing as he pulled both girls into a hug, both wearing radiant smiles.
"Well I think that I should head home for night. Don't forget brat, you have a testing of your skills tomorrow afternoon." So don't say up too late getting reacquainted." Tsunade advised as both she and Sarutobi stood and made to leave.
Naruto and Kakashi stood to see them off, Shizune moved with Kakashi to see the pair off.
"Oh are you leaving to Shizune-Neechan?" Naruto asked. Shizune looked at the boy for a second, then realised the piece of vital information they had left out.
"Shall I tell him? Or will you?" She asked Kakashi.
"Naruto, I may have left out one minor detail. Shizune lives with me, she has moved in." Kakashi explained. Naruto looked between the pair, there was still something that he wasn't picking up.
"Oh and by the way, I assume you are willing to be best man." Kakashi added. Naruto looked between the pair slowly making the connection.
"Best man? YOU TWO ARE GETTING MARRIED?" Naruto yelled at the top of his lungs, causing Tsunade to wince at the volume and dogs to bark in the neighbourhood.
"Yes, we used to date before Shizune left Konoha. We decided to pick things back up from where they left off. I proposed a while ago, but we were holding off the wedding so that you could be a part of it." Kakashi explained.
"Well congrats to both of you. How much has changed since I've been away?" Naruto commented.
"Sensei, we should go too." Sakura called out to Kakashi as she made her way to the door along with Sasuke.
"Be at our usual training grounds tomorrow at one in the afternoon. You three are going to get intimately close with each other's combat skills." Kakashi said to them, they acknowledged the order before setting off.
"Sounds like you've got a big day ahead of you tomorrow. Rei and I are going to head for home after seeing Teuchi-san and Ayame-san to their homes." Haku said to Naruto.
"You're not staying? I was hoping to spend some more time with you two." Naruto asked, looking hopeful.
"If you're worried about these two getting home, then I could offer my services." Jiraiya chimed in. "I can walk them home while the three of you get some catching up done."
"It's settled then. Teuchi said almost immediately, picking up on what Jiraiya was doing. Jiriaya, Tsunade, Sarutobi, Ayame and Teuchi all set out for their homes walking together for part of the way as they were headed in the same general direction.
"That was quite a nice thing you just did. So out of character, and you didn't even make any lecherous comments. Wonders will never cease." Tsunade joked.
"He needs to be surrounded by as many friends as possible right now. It will do him good." Jiraiya replied.
"Is this to do with his kenjutsu instructor?" Sarutobi asked.
"Yeah. Shortly before returning his sensei wanted to teach Naruto the succession skill. The sword technique that would signify Naruto as a master of their style." Jiraiya started.
"Well isn't that a good thing?" Teuchi asked.
"Normally yes, but this technique is absolutely lethal when performed correctly and can only be learned in the heat of battle." Jiraiya informed.
"So he killed his sensei while learning the new technique?" Sarutobi surmised.
"What? So is that why he forced a smile when he was asked?" Ayame asked.
"You noticed that?" Jiraiya asked.
"Naruto has been eating ramen at our store for ten years. It'd be pretty poor of me to not learn when he's happy and when he's pretending so people don't worry." Ayame said.
"In any case, his sensei told him not to hold back, but Naruto realised that the technique would kill his sensei if he performed it. He did perform the technique flawlessly eventually and his sensei's death was the result.
"That's terrible. He must be devastated." Tsunade commented.
"That's why it's so good that he can surround himself with friends right now to take his mind off of things." Jiraiya commented.
"Naruto-kun, I'm so sorry. I had no idea." A teary Rei said as she hugged the blond ninja.
"No it's fine. Ultimately it was his decision. He wanted to pass on the technique and I think he was truly sick of having lived for so long. He was simply waiting for a way to die with his honour intact. That's how Jiraiya-sense explained it. If I think of ii at way, then it becomes a little easier to bear." Naruto replied.
"Still, we are sorry for your loss. Just remember, we are always here for you." Haku said her arms also Naruto.
