Well, here's the first chapter of my third story. This was a challenge set out to me, so I have to live up to my standards. I'm a novice, but I seem to have an exceptional update rate, within one to three days, and come up with some unusual but well thought out plots... christ this is starting to sound like a CV. But I'm writing for the fun of it, so let me know if this is worth continuing. If not, I've got a couple other stories ready to focus on instead.
Disclaimer: typing disclaimer is just a formality, I'll rarely use this space for that purpose.
A sealed fate
A droplet of rain falls from above, leaving its home in the sky on the journey to earth. It succumbs to the wonders of gravity, descending from its heavenly bed. A small ray of sunlight shines through, revealing the entire spectrum of wonder inside this tiny grain of water. But the droplet knows none of its potential, it sees only the path ahead, without truly knowing where it is going, or why.
The time in which it takes from the start of this raindrop's life, to the end, can only be described as ephemeral. And as if to follow such a name, this raindrop serves a purpose like none of its brethren ever have. It plummets through the air, the first thing coming into sight the grey rocks of the land. But then as it draws nearer, its destination appears to be an odd black shape that lies on the ground beneath it. But that is a false belief as well, as the raindrops view is filled with a round orange shape, with a dark hole to one side. It is that hole which the raindrop falls through, breaking on a strange combination of white, red and black. That strange symbol which the colours formed, it was nothing like the raindrop had ever seen. But that enigmatic symbol, whatever it was, reacts violently to Ephemeral's touch. A huge set of jaws swallows dear Ephemeral up, before chewing on the poor thing furiously, until the short lived beauty was no more.
"What do you intend to do now?" asked Uchiha Madara, "Without the Gedō Mazo."
He raised his head, the most movement he could manage due to the black rods impaled through his arms and legs. He looked at the person standing before him, a man with long orange hair that fell down his back. This man had a heavily pierced face, with black objects just like the rods piercing the defeated Uchiha before him. The man looked down at Madara with impassive eyes, eyes which were grey, with several black circles surrounding the pupil. The man reached forward, a hand procuring from his black cloak, the red clouds appearing to billow with his movement. The hand was placed atop the rod that pierced Madara's right leg, he gripped it and twisted, forcing Madara to cringe in pain.
"If I cannot have the weapon." the man said, with no signs of remorse for Madara's suffering, "Then I simply need… disciples."
"Disciples?" Madara repeated, letting out a dry laugh, the only dry thing in this place, "You will build an army? How do you expect to gain that many followers?"
"Man is attracted to power." the man replied, "The power to inflict pain upon his enemies. I need simply bring those beings of power to stand by my side, and others will follow."
"The Jinchuriki? Ha! You think you can control them? You may know pain, but you do not know their pain. They will never follow you."
"It is that pain that ensures they will follow me. I will offer them a release from that pain, and give them the peace they so desire, if that is what they wish."
Madara chuckled cruelly, looking at the man before him as if he was a child.
"Can't you see?" he asked, "Peace is but an illusion. Casting that illusion only stops conflict, but it cannot stop people from feeling hatred."
The man released the rod, moving slowly around Madara, until he was standing at the Uchiha's head.
"Total peace is not my goal." he said, "Without pain, peace can never be understood. As such, I will show the world that pain, my pain."
The man then reached out again, placing his hand this time upon Madara's head.
"You have experienced much pain in this world, Uchiha Madara." the man said, gripping Madara's head, "Now, find peace."
With that, he pulled his hand away, and the light faded from Madara's eyes as his soul was removed from his body. The man removed Madara's mask, tossing it aside. He then studied the Uchiha's dead face contemplatively, as if considering something about the ancient man.
"No." he said, before turning and walking away.
* * * * *
The trees passed in a blur, the leaves melding together into one long line. The dark knight sky gave the forest an ominous look, every shadow looked like an enemy, but they also seemed to be the safest place, like such an embrace could save from other pain. The forest was silent, the creatures of the trees watched in interest at the spectacle before them.
It wasn't because of speed that the trees were but a blur. It was the eyes of the person seeing them, tears obscuring the vision. For in truth, this person was never fast enough for the world to seem that way otherwise. But this child was too blinded by fear to even notice this trivial point.
He landed on a bough, his hands and feet touching the wood as he moved on all fours. He then kicked off again, moving in such an animalistic way, he really seemed like a tormented pup, being chased by a wolf.
"Come on Naruto-kun, you know running is pointless!"
Naruto did his best to ignore the voice, echoing through the trees. But it wasn't easy, that person was really getting to him.
"Iruka-kun won't be able to protect you anymore!"
