As Twilight Fades

Chapter II: Seireitai'

Chirp chirp.'

"… Shoosh."

'Chirp chirp chirp.'

"Please?"

'Chirp.'

"Jackass…"

Naruto sat up slowly, his hand favoring his stomach gently as he waved a pesky robin from it's make-shift nest it created within his hair. Birds are evil… "Ugh… Where the hell am I?"

A meadow…

"What the fuck?"

Vivid details of the battle struck the veteran shinobi's mind like a hammer. So this is the afterlife I suppose... Looks boring. Placing both hands beneath him, he eased himself up to a standing position, only to promptly fall back on his rump as a nauseating wave of vertigo slammed into his skull.

A scowl etched across the blonde's once perpetually happy face. Now this is just annoying. Once the nausea faded, he tried again… only to be met with the same result.

His eyes once more scanned his surroundings, looking for something to aid in his plight. They zeroed in on one of the few trees dotting the meadow, a low hanging oak tree with a myriad of autumn leaves decorating its branches.

The ninja gently slid himself towards the hulking flora and used it to slowly pull himself into a standing position. He clutched a low handing branch for support as the wave of vertigo once again assaulted his equilibrium and attempted to steady the increasing shaking of his knees. He felt weak, and if there was one thing a ninja hated more then anything else, it was to be helpless.

A grin slid in place as his balance began to slowly return. Its almost like how Neji was after having to be on bed rest in the hospital for three months. What did Sakura-chan call it…. Atrophy? Yeah, that's it. I just have to get my body trained back up. And so he did what any knuckle head would do, he pushed himself.

Through sheer determination, and a lack of having anything better to do, Naruto quickly began to regain his fine and gross motor skills. It wasn't long until he was able to rub his belly and pat his head at the same time, a gesture which always made him giggle.

He was disheartened after attempting to grasp his chakra. While he could sense a power within him, it was different then what he was used to. Whereas chakra was constantly flowing and nurturing one's body, moving much like a stream, this other power was stationary, like a large lake.

His musing however was interrupted by the loud rumbling of his stomach. An embarrassed chuckle emerged as he looked around with a small blush burning its way across his face, "Next thing on the agenda, get some chow."

Naruto followed his sense of smell, which luckily remained heightened, and found his way swiftly to town. With the combination of deft fingers, his analytical shinobi mind and training, and the overall aloofness of the residents of the town, the shinobi easily pick pocketed enough money to purchase a meal.

Near the center of town however, he managed to catch a whiff of pure ecstasy. Could it be? Ramen! My prayers have been answered! He took off in a dead sprint, stopping directly in front of a small run down hut. He instantly launched himself onto a stool, "Oi, four bowls of beef ramen please!"

The old woman behind the counter smiled at his enthusiasm, "Sure honey, it'll be right up."

As he waited for grub of the gods to be cooked to perfection, he subtly scanned his surroundings. Four other men occupied stools as well, three of them seemed like the average people he had passed in town, although they were attempting to keep themselves as far away from the other occupant as possible while still being in the hut.

The other occupant was far from what he would ever deem normal. The man had long straight blond hair, and a grin spread across his face revealing much of his top teeth. He wore a long sleeved white haori with the number five embroidered inside a rhombus on the back of it over a black shihakusho, and had a katana sheathed at his side. Even with the flippant attitude oozing from him, Naruto could feel the power pouring off the man. He'd probably be a good person to start with for information though.

"Ohayo, the name is Namikaze Naruto," he exclaimed with a grin, outstretching his hand towards his fellow blond.

"Namikaze Naruto eh? I'm Hirako Shinji, Shinigami Captain." He clasped Naruto's hand, and his eyes widened. "Say, you've got some decent spiritual pressure for a plus. How long have you been here?" Decent my ass, he's on the same level as me, and I couldn't even feel it until we made contact.

"Wait, whaa? Plus? Reiatsu? Wha'sat? I thought there was only one shinigami though, but I've been here for a couple of hours, give or take."

Shinji almost fell from his chair. In a rather poor attempt at trying to conceal his surprise once more, he retrieved his hand and stretched his grin even further across his face, "Ahem, a Plus is basically a spirit given physical form. Its what all of us start out as. Reiatsu is the physical pressure that is created by your reiryoku, which is basically the amount of spiritual energy inside of you. Shinigami are basically the guards and psychopomps of Soul Society. It is our job to guard the spirit and human realm from hollows, and guide the spirits of the deceased to here so they may await for reincarnation."

