Naruto Uzumaki, age eleven, was thoroughly bored stiff.
He'd been trying to practice the Clone technique, the Bunshin, and no matter how much chakra he put into it, nothing worked. His Transformation was much better, really… that just worked. Apart from forming the picture of what he wanted, it was the easiest thing in the world. It was a good thing he'd kept his instruction sheet on that one, it really was easier with the Ram seal than the Reverse Ram that everyone else used. And they still had to use the other two hand seals! Pity the Clone didn't work the same way.
Taijutsu training… no thanks. It always hurt performing his stances, the positions involved were too awkward. Oh well, if he wanted to be a Kage the thing he needed wasn't silly little clone techniques, or something. It was big, flashy attacks that beat anything. Just like the Fourth did to all the Stone ninja back in the last war. Man, but the Fourth was cool.
Suddenly, his ears pricked. He'd heard a slight rustling.
Carefully moving as quietly as he could, he saw some old guy in the top of a tree. The guy was looking away from him, and Naruto admitted to himself that was probably for the best. He was pretty great at hiding, but anyone old who was still a ninja could probably spot his flashy orange jumpsuit in a second.
Deciding to see what Old Guy was going to do, Naruto stayed as still as he could manage.
He was quickly rewarded.
Old Guy bit his thumb, made a series of hand seals – a real technique! Naruto paid attention like he never had in class, memorizing the seal sequence – and slapped his hand on the ground, producing a puff of smoke, and…
A toad the size of a small room.
Old Guy spoke to the toad for a minute, then vanished off towards the wall. The toad hopped off in a different direction, seeming to be headed for the Hokage tower.
Wait a sec… the Old Guy summoned a toad. That must mean he was one of the awesome ninja that Iruka talked about a few months ago, the ones that could summon animals. And if Old Guy could summon toads, then he was…
Like the Fourth. All the pictures of the Fourth's final battle were of him on the back of a huge toad.
Naruto grinned. Now he knew the secret to summoning toads too! He was another step closer to being awesome like the Fourth.
No time like the present. Naruto focused his chakra as hard as he could, bringing an aura of blue light up around his body. He was going to get this right!
Bite thumb. Five handseals, and…
Naruto Uzumaki vanished in a puff of smoke.
Kaen, a fox roughly the size of a large wolf, bounced through the underbrush to where his senses led him. Whatever had happened, it was unusual, and unusual was either or both of Worrying, and Fun.
He'd been nearby when the chakra flare signalled someone was entering the Forest of Confusion, and couldn't help but go and look. Whoever said that curiosity killed the cat hadn't met one of the fox clan.
Bounding lithely over a fallen tree, he skidded to a halt a few feet short of what appeared to be a human, though it was a little smaller than the old stories and a great deal better dressed. Orange was a fox colour, and that was okay with Kaen.
Hm. He hadn't walked in, that was for sure, he wasn't covered in the paint/tar/feathers/mud/slime/anything that would fit in a trap that would indicate that he had.
Kaen made up his mind, and walked over.
"So, where'd you come from then?"
"And so then, it looked awesome, and I tried it, and there was a poof but not the normal poof of a normal jutsu, and then I felt kinda weird and I was here." Naruto babbled.
"Interesting… it occasionally happens, someone tries to perform a Summon without actually having a contract, and they end up in a Summon realm themselves…" Kaen mused. This was interesting. "Tell you what, could you channel as much chakra as you did to bring yourself here?"
Naruto nodded silently, and formed the Ram seal. After a moment, a blue current of visible chakra formed around him, before being joined by two others.
"Stop! Stop!" Kaen called, and the swirling wind that had begun subsided.
The fox shook his head wryly. "Imagine… You have more chakra right now than most full grown ninja. At least, you channelled more than most probably could, so you may have yet more in reserve. You said that this was the first technique that really worked for you?"
The boy nodded.
"Not surprised, with that much. Bad points for that: you'll always have trouble with controlling that amount of power, and probably it would be best if you got to training to correct that control problem right away. That Clone technique you mentioned having trouble with might – might – be forever beyond you. Good news, though, is that by the time you're fully mature you'll probably have more chakra than you could possibly use up. And, of course, it means you're one of the rare ninja who could use the full potential of a contract… already."
He grinned heartily. "Might also explain why you seem to have ADHD on the order of a young fox clan member, at that…" Kaen broke off, and looked up. "When did you climb that tree?"
"Just now. Felt like it."
"Yep, thought so. Well, let's go and meet the older and wiser foxes."
Naruto clambered down the tree. "You mean talking foxes have an old man Hokage as well?"
"Perhaps, depends on who this old man Hokage is."
"Hm. Turned up here, you say?" A small, clearly elderly arctic fox that was apparently – at least for short – called Mandias asked.
Kaen nodded. "Accidental reverse summon, I think."
"Remarkable. That means his closest affinity for animals is with foxes, which could well be a good thing for us."
Mandias cracked some joints and walked over to Naruto. "Mind if I have a little of your blood? I could tell a lot about you from it."
"Er, OK, sure. I heal kinda fast anyway, so it's not a problem." The boy offered his hand, and Mandias delicately drew a thin cut along the ball of the thumb before licking up some of the resultant blood.
"Hm…" he smacked his tongue. "Lots of chakra, this blood feels like it should be flammable there's so much. Wind affinity, nice… secondary in Earth… traces of unnatural heritage – nothing special, not much power in it – and a tint of, a tint of…"
Mandias looked up, and met eyes with Kaen.
"Youkai. Red. I think we found where the boss ended up since last time she got summoned."
"Watcha mean, boss, old fox guy?"
Mandias sighed. "Ever heard of a spirit called the Kyuubi no Kitsune?"
"Yeah! The awesome Fourth Hokage beat it when it attacked my village, about eleven years ago! He's supposed to have killed it or something, but it killed him as well." Naruto looked unhappy for a moment, "But then, I guess it's not all bad, because it means he really was the best ninja in the world if he beat the Kyuubi!"
The arctic fox looked incredulous for a moment, then bashed his head against a tree. "Stupid, stupid! I should have known something was wrong. Alright. Naruto. The Kyuubi no Kitsune, being fox shaped, is a spirit that's close enough to one of us that we're on the same summon scroll. Last time she-"
"She?" Naruto frowned.
"You've never met an annoyed female, I take it?"
Naruto considered for a moment. Thinking about it, actually, Sakura was the scariest person he knew.
"Okay, you win."
"Thank you. Now, she was summoned last almost sixty years ago, and wouldn't you know it but she hasn't been seen since. Now, I don't know what happened between then and the time she attacked your village, but I think I know what happened since. When were you born?"
"October tenth, the same day the Kyuubi attacked."
"Right. I think you're being used as a prison for her."
Naruto blinked. What?
"You've gotta be kidding! I mean, I'm not evil, and-"
"I said a prison. You're not the Kyuubi, if you were your chakra would be pure red. Your system's tinted with red, but it's also got just a hint of the gold of a celestially touched. You're human as I am fox."
"But…" Naruto stuttered. "If that's true, then wouldn't you want to let her out?"
Mandias smiled gently. "I have no intention of doing so. Either she was being controlled in some way, in which case we need to stop it before finding some way to let her out again safely, or she actually tried to destroy your village, in which case she thoroughly deserves her time-out."
Naruto giggled, partly in shock but mostly because the idea of the most powerful spirit of pure destruction the world knew of in a "time out" was hilarious.
"I would like you to meet Kuda, the pipe-fox, and our scroll guardian Lani."
"Evening." Kuda muttered, seeming half-asleep.
Lani looked over on hearing Mandias' voice. "Oh, a human? How did he get here?"
Mandias smiled. "Accidental reverse summon. I think he probably needs to get our contract, it's the only way he's getting home. That and he's a natural fox-summoner. Do you know he actually manages to regularly prank his village's elite troops?"
Lani let out a barking laugh. "Sounds just like you were. Or I was. Or, indeed, any of us. But he did it wearing that orange suit, against some humans?"
"Huh. Must be pretty good at hiding his colour, then." Lani reached into a storage space and pulled out a huge scroll. "Right, then. Sign with your fingerprints and name, in blood – hello, that's strange." She looked closely at the scroll. "Last summoner's still on here, so he's alive, but the contract's broken. That's not supposed to happen, especially as the person in question would be about a hundred by now. Ever heard of an Uchiha Madara? If he's still alive he'd be someone famous."
"Eh, nope. I know an Uchiha-guy, but nobody else like that."
"Strange." Lani repeated. "Ah well, if you would? Splendid."
Mandias flicked his tail for a moment. "Lani, you're the best of us with summoning techniques. How would we be able to get young Naruto back to his home?"
Lani pulled out some smaller scrolls and began flipping through them. "Well, after the first time we can handle the transit easily, just get the kid to summon Kuda whenever he needs to travel here and then he can handle the reverse summon to get him back where he came from afterwards. This first time, though…"
She closed her eyes for a moment, then snapped her claws. "Got it. Ichimaru's still the fastest of us, right?"
Mandias nodded. "Easily."
"Right. Give him one of our disposable summon scrolls, key it to the kid and send him the long way. Either that, or get him to sneak through the Toad's path."
Kuda stirred. "I will contact him." The pipe-fox blew a small puff of smoke that wound lazily off into the trees. Lani, meanwhile, busied herself retrieving the simple summon scroll and connecting it, not to "The fox of the Forest of Confusion by the name of _", but to "The fox summoner, Naruto Uzumaki". Seeing that brought Naruto a lovely little thrill of warmth. He belonged.
Then he noticed Lani staring at the name she'd written.
"Maelstrom… I wonder…"
"Hey, what is it?"
She started. "Oh, nothing. I suppose it's just a suspicion, is all. We won't know if I'm right or not for decades, if ever."
A blur of light shot in from the direction the smoke had gone, bounced off two trees and a branch, and came to rest on the floor as another fox. This one had silver fur, a tail twice as long as his body, and a pronounced squint.
"Hi, boss. What do you want me to do?"
Lani finished writing, charged the scroll with as much chakra as she could, and passed it to the silver. "Take this to Konoha and use it. Then head back."
Ichimaru shook his head. "Always courier missions. I don't know why I put that much effort into becoming fast sometimes."
"Because you are thoroughly impatient. Now, get going."
Ichimaru shot off into the distance, a flowing ribbon of silvery fur.
"Ah, Gama-igobo. What did Jiraiya-boy want you for?"
"Only message delivery, Sage Fukasaku. I delivered his reports to the Hokage's office, though I was summoned inside Konoha itself."
Fukasaku chuckled. "Jiraiya always was a bit lazy. Well done, anyway."
Suddenly, the Sage toad snapped his head around as a blur of reflected sunlight caught his eye. Damn foxes!
He braced himself. Paint bombs again? Stink bombs? Stealing his staff? Or maybe something fiendish they hadn't tried before, like setting the lake on fire, or… or he didn't know what! What was that undoubtedly master prankster going to do now the foxes were bored enough again to start their infernal-
Oh. So it looked like the fox just wanted to use the long distance travel well.
"Hey! Come back here, you impolite carnivore! You could at least have asked!"
"Now, remember, all you have to do to summon the right fox is to use at least enough chakra – try experimenting with that, it won't blow up or anything if you use too little – and focus on the fox you want."
Kuda closed his eyes for a second. "The kid seems lonely. I'll stay with him if he wants, at least nights. And when he's here, I'll be ready to bring him back."
Naruto felt happiness bubble up in him. They were willing to be so much nicer than the villagers-
The villagers. So, that was why they disliked him. But what better way to show them wrong than doing the best he could.
Lani was nodding thoughtfully. "You might have to summon Kaen as the signal you're ready to come here instead, then, Naruto. But as Kuda offered, summon him first when you get home to check you're doing it right."
Naruto began to reply, and vanished with a wrenching pull into darkness. Before, he'd not actually felt anything much, but with a contract to pull him through it was a lot more intense.
And much shorter.
He reappeared on top of the Hokage monument, lit by the setting sun.
Wow. How far had he gone, if it was sunset here and the sun was still up – albeit getting red – there?
"Thanks, speedy fox guy!"
"No problem, call on me if you need a good prank done." Ichimaru dismissed himself with a pouf.
