Beta'd by EmelyeUchiha
"Twin Serpent…," The petite boy with sun kissed hair and sky-coloured eyes muttered as he crouched in front of the display window that was showcasing a baby, two-headed snake with glimmering, crimson scales. He heaved out a heavy sigh and placed a finger against the glass as he watched the heads snap at him, trying to get a bite of his flesh.
"Mommy, pleeeease? I really want this one!" A voice shouted, catching the teen's attention. He turned to see a little girl pointing at the split tailed kitten that was on the lower level of the display window.
"I told you, Moegi. When you become a Tamer you'll be able to catch as many of these as you want," the mother of the girl said with a smile.
The girl pouted. "But I don't even know if I can become one! What if I fail and can't get my partner?"
Her words were unknowingly stabbing into the teen's heart like arrows. Frowning deeply, he turned back to the two-headed serpent and let out another long sigh.
"Fail huh?" Cornflower blue eyes watched as a part-timer of the shop came and dumped some small chunks of dried meat into the tank. At the sight of its meal, the serpent quickly made its way over and began gulping down its food. Heaving another sigh, the blond pushed himself onto his feet. Just when he was about to walk away, a hand suddenly grabbed his shoulder.
The teen spun around, meeting a pale skinned youth with long, black hair tied into a bun at the back of his head.
"Haku!" He jumped in surprise, "I thought you were out on a mission." The feminine boy smiled at his blond friend's shocked face.
"I just got back," he replied simply. Feeling a nudge at his knee, Naruto looked down to see a large, white creature with long, pointed ears and sharp, golden eyes. It was extremely slim with a long, silky tail that the blond swore was at least two meters long.
"Hey, Koyuki," he greeted as he bent down and patted the creature between the ears. He smiled when his fingers came in contact with the creature's soft white fur.
"You seemed quite down. You didn't get bully again, did you?" Haku asked, his brown eyes narrowing as a frown tugged over his flawless face.
"There's no way I'd be down from that," Naruto laughed weakly, not even bothered with hiding the fact that he indeed did get bullied. It wasn't any secret. Everyone in this entire village knew that Naruto was a favourite target by the bullies from the Tamer Academy, but nobody aside from his only two friends cared.
No matter how much the blond was beaten up, it was always his fault. The bullies made up stories to push the blames onto him. The teachers would always believe them, and give the innocent blond detentions for things he suffered for. They contacted the bullies' parents, retelling the stories and the parents would then spread nasty things about Naruto around the village. That was why whenever Naruto got beaten, he could always see the villagers' satisfied faces. His fellow students never tried to help. They either believed the false stories like everyone else, or they simply didn't want to get close to him in fear of being dragged into the bullying as well. In the end, it was always his fault. Despite all of it, the blond was never angry.
He was long used to it.
"I'm just worried about the exam…" Naruto mumbled with a depressing sigh. Haku parted his lips, about to question, when he noticed the nasty looks of the passing villagers.
"Perhaps we should discuss this somewhere else," he spoke in an almost inaudible voice, glaring coldly at anyone who dared to look over. "Koyuki." Haku's voice had now risen. At its master's call, Koyuki squeaked, jumping onto Haku's shoulder and flinging its long tail around Naruto.
"Wait—Haku!" The blond tried to struggle, but he was already wrapped up like a cocoon within Koyuki's tail. Naruto yelped when he felt his entire body being lifted. His body began being moved at a pace so fast that he felt as though his heart would be ripped out by the force.
About half a minute later, he fell onto the soft blades of grass with a strong urge to throw up the breakfast he had just eaten. He clutched onto his head as he tried to hold back the nauseous feeling. No matter how long Naruto had been with the older boy, he could never get used to his speed.
"I told you not to do that…argh…"
"Sorry, but this is the fastest way." Haku laughed softly as he crouched down beside his friend and gently rubbed the other's back. "If you would just run on your own then I wouldn't need Koyuki to carry you," the brunette said, not missing the sudden tenseness of the blond's muscles. At the sight, Haku couldn't help but sigh. "I don't understand why you hold yourself back in front of the villagers," the pale boy spoke softly, "You asked me to train your agility, and I did. You're improving a lot, Naruto-kun. I can tell you that none of the students at the academy can match your speed. Why are you hiding it?"
"It's not like I'm hiding it. It just feels…" Naruto explored his mind for the words he was looking for as he rolled onto his back. He stared at the blue sky, searching to see if he could catch a glimpse of any cloud. "I mean, I'm pretty much used to all this. I don't know…I just…it feels weird, you know? I'm used to all of this…and besides, if I show them what I could do, Fusao and the others would only bully me more."
Haku frowned at his friend's word. As usual, he couldn't understand Naruto's reasoning. He wanted to tell the blond his opinion, but knew he wouldn't listen, as it had happened too many times. Due to the constant bullying and bad treatment from the villagers, the blond became too reserved. If things could be avoided, he'd avoid them at all cost and wouldn't take chances. The brunette sat back, looking around before spotting Koyuki chasing a yellow butterfly across the meadow.
