Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
While his sister's life would soon change completely, both mentally and physically, Naruto learned that he had made a minor miscalculation.
When he had checked the maps for his destination, he had looked at shinobi-routes. With those routes, his goal would be only half a day's travel away, but posing as a normal civilian, he could not just run through treetops and up cliffs, and most importantly, he was stuck with clear roads, and couldn't just travel in a straight line.
So instead of half a day, it would take an entire day, if he walked through the night, before he arrived at his goal, the Fire-temple. Still, there was nothing Naruto could do but start walking.
The sun had begun to set, coloring the clearing in beautiful crimson. Naruto stopped, captivated by the scenery. Freedom was such an exhilarating feeling, Naruto was considering painting this sunset, the first one he witnessed in freedom, just to commemorate this moment.
Without warning, he felt his left hand suddenly shoot up. Startled he looked left, and his eyes widened as he saw that his hand had caught an arrow that had been less than an inch away from his temple.
A second later, a group of bandits broke through the clearing, raising weapons, including a crossbow, and shouting at him.
"Shit." Naruto muttered, turning to run, only to come face-to-face with a bear of a man that had somehow managed to get the drop on him.
"Nowhere to run brat." He hollered, raising a large club with nails driven into it.
"Oh fuck!" Naruto shouted very loud, and impolite, as he jumped to the left, the club missing him by mere inches. By the time he had scrambled back to his feet, he was surrounded
The club-swinger, apparently the leader, laughed mockingly. "Not bad kid. You not only managed to catch Matou's shot, but you even dodged my club. Tell you what, give us all you got, and we may let you live."
Naruto's eyes darted around, his posture exactly like that of a cornered animal. 'Shit shit shit, this isn't good. I didn't get much physical training since my crippling, Mekura doesn't work if the target focuses on me before I cast it, and my other genjutsu are still messed up. How do I get out of this?'
What happened next shocked Naruto to the core. His left arm shot forward, and suddenly started growing. When it slammed into the leader of the bandits, it was as big as he was, and it wasn't finished as it grew much longer as it grew, until his open hand slammed into a large tree. There was a CRUNCH, and Naruto knew that the leader had been killed. As his arm shrank again, it used the motion to ram its razor-like fingernails, each still almost a foot long at time of impact, into the back of the bandit who stood closest.
Absolute silence reigned, and Naruto could literally smell the fear gripping the hearts of the bandits. However, a different scent was also in there, slowly overpowering the stench of fear. Anger.
"This little shit killed the boss!" "Let's butcher the fucker!" "Hang him with his own gut!" Those and other calls reached Naruto's ears, and the frightened boy took a step back.
As if waiting for something like that, the entire mop charged at Naruto, aiming to tear the monstrous boy to pieces.
Naruto's left arm made what appeared to to be an incomplete handsign, and beneath the bandits, round wooden pikes rose, skewering them all and dragging them into the air, before branching into trees, tearing the bodies to shreds in the process.
Naruto stared wide-eyed as a rain of blood and body-parts went down around him. He slowly turned his head from side to side, taking in the scene of carnage. Blood still dripping from the branches, arms, legs, fingers, and heads scattered around the formerly so peaceful clearing. A few agonized gurgles were heard from above, where torsos, some torn in two, still hung skewered on the trees. "Mbwuargh!" Then Naruto threw up.
After there was nothing left in his stomach, Naruto managed to drag himself away from the gruesome clearing, shivering like a leaf. In a small spring, that fed into the waterfall of the Valley of the End, Naruto washed himself clean.
Finally, he was again standing on the street, and walked forward, only wanting to leave the clearing behind him.
As he walked, Naruto shed a single tear. He knew he had lost some of his innocence on that clearing, when the blood had rained on him, and a severed head had landed in front of his feet. He had felt it break, and now the last remnant of the innocent child inside him had died.
Now, he truly had left everything behind.
It took two more hours, but finally, mentally exhausted, his thoughts traveled back to the clearing, and he realized, belatedly, that something was wrong. He sat down, his back leaning against a tree, and lifted his left hand to his face. Pale, with long sharp fingernails, but aside from that it seemed to be just an arm.
Normally he would feel quite foolish, but after the earlier display, such notions had become obsolete. Staring at his arm, Naruto finally spoke. "Do something."
Obediently, the arm twitched, fingers forming a fist, before stretching out again.
Naruto remained absolutely calm. "What are you?" He asked.
In response, the arm was suddenly surrounded by crimson youki, Naruto instinctively recognizing it. Then it placed the index-finger on Naruto's forehead, and the blond boy suddenly had flashes. Of Kyuubi, of a red haze remaining in Konoha, of the haze surrounding him, of himself putting his arms in the solution, and of the youki coming to his aid.
Naruto stared at his limb. "What do you want?"
In reply, flowers began to bloom around him. Looking close, Naruto noticed a pattern on his fingertips, as if his fingerprint had become that pattern, three tomoe, forming what could be both a triangle and a circle. Then youki began to dance around the hand once again, before everything stopped.
Naruto blinked in confusion. What was that supposed to mean? Shaking his head, he decided to solve that later, and now ask a more important question. "So, are you on my side?"
The arm pointed to Naruto's shoulder, where he and the arm were merged.
Naruto nodded, more to himself. "A symbiosis, huh? I guess I can live with that for now."
The arm didn't react, and Naruto placed it back into its sash. Of course trusting a part of Kyuubi in his body was a stupid idea, but so far, it had only been advantageous for him. His arm was working again, somewhat, and it had saved him both from a death by arrow and bandit. He would have to teach it subtlety, but until it proved to be a risk, Naruto would keep an open mind.
Of course, that didn't mean that he would not make preparations should his arm turn against him. Naruto paused, then shook his head in disbelief. He was worrying about his own limb attacking him. Man, his life was messed up.
Unknown to Naruto, he wasn't as alone as he thought. From the moment he had left Konoha, no, before that, he had been watched. His observer had followed Naruto's every step, never letting the trail run cold for even a split-second. He had seen what happened to the bandits, and how the arm had acted seemingly without any regard for its owners wishes. While the watcher wasn't sure what was going on, he was determined to follow the boy, to the end of the earth if need be.
Naruto leaned against a tree, and let his body slide down until he was sitting. Now that both the first rush of freedom and the shock from what happened with the bandits had passed, the full extent of his situation.
