By Crossover King 46
Chapter 1: First Fantasy
Perhaps it was fate that led to him being here, the figure decided as he sat directly in front of a young child of seven. They were on benches in the village of Konoha, and while the figure enjoyed his newspaper that described the happenings of the world around him, the boy ate at his bowl of ramen, which was of the 'instant' variety. They looked at each other, or perhaps it was more accurate to say that the older one stared long and hard at the younger one, while the younger one only offered occasional glances at the older one. Neither of them felt uncomfortable about this arrangement, for the figure had lived far too long to be bothered by such trivial social rules and guidelines, and the boy was too focused on his ramen to worry about the strange guy with a hat over his head.
The older figure sighed. He was wearing clothing simplistic in nature, yet coloured rather differently than the average around here. Long robes of blue covered the rest of his garments, and a large yellow hat on his head with a wide brim covered his face in shadows. It was rather strange how none of his features could be made out at all, as they hid themselves in the shade, and yet somehow his eyes peeked out from within like large yellow beacons. He carried with him a sack molded into strange shapes from the esoteric objects within, and the way he held himself caused him to differentiate from the rest.
The boy in front of him might as well have been the exact opposite. He was blonde, and wore a little too much orange to be allowed. His eyes were clear and blue, and his face was visible, unlike the man in front of him. His attention was focused more or less solely on his food. As he sat on the bench, his legs dangled over the side. All in all, he looked like a standard little punk with nothing to do and all the time in the world.
Hmm… Konoha had been calling to him recently. It's been a long time since the thing's had an owner as well. Did he really trust this boy to make the right choices regarding the responsibility and power that was to come?
He felt a tingle, and instinctively put down his papers and reached backwards into his sack, drawing out a small book. There was nothing too descript about the thing, save for the fact that it seemed to be tremendously old and well-kept. The pages were browned and stained, and tattered here and there, yet held together like a champ with nary a loose page. The figure flipped through the thing several times, raising an invisible eyebrow every now and then as he read through the text
"…You're sure?" asked the figure.
The boy looked upwards.
"Hmm… I have no problem with it. I've had you for a little too long now anyway… But you have no problem with him?" asked the figure once more. The boy munched on his noodles, the perfect picture of cuteness, wondering who the heck this crazy old bastard in front of him was. If the guy wasn't so distinct with his style, he would've sworn he knew him from the streets of downtown Konoha. "He doesn't seem like the type to read books, anyway."
The boy felt rather than thought that the man was talking about him, and crossed his arms in an indignant little harrumph. The figure looked up at him for a second, gesturing apologetically, before returning to his book and flipping through the pages some more.
"Alright… I guess."
With that said, the figure stood up, leaving his newspaper on the bench where he had been sitting before, and left the clearing, but not before putting the weary old tome on the bench beside the boy, who was watching him as he went. The boy looked up at him, and the figure gave him a little wink and a thumbs up, before moving away.
"Good luck," said the older one. "I'll be watching."
In the instant that the boy turned to look at the book and turned back again, the man was gone from the clearing, as if he had never been there in the first place.
Naruto looked at the book in his hands.
It smelt faintly of mildew and reminded him of basements, old libraries, and antique shops. The cover was made of some sort of leathery substance, although it was worn down enough now that it was soft and easy to hold. The cover depicted a yellow hat, much like the one that the man sitting across from him had been wearing the whole time, and lacked a title. The pages were yellow, and although they were old they were also tough, and their texture was a combination of newsprint and paper that had been soaked and dried out again. Whatever this thing was, it had gone through a lot of punishment in its time, and it was durable.
Naruto opened the cover and skimmed across the first page.
'The Black Mage is one who practices the dark arts of magic, and is a direct counterpart to the White Mage. Whereas White Magic focuses on the ideals of bringing order and construction to objects and living beings, Black Magic focuses on the ideals of bringing chaos and destruction to objects and living beings. However, Black Magic is not inherently 'evil' in nature, as destruction is often necessary for…'
Naruto simply sat there, reading the book with his ramen sitting at his side, forgotten. He was there for who knows how long as he went through the pages, reading and reading.
Uzumaki Naruto had been going to the Academy for about a year now, and it was boring. They taught you nothing there except stuff in the textbook, about history and tactics and ways to take care of your kunai and stuff like that. Oh sure, the hide-and-seek games were pretty fun, and apparently pretty good at developing skills that you'd require later on in your career, but he wanted to learn cool, useful stuff like blowing shit up, dammit! Most of the others kids either came from long-time shinobi families and knew this stuff already, or else came from merchant families and were told to study to their best, but he came from no family and he was bored out of his mind.
He had attempted to get his hands on a few scrolls containing jutsu and stuff, things that he had seen shinobi around town use, mostly when they were trying to chase him down for a prank or such, but the library had refused to let him in anymore after accidentally setting a fire with matches and the local bookstore owner hated him. That's why this book in his hands was such a godsend.
Sitting on his bed, amidst a mess that left nothing uncovered, he popped open the book. Sitting on his pillow, and letting the wind flow in through the windows (he left everything unlocked, there were enough ninjas in the village that it didn't really matter), he skimmed over the passages before, about the Black Mage and stuff like that. He didn't really get it, but destruction meant blowing stuff up, right? He could get into that.
There were more passages about the way Black Mages worked, and no history, but that was a good thing. It talked about the scale of damage that Black Mages could cause – apparently even a decently accomplished one was able to explode houses, something Naruto seriously wanted to do – then about the philosophy of Black Magic, and that chapter ended with a warning not to commit evil deed with the knowledge resting within the tome. Of course, not like Naruto didn't know that. It was the same thing that the instructors had said in the first class, and for some reason that teacher had given him an extra long look after that part.
With that chapter done, he moved onto the next part.
'Black Magic is something that comes with a price, the price being the same as the other Fantastical Disciplines.'
Fantastical Disciplines? Didn't discipline mean… job? Whatever these things were, they had been mentioned a couple times earlier in the book as well. It seemed that being a Black Mage was one of them, but Naruto didn't mind. It's not like he had to become a Black Mage to learn Black Magic, and even if he did it wouldn't be like he couldn't be a ninja on top of that, right?
