The Twisted Reality – Chapter First –

Thus the story begins…

Konohagakure No Sato – Taifuu Shimura

The green leafed tree in the garden had sprouted hazel and dark brown oval shapes, the likes of which his father didn't want him to eat raw. Not that it mattered much to him if they were raw or not, as long as his father told him not to he would not do anything.

The sun's glare wasn't even all that annoying on his skin, but his father had insisted on him wearing a straw hat. It made him uncomfortable and it slipped repeatedly on his face, but it was something tolerable as long as it got him out from the oppressive household.

He didn't know why he actually hated the house. It was a nice villa, in the outskirts of the village but still within the massive wall of Torii and wooden palisades that surrounded Konoha. It held two floors of which the top one was used mostly for bedrooms, while the first one held a comfortable kitchen, dining room and his father's studio.

Recently he had heard his father mention in passing about moving a bedroom downstairs, to avoid the snapping of his frail back in going up and down the stairs. He had snorted at that: his father was a shinobi, a retired one but still one. There was no way mere stairs could defeat him, of that he was sure.

The summer glare did not give up in reaching under his skin, while the repeating noise of cicadas and grasshoppers seemingly blended with the low nursery rhyme he was currently humming to himself. He was twelve years old and according to his father, that would be the last time he'd ever know peace until retirement. His father was usually right about certain things, and that was why for once he had taken care to go outside and play, instead of holing up in his father's studio, pilfering the small library.

He did not belong to any famous clan. The Shimura was just that, a surname. However during the period of the six men cells his Otou-san had been partnered with a Sarutobi, an Uchiha and an Akimichi. It was also there that he had grasped the title of Sandaime Hokage.

The work that had come with that position still plagued his father's dreams, or so he told him repeatedly. He didn't know if that was true or not, but he didn't want to be a Hokage: he'd rather be a cool looking and bad-ass Anbu shinobi with a terrifying mask.

Maybe he could try and take the Fox mask or the Dog one. He shook his head a moment later: he'd probably end up following his father's footstep and take from him the Baku mask. The small mythological creatures that were all but myths had been his babysitters most of the time. His father didn't trust the Genins of the village and he had been told that when he had been an infant, he would cry if anything but a Baku lulled him to sleep.

"Taifuu!"

His father stood outside the door of the villa, his left hand perched on his walking stick while his right hand was in the bracers to keep it still. He had broken it during a fight against Amegakure shinobis, who had used a powerful poison that simply could not be removed from his system without amputating the arm. Instead, he had chosen to take a never ending pain in order to have Fuinjutsu etched bracer on said limb that could stall the poison from circulating.

He couldn't move the arm, but he could do hand signs with the right hand, and that kept him as a shinobi even until he was forced to retire from both the active career and the post of Hokage.

"Coming!" He exclaimed in a loud voice. Standing up he dusted the dirt and the green patches on his black shorts off, before making a run towards his father.

He stopped at the porch's single step, waiting for the scrutinizing gaze of the black haired man to stop roving over his clothes. A quick nod from him and he replied with a smile. Danzo Shimura held half of his face covered in bandages; once more a memory of war and countless battles, yet his face cracked a smile back at the sight of his son heading inside the house with a cheerful scream.

"Hurray! Ramen for dinner!" The raven haired boy's nose sniffed the scent even better than any Inuzuka could, and just for that small burst of emotion, Danzo once more knew who was his pride and joy. A hint of sadness overtook his features for a second, before a slow shaking motion brought the man back to reality, and to the fierce grumbling of the boy's stomach.

He was already seated at the chair with his hands washed when Danzo came in. The housekeeper took only a moment to finish cooking the feast: at least such it was in the boy's eyes. A small frown adorned his features a second later, as the bowls were gently placed in front of him and his father.

"Otou-san? What is that thing?"

"Hijiki," the reply was slow and deliberate as the man split his chopsticks.

"What's that?" He asked again. It seemed greenish, and veggie. Why was he having ramen while his father was having…that? He thought his father would treat himself better than…some sort of moss-like substance.

Danzo raised his only eyebrow, before chuckling deeply from his throat. His left hand slowly moved the chopsticks with expert ease that comes with experience to grab a small piece of the accused green substance.

"This, my son, is what I myself call a treat. Healthy, nutrient food of the highest quality: seaweed."

His father's words were lost to the boy's ears. He merely looked at that type of food with disdain, before pouting.

"Sea…weed? Weeds grow in the sea too? Dad! We don't eat weeds! You said so just yesterday!" He retorted hotly, as a little grin appeared on his father's face.

"You shouldn't eat dirty weeds, Taifuu. Know this however: everything is comestible. The academy will do a better job in instructing you than I could on the matter."

"Yeah right, 'cause the Sandaime Hokage isn't qualified enough to teach me," he replied back bitterly. He could have started earlier, couldn't he? He could have had already a scroll filled with powerful jutsus, superior katas of war or things like that…even a bit of shuriken training. Instead nothing: he had nothing at all.