Naruto bounded home, incidentally reassuring the ANBU assigned to keep tabs on him that he'd just slipped surveillance again. He did that with distressing regularity nowadays, to the point it was practically considered ANBU initiation to keep track of the hyperactive kid's general whereabouts for some large fraction of a day.
Back in his apartment, he closed the curtains, looked around furtively, and steeled himself.
"Well, here we go. Summoning!"
The pipe-fox appeared in one of the familiar puffs of smoke. "Evening again. Bit of a mess, this place."
Naruto looked downcast. "I don't exactly have a family, so… well."
"I get the idea. Well, you headed to sleep?"
"I'll have supper first. Can't beat Ramen!" Naruto pulled out a pair of instant ramen cups, frowned, and got out another.
Then he looked to his guest. "You want one?"
Kuda had drifted over to the table. "How much of this stuff do you eat?"
"Eh… mostly three or four cups a meal."
"No, I meant in relation to other things."
Naruto blinked. "People willingly eat stuff that's not Ramen?"
"Night." Naruto muttered, already halfway to asleep.
Kuda watched over him from above, curled around the light hanging.
He's so young. It doesn't feel right, that kits should have to fight like this, live like this. I can understand why the Kyuubi was so enraged, but not her methods.
Naruto fidgeted in bed, moving in fits and starts.
Probably having a nightmare, poor guy.
Oh, screw it.
Kuda drifted down and wrapped himself around Naruto's neck. The warmth seemed to comfort him, and he stopped moving as fiercely. A hand moved up to touch him, make sure he was there.
Kuda settled in for the night.
Naruto Uzumaki slept with another making him feel safe, for the first time in his life.
"Erf… morning Kuda. And thanks."
"Not a problem. Now, isn't it time you were somewhere else? Your alarm went off, after all."
"Oh, yeah…" Naruto went to have a quick shower, calling out as he turned the water on. "You want to come?"
"I might, yes. Though it would be best if you were to allow me to hide on your arm."
"Eh? Would that work?" Naruto asked sceptically. "I mean, is it more hide-y than normal?"
"I am a Kudagitsune. I can become a mere marking on the skin, while still able to hear all that is said and see all that I would normally be able to…" Kuda remembered who he was talking to. "Yes."
"Cool. And I was thinking that I should head over to the fox-place-"
"The Forest of Mystery."
"Yeah, there, after the Academy. I want to see what awesome things Mandias has for me!"
"Hey, Naruto!" Kiba called as the Uzumaki entered the class. "Any reason you smell more like fox than normal?"
"Don't mention us, at least not yet."
"Eh, dunno. Maybe I wanted to dress the part of the trickster more than normal and went overboard!"
Kiba laughed. "Could be. What's today's prank, then?"
Naruto grinned from ear to ear. "Wait and see!"
Hinata blushed. Naruto was so confident, so full of strength… and there was something moving on him that she hadn't seen before. She could only see that it was moving differently than him, though, his blaze of blue chakra obscured almost all the details.
Iruka came in, accompanied by Mizuki. "Now, class, today we'll look into the third of the academy basic techniques, the Replacement-
Smoke bombs detonated in every pencil drawer in the teacher's desk.
Iruka sighed. "Naruto."
"Eh, someone must have replaced the erasers! Kinda neat coincidence, huh?"
"I would give you a detention if I weren't honestly impressed that you managed to prime smoke bombs for the exact time I spoke, a day in advance, without my noticing their presence. Instead, I'll make you take your own notes on this class – and they better be word-perfect, or I will give you that detention."
"Good afternoon, Naruto. Now, there are several things we could work on for you, and I'd prefer it if you were to work hard enough to get them all done as soon as possible."
"Wow, old man Mandias! You're gonna teach me stuff?"
"Of course. You're a rare individual, and in any case we haven't had a summoner willing to learn all this before. Our last just wanted to use the Kyuubi, not any of our other talents. Now, here's the list."
Mandias unrolled a scroll. On it was:
Naruto licked his lips. "It's… kinda long."
"Has to be, there's a lot of stuff to get through. Now, Kuda's report tells me that you're quite good on the first two already, but you need some serious work on the rest. And the quickest way to fix the third one is going to have to wait. So… your first training session is going to be in climbing trees with chakra."
"Ooh, so that's how you guys climb trees an' stuff!"
"Exactly. It's one of the training exercises that's useful. There are many that are and many more that aren't."
"Got it!" Naruto ran over to one of the trees and put his foot against it, before focusing chakra.
Mandias winced as the tree collapsed. "Might have been a bit much chakra, there!"
"Still too much?"
"Still too much. Why not start small and work up."
Kaen glanced up. "Oh, hi again. I see you worked out how to stick properly."
"Yeah! And only the second day too!"
"Right. Next thing is to keep it up while you're jumping from place to place. Start practicing at a low level, I'll make sure to catch you if you fall."
"Good. You have the kind of ability with tree climbing I wanted you to have. Not bad after only four days. Now, from now on you will be summoned outside the forest proper." Mandias gave a fox grin. "This means, of course, that you will have to make it through the trapped perimeter. Watch out for mud, paint, small explosives… well, I'm sure you can guess."
"You mean a kinda prank obstacle course! Sounds fun!"
"Watch yourself, though, kid. Some of these traps are fiendish."
"I'll be fine!"
"Well, Mandias?" Lani asked, joining the elderly fox at his scrying pool. It didn't have much range, but could cover at least the forest perimeter.
"Well, he made it past the fake tree made of collapsing paint, and he dodged the jam cannon. Next should be the-"
"…the seal trap containing an earth/water dragon?"
"Yep. And he only got splashed despite all the mud, not bad."
The small Naruto in the pool, clothes now flecked with brown, came to a small river with a net over it. Not being a fool and noticing the tiny drops of something sticky attached to the net, he went downriver until he found a bridge and began to cross.
"Wait for it…"
The bridge elastic released as Naruto took his weight off the first half, which acted as one big trigger catch.
Mandias looked up from the pool, to see a screaming Naruto fly through the air overhead and land in a lake.
"I better go get him." Kaen volunteered from the other side of the pool.
"I suppose you might be interested in learning how to walk on water?"
"You mean like Kaen did to get me out? That sounds awesome!"
"Right, that's a yes then."
"Where did all those traps come from, by the way, old fox guy? There were loads of them, and really inventive!"
Mandias smirked slightly. "Well, we are a mischief totem animal. We're very much into playing tricks, and if someone manages an especially good one it gets added to the perimeter defences. That both preserves it for the future and makes it so any invader's probably going to be annoyed, tired, soaked and glowing in the dark from all the paint."
"Right. Your control's about as good as we can get it with water walking," Mandias shook his head. Naruto's rate of learning seemed to be accelerating. "So we're going to try working with your other chakra source."
Naruto flinched. "You mean…"
"Yes, and don't worry. Worst comes to worst, I can handle the Kyuubi."
"Okay. If you say so… how do I do this?"
"I would recommend trying to draw on more chakra than normal, but I doubt that would be safe here with how large your regular reserves are. I suggest you simply try to feel the same emotions as her, maybe that'll help."
Naruto sat in the centre of a small depression lit only by fox fire dancing in the trees, frowning in intense concentration. Kori, a fox with strangely translucent fur, stepped up beside his Sage. "How long has he been trying?"
"It's been four hours today. I think there's only one thing to do."
Kori flicked his tail. "If you say so…" He flicked it again, and a fine cloud of downy fur flew off the tip, spreading into a rippling, rainbow-hued mist.
Naruto blinked. The world seemed to shimmer, then a puff of smoke surrounded him. So he'd been summoned back to Konoha already?
Then the smoke cleared, and his heart leapt into his throat.
Kuda was lying on the floor of his apartment, almost cut in half by an indistinct figure with a slim blade.
"Naru…to…" The little pipe fox seemed to gasp, then fell silent.
Naruto clenched his fists. "Why did you have to do that, you monster?"
"Monster?" The figure chuckled. "No, it's you who's the monster. And now your filthy familiar is killed, your power over the Hokage is broken and he'll celebrate like everyone else when I kill you!"
Naruto barely heard over the roaring in his ears. This could not be allowed to happen. Someone had decided to murder him, in his sleep at that as the hour was so late, and they'd killed his friend when he was helpless.
A rush of strength rose up in him, and he lost himself in the sudden intense bloodlust.
Mandias and Kori watched as a volcano of red youkai blasted from the form of their summoner.
Kori shook his head. "Well, that worked."
Mandias wrapped his tail around the other fox and pulled him aside as Naruto suddenly charged forward, aiming for something only he could see. "Dispel it, now!"
"I already did, something's wrong!"
Mandias skidded to a halt, the old fox seeming to shed the weight of ages. "Right, our suspicions are confirmed. Tell Lani, trigger the emergency clause!" The Sage's form pulsed, and his eyes began to shine with a faint yellow light.
Kori charged off into the distance, aiming for the home of the Fox' contract-keeper.
The arctic fox smiled slightly. "At least I can hold her off. Needle Jizo!"
His fur animated and elongated to several feet in length, and he lunged in an attempt to pin down the enraged form of his Summoner.
With a splash, Mandias abruptly appeared in a sewer-like water pipe. The water level was fairly low, but easily thigh-deep on the elderly fox.
After a moment to refocus on where he was – such as no longer attempting to restrain a berserk Jinchuriki – Mandias floated to the top of the water and shook himself. "So, Lani activated the clause. I'm surprised; this isn't what I expected his mental landscape to be like." The arctic fox began to trot towards a distant light.
As he approached, he differentiated it as two lights – one blue, one red. The red was shifting uncomfortably…
He broke into a run. He had his suspicions on why the Kyuubi was acting so different to when he last saw her, but there was only one way to find which was correct.
"MILLICENT MEHABITEL MUDD! What do you think you are doing?"
The great red beast looked suddenly puzzled. "OZY?" Then she gave a high, pained fox scream, and the flash of recognition faded. For a moment, Mandias – Ozymandias, the oldest of foxes – saw a pattern in her eyes.
Three tomoe, chasing one another.
"I should have known he was only after the contract for the Bijuu who shares it…" he muttered, before lunging forward and taking a small fragment of fresh youkai. Retreating, he swirled it in his maw. "Hmmm… three separate illusions at least. Emotional letterboxing, false surroundings and a big memory blocker. Oh, ouch, will suppression as well. But only for the purposes of implanting commands by the original caster of the illusion? I am so glad someone removed him from our contract for us." Individually the illusions were merely extremely powerful, but together they covered one another's weaknesses. The false surroundings prevented anything from snapping her out of the others, the memory blocker prevented her breaking it from within and the emotional constraint made her easily predictable and unlikely to accidentally break the others.
Too bad a Sage now knew about them. Ozymandias focused his chakra, and began to lens it through his Celestial Gates.
All his usable, Sage-augmented chakra for the breaking of one illusion. A fair trade, as such things went.
"For my power to fight, given up for this task. Let the trap of the body, of twisted world, be broken, for I am not the target and yet I will resist it. Bend, crack, break!"
Instantly he was drained, his fur losing much of its' lustre and his legs giving out.
The Kyuubi blinked. That fox definitely looked familiar, and unlike a moment ago it wasn't shouting abuse at her. What just happened? Eh, no matter, it deserved to die anyway. Everything had to burn, destroyed by the lovely flames and the collapsing ground and the waves that made everything so deliciously chaotic and…
"Millie." The Kyuubi frowned. Was that her name? It sounded familiar. "The Buddha put out a hit on you."
Without thinking, she replied, "Of course, I knew too little." Then pain crashed through her.
Through the screaming headache she heard that maddeningly familiar voice. "Your name is Millicent Mehabitel Mudd! You were born of the youkai shed by the Ten tailed beast's destruction a thousand years ago! I was your friend, in our childhood and beyond!"
Damn! This voice had to be causing her the pain! Someone had hit her with an illusion – the pain increased at that thought, and her thoughts wavered.
But there was really only one solution someone could accept when the word illusion came up like this.
She wrenched her youkai into a scramble pattern, and after a moment of resistance something broke.
Outside, Naruto collapsed on the forest floor.
"Okay, what the hell happened next?"
Mandias, as he explained he preferred still to be called, had finished explaining the first nine centuries of life of the greatest of the nine Bijuu, as well as his own part in it as a brother not by blood.