'Until this price is paid, for a human body it is impossible to conjure the energies necessary in the execution of Black Magic.'
Man, that old guy down at the armoury, one of the few storekeepers who liked him, always told him that. He had always assumed it was one of those things old guys like to say to keep people out of trouble, but it seemed like it had some truth to it as well. Well, maybe if he kept on reading, he'd be able to figure out what the price was.
'Human bodies contain spiritual energy and physical energy, and these are enough to live the basic life. Yet, to take on a Fantastical Discipline, a third type of energy is necessary. This energy is known as Mist, derived from what its natural form resembles outside of the body, and is separated into two types, Brave and Faith. Each of the Fantastical Disciplines depends on one of the two types; the physical ones being dependent upon Brave and the magical ones being dependent upon Faith. The natural human does not produce these two energies, but there is a way for humans to do so. One can gain either the Brave Mist or the Faith Mist, although to try and attain both, although possible, is highly dangerous.'
Um. He didn't know what physical meant, but Black Magic sounded pretty damn magical, so he was sure he needed Faith. Getting both sounded pretty bad – maybe if he screwed up or something HE'D blow up. Now, was the book going to tell him how he was going to get his hands on some of that, or was this thing going to take forever?
'The price mentioned before is the secret to attaining Mist; the ability to create energy of any kind other than spiritual, physical, and Mist. This includes a melding of the three energies. If the price is paid, creation of Ki, Chakra, Reiatsu, Haki, and similar energies will become impossible.'
Okay, that part was a little complex for him. Reading it again, Naruto decided it was pretty worth it. He didn't know much about the energies in the body, but as long as he could blow things up, he didn't need more than that, did he? Well… as long as it didn't make him drop dead or whatever, but even though this book seemed a little out o' the ordinary if it WAS complete gibberish somebody would've set it on fire by now or something. It certainly looked like it had changed enough hands by now for that to occur.
'To acquire Mist, follow these instructions…'
What came after was a humongous pile of instructions, apparently for the creation of a liquid of some sort. The substance, at least according to the illustrations within, was green, and seemed to be close to water in viscosity and most other properties. It was simply labeled Ether.
He looked at the list of ingredients and processes, and grinned. Most of the stuff seemed easy enough to get at the local apothecary, and fortunately that was another one of the few stores around that didn't try and rip him off every time he went there. Looks like his luck was pretty good today!
During the next week, other than go to school and play with some of the other kids every now and then, he did nothing but read the book and attempt to finish the liquid. Most of the stuff had been obtainable at the apothecary, but there were some things that seemed a little more obscure. He had tracked down these other ingredients as well, a couple of them at some rather shady stores in downtown Konoha – a place where people didn't treat him so differently, no, they treated him as harshly as they treated each other, and had paid out most of his spare money for them. He felt kinda weird about drinking something that contained something called goblin blood in it, but if it gave him the energy he needed for this awesome new thing he was willing to give it a go.
The book was more interesting, though.
The first two chapters he read were, respectively, 'The Black Mage' and 'Price of Power'. That was normal enough. The rest of the pages, however, were blank. He had gone through the pages at least twice with the help of several invisible ink revealers he had gotten at the local ninja shop and none of them had any use whatsoever. He was about to give up on the Ether and Black Magic when he had seen the back cover of the book, and labeled at the bottom quite clearly was a sentence.
'To pierce the veil of secrecy, call up your Mist.'
Although he wasn't quite sure if he was correct or not, he had assumed the words to mean that he needed Mist to make the dang book reveal its secrets. Sure, he had heard of that kind of stuff before. Apparently lots of people in the Hokage's offices did that kind of thing except with Chakra, just to make sure that the recipient of whatever note they were writing was an accomplished ninja.
A week after acquiring the ingredients, he had finished brewing the tonic in the pot on the stove. Turning off the heat (it was a good thing that the Ether didn't require continuous heat – he wouldn't be able to imagine his electricity bill if it did), he watched as the green liquid bubble around before cooling, and poured it into a little mug. He had only gotten enough ingredients for one dose, although the recipe written in the book had been for twenty. Stirring the green liquid around a couple times, Naruto pondered the choice he was making. It seemed he'd be losing a lot of things… Or at least the possibility of doing a lot of things.
Was it worth the risk, really? If he took this potion, or whatever it was, would he be happy with his choice in the end? He hesitated for a moment, looking down into the green liquid. He could see his reflection in the wispy waters… It was that of a child, barely seven years of age. A helpless, young, idiot kid.
What the hell was he hesitating for?
This was a chance to try and grasp at a better future, to gain something that nobody else had. Even if he continued as he was, did he have a chance to be better at anything than anybody else? His pride told him yes, but he was mature enough as a kid to put logic before pride.
He was a nobody; there was nothing unique about him. No special abilities, no Bloodline Limits, no huge family to get him out of trouble or give him extra training… and he already knew the teachers hated him, for no reason he could give. He was simply another face in the crowd, except treated worse. If he was going to be Hokage… He needed to be better than this, right?
There was a chance right here. Right in front of him.
All he needed to do was drink it…
All he needed to do.
And he'd be better off.
Closing his eyes, he raised the mug up to his lips, and let the hot liquid pour down his throat. It tasted slightly bitter, although not to the level of coffee. No, if anything, it reminded him of tea, although there was a hidden depth there that no existing tea could emulate. Fresh taste of mint wafted through his nostrils, something that the book had recommended to add flavor – apparently, Ether was more than simply a gateway to the usage of Mist, it was something that replenished it too, and thus plenty of Black Mages drank a lot of it. He chugged it all down, not leaving a single drop at the bottom of his mug, and then he put the cup on the table, waiting for anything to happen.
