Lord of Death

Lord of Death- Chapter Two

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto in any form or way. I make no money from writing this fanfiction.

Summary: When Naruto stumbles upon the creatures, he is intrigued. They don't think. They don't die. But they are the key to making him the most feared man in the shinobi nations: the ruler of a belligerent empire, and an army of monsters.

Includes: Zombies, Dark!Naruto sort of, dabbles in sealing, occasional gore – and most definitely not your conventional zombie story.

Pairings: None

Genre: Adventure / Horror

Word Count: 7,400

Cumulative Word Count: 11,700

Date: Started- 11th August, 2009

Finished- 1st December, 2009

Posted- 1st December, 2009

Current Manga Chapter: 472 (that I've read up to so far)

Chapter Title: Inscriptions

The cloth of the creature's clothes fell out from his shaking hands as he staggered back, eyes fixed only on those few katakana in the centre of the web of foreign characters.

As he staggered away from it his mind was numb, and the monster he'd pinned down rose again dangerously to its feet, but did not otherwise move.

Why was his name written there? What did it mean?

If the creatures had his name inscribed upon them, then they were meant to do something. So the more important question was, in this situation, what were they meant to do? ...And should he be running?

His lips were parted as if to ask a question, but it was clear no words would escape. All he knew was that he was in deep shit, and he wouldn't be getting out of this quickly.

It was only when he'd taken another numb step backwards that his mind snapped out of it a little. The three monsters had not moved an inch after he'd jumped down.

Why? If they'd been sent to capture him – or worse, kill him – then they'd already had ample opportunity while he was stunned with shock.

He took two steps forward, just as a test, and waved his hand in front of the creature's face.

It didn't flinch. Only its eyes followed his movements, entirely fixed on him, and him only.

He was more than a little creeped out. If they weren't there to kill him, what were they there for? Cautiously he drew in close and poked the living corpse's forehead with a finger. It didn't react other than to have its head jostled slightly, but Naruto sharply withdrew his finger at the sensation of cold flesh.

Wincing, he circled around it and gingerly pulled the back of its shirt down once more. Inscribed on the pallid flesh were a maze of runes – it was almost beautiful, how they sprawled, at once both random and ordered. The columns of red flesh slipped into each other, twisted and danced across the skin, a two-dimensional firework against a sickly pale sky.

Fascinated eyes drifted from one character to another, following the complicated pattern of interweaving lines, symbols and characters from one end to another. About a dozen threads drifted to connect to the adorning centrepiece: his name. The thought that his own name had been carved into a creature he'd never before seen was a chilling one. Someone was playing with him.

Shivering slightly, he took a few steps backwards. The creatures watched him move, those glassy eyes tracing his steps until he finally turned his back to them. It was as if his courage had finally fled him when he did so, for his legs almost begged him to flee. The foolhardy curiosity that had brought him here was the mantle of bravery he was all too glad to shed, for his steps became hurried, his mind ached to simply leave it all behind him. Under the calm he'd possessed, he knew, was fear. It was this lower passion that was beginning to surface: to shake him.

He would have left it all behind right then and there and perhaps would have never come back, despite that curiosity's longing nails were digging into his shoulders and pulling hard, tugging him backwards, but in the end it was not even this that made him flinch to a halt once more, to turn and face these terrifying creatures.

It was that they had started to follow.

Irrational fear seized him in a heartbeat, and he could only watch in panic as the aberrations finally made their move: they were going to hunt him down, to kill him, to eat him. The moment passed as soon as it had come, however, and his battle-trained evaluative skills kicked in; he was faster than them (a lot faster, he reasoned, if their awkward staggering steps were any indication), more dexterous, could outsmart them by miles, and had the upper-hand in terrain. He then realised that if they were not going to make a move while he was standing right next to them, they weren't going to do much more while he was twenty feet away from them. His shoulders fell a little in relief.