"Shut up!" Naruto cried, his tears falling down his face, "Get away from me!"
"'Get away from me'? Ha ha! How pathetic!"
Naruto grabbed onto an overhead branch, using it to swing around and change his direction. But the voice followed him still, that cruel laugh coming from every direction.
"Come on little fox, can't you see you're trapped?" the voice asked. Naruto squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the sound of the voice. But he forced them open again, It was stupid to run with your eyes closed. He prayed for his escape, to get away from the person tracking him. He leapt down to the ground, hoping to find a tree to hide behind. He ran to the largest one he could see, and hid among the roots, curling into a ball. He held in his arms Konoha's Scroll of Sealing, which he had stolen just recently. He had been promised that if he could do that, and learn one of the Jutsu's within the scroll, he'd be granted the rank of Genin. But the person who had told him so, Mizuki, had lied. He tricked Naruto into stealing the scroll for him, and intended on taking it for himself. Naruto's sensei, Umino Iruka, had fought to protect Naruto, and had ordered him to run. But here Mizuki was, chasing him once more. Did that mean he'd killed Iruka? The thought terrified Naruto to his heart. If Iruka really had died…
"Do you wish for assistance?"
Naruto froze. That voice… it didn't belong to Mizuki, or even Iruka. It was a voice Naruto had never heard before, completely unfamiliar to him. It also sounded close, like it was literally right next to him. Naruto's eyes whipped around, trying to catch the person who had spoken in his gaze. But there was no one around, not that he could see.
"Who… who is that?" Naruto asked quietly, in case Mizuki heard.
"If you like, we can save you from this man."
"However, we won't do so for free. In exchange for your life, you will come with us."
"Do you accept?"
Naruto's eyes widened, there were two of them?! He felt incredibly uneasy about these two disembodied voices, but he couldn't have felt less safe than he already did. However, he couldn't bring himself to trust these voices either, they could easily-
"Naruto-o, where are you?" Mizuki's voice rang out.
"Ok! I accept!" Naruto cried, curling into a tighter ball. The voices didn't reply, but he heard what sounded like a low scraping, like wood rubbing against wood. It came from behind him, but when Naruto looked, he saw nothing. Just the tree that stood behind him.
"Come out come out Naruto-kuuun." Mizuki's voice called goadingly, "Don't make me- GRAH!"
Naruto flinched at the cry. Mizuki had been getting progressively closer as he said that, any longer and Naruto would have probably been found. But he didn't let his guard down, he still felt a great sense of fear, maybe even more so after that scream. But after a moment, there was only silence. Carefully, he raised his head, looking around worriedly. It seemed like Mizuki was gone, there were no signs of him. So then those people must have-
"It is done."
Naruto spun round, his eyes widening in terror. Where there had once been nothing, there was a man, actually extending out of the tree. Naruto pulled himself back with his hand, this didn't look like man, more like a monster. Half of his body was pale white, while the other completely black. His eyes were a yellow colour, staring down impassively at Naruto. His short hair was also a greyed shade of green, which was a colour of hair Naruto had never seen before. He was surrounded by a strange sort of plant, it looked like he was lying inside two jagged leaves, only his upper torso visible through it. The man looked down at Naruto expectantly, before moving further out of the tree. As he did that, the wood seemed to cling to him, as if he had actually been a part of the tree before, but was tearing himself free of it. As he moved, Naruto noticed the strange clothes he was wearing. He had a black cloak on, with a very wide colour to accommodate the strange leaves around him. The cloak had a red line running down its middle where there were also strange red clouds. The man finally stepped out from the tree standing before the cowering Naruto.
"It is done." the man said, "Your pursuer is dead."
As if to prove this point, he dragged something forward with his arm and dropped it in front of Naruto, who looked down at it, petrified. It was the body of Mizuki, with a long slash across his throat. Mizuki stared up at Naruto with dead eyes, as if surprised by his predicament. Naruto stared at the face, before looking up at the man with equal terror.
"Now that we have fulfilled our end of the bargain, you will keep yours." the man said, but in the voice of the other. This man was both of them?
"This guy…" Naruto thought, as he crawled back some more, holding the scroll in front of him for protection, "He's insane!"
"You have no need to fear us child." the man said, in the first voice, before changing back to the second, "If we meant you any harm, then we would have left you to this person."
Naruto gulped down hard. This person, or persons, had a point. There would have been no reason to kill Mizuki if they were going to kill him as well. But he still felt uneasy, something which was clear on his face. The man took a step forward, leaning close to see Naruto's face.