Deep in the pit of his stomach, he felt something flare up, something that drowned out every other sense in his body. It was, at the same time, hot and burning, cool and freezing, shocking and electrifying, yet for some reason he could not describe it as unpleasant. He felt his body and mind sharpen, and for a second he could feel the beating of his own heart. But it wasn't all roses and wine… He could feel something else within him, something locked deep inside. It was thrashing, as though in pain, and he could feel a high-pitched roar that was rather dull in nature, as if it was coming from somewhere far off.
He wasn't sure what happened to him, but it looked like he blacked out, because the next thing he knew he was on the ground and coming to.
His head hurt, it felt like a sugar crash except like a hundred times stronger. Maybe it had been a bad idea to drink the Ether after all, he thought as he groaned unintelligibly on the floor.
The hell was that voice?
'To your right, kid.'
Naruto turned his head obediently, and found himself looking at the tome he had been reading and re-reading for the past few weeks. The pages fluttered in the wind. Looks like he had dropped it in the aftermath of the Ether.
'Read me. Hurry. I'm not very good at telepathy.'
Naruto was too muddled to think about the ramifications of that one, and so simply did what the voice told him to do, dragging himself over to the book and taking at look at it. The writing was new to him, so it seemed like he was reading one of the new pages then, the ones that he hypothesized would pop up after attaining Mist. The words were too big and complicated for him right now, so maybe after a nap on the cold floor he'd get to –
Why was there writing in the margins? He never wrote in his books, unless they were textbooks, and when he had flipped through the book before, he hadn't noticed –
'Good job, kid. We'll talk more after you wake up.'
Now THAT sounded like a wonderful idea.
Naruto conked out soon after, and found himself in a sweet-ass dream where he was roaming the streets of some evil, shady ninja village, blowing all the houses and werewolf-looking enemy shinobi up while looking like an extreme badass, before rescuing the ninja princess at the end who kissed him on the cheek and joined in on the rampage. It was like something out of your stereotypical story about top-class legendary ninja. It was just too bad he wouldn't be able to remember it by the time he woke up.
Naruto woke up, still on the floor, now completely refreshed. Sitting up, he stretched his arms and yawned, then dried off his tears with his arms and looked down around him. He could vaguely recall reading something in the book before he had conked out, and tried to find the stupid thing amidst the mess that was his kitchen floor. At last, his eyes came across the familiar old tome, and he picked it up, opening up the pages.
"Um… Hey?" asked Naruto, feeling a little stupid. He had never attempted to talk with a self-writing book before, so this was entirely new to him. "Can… Uh, can you hear me?"
There was no new writing on the page, at least not until Naruto turned it over. On the next page, in the margins, there was another little note that was surely written by the book. It was kind of strange, how the notes were so messy while the actual text was so neat.
'Yep. So, how's it going? Feel any different?'
Naruto smiled. It felt kind of nice to have somebody ask him something like that, even if it was just a book. Not a lot of guys around Konoha treated him as a normal kid, y'know.
"I… guess. But it's kind of hard to describe."
Naruto turned the page once more.
'That's good. You'll get used to the feeling.'
"So… Who are you?"
Naruto turned the pages a couple times, and no writing popped up. The blonde boy wondered if this was the book's version of a long pause. After a couple seconds of flipping, at last he came across some writing in the margins.
'A Tome… One of many.'
"One of many? What do you mean?"
'Just what I said. I'm not the only book out there that teaches you how to use Mist, you know. There are other Fantastical Disciplines out there, and books for all of those as well.'
"Wow… So you're the only book that teaches Black Magic, though?"
'Not exactly… For each Discipline, there are three books circulating. So there are two other books exactly like me out there, teaching people how to become Black Mages. Not to mention there are plenty of Discplines that teach a rudimentary use of Black Magic…'
"Huh…? I don't get it. Doesn't learning Black Magic make you a Black Mage?"
'No. A Black Mage is one who specializes in Black Magic. Say… Well, for instance, this is the age of the shinobi, right? I'm sure you've heard of ninjutsu.'
"How can you not?!"
'Suppose a person learns ninjutsu for years, focusing on that only. Now compare that to a person who has balanced skills in all categories, taijutsu, ninjutsu, and genjutsu. The first example is a ninjutsu specialist, no? And the second one is just your average ninja. A Black Mage is kind of like the former.'
"What… does that mean?"
'Well… you'll see in time. Isn't reading while standing up like this kind of uncomfortable?'
Naruto took the book's advice, and dropped down onto his bed. Crossing his legs, he repositioned himself so that his head was on his pillow, and raised the book to the sky.
"Hey, hey. When are you going to teach me magic?"
'Easy there, sport. But if you want to learn, we can start you off right now. Find a deserted place nearby to train, and make absolutely sure that there are no spectators, got it? What I'm about to teach you is the first spell that Black Mages learn, the basics of the basics.'
"Ugh… That sounds kinda boring. Does it explode stuff?"
'Nope… It just lights stuff on fire.'
Naruto's eyes gleamed with a light that would send the ANBU who constantly had to deal with him screaming into their beds.
'Did I remember to tell you to wear something flame retardant?'
'Well… doesn't matter. Just means that you'll probably be needing some new clothes after this, that's all.'
"But I like these clothes!"
Naruto stood in the middle of Training Ground No. 7, which was a pretty nice name for what was basically a glorified clearing in the middle of nowhere. Nobody ever came here, and since a couple years ago maintenance had ceased on the grounds, and the pavement on the ground was now cracked and uneven. The Book had specifically asked for a place where nothing was really flammable, and Naruto had stumbled across this place a year back when he was running from ANBU.
Naruto stood in the middle of the clearing, wearing a black t-shirt with a pair of orange pants. Holding the Book in his right arm, he raised his left arm up, going down the instructions written within the book. The writings in the margins had directed him towards the text, saying how the thing explained it much better than it could. Which was kind of strange, Naruto thought. The sentient mind of the Book seemed to think itself separate from the more formal aspects of it.
The Book itself was rather strange as well. Although he had Mist now, which was of the Faith variety – the Book had contained no information on getting Mist of the Brave variety, he assumed it had something to do with the fact that Black Magic had nothing to do with Brave – the book still had not revealed everything. A couple chapters had opened up after, but these amounted to pretty much a couple pages on the basics of Black Magic and equipment and little else.