He was alone, a seven-year-old boy in the middle of nowhere. He had very little money, only limited food and water, and hardly any supplies that would help him living outdoors. He had a few kunai, some shinobi-wire, and a few other tools that would do for camping, but nothing for more than a few days camping. His knowledge of survival in the wild were limited to what he read in a few scrolls or pestered out of shinobi.
Even worse, the past events had also driven another point in. He was practically defenseless. His physical abilities, while above the average civilian, was completely insufficient for lone travels. He knew only a few ninjutsu, his fuinjutsu at this point would take far too long to arrange in a combat-situation, and to top it all off, his genjutsu-control was shot to hell.
And the final nail in the coffin was that the arm he had believed healed now hosted some kind of remnant of the very demon that had almost destroyed Konoha, and its control over the limb overrode his. While said limb seemed interested in preserving his life, Naruto still had no idea what it wanted. Adding all these facts up, the situation was a disaster.
The more Naruto thought about it, the more Naruto realized how hasty his decision had been. Granted, he had had good reasons to leave, as the actions of his... Minato and Kushina were inexcusable, and combined with whatever Natsuki had been doing could have very well led to his death, but Naruto had let his temper get the best of him. Instead of leaving like he had, he should have spent a bit more time in Konoha, gathering supplies and getting his genjutsu back under control. He would definitely have to get his temper under control, to prevent something like this from ever happening again. The way he was now he was completely unprepared for what awaited him.
Honestly, if it weren't for his arm, he might have actually considered turning around and heading back to Konoha, but now even that option was blocked, as he had no intention of becoming a guinea-pig or having his arm removed and dissected.
Taking a deep breath, Naruto pushed himself up. In the end, despite all the self-criticism, the situation was what it was, and sitting here moping would not change a thing. He could not go back to Konoha, so the only thing he could do was follow his original plan as good as he could and adapt to changes. He would go to the fire-temple, probably remain there a while longer than originally planned, and once he deemed himself ready, he would head towards Iwa. It still was the village where Konoha would least expect him, and after checking that he hadn't followed that thought and headed there anyways, Konoha would send their feelers elsewhere.
Of course, he couldn't simply head there as Naruto Namikaze-Uzumaki, but he had come up with a disguise a while ago. By taking the henge Natsuki had messed up, refining it by making the changes internal as well, and stabilizing everything with a few well-hidden seals, Naruto's disguise would not only be perfect down to voice and fingerprints, but it would also fool henge-detectors, and even the good old punch-'em-in-the-face-and-see-if-they-go-poof test. His identity was also completely planned out, the young crippled orphan and wandering artist being a good excuse, especially since it wasn't even a lie. His arm didn't work the way it was supposed to and would be kept in a sash, he considered himself an orphan, and he liked to paint, and was pretty good at it.
But he was getting ahead of himself. First he had to reach the fire-temple, then manage to hide there until the first wave of panic blew over, and get his genjutsu back under control. After that, he could see what travel-plans were viable.
But perhaps it would be a good idea to prepare something that would make his hopefully unnoticed stay in the fire-temple easier.
Kushina collapsed into her couch, physically and mentally drained. Where had things gone so wrong? Was it last week, when Naruto learned of his arm? A few months ago, when his arm was crippled? Or had the problem started much sooner, when nobody realized that Natsuki was using her brother as a lightning-rod, channeling the youki that was never meant for him into his coils?
She felt like crying. What bitter irony that just this morning, when she had finally returned from the youki-hunt, she had actually believed that her family was slowly but surely growing back together after the disaster with Naruto's arm. She wondered if she had offended a deity somehow, or if the gods simply enjoyed laughing at her. She had lost her home and her entire family when Kumo, Kiri and Iwa had decided to join forces and end the threat of the Uzumaki-clan once and for all, barely escaping the massacre with little more than the clothes on her back, just barely making to Konoha.
There, she had been ostracized for her being a foreigner, her round face, and her long red hair. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, she had finally managed to gain some friends, only for the war to break out and take most of them away from her.
After the war, she had married and gotten pregnant from the love of her life, Minato, and things were finally looking up. Then Kyuubi attacked.
More friends died, and for terrible minutes, she had believed her husband dead. When he returned to her, exhausted but alive, she had felt happier than ever before. Her dream of a family could finally come true.
She laughed joylessly. "And again the gods laugh at me." Without even realizing it, Natsuki, whose personality seemed exactly like her own, coupled with Minato's charisma and the burden she carried for the village, had weaseled her way into the hearts of Konoha, becoming everybody's darling. Without anyone realizing it, she had filled the hearts of her parents, slowly but steadily taking over the parts her calm and quiet brother occupied. Things had gone from bad to worse, and eventually it reached the point where both parents had lost sight of their son in the bright nature of Natsuki, which resulted in his crippling, caused because a child had been forgotten on his birthday by his own parents.
After that, things had changed. Both parents had realized what they'd done, and tried to somehow make up for it, but it had been too little, too late. When they finally tried to give him the proper attention, Naruto no longer wanted it.
Kushina poured herself some sake, and downed it in a single gulp. "And again, we did the worst possible thing." Looking back, it had really been the single most stupid course of action. Fearing that they would lose Naruto forever if they told him the true extent of his injury, neither of them had done so. Instead of sitting down and explaining the situation to Naruto, they instead excluded him from training, further alienating him. To Naruto it had to have looked as if the family was once again rejecting him, he being the only one in the entire family who could not join in their bondings.
In response, Naruto had distanced himself even further from them, going as far as to spend as little time in the compound as humanly possible. "And what did we do? We let him. 'Give him time, he needs to be alone'. What he needed was someone to show him that he wasn't alone." Everything was so clear in hindsight.
Even worse, as they had learned today, first from Hinata, then with Inoichi's help, Naruto's own sister had torn a permanent rift between him and all other children, over a childish dispute and despite attempts of reconciliation. So Naruto had been effectively abandoned by his family, and was experiencing what Kushina knew to be one of the most terrible feelings ever; to be alone in a crowd. Going through the reports again, Naruto's only 'friends' had been a few rats and crows that he fed. A seven-year-old that turned to animals for attention because he didn't get any from his fellow humans.
