The sun broke the horizon, bathing the forests in golden light. The dull and repetitive sounds of fists impacting wood echoed around the clearing that encompassed Training Ground Number Nine. The training ground was entirely unremarkable; a medium sized clearing that held two tree stumps in the middle of it, and nothing else.
It held no impressive back-story; it didn't even have and unimpressive one at that. Training Ground Nine was just another training ground, one of the many that were spaced around the great village that was Konohagakure no Sato. It was small, out of the way, and used very little by the general shinobi populace.
All of that suited the ten year old Uzumaki Naruto just fine.
Being out of the way and secluded was exactly how the orphan liked it. Having grown up a neglected ward of the great ninja village, Naruto had, more often than not, been looked upon less than favorably by the general populace. He, like the rest of the orphans in the village, was a reminder that Konoha wasn't absolutely perfect. He was a stain, if one chose to look at it that way.
His existence was a blemish on the otherwise immaculate reputation that the continent's most powerful Hidden Village boasted.
The boy had a head topped with a tuft of shining golden blond hair, and two piercing blue eyes adorned his visage. He was dressed in a black short sleeve shirt with a collar that reached up towards his chin. Beige shinobi pants covered his legs and were taped at the ankle, leading into standard black shinobi sandals. The hands that pounded an innocent training log were wrapped in white bandages.
Many would ask why a boy of ten years would be training his body at the break of dawn. The answer was that this was a special day for Naruto: it was the day he graduated Konoha's ninja academy.
Naruto had entered Konoha's ninja academy four years previously, at the ripe age of six, with nothing but the clothes on his back and the name given to him by his mother, Uzumaki Kushina. From there, Naruto had been taking the steps to achieving the dream that he had had for as long as he could remember: to become a respected Konoha jonin and raise a respectable family with his name. To make the Uzumaki known once more.
Naruto was one of many orphans in Konohagakure, and thus, the idea of a family was one that had permeated his mind for many years. All that he knew about his family was that his mother was named Uzumaki Kushina, and had been one of the many ninjas who had been killed in the Kyuubi attack one year after he had been born. His father was unknown and was liable to stay that way.
Naruto had made his way through the academy doggedly and methodically, clawing and scraping the skills that were necessary to have him proclaimed as the rookie of the year, three full years before his scheduled graduation.
No one had called him a genius, and he had never considered himself to be one. His skills had taken everyone, including the Academy instructors, by surprise. He didn't take to jutsu any faster than anyone else, thrown weapons were no easier for him to handle than for any other person in his class, and he didn't absorb knowledge like a sponge. He merely had a goal to achieve and the work ethic and motivation to back it up.
When Uzumaki Naruto had his mind set to do something, one could rest assured that it would get done. That was just the way he was.
He wasn't the heir to some lost and obscure bloodline, nor was he the child of any particularly renowned shinobi or kunoichi – his mother had been a foreign chunin given asylum. His graduating position at the top had been a result of him working for hours and hours more than his peers. Nothing more and nothing less.
That had been one year ago.
One year ago he had been on top of his very own world and on the fast track to achieving his dream. He knew that it would take a lot more effort, a lot more work, but effort was never something he had a problem giving.
The feelings of elation and accomplishment had all come crashing down shortly after he had met his jonin sensei: Hatake Kakashi.
The 23 year old A-ranked shinobi prodigy had slammed the then nine year old back down to earth, and had proceeded to crush his dreams underfoot.
The bell test had proven to be a challenge that not even Naruto's work ethic and determination could overcome. Tired, hungry, and bogged down by teammates whose combined skill didn't measure up to his own, Naruto had failed the test spectacularly. The notion of teamwork hadn't dawned on him until the very end, and by then it had been far too late.
There had been no second chance at success. The trio of genin wannabes had been sent back to the academy stinging. His pride wounded, Naruto had prepared himself for a year of review and training before he would hopefully be resorted into a new team.
That had not been the case, however.
One of the lesser known programs in Konoha was the shinobi reserve program. The program took the failed graduates of the regular academy, and put them through a rigorous accelerated training regimen that was designed to turn out chunin level shinobi and kunoichi.