The living corpses took their time to shuffle towards him while Naruto waited, mostly out of wary curiosity to see what they would then do. They reached a proximity to Naruto that they were, apparently, satisfied with, and stopped once more.

So he walked away again, and watched them repeat this. They only followed him, remaining close enough to him that they could see him clearly.

Suddenly it was a question of why they were tasked to do such a thing, and if they would follow him all the way back to Konoha. Oh god, this wasn't good... they were dangerous. He'd seen them kill – it wasn't pretty. He wasn't about to walk them into a herd of delicious, untrained civilians any time soon. Perhaps even the ninja wouldn't be able to stop them – they didn't seem to want to die any more than they already appeared to have died already.

He walked away from them again until they started to follow once more. He kept on – perhaps, if he was lucky, they'd give up. Find someone else to stalk? He snorted a laugh under his breath – yeah, right. Even if that happened he knew that his conscience would get in the way of leaving it be. He couldn't leave anyone to that sort of fate. He kept walking, half-heartedly hoping they'd simply stop.

Twenty minutes of this passed before Naruto had had enough. Even knowing it was futile, his whipped his head round to face their pale, death-coated forms and said, angry and more than a little desperate to be rid of them, "Stop following me!"

And to his complete and utter shock, they complied. He watched, numbly for a moment, as nothing moved. He took more steps backwards. Still, nothing.

Relief flooded through him, and more than a little excitement joined it. There was a weight lifted from his shoulders in this, and finally... perhaps he was a little closer to understanding why they were here.

He walked back to them, excitement lighting his eyes.

He turned to one. This monster was the one without an eye – the soft skin around the socket, with no eye to support it, looked as if it had caved in. It was rimmed red, and dried blood caked the side of the face from where it had been ripped out. The benefit of this was that he didn't have to see into the empty socket, nor the gory details of the wound, which was a relief, no matter how one looked at it. On the other hand it was undeniably still a disturbing detail, as the face sagged around the empty socket as if the eye's lack of existence had created some powerful vacuum. This, he dubbed, was the ugliest of the three.

"Sit down," he told it with force, and marvelled as it complied readily. These undead creatures were much less threatening when they were sitting at your feet, apparently, as now that Naruto could look down to see it, he felt himself growing less and less scared of it. "Stand up." It did so.

No-one could deny that he had some prankster in him. "Hop on one leg." he instructed. He laughed as the monster kept the same blank expression all throughout carrying out his ridiculous order. He lifted a hand. "Okay, okay, stop."

Stepping back from the three creatures, he considered the situation. It was more than an immense relief to know that he could control them, but they were still dangerous. He didn't know the extent he could control them, after all, nor whether or not they could disobey him. He didn't even know for certain if he really could control them: it could all be an elaborate rouse to get him to let his guard down. Although he could think of a dozen better ways to kill him already through the opportunities the creatures would have already had... still, he couldn't dismiss it. Paranoia saved lives, and this was certainly not a situation he could relax in.

The creatures themselves weren't exactly an inconspicuous killing method. They looked like normal men, just killed savagely and yet somehow still walking around, looking more than a little pale and sickly. Actually, only one looked unwounded – the youngest-looking one, which, while still possessing the blank look and pale skin the other two possessed, had nothing in terms of fatal-looking injuries. This one seemed stronger, mostly only physically, as it had the signs of developed and toned muscles that looked like they had once been trained.

The other two looked to be about thirty and a little older, wearing civilians' rough but practical clothing, although the attire was soaked with blood around the torso for both of them. Ugly – for the nickname seemed to have developed in Naruto's mind – was covered in blood from both the eye ripped out and a swollen, nasty-looking bite to the upper neck. It looked like its attacker had been trying to tear pieces out of it – which was exactly what had happened, he supposed.

The third one appeared to have most of its left shoulder missing. The fabric of the shirt was stiff with dried blood, and caked with dirt: Naruto would have been hard-pressed to name its original colour, had someone asked. The bite marks on this one were sickeningly visible – the flesh on the shoulder looked something like a block of cheese that had been attacked by a rabid mouse. This was probably what prompted Naruto to give it the odd and somewhat degrading nickname of 'Nibbles'.

