Beta'd by Obscuram Raven (previous beta) and Zise (current beta)
"So…" The miniature Katsuyu sat on Naruto's shoulder and peered down at the diagram of the seal the boy had painstakingly carved on the hard rock with his kunai. "This is the seal?"
"I think so. At least, it seems right."
The teenager frowned as he stared at the Five Star Seal. Since it was a pretty complicated seal, he couldn't really remember the exact look. He had memorized many weaker seals, but he didn't want to take his chance by using them in such important exam. He needed one he was at least somewhat confident in, and the Five Star Seal was the best he had learned so far.
"Or maybe…" He crossed out a character that didn't feel right, replacing it with another. "It was like this?"
"Well…" Katsuyu examined at the seal as her eyes twitched, looking uncertain. "I do not have much knowledge in seals… but perhaps Itachi-sama may able to assist you?"
"No, it's fine!" the blond quickly interjected. He didn't know if he was sure or not, but he didn't want to trouble the Shoukanjuus more than he already had. They were generous enough to offer to look after him during his hunt and for that he was more than grateful. Besides, although he didn't dare to admit out loud… he still felt a bit awkward speaking with the weasel.
"You don't need to be modest," the slug wheedled. "I'm sure Itachi-sama wouldn't mind..."
"I-I'm not!" Naruto exclaimed as he hurriedly scribbled over another character and replaced it with a new one. "Alright, done!"
"This?" Katsuyu crawled over to the diagram of the seal that was now filled with dozen of crosses and scribbles. Since she was no master in seals, she had absolutely no idea what any of them meant. "If you say so..."
Smiling proudly at his work, Naruto pulled out the brush and ink bottle Izumo had hidden inside his bag. He gave a good, long and hard stare at the diagram on the ground, his mind working a mile a minute. To be perfectly honest, he had no idea if the Five Star Seal was really like how he had drawn it, but it felt about right according to his instincts, and it had never failed him before.
With his thumb, Naruto popped the lid to the small, ink bottle and dipped the fine brush in. At this point, the mini Katsuyu had jumped off, not wanting to get in the way as she watched him work. The blond cracked his neck, starting to slowly ink the seal onto to his shoulder, finding it quite hard to do so without a mirror. He first drew the circle of the seal, and then delicately wrote down the characters around it, making sure to check the diagram on the ground from time to time to make sure he got it right.
Naruto didn't know how long he'd been at it, but by the time he finished, there was barely any ink left in the bottle. He set down his brush and sighed, feeling a little dizzy from craning his head and staring down at his own shoulder for so long.
"Naruto-kun, I've brought some food for you!" At Katsuyu's voice, Naruto turned, only to jump in surprise upon seeing two human sized Katsuyus beside the tiny one.
"Katsuyu-nee-chan?" Naruto blurted out without thinking. The Katsuyus stilled, seeming quite surprised upon the way he had addressed her.
"Nee-chan?" She didn't sound angry, merely confused.
"Eh?" Naruto smiled weakly and scratched the back of his head. "A-ah… it's just, your voice sound really young so I thought calling you nee-chan might be more appropriate. Sor—"
"Oh, no!" Katsuyu quickly cut in, not wanting to hear the boy apologize for something that wasn't even a fault. "It's just that no one had ever called me that before due to my looks and size. I'm really flattered that you view me in such way, Naruto-kun!"
"I see," Naruto grinned. He was glad the Shoukanjuu didn't mind her new title. "So…" He stared at the two larger Katsuyus. "Where did you two come from?"
"I dropped some of my clones into the forest on the way back to my village," the large Katsuyu on the left replied, shifting over to reveal some moist fruits lying on a large leaf. "You mentioned how you haven't eaten anything, so I thought..."
"Wow..." Naruto looked down at the variety of herbs and berries before he turned to the Katsuyus with a broad smile. "Thank you so much, nee-chan!"
"Again, you're very welcome," the Katsuyus said before the two larger ones disappeared within a poof of smoke, leaving only the palm sized one behind. "I wasn't sure what humans normally eat, so I'm not sure if they're to your liking."
"No, they're wonderful!" Naruto exclaimed as he walked over and settled down beside the food Katsuyu had gathered—for him. The thought made him feel giddy. "These look really great." To prove his point, Naruto picked up one of the berries, putting it into his mouth as the sweet, juicy flavour flooded his taste buds.
"It's delicious!" He immediately started shoveling more of the berries into his mouth.
"Yes. It's one of my favourites," Katsuyu responded before her eyes shifted to the new seal on the blond's shoulder. "So, that seal… what is it called?" she asked out of curiosity.
"The Five Star Seal. Sounds cool, huh?" Naruto chirped brightly, before remembering how he forgotten a step.
Katsuyu seemed like she wanted to make a comment, but she stopped when Naruto placed the bitten fruit down. He held his hand over the seal as chakra began to emit from his palm, the black ink on the seal glowing eerily, reacting to his chakra before he suddenly fell over with a strangled intake of breath.
Katsuyu wasted no time, her medic's instincts kicking in as she threw herself onto the boy. Her body glowed in greenish hue as she felt the chakra within the blond being drained towards the seal at a rapid speed.
"What is this? Isn't this supposed to be a simple seal?" Katsuyu gasped when she felt more than half of Naruto's chakra deplete within seconds, being absorbed into the seal. The blond may be young, but he carried a massive amount of chakra like a true Uzumaki. Was a seal created by an Academy-level boy supposed to consume so much chakra?
"Ugh…" Naruto groaned, catching the slug's attention as she looked up to see his blurry blue eyes fluttering open.
"Naruto-kun, are you alright?" Katsuyu asked worriedly as Naruto sat up, his head swaying from left to right as he did so.