His father hadn't even said to him a word about what the academy was about, and even with all the little tidbits he had grasped there wasn't enough to give him a clear picture.

Dinner was consumed in silence. At first it had been a game set by his father to see for how long he could keep himself silent and quiet while munching. Later on it had become a routine and few if no words were exchanged at the table.

It wasn't that his father wasn't present. He was just busy enjoying his retirement by working offhandedly for the current Hokage, being a part of his advisor council and all. He shared that position of responsibility with the Yondaime's teammates, but he still insisted on doing everything nearly on his own, which took out most of his free time.

The lady with the pig was kind however, if a bit on the creepy side.

"Brush your teeth and go to bed," his father commented slowly, "Tomorrow you pack up for the academy after all."

"Hai, Otou-san."

Konohagakure No Sato – Katsu Uzuki

She wasn't ready for this. There was no way she was going to be ready on time for this. She was going to be late, damn frigging late, and the fault was going to be hers again. It wasn't completely her fault all the time! It was the clock that was faulty! She was sure of it!

She had barely reached for the fridge that a snappish voice pulled her attention to the side.

"Hey! Don't fret! I cooked for you too. Special occasion and all!" The purple haired woman that was her caretaker exclaimed pointing at the table. For once she sported a brief smile that turned into a frown a second later.

"Why?"

Had her caretaker been someone friendly, usually, then she would have had no problems. She would have understood the gesture as something that friends do, or at least people who like or love each other like family. But she knew this wasn't the case. She was just an orphan with a family name, brought in the household for the extra check that the Hokage delivered monthly to family who sent kids to the academy.

She hadn't even signed her consent for the shinobi academy: it had been implied with her adoption. They wanted someone who could mold chakra, and that was all there was to it. She had never been mistreated, or hated. She hadn't been hit, bullied or in any sort of way forced to do things against her will.

It was just implied that she had to learn how to fend off for herself, by doing small things like chores and cooking. It was nothing grand and certainly nothing worthy of being called mistreatment. It wasn't full out familial love, but as much as it was dysfunctional at best it was still better than the orphanage. If marginally because she didn't have to share the bed.

"I'll be going off on a long term mission," her caretaker, because she refused to even think of her as a mother, spoke slowly.

She eyed the food carefully. Was it poisoned? That was stupid. She hadn't been poisoned at all in the course of her entire 'second' life there. Why start then?

"Stop being paranoid," the purple haired woman added, "I'm going solo. I might not come back. I filed you to be transferred into the academy's dorms for the duration of the program."

She nodded weakly at that reason. It made kind of sense then. It certainly wasn't because the woman didn't trust her around the house. It was kind of funny, at least in the macabre way of the term, how she didn't even seem fazed by her suddenly cold behavior in eating the food.

"Weren't you going to be late?" The woman queried minutes later, her red lips curving into the start of a smirk as the teen's eyes jolted open with a snap, before dashing off once more.

"I wouldn't wear make-up!" She exclaimed from the kitchen, before the blur suddenly returned with two small bags, one per shoulder.

"Ready?" It was the only question to which she answered with a positive smile. She was ready. Soon she'd be freed. No shackles, no parents that were only that in name. Freedom to choose the way to obey, but freedom nevertheless…

She was out of there five minutes later, the keys of the small apartment already handed over. As her eyes settled on the masked form of the Anbu woman with whom she had shared years of life, more as roommates than family, she still managed a bare hint of concern.

"Good luck." She whispered, but having her business face on, Yugao probably hadn't heard her, or if she did she said nothing, disappearing in a twirling of leaves seconds later.

She slowly descended the stairs, eying warily a couple of other academy students like her that would soon enter the building. From there they would be then brought elsewhere within the depths of Konoha's. She had no idea what awaited her, what she knew was that they would take at least three months of in depth training before being given pause.

The academy's terms lasted three months each. Genins were brought forward like leaves to a tree through that method. Afterwards, it was all up to the teachers, to the student, and to luck.

Her aim was chuunin. A work behind a desk, a safe and monthly salary, no need for extra cash, no worries, a family…something normal. She'd marry a civilian and maybe get out of the job and retire after getting a couple of girls.

That was her plan, her life plan.

She subconsciously began to huff, as she realized she had yet to tie her ponytail back in position. She'd leave her hair like that for the moment and take care of it afterwards. It was unruly, and white. Which was just strange when compared to her amber eyes, but still that wasn't the reason she mentally cursed a second later. She had forgotten about the purple dye!

She had been bullied for having white hair once. Called a grandma, an old girl, and she had been pushed so down by that that she had cracked and actually asked her caretaker for something to color her hair: that, or Taijutsu to break the bullies' bones.

The dye had to be reapplied eventually. She just hoped that academy students wouldn't be as immature as the park's bullies.

On the road, she was soon joined by a couple more of students. Nobody talked, but they all moved in the same direction and the nervousness was palpable in the air. Some had their parents follow them, while others tried to act like grown-ups while stifling the tears. Many thought of this as some sort of twisted summer camp.

They would be right, and also so deadly wrong.

