"Stupid D ranks," cursed Naruto, straining under the weight of the huge potted plant he was carrying. "Stupid Kakashi. How is this even a mission? I want to save a princess or something. I'll never become Hokage at this rate."
His tirade was cut short when the ground beneath him caved in under his weight, dropping him screaming into the murky depths below.
The fall was surprisingly short, considering the inky darkness of the hole, and Naruto managed to land on his feet. His knees and ankles protested painfully as they absorbed the energy of the fall, but other than that he survived unharmed. The potted plant was not so lucky, and Naruto had to immediately shield his face with his arms to protect his eyes from ceramic shards flying everywhere. He winced mentally as he heard it shatter – the client had been especially protective about the thing, and it had taken Kakashi's guarantee before the woman had let Naruto handle it.
"Oh man…" he whined. He had plenty of complaints against Kakashi, but the man had trusted him in this instance, and Naruto let him down. "This so isn't fair. What the hell is a hole like this doing in the middle of the road?"
He was inside a small cavern as far as he could tell, and the place wasn't nearly as dark as it appeared from the outside. Mostly because there was this glowing pedestal in the middle of the cavern illuminating everything. Huh. Interesting.
Shrugging, he approached the pedestal. He already screwed up, might as well see what the glowy pedestal thing was all about. He circled the thing, trying to understand its purpose and failing. It was just too weird. He did note there was an inscription on its base.
"Save point?" Naruto read out loud. "What the hell is a save point?"
He scratched his cheek for a few seconds and then did the only sensible thing he could think of. He stepped on the pedestal.
Immediately he could tell that something was wrong. The world outside the pedestal froze and… grayed out, for the lack of a better word. His attempts to jump off were thwarted by an impenetratable and invisible barrier. And that's when things got REALLY weird.
Intangible words and shapes invaded his field of vision, following him regardless of where he turned or what he did to disrupt them. After a few seconds he huffed in irritation and focused on them so he could figure out how to make them go away. They were distracting him from his attempts to escape!
There were exactly 5 rectangles in front of him, with the inscriptions 'Slot 1', 'Slot 2', 'Slot 3', 'Slot 4, and 'Slot 5' above them. That… wasn't very helpful. Each rectangle contained the exact same word – 'Empty'. That wasn't very helpful either! At the bottom, there was a warning that 'overwritten saves cannot be restored'. What the hell did that mean!
Naruto scowled at the boxes in front of him and jabbed his finger at the first rectangle, hoping it was some kind of release button that would free him from this weird prison. To his surprise, the finger actually met resistance, unlike the rest of the times he had tried to disrupt the rectangles by waving his hand through them. The entire construct shattered and reformed into big bold yellow words.
Game successfully saved.
And then it dissolved into nothingness, and the world returned to normal. Naruto tried to jump of the platform and was ecstatic to find no resistance from mysterious invisible walls. He was free!
"Yes!" he shouted. "Take that, you stupid thing! No stupid piece of masonry can keep Uzumaki Naruto down! I'm the future Hokage, believe it!"
"Naruto!" Naruto's ears perked up as he heard Sakura shouting in the distance. "Where the hell are you! I swear Naruto, if you left Sasuke and me to work all by ourselves I-"
"Oh man!" Naruto whined. "I better get out of here before my team finds me. That bastard Sasuke would never let me live down falling into a hole like that…"
He brought his hands into a familiar cross-shaped seal and created a small throng of shadow clones, using them as a ladder to climb to the surface, where he finally breathed a sigh of relief. Looking around, he noticed he actually wasn't on the road. He must have wandered off while he was muttering to himself, unable to see in front of him due to huge plant he was carrying…
The plant! Oh man, he really didn't look forward to confronting Kakashi without it. He frantically looked around, hoping to see some kind of a solution in the vicinity. But no, the only things in the vicinity were the trees and… his… clones…
He smiled as a brilliant idea struck him. He brought his hands into the usual cross-shaped seal again, this time summoning a single clone. He nodded at his double, who promptly shouted 'transformation!' and turned into a potted plant. Naruto checked it to see if there was some glaring difference between it and the original. Having found none, he took the transformed clone in his arms and set off in search of his team.