"I-I'm fine… just a bit… dizzy," he bit out the words. A small wince left his lips when he tried to move his arm. "And maybe a little numb, yeah."
"A little?" Katsuyu said in blatant disbelief. The human had just been drained of a large amount of chakra that was enough to kill an average Chuunin and he only claimed to be a little numb?
Naruto Uzumaki was an oddity, she decided.
"I think it must've happened because I hadn't eaten," he lamely explained, brushing the matter off with a weak laugh as he reached for his half-devoured fruit.
"No, I don't think that's—" Katsuyu began, but sighed as she slid off of Naruto so that her weight wouldn't be a burden to the weakened boy. As the teen practically inhaled his food, the Shoukanjuu studied the seal with careful eyes.
'What is going on?' the slug wondered. Although she didn't know much about seals, the Five Star Seal was something she definitely heard of and to her knowledge, consuming so much chakra was downright abnormal. On the other hand however, that seal was working as it should. The fact that it reacted to Naruto's chakra and absorbed the needed amount of chakra proved that it was indeed a genuine seal.
'Maybe I'm just overreacting,' Katsuyu told herself. She was no Sealing Master. Perhaps that was truly how the Five Star Seal really worked and her information was just plain wrong. Otherwise, it would be impossible for a wrongly made seal to be activated.
"Katsuyu-nee-chan!" At Naruto's call, the Shoukanjuu lifted her head to see the teen looking at her while chewing on some of the herbs she had brought. "I've been wondering… why are you guys willing to help me?"
The small creature blinked at the unexpected question.
"Don't get me wrong! I'm really grateful for your help and all, but… why do you guys trust me so much? I mean, you guys are, erm… rare right?" he asked hesitantly. After all, how many people got A-rank Shoukanjuus? "Aren't you afraid that I would, you know, tell people about your whereabouts?"
"You wouldn't," Katsuyu claimed with full confidence. "You have a gentle heart, Naruto-kun. And most of all, Itachi-sama and I can see your love for our kind."
Naruto froze, gaping at the gastropod in surprise as he slowly swallowed a small berry. "How do you—?"
"We know," Katsuyu's voice was happy and melodic. Naruto was certain that she was smiling in her own way. "When you first met me, you didn't scream. I would assume it was the same with Itachi-sama. You let me approach you and even smiled at us. That isn't something a normal human could do."
"Why not?" the blond asked innocently. "You guys saved my life!"
"But regardless of what our intentions may be, humans are wary of us," Katsuyu sighed. "When they see our massive forms, they fear us before allowing themselves to understand us. But you didn't, and you even interacted with us as though we were friends."
"I don't think it's much of a big deal…" he scratched the back of his head in slight embarrassment at the compliments Katsuyu was throwing his way.
"It may not seem like it to you, but to us it is," she giggled lightly, feeling fond of the young boy.
"Then if you're so huge, where do you usually go?" Naruto asked. "There aren't any trees your size so wouldn't you always be out in the opening?"
"Oh, no, no. We Shoukanjuus have our own villages, you see!"
"Really?" Naruto asked with wide eyes before he recalled how many times the word village was mentioned in Itachi's and Katsuyu's conversation. Was that what they were referring to? Their own Shoukanjuu village?
"Yes. Every Shoukanjuu has their own origins, but only A-rank and higher Shoukanjuus live there to keep the order. Each village is hidden, just like you humans'. In our village, the trees are twice as tall as us."
"Seriously?" Naruto asked in disbelief before he froze upon one specific word the slug had said. "Wait… just now, you said A-ranks and higher?"
"Yes," Katsuyu responded as though nothing was wrong with what she had just said. "Each village is led by the most powerful ranking Shoukanjuu to ensure our protection. My village is led by Tsunade-sama, an S-rank Shoukanjuu… though she is often away." The gastropod groaned upon that, her body deflating as she exhaled the air stored in her lungs. "Itachi-sama was supposed to receive the title to lead his village, but he rejected it and gave it the position to his cousin, Shi–"
"Wait, wait!" Naruto frantically waved his hands to interrupt the slug. "Are you telling me that Itachi is an S-rank?!"
"Yes." Katsuyu tilted her head in confusion. "Did he not tell you?"
"N-no…I thought you guys are…A-ranks…?" His voice came out with uncertainty as he eyed the Shoukanjuu.
"I am, but not Itachi-sama," Katsuyu said before she paused. Her eyes flickered around their surroundings, as though sensing something as she turned to the cave entrance.
"Itachi-sama! Welcome back!"
Hearing Katsuyu's call, Naruto looked up to see Itachi, now in a hound sized weasel form, strolling into the cave with silent steps.
'I didn't even sense him—no, more importantly…S-rank?' The blond haired teen stared at Itachi blatantly. 'Wait what rank did she—… eh?' He remembered back to Haku's book which he had eagerly read. Itachi…the weasel Shoukanjuu that had treated his wounds and allowed him to sleep with him… is an S-rank?
"Have you prepared the seal?" Staring blankly, Naruto had to take a couple of seconds before the raven's words finally sank in.
"Y-yeah," he stumbled dumbly in his words as he showed Itachi the seal he just drew.
For a moment, Naruto could have sworn the weasel seemed rather shocked, but it was gone so quickly that he dismissed it as his imagination.
"Where did you learn such seal?" Itachi asked. He tore his gaze from the seal and stepped around the blond boy, heading for the pile of clothes he had forgotten was there.
"I was left with many of my dad's scrolls. This seal is from one of them," Naruto replied, unable to tear his eyes away, still having difficulties processing the slug's words.