A blur of pink hair passed right next to her, soon followed by a patch of red. The self-formed group found itself separating to make room for the two to run through, before whispers finally began to form around subconsciously made groups.

She had seen this sort of behavior around: somehow, some people ended up clicking and talk to one another. Sometimes it was by sheer chance, other times it was for information, but usually it all happened because of a glance, a moment, and then a connection was formed. Humans were creature based on contact, after all.

A moment later her eyes met those of an equally puzzled, but blue eyed children. He was sporting a pair of blurred patch marks on his face, like he had botched a tattoo or had been shoved face front in a can of ink.

His hair was black, and he seemed to be holding only one small backpack, a dull grey color. Not that her dark beige duffel bags were anything stylish or trendy to begin with.

"Seen you somewhere before?" The boy asked. Curiously, his eyes roved over her face, before shrugging with a light frown, "Never mind. You know what awaits us?" He queried with a low voice.

"I don't know," she honestly replied to him. There, she had just thought about connections and there stood someone she hadn't even seen before talk to her. "I think we'll be settled in on the first day?" She tried to suggest, looking hesitantly at the face of the boy next to her turning thoughtful.

Sometimes, you get stereotyped. You either become someone to go ask questions, someone to avoid, or someone not important at all. Sometimes, you become a friend, others a better friend, sometimes you become the best friend. Yet it all happens because by instinct, we know who we'd want to have our back, and who not to.

She mentally scowled at herself. She had to stop reading those books of her caretaker.

"I suppose so," the boy replied, his eyes scanning the rest of the crowd of students, who were now clearly the majority on the street, being so near the academy.

"I'm Katsu," she replied, trying to make a small smile while hoping it didn't look too much nervous.

The raven haired boy nodded, replying with a light chuckle, "I'm Taifuu."

A chuunin-sensei was at the gates, gesturing for the students to move in and get in line where feet marks were placed.

"Get in line! Drop your bags in front of you!" The man held a scar across his nose, and his hair was dark brown and cropped in a ponytail. His forehead protector was held on his forehead by a blue strap of cloth. The Chuunin flak vest was a dark green color, meaning he was an active shinobi force and not a bureaucratic one. Those had grey ones with lots of spare pockets.

Taifuu ended up next to her, but in front was a pink haired girl that so much resembled the quick blur that had forced the crowd apart. Where was the red one, however?

"Silence along the rows!" A second voice, coming from a teal haired chuunin, flew through the air, "Welcome to the academy for shinobi of Konohagakure No Sato!"

Some began to stretch their hands uncomfortably, while others were looking around. Wasn't there supposed to be some sort of Hokage-induced speech?

"Unluckily for you, classes this trimester suffered a high number of refuses! Meaning we don't have room for you all!" She bit her lower lip at hearing that. She couldn't be sent back if there was no-one at home waiting for her!

She needed to get into the academy program, or she'd probably have to sleep on the streets for a couple of days. At least as long as it took to get the appointment with the Hokage and an apartment for orphans ready. Or maybe go back to the orphanage.

Even those were options, actually.

"In order to solve that problem, you will now start running around the academy building! Those who drop out first will be sent back home! Right side, everyone!" They couldn't be more than forty-five, maybe fifty students. Some wouldn't make it, but she'd be damned before she let herself fail on something like running.

"Grab your luggage!" Now that was going to be more difficult. She had two small bags, so at least she could balance them. The pink haired girl next to her basically had a small satchel and nothing else; probably because she had been extremely late too.

The first lap went by easily. The chuunin instructors actually set up a march, instead of a full-out sprint. The second lap was at the same pace of the first, and some students began to chatter. The third lap went pretty much the same way, some taunting others to drop because they'd never make it if they were sweating even then. Snickers and insult flung in the air to those who had far bigger bags than others, but neither of the two chuunins actually said anything.

The fourth lap, things changed. The pace set increased drastically, and this time it became difficult to hold the same spot in the formation as she had before. She wasn't alone in this and some fared far worse than others, especially those who had but a single big bag instead of smaller ones.

Still, her breath didn't get ragged. Not yet anyway. It was just a lap. Something she used to do with her caretaker, when she still thought of her as maybe something a bit more than that. The next one came, and the pace was lowered down. Many caught their breaths, some began to pant or slow down to a low walk, ending up nearly last.

She found herself jogging next to Taifuu, who merely nodded to her without another word. She would have smiled back, but all that came was a grunt, probably.

She wasn't sure if she had grunted at him in reply or simply bobbed her head in a sort of stupid way. One of the two had to be the correct thing.

She hoped.

Konohagakure No Sato – Taifuu Shimura

It wasn't like he didn't want to make friends. He knew that teammates would eventually become long last bonds of friendship and everything. However it was just strange how the boy with purple hair tried his best to get close to him. It was like he was doing that on purpose.

Was he maybe one of those secret spies sent to investigate foreign villages that entered in a deep cover to emerge years later?