Naruto listened carefully, letting the information sink in, "So if you fight these hollows then, you must be like a military right? By the way, what are hollows?"

If at all possible, Shinji's grin stretched even further, "Yes, we are the fighting force of the Soul Society. We wield our high level of reiryoku in order to give us superhuman abilities. Hollows are souls who have stayed too long in the human realm due to feelings of guilt, anger, betrayal, and so on. They are what happens if we don't discover a plus who has remained chained to their old life. Creatures of instinct. To fight and kill, devouring anything with a high enough reiryoku. Many of them hold no sentient thought other then destroy."

"Sounds like some pretty fancy shit," the blond mumbled through the mass of noodles that were crammed in his mouth. The ability to speak clearly with so much due to over a decade of training.

The Shinigami Captain watched the spectacle with astonished eyes. I think he may even be inhaling some through his nose… Yep, definitely through the nose. "You know, since there isn't much here for you at the moment, seeing as how you just got here and all… How would you like to come to the Seireitai with me and learn to become a shinigami? You're just the type of person the academy is looking for."

The mention of academy made Naruto flinch. He still remembered the horrible times back at the Konoha Shinobi Academy. The nights of homework, the boring lectures… Oh the horror! "Erm, is there any way we can skip the Academy?"

"Not unless you wish to remain out here. But remember, soon your reiatsu will begin to affect other pluses, and not in a positive way. Without proper training in controlling it, you could end up killing someone by accident." Lets hope he buys it. While that would normally be the case, the fact that I couldn't even sense an ounce of reiatsu until we touched clearly means that he can subconsciously suppress it perfectly.

Naruto's eyes darkened slightly as the images of all the people who died just because they knew him flashed before his eyes. Akatsuki was merciless in their endeavors to drag the blond shinobi out. "Fine, how long is the schooling?" he asked as a determined look steeled into his cerulean eyes.

"The curriculum is six years long, teaching a variety of things from swordsmanship to hollow theory. Even though it is six years, there have been exceptions made in the past for exceptional students who have graduated early."

"Then I'll just have to show them how badass I am, and graduate way ahead of time. Yosh! Lets go to the Seireitai!" Naruto exclaimed as he sprinted from the stand, four empty bowls of ramen rolling precariously before settling in an ominous silence.

A cough behind Shinji made him turn his head towards the source, "I'm guessing that that means you're paying for your friends meal then," the elderly woman said pleasantly, although the undertone of her voice promised much punishment if he didn't comply. Ugh, if this wasn't my favorite ramen bar…

"Ehh, alright you old bat, keep the change," he said as he slapped a wad of money on the counter. He stood up slowly, adjusting the sword at his hip before making off in the direction his fellow blond had rushed off in. Damn fool doesn't even know where the hell to go…

Naruto, with a slightly bashful look on his face landed in front of the shinigami, scratching the back of his head nervously, "Heh, I don't really know where this Seireitai place is, so…"

Shinji would've face palmed if he hadn't been so stunned. How the hell did I not notice him? Just because he isn't projecting his reiatsu like most shinigami doesn't mean I wouldn't be able to hear him. "Bah, come on baka, and I'm taking that lunch from your first pay check, plus interest!"

Naruto had the decency to look slightly ashamed, before it rapidly shifted to disgruntled, "Oi, you can't do that you crazy teme!"

Shinji's smile turned maniacal, "Heh, you would be amazed what a captain can do. Out of the thirteen court guard squads, I lead the fifth squad. I am one of the most powerful people in the afterlife."

"Hmm, you just look like a ninny to me."

"What?" came Shinji's outraged cry.

"You heard me, teme."

"And just for that…" Before Naruto could react Shinji disappeared in a gust of wind, only to phase back into reality a blink later with a hand grasping the ex-shinobi's shoulder.

"What the…" was all Naruto could say before he felt as if his intestinal tract was being tugged through his chest as the pair disappeared from the Rukongai District.

Seireitai - West Gate

The rapidly moving world came to a screeching halt for Naruto as the two appeared on a road just beyond a rather tidy looking village. It was a testament to his indomitable willpower that he managed to hold his lunch in.

Outrage spread across his tanned face, "What the hell was that, teme?"

Shinji chuckled lightly as he watched Naruto stumble a bit more before regaining his equilibrium, "That would be the Shinigami art of Shunpo. I figured you would like to see one of the abilities you could become proficient in. What? You didn't like it?"

"You could have at least given me some type of warning you prick!" came the heated reply.

"Now now, I never would have pictured you to be someone so… sensitive."

"Oi, I'll show you sensitive!" Naruto exclaimed as he began rolling his sleeves past his elbows.