"Once you're finished, we'll be ready to go," Katsuyu informed him as Naruto turned to her. He wanted to ask her again for a confirmation of whether he had heard about Itachi being an S-rank was correct, but only managed a meek nod.
When he turned back to Itachi, his jaw literally hit the ground. Standing before him was a pale male, looking around the age of eighteen and completely dressed in the clothes that were once lying abandoned on the cavern floor. The human in front of him looked decidedly impassive, his black hair tied into a low ponytail and ominous red eyes staring holes into his head. He would have almost looked beautiful to any other person.
A flash of the blurred memory of his dark haired rescuer resurfaced in his mind, and Naruto's eyes widened in shock.
"You were the one…!"
He nearly choked as his mind recalled the book's description of S-ranks being able to transform into human. However, seeing something so otherworldly in real life was completely different than from reading out of a book.
"I-Itachi?" He whispered hesitantly as the older teen—or rather, Shoukanjuu, stepped around him.
"Shall we go?" Katsuyu asked, snapping the blond from his daydream as the boy flushed in embarrassment for being caught staring and quickly jumped to his feet with his bag in his hands. The slug only laughed, knowing the full effect Itachi's tended to have on both females and males. It wasn't a rare sight after all.
"Naruto-kun," Itachi spoke calmly as he turned to face Naruto. "Have you learned chakra control?"
"You mean…" Naruto hesitated. "As in tree walking and stuff?"
"No," Katsuyu shook her head. "Itachi-sama meant masking your chakra."
"B-ranks' senses are parallel to that of an average Chuunin's and many of them in this area are sensor types," Itachi explained as his crimson eyes shifted to the blond. "The only way to pass through the forest unnoticed is to mask your chakra and scent."
"Even my scent?" Naruto asked as he panicked a little. He had no idea how to mask his chakra… and more importantly, he didn't even know there was such a thing as masking his scent. Was something like that even possible?
When Itachi saw the frown on the young human's face, he silently walked over to the boy. The Shoukanjuu held out his hand as chakra burned at the tip of each of his five fingers. Naruto blinked. Just as he was about to question what the raven was trying to do, Itachi slammed his hand into the human's gut. Naruto choked as he felt his body flare up. For a moment, he almost thought he was going to be burned alive, but the sensation left as soon as it came. He staggered back before he caught himself and regained his balance. He looked up at Itachi, then to his stomach where those pale fingers had jabbed.
"W-what…?" He was broken off by a series of coughs.
"I've inserted some of my chakra into your body to temporarily control your chakra flow," Itachi said as he watched the light glow of chakra surrounding the human fade. "In a fair bit of time, my chakra will conceal you, so long as you don't attract much attention and perform any jutsus."
Naruto looked at Itachi before his gaze trailed down to his hands. He clenched and unclenched them. He didn't feel any different, but if the Shoukanjuu had said so, then he definitely believed that to be true.
"Thank—" The blond looked up, only to see that Itachi had already leaped out of the cave with Katsuyu riding on his shoulder. He hurriedly followed after, pushing chakra to his feet to scale down the steep slope before arriving to the forest below.
"Woah…" That was the first thing Naruto could say as he leaned back just so he could look at the enormous trees. He had thought the ones he had seen at the teleportation point big… but none of them could even compare with what he was seeing right before his eyes. From above, this place looked like any ordinary forest. But now standing in it, Naruto couldn't help but shiver at the eerie vibe he was getting from the place. The giant trees were blocking out the sunlight, making the area rather dark and chilly. The humidity was even higher than the cave due to the water vapour trapped in the air by the trees.
When something cold and wet unexpectedly fell onto his shoulder, Naruto reacted by whipping out his kunai, which was hidden inside his sleeve. He thrust his weapon towards his shoulder while turning at the same time, only stop upon a familiar voice reaching his ear.
"Naruto-kun, calm down! It's just me." Naruto stared at the petite Katsuyu resting on his shoulder. He instantly lowered the offensive weapon.
"Katsuyu-nee-chan?" he nearly choked before he looked around, wondering where she had come from. And Itachi—he hadn't seen him after they had entered the forest.
"Don't worry. Itachi-sama will be watching over us nearby," Katsuyu said, reading the human's oh-so-expressive eyes as she gestured towards the darkness which would lead them deeper into the forest. "Shall we go? You are in a hurry, yes?"
Naruto nodded. As he began heading for the direction the miniature A-ranked Shoukanjuu pointed towards, he couldn't help but look around, hoping to spot sight of the weasel-turned-human. Even though Katsuyu confirmed that Itachi was around, he couldn't pinpoint the weasel's location at all, and the thought of being watched without his knowledge was a bit uncomfortable. He shuddered at the thought of the weasel being his enemy. He didn't need to be a veteran tamer to see the large difference between their abilities.
'This is an S-rank…' the young human thought to himself. 'I wonder if Kakashi-sensei or Jjii-chan would be able to sense him.' When the blond caught his thoughts wandering, he furiously shook his head to knock them all out.
His first priority was sealing a Shoukanjuu. He didn't have the time or luxury to be distracted now!
Concentrating back on his surroundings, Naruto glanced around the unnerving forest that was without even the slightest sound from birds or insects. He aimlessly walked around, having no ideas in mind as he tried to find something, anything that might indicate a Shoukanjuu being nearby. As time slowly passed, Naruto found himself growing more and more restless. Without being able to see the sky, he had no idea how long had passed. For all he knows, it might even be nearly…
"Don't worry, Naruto-kun," Katsuyu said to the boy reassuringly. "It has only been about an hour and a half. You have more than enough time."
"How do you know?" Naruto asked, curious as to how the small slug could tell.
"Just call it an instinct that we have," she chuckled light-heartedly. "We could always tell the time from the feel of the changing air."
