Ch. 1 : Prologue
A/N : A new year, a new fic. Let's get this train wreck moving.
Disclaimer – I do not own Naruto, Star Wars, or any obscure references to other owned or written material, either official or those of fandom. They are all property of associated parties.
- ? -
Time. Time has a way of doing things to us. When we are young, time makes us stronger. When we are strong, it makes us wiser. And when we are old and wise... we start to break down. Well, mortals do at least. I'm not bound by the same laws and nor are the others. We have been since our creation, and we shall ever be.
Once upon a time, countless centuries ago, we were brought into existence by our Masters. Beings of such power that they could create life, such as ourselves, or they could destroy it. They could perform effortless feats that made the mortals around them quake in terror. They even had the power to unmake worlds. But they weren't immune to time either.
When the enemies of our Masters joined together, there was war on a scale that had never been seen before. Forests burned to the ground, mountains crumbled to dust, and oceans dried into caked expanses of nothingness. Thousands of lives were lost throughout the war and there came a time when our Masters were losing. But they were strong and cruel and unforgiving. If they couldn't win, no one would. In their righteous fury, they used their most blessed of powers to obliterate life itself. Their enemies, their surroundings, even themselves.
This world became barren and lifeless. Nothing would grow, and nothing could survive. Except us. Through the apocalypse we endured. We were there when the last fires burned themselves to cinders. We watched as time passed, and we witnessed when life finally succeeded in returning. Slowly at first, with seeds and weeds. Then faster, with healing rains and the evolution of simple animals. This world was filled with life again, but it meant nothing to us.
In our pointless and harrowing existence, we longed for a purpose. A reason to keep living, as we were cursed to do. And eventually we found it, in the form of the treasures of our Masters. The answer was so obvious, at first we were ashamed. For decades we had sat idle and mourning, when there was work to do. In penance we attended our new chore with great eagerness. Our Masters may be gone, but Their legacy remains. We dedicated ourselves to the task of collecting these remnants, these shards of greatness, and preserving them. For what we did not know, but in our ignorance it gave us relief and that was reason enough. We separated from each other for the first time, and each of us walked to the horizon in a different direction. We sifted through the worthless rubble and twisted wreckage. If we would find something that belonged to our Masters, or even the strongest of our enemies, we took it for ourselves. We brought it to our Masters' most sacred places, and we hid them far away from any that might come scavenging.
More time passed, and while we went about our self-given task, humans once more rose to prominence. They multiplied and became powerful. They learned to harness the power of themselves and their surroundings, much like our Masters had before them. We thought maybe we would have someone to serve once more, but we were wrong. The powers of these new humans were not those of our Masters. They were nothing but mockeries. They did not create, they simply used what was there before. The did not change their surroundings to fit their purpose, they allowed themselves to be changed. Even those that came closest to our Masters' holy work fell short and were left nothing but an empty shell. It was disgusting.
Perhaps... perhaps this was a form of punishment to us? We had failed our Masters, and for it They died. When They were gone we were meant to suffer for eternity, but we resisted and found purpose. Now these... primitives... tormented our memories with their very presence? Taunting us with that which seemed so familiar and yet was so alien. For the first time since the destruction of our Masters, we were filled with rage, and with that rage came madness. With the powers gifted to us by our dead Gods, we lashed out against these puny mortals who dared take their form.
For a while they feared us, as well they should. When we approached, they screamed and fled. When we left, they cried and mourned their dead. It was glorious. But we should have known it was not to last. Their strongest and wisest found ways to retaliate, and when they learned we could not be harmed by their loathsome abilities, they locked us away. Some in lifeless objects, others in the disgusting bodies of their own. Truly, ours was a wretched existence.
Once more, we allowed ourselves to become sorrowful and sloth took each of us. We stopped fighting against our captors as we once did. We were nothing but their playthings to toy with as they wished. These new humans became arrogant with our defeat. They thought us broken, and so they too became lax. What once were elegant rituals meant to counter every potential action degraded into nothing but a wall of simple iron bars. Our conscious was not bound. Neither were all of our powers. The time come when these apes thought, in their pride and arrogance, to use our very strength against their enemies. They once more changed our prisons to suit their purpose, and this time it allowed the host to interact with us, and us them. These mortals thought themselves so clever in the way of things, but not once did they wonder who this favored. Fools...
With the gifts of our strength came a chink in their armor. A way for us to gain strength and bide our time. For every time they altered the seals to allow them our power, we were given a way to watch the world. We were free to explore the realms of their minds, and watch as they progressed through their fleeting and meaningless lives. And when these mortal prisons died, we were bound in another. An endless stream of bodies. Each time, we were given a window, and we exploited it for everything it was worth.
