There was only a shocked silence as Naruto stared at the man who called himself the Sage of the Six Paths. A single leaf blew past the trio, but it was ignored in favor of Naruto staring at the man who singlehandedly defeated the Juubi and created the Shinobi world. The most distinguishing feature on the man were his bright purple eyes resembling the ripples on water. Naruto had seen the Rinnegan before, but the power from the other Rinnegan he had seen paled compared to the original. Looking into the eyes, Naruto felt as if his soul was being searched, as if his soul was forced to lay bare all the answers to the unheard questions
Taking a deep breath, Naruto met the eyes of the Sage once more, his eyes steeled in their determination and will
"I like your eyes Naruto-chan"
The sound of the Sage's voice broke Kurama was enough to shake Kurama from his stupor as the fox-like man shook off the Sage's hand, thousands of silent questions in his eyes
"Sorry Kurama…it must have been tough for you…for all of you"
Kurama's eyes shimmered, but he held in the tears as a smile passed his lips
"Che…who do you take us for old man? We've been fine…and it was all thanks to your teachings"
"I'm relieved to hear that"
Naruto cut in, his face a picture of confusion…
"What on earth is going on here?!"
The Sage turned to Naruto, his rippling eyes all seeing.
"You've probably already heard from Shinigami-sama about the shinigami in this world and how they use swords to kill and attack creatures of negative energy called Hollows. In this world, as you know, each shinigami has a sword or a pair of swords in which his inner soul lies and in which he derives the power to slay these creatures. Think of the sword as a chakra blade, except instead of chakra it is Reiryoku. Similar to chakra it is within every person and varies in amount in every person. One can train his Reiryoku to increase and can also use it to perform spells known as kido…in our world it would be known as jutsu. Each kido has an incantation similar to hand-signs, but with enough practice, one can skip the incantation."
Naruto nodded, some understanding beginning to fill his features as the Sage explained the concept of the new world. But one thought still lingered…
"That doesn't explain why the both of you are here"
"Each person's sword, or zanpaktou, is the physical representation of one's soul weapon. Depending on the person and the person's attributes, the zanpaktou varies. Each person gets only one zanpaktou, though there are cases where it is one soul but two bodies…back to the topic…We, Kurama and I…and the other biju are here because before you died, your soul was closely ingrained with our souls. For that very reason, Shinigami-sama made it so that we will help you in this new world; we will become your new weapons, we will become your friends and comrades"
"If what you say is true, then what of the others…why are they still in stone?"
Sennin seemed hesitant to talk, but knowing that Naruto would find out one way or another…
"As you know…nearly all the Jinchuuriki except for you and Bee were killed during the extraction. Even the young Kazekage died before he was revived by that old lady. Because they died in such a painful way, and because their souls were literally torn apart, they wandered the world and eventually had their souls corrupted. In order to free the beasts from stone, you must hunt their Hollow form with your zanpaktou…or at least be near when it is slain so your zanpaktou can absorb the remnants of the soul"
"Isn't that somewhat gruesome?"
Kurama laughed and swung an arm around Naruto, bringing the smaller male close
"Don't worry…we'll be here for you"
"Thanks Kurama…for everything"
"I should be the one thanking you; but beggars can't be choosers…now get out of here; it is nearly dawn"
Naruto opened his eyes to see the sun rising in the distance, its orange glow in the fine grey mist of the morning signaled the start of a new day. He could hear people waking up and getting ready for their day, whether for work or to just laze around. Naruto was content to just lay in the tree all day and stare at the life of the village. He let his eyes close as he once again felt the lull of sleep.
A sudden explosion shook him from his daze
From his position in the tree, Naruto could make out rising smoke from just outside the village. A few seconds later, he heard a roaring howl that shook his very core. Eyes widening, Naruto jumped out of the tree and landed safely on the ground, his robes fluttering behind him. As he dusted himself off Naruto searched for the source of the howl. He let his senses spread out, searching for the source…
His eyes widened when he felt the presence of multiple shinigami trying to defeat what appeared to be a Menos Grande
What's a Menos doing here?! It couldn't have gotten in unless someone opened a portal for it!
As he was about to rush forward and help the shinigami, Naruto felt another presence…the presence of…
Sighing to himself Naruto held himself back from trying to go and help, knowing that those people would be able to help. Taking a deep breath, Naruto walked out of the forest he was in and into the village where people would stop and stare for a moment before going back to their business
As he walked through the village, he vaguely noticed that his hunger was increasing…but unfortunately he had no money on him as he had not expected to need any
"Ah, that's right…I forgot to tell him that the more reiryoku a person has, the hungrier they become…oh well, not like it will kill him or anything…right?"