The blond nodded. Although he didn't exactly understand, he didn't question anymore. As he debated on which direction to head for, a particular tree in the distance caught his eyes. He wasted no time leaping over the large roots budged out from the ground as he made his way over to the blemished tree.
"Wow!" Naruto reached out and slowly ran a finger over the old scar embedded in the tree. It looked like something sharp had torn through there.
"Naruto-kun, do you know the fundamentals when looking for a Shoukanjuu?" Katsuyu asked, breaking the blond from his admiration.
"Fundamentals?" he asked as he remembered a particular lesson Iruka had taught them back in the Academy.
"Pay attention to your surroundings, as you may find traces of Shoukanjuus that dwell in the area. Shoukanjuu tracks can tell us many things, such as the approximate age, species and size."
"Our teachers taught us about tracks," Naruto slowly said as he looked back to the claw mark. "He said that we can tell everything about a Shoukanjuu through the tracks they leave behind." He brushed his hand over the scar in the tree. Whatever had made this, it was long gone. The peeling bark and hardened sap around the wound has told him that this scar was made months ago.
"That is correct, but environment is also a fundamental. Has he taught you those?"
"Environment?" Naruto took his time thinking over the lectures Iruka gave them, only to come up with a blank. "No…I don't think so…or maybe he did. I wasn't exactly the best student," he admitted sheepishly as he remembered to the times he would sleep through class due to sheer exhaustion from his training.
"Look at the trees around you, Naruto-kun," Katsuyu said patiently.
"What about them?" he asked, but did as he was told, his blue eyes scanning his surroundings.
"The environment shapes the Shoukanjuu in the area. A place with high humidity and frequent drizzle is a perfect home for water elements while dry, rocky terrains are perfect for earth elements."
"Then this place is…" Naruto glanced at all the trees around them before a frown tugged on his lips. "Umm… water?" he guessed. After all, it's very damp and chilly in this place.
"That would be partially correct, but water element Shoukanjuus are not the main residents that live within this forest. Look around you once more, carefully," Katsuyu instructed.
Naruto looked again, but couldn't see anything special about the place aside from the ridiculously tall trees.
"The trees, Naruto-kun." The slug used her head to gesture to the nearest tree. "What do you see in the trees?"
"They're big," was the blond's instant reply.
"Yes. When you're unsure of what kind of Shoukanjuu dwells in a forest such as this one, look at the tree," Katsuyu said as she hopped off of the boy's shoulder and slithered over to one of the larger trees.
"As I have said before, the environment shapes the Shoukanjuu. If they are able to live here, it must mean that the environment is suitable for them. The first important thing for a Shoukanjuu is cover. Danger always lurks around for us. If we meet an opponent we cannot win against, we must find a safe hiding place. By measuring the height and distance between the trees, you can tell the average size of the Shoukanjuu that lives here. The tree must be taller than them for a good coverage, and the space between each tree must be wide enough for them to move around swiftly without any obstacles. Then if you look at these trees…" she trailed off.
Naruto gazed up at the tall trees, then looked at the distances between each ones. He didn't notice before since the trees were so big, but there was quite the distance between each ones.
"That means they're huge!" He gapped at realization.
"Indeed." Katsuyu nodded. The slug climbed onto the bark of the tree and slithered horizontally around it, leaving a trail of slime behind her until she completed a full circle. "Look at the thickness of this tree."
Naruto did as Katsuyu told. He walked around the tree to get a good idea of the thickness.
"With a tree as thick as these, you can tell that the Shoukanjuus in this area specializes in raw power. As Shoukanjuus grow, they at some point would need to sharpen their fangs and claws. If the trees aren't sturdy enough to withstand it, the forest will die."
"But couldn't a small one also live here?" Naruto asked. "I mean…it's just the plants right? With a forest as huge as this one, wouldn't it fit small ones too?"
"No." Katsuyu said patiently, never once expressing any sort of irritation at the clueless boy. "You may find rare small Shoukanjuu from time to time, but a forest such as this wouldn't be the ideal living condition for them. The trees are too far apart, and there are rarely any shrubs around." Naruto looked around and realized that it's true. There are hardly any bushes unlike the C-rank area where he was teleported to. "If faced with danger, they won't have the time to hide as the trees are spaced too far apart. Even if they have the time, the enemy could easily spot them without the various types of vegetation a denser forest could provide. And since large Shoukanjuu could only live in places such as these, any smaller Shoukanjuu would be target as a quick meal."
"I-is that so?" the blond gulped at the slug's words. If the Shoukanjuu were really as big as he imagined from the information he had just gained, then wouldn't the term meal apply to him as well?
Naruto was snapped out of his thought when Katsuyu hastily bounced back onto his shoulder. Before he could ask what was wrong, he froze upon the faint, squeaking sound coming from the distance.
He reflexively got into the typical Academy stance and pulled out his kunai. He stood still, his eyes slowly examining his surroundings as he waited for the attack. When nothing came, he concentrated chakra to his feet and ran up a tree. He leapt from branch to branch, his footsteps as light as he could make them as he headed towards where he had heard the sound come from. He listened to the wind, sniffing the air for any unnatural scent, his eyes trained to pick up on anything that moved.
When he arrived into a peculiar clearing, Naruto's keen nose instantly caught the stench of blood and rotting flesh. Skidding to a quick stop, he hid himself inside the hollow of a tree. He could hear the sounds clearly now, and from the presence he felt, it was right beside him. Tightening his hold over his kunai, he slowly reached out and pulled the leaves apart. When he laid eyes on the source of the heavy, metallic smell of blood, his face twisted in disgust.