"After that, none of us know. Uchiha Madara got the Summon contract at only about age 25, and he was a great deal of fun at that time, but after a short time he stopped calling us, only bringing out Millie when he needed something broken. We think that he eventually overused her – this would be about seventy years ago – and she either protested or just was a bit scatterbrained, and he ensnared her in that horrible illusion web. That's probably the time he started using her in serious battle. Since we know the Wood release bloodline suppresses youkai, the reason she was docile under its' influence was likely just lack of strength. Since then… nothing we can tell. Millie's memory is a bit spotty since the first illusion."
He shifted a little. "Good thing is, though, that now the only disadvantage of using her chakra is basically the sheer potency of it could still burn your system. That as a problem should fade as you get used to more of it – consider it a trump card for now."
A slight grin. "And if you want to keep her happy, just be interesting. Preferably pranks."
"I can do what?"
"Yep. Each of the Bijuu has a talent born of their ridiculous amounts of chakra – and their personality. Millie, being so mercurial in thought, could shapechange, and so can you. Your regeneration comes from just constantly low-level shifting into your own form. Now, as you can imagine, that's a useful little trick."
"Hang on… does that mean that everyone else's transformation is just a disguise?"
"Of course. Otherwise people would turn into monsters for a fight, or insects to scout, or birds to travel long distances."
"And I could do all that?"
"Indeed. Even inanimate objects, I think."
Naruto began to chuckle, and everyone in Konoha simultaneously got a chill down the back of their necks.
"Medium sized, has the ability to coat herself in fire."
"Small, able to generate water."
"Very small but can allow the use of the Underground Move technique to any one other person as well as himself, so long as they're in contact."
"Good. It's important to know your summons, more so as the foxes can't use handseals and all their arts are based off pure chakra control, each taking many years to perfect. They're all unique."
"Yeah, it's kinda like academy lessons but a lot less boring I guess. Especially when I can actually meet them. I know that history'd be a lot less boring if I knew the people involved – 's why I paid attention in the lesson about the founding, I kinda know about Madara after all. Er, they didn't mention his foxes, is that because he didn't use you or what?"
"He stopped using us before he was thirty, which may have been before the founding. I assume they mentioned only that he used Millie – well, they would have said the Kyuubi?"
"Yeah, in a big fight against the First Hokage sixty years ago. I think he's supposed to have died at age forty."
"And it all fits together. That's when Millie never returned. Let's see… death for a tailed beast is temporary, they're too strong. Anything more than about two tails of power would detonate anything non living as a container, and three also exceeds anything non human. So, the logical conclusion is that you're not the first container. Actually, nine tails of power is a ridiculously large amount of chakra, I think it's only your heritage that's protecting you there."
"How does the tail measuring thing work?"
"I thought we went over this. Each additional tail of power represents a doubling. So the idea is that the Sage, the container of the Ten Tails, split much of its' power into nine packets of chakra, one to nine tails' worth. Not sure where the rest is, could just be slack in the main packets, but it's going to be anything from just nosing a tail of chakra to well over nine – adding powers of two like that can be strange."
Naruto snickered. They were never going to figure THIS one out.
He had spent a few hours scouting out the restaurant and a distillery, and had managed to find a few bottles of sake that were thrown out when a batch was improperly produced. A little time in the fridge for the sake, freezing out the water content, and he had some of the most potent alcohol in the elemental countries.
Placing his doctored bottle next to him, he made sure it was visible from the till and shapeshifted into another bottle.
A quick double-Replacement later, and his everclear-strong sake bottle was among the collection for meal refreshment. Now to wait until someone ordered it…
A series of crashes came from the restaurant, and a horde of patrons charged out. They were followed by a girl with her hair in buns, a long haired person that was probably a boy, and a tall man in green spandex who all left by the window.
As Naruto moved around to get a better look, he overheard them talking. Apparently, someone had gotten drunk from merely the fumes and promptly gone berserk.
He giggled to himself, and in the back of his mind he heard a high fox laugh.
"Listening? Good. Now, to learn this, you have to be able to be absolutely still." Mandias curled his tail tighter around the gnarled walking stick. "And if you're not absolutely still, or you do this wrongly, I will sadly have to hit you in the face with this cane."
"Okay. What's it do? And where'd you get it?"
"Well, bad things happen if you try and channel natural energy while moving. And the stick stops the bad thing. I pinched it from the Frog clan a few decades ago, I understand the former owner was very annoyed."
"Oh well, not everything works straight away."
Naruto scowled. He could channel Nature energy, but he couldn't retain it when he started moving again. If he wanted to use his newly enhanced chakra, he would be pinned to a single spot on the ground, though fortunately he could at least move his arms.
"And look on the bright side, this means you can summon me now."
Naruto blinked. "Huh?"
"And I thought we went over this… a Sage who has used nature chakra for centuries, such as myself, becomes part of the natural world to a sufficient degree that they cannot be summoned by mere normal human chakra. And using Youkai would be… contraindicated from the point of view of stealth."
"Perform the Bunshin, Naruto."
"Aw! Why not something else, something I actually have the control to perform? It's not my fault that half a year of intensive chakra exercises can't change that I have enough chakra to move Konoha to a new site and the Bunshin takes… uuh… about one five-thousandth of one percent of my-"
Iruka interrupted his student's rant. "The Bunshin, Naruto. Making excuses isn't going to help you in a real fight."
Naruto muttered to himself about the Bunshin being not helpful in a proper fight either, then dutifully channelled the smallest amount of chakra he actually could and formed the seal.
"Bunshin!" Three half dead replicas appeared, each on about five times the normal chakra requirement. That was completely amazing as far as he was concerned, as that pegged his relative control as being able to actually perform anything not a flimsy little illusion only useful against civilians.
"Naruto Uzumaki, fail. I'm sorry, Naruto, but there's a reason they're the basics. Maybe try again next year?"
Mizuki tried to argue for him, but Iruka cut him off.
He is probably afraid of showing favouritism, especially since others might conclude you are influencing him to allow you to pass.
Kuda was probably right… Ah well. Nothing said he couldn't try again in another year, after all. But by that point he'd have done so much chakra control exercise he'd be spare.
"There is another way to pass, you know."
Naruto listened. Steal the scroll of forbidden seals? Learn something from it? It sounded too good to be true, surely there were some techniques on the scroll with no reason for being forbidden but massive chakra cost?
It probably is too good to be true. He smells dishonest. But go along with it.
Naruto crept through the night-time Hokage tower, searching carefully for the Scroll. Where was it…
The boy whirled. "Ah, hello old man Hokage. I guess you caught me, huh? Well, no problem, I'll definitely have time to pass with this!"
Naruto scored his first victory over an enemy in a thoroughly unconventional manner, and with Kuda's laughter hissing in his ears he legged it with the scroll.
"First one… ooh! Taiju Kage Bunshin? 'Shadow clones drain large amounts of chakra, and the multiple variant of the technique makes this drain all the more intense'? 'Memory backlash'? Solid clones? This means…"
Naruto pumped his fist. "This is perfect! Goodbye, weak point!"
It's better than that. As of when you learn this, your clones are a strength.
"Right! Okay, seals, seals… only three? Neat…"
Going to learn something else?
Naruto sat back on the floor, a little tired but triumphant, and began to channel nature chakra – making him temporarily a sensor – as his early warning system.
"I'll have a look. Hmm… Shiki fujin? Nope… no… nope… why are there so many damn suicide techniques… a technique that just kills you? Wha… aha! Spiral Wind Cannon! Hmm… massive drain, Wind natured obviously, takes a hell of a lot of control? Aw well, good to have something to shoot for... and with, of course… Kuda, can you memorize the page? I think we're nearly out of time."
"Hi, Iruka-sensei! I did the special test Mizuki mentioned, does it have to be him who grades me or can you do it now?"
Iruka blinked. "Special test?"
Mizuki's laughter rang in the trees. As he explained at great length how he'd managed to trick the boy who was really a demon in disguise, honest, I mean just look at him, that shade of blonde can't be natural, and besides it was obvious because the boy had…
Naruto tuned him out and bit his thumb.
"Summoning: death from above!"
A fox the size of a building appeared and flattened Mizuki.
"So, er, Sensei, should we take the scroll back now?"
Iruka blinked. "You just summoned a fox."
"Yeah, I kinda found out that if you try and copy the summoning technique with no contract, strange stuff happens."
"Most interesting, Naruto. Why did you not inform me of this contract before?"
"Well, I was kinda busy training. They're a lot better at teaching than the academy teachers, though I guess that if Mizuki's one of them it's not a surprise."
"Right. Well, I think that to fail someone with a contract who knows how to use it would just be silly. You've graduated, Naruto. And I'd be interested in hearing how these foxes differ from the other summons I've met."
"Wow! How many types have you seen?"
"Hm, well, not counting the ones I met across the battlefield, I have the Monkey contract – appropriate, I suppose – and then there's the Toads, the Snakes and the Slugs held by my three students, the Sannin."
"They must have been awesome! How did they get theirs?"
"Well, Jiraiya got his by accident. He saw me summoning and decided to copy me, but as he had no contract he was teleported to Mount Myoboku, the realm of the toads…"
Naruto fell off his seat laughing.
"Oh, that's just priceless! The sheer irony of it …bwahaha! I mean, what are the odds!"
The Sandiame looked concerned. "Naruto, are you okay?"
A voice spoke. "He'll be okay once it's out of his system. Greetings, Hokage of Konoha. I am Kuda, Pipe-fox, and I inhabit his skin during the day as an animate tattoo. The reason he is laughing is that that is exactly how he obtained us as summons."
"There aren't any shortcuts to being a Ninja. I would recommend, though, that you ask your grandfather what his summons, the Monkeys, think of the best path to strength. After all, they're gonna be yours one day, right?"
Konohamaru grinned. "Yeah! That's right! I'll be a ninja in the monkey way, and that'll beat you any day!"
Naruto matched his grin. "You want to say that again, chimpy? Foxes are good too! We'll settle it when we fight over who gets to be Hokage!"
Ebisu stroked his chin. Well, that's one way to put it. Hopefully the Honourable – er… okay, the Honourable Konohamaru, will actually listen to me now. Better see the Hokage about that summons idea, though – it makes entirely too much sense to be ignored.
"Hey! While we're waiting why don't I introduce you guys to my summons!"
Sasuke frowned. "You have a summon? The person who only passed by an act of god?"
Naruto scowled. "I told you, the teacher was looking for a reason specifically to fail me. But anyway." He sat down cross-legged on the grass, and closed his eyes, feeling for the natural energy of the world.
"Naruto! You're not supposed to be going to sleep!"
That ought to be enough. He bit his thumb and flashed through the seals for his favourite technique. "Summoning: Old guy!"
Mandias appeared in a puff of smoke. "Morning, Naruto. Are these your new pack – er, teammates, then?"
"Yeah! That's Sasuke, he's pretty good and supposed to be from a clan, but an emo. And that's Sakura, who's really strong, but only when hitting me. Heheh…"
Mandias frowned. "Indeed?" He turned to the other two genin. "Tell me, would you two mind if I were to have a taste of your blood?"
Sakura cringed. "Ew! Why would you even ask something like that! Naruto, if your summons are all like this…"
Naruto waved his hands. "No, no, it's not like that. It's really handy! When he did it with mine, he was able to tell what affinity I was, as well as… anything else unusual."
Sasuke wordlessly walked over, slit the ball of his thumb with a kunai, and passed it to the fox.
"Thanks. Hmm, Lightning and Fire, interesting, a very strong attacking pair of elements. Pretty good chakra reserves, a tinge of black chakra, I wonder where-ah. Bloodlimit, eye-based, active but trauma-locked-"
"What." Sasuke was glaring now. "What do you mean, trauma locked?"
Mandias met his gaze. "Your blood and the chakra in it has a slight taste of an active power, but it's not been used in years. Since you're not an idiot, that means it's traumatically locked. You might not even have noticed it activating. Now, as I was saying, you have a small amount of non human chakra. It's not exactly rare, Naruto has it too, but since yours is black you might want to be careful as you'll be easier to mentally influence than normal. You can train to overcome that, but if I didn't mention it you wouldn't have known."