It had been instigated by the Nidaime Hokage once it was discovered that less than 50 percent of all of the academy graduates were actually passed by their jonin instructors, due to failings of some sort. A system that turned out fewer than 15 new shinobi per year was one that simply wasn't pragmatic; not even for the largest of ninja villages.
Naruto had taken to the accelerated training much as he had to everything else in his life, with the same dogged determination that had won him his skills. When he wasn't in class reinforcing what he already knew, he was in his clearing, drilling. The blond had entered into the program knowing that his dream of jonin rank was nearly destroyed entirely. The graduates of the reserved program could never obtain the rank of jonin – that title was reserved for the students of the elite, almost exclusively – unless they became captains of an ANBU squad, or were given a field promotion from the Hokage. Both were long reaches by any stretch of the mill.
The result was that many of Konoha's chunin ended up being just as strong as many of the jonin – just because they couldn't feasibly reach the rank by conventional means didn't mean that many of them didn't try. Beyond that, many graduates entered the ANBU Black Ops, in order to serve their village as one of the masked elite.
The realization that his dream was so far out of reach had greatly depressed the boy, for all of about five minutes, before he had thrown himself back into his training with a fervor that was nearly inhuman. He had his goal and he would reach it, no matter what it took.
Every day of the next year of his life had been spent training in some way or another. From dawn until nine in the morning, he would train his body physically and work on his taijutsu katas. He would eat a meal composed of cold cereal and a protein shake for breakfast at nine, and then make his way to class.
Class lasted until one thirty in the afternoon. It was some of the most boring time of Naruto's young life.
From then until four, he would train in weapons. Everything from shuriken to senbon and the practical application of ninja wire were drilled during that two and a half hour period. He would break for a modest lunch for one hour before going back to drill his chakra control and basic hand seals. The simple, and often overlooked, aspects of shinobi life were concentrated upon and drilled to near perfection. He was a workhorse, and a perfectionist at heart.
And he'd be damned if he was undone by something so simple. It was the small details that killed, after all.
Directly following his chakra control practices, Naruto would train and attempt to master whatever particular jutsu he happened to be working on. His mastery was more about understanding the ins and outs of the technique, rather than simply quitting after he had managed to perform it. The ability to further modify ninjutsu was something that greatly interested him, and his own perfectionist tendencies would hardly allow for him to leave a technique not fully dissected.
As a result, he was familiar with fewer ninjutsu than he might have liked. But he could say with certainty that he had mastered the few he knew.
By that time, the day was nearly over and Naruto retired to his small one bedroom and one bathroom apartment. He would eat his dinner, and would proceed to meditate and research genjutsu. Genjutsu could not be practiced by one's self, so Naruto devoted his evenings to researching the art of illusion crafting.
He trained all aspects of shinobi life equally in order to become what he felt was the epitome of shinobi, the perfect all rounder. The jack of all trades, or "the glorified generalizer," as he called it.
That brought him to his current position today, pounding his fists into a log at the crack of dawn the day of his graduation from Konoha's reserve program. The exam was scheduled to begin at nine a.m. and all of the potential graduates were supposed to meet at 8:45 at the entrance to training ground 44, known to many as the Forest of Death.
As soon as the potential graduates had been informed by their instructor as to the location of the exam, Naruto had done some immediate scouting and research. Training ground 44 was a booby trap in and of itself, and for that reason it was used for the survival part of the Chunin Selection Exams whenever they happened to be in Konoha.
The research had produced results that were decidedly unappealing. Any objective that was to be found in the Forest of Death meant that the final exam would be a survival test. It wasn't that Naruto was bad at survival tests, he wasn't bad at anything one thing in particular, he just didn't like them. And they always tested stamina, something that he had too little of to be happy with at ten years old.
Feeling his fist impact the log for the two-thousandth time that morning, Naruto stopped his punches. He carefully unwrapped the bandages that had covered his hands and wrists, and placed the white material into his back pocket, directly next to his shuriken pouch.