"Thanks. Tell you what. I'll tell you about the rest of my trip. There were some brilliant things about it as well. I met with some great people as well." Naruto offered.
"Please." Haku replied almost immediately.
"Yes, I'd love to hear it." Rei said eagerly.
"What should I start with? I know how about..." Naruto started.
The three talked well into the night falling asleep in their sitting positions on the couch.
"Huh? What? Aniki?" Naruto moaned out. "ANIKI!" Naruto he roared when he saw the camera in his brother's hand.
"Blackmail material." Kakashi said. If he didn't have the mask on, Naruto could have sworn that he would have been looking at the largest ever shit-eating grin.
"It's nearly ten in the morning. If you want to do anything today before you reacquaint yourself with Sasuke and Sakura then now would be the time to do it. I would advise you get a bit more familiar with the city's lay out. You left not all that long after the invasion, and while some things are the same, not everything is." Kakashi advised.
"Yeah, I might run into a few people on my way around as well." Naruort agreed.
Half an hour later he, Haku and Rei were prepared to go around the city. The girls has said that their first stop was to their apartment so they could show him around.
"Make sure that you are at our training grounds at one PM sharp." Kakashi called as he watched them leave.
"I'll be there. What time are you getting there?" Naruto ribbed, recalling that Kakashi was lat practically everywhere.
"He'll be getting there by at least one PM. That is if he doesn't want Tsunade-sama to get on his case." Shizune answered for him.
"The Hokage is going to be there?" Kakashi asked.
"And Sarutobi-sama. So I would advise all of you to be on time." Shizune replied.
"Well then we'll head off now to make the most of our time then." Naruto said before he and the two girls headed out for the day.
The engaged couple watched them before Shizune spoke.
"You know, if you want to use that as blackmail material I don't think you have long. It's only a matter of time before they admit how they truly feel about each other." Shizune said to Kakashi.
"I know. It was never about the blackmail material. It was just a really good shot. I've not ever seen the three of them look so at peace." Kakashi replied.
Naruto and the girls had wandered the village, allowing him to take in the sights. They had run into Neji and his team. They exchanged greetings, Lee wasted no time in challenging Naruto to a sparring match. Naruto said that he had a sparring session with his teammates, but told Lee that he was more than welcome to try his hand later.
Eventually they wended their way to the girl's apartment.
"So this is your place? It's really nice. Not too far from either the hospital or Teuchi's joint." Naruto observed.
"It's modest, but it's what we like." Rei replied. "We have something for you." She told him as Haku reappeared from a different room with a small box that had a ribbon bow around it.
"Open it now." Haku encouraged.
"A key?" Naruto asked, not quite sure what it was for.
"It's to our apartment. It's our way of saying that you are always more than welcome here." Haku told him as he looked at the small item.
Naruto took a deep breath as his eyes moistened while he looked at the object. "Thank you...so much. This means more than you could know." He whispered to the girls before dragging them into a tight hug, one they gladly returned.
"Come on, if we linger here much longer then were gonna be late for your first training session back." Haku said.
"Ah here he is. The last person, and not a moment late either." Sarutobi said as he noticed Naruto, Haku and Rei approaching.
"Last person? Surely Kakashi-Niichan isn't here yet?" Naruto said quite doubtful.
"I can be on time when I need to be, Naruto." Kakashi responded lazily.
"Only under extreme duress." Tsunade noted dryly.
"It doesn't matter, so long as he's here we can get started." Sasuke said from his seated position by Sakura, both of whom were sitting in the shade of the largest tree in the training area.
"Well at least they seem eager." Sarutobi said.
"Shall we get this under way?" Tsuande asked.
"Think that I should set some rules first Hokaage-sama." Kakashi offered. Tsunade nodded her ascent and Kakashi began. "First, this is a no holds barred, but use some common sense. I don't want you to kill each other. The scope of the spar is limited to this training area and nowhere else. Finally, as this is a no hold barred things may get quite intense. If for any reason you need the match to be stopped, the code word disengage will be used. If you hear it then you must stand down. Immediately." Kakashi emphasised.