"You had better not be thinking of breaking your word, you cannot escape us." he said. But then the white side looked to the black reproachfully, and that one fell silent. He then looked down at Naruto, who had become even more frightened by his words, "I apologise for that, it was unnecessary for him to say such things."
Naruto stared up at the man, he was beyond insane!
"Let me ask you something." the man said, "Are you lonely child?"
Naruto's expression shifted from fear to surprise. How could he know that? The man nodded at the change of attitude, before smiling warmly.
"When you are alone, the only person you have is yourself. But it is our wish to take you somewhere, where there are others like yourself." he said, "Lonely, and very unique people, exactly like yourself."
"People… like me?" Naruto repeated, with a dazed look. He thought about what Mizuki had told him, about the Kyubi being sealed inside him. Was it really possible that there were others out there who were the same? It couldn't be, it was impossible. Naruto reached up to his jacket, squeezing the fabric at his chest tight. There couldn't be anyone like him, he was a monster, wasn't he?
"You are aware of what is inside you." the man said gently, "You are not the only one with a Biju sealed within you."
Naruto looked up again, his brow creasing in confusion. A Biju? What was that?
"You possess the Kyubi." the man said, picking up on Naruto's thoughts, "That is but one of nine Biju in this land. There are eight others like yourself, who live in the same fear and sorrow that you do. If you'll let us, we would like you to meet them."
Naruto blinked slowly, staring the man in his left eye, the side that seemed to be kind. Eight others like him… it almost sounded to good to be true. But in that case, was it?
"For what reason should you remain here?" the black side asked, speaking up again, "From what I heard, this place holds no happiness for you."
Naruto looked down again, this man was right. With Iruka gone, what reason did he have to stay there? Sure, there was Shikamaru and the others, but they were Genin now. They would soon be going out on missions and Naruto would be left behind, forgotten. That was the last thing he wanted, but it didn't look like there was anything he could do about it.
"Other people… like me." he repeated, before slowly looking up at the man, "Can you really take me to them?"
"Of course." the man replied, smiling again. He straightened up and grabbed the body of Mizuki, hauling it over his shoulder, "Come with us, we have to leave."
"You're… taking him?" Naruto asked, looking at Mizuki uneasily.
"We cannot allow any traces that we were here." the black side replied, before changing again, "I'm sorry, but he will have to come with us, at least until we can dispose of him."
Naruto looked up at the man, then to Mizuki. He was still undecided, he just didn't feel right about this. He looked to his right, Konoha was just over there. If he could get away, would he be able to find one of the guards in time?
"I wonder… are you afraid if us, because we look like a monster?"
Naruto's eyes widened, and his mouth hung open. A monster…
"Stay away from him."
"We're not supposed to come near you!"
Naruto lowered his gaze, closing his mouth. A monster, that was what everyone thought of him in there, and no matter what he tried, that had never changed. He steadily got to his feet, his fingers clenching and unclenching as he built up the courage to voice his decision.
"Ok…" he said, "I'm coming."
The man nodded down at him in an understanding manner, before turning away.
"That's good to hear." he said, "Let's move. And drop that scroll, it will only make Konoha follow us."
Naruto nodded, placing the scroll against a nearby tree. He then turned back around to the man, who had already begun walking off. He followed quietly, doing his best to keep pace with this strange looking person. He glanced up at him, or them, he seemed to refer to himself as two separate people, and the way he spoke suggested just that. Naruto averted his gaze just as that person, or persons, glanced at him. He smirked, or at least the white side did. The black side remained straight faced, which just made him all the more unusual.
"I suppose since we are now travelling together, introductions are in order." he said, "You can call us… Zetsu."
Naruto raised his brow at Zetsu. He was still fairly certain this person was insane, but now he was beginning to understand why he thought so. He spoke of loneliness with such recognition, yet acted as if he was two different people, and that both of them went by the same single name? It was enough to give him a headache. But then he blinked as Zetsu looked at him expectantly, awaiting a reply.
"Oh, I'm Uzumaki Naruto." he said, looking ahead once more. He was really confused, he'd never imagine he'd be in a situation like this, it was unbelievable. Although he'd never been exactly happy in the village, it was still his home, right? But then again, he'd failed at becoming a Shinobi once more. He knew that leaving would only make it almost impossible to become Hokage, but he was only a villager at the moment, it wouldn't be a big deal if he left, and he could probably come back later, right?
"Will I be able to come back?" he thought, suddenly realising he could, "Yeah, this guy has to be a Shinobi! And he managed to defeat Mizuki easily! If I can get him to train me, I'll become a Genin in no time!"
Naruto almost asked Zetsu this, but decided against it. After all, this person was still rather intimidating, he was carrying Mizuki's corpse after all. But there was one thing he was curious about.