"What is that…?" he gulped as he glowered at the bloody corpse of a hoofed Shoukanjuu. He couldn't make out the head from the tail since the flesh has been brutally ripped apart. Only a small speck on the red-stained skin told him that the creature once had purple fur.
On the corpse were two brown-furred little balls. Though Naruto couldn't make out what they were, he knew that those were still alive as they were moving.
"That's…" Katsuyu crawled onto the teen's soft blond hair so she could get a better look. The minute she spotted the brown little balls, she gasped. "Naruto-kun you must run, now!"
"Huh?" Naruto turned to Katsuyu when a dark shadow suddenly engulfed them. He instantly reacted by leaping away as a large hand smashed the tree into a mass of splinters.
A deafening roar resonated through the air, causing Naruto to cover his ears so that his eardrums wouldn't burst. When he looked up, his blue eyes widened at the large Shoukanjuu that stood to three meters tall with blackened skin and snow white fur.
"That is an Onba!" Katsuyu cried. "Although it doesn't use any elemental jutsus, it tears through its opponents with sheer power by compressing chakra into their paws and releasing them all at once when the contact is made to increase the destructive power!"
Naruto gasped as the Onba's arm swung down towards him.
His mind screamed for him to get away, but his body told him that he wouldn't make it in time with the speed the creature was coming down to him at. Hurriedly performing a Kawarimi no Jutsu*, Naruto switched places with a log. From a safe distance, he watched as the log he left in his place was smashed into chips and swallowed nervously at the thought of what could have happened if he hadn't made it out in time.
"Naruto-kun! To the trees! Hurry!"
Naruto glanced to Katsuyu, unable to understand her desperate shout until the ground under his feet rumbled. Deciding to listen to the slug, he quickly leapt onto a giant tree. When he heard the crackling sound of earth, he turned to find the ground beginning to cave in from around the radius of the Onba's fist drilled into the earth. Sharp pieces of rocks shot up and debris were sent flying everywhere as the damage quickly spread. The blond clutched onto a branch to steady his center of gravity as the ground beneath the tree he was in broke apart. The soil caved, causing the tree to lose its support as it began to collapse.
Seeing this, Naruto quickly ran up the tree, dodging a shard of rock before leaping onto a larger and steadier looking one. By the time the earth had stopped rumbling, Naruto looked down, his eyes rounding into the size of saucers as he took in the damage that had been dealt. A yard away was the white-furred Shoukanjuu, standing within the crater and snarling fiercely at his direction.
"Amazing…" Naruto said in awe as the Onba jumped out of the crater and dashed towards him. Determination flickered in his eyes. "It's decided. I'll tame it!"
"Naruto-kun?" Katsuyu squeaked, but was ignored as the teen performed a hand sign.
"Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu*!" He shouted as countless of solid replicas appeared within puffs of smoke.
"Kage Bunshin…" Itachi, who was watching from a tall tree in the distance, mumbled as the multiple clones charged towards the Onba. If he remembered right, Kage Bunshin was at least a Jounin level technique in human's standard.
He observed as the blond's clones applied various tactics against the Onba. Naturally, with the Onba's superior taijutsu skill and strength, it easily flicked all the clones aside like flies. When nearly most of the clones were gone, the real body hurled out the kunai in his hand.
"Kunai Bunshin no Jutsu*!" The weasel heard the human yell. The kunai multiplied, turning from one into a thousand that flew towards the target. Itachi closed his eyes with a light sigh, already knowing the outcome. The Onba seemed to know as well, as it didn't bother swatting away the weapons. It just stood there, welcoming the kunai as they stabbed into its skin.
"What's going on?" Naruto gawked at the beast, whom didn't seem the least affected with all the kunai lodged in its flesh. It stood still, glaring intensely at the blond. Then, with a roar, the kunai were pushed out by the tightening of the Shoukanjuu's strong muscles. The weapons clattered to the ground uselessly without even the slightest trace of blood on the sharp tip.
"Onba has a very thick layer of skin. Normal weapons and taijutsu attacks will have no effect on it," Katsuyu informed him helpfully as Naruto jumped back when the Onba's long claws sliced by him, barely missing by inches. The blond gasped as the front of his shirt was sliced open by the sheer wind pressure the deadly-sharp claws gave off.
"Naruto-kun," Katsuyu's body glowed in green chakra, blood slowly beginning to bleed from the cut on the boy's chest, proving he did not get away unscathed. "It's best to attack from long range with ninjutsu!"
"But I don't have any—" Naruto paused as he remembered the one jutsu he had been trying to master. Keyword: trying.
'But that's my only chance,' he thought, looking down when the stinging pain on his chest vanished. Naruto was amazed to find the deep gash on his chest gone. "Alright!" He formed more clones to hold the Onba off so he could pull out to a safe distance. Concentrating hard on gathering chakra to his palm, Naruto gritted his teeth as a spiralling ball of chakra began to spiral into view from thin air.
"That jutsu is—!" Katsuyu choked in shock at the sight.
In the distance, Itachi's emotionless mask shattered as he stared at the forming chakra ball. But However, as soon as it was about the size of his fist, it exploded, sending out a blast of wind that knocked Naruto meters away.
"BAAA!" the Shoukanjuu's voice thundered throughout the entirety of the forest, and Itachi slowly drew out two kunai and clasped them between his knuckles, bracing himself.
"Naruto-kun, look out!" Katsuyu screamed.
Chakra spread from the humanoid Shoukanjuu's hand as the Onba's fist headed directly towards the fallen blond. Naruto, unable to do anything in the position he had fallen in, watched in horror as the chakra concentrated knuckles came down at his head. Just as he thought everything was over, the teen saw something black whiz by the corner of his eye. A split second later, the deadly fist was pulled away with a blood curdling cry of the Onba's tearing through the entire land.