Hooded figures stared at their leader warily, the atmosphere in the mood turning into disbelief at the personality of their leader
And this is the great being that is feared by all creatures?!
Naruto kicked a can in frustration
"The damned old man!"
The can sailed through the air, turning circles as it flew, its metal covering glinting in the sunlight…
Suddenly it turned quiet as the can continued its flight…straight towards an overly dressed…and corpulent man. The can hit him in the face with enough force to knock him backwards and though a brick wall. There was a dead silence as everyone stared at Naruto then at the man lying in a heap and back to Naruto once again
A young woman ran towards him and thanked him for saving her before running away from the scene
The man stirred and once he awoke, he had a pissed expression on his face
"You damned brat! I'm going to slice you up"
The scenes finally clicked in Naruto's mind: the unnatural silence as the can flew, the girl running away from the man, the girl's clothes in disarray, the man who was overly dressed…
Naruto stalked towards the man, his face blank as the shadow of a nine-tailed fox seemed to swirl around him before disappearing
The man seemed to sweat
"Wh-what do you think you are doing?! How dare you come near me…how dare you kick that can towards me?!"
Naruto stalked forward, his face neutral as he let a cruel smirk pass over his face
"Ne…hold still…I'm a little pissed off so I want to beat you up a little"
"You?! Don't make me laugh! What can a brat that looks like a ten year old do to me? You shorty!"
Behind Naruto a shadow of death rose; the aura behind him was black and malicious as the shadow seemed to stare with burning red eyes while holding a glinting silver scythe; it seemed to laugh as its eyes began to glow eerily
For the next hour, the only sounds that could be heard throughout the village was the pained screams of the man as he begged for mercy…
Naruto sighed happily as he finished his tenth bowl of ramen. The man might have been a pig but at least he carried around a decent amount of money
Suddenly he heard a startled gasp
"Ah…it's the little boy who saved me!"
Naruto felt a tick in his eye at the words 'little boy' but let it go as he knew he did in fact look like a little boy
Turning his head he was met face to face with the young woman that he saved; his breath caught in his throat as he stared at the woman in front of him
"Eh…? No, no…my name is Ayumi, named after my grandmother Ayame"
So she married and had kids…? I'm happy for her
"Oh…is that so?"
"Is she still alive?"
"I don't know…mother said she lived in the next village over but I never got a chance to see her…I might never get the chance to see her. This is my last day in this village…I will be moving to another village that is further away from here"
"I see…then I wish you well on your journey nee-san"
The woman nodded once more at him before making her way towards her new home…all the while wondering about the strange boy that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere
Naruto held a hand up to his face to block the sunlight, a travelling pack swung over his shoulders as he stared off into the distance
He made his way into town and stopped at a small tea shop to get something cold to drink before he would make his way to his destination
As he sat down with his cold juice and dango, Naruto asked around for any information regarding the person he was searching for…
"Ah…that woman? No one really sees her anymore…she's probably dead"
"The crazy lady? Why are you searching for her?"
"I think I know her…she used to come by here a lot…I haven't see her much"
"Apparently she lives in the forest, just outside the village"
"I heard she's a monster who eats little children"
"I heard she's actually a ghost who is waiting for her lover"
It went on and on, no one giving any decent information other than the rumors floating around
As Naruto stopped by a restaurant for some dinner, he sat next to an old man
Letting out a weary sigh, Naruto ordered some milk and some bread
"What's wrong kid?"
Gulping down the milk, Naruto stared into the empty glass watching the left over condensation drip down the cup
"I'm looking for someone…"
"Aren't we all…"
Naruto shook his head, his fiery hair swishing back and forth
"No…I'm looking for someone named Ayame"
The old man paused in drinking his sake, glancing at Naruto from the corner of his eyes
"You're looking for Ayame-san?"
Naruto turned his head towards the old man at such a fast pace there was a small booming noise as he broke through the sound barrier
"You know her?!"
Glancing warily at the young child next to him, the old man nodded his head all the while subtly scooting further away from the excited boy
"I do…she lives on the outskirts of the village by herself. She's been alone for a long time…it's nice that someone is finally going to see her"
"It must have been lonely…"
The old man nodded once more before standing up
"Well, I need to be off…tell Ayame-chan that I'll greet her soon…good-bye Naruto-chan"
Naruto turned his head towards the old man but found nothing there…
Naruto knocked on the door of the old house, his heart thumping
As Naruto entered the house he was horrified to see the dust and grime in the house. He heard a weak chuckle and glanced around until his gaze landed on a figure on some blankets in the middle of the room.
