"Verdammt durch das Fleisch. Gerettet durch das Blut"

-Damned by the flesh saved by the blood

Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves: will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?

If they ever tell my story let them say that I walked with giants. Men rise and fall like the winter wheat, but these names will never die. Let them say I lived in the time of Tsunade, Godaime Hokage. Let them say I lived in the time of the San'en.

Everyone strives to make a difference in the world. To achieve something that will withstand the inevitable passage of time. Some build monuments, giant buildings, statues or paintings. Some try to leave an impression on the children, in hopes that maybe one of them will have a better life because of something that they had said or done. Then there are some, who have achieved immortality. They are the Gilgamesh of our time. They may have died, but their legend will live on forever.

Damned by the flesh, saved by the blood. –ANBU Motto

--Just over ten years since the sealing of the kyuubi—

Tsunade sat idly behind the large wooden desk of the Hokage, staring balefully at the stack of papers in front of her. She still wasn't sure what made her accept the offer to be Hokage after the Yondaime's passing. Perhaps some sick and twisted sense of duty, but that was now irrelevant. Sensei had been right; the village needed a strong leader, not an old man or a pervert.

She sighed aloud and poured herself a small cup of sake; this year's graduates were proving harder to place than she had anticipated.

'A lot of the genin passed the initial exam, but only a nine look like they stand a chance of actually staying on as active genin' She thought as she slowly twirled a strand of her blonde hair between her fingers.

Leaning back, she took a sip of her sake and absentmindedly stroked Tonton's head. A knock at the door woke her from her reverie as she quickly hid the alcohol under her desk.

"Enter" She called out to whoever was standing outside her door.

In walked a rather tired looking jounin. The taller man wore his hitai-ite angled to cover his left eye. His silvery gray hair stood up and a thin black neoprene mask covered the lower portion of his face.

"Tsunade-sama" Kakashi said as he bowed his head slightly "I was wondering about the team assignments that you are making for the new genin"

Tsunade set down the sheet of paper that she had been working on and looked at the gray haired scarecrow.

"And what were you wondering about exactly?" She said, knowing full well what he wanted.

"You see, there are a couple of students who graduated from the academy, that I would like to train. You see I owe both of there families a great deal and…" But he was cut off from finishing his sentence.

"Both Sasuke and Naruto are already placed Kakashi, you can't have them"

Kakashi slammed his hand down on the table. Loosing his cool was unusual for him, but this was something he wasn't going to let go without a fight.

"And why the hell not, Sasuke is considered to be a genius in taijutsu and Naruto is a ninjutsu genius. I'm obviously the best sensei for either of them!"

Tsunade shook her head,

"Normally I would agree with you, but…"

Without finishing her sentence she picked up one of the various papers on her desk and handed it to Kakashi.

Kakashi looked at it closely. It was a topographical map of a small country just south of the borders of Fire country. It was marked with several red circles, and had some note written in a code on the side.

Kakashi stared confusedly at the map.

"What does Rice Field country have to do with me not being able to train Sasuke and Naruto?"

Tsunade pulled the map away, placing back on the pile.

"It appears my old teammate has not been sitting idly over the past two decades. That's a map that Jiraiya just sent me. Those red circles that are on there are all locations of bases to a new shinobi village called 'Otogakure'. As it stands they're too weak to attack any of the major countries, but that won't last long. Orochimaru seems to have been collecting a very large number of ninja to him. He intends to raise Konoha to the ground."

Tsunade picked up the sheet of paper she had been looking at when Kakashi first came in,

"Which is why the shinobi council has given me this request"

Kakashi read the paper,

The Honorable Shinobi Council believes that there is a need for a new 'Free Response Team' to be assembled from the upcoming graduates of the academy. With the rising threat of this new Otogakure we feel that it is within the villages best interest to create a new elite team.

The various councilmen signed the bottom of the paper.

Kakashi's eyebrows raised in surprise,

"The council still has a say in what teams are made? I thought you effectively cut them off from anything like that?"

Tsunade sighed and pulled her bottle of sake out of its hiding place along with two of the small saucers. Pouring a cup for both of them she motioned for him to take a seat.

She sipped lightly at the hard drink before sighing,

"Well in reality I have, they can only request that we make the team. In all honesty, they've requested one nearly every year; just now they actually have a reason to. Which means I can't just ignore it."

Kakashi looked confused,

"Why would you refuse to make the teams? Every free response team brought a lot of good publicity to our city."

Tsunade sighed wearily and rubber her forehead,

"You sound just like the council now…"

Seeing that he didn't comprehend she chose to elaborate,

"Yes the publicity that they might bring to the village is normally regarded as something good, but have you ever heard that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Right now we are situated as the most powerful of all the ninja villages. But it is a precarious position to be in"

Kakashi looked mildly confused,

"I'm afraid that I don't quite follow you there"

Tsunade shrugged and continued,

"Look at it this way Kakashi. How many times have you been on a mission and somebody tries to kill you just because you are Sharingan no Kakashi?"

Kakashi, not sure where she was heading answered,

"I don't know, quite a few I suppose, why?"

Tsunade, looking down at her desk, continued,

"Now imagine that each one of those would be killers wasn't just by himself, but was an entire country, and they were fighting together because you took to much away from them."

Kakashi's eye's widened as he grasped what she was trying to convey to him,

"So you think that if you were to create this team, the publicity might push some people over the edge and push them to work with Orochimaru?"

Tsunade nodded her head,

"To make matters even more difficult, the council doesn't know any of the details about Orochimaru, so as far as they are concerned, this village is invincible and should flaunt its power. And now I have no reason to stop them"

Kakashi shrugged,

"So make the team, what's the worst that happens"

Tsunade sighed and handed him a list of all nine of the graduating genin that were expected to actually make the grade.

"The problem is that they are only requesting the team so that they gain more power in their respective clans. It's well known that all the past free response teams rise to greatness. Look at what it did for the Yamanaka, Akimichi, and Nara clans. Prior to the Ino-Shika-Cho team, they were relatively unknown. But their prowess in battle brought them up to the point that they are all on the council. And they weren't even that good of a free response team."

Kakashi sat back in the chair and looked at the list that Tsunade had handed him.

"Ahh… Now I see the problem…"

Indeed, almost all of the names on the list were clan heirs. He noted them briefly in his mind,

'Well there are the Yamanaka, Akimichi, Nara, Hyuuga, Inuzuka, Aburame, and Uchiha heirs.'

He shook his head lightly,

'I guess Sasuke isn't much of a heir in anything but title, so its not like he's vying for the spot. So that leaves him, and…'

Kakashi nodded his head in sudden understanding,

"So you're making Sasuke, Naruto, and that Haruno girl into the free response team?"

Tsunade poured herself another drink,

"That's the idea anyways. Naruto and Sasuke have no families, so there is no one but themselves with anything to gain from this. Haruno Sakura is really the only exception, but even her family is most gone, killed by the Kyuubi. All she has left is an elderly grandmother who taught her genjutsu as a child."

Kakashi nodded his head,

"So you're covering all three of the basics in the team. You have Sasuke as the primary taijutsu fighter, Naruto for ninjutsu, and Sakura for medical and genjutsu"

Tsunade tipped the drip back and slammed the small cup on the table.

"Exactly"

Kakashi, setting his empty cup on the table replied,

"So explain again why I can't teach this team? My team was originally supposed to be a free response team and with my knowledge, I doubt you can find someone else better for the job."

Tsunade smirked,

"That's where you're wrong Kakashi, there is someone who is much more suited for this job"

Kakashi looked a little surprised, but replied snidely,

"And who would that be?"

A small cough alerted Kakashi that there was someone else standing in the doorway,

"That would be me"

--

Naruto was running down the streets towards the academy, his non-reflective hitai-ite tied proudly around his head. The special forehead protectors were only given to the top students in each particular field of the shinobi. Sasuke-teme had gotten the taijutsu one, Sakura got the genjutsu one, but he had beaten them all at ninjutsu.

He smiled at the memory, (Flashback)

The class was standing on one of the larger fields that were situated alongside of the academy. They were each given turns to show at least 3, but no more than 5 different ninjutsu. They were scored on difficulty and their level of proficiency.

Naruto smirked at what he had planned; he impatiently played with the handle of the brand new katana that he bought. In all reality the sword was a lot longer than what someone his size would normally use, but he didn't want to use just any sword when he grew up. He wanted a nodachi.

Iruka was talking to whatever random student that had been unable to complete three ninjutsu. The academy trained every student to use the kawarimi, henge, and bunshin (replacement, transformation, and clone techniques, respectively) techniques, but it was expected of the student to learn at least one or two on their own.

"Uzumaki Naruto" called out Iruka

"Finally" Naruto said aloud as he walked past his instructor

Iruka nodded to him when he saw that Naruto was ready,

"Ok Naruto, you know the rules. Between 3-5 jutsus. Anything past the fifth won't count. You have 5 minutes to complete the series"

Naruto nodded his head,

"Your time starts…Now!" Iruka yelled.

Without missing a beat Naruto formed a cross-shaped hand sign.

"Kage Bunshin no jutsu"(Shadow Clone) in a small puff of smoke, 5 identical Naruto's stood next to the original. Each one quickly drew their katana off their back and swung it down exclaiming "Futon: Kamaitachi no Jutsu" (Slashing Wind) and 6 invisible blades of wind tore across the training grounds and cut six different trees in half.

'Two' Naruto mentally counted before continuing.

Naruto quickly sheathed his sword, his clones following along, and began making signs for his next technique.

"Katon: Housenka no jutsu" (Immortal phoenix fire) in seconds a small rain of two foot wide fireballs hammered against the newly fell trees, quickly igniting their branches.

'Three' he counted again

Once again the six Naruto's began to fly through seals,

"Futon: Daitoppa no jutsu" (Great Breakthrough) instantly a great gale flew across the field, blowing over many of the academy students. The instructors anchored themselves with chakra as the incredible wind just blew past them. The burning trees quickly turned into a small inferno that was being fed by the wind.

As soon as the wind gusts stopped Iruka saw Naruto begin making signs for his fifth and final jutsu.

Naruto began gathering an enormous amount of chakra, for a genin, dispelling his clones. After near ten seconds of gathering the chakra, he slammed his hands to the ground yelling.

"Doton: Yomi Numa" (Swamp of the Underworld)

Thick brown and black mud began to bubble around the burning logs, pulling them just underneath the earth's surface.

Iruka looked over at the blonde student. His hands were still on the ground as he kept channeling chakra into the technique. When only a few branches remained above the surface of the ground, Naruto cancelled the technique and dropped onto his backside.

Breathing laboriously he looked at Iruka,

"So, how did I do?"

Iruka smiled,

"Well you're control over the wind and fire techniques was excellent, but I would say that earth is probably not an element that you're aligned with. You could have seriously caused yourself some harm using that technique."