Sasuke went over to a stump and sat on it in annoyance, thinking over what the fox had said.
Well, there's an easy way to check if he's right. Get our - very late - sensei to give me a chakra affinity test.
Sakura, meanwhile, had hesitantly walked over. "Er… can I…"
"Go ahead." The arctic fox nodded regally.
Sakura copied Sasuke, making a small incision in her thumb and passing the kunai to Mandias.
The fox took it in his tail and licked the blade. His eyes widened.
"Saints… Naruto! Who put your team together? This is ridiculous!"
"Er, I was considered to have passed last because of the Mizuki thing, Sasuke's the best in the year and Sakura's the best Kunoichi."
"Right, because if this were the weird chakra club it would be less strange." He turned to Sakura. "What are your parents like as ninja?"
"Er…" Sakura was getting worried. "They're civilian…"
"Your chakra's the strangest I've ever felt. It's about normal in amount, but it's split between two types. A small pool that's the one you can normally use, and a bigger one that's… well, you're not entirely human either. Hmm… you've got a strong gold chakra tint and two chakra pools. I assume you've got an internal dialogue sometimes?"
"Thought so, it's nothing to be ashamed of. You, Sakura, have divine heritage. Potent divine heritage, strong enough to be usable. I daresay that with a little practice, you could switch around your traits on the fly. You're…" he licked the kunai again, "…Water natured at the moment, but that's not something that's set in stone." Mandias shook his head. "And I thought things were strange before… all three of you could have True Names. You could all learn them by thirty. Twenty, even. This is ridiculous."
"Oi! Old guy! What should we do while we wait?"
Mandias flicked his tail. "Stratagem twenty-eight."
"Oh, yeah. Kage Bunshin!" A massive horde of Narutos appeared and began busily messing around with the forest, grass, lake and everywhere else they possibly could.
Sakura frowned. "Lure them onto the roof, then take away the ladder? What do you mean?"
"The clones are trapping the place. If this sensei of yours wants to give you a test, let him have one of his own."
Time passed. Sakura and Sasuke asked Mandias for more information on their apparent lineages. Naruto's thousand clones set up ever more elaborate traps, including some which would have been impossible without parts of the machinery being shapeshifted clones.
Naruto dropped back down next to his team. "This is ridiculous. Okay, guys, the place is about as trapped as I can make it without being obvious, and I checked – he's not near enough for me to sense, which means he's not in the training ground."
"You're a sensor now?"
"Only when I'm not moving and have some time to concentrate. Hey, old guy? Any of the foxes that might work well with these guys?"
Mandias frowned. "Tell me, Sasuke. Do you know any techniques?"
The Uchiha nodded. "Fire."
"Right, I think Ara for him, and as for Sakura… summon Niyi for her."
"Got it! Summoning: Assistants!"
As the other foxes appeared in bursts of smoke, Mandias shook his head. "Must you always say something silly as part of the summon?"
"Why yes, yes I must." Naruto turned to the two foxes thus summoned. The larger one, about the size of a normal fox, had a smooth but unusually large tail. The other was about five inches long and had dichromatic eyes. "Niyi, can you help Sakura here with her other personality? Ara, you'll be working with the duck haired guy. He's got fire attacks."
Ara yipped. "Fire attacks? Yay!"
"And what use are you?" Sasuke grumbled.
"I do biiig gusts of wind!"
Sasuke's eyes widened.
"Ye-ep! Great big boom!"
Niyi trotted over to Sakura. "So, you have another personality? Let's have a look."
Sakura blinked, and was in a field of grass.
Niyi, beside her, barked softly to get her attention. "Welcome to the inside of your mind. I'm impressed, by the way, it's a lovely place. Now, there should be another person here if you have two personalities."
Sakura looked around, before a call came from the distance.
"Hey! Good to see you finally made it, other me."
Sakura walked over, this one moving with more confidence and a jaunty spring in her step.
"Ah, good. Now, the two of you need to work out how to exchange places. In my case, it's as simple as mental effort alone by now – but that's after much practice. Looking at the two of you, I'd say one is power, combat strength and so on and the other is knowledge, control et cetera. Being able to exchange between the two would be a great benefit, and all you would need to do to be well rounded is develop both equally."
The Sakura of perfect control pointed towards a chair near where she'd appeared. "That work?"
The other, 'inner' Sakura nodded. "Er, may I?"
"Go ahead. I'll let you know when we need to swap again."
"After this, you should be able to make it in here more easily. Just ask Naruto to summon me again if you need help." She puffed into smoke.
Naruto and Sasuke were looking at her, concerned. "It work?"
"Hell yeah! Now, let's see…" she moved over to a tree. Naruto gulped.
"Not that one, it's trapped. No, that one's trapped too. And that… you know what? I'll show you the one that's not."
"Right, let's do this!" Sakura punched the tree, and left a dent. Quite a deep dent, at that.
Sasuke blinked. "Scared now."
"Hehe, so much for being terrible at sparring!"
"To get the bells, you will need to come at me with intent to kill."
Naruto twitched an eyebrow. "You made us wait three hours for this?"
"Now, now, don't be like that. Go!"
Sasuke shot a small fireball at Kakashi before moving back with Naruto and Sakura, and Ara jumped up from his feet, producing a strong wind with his tail that fanned the fireball to huge size.
Kakashi took a moment to realize that the three were moving as a group rather than separating, before jumping for cover from the fireball.
Was that a fox I saw?
He was cut off as he reached the edge of the small clearing and all hell broke loose.
Paint, jam, water, some kind of gunk that got harder when hit, tar, feathers, more paint, treacle, academy glue, high proof alcohol, grass, mud and hundreds of academy-grade kunai and shuriken went everywhere.
Sakura and Sasuke watched in fascination as Naruto's breathing steadied and his eyes became orange-rimmed.
After a moment, his eyes opened and they saw they had become slit yellow. "He's near the lake. I have a plan – we need to get me into close combat. And I also know how to pass all of us – shadow clones can change shape," he said, downplaying his ability slightly. "So we can just fake a bell or two. So long as we have at least one, he won't be able to tell which of us has no bell."
He stood up, his Sage marks fading instantly, and the three of them set off.
Sasuke thought it over. "If we can drive him to the lakeshore, then we can pincer him against it-"
"Won't work, sorry. Experienced ninja can walk on water. I can too, but that's because of massive control training to try and let me manage the Clone. And it still didn't work."
"Okay. Mind teaching me how?"
"Later, I'll be happy to. Maybe we can try that tomorrow before our sensei arrives. So, I'm thinking we try and do straight taijutsu with me, my clones and Sakura, while Sasuke and Ara blast him if he does go for the lake."
Sasuke nodded. "Got it. Where's Ara?"
Naruto formed the seals again. "Here, now." The fox appeared in the arms of a Shadow Clone. "Take Sasuke to the other side of the lake, disable the traps as you pass. Bring in other clones."
That clone and Sasuke separated from Naruto and Sakura. "Give him two minutes, then we go in."
Kakashi ducked, dodged, and more or less effortlessly dismantled the horde of shadow clones swarming him. Upon seeing one moving in a slightly different manner, he decided to see if it was the real one and grabbed it, twisting that Naruto's arm.
Something moved in the periphery of his vision.
The Naruto in question blurred for an instant, and became Sakura. Who punched him so hard he went flying out over the lake.
Then there was fire.
The three genin candidates looked at the Jonin as he vanished underwater, a hiss arising as it extinguished the wind-boosted fire on his clothes.
Naruto took the opportunity to toss the other two a bell each. "Here."
Sasuke frowned. "You sure at least one of these is real?"
The boy nodded. "Yeah." Kuda's head poked out of his sleeve. "This guy here's a pipe fox, and can meld with my skin to form a mobile tattoo. He nabbed them in the second before Sakura Replaced with me, and bingo."
Ara bounced around. "We got to set things on fire and do something useful!"
Sasuke hid a grin. The Uchiha liked the fox's attitude to explosions, and felt that Ara would make a good collaboration partner. His mind filled with an image of beating Itachi by using a collaboration technique – after all, that was one thing his brother lacked, partners.
"Well, that's a pass – good teamwork. That's all I was looking for."
Naruto snickered. "Nice way of showing it, Sensei. And need any help getting the fluorescent orange paint off?"
Kakashi twitched. "No."
"I can handle it myself, thanks."
"The tar? Feathers? Ooh, jam. I didn't think that one would work."
Kakashi snapped his fingers, and suddenly his clothes were unsoiled.
"Wow! How did you do that?" Naruto asked, fascinated.
Kakashi gave an eye smile. "Trade secret. One I don't think you three monsters are ready to learn."
Sakura frowned, and blinked. Her form's posture changed from being poised for movement to a less active state, and she formed a seal. "Kai!"
Kakashi's Henge dispelled and revealed he was still splattered with the ammunition of a dozen traps. He twitched again. "Monsters."
Naruto gave a dazzling smile. "Nice work on the switch, Sakura! That's going to be a real surprise for someone if they think they have us figured out!"
Kakashi coughed, Henge back up. It wavered as Sakura fired another dispel, but remained the same. Sasuke frowned.
"You have more than one Henge up, don't you?"
"Seventeen!" the Jonin replied happily, before rounding on Naruto. "Summons?"
"Accident a year ago, according to the old man Hokage it's the same way Jiraiya of the Sannin got his. They're fine, no destructive tendencies beyond an occasional love of explosions or suchlike. They also helped me deal with my ADHD somewhat, so be glad for that."
The Hatake shuddered. "Understood."
"Team seven passed."
"Sorry, what?" asked another Jonin. "You passed a team?"
"They got me." Kakashi said, seeming unconcerned. "This totally vindicates my testing method for the last five years, a team of three genin can take on a Jonin and it's ludicrous to suggest otherwise."
One of the Jonin in the room, a Hyuga, frowned, activated his bloodline and sniggered. This action from a Hyuga of all people caused almost as much shock as Kakashi's earlier announcement.
"How many traps did you get hit with?"
"About 20 or so, that Uzumaki kid's horrible to deal with. Especially with that contract of his… he managed to give the Uchiha the assistance of a wind focused summon and somehow turn Haruno into a taijutsu talent."
Now the Hokage blinked. "He's that good at catalyzing other ninja? Well, it appears you have a set of students who will test you."
"Okay, here guys, I spent last night working them out."
Sakura looked over the small scroll she had been handed. There was a set of complex seals, then an empty line, then a pair of pawprints in blood and the name "Niyi".
"Is this… a summon contract?"
He grinned. "Sorta, it's a branch contract - I think is the name. It's like, you put your name down as a cadet summoner, and you can have some of the foxes sign to your name and hence summon them. And vice versa, which is the real gold."
Sasuke's mind began working fast. "Vice versa? Does that mean what I think it means?"
Naruto's grin became broad enough to light up the clearing. "It means that with these, all it takes is a couple minutes of planning and you can be summoned wherever you want!"
Sakura looked suddenly upset. "But, I don't have the chakra to-"
"Smart-you doesn't, yet, but strong-you does."
She thought for a moment, then smiled too. "That means that if things go horribly wrong, we could just be summoned straight to the hospital! Or – or we could be summoned out of a trap, or as reinforcements against an enemy who doesn't expect us, or…"
Naruto held up a hand. "I've got a warning, though. The way I got my summon contract was by performing the summoning technique with a big splash of chakra and no contract myself. So I got sent to the realm of the most appropriate animal. If either of you want to try the same, it has to be before you sign this cadet contract. The old fox's fine with people holding a cadet fox contract as well as another, but he's only willing to extend that to a few people. You really impressed him with your potential."
Sasuke considered. "Right. I'll give it a go. Pass me the contract, and get Ara to summon me back if I take too long."
Naruto passed over the scroll, then snapped his fingers. "If you do end up somewhere, try and find out where you are in the summon lands. The toads of Mount Myoboku have a long distance travel well that leads here, so that's a good place to orient yourself on."
The Uchiha, at Naruto's direction, took a soldier pill for a quick chakra boost in case he didn't have enough, went through the pattern of summoning, and dissolved in a puff of smoke.
Naruto grinned. "Well, that worked!"
At that moment Kakashi strolled in. "Hi, sorry I'm late, I was doing my laundry and the machine clogged."