He looked around and saw that the three combatants had no questions, so he began the match.
"OK, ready, FIGHT!" He called.
The three of them stood around for a second before Sakura spoke out.
"So how do you want to do this? Free-for-all? Or two on one?" She asked her male teammates.
"I was kinda hoping it would be you and Sasuke against me." Naruto called back.
"You think you can stand up to the both of us?" Sasuke asked.
"You think that you can take me on your own?" Naruto asked, Sasuke didn't reply, he just gave Naruto a cocky grin as all three settled into fighting stances.
Naruto was the first to move, making a shadow clone.
"Still using those clones? Thought you would have learned something new by now." Sasuke taunted.
"Does that mean you ignore all the basic skills you learned then?" Naruto countered.
"Of course not, they are the very foundation of a ninja's skills. You'd be a fool to forget them." Sakura retorted.
"My point exactly." Naruto said as he waited for Sakura and Sasuke to make their move and close in.
Sasuke made a leaping approach, while Sakura cocked her fist and made to punch at the ground. The very instant Naruto made to intercept Sasuke he was practically thrown from his feet, the ground seemed to be shaking beneath him. The clone, also knocked off its feet was picked off by Sakura as she nailed it with a kunai.
Sasuke scored the first hit of the match when his falling punch connected solidly with Naruto's face.
"Baa-chan?" Naruto asked groggily as he got back to his feet.
"Sakura, actually." Sasuke corrected with a smug grin on his face.
Naruto recovered quickly and started a taijutsu match with Sasuke while Sakura still remained at distance. Fists and feet flew through the air as both boys parried each other's attacks. Just when it had appeared that Sasuke has slipped up, Naruto moved in ready to punish him for over extending his punch, but found he had to retreat quickly when two shuriken flew through the air, whistling right through where his hand would have been. Sasuke made to punish the retreat with a kick, but found that Naruto ducked under the kick and slammed his elbow into Sasuke's ribs using the power he gained from both rising up from under the kick and the rotation the Reikoku Ken-ryuu utilised. Sasuke grunted in pain, Naruto used the break to put some distance between him and Sasuke.
Naruto surveryed his options before he spoke.
"Well I think it's time we had some fun." Naruto announced with a wicked grin. Sasuke and Sakura both recognised that grin. It was the grin he wore when some one was about to get pranked.
Naruto split from Sasuke and went to engage Saukra. Sakura fired three kunai before multiplying them.
"Kage kunai no jutsu!" She called, Naruto saw the oncoming cloud of steel and prepared his own jutsu.
"Fuuton: Daitoppa!" Naruto called, the intense wind blew the projectiles clean out of the air. Sakura managed to fasten herself to the ground using chakra so she didn't get blown away. When the wind had passed she was faced with a grinning Naruto. Naruto started out with a right arm elbow before reversing directions and sending two elbows at Sakura, right after left.
Sakura dodged all three before she sent a right hook to Naruto's ribs. He ducked under the strike and lashed out from his lowered position at her stomach. She deftly caught the kick without so much as flinching before picking him up and throwing him towards Sasuke. Sasuke raced in to pick up where she left of, but Naruto had already recovered and was sending a right round house kick at his ribs. Sasuke easily avoided the hit and moved in to counter but was caught completely off guard with what happened next.
"What the..." was all he managed to cry out in surprise. His eyes widened as he saw the thick golden tail protruding from Naruto's back approach and then slam into his left side, knocking the wind from him and sending him flying. Sasuke came skidding to a halt a good twenty meters away, when he came to his feet he looked at Naruto in awe.
"I can completely control my dragon form now." Naruto explained. "I can freely turn any part of my body into the corresponding dragon part." He elaborated.
"You'd better activate you're sharringan for this, if you wanna keep up that is. And Sakura, shuriken and kunai won't work here either. You'll need to get involved directly if you wanna help." Naruto advised. To prove his point he picked up a discarded kunai and drove it full force into his transformed hand, the kunai simply shattered without any visible effect on the claw.