He pointed to the one on the left. "You're Ugly." he told it. "You're Nibbles." he continued, curious to see whether they could remember such a thing and respond to it. Last was the unmarked one. It looked far better off than the other two, so he named it as such – Lucky.

So here was a test. He made sure not to look at the monster when he addressed it. "Ugly, walk in circles around Nibbles." He grinned as the one-eyed monster obeyed. "Nibbles..." he frowned in thought. "Trip him up?"

The blood-soaked creature awkwardly lifted a foot from the ground and held it in front of him. Ugly, either not seeing the extruding limb or not caring, simply shuffled into it and toppled over.

Naruto would have laughed if it all hadn't been so bizarre. The creatures' blank expressions never faltered as they executed his odd orders – didn't even express any surprise or pain as it toppled over face-first and hit the forest floor with a soft crack that probably signified that Ugly had just become even uglier.

He shifted uncomfortably as the monster rose, soft flesh of the nose clearly twisted to the right and gently oozing blood, which dribbled off its chin and down its neck. Still, it didn't seem to notice, or feel any pain, although Naruto felt vaguely guilty at making it look worse than it already did.

Obviously, the living corpses still retained some function of the higher processes in their brain (although, to be honest Naruto had phrased this in his mind as 'they understand commands so they can't be as dumb as they look'), but this begged the question of just what, in their still half-functioning brains, they still knew and remembered. They didn't seem to be human any more – they lacked personalities, survival instincts, concious thought, even... beyond what they were instructed to do. But how far did it go? Were they still, at heart, human? It was fascinating.

A low keening from his stomach interrupted his chain of thought, and he absently moved a hand over his belly, contemplating what he'd do for food today. He couldn't stay here, that was for certain – unless he desperately wished to end up eating bugs again. He wasn't exactly the best of hunters, and he had a perfectly good stash of low-budget instant ramen waiting for him at home...

Besides this, he couldn't stay here for ever. There were only so many things that he could learn about his odd predicament through staring at them, and top on his priority list was to find out why his name was carved into their flesh. To do that he'd have to travel to one of the places he'd rather not – the library. He wasn't too sure what books were restricted to genin and whether or not he'd find anything of use in the civilian library... but to be honest, this hardly presented a problem because if it came to it, he'd just ask the Old Man himself if he knew where to find something. His lips twitched upwards when he thought of how the Hokage would probably be thrilled to know that Naruto was finally taking an interest in something academically.

The three creepy murderous stalkers he'd found were stood in the exact same places, looking at him blankly. He cleared his throat a little uncertainly. "Er – Stay here, okay? In this clearing. Don't go anywhere else. I'll probably be back tomorrow." They didn't respond; he didn't expect them to. As he walked away he kept nervously looking over his shoulder, half-expecting them to be at his back any minute later, shuffling awkwardly in their blood-stained clothes. He'd bet his wallet that half of that blood wasn't their own.

But no, they did not abruptly appear behind him, and he spent the rest of the journey home with their existence weighing heavily upon his thoughts, still, occasionally, looking over his shoulder. Paranoia is justified sometimes.

There's a certain scent in any library that pervades every corner, stretches across every page and settles like dust on the shoulders of any reader. It was part of the reason he didn't like libraries, actually – it made him feel agitated. Naruto was never quite proficient at being calm and being still, and these traits were everything that was required of a reader when they visited the library. It was like intruding upon another world, really, and he always did a shitty job at fitting in with the locals.

As it was, he was sat on the hard, barely-carpeted floor which, as he absently pried the threads apart with his fingers, felt much like pulling apart Velcro. His bum hurt from being sat for too long, but honestly it was better than standing up, which he had quickly become fed up of. It was a sight that not many would ever see – a frowning Naruto staring intently at the pages of a heavy volume, hair brushing over his eyes as he stooped, occasionally flicking over a page with a thumb as he took in the words.

