The night was black. The sky was clouded over and no moon hung over ahead, even its tiny companions were blinded to what was occurring below them.
A storm was brewing swiftly and the air was thick with anticipation of the storm. However the still air was shattered by a cacophony of shouts and the sounds of someone, or something, running from the many people following it, their torches burning brightly in the black night, showing their grim faces and sharp instruments of death that seemed to glow with their intentions.
The other person continued to run, their legs carrying them faster and faster through the forest as though they were one with the wind itself. He flew through the trees as though he was one with the trees and could sense their location despite the pitch darkness that surrounded him and his mind. Silence filled his head until all that was left was the aching pain in his side, caused by the cold biting of steel, and his pounding heart, fuelled by the adrenaline that was flooding through his veins, but not out of fear.
He crashed into a clearing and fell to the ground, panting his breaths as his lungs finally caught up with the exertion of his activities and he felt his muscles burn. He raised his head up to the air and screamed; it was a primal roar, the sound of some great beast, driven and harried till it had nowhere left to run, the cry of a man with nothing left to lose.
The sound echoed throughout the darkness and finally died away. He was aware that the hunters had stopped chasing him; little did he know that his howl of rage had stopped them dead in their tracks, the sound raising hairs until the decided not to pursue him any further than this.
So he stood back up on shaking legs, muscles aching and nerves screaming in protest at his movement. He ignored the pain, an old friend of his, and walked deeper into the woods until it truly was near total darkness, nothing stirred in this level of darkness.
"Come to me" a voice whispered. It was faint, as though coming from a great distance, and Naruto felt himself both instinctively repulsed and drawn towards it, as though it was something far greater than human, and nothing he could do would ever allow him to comprehend its existence.
So he walked forwards, feeling his body nearly shutting down as he resisted the bone deep weariness that seemed to infuse even his very soul and he stumbled forwards further and deeper into the black abyss.
Eventually he found the source of a voice. It was emanating, it appeared, from a statue in the centre of a clearing where nothing grew, Naruto felt his very mind tremble at the feel of this place and he had to fight to push on deeper into it, towards the altar in front of the statue.
It was old, covering in moss and residue of ages, but it all seemed to be dead, as though its speaking removed all traces of life from its surroundings. Naruto saw that it depicted a woman, he face was hidden in shadow and was hooded, the robe encompassing all of her body save for the arms that were thin and looked aged, though he knew under that hood was the face of a goddess, young and beautiful. In one hand sat a scythe while in the other sat a skull, grinning its deaths grin at the world.
Naruto fell to his knees besides the altar and felt himself finally slip away as exhaustion claimed his body.
He opened his 'eyes' to find himself in an unfamiliar landscape. The place was dark, but not black like oblivion, however it was as silent as the grave, not even the wind blew through this place as he stood there looking around him, uncertain if he was going mad or not, for the landscape seemed to constantly shift, and at such as pace so that his mind could barely keep up with it, let alone comprehend it.
"Welcome" a voice said and he found himself shrouded in pure blackness.
"Who are you?" he asked; his voice level and almost cold, his exhaustion having drained him of even the energy to feel for the moment.
"I was once Mortis" the voice uttered
"Where am I?"
"My world. The world of the dead"
"Because I wanted to speak to you in person, so to speak. My power I little now, and I have need for a soul such as yourself"
"To do what?"
"Spread my name. Become what others once were, a millennia ago, powerful soldiers and generals that are my champions"
"Then I accept. Give me this power and I vow to spread your name throughout the world" he said and suddenly the weariness lessened, drifting away as something filled him and he suddenly found himself staring at the altar in a daze, holding a black leather bound book and an ornate ring with a single green gem in the centre.
The sky was dark once again by the time Naruto returned to his new home, deep in the forest of death and hidden by the many thick trees and hanging vines.
Walking into his hidden home he sighed. He had changed in the short time he had been contacted by his goddess; he had filled out, a well fitted frame of steely muscles and lightning fast reflexes that seemed to make him a blur to all who gazed upon him. The fluid grace of martial training was imbedded in each movement, seeming measured and exact.
He did not call out as he walked in; taking off his sleeveless black jacket he hung it on a chair before sitting down in it heavily and rubbing his face with one hand while leaning back. He opened his eyes to the spartan bareness of the room that he was sat in. A large bookshelf nearly engulfed one wall, filled from end to end with tomes, some of which looked truly ancient, on the other side sat a small fire and a small cool box where he kept the more perishable food stuffs. And in the middle was a small table with a single book on top of it, bound in black leather and looking about as dark as the knowledge it contained within its age stained pages.
Naruto looked at it with his cool blue eyes and studied the ring on his left middle finger while he was at it. The single green emerald stared back at him and he shook his head before standing up once again and moving over to his fire.