"You said there were others like me." he said, glancing up at Zetsu, "So they're all in the same place?"
"I think any further details about that should probably be given to you by leader-sama." Zetsu replied, keeping his eyes ahead, "To be honest, we're not entirely certain what's going on either."
"Huh? Leader-sama?" Naruto repeated, "So you're like, part of a group or something?"
"You could say that. We're more like an organisation."
Naruto raised his brow, looking ahead once more. They continued to walk in silence, the moonlight behind keeping their path clear. To anyone looking, it would have been a terrifying sight. Naruto noticed Zetsu's shadow cast across the ground, the thing around him resembled a set of jaws on the dirt. It was true, if appearances represented the person within, then Zetsu really was a monster. But from what Naruto had seen so far, he wasn't that at all.
"Hey, Zetsu-san?" Naruto asked, "What're you going to do with… him?"
Zetsu glanced down at Naruto for a moment, before his eyes returned to the road ahead.
"I will consume him." he replied simply.
Ok, maybe he was a monster.
* * * * *
The night sky was amazingly clear tonight, such a thing hadn't been seen in quite a while. It was very rare for moonlight to be cast upon the village hidden in the rain, Amegakure. But in this situation, it was better that the village could be seen. From a perch high above, a man sat on what appeared to be a long tongue protruding from a face, an architectural monstrosity as it was, but this man's preference nonetheless. His orange and spiky hair was darkened in the night, and the many piercings on his face would have been lost in the shadows if not for the shining orb high above. He watched the village below expressionlessly, his grey, rippled eyes studying the visible tiers with complete disinterest. Yet at the same time, he couldn't draw his eyes away.
"It appears Zetsu-san was successful." he said, in a clear tone, "Uzumaki Naruto, the Kyubi Jinchuriki, willingly complied."
"I see." replied a woman's voice, from behind the mouth of the face, inside the building, "What has he learned?"
"The boy is not a Shinobi, he is still an academy rank student. He has no ties to Konohagakure, and it appears the villagers do not trust him. It would seem leaving was an easy option for him."
"If he is only an academy student, then he will need training." the woman said, stepping out into the light. She looked at the man with amber eyes, her stoic persona almost completely believable. Her eyelids were painted the same colour as her short hair, a cobalt blue. In her hair, she wore a bun, with an origami rose made of a very pale blue paper. Just below her lip was a silver stud, something which was nowhere near the extremes of the man before her.
"You are correct." the man agreed, glancing at her over his right, "It will take some time. According to Zetsu-san, he is below amateurish."
"Do we really need someone that weak?" the woman asked, her brow creasing.
"If you recall, we were once weak." the man replied, turning forward once again, "I will leave deciding who will train him to you."
The woman watched the man for a moment longer, before nodding and turning away.
"And Konan." the man said, "Make sure he is secure. The power he possesses will be difficult to contain if unleashed. Do not make him feel trapped."
"I understand Pein." Konan replied, without looking back. She left the room, Pein glancing back as he heard the door close. He turned ahead again, raising his hand to his mouth.
"This is going to take some time." he muttered, "Everything has changed."
* * * * *
Zetsu glanced over his shoulder, his brow creasing in annoyance. Naruto noticed this and turned around, but saw nothing. Just the leaves moving gently in the breeze. He looked up at Zetsu questioningly, wondering what on earth could have instilled such a reaction.
"It seems Konoha still wishes to follow us." Zetsu muttered, "They are tracking this one's scent."
"They're still after us?" Naruto asked, looking back again, "What for? I left the scroll like you told me to."
"The villages like to use people like you as weapons." Zetsu replied, "They wish to capture you."
"Capture me?" Naruto repeated worriedly. He didn't like the sound of that. It didn't seem like Konoha would do such a thing, but then he'd thought the same thing of Mizuki, so he didn't really know what to think. Zetsu crouched down on the ground, looking at Naruto expectantly.
"Get on." he ordered, the leaves on his head separating, "We need to make haste."
Naruto blinked, he didn't like the idea of climbing between those things, that looked so much like a set of jaws. But the sounds of dogs barking helped make up his mind. He quickly climbed up Zetsu's back and onto his shoulders. Almost immediately, a kunai flew overhead, barely missing Naruto's left ear. Naruto was stunned, they were willing to attack him. His shock kept him form noticing as the leaves on the leaves closed and Zetsu dived into the ground, immediately disappearing. It was pitch black inside the leaves, Naruto could see nothing. All his senses could give him was the constant dull rumbling from just outside and the feel of Zetsu's shoulders which he sat on.