It was only after Naruto had left that Kushina realized just how far Naruto and his family had grown apart. Looking in the mirror, Kushina looked at a broken women. "What kind of mother am I, when I don't know anything about my own son?" She could immediately name Natsuki's hobbies, friends, favorite color, favorite food, likes, dislikes, dreams, fears, personal strengths, embarrassing secrets, favorite clothes, but when it came to her son, the only thing she could say was 'I think he liked ramen'. She couldn't even name his favorite flavor, for crying out loud!
Still, despite all these faults, she had noticed that Naruto was slowly starting to rebuild bridges with them. He had spent more time, opened his mouth for something else but statements that left them speechless with guilt, and had even started to smile at them occasionally. And then he learned the secret they had kept from him in the worst possible way.
Kushina wouldn't have needed Inoichi's evaluation to know how Naruto must have seen the situation. To him, it was the ultimate betrayal, and even worse, it showed Naruto that trying to mend bridges only made things worse, and that offering a hand in reconciliation towards his family would only lead to said hand being cut off. So all the progress made, all the work they, and especially Naruto, had put into trying to fix things, had been completely undone, the final bridge burned. It had been the straw that broke the camel's back.
Minato was probably still out with the other parents, discussing the consequences of what they had learned. It was a shock, and a punch in the gut for Minato and Kushina, when they learned that Naruto, who had gained the reputation of a troublemaker and notorious prankster, and had been punish accordingly often, had been used as a scapegoat not just by Natsuki, but practically every child in Konoha, and had not done a single prank in his entire life! Minato and Kushina had felt almost physically ill when they remembered all the times they had punished Naruto, whose vows of innocence had always paled against the accusations of at least three children, Natsuki often among them, that they had seen Naruto do it.
Tears formed in Kushina's eyes as she remembered Tsunade's reaction to the news. She, Minato and Jiraiya had drawn straws as to who would tell the blond sannin, and she had drawn the shortest one. It probably would have landed on her anyways, seeing that Tsunade wanted her for an examination for youki-corruption anyways.
Kushina sat down, almost lifelessly as Tsunade took a blood-sample, wondering how she could start her confession, when the busty blond beat her to the punch.
"Kushina, I can tell something is wrong. Does it involve Naruto? Is he still not talking to you after he heard that his arm is permanently crippled?"
Kushina flinched, as if physically struck.
Tsunade's eyes narrowed. "You did tell him, right?"
Kushina's eyes were glued to the floor, tears forming. She shook her head, and broke into a wail.
Tsunade, while originally intending to tear Kushina a new one, was a bit baffled by the sudden outbreak. "Kushina, I do appreciate the remorse, but don't you think you're overreacting just a little bit? If it pains you that much, I can accompany you when you tell him, as emotional suppor..."
Kushina shook her head again, her voice wracked by sobs. "I-It's not that. He overheard us talking about his arm, and Minato said something in black humor, and Naruto heard it, and now... He's gone!"
Tsunade blinked. "Gone? Since when?"
Kushina sniffled. "We don't know. We've been busy with the youki-searches, so anywhere between this morning, (sniffle) and Monday." Briefly, she wondered if Tsunade's first blow would be enough to knock her out, or if she would get to enjoy the entire beating she was about to receive.
Tsunade's eyes widened, and her desk splintered beneath her fingers. "Monday? Didn't you have anyone look out for Naruto? I know for a fact Natsuki was with the Akimichi."
Kushina wailed again. "No! I don't know why, we were thinking of little but Naruto for weeks, but Monday morning, it was like he was erased from our thoughts."
Of course, neither Kushina nor Tsunade could have possibly known about Naruto's genjutsu, so Tsunade had to assume that the Namikaze had once again managed to somehow forget about their son. With a great show of will, Tsunade restrained her urge to pound Kushina to paste, and put on a calm visage. "Kushina, as much as I would like to ease your pain, all I can say is that you deserve what happened."
Kushina sobbed again. "That's not even the worst part."
Now Tsunade's eyes narrowed in distrust. "Then what is?"
Kushina dropped her head into her hands. "You know Naruto's reputation?"
Tsunade nodded. "A troublemaker. Not unusual in neglected children craving for attention."
Kushina winced under the subtle blow, but kept strong. "Turns out, he's not."
Tsunade blinked, not trusting her ears. "What?"
Kushina clenched her fists in anger. "Pretty much every child in Konoha was using my son as a scapegoat, including his own sister! He never played a single prank. And we punished him for them. Tsunade, I'm a horrible mother! I don't notice my son's suffering, and punish him for his sister's actions. Natsuki pumps youki into Naruto for seven years and I only realize it after he leaves."
Tsunade said nothing. What should she say? After all, she agreed with Kushina, and yelling at her wouldn't help. Though the temptation was oh so strong.
End of Flashback
Tsunade had finished her examination, and kicked Kushina out, muttering something about maybe visiting after the blood-sample was analyzed, depending on the results. Kushina understood that Tsunade was implying that their friendship was at the very least paused, if not completely broken. Though Kushina really had nobody but herself to blame.
Making a grab for the fifth sake-jar, when it was taken out of her hand. Looking up weakly, Kushina was surprised to see Tsunade. She hadn't even noticed the sannin enter the compound, let alone the living-room. Was she really that wasted?
Tsunade frowned. "I think you had more than enough."
Kushina looked up, her red face showing her intoxication. "Im havn't even shtarded (hickup) yet." she slurred out.
Tsunade shook her head. "Ooh no, you're done with the alcohol. As your doctor, I hereby forbid you from alcohol for... a few months. And from fish."
Kushina stared at Tsunade like she had sprouted a second head. "Vish? Vhy vich?"
Tsunade shrugged. "It could hurt the little one."
Kushina blinked, her intoxicated mind not able to piece the situation together. "L-little one?"
Tsunade smiled somewhat sardonically. "Congratulations Kushina, you're three weeks pregnant."
Naruto was panting in exhaustion. After the fire-temple had finally come into sight, Naruto had needed two more days to put up a few sealing-arrays he had designed around the temple.
Once he activated the array, the seals would use the ambient chakra in the area to create a hexagonal field, which should automatically put anyone entering it into a genjutsu programmed into the array, in this case Mekura. In doing so, Naruto had very effectively ensured that nobody in the fire-temple would notice him, as they would be trapped in Mekura before he was even close, which also meant they couldn't spot him trying to put him under the genjutsu, and even better, it was effectively unbreakable, as even if someone tried to dispel it, he was still in the field, meaning that it would be immediately recast. Still, Naruto would be careful.