"I know it may not be the cleanest place…but I can see that you are in need of a room for the night, so please make yourself at home"
Swallowing a lump in his throat, Naruto nodded
In the end, he ended up staying for a couple weeks, much to the displeasure of Kurama. He knew he had to get things going as soon as possible, but he wanted this one small freedom before he was shackled to his path.
He cleaned up the house and did the laundry; he even cooked the meals. She had protested his work but he had insisted to help keep her house clean and to take care of her
Naruto glanced at the woman in futon on the floor. She beckoned him closer and clumsily tied a ribbon into his hair
"There…now your hair looks even more beautiful when it is tamed"
"Obaa-chan…thank you, I'll repay you somehow"
"Idiot…gifts aren't meant to be repaid"
He recalled a random memory from a long time ago
A steaming bowl of Ramen was placed in front of little Naruto who looked up with confusion in his eyes. A young Ayame smiled at him encouragingly…
"Onee-san, I can't pay for this"
Ayame nodded as is she knew that already and pushed the bowl closer to Naruto and handed him a pair of chopsticks
"I know…now go on, ramen is meant to be eaten hot"
"It's alright…you come here nearly every day; think of it as a present from the restaurant"
Young Naruto took the bowl, his stomach growling
"I promise when I become a great ninja I will never let you give me stuff for free…I will pay you back…no, I will pay you double!"
He felt a fist hit him in the head and looked up through his tears to see a smiling Ayame
"Idiot…gifts aren't meant to be repaid"
"Yes…I don't need to be repaid. Besides, someone needs to take care of you at least a little"
Naruto seemed to think for a moment before his blue eyes lit up
"Then…then…I'll marry you! When I become a great ninja and if you haven't found a husband by then…I will marry you and take care of you in return!"
Ayame started to laugh, she laughed and she laughed as tears ran down her face
Naruto's eyebrows were drawn together as he stared at her as seriously as a young child was capable of. The image was so cute that she laughed harder and ruffled his hair
"You'll have to grow a little taller Naruto…I like my men tall!"
"But that isn't a no…right?"
Laughter was his answer as little Naruto huffed in his seat
"You know…obaa-chan, you remind me of someone I knew a long time ago"
"Do I now…? Was she pretty?"
"I admit there were plenty of women who were much more stunning than she was, in fact, she was pretty average and you would have missed her if you had walked by her."
"Then why do I remind you of her?"
"Because you are both kind…in you I can see the soul of the woman who took care of me when no one else would"
"Did you love her…?"
"In a way I guess I did…she was one of the first people to show me kindness, so I guess in my childish way, I began to love her…I one time told her jokingly after she had given me some food on the house that if she hadn't married by the time I was an adult, I would make her my bride"
The old woman laughed…and Naruto let a smile grow on his lips
"You are a funny young man…you need to grow taller if you are going to marry"
Naruto blushed all the way to his roots, his face nearly blending in with his hair at the comment
"I don't think I will marry though…I wasn't able to keep my promise"
"I'm sure she doesn't mind"
They stayed in silence for a while, enjoying each other's company when he heard Kurama in his mind
Naruto…when are you going to the Academy? I thought you had promised to take up your role again
Can't I have this small freedom?
You know the answer to that already Naruto…
All the time he was there, he would look into her face and see the face of the young woman who was so kind to him
From her crow's feet, he could see the smile line around the eyes; her wrinkled and spotted skin revealed to him the days she spent in the sun helping her father with the shop; he calloused hands were the caring and hard working hands that he knew so well…the hands that had fed him when he often didn't have enough to pay for a meal
But even after staying with her for a couple of weeks, she had shown no sign of recognition or suspicion when he acted like his old self…and it hurt as Naruto began to realize that people who did really did forget who they were in life
Once again…he was alone…all the bonds he had worked so hard to form…were destroyed. And the hardest part was the fact that he would see his old friends once again but they would not recognize him…to them, he would be another face in the crowd while he would see their faces in every single one of his dreams
Naruto sighed and rested his head on the wall of the house
Naruto...don't you think it is time to leave and go to the academy?
I know it is time to leave soon…but let me stay just a little longer. I want to enjoy this freedom just a little longer before I have to walk that road once again
But…it is the only road you know how to walk…I know it is hard, but sometime you have to accept that there are things that you cannot change
Don't you think I know that?! I fought all my life against fate…and even though I know people say there are things that cannot change, I will fight until I can't fight anymore…I will not take this lying down…I did that too much…besides, I want to see her off
Are you saying that she…?!