Just as the ex-shinobi was about to launch himself at his fellow blond, an ominous whistling sound filled the air. Naruto glanced up cautiously as his ninja senses began screaming for him to move, and upon noticing the impossibly large structure falling from the sky directly above him, he swiftly vaulted into a back hand spring to get out of the way.

"WHO DARES THREATEN A CAPTAIN OF THE GOTEI THIRTEEN UNDER MY WATCH?" Came a loud booming voice.

Killing intent flooded the area as Naruto eased into a loose taijutsu stance and observed the newcomer. He was a towering hulk of a man, covered head to toe in bulging muscles. A white band held his long black hair into a pony tail, while two more banded together his side burns into bearded pig tails. A red conical hat sat tightly on his head, and his left shoulder was armored by a steel plated pauldron. Two axes hung snugly on his belt as the giant cracked his fingers.

Before the shinobi could even speak, Shinji cried out in dismay, "Oh the woes! Save me, good gate guardian from this nuisance!"

"Wha..? Wait what the hell?" Naruto exclaimed, confusion printed across his face.

"YOSH! I shall rid you of this burden Taichou!" The large burly guardian yelled, raising one of the large axes over his head, "I'll take him out with one blow!"

With a 'swoosh' the large axe sailed through the air and landed with a 'thunk' kicking up dust and debris along with obscuring the view.

A gust of wind gently blew the offending screen away, revealing the blond deceased shinobi perched on the top of the oversized axe accompanied with a large shit eating grin. Naruto ran gracefully up the shaft, taking full advantage of the giant's shock, and delivered a harsh round house to his jaw.

He flipped off the guardian with cat like precision, landing in a crouch on the ground while his towering opponent tipped over and collided with the ground.

After ensuring his opponent was unconscious Naruto turned to Shinji and fumed, "What the fuck was that?"

The trademark cheshire grin spread from one ear to the other. The kid is good. To take out one of the Gate Guardians is no small accomplishment for a newly arrived Plus. "Consider it a test that you passed. The man you defeated is called Ikkanzaka Jidanbo, gate guardian of the West Gate. His purpose is to keep souls from the Rukongai out of the Seireitai, along with the rare hollows that manage to make it here. Well, off to the Academy!"

With no small amount of grumbling, Naruto followed the perky captain throughout the streets of Seireitai. If he could describe the area, it would be boring. Everything in the same colors, no originality, just a simple white, brown, and black theme. Something that would change once he was in charge.

After a slow stroll through the myriad of streets that left Naruto's mind spinning. After hours of walking in seemly aimless directions, they finally arrived at their destination. The building was large compared to most structures that he had passed, with a long courtyard leading to the entrance filled with chatting students ranging from all ages, each wearing the uniformed white and red if they were female, or white and blue if they were male.

It took less then five seconds for the populous to notice the duo, and the effects were immediate. The courtyard parted instantly as students lined each side of the walkway, each excited to get a look at one of the fabled 13 Taichous of the Shinigami. Whispers echoed through the grounds, along with a couple shouts of, "Good morning Taichou!"

To say Naruto was surprised would be an understatement. So I guess this guy actually is a badass to make all these chumps turn into a little horde of worshippers. The two walked through the path much more subdued. Having all these people staring, it was a sobering feeling.

What felt like hours was in essence only 45 seconds as the two finally made it to the entrance and made their way through the Academy doors. The reaction was much the same as it was outside, although the two never broke stride as they made their way to the administration office.

As they entered the room the staff at the desk droned out in a tired voice, "welcome to the administration office, how may I help you sir or ma'am?" he said, never looking up from the papers at his desk.

A grin spread across the captain's face as he audibly cleared his throat.

The desk clerk looked up, a look of annoyance plastered on his face… which was instantly morphed to shock as he popped out of his chair and stood at attention, "morning Taichou, how may I help you?"

"Much better. I have a promising candidate for the Academy. I want to make sure you take care of him, get him enrolled, and put in a dorm."

"Hai Taichou, one moment please. Sir if you could please fill out this paperwork while I get the equipment to measure your reiatsu capacity," he nervously said, and practically darted through the doors in the back of the room.

Naruto grabbed the paper work from the desk and slipped it into a clip board while grabbing a pen. His jovial expression morphed quickly into one of irritation as he scanned the questions quickly, Ugh… my one true weakness.