The pace quickened once more, and the thought left his mind. Nobody had yet dropped and by now he could actually see the slower ones coming in front of him. He had been one of those with the smallest pack, thus he also had been the one to slowly gain on ground on the others. Yet he was still behind some of the others.

He caught sight of a blond blur following a pink one, snappish remarks being made one to another, but he pressed on. If the two had time to spare bickering, then they might drop down before. It was with that sort of thinking that they reached the seventh lap.

The instructors were done playing nice by then. One got in the front of the formation, while the other moved to the back.

"Attention! Listen very well! We will now begin the second phase: attacking. If you lose your bags you will be disqualified, and thus dropped out!"

He had barely the time to slow slightly that the kid to his right got backhanded and thrown on the ground. The boy broke into a startled scream and a cry before the chuunin in question, the teal-haired one, exclaimed.

"Who said you could stop running!? If you stop running, you will be disqualified too starting now!" Those who hadn't been immediately caught by shock managed an initial sprint, before slowing slightly down while keeping the run around the academy.

Another kid fell on the ground pleading mercy. One more got a handful of stones on the face and was sent crying out of the grounds.

He merely closed his ears to the sound, prayed his luck and kept running.

"Present company. Halt!" The exclamation from the scarred chuunin came at the same time as the man appeared straight in front of the formation, with a speed that clearly seemed to tell them: "we could have caught you all if we had wished for it from the very beginning".

"This should be enough. Get your bags or what's left of them and follow me!" The man commanded, starting a light jog that the others were forced to follow, before stopping a couple of meters from the side of the Hokage's mountain.

The teal haired chuunin was already there, as was a red haired woman wearing a chuunin flak jacket of a light grey color. The two moved to the small rocky side that seemed to hold no particularly interesting trait, and then did something. The next moment, a small amphitheater revealed itself carved from the very stone.

"Go and sit down on a free seat!" The scarred chuunin pointed out, "Drop the bags to the left side, my left side!"

The kids scampered quickly to obey, some groaning from the last stretch of effort. The stone rows were cold but smooth, like they had been a natural formation of the water erosion. That couldn't obviously be the case.

He ended up sitting next to a glasses wearing boy with a long dark green coat, while he could see that Katsu had ended up nearly in the first rows, next to a dark raven haired boy and the pink haired blur. Whether it was a natural hair color, or just a dyed one, it was clearly more visible than the rest of the crowd, barring Katsu. There were a lot of 'dead' colors, like autumn brown, dark blond, black. The only blond came from a girl that was seated next to the pink haired one, and it was clearly distinguishable from the others.

Once more, little chatter erupted around him.

"Man, I'm glad I'm in. Mom would have killed me otherwise!" A snarky voice commented in a corner, loud enough for him to hear. He didn't turn around, and when the noise kept on increasing steadily, it was clear that the chuunin instructors were still waiting on something, considering neither tried to move.

The red haired woman in the light grey vest was nervously tapping on the ground, her arms crossed in front of her chest. The teal haired chuunin was instead looking around anxiously, probably not knowing what to do. The scarred one suddenly clenched his fists, moving to the central spotlight of the amphitheater, then, suddenly yelled out loud towards them.

"Silence!"

The assembled kids quieted down all around him, and everyone's gaze was now fixed upon the chuunin in question. A puff of smoke sprouted from the ground next to the chuunin, and a white and red clothed individual emerged from the thick fog. He was wearing the hat with the symbol for fire embedded upon it, and his robe was the typical garb of the Hokage, if not for a thick purple rope that encompassed his waist.

"Yondaime-sama," the three chuunins respectfully bowed to the Hokage, whose golden slit-like eyes merely showed off his amusement at the gesture, with a polite rolling of said orbits.

"No need for all of this. Are these the new students for the academy?" The man's face was a bit pale, as his eyes scanned the children assembled, lingering a bit more on someone than on to another.

Taifuu kept still, until his cerulean blue eyes met with the Hokage's golden ones. He blinked once, in acknowledgement of the familiar figure that usually was a guest of his father, and he could see a mask of impassiveness settle down on the man chosen by his father to become Yondaime.

Orochimaru of the sannin made a brief chuckle, before addressing the entire crowd of children. His voice echoed through the amphitheater's stone walls, making it easier to be head even by the last rows. The first rows were kind of mesmerized, as the Hokage, their Hokage spoke.

"It is a pleasure to welcome you to this academy term," the man spoke neutrally, "As many of you know, it is compulsory for those who can mold chakra to enter the military strength of our fair city."

It was the only way for Konoha to swiftly regain the military prowess lost following the third shinobi war and the Kyuubi's battle aftermath. He knew about it, and he shivered mentally at the thought of what some men and women had to do to keep Konoha on top. Genin teams split and single individuals sent to suicide missions in order to at least give the fake belief that Konoha was still the strongest.

He looked at the Hokage as the man quietly kept on talking.