"So," Haku began, deciding to change back to the main topic, "by exam, am I correct to assume it's the Seal of Bond?"
"Yeah…," Naruto sighed for what felt like the hundredth time. He seriously needed to stop doing that. "I'm just a bit worried. What if I can't catch a partner? Then I'll be disqualified and have to wait for another year before I get to take it again."
"You're thinking too much, Naruto-kun. It isn't as hard as you make it to be. All you need to do is to find a Shoukanjuu* and tame it."
"Easier said than done." The blond continued to stare at the sky. "We don't learn elemental jutsu until after we graduate from the Academy and get an apprenticeship with a professional Tamer. You and Gaara got bloodline limit jutsus, so you didn't have to worry about it when you two took the test last year."
"Taming a Shoukanjuu doesn't always mean you must have ninjutsu," Haku replied, "Although it's true that students with bloodline limit will have already mastered some jutsus due to their clan, there are many who haven't. Those students are in the same boat as you. Besides, if it's ninjutsu, you have thatdon't you?"
"But I still haven't mastered that yet," Naruto whispered, staring at the sky for a couple more seconds before he used his elbows to push himself up.
"Have you decided on what kind of Shoukanjuu you want?" Haku asked, as Koyuki hopped back over to its master and nested itself comfortably in his lap.
"Not yet. I'm still thinking on that one."
The brunette just smiled faintly before glancing up to realize how late it was getting. "Well, I must be getting back. I still have training to do with Zabuza-san. I can't keep him waiting."
"You're lucky to have such a good master." Naruto smiled as pushed himself up. When he noticed Koyuki edging towards him, he quickly jumped back. "I can run back myself!"
Haku chuckled at the blond's reaction. With a wave of his hand, the rabbit-like Shoukanjuu quickly returned back to his side.
"I have an encyclopaedia of Shoukanjuus and their habitats. I'll have Koyuki bring it over to you later."
"That'd be great! Thanks, Haku."
"No problem. Naruto-kun," Haku held up his hand, performing a half ram sign, "good night."
"Good night," Naruto said as he watched both Haku and Koyuki disappear into a whirlwind of leaves. After they had left, the blond stood around for a couple more minutes before he decided to go home as well.
With a kick off the ground, he vanished from the peaceful meadow.
"I'm back!" Naruto called as he walked into the worn out apartment he called home, flicking the light on. His cerulean eyes glanced around the empty room before a sad smile formed over his lips. "Not like anyone's waiting…," He mumbled to himself as he made his way to the kitchen. When he opened his refrigerator, he sighed upon remembering how he had run out of food. Walking to the sink, the blond grabbed a kettle. He filled it up with water and placed it over the stove. After turning the heat to the max, he pulled out a cup noodle from the cupboard and tore off the lid half way. "Shoukanjuu." He smiled as he leaned against the counter, waiting patiently for the water to boil.
"Wonder what kind I could get," he wondered aloud before frowning at the thought of failing the exam. As the blond pondered over his problems, a sharp whistling sound erupted from the kettle and broke him from his unwelcoming thoughts. He quickly turned off the stove and poured the boiling hot water into the cup noodle. He then sealed the lid, and just as he set the noodles onto the table, Naruto stopped upon hearing a knock against his window. When he looked up, he found himself staring at the white fur of a familiar creature.
"Koyuki!" He hurried over and opened the window.
With a squeak, Koyuki lifted its long tail, revealing the book that Haku had mentioned. "Thank you," the blond said, showing his appreciation. Once he took the book, Koyuki dashed off in a speed that was only a blur in Naruto's eyes. "No wonder Haku was the only that could tame that Shoukanjuu," he chuckled, closing the window as he sat down by his dinner.
"Oh...don't want to get Haku's book dirty," Naruto muttered thoughtfully as he pushed the cup noodle aside. He could always eat it later.
"Let's see…" He set the large book onto the table and opened it to the first page.
"In ancient times, the Shoukanjuu ruled the land," he read out loud, "They have super strength in comparison to humans', and each wields a special element. No one knew how these creatures were blessed with such powers until the birth of the very first Tamer, the Sage of Six Paths. He discovered the logic behind chakra by studying these creatures and obtained the knowledge of chakra elements—this is just history." Naruto sighed as he flipped to the next couple of pages.
"Tamer Career." Naruto stared at the headline for a couple of seconds before deciding that it sounded fairly interesting. He vaguely remembered Iruka mentioning it, but he couldn't really pay attention due to the paper balls being thrown at his head at the time. What else could he have done? Self-study wasn't really his thing, and asking his pineapple-haired teacher would only get him yelled at for not paying attention.