Naruto waived the man off,

"Already knew that, but I meant the exam?"

Iruka sighed,

"I highly doubt anyone else is going to trump that one Naruto. Which is good, it makes up for your abysmal genjutsu score"

Naruto smirked,

"That was the idea"

(End Flashback)

Naruto continued running towards the academy with a bright smile on his face. The villagers all scowled at him as he jumped overhead, but the other shinobi generally left him alone.

He would even admit that ninjutsu was the only thing that he was actually good at. Granted he was passable in taijutsu, but he was nothing special. He all out sucked at genjutsu. He could break out of most of the simpler ones with a really good chakra pulse, but he couldn't use even some of the simplest techniques. The only other place he ever showed any promise was in kenjutsu, but that was pointless at the academy.

He quickly made his way into the academy, and took his normal seat along side Uchiha Sasuke.

"Sasuke-teme" Naruto greeted as he sat down at the table. Sasuke only grunted a response, apparently in no mood for conversation.

Naruto thought about calling him out on it, but decided against it. His pride was still a little bit sore from their match in the exams yesterday. During the taijutsu portion he was matched against Sasuke in the fourth round, and it hadn't been pretty.

Thinking about it though, Naruto snickered; Sasuke may of beaten him at taijutsu hands down. But nothing was funnier than watching Sakura make Kiba run head first into a tree during the genjutsu portion, without even having made any movement outside of a couple of hand seals.

Glancing around, Naruto could see at least thirty people seated around the room. Several spots left open from students that had been unable to complete one or more portions of the exams.

After a short wait in relative peace, their lead instructor, Iruka walked through the door with several sheets of paper in his hands.

Naruto anxiously leaned forward, waiting for the man to begin talking.

"Congratulations on passing the genin exams yesterday." He started, "I am proud that so many of you were able to meet the rigorous standards that Hokage-sama has set for the graduating classes"

He went to continue talking, but the door into the classroom slid open one more time. Standing in the door was a young looking buxom woman, wearing a green overcoat with the word 'Godaime' on the back.

Iruka quickly bowed to the woman,

"Hokage-sama! I wasn't expecting you" He remained slightly bowed

The Hokage waived him off,

"I was just hoping to give a short speech to some of our newest genin" she replied calmly

"Of course Hokage-sama" Iruka responded quickly.

The woman walked towards the center of the room and removed the large red formal headwear of the Hokage and placed it on the desk.

"Congratulations to all of you. You are all about to start on a long and toilsome journey that will likely take the rest of your lives. Many of you will not make it through alive. You are entering the rank of the elites, the Shinobi. Whether you have not realized it yet or you are just avoiding it. The fact is, that at some time in your life, this country will call upon you to fight. To fight, for it, to kill for it, and to die for it…"

She let the words hang there for a second before continuing,

"All the world around you is watching you. Waiting on baited breath to see who is ready. Who among you is ready to go on this journey? It is not for me to answer. I am only here to give you a few words of wisdom.

You don't get very far in this life without having to be brave an awful lot. Because we all have our frightening moments and difficult trials and we don't have much of a choice but to get through them, and it takes a lot of bravery to do that. The most important thing about bravery is this — It's not about not being scared — it's about being scared and doing it anyway — that's bravery.

There will come a time when you are beaten, broken and no longer able to continue. It's at those times that I want you to all remember these words"

She added another small pause for dramatics,

"When you cannot walk, you crawl. And when you find that you can no longer crawl… Then you find someone to carry you…"

Tsunade pulled out a scroll that she had tucked away inside of her overcoat.

"Here I have a list of teams that I have put together. Together with them, you will either live or die. Ultimately, the decision is your own. For those of you that cannot accept this fate, you may leave now."

Just like with every other class, all the students remained in there seats.

She nodded, "Very well."

With that she tossed the scroll to Iruka, put her hat back on and strolled out of the room.

Iruka unrolled the scroll and began calling off names. Naruto didn't bother to listen to the first have dozen or so teams. They were inconsequential; it was common knowledge that very few of them would ever make it past genin.

Finally Iruka began getting into the higher numbers,

"Team eight, Hyuuga Hinata, Aburame Shino, and Inuzuka Kiba, your Sensei will be Yuuhi Kurenai"

Naruto nodded his head, a tracking/recon team.

"Team nine is still in rotation, so Team ten will be comprised of Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru, and Akimichi Chouji, your sensei will be Sarutobi Asuma"

With that Iruka rolled up his scroll and placed it on the table. Naruto and Sasuke both sat up and shared a look. Looking around they could see that Sakura was also wondering what was going on.

Naruto was about to voice his concern, but a sharp look from Iruka told him to leave it be.

"Your sensei's will be waiting for you on the main academy training grounds. Please get together with your teams and make your way there."

All the students quickly jumped to there feet and grouped together before running out the door. Each and every one of them eager to begin their career as a shinobi.

As the students were running out, Iruka calmly walked in front of where Sasuke and Naruto were seated, he waived to Sakura, motioning for her to join them.

Naruto was the first to break the silence,

"Hey! Iruka what gives, why didn't we get a team?"

Iruka shrugged,

"I don't know. All I know is that the scroll specifically said that you three were to wait here until your new sensei arrived."

Sasuke finally cut into the conversation,

"So who is our new Sensei?"

Iruka sighed,

"Honestly, I have no idea. It was only listed as classified"

With that Iruka began walking out of the room, leaving three very confused students still standing in the classroom.

The three of them sat in silence for several minutes before Sakura turned to Sasuke,

"What does it mean that our Sensei is classified?"

Sasuke made to answer, before a voice right behind them answered,

"It means that according to Konoha's records, I don't exist. And from this moment on neither do you"

All three of the young students spun around, to find a white haired old man sitting behind them quietly on the desk. He wore standard black shinobi attire, but his arms had the old hard leather guards of ANBU. His shoulders were covered in rounded metal plates that had been nicked and dented over decades of use. Next to him was what looked like an old metal samurai helmet.

Sasuke was the first to recover from the shock of being surprised,

"Who are you?"

The man smiled,

"I'm your Sensei"

Naruto jumped up and pointed his finger at the man,

"What the hell! Your just an old man"

Sasuke seemed like he was about to voice a similar concern when Sakura suddenly grabbed Naruto and pulled him back down into the chair.

"I recognize you… Weren't you the Sandaime Hokage?"

--

Kakashi stood next to Tsunade, both of them staring out over Konoha.

"So you went through with it and made Sarutobi-sama the sensei for the team.

Tsunade nodded her head,

"It was really the most logical choice. Whether that old coot wants to admit it or not, he's really not fit to be on the front lines anymore. Since he obviously doesn't want to retire, this is the best option. Plus, look at what he did with me and my teammates."

Kakashi nodded his head,

"I guess I can't disagree with you."

Tsunade looked over towards him,

"You still wish that I had allowed you to be there Sensei?"

Kakashi nodded his head. Tsunade shrugged her shoulders,

"I am sure that there will come a day when they will need your help Kakashi."

Kakashi, trying once more pushed his luck,

"Still, the Sandaime is old, wouldn't it of been better to place them with a younger Sensei?"

Tsunade looked back out towards the village,

"You should of known by now. There comes a point in every Shinobi's life when they realize that they are past their prime. It's at this time one of two things happen. Either they quit and become a civilian, or they train harder in spite of their age. They fight time and do there best to stay in peak performance. Those are the deadliest ninja that you will ever find on the field. The old ones, who in spite of aging kept training, and with their decades of experience, crush all their opponents."

She turned and sat down at her desk to begin filling out some more paperwork,

"I'm sorry Kakashi, but you cannot be there sensei."

Kakashi nodded and made his way towards the door when Tsunade called out to him,

"There is however another team that will be graduating in the next year or two that may interest you…"

--

Naruto stared wide-eyed at the old man across from him. If Sakura was right, and this was the Sandaime Hokage. Then they had been lied to in their history books. According to the books, the Sandaime had been injured in the Kyuubi attack and was currently living at his estate in the Sarutobi compound.

The old man jumped off the table and landed on his feet in front of the students.

"Before anyone asks, I assure you that I am quite uninjured."

Sakura, her curiosity overriding any thought of nervousness began asking questions,

"But if you're and active ninja then we would of heard about you. I mean if a Hokage is out doing missions, then obviously people are going to notice something"

The old man laughed,

"Which is true" then reaching around behind himself, he pulled out a mask with the likeness of monkey on it and secured it to his face.

"Unless I was in an organization that according to Konoha records, has no members. You can call me Saru*, or perhaps Saru-sensei"

With that, he dropped three identical black cloth sacks in front of the three students. Tied to each sac was an identical blank white mask with circular holes for eyes.

"Welcome to ANBU kids"

With that he disappeared a puff of white smoke, leaving three stunned children sitting by themselves.

Naruto was the first to move, he quietly picked up the white porcelain mask. A small note was taped to the inside of it.

If you should choose to accept this position. Meet on top of the Hokage monument at sunrise tomorrow. Come dressed in the uniform provided. And remember, from the moment that you accept this mask. You do not exist. You will become ANBU, those who are 'Damned by the flesh, Saved by the blood'

Looking around, he saw that both Sasuke and Sakura reading an identical note.

After a moment, all three of them slowly brought the white masks up to there faces and felt the seals on the rims anchor it securely in place.

Sakura released a tense breath,

"I'll see you tomorrow morning then" She grimaced, hearing how her voice echoed off the mask. It perverted it, making it sound hollow and dead.

--

Naruto sat alone in his small apartment, quietly laying out each item that was found inside the black sack that 'Saru' had given him. It contained black shinobi sandals, two sets of black pants, shirts. A grey chest covering that seemed to have some sort of steel mesh inside of it. Stiff grey leather arm and shin guards, and a black heavy cloth cloak to cover the whole ensemble. It also seemed to have a small ninjato that fit the back of the chest armor, but he had discarded that in favor of his longer katana.

Slowly he began putting on the ensemble. It was heavier than what he normally wore, but it was also much stronger, less likely to get cut or torn in the heat of battle. The belt that was on the pants had a small hook that he could attach his mask to when he didn't have to wear it.

After tightening all the armor down till it was comfortable, he placed the mask back on his face and looked in the mirror.

Outside of his bright blonde hair, it would have been impossible to identify who he was, but if he put on the cloak, even that was hidden.

Taking the mask back off, he sat down on the floor and leaned up against the wall, taking a scroll off the wall, he began reading.

'The primary postulate of futon…

--

Morning came quickly for the three young students. Just as the far eastern horizon was beginning to brighten, all three were standing above Konoha peering out over the vast darkness that was just beginning to leave the land.

Behind them they heard someone walking out of the small forest. Unsurprisingly it was 'Saru'. He motioned for them to come over to him.

"Good you're all on time. Today is your first exam. If you fail, you will be sent back to the academy with your memory modified so that you do not remember ever having passed the exam. Do you understand?"