And it was all rather useless. He'd found a great many books on the history of sealing, which was what this book (which had looked promising at first) was rattling on about. There were quite a few inspiring uses for seals, he found, but ultimately it all lost his interest and the long academic words all started to wash over him like a drone.

When he discovered that he'd read the latest page without taking in a single word he sighed and slammed the heavy volume closed. The sound, after such a period of silence, put him on edge a little, and he shifted again where he sat, as if to prolong the absolute hush that had fallen over the place again.

Yeah, he was getting bored of this.

With a groan of stiffness he hauled himself heavily up to face the sombre shelves, where most of the books had been disturbed as he flicked through them. He twisted an arm inwards, pressing it into his torso until it clicked loudly and he released it, moving into a well-deserved stretch.

He was almost out the door when he had a sudden flash of inspiration. He didn't put too much hope into it, but it was worth a try.

Wandering over to the dictionary section his eyes trailed over the plethora of dictionaries – enough to spill off the shelves and end in awkward-looking piles of books in boxes that evidently hadn't found their way to a place on their own shelves yet. There were dozens of normal dictionaries – but even more multi-language ones, which was what he was hoping to find.

Eventually he'd managed to pick out three suitable-looking candidates from the many languages on offer. One, a book titled 'The Standard Dictionary of Sealing Characters' would have been a jackpot if only any of the characters within it looked anything like the ones he remembered. It was actually enough to make him worry if he was going about everything from entirely the wrong direction – he didn't know the purpose of the odd writing that surrounded his name, after all, so perhaps they weren't seals at all – or perhaps the world of sealing didn't just have to work with one language. This seemed likely enough, so the other two, which he had selected for their odd, sharp-looking languages, looked fairly promising.

He checked them out cheerfully, despite the librarian doing a double-take when she saw him and looking baffled that he even knew where the place was. She eventually groaned as she came to the conclusion that it was all part of some elaborate prank or something, and gave him a smile when he bid the library goodbye.

It was time, now, to see if he'd picked up anything of use.

Two days later found the blond boy frowning over a mess of papers, which were scattered over the floor in a sort of half-circle surrounding him at every angle. An impressive centrepiece to the mess was the five large sheets that were covered inch to inch with ink depicting the odd foreign characters he'd copied from the back of Lucky. He'd quickly found that a brush was easier to work with to map the odd intricacies of the symbols, and he was growing more proficient with the brush every day, as evidenced by how the characters on the first sheet started as large and sloppy, but by the time he'd reached the fifth were relatively small and neat-looking. There was a lot to fit on, though, and he hadn't even finished mapping them in the two days since he'd started.

The odd thing was how Lucky seemed to be different from the other two. He'd already noticed that Lucky seemed unwounded other than the carved flesh of his back, and seemed to have more developed – trained, even – muscles than the other two. Naruto was by this point certain that Lucky had been a ninja before whatever it was had happened to make him into what he now was, and the other two were simply civilians, also somehow caught with the condition. Perhaps it spread? He hadn't quite worked it out yet; it wasn't that important to him at the moment, as long as he didn't catch it.

No, the main difference between Lucky and the other two was the symbols carved on their backs. Lucky's were a brilliant red and a little inflamed, making them quite clear against the grey flesh, while the other two had little more than a maze of silver lines that shined against the sunlight, the characters sprawling and interlocking like a complex puzzle. They certainly didn't look as if they'd been carved into.

The frown turned into a scowl as he stared at the paper; he hadn't been able to map the strangely sharp-looking symbols down accurately as he saw them. Instead, after a few failed tries, he'd resorted to just writing down each character as he saw it, in order. It had proved to be nigh impossible to mimic the sprawling links the characters formed, especially with the size of the paper he had available to him. He figured that once he had all of it down he'd draw the links between them manually from there and work it out.