Making his way out of the clearing, Naruto broke into a jog. While normally he would stay and complete his taijutsu training, he didn't want to tire his body unnecessarily before his survival exam. That, and he needed time to properly digest a good breakfast.
A ninja couldn't function properly on an empty stomach now could he?
A breeze ruffled the hair and clothes of the gathered shinobi as the Forest of Death loomed ominously behind them.
Checking his watch, Naruto saw that the time was exactly 8:45 as he stepped through the gate that led to Training Ground 44. A ninja is never late, nor is he early. A ninja arrives precisely when he is supposed to, Naruto recited in his mind.
The second his foot touched the ground of Training Ground 44, Naruto was planning. His sky blue eyes scanned the crowd of shinobi hopefuls, not stopping on anyone in particular, but assessing everyone. This was a survival exercise, and that meant that anyone and everyone was a potential enemy.
The ones grouped together and tittering nervously would pose no real threat unless they attacked him all at once. They held no confidence in their skills, and even the smallest lack of confidence was exploitable. The same went for those who stood mostly alone and arrogant in their posture, but for a different reason. A confident swagger and an air of self assurance were good for a shinobi to have, it displayed confidence and could set the tone of a confrontation. But the overbearing arrogance displayed by many of the reserve students was appalling. They reminded him of the one student he had bypassed during his stint at the regular academy, Hyuuga Nezi or something.
You'd think they owned the world, Naruto wondered with amusement. The thought was sobered by the fact that he had been much the same way only one year ago, before he met Hatake Kakashi that was. While he may not like the jonin, he had to at least mentally thank him for showing him that he wasn't as good as he had thought. Everyone got their reality check at some point; he knew he would be glad that he got his early, rather than later.
Moving to stand with the rest of the hopeful, Naruto's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of one of the proctors speaking up.
"Listen up, runts!" a proctor with silver hair began. "My name is Touji Mizuki and I'm gonna be the proctor for this exam." The scowl on the man's face was designed to look intimidating. Naruto thought it laughable; the man wasn't imposing in the slightest.
"As a chunin of Konoha, you are expected to take on the majority of the missions that come through the mission office—B-ranks," the silver haired man named Mizuki continued. "A B-rank mission can be anything from guard duty to a search and destroy mission that may be vital to village security."
Naruto found himself bored with the man's speech. It didn't contain any information he didn't already know, and he just wanted to get this exam over with. He was looking forward to treating himself to a congratulatory bowl of Ichiraku Ramen afterwards. Best stuff in the world that ramen was.
"Your mission today will consist of the retrieval of a scroll from the innermost point of the forest: the central tower. Your objective is located at the topmost point of the tower and there are only 25 total scrolls. With 51 of you here today, that means that roughly 50 percent of you will pass," Mizuki said. The sound of nervous tittering from hopefuls followed.
Naruto raised an eyebrow in question. The test seemed fairly simple overall and the only way he could see it becoming harder was if there was an imposed time limit.
The man seemed read Naruto's thoughts. "Your time limit is one day and one day only," the chunin said. Shock mingled with no small amount of outrage from the general populace. Even Naruto was wary at the short amount of time. "You fail if you fail to retrieve a scroll, or are otherwise subdued. Killing is not permitted; under any circumstances!"
The last statement managed to shut the crowd up pretty fast. Killing one's comrades was looked down upon in all but the most barbaric of villages, and the thought that someone among them might kill one of them in order to pass was an uneasy thought.
"All examinees are to report to a gate in groups of three, no more, no less. I trust that you are able to divide yourselves evenly," Mizuki finished, a rather poor attempt at a sneer marring his face.
As the chunin hopefuls rapidly moved towards a gate of their choice, Naruto calmly walked forward to the first gate, the one where Mizuki had been standing. He was quickly joined by two others who had taken his example: one boy who looked decidedly nervous, and a girl who looked too confident for her own good.
The girl flipped her long red hair over her left shoulder as she sneered down at the younger, and undeniably shorter, Naruto. Naruto, for his part, merely smiled pleasantly in response as the girl opened her mouth. "Given how short you are, you must be that little phenom that everyone was talking about earlier," the unnamed girl said with the sneer still firmly etched on her face.