Three masked faces nodded in understanding,

"You have one hour to complete the first part of this exam." He held up a single bell,

"This bell must be captured, failure to do so will result in being returned to the academy. You may use any skills that you possess. If you do not come at me with the intent to kill, you will not pass this exam. Your time begins NOW!"

All three of the students jumped away, putting some space between them and the seasoned Hokage.

Almost immediately Naruto began forming hand seals for some jutsu, while Sasuke drew his ninjato and began running in.

Sarutobi smiled,

'Good they are already working as a team' but he frown for a second, looking over towards the pink haired ANBU trainee who was just standing there, with her hands in the ram seal.

As he moved to intercept the Uchiha, who by now was only feet away from him, a small bird broke out into song as the sun rose.

The effects were immediate; he could feel a moderately powerful genjutsu fall into place over him. It would be nothing astonishing if it was coming from a chuunin or jounin, but for a newly graduated genin, it was terrifying. Sasuke was now no more than a blur, and his balance was completely thrown off.

However, with quickness that only years of experience can provide, he broke the genjutsu, and blocked Sasuke's ninjato. Kicking hard in the chest, he sent him flying towards his blonde teammate.

Surprisingly enough, the blonde that Sasuke smashed into disappeared into a puff of smoke and he heard a yell,

"Futon: Kamaitachi no Jutsu!" from behind him.

Spinning around, he could just make out an invisible blade of wind flying at him from Naruto's sword. As he jumped into the air to avoid it, he heard the breeze blow through the trees. Immediately the world spun upside down.

Landing in a roll, on the sky or earth, whatever it really was. He cancelled the technique. Looking around he could see Sakura standing at the edge of the field, high up in a tree. Her hands still locked in the ram seal.

Saru's eyes widened,

'That's how she's doing it!' He thought,

'She's picking up sound waves that are already heading my way and infusing a genjutsu into them. That's why there isn't any obvious trigger, she uses completely normal sounds to embed the technique.'

Using sound to trigger a genjutsu was not unheard of. In fact his former student, Orochimaru had favored the idea, but it was always a sound that could be controlled, such as a whistle, bells or some kind of musical instrument. The idea of using nature's sounds was incredible.

He could see both Sasuke and Naruto land near Sakura. All three stared down at him.

When he saw Naruto begin making more hand seals, and Sasuke running down the tree towards him. He quickly threw a pair of shuriken at Naruto. The metal stars force him to dodge, not completing the technique.

In a matter of seconds, he completed his own jutsu and called out,

"Ninpo: Kanashibari no Jutsu!" Sasuke faltered in mid step as the heavy killing intent washed over him. Sarutobi calmly walked up and gave him a hard chop to the neck, rendering him unconscious.

Looking back up at the tree, he could see that Sakura and Naruto were still standing there, unsure of what to do now that Sasuke was unconscious. Sarutobi reached into his weapon's pouch and threw a single kunai with an explosive note at the pair of ANBU trainees.

As the large explosion decimated the tree, he saw the pair jump in opposite directions. Without missing a beat he took off after Sakura, quickly catching up to the already winded genjutsu user. Without so much as breaking a sweat, he dodged her pitiful taijutsu attempts and hit her hard in the stomach.

She too fell to the ground unconscious.

Turning around he saw Naruto standing not to far away frantically trying to make some hand seals. Unfortunately the old man quickly beat him to it.

"Kokuoangyuu no Jutsu (Bringer of Darkness)"

Suddenly Naruto's world went completely dark. He couldn't hear or see anything. Within seconds he felt a sharp blow to the neck and the dark ground rushing up to meet him

--

Some time later Naruto groaned and tried to stand up, only to find himself tied to a tree. Shaking his head, he found that his mask was still in place. He tried to move his hands, but they were tied tightly with the fingers bound by a wire to keep him from making hand seals.

Looking from side to side he could see that both of his teammates were similarly bound together.

"Well now that we're all awake. I can finally finish this exam"

Naruto and his teammates looked up to see Sarutobi sitting a rock calmly taking a puff off an old wooden pipe.

"By all rights I should fail all three of you."

Naruto was about to yell back, but Sarutobi just continued on.

"The academy was right. By all means you are each a genius. Sakura, I have only ever once seen someone use all the natural sounds around them to create a genjutsu. However, the moment that I covered all sounds with a large explosion, you were rendered useless. I picked apart your taijutsu with pathetic ease."

He turned his head towards Sasuke,

"And Uchiha Sasuke. The Avenger… You are so unlike your brother"

Naruto could feel Sasuke bristle with anger beside him,

"You were excellent with your taijutsu, far faster than either of your teammates. But the moment I kept you from moving with a single ninjutsu that is taught to all ANBU, you froze. I didn't even have to fight you, just a simple chop to the neck."

He then turned his steady gaze towards Naruto,

"And Naruto, the 'Ninjutsu Genius'" he said with obvious sarcasm.

"You're good with ninjutsu, but you stand in one spot, relying on teammates to create openings for you. Once Sasuke and Sakura was down, one good genjutsu and you might of well of been dead."

Standing up he threw a kunai and cut the rope bindings.

"All of you follow me."

He led them back over to the edge of the Hokage monument. The sun was now fully over the horizon and basking the entire city in its warm glow. The civilians were just beginning to leave their homes on their way to work.

"I will not lie to you three like the council wishes." All three ninja turned their attention back towards the old man.

"You three have been chosen to be trained as the newest free response team. You will undergo several years of intensive training with myself and various other instructors."

Sakura interrupted,

"Wait, a free response team?"

Saru nodded his head,

"When I was first training my original genin team. I came up with the concept. The team would be made up of three exceptional shinobi. Who would be trained to undertake the missions that no one else could. To go into impossible missions, and not only succeed, but to come back from them."

Pointing down to the likeness of Tsunade,

"It was a resounding success, and it arguably won us the second great shinobi war. They were named the 'Densetsu no Sannin' (Three Legendary Shinobi) after they fought Hanzo outside Amegakure to a stand still. Something that no other team had ever accomplished. After that, we tried to make several others, but before they could finish their training, one of them died and the team fell apart. The only sole exception to this rule is the original Ino-Shika-Cho team. But they were formed during a time of peace and were allowed to grow before being fed to the wolves."

Sarutobi remained silent for a minute, allowing Naruto time to voice his question.

"So why are they making a new one?"

Sarutobi frowned,

"The Sannin it seems were not as perfect as I had hoped for. One of my students Orochimaru fled the village, and is apparently now trying to raise an army to destroy it"

Silence reigned again at that rather morbid thought; finally Sasuke began asking a question,

"Neither of those other teams were ever a part of ANBU, so why are we?"

Sarutobi actually smiled at that question,

"Very astute Sasuke. Ironically, you were put into the organization with the highest mortality rate, to protect you."

Seeing their questioning looks he continued,

"You see, when word gets out about a new free response team being trained. Some country would always attempt an assassination or would target the team on missions. By placing you into ANBU, all of your movements, living quarters, training schedules, everything thing about you is classified. That way it greatly reduces any attempts on your life."

All three of the new genin shuddered at the thought of so many people being out to get them.

"The three of you failed my exam horribly. However, it appears that Tsunade's changes in the academy were not all in vain. You worked together in a battle that you knew that you stood no chance of winning."

Sarutobi turned and began walking back towards the forest,

"I have made up my mind. I will train you for six month at the most. During that time you will obey every command that I give, or I will wipe your memory and send you away. If you wish to continue, go to your homes, gather whatever belongings you can fit into the bag that your uniforms came in, and meet me here by noon. If you do not return I will assume that you do not with to continue, and will act accordingly"

With that he once again left. All three genin began making there way down the mountainside towards their respective homes.

--

"So, what do you think of them?" asked Sarutobi

Tsunade jumped out of the tree and landed beside him.

"They definitely show promise, but they are all overly specified. The academy has improved, but it still has a lot of work to be done it seems"

Sarutobi nodded,

"In there individual fields they are all well into upper chuunin skills, but they are so weak in the others that they are barely genin"

Tsunade nodded her head,

"So what do you have in mind?"

Sarutobi chuckled,

"You're going to love this"

He handed her a scroll that he had written down his new training schedule. Tsunade busted out laughing when she read the first two steps.

"I don't know if that's cruel, or downright ingenious, but I can guarantee that they will hate you for it."

Sarutobi nodded,

"So I have a couple of preteen kids mad at me. At least I can rest knowing that they will have the best teamwork in the village"

Tsunade laughed,

"That or they're kill one another"

Sarutobi laughed,

"Maybe, but I don't think so. They are all rather lonely children, I think this is a chance that they have all been secretly wishing for"

Tsunade shook her head and just started walking away,

"Whatever, just don't kill them"

Sarutobi just chuckled and walked back into the woods,

"Just get back to the paperwork you old hag"

Tsunade spun on her heel,

"WHO ARE YOU TO CALL ME OLD!!!"

But he was already gone,

"Damned old fool" she mumbled to herself.

--

Sakura stood in her room, staring at the small desk that sat in the corner. When she was younger it had been covered with all her pictures of Sasuke and different types of makeup.

But she had grown out of that. Two years ago, her brother Sora went out on a simple C-rank mission that went awry. After that she had moved in with her grandmother.

A small tear ran down her cheek as she thought about her brother. Both her parents had been killed when the kyuubi attacked and ever since then it had been just her and her brother.

When he died, her whole world that she had carefully built up came crashing down around her. That's when her grandmother took her under her wing and began teaching her sound based genjutsu. She had dived into it with a passion.

Looking down at the table, she picked up a small blue music box. She lifted its lid and let the soft music break the silence. She stood there listening to the box for a couple of minutes. Inside the lid were two pictures. The first showed a pink haired man with his arms around a young blonde woman, a young boy just into his early teens stood next to them with a new shiny hitai-ite. The mother was holding a tiny baby in her arms. The picture next to it was more recent. It was just her and her brother. He was teaching her how to throw senbon needles with a large smile on his face.

"You're leaving aren't you?"

She shut the box and turned around,

"Baasan" She was surprised to see her standing there. She had been so caught up in her memories that she hadn't heard her approach.

"You have an ANBU mask on your belt, so I assume that you can't tell me about it."

Sakura nodded her head. Her grandmother walked over to her, supporting her thin frame on a wooden cane.

She stopped right in front of Sakura and dropped the cane and grabbed the young girl in a tight hug.

"Please come back…" Her voice was full of emotion. She never said anything else and she quickly let go and left the room. She knew that by Konoha law, her granddaughter was no more.

Sakura stood there, tears starting to run down her cheeks. She put the music box in he bag, along with several other belongings. A couple of her favorite books, some genjutsu scrolls and a pillow, that her brother had given her for her eighth birthday.