"However in the shinobi world only those on top are privy to many of its secrets. Fighting styles, techniques, training methods, abilities and the inner working of many things are kept stashed under heavy wraps. The academy is the first step. You will learn the basis of what is to be a shinobi, to be a kunoichi, to be a ninja. You will learn the meaning of the words self-sacrifice, of what is really important and you will learn to survive and thrive in nigh-impossible conditions. Look around you, towards the guy on your right or the girl on your left." The soothing voice was so convincing that he found his eyes already moving to his right and left, before returning towards the Hokage's face.

"Out of all of you, only one third will be promoted in the first term of the academy. The rest will be held back. This will repeat itself six times. There are only a total of six terms of academy, all lasting three months each, with a one month interval between them. Two years of your life are set aside for the greatness of the leaf." There was a low murmur among the crowd now.

They had been told it would be only three months, not two years of training!

"Those of you who fail during the first term will be cut off immediately," Orochimaru proceeded, "those who however do reach the second term will be prohibited from leaving the shinobi system. Barring death or retirement at old age, you will become academy students in three months, and you will remain ninjas until the day you exhale your last breath or you willingly deliver your forehead protector."

He clenched his fists. This was what his Otou-san had gone through?

"From this moment onwards, your lives are forfeited for the village." The Hokage spoke slowly once more, "We are the shadows of the fire. We are the roots of the tree. We are the sword in the darkness. We are shinobi…and you might become one too. We shall see." Finishing his speech the man didn't stay to idly chat, but disappeared after having given a curt nod of the head to the red haired woman.

"Well, now that that's taken care of," the red haired woman stated with a bright smile, "Let's proceed to separate you into groups!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands.

"There are twenty-seven students right about now in your class! You will now be divided into three groups, each made of nine persons! So please, step forward when your name is called. Grab your luggage afterwards and then get in line behind me!" she added, before starting off the list.

Aburame Shino.

A young boy with shades moved to the back of the red haired Chuunin, his entire body covered in a thick coat. How did he manage to run all that way without giving in to the heat?

Chouji Akimichi.

This one was a sort of round sphere of lard and fat. Once more he found himself thinking just how the boy could have managed to make the dash around the academy. He wasn't precisely the most trained one, but he had done some laps too around his house or in the garden. His father usually called him a bundle of energy and yet he was tired. So how did that one too manage?

Hinata Hyuga.

The girl had the pearly white eyes of some sort of sickness, probably. She was startled by her name being called, and quickly scampered behind the others. She too had a coat on, and didn't even appear fazed by the laps.

Kiba Inuzuka.

Now he, he could understand. The boy was clearly at least trained in running. Considering the speed in descending the rows, it was obvious he should have managed the laps easily. Yet why hadn't he seen him to begin with?

Shikamaru Nara.

The pineapple haired boy groaned in frustration as he scratched the back of his head and moved down. He didn't even appear to have been sweating, but he kind of had a lighter than usual fishnet shirt.

Tairyoku Sarutobi.

A pair of glasses thickly placed on the tip of his nose. He was wearing a dark green jacket with a light blue shirt underneath. His eyes were dark brown and pupil-less. A small green baton hung to his side. Was that a weapon? Why did he have one?

Sasuke Uchiha.

Raven haired, arrogant face with a permanent smirk. The Uchiha fan embedded on his back, light blue jacket. It was a rogue Uchiha who gravely wounded his father. He knew he shouldn't be feeling anger at a person because of another's action, but that arrogant smirk was something many in that clan held on their faces like it was a natural part of them.

Sakura Uzumaki.

The pink haired blur had a name finally. The girl smiled as he dashed to get in position. She was wearing a one piece red dress, and her eyes were a nice green color.

Ino Yamanaka.

She was wearing a purple dress, her hair was blond and in a ponytail, and as her name rolled off, the last one was there.

"Group A, follow me!" with that cheerful comment, the red haired chuunin guided her charges away.

Soon, it was the turn of the scarred chuunin. The names were rolled off his tongue with ease, and slowly, nine more students left.

The nine remaining did not need to be called for, and they got in line easily behind the teal haired man. Said man began a light jog towards the eastern gate of Konoha, without a word bringing them out of the gates and towards the forest.

The sun had already reached its highest point, and yet no order of pause was given. The tiredness of the morning laps, added with the heat of the fierce summer day was bringing him to the point where he was actually trying to lick his own sweat off his fingers.

He was the luckiest one. Out of all nine of them, he at least had but a small backpack to use while traversing the forest.

Konohagakure no Sato – Katsu Uzuki

She had foregone one of her bags, while throwing the handle of the second across her neck in order for the weight to go forward and better balance her running. As they entered the forest leaving the road however, she had soon realized that she needed to look at where she was putting her feet. They weren't walking on a trail, or on a normally walked path. It was just like it was the first time for anyone to trespass on said green.

Sometimes she swore she had seen their instructor cut with his kunai some branches, just to drop them on the ground where they could try and get into the students' sandals to harm their feet. Not that it would be needed since her own were hurting like crazy.

She gritted her teeth trying to hold her luggage on her right shoulder. She was in the middle of the line, and nobody was speaking. There weren't even whispers going around. They were exhausted and it wasn't even night. She knew but one boy in the entire group, and the two other girls looked positively destroyed.