"Tamers are humans with the ability to manipulate chakra and the only ones capable of sealing Shoukanjuu into a contract. Tamers can be separated into five different categories. The first is Seal Master. The Tamer's main purpose is to capture and seal Shoukanjuu. They earn their living by selling to other Tamers or civilians the Shoukanjuus they had captured. Seal Masters are the only ones who can capture A-rank and above Shoukanjuus due to the large quantity of chakra that are required in high level sealing techniques," Naruto read before a smile crossed his face. "Seal Master…that's what my dad was, wasn't he?" He spoke to himself, glancing over to the shelf in the living room which was packed with dozens of scrolls left to him by his parents. Shaking his head, he turned back to the book, wondering what other jobs there were for Tamers.
"Breeder. Tamers often encounter loyalty problems with their Shoukanjuus, especially wild ones they have only recently captured. In order to create a relationship in which to have them obey commands, most bring their Shoukanjuus to Breeders who will then educate them. Shoukanjuus being sold from Breeders are highly desirable as they have higher intelligence than wild ones, and are also better trained in all aspects."
Looking down the page, Naruto smiled at the next job field. "Bounty Hunter. That's mom," he whispered before he began reading, "A Bounty Hunter's main purpose is to hunt down those with Bounties, namely, criminal and deserter Tamers who stray from law and commit crime through Shoukanjuu. As long as there are human or Shoukanjuu needed to be dealt with, they are the ones who are usually hired for the job. That sounds pretty awesome," the blond chuckled, flipping the page to continue.
"Medic. Medics are Tamers with the ability to heal injuries and wounds through the use of chakra. They are welcome in any Tamer teams due to their abilities. They are often the main key to winning a fight against a high level Shoukanjuu or against other Tamers. And lastly, there's the Trainer. That's Kakashi-sensei!" The blond smiled joyfully at the thought of the silver-haired Jounin. Excluding the strange book that never left his hand, and his bad habit of never coming to class on time, Naruto found the man to be pretty cool.
"Trainers are Tamers who specialise in teaching Shoukanjuu chakra control, as well as various jutsus. As a Shoukanjuu rises in ranks, they will gain the ability to manipulate their elements. To access their elements, however, they will need to be taught properly with time and patience. If the Tamer's nature of chakra doesn't match the Shoukanjuu's, then teaching it jutsus would be impossible, thus they are taken to Trainers with the same element as their Shoukanjuu in order to be trained. Trainers are separated into many types, depending on the nature of their jutsu and their individual specialties."
The blond smile as his eyes ran over the words. "Seal Master and Bounty Hunter…," Naruto whispered as he gently caressed the page. "Well, the book doesn't say you can't choose two fields," he sang before noticing the word rank that was mentioned a couple of times. "If I remember correctly, ranks are…" Going back to the index, Naruto searched for a couple of seconds before finding the section he was looking for. Flipping the pages quickly, he soon found the headline Ranking printed in bold.
"Shoukanjuu are separated into five different ranks based on their powers: D-ranks, C-ranks, B-ranks, A-ranks, and finally, S-ranks. Each species of Shoukanjuu has its own habitat. The most common ones are the D-ranks, which can be easily found around the villages and are popular pets to civilians. They cannot mold chakra, thus they are essentially harmless. Before the time humans discovered the ability to manipulate chakra, they sought out areas where only D-rank Shoukanjuus dwelt, and built their villages there, leading to the now Hidden villages' locations.
"C-ranks are often found in deeper woods near the D-ranks' habitat, as D-ranks are easy food sources. Although C-ranks are able to manipulate chakra, they can only use it to enhance their physical build. Unlike D-rank, C-rank Shoukanjuus are able to grow along side of Tamers. With proper training, they will be able to manipulate their specific elements and rise in ranks."
Naruto glanced over some of the pictures of D-rank and C-rank Shoukanjuu. He noticed the two-headed snake he saw in the pet shop there as well, listed under the D-rank category.
"No wonder they had us catch C-ranks for the exam." The blond thought back to his two friends' Shoukanjuu. According to the book and his teachers, a Shoukanjuu grows under a Tamer's care, so it won't ever stay in the same rank unless the Tamer is weak.
"Come to think of it, Koyuki can use water element," Naruto murmured, holding a finger to the page he was reading before quickly flipping to the index to search for the list of Shoukanjuu.
"Silka Hare...page 204." Naruto quickly flipped over the pages until he saw the image of a creature identical to Koyuki.
"Silka Hare is a C-rank Shoukanjuu with the adult reaching nineteen inches tall. They are herbivores, and their daily diet consist of grass and berries. The Silka Hares are the fastest known Shoukanjuu below A-ranks and are impossible to catch without well planned traps. When threatened, they fight with their long tails which have a grip strength of 650 lbs. Once they tangle their enemy in their powerful tail, they proceed to crush their bones." Naruto shivered at the memory of the many times he got tangled within the Shoukanjuu's tail, never once realizing how easy it would be for the small creature to kill him.