And that's a bad thing? the blond thought snidely. The pleasant smile didn't slip for a moment as Naruto shot back, "That's me, I guess. You seem to have me at a disadvantage though, stranger. Isn't it usually polite to introduce yourself before you jump into a conversation?"
The sneer merely deepened at Naruto's statement. The young boy decided to find a teacher to help him perfect a sneer like that. "Che. All you need to know, runt, is that I'm gonna show what a real ninja is once we get in that forest." The girl promptly turned her back on Naruto before he could make a response.
"Oh really?" Naruto asked skeptically. His smile dissolved into a fierce smirk. "Tell me, stranger, I wasn't aware that real ninja wore…white. Correct me if I'm wrong."
The girl simply leveled Naruto with a glare that could freeze the tropical waters of Sea Country, as the other boy chuckled slightly to himself.
Naruto took the ensuing silence to look over his peers once more. The girl was indeed wearing white; it was part of a form fitting dress that the girl wore that would allow for the maximum range of movement. Intermingled with red, the white dress was certainly pretty, and even functional, while it flattered the kunoichi in training's developing curves generously – not that the ten year old Naruto cared all that much. Even so, the fact that the color scheme would stick out like a sore thumb amongst the green that permeated the forest of death overruled the practicality of the dress.
Shifting his blue eyes to the boy who was now causally leaning against the wire fence, Naruto noted that the once nervous boy was now quite comfortable with his situation. Dressed in a forest green shirt and black pants, the boy sported a pragmatic look, given the situation. The look was further augmented by the slightly bulging weapons pouches that he carried on him and the black bandana that covered his hair.
At least he looks competent, Naruto mused. For all he knew the boy could be as bad as the dead-last who had been dumped on his team the year before. Incompetent retard that he was, Naruto thought uncharitably.
"How 'bout you then?" Naruto addressed the boy. "What's your name?"
"Kishimoto Akira at your service," the boy said with a fake pompousness and bow that was humorous despite the serious situation.
Naruto smiled back, he liked pleasant people. "Uzumaki Naruto, at your service. Future jonin."
Raised brows met his pronouncement. "You seem confident in yourself. You do know that the road to jonin is a real long one for a reserve grad, don't you?" Akira inquired.
The smile only got wider. "Course I do! Won't stop me, though," Naruto proclaimed confidently. "I know what I need to do and I'm no stranger to hard work."
Akira seemed to appraise the short blond once more before giving a curt nod. "Well good luck then."
Naruto nodded back in response.
"Enough chatter down there," the chunin gate guard said from his post above them. "I'm about to open the gate."
"Let the test begin!" Mizuki's voice blared over the hidden speakers at the gates.
The words had barely registered and the gate had not even fully opened before Naruto blurred into motion.
Using speed that had been gained over countless hours of training, Naruto's right hand dipped into his leg holster and withdrew a kunai. No one had time to react before Naruto viciously slammed it into the back of the unsuspecting redheaded girl's head.
As the unconscious body slumped to the forest floor, Naruto formed a single hand-seal. A second Naruto formed from the ground behind the stunned Akira and tapped the back of the boy's head.
The smile on Naruto's face was bittersweet as he watched the boy's eyes roll backwards as he too slumped to the ground in unconsciousness. "Too bad," Naruto stated to no one in particular – he supposed that he was addressing the now gaping chunin guard.
That was the way of the ninja world though. The strong prospered while the weak and hesitant stumbled and were lorded over, waiting expectantly and plotting for the day when they would become the strong. Many others were cut down before their time to shine. Akira was a prime example. At least the boy had a chance to break out of the sleep inducing genjutsu Naruto had placed on him. Perhaps he would acquit himself well by stealing a scroll from some unsuspecting wannabe.
The girl however, wasn't so lucky. Naruto sneered in distaste at the redhead. She would be lucky to wake up in anything less than ten hours. Even then she would probably still have a concussion. Bitch shouldn't've called me a runt.