It had worked well until he got fed up enough of writing to start on the translation business. One of the problems was that he had to spend an age searching the entire dictionary just to find the character he wanted. His own language was hard enough to sort so that it was ordered, but comparing the two was a nightmare. The odd language he'd found – the book called it Jashiji or something, an old religious-text sort of language that was said to have strong links to whatever wackjob god the people had prayed to – could hardly be ordered at all, and although the writer of the dictionary had apparently played a large hand in translating and working on the compatibility between the two languages, it was clear that it needed a lot more work to make it practical.

And, of course, Naruto would have to stick with the horribly tedious method of trying to work out an entirely new language's radical and stroke sorting; the simple lines came first, and then the more complex ones that seemed to be based on the simple ones. It was sorted a lot like kanji would be, but unfortunately for him the language seemed to have a lack of convention which made the whole system largely useless.

Finding a word from the book was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Nonetheless, he'd started already and had at least translated the first few lines – if you could call it 'translated', that is. Not knowing how Jashiji was structured, the sentences were pure gibberish. It didn't really matter so much as he got the general message, though, and something was starting to leak through – words like 'obey' and 'command', 'follow' – 'slave' was even used once, though he had no idea of what the context was. The language had odd little words that seemed to link the clauses – words that made absolutely no sense in any translation, as if they were used more for grammar than otherwise, yet were still quite clearly words in their own right, and seemed to change meaning for whatever words they were next to. It was hard to wrap his head around, but ignoring those and the language's other strange nuances, it all started to look more and more like commands for the creatures – which made sense, he supposed.

It was after he'd translated the word 'for' and had scratched it down onto his paper that he ran into another block. The next word looked absolutely nothing like the rest of the sharp, almost malicious-looking symbols, and Naruto couldn't find anything that looked even remotely like it in the dictionary. He didn't know what on earth it was – until he glanced back over it, whereupon he slapped his palm to his forehead, groaning loudly. He'd been so intent on looking the word up he hadn't realised that it wasn't Jashiji at all; it was one of the many Chinese characters that were used in Japanese. It meant something about a rook, he guessed, but that didn't make too much sense until he saw the next character, and it was only then that he realised that it was a name.


A sudden chill went down his spine. Was he not the only one? Was there another person being stalked by the gruesome creatures – or was this Hidan somehow responsible for them in the first place?

The writing made a little more sense when he fit the name in. It was a bunch of commands, of tying loyalties and programming behaviour.

Naruto kept on with the translation after this at a renewed pace, happy that he was finally getting somewhere. However, in the back of his mind, he was darkly worried.

Obey Hidan, it read. Only Hidan.

Sakura hummed brightly as she made her way to the bridge that team seven would meet on. Today had been going well (despite running into that pig, Ino, on her way back from the shops that morning) and the sun was still shining as brightly as ever, casting the river in a golden light and making the trees look more vibrant and healthy than ever. A warm breeze ruffled her hair, causing a serene smile to settle over her face.

She gave a soft delighted sigh as she spotted Sasuke leaning against the railings, looking as cool as ever in his high-collared clothes. Her eyes drank in his figure as she approached: dark hair, dark eyes, tall, silent, collected... he didn't take any notice of her as she slipped beside him on the railings; his eyes were trained only on the gushing waters beneath them. She supposed the sunburn was still bothering him; the skin was red and raw around his nose and cheeks, and he looked more than a little uncomfortable in the summer heat.

Normally she would have made some small-talk – would have tried to draw her crush into any sort of conversation with her – but today while the breeze still gently caressed her face she was content to just simply sit in silence, next to the highlight of her world.

Then Naruto had to show up and ruin it all.

He didn't say anything; just settled down opposite them to wait for their teacher. But that was enough – a horrible, pungent smell settled over the two as soon as he arrived. Even Sasuke turned around, wrinkling his nose at the terrible odour.