The blond thought about checking Gaara's, only to remember that he didn't really know about the sand Tamer's Shoukanjuu. He had only seen it once since, according to Gaara, his Shoukanjuu—Shukaku was its name—was unstable and too dangerous to be let out; so the redhead normally kept it sealed within him. Naruto didn't really understand what Gaara had meant by unstable. When he saw Shukaku, it seemed pretty normal to him, aside from its anti-social nature. Flipping back to the previous pages he was reading, Naruto came under the headline of B-ranks.
"Shoukanjuus that are B-rank or above are not only able to enhance their physical built, but have the ability to control their elements as well. Each type of species has their own element. The five main elements are Fire, Water, Lightning, Wing, and Earth. Like humans, some also have bloodline limit jutsus, though extremely rare. A-ranks have the ability to use two elements. Unlike the lower ranks, A-ranks come in rare species and have extremely high intelligence. It is proven that they are able to understand and even use human speech."
The blond gently brushed his finger by one of the picture displayed on the page. No wonder higher rank Shoukanjuu were so popular. They really are beautiful. Even through the picture, Naruto could feel the power radiating off the sparkling fur. How Naruto wished he could one day catch something like these. Flipping the page, he expected to see more pictures of Shoukanjuu, but found humans being displayed in the photos. The blond shrugged, guessing that they were most likely famous Tamers from somewhere in history. As his eyes trailed over the page, a particular word over the top of the page caught his attention.
"S-ranks?" Naruto stared at the headline before he began to read. "Not much is known of S-rank Shoukanjuus aside from the fact that they are extremely dangerous. Their abilities and powers greatly exceed A-ranks, with much higher intelligence than even humans. Only one sighting of S-ranks was ever seen and that was during the year of X17."
Naruto paused to count the years. That was about fifty-two years ago.
"A group of Tamers were crossing the border from Kumo to Iwa when they came across three Shoukanjuus in the middle of a battle. With evidence from the pictures, a new rank of Shoukanjuus was created: the S-rank. According to the Tamers who provided the information, S-rank Shoukanjuus have the ability to use chakra to manipulate their forms, turning into that of a human—wait, what?" The blond gasped before he quickly glanced back to the three pictures displayed there. "Slug princess Tsunade; Toad Sage Jiraiya; White Snake Orochimaru," He whispered, reading the small, italic words beneath each of the pictures.
"These are Shoukanjuus? But they're humans!" Naruto couldn't believe his eyes. Were they really Shoukanjuus? "To this day, no one knows whether S-rank really does exist or not. There have been many arguments over the years, and many claimed the photos to be nothing but a fraud."
Seeing the little arrow at the bottom, Naruto turned to the next page. When he did, his eyes widened at the large picture that took up both pages' space. There, printed in coloured ink, were three massive creatures standing even taller than the surrounding mountain. There was a huge, golden-striped slug; a red-skinned toad; and an enormous, white snake. At the left side of the page, there were the three human pictures again. Each picture was labeled with their names and a line showing which human was which Shoukanjuu.
"This is S-rank…" Naruto continued to gape at the still pictures in shock. "Why didn't the teachers at school ever mention this?" He tried to think back to all of the lessons, but they never got anywhere close to the discussion of S-rank. Was it because S-rank was classified as a myth? Was that why the teachers never mentioned anything about them?
"Shoukanjuu…," Naruto called the name of those beautiful creatures. He then began flipping over the section of C-rank Shoukanjuu, looking for anything that might catch his eye.
"Naruto-kun? Are you ready yet?"
"Just a minute!" Naruto called as he tugged at his wristband. After running a comb through his spikey hair to get rid of the last bit of knots, he hurried out of the bathroom to greet his two friends waiting in the living room.
Sensing his presence, Haku and a boy with crimson hair glanced up to see the blond in his usual training clothes. Naruto was dressed in a black sleeved turtle neck shirt with his right arm's sleeve cut at the shoulder. On his exposed arm, he wore a black wristband and elbow band. Orange scribbles of ancient characters ran over the left side of his shirt. His leather, long pants, like his shirt, were mismatched in length, with his left leg's cut inches above his knee. There was the same orange design on his pants, except it was only located at the right side. Like all Tamers, he wore the traditional Tamer sandals in the shades of his favourite colour: black.
"You took quite a while in there." Haku smiled before noticing a seal drawn on the blond's bare shoulder. "Is that the seal you will use?"
"Yeah…" Naruto smiled. "It's my best seal that I learned from my mother's scroll! What do you guys think?"
"It's amazing," The brunette commented, stepping closer to exam the seal. "How long did this take you?"
"During the time you threw me into the bathroom," Naruto replied sheepishly. A stunned expression passed through Haku's face while the maroon-haired teen's doll-like face remained neutral.
"You were in there for fifteen minutes. You did that in such a short time?"
"Actually, it took longer than usual. I kind of screwed up a little half way." Naruto sighed, making a gesture at the small smudge of the black ink. "Think it'll be enough to catch a Shoukanjuu?"