"Paint, perhaps, sensei?"
"None of your lip, Naruto. Now – where's the other one?"
Sakura smiled. "He's off getting a summon contract! Awesome, isn't he?"
Naruto sighed. "Ah well, at least I get partial credit for showing him how to do that…"
Kakashi twitched. This genin team was starting to look like a potential Three Sannin all over again, which would mean more work.
"Well, that's nice. Our first mission is going to be a rescue mission."
"Wow, that's awesome!" Naruto shouted.
"Yes, we need to rescue a family from boredom by babysitting."
"I withdraw my awesome comment."
Mandias sat on his haunches in the forest claimed by the fox summons. He was perfectly centred. He was communing with nature on a fundamental level.
He was surprised to notice a large bird flying towards him.
Opening his eyes, he saw the hawk – clearly a large summon clan member – flying gently down towards him. After a few more seconds in which he got up and stretched, it alighted on a branch.
"Sage of the Foxes. I am Tadewi, messenger of the Hawk Tribe. A young human bearing a cadet contract of your clan has appeared in our midst, seeking our might to join his own. Do you have an explanation?"
"I do. The boy is an ally of our newest summoner, and performed the summon with no contract at all to discover what he might be best suited for. He would be a good choice – his chakra is strong, and while it bears a tint of black, that tint is something he is aware of and will likely seek to overcome. He bears fire and lightning, and his eyes will be sharp when he can fully use them."
"Understood. We will not look on his petition with disfavour. You have no problem in his possessing a cadet contract of yours and a true contract of ours?"
"I do not."
"Then we will have no problem with the situation either." Tadewi spread his wings. "Live long and well, Sage."
Naruto sighed. "D ranks. I hate D ranks."
"We know, Naruto. One of your clones mentions it every few minutes."
He sighed, and picked out yet another weed from the ground. It wasn't bad as D ranks went, but it was incredibly boring. He hadn't managed to make time to see about what Mandias called the 'emergency strength training plan', and his sudden lack of progress felt horrible. Oh, he was improving, just nowhere near as fast as he had on the glorious night he learned the Shadow Clone. And as per the rules of the Foxes, he couldn't consider it mastered – couldn't move on to learning something else – unless he could do it, under stress, without more than at most one seal. Mandias had mentioned how, once the Shadow Clone was down, he could start learning several things at once using their memory return capacity.
Sasuke had it slightly easier, his summons insisting instead that he make modifications to his techniques to improve their range and travel speed, even at the cost of power. Since that made it plausible he could rain down destruction from the heavens once he built his chakra enough to summon a hawk that could carry him, he wasn't arguing with them.
"Finally!" his clones roared as the last dozen weeds were ripped out. With an effort of will, he dispersed them by groups and evaluated their memories. Wow, he would certainly be able to tell what a garden looked like if he ever needed to.
He glanced between the grubby Sakura and the annoyed Sasuke.
"Well, I do have a mission to the land of Wave. It's an escort mission."
Naruto considered for a moment. "This is just going to be an awful lot of walking, right?"
Sasuke snorted. "We might have to fight, but more or less yeah. At least it's less boring."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "Boring, eh? Well, if boredom is your concern then when we get back to D ranks I'll make them more interesting…"
"You better keep to that. Okay, we'll take it!"
Tazuna walked in. "Why – hic - are all ninja so short?"
The Third frowned. "Short?"
"Yeah. There's the three brats here, and then there's you, who's so old that the same thing applies. The only ninja I've seen are either really young or really old."
"That, mister Tazuna, is because the tall ones are too stealthy to see."
Tazuna looked around. "Who said that?"
Sakura bent over to the boys. "How drunk is he?"
Naruto gave a sniff. "I'd say… two and a half out of three sheets to the wind."
Tazuna looked around at the half-dozen other images of him walking along the path. "This feels creepy…"
Another Tazuna nodded, and a third added, "That's just what I was going to say."
Naruto spoke up. "It's so nobody knows which one is the real you," he said, looking at yet another Tazuna-clone.
Another grumbled something about brats not paying attention to people when they talk.
As the small group walked past a certain puddle, all but one of the Tazunas flickered slightly. When the Demon Brothers emerged from the puddle, they immediately charged for that one, wrapping up Kakashi and Naruto in their chains as they went.
As soon as they reached the "real" Tazuna, he smirked and punched Meizu hard enough to knock him out. The images all vanished to show that the real Tazuna was in fact on the other side of the group inside a clone of himself, and that Sakura had been wearing a Transformation illusion.
Kakashi stepped out of the trees unscathed and Naruto simply shapeshifted himself into a brick to drop out of the coils. Sasuke stood there impassively for a second, before a hawk dropped from the sky and raked across Gozu's scalp. The Uchiha took advantage of the distraction caused by his Summon to kick the remaining Demon Brother in the… well, let's just say he was in male pain.
"So, sensei, looks like they were after the bridge guy after all." Naruto muttered from the ground, as a brick. He shifted back a second or so later and grinned. "Take that, heh."
"How the hell did you do that?"
"Uhh… ninjutsu? Magic? Alchemy? At least one of the above? How the hell did those guys turn into water without a bloodline?"
"Naruto! How could you possibly hurt this little bunny! What were you thinking?"
Naruto considered. "Well, at first I was thinking, "Suspicious noise!" but after I saw it was a rabbit, my thought sort of changed to "Lunch!"
"Lunch? That's cruel!"
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "You have a point. Where did you get it from?"
Naruto took his attention off the rabbit. "Eh?"
"What you say is pointless. Therefore, if you have a point, you took it from somewhere."
"Did you actually make a joke? Seriously, I can't tell…"
A harsh cry came from above. Sasuke sprang into action. "Down!"
A huge sword went flying overhead, embedding itself into a tree.
"Leave me and go!" Kakashi shouted desperately from inside the water prison. "Get the client out of here!"
Naruto shook his head. "No way I'm going to do that! There's not a thing that could make me abandon a teammate! Flibbertigibbet! I'm a clone!"
Zabuza's eyes widened. "What?"
Snapping round to the seaward side of the battlefield, he saw someone – Naruto – standing on the water. He was bent down, sticking his bloody hand in the sea. And grinning.
A tense second went by, and then something looped around Zabuza's ankles and dragged him down. He broke the grip, but lost the Water Prison as he half-fell.
On the shoreline, the same hawk from before disrupted the Water Clone Zabuza had left, and Sasuke smiled. "They never think to look up…"
Kakashi steadied himself on the water, and spotted a slim, streamlined fox disappear from below the water in a cloud of bubbles.
Naruto himself now ran in, creating a dozen clones on the move.
One of them made a face at Zabuza, and another started copying his movements.
Zabuza casually tossed a handful of kunai, performed a quick Water technique that shielded him from the onrushing clones, and began working up a much more impressive attack on Kakashi.
Sadly for him, Kakashi had developed his four non-affinity elements to the point they could nearly match his Lightning (otherwise what was the point copying so many techniques?) and hence knew where he was going with the Water Dragon already.
So outran him on it.
Zabuza had just enough time to be monumentally ticked off before he was blasted back by a massive, majestic… water dragon… okay, it's a fancy shaped hose blast. But it's a nice looking fancy shaped hose blast.
"Hey, sensei, that was pretty neat! Is there one of those for other elements?"
Predictably, Naruto loved it.
"Yes, there is. But I haven't seen the Wind Dragon used before, and the Water version's actually fairly poor as they go. Far, far too many hand seals."
Naruto shrugged. "I have hordes of shadow clones, I could set fifty performing it at once and get at least a few of them off. And it's just cool."
Sakura marched over to the concussed Zabuza. "Right, now who are you working for?"
A pair of needles hit Zabuza on the neck, and he stopped moving completely. A masked ninja dropped from the trees, and explained how he was a hunter ninja, and so it was perfectly reasonable for him to be using his amazing talents in hunting down a missing nin, but for him to have got his first break in positively years due to a team of genin.
Naruto raised his hand from where he sat on the shore. "Mister Hunter-nin, if that's true, then why isn't he dead?"
The hunter nin looked down at Zabuza. "He looks dead to me."
"Yeah, but his chakra's still here and stuff. Why did you use those little needles if they might not work properly?"
Haku bent down next to Zabuza. "Okay, there's a very good explanation for that." With a flicker of speed, both Swordsman and Hunter vanished.
Naruto stayed staring at where they'd vanished from as Kakashi started banging his head into a tree. "Stupid, stupid…"
Sasuke noticed he hadn't moved for almost a minute. "Er, Naruto?"
"Sssh, I might miss the explanation."
"Why bother fighting Gato? You'll lose. No one can beat Gato."
Naruto pondered for a moment. "Sensei? Do you have a bingo book with you? Anyone in there who fits the description of this Gato?"
Kakashi flipped through. "Nobody by that name, but there are a few it might be… so, this Gato, a tall woman in her mid twenties with long blonde hair?"
Inari blinked. "No, he's a short man with sunglasses."
"Hmm. What's his signature ninjutsu? Does he use genjutsu? Is he a taijutsu master?"
"He's got lots of men working for him!"
Naruto frowned. "Now, see, I don't see how that really works as a credible threat. I mean, Sasuke can make massive blasts of fire, Sakura can practically level trees with a punch and I can make an army with a single handseal – and I don't know what Sensei can do when he's concentrating, but that's because he's never really had to."
"It doesn't matter, there's no such thing as heroes."
Kakashi quirked an eyebrow. "Over half the people I know count as heroes in some way or other."
"You'll just die, there's no point-"
Sasuke had had enough. "Look, kid, you have a parent left. That makes you better off than three quarters of our team, stop being so depressed."
Sakura turned to Tazuna, having had an idea. "Mister Tazuna, how old are you?"
"I'm about fifty-six, why?"
"Did your parents ever tell you about the great plains of Fire Country?"
"Come to think of it, yeah, though I don't know what they meant. It's always been forest there."
Kakashi joined the conversation again. "The forest's barely a year or two older than you. Harashima Senju made it himself, in one gargantuan technique. Then, to show off, he converted some of it into low cost, high quality housing for an entire village."
The Wave citizens could only gape.
"The Hokage you saw in Konoha was trained by Harashima Senju himself. We're in a time of legends still, kid."
Naruto grinned. "And we're going to join them!"
His eyes shone red. "Well, it worked." And now he had a whole other set of disturbing memories to work with, but time had dulled the ache. He could analyze those moments, burned into his memory with the sharingan, and see things that were… off. Wrong.
Itachi had been upset, hiding it behind feigned madness for some reason.
Some of the dead had been killed by Itachi's sword, but others – all the young, some of the old, and a few of the mature clan members – were dead by a different weapon. In fact, it looked like a Kama had done it, as the cuts were wider and shallower.
And finally, he was still alive. By any measure, a sharingan activating at eight was impressive, and more of a "test of capacity" than some three year old child. But he had been left alive and had his memory of his sharingan blocked.
Why? If he was to be a greater challenge later, then why block the sharingan? None of it made sense.
Niyi flicked her tail. "That did it, then? The memory block is down?"
"Right. If you have any further problems with it, get Naruto or Sakura to summon me." The fox vanished in a puff of smoke.
"Ah, good." Kakashi said. "Now, time for intensive training in how to use a Sharingan! Naruto, Sakura, keep up the intensive training in whatever you're doing. Ten hours a day, minimum. Naruto, that's per clone."
Sakura moaned, and began the chakra capacity building exercise again. "Remember when he was lazy?"
Naruto nodded, and summoned Mandias. "Hey, old guy, I think we need to go for that red power source you mentioned."
"Isolated islands, hundred or more miles from any hidden village, total experienced ninja in the vicinity single digits. Hey, it might even scare them off."
"Fair enough. Send a clone to warn your Sensei, though."
Sakura carefully balanced on the side of the tree. She was having to balance a leaf at the same time, Kakashi's idea being that if she exerted her chakra in her "finesse" state for long enough to exhaust it, then switched to the other and back, she could manage constant chakra training. Control in "strength", and capacity in the other aspect.
Then a volcano of power blew her off the tree entirely.
"Good, good, now this is as much as your aura can extend to without energy bleed!" Mandias shouted into the gale of power. "If you need to use more power, it needs to be compressed down so that it becomes an extension of your body!"