The three readied themselves before Sasuke made the opening, leaping in for an aerial approach.
"This again?" Naruto commented slightly irritated. Sakura made to punch the ground and connected solidly, but found that Naruto had anticipated and leapt to meet Sasuke in mid-air. Right before their eyes Naruto's back sprouted wings, a with a wing span at least triple his height. He easily avoided Sasuke and grabbed his leg as he passed him by. Naruto swung him around once before throwing directly at the ground, Sasuke easily recovered in the air and minimised the damage by landing properly, but he wasn't given a moment's rest. He saw Naruto's shadow explode in size and jumped out of the way of whatever attack was coming his way; moments later Naruto's full size dragon body crashed right where he was standing, a manoeuvre that would have crushed him, leaving a very large crater in the ground.
Sakura watched the progress of the battle and realised what Naruto might be planning. She timed her entry into the fray perfectly so Naruto was still in his dragon form and had just crash landed.
"Let's see just how tough those scales really are!" She growled as she cocked her fist back before firing full force. The impact left a sizable dent in his chest plating. Naruto let out an ear-splitting roar when the fist made contact and fired a white hot jet of flames at Sakura in retaliation.
"Doton: Doryuheki!" Sasuke called out, quickly throwing up the mud wall to protect his teammate. Sakura breathed a sigh of relief before realising that the mud barrier wouldn't hold for long after the intense heat that Naruto's flame was putting it though. She quickly jumped out of harm's way and regrouped with Sasuke. Naruto stopped his attack and reverted to his human form.
"That...that was insanity." Sasuke managed to pant out.
"You're telling me." Naruto said massaging the area where Sakura had punched. "That punch, you've really learned well from Baa-chan. I like the strategy. You hang back and lull people into thinking that you are a range fighter, so when they get into close range they think they've got the drop on you and let their guard own." Naruto surmised.
"And it would seem that Jiraiya really managed to get you start using your head rather than just going by instinct alone." Sasuke ribbed.
"And what about you? I'm yet to see anything that knew, aside from improved speed and a new jutsu." Naruto joked back.
"All in good time, Naruto. All in good time." Sasuke said with his trademark smirk before activating his sharingan and racing in to engage Naruto. Naruto avoided the initial punch and made to attack, but had to rotate out of the way of Sakura's punch who had just entered the match as well. Naruto was not in prime position, he transformed his hands into claws and slashed at the both of them, both his sparring partners both avoided the strike. With his back turned it appeared that Naruto really one had one option; to use his tail, so he did exactly that his tailed lashed out, but his actions were anticipated and Sakura caught the tail.
The smirk on Saukra's face soon disappeared and she had to relinquish her grip or be skewered on Naruto's emerging wings. She made a hasty retreat just in time as the wings speared right through where she was standing. Sasuke made to capitalise on Naruto's apparent distraction, but his kick was caught on Naruto's wrist.
"You still wear those charkra weights?" Sasuke asked as he felt his leg connect with his wrist.
"Sure do. I can control the charkra in them quite well. With such huge reserves, the remainder in the weight is almost nothing in comparison, so I'm now able to internalise it quite easily." Naruto replied as he shoved Sasuke's leg away and made for his counter attack. It was fortunate Sasuke has his sharingan active as Naruto's attacking lived up to its name, there was no relent, there was no true safe point to attack from.
"Is dodging all you can do?" Naruto taunted, his words were swiftly answered with a solid punch to the head that apparently came out of nowhere. Before he could recover he was blindsided again, though neither opponent was visible.
"Genjutsu." Naruto muttered. "KAI!" Naruto exclaimed, performing the genjutsu release technique. The image in front of Naruto wavered before solidifying again, though neither Sakura not Sasuke became visible.
"That won't work." Sakura called, seemingly from everywhere.
"You asked what else we had been working on during your time away? Well this is your answer. Genjutsu. It will take something out of the ordinary to break this. A genjutsu is harder to break when it involves more than one sense. This particular one messes with eyes, ears and smell, the three senses a ninja most commonly uses." Sasuke explained.