"Relax, Naruto-kun," Haku said, noticing the blond's nervousness, "With the complex structure of that seal, I'm sure it can contain even higher level ones. Isn't that right, Gaara?" The redhead stepped up at the call of his name so he could also examine the seal.
"What is this seal called?" Garra questioned with a stoic face.
"The Five Star Seal…I think."
"The Five Star Seal?" Haku said with a look of amazement. "Now I know why Sandaime-sama said you inherited your father, the Yondaime-sama's, skill. Have you tested it out yet?"
"I tried sealing objects, but…" His gaze fell. "I've never tried with actual living things before."
"You will in an hour," the Sand Tamer said, grabbing a black backpack from the couch, tossing it at the blond. "If you don't hurry, you'll be late for the exam."
"Yeah…" Naruto stared at the backpack in his hand.
'Today's the day,' He told himself as a gust of wind suddenly blew through the room and whirled around them.
In the blink of an eye, all three of them vanished.
They reappeared on the roof of the Academy seconds later. Naruto peered over the edge as he stared at all the students that were filing into the school.
"Naruto-kun. What kind of Shoukanjuu have you decided on capturing?" Haku asked. Gaara looked up, seeming interested as well.
"I was thinking of a Celefox." Naruto smiled at the memory of the fox Shoukanjuu he saw in Haku's book.
"Celefox?" Haku tilted his head. "That's an unusual choice. They are taijutsu-based with no ninjutsu ability, aren't they?"
"But they're the best sensor-type around. I thought that since I'm aiming to be a Seal Master, I need a Shoukanjuu that can sniff out its prey."
"I thought you were going to be a Bounty Hunter," Gaara pointed out. The ice user quickly turned to him before glancing back to Naruto.
"What Bounty Hunter?" The pale teen questioned. He was obviously left out when Naruto made that announcement to the redhead. Seeing the look on his friend's face only made the blond's smile widen.
"No one said you can only choose one."
"So we'll have two Bounty Hunters?" Haku chuckled as he glanced between his two best friends. "Perhaps I should give up being a Breeder and join in."
"Of course not!" Naruto shouted, with Gaara nodding in agreement. "You promised you'd raise the best Shoukanjuu and give it to us. I'm holding you on that promise."
"If you can catch me a rare Shoukanjuu to breed with." The brunette smiled warmly and sent them a light wink that would make even men swoon at the sight.
"It's amazing that Zabuza can actually last this long…"
"Hm? Sorry, did you say something, Naruto-kun?" Haku turned to the blond who quickly shook his head. The apprentice Bounty Hunter smiled faintly at his fox-faced friend's behaviour. He couldn't blame him, as he too was having the exact same thought.
"Celefoxes dwell in the northern side of the village, don't they?" Gaara asked, deciding to help out the blond by switching the topic. Naruto jumped at the chance, nodding quickly while sending the redhead a thankful gaze. Haku glanced at the two suspiciously, unable to help feeling as though he was being left out on something. Just when he parted his lips to question, the ringing sound of bell could be heard, indicating the beginning of class.
"Shoot! I have to go."
"Good luck, Naruto."
"Gaara-kun and I will be cheering for you."
Smiling widely at his friends' support, Naruto gathered chakra into his feet and ran down the Academy wall. He quickly slipped through the window before anyone notice and landed swiftly onto the cool, marble floor. Hurrying down the hall, he searched for the second floor's training room where he remembered Iruka telling them to gather.
The minute he found the room, he dashed in and saw the majority of the students already there. Iruka and Kakashi, along with few other Chuunins, were at one side of the room preparing for the start of the exam.
"This is…," Naruto murmured as he stared at the four large seals that were drawn on the ground. Upon closer look, the blond noticed kanjis written at the center of each seal.
From left to right, the words in order were 東南西北 (East, South, West, North).
'So that's it! That's how the test works,' Naruto thought, his eyes widening in realization. Lost in his thought, the blond didn't noticing someone sneaking up on him until it was too late; he was roughly shoved onto the floor.
"Why, if it isn't kamaboko*! You were so short I didn't see you there."
Naruto frowned at the voice. He slowly pulled himself up and patted some dust off his clothes before turning to meet the irritating face of the green-haired boy.
"Fusao," Naruto greeted, not really happy to see him. In fact, he never wanted to see that face.
When Fusao saw the bitter look come over the blond's features, he snickered. "So the dead last of the class is taking the exam? You should really forget about it. With your skills, you'll be killed in a second!" He laughed and was soon joined in by the nearby students. Apparently all of them were thinking the same thing.
"I bet you haven't even prepared a seal."
"I did," Naruto retorted, but his response only earned a narrowed glare from those spiteful, brown eyes.
"Oh? You got a seal?" Fusao laughed as though the blond had told a joke. "Let see?" He glanced around before spotting the seal printed over Naruto's shoulder in black ink. The instant his eyes landed on the blond's seal, a frown pulled over his face.
"That seal's–!" The teen gasped in disbelieve at how complicated the seal was, in comparison to his own that was located at the back of his palm.