Slowly, the aura of red youkai surrounding Naruto darkened and shrank, forming a layer an inch deep over his skin. Mandias watched it with a weather eye. Any moment now…
With a ripple, the chakra shroud developed features. Ears, claws, and a single lashing red tail.
Naruto gradually stabilized the cloak, then stood back up again, face scrunched with the effort of will in sustaining it.
"Very good, Naruto. Keep that up for as long as you can. From now on, the power called doesn't actually change the difficulty nearly as fast – as you draw more of Millie's chakra, it becomes self stabilizing. Form follows form."
"This tail feels really, really freaky. I mean, it's almost controllable, but not quite."
Mandias considered. "Training! Two hundred and fifty five shadow clones, one tail from each of them! That ought to be almost all of Millie's power at once, spread over 256 different clones. Then get them sparring!"
Sakura stomped over to the area Naruto was training in. "Okay, Naruto! You better have a really good explanation… for...?"
She saw a good few hundred clones, each cloaked in what felt to her bookworm side like pure chakra – with a tail? – sparring and demolishing trees. It didn't escape her attention that they were sustaining hits without dispelling.
"Master Zabuza, what should we do?"
Zabuza shivered. That was the unmistakeable feeling of Youkai on the edge of perception.
"We are leaving, as soon as possible."
Abruptly the feeling got about two hundred times stronger.
"In fact, sooner. I need you to carry me to somewhere outside the country. Leave a note for Gato, three explosive tags."
Kakashi winced. Well, so much for stealth. Though there was something to be said for sheer brute force, especially in a remote location like this.
"Now, now, Naruto, I told you that careful fine manipulation is the best way to gain dexterity."
"Somehow, using enough power to level a small country on building a bridge seems just… wrong, though, old guy." A joist wobbled and almost fell, but the tail Naruto was using adjusted itself and stabilized the long beam of wood. The rest of the bridge workers tried to ignore the strangeness of their "crane".
"Control is fundamental, and it's no good to you if you damage your allies as much as your enemies."
"Er, K-kiba, it might be a bad idea for you to, er…"
With a twang, a rope wrapped around Kiba's leg and sent him soaring into the air.
Kurenai sighed. "Was that a trap? And Hinata, you really should have warned poor Kiba sooner."
"I… I didn't want to impose, sensei."
Shino dissolved into a cloud of bugs, revealing that him to be a clone, as a spray of fluorescent pink paint jetted from what had seemed an innocuous bush.
Kurenai pursed her lips. More than one, it seemed the area was risky. "Hinata. Where are the closest traps?"
"Byakugan! Er… maybe we should stop moving now, sensei."
"That many? Okay, point out the safest path."
Hinata concentrated, then frowned. "I- can't see one. At all. Not even a way back."
Kurenai spun in place. "Does that even make sense?"
Shino shook his head. "I do not understand it either. It seems training ground seven has recently been used for something impressive."
"What do we do now?"
After a pause, Shino raised a hand. "Call for help?"
A scream dopplered out of the sky, and Kiba landed with a splash in the nearby lake.
"Well, that was anticlimactic."
"Speak for yourself, sensei. Sasuke regained his Sharingan, Sakura's easily doubled her chakra reserves and got her aspect switching down to an art, and I stabilized the two tail form of my Chakra Cloak."
"Yes, I was meaning to ask about that. Why were you, well, not berserk?"
Naruto tapped his palm, and took three pamphlets that Kuda passed him. "Here. Sakura, Sasuke, you may as well find out too."
Kakashi took one and opened it. "The Kyuubi was under a Sharingan Genjutsu? Part of the Fox contract? Female? Uchiha Madara is still alive? What the hell?"
"Uchiha Madara?" Sasuke asked, suddenly intense.
Kakashi formed a simple illusion in the air, an image of one of the two Founders of Konoha when he had had his last portrait done, complete with traditional Uchiha battle armour and weapons.
Sasuke's hands clenched so hard they destroyed the pamphlet he held. That man was holding a Kama. That man had faked his death decades ago. That man had attacked the village on multiple occasions. That man was far more likely to have destroyed his own clan – murdered children in their beds, old men and women, civilians… than his pacifist older brother.
That Man would pay.
Oh, and apparently Naruto held the Kyuubi. Whatever, apparently she wasn't evil anymore, and if Madara was behind any of this at all then he could hardly talk.
Sakura nodded to herself. Yep, that made sense. But if he was a container, then was he the only one there'd been or not? No, it couldn't be. All the other Bijuu were mentioned as being sealed in someone or other repeatedly… and, come to think of it, the battle at the Valley of the End had ended with something vague being done to the Kyuubi by the First's wife, Mito Senju.
Sakura's endless knowledge of random trivia threw up a correspondence. Mito Senju, neé Uzumaki. Okay, that was interesting. Hadn't Mandias said Naruto had a small amount of non human Chakra? Something to research.
"The demon is escaping! Run for your lives!"
Kakashi looked up from his book. "Actually, it looks rather more like the Jinchuuriki is using a slightly ludicrous amount of power to plow your field."
The farmer stopped his headlong panic, and turned, trembling.
Naruto waved back cheerily, the two tails he was sustaining continuing to carve long furrows in the ground.
"I wish to enter my team into the exams."
Iruka blinked. "Are you sure they're ready?"
Kakashi shook his head. "They're actually, if anything, too late. Sakura's resolved that split personality of hers into a combat boost, giving her chuunin level taijutsu and probably pretty good illusion abilities as well if her clones are anything to go by. Sasuke's got his Sharingan, and a small repertoire of very basic techniques from all five elements – camping stuff, basically – as well as pretty good elemental techniques in fire. As for Naruto… well, did you know that shadow clones of a jinchuuriki can form and stabilize a chakra cloak?"
The other Jonin carefully noted to tell their students to stay away from Team Seven.
"Morning, sand ninja." Sakura commented, as she walked past. "Tell me, were you planning on holding the grandson of the head of your allied village hostage, or did it just happen?"
"Kankuro, Temari. Stop making a scene." Gaara said from his perch.
As Kankuro gasped and flinched away from his brother, Naruto ambled over. "You seem somehow similar to me… you have a summon contract?"
Gaara blinked. "I do not."
"Oh, they're really cool! You do this string of hand seals, channel a good amount of chakra, bite your thumb, and slap it on the ground!"
Naruto demonstrated, and with a poof of smoke Aya appeared. "Morning! Ooh, he looks fun! Are we going to fight him? Or not?"
"Not today, Aya. I was just demonstrating."
Gaara silently worked the handseals, bit his thumb – getting a good deal of sand as well, but some blood – and slapped down his hand.
Temari gaped. "Did… did you just make Gaara self destruct?"
Naruto grinned. "Nope! And he should be back in a few seconds."
With a bamf, Gaara reappeared. He seemed exactly the same as he had before, except for a small tanuki on his shoulder.
He was stroking it.
"The sand… doesn't kill it." His voice was wondering. "Not like the puppy… or the fish… or the cat… or Temari's boyfriend…" He turned his eyes to her. "Sorry about that, by the way. He seemed to slap you on the shoulder, and I just saw yellow. Then red. Lots of red. Then I left the room, because there really was rather a lot of blood on the walls."
"S…sure." Temari stuttered.
"We are going back to our hotel room to wait for the exams to start. And I am going to see what other racoons and racoon dogs I can summon. Thank you…?"
Naruto grinned. "Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage!"
Hmm… first test is if you can answer those questions, is it? Right. "Kuda", Naruto subvocalized, "Can you manage to copy Hinata's paper from my neck?"
I can read it from there, I'll let you know what she writes.
"Okay. Kaen, Niyi, Aya, head on to the centre of the forest. When I summon Kaen, you two summon us there."
Kaen nodded for all of them. "Understood." The larger fox loped off into the forest, followed by Niyi and Aya.
"Oh, okay. So you're an infiltration specialist. Well, take this! Summoning: speedster!"
Ichimaru puffed into reality. "Morning. Ooh, a fight. Buto."
The rain genin flinched as a nip drew blood from his lower arm. He hadn't even seen the silvery fox move!
"Eh, I'm bored. Buto Rejin."
"Gaaah! Get it off me! Get it off me!"
Sakura and Sasuke watched as one of the Fox Summons savaged their enemy at several hundred strikes a second, apparently having time between the attacks to lean back and relax if the flickering, hazy image they were getting was any indication.
Eventually the Rain Genin managed to run out of the range of Buto Rejin entirely, and Ichimaru dispersed. Naruto sent Kori after him to keep an eye out, and returned to concentrating on moving through the forest.
Naruto grinned in satisfaction as the giant snake rained down around him. Nothing like two tails of chakra cloak to give anything a severe case of indigestion.
Right, report time. "Kori," he asked, summoning the fox, "Did you get anything from the Rain team?"
"Yes." The illusion master flicked his tailtip, and the cloaking illusions on two scrolls dropped. "One scroll that seems to be the opposite of the one you had – Earth to Heaven – and another one I can't open."
"Good." Naruto took the scrolls from his summon. "Right, time to cheat. Kaen!"
The fire fox appeared in a puff of smoke, and then all three in the clearing vanished.
"Ku ku ku… ah, see here, the prey gives the predator something to-"
Sakura and Sasuke disappeared in clouds of smoke.
The Sannin frowned. "Damn."
"Okay, Naruto, how the hell did you manage to complete the Forest of Death in an hour and a half?"
"Reverse summoning! Now, Sakura, any idea what this is?"
Sakura switched aspects to her knowledge side, and took a look. "It reminds me of those summon contracts you gave us, actually… but it's a lot bigger… hang on a sec. Naruto, mind letting me see the main Fox contract?"
A quick summon later, and Sakura and Lani were comparing the two huge scrolls. "Yes, I see what you mean. This is similar to our own core summon contract, but it's aligned differently. Kori, where was this?"
"In a pack, I think it might actually have been forgotten in there."
"Well, if we want to find out what it is… Sakura, you're the only one without a master contract. Want to give it a go?"
Sakura blinked, and clenched her fists. "Yeah!"
She slashed her blood across the prepared channel at the base of the scroll, and a sleek otter appeared in the room.
"Woo, that's a rush. Oh, hello. I see someone finally bothered to try our contract again."
Sasuke nodded to himself. "Creatures of two worlds, land and water… appropriate."
Naruto looked around. Several teams had made it through. One sand team, including the new Raccoon summoner, and one Sound team. The other five teams were all Konoha… that was neat. Clearly the home team advantage was strong.
Either that or Konoha's genin were freaky strong. Most of the ninja in the forest were equipped with fairly standard attacks, whereas every Konoha nin had something clan based or personal that was hard to beat.
Except for that Kabuto guy… who just gave up. Again. Man, he sucked.
Naruto vs. Yoroi Akado.
"Sooo… how much chakra can you drain?"
"At least as much as a strong Jonin!" Yoroi boasted, holding Naruto's arm.
"Right." Naruto snickered. "And the more chakra the target's using, the faster it drains?"
"Yes! I can shut down any technique you try to pull. Actually, I'm surprised you've not run out of chakra already."
Naruto pulled on his Initial Jinchuuriki state, and Yoroi promptly collapsed to the floor twitching.
"Okay, that was just sad."
Ino vs. Kankuro.
Ino threw the special hand seal for Yamanaka techniques, and sent a possession attack at her opponent.
As soon as it hit, the bundle of bandages burst open, and Kankuro rolled out. "Ha! You only possessed my puppet! My… combat puppet… with all my weapons… er, help?"
Temari glanced at the slumped body of Ino. "Can you even possess a puppet?"
"Apparently." Gaara muttered.
Sasuke vs. Shikamaru.
Sasuke blinked to rest his watering eyes. Shikamaru was just annoying! He barely moved, yet the Uchiha was being strained keeping track of the shadow possession that was flicking all over the place.
Then he had an idea, and began working on one of his new camping techniques. Among the most minor of Jutsu, this was a simple lightning technique that allowed you to read at night. But Sasuke decided to take a leaf out of Naruto's book, and overloaded it thirty or so times.
The resultant flare of light was bright enough to banish most of the shadows in the arena – and weaken the Nara's own mutable shadow – so Sasuke began to push the advantage thus granted.