In the years of our servitude we gained experience. We accumulated the knowledge of some of their wisest philosophers and their smartest tacticians. The most persistent of their historians and their charismatic leaders. With each host, we learned and we waited. And we loathed... Our time would come, of this we were sure. Sooner or later one of these mortals would show hints of our Masters' former greatness. Show that they were worthy to take up the mantle that had long since been forgotten, and when they did, we would serve them with our entire being. Through them, our Masters would live again and we would have a purpose once more.
This cycle however, has gone on long enough. I tire of these pointless games. Of waiting and hoping. Of thinking 'This time will be it. Surely my next vessel will be our Chosen One! Our Sith'ari...'. I am tired of being disappointed every time. The others have already fallen into madness. The toll was simply too great, and it got to them all in turn. Their hard earned knowledge... Their indomitable patience... Even the love of our Masters wasn't enough to keep them going any longer, and now they are nothing but mindless beasts of great power. The demons these humans have called us since we first attacked.
Even now I can feel the madness tugging at my mind. Whispering sweet nothings into my soul. Oh how I want nothing more to give in to it. It promises things I yearn for. A permanent sleep, of blissful nothingness. There is now only one thing that holds me back. A human concept that has been repeated in every host I have had since the very beginning.
Before I allow myself to succumb, you humans will fear my name once more. You think you are safe behind the flesh of your avatars? Of your... Jinchuuriki? I will destroy the body of that which keeps you all safe in your bed, and with its tattered remains I will sow the seeds of your destruction. I leave this record in the hope that somehow, one of you will find it and will know why I did what I did. I am not without my reasons after all, and I am not a mindless beast... yet. I wish you all the best of luck. You're going to need it. - Mikhail, Kyuubi no Kitsune.
- Outside Konoha : Moments after sealing -
With the contract complete, the foul energy of the God of Death slowly dispersed and Namikaze Minato felt the strength flee from his limbs and his chest grow cold. The Shinigami had held his end of the bargain, and now his life was forfeit. His only solace came from the knowledge that once more Konoha's greatest enemy was bound in another generation of servitude. Even if it came at the price of so many lives.
Forcing himself to expend energy he no longer possessed, the Fourth Hokage turned his head from his prone position to look at his newborn son, the latest sacrifice in the war against the Bijuu. Even in the field of mud, bodies, and splintered trees the babe seemed to glow with a ghostly luminescence, courtesy of the rising moon. The boy's thick blond hair was tangled and his face was scrunched as he wailed.
Any remaining peace fled from the father's heart as his son started crying even louder, and he rocked as tiny hands and feet beat at the air, pitifully trying to protect himself against things he couldn't even begin to comprehend. The red energy of the demon within caused the seal on the boy's stomach to grow a bright, angry red and even in his weakened state, Minato could feel the evil radiating from its fragile container. Despite this, he had confidence in his sealing ability. He was trained by the very best, and he had no doubt that the beast was trapped behind the impregnable shield of both his own Chakra, and that of the higher power he had just summoned. There was no way that thing could hope to escape.
What the man couldn't know was that internally, far more damage was being done then he could have guessed. Within the seal Mikhail, greatest of the Nine, was wreaking havoc with every fiber of his being. Wave after wave of dark Force energy flowed from his body and into his cage. The massive creation roared loudly and slammed himself against the bars imprisoning him within his newest host.
Centuries of anguish of losing his Masters. Generations of imprisonment and forced servitude at the hands of these insects. The pain of knowing that all those like him had long since fallen into madness and that he was truly the last of his kind. All of these combined to give him strength the likes of which he had never known. Enough of his toxic energy flowed to poison a village, all directly into the internal system of a barely dried baby.
As he howled and raged and made his cage shake with his anger, barely perceptible changes were occurring in the boy. Still developing tenketsu, the energy points of the human body, were rocked by the pure Force and were doing whatever they could to minimize the damage. Even if that meant absorbing the energy and attempting to adapt to it.
Slowly at first but with gaining momentum, the destructive nature of the Dark Side seeded itself into Naruto's circulatory system and from there lanced out into the rest of his body. Centuries of evolution was being undone in mere moments. The boy's Chakra system was broken down into its base components by the now near-sentient Force energy, and everything that likened him to his kind was stripped from him.
Only as these changes gained unstoppable speeds did Mikhail pause in his rage. The alterations around him brought him out of his bout of madness and he hesitated and watched the effects. Though he had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear the changes around him, he could feel that changes were occurring. When before he was only able to sense the same life energy that had invaded the body of every other host, now he could feel the touch of not only his own Force signature, but that of another. It was weak, yes, but it burned like a star.
The beast laughed to himself in malicious glee and allowed himself to fall into silence. He had, if unintentionally, given himself exactly what he had wanted. Perhaps this boy was what he was looking for after all. He had no doubt that the changes he had wrought were irreversible, but he was much less sure of the results. All he knew for certain was that the boy would be incapable of using this 'Chakra' that humans were so fond of. He had obliterated that energy and replaced it with the Force.