He quickly filled out the paperwork with information Shinji had given him on their trip towards the academy. By the time he had completed the forms and finished nursing his writers cramp the clerk rushed back into the room, strange object in hand and a sheen of sweat covering his brow, "Good, you're finished," he said with a pant, "this detector will tell us how high your reiatsu is and help us factor in which class you should be placed in ranging from remedial, regular, to advanced. Along with that you may choose a group of electives to take. Now lets get ourselves a good reading."

The contraption was shaped almost like a L with a trigger mechanism and what looked like a round rubber dome at the front. The clerk pulled the trigger and the rubber dome shot out at alarming speed and attached to Naruto's forehead, "Ehh? What the hell!"

"Shoosh you," Shinji said, holding a finger to his lips for emphasis, "we're trying to see what the readout says." The two shinigami were peering at the device as numbers continued to rapidly rise. Smoke began to billow out before a small 'poof' erupted.

The clerk had an almost eerie calm on his face, "Huh, so I guess we'll be placing you in the advanced course…"

Shinji showed barely concealed shock. Who would imagine the kid would break the reader… I think the last people who broke it were Juushiro and Shunsui. Incredible… I've got to get this kid into my squad.

Naruto however had a sheepish look on his face as he scratched the back of his neck, "Hehe sorry about that."

Dorms

Naruto quickly thanked the escort who had led him to his housing unit. He was slightly put out that he would be sharing a room with someone, but shrugged it off, Its not like I'll be here long anyways, he thought confidently.

He fiddled through his clothing for the key and gently slid it into the lock and stepped in. The room was rather simple: two beds, one on either side of the room, two desks, two closets, two dressers, a window over looking a training ground, and a bathroom which was shared with the room next door. He quickly threw the bag of academy supplies on his bed and began rummaging through them, coming out with a towel, soap and shampoo.

God a shower sounds nice right about now, he thought as he made his way into the bathroom and began to clean.

After a good ten minutes of scrubbing he had come out, drying and walking in front of the mirror… and nearly slipped in shock. The whisker marks which had marked him as a sacrifice for years had vanished. He quickly rushed to his bed and slid into a meditative state. Over the years he had become fluent in entering his mindscape to discuss topics with the Kyuubi. Sure, the fox was a bastard, and an evil one like that… But he did have a few redeeming qualities. He was smart and rivaled Shikamaru in tactics. They had eventually come to a mutual respect, far from friends, or even friendly acquaintances… but allies in some sick twisted way.

As he slid into the realm of his mind he gasped. Gone was the chaotic mass of twisting pipes and flooded floors. Gone were the sealed bars which held the soul of the most feared demon ever to exist. In its place was a tranquil forest.

Trees reminiscent of the Forest of Death dominated the landscape, although instead of a foreboding feeling, they gave a feeling of peace. Not a sound was heard, even for his attuned senses. No singing birds or buzzing bees… just silence. He supposed it should have felt weird, but it didn't. It just seemed right.

A worn path scurried around the large roots of the trees and deeper into the forest, and Naruto felt subconsciously drawn to it. His feet seemed to move on their own accord through twists and turns, deeper and deeper into the woodlands.

What seemed like hours passed by before the path opened up to a beautiful lake of glowing cerulean water. It was perfectly still, perfectly clear. As he moved closer to the lake he heard the light snap of a twig and instantly adjusted to a defensive taijutsu stance as he turned in the direction, "Who's there?"

"You are not ready," came the deep and soothing reply.

Naruto strained his eyes in the direction the voice came from, just barely making out a large shadowy silhouette on the other side of the lake. "Ready for what? Who are you? Where am I?"

"All will be answered in time young Namikaze. Go and learn. When you are ready I will call, and we shall talk," the figure replied, and then vanished deeper into the forest. Before Naruto could even muster a reply he found himself back in his room. "Teme…"

"Talking to yourself tends to lead to insanity."

Naruto spun around on his bed, a grin stretched on his face, "You must be my new roommate, I'm Namikaze Naruto."

A kind smile stretched across the man's face. His hair was dark brown and kept shaggy with a pair of glasses helping keep it away from his eyes. He wore a typical male white and blue academy uniform and clutched an arm full of books and papers in his left hand, "Sousuke Aizen, it's a pleasure."

Author's Notes: Sorry about the delay. Military comes first and foremost in my schedule. Hope you enjoy the second installation of As Twilight Fades!

Reviews are much appreciated, and constructive criticism is loved. If you spot an error with the grammar or information please let me know and I'll try and fix it as soon as possible.

For those of you who may whine about Naruto getting uber because of a lot of reiatsu, don't. I will do my best to balance out every ability he has with the antagonists so please be patient or don't read it.