She was about to pull the bag shut when she looked back at her desk. Hesitating for a moment, she picked up her music box, wrapped it in a spare shirt, and placed it inside of her bag.

Pulling the string tight, she put the bag on her back and the mask back on her face and jumped out the window onto he roof.

--

Sasuke stood in his spartan room at the quiet Uchiha compound, his mother's ninjato resting in his hands.

Tears almost started forming at his eyes,

It was almost four years ago since Itachi had killed them all. Only four short years, but he couldn't remember her voice. He didn't remember what his own mother's voice sounded like.

Shaking his head from such thoughts, he put the ninjato into his back and began packing supplies into his bag. He couldn't think about the past now. He finally had a chance to get stronger, to finally be able to kill his brother.

He grabbed several different taijutsu scrolls off the shelf in his room. He had scoured the Uchiha library for almost anything that he could find that would help him.

When he was younger, he was originally enamored by the idea of being a ninjutsu specialist like his brother and so many others in the clan. But when they were all killed, he lost his interest.

Itachi killed all of them. All the genjutsu and ninjutsu experts, but not a single one was an expert in taijutsu. They were lazy, and the sharingan made it easy to excel in the others. So he had thrown his entire life into taijutsu, hoping that it would give him an edge over his brother.

Only time would tell.

Shouldering his bag, he calmly walked out of the house, locking it behind him and made his way back to the monument.

--

Naruto stood in his small single room apartment. His bag was almost full of spare clothing, ninjutsu scrolls and the like. The last scroll he owned was sitting in his hands. It was a small dark blue scroll that had a large nodachi sealed inside of it.

The Hokage had given it to him on his sixth birthday, saying that it was his mothers. She wouldn't tell him anything about his parents outside of that his father was a ninjutsu expert and his mother used a nodachi.

The Hokage had always made an effort to see him from time to time when he was younger, but he had fallen by the wayside in more recent years. They were never particularly close to being with anyways.

The sword wasn't much, but it was all he had. Its what prompted him to follow those two paths. He had thrown himself into ninjutsu with an almost fanatical passion.

The nodachi was the only thing that his parent's had ever left him. All in all it was a rather simple blade. The only unique pieces about it are that the blade itself had a slight blue tinge to it. And the guard and sheath had a matching swirl, although the sheath's swirl looked to be made out of sapphire. It was a beautiful blade, but until he was at least five feet tall, he had no hopes of using it.

Sighing, he placed the sealed sword into his pants pocket.

As he left his apartment, he tossed his keys and last rent check into the landlord's mailbox.

'Not like I'm going to be needing it anytime soon' he thought

--

The sun was just reaching its peak when the team met up back at the top of the Hokage monument. They all arrived within a few minutes of each other.

"Good, you're all here"

Sarutobi walked back in from along the same trail he had left on earlier. He motioned for the three of them to follow him. The path was generally unremarkable, the only reason it was of any interest is because it was such a well-worn path considering how far out from the village they were.

Finally after walking for near ten minutes they entered a small clearing with a tiny shack at the center. Sarutobi turned to face them.

"It is extremely important that you do not step off the beaten trail when you go into that cabin. It is one of the five hidden entrances into the ANBU headquarters. If you step off of it, a series of security seals will be immediately alerted."

All three of the students nodded their heads. Seeing their confirmation, Sarutobi led them into the cabin.

Once they reached the door and opened it, it became obvious that here was no cabin. Instead there was what appeared to be a large steel elevator with a series of buttons.

Saru pushed them in and pressed a button, seemingly at random. The door shut and they began moving downwards.

"Contrary to popular belief the rooms inside the Hokage monument are not just for emergencies. They also house the ANBU headquarters. We are going to the floor that will work as your home for the upcoming months."

When the elevator came to a stop, Sarutobi led them out and into a long hallway. It was painted off white and had harsh fluorescent lighting. Other than the slight hum of the lights though, the hallway was dead silent. Sarutobi led them down the hallway, until they came to a door labeled.

"Team Saru?" Naruto asked in confusion as he read the placard.

"Normally the team is named after their team leader. Since you are all just candidates, you are named after the sixth months are done, the Hokage will assign you each a codename. Until then we will be training in secrecy so there is no point in codenames."

The three nodded their heads,

"Good" with that he pushed open the metal plated door. It opened to what looked like one big common room. It had a wooden couch, with blue upholstery and two small chairs that were similarly designed. To the left was a small kitchen, complete with stove, fridge, dishwasher, and what appeared to be stocked cupboards.

The team walked inside and began inspecting what appeared to be a completely normal apartment. To the right of the common room was a hallway with two doors. One door opened up to a large bedroom. It had three futons on the floor along with a large trunk to store personal effects. Across from each futon was a black wood desk. At the foot of each bed was another stack of ANBU uniforms. All in all the room was rather spartan, but that was to be expected.

"Umm… Sensei?" Sakura asked,

"You're concerned about the room arrangements I imagine?" He replied, already guessing what the problem was.

Sakura nodded her head.

"Most of our younger female candidates voice similar complaints. However, your two partners will become closer to you than family. You will share everything and there are no secrets between ANBU members. There is only one bedroom in each apartment in this complex. Similarly the bathroom across the hall is made for several people. There are separate shower stalls and toilet stalls, but there is only one onsen that is made for several people. Not that I'm saying to prance about in the nude mind you"

All three of the candidates blushed furiously behind their masks.

"It will take you a while to get used to the accommodations, but it will make you a stronger team in the long run."

He pointed to the various beds,

"The first bed is Sasuke's, then Sakura's, and the furthest is Naruto's. Take a few minutes and begin setting out your gear and getting settled it. Get a good nights sleep tonight, we will begin tomorrow morning promptly at 5am."

With a short, "Hai sensei" the team answered, and Sarutobi motioned for them to follow him over to the main room.

"I need you to all kneel" Seeing the confusion that all three of the students wore, he decided to expand on what he meant.

"Before I can begin the training, you all must be marked as ANBU" He turned and showed the team his right arm, just below the right bicep.

"This is the mark of ANBU. Each operative has one. It is a sign to all those around you that you are not someone to be trifled with. It is also what will allow you access to all of our facilities once you become a full member"

All three students nodded and knelt down on the floor. Sarutobi made a quick hand seal

"Kage Bunshin no jutsu (shadow clone)" Two clones sprung forth. Each one went to one of the three shinobi and began making seals.

"Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that kami may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath."

Finishing the last seal he slammed his open palm onto the exposed bicep of his students arm. Searing pain filled the flesh as the ANBU symbol was etched into their arms.

"And that is so you remember it" He took a deep breath and dispelled his clones,

"Rise ANBU your story is only just beginning. The mark that adorns your arm is the constant reminder that all of us are damned by the flesh, but saved by the blood"

He began to walk out of the room and towards the main door.

"Once I leave this room, you will be locked inside until I let you back out."

With that he walked through the door and closed it. Once closed, the cracks around the door all glowed brightly for a second, before the door settled firmly in place. Once it was locked, they began walking back to the bedroom. The clock on the wall showed that it was only a little past two.

When Naruto got into the bedroom, Sakura was already putting her clothes away in the trunk.

All three of them had removed their masks and set them down on their respective desks. At the back of the desk, Naruto spotted a large rest that was meant to hold an ANBU's sword. With a smile, he opened his pocket and removed the scroll that contained his mother's nodachi. With a swipe of blood across the seal and a small poof, the long sword appeared in his hands. Running is hand fondly across the sheath; he stared at he blue swirl. The sudden appearance of the sword had not gone unnoticed by his roommates and partners.

"Hey Naruto, what's with the sword?" asked Sakura

Naruto turned to see his roommates looking at him.

"It was my mother's, at least that's what the Hokage told me. Once I'm strong enough I intend to use it"

Surprisingly it was Sasuke, who broke the silence,

"My mother was also a kenjutsu specialist"

Naruto stared at Sasuke like he had grown a second head,

"Sasuke, that is the single largest piece of information that you have ever shared about yourself"

Sasuke shrugged,

"I never had a reason to before. I was always training to kill him, but now I'm finally one step closer to surpassing him"

Sakura, who was placing a her small blue music box on the table, looked over at him,

"You mean your brother don't you?"

Sasuke's eyes grew dark,

"That man is no brother of mine"

Sensing that Sasuke did not want to push the subject any further, Naruto tried for a change in subject.

"What do you think that Sensei meant when he said that ANBU are 'Damned by the flesh, saved by the blood?"

Sasuke shrugged, but Sakura answered,

"I assume the damned by the flesh part is about the ANBU being damned because of what just being one entails, but I don't know about the blood"

--

Sarutobi made his way down the long hallways and maze of corridors that was ANBU headquarters. After finally reaching the room he was looking for, he knocked before just walking in.

The room was filled with blank masks. A single old man sat at the desk at the far side slowly and painstakingly drawing symbols onto the masks.

"Did you finish the three masks that I asked for?"

The old man didn't say anything, but he pointed at a table behind him that had a series of three masks. They were almost completely white still, save for a few small seals that were a little different on each mask.

"Thanks" he replied and walked out of the room and towards the entrance to the Hokage tower.

After several minutes of walking, he was outside his old office door. With a quick knock he strode in.

"So Tsunade-hime, what have you decided on?"

Tsunade chuckled,

"You're going to love this team"

--

Early the next morning, a blaring alarm went off inside the teams' room. All three of the young ANBU sluggishly got out of bed and began dressing quickly. Sakura went into the bathroom the change to give herself a little privacy.

…Apparently Naruto had no such qualms, that or he was to tired to notice the girl in the room…

Within a half hour, all three of them were showered and eating a simple breakfast of milk and cereal. Except for Naruto, who was on cup four of instant ramen.

"That… is disgusting…" commented a slack jawed Sasuke as his teammate ravenously shoveled another cup of ramen down his throat.

"I agree" commented his pink haired teammate.

The three finished the meal in silence. None of them were really morning people, so it was just better for everyone if no one talked. A few minutes before five, the walked back into their room and donned their masks, along with the rest of the gear that they hadn't put on.

Sure enough, promptly at 5am the door into the apartment made a hissing noise and opened to reveal Saru standing there holding a small bag in one hand.

"Good you're all here and ready to go."

The three young shinobi were standing next to each other, each one looking like the picture perfect ANBU, just a little shorter.

"Take off your masks"

Each of them slowly took the mask off of their faces. Saru walked over and collected them and then handed them each a new mask, they were almost identical to their originals except they had a couple of seals that were written on the outside. Each of them took the mask that Saru handed them and placed it on there face.

Once they all had them attached he made a one-handed ram seal,

"Fuuin" (Seal)

The masks felt like they suctioned around their faces. Naruto, taken by surprise tried to yell out, but no sound came out. No matter how hard he yelled, he couldn't even here himself.

Looking around, he saw Sasuke clutching desperately at the eyes of his mask, trying to pull it off or something. Similarly, Sakura was grabbing her mask near where her ears were located.