As it turned out, Naruto's first problem, aside from the fact that his stomach was doing a very realistic impression of a roaring lion to remind him that it was still empty, was to get into the temple. While he hadn't been spotted by anyone, despite walking right past them, there was no way in but the gate. The walls surrounding the temple absorbed chakra, meaning that it would be impossible to wall-walk, there were likely a few unpleasant surprises awaiting anyone trying to jump above it, and the gate was currently shut tighter than Natsuki's grip on a bowl of ramen. The gate probably could be pried open, or simply destroyed, but for one thing Naruto currently lacked the means to do so, and secondly doing so would be too obvious for his Mekura to cover up.
Fortunately, help came soon.
Naruto took a step to the side, letting the bald man in the monk-robes pass without touching him.
The man completely ignored Naruto, reassuring the boy that his array was working, which was a great relief. After all, there hadn't exactly been time for proper tests, or any tests really.
The monk raised his hand towards the gate, closed his eyes, and focused. A golden glow appeared around his hand, and the gate opened. Naruto's arm pulsed at the glow, sending conflicting emotions of fear and greed through his body.
Deciphering the feelings, Naruto assumed that they were about the glow, and the youki was telling him two things. The first was I'm scared of that. The second one made even less sense than youki having fear, Naruto translating the emotion into an I want that. Why would anyone or anything desire something that terrifies them?
Still, if he spent any more time pondering, then he could wave his chance for entry goodbye, so Naruto hurried to pass the gates before they closed, only barely managing to avoid being crushed as the gate shut.
So far, so good. Trailing the boy had worked well so far, though the part with the gate had been a close call. He had to wait until the very last second before rushing too it, the steel gates slamming shut millimeters behind him. Had he been a single instant slower, things would have gotten unpleasant.
Still, he had made it, and that was what mattered. The boy seemed to prepare for a longer stay, if the preparations he had made so far were any indication, so there was no need to rush anything.
He would wait and observe for a few more days, then perhaps reveal himself to the boy.
The first day for Naruto ended without further incidents. He wandered the temple, trying to find his way around the temple that would become his home for at least a few weeks. Fortunately, the temple followed a fairly straightforward design, so it was not too difficult to navigate in.
As good fortune would have it, he found the laundry after only five rooms, all simple chambers in which the monks slept, and borrowed a straw-mat, a cushion, and a blanket, fairly confident that they wouldn't be missed in the near future, considering the dust covering all three.
Next, he secured himself a corner in one of the unused rooms, so that he would have a place to sleep, putting up a secondary array, which was much simpler, to hide his sleeping-corner, before looking for the food-storage. For one thing, he was hungry, and secondly he would need more provisions if he wished to eventually travel to Iwa. And thirdly, he was really hungry.
"Should have guessed, they are monks." Naruto muttered to himself. After a good half hour, he had finally found where the monks hid the grub, only to discover that there was hardly any meat, mostly rice and vegetables, in other words things that were better cooked. Thanking the gods he had been smart enough to buy a few metal bowls in Konoha, even though he had originally planned them to be bowls for Shiro, Kuro, and their friends, Naruto filled them with a bit of rice and a few veggies, and left, knowing that water was found here either in a well, or in a spring, and both were likely outside.
However, on his way out, he had a very interesting encounter. A boy, roughly his age was walking towards him, talking to the head priest, Chiriku of the Twelve Guardian Ninja, Naruto dimly recalled.
There were a few things off with the boy. For one thing, as far as Naruto had seen, he was at least ten years younger than any of the other monks, and his behavior, angrily arguing with the head-priest, didn't fit into the profile of the resident monks, who as far as Naruto had observed so far, seemed calm and serene, spending a lot of time meditating. Another thing that stuck out was that he was the only one who hadn't shaved his head, giving him the classical monk-look that Naruto had secretly dubbed 'The Egghead', his dark hair growing past his ears.
Even though it could be considered rude, Naruto decided to eavesdrop, especially when the boy started waving around a three-pronged claw.
"Chiriku-sama, please. You say this belonged to my father, but you won't tell me anything about him? Why?"
The monk sighed. "Sora, I gave you this because I believed you were mentally prepared, and deserving of it. Please do not make my faith misguided. Your father was a powerful man, and one I knew quite well, and respected. However, he was... misguided in his beliefs, a fact that regularly brought him into trouble. All in all, he was a good man, but you are not ready yet to learn everything. The other monks believed that I should never tell you anything, however I find that disrespectful against both you and my old friend's memory. Please do not try to push me further than this."
The young boy, Sora, bit his lip, but reluctantly nodded, though it was easy to tell that he was not happy about it. In fact, he seemed to barely be able to contain his anger.
Chiriku frowned at Sora's expression, but nonetheless gave him a kind smile. "Thank you. Now I'm very sorry for having to cut this short, but as you know, one of our temple's most sacred ceremonies is in less than a week, and I must prepare."
Sora's eyes widened at the casual dismissal, before he gave stiff nod. Chiriku gave a short bow, and left.
After roughly ten seconds, Sora punched the wall in anger. "Why does nobody trust me?" He asked loudly. Of course there was no answer, so after another moment, he spun on his heels and charged down the corridor.
Naruto's eyes widened, he had to jump to avoid the angry boy from running right into him. What happened next shocked him. His arm twitched, and Sora suddenly seemed rooted to the floor, before his head snapped in Naruto's direction.
Silence reigned as the two boys looked each other right in the eye, Naruto's wide in shock and fear, Sora's drawn together in a frown.
After a few more seconds, the young monk shrugged, and continued on his way, while Naruto slumped together in relief. For a second, he had thought his Mekura-array had failed, which would have meant serious trouble, as the people for one thing would be very interested in finding out how he managed to sneak in, before they would wrap him up like a Christmas-gift and send him back to Konoha, and that was if he was lucky.
Of course he knew that logically the array shouldn't have failed, as it was in essence the same array he had used on his old picture, attached to a so-called 'Blank Field-array' and an ambient-energy-gatherer as a battery. All in all, it was actually a very simple array that any intermediate seal-user could whip up on the fly, the only really difficult part being entering a genjutsu as complex as Mekura into a seal-sequence, though here Naruto had the advantage of knowing everything about it, seeing that he was its inventor.