Naruto didn't know what had happened, but he wasted no time getting back to his feet and ran as fast as he could. When he got to a safe distance, he realized why the Onba was in pain. It was injured, with crimson blood spilling from two different spots over its snow white fur. The first place was right in the elbow of the arm it had tried to attack the boy with, explaining why it had abruptly pulled away. The other was the Onba's knee which was bleeding so heavily that its legs were shaking from the stress of supporting its body's massive weight.
The blond blinked, unable to comprehend what had happened until he saw something glistening under the harsh sunlight. Upon a closer look at the wounds, the teen saw two rounded handles of kunai sticking out from within the thick mass of fur.
"Please do not worry Naruto-kun. Itachi-sama has it covered," Katsuyu explained as Naruto nodded, his eyes never leaving the weapons that had immobilized the creature.
"Kage Bunshin no jutsu!" he called, forming the needed hand signs while his clones appeared beside him.
'That kunai has chakra surrounding it,' Naruto realized when he examined the kunai handles, able to see a small trace of chakra that still lingered around it. To put such intense chakra into a weapon that was not a chakra-absorbent blade was truly a feat. That the chakra even remained around for so long after leaving the owner's hand was unheard of. He had never seen anyone do it before and without a doubt knew that he could never perform something like that.
'Itachi is really amazing,' he thought before a smile lifted the corners of his lips. "I may not be able to pull something like that off, but I can do it my way. Let's go everyone!" Naruto charged at the Onba with his clones, all of them pulling out shuriken and kunai out from his weapons' pouch.
"Ha!" Naruto yelled as he dodged the Onba's first swipe and stabbed his kunai into the shoulder of its injured arm. However, before he got the chance to push the weapon further in, the Onba thrust a large fist towards him. Although Naruto leapt back in time, the force of the attack had got him straight in the face and sent him flying meters away.
"Naruto-kun, are you alright?" Katsuyu asked in concern when Naruto groggily climbed back to his feet. His entire head was spinning and his face hurt, so much that he could barely feel the warm fluid trickling out of his nose.
"A-ah…I'm fine!" Naruto said as he looked up at the Onba that was busy trying to get rid of his clones. He could see it. That attack just now…despite how close to the Onba he was, he could see it coming towards him.
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"
Naruto charged forward again with his new army. He re-joined the fray with his clones swarming around the Onba like ants trying to overcome a large enemy. Each time he engaged in another round of combat with the Shoukanjuu, Naruto felt his body growing lighter and lighter despite the blow he received in turn. He found himself beginning to move faster, growing more adapted to his opponent as he fought. He could see the attack patterns, the speed with which he moved, and even began estimating how soon he needed to dodge through experiencing every punch and every single sting of the Onba's claws that had sliced through his skin.
'If Itachi hadn't taken down two limbs…' Naruto shuddered. He knew that he was only winning because of the fact that Itachi had made his life easier by taking out one of the creature's arms and legs. If the Onba had been at its best condition, then the blond wouldn't stand a chance.
Naruto quickly grabbed the hands of two of his clones just as the Onba raised its paw. Matching his timing to the coming attack, the clone flung the real body into the sky just as the fist swung down. Naruto flew over the Onba's head and witnessed its vicious punch destroying more of his clones along with most of the ground. However, from above, Naruto could see that the crater formed was nowhere as large, meaning that it couldn't use another attack on the first's scale without adding further stress on its kunai-embedded leg.
"Hey! Over here!" Naruto yelled as he hurled out a shuriken which grazed by the Onba's face, causing the beast to snap its head to its right while Naruto dropped down its left. He drove his kunai down into the other shoulder, this time in the one with undamaged arm. He inaudibly cursed when it still didn't reach deep enough despite borrowing the force of his fall.
"Onbuu!" the Shoukanjuu growled as dozens of his clones seized the beast's injured and immobilized arm. With a hard tug, they began to pull its enormous body down. Naruto held onto the Onba's fur tightly as he dislodged the kunai before stabbing it down again, right in the exact place. This time, his kunai pierced through the rest of the untouched skin and cut right into its flesh.
"I got it!" the blond felt his blood pump in excitement as he managed to inflict the first wound on the B-rank.
The Onba shrieked as blood began oozing from the wound, merging with the rest of the rivulets flowing from the other gashes. Taking his chance, Naruto spun in the air, performing a roundhouse kick as he smashed his feet against the back of the Onba's head. The blow knocked the giant beast onto its injured leg, and with the hard tugs from his clones, he successfully smashed the Onba to the ground.
"Kunai—" Naruto hurled his kunai, his duplicates following his example, "—Kage Bunshin no jutsu!"
As thousands of kunai showered down on the Onba, Naruto shot out some shuriken along. He waited until the Onba popped out the weapons embedded in its skin before throwing out a second round of kunai.
The Onba screeched in pain as the new kunai pierced the old wounds created from the previous hail. Despite the amount of kunai, only two or three seemed to have gotten the lucky hit into the Onba's flesh. Although it wasn't a lot, it was enough for now. He repeated the process over and over until the Onba was standing with at least ten kunai embedded in its body. From the looks of things, the ones that pierced into its actual flesh weren't something the Onba could remove by simply tensing its muscles.
Naruto was nearly on his knees as he shakily stood. His breath was quick and shallow as his leftover clones disbursed; he was exhausted while the Onba seemed as though it could still go on. It tore out all the kunai from its flesh and let out a mighty roar in the blond's direction. Knowing that it was trying to intimidate him, Naruto stood on his ground, meeting the beast's glare. The Onba tried to take a step forward, only to let out a quivering growl as blood continued to spill from the deep puncture wound on its leg created by Itachi.