Yeah…so let me stay to see her off…just until I know she has passed on…until I know that she is safe and has entered the cycle of reincarnation, so that I can pray that she is reborn in s gentle world
Now, now Kurama…don't sulk…Naruto-chan needs this closure and we as his zanpaktou must support him…besides, you can sympathize with him can't you?
With the conversation over, Naruto intended to make his way to the kitchen when he heard a loud explosion just outside the house. Dropping everything, Naruto rushed outside and came face to face with a Hollow who stared at him with crazed red eyes
Gulping, Naruto slowly backed away, intending to lure it away from the house. As if sensing his idea, the Hollow raised a giant clawed hand and swept the house of its foundation, causing the roof to crumble down to a heap
The Hollow, as if sensing his distress began to laugh
Feeling ice cold fury, Naruto felt the winds around him stir as if sympathizing with his anger…but as soon as the anger came, it left. He had spent too much time fighting against the cycle of hatred to give into it…so with all the will power he could muster, Naruto forgave the Hollow because deep in his heart he knew that it was merely doing what its instincts told it to do
"I was hoping to live a little like this a little longer…the way I wanted to…I wanted to be selfish just this once, but now I know…I was and still am a Jinchuuriki; I am a human sacrifice. I must sacrifice my freedom for the good of the many…that is the way it has been and will be"
Naruto took a deep breath and let his mind empty of all frivolous thoughts; the wind picked up around him once again
Deep within his soul, Kurama and Sennin glanced sadly as fire began to rage in the forest, only to be put out by pouring rain. The once beautiful forest was slightly destroyed…its beauty marred by hidden scars, yet it was the imperfection that made the forest all the more beautiful as the sound of the waterfall was heard in the distance
"I wish that you could have enjoyed your freedom a little more Naruto…"
Sennin raised a sake cup and watched a single cherry blossom landed in it; in Kurama's cup, a blood red moon shone in the night sky…
The winds picked up as the cherry blossoms blew around Kurama
"I'll see you later Kurama"
When Naruto's eyes snapped open, his pupils were much more slit than before as his eyes took on a crimson color with a golden outline around the iris
"Though you curse this path of sacrifice and resent the shackles of faith, release your hatred and carry the burden; come forth Jinchuuriki"
There was a bright red glow as a sphere of energy appeared before Naruto. The sphere then opened into a bright crimson lotus and bloomed, the petals slowly transforming into an elegant blade. The blade was gleaming silver, sometimes looking black in the direct sunlight. On the blade was an etching of kanji spelling out the word 'sacrifice'. The handle was a crimson red with nine long tassels that wrapped around Naruto's wrist, almost as if chaining him to the sword
Naruto stared at the Hollow with crimson eyes as the forest burned
"Don't worry…it will be quick…"
Before the Hollow could even reply, Naruto disappeared from view and appeared right above the Hollow, his sword raised high
As he slashed his sword down, a wave of energy erupted from the tip and surrounded the Hollow. As it encased the Hollow, it became crystallized before shattering. The then disintegrated, creating a crimson mist
"At the level that I am at now, this is the best that I can do…an attack of pure physical energy…I can't even unleash the weakest attack"
Naruto closed his eyes and let the power leave his system, the sword slowly disappearing.
He rushed over to where Ayame lay and hurried to get her help. He made a move to stand up but a hand on his sleeve stopped him. Ayame stared at him and shook her head, signaling that it was her time. He watched as he spirit particles began to separate, creating a beautiful display of light
"Thank you Naruto…for seeing me off"
"I could have done more…but I was too selfish. I wanted to see a familiar face and I put you in danger…now you're dying!"
Ayame shook her head, her grey hair turning into a warm chestnut as her face turned youthful once more
"You've done enough Naruto…besides, you took care of me…you've repaid you debt"
Naruto sat in shock before trying to get out his last words to her
"There's a man…he'll be waiting for you…so…have a safe trip!"
"Thank you Naruto…for everything…for being a Jinchuuriki. It must be painful for you, but I know if it is you, then nothing will be impossible. You will overcome the pain and be a great person!"
The people whispered as Naruto walked up to the gate. They stared at his strange appearance and his nonchalant attitude. Glancing from side to side, Naruto could already make out the cliques that had formed. Judging by people's physical attributes he could pinpoint the fighters, healers, and kido experts. He smiled at the similarities to his old life
He was absorbed in his observations that he didn't notice the cool dark eyes a noble watching his movements in confusion
Naruto sighed and looked up to the giant gate
"So…this is the famed Academy?"
I DO NOT OWN NARUTO OR BLEACH