The clone would dispel after a few days, but at that point the mission would long be over, and no one could pin anything on Naruto. Hah! How's that for genius? And best thing of all, the transformed clone was way lighter than the real thing!
He should have done this from the start.
- break -
Naruto stared in shock at the hand sticking out of his chest, unable to accept what was happening. Sasuke, the owner of the hand, stared coldly into his shocked face, his fully mature sharingan spinning madly. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. He was going to become Hokage, marry Sakura, and be acknowledged by everyone… even Sasuke.
He tried to speak, but all he did was gurgle blood as his vision started to darken. The last thing he saw was Sasuke's sharingan warping and merging into some terrible new form, and then there was only darkness.
…well, mostly darkness. He was floating in a dark empty void, denied even a solid surface to stand on, but the emptiness was marred by floating white words hovering just in front of his vision. They were quite annoying actually, since they were always in front of him, regardless of where he turned. Irritating, but also familiar. Where had he encountered that before?
Victory Points Gained: 230
New Tokens: Chakra Control I, Jutsu: Substitution (Basic), Jutsu: Transformation (Basic), Jutsu: Shadow Clone (Basic), Jutsu: Rasengan (Basic, Clone Assisted), Summoning: Toads, Nindo: Determinator
That was what they said. He didn't really understand what it all meant, except that only 230 victory points (whatever those were) was way too little for a ninja of his caliber and that the answer was obviously 'yes'. Of course he wanted to try again! Uzumaki Naruto never accepts defeat!
Not quietly, anyway.
"Yes!" he shouted. "I definitely-"
The words shuddered and shifted before he even finished speaking. 5 rectangles stood in front of him, with inscriptions above identifying them as slots 1 through 5. Four of the rectangles contained the word 'Empty', but the first actually had an image of Konoha inside of it.
Huh. Why did this look so familiar to him? Shrugging, he jabbed his finger at the image of Konoha, and the words and boxes shifted themselves into something new again.
"Reincarnate?" Naruto asked aloud. The words in front of him dissolved and reformed into angry red letters that demanded his attention.
Warning! Reincarnating will mean loosing all your skills. Are you sure you want to continue?
"What!" Naruto shouted. "No! I don't want to lose my skills, no way!"
Naruto breathed a sigh of relief as the warning fell apart and reshaped itself into the previous choice. That was close.
"Continue," he said firmly.
Suddenly he was no longer floating, but standing on solid surface. Caught off guard by the sudden reappearance of gravity, he stumbled forward until his foot stepped into open air and he crashed face-first into the ground.
"This sucks," Naruto groaned, rolling pitifully on the cold stone floor. "Where the hell am I?"
He was in a small cave. As far as he could see he fell off some kind of glowing platform that-
"Wait a minute!" Naruto shouted, jumping to his feet. "I remember this place! Man, I totally forgot about this thing. How the hell did I get all the way here from the Valley of the End? Come to think of it, there was that thing with floating letters and boxes when I first stepped on the platform too. Wonder what that is about…"
Shrugging, Naruto trudged off towards the hole leading into the cavern. It was still open, thankfully, so Naruto wouldn't have to dig himself out of it or something crazy like that. He was a bit pissed that the weird floating letters had brought him here instead of depositing him back with Sasuke so he could go at him again, but he supposed he should be glad they at least brought him back to life.
He scratched his chest absent-mindedly, happy that the giant gaping wound in it was gone. He still couldn't believe Sasuke had actually gone that far. Shoved a Chidori through his chest, did he? Oh, he was so going to make him pay for that…
"Naruto!" A familiar voice shouted in the distance. "Where the hell are you! I swear Naruto, if you left Sasuke and me to work all by ourselves I-"
Wait, what? Sasuke was in Konoha, too? That didn't make any sense. The bastard went as far as to try to kill him rather than come back with him, so why would he be here? And for that matter, how did Sakura know he was here either? He shook his head – he would just ask her after climbing out of the hole. He stepped on the wall, using tree walking to stick to the surface…
…and promptly blasted himself off, skidding across the ground and sending stone shrapnel everywhere.