"Naruto!" Sakura growled, irate at having their perfect moment ruined. "You stink! Honestly, what have you been doing? You smell like a sewer!"

The blond blinked at her in confusion for a second, then raised his sleeve to his nose and gave a loud sniff, still looking baffled.

"Er... smells fine to me, Sakura..." he stammered.

"Don't you ever wash or something?" She pinched her nose with two fingers for dramatic effect. "Horrible!"

Naruto looked down at his clothes again, quiet. "I suppose I've been a bit busy recently... I guess I must have forgotten..." he mumbled, and she almost didn't catch it. She gave an exasperated sigh and inched away from her team-mate, scowling heavily at him and covering her nose. He didn't really seem to notice this and stared absently into the distance until their teacher finally arrived.

"Ugh," he finally said when he neared them, mission papers in hand, "What stinks?"

"Naruto." she replied, glaring darkly at the blond. Their teacher gave the boy a sort of grimace and for that mission the entire team avoided Naruto.

It put her in a bad mood for the rest of the mission, until Sasuke spoke to her when they were far away from Naruto, eyeing the blond with quiet speculation.

"What is that smell?" he wondered aloud, and Sakura didn't think he was addressing her until he turned to her, a puzzled curiosity reflecting in his eyes.

"It's awful," she agreed, although she had long since gotten used to the smell that day and hadn't noticed it for some time now.

"Not that," He turned away from her again. "I mean, where did it come from?"

She shrugged, about to insert some nasty comment about the hygiene of their team-mate and what he probably did in his spare time, when another comment threw her off. "He looks tired," Sasuke mused. Looking back at Naruto, who was wearily going about their mission, and at the droop of his eyes, the sag of the shoulders, she had to agree.

At the end of their mission she watched with unabashed curiosity as he turned towards the gates of Konoha, and when she asked him where he was going she frowned when she got no reply.

What was up with Naruto?

He smelt like death.

A guttural moan split the air and the living corpse shuddered violently, twisting towards him, face pulled into a hallowed grimace as its mouth stretched open – wider, wider, impossibly split... and then it all snapped back again, as if nothing had ever happened.

It unnerved him.

The others would shift and made as if to move towards him, to bite into him and pull him apart – their mouths would widen and their faces would twist into that horrible pain-filled scream that he could only describe as hungry, impossibly and insatiably hungry, and it was his flesh they wanted, above all, his flesh-

Then it would drop from their faces and they would still, going back to that neutral blank gaze he'd grown used to seeing, and it was like they didn't even notice he was there, even as he moved around them, jostling them and stilling them. Only the occasional low groan told him that their hunger was never far from their concerns.

He tried to put this to the back of his mind as he worked, but every time the monsters shifted he would freeze, wondering which would be the one where they'd finally spin around and close on him, and his luck so far would finally run out.

They were getting harder to control, too. They didn't respond to commands straight away, sometimes just standing there blankly and looking at him like children watch their food.

It had been six more days of non-stop translation work. He'd already mapped out all the characters and had translated them, much to his relief, and the hardest part had seemed to have passed. The task that remained was making sense of the ordering and links, and he was getting there.

In truth, he had absolutely no idea why he was still alive.

The more he translated of the creatures' commands, the worse it got. Oh, was that another 'capture' and 'subdue' link to his name? What a surprise. One of the prominent commands was 'infect', closely tied to another that seemed to want him to become a human chew-toy like Nibbles. Sure, there were plenty of 'protect' and 'secure' commands, but it was clear why: they were supposed to turn him into another mindless sack of flesh like them, and transport him to whoever was trying to capture him – that Hidan guy, the bastard.

And he had no clue why it hadn't worked; why the corpses just followed him around and did what he said like a bunch of dogs instead of capturing him. The commands were explicit, and he could see absolutely no flaws in it.

Although, he supposed, neither had whoever had carved them, and that was why he wasn't being hunted down right now by an army of monsters.