Still, something was special about the boy. Even though he was at the moment physically incapable of noticing Naruto, he had not only somehow sensed his presence, but actually pinpointed his location, which shouldn't have been possible seeing that Naruto had done nothing to warrant any attention from even the most distrusting of people, not to mention that at the moment it was impossible to dispel the genjutsu, and Naruto had the only key-seal that protected him from the array. Not to mention that Naruto didn't believe that the twitch of the arm at the time of the boy sensing him was a coincident. He would have to keep an eye on this Sora.
As it turned out, the temple had both a spring and a well, Naruto using the former for water, as there were a few rocks he could take, and use as support for his improvised wok, on which he had drawn a simple seal that converted chakra into heat, as he didn't want an open fire to draw attention from someone who might worry about the temple burning. That, and it was quicker.
After the first warm meal in days, Naruto contently retreated into his chosen sleeping-corner, and while planning his next steps, which mainly involved stockpiling essentials like food, drink, and clothes, and finding a sleeping-bag, he fell asleep. It had been a long day.
The next morning came far too soon. Naruto was blissfully slumbering, for once completely contend with the world, dreaming harmless and innocent dreams, when...
He stood straight, and wide awake. It took nearly a minute until his pulse went down to what humans could even remotely call normal. Who could have expected that these masochistic monks would wake themselves by pounding on a twenty-foot gong?
Either way, there was little chance for sleep, so Naruto drowsily fought himself up, and started his morning-wash, ironically ending up doing so amongst the monks.
He snatched some of the breakfast, and after the meal, he sat down and watched the monks at their daily routine. He was surprised when he saw them spar against each other, before he remembered that the fire-temple consisted of battle-monks, not the normal ones, so it would be only natural that they did some fighting, though he did see many sitting and meditating.
Around noon, the trot was broken when the gates opened, and a single shinobi entered, his headband identifying him as a Konoha-nin.
It seemed that Minato and Kushina had finally realized that he was gone. Not interested in what Konoha had to say, Naruto turned away and left to search the temple for anything useful.
Had he stayed, he would have heard an interesting conversation between the head-monk and the Konoha-nin.
Chiriku smiled. "Ah, Asuma. Good to see you, old friend."
Asuma smiled back. "Good to see you too. How's the religious life treating you?"
Chiriku laughed. "Surprisingly well, actually. What brings you here?"
Asuma's smile dimmed slightly. "Nothing good, I'm afraid. You see, the situation is complicated. You know that residue of Kyuubi's youki remained in Konoha after it attacked, right?"
Chiriku's face darkened as he thought of a young monk with a cruel burden that he didn't deserve, nor should be holding. "How could I not? After Kazuma's... action."
Asuma followed his friend's gaze, until it landed on a young monk practicing with an oddly familiar claw. "Is that..."
"Yes, that's Sora." Chiriku replied.
"I see. He looks a lot like his father." Asuma noted, before remembering the original topic. There was little point dwelling over things that they couldn't change, and Kazuma had paid the ultimate price for his actions. "Either way, last week the youki suddenly disappeared. A search was started, without success, but it seems that while everyone was busy, the Hokage's son used the chance to run away. Learning the facts, I can't even say that I blame the kid, his situation was bad. Turns out his sister, the host of the Kyuubi, was unknowingly pumping youki into him, and it was killing him from the inside. Nobody noticed because, well, nothing like this has ever happened before. Adding to that, the kid was a scapegoat for the village's children. Either way, his parents are very worried about him, especially since he can't use his left arm after an accident involving seals, so I was sent here to ask you one of your monks saw him. He's seven, average size for someone that age, blue eyes, and spiky hair so blond you'd think someone dumped a bucket of yellow paint on his head."
Chiriku frowned, before he shook his head. "I'm sorry, but the last weeks were fairly quiet. Aside from a few deliveries, there has not been a single soul here, aside from the monks, and certainly not someone who would match your profile. I'm sorry that I can't help you, but the boy was not here."
Asuma sighed. "Well, I didn't really expect anything else. Still, thanks." He pulled out a cigarette.
Chiriku frowned. "Asuma, this is a temple. I would ask that you don't light that until you have passed the gates."
The bearded jonin looked at his friend, at the cigarette, and finally the temple, before he nodded, taking the cancer-stick into his hand. "Of course. Well, there's nothing left for me to do here, but please keep an eye out for the kid, his parents are going crazy with worry."
Chiriku nodded. "Of course. We'll notify you immediately if we find something. Have a safe journey."
After the Konoha-nin had left, the gate being a very good indicator, Naruto came back out, having made a decision. Chiriku was the head-priest, and he was a former member of the Twelve Guardian Ninja. If there really was anything interesting here, Chiriku would know where it was, so he'd tail the man for a few days.
Fortunately it was not a long wait. That very evening, after dinner, the monk walked past his room, and into a hidden chamber. He patted a large scroll, spoke a few prayers, and mumbled to himself. After an hour, he left, and Naruto was alone in the room.
There were pictures everywhere, all showing a group of people in different settings, though not in all pictures the group was fully assembled. One of them caught Naruto's eye, as in it, the entire group, twelve people altogether, standing in two rows, a thirteenth figure in the center, one that Naruto immediately recognized. The daimyo of Hi no Kuni. So these had to be the Twelve Guardian Ninja. Apparently Chiriku had built himself a shrine of sorts, a personal refuge for him and him alone. Honestly, were it not for the scroll that Chiriku had re-hidden in a secret compartment, Naruto would have immediately turned around and left. However, he wanted to know what was in that scroll.
Carefully pulling it out, though not before carefully disabling an alarm-array, he opened it, and had to bite back an outburst of hysteric laughter.
It was even better than he could have dreamed! Written and explained in the scroll were the jutsu of the Twelve Guardian Ninja, even their most infamous one, Limelight. It was literally a godsend, as even though Naruto had decided to be a seal- and genjutsu-master, he had no intention of being rendered helpless in a situation where neither of those techniques were effective. Of course he knew that there was no way he would be able to learn all of these techniques, especially since Limelight required four people, but that didn't mean he shouldn't know the jutsu, even if he couldn't perform them.
