Tale of the Setting Sun
Chapter 13: "Goodbye Memory"
That morning, Naruto woke up feeling like a model of shining health. The last thing he could remember was a vague feeling of extreme dizziness and weakness – before everything turned black. After a period of drifting in and out of consciousness – he recalled a blurry image of a worried Mayu sitting by his bed changing the cold compress on his forehead – he suddenly got up feeling perfectly fine.
As much as he tried, he couldn't remember what could have caused such a brief spell. Perhaps it was the sudden change in climate, or maybe something he had eaten? But Mayu and Rai hadn't seemed particularly adversely affected by either of these things. Wondering if it could have been something else that day, he had asked Mayu and Rai about it. However, they had both responded that they had gone their separate ways in the morning and hadn't seen him again until the following day. Perhaps due to the sudden fever, Naruto couldn't even remember when they had met up that morning, let alone how they had been separated. But not wishing to falsely alarm his teammates, he kept quiet.
During his preliminary, he was taken by surprise by how resilient his fiery opponent was, but it didn't present a real problem. Sure, it required a bit more effort than Naruto had expected, and he was forced to use several tricks he'd wanted to keep under wraps until the time was right. However, he was confident that he managed to conceal most of it under the cover of smoke, so he wasn't too troubled about it.
The next few rounds of the preliminary went by fairly quickly. In the second round, Tenten and the other Suna genin were overwhelmed by a Suna genin named Temari, who'd simply blown away all the artillery with a giant metal fan. In the next bracket, Rai lucked out; it turned out that the two other genin, a Suna and an Ame genin, hated each other's guts and spent all of their energy trying to beat the other. When the Ame genin narrowly emerged victorious, Rai pounced, and made short work of him.
"Nice work," Kakashi praised Rai, who clambered over the sandy barrier with a triumphant grin.
"Good job," said Kabuto, pushing up his glasses. Tenten, who was standing nearby, regarded Rai with a sour look.
"Did you see that move I made at the end there?" said Rai, swiping the air with his kunai. "It was like – "
"Oh please," Tenten cut in with a snort, folding her arms across her chest. "All you did was stand around and try to look invisible for most of that round." Though she'd been promptly restored to working condition by the medic nin, it seemed her pride had not yet made a full recovery.
Rai turned to her with a irritated look on his face.
"Well, well...if it isn't the sore loser," he scowled.
"You wouldn't have done any better than me if you were up against an actual opponent," Tenten said, her hands curling up into fists.
"Oh yeah?" Rai snarled. "I guess we'll see in the third exam about that, then. The third exam you won't be participating in." Tenten reddened, and for a second, Naruto thought she would hit him. But then, without another word, she turned on her heel and stiffly walked away. Rai watched her retreating back with narrowed eyes.
"Your abilities and fighting style are fairly similar to Tenten's," said Naruto after a moment's thought. "You might not have won against that Suna genin either."
"What?" Rai's jaw dropped open, as he turned around.
"She was just upset she lost," Mayu said quietly. "You shouldn't have taunted her like that." Rai slowly looked back and forth between them, before shaking his head.
"You two are never on my side," he groaned.
"I'm just stating facts," said Naruto matter-of-factly. Rai turned towards his last hope with a pleading look.
"Kabuto...?" he begged.
"Sorry Rai, but I'll have to agree with the rest on this one," Kabuto said with an apologetic smile. Rai let out a long-suffering sigh.
"Fine," he said, throwing his hands up. "Fine! I'll go apologize." Hunched over, he slunk into the throng of genin.
"You all rather remind me of my own team back in the day," Kakashi said with a chuckle. Naruto perked up at the mention of their sensei's team.
"What was your team like, sensei?" Naruto asked. He knew that Kakashi-sensei's team leader had been the Fourth Hokage, and he'd always admired the Fourth the most out of all of them. When he looked out his apartment window and saw their busts, he'd always felt some sort of connection between himself and the Fourth. Perhaps it was their similarly uncontrollable hair. But whatever the case, he'd always figured that if the Fourth were still alive, he would've treated Naruto well, just like Kakashi-sensei did. A childish and pointless longing, to be sure, but it had helped him sleep a little better at night when he was young and still had nightmares.
"We were always fighting," was all Kakashi said, before turning to look back at the arena. Naruto's gaze lingered on his sensei; the white-haired jōnin seemed distracted. Ever since his own match had ended, the man had been sneaking discreet glances at him every now and then, before shaking his head and looking away. Was it because of that thing Rai had said? 'Jinchūriki?' He'd been meaning to ask Rai about it, but with Rai's battle being so soon after his, he hadn't gotten a chance to. And now, he was off doing who knew what. But what could Rai have been talking about? 'Jinchūriki'... was it a codename for something else?
Shaking his head to clear it, Naruto turned to look back at the arena as well. The second half of the preliminaries was starting now, and the first ones up were...
"Well that's rotten luck," said Kabuto. "They're both on the same team, aren't they? Neji Hyūga and Rock Lee."
"I wonder if that's why Tenten was so upset," said Mayu softly. "Since she lost, and Neji and Lee are in the same bracket, only one member on their team gets to pass to the third exam."