One of the two fell on the ground, starting to cry at the pain on her left ankle. It was then that the chuunin stopped the line, and moved to the back to look at the damage.

"Stand up and walk." He addressed the crying girl. Ami seemed to be her name, at least from what the other girl was calling her while trying to soothe her.

"I want to go home!" She whined, her hazel hair being tied behind her neck in a fluffy ponytail that was now unkempt and ragged.

"Stand up or you'll be failed," the man spoke again harshly.

"Her ankle hurts! She can't get up!" Her friend tried to explain, but the instructor merely glared harder.

"Then she fails." The man added drily, "Find your way home." He added returning to the head of the line while the other students looked at him with their eyes wide. If they stopped, they'd be left there in the woods?

"March!" The man yelled, starting to walk once more through the thick undergrowth, "If you stop, you'll be failed immediately." He added.

She gave one quick glance back to the two girls, and then started moving again. She wasn't going to let go of her bag. She kind of hoped the other one was being kept in custody; after all they wouldn't leave it to be stolen right?

Still, the weight of the bag was ever growing and she was getting more tired. She hadn't realized it till then, but as her eyes looked to the other remaining students she came to the conclusion that she was, indeed, the only girl left. Somehow another boy managed to slip and fall forward, scrapping his knees and elbows and starting to cry. The instructor yelled at him, and then failed him before moving on without sparing another glance.

They were twelve years old: they weren't expected not to. Still it was like their instructor wanted them to be something they weren't. Well, she'd give him something: she wouldn't cry or whine about her leg muscles being murderously close to killing her. She wouldn't complain about the bruises on her shoulder or her neck. She wouldn't say a single word. She'd just do like she did at the orphanage: have her mind fly.

That did not work well at all. A merciless root decided to trick her left foot, sending her to sprawl on the ground with a yelp of pain. The bag she had safeguarded with much scrutiny was now dirty and on the warm earth. Still it did minimally cushion her fall. Of that she should be grateful.

"Up and moving!" She wobbled back on her feet, but by then she hissed in pain as her left leg seemed to have been bruised by the rocky surface. They were in a forest and yet there were rocks and wooden splinters scattered around, hidden behind the treacherous leaves that had somehow managed to fall down on the ground.

She couldn't push too much weight on that leg now, and the bag…the bag weighted too much.

She hurriedly lurched forward, one hand going into her bag while moving to grab the only thing she felt that she couldn't leave behind: the first aid kit. The rest was dropped unceremoniously on the ground, the contents somehow scattering around as she didn't even flinch while doing so. It wasn't that many of those clothes were hers to begin with: hand-me-downs from her caretaker. Maybe she had considered it some sort of bond, but she knew better. It was just another way to make end meets and avoid spending money on the useless orphan.

She nearly fumbled down again, forcing her to concentrate once more with the task at hand. She saw a look of smugness on the instructor's face, or at least she thought it was something like that, before nothing was said to her.

As long as she didn't stop, it appeared he wouldn't be saying anything.

Maybe they walked for yet another hour. Maybe it was two or three days without the moon standing up. Truly, she had lost count of time or of visibility, considering the shade of the trees had seemingly grown thicker and blacker. The time was all but lost when they finally reached their destination: a cave.

A cave with cold rugged blankets and a small fire already lit up, but still, it looked like their spot for the night.

"Well. It appears that having dead weight with us slowed us down: tonight we'll have to make a stop here and start walking again in the morning."

Everyone looked warily at the instructor, she had no doubt at least that the others were looking at the man with the same mixture of scorn and anger that she was clearly giving off. If she wasn't, then she knew on to work. There wasn't a sound in the forest but the crackling of the small lit fire in the cave. Yet there were but three blankets surrounding it.

"I'm going to take one blanket for myself," the instructor commented, "Then I'm going to go hunt for my dinner. You can wait here for the night to pass or you can try and look around for food. If you are not here by the time I'm back, however, you will be failed." With those words leaving his lips, the instructor merely took the blanket and left. He disappeared without a sound, leaving but a few sparse leaves to float in the air for mere seconds where he had been a moment before.

Everyone looked at each other wearily, before moving towards the blankets like a single entity. They were really poor patchwork, and seemed to be made to tear apart at the minimum sign of tension. Yet they were also the probably only thing that could keep them warm during the night. Not that they'd risk freezing to death, but it was still chilly at night even in the depth of the summer.

The length of the blankets was a bit on the large size, but it couldn't fit all of them. Two at most, and that was staying really tightly attached one to another.

Now, she hadn't thought about it, but she had kind of expected someone to point out that she was a girl. Usually, it wouldn't have mattered much and she'd have let the sexist comment slide considering it could get her a blanket for the night. However nobody spoke. They all stared at each other with haunted eyes, trying to…to gauge out the others?

Taifuu, that was his name, was the smallest one of the group. Maybe he still had to grow or maybe he was naturally small by nature, but it seemed he wasn't being counted as a menace.

Yet when the kids' eyes fell on him, they fell on something that the boy had on his back.