"Sensei!" Fusao suddenly shouted, gaining everyone's attention.
"Fusao?" Iruka looked up from the attendance he was taking. "What is it?"
"Naruto's cheating!" Fusao suddenly accused as the blond's blue eyes flew wide open.
"What do you mean?" Iruka asked as he hurried over. By now, all the students were looking at them—the room was deathly silent.
"He had someone else drew his seal, look!" Fusao jabbed a finger painfully into the blond's shoulder, making him wince from the pain.
"I didn't! I drew it myself!" Naruto shouted as his teacher grabbed his wrist, pulling his arm up so he could examine it.
"Liar! We've never learned this kind of seal in the Academy and we all know your sorry excuse for skills. It's obvious that you had someone draw it for you!" Fusao snapped as loud as he could so the entire room could hear. Soon, just like the bully wanted, whispers began traveling around the students.
"No, I–!" Naruto was cut off by the disapproving glare he received from his fellow classmates.
"He's the worst."
"Even if he's not good, it doesn't mean he should cheat."
"As expected of the dead last."
"No…I didn't…," Naruto whispered as tears began to cloud his eyes. Feeling the grip over his wrist tightened, he quickly turned to his teacher. "Iruka-sensei! I really didn't–!" He wasn't able to finish when he noticed the disappointed frown on Iruka's face.
"Fusao is right." Naruto's eyes dilated at the words that came from the Chuunin's lips. The first thing the blond thought was that he must have misheard, but the expression on the man's face told him otherwise. "This seal is the Five Star Seal. Although it's not an extremely high ranked seal, it still isn't something you can make on your own."
"But I really did!" Naruto shouted, his voice growing desperate with each word. "I'm not lying!"
"Naruto! That's enough!" Iruka yelled as he released the blond's wrist. "I had specifically made it clear that everyone is required to make his or her own seal, and you failed to do that."
"What a loser."
"So unlike Sasuke-kun," Sakura and Ino whispered at the sideline. Naruto stared at the ground in despair when he realized how not even a single person was willing to help him. For the first time in his life, the blond felt completely empty and alone.
"But…I really did…," Naruto choked as he tried to swallow his tears.
"Naruto." Iruka straightened up and stared down at his student. "For cheating, you are disqualified from the–"
"Now, now, Iruka. There's no need to be so harsh."
Naruto's head quickly snapped up and saw his silver-haired Jounin teacher walking over to them.
"Kakashi-sensei…," Naruto whispered as Kakashi casually walked over and eyed his seal.
"Indeed. That's quite a complicated seal you have there," Kakashi observed before lifting the wet cloth he was holding. Gently taking the blond's shoulder, he began to scrub at the seal—slowly but surely rubbing the ink off.
"You can always reproduce another one, can't you?" Naruto gasped when he heard Kakashi speak quietly beneath his mask so only he could hear.
"Sensei." Naruto quickly wiped away the loose tears that had formed with his free hand and replied with a faint nod.
"Kakashi-san, what are you doing?" Iruka demanded as Kakashi succeeded in rubbing off the last bit of the ink.
"Now the seal is gone. He won't be able to use it."
"That's not the problem. The fact that Naruto cheated is–"
"Iruka. Since when did you have the authority to question what I do?" Kakashi asked in such a cold tone that the brunette flinched. "Whether Naruto cheated or not doesn't matter. The seal is gone, and drawing another now will normally take a genin hours to fully recover due to the amount of chakra it consumes. The exam only lasts for two days. If he can't create a seal during this time and succeed in capturing a Shoukanjuu, then he fails, like many others by the end of the exam."
Naruto noticed the content looks over the other students' faces, along with the smugness on Fusao. At the sight of their piercing gaze, Naruto felt a wave of heat compress within his chest, along with the feeling of betrayal. He felt as though Iruka—whom he saw as an older brother, betrayed him by not believing him when he said he was innocent.
Iruka said nothing. He couldn't—not against a high level Jounin like Kakashi. At his silence, Kakashi slid Naruto's bag off his shoulder and tossed it to a nearby chuunin, who happened to be Kotetsu.
"Search his bag. Make sure there are no sealing instructions or anything that teaches him on sealing."
"Yes," the Chuunin said, and immediately went off to give a thorough search of Naruto's backpack.
The blond stood still. His feet were rooted to the floor as he listened to the whispers and snickers that were still going around. He had never felt so embarrassed and humiliated in his life. He never tried to stand out or do anything to anger anyone. He couldn't understand why they were all like that. What could they possibly have against him when he never did anything to upset them?
"Alright, quiet down," Kakashi called, successfully shutting down the students and gaining their undivided attention. "Now that every one of you is here, we will begin your first Shoukanjuu capturing exam—the Seal of Bond. Has everyone prepared a seal?"
The students screamed out a loud YES.
"I'm sure Iruka has gone over the rules with you, but I will go over them again just in case."