Something which struck Naruto's curiosity was that inside this place, the air was as clear as it would be outside. Cleaner, in fact. This surprised Naruto as they were in a cramped and enclosed space. He almost asked, but then he remembered Zetsu's strange appearance. Perhaps it was more than visual? He then felt Zetsu's head turn, and saw a faint yellow glow coming from his eyes.
"I hope you are not claustrophobic?" he asked, "This journey could be a while."
"No, I'm alright." Naruto replied. In truth, he used to hide under his bed during thunderstorms. It wasn't tight spaces he was afraid of, "But… I am feeling a little dizzy."
"That's understandable." Zetsu said, turning back, "These conditions aren't ideal for others."
Naruto stared at the back of Zetsu's head. This was most definitely a peculiar situation to be in. even now as he thought about it, it still didn't really make sense to him. However, one thing was certain. Zetsu was a Shinobi, and he belonged to an organisation, possibly consisting of even more Shinobi. That meant that if Naruto could convince them to train him, then he could become stronger much faster than if he'd stayed at the academy. That's what he was counting on anyway.
"So how far are we going?" he asked, unsure of how fast they were going. He had never travelled in such a way, after all.
"We won't be underground for much longer." Zetsu replied, "We have escaped the Konoha nin."
That surprised Naruto, they were already so far away? How could anything underground move at all, never mind with such speed?
"I get it!" Naruto thought aloud, "This must be a Jutsu!"
"You are correct. He's only just realising this?"
Naruto suddenly found his situation incredibly interesting. He had no idea this could be done with Ninjutsu, it was amazing! He looked around, these leaves must be something to do with this Jutsu, right? So what did they do, and how did Zetsu make them? Could he learn to do something like this?
"You certainly do ask a lot of questions." Zetsu muttered, "Be quiet, it's annoying."
Naruto blinked in surprise, he hadn't realised he'd said all that aloud. But still, they were questions he would definitely find the answers to sooner or later. It was just a matter of when.
"This should do. I agree."
Naruto fell back as they ascended, the rumbling sound fading away as they broke through the surface. Naruto's back was pressed against the leaves as Zetsu stood, and he fell back onto the ground as they opened.
"Ow." Naruto complained, rubbing the back of his head. Zetsu looked back at Naruto expressionlessly.
"Our journey is not yet over." he said, "And yet we must rest. It has been several days, and we grow tired."
"Really?" Naruto asked, after all the excitement, sleep was one of the last things on his mind, "Well… is there an inn or something?"
"An inn?" Zetsu repeated, with an amused look on his face, "No establishment would allow us inside. Besides, as we are sustained through methods unavailable at Inns, we carry no money."
"So we're sleeping outside?" Naruto asked, clearly not thrilled by the idea. He had slept outside a couple of times before, as part of his self-training, but he hadn't particularly enjoyed it. However, if Zetsu didn't have any money then there was nothing he could do about it.
Zetsu took a few steps to the left, walking towards a tree next to some bushes. He sat down with his back against the tree, bowing his head as he immediately went to rest. Naruto paused, before joining him, sitting against the tree to Zetsu's right, but not too close. He glanced up at the ever peculiar man, who didn't acknowledge the gaze and kept his eyes closed. Naruto dropped his gaze, and pulled up his collar. It was a cold night.
"If I was ever gonna try and escape, now would probably be the best time." he thought, "If he's been awake so long, slipping away shouldn't be hard."
He huddled up tight, trying his best to keep the cold out. It was particularly chilly tonight, the cool breeze had become sharper, and the temperature had dropped considerably. All the sweat on Naruto's body kept him damp, which helped in no way whatsoever. He shifted down into a lying position, curling into a ball for warmth. How anyone could sleep in these conditions was beyond him.
Naruto's brow raised a little as he felt something very light touch his head. He glanced up, a leaf had fallen on him. His brow raised further as more leaves began to flutter from their branches, floating down towards him. This was strange, summer had barely started, so why were leaves falling? They all fell on and around Naruto, covering him like a blanket. He slowly cast his eyes down, and his surprise reached its epitome as he found out the reason for the leaves strange actions. Zetsu's right hand was pressed against the trunk of the tree, putting unnecessary pressure on it. Zetsu was doing this for him? Naruto was taken aback, it didn't seem like something this person would do.
"Maybe… I'll go with him." Naruto thought, as he lowered his goggles over his eyes. The eye on Zetsu's white side opened slightly, surveying Naruto casually. He allowed a small smile, before closing it again.
"That was surprisingly kind of you." he thought, "Our orders are to bring him to leader-sama. He will not appreciate a sick child. Ah… I see."