"Champion" a voice suddenly sounded in his head. He did not flinch or even blink as it filled his mind, he carried on with his task and replied
"Mortis" he replied with as much reverence as he could put into a thought. He did not know if she could feel it, but paranoia was something he had learned to take for granted in the life that he had lived thus far.
"You feel conflicted" she said in that same distant voice that sounded neither raspy nor clear.
"I am" he replied, not bothering to hide his thoughts from his saviour. It was never wise to get on a god's bad side, or so he believed, especially his goddess.
"Why?" she asked and Naruto reminded himself that for all her apparent caring nature, he was merely a piece on the board. An important piece, but a piece nonetheless. Also gods have, in his experience, very little concept of the problems of mortals. As far as he knew from what he had read, however, mortis was truly one of the only gods that took a true interest, as much because her followers were all mortal as she dealt with them in death as well.
"This duel life I must live" Naruto said while sitting back down at his table and sipping the hot tea "it is straining me"
"I know" she replied and he nodded to himself, she always knew.
"I know I must be patient, Mortis, but even I can only do this for so long. Eventually I fear that my own paranoia is going to make me do something" he said and he could nearly feel her concern, even though it was laced with a faint amusement
"Then learn" she said and he sighed. A circular argument that never went anywhere.
He did not reply and she did not speak to him again as he drank his tea slowly, taking a moment to relax, before he put the cup down and turned to the book in front of him.
He had been reading its pages for months now, but even then he was slow in truly grasping the concepts and knowledge hidden within its pages. He knew the language it was written in, another gift from his goddess, however it was half formed and incomplete, and so he was forced to work through the book at a painstakingly slow pace, however he knew he was getting there.
He opened it and stared down at a page filled with strange symbols and masses of letters that would of made no sense to anyone but himself. He began to read with a slow deliberateness that would have fitted a skinny scholar more than a man who looked like a cross between a marathon runner and a body builder.
His goddess was she of death, or more correctly, of the void itself. Death is an absence of life, after all. Everything he had read about her pointed to her being near totally unbiased unless angered, and she was also far more willing to reward loyalty. She was one of the few born from the void itself, rather than formed by other gods and the like, so she, and a few others that were nowhere to be found, existed above the others in another realm entirely, untouchable by any save for the time that passed.
After all, one cannot kill the very essence of death itself. She kept the world in balance, and although she had killed it was always to maintain that delicate balance that man had a nasty habit of upsetting one way of another. She had apparently killed the old god of war after he had ordered his followers to torch several towns and the like, resulting in mass murder that flooded Mortis's realm with the dead.
So a Reaper had been sent, and it had thrown the God into nothingness, to be endlessly tormented with the cold and the void as punishment for his crimes. There he met Darkness and Nothingness and begged for forgiveness, but eventually he dissolved into Eternity and was forgotten.
"He is suspicious of you" Mortis's voice sudden said and Naruto sat back, blinking at his eyes took a moment to refocus on what was around him
"Yes" he replied "he certainly is"
They were referring to the Hokage; the old man did not seem to trust Naruto an inch further than he could throw him. However the council kept his at bay, if only because they could not care less about Naruto and what he was doing. He rarely entered the town and they liked it that way.
So Naruto retreated into the solitude afforded only by a soul such as his, and he enjoyed it, amongst the company of a thousand and one books that many scholars would kill to get their hands on. Most had been hidden in obvious places, some had been brought for less than their covers were worth, and others had been dug up from ancient grave that had lain undisturbed for ages.
He had not even read half of them; his full attention was taken up by the single leather bound tome that lay open to the world in front of him.
"I cannot do anything" he told the voice in his head and she pulled back a little before replying
"You must leave" she said and he muttered something as he read a line in the book and felt a headache coming on
"I can't leave yet" he told her plainly but honestly "I am still too weak to be of any threat to him, or of any use to you my goddess" he said and he sensed a feeling of satisfaction from his goddess
"Very well. I shall leave you then, my power fades even now" she said and then her presence was gone, like a fog gradually fading away until only the memory of it remained.
He shook his head and poured himself another cup of tea before sitting himself back down and reclining once again as his eyes slowly read the lines imprinted on the pages. His head hurt to translate the meaningless scribbles, but he was becoming better at it. He knew much more than any human should rightfully know anyway. About this particular subject at least.
So he stood and stretched while looking at the clock on his wall and sighing. He had been staring at those pages for nearly two hours now, it always surprised him at how easily he lost himself in the pages and the priceless knowledge it contained.
He moved through a few basic stances and sighed as he felt his aching muscles loosen up once again. He rekindled his fire and set up a pot of prepared stew for his dinner that night. The thought made his stomach tighten in anticipation and he sighed, he did not eat as much as some people thought. Most of his food was protein taken from nearly any animal that was unlucky enough to be caught by him and that could actually be eaten without nearly killing him.