What the hell?
After several more attempts with the similar result, he was forced to admit there was something wrong with him and that he couldn't simply walk out of the hole. Thankfully, he could still use shadow clones, so made them form a ladder, just like he had the first time he had fallen in here. Free of the hole, he ran off to find Sakura to find out what happened while he was floating in the weird void filled with floating words and boxes.
He really should have worked on his situation awareness a bit, because then he would have noticed the smashed plant he shared the cavern with, and realized there was no way it could have remained in such a fairly fresh state if it had been rotting in there for months.
At the very least, it would have avoided a very awkward conversation with Kakashi about what happened to the plant he was carrying.
- break -
Naruto paced nervously inside his apartment. It had been an interesting day, to say the least. He knew he wasn't exactly the sharpest kunai in a pouch, but he understood what was happening easily enough. He also understood what a pointless waste of time it would be to try and convince anyone of what had happened to him – it was just too crazy, even he had trouble believing it was actually happening. Besides, he once tried to convince Iruka-sensei that he was a time-traveler as a prank, and managed to get the stern teacher to take him half-way seriously. The whole thing escalated a bit faster than Naruto would have expected, eventually resulting in Naruto getting a lecture from the Old Man about taking a joke too far. Funnily enough, the Old Man remarked back then that making things up like that would result in people not believing him when actually telling the truth, which seemed scarily appropriate right now. It wasn't fair, how could he have known he would one day find himself actually transported through time!
But ultimately, being transported back in time wasn't what was bothering him. Time travel was awesome, as it gave him another chance to save people he lost the first time around – Haku, Old Man Hokage, Sasuke… No, he wasn't bothered about being back in time at all. What got to him was that he lost most of his skills! Tree climbing, water walking, rasengan… all gone, gone, gone! This wasn't supposed to happen! He chose 'no' on that reincarnation stuff, so why did he lose them? He couldn't even summon toads anymore!
He suddenly stopped in his tracks as something occurred to him. He still had his shadow clones, so obviously he didn't lose everything. Why was that one spared? He quickly made one shadow clone and instructed him to use the 'sexy jutsu'. Yup, that one worked too. Could it be…?
He rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. He thought the weird glowing platform thingy returned him to the time he had first found it, but what if it didn't? Return him, that is. If this was his old body, the one he had when he had found the platform, then his jutsu problems had an obvious explanation. One had to practice a jutsu to learn it, and at this point in time he didn't really learn how to water walk or make a rasengan.
He cracked a grin. It seemed he knew what to do with his free time this time around.
- break -
Naruto watched numbly at the smoldering ruins of what was once Konoha. He had no idea the joint Sound-Sand invasion had the potential to be this destructive. They had won in the end, but the casualties…
Everything went so wrong. First he frittered away most of his training time trying to get the Rasengan to work, only to find out from Jiraya later that he was stupid for trying to learn Rasengan before mastering tree climbing and water walking. (He didn't think anyone could blame him on that account, though. Seriously, who would spend time on boring chakra control exercises when they could be learning a kickass technique like the Rasengan?) Then his attempt to warn Kakashi about Zabuza caused the man to cancel the mission and drag them back to Konoha, regardless of how much he and Sasuke protested, so in the end he saved neither Haku nor the Land of the Waves. Then Sakura died during the second stage of Chuunin exams, which not only devastated Naruto but also disqualified their team, meaning neither he nor Sasuke were in the final round. That, in turn, meant that the invasion went completely according to plan, and Gaara transformed right in the middle of the village…
Naruto buried his face into his hands, trying to banish the crushing guilt he felt. It was all his fault. In the end, everything was so much better the first time around. He thought he would never forgive himself for letting Sakura die, but this was even worse. He couldn't live like this. His fingers brushed lightly against his kunai pouch.
"Maybe I should end it all," he whispered in the wind.
The world froze and grayed out, familiar floating words invading his vision.