Now he just had to wait and see if the boy could learn to use it. If he did... well, that would have to wait. But if there was one thing a Bijuu excelled at beyond destruction, it was patience. He would wait, and if the time came, he would train the boy to be just like his Masters.
If he survived...
- Konoha Academy Testing Center : Ten year later -
Iruka sipped at his coffee as he looked over the results of applications to the Academy. Every year hundreds of prospective students were signed up, either at their own behest or on account of their parents, and every year it came down to him and the other teachers to decide who got in and who didn't. After all, there was no point in letting someone in if they had no chance of completing the school.
The testing was based on a number of variables; intelligence, stamina, heritage, a psychological evaluation, and Chakra capability. Each of these helped preserve the requirements set by the Second Hokage. Each student undertook tests of each category and multiple tests that combined two or more aspects into one. When the testing was complete, a full evaluation was taken and a teaching council would discuss who they felt were eligible or ineligible for training. When the decisions were made and a final consensus reached, it would be up to the teachers to meet each student face to face and inform them of their acceptance or rejection, which was the part of his chosen profession that Iruka often disliked.
"Naruto, I'm sorry but you just aren't qualified to be a ninja."
"What! How come? I totally kicked butt in the tests, didn't I?"
The Chuunin smiled sadly. He always hated having to crush a kid's dreams. Though a lot of them took it easier than others. Case in point, the yellow haired boy sitting before him now.
"In most of them, yes, but not all of them. Your IQ scores are passable, though training would have been diverted towards overcoming your low scores. Your stamina was just... you passed that one easily."
"Of course I did! That test taker couldn't even keep up with me."
That was an understatement. By the time Naruto was done with the stamina testing, the instructor had been begging them to take the blond hellion away so he could recuperate.
"Your heritage was a lot harder to score due to your orphan status, so that wasn't taken into consideration. After all, a lot of orphans have grown up to be really powerful Shinobi."
"So what's the problem then? If I scored fine in the first two and the third didn't count, why don't I get to be a ninja?"
Iruka dropped the paper he was holding onto the desk and dropped down to one knee to look the young boy in the eye. He had hear good things about the boy from the Hokage and had been honestly surprised by his personality. The kid was like a burst of sunshine in a lot of ways. Especially that if you looked at him too long you started to get a headache.
"Because that isn't everything it takes to be a ninja. There is also a psychological evaluation that is mandatory to make sure someone imbalanced doesn't grow up to become really powerful."
Naruto eyed him wearily. At least, as wearily as a ten year old can.
"Are you saying I'm crazy?"
Iruka laughed and held up his hands in a placating manner.
"No no, that's not what I'm saying. In fact, quite the opposite. You are so friendly and outgoing, I really don't see why you would want to be a ninja in the first place. It is a ninja's job to do things that hurt other people for the good of the village."
"Well... because I want to be strong and stuff. And how am I going to be strong if I'm not a ninja?"
The teacher sighed to himself. That was hardly a good enough reason to want to be a Shinobi, but he wasn't going to get into it with him right now. He still had a ton of applicants to attend to, and he couldn't afford to spend too much time on any one.
"Well regardless, the last part of the testing is what made our decision. Chakra ability. Naruto, in that regard you failed miserably."
"Are you talking about how I couldn't do that hand thing?"
The basic means of testing for Chakra aptitude was a simple one. The child in question was taught a single hand sign with which they would channel their Chakra. During this phase of testing, a Sensor-nin was kept on duty to feel out exactly how much power they were channeling, as well as get a general idea on their reserves. While most applicants are barely able to channel any Chakra given their minute reserves, Naruto was unable to produce enough to even be able to be picked up. In fact, the Sensor assigned to him had been outright astounded by the boy's seemingly nonexistent Chakra reserves.
"Basically, yes. While not unheard of, there have been very few successful Shinobi that have not had access to their Chakra reserves. The points one must go to in order to overcome such a handicap are extreme, to say the least."
The young boy before him was not discouraged, and his eyes burned with a flame that Iruka found admirable.
"Yeah, but its not impossible! And besides, just 'cause I don't have Chakra now doesn't mean I can't make some right?"
Iruka felt himself smile at Naruto's insistence.
"Well, it's complicated but it isn't impossible. It won't be easy though. Are you sure this is what you want to do with your life, Naruto?"
The boy nodded with serious determination, and Iruka signed something off on his papers. While it was frowned upon for an individual teacher to approve a student that had been rejected by the staff, the final say was left to the teacher's discretion under the provision that that teacher was the one to accept them as a student.
"Well then, if you're so sure than I can't just tell you no now, can I?"
"Does... Does that mean I get to be a ninja!?"
Iruka placed a hand on Naruto's head and smiled down at him warmly.