Re-holstering his kunai, Naruto dispelled his Tsuchi Bunshin with a minor application of chakra. That particular technique would serve him well in the future and he was glad he had taken the time to properly master it. Being able to form the solid clone with only one seal was something that would prove to be invaluable in a sticky situation. It was something he had prided himself on, as Earth wasn't his primary chakra affinity.
Winking cheekily, the flaxen haired youth gave the still floored chunin a two fingered salute before bursting into the forest of death at breakneck speed.
Naruto cursed his lack of forethought as he blocked the swipe of a kunai. That one would have sliced open his jugular and left him all but a defenseless, bleeding, soon-to-be-corpse.
Leaping backwards to put space between himself and his attacker, Naruto unleashed a hail of shuriken. The bladed weapons didn't connect, as expected, but they managed to push his enemy off of the attack for the moment.
In hindsight, it was borderline retardation to think that there wouldn't be guards surrounding the tower where his objective laid. Naruto had made it through training ground 44 with little trouble and with nothing but a few minor altercations with some other trainees. The small skirmishes had left him with a few bruises and scratches, but nothing more. The phrase "you should see the other guy" would have been appropriate.
After reaching the tower, the ten year old blond had calmly made his way towards the tower's entrance, where he was immediately set upon by a man who he assumed to be one of the examiners; an assumption made based on the chunin vest the man wore. That had been exactly one minute and seventeen seconds ago.
Not many ninja battles made it past the one minute mark; the element of surprise made that doubly so in the field. As Naruto Kawarimi'd with a nearby log and flipped through a series of quick seals, he figured that the only reason he was still alive was the fact that the examiner wasn't trying to kill him.
A movement in the corner of his right eye alerted him to the presence of his attacker charging him, a kunai hurtling towards his position. A smirk spread across the boy's face as he felt the kunai pass by him one meter to the right. Illusion in place.
As the chunin sprinted towards him in a zigzag pattern, Naruto channeled chakra into his legs and disappeared in a Shunshin. The nameless chunin was moving quickly to cover the ground between himself and Naruto, so when Naruto's outstretched arm made contact with the genjutsu influenced man's solar plexus, it was as if the man had run headlong into a stone wall with the speed of both himself and Naruto combined.
The chunin under the influence of Naruto's small genjutsu was unconscious before the pain could register. It was a moot point, however, as he would have been unconscious anyway, the second his back made contact with a tree some five meters away. The fight had lasted exactly one minute and thirty five seconds.
As Naruto quickly checked to make sure the man was still alive, he had hit the tree quite hard, he cradled his throbbing right arm. The attack had been a spur of the moment idea of his, and had proven itself effective. He would have to make sure that he reinforced his arm properly in the future, though; he had nearly dislocated his shoulder.
Lariat, he thought with a small touch of pride, I'll have to remember to write that down. It would go right next to his first original genjutsu on his personal scroll. Kokoni Arazu no Jutsu, the genjutsu Naruto had used to trick his chunin assailant into believing he was a meter from his actual position, was a technique of his own making.
The chunin had a steady pulse, so Naruto felt comfortable leaving him where he was; another examiner would find him, no doubt.
Turning his attention to the tower, Naruto went over his knowledge of the exam. His target objective would most likely be at the top. They'll be expecting me to enter through the top windows; it would be what a shinobi would do after all. It would be best to think outside the box in that case.
Forming a single hand seal, Naruto formed a Tsuchi Bunshin in the foliage behind him. Using a quick Kawarimi, he replaced himself with it and commanded it to approach the tower from the outside. As the clone left, he cloaked himself in his Kokoni Arazu no Jutsu, and overlapped it with a Niju Kokoni Arazu no Jutsu. If anyone actually managed to spot him entering the front door, he would have sufficient cover.
Not to mention that any assailant would have to dispel two genjutsu to even find him. Not many ninja thought to look past a single genjutsu for one that may have been beneath it.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts on the failings of many shinobi, Naruto quietly moved to the front door of the tower. It would be best to simply get the test over with. While he felt that he was probably the first to the tower, arrogant as it was, he knew that it wouldn't be long until other trainees managed to catch up.
He trusted his skills though, and strode confidently into the tower that held the key to his shinobi future.