"On top to that, we've layered each of our genjutsu over each other, reinforcing the effect." Sakura added.
Naruto took in the information and decided his next course of action. He calmed down and settled into a fighting position. Sakura and Sasuke looked on, not quite sure what to make of his course of action.
"Kuchiyose no jutsu: Shinme!" Naruto called, the small phoenix appeared and Naruto announced his next jutsu. "Kage bunshin no jutsu!" The small phoenix suddenly became twenty and there was an entire flock of them in the training grounds.
"I can't see, hear or smell you, but my clan can sense life energy. The last time I was here all I could do was sense differences between organisms, but now I can tell individuals apart and sense where they are. What you saw me do just then was focus my chakra though my summons. It can have some amusing effects." Naruto explained before announcing his next jutsu.
"Phoenix darts jutsu!" Naruto called, the flock of phoenixes becoming wrapped in a cloak of wind chakra, then launching themselves at Sasuke and Sakura. The two did an admirable job of dodging and even managed to dispel a few of the clones.
"Let's turn the heat up a little. Burning Arrow Jutsu!" Naruto called. The green cloaking of the wind chakra changed into a white and red cloak as Naruto channelled some fire chakra through the flock.
"While I appreciate the jutsu, I prefer not to be on the receiving end. Suiton: Suiryudan no jutsu." Sasuke called, pulling water from the air. The dragon lunged at the flock, while it missed a good portion of the phonixes, the original Shimne was caught and had to dispel, with Shinme leaving the plane the other phoenixes dispelled as well.
"I'm impressed you managed to fire at us so accurately." Sasuke called out during the lull in battle.
"And you? Pulling water from air? That was something that the Nidaime Hokage was well known for." Naruto replied back.
"Believe me it takes serious concentration to pull that off. I'm a fire elemental like you, so that combined with the control needed for the chakra makes it an extremely taxing technique, but it as its uses." Sasuke replied
"I think I'm gonna have to cut it off there." Kakashi called out across the clearing.
"Sensei we were just getting started." Sasuke called back.
"That's exactly what I mean. You're techniques are slowly getting more and more destructive. This isn't the Forest of Death, so we can't completely rampage here." Kakashireplied.
"OK that's fine. I have one more jutsu I wanna show. I promised Jiraiya-sensei I would show him soon, so I think now is as good a time as any." Naruto called back. Kakashi nodded and Naruto leapt out into the clearing on his own. Hand raised above his head he started to mould chakra. As he was performing the technique a slight buzzing could be heard, growing steadily louder.
A small orb appeared in Naruto's hand, but it rapidly grew in size and started developing shuriken like blades. Finally the jutsu was complete.
"RASENSHURIKEN!" Naruto called. He threw the mass of chakra. Everybody watched it fly, and when it exploded it shredded everything within the blast radius until it was nothing more than dust.
"That...That's insanse. I even with the sharingan, I still couldn't count the number of cuts." Sasuke exclaimed, in a state somewhere between awe and horror of the jutsu's power.
"Well Hokage-sama, I'd say that they are combat ready for the chuunin exams. I will just have to make sure that they can meet the other condtions of the exam enough to pass." Kakashi said, addressing Tsunade.
"You have a month." Tsunade told him before they officially ended the observational match.
Like I said, there would be a brief explanation for those who would. Again, I would like to apologise for my long absence and lack of updates, however there were mitigating circumstances. I have actually had this chapter half written for quite some time., but in the middle of writing my mother fell seriously ill and required me to quit my uni degree in favour of finding full time work to support to both of us and pay the mortgage and bills. My time recently has been devoted to either helping her or earning a living, so I've had little personal time. That being said, things are looking up and Mum is faring better than I could have hoped, now being able to do things for herself again. The sickness is an ongoing thing, but is not as severe, leaving me with some time per week to write fiction. Apologies in advance for any future delays.
Thanks for your patience.