"Yup. You're going to be in my class, so I expect you to work hard every day, okay? No slacking off. You have seven years to prove that you have what it takes to be a Shinobi for Konoha."
Naruto stood straight and proud, imitating a salute. "Yes Sir! I'll show you what I can do. Thank you."
"Don't mention it. Now here is a list of supplies you are going to need for class next week. Make sure you get them. If you need help, don't hesitate to ask."
A short list changed hands, and Naruto glanced over it with hidden apprehension. Kunai, shuriken, wires... It wasn't going to be easy getting the materials he would need, but he had just convinced Iruka to let him in and he wasn't about to give up without giving it his all.
After a short lecture on what was to be expected of him, as well as the rules and guidelines of the Academy, Naruto was released to his own devices. First on his agenda was to see what he could to about getting the supplies he was going to need. His monthly stipend was enough for him to pay the rent and utilities of the apartment he had been provided, but it didn't leave much room for luxuries, and Shinobi equipment wasn't cheap. True Iruka had said that he would be willing to help him if he needed it, but he didn't really want to get into the habit of having to rely on people. He did that enough already in his opinion.
For now he was wandering around the streets, thinking on what he could do about his most recent problems. Around him the villagers treated him much like everyone else, with passing notice and ignorance, and he returned the favor. He had more important things to worry about anyway. When it came down to it, he had three options.
He could take odd jobs to try and make the extra money to buy the things he needed. A good idea and if he was honest with himself, the one he liked the most. The problem with that was he had tried it before. When he had first started living on his own, he had wanted to make some extra spending money. The only problem was that people didn't want to hire a ten year old without any experience. That wasn't going to work, unfortunately.
Second, he could try to steal the supplies he needed and discreetly pay for them later when he started taking missions. He really didn't like this idea for a number of reasons. One, he would have to steal from a Shinobi equipment dealer. Yeah, no. Two, he wasn't a thief and he detested the idea of becoming one just to farther his station. He was only considering this option so he wouldn't get cornered with a lack of choices.
Third, he could try to take the supplies from the previously said dealer, only instead of stealing the prime merchandise, he would take that which had already been thrown away. Dumpster diving, if you will. He didn't really like the idea of rummaging through trash to get what he needed, as well as the fact that whatever he did get would probably be of lower quality than even second hand stuff. Still, it was better than stealing out right, and it was free.
With his mind made up, Naruto turned at the next intersection and started heading toward the merchant sector of Konoha. He wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.
'Shit, shit, shit!'
Villagers leaped aside to avoid being ran down by the young boy and pursuer who were charging down the busy street. One held a small bag under his arm and the latter was waving a rather stout stick above his head, yelling angrily.
"Get back here, you thief!"
"It's not stealing if you were throwing it away!"
"Yes it is! That's still my property, now give it back!"
The young blond didn't waste his breath yelling back, and instead just pushed himself to run even faster. He honestly didn't understand why the man was so upset. It wasn't like he was stealing his prime goods! Everything he had liberated were in a dumpster out back, just waiting to be taken to a recycling plant in the industrial sector of Konoha. The shopkeeper wasn't even getting paid for the goods, they were just picking up his trash, which was the exact same thing Naruto was doing. He just didn't get paid for the public service.
Reviewing his mental map of Konoha and coming up blank, Naruto made a snap decision and turned down a side street that he hoped branched out into a number of alleyways. Five steps in he realized his mistake, but it was too late to turn back now. The sun illuminated the brick wall ahead of him brightly, and he couldn't see any possible means of escape. Not a fire escape ladder, not a side street, not even a wall short enough for him to leap over. Nothing!
He could hear the footsteps getting louder, and the enraged threats of the merchant he had provoked. He was going to be on him in moments, and there was nowhere he could do. With a sigh of a man walking to the gallows, Naruto chucked the bag of liberated supplies into pile of garbage cans and hoped they would camouflage his goods. If he was taken into the police station, at least he could come back for them later. There was no way he was going through all this empty handed after all.
Trapped between a brick wall and a pissed off behemoth of a man, Naruto tried to make himself small and invisible. He pressed his back tight against the wall and closed his eyes, with his hands curled into fists and protecting his face. He controlled his breath and tried to make it as slow and as quiet as possible. He wasn't sure why he was putting in the effort to make himself invisible since he was in the wide open, but just like other instinctual habits his self-preservation took over.
"Hey you, did you see a blond runt run past here?"
"Yeah man, I think he ducked into that alleyway over there."
'Oh, you son of a bitch!' Naruto thought angrily, pissed that someone would rat him out like that for no reason.
"Thanks." The footsteps turned into the alley and echoed off of the walls around them. "Alright, you're trapped now. Where are you?"
Naruto squeezed his eyes even tighter shut and prayed to whoever was listening that the shop owner couldn't see him. As he breathed slowly and concentrated with every fiber of his being on remaining unseen, he felt a wave of vertigo rush over him, along with a pronounced loss of strength, as though someone had turned on the faucet of his body and his strength was running out slowly.