"Mind if I join you?" a smooth voice spoke up from behind Naruto.
Turning away from his steaming bowl of pork ramen, Naruto's eyes found the figure of Touji Mizuki. The silver haired proctor was visible through the white flaps that served as an entrance into the Ichiraku Ramen stand.
Behind the silver haired chunin stood a young woman with short black hair and a chunin vest. She had her arms folded under her chest and seemed to be waiting impatiently.
"Not at all. Company's always appreciated." Naruto addressed his former proctor with a smile. He seemed pleasant enough, outside the constraints of duty that was.
A smile appeared on the man's face. "Great then!" Turning to address the woman waiting outside, he continued, "Why don't you head home, Tsubaki-chan? I won't be long."
The short haired woman sighed lightly, "Alright then, but don't take too long." She leaned in and gave the man a quick peck on the cheek before leaping to the roof on the other side of the road. Mizuki looked after her fondly, but with a touch of annoyance.
"Is that anyway to say goodbye to your boyfriend? I don't think so," he mumbled. Naruto choked back a chuckle.
After she had disappeared, the silver haired chunin moved inside the stand and sat on a stool next to Naruto. "I'll have a medium miso ramen, please," he ordered to the stand owner.
"Good choice," Naruto quipped from beside him, in between bites of his own ramen. "That one's my favorite."
Mizuki nodded in agreement, "Yeah, miso is good. A friend got me into it a few years back and I haven't stopped eating it since."
"You've got a smart friend there, Touji-san." Naruto nodded his approval.
"Mizuki, please. We're coworkers now aren't we, Naruto-san?" Mizuki asked with a smile as his ramen appeared in front of him.
"Guess so," Naruto agreed. A quick glance down at his new chunin flak vest over his usual black attire brought a smile to the young chunin's face.
"Indeed. In fact, that was what I was hoping to talk to you about."
Naruto raised a blond eyebrow. "You were looking for me? What for?"
Mizuki paused in the slurping of his noodles to cast a glance at his ten year old companion. "Partly the rumors that seem to be circling you now, but mostly because I was hoping to introduce myself. Properly, I mean," he quickly amended. "The little intro I gave yesterday hardly counts."
Naruto barked a laugh. "Are you always that intimidating?"
Mizuki had the grace to blush and look sheepish. "Ah well…I guess I didn't do such a great job with the intimidation factor did I? It's not really my thing."
"Nope!" Naruto asked for his bill and pushed his bowl away before turning to his colleague. "So what do wanna know?" he inquired. "I doubt that you would come to introduce yourself if you didn't have questions."
"Well you're right about that," Mizuki began. "I guess I found myself intrigued after I heard the report from one of the gate guards about how you entered the forest." Naruto nodded with a barely noticeable smirk at the memory. He was proud of that little moment of quick thinking. "I watched the tape earlier, so I figured that I would do a little digging."
"And you came to me for some answers," Naruto finished for him. "So, how many people did you ask before you found out that I came here all the time?" He was surprised, and a little flattered, that the man was taking an interest in him. Maybe his skills were finally starting to be recognized.
If Mizuki was unsettled by the boy's perceptiveness, he didn't show it. "Just one actually, Umino Iruka. You know him, I suppose?"
Naruto nodded in recognition, the scarred chunin, an academy teacher to Naruto's knowledge, frequented Ichiraku's quite a bit. The two had crossed paths more than once. "Yes I know Iruka. So, what do you want to know?"
Mizuki appraised the boy for a few seconds before starting, "Well there are a few that I'd like to ask, but you look like you want to leave, so I'll be quick." Naruto nodded, he did want to be getting home soon. "What exactly is someone of your age and talent doing in the reserve program?" Mizuki asked, his full attention on Naruto.
Naruto scoffed lightly, he knew that the man would ask that. "Long story, but I'll give you the quick version." Mizuki nodded in agreement so Naruto continued, "I graduated at the top of my class last year, and had the misfortune of being on Hatake Kakashi's genin team."