'Fire is the first spell Black Mages generally start off with, and is one of the most versatile spells along with Blizzard and Thunder…'
Naruto read through the instructions a couple of times, but they didn't make sense to him. Apparently much of Black Magic was focusing on feelings and emotions, and that one had to visualize to cast a spell. Naruto looked at his hands, wondering just what he was supposed to do. He had never even done a jutsu before – just how was he going to figure this out? He voiced his hesitation to the Book, and the Book replied.
'It's not that hard to cast a spell, kid. All it takes is imagination and concentration.'
Naruto sighed. That was of no help at all.
He read the description of the spell several more times. Apparently the spell did different things according to the Black Mage. There had been records of a burst of flame, a fireball, explosions… and who knows what else that hadn't been recorded. All of the spells involved heat and flame, but other than that they didn't seem to overlap very much. In fact, it was much like reading about completely different techniques.
Maybe… technique didn't matter that much then? Maybe it was like drawing… Finding your own way of doing something? Creativity…
Naruto steeled his resolve, and stood up tall. Putting one hand in front of him, he concentrated on the image of fire. Flames. Flickering flames. The smell of burnt cooking, of heat, the mirage shimmering in the air above the flames…
He felt a spark in his hand, and opened his eyes instantly. The only thing he saw, however, was the briefest of flickers in front of his hand and the smell of smoke, and after a split second not even that was there anymore.
Naruto turned to look at the Book once more.
'But not good enough. Your image wasn't strong enough… Try to conjure up a stronger image. It's okay if you've never been around a real fire before, as long as you can approximate heat.'
Naruto grit his teeth, holding out his hands once more. He could do this… He knew he could do this! All it took was some concentration, and creativity he knew he had in spades – it took a lot to be a prankster in a village of ninja – so as long as he tried his hardest, there was no doubt he could pull off something spectacular. He closed his eyes once more, concentrating on the image of fire.
He felt his mind slip into a different zone, as the full moon rose gently above the sky. He felt his hands thump against the ground, and the shudder of the earth destroyed the landscape and split the skies. He felt his tails soar behind him as if they had a mind of their own, and ahead he could see the village that he was going to attack…
…Fire, so much fire. There was fire everywhere. As he swept down on the village, he could feel houses crush under his hands, and the explosions that came from within lit the wreckages within seconds. Everywhere he walked he left embers, and the flames of destruction. He could smell sulfur, and brimstone, and the blood of the fallen… Fire… There was fire everywhere…
Naruto snapped to attention. The sun was high up in the sky, and there was no moon. He was standing on the ground, and he didn't tower into the sky. In front of him was a flaming wreck, as fire that seemed too bright to be real consumed the pavement in front of them. Naruto's mouth widened as he stared at the burning disaster… The fire was spreading too quickly! It was going to eat away at the grass, and then they were going to have a forest fire! He had to – there had to be some way to stop it before—
'Calm down. Your control of your Faith isn't strong enough to keep up a spell indefinitely.'
—The Book was right. Soon enough, the fire had died down, and the only thing that clued into its brief existence at all was the melted pavement in front of him. Naruto's eyes were wide as he looked at the damage he had caused.
"This… this was me?"
'Of course… Interesting, a falling Fire spell,' noted the Book as Naruto flipped through its pages in search of answers. 'Did you see what it was like? Probably not… Every Black Mage blanks out during their first spell. Your Fire dropped from the sky like a meteorite – quite the useful approach, I'd say.'
"This…" noted Naruto in awe as he continued to stare at the wreckage. "This is Black Magic…"
'Not only Black Magic. This came from you as well,' disagreed the Book. Had it possessed a face, Naruto would've sworn it was grinning. 'Not every Black Mage succeeds on their second try, you know. What you did was a very amazing thing, something that only two other Black Mages I've taught had done.'
"Fire…" breathed Naruto. He looked at his hand, which was feeling slightly hot. His fingers and palm glowed orange for the briefest of moments before it died down, and the cool wind invaded the space where the heat used to be. "I've seen Katon jutsu before, and not even the one that our sensei showed us in class was that strong."
"Why's that? Aren't they the same?"
'How could they be? Why would you go through such troubles to gain Mist and learn a Fantastical Discipline then, if such techniques are available to you without personal sacrifice?'
"What does that mean?"
'Think about it this way. Why would you give up your other energies, other much more versatile energies, to gain Mist, if all the techniques are equal? Wouldn't you just be losing things in the end?'
"I don't get it!"
The Book sighed. Or at least, Naruto imagined it was sighing.
'Do you know why Fantastical Disciplines exist?'
Okay, now Naruto was getting tired of this. That term was too goddamn long! How the hell was he supposed to remember words like that? He was only seven, for heaven's sake!
"That's too long! Just call them Jobs!"
'Eh--? Ah? Why?'
"It's too hard to remember!"
'Oh, what are you, seven?!'
'Oh… Fine. Jobs, then. Do you know why Jobs exist?'
Naruto thought about this for a while, as he looked towards the destruction he had caused. Power such as this existed within him… He could cause damage on such a large scale with the first spell available to him. He had been half-joking when he had thought about exploding stuff, but now that the opportunity and the ability was available to him with impunity, it seemed a lot less funny than it had before.
He imagined using it on a person… He imagined their flesh melting away, their bodies evaporating as they came in contact with the intense heat. He imagined their screams of agony, and the smell of burning flesh…
And somewhere deep within, the roar that he heard became a little louder.
"To… teach you how to use your Mist?"
'Exactly. Mist is a hard power to control, unlike the other energies, such as the ones needed for your jutsu. Unlike the others, it does not flow. If you pretend chakra, ki, and the like are clay, then Mist is pure steel.'
"Then… how did I manage to use it? I've never even done a jutsu before…"
'Handseals are much like suggestions for chakra. They twist and mold the clay in such a way, and then fire it. The finished product is your jutsu… Mist, and the abilities of the Fantastical – er, Jobs are different. It's hard to influence them, and hard to mold them to your will. Each Ability is much like a mold, and by pouring steel into that mold, you get what you need. Steel can be tempered, yes, but it is much harder to do so than with clay.'