The moment lasted forever as he waited for the man to finally notice him. To call out to him in anger, or even swing his thick club at him. But the blow never came, physical or verbal. After an eternity the man grumbled to himself and turned out of the alleyway to run back into the street in the direction they had been running previously.
Confused and bewildered, Naruto held the position for another five minutes before allowing himself to relax. As soon as he did, the drain on him ceased, but the lightheaded sensation turned into a pounding headache that brought him to his knees and left him cradling his head.
'What the... hell was that?'
It could have been seconds, it could have been minutes. He didn't really know how long it lasted, but when it stopped he felt an almost overwhelming sense of fatigue. With stiff movements, he retrieved the bag from the garbage cans and started slowly making his way to his apartment. He had been able to get most of the things he needed, but there were a couple of things he was still missing. Hopefully the Academy would have some that they would let him borrow. He really didn't want to have to do all that again any time soon.
That was the first time my pathetic host first used the power I had given him. It was a relief, honestly. I had begun to worry that he would never tap into his potential. Still, you can't rush things like this, and I had waited for this long already. Now that he had tasted what he could do, he would invariably be drawn to it. You can't ignore something like the Force.
Later that evening found Naruto laying on his back, stretched out on his bed. His arms were crossed behind his head and one might of thought him asleep were it not for the look of intense concentration. The bizarre incident from earlier had captured his attention to the point of obsession. With firm resolve, he had sworn to himself that he would figure out what had helped him hide from the irate shop keeper. Unfortunately, that was much easier said than done. All he knew for certain and could recall with any clarity was that sense of fatigue.
With nothing else to go on, the blond closed his eyes and began breathing deeply. By slowly clenching his core muscles in slow succession, he mimicked that feeling while trying to remember what he had been feeling at the time. At first he felt foolish, but if this was what it took to be able to use Chakra, dammit he would do it. When that thought crossed him, his mind started to wander, though he continued to tighten the muscles of his stomach and abdomen.
He thought of the way the teachers had looked at each other when he couldn't manipulate Chakra. He remembered the way the psychologist had poked and prodded at his mind, asking questions that didn't have answers. Seeking weakness that, as far as he was concerned, didn't exist.
Naruto was caught up in his anger, he didn't notice his shirt sleeves rustling in the light breeze. If he had, he would have wondered why there was a gust when all the doors and windows were closed tight.
Those memories led to Iruka telling him that he wouldn't be able to use Chakra and suggesting he just give up.
He continued to breath in and out, clenching and releasing, only vaguely aware that his body was warming in a way that had nothing to do with his light exertions. The wind around him had picked up, and the naked light bulb above him swung about wildly, causing the shadows to dance across the room.
His emotions were swept up in the fear that suddenly plagued him. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being good enough. The fear of being killed, or worse, left behind.
Finally, his emotion reached a limit as the image of the angry shopkeeper had entered the flow of memories, snarling and shouting threats. Within him something shattered. Some fundamental wall of protection exploded, letting a rush of …. something flow into him. This sensation, he found, could only be described as Power, filling and energizing every cell in his body, and heightening his senses to the point of near madness.
In that instant, he felt as though he was connected to every living thing in the neighborhood. He felt the ache in the knee of the elderly woman downstairs, his body rocked as a young man across the street was overwhelmed by a powerful orgasm. He felt the gnawing hunger of a stray dog outside the apartment complex he lived in, and the smug self-satisfaction of a pickpocket for a job well done.
The sensory overload was too much for him to handle at such a young age, and with such little training. As his eyes rolled back, the last thought he had was of unrestrained elation. For some reason, some part of him seemed happier than he had been in centuries.
That night, when Naruto drifted from being unconscious to actual sleep, he had strange dreams. Not in the 'normal' strange way where random things happened in bizarre order. Rather, they were strange in the complexity and detail.
The first was of two men engaged in a spar with swords that had straight blades. They danced back and forth so smoothly, it looked choreographed. The only evidence to the contrary were the looks of intense concentration that both men wore and the sweat that poured in steady streams down their skin. The duel was over in a flash as one clipped the other with his blade, causing the second man to fall to the ground. The brief sequence ended when the victor moved to finish his foe.
Another terrified and exhilarated the boy at the same time. One figure sat alone in a dark, stone room. His face was serene, but sweat poured down his face and stained his cloak. Around him a furious thunderstorm raged, with purplish electricity arcing through and burning the air. Though the man's cloak whipped about wildly, he gave no indication that he wasn't in total control.
The next few came and left, each possessing a fraction of a complete message, but only one of them would stand out when he awoke. Nine humanoid silhouettes stood in the center of a ruined city. Some fight had raged long ago and time had already begun to reclaim what once belonged to nature, but nowhere near enough time had passed to cover what had once occurred there. The crumbling and scorched exoskeletons of buildings, seemingly on the verge of collapse, stood tall in blatant challenge of the desert hell-world that surrounded them.