He still went to the academy, though Mortis only knew why. His need for their teaching was gone now that he had his goddess, she had helped him as he had grown far stronger than many others, both physically and mentally. While they struggled with stances and the occasional tactical scenario, he read books that contained forbidden knowledge. He nearly laughed every time a teacher found it impossible to catch him out, eventually they had given up and he spent each day reviewing the knowledge in his head.
It would eventually consume him. He knew that and fought tooth and nail to keep it at bay, one Orochimaru was bad enough for the world, let alone the fact that what he now knew would make that man seem like a saint to some people.
He shook his head free of the morbid thoughts that now seemed to readily infest his mind, and instead set about reading the book. He had given himself a little under a month originally, and by his reckoning he had little more than two days left before he would start the next stage of this journey. The energy bubbled inside of him and he pushed it aside for the moment
"Soon" he muttered into the open air "very soon"
The next day was far too bright. The sky was clear and the sun glared down on Naruto as though it knew what he was planning to do that very night. He had stayed up all night but now believed he had the necessary components of knowledge to begin his plan in earnest, and it really would not do for any of the citizens of Konoha to know of what that entailed.
So he slipped on the mask of the second persona and stepped out onto the streets. Each stride was powerful and confident, blessed with a grace that many classmates envied, his should were set back and he held his head high, a wonder to all that the weight of the world had not brought him low just yet.
He ignored the thinly veiled looked of contempt or utter hatred and made his way quickly to the academy. He was dressed with his black jacket and dark trousers, a lack of shoes meant that his feet was tough enough to step on ground glass without problem, though he had yet to test theory, but provided him with that further sense of distance and difference that he desired compared to the rest of the populace.
He strode down to hall, bare feet tapping against the wood until he stood in front of the door to his classroom. He did not knock but simply opened the door with a sharp snap.
The teacher looked at him with a hard glare, Naruto met it steadily with his own cold, uncaring stare and the man grunted softly before motioning for him to go and sit down. Naruto did so and did not speak to any of the people that glanced or stared at him. He was the stranger, and few people wanted to be seen with him, even fewer made the effort to be civil.
Those that did he treated with a distant politeness that at least made it easier for them to continue, however none ever probed him about his life or the like. He was grateful for that small blessing at least.
So he sat and rubbed the ring on his finger with something bordering affection while the teacher droned on and on about this warrior and another. Only one brave fool had ever tried to separate him from his ring and it had ended in tears. The man had four broken fingers and a snapped wrist by the time Naruto was finished.
No one had tried that again.
"Uzumaki" the teacher sudden snapped at him and Naruto looked over at him
"Yes?" he asked, not impolitely, and the teacher stiffened. Most of the staff did not like him, he was good at everything and was polite to the point that it made it hard to really find any fault with him. Many now left him alone, not that he really noticed the difference, and he had more important things to worry about after all.
"Explain this please" the teacher said and Naruto appreciated the attempt to be polite so he stood up and glanced at the board once.
"Chakra is a mixture of spiritual and physical energy" he started out, his tone patient and calm, steady but with an undercurrent of confidence. He had been told once that he would have made a fantastic teacher, he had smiled and nodded politely and thought nothing of the idea after that.
"It it formed by the ninja and then utilised for many techniques. For example the water walking technique is a fairly advanced form of chakra control, using it to increase the surface tension of the water" he said and the whole class listened intently, many were taken notes and Naruto paused for a moment to let them do so before carrying on "it is also aligned to a certain nature, most Chunin's will develop this at some point, though jonin do usually develop a second nature as well" he explained while gesturing to a diagram on the wall
"They will develop two natures that do not conflict with one another, such as fire and lightning" he said before nodding to the teacher before pausing "also, it is technically impossible to die from using it all up, as the body prevents it. It is also said to represent a person's life energies" he said before finally taking his seat.
The class turned back to the teacher who took up the lecture Naruto had started, he knew that he would have the day to himself now and so leant back and decided to try and get at least a little sleep before the night. It promised to be a long one after all.
Lunch finally begun and the students dashed out of the room, leaving Naruto alone with the teacher, his eyes were closed and for all appearances appeared to be asleep
"Uzumaki" his teacher said and he opened his eyes to find the man looming over him slightly, she frowned slightly and the man backed off
"Why were you late?" he asked while sitting on the desk next to Naruto's
"I was up late last night"
"I fail to see why I should tell you" Naruto said and the teacher raised his hands placating
"I'm simply curious, it's been happening a lot lately" he told Naruto who nodded and turned away "are you doing anything...illegal?"
"Are you sure? You can..." the man trailed off without finishing his sentence. They both knew what he was about to say, and how absolutely stupid it sounded coming from him
"No I can't" Naruto replied to the unsaid words and the man hung his head slightly.