And he hadn't given up on his idea of crafting a seal that would perform a jutsu on its own when chakra was poured into it, so having the arsenal of a group as famous as the Twelve Guardian Ninja to craft into seals would not be a bad thing either. The jutsu, or at least some of them, could perhaps even be used as a bargaining-chip, though Naruto would have to be very careful with what he gave to whom.
Naruto had heard that the daimyo had once asked his guardians to place their knowledge into a scroll, so that in an event where all of them would be wiped out, the next generation of guardians could still benefit from their predecessors' knowledge. After the attempted coup and the effective although unofficial disbanding, one of the survivors had taken it for safe-keeping.
And even though Naruto had no idea what possessed Chiriku to hide the scroll instead of destroying it, Naruto sure wasn't about to complain. In fact, he had a new goal. When he left the temple, he would have the entire scroll memorized.
The next few days passed in a blur for Naruto, a routine of waking up curtsey of the Gong of Doom, washing, eating, watching the monks train in the morning, lunch, and learning from the scroll in the afternoon when all the monks were busy meditating. However, his sixth day would be quite a surprise for the young boy.
He had observed long enough. The boy had settled in, and had developed a behavioral pattern that allowed him to predict where the boy would be. He had even found out what the odd field the boy had set up did, though it irked him that it turned out to be something that made others forget and ignore him. He himself had found himself back in the forest outside the temple twice, when he had for a single moment lost focus of his target, after which he was unable to even think about locating the boy until he had left the field, and even then only after a while.
It was time to make contact.
Naruto froze. He had just entered the hidden room, and was about to pull out the scroll, when he felt a pair of eyes resting on his back. A moment later, he heard a light sound that seemed familiar, though Naruto was unable to place it. He gulped, and spun around, expecting Chiriku or perhaps another monk looking at him, only to find... nothing?
Both the room and the doorway were empty, though he still felt like was being watched. Then again, he had felt like he was being watched ever since he entered the temple, so perhaps it was only his nerves. Yeah, that was it, his mind was playing tricks on him, he probably was exhausted from all the reading with too little sleep. That, the permanent fear of being found and carted back to Konoha, plus the stinging pain in his chest he had for a few days had made him paranoid. Yeah, that had to be "...ik"
What was that? Naruto's head shot left and right, searching for the origin of the noise, growing frantic as there was still nothing. The sound came again, and this time Naruto could pinpoint it. He slowly looked down... and his eyes nearly fell out of his head.
"Shiro!" He called out. And indeed, it was Shiro, the rat that Naruto had befriended back in Konoha. Naruto hesitantly held out his hand, and to his surprise, the rat jumped on it, and scaled it to his shoulder, where he sat down, seemingly completely content with the world at the moment.
Naruto blinked in shock. "Did you follow me all the way here?" he wondered, the rat simply giving a small squiek in response. Naruto's face broke into a smile. "Thanks." He gently scratched the rat's head, who clearly didn't mind the attention, leaning into Naruto's finger.
Naruto frowned, then shrugged with the unoccupied shoulder. The scroll wasn't going anywhere. "Lets find you something to eat."
Shiro squieked in agreement.
After Naruto had gotten Shiro some grub, the rat apparently perfectly satisfied with raw rice, he was somehow not surprised when he found a raven outside. Kuro and Shiro had been all but inseparable in Konoha, so it really was only logical that the raven had also followed him, though Naruto found himself slightly relieved that they hadn't brought any other friends. He wasn't sure just how much food he could smuggle out of the temple without causing a disturbance, which really was the last thing he needed.
Still, for the first time in ages, Naruto felt truly happy. He had lost his faith in others, having bonded with the rats, crows and ravens precisely because unlike with humans, there was no attachment, no expectations. He brought them food, they gave him company, and when either party felt it was enough, they would not meet again, as both parties could and had lived well enough without the other. A simple system, and it had worked without hitch, and with both sides aware that it was strictly temporary.
To find that they had followed him, going miles and miles and leaving their territories, their entire existence behind, just to be with him, moved Naruto to the edge of tears. He didn't know why they did it, as here it would not be so simple to bring food, and knew that it was very possible that both would one day be cone when he went somewhere too far away for the animals, but for now he was grateful for their company. It was nice to know that someone cared.
Still, even trough his sentimental moment, Naruto had enough sense to quickly grab a fine brush and put the key on Kuro's beak and Shiro's stomach, though in the latter case the fur had been an annoyance. Still, now the two could freely remain within the field, undisturbed by the array, though Naruto was surprised when the animals stayed still until he was done. They were both pretty smart.
Now that the reunion was properly celebrated with food for all three, Naruto found that it was time to get back to the scroll, to rehearse the learned to ensure it was not forgotten, and to learn more. The animals quietly rested on his shoulders.
Another day had passed, and Shiro and Kuro had both remained by his side the entire night, for which Naruto was thankful. He liked the presence of the two.
Shiro had forsaken his place on Naruto's right shoulder, instead climbing the boy's head, using his blond hair as a nest, though thankfully Kuro seemed to prefer his shoulder, which was shielded from the raven's claws by a few layers of cloth, to his unprotected head.
However, something was different this day. A tension was in the air, easily felt by even the most unobservant individuals. An odd mix of excitement, nervousness, and determination.
The first real oddity that Naruto noticed was the simple fact that there was no breakfast. At every other day, the monks had eaten together, the boy, Sora, generally a small distance away from the group, but this morning, Sora was the only one that ate, a bitter expression on his face.
Hoping that the boy would give him some clue as to what was going on, Naruto followed Sora, forsaking his study of Chiriku's scroll for the day.
Sora did lead them to the other monks, who had apparently gathered in the inner sanctum of the temple, Sora stopping at the entrance and throwing angry glares into the room where the entire temple had gathered, currently placing straw mats on the ground. After a few seconds, Sora's face darkening more and more, the young monk apparently couldn't take it any longer, and stormed away.
Naruto noticed that Chiriku was sadly watching the boy go, but the head-priest simply shook his head, before turning to his fellow monks. It seemed like he intended to hold a speech. Good, Naruto wanted to know just what the hell was going on here.