"If it's so hard to use… What's the advantage again?"
'Did you not see?' asked the Book with a telepathic chuckle. 'If you compare a sword made of clay and a sword made of steel… Which one do you think is stronger in the end?'
Several months passed as Naruto continued to practice his Black Magic. He had taken to bringing the Book along in class and conversing with it whenever the teacher was being boring, which was practically all the time. In the middle of the day, whenever he knew the ANBU patrols were the busiest, he would get himself to his own little training ground and set things on fire with impunity. The place was littered with little molten craters now, and he was getting better at better at controlling the spell. He was able to summon up a dropping fireball about a size of a basketball now, rather than being forced to call up something the size of a car.
The weeks had gone by, and quickly at that. Naruto was now working on learning the second and third spells, Blizzard and Thunder, and he and the Book had gotten familiar with each other. Thunder was alright, he had called up sparks at the very least, since he was familiar with electricity, although it was still hard for him to imagine lightning crackling through the air. Blizzard, however, was the hard one. Having lived in the Fire Country, situated in a temperate area, all his life, he found it hard to imagine the freezing cold required for the spell. He had even stuffed himself into his freezer a couple times, trying to remember the feeling, but all he managed to obtain was a summertime cold.
"FIRE!" cried Naruto.
Another fireball fell out of the sky, slamming into the ground with a frightening roar. He had gotten the hang of projecting small fireballs, and now he was attempting to see just how big he could make them. So far he hadn't come close to his first attempt yet, but he was getting there. What little foliage existed in the training ground before had been completely eradicated, feeling the full brunt of Naruto's training.
'Good, good,' acknowledged the Book. 'But could be better still. Nonetheless, you've accomplished enough for today. Get yourself a drink and take a break, training's over.'
Naruto took a swig from his canteen, which was filled with a green liquid. Apparently Ether was more than an activator for Mist, it was also a powerful tonic that restored the energy as well, although its effectiveness decreased if taken in succession. Given Naruto's rapid-fire casting of Fire spells that was his training, he usually had to take a canteen with him a day, and had gotten pretty good at brewing the stuff. Hell, he had even convinced the apothecary lady to sell him the materials in bulk. The other ingredients that he needed didn't need to be replenished often, so he wouldn't worry about those for now.
'No progress on your Blizzard and Thunder, however…'
"It can't be helped! I don't have any experience with that kind of thing!" said Naruto. "I need to get more used to it…"
'How's winter in Konoha?'
"Not very cold… We hardly ever get snow," said Naruto as he looked into the sky. "But during the summer it gets super hot."
'I see…' noted the Book. 'Well, nothing we can do about that for now. Simply focus on improving your Fire. At this rate, you might be able to learn Fira before you learn Blizzard and Thunder.'
"Well, whatever! Fire's good enough!" grinned Naruto as he looked proudly at the destruction all around him. It had been like holding a kunai for the first time, Naruto realized. He had been capable of damage, and lacked the control to minimize it, that had been the scary part. These spells were the same thing. At first, he had been terrified by the power he wielded, but now that he had control over them they were simply another skill.
'I've been meaning to speak to you about something as well,' said the Book. 'Do you remember last week, when you were walking through the marketplace?'
"Yeah. What about it?"
'…Do you mind taking me around there again? I need to confirm something.'
It didn't take long for Naruto to head around to the market district. Fighting his way through the crowds of people going about their business shopping, he slipped in and out of the stream as the Book led him towards a part of the district that was geared more towards shinobi than anything else. After passing by a rather nasty old lady that was manning a fish shop, he found himself standing in front of an old antique shop.
Naruto did, heading into the antique store. The man at the counter, who strangely enough had a full head of pink hair and the largest glasses he had ever seen, peered at him over the rim, but didn't say a thing. He either held enmity towards him like half the townspeople did, or else was simply suspicious of him for heading into an antique store with no money at all.
Naruto looked around the place, following the instructions of the Book. Then, standing in front of an ancient-looking drawer, the Book tossed him a shocker.
'There are others like me here.'
The pink-haired man at the counter shot him a glare. Naruto bowed back apologetically.
"Sorry…" he said, before turning back to the Book in a quieter voice. "What do you mean?"
'Other Books. I told you I'm not the only one… This is an antique store, so I'm not very surprised,' said the Book. 'Ordinary people wouldn't be able to read us Books at all, so it's not a surprise he didn't leave them out here.'
"But, I read you even before I activated my Mist…"
'Not everybody has the potential for Mist. One born in a hundred, possibly,' said the Book. 'Most importantly, however, the reader of the Book has to have the right personality for the Book to accept him and show him its writing. The Book itself has to approve.'
"So you mean… The guy picked them up somewhere and thought they were junk?"
'No. If he's an antique store owner, he realizes the value of long-lasting things like us,' said the Book with a touch of pride. 'The reason he didn't leave them out is probably because nobody would buy them… No matter how old, people wouldn't buy things they can't read. That's all the better for us.'
'Ask him about them, maybe you can find a way to take them off his hands. It can't be that hard to convince him,' noted the Book.
"Alright," agreed Naruto. The thought of acquiring more abilities intrigued and excited him. But then he thought of something. "Wait, what do I call you then?"
"There's more than one Book, right?" asked Naruto. "I've got to call you something, otherwise it'd be impossible to tell who I'm talking to!"
'Oh, for crying out loud, I'm the only one you have!'
"You need a name!"
'Just… just call me by my serial number. V-2.'
'The first number is a Roman numeral, it stands for my Fantasical – 'Job' – and the second number tells you which one I am. V, or five, is the number of the Black Mage, so I'm the second Book that teaches one how to become a Black Mage.'
"So… Black Mage is number five? How many Jobs are there?"
"Um… so. Any idea which ones are here…?"