He could see the plan in it: the monsters weren't physically powerful, and they certainly weren't intelligent, but they could multiply. The written commands were to infect others and build their numbers whenever possible, although keeping as many as possible alive at the same time was a priority. They'd constantly seek out Naruto through the aid of some inbuilt chakra-sensors (he didn't really understand how it worked – he only had the base words to get the general gist of it, and with the commands being as fragmented as they were it was hard to go further than mild guesses) and the idea was that when they eventually had enough in numbers then they would be near unstoppable in their goal – not enough to survive attacking trained ninja, but a force a few hundred strong would easily be enough to be a good distraction for them to capture their target – one Uzumaki Naruto – infect him and move to a secure location where he could not be harmed.

Whatever the intent of the capture was, he was needed alive, but not alive enough to be a threat. It was more of a neutralisation, to be honest: they needed him, but not now, so he might as well be out of the way for when they did come to get him.

This certainly explained why the instructions were so clear that he was to be protected at all costs. It would all be for naught if he was killed.

It all opened up a new, terrifying revelation for him, and suddenly the world was a less safe place to be. There were people out there who were looking for him – and he'd be as good as dead if they had their way.

It was a cold fire that burnt within him as he realised this, and he made a vow, right then and there, under the dark canopy of Konoha and amidst the putrid stench of slowly rotting corpses: they wouldn't get their way, not if he still had a breath left in him to fight. They'd never get their way.

He would live on, for however long it took to see them crumble beneath his heel.

The weekend burned pleasantly, sun languishing but refusing to fade over the past week. For Sakura it had been a pleasant period of recuperation from their time in wave, although she still carried those small seeded worries that the mission had planted deep within her -

Useless. Weak. Pathetic.

- but they weren't of much concern to her, and honestly she'd pushed them to the back of her mind. She was having a lovely break from hard missions, and the lull of training was relaxing, no matter how infuriating.

The only thing wrong was Naruto.

Her breath caught as he approached, and she flattened herself against the wall, rough stone digging into her shoulder blades as her pulse quickened. She watched as he greeted the gate guards with a wave and left Konoha.

He had done the same each day for at least a week, although she was certain it had been longer – perhaps even from the very day since they'd returned from Wave, more than half a month ago. He had been acting oddly throughout the whole time since, never mind the horrible smell: he was more withdrawn, quieter, and although this was a welcome change to her it was nonetheless disturbing because, quite simply, this was Naruto they were talking about here.

He had something on his mind that he wasn't about to tell them. Something serious. A secret.

And she loved secrets.

Looking around quickly to see if she had been spotted she dashed from her hiding place and arrived at the gate, echoing Naruto's exit and slipping outside the Village. She hadn't told anyone where she was going – couldn't think up an excuse in time – but she figured that she would be back before tea, at least, so her parents wouldn't even know she'd left.

The sprawling expanse of forest greeted her outside the village's impressive walls, but her sight was fixed on the form of Naruto's retreating back. A fly landed on her arm. She swatted it away.

She focused on this: staying hidden and following well behind him.

It was time to learn a secret.

"Oh shut up," He threw his hands over his ears, casting his bag to the moist ground. "Shut up, shut up," The three guttural cries did not taper, and he scowled in annoyance. "Yeah, yeah, I've got some food, you don't need to chew me over about it." he huffed a half-hearted laugh and drew out the contents of his bag, which was a single piece of dripping red meat.

He hurled it to the ground, where it landed with a heavy thud. The three immediately turned to it and lunged for the floor, each ripping for the meat and latching onto it with desperate jaws, stripping as much flesh away as they could before the others got to it.

It was, in all honestly, a rather sickening display. Jaws clicked and fingernails scratched through raw meat, blood coating their hands and their faces. "What, not going to thank me then?" he murmured as he watched them in mild disgust.

It hadn't been working. He could feed them all he liked with any meat that was bathed in blood, and it only seemed to keep them occupied. As soon as they pulled away, another moan would split the air, another cry for food, a lust for blood, and it wasn't for the animals he'd been distracting them with.