The end came quickly. By summoning a pair of wind-aligned hawks – drawing the eye of everyone in the room – and using their powerful wings to augment his Phoenix Flower, Sasuke managed to catch Shikamaru in a ring of fire.
Since his shadow couldn't cross the flames themselves, Shikamaru found himself checkmated, and gave up gracefully.
Gaara vs. Shino.
The two stared at one another.
Gaara spoke first, after a good few minutes of silence. "I use sand. It acts as an ultimate defence and has essentially never been breached."
Shino considered. "I use insects. They allow me to use clones extremely hard to distinguish from the normal me, and let me drain chakra at range."
Gaara nodded. "I have more chakra than most ninja below Kage, so draining me would be an exercise in futility. In addition, were I to catch a clone in my sand I could crush it and destroy the insects. Eventually you would run out of them, leaving you vulnerable."
Shino took a windmill shuriken from a coat pocket, and threw it with a flourish. It hit the sand defence and bounced away. Shino nodded to himself. "Then this will be a battle of wills."
The two continued staring. Fifteen minutes after their match started, Shino turned away. "I concede."
Misumi vs. Hinata.
The older Konoha-nin pounced as soon as the battle began, wrapping himself around Hinata. "Got you now! Give up or…" he trailed off.
Hinata's eyes flashed into the Byakugan. "You are completely within the range of my divination!"
Hinata performed the only stage of the Kaiten she had learned thus far, blasting Misumi with chakra from every part of her body at once and locking him up completely.
She pulled at her bonds for a moment. "Er, proctor… does this mean I win? He's sort of… unconscious."
"Yeah, we'll go with that. Hinata wins. Hey, Gai! Can you come down and… well… pry this genin off her?"
Neji vs. Kin.
Hinata glanced between the two ninja. "Sensei… is it me, or do those two look really alike?"
Kurenai blinked, and paid closer attention. "They really do."
Then she winced. "Ouch. Not much point being an illusionist against a Hyuga."
Lee vs. Kiba.
Kurenai winced again. "That boy… he's strong, fast and skilled, as well as actually nice, but he needs to learn restraint."
"Yosh! Lee! You have defeated another Taijutsu focused opponent!"
Everyone in the Konoha contingent looked away.
Temari glanced around her at the flinching ninja. "What's the problem-GAH!"
Gaara's sand formed a shield to protect him from the Sunset of Youth.
Dosu vs. Temari.
Temari quirked an eyebrow. "Sound nin? Right, goodbye. Breakthrough!"
Dosu's ability required getting close to his opponent, and it wasn't much of a prospect against a Suna wind mistress. He, like Kiba, was quickly introduced to the wall.
Zaku vs. Tenten.
Tenten slammed back into the wall from one of Zaku's attacks, and winced.
The sound genin crowed. "No ranged attack works on me! I can blow away all your attacks!" He gestured to the sea of weapons all across the floor.
The Konoha genin smiled grimly. "So, tell me. Zaku… do you have enough arms?" She waved her fingers, shaking out the wires attached to them, and yanked.
Zaku noticed that all her weapons were now flying at him, from every direction. "Well, fu-"
"Winner, Tenten! And someone get a medic!"
Sakura vs. Choji
Sakura jumped lightly onto the floor, and switched to her bookish aspect. A few clones to allow her to get close, then switch when she was in range and land a hit. Should work. And if it didn't… well, she had Tagg and the other otters she'd managed to summon.
Choji turned to Asuma. "She looks scary now… can I just not fight?"
Asuma sighed. "Okay, fine, go ahead. At least Ino made it to the finals."
Kakashi blinked. "That was anticlimactic. Wait, hang on…" He looked at the genin who would be in the Chunin exams. Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, Temari, Gaara, Neji, Lee, Tenten, Ino, Hinata.
Gai had noticed it too. "My eternal rival! Shall we make it a challenge to see which of our youthful genin get promoted? If one of us manages a clean sweep, then we will have trained a team similar to the Three Sannin!"
The proctor held up a board with the matches for the next month. Naruto v. Neji, Tenten v Temari, Sakura v Ino, Lee v Hinata, Sasuke v Gaara.
Then the winners of the first two matches would fight (as would the winners of the last two), then the winner of the first block and of the third first round match, then the final.
"Sasuke, I'll train you. Sakura, it might be better if you worked with Ebisu here to refine your low and mid level techniques, to better use your great control. Naruto… sorry, but everyone I could find is occupied except Kurenai, and I don't think you're cut out to be an illusionist."
"Nah, that's fine, I'll just ask Mandias if I can't find anyone else."
"So you're the Kyuubi container, huh. How about I teach you something really impressive?"
Naruto looked at the old toad summoner, remembering that day last year when he'd first seen the man. "Sure, go ahead."
"Now, watch this! Summoning!" A toad appeared in a cloud of smoke.
Naruto waited. "That's it? Didn't you ask the old man about me?"
"What do you mean?"
The boy rolled his eyes, and sat down. Jiraiya gasped in shock as he felt the familiar feel of Sage Chakra. "Wait! What are-"
"Summoning: beat this!"
Mandias stretched as the smoke cleared. "Oh, hello again, Naruto. And who's this?"
Jiraira was frozen, his face twitching as his mind rebooted.
The kid just used SAGE chakra? Perfectly? And he already has a summon contract. Just brilliant.
"Okay, how the hell can you mould nature energy that well?"
Naruto frowned. "It's not perfect… I mean, I can't keep it when I move, you know…"
Mandias slipped his tail into Naruto' pocket, and pulled out one of the pamphlets. "Here, this might help."
Jiraiya took it. "Impressive… but can you access the Kyuubi's chakra yet?"
Naruto raised an eyebrow, and entered one tailed chakra cloak.
"Oh. Er… ever heard of the Rasengan?"
"Oh, wow, something actually new! Teach me!"
"Morning, Hinata! Ready to head over to the stadium?"
Hinata nodded, not trusting her voice.
"Okay! Well, I may as well offer you a lift. But to pay me back, you better do well, you hear?"
Naruto summoned Kaen and clambered onto his back. "Come on, he's really fast!"
Neji spun into the Hyuuga ultimate defence, the Kaiten, shedding the incoming attack and popping the clones.
Naruto bit his thumb and slapped it on the ground. "Summoning: death from below!"
With a grinding roar, an enormous pair of jaws burst from the ground around his opponent and closed around Neji in his entirety, before disappearing back into the ground.
The proctor blinked. "Is… is he dead?"
Naruto shook his head. "Give it a minute."
The great red maw burst from the ground again, and its' eyes crossed.
With a ptui sound, Neji was spat out of the fox's mouth before it dispersed, and began shivering in place.
Genma walked over to the Branch Hyuuga. "Are you…okay?"
Temari hid behind a tree. This seemed so wrong somehow…
On the other side, Tenten fired out half a dozen explosive-tagged-kunai from her crater, gradually digging a trench towards the Suna wind mistress. Temari had found out early on that her wind couldn't actually reach the inside of the craters, and Tenten was using them ruthlessly to close in.
"Raising twin dragons!"
Temari lunged out from behind the tree. At last the other kunoichi had made a mistake! That move's long set up time would let her-
Temari met a shower of kunai coming the other way, one of which exploded close enough to her fan to damage the paper.
Temari rolled out of the way of a follow up salvo of three kunai, twelve shuriken and a scythe (Tenten winced on seeing it. She thought that was one of the small weapons scrolls) and hurriedly conceded.
Ino ran for her life. Sakura's otter summon, Tagg, was sending a javelin her way every time she tried to take a stance facing Sakura for handseals, and with the occasional kunai being sent her way by Sakura herself, it was getting tiring.
Wait! She could possess the summon!
Sakura watched as Tagg ran straight into the mental attack, then lazily dismissed the summoning technique.
Ino's body slowly collapsed.
There was a pause.
Sakura shouted up into the stands. "Excuse me, mister Yamanaka? I have a few questions about your family techniques."
"So her mind returns to her body at walking pace with the basic move. Brilliant. I think summons might actually be in another dimension or something. Hang on a sec…" Sakura threw the summon handseals again. "Lutra, take this girl's body back when I dismiss you, that ought to let her get back fine. Explain things to her if she's still possessing Tagg. Keep a hold of her until I summon you again."
"As you say, Sakura." The otter bowed, and ran off.
Lutra vanished, taking Ino's body with her.
The procter looked around for a moment. "Er… winner, Sakura?"
Sakura nodded absently, explaining her plan to Inoichi. "I'll summon Lutra back with her in ten minutes or so."
Hinata stared at Lee. She could do this. She had to, but… if this boy was her cousin's rival, then could she possibly beat him?
Naruto's voice came from the crowd. "Hey, Hinata! You better do something awesome, remember!"
Awesome? Okay, she could handle that. Especially if it was Naruto asking. Right, this guy was much stronger than her, so she needed to come up with a way to match that. The normal way the Gentle Fist worked was very wasteful of chakra, as each blast fired was lost whether it hit or not. Perhaps she could make some kind of chakra skin over her hands that only fired chakra when it hit the enemy? Then she could use more chakra on making herself faster.
So… what to call it?
"Gentle step: twin lion fists!"
Hiashi dropped his milkshake.
Hinata gave her new technique a careful look over, then smiled. "I… think I like this. Shall we?"
Lee nodded, and charged.
Hinata eventually lost the fight, but it took Lee using the second gate to give him the speed to bypass her swinging fists.
Hiashi quirked an eyebrow, having had time to recover his composure. That had been strange.
"Sasuke Uchiha, please report to the stadium. Seriously, this is getting silly."
Naruto's patience ran out. "Aya! Summon Sasuke for me, will you?"
Kakashi reiterated his warning about the Chidori. "Now, you haven't got enough chakra to use it more than a few times a day. Since you mentioned your summons and their love of long range attacks, you might want to modify it as much as you can – I'll work with you on shape transformation – but for now, use it as a last resort as it uses far too much chakra. Stick to the lesser lightning and fire attacks. A good combo to use is-"
Sasuke vanished in a puff of smoke.
Kakashi's eye widened. "Damn."
Sasuke materialized on the balcony. "What is it?"
Naruto pointed. "You're five minutes late to your match. Sakura, Lee, Tenten and I won, by the way."
Sasuke dove into the arena.
"Lightning lance!" Sasuke's electric attack punched through Gaara's sand, but dissipated as it did so. Gaara replied with a hail of sand shuriken and pellets.
"Electric Aura Armour!" The thin curtain of electricity didn't protect against the impacts from the sand, but it did overwhelm what of Gaara's chakra was in the tiny sand pellets and stop them from staying animate.
The crowd oohed and aahed as the lightning attacks speared across the stadium. Naruto grinned, watching as Sasuke fired out a Grand Fireball and had Aya enhance it, fusing some of the sand into glass, before following up with a volley of lightning lances that weren't diffused by the glass as they were the sand. One of them made it through and nicked Gaara's skin.
"My… blood?" Gaara sounded confused. Then flipped a few handseals and slapped his hands on the floor.
Choji stared. "Did he just summon… Totoro?"
The large tanuki fired out a water attack at Sasuke, intercepting his follow-up fireball volley. Aya blocked the water bullet before it hit Sasuke, and the Uchiha dropped a lightning lance into the thin misting of water - which boosted it in the same way wind boosts fire.
Totoro was violently dispersed by the enhanced electric attack, and Sasuke swallowed a soldier pill, before pushing a big chunk of his chakra into a large summoning.
Kakashi flickered into the stadium to catch sight of his student finally summoning a hawk large enough to fly on. Though there was something about it…
"Ooh, neat." Lutra commented from the balcony, having asked to stay to watch the rest of the finals. "That's a Thunder Bird."
"Does that mean what I think it means?"
Sasuke's summon spat a lightning bolt at Gaara.
Then, as Gaara began to pull a lot of his own chakra for a bigger summon, a wide area sleep illusion pulsed out across the crowd.
Sakura rushed over to Naruto, checking he was still awake, and glanced around for trouble. "I think we're being invaded! They're using the exam as a cover!"
Naruto nodded. "Makes sense. Hey, Sasuke! Head over somewhere safe and draw Gaara off, then get a good look for me, and I'll see what I can do!"