'Seems like one of them is a Faith-based Book, and the other one is Brave-based. If you get your hands on a Faith-based Book, you might be able to learn another Job, but that isn't very likely. Faith-based Jobs often look for intelligence, so…'
'I don't BS, kid. You're not the sharpest knife in the drawer.'
"I know that's true, but you didn't have to make it sound so… mean."
'Enough about your intellectual insecurities already. Let me finish an explanation without an interruption every now and then, alright?' said the Book, exasperated. '…Anyway, it's better to have a couple Books in capable hands rather than in the hands of somebody who doesn't even know how to use them. Even if they won't assist you, it'd be nice to be able to talk to things other than you for a bit.'
"You just compared me to books, and you'd rather have them," said Naruto as he glared at the tome in his hands. "Not cool, man."
'Can't hate a playa for telling the truth, can you?'
"Why would you spell 'player' 'playa'!? You're a book! Isn't proper spelling and punctuation supposed to be important to you or something? Ugh, it's like an old guy using slang, except worse. You're like… probably a hundred generations old or something."
'Oh, scary words coming from the kid who got himself a failing grade on a five word spelling test that you had three weeks to prepare for! That teacher giggled when he handed you back your test!'
'I can't! I'm a Book! If I could, I'd totally do it though… By the way, seems like the storekeeper's looking at you kind of funny.'
Naruto looked up at the pink-haired shopkeeper, who was staring at him in an openly-alarmed way now. Waving at him apologetically, he turned out the door and walked into the street, leaving the shopkeeper to groan about another window-shopper.
'Why did you leave?!'
"Didn't you see the guy?" asked Naruto. "He was looking at me like I was crazy! Better to leave now and come back later when he doesn't remember me anymore… It'll be way easier that way."
'No! Head back in there right now, buster, and buy those Books!'
"Hey, smart guy, I didn't bring my money."
Naruto shook his head and closed the Book, turning down the corner. V-2… He could tell it was getting a lot more comfortable with him now. Before, the Book treated him much like a student, and that was about the extent of their relationship, but he had recently taken to treating the Book like a friend. It had been primarily due to the fact that he was lonely – for some reason the kids at school rarely played with him, and when their parents were around they didn't associated with him at all – and he wanted somebody to talk to.
Now, he could talk to the V-2 about anything, and he could feel the Book open up to him as well. The Book's writing had gotten a lot less formal, looking sometimes like a rough scrawl when its emotions ran high, and its language and tone had gotten a lot more free as well. Heck, Naruto was starting to feel like an avid reader, with the amount of time he was spending with letters and words.
It was strange, how a Book contained a personality, but he was starting to get it now. It seemed that each Book out there had their own thoughts, their own opinions, and the kind of people that they liked. V-2 didn't seem like such a formal guy at heart, really… He – V-2's telepathic voice sounded male – was casual, easy-going, and encouraging when it came to Black Magic. Stubborn, honest, and casual as well, things that Naruto found refreshing. (It was kind of funny how the same words applied to him as well, although he didn't realize it.)
He had a name now, too.
"Can I just call you Full Deck?"
"I mean, 'cause your serial's V-2, right? That's like… five-two. Fifty-two. Fifty-two cards in a deck…"
'…Your mind works in mysterious ways, Naruto.'
"It's settled then, Full Deck!"
As their friendly banter continued, the people in the streets looking at Naruto every now and then as he chatted to his book, the boy found himself enjoying life too much to care about the opinions of other people. The loneliness that he felt prior to being given the Book vanished in the wind, and the prospect of meeting what could possibly be two more friends brought a smile to his face.
Life was wonderful.
He was hoping it would get even better.
"Daddy? What are you doing?"
Haruno Mitami turned his head back at the sound of his daughter's voice. The pile of ancient objects in front of him was starting to get thinner, as he put the smaller things into different boxes. Smiling, he beckoned the young girl over to his side. The girl, with brilliant green eyes and wearing a small red shirt with white shorts, sat down beside her father, looking towards the little mountain of history.
"Sorting through the junk, dear," said Mitami as he swept the sweat from his brow and adjusted his glasses. "Haha, your daddy doesn't even know why he bought this stuff. Lots of it can't even be sold, like this teapot, or this deck of cards."
Smiling, he took the small pile of thin cards and showed them to his daughter. The girl's eyes widened, and she reached her hands forwards to touch them. Eyes widening in alarm, Mitami drew back his hands, preventing her from touching them.
The girl widened her eyes even more, then sniffled.
"Daddy! Don't be mean!"
"Sorry, dear, but you really shouldn't touch these, your mother would kill me!" said Mitami with an apologetic smile, then he winced. "Owch!"
He took his right arm from where it had been holding the deck of cards, and there it was, a huge cut on the tip of his finger that was dripping blood. Mitami grimaced as he looked at the wound – this was going to put a damper on his plans. Even though most of this stuff in front of him was junk, it was still historical junk, and he loved them. No way he was going to ruin his collection by leaving bloodstains.
"Daddy, what happened?"
"That's why you shouldn't play with these cards, Sa-chan," said Mitami. "You see these edges? Whoever made these cards was either a daredevil or insane. They're made of sharpened steel. I mean, you could play a game with these… but I imagine only ninjas would want try."
"So, they're dangerous?"
"Very dangerous. So don't touch them, alright?" asked Mitami, patting his daughter on the head with his other hand. The deck of cards he had put on the top of a nearby drawer, to prevent Sakura from getting her little hands on them. The girl was too curious for her own good, really. He supposed that facet was his fault. "Daddy needs to go put a bandage on this, so just stay here and don't touch the pile, alright?"
Sakura nodded, putting her hands together in front of her in the perfect image of an obedient little girl. Mitami smiled once more – he trusted her more than most parents trusted their children, and knew she wouldn't get herself into trouble on purpose.
"Daddy… um, can I please go to the Academy?"
Ah yes, the one point of contention between father and child.
"…Sa-chan, I've told you this before, and I've told you a million times," said Mitami, hiding his forlorn face from Sakura. "The Academy isn't… a good place. If you want to live a good, long life, then you stay away from that place, alright?"