All the teachers had been bad to Naruto in one way or another, but he had simply soldiered one doggedly. He had apparently been tempered in the fires and come out all the stronger for it. However one by one the staff began to doubt their thoughts and feelings as he continued, sitting quietly in their classes, doing all the work set and even helping those who dared ask him for help.
Slowly they had changed and eventually nearly every soul in the school felt as though they owed the boy a debt they could never quite repay, which was at least partially because he did not trust them an inch. So they kept a respectful distance away and tried to help him when he seemed to be struggling, which was almost never.
"How are you eating?" the man then asked and Naruto continued to look away into the distance, as though seeing something only he could.
"Fine" he replied
"Where do you live anyway?" the man suddenly asked as though he had just realised something "your old apartment was burned down years ago"
"I know. And I won't tell you. I'm sure you understand" Naruto said and the man nodded with a sigh before standing up
"Well Uzumaki-san" he said with a touch of remorse in his voice "if you need help with a problem or something academical, please come and see us" he said with a small, almost sad smile, and then he was gone and Naruto was finally alone with his thoughts once again. An impenetrable island in the centre of a vast ocean.
He found himself outside eventually. The teacher had allowed him to leave early, many of them often did. He found it reassuring that they never questioned how he knew so much, guilt was not an emotion he liked to use, at least not to manipulate people, but he would admit that it certainly had its uses in situations like this.
"Hey you" someone suddenly said and he swivelled on a dime to come face to face with a girl with twin buns of hazel hair on her head. She was shorter than he was by an inch at least.
"Yes?" he asked calmly and she looked at him hard
"Why are you leaving?" she asked and Naruto raised an eyebrow while looking around him. Some people were looking over at them and he got the feeling rumours would now start spreading whether he wanted them to or not
"I'm allowed to" he told her and she looked at him again before her eyes widened slightly
"You're Uzumaki Naruto aren't you?" she asked
"How very observant of you" he remarked dryly "I am, now, farewell" he said and left her standing there with a slightly shocked expression on her pretty face. He had been expecting that reaction after all; with some of the stories he heard he was not surprised. Though those that said he slept with the dead and spoke with their souls perhaps came closer to the truth than they really expected.
"Sasuke-kun" he suddenly heard, and moved gracefully to avoid two girls, at least three years his juniors, moving at high speed. He turned to look down the street and spotted the brooding teenager easily, given the girls following him.
The boy was dressed in black and his whole aura was one of cold anger against the world. Like some kind of crow, or raven...the messenger of death. Naruto found that last thought almost amusing as the boy looked at him.
Even through the coldness an unmistakable air of arrogance shrouded the young man. So Naruto just shook his head to himself and turned away from the boy and his two loyal servants, or whatever they were, and continued down the street. He had an appointment to keep to, and it would not do for him to be late.
"Hey you" a voice suddenly called out, he was getting tired of people being so rude to him. Today just did not seem to be going his way at all, no matter how much he wished it to
"Yes?" he responded while turning to face the brooding boy, the two girls, one with pink hair, the other with blonde hair, standing behind him. Sasuke seemed to be studying him and Naruto narrowed his eyes slightly
"Can I help you?" he asked, a faint undercurrent of annoyance entering his tone as the boy straightened up and looked at him
"Fight me" he said and Naruto narrowed his eyes further
"Don't overstep your boundaries boy" he said, voice dropping slightly as a steely edge took hold. He did not like fighting other people here unless he had to; such things seemed to spread rather vicious rumours. Fighting the last Uchiha heir loyal to Konoha was not his idea of a good plan, the council tried to keep him happy. Naruto just thought the kid was unstable in a bad way
"Fight me" Sasuke demanded again and Naruto sighed and turned away. He suddenly moved as a fist moved past his face.
His reactions took hold, imbedded into him with a lifetime of practise, his hand grabbed Sasuke's and twisted sharply, a loud crack resounding as the boys wrist snapped. He then threw him away, where he sat whimpering in pain as the two girls looked confused at what had just happened.
Naruto sighed to himself, especially as civilians began to crowd round them
"He hurt Uchiha-sama" one of them said and Naruto frowned while watching the two girls fuss over Sasuke who quickly pushed them away and stood up with a look of thunder on his face. Naruto put one hand behind him and shifted his stance
"Leave" he told the boy in a cold but calm tone. The boy ran at him with a kick and Naruto grabbed him and tossed him away once again as several ninjas appeared
"What's going on here?" the one in the dog mask asked and Naruto felt his hackles rise. He loathed the Anbu called Kakashi, the man had done little to help him and while Naruto rarely carried grudges, he made a distinction for Kakashi
"He hurt..." one of the civilians began to say only to be silenced by Naruto's cold eyes landing on hers, she cowered away and Naruto turned to the Anbu members
"Take me to the Hokage" he said firmly and Kakashi frowned but did so, he needed to be punished anyway.