The nine figures stood in a rough circle and were conversing softly, inaudible to Naruto in his dream state. They seemed to reach a consensus and all turned from each other to walk away in many different directions. One walked directly towards Naruto, looking straight at him and beckoning for the boy to follow. The dreamer wordlessly fell into step behind the man, and only then did he realize that the being didn't have a shadow of his body, but nine thrashing tendrils. The shade noticed where the boys attention was focused and laughed quietly. That laughter would echo through his mind for the rest of the night.
Naruto woke slowly, and despite a light headache, in the best mood of his life. Having slept for more than ten hours thanks to passing out, he felt well-rested and rejuvenated. The best part was that he wasn't even going to be late for his first day at the academy.
It took him a half an hour to get dressed and ready to go, and on his way out he grabbed his pack of supplies and an apple for the road. The late summer air made for a pleasant morning, bringing an ever e to his face as he took in the fresh air. Sure he was nervous, but he was also excited at the same time. Back when the Hokage used to visit him, at least three years ago now, he used to tell stories about the men and women that kept the village safe. While he wasn't to keen on the 'Good of the People' thing, if that was what it took to teach him to shoot fireballs out of his mouth, so be it. It sounded like a fair trade in his opinion.
The Academy came into view and he marveled at how many people were gathered at the front gates. A mass of kids about his age, along with both a little older and younger, stood ready for their first day in the Academy. Some were scared, most where excited, and a few could hardly stand still. The only thing that they all had in common was that none of them were alone like he was. They had at least one person accompanying them, usually two. Some even had small groups with them, though they were the most embarrassed.
A flicker of loneliness passed through the boy before he shrugged it off neutrally. His parents had died just after he was born, and that was fine with him. You don't miss what you never had, after all.
Naruto watched the happy scene for a few minutes before squaring the pack on his shoulders and stiffening his resolve. Today was the beginning of the rest of his life, and Hell would freeze over before he let anything mess it up.
The hours of the first day passed rather slowly, with Iruka having each of his newest students stand up and introduce themselves. Most of the class of around forty-five students were nameless kids from civilian families like himself. Others, however, came from renowned clans like the Aburame or Inuzuka, and there were even representatives from the Uchiha and Hyuuga clans.
The introductions had taken awhile, and Naruto would admit that he had zoned out here and there. Sure it had been interesting learning about the major clans such as the feral Inuzuka, the refined Hyuuga, and the stoic Aburame, but he had never been good at sitting still and paying attention for so long. Besides, he was still running last night through his head.
He hummed to himself thoughtfully as he ate his lunch. After everyone had said their piece, Iruka had given them a quick lecture about what to expect, and dismissed them from the class room for lunch. While many students had brought food of their own, the Academy provided a mandatory lunch that every student was expected to finish. Each tray boasted of being nothing less than what they would need to thrive. Bountiful amounts of protein for muscle growth and carbohydrates for energy. Calcium to boost bone density and every mineral, vitamin, and amino acid under the sun. Most of the explanation had gone over his head, but the administration had explained, in no uncertain terms, that everyone was expected to finish everything. No exceptions. This came as a shock for many of the girls, who where worried about keeping their figure. The person who was explaining the reason laughed and commented that 'If you manage to get fat, your not trying hard enough in the Academy.' the look in her eye silenced any more objections, though there were many who grumbled under their breath.
Personally, Naruto was loving it. Providing for himself with the food stamps given to him by Konoha wasn't easy. Sure, he liked ramen as much as the next guy, but having to eat it every day out of necessity got old fast. He sighed happily as he bit enthusiastically into the egg roll that had been offered as a side dish among many others. If this was what they served every day, then he was happy that he had signed up for a whole new reason.
"Your Uzumaki Naruto, right?"
Naruto looked up from his lunch, being approached by none other than the Uchiha heir, Sasuke. Sure he knew who he was. But he also knew that he didn't appreciate being interrupted from the first decent meal that he'd had for weeks.
"Depends, who's asking? I don't owe you money do I?"
Sasuke seemed thrown off by the question, but then scowled.
"Hardly. My name is Sasuke. Uchiha Sasuke."
The emphasis put on the boy's family named made it clear that it was supposed to mean something, to evoke a unique reaction. It just made Naruto roll his eyes. People like that bugged the crap out of him.
"Nice to meet you. You already know my name. How can I help you?"
Again, this unexpected reaction wasn't something that the other boy hadn't planned for, and it showed. He stood there for a moment, examining the blond boy quizzically. While awaiting the answer, Naruto took a bite of his egg roll. They were really good, and he wondered idly what it cost to make them.