They were near-frenzied, by now. It had been two weeks without food – without human flesh. They didn't respond to him as quickly, sometimes not at all, and seemed wrought with agony in their hunger.

He didn't know what to do.

He only knew one thing: he wasn't about to give them what they wanted.

Although sometimes he did wonder...

Above his head swirled a dense cloud of flies, drawn by the damp heat and the sickly sweet smell of death in the air. They seemed to hang there, waiting, watching, and occasionally one or two would crawl over his flesh tenderly, stroking his cheek or resting their thin fingers over his eyelid.

He'd always used to simply brush them off.

He'd... sort of grown used to them now.

A starving, monstrous cry cut into the forest. He whipped around.

"What now, you whiny little-"

He followed to where their eyes were fixed. To the left of him, a small sound. A shuffle of feet on leaves, uncertain steps.

"Naruto?" her quiet voice called, and for a moment everything was still as he saw her: small, weak, shivering in the warm forest. Those verdant green eyes he'd always loved locked on his aberrations beside him. "What- what- I don't understand..."

And then he knew it, even without the excited throng of the black cloud of bodies above him, he knew it. In his moment of hesitation he was already too late.

"Stop!" he roared, rushing forward, eyes wide in horror. His monsters were closer to her, too close, and it was already too late. "No, no, no-!"

A scream rent the air, primal terror, and at the very last second of her life she finally turned, tried to run. Her scream did not stop as she fell, as blood was cast over the warm forest floor, or as the side of her neck was roughly ripped apart.

"Stop!" he screamed, wrenching at the shoulders of one, plying it off with the brute strength he'd found in panic - "You will stop! That is a fucking order!"

The remaining two backed off as he knelt down beside her, throat tight. There was an eerie silence now, drifting, a moment of unnatural quiet as he looked into her eyes, and she weakly looked up at him, eyes not focusing but looking at him all the same...

He pulled her onto his lap gently, gripping her hand tightly as he blinked, trying to clear his eyes or at least his thoughts. He stroked the beautiful hair he'd always liked with the other hand, crouched low as her pulse slowed.

"I'm so sorry, Sakura..." he whispered, voice hoarse. "So, so sorry..."

Her body gave a final shudder as she released her last breath, and he was left only with the glassy stare of a corpse gazing up at him, accusing him wordlessly.

He bent low, shaking.

And suddenly she flinched. He reeled back, eyes wide and fixed on her form. Glassy eyes danced in sockets, mouth hung open stupidly as she pushed her way up from the lying position she had died in.

Naruto froze, watching his team-mate in sick horror.

Oh, god no.

No, no, no, no.

Before even he knew what was happening he'd pushed her back down again, kunai to her throat. He shook even as he plunged it in and tore open her throat further than it was split already. Still her eyes swivelled in their sockets, staring at him with no words left to give.

He sobbed as he sawed through her neck in desperation and fear, sobbed for the idiot he was, the friend he'd lost... but mostly he sobbed because he'd realised that he still wasn't going to let them go.

Like he should have, before he even found them the second time. He shouldn't even have thought about doing what he'd already done.

He wished he was the nice person that everyone saw in him. The dense but hugely kind kid they'd liked.

He knew he'd never quite be there.

He choked tears as the steel bit through the nerve system and her body shook with spasms, cradling her in his lap like a broken doll until it passed, and the blade tore through the rest of the flesh.

His team-mate's head rolled off his lap and hit the damp under-wood with a soft thump. Her verdant eyes were finally still once more, finally at rest.

Naruto rolled the mutilated corpse off his lap, fingers slick with blood. The kunai fell beside it.

On his hands and knees, he crawled away. Shaking, sobbing... angry.


I ought to mention that I changed the name of this story, so sorry for any confusion to my readers – all three of you or something... *mumble* It'll probably stay as LoD.