The Hokage's office was a simple wooden affair, with a large window that looked out over Konoha and also provided a view of the Hokage's faces imprinted on the mountain to the south of Konoha. The great oak desk the aging man sat behind was older than he was, and had survived many beatings by the previous Hokage's.
"So Naruto-kun" he said and Naruto frowned slightly. The man tried to act like a concerned grandfather but Naruto had made it painfully clear that he wanted nothing to do with it.
"I did not hurt him" Naruto said and Kakashi broke in
"You snapped his wrist" he pointed out and Naruto looked levelly at him, his thumb stroking his ring as he looked at the man calmly for a moment, letting the silence grow before he turned back to the Hokage.
"He attacked me out of arrogance, so I reacted instinctively" he said and the Hokage seemed to ponder on this for a moment
"Yes, the academy reports do state that you're an accomplished hand-to-hand fighter" he said and Kakashi seemed to stiffen slightly
"What were you doing then, leaving the academy so early?" Kakashi asked and Naruto looked at him
"The Hokage is asking the questions" he said levelly "I do not fall under your jurisdiction Hatake-san" he said and Kakashi backed off. He was not pleased but Naruto was sure he knew the law.
"But it is a good question" the Hokage said while taking a small puff of his pipe
"The teacher allowed me to leave early" he said and the Hokage frowned, it was not against regulations but it was not very common.
"Is that all?"
"Yes, but you will have to stay until I can check out that story"
"...Very well Hokage-sama" Naruto said with a chill entering his tone "am I to assume, therefore, that I will be staying in a cell for a while?" he asked, Kakashi looked ready to say yes but the Hokage interrupted him
"No" he said pointedly while looking at Kakashi "you have not done anything wrong yet"
"I see. Then I will remain here?"
"Then I shall stand here"
"Take a seat, please"
"No thank you. I feel more at ease standing up"
"I see...thank you Kakashi-san, you can leave now"
"Hokage-sama, that was a breach in regs there"
"He knows who you are"
The two men turned to face Naruto who was leaning against the wall with his eyes gazing at something far off
"You should be more careful what you say" he said to the man "I passed next to the Memorial stone once and heard you muttering, and then you said something similar in your disguise" he said and Kakashi nodded while straightening. He bowed to the Hokage and then was gone in a swirl of leafs; leaving Naruto and the Hokage alone while the teacher came to meet them.
"How have you been, Naruto-kun?" the Hokage eventually asked when the silence became too thick to bare.
"Fine" Naruto responded while rubbing his ring. The Hokage had asked about it once, but Naruto had not said anything, his eyes telling him to leave well enough alone.
"What about your new home? Where do you live anyway?"
"It is suitable, and I won't say"
"You can trust..."
"No, I can't. Paranoia is a fine art that I have apparently mastered"
"So I see"
Don't belittle me Hokage-sama, it is unbecoming of a man of your station
"I didn't mean to sound rude. But apparently you've been coming to many lessons late, especially in the morning, is anything going on?"
"Nothing" Naruto said and his eyes met the Hokage's, filled with ice "nothing is happening. It's just late nights"
"Studying" Naruto said in a white lie before turning to the door as a knock resounded through the office
"Enter" The Hokage called out and in stepped Naruto's teacher, the scar across his nose standing out in the direct light of the sun
"You summoned me, Hokage-sama?" he said, eyes glancing at Naruto who was leaning against the wall.
"Yes. Did you allow Naruto-kun here to leave early?" he asked and the man nodded
"He would've found the lesson tedious, he knows it all already" he explained and the Hokage nodded
"Does his happen often?" he asked and the man shrugged slightly
"Sometimes, usually he sits there quietly. Sometimes he asks to leave and I let him, but that's about it Hokage-sama" he said
"I see, thank you. Naruto-kun, you can leave"
"Thank you Hokage-sama, Sensei" Naruto said, bowing stiffly before leaving the tower.
Naruto moved into the forest with a feeling of anticipation filling his veins as he walked into the hidden entrance of his home and made his way down into the main section and then moving a little further back.
"You're back at last" Mortis whispered and Naruto bowed his head a little as he walked into a darkened room
"My apologies. I was held up by...things" he said and she seemed satisfied, pulling away slightly. He pulled out a small box of matches and began to light the black candles in the room until eventually the large object in the middle was revealed to his eyes.
Is was unmistakably an altar of some kind. Its sides and top covered with inscriptions and strange symbols that made little sense to even Naruto himself, despite having made this particular object.
"It is ready" Mortis whispered to him and Naruto nodded
"Yes. All I need now are the components and I can finally begin" he said and he could sense her satisfaction with this news. He had no doubt that she could look into his mind if she wished, but her power was limited and fading, if she used too much then she would not even be able to speak to Naruto, despite the ring on his finger, and her statue nearby.