"Hey." it was the tallest kid of them that spoke, his voice harsh from the continuous walking. His hair was dark brown, cropped on a small and cut off ponytail on the back. His eyes were a light hazel color, and he looked like the stereotype of the bully. Thick arms, broad shoulders and with a bad-ass tattoo made with a ball-pen on his right hand. He was wearing dark green pants and a light yellow jacket that had paled with the years to the point of becoming white. Beneath it he sported a dark fishnet shirt. "What's in your backpack?"

"A book." Taifuu whispered back, taking the backpack from his back and opening it for all to see. There were no secret compartments or pockets. It was just that, a hard cover book with its pages wrapped in plastic, with a thick green leather casing.

The title was Botanical excerpt.

"You came here with only a book?" the question was of disbelief, and came from the second tallest. This kid had light hazel hair and black eyes, yet the disbelief soon morphed into a scowl. He had dark brown pants and a dark green shirt. Slobbered camouflage paint was at his neck: probably the thought of being a shinobi had come with some sort of botched attempt at having the best way to hide in the bushes on. "You came here only with that!?"

"Could have brought something useful you stupid idiot!" The third one to speak was a black haired boy, smaller than the rest but still bigger than Taifuu by at least two inches. He actually had a pair of cargo shorts of a milk-white color, coupled however with a vivid purple shirt. The exclamation came together with a strong push that sent the smaller kid on the ground.

"Hey!" The black haired boy replied, trying to get back up only to be held at an arm's length by the others.

"What are you looking at?" The tallest one queried, looking straight ahead at her. Katsu knew what this was. She was being singled out because she was the weakest. She had been wobbling her way till the spot since a while, and the others had picked it up.

She would most certainly fail, so why have to keep her warm for the night with a blanket?

"N…nothing," she muttered, averting her gaze from the scene. Her left hand went to uncomfortably rub her right elbow joint. "Sh…Shouldn't we…get to know each other instead of fighting?" She tentatively tried.

"What are you stut-stut-stuttering about? You mentally retarded or something?" The blue haired guy spoke with a vicious snarling tone. It was like he enjoyed being the bully. Weren't these guys kids like them too? Why were they acting like that?

"Maybe he's a cloistered boy," the jib came from the fourth boy. Shoulder length dark brown hair, a black shirt and a pair of beige cargo pants. His eyes were dark brown and he seemed to be sporting a light scar on the right side of his cheek. "You know: the type that goes crying mommy after he gets hit once."

"Yeah well…the name's Sutego." Then, with a vividly strong punch, she was sent careening on the floor gasping for air. "You don't need a blanket, since you're going to fail by tomorrow. Neither does the chipmunk." The tallest one snorted in amusement before turning to get a blanket for him: the law of the jungle having chosen him as the chief of the others.

The other three followed their new leader, leaving her on the ground to gasp for air. She felt a pair of hands wrap around her shoulders, and was pulled to a standing position that made her wince.

"You alright?" The boy, Taifuu, queried. His eyes were reflexive and thoughtful, of a clear cerulean blue that made them look like pools of glittering water. That was probably her having a crush. Definitively the case, considering she hadn't known anything about the boy beforehand, and she certainly wasn't going to start crushing before she got out of the academy in one piece.

"Y…Yes," she whispered, "You hurt?" she queried. He had been thrown on the ground after all.

"Nothing to worry about," the boy replied with an extremely out of the place smile. It just made the two blotches on his face stand out more. At first she had assumed them to be blotches of ink, maybe some way to try and look cool. Instead now that she could actually see them, she realized that those weren't blotches of ink. Those things were scar tissue, like if somebody had grated his cheeks raw.

"Who knew academy was going to be tough like this?" The boy queried out in a low murmur, as he tiredly sat behind her. His back resting against hers, she had to mentally berate herself for blushing. The heat on her face had to do with the sweat developed after the long trek, certainly not because she was having a crush.

"I…I thought we'd be doing some sort of summer camp," she admitted, "I didn't think…this. I can't fail however. I…I just can't."

She kept quiet for a moment, waiting for a reply. When none came, she slightly turned her head to the side, to try and get a look at the boy. He was lightly snoring. The boy had the guts to fall asleep while she was speaking.

This wouldn't stand…but she was too tired to discuss it, like she was too tired to point out that she was a girl and not a boy to the other bullies. When one of them got hurt, it would be her and her first aid kit against them and their whining, she was sure of it.

In the encroaching darkness of the night, she could barely distinguish the light coming from the fire forming a sort of halo on the ground and the proximity of the cave. They stood to the side of the cave's entrance: she'd wake up Taifuu when the instructor came back. The bullies wouldn't try anything with him around, would they?

Yet, as her eyes slowly drifted towards sleep, she kind of wondered why the kid that was standing back to back with her was so…familiar.

Maybe they had been at the orphanage together?

She'd ask him tomorrow.

And a blade shone in the darkness, the light reflecting upon its black surface…

Author's notes.

You weren't expecting me so soon, were you?