"Damn it…I don't have much chakra left," Naruto panted heavily as he collapsed onto his knees. Something was wrong. Kage Bunshin and Kunai Bunshin were his signature moves. He'd been practicing with those two jutsu since he was eight so he knew this shouldn't be his limit. For some reason, his chakra was lower than usual…
The blond looked over to the seal he had drawn over his shoulder. Something was wrong. Something was definitely not right with his body. Naruto grimaced at the pain coursing through his veins. He slowly glanced down to find spots of blood staining his torn and dirty clothes.
"Eh?" he stared at his body, realizing for the first time how many scratches and gashes he had received. He was so focused on trying to bring down the Onba that he didn't even realize how serious the injuries he had gotten were.
"Naruto-kun!" Naruto quickly looked up at Katsuyu's call to find the Onba struggling to run towards him with only the support of one leg.
"It's not going to go down with only kunai," Naruto growled in annoyance as he slowly pulled himself to his feet.
The Onba growled irately at him, baring its sharp fangs as Naruto got into stance.
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" he called, the area immediately being covered by thick smoke. "Work, goddamit!"
Itachi sat in the tree with another kunai prepared in hand as he watched a fuuma shuriken* fly out of the smoke created when Naruto had formed his clones. The Onba roared and with its better hand, it slammed its palm into the side of the fuuma shuriken, sending it flying upwards towards the sky. When five Narutos dashed out of the smoke, they began throwing shuriken towards the Onba's head which were all easily deflected by the beast's thick fur coat.
With a determined howl, it ran even faster despite the pain it was experiencing and slammed its palm right into the blond's.
Itachi watched calmly as the Narutos screamed in pain before all five of them vanished into white puffs of smoke. Just when a look of confusion crossed the Onba's face, a ball of chakra slammed down into the back of its neck by the real Naruto.
"Rasengan!" the boy thrust his hand forward, applying all the chakra he had into that one attack. Although the Rasengan was weak and broke apart after only a few seconds of contact, that was enough to thrust the Onba into the shuriken embedded ground. The Onba howled as the star shaped weapons stabbed into its chest, while Naruto screamed as he was blasted back from the Rasengan's dispersal, his back coming in painful contact with a fallen tree.
The Onba let out a few heavy breaths before its head fell limply onto the ground. Its eyelids slid down, finally unable to hold up any longer as its mind slipped away from the realm of consciousness.
"I see… He used the smoke as coverage to transform into a fuuma shuriken, knowing the Onba would push it away. As he prepared the Rasengan within the air, his clones scattered the ground with normal shuriken, causing damage and also attracting its attention," Itachi murmured thoughtfully.
"Naruto-kun, you must seal it before it regains its senses!" Katsuyu ordered as Naruto somehow managed to limp over to the unconscious Onba. Unable to speak due to his lungs still trying to recover from the hard impact that had knocked the air out of his lungs, he responded with only a nod, wheezing. He formed the ram sign, the seal on his shoulder beginning to glow with the chakra he had stored.
"Onbu!" a pair of squeaky voices suddenly echoed through the air, causing Naruto to pause in the middle of his jutsu. He looked up to see two furry balls of brown dashing their way. It took Naruto a couple of seconds before he recognized the two creatures as the same things eating that torn corpse of a Shoukanjuu.
"What…" Naruto wheezed, "what are those?" He asked, but his question was answered when he saw the two small creatures run over to the fallen Onba.
"Onbu?" one called timidly as it tried to shake the Onba with its tiny paws.
"Onbuu! Onbu!" the second one was nudging against the Onba's face gently.
The word horrible couldn't even describe what Naruto felt as he watched the display. His stomach twisted when he saw the two small baby Shoukanjuus as they began to weep. Very slowly, he released the hand sign needed for the sealing. The glow in his seal vanished.
"Katsuyuu-nee-chan, do you think you can heal that Onba?"
Katsuyu glanced at Naruto, but said nothing as she leaped off his shoulder and began slithering over to the Onba. However, she was soon stopped by the two smaller Onbas, whom began snarling and barking at her.
"You won't get a second chance," a voice spoke from behind. Naruto didn't need to look to know that it was Itachi. He watched the two frightened cubs as Katsuyu tried to reassure them that she had no intention of hurting their parent.
"It's fine," Naruto smiled a bit when Katsuyu finally seemed to have gotten through to the two younglings. He tried to walk up to see if he could help with anything, but stumbled due to his lack of strength.
"You'll never be able to become a Tamer if you have such weak resolution."
"I'll become a Tamer, no matter how many exams I'll have to take," Naruto said confidently. "But I can't seal a Shoukanjuu who is fighting for its family."
That was right. Now that Naruto thought back, it was probably because of those two little ones that the Onba attacked him. Katsuyu's reaction upon seeing those cubs must have made her realize as well, which was why she told him to run. The Onba probably thought that Naruto was a threat to its children.
"With one as powerful as that, you'll be able rise quickly in your reputation as a Tamer."
"That might be true, but the only reason I was able to beat it was because you guys helped me. I didn't win through my own strength." Naruto knew that without Katsuyu constantly healing him and Itachi's aid, he would be dead by now.
"Besides…" He glanced to the two little Onbas that were finally letting Katsuyu through. It was clear that they didn't do it out of trust, but rather desperation for the large Onba's survival. "I know how it feels to be alone without anyone you can depend on."
Itachi allowed his eyes to trail to the boy before a very faint smile slipped over his lips. 'They're so alike,' he thought to himself before gazing to the setting sun.
"Naruto, seal me."
"Itachi-sama?" Katsuyu turned to her fellow Shoukanjuu, being the only one able to react as Naruto was gawking at the S-ranked weasel with a stunned expression.