So Naruto walked back out of the cave and moved on towards another, where the smell of death was strongest.
He walked into it and quickly picked up the old skeleton. A single blade sat nearby in his hand, it was not hard for Naruto to figure out what he had done to himself. He picked up the bones and placed them into a back over his shoulder and walked back to the cave.
The night was peaceful; it felt safe and calming to him. That was all he needed to be able to get on with his work.
He went back to the altar and placed the bones onto it, sorting them out until they once again formed a more or less complete image of the man. Some of the bones seemed to have been chewed and more than a couple were missing, but it was suitable for Naruto's purposes. So he began the ritual, feeling out the power that lay within the bones.
Many people believed that death was an absence of life. While that was true in a sense, death itself was energy, just as potent as life, if a tad harder to grasp. It was the opposite to life energy, cancelling it out until only death filled the body and banished the spirit out and to wherever it wished to go after that. It then filled the flesh and bones and sat there, like dried blood it was a nightmare to remove.
However that was not what Naruto wished to do. As a bone collector he was to study the bones and bodies of all the dead he could get his hands on, as such he would gradually begin to understand the nature of death itself. With that knowledge came a power, potent and deadly as it filled the body, however with no other sources on earth knowing of these kinds of powers, he was free to indulge himself and take his time with becoming what his goddess wished.
He had wanted power, and now he was going to have to work for it. Which suited him just fine; such things had to be earned after all. Otherwise you belonged to someone or something else. He chose to follow Mortis out of his own mind; she had no influence on his actions unless he chose to follow her instructions, as he had for many months now. Finally it was starting, and soon he would have that power he so desired.
The night dragged on and on, Naruto grew increasingly fatigued but kept at it. The hardest part of this was to find and then trap the energy, he did not need it for himself, he merely needed to become more familiar with it and its various complexities, like where it settled and why and what it did there.
So he carried on well into the morning. But finally he felt his senses brush across something that was heavy and viscous, his human senses instinctively pulled away and back but he pushed them back onto the energy that sat there. He knew what it was and had to suppress a whoop of joy lest it distract him from the task at hand.
He studied it carefully and felt it out. It felt thick and altogether wrong to his human mind, it was the total opposite of what live was and so he had to hold himself firm to stop his hands from pulling away lest he lose the energy and never regain it again. He took a deep breath a tried again, it was lingering in the bones, like the final echo of a dying scream, thinly layered but definitely there and moving now that he was touching and moulding it.
"Yes" Mortis nearly hissed, apparently immensely pleased and at least slightly impressed with him. He held on for as long as he could but eventually had to let it go, but it did not matter, he had succeeded and now he could continue on like this and eventually he would learn to harness the energy properly, so that it became a weapon rather than a simple interesting mist that could not be seen. Every living thing could feel it, certainly, which was why he now had to become even more cautious, lest someone a little too sensitive to such things discovered him. The chance that they would realise what he was doing was slim, but someone like him, once enough energy was amassed, caused fear and irrational hatred regardless, it was simply their instincts playing up and trying to sort out whatever was wrong, by getting rid of it.
So he pulled back and stumbled before getting his bearings back. He was aware that hours had passed and he was almost unbearably hungry, the human brain used up a lot of energy after all.
He wandered back into his main room and sat down at his table, ignoring the black book staring back at him for the moment. His goddess was silent and he was glad for that, his head was pounding and his hands were shaking, both from exertion and the feel of death that he had touched. His own mind appeared unaffected and he did not feel ill, but human instincts are a hard thing to overcome, all things considered.
He was suddenly glad he had spent so long conditioning himself, otherwise there was no way in hell he would have been able to hold himself there for as long as he had.
He sighed and rubbed his face as the trembling subsided and the pain dulled to a faint throbbing associated with long periods of constant concentration. He put away his meal and sat down on his bed with a heavy sigh. He felt drained, the day had gone from bad to worse, but still, he had managed what he had set out to do and that was all that mattered.
The following days passed by without Naruto stirring from his cave. Despite the necessity to keep up appearances until he was strong enough to leave he was too close now to simply stop and give up.
The knowledge from the book had filled him and he was finally beginning to grow used to the deadly energy that he sought to wield as a weapon. However food was not everlasting and the Hokage would send people out to look for him if he disappeared from the public eye for too long, not out of worry, but out of fear.
He knew full well what he carried within his very soul, and he laughed to think that he would never need its true power, ever, if he had his say in the matter. Some might say he was naive, to deny such power, but he did not care, any power, whether given or borrowed, meant you owed a debt to someone or something and so they owned you, until the day you either died, or gave up whatever power you still held, and he was not looking to do that if he had a choice in the matter.
So he eventually left his hole in the ground and returned to the world of light and noise, despite his goddess's urge's and pleas to continue working.