As Naruto quietly listened, he felt a light tab on his shoulder. When he turned, he came face to face with Izumo, another one of the Chuunins.
"Here," Izumo said with a kind smile as he held up the blond's backpack.
"Thanks, Izumo no nii-chan." Naruto muttered as he hesitantly took his bag. He was unable to bring himself to meet Izumo eyes. Even though he didn't cheat, he didn't want to look up and see the same disappointed look he saw on Iruka.
"Don't worry Naruto. We know," Izumo said softly as he placed a hand on the blond's shoulder to comfort him. "Kakashi-san had asked us to put a brush and an ink bottle into your bag. Make sure you don't lose it."
Naruto's eyes flew wide at his words. He quickly lifted his head, about to thank the Chuunin only to find him already making his way back to one of the four seals he was stationed at.
"…Thank you." Naruto smiled before he quickly focused his attention back to Kakashi, who began explaining the details of the exam.
"As you all are aware, the exam will last for two days, ending at tomorrow's sunset. Since none of you brought food, I hope you all know how to hunt. Otherwise, you'll starve~"
'Geh…you were the one who told us not to.' Naruto gaped as he stared at his silver-haired teacher.
"What?!" Sakura screeched in horror. "Sensei was the one who told us not to bring anything!" She repeated the statement from Naruto's mind as the other students began screaming complaints.
"Those who are unable to come back with a C-rank Shoukanjuu will automatically fail and will have to wait another year," Kakashi continued on, gracefully ignoring the death glares that were directed at him. Naruto figured that the Jounin was long used to it considering how many things he had pulled over the years.
"Now then." Kakashi made a gesture as Kotetsu came up and began handing out pieces of paper and pencils to the students.
"What is this?" Naruto wondered, taking the paper and pencil he was given.
"Those are contracts that you must sign before we begin," Kakashi explained, "It's nothing really. Just a form stating that you have agreed to take the exam knowing the danger you will be faced with. We wouldn't want your parents to come suing us if any of you were to die."
The minute they heard their teacher's speech, Naruto noticed how a lot of people began to fidget nervously. He frowned at the sight. Did they actually expect the exam to be safe? They were after all, going to fight against Shoukanjuus.
"Those who fail to sign the contract will not be able to take part in the exam. We'll give you ten minutes to consider."
Naruto, not needing the ten minutes that was offered, quickly signed the paper and handed it to Kotetsu, who was at the back of the room, about the same time as Sasuke – the Academy's rookie of the year and the village's number one heartthrob. Upon the example set by Sasuke and the cheater, the other students quickly began to follow suit. The girls signed for the sake of being together with their love while the boys mostly did it because they didn't want to look bad. After all, it would be too embarrassing to back out after the dead last showed that he had more guts than them.
After taking some time to confirm everyone's signature on the paper, Kotetsu gave Kakashi a nod as the white haired man continued.
"Alright. Follow me." Kakashi led the students towards the large seals guarded by the Chuunins. With a few hand signs from the Tamers, the four seals began to emit a soft glow of pale blue light.
"These are the teleportation seals," Kakashi explained in his usual lazy tone. "As you can see, there are different characters written at the center. Each teleportation seal takes you into a specific area near the village. I'm sure I don't need to explain how this will work. Although you will be teleported to C-rank areas, keep in mind that there is always the possibility of higher ranks lurking around. Be sure to stay on guard at all times."
Naruto couldn't help but notice how some of the students trembled at the mention of the possibility of meeting higher ranks.
"Before you go into the seal, each of you will be given a map and a teleportation scroll, according to the area you're in. If you're in trouble, or have finished your task before the time, simply open the scroll, press your palm into the seal, and apply your chakra. That will activate the seal and teleport you back to this training room. There is a protection seal on it, so there's no need to worry about ripping or getting it wet. When the time limit has end, the scroll will automatically transport you back, so keep it close to you at all times. Those who fail to return with a required Shoukanjuu will have to try again next year. The Chuunins at each teleportation point will need to verify the seals you have drawn, so have them out in a visible place before going in. Any questions?" Kakashi glanced around lazily. When he noticed nobody had any questions, he stepped aside. "Then let the Seal of Bond begin!"
Naruto watched the girls scream as they all rushed towards the same region the raven-haired boy was heading for. He sweat dropped at the sight of the poor Chuunin in the form of Kotetsu getting run over by the stampede of the infamous Uchiha fan girls.
'Are they serious?' The blond thought. He wondered if any of them were actually serious about becoming Tamer.
"Good luck with taming a Shoukanjuu, loser." Fusao snickered as Naruto watched him run off with his friends. Ignoring the greenette, the blond quickly looked over the seals.
"Celefox is in the north." He remembered as he hurried to the Northern seal, lining up behind a violet-haired classmate. It took the boy a couple of seconds to realize who was behind him and sneered once he did. The blond realized he wasn't the only one doing so. Many other students were glaring at him with the same eyes, excluding all the females (except for one - a girl from the Hyuuga clan), who were fighting over who got to go after Sasuke.