Naruto stared at the words for a few seconds, trying to decipher what he was being asked. Resign, like from a position? He wasn't Hokage yet, much as he'd like to be. Actually, considering how badly he screwed up this second chance he received, he probably isn't much of a Hokage material anyway. So resign from what? Life? Yes, he probably should resign from that.
"Yes," Naruto said hollowly.
He didn't die. He was, instead, in that not-quite-empty void, reading a familiar message.
Victory Points Gained: 0
New Tokens: None
Zero? None? Well, he supposed he deserved that. As for the question at the end?
"Yes," Naruto said.
Because there was no way he'd accept defeat after only one retry.
- break -
Naruto glared at the words floating in front of him.
"Oh, come on!" he whined. "Only 400 victory points? I killed Kabuto this time! Don't you know how hard it is to nail down that slippery bastard, Sage Mode or not? That alone should have net me a thousand. Whoever is grading this should be fired!"
He didn't really know what victory points were for, to be honest. Bragging rights? As far as he could tell, he got them whenever he did something particularly impressive… but only the first time ever, all previous 'games' included. The token thing was weird too.
It was frustrating. He had managed, after more than 50 tries, to ensure a good outcome to the Land of the Waves mission - everyone but Gato and his thugs lived through the experience, Haku and Zabuza reluctantly agreed to become Konoha ninja, and he remembered to save after they arrived back in Konoha so he wouldn't have to go through that stupid mission every damn time. He was seriously getting sick of Land of the Waves. But that was his one success – the Chuunin exams always ended in disaster no matter what he did, the only difference being how much damage to the village the invasion eventually caused. Old Man Hokage died every time. Sasuke got tagged by that stupid seal every time. Gaara always had to be beaten into the ground before he would agree to leave the village alone. Any attempt by Naruto to disrupt Orochimaru's plans, whether by getting between him and Sasuke or by notifying someone about the invasion, led to brutal death via assassination. The best he could do was a repeat of his original life. And things didn't get better from there, either! He couldn't stop Sasuke from leaving Konoha for Orochimaru. At best he could delay the thing for a while, but eventually Orochimaru always got what he wanted. And, of course, he could never stand up to those Akatsuki jackasses. Even if he killed a couple of them, that just caused Pein to come after him. Six bodies, one of which can resurrect the others? Ability to negate any jutsu, rip the soul out of the person's body, summon an endless stream of giant animals, and god knows what else? Man, that guy was so unfair!
The biggest problem, as far as Naruto could tell, was that every time he went back to his trusty save point, he only had the skills he had possessed at the moment of saving. Some of the jutsu were trivial to regain with an hour or two of training, but things like the Rasengan or Sage Mode were a real bitch to relearn from scratch. To say nothing about training up his taijutsu to something usable.
"Yes," he sighed. "Of course I'll try again."
He studied the 5 boxes in front of him, trying to decide which one he should use. The save he made just before Jiraya's 3 year training trip was probably the best one for trying to find new skills and training methods, but he wasn't in the mood for that. He just tried the Chuunin exams again and got killed by Orochimaru when he tried to protect Sasuke, so he wasn't in the mood for that either. He pressed the first slot, deciding the make a nice relaxing try from the very start. He wouldn't even try to make things perfect this time, just to see where things would lead him.
Naruto was about to call out 'Continue' when he suddenly reconsidered. He had never tried 'Reincarnate', had he? If he remembered correctly, the choice had warned him he would lose all his skills if he chose it. But what did that mean, exactly? He somehow doubted it would actually delete the knowledge from his mind. Hmm… he would probably regret this but…
"Reincarnate," Naruto said hesitantly.
Warning! Reincarnating will mean loosing all your skills. Are you sure you want to continue?
"Yes," Naruto said, feeling his dread increase. This is it, the moment of truth…
Victory Points Remaining: 4020 Class:
Disadvantages: Poor Chakra Control (10), Restriction: Keeps His Promises (10), Obsession: Become Hokage (5), Obsession: Seduce Sakura (5), Obsession: Do Better Than Sasuke (5), Obsession: Must Wear Orange (5)
Continue? Rank? Disadvantages?
"WHAT!" Naruto screeched. "What is this shit!"