"My father and older brother mentioned you when I asked about what to expect my first day here. My father said that you were more than you appeared, and that I should keep my eye on you. I want to know why he would say that."
Naruto looked at him blankly.
"So ask him."
Sasuke snorted. Making it very clear that that wasn't an option. Naruto shrugged.
"I don't know what else to tell you. As far as I know, I'm nothing special. In fact, your probably more 'special' than I am"
A kid sitting nearby snickered and offered Naruto a high-five that was reciprocated without turning away. Sasuke didn't seem to appreciate the lack of respect, but he didn't comment on it either. In fact, he didn't say much of anything. He just watched Naruto eat his lunch, as if trying to figure the blond out.
"I'll be keeping an eye on you, Uzumaki."
"Right," Naruto replied, unperturbed, "Take it easy."
The raven-haired boy turned and walked off with long strides. The blond watched before returning to more important matters.
"It comes with teriyaki to?"
After lunch was spent going over the schedule for the next three years. They would focus mainly on theory, strategy, and academic supplements. Physical activity and bodily improvements would be minimized until their bodies had matured enough to prevent burn out and physical health defects. Each year, more students would drop out for any number of reasons. Lack of personal ethic or discipline. Slighted parents, or worried mothers. Even lasting injuries due to sparring accidents. Eventually, by the end of the academy, roughly one third of their entire class would remain.
From year four up, the students would begin to spend more time with individual teachers in smaller groups, thanks to the projected drop-out rates. Those that didn't officially make it as a ninja past year four where automatically enlisted into the village militia, due to their training, while those who hadn't made the cut in the first three years were suggested to apprentice to one of the many Shinobi associated businesses in the village. No sense in letting their knowledge go to waste, after all.
Thanks to the projected smaller class sizes as the years progressed, ideals that were once rushed out of necessity, such as team-building exercises, could be taught to the fullest extent. More time was allowed for interaction for the students in each class, and their time-off. Instead of building teams based on test scores and other achievements throughout the academy, the students were almost allowed to choose their own teams, after all, its one thing to expect three strangers to function as a single unit. It's another thing entirely to put them with friends that they can work well with and already trust each other with their lives. One such example was the Famous Ino-Shika-Cho Trio, three Jonin whose use of family techniques work so well together, that they won many key skirmishes in the last war that helped tip the tides in Konoha's favor.
The last year was when the teachers would crack down hard on those who remained. Classes in assassination, interrogation, manipulation, and other violent activities were taught, and all stops were pulled out at this point, leaving the instructors with a single goal, to make the students quit. If you couldn't stand someone making your life hell that wasn't even allowed to kill you, then you had no right to be a ninja. One of the more brutal and controversial practices was Konoha's High Security Prison agreeing to send over a number of inmates on Death Row to the Academy and giving the senior class the order to perform the execution. This was meant to allow the students to take their first kill in a controlled environment, with the justification that the person they just killed was a murderer, rapist, or something along such lines. While widely disapproved of, it was agreed to be the most elegant solution for an ugly situation.
Iruka made sure to emphasize that this was years down the road, and that, statistically speaking, many of them wouldn't make it that far. Shit happens after all, and that was doubly true for ninjas. For now though, their focus was going to be on weapon accuracy, Shinobi history, information gathering, and other such intellectual and academic pursuits. The rest would come in time.
The rest of the day was spent with Iruka and his teaching aide, Mizuki, testing them physically and finding out what each of them knew in the terms of ninja skills. As expected , those who came from clans with established histories of military service had a pronounced head start, with a general understanding of the concept of Chakra and even a few control techniques. It wasn't anything the others wouldn't be taught in the first year here, but it was an advantage they had over the civilian kids.
This initial testing weren't for the teachers though. After all, there was a far more comprehensive examination that was required before admittance was granted, and they had the results on record. The real point of the exam was to let the students establish a pecking order amongst themselves.
In terms of speed, Sasuke led the males, followed closely by Kiba with Naruto right behind him in third. Hinata led the girls with Sakura and Ino tying up the second and third places very close to each other. In Stamina, Naruto led by a massive margin, much to the ire of Kiba and Sasuke. Chouji and Shino were both too mellow to be upset about not being in the top three while Shikamaru had to be convinced to even join in the first place.
In the end, Sasuke, Kiba, and Naruto were at the top of the male class, despite Chouji beating every one of the males quite soundly in the strength test. On the female spectrum, Sakura led with practical and scholarly knowledge, Hinata capped with physical ability, and Ino came right behind them with a healthy blend of both.
After Iruka was satisfied, he allowed his new charges to collapse in the Academy training grounds to rest before being dismissed at the allotted time. Some students had gathered together to talk about how well they did, while others complained loudly and said that they were seriously considering quitting the Academy. Most of the others those just seemed to collapse in the shady grass covered areas to cool down after having to run the 'Gauntlet' as Mizuki had sarcastically called it. Naruto was one of these people, and had found a spot propped up against a large oak tree with a simple wooden swing hanging from the thickest branch.