The blond lowered his head as the previous bitterness returned. He bit his lower lip and clutched his quivering fists, trying his very best to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall.
After the boy stepped through the seal and vanished, Naruto was up next. He took the teleportation scroll and the map of the northern region from the Chuunin stationed there. He stared at the seal for a long moment. Gathering up his courage, he inhaled deeply and stepped forward. The minute he entered the seal, he gasped, quickly shutting his eyes as intense light suddenly engulfed him.
Once the light faded away, Naruto slowly opened his eyes and found he was no longer within the Academy's training room. He was in the middle of a small clearing beneath a cloud filled sky, surrounded by enormous trees and other vegetation that he had only seen in pictures.
"It's beautiful," he whispered in awe before a bright light suddenly erupted from behind him. Quickly moving away, Naruto watched as another student appeared at exactly the same spot where he had stood. Stepping away from the growing group, he took his time to admire the place.
'This is the world outside the village,' the blond thought in wonder. Everything looked so much prettier than the book had described. Since the outside world was dangerous due to the Shoukanjuus, children below the age of fifteen who were not Tamers were to remain within the village unless they were accompanied by a Tamer or adult. It was a rule set by all Hidden Villages in order to protect their people. Because of this law, the blond had never once seen the outside world first-hand before.
"Tch, coming into the same area as the cheater, how lucky~"
Naruto turned to find those same glares directed at him. He stared at the group for a long minute, letting the words sink into his mind before his cornflower blue eyes narrowed.
"I said I didn't cheat!" He snapped as loud as he could. He couldn't take it. He just couldn't stand being falsely accused anymore. Unfortunately, his outburst did the opposite effect he had hoped for, earning him only more hateful glares.
"Why don't you just admit it, loser? You obviously cheated with that seal!"
"I didn't! I drew that myself!"
"As if someone like you has the ability to draw that!"
"You should be ashamed of yourself!"
"Why are you even here?"
The boys began shouting, pointing fingers and calling him names.
Finally, unable to stand it anymore, Naruto quickly turned and ran into the dark forest. He didn't care where he was heading,; he just wanted to get away from those eyes. He pushed aside the branches that were blocking his sight and forcefully shoved his way through the bushes. When he took another step forward, his eyes widened when his foot sank down, making him realized how the space beneath his foot had suddenly become hollow.
He stared at the trees in the distance before he finally realized how the land was separated by a large canyon.
"Ah!" Naruto cried when his body was dragged down by gravity.
Taken by surprise, he didn't have time to react. His right arm slammed harshly against the edge of the cliff when he fell, twisting it in an awkward angle that told the blond it was dislocated. He gritted his teeth and desperately tried to move his right hand so he could form his Kage Bunshin, but only succeed in causing more pain. Quickly thinking of the next plan, he infused chakra into his good hand. He tried to grasp the rock wall, but he had fallen too far to reach it. He dug through his mind, trying to think of some way out of the situation while greatly beginning to regret that he didn't bring any ropes.
He parted his lips to yell for help, but his lips froze halfway and his voice stuck in his throat. They would never save him even if they heard his cries. He knew without a doubt from the memories of those hateful gazes. He thought he was used to it, but it suddenly came to him that it still hurt.
Those glares he would always receive, the attitude people always treated him with; it was like he was nothing more than an eyesore. He suddenly found himself caring about everything: the glares, the gossips, the bullying—everything that he thought he no longer cared about.
"Why do you hold back?" Gaara's voice echoed in the depth of his mind.
"I can tell you that none of the students at the academy can match your speed. Why are you hiding it?"
'Would it have been better?' Naruto wondered.
He was always afraid to accept changes, afraid to make changes. He was used to everything, so he thought it was better to have everything stay like that. At least like this, he would know what to expect from his everyday life instead of facing the unknown.
If he had gathered his courage and listen to his friends would this have happen?
"Liar! We've never learned this kind of seal in the Academy and we all know your sorry excuse for skills. It's obvious that you had someone draw it for you!"
"Even if he's not good, it doesn't mean he should cheat."
"Fusao is right. This seal is the Five Star Seal. Although it's not an extremely high ranked seal, it still isn't something you can make on your own."
He stared at the sky that was fading from his view.
"I'm an idiot."
The second he spoke his last word, he screamed out in pain as his back slammed into the hard surface of water, knocking the air out of him and consciousness away.
As Naruto slowly slipped into the darkness, he could only feel one thing.
Shoukanjuu – Summoning Beast
Kamaboko - Cured fish surimi produced in Japan
"We don't know what kind of people we truly are until the moment before our deaths. As death comes to embrace you, you will realise what you are. That's what death is, don't you think?" – Itachi.
Special thanks to EmelyeUchiha who has kindly offered her precious time to make this story better. It is all due to her efforts that this story is rid of my horrible grammar, spelling mistakes and other things I tend to overlook ^^'