"Welcome back Uzumaki, glad you could join us at last" his teacher said as he finally walked through the door and stepped into the classroom. He could see many of his classmates were waiting for the teacher to let rip at him, however it never came, the man just sighed and waved him to go sit down
"I assume you've done the work already?" he asked and Naruto nodded while pulling out a few papers from his pockets and putting them on his desk for the teacher to see as he went and sat in his usual seat, well away from his classmates and the real world, as his mind scattered in a dozen different directions, searching for something.
He came to him eventually; he needed more bodies if he was ever going to move passed this...level of power. The skeletons were all well and good but they were limited by their age and the violence of their deaths, so he made a silent vow to go digging that night. Perhaps the graveyard would provide him with what he needed to start moving on.
Not that he was stalling; he could feel already that he was getting out of breath in less time, though not by much. It was the nature of the energy he worked with, the logical progression of manipulating death itself was that to use more you had to step ever closer to the edge of life, balancing on the need for power and need to move through society without an issue.
So he sat quietly and ignored the class as his thoughts drifted to the graveyard and all that he might find within the silent grave of the fallen.
"Uzumaki" the teacher sudden said and Naruto turned to him "am I boring you?" he asked with a slight edge, though they both knew the answer already
"Of course not sensei" Naruto replied politely and with a small smile that was gone as quickly as it appeared.
Considering how like the Uchiha he was he was surprised, a little, that he did not get more attention from the opposite sex. Not that it interested him; it was simply that he preferred to be alone when he could. He supposed that it was his reputation that did it, however he had noticed more stares, good ones, since he laid the Uchiha out on his ass.
Whatever, he thought to himself as he watched the teacher who sighed and rubbed his temples
"You can go Uzumaki, just don't go causing anymore trouble" he said pointedly and Naruto shrugged while getting up and walking out of the classroom, feeling their stares on his back and truly not caring anymore.
However upon stepping out into the open air he quickly realised that he was not alone. Sitting on the fence that surrounded the academy grounds, was a women with dark hair done up in a ponytail, and eyes that reflected a kind of dark humour. Behind was a wild animal, dangerous but kept leashed by the human side.
"Good morning" he greeted her after checking his pocket watch for a moment. She glanced at him but said nothing, munching on whatever snack she was holding. Just the sickly sweet scent put Naruto off asking what it was; sweet things were not his thing at all.
"What d'you want gaki?" she asked. Naruto at least impressed by the sharpness of her tongue.
"Did he send you here?" he asked and she looked away
"Don't know what you mean" she replied and Naruto sighed
"Fine then" he said and walked away, not surprised that she followed him. He did not bother to try and lose her, she was Mitarashi Anko, and he would have better luck trying to escape his own thoughts.
"Are you going to follow me all day?" he asked and she did not reply, not that he expected her to.
He slipped into an out-of-the-way store and sat down at one of the tables. People looked but did not make a move to get rid of him; a few had tried and did not dare do that again. The store owners were nicer than most of the populace, so Naruto often came here. It was also one of Anko's favourite haunts, she did tend to stand out a little when she entered an area.
"Two tea's please" he called out and the owner nodded, moving into the kitchen at the back.
Anko sat down in front of him and he lent forwards with his hands folded
"So..." he said as the tea arrived and was set in front of them by a waitress. He smiled politely at her and she blushed slightly before bowing and moving back.
"Cheers gaki" she said while raising her cup "though I'd prefer something more alcoholic next time" she said and Naruto frowned slightly
"Somehow I don't think so" he remarked, waving away her questioning glance as he sat back and sipped at his own tea "why're you following me?" he asked and she sighed as she put her cup back down.
"The Hokage asked me to" she said and Naruto nodded
"Sounds just like that old man" he said and Anko snorted in amusement "how long?"
Anko shrugged. "As long as he wants" she told him and Naruto's frown deepened. This was going to be a problem
"I see" was all he said in response as he leaned back and waved the waitress back over and ordered some food as well
"What about dango?" Anko asked and Naruto looked at her
"That snack you were eating earlier?" he asked and she nodded, grinning. "You can if you want, but sweet things don't suit me" he told her and she pouted a little at not getting something else for free, but ordered her own food anyway.
"What did you do to get his interest anyway?" Anko asked through a mouth full of food as Naruto took his time, savouring is meal. It was certainly better than most of the stuff he could cook up with his pot and limited ingredients.
"He's always had an interest in me" Naruto told her and Anko rolled her eyes a little
"I meant this time" she said and Naruto looked at her for a moment before shrugging
"I missed a few days of the academy" he told her truthfully, she looked at him blankly for a moment
"That's it?" she asked incredulously
"Yep" Naruto replied and Anko sat there quietly for a moment, looking rather put out as her finger drummed on the table
"That bastard" she grumbled and Naruto smiled at her
"I agree" he said "but I need to be going home shortly, and I would prefer it if you didn't follow me" he told her, his face did not change expression, but a coldness came into his eyes as he locked eyes with her own.