Sasuke banked overhead on his Thunder Bird, and headed off to the side of the arena furthest from the centre of Konoha. Pausing to send a pair of Lightning Lances at the Suna Jinchuuriki, he flew further off as a sand protrusion approached. Gaara demolished part of the stadium wall and followed, clearly intent only on continuing their fight.
Naruto extended his senses, and drank deep of the natural energy of Konoha. Performing the now-practiced merger into the three phase chakra of Sage Mode, he bit his thumb and worked a longer than usual string of handseals.
"SUMMONING: ARMY OF FOXES!"
Naruto was one of the first summoners in history to have sufficient chakra for this. He summoned every single fox on his contract, from the largest – three the size of large buildings – to the smallest, a tiny fox (called "Moe") that was too small to actually fight and mainly used because of weapons grade cute.
That latter fox was sent after Temari, managing to completely immobilize her in about a quarter of a second.
Naruto panted for a second. "Hey, Sasuke! What are the main problem areas?"
Sasuke's voice called from above. "Gaara's going bonkers off in the forest below me, there's a giant snake headed for the south wall, and the Kazekage has turned into some kind of snake demon trying to kill the Hokage!"
Every sand nin on the battlefield snapped their heads round to stare at the Kage box.
Naruto nodded. "Right… let's see… shadow clones!"
Over one hundred Naruto clones appeared next to him.
"You know the drill, everyone! Two tails!" A wave of Youkai bleed-off lashed the forest, and the small horde of clones shot off to their assigned areas.
Baki quietly stabbed the Sound nin next to him in the jugular. "All Sand ninja! Change of plan, kill the sound shinobi!"
Gaara, by now starting to descend into the Sand Cloak, began forcing out his raccoon summons in the hope one of them would let him continue his fight with Sasuke. One of the attempts he made, his chakra flared, and he promptly summoned the boss of his contract.
Gaara blinked. No more voice whispering in his head… the thing in front of him that sounded like his mother was clearly an enormous sand tanuki (and hence it was unlikely to be his mother in truth)… oh, and he was still surrounded in sand, but it wasn't being demonic.
Then the Shukaku tried to crush him.
A lightning bolt hit the limb of sand stretching out towards him and cut it off, buying him time to scramble out of the way, and half a dozen copies of Naruto wrapped in red-orange chakra began trying to contain the one-tails.
An arctic fox skidded to a halt next to him. "You're the container, right? Tell me, is your bijuu completely insane?"
Gaara nodded. "Yes. It tried to make me into a mass murdering psychopath. I think it more or less succeeded."
"Right…" Mandias lunged forward and snapped up some of the sand raining off the tanuki, tasting it before spitting it out. "Bleh. Yep, that's sharingan work alright. I think Madara got to all the Bijuu if this is any indication. Naruto! One of you over here, please! Niyi, you too!"
The Shukaku roared as ten tails of waving red chakra pinned it down, and Sasuke blasted any part of it that began to extend past the cage. Sakura swapped to her warrior aspect, summoned the biggest otter she could, and had him begin hosing down the sand demon with water to slow it.
Mandias, Niyi and the clone of Naruto landed lightly on hard, cracked mud.
Mandias looked around. "There's desert all around us… so what's this? Some kind of dried up oasis?"
"Hey, where's the bijuu?" Naruto asked. "Shouldn't it be here?"
"Perhaps. But we're inside the mind of the beast, not the container. So it might not be expected to have a form. Sakura's a special case – most people's minds don't normally have such real personifications of themselves." Niyi lectured. She glanced around. "Though I have to admit, this is quite appropriate."
A gentle breeze blew across the area, then strengthened abruptly into a gale as a sandstorm appeared on the horizon. The two foxes covered their muzzles with their tails, and Naruto dropped back into his chakra cloak to protect him from the flying sand. "Is it me, or has the sun got a lot stronger?"
Mandias squinted up. The sun, though high in the sky, was red. And there were three tomoe… "Oh, that can't be good. It's the core of the genjutsu! Right, Naruto, listen carefully. I need you to draw on your complete allocation of Millie's chakra and spread your aura as far as you can go."
Naruto complied, his blue-streaked red aura of power expanding to form a tenuous globe several feet across. The two tail cloak he had up dropped to a single tail, an began to waver. "I can't push it any further out, or I lose the solidity of the cloak and dispel in the sandstorm."
"That'll be enough. Now, force your chakra into a random pattern. Think, say, swirls or something."
"On it!" Naruto applied his first stage Rasengan principle to his entire extended aura of power, and a full tail of chakra in a scramble pattern broke the illusion on the Shukaku like it was sugar glass.
Jiraiya watched as about sixty two-tail Naruto clones rampaged through the battle lines, three of them tearing a giant snake apart before it hit the wall and the rest seeking out and capturing Sound ninja as well as those Sand ninja who hadn't heard Baki's order.
The Sannin shook his head ruefully. "I sort of feel redundant…"
Naruto and five clones leapt onto the roof of the stadium, where the Hokage was fighting Orochimaru. Three of the clones leapt for the barrier and were violently torn to shreds, the barrier barely managing to break through even the two-tail aura of chakra.
One of the remaining clones tried to pull more than two tails of chakra now some was free, but ended up dispersing as the unstable cloak forced a destructive transformation on him.
A nearby ANBU looked over at him. "Uzumaki! Please, you can't help here. Go and lend your weight to the other battles in the village."
"Oh, I'm there as well. In fact, I think one of my clones just made the Shukaku sane again… and when the clone dispersed, it was apologizing constantly. Yeah, seems to have worked. But do you have any idea how strong this barrier is?"
Yamato gave the barrier a careful look. "It's being fuelled by four ninja, so it can't be too powerful… your clones nearly made it."
"Right!" Naruto forcibly yanked out a third tail of chakra, then grimaced as his skin started to tear and lunged for the barrier. With an explosion of clashing chakra, he passed through and out into the space Orochimaru had made to fight his teacher.
The Third reacted in shock, and the Snake Sannin took the opportunity to use his Impure World Resurrection without being interrupted. Three coffins rose from the ground, and opened to reveal all the former hokages of Konoha.
Orochimaru wasted no time in sinking their control seals, a slightly different form than the one he'd originally planned on – allowing the spirits of his teachers to talk normally would help to demoralize the Third, and after all that was the whole point of using them. The Fourth, on the other hand, well, taunting him would be fun.
Minato blinked. "I'm… not quite alive. I see. Then…" He spotted the boy staring at him, ignoring the First and Second talking to the Third. "Can it be… Naruto?"
The boy blinked. "How do you know my name? Wasn't I just some random kid you sealed Millie into?"
"No, I knew exactly who you were, I chose your name." Then the Fourth's train of thought fell off a cliff. "Millie?"
Naruto absently passed over a pamphlet. "The foxes say thanks for breaking Madara's contract with them, by the way. And how did you get involved with choosing my name?"
Minato flipped through the pamphlet. "I'm your father… don't you know that yet? Saru, what the hell?"
The Third looked uncomfortable. "I thought it was for the best. I mean, it was supposed to be a secret that he held the Kyuubi as well, but clearly that's fallen apart."
Orochimaru chuckled darkly. "Ku ku ku… oh, this is delicious. Yondiame! Kill your son! Shodiame, Nidiame, help me kill the Sandiame!"
Minato threw a series of handseals, and the area they were in was cordoned off from the rest of the battle by a smaller barrier. The former Hokage then sat down.
"Er…" Naruto ventured. "Shouldn't you be trying to kill me?"
"I am. By my estimate, I have as much chance of killing you sitting here waiting for you to die of old age as I do going all out against you. If he'd said to try, then I'd have to make an effort. But keep up that chakra cloak, will you, it's what's giving me the loophole." Minato smiled. "So, tell me, how's your life been so far? I'll tell you the story of my own life while we're at it."
"Do these people not understand the concept of gratitude?" The Namikaze raged. "I mean, come on! Last wish of a dying hero, and I didn't see them being like this to Mito Uzumaki, or for that matter your mother!"
The Fourth calmed slightly. "Okay, I don't think we have much longer, so I'll say this. There's a soul fragment of me as a failsafe in the seal for if it collapses completely, and then if you break it completely a second time your mother's there to help. Not that it'll be needed, of course… and since she can look out, she knows exactly how you're doing. I'll just say this. I'm certain she's as proud of you as I am – I could not ask for a better son. Live long. Live well, and get Jiraiya and Tsunade to help you on your dream – they're your godparents, not that I imagine they've told you that. And finally, never give up."
Naruto's eyes shone. "I won't let you down, dad."
"Good. Now, the best way to dispel this animation technique is probably going to be blowing my head off. I know it can't be a nice thing to do, but it has to be done."
"Bye, dad." Naruto's chakra tails lashed out, and he turned away sobbing as he destroyed the facsimile of his hero… of his father.
Then he charged Orochimaru, who was so surprised that the "demon" had beaten the Fourth that he barely dodged the trio of lunging tails. The Third seized the moment and used Enma to knock the Kusanagi into the sealing barrier and render it unreachable, then Naruto smashed the first two Hokages and Orochimaru dropped the barrier to run.
Sarutobi looked over the half-demolished landscape of Konoha, and at the thirty or forty Naruto-clones running around it in two-tailed form still keeping an eye on things. Sighing, he turned to the original, sat on the roof next to him.
"I'm truly sorry, Naruto. I planned on telling you when you reached Jonin, but I was wrong to think like that – if there's one thing the invasion really brought home to me, it's that I am in no way immortal. I plan on releasing what there was your parents left to you tomorrow, and I'm almost certain you'll get promoted."
"Eh, don't forget Sakura and Sasuke, old man. They were a great help against the Shukaku."
"Indeed. How is young Gaara, anyway?"
"He's, well, calm I suppose. He's kind of coming to terms with the idea that the bijuu was both not his mother and insane – and with the loss of his father. Apparently the sand's now a permanent part of his system – it actually defended him against the tanuki before I restrained it, and he says he'll consider it a memorial to his real mother."
"Neatly resolved, then. And I agree with what you say my predecessor – and successor – said. I'm proud of you, Naruto."
Naruto rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. "Sorry, guys, I'm not going to be working with you the next couple of months. I have to go and get Tsunade of the Sannin back to Konoha, because Jiraiya thinks it might help him persuade her if I came along."
Sakura nodded. "Makes sense. I mean, she is your closest living relative."
Naruto looked shocked. "What?"
"Her grandmother was Mito Senju, neé Uzumaki. So she's descended from another member of the Uzumaki clan. You… missed that?"
"Oh, so that's where the name's familiar from! My dad said she used to be the Kyuubi container back when she was alive."
"Your dad?" Sasuke asked, interested.
"Yeah, talk about a dream come true. Orochimaru summoned back all the old Hokages back when he was trying to kill the old man, and it turns out that the Fourth was my dad!"
Kakashi slowly fell over in shock.
Sasuke considered, nodded, then went back to learning shape manipulation. He had this idea for making the chidori into things like laser beams, or senbon, or shuriken, or… oh, so many ideas.
Naruto grinned. "And hey, maybe when I get back I'll teach you guys the Rasengan! It's pretty neat and Jiraiya said how it might be possible to add elements to it!"
Kakashi twitched. Didn't sensei never manage that? How much is Naruto going to break the normal rules of being a Ninja, anyway?
Ideas credit (often just something I saw and liked; sorry):
Angel of Snapdragons for several things probably, like the false Transformation instructions Naruto got.
ShaperXV for the Gold/Black chakra concept and the True Names. Among others.
Kori: Original, illusion based. Illusions are fragile but subtle due to unusual inducement.
Lani: Ozy and Millie, Millani Minerva Mudd.
Mandias: Ozy and Millie, Ozymandias.
Kyuubi/Millie: Millicent Mehabitel Mudd, Ozy and Millie.
Ichimaru: Bleach, Gin Ichimaru.
Kuda: Technically original, but based on the interpretation of kudagitsune from Digimon Savers. The tattoo thing is from the Dragonback series by Timothy Zahn.
Kajiura: named for Yuki Kajiura.
Tadewi: Hawk messenger. Original.
Tagg: Taggerung, one of the Brian Jacques books.
Lutra: original. Otters are Lutra Lutra.