"Brothers," Chiriku called out, his face serene. "you all know why we have gathered here. Today we hold one of our most sacred ceremonies, the Rite of Unity. Through our daily meditation we are able to use the Senzoku no Sai, the very thing that makes our temple unique, a gift from the gods. Today we will channel it, not into the technique, but into each other. We will purify our souls, and those of our fellow brothers. To prepare, none of us have eaten anything since the last day's breakfast, to steel our spirit. Once we have all reached the state of meditation needed, we shall begin the second part, gathering and further purifying the entire energy within our bodies, one at a time. Do not worry if a bit of the energy escapes you in that step, it is natural and as we all will produce the Senzoku no Sai, it will not matter. Do not let your heart waver. Once that is gone, the technique will be initiated, but there will be no target. Then we return our gift to nature. Are you all prepared? If you feel ill, speak now, as the ceremony will take hours, and once it has begun, interrupting the process is difficult. I do not need to remind you all of brother Yusen, whom we nearly lost to fever in last year's ceremony."
Somber silence filled the air, but none of the monks rose. It seemed they were all healthy. Chiriku waited another minute, just to be sure, before finally nodding, satisfied. "Very well, let us begin then."
The monks all sat down to meditate, and absolute silence reigned.
Naruto looked around uncomfortably, slightly worried that the focus of the monks might enable them to locate him. Also, the pain in his chest was steadily getting worse, a stinging that came in pulses, as if someone was slowly drilling a hole into the center of his chest.
Then a soft glow of yellowish golden chakra began seeping out of the monks, and the hole in Naruto's chest was being filled with acid. His eyes bulged, and he felt like he was breathing molten steel. Stumbling forward, Naruto fell to his knees right next to the meditating Chiriku, who noticed nothing. Naruto was uncertain whether that was a good or a bad thing, as the man possibly could have helped. Naruto shivered. Was he going to die here, unnoticed? Would the stench of his corpse be enough, or would he rot away to blank bones, without anybody ever noticing? Tears escaped Naruto's eyes as the pain slowly began to spread in his chest, now no longer focused on just one small spot.
But slowly, the pain dulled. After what could have been seconds, minutes, or even hours, Naruto managed to fight himself to his knees, and looked around. Apparently his squirming had somehow brought him right next to the head-monk, the man now so close that Naruto would have been able to touch him by simply reaching out.
The next thing Naruto noticed was that he had probably fainted from the pain, as it was definitely much later than when the pain started. For one, the still open door gave a good look at the open hallway, and the shadows cast by the sun were pointing in a completely different direction than they had the last time he checked. Also, the monks looked different. While their meditative poses hadn't changed, the odd glow was now no longer faint, but a strong aura extending almost a foot in every direction, and arm-thick extensions connected the monks with each other, the whole thing resembling a giant golden spiderweb.
Then the energy began to flow in a specific direction, until the aura surrounding all monks was gone, and the connections not thicker than a spider's thread. Except for one monk, who was, as the sweat on his brow clearly told, strained by the task of containing the entire chakra-load of the collective within himself. With a frown, he compressed it, sucking it into himself, before a now slightly less yellow and more golden energy shot out of him, following one of the threads to the next monk. The process repeated itself again with every monk, the energy becoming more golden, more focused with every focus, before finally, it reached Chiriku. After the head-priest compressed it, the expanding aura was almost blindingly golden, beginning to slightly lean towards a platinum glow.
The stinging pain was back, but Naruto was distracted by his left arm. It had placed its hand on his knee, and apparently sucked a bit of his chakra out, with which it was now coating itself from fingertips to wrist, before it reached into the aura the monk released after a second compression.
Naruto's eyes widened. What was that crazy limb doing? His right hand shot forward, grabbing his left arm just below the wrist, yanking it back less than an inch from Chiriku's bald head. The left arm struggled for another second, before it blindsided Naruto by going with Naruto's pull, slamming the hand, which held a glob of the platinum glow, encased by Naruto's blue chakra, into his chest, right where the pain was.
Naruto felt the strangest feeling ever. It was like an empty space in his chest was filled, before the edges seemed to clam down on whatever was filling it, causing not pain, but a feeling of pressure inside of Naruto's chest.
Taking a few deep breaths, Naruto decided that it was best to leave the ceremony, while he still could. That instance with the head-priest had been too close for comfort.
However, just as he had reached the doorway, he heard someone standing up. Turning around, he saw that Chiruku had risen, his right arm pointing down with the palm down and parallel to the ground, while the left one was in a half-sign, rat, he believed, though it wasn't easy to tell from the distance and with the glow surrounding him. Then Chiriku spoke.
Naruto felt himself engulfed by an outburst of energy, and feeling it extend in every direction, for a second worried that it might shatter his barrier, before he remembered that the barrier would not offer any resistance to the energy, and thus neither attempt to repel nor absorb any energy that could disrupt the arrays.
Still, he had seen something interesting today, and it was best to leave it at that and return to his sleeping-place. As ridiculous as it sounded, he and his arm had something to discuss.
Naruto glared at his arm, Kuro had temporarily given up his perch in favor for Naruto's leg, seeing that the boy was sitting. "Look, I was okay with the idea of a symbioses, as odd as I found that my arm suddenly had a mind of its own, but that stunt just now went too far! I don't care what you are, or what you're planning, but I can't allow you to endanger all that I have worked for like this. If something like this happens one, just one more time, I'm wrapping you in bandages plastered with suppression-seals until you can't even twitch, capito?"
The arm was unresponsive, but Naruto felt a surge of calmness wash over him, and guessed that the arm understood.
A second later, two voices were heard as two monks walked by Naruto's hidden lair.
"The ceremony was draining as always." The first spoke.
"Indeed," the second replied "but at least there were no complications. Last year was bad enough, but do you remember three years ago, when that brat actually tried to participate?"
The first snorted. "Of course. In the end, we had to cancel the ceremony, because the demon-child was not only disrupted the entire connection between us monks, but collapsed. I know that the head-priest has a kind heart, and it's not like I think that giving a second chance is fundamentally wrong, but anyone could have told him that Sora and the ceremony would not mix."
A barking laugh came from the second. "Yes, a demon participating in a holy ceremony, that had to go wrong."
"The head-priest does not like that word used in reference to the boy." The first scolded, though one could hear that he secretly agreed.