Finally Sasuke yelled out

"What the hell did you do? I can't see anything!"

Saru chuckled,

"Each of you are deadly in your chosen field, but you have become over reliant on one particular sense."

Noticing that Sakura was growing more and more frantic, he pulled out a scroll opened it and handed it to her,

"Until you learn the ANBU hand signals and how to read lips, you can follow along using this scroll Sakura. It will immediately transcribe anything that I say onto it."

Sakura, reading what he had just said, nodded her head in understanding.

"Good, now as I was saying" as he turned to address the group as a whole again, "The seals on your masks will completely block your most used sense unless you are in a life or death situation. For Naruto, that means that you cannot talk, and thusly are unable to use any of those ninjutsu that you have become over reliant on. Sasuke, you depend solely on your sight in taijutsu, so I have sealed away your vision. And Sakura, for you to use your genjutsu, you have to be able to hear the sounds that you so adeptly manipulate. So I have sealed your hearing."

All three preteens just stood there shocked. The skills that they had worked so hard to earn had just been taken away by an old man and a porcelain mask.

"So with that, lets get to the training grounds"

--

Tsunade and Kakashi stood on a balcony at the side of the shinobi training grounds. The basic grounds were all enclosed in the mountain's caves. As long as you didn't use any big jutsu you were safe. Plus it kept you away from the prying eyes of the other ninja.

"So what do you think of them Kakashi" asked Tsunade as they watched the team below them stumble through a basic obstacle course that required teamwork to complete efficiently. Saru stood behind his team, barking out commands for different formations and drills as they went.

Kakashi laughed,

"I've got to give it to him. I never would of thought to seal away their strengths and force them to work together like this. That man really is a genius"

Kakashi cringed as he saw Naruto get nailed a log that dropped down on top of him. Seconds later Sasuke tripped over the same log, and Sakura who was in front missed the whole thing because she couldn't see or hear them.

Kakashi palmed his face,

"They may have been geniuses in the academy, but it's painfully obvious that they are way below the ANBU par. Do we have any idea of what there elemental alignments are?"

Tsunade looked over at him for a second before refocusing on the team below,

"They haven't been tested yet, but Sarutobi says that Sasuke seems to be aligned to lightning, Sakura to earth and Naruto to both wind and fire"

Kakashi stared back down at the genin,

"Wind and fire? That's unusual given that they don't usually go together. Is the fire from Kyuubi?"

Tsunade nodded,

"That's what we suspect. The wind he would get from both his parents, but no one in either of those families was ever known for having a fire alignment"

Kakashi nodded his head,

"So does he know about Kyuubi?"

Tsunade shook her head. Below, the team had finally worked together to get through the course. By running in a triangle, they were able to utilize each other's senses. Naruto took the lead and would make simple hand signals to Sakura who would translate to Sasuke. It was crude, but effective.

"It doesn't appear so"

She finally replied,

"So when are you going to tell him?" He asked.

"When they complete their training in six months."

--

Time passed quickly for the team of ANBU. Each morning Saru would meet them at five and begin there training. After the first several weeks, their changes became more and more apparent.

Naruto was becoming devastating with his sword. He was naturally slower than Sasuke, but he found that by infusing his muscles with all the chakra that he could no longer use for ninjutsu, he was able to easily keep pace. His speed along with the reach of his long nodachi that he had begun using was an extremely deadly mix.

Sasuke no longer relied on his sight to keep track of his enemies. He was now extremely adept at tracking things by sounds alone. Both he and Naruto had trained extensively with Saru to learn saruken (monkey fist). It incorporated a large amount of aerobatics that suited both Naruto's sword techniques and Sasuke's taijutsu and kenjutsu. He had begun learning some ninjutsu, but it was obvious that he would never reach the levels that Naruto was aiming for.

Sakura was probably the most surprising of the three. She took her loss of hearing hard, but in the end it only strengthened her resolve. She knew that she would never be the ninjutsu and taijutsu monsters that were her teammates, but she had thrown herself into the study of medic techniques. She was deadly accurate with her senbon needles. With the help of Saru she had begun using her earth element to feel for the vibrations that people around her made on the ground. She was still unable to use her genjutsu but this new Sakura was emerging to be just as deadly.

Every few weeks, Tsunade would stop by the training facility with Kakashi to check up on the team. Today though was the end of their second month, and it was time for their first real mission as a team.

She watched below them as team ran a more difficult gauntlet that culminated with a spar with their sensei. Even after months of training, they still couldn't land a single blow on the old man.

Naruto ran forward, moving so quickly that he was just a black blur, a blur that was quickly stopped by a lightning fast kick to the leg. As he rolled on the ground, he came up holding a bleeding hand.

"Do not stop Naruto!" Yelled their sensei, "Blood is just red sweat"

Naruto made drew the blade off his back and began his assault anew, but this time he wasn't alone. Sasuke appeared behind his sensei and aimed a thrust straight at the man's back.

Sarutobi was quick though, and slid to the side, avoiding the attack completely. He then threw a halfhearted kick at the boy's midsection, only for the blind child to dodge towards the side and a barrage of poisoned senbon to rain down upon the area.

Seeing that both Naruto and Sasuke had reformed for a pincer attack, and that Sakura was still ready to back them up with long-range weapons, Saru called for an end to the spar.

"Very good team. You are all getting better, however you are far from being what the world will expect from you. Now go and shower and come back here within a half hour, I believe the Hokage has a mission for us"

All three heads perked up at the mention of a mission, but no one said a word. They had been told what to do already; they would have time to learn about the mission when the time came.

All three of them filed out into the hallway and towards their room.

"Do you think its wise to send them on a mission so soon Sarutobi-sensei?" questioned the blonde haired Hokage.

"They need a break from their training, something to get them out of this damn cave for at least a couple of days. They may try to act like true shinobi, but in reality they are still frightened children."

The Hokage nodded her head, remembering her days when she and her team had first started training him.

"I have a fairly simple mission for them. The four of you will be guarding a monk on his way to the cloisters in the mountains to the north. There isn't any trouble expected, but it's a fairly long travel and the terrain is tough."

Sarutobi nodded his head,

"That will work perfectly:

--

Soon enough all three of the trainees were situated back in the training facility as the Hokage gave them the outline of their first mission.

"The monk's name is Iwakura Yukikatsu. He is a monk who is traveling to a new cloister in the mountains far north of Konoha. There isn't any real expectation of running into any ninja up there, but the possibility of bandits is always there. It shouldn't take anymore than two weeks to complete the journey, so prepare accordingly"

The three trainee ANBU nodded their heads and quickly disappeared back to their rooms to pack for the trip.

The Hokage looked up at Saru,

"Yukikatsu will meet you at the top of the Hokage monument and you may leave from there. Bring them back in one piece Sarutobi"

With that she turned and marched out of the room, leaving the old man alone for a few seconds before his team returned to him. With a waive of his hand he led them out of the facility and into the elevator.

"When you step outside of this elevator, remember that you are ANBU, but you are also going to be the ones who need to create a name for yourselves. Do not purposefully draw attention to yourselves, but if you do find yourselves under scrutiny, make sure you leave in a positive light."

By the time his speech was finished, the elevator was already at the surface of the mountain.

A short walk down the road, the found the young looking monk sitting quietly in a lotus position, meditating silently.

"You shinobi are a most interesting group" he said suddenly, "You walk without making a sound. But you can always tell when the ANBU are near. When you guys come, the earth itself falls silent."

Opening his eyes, he surveyed the four ninja standing in front of him,

"And now you are training children in your barbaric ways"

The man stood up,

"Well let's be on our way, we have a lot of ground to cover before nightfall"

--

Naruto had always imagined that monks were quiet old men who lived far out of the reach of society. They were supposed to be kind and wise.

This man however was none of those things. It had become painfully apparent that he held no love for shinobi and their 'barbaric ways of life'. He spent most of the day degrading them as they went. Informing them about how the gods would never forgive them for their crimes.

Finally after nightfall, the man finally stopped talking when he fell asleep. Soon after both Sasuke and Sakura had followed him to sleep and only Naruto and Saru remained stationed around the fire.

"You seem oddly quiet tonight Naruto, what's on your mind?" Saru asked

Naruto may not be able to talk, but he was still the most expressive of anyone on the team. His body language alone always spoke volumes. It turned out to be an excellent weapon for him in fights. His silence and goofy act only enraged his opponents.

So he may be unable to talk, but he was most definitely not mute.

Taking out a small scroll, Naruto scribbled something down on it and handed it to his sensei.

It simply read, "Religion,"

Sarutobi nodded his head,

"Ah, of course this particular mission would raise some questions for you. What is it that you are wondering about it?"

Naruto took back he scroll and wrote down another question,

"What do you believe?"

Sarutobi sighed,

"I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What god desires is here"

He tapped Naruto lightly on his head,

"And here" as he repeated the action over the blonde's heart

"And what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man - or not."

Naruto nodded his head and lay down. It had been a long day, and he had a gut feeling that tomorrow wouldn't be a whole lot easier.

--

Despite what he had anticipated, the day passed without anything of interest occurring. The days came and went in sort of an uneasy silence. He remembered what Saru-sensei had told them,

"Silence is golden to an ANBU. When we are in he field, we do not talk unless absolutely necessary. You will find that silence is the most exquisite revenge for insults, nothing pisses them off more"

Admittedly it didn't matter to Naruto whether sensei wanted them to talk or not, since the seal on his mask prevented him from talking at all. But the monk seemed rather unnerved by his silence.

"Hey Saru, what's with these kids that you have? They don't seem quite right in the head. Especially that blonde one, the other two at least talk from time to time, but I haven't heard that one say a single word the entire journey."

The older masked man chuckled,

"I assure that all three of my students are perfectly sane."

He left the message at that though. His mind was focused on a narrowing in the path just ahead. There were people hiding in the bushes and trees.

'Most likely a group of thieves waiting for us to pass' He thought to himself.

Looking ahead just in front of him, he could see that his team had also noticed the presence just ahead and had begun to prepare accordingly. As they got closer he could see Sasuke begin making a few discrete hand seals.

Sure enough, one they were in the narrowed area, a large man wielding an axe walked out in front of them and motioned for them to stop.

"This road here belongs to me and my gang" the thug motioned to several other men who began coming out of the foliage. Two of the larger ones came to stand next to him, trying to look as intimidating as possible.

"Just hand over all your money and we may let you all live."

Saru was about to answer the man when the brash monk yelled,

"Who are you to try to steal from a Monk, a man of God? Surely you will burn in hell for these actions!"

The man smiled, revealing sickeningly yellowed teeth,

"Hell? We already live in a world of hell"

He motioned for his men to attack when Sasuke yelled out,

"Goukakyuu no jutsu!"