"But… I want to be a ninja! Isn't that a good thing? Aren't ninjas the ones who protect us and help us? Daddy! We live in a village of ninja, don't we?"
"Sakura…" said Mitami, looking down at his daughter. "You don't understand right now, but… The most glorious jobs are also sometime the hardest ones, you know? Ninjas go through a lot of pain to get their jobs, and even afterwards they have to fight for their lives. Sa-chan, Daddy doesn't want you to go through that."
"So we should let other people go through it instead?!"
Mitami found himself with no answer, and left the room.
Sakura looked at the fading back of her father, forlorn, but quickly shook herself out of it like a proper seven year old would. Looking around the pile, she poked and prodded at the different objects, occasionally tinkering with one here and there. They were mostly old trinkets, stuff like clocks and mirrors and such, and a lot of them were in terrible shape. It wasn't until she touched a part of the pile and some of the objects caved in did she see something that caught her eye.
Two books, hidden side by side, sat in the middle of the pile. Their pages were old and yellow, and the instant they were revealed to the air she could smell the age they radiated. Her first reaction was to recoil, but then curiousity got the better of her, and she couldn't help but look closer.
They were stylized the same, the main difference being their covers. On one of them was the picture of a sword, but it was different than the type that Sakura saw on shinobi around the town. Rather than being curved and sharp on one side, it was straight, large, and double-edged. The guard at the base of the blade was also larger, and decorated in a different way than that of a normal katana. On the other book was the picture of several bottles, which contained multi-coloured fluid.
Sakura ignored the one with a sword, instead picking up the book with the cover emblazoned with flasks. The colours caught her eye, and she was pretty big on art. Opening the book up, she read through the first couple lines of the text.
'The Chemist is one who practices the art of mixing. It is a Fantastical Discipline caught between Brave and Faith. By mixing ingredients of all kinds along with Mist of either nature, the Chemist is able to create potions and tonics that defy the laws of nature and the laws of the body. Whether to aid and protect, to recover and to grow, or to damage and to destroy, the Chemist is able to do all of these things given the right ingredients and the proper knowledge…'
Thirty minutes later Mitami was scratching his head as he looked down at his daughter, who was engrossed in a blank book that he had gotten off a blind salesman in the Wave several years back as a set of two. He had been sorting through his junk for a while now, and never once did he see his little girl lift her head out of that book. Well, as long as she wasn't thinking about the Academy… Still, reading a blank book was a weird thing to do.
"Do you know where to get goblin blood?"
"How are Misaki and Ayato?" breathed Hyuuga Chiaki as she let her activated Byakugan sweep through the area in search of the monsters that had attacked their group.
"Misaki's… gone. Ayato's not going to make it. He's lost too much blood," answered Teru as he closed Misaki's eyes and tightened the bandage that covered Ayato's bleeding stump of a leg. The younger man's breathing was labored and his skin was pale… "Dammit… How could this happen to us?! We're supposed to be in a period of peace!"
"Peace doesn't last in the shinobi world," answered Chiaki as she swept through the area once more. Although her Byakugan wasn't the best in the household, being a Branch member and only a moderately talented one at that, she had confidence that she'd be able to find their enemies before they located them. If only she had activated her eyes sooner… Maybe they wouldn't be in this situation now.
She couldn't think that now.
"Teru. Take Ayato and head off towards Konoha as fast as you can," ordered Chiaki as she tightened her headband around her forehead. "I'll try and head him off."
"Go!" commanded Chiaki. "If we all die here, who will warn the village?!"
"U—Un!" agreed Teru, reluctantly. He threw Ayato over his shoulder gently, gave his commander one last look and a nod, and sped off through the trees towards the center of Konoha. The moon in the sky above hung softly against the shadowy sky as the Chuunin made his exit, determined to carry out his captain's orders.
Hyuuga Chiaki narrowed her eyes as she withdrew the tanto at the holster by her side. It was rather looked down upon for a member of the Hyuuga clan to carry weapons, but given the fact that they were invariably purposely limited by the Main clan members of the Branch house had no problem with bending some of the unspoken rules. Preparing her Jyuuken pose, she waited for the first sign of her deadly opponent.
Chiaki barely reacted in time to avoid the attack. She rose her arm in an instant, blocking the metal object that had come flying towards her face. There was a loud clang, and the rectangular weapon flew off towards another direction, moving at incredible speeds. Chiaki cursed as she felt the impact to her bones, lowering her arms for a second due to the pain.
Another two of the objects flew out of the foliage, and she had to duck down to dodge them. It was a good thing that she had the Byakugan, because the projectiles flew much faster than most kunai and shuriken ever could. Even with forewarning and knowledge of where the projectiles were going, however, she had barely any time to move before they left the man's hands and landed in her forehead.
She looked behind her without turning her head; one of the advantages of the Byakugan. It had been terribly shocking during the first attack, when Misaki and Ayato had been downed, but now she was only vaguely surprised at the shape of the weapon that had cut them down so badly. Rectangular and small… It looked like a card, but no card Chiaki knew of could do something like that, embedding itself into a wall.
Her eyes swept around – even if she could see everything in nearly all directions, her brain needed time to process it all –
Bubbles… blue bubbles were spreading out across the field. Chiaki narrowed her eyes. Where were they coming from? Maybe if she used her eyes to gauge their flow and their direction, she'd be able to find out just where her unseen enemy was –
The bubbles burst with the force of explosive tags, and Chiaki cried out as the trees around her crumbled. Summoning up her discipline, and resisting the urge to run, she righted herself in mid-air, made several jumps off the falling debris, and ended back up in the foliage, grasping at her chest in pain.
What was that…? Suiton…?
She had never been big on elemental jutsu, but she was sure that she had never heard of a Suiton jutsu utilizing bubbles before. It was a rule that the stronger a technique, the more water it required… The strongest ones she knew of were the dragon techniques. She had only been grazed by the explosions of the bubbles and yet she had been damaged anyway. What was this techniques?
No, that wasn't the thing to worry about.