His rank was dead last! And how come he had a slew of disadvantages without any skills or specials? Sure, he wanted to become Hokage and date Sakura and all that, but they were NOT 'obsessions'! Sasuke was obsessed, not him.
"Rank," Naruto growled out. He was going to correct this immediately.
This time instead of reforming into a simple choice, the words rearranged themselves into a list. He scanned the items on the list, trying to understand what they were telling him.
- Costs no Victory Points
- 30 points of Disadvantages
- Double Victory Points
- Costs 100 Victory Points
- 20 points of Disadvantages
- 50% Victory point bonus
- Costs 200 Victory Points
- 10 points of Disadvantages
- 25% Victory point bonus
Costs 500 Victory Points
- Costs 1.000 Victory Points
- 2 Specials
- 5 Skills
- 25% Victory point penalty
- Costs 5.000 Victory Points
- 3 Specials
- 7 Skills
- 50% Victory point penalty
- Costs 10.000 Victory Points
- 5 Specials
- 10 Skills
- No Victory Points
The last two choices were grayed out, since he apparently didn't have enough victory points to pay for them. Damn. So that's what those were for. Oh well…
"Gifted," Naruto called out. The words shattered and reformed again.
Victory Points Remaining: 3020
Class: Jinchuuriki [LOCKED]
Specials: 2 Remaining
Skills: 5 Remaining
Warning! You have not allocated all your skills and specials! Are you sure you want to do that?
Continue? Rank? Specials? Skills?
Naruto was pleased to see all the disadvantages gone – they were seriously pissing him off. Now to see what these 'skills' and 'specials' were all about…
10 minutes later, Naruto was staring open-mouthed at what he was seeing. Why the hell did he wait so long before doing this? He should have done this ages ago!
Those mysterious 'tokens' he had been getting every time he died? They could be used here to give himself skills and specials. Skills were regular ninja skills like taijutsu, kunai use, specific jutsu, taijutsu styles, things like that. Specials were kickass bonuses like bloodline limits (apparently he could give himself Hyoton; hell yeah!), additional elemental affinities, special abilities, and so on. That's right, he could have simply selected 'Jutsu: Sage Mode (Basic)' and 'Jutsu: Rasengan (Basic)' and he would have saved himself months of work! At least, if he was understanding things correctly.
In the end it had taken him more than 2 agonizing hours until he had decided which skills and specials to pick out of everything he wanted. As much as he wanted to load himself on some of the more powerful skills he had acquired over his various retries, he was pretty sure he knew what the text had meant when it had told him he would lose all his skills if he reincarnated – it meant no shadow clones, no taijutsu whatsoever, no nothing. So he had to spare some skills on the essentials, unfortunately. Thankfully, he hadn't been all that skilled at the time he made the first save, as much as it pained him to admit it, so any holes in his skills would be totally in character.
He ended up choosing Taijutsu (Freestyle; Genin), Chakra Control II, Jutsu: Shadow Clone (Basic), Elemental Decomposition: Wind (Basic), and Jutsu: Sage Mode (Basic) for his skills. The first three so he could actually function as a ninja, and the last two because they were extremely hard and time consuming to learn through normal methods. Rasengan, while useful and kickass, was not really that hard to learn once he got his chakra control up to snuff. For his specials he chose Nindo: Determinator (which actually rewarded him for being bullheaded) and… Hyoton. Yeah, he wasn't passing that one up – he saw just how effective that bloodline limit was plenty of times fighting against Haku.
All these skills and specials cost a certain amount of victory points to pick, but that wasn't a problem. Hyoton was the only thing that cost more than 3 digits, and he still had about 1500 points left after he had chosen everything he wanted.
"Continue," Naruto finished.
Suddenly he was standing on the familiar glowing platform in a small cave. He smiled, this time walking out of the cave with tree climbing instead of making a ladder with his shadow clones. Oh yeah, things were going to be different this time.
AN: The idea of Naruto world as a game is by no means an original one. 'Naruto: Game of the Year Addition' and 'Naruto: Ramen Days' are very good fics on that premise. Nonetheless, I find the idea rather fascinating, and wish there were more good fics on that premise.