A huge red and yellow fireball roared down the open path, quickly incinerating the three largest men in front of them. Two others made to jump from the trees on either side, but Naruto's steel quickly dispatched them. Even Sakura got into the action when one of the men that was behind them tried to jump them, she spun around and imbedded several senbon deep into the man's skull.

When six of their best fighters fell to three children in a matter of seconds the other thieves took off running into the woods.

The monk dropped to his knees,

"What senseless violence. Why would you do that to them?"

He was half questioning, half yelling at the three children in front of him.

"They were thieves, yes. But even they do not deserve to be chopped down like a weed that has grown in our path. What would make you do something as hideous as that!" He pointed at the three still burning bodies in front of the group.

Sasuke was surprisingly the one, who answered,

"Sometimes it is entirely appropriate to crush the fly with a sledgehammer."

The monk's face grew red and he made to slap the ignorant child when Saru grabbed his wrist. Turning to face the older man, the monk spat out,

"You should of let me just beat his ass"

Saru shook his head and motioned to Naruto and Sakura. Naruto had already taken his sword back out and Sakura had palmed a few of the senbon,

"Beat his ass? I just saved yours"

The monk shrugged his wrist out the other man's vise like grip.

"Whatever, we are only several miles away from the monastery. Lets hurry up so I can leave your barbaric group"

With that he took off down the trail, carefully avoiding the corpses that lined the road.

Sarutobi shook his head,

"Good job team" was all he said before following the monk down the path. The other three stood there for a second staring at the six dead men. Wordlessly they piled them up and Sasuke set blaze to them before quietly saying

"Damned by the flesh"

And Sakura finished,

"Saved by the blood"

Naruto finished by making some signs in the ANBU hand signals,

"We will kill, so that others may live"

They had been taught that motto from their first days as ANBU trainees. Saru and the other ANBU that would appear from time to time had drilled it into their heads.

But it had never been more real that it was at that moment.

Looking up, the three nodded at each other, before taking to the trees and sprinting ahead to catch up to their sensei.

--

The rest of the trip was uneventful; the monk had finally silenced himself. Just before nightfall they reached the outer gates of the monastery. There the team left the monk and turned around to leave.

"Thank you"

The team stopped, and saw the monk staring back at them.

"I may not agree with your methods, but you got me here safely, so thank you"

All four of the masked ninja merely nodded their heads before they disappeared into the trees like they had never been at all.

It only took two days to return. They immediately went to the Hokages office for Saru to give the report.

"Good job team Saru" Tsunade filed the mission report into her out box and looked back down at the team.

"Go back to your training. Soon enough there will be more missions and exams for you, but for now, take a day of rest. Go out to the town, get something to eat, just remember that you leave your masks back at the training facility. You will have just twelve hours free of them, after that, you will resume being ANBU"

The three young ANBU nodded and left the office, making there way back to the ANBU headquarters.

"They are progressing nicely Tsunade-chan" Said Sarutobi as he removed his mask and sat down in one of the comfortable chairs.

"But I think that giving them that short break for the next day may be a wise move. They may be excellent shinobi in the making, but they are still children"

Tsunade nodded her head in agreement,

"They take the ANBU seriously enough that it is no harm in letting them out for a short time. Besides I would like a full report of their progress from you"

Sarutobi nodded,

"Their teamwork is becoming flawless. When they are on a mission or in training, they hardly ever talk. They rarely even use the hand signs that so many of the ANBU have become overly reliant on. Instead they have learned to read each other's body language. However outside of the missions and training, they still joke around and act like any normal child their age. I would say that they are possibly the most sane ninja in ANBU"

--

The three teammates were walking down the city street quietly. It was just noon when they were released. The moment they were in the room and Naruto had been able to remove his mask, the young blonde had insisted that they three of them go to Ichiraku ramen for lunch.

After a small dispute, they had finally given in to his demands. So after a quick shower the three of them were walking down the crowded roads of Konoha, towards the small ramen stand.

"Its weird you know?" Naruto said quietly,

Sasuke nodded his head. Event he stoic Uchiha had to admit that after two months of seeing almost no one but the each other and their sensei, being thrown back into society for a short time was extremely awkward.

"Hey guys" Sakura said, "After we're done at lunch, do you think we could go see my grandmother for a short time at least?"

Sasuke and Naruto, having no family of their own, both held any family in high regard. They immediately agreed to Sakura's request.

Seeing the ramen stand just down the road, Naruto let out a whoop of joy and sprinted down the road, gracefully vaulting over anyone who got in his way. At one point he even used a small fruit stand to flip over a busy intersection.

Sasuke and Sakura laughed at his antics as they followed at a more sedate pace behind them. Sakura turned to look at her dark haired teammate,

"You just laughed"

Sasuke looked confused for a moment before Sakura restated what she had said,

"You just laughed. I haven't heard you do that in years."

Sasuke understood what she was implying, what she really meant was,

"I haven't heard you laugh since your brother killed your clan"

Sasuke just shrugged,

"Maybe its just that I finally have found a reason to laugh again"

With that he slipped beneath the small cloth covered entrance to the ramen stand and sat down beside his blonde haired teammate.

Sakura shook her head and took the seat on the other side of Naruto, who was already scarfing down what appeared to be a second bowl of ramen. The team sat in an amiable silence while eating their food. Naruto made a little small talk with the chefs at the stand, while skillfully avoiding any questions as to where he had been for the last couple of months. In fact they way he interacted with the pair, it was as if he had never left to begin with.

"Hey Ossan!" Naruto yelled out to the older ramen chef, "Give me another one of your miso ramen"

The old man smiled and began preparing another dish. From behind them they heard someone yell,

"Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura is that you in there?"

The team turned around to see six other young genin making their way across the street towards them. Ino was the one who had spotted them and led the other ones over.

"Where have you guys been? We haven't seen you in like months?" asked the rather annoying blonde haired girl as she immediately flung herself at the stationary Sasuke.

Acting on instinct, Sasuke moved quickly out of the way and Ino slammed face first into the wooden wall of the stand.

Sakura giggled,

"I guess some things haven't changed at all"

Kiba walked up behind Naruto and slung an arm around the blonde's shoulders,

"So really, what have you guys been up to? We haven't seen any of you since we graduated from the academy."

Naruto shrugged and scratched the back of his head,

"Well, you know, we've been training and doing missions and stuff"

Kiba laughed,

"Man missions are such a bummer"

Naruto looked confused,

I don't know, I never thought that they were that bad"

Kiba looked astounded, but surprisingly it was Shikamaru, who started talking,

"I have to agree with Naruto. D-rank missions are boring, but it's less troublesome than the higher ranked missions. At least we don't have to leave the village"

Sakura sent Naruto a look, conveying to him that talking about missions was not a good idea. Sasuke picked up on it and changed the subject.

"We haven't been doing too many missions really, most of the time has been doing some chakra control missions and teamwork stuff"

Luckily no one seemed to notice the subtle shift from the topic.

"Yeah, Asuma has been running us through all those stupid teamwork things all the time"

Said Ino. Shino suddenly broke into the conversation,

"Contrary to what would appear to be the popular opinion here. I feel that it is in our best interest to cultivate better relations and understanding between teammates"

Kiba and Ino stared at the quiet bug user, the only intelligent response that they could come up with was,

"Huh?"

Sakura shook her head,

"I'm sorry guys, but we only have a few hours before we need to meet back up with our Sensei, so we need to get going"

The team stood up and began making their way down the road. Leaving the other six rookie genin staring at them as they made there way down the road.

Ino was the first one to start up the conversation as they began walking down the road once more.

"Did anyone else think that they seemed a little different?"

Shikamaru just groaned,

"Yeah, but its way to troublesome to figure out why"

Ino smacked him upside the head and was going to yell at him but Hinata interrupted the dispute.

"Ano.. D-did anyone e-else n-notice that they're h-hitai-ite were all covering their r-right arm?"

Shino nodded,

"Indeed, they did seem to be acting rather unusual."

Ino huffed,

"Well whatever it is, Forehead had better tell me about it eventually"

--

The team was making its way down the path when an ANBU appeared in front of them.

"The three of you are to report to the Hokage's office immediately"

The three nodded and disappeared following the ANBU across the rooftops. As they went Sakura could see Naruto wordlessly asking,

'Why does she want to see us now?'

Sakura shrugged

'I don't know. Maybe something came up that she wanted to tell us'

Sasuke moved and said,

'Whatever it is, lets just get it over with already'

The ANBU leading them was surprised b the wordless conversation that was going on between the three trainees that were following closely behind him. Normally that kind of teamwork was only seen between teammates that had been working together for years, not between a new team.

As soon as they made it to the Hokage tower, they all leapt up to the small balcony on the third floor. From there it was just a brief walk down the hallway to the door.

After knocking, the ANBU stuck his head inside the doorway.

"Tsunade-sama, the team is here to see you"

Tsunade nodded her head,

"Good send them in"

The ANBU nodded and then sent the three in.

"I'm sorry to have to cut your time off a little short, but a opportunity arose and I would like you three to take it"

The team nodded in agreement, but Sakura asked,

"What's the opportunity Hokage-sama?"

Tsunade nodded towards the ANBU guard, who walked out into the hallway.

"The Daimyo has stationed a small unit of Samurai just to our north, along the border that we share with Iwa. I want you three to go and learn from them for a short while. Both Naruto and Sasuke have expressed interest in learning how to use a sword, and despite what many shinobi will tell you, very few shinobi can match a true samurai's skill with a sword."

The team nodded and an older man, wearing a simple kimono walked in. Tucked into his obi were a katana and a shorter wakizashi. Tsunade stood up and greeted the man,

"Welcome General Hosokawa, thank you for coming"

The older man bowed,

"Thank you Hokage-sama. It is a pleasure to finally meet with you in person. Are these they young trainees that you have talked about?"

Tsunade nodded her head,

"Yes, the two boys have both shown a great interest in studying the way of the sword. The girl is there other teammate."

The man nodded,

"I will take them for two months, the girl may study with our surgeons while they study the sword."

He turned towards the three children,

"Are you ready to learn?"

The three eagerly nodded their heads,

"Good, go and get your gear and meet me at the northern gate in two hours. From there we will leave. Your sensei has already informed me of the masks that you are to wear at all times and I have agreed to follow his directions."

The three nodded and left the room to fetch their gear. After the left, Hosokawa started talking again.

"So they are going to be the ones who will deal the strongest blows during the upcoming war?"

Tsunade shook her head

"We do not know for sure if war is even coming for sure"

The general laughed,

"Come now Tsunade, even the Daimyo knows that this war is imminent, and word has already began to trickle throughout the countries that you are training a new team. It is only a matter of time before someone will strike the first blows"

Tsunade made to argue, but the general cut her off,

"Look, I will train them the best that I can in the next couple of months, but ultimately they will be the ones on the front lines, not us. The faster that you acknowledge that, the better off you will be"

The general stood up and began walking towards the door,

"I will keep them safe Hokage-sama. Any ninja that dare to invade my camp will soon learn why the Samurai were once the most feared force at the Daimyo's discretion"

The man left, and Tsunade muttered,

"Arrogant fool…"

Sarutobi appeared leaning up against the wall behind her,

"Perhaps he is, but he is right you know. When their training is over, they will be the ones that are going to fight for us."