She grinned at him. "What's the matter?" she asked in a sultry voice that made man men look towards her "afraid?" she asked lowly and Naruto frowned at her before standing up sharply, surprising her as she jerked back
"Do not follow me. I trust no one, especially someone like you" he told her bluntly. She frowned deeply at him and opened her mouth to ask him what he had meant. However he had already left the establishment and disappeared into the crowds milling outside.
He knew that Anko would not follow him, as much as her orders said to follow him, he suspected that she had also been told not to interfere with him, and so if he told her not to follow him home, he did not think she would. But it was never a bad thing to be too cautious, especially around ninjas.
So he vanished into the milling crowds and weaved through dark alleys until eventually he came to the forest. Content that no one was following him he made his way back to his hole in the ground, and to the bone altar where his future was waiting for him.
"I said I would be"
"I still do not understand why you left"
"I have obligations outside of this and my oath to you, I must fulfil those otherwise I feel I'll never get anywhere"
"Someone was following you"
"I know. She doesn't know about this place"
Naruto shook his head a little to clear the rasping voice from his head and instead set about making sure he was ready for the following night, and the many graves that awaited him. It was risky, but it was the only way to improve himself. Either that or killing people, and he was not sure he wanted to go down that road, that was a slippery slope that only got worse as you went down.
Once he was sure everything was prepared he sat down and meditated. He needed more rest than he was getting, the death energy would eventually begin to consume him, though Mortis had promised to keep his body intact until he wished otherwise. His worship was fuelling her power, not much, but it was enough to allow her to do things like that, so he supposed he should at least be thankful for that small miracle. As they seemed to be few and far between these days.
He mattered little in the long run anyway. Become strong enough and death would be unable to claim you, as much for your own power as Mortis's will. So he sat and meditated on the things he had learned so far, and waited for night to fall so he could finally get to work.
Eventually the night came and Naruto found himself in the graveyard. It was smaller than it should be, given the number of dead on the memorial stone. However many of their bodies had never been recovered after the wars, which was unsurprising, and many people were also cremated. Naruto sniffed at that thought, it was a little selfish of them, he thought to himself as he let his senses reach out and touch the graves one by one.
Eventually he found what he was looking for. It was the grave of an Uchiha. Dead now for little more than three or four years, but still the body thrummed with death energy, a violent and unexpected death tended to do that.
So he got to work. It was long and tiring, digging six feet worth of earth away by himself, but eventually he managed it and cracked open the wooden casket to behold the rotting corpse inside it. The smell did not reach him and he pulled it out of the casket before laying it on the ground next to its burial site, and filled the hole in.
Hours had passed and he was not doubtful that the night would be drawing to a close pretty damn soon. So he got moving, putting the corpse over his shoulder he ran quickly, but silently, back to his home.
Laying the body out on the bone altar he sighed and sat down, taking a moment to make sure that he was ready for what he was about to do. He stood up after a moment and began to examine the body with his new-found senses, feeling out the death within it as he examined how and why it had died so suddenly and violently.
The morning arrived all too quickly for Naruto's liking, and he found himself pulling himself from his bed to dress and be at the academy on time for the morning's lessons. Not that he needed to be on time, it would just lower the suspicion that was being levelled on him at the moment. The fact that the Hokage had a jonin following him, Anko at that, had not slipped his mind at all.
He had a suspicion that the old man had sent Anko because they were kindred souls in more than one way. However that was where the old man was wrong, Naruto cared little for human interaction and needed little socialisation to stay nearly as sane as anyone else. He certainly felt like he was not totally sane, he studied dead bodies in his spare time after all.
So he left his hole looking quite tired but still very alert.
Half way on his journey to the academy he spotted Anko, obviously waiting for him, leaning on the wall of someone's house. She smiled and waved at him.
He sighed and walked over to her. The rumours this was likely to start were not the kind of things he really needed at the moment.
"Good morning Naruto-kun" she greeted him; he raised an eyebrow at the familiar address but said nothing about it. It was a nice change after all.
"Good morning Anko-chan" he replied and she grinned happily at him, he let a small smile of his own slip onto his face at her expression
"You going to the academy?" she asked as they got to walking. Naruto nodded.
"I most likely won't be there for very long" he told her
"Cocky aren't you?" she teased and Naruto glanced at her
"I know my worth as well as any other man. Anyway, I don't want someone with your personality telling me that" he told her with an amused smile and she clutched her heart
"You're killing me Naruto-kun" she said overdramatically and Naruto laughed at her softly.
He was happy to have someone like her following him. Anyway, he needed friends to vouch for him so he could progress.
So his mind filled with plans and ideas and knowledge that should not be held by man, and he smiled.
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