The silver haired man winced whilst nodding. The young jonin was becoming notorious for the failing of every genin squad given to him. "Yeah, that'll do it I suppose. It still is a bit of a surprise though; it's not every day that the top rookie gets sent to the reserves."
A sagely nod met his statement. "Yeah, though it's been good for me. I was a right arrogant prick out of the academy."
Mizuki started a little at the admission. Naruto wasn't someone who he had pegged as arrogant at all, confident and self assured, but not arrogant. The boy actually seemed fairly humble, but it might have been an effect of the last year.
"Well," Naruto said, shaking Mizuki out of his thoughts, "it was nice meeting you. Maybe we'll work together on some missions in the future." The thought wasn't unappealing to the blond ten year old; Mizuki came across as someone who he could trust.
"Probably not," Mizuki replied with a small wince, "I'm starting a stint at the academy in a week. Iruka's class actually. The old assistant got promoted to Tokubetsu Jonin."
It was Naruto's turn to wince in sympathy, "Ouch. That class has Sarutobi in it." He noted that Mizuki's eyes darkened when he spoke the name of the village's resident prankster; though it was for a different reason than Naruto thought.
"Yeah," Mizuki replied grimly, "I take it you're not a fan of the boy's…art?"
Naruto scoffed in derision. "Hardly. The kid is an idiot and an insult. He has the Shinobi no Kami as his grandfather and that elite tutor Ebisu training him, and he spends his time pranking the villagers. It's no wonder that half the village seems to hate him."
Mizuki merely nodded, he couldn't trust himself to say anything about the boy without breaking the Sandaime's law. Naruto was only a year older than Konohamaru after all, skill and maturity notwithstanding.
"Well, I hope to see you around then, if we won't be on missions together." Naruto stuck out his hand with a smile.
Mizuki grasped the outstretched hand firmly, "Indeed. Have a good night, Naruto-san."
The wind was a silent whisper in the evening atop the Hokage monument. Naruto felt it tussle his hair gently as he stood atop the head of the Yondaime. He came up here every so often in order to watch the sunset. With the monument facing northwest, it provided a spectacular view.
It was a bit of a thinking spot for him; a place where he could gather his thoughts after an interesting day. And what a day it had been.
He had made chunin, not that there had been any real doubt in his mind that he would. It was an eventuality to Naruto. Just like he knew that he would become jonin one day. Just like he knew that he would make the Uzumaki name known throughout the Elemental Nations once more.
Would you be proud of me, mother? he wondered as he turned his gaze to the east, towards the sea and the former Whirlpool Country.
The former home of the once respected Uzumaki clan, Whirlpool Country had been decimated at the tail end of the Second Secret Shinobi War. Its former inhabitants were some of the war's final casualties.
Not much was known about the once respected nation, only that it had once played host to the Uzumaki clan. A clan that had been decimated the same day Whirlpool had been wiped off of the face of the planet. There had been only two survivors. Uzumaki Kushina, his mother, was the only one who managed to make it to Fire Country and Konoha.
She had been seven years old.
From there, her shinobi career began. It was one filled with many missions and strife due to the outbreak of the Third Secret War, and Kushina had made chunin at the young age of twelve, in the short-lived peace time between conflicts. She had never made it any further.
Presumably, she had met Naruto's father somewhere along the way, and the two had had him when Kushina was twenty one. Naruto had no idea who his father was, and really had no desire to find out. The man had abandoned his mother when she needed him the most, and left Kushina to fend for herself.
It was only because of the savings that his mother had from her ninja career that she and Naruto had been able to get by for a year. What might have happened later was unknown, as Kushina had been one of the many shinobi and kunoichi cut down in the Kyuubi attack.
The only memory Naruto had of his mother was of her kissing him goodbye one night. Given the red glow that was emanating from the windows during the memory, Naruto assumed that it was the night of the Kyuubi attack. The last time he had seen her.
Ever since he had been old enough to understand his mother's sacrifice, he had thrown himself into training and research. Research about his history and his ancestors; training to become the greatest shinobi he could be and to establish the name Uzumaki once more.
It was not a dream to him, it was an eventuality. One way or another, he would make the name Uzumaki known to the world once again.