The flabbergasted teen was speechless, letting the weasel's word somewhat sink in.
"Seal me as your Shoukanjuu, Naruto," Itachi repeated as Naruto's eyes grew wide before he broke out into a fit of laughter.
"For a moment I thought you were…" His laugh died when he saw the apathetic look on Itachi's face. "...serious." He cleared his throat and coughed into his hand, feeling embarrassed and rude for laughing.
"Itachi-sama?" Katsuyu gazed at Itachi, silently waiting for his answer to her unasked question.
"I wish to see that path you chose to walk as a Tamer," Itachi stated coolly. "I will swear my loyalty to you. No matter what your decision may be in the future, I will always remain by your side for as long as our souls are connected."
"Uh…I-I um…" Naruto spluttered unintelligently before sneaking a look at Katsuyu. Catching the boy's eyes, the gastropod turned to Naruto and gave a small nod of her head.
"Shoukanjuus swearing their loyalty to you is the greatest gift they can ever give. Please consider wisely before giving your answer, Naruto-kun."
"But you're an S-rank and I'm not even…" Naruto trailed off unsurely as he glanced into those wine red eyes.
"Rank of the Shoukanjuu and Tamer does not matter," Katsuyu said softly. "Itachi-sama has sworn his loyalty, meaning he acknowledges you as a Tamer."
"Please do not question Itachi-sama's decision, Naruto-kun, or yourself. When a Shoukanjuu has sworn its loyalty, you must only reply positively or negatively. Questioning their decision is a sign of distrust and that is something a Tamer and a Shoukanjuu should never have," Katsuyu explained gently, keeping her voice strangely hush as though she didn't want to break this precious moment.
"I…" Naruto shifted his weight on his feet, feeling a strange warmth dwelling inside his chest.
Noticing the sky dimming, Katsuyu looked up and realized how half of the sun had disappeared into the horizon.
Naruto stared at Itachi, who stood still, waiting patiently for his answer. Letting out the breath he didn't know he had been holding, Naruto grinned as the memory of Itachi saving him from the river and keeping him warm returned to his mind.
"Yes," he finally said that very word that would change the course of his life. He couldn't wipe off the broad smile on his face, and felt warmth burst inside his chest when Itachi too smiled. Although it was faint, the sign of happiness was definitely there. Naruto lifted his hand and formed the seal of ram. "I'll be counting on you, Itachi-nii-chan." A foxy grin graced the boy's face momentarily. The seal on his shoulder glowed a bright, white light.
"Itachi," a light voice spoke gently, resonating within Itachi's ears as the image of an all too familiar blond man flashed into his vision.
"Itachi," the raven spoke his name with the same gentleness matching the one from his memory as the smile of the man in his mind faded into darkness. "You only need to call me that when you are in need of my assistant."
Dashing forwards, Naruto gathered all of his chakra into his palm. He pushed his hand into the weasel's chest as an identical seal as the one on Naruto's shoulder spread from his hand and over the weasel's body.
"Fuuin*!" Naruto withdrew his hand and watched as Itachi stagger back at the foreign chakra invading his system.
The Shoukanjuu crushed down his body's reflex to defend against the foreign chakra, allowing his body to embrace it instead. It was a warm and pleasant feeling which Itachi hadn't experienced for too long. Something akin to a smile pulled at the corners of his lips. He slowly closed his eyes as his body began to scatter, turning into black crows as the birds were sucked into the illuminating seal on Naruto's shoulder.
"Crows?" Katsuyu watched the last bird flew into the human's seal.
The seal continued to glow before it gradually began to turn red. When the light faded away, the markings on the seal completely changed. The seal was printed over the blond's tan skin in a deep red tone. At the center was the word 鼬* with three tomoe surrounding the inner circle with the outer filled by many complicated characters that were simply impossible to read.
"What was that seal?" Katsuyu mumbled to herself before looking at Naruto. That was definitely not a Five Star Seal. She had never heard of a sealing through the medium of crows. "Naruto-kun, that seal you used just now...? Naruto-kun? Naruto-kun!" The slug gasped when she noticed how Naruto had lost his consciousness. Sealing Itachi had drained away the last bit of chakra he had. The human swayed on his feet before his body tipped backward as the boy collapsed out cold on the ground.
Katsuyu rushed towards the blond, but stopped when she sensed a wave of chakra being emitted from the backpack crushed under the blond's limp body. Blue light suddenly wrapped around him and in a flash of blinding light, Uzumaki Naruto was gone.
"Naruto-kun?" Katsuyu looked around before turning to find that the sun had already set.
Kawarimi no Jutsu – Substitution Jutsu
Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu – Multiple Shadow Clone Jutsu
Kunai Bunshin no Jutsu – Kunai Shadow Clone Jutsu. Minato has been shown to use this technique
Fuuma Shuriken – Demon Wind Shuriken
鼬 – The kanji spelling of the word Weasel.
Fuuin – Means Seal or Capture
People live their lives bound by what they accept as correct and true. That's how they define "reality". But what does it mean to be "correct" or "true"? Merely vague concepts ... their "reality" may all be a mirage. Can we consider them to simply be living in their own world, shaped by their beliefs? – Itachi.
Thank you very much for my previous beta Obscuram Raven and my current beta, Zise, for helping me with this chapter! Thank you Zise especially, for giving me pointers and many ways that I could do to improve this story! I must also thank to all the people who reviewed. Your reviews are very important to me, as they tell me if I'm on the right track with this story. I really apologize for not responding to anyone, as I was having some small issues on my side. So from now on, I will do my best to answer any questions you may have, as long as it doesn't include spoilers =D
I hope that everyone enjoyed what they see so far and I look forward to seeing you all again in the next chapter!