Tsunade grabbed a bottle of sake from the compartment in her desk. Pouring herself a cup she started talking,

"Look I know that, but I just don't agree with sending them out to a bunch of Samurai just doesn't seem like the smartest idea that you've ever had."

Sarutobi shrugged,

"Either way, they are my students and I will do what is best for them"

--

Several miles away, the three teens and General Hosokawa were just walking into the well-organized Samurai encampment.

"We have already erected a tent for the three of you. It is situated in the third row on the end. You may go and mingle with the men for the evening, but be aware that when day breaks, our training begins. You two"

He pointed to Sasuke and Naruto

"Will report to the infantry division to begin learning our way of the sword. While you"

He points to Sakura,

"Will be going to the surgeon's tents where you will be learning more about human anatomy than you will probably ever have wished to of known"

He looked at the group once more,

"The Hokage said that you have today off, so I will honor her request. The seals on your masks will not reactivate until midnight tonight. I do require that you wear the masks though, I cannot have your identities spread throughout the entire nation of the Hokage would have my head"

The teens both bowed and thanked the general before making their way towards where their tent was located. On their way they were watching the men who were making dinner or training in some fashion.

About halfway to their tent they could see a large group of young men yelling and jeering at some sort of contest. Hearing something moving in front of him, Naruto looked up to see a much larger teenage boy drop a large rock in front of him.

Naruto pointed at the rock and said,

"Umm… You seem to have dropped your rock"

The larger teen, who probably wasn't more than three years older than him grunted,

"A test of manhood"

Naruto, still wearing his blank mask stared at him,

"Umm… ok… You win"

He made to walk around the older boy, but the boy stuck a hand out and stopped him.

"Call it a test of a soldier then. The samurai will not allow us to wield swords until we turn fourteen, so we train with stones instead"

Naruto just kept staring at the boys face, but the boy kept talking anyways,

"But then you shinobi come walking into our camp like you're hot shit. Just barely out of your mother's womb and already carrying a sword and walking around like you run the camp? So I challenge you"

Naruto turned is head to the side at a goofy angle, obviously mocking the older boy,

"So what is this challenge?"

The boy picked up the large stone and hurled it an easy thirty or so feet. Naruto cocked his head to the other side.

"You have a strong throw. You could crush a man with such a throw"

The boy puffed out is chest,

"I could crush you like the little bug that you are shinobi"

Naruto turned to face the boy,

"Could you now?"

Naruto walked over and picked up the large stone and placed it back at the boy's feet, before moving to stand about twenty-five feet away from him.

"Well, lets see it then"

The young Samurai laughed,

"You'll move, we all know that shinobi have no honor to stand up in a straight fight"

Naruto shook his head,

"I will not move from this point. In fact, if you strike me, I will give you my katana"

He pulled the sword from the holster on his back and drove it into the ground at his feet. The young samurai grinned and picked up the boulder smiling,

"Have it your way shinobi"

The whole time Sakura and Sasuke were standing stoically at the side of the crowd. A random face leaned over towards them and said,

"Aren't you worried about your friend?"

They shook their head,

"It would take far more than a single rock to kill him. Besides I've never seen Naruto loose a bet, and I doubt that he intends to start now"

With a yell, the older boy let the rock fly through the air. It landed with a thud just past Naruto on the right side. Naruto calmly bent down and picked up a single round pebble off the ground. It was no larger than a glass marble. Holding lightly between a couple of fingers, he flicked it hard at the older boy and struck him straight between the eyes.

The older boy stumbled around, trying to regain his balance, before he finally fell down onto one knee. Naruto calmly walked over to the boy and offered him a hand up,

"You know" Naruto started, "My sensei used to say, that it isn't the size of your rock that matters, its how you use it"

The boy on the ground laughed and accepted Naruto's hand and pulled himself to his feet,

"I think you and I are going to get along just fine Shinobi, my names Hoshi, if you ever need anything feel free to ask"

Naruto nodded and began walking away. As he reached his teammates Sakura smacked him upside the head,

"You couldn't just let them be could you? You just had to mess with him"

Naruto rubbed his head sheepishly,

"Ah, come on Sakura-chan, he started it. Sasuke would've done the same thing wouldn't you of Sasuke?"

Sasuke turned and began walking towards the tent again,

"No comment"

Sakura began walking away too, leaving Naruto standing there grumbling.

"Stupid teammates…"

--

The next morning, Naruto and Sasuke were standing in the training fields watching the more senior Samurai begin going through complex katas with their swords. Sasuke tried to remember a kata that he had seen in one of his clan's scrolls, but was failing miserably. Naruto seemed content to just practice random swipes and jabs against an invisible opponent.

Finally after a little while, two of the most senior Samurai walked over to them. They appeared to be in their late forties or early fifties. The one on the left beckoned for Naruto to follow him.

Once they were about a hundred yards away from Sasuke and the other samurai he began speaking.

"I do not know your name young one, nor do I care to learn it. I shall call you shinobi and you shall merely call me Sensei. Do you understand?"

Naruto nodded his head,

"Good, now Hosokawa-sama has informed me that you currently lack the ability to speak, which is good, because to samurai, when the master speaks, the pupil will listen. And make no mistake here shinobi, I am the master."

He drew his katana and assumed a readied stance across from Naruto.

"My master says that you have some skill with the blade, although you have never been formally trained. I find that the bet way to gauge my opponents is to spar with them. So draw your sword and prepare yourself"

Naruto drew his sword and sprinted forward. Jumping high into the air brought his sword down, meaning to cut the man in two. He was surprised to see that his sensei had already stepped to the side, and with one swift movement hit Naruto hard on the back with the backside of his blade.

Naruto rolled away before jumping to his feet,

"You are quick shinobi, I will give you that. But mere quickness is no substitute for a well trained samurai with years of experience"

The two clashed together several more times. Each time Naruto would be knocked away with a rough blow from the back of the older man's sword. Finally, in a fuming rage, he pushed chakra into his legs and moved blindly fast trying to cut the man in two from the side.

In one swift movement the samurai crushed his right hand with the back of his sword, effectively disarming him. Another blow followed up on his collarbone, knocking him to his knees. The samurai rested the tip of his sword at Naruto's neck.

"You show promise young shinobi, but you are young and brash."

He removed the sword from his neck and tapped the top of his head,

"First you will learn to fight with this"

Then he handed Naruto back his sword.

"Then I will teach you to fight with this"

Looking over, Naruto could see that Sasuke was being similarly knocked around by his sensei.

"You will have time to worry about your friends later. Come now, you will start to learn the ancient and sacred art of the sword."

Naruto stood up gingerly using his sword as a slight crutch. The older man nodded,

"Good, you show determination. That is key to any warrior. Now, do as I do"

The man began fluidly going through a kata while Naruto painfully tried to mimic him.

The samurai smiled,

'Hosokawa was right. He will make an excellent student'

--

Sakura walked into the large white tent with a red tent cross on the top. All around her she could see samurai between the ages of about twelve and into their fifties all lying around on canvas cots.

Suddenly she felt a tap on her shoulder. Turning around, she could see a man in a white doctor's jacket looking down at her,

"You must be the kunoichi that Hosokawa said was coming to help us"

Sakura nodded her head,

"He also said that you were unable to hear anything. Is that true?"

Sakura, responded,

"Yes, although I have trained myself to read lips"

The man nodded,

"Good, you'll be working with me for the next couple of months. Do you have any experience with being a medic?"

Sakura nodded her head,

"I know the basic medical ninjutsu"

The older doctor shook his head,

"Ninjutsu is useless on those who have not developed their chakra pathways. You could pump all the healing chakra in the world into a normal civilian or samurai and their bodies would have no idea what to do with it. No here you will learn true first aid, box them up and get them to the hospital"

Sakura grimaced the way he said 'box them up' but chose to keep her mouth shut.

"Now them, come here to get your gear"

With that he led her down one of the aisles trying to explain to her the concept of doing stitches to hold a wound shut as he went.

--

Naruto's arms were beginning to scream in complaint as he and Sasuke were run through various katas over and over. Any mistake was marked when their sensei would whack the offending appendage with a wooden sword. Needless to say, Sasuke and Naruto's arms, legs, and backs were covered in dark bruises.

"Again!" shouted Sasuke's sensei. Apparently their kata was still not up to the samurai par. After going through the agonizing movements once more their sensei's finally informed them that they were now ready to join the rest of the younger samurai in their daily training.

Sakura was also being put through her paces. The samurai were often getting cut or injured in training, and since they were unable to be healed by healing ninjutsu like her teammates, the doctors had to patch them up the best that they could and rely on nature to take its course.

It was rough training for all of them, but the training was beginning to pay off. Both Naruto and Sasuke were able to hold their own against most of the samurai who were a decade older than them. Sasuke seemed to have a little more natural skill than his blonde haired teammate, but what Naruto lacked in natural talent, he more than made up for it in pure determination. He never seemed to have a limit to his energy and he was a glutton for punishment.

By the end of the second month, all three of them had taken their particular skills to a whole new level. Naruto had finally begun learning true katas for his longer nodachi while Sasuke was being trained to use a wakizashi that was about the same size as his ninjato.

At the end of the second month, Naruto and Sasuke were sparring with two other of the older Samurai. They had become adept in using the samurai standard katas, but their shinobi training still shined through when they tended to incorporate various acrobatic movements into their attacks. It wasn't uncommon to see them jump over opponents or bend at incredible angles to avoid the swords of the more experience samurai.

Over the hill they could see Sakura running towards them,

"Hosokawa-sama has requested our presence at his tent," she panted out when she reached the other two shinobi. Naruto and Sasuke sheathed their swords and bowed to their opponents before turning around and running over the hill with Sakura in tow.

As they approached the large red tent in the middle of the compound they slowed down and composed themselves. The had learned over the past two months that were Hosokawa demanded the same respect that they would show to their own Hokage.

Bowing to the guards outside the tent, the tent flaps were quickly opened and they were led inside. Inside they were surprised to see all three of their sensei's and Saru-sensei.

All three of them bowed low,

"Hosokawa-sama, senseis"

All four of them bowed slightly in acknowledgement. Hosokawa stood up,

"I have never seen three young shinobi so dedicated to their arts as the three of you. I have no doubt that if you continue down this path, you will indeed become some of the most fearsome opponents that our enemies have ever faced."

He waved over one of his assistants who came over carrying a black ebony box.