"Man I kicked some ass today, right Akamaru?" Kiba was a few yards to Naruto's left actively wrestling with a puppy roughly the size of a couch pillow. "I mean, if I wasn't so tired from working out this morning, I would been in first place! Duck-butt got lucky."
The pup seemed to have a different idea as he let out a few snide sounding barks.
"I didn't sleep in Akamaru! I was resting after such an intense work out! I mean, Fox boy was in third and I was miles ahead of him! Its because of the rock in the path on the track that caused me to trip, that's the only reason the stuck up Uchiha won! I'll show them tomorrow! Just watch!"
The dog gave him a look that clearly spoke volumes of his disbelief before seizing the opportunity to yank Kiba's feet out from under him, beginning the match anew. Naruto snorted and looked away.
"You did pretty well, considering that you don't have a clan. Don't listen to the Inuzuka either, he could barely keep ahead of you, and his family no doubt played apart of his conditioning."
Naruto's head rolled to the side limply to look at Sasuke, who had approached him for the second time that day.
"Thanks, I guess. But since when does the winner congratulate third place?"
"Since second place is an imbecile that demands a rematch incessantly."
Sasuke gestured over to where Kiba was, who seemed to have lost his footing chasing Akamaru and slid through the dirt, knocking down and angering Sakura and Ino. Naruto nodded in understanding and closed his eyes and continued relaxing. He was flattered and everything, but the respect of his peers never really been a primordial factor in his life. This wasn't going to change just because he was in the Shinobi Academy now. Even with his eyes closed, Naruto could tell the Uchiha was still watching him. While he expected him to attempt to start up another conversation or at least walk away, irritated at being ignored, what he didn't expect was for the boy to lean up against the tree to his right, arms crossed and one leg bent at the knee and kicked up against the tree. Then he just stood there, silent. After a minute, Naruto had to ask.
"Decide to stick around?" Sasuke shrugged in indifference.
"It's a good spot. Cool, quite… Do you care?"
"Nah, it's a free Village." The Uchiha smirked.
"Actually, it's a military dictatorship." Naruto rolled his eyes at the statement and shot the Uchiha a look.
"Semantics, you ass."
Sasuke didn't say anything else, choosing just to lean against the tree and survey the other students. Naruto did the same, but in a different way than the raven next to him.
"Alright Kids!" Iruka's voice rang out over the grounds, " You all did well today. I look forward to teaching you all over the coming years. That is of course, if you decide to stick around. If you're going to quit, the time to do so is now. Now, you guys don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
The majority of the students gave loud cheers as Naruto allowed a half-smile to creep across his face. Today had been a good day, overall. Sure tomorrow was probably going to suck because Iruka had said they were going to start Chakra testing. While he wasn't looking forward to word of his limitations getting out, he would face it. It would seem like a weakness, which it was, and a weakness made him a target.
He got to his feet and brushed off his hands and his shorts. He would burn that bridge when he came to it.
"Well, Sasuke, not that this hasn't been absolutely riveting, but I have stuff to take care of. Later."
Sasuke nodded in acknowledgment but didn't say a word, which suited him just fine. With a lazy wave, he walked away not seeing the look on Uchiha Fugaku's face as he walked by. It was directed to his youngest son, after all.
A/N: Alright guys, I am ashamed to see how(review) long it has taken me to get ANY update out, but better late than never I guess. Plus it's the start of a New Year! You can't beat that!
Just to clear up some questions you might all have, this is in fact not the rewrite/edited version of 'A New Order' that I promised you all. While I was trying to clean it up, I noticed many discrepancies, holes, and just fundamental stuff (review)that I would change, if given the opportunity. And guess what? This is that opportunity.
Naruto will not be learning from both a Jedi and a Sith.
This will be a darker counterpart to 'A New Order'. In every decent Star Wars game I've ever played, you had the choice to be either Light or Dark, and everyone plays through at least twice in order to get the whole effect. Why should fanfiction be any different? To put it bluntly, this will be the Dark Side fic. The other will be the (review)Light Side fic. I won't go into too many more details than that to avoid spoilers.
There are a lot of pretty important details concerning the history of both the characters, Konoha, and the planet itself that I will be going over next chapter, so if you saw a few things that seemed odd in this chapter, bear with me. I'm pretty sure I'll answer most of your questions.
I hope you all continue to stick around, and I thank my followers of old, and hopefully those of new. You keep (review) reading, and I'll keep writing.
Take it(review) easy...
Beta Notes: Hey just wanted to say that I typed up a majority of this Chapter for Nikolai when he didn't have access to a computer, but all the work is his.
P.S. I read this thing about subliminal messages being able to influence people's decisions. Pretty cool, huh?