The enemy had a lock on her position, and she didn't even know where he was coming from. She had to relocate, otherwise she'd be taken down by a barrage of mysterious attacks that she knew nothing about. Taking to the sky, she tried to go higher and higher, keeping her Byakugan activated all the while. If she stayed on the ground, he'd be able to attack her from pretty much any direction. She had to take the higher ground.
"Sorry… but I can't let you do that," said a voice from the ground. Chiaki was stunned, and focused her vision downwards. Indeed, standing at the bottom of the tree she was running on was a man. Before she managed to make his features out, however, he simply snapped his fingers and grinned. "Aero!"
It was like getting hit with an invisible sledgehammer. The wind in front of her focused together, forming an impenetrable wall, and she ran right into it full force. Regaining her balance on the rebound, Chiaki attempted to escape from the tree, but the invisible wall moved towards her with the speed of a train, spiking her downwards.
After what seemed like an eternity of being smashed into branches, she landed on the ground in a crumpled heap. Blinking, she continued to stare into the ground, but her vision travelled upwards to look at the man that had attacked her team, the one that had killed one teammate and left another near-death.
He was dressed in a trench-coat, with a bare chest covered with elaborate tattoos which formed the picture of an oriental dragon reaching towards the skies. At his side was a holster for what seemed like a deck of cards – the weapons that he had used to attack them? – and on the other side two books hung from his belt.
She focused her eyes… Was she seeing things…?
"Calm down there, ojou-san," said the man, slicking his hair back with his right hand. Terrible scars lined his face, and she noticed that on his left the pinky finger was shortened at the first joint. "Not looking too well there, are you?"
"W—Why don't you have chakra…!?"
"Not a ninja, ojou-san," said the man, taking one of the cards at his side and putting it up to his mouth, as though attempting to hide his smile. The face of the card… It was Hanafuda. "Why, do I have to be a ninja to be kicking ass? Looks like you guys all got your heads stuck up your asses, eh, ojou-san?"
No matter how hard Chiaki looked, she couldn't see it. The man had chakra coils, that was for sure, but they were undeveloped like those of a child's… It was as if chakra never flowed through them at all! But, that was… impossible. As people aged, even if they weren't shinobi, their bodies gradually learned to use chakra naturally to boost the body. The man was at least thirty years of age – he must've –
"Ojou-san… Look at me."
Chiaki felt the man's hand on her hair, lifting her head up. Black shades stared into white orbs, and she stared past the plastic to see the eyes hidden behind them. It took a couple seconds for her to figure out exactly what she was seeing, and when she realized the emotional and mental undercurrents that his eyes betrayed, she felt an urge to scream.
Through that rough politeness, through his strong image, all she could see was the insane madness that consumed him. His eyes weren't those of a human, nor were they those of an animal. They were the eyes of a true monster. Deep within, she could almost count the amount of people that he had done in over the years and measure the complete apathy and amusement that he derived from his murders.
"This is it…? This is all a shinobi could do?" asked the man. "This is Konoha? Let me tell you what I think of this, ojou-san. This is nothing. YOU are nothing. Beautiful eyes, though. Hmm, I'd eat 'em up, yum yum."
No… there was something wrong here…
She was a shinobi, she shouldn't be affected like this--! But the man's voice…! There was an echo there… A mysterious quality of some kind, a voice that she could not resist – a voice that pierced through all her defenses, all the mental blocks that she had put up, through her Hyuuga pride, through her everything – She had been put under his spell, his will had completely engulfed hers…
"W—What… what are you going to do to me?"
"Me…?" asked the man. "Don't worry, ojou-san. I like beautiful girls like yourself, but doing things like that… I've lost interest in it a long time ago. No. You're going to tell me things that I want to know. Things about the nature of Konoha's security, y'know? Things like how to get past the gates…"
It was an interrogation.
Everything that the man asked, Chiaki found herself compelled to answer. Even as his grip on her hair tightened, even as his face tightened and twisted the longer the session went on, she found herself unable to resist him. The shinobi in her raged against the situation, but she found herself unable to hear her voice – No… the only thing she could hear was the man's smooth bass…
Ten minutes later Hyuuga Chiaki left this world, and Yajuu Bakuto smoked a cigarette as he stared down at the corpse of the woman he had killed. It was too bad. Before he would've enjoyed her a little before her death, but nowadays he didn't feel that kind of thing anymore.
'…You're the pathetic one.'
Two voices appeared out of nowhere. The former was that of a youth, with a voice that bespoke experience despite its age, and latter was a rather gentle voice that seemed to drip with honey and was as smooth as silk. Both of the voices were subdued, heavy with some unknown feeling.
"Shut up, both of you," sneered Bakuto as he looked up into the sky. "Don't lecture me."
'We're more than just sources of power, you know.'
The smooth voice.
'Stop this, Bakuto! You can still make it back.'
The young voice.
"Shut up, shut up, you're just voices, just like the rest of them, but it's okay," smiled Bakuto as he looked at invisible things hidden amongst the trees. "I've gotten pretty good at ignoring you guys, you know."
The foliage had been broken up, as the tree in front of him, the one that he had assaulted with his Aqualung and Aero spells finally broke down, smashing the nearby trees and making a terrible roar. When the humongous trunk finally hit the ground, the sky above was revealed to its full extent.
Moonlight dropped down… illuminating the world, or more specifically the faces of the two books at the murderer's side. They were old, and they were yellow, but their covers were, once again, different.
One cover was emblazoned with dice and cards. It seemed to specialize in games of chance – a brave sport to be sure, something that required the endless courage of the player, and the ability to shine like a diamond even under pressure…
On the other cover was the image of a blue mask, much like that at a masquerade – this one radiated mystery, as well as a hidden wildness that recalled the image of beasts. To this one, one had to be faithful to nature, to heed its call and understand its laws…
Blue and green smoke entwined in mid-air, arising out of the man's body. By themselves, perhaps they would've been beautiful, but together they created a haunting image – had an artist been at the scene, perhaps he would've been inspired to capture it in an image… A floating, glowing blue-green skull.
Brave and Faith, combined and corrupted.
Miasma… madness concentrated.