"Well," the second answered "If the shoe fits... Then again, he's not even real, just a cheap knock-off. The imitation of a demon made with scavenged remnants of the real deal. Almost sad when you think about it. What is he even doing in a temple? I can see the potential value for a shinobi-village, but a temple?"
"The only village we could give him to without committing treason would be Konoha," The first one pondered "and if the rumors are true, Konoha already has the original, so for what would they need an inferior copy?"
"Yeah, useless in every sense of the word." The second one finished "So looks like we'll be stuck with that brat for quite a while."
As the monks passed, Naruto sat there, deep in thought, absentmindedly scratching Shiro's back, the rat leaning into his finger, while it and Kuro were tearing pieces out of the piece of bread Naruto had given them.
"Interesting, very interesting." The blond boy mused, a smile on his lips. "Perhaps I should meet this Sora?
Chapter 8 is done. I have so much to say, I don't know where to start.
First, thank you all so much, my beloved readers. Thanks to you all, I have broken through that magical threshold of 1000 reviews. That had been a dream of mine ever since I first found this site, long before I actually posted my first story. And now it has come true *sniff*. Thank you all so much, and I hope that we will continue to keep up the good work.
Secondly, I guess I should explain the long period without update. You see, I was drafted into the military. This story more than any other I have written so far, barring perhaps Boutoku no Naruto, relies on emotion, and since I am only an amateur-writer, I work on a very simple basis to get as much emotion as I can into my stories. I put my heart into them. I try to write so that the emotions I'm trying to implant flow into the story, I'm trying to write so that it moves me, as what good can a story be that doesn't even move its creator? So, after much thought, I had decided to pause my writing for this story while I was in boot-camp, as I felt that I would not be able to enter that certain mindset needed for really putting one's heart into something while in a semi-permanent state of mental and physical exhaustion. So rather than produce some half-assed crap that would ruin the story for good, I decided to take a break from it until I was relaxed enough to actually do something. I hope you all understand.
Now, some of the more observant readers will likely think 'Wait a minute, from the date he gave on his account, his boot-camp should have ended in January, what's with the hold-up?' Truth be told, this chapter was not easy to write. I actually found a small problem with my plans so far. It is surprisingly difficult to show real emotions and emotional growth if the protagonist is absolutely isolated. You need something to bounce things off of, some point from which conversation, even one-sided conversation, can start from. For that reason, I brought Shiro and Kuro back into play. Originally I had planned to have those two appear later, perhaps in Iwa, to show just how far those two followed him, and the lengths they were willing to go for Naruto, but I realized if I had to show Naruto in complete isolation for such extended periods, I would drive myself insane trying to find anything that would make the travel more than a complete bore to read.
Truth be told, I myself am not quite satisfied with this chapter. Most of it is okay, but I can't really get the scene with Naruto and his arm to work the way I want it it to. After like twenty tries, this is the best I managed. Sorry.
Another change was that, due to the large number of requests, I decided to add another scene involving Konoha. Granted, the last twist probably only increased the interest, but I'm afraid that this really will be the last we hear of Konoha for a while.
So, the first stop is the fire-temple. Nobody guessed it, which I think is a good thing, as it means I managed to surprise my readers. It is a nearly perfect hideout, as long as one can manage to keep out of the sight of the monks, as when they say that Naruto isn't there, Konoha will believe it, thus Naruto throws all those looking for him off his track. I explained the barrier so you don't complain about Naruto being an uber-character. The array consists of three parts, two of which Naruto simply has to connect with each other, a simple task. The only problem was translating Mekura into a seal-sequence, though Naruto as its creator has an easier time than most. So Naruto's work was less super-brilliant creation, and more modification with just a single piece of independent crafting. And no, this is not a viable solution for entering any place he wants without anyone realizing it. Any of the five major villages, and probably a few of the minor ones too, would either spot Naruto while he sets the array up, or they would notice the barrier, as it ironically does not protect itself from detection. It hides Naruto and what he does, nothing more, nothing less. So it won't be used too often.
To those wondering, no, Sora will not become Naruto's first traveling-companion. The temple would search for him, and Naruto doesn't need two groups of people after him right after he gained his freedom.
Oh, and I reconsidered the thing with the eyes. The arm can, on one eye, give a layer of chakra that will highlight the target it wants, but no doujutsu. They will be altered by the arm.
Also, someone asked me how old Naruto and Natsuki are. They are seven. Regarding Natsuki's attraction to Kyuubi's male form, that wasn't really sexual interest, but more that Natsuki and her friends have pieced together a image of what is 'cool' and 'awesome', and Kyuubi just matched the profile. Kinda like how Sasuke gained fangirls, even though at twelve you generally don't have much of a libido yet. There are exceptions, but the main idea is correct. I once had a five-year-old swoon to me about how hot and attractive Robby Williams is, and I don't remember anything ever creeping me out like that. The same principle applies to Natsuki here.
Regarding Natsuki. My decision to make the dominate Natsuki into the dark-self was in fact not a cheap attempt at explaining why the girl is evil. If those that spouted that had read more closely, they would see that Light-Natsuki is in fact artificially made by Kyuubi using what's left of her goodness and mixing it with positive emotions the fox has harvested in the past. So Natsuki is evil of her own choice, what I did was give an explanation for a redemption. I'm not saying that Natsuki will be completely forgiven, but a stupid, selfish and evil character is terribly one-dimensional to write, and I am not a fan of ridiculously extreme bashing. I want characters in my story, not stereotypes. And Natsuki's change will not be instantaneous, that would be silly. It's a slow and gradual change, though it will be done before the genin-exams.
Regarding harems. I carefully considered it, and decided that, should I make one, it will probably be like canon-Naruto's harem, meaning girls, and women, fall in love with him, but Naruto is oblivious to it, since despite his intelligence, he was the outcast in Konoha, so he knows little of social interactions.
Now to answer a few questions.
Q: How good is Naruto's healing?
A: It is good, but it's not omnipotent. Remember, this is not jinchuuriki-healing, but Kabuto's healing, meaning that Naruto has to have enough chakra to heal the injury, and that more severe injuries would take more to heal.
Q: Will Natsuki ever be able to use Kyuubi's power?
A: The cloak perhaps, but not the power over emotions. Even redeemed, she simply doesn't have the necessary delicacy for such a complex and fragile thing as emotion.
Well, I think the chapter is long enough as it is, so I'll end it here. My loyal readers,