"The samurai have something that we call our bushido, our way of the warrior. It teaches us that we must practice frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and honor unto our deaths. You shinobi have no such codes, however your sensei once gave a nindo, a ninja way to you ANBU. Your nindo is Damned by the flesh Saved by the blood."

The Sandaime stood up and looked at the team.

"After I spent many months working with the samurai during my own youth, Hosokawa's grandfather helped me make that my personal nindo, and when I took over the ANBU as Hokage, I passed it onto them. As ANBU we have damned ourselves. We do what we must, by any means we must. However, our sins save thousands. We are damned by our flesh and saved by the blood. That is the nindo of the ANBU and that is the nindo that we all follow till our deaths."

Hosokawa took the black box from his assistant,

"Normally, when a samurai completes his training and joins our ranks, he is given a uniform and his swords. You however are not samurai, you are ninja and have no use for one of our uniforms and you already have a sword. So I have made you these"

He opened the box. It was lined in dark purple velvet and had three dark grey rings at the bottom.

"These rings are made out of the same steel that we make our samurai's swords. The inside of the ring has the nindo of the ANBU carved into it. The outside it is marked with the kanji from our bushido, Frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery and honor. It also contains the family crest of the Hosokawa clan. Should you ever need rest, find one of the many armies of the fire country and you will find sanctuary as far as we are able"

The three bowed deeply once again, Sasuke spoke for the group,

"Your gift is far greater than we could possibly ever deserve"

The general waived him off,

"Maybe you are right. But I believe in investing in the future, and you three are the future of this country. In the two short months that you have been here, my men have trained harder and achieved more than ever. Your mere presence has pushed others towards greatness."

The general began walking towards the doorway,

"Your students are yours again Sarutobi."

Sarutobi bowed slightly to the general before turning towards his team. They were now all wearing the steel rings given to them by the general.

"When we return to Konoha, the Hokage has set up a mock fight between the three of you and a team of chuunin. Think of this as the next exam in your training"

--

The Hokage was seated behind her large wooden desk looking over at the two chuunin seated in front of her.

"Izumo and Kotetsu, I have a favor to ask of you two"

Both chuunin bowed,

"What can we do to be of service Hokage-sama?" answered Kotetsu.

"I have a team of three ANBU trainees who are coming back from training abroad for a couple of months. I would like to ask the two of you to fight them in a no bars held match so that we can see just how far they have come."

Both chuunin looked a little surprised,

"Hokage-sama, we are honored that you think that we are on the level of ANBU, but we are most likely not the best chuunin for the job."

Tsunade waived her hand,

"Nonsense, you two are some of the finest chuunin in the village. Besides these are not your normal ANBU, they are in a new special program that we are trying. When they started the training just a few months ago they were still young genin."

Both chuunin seemed to brighten at the fact that they were not fighting the hardened killers that ANBU was notorious for. Seeing the change in their demeanor, Tsunade smiled and clapped her hands.

"Excellent, be at training grounds seven this afternoon at three. There will be several others in attendance to watch of course, but no more than a few jounin"

The two chuunin nodded their heads,

"Well feel free to take the rest of the afternoon to prepare whatever it is that you need to get. These ANBU may be young, but I can guarantee that you'll want to be at your best to take them on."

--

Several hours later, the three young masked ANBU stood in the clearing of training grounds seven staring at the two seasoned chuunin standing across from them. On the edge of the field stood several important clan heads, heirs, the Hokage, jounin including Hatake Kakashi, Sarutobi Asuma, and Yuuhi Kurenai. Needless to say Izumo and Kotetsu were a little intimidated just by the people that were present.

Looking across from them they glanced at the white masked ANBU trainees. All three were wearing the white masks, black cloaks of the ANBU. The also all seemed to be wearing some sort of identical rings on their right ring finger. If it weren't for the different swords strapped to their backs, it would be impossible to distinguish between the three of them. The tallest wore what appeared to be a standard issue ninjato from his back. The second tallest, who was only taller by a fraction of an inch, wore a much large katana. The last one didn't have a sword with her.

Izumo leaned over towards Kotetsu,

"Hokage-sama wasn't kidding when she said they were genin. Look at them, they can't be any older than eleven or twelve"

Kotetsu nodded,

"Yeah, but don't loose track of them, we are outnumbered here"

The Hokage strode out onto the open field,

"Ok, remember this is a mock battle between the two man chuunin team and the three young ANBU trainees. Anything goes, so feel free to use any jutsu at your disposal."

Seeing that both sides were ready, she raised her right hand and quickly dropped it to the ground,

"Hajime (begin)"

In a blink of an eye Izumo and Kotetsu were on the defense, blocking sword attacks from both of the younger boys. Izumo was barely able to keep up with the taller of the two, but the smaller ones attacks had so much power behind each swing that blocking them repeatedly was beginning to make his arms go numb.

Looking over he could see that Kotetsu was having a similar problem. Normally the pair fought well together because they would play to each other's strengths and pick apart their opponents. But it seemed that these young ANBU had foreseen this and broke them apart as quickly as possible.

Finally seeing an opening to get back to his teammate, Izumo jump and was about to strike the katana wielding ANBU when a series of ten senbon needles dug deep into his legs, effectively stopping him in his tracks.

Kotetsu turned when he heard his teammate yell, just to feel the tip of the shorter ones ninjato prick his neck.

"Yield," said the much smaller ninja.

Kotetsu raised an arm and gave up.

Tsunade walked out clapping,

"Very good all of you. ANBU return to your base, your sensei is waiting for you there"

The three ANBU bowed their heads and immediately disappeared into the trees. Tsunade turned back to the two chuunin who were standing there looking rather humiliated.

"Do not feel bad about your loss here today. Those three are going to be some of the most powerful ninja that have ever lived in Konoha. You were chosen to fight them not only for your ability to work together, but also because everyone listens to you. You have a new mission. Wherever you go in Konoha, I want you to spread the word that Konoha has a new ANBU, you can call them this"

She handed them a piece of paper and walked away. She had more work to do before the day was over.

--

The team was quickly thrown back into their intense training. Saru began teaching them how to work their new and old skills together to make them even more formidable.

Naruto began learning to use his prized ninjutsu while he was attacking. Sakura learned to cast multiple genjutsu while still attacking ranged and setting up traps. Sasuke learned to combine his brutal taijutsu with his kenjutsu. They worked hard and learned much,

But today their short six months of relative peace had come to an end. Today was the time for their last exam.

Seeing them finish the workout that Sarutobi had set them to, Tsunade leapt down from the balcony. Instantly all three of them were on high alert, watching her to see if she was just another challenge that their sensei had set them to.

"Come here" in the blink of an eye, the three were kneeling in front of her.

"When you first began working together, Saru told you that there were no secrets between teammates in the ANBU. Holding true to this tradition, I have something to tell you."

She paused to take a deep breath,

"Almost eleven years ago the kyuubi was rampaging through the surrounding countries. After a couple of weeks it set its eyes on Konoha. They Yondaime Hokage died, taking the kyuubi with him, at least that's what the academy told you."

She paused again,

"In reality, something made completely out of chakra could never be killed. So it was sealed, into an orphaned newborn baby. A baby named Uzumaki Naruto."

All three of them knelt there completely shocked. After several seconds, Naruto began shaking. Although he was unable to say anything, it was painfully obvious that he was crying behind his mask.

Suddenly Naruto felt someone pull him into a tight embrace, opening his eyes, he was surprised to see his pink haired teammate holding him in the tight embrace.

Suddenly someone patted him on his back; Sasuke was standing there, his hand resting on Naruto's shoulder.

"You are nothing more than its jailor, but you are more than that, first and foremost you are our teammate, and the closest thing I have to a family"

Naruto broke down crying at those words. Sasuke still rarely spoke, but it had never become clearer to them how close the three had become in the last several months.

"Kai" they heard from where the Hokage was standing.

All three of their masks suddenly crashed to the floor, shattering on impact.

"You are no longer trainees, therefore you will not wear the masks of one."

She pulled out a scroll and quickly unsealed three masks.

"From this day forward these are your new masks. They have been specially made for each of you."

Naruto looked down at the set of masks and almost laughed. On the masks was what appeared to be a cartoonist's impression of a monkey's face. One had the monkey's hands covering his eyes, another with the hands over the ears, and the last with the hands over the mouths.

"Sasuke, from henceforth you shall be known as Mizaru (The see no evil monkey). Sakura, from henceforth you shall be known as Kikazaru (The hear no evil monkey). Naruto from henceforth you shall be known as Iwazaru (The say no evil monkey)"

She handed each of them their respective masks.

"The same seals that were attached to your training masks also exist on these. The difference is that if you apply chakra into this mask the seal will release until you stop the flow.

Each one of them channeled chakra into the masks. The hands of the monkey's disappeared the faces became identical. The mouths were open in a feral grin with sharp teeth. The eyes were wide and stared at you like a hungry animal waiting to strike. All in all the masks became downright terrifying.

"From this point onwards, your team shall be known as Team San'en (The Three Wise Monkeys). Report to my office tomorrow morning for your first assignment. Pack for at least a month long trip"

The three freshly graduated ANBU all nodded and disappeared quickly. Leaving the Hokage and her predecessor alone in the large cavern.

"You did well for such a short time Sarutobi-sensei"

Sarutobi yawned and stretched as he replied,

"Those kids will change the world someday, you just watch"

--

Later that evening, the three newly graduated ANBU sat in their room's large onsen. Sakura, who was sipping at some fresh lemonade, asked,

"So what do we do now? We've been training for so many months, I'm not even sure what we're supposed to do now"

Naruto shrugged,

"I suppose we follow orders and see where the road leads us"

Sasuke nodded his head in approval,

"Before my Mother was killed, she told me

"I haven't a clue as to how my story will end. But that's all right. When you set out on a journey and night covers the road, you don't conclude the road has vanished. And how else could we discover the stars?"

Naruto smiled,

"You know, imagine the looks on the other genins faces when they find out years from now that the three kick ass ANBU that they heard about as kids were really their friends"

Sasuke smiled and Sakura laughed a little,

"Ino will never let me live that one down"

--

Author's notes—

*So interesting thing about the name Saru. Its primary translation to English does mean monkey, which is obviously what I was aiming for. However a more archaic definition for the word is "A bathhouse prostitute"

Before anyone accuses me of making the team too powerful, look at it this way. Many ninja in the past like Kakashi and Itachi made jounin by the time they were in there early teens, and to do that they had to be good in ninjutsu, taijutsu, and genjutsu. This time they were only good at one.

Their names all are all attributed to the ability that Sarutobi locked away. Naruto is named Iwazaru, the monkey who speaks no evil. Sakura is Kikazaru, the monkey who hears no evil. Sasuke is Mizaru the monkey who sees no evil. They are collectively called Team San'en, which translates as the three wise monkeys.

Anyways tell me what you think.