Yeah, I suppose you weren't.

A bit more of points to read for the first chapter, to new readers and old: please read in a sort of elderly grandfatherly voice. The type that usually comes with a mug of chocolate.

Hello there. This is probably the most AU story I could devise within the entrusted madness of my mind, so please bear with me and these notes. First off, the fiction that you are about to start reading contains Alternate Universe stuff (or that you currently just finished reading the first chapter of that is). The meaning is pretty much clear to a lot of you, however there are some points that I must absolutely clarify before you (aka the reader) begin reviewing. This is to ensure nil ranting, or at least little to none for the chapters that will follow.

This Fic will be my essay on AU itself. You are all familiar with The Harsh Truth and The Real Monster. Well, I gave the Canon-verse a small push, some tweaks, and I created two completely different stories with completely different character maturation. The Real Monster was about pushing oneself above and beyond limits, seeking a home and realizing that from small things can avalanches be born. (Plus it also had Yanderism) The Harsh Truth was instead about Darkness and lies, deceits and finding who was going to backstab who.

This story is something like both of them and at the same time neither: instead of a small push in another direction I outright gave all the gas to the engine and broke the brake. What am I saying with this? That you should not, under any circumstance or form, assume that at any point anything from the canonverse that I by myself haven't written is real or has actually happened.

Now, however, I am going to state pretty much clearly some points of this fic in advance, because I want to reduce the 'rants' to a minimum.

In this story, Naruto doesn't have the Kyuubi. He isn't the Kyuubi. He doesn't even know the Kyuubi is still alive. In this story, Naruto isn't Naruto to begin with.

In this story, I'm afraid, there will be OCs. This is because, Kishimoto may be damned, there are very few names I can pick from Narutopedia to use and to merge in canon. So I will be forced to result to OCs. Make no mistake: I dislike OCs to the depth of my writer's core. I'd rather lower the age of other characters before using OCs, but in this case my hands were tied.

In this story, everything will be Naruto-centric or Katsu-centric, which means that there will not be other's point of views. This is in order to ensure that I don't go 'Stark-Raving-Mad' in case of scenes of battle (The reference of Status is a Dwarf Fortress one). Furthermore, it also helps me in regards of 'view points' of different characters.

Battles will not be flashy. There will be no loud yelling of Jutsus and there will be no Underlining the jutsus names, because they will not be used like that. They will be described, and if explained the name will be there, but that is all.

Academy and the likes will get an overhaul so drastic you might need to take a moment before reading something else. No really, I'm putting the M out there and they start at 12 to finish at 14. There's going to be a reason isn't it?

Many, many things will be twisted, but plot-wise? It's pretty much simple…(By now half the readers have that sort of expression that is a mixture between 'tsk-him doing things simple' and 'yeah, good one! You nearly got me!') You will see what I'm talking about eventually. (To give a Hint. Start with 'Yandere' and work your way around.)

Many, many characters' Jutsus, overpowered moves and similar are not here. Edo Tensei? No. Susanoo? No. Amaterasu? No. The Sharingan's ability to copy moves? Yes. I am not bashing a Doujutsu, I am making it humanly possible to defeat. Because if we assume Itachi's words true, then Izanami and Izanagi were something used at the order of the day, and making Genjutsus reality? Why did the Uchiha lose the war actually? Someone had a nightmare and another made it true?

This will not be about yelling teenagers growing up, sick pedophiles moving to slither their way around Uchiha eyes or similar bad childhood kids toughening up following some sort of ultra-agonizing moment of realization. This story is about displaying, and portraying, a reality completely different from what the Canon-verse is.

There will be humor, as always, but there will also be drama. Since I tend to recycle OCs be warned that you might see the usual OC Kumo Genins eventually, or Kuro, (I believe he even has a fan-club, the pesky reptile that he is!)

The chapters will be shorter. No Sixteen thousands hauls of words. However they should also be a considerably higher number (Who am I kidding? 28 is kind of my life's 42. But who knows?)

I hereby swear that I have no idea, none at all, where, how or when this story will end. I can assure you everything is written with the flow, and this time, there isn't even a clear and definite ending in mind at present.

There will not be pairings, not until chapter twenty-six do I reserve that right to choose. (Even then, I might actually wait a bit more) So no whining about 'it looks like' or 'NaruXOc?' everything is there for a reason. At least, I hope so too. Right Muse? *the muse whistles and leaves* Come back here!

I had trouble deciding whether to start the story 'at the beginning' (Cue Kyuubi attack overdone) or let the readers find out on their own what happened (Aka grate their nerves and leave them stewing for a lot of chapters). I kind of went with the option I felt would leave far more mystery. (And I enjoy torturing you poor souls, but if you keep coming back for more, then it's obvious there's something working in my writing style.)

Final Disclaimer: Read, Enjoy, have Fun. If you don't like? No problems, Rome wasn't built in a day, and I certainly won't become a good writer in a night. I do enjoy, truly, criticism. (If it wasn't seen, I believe the 'commas' have been fixed. Tell me what you think about it!)