Naruto silently observed the three figures who stood in the center of the arena. Neji, with his arms crossed, was an emotionless wall. Rock Lee on the other hand, had an interesting mix of determination and anxiety etched across his face. Looking over the third genin – a jittery looking Suna – with a practiced eye, Naruto mentally dismissed him from the battle. This would come down to be a fight between the two male Konoha rookies.
"Begin!" said Satetsu, who leaped out of the arena. The Suna genin immediately jumped away from the Konoha nin, pulling the bandaged humanoid puppet off his back.
"Lee," said Neji, ignoring the Suna genin completely. He stood stock still. "Forfeit now. You've never beaten me, and you never will."
"Neji...I respect you as a genius. But as I am sure you know by now, I never give up!" Rock Lee determinedly lowered himself into a taijutsu stance. Neji shook his head, and lowering himself into a stance, the veins around his eyes bulged outwards as the boy activated his infamous heritage.
The fight was over in less than five minutes. At first, Lee seemed to be moving too quickly for Neji to follow, making sure to stay out of his reach. When the Suna genin distracted Neji with his puppet, Lee finally jumped in for his attack – but unfortunately for him, nothing got past the Byakugan's all-seeing power. As soon as Lee was in Neji's reach, it was all over him. With what seemed like a series of gentle jabs to Lee's torso and legs, the boy crumpled to the ground. The Suna genin soon followed after, being easily incapacitated with a few jabs to the hands controlling the puppet.
"The winner of preliminary round 4 is Neji Hyūga!" Without a look back at his teammate who still lay on the ground, Neji left the arena.
"It's unfortunate, but Rock Lee wouldn't have stood a chance against any competent ninja, let alone a genius like Hyūga," said Kabuto, adjusting his glasses.
"What do you mean?" asked Mayu.
"He can't use any ninjutsu or genjutsu. It's amazing that he's come this far with just taijutsu, but...this is where the road ends for him," said Kabuto. They fell silent, and soon after, Kabuto awkwardly excused himself, walking back to his teammates.
It took a second for Naruto to realize that Mayu had also wordlessly begun walking towards the arena. Naruto's gaze lowered to her trembling hands, and he let out an internal sigh. With that kind of mentality going in, he doubted she'd come out victorious. He looked towards her opponents – Fū and another Ame genin were already waiting inside the arena. As his gaze fell on the Taki genin, the girl seemed to notice; turning around, she locked gazes with him for a second. Then, baring her teeth at him, Fū gave him a sarcastic little wave before returning her attention to the others in the arena. Bemused, Naruto cocked his head, his thoughts returning once more to Rai's words and Kakashi's strange reaction towards them.
"Fū..." Naruto said her name out loud quietly. Rai had called her a 'jinchūriki,' but what did that even mean? Maybe Rai had been messing around like usual, and it hadn't meant anything. But Kakashi's reaction had been strange, so perhaps there was something else to it that he was missing? Naruto's forehead furrowed, and he reached up to massage his temple with his hand. His head was starting to throb again.
Wincing, Naruto glanced sideways at Kakashi. He opened his mouth – and then hesitated. Should he ask the jōnin? Normally, he wouldn't have hesitated – if there was anyone he trusted, it was his sensei. But Kakashi's previously bizarre reaction gave him pause.
Naruto squeezed his temples; it was getting harder to think straight with his head aching like this. Was this another relapse of that weird desert sickness? How come he was sick, anyways, while no one else was?
"Naruto, are you alright?" Naruto almost jumped in surprise, before returning to his senses. How odd – he'd nearly forgotten that the jōnin was there. With a mental shrug, he decided that it couldn't hurt to ask...what had he been going to ask again?
In some distant part of his mind, alarm bells were ringing, but for some reason, Naruto was finding it hard to focus on them. Dazedly, he looked back at the arena. The round had started; Mayu was racing away, while the genin from Takigakure was spewing a shiny powder that hurt his eyes. What had been the girl's name again?
Naruto's eyes widened as he actually jumped this time. He'd forgotten Kakashi-sensei was there again! What was going on? What was wrong with his mind? He felt like he was drowning in a increasingly thicker fog.
Focus, Naruto, he told himself, massaging his temples. Closing his eyes, he mentally retreated to his sanctuary. Here, he had studied all of his difficult taijutsu stances and committed his jutsu to memory. But to his immense shock, whereas he had previously imagined it as a great expanse of nothing, there was something else there now – a giant, bulky gelatin-like block that was rapidly expanding in all directions even now. But – there! It hadn't taken over completely just yet. Naruto dove to grasp the fleeting thought before it was crushed for good under the block.
"Sensei, do you know...what Rai meant by...a jinchūriki?" he managed to choke out.
"What?" Kakashi sounded taken aback. "So...you don't know what he meant?"
"No...but – " Naruto stopped with a hiss as he was forcibly ejected from his own sanctuary. He let out a groan, as the wave of pain collapsed over him. Everything around him was beginning to spin dizzily, just like it had several days ago.
"What's wrong?" Kakashi's voice was muted and distant, as if he were talking to him through a thick wall. Naruto staggered, his hands falling limply to his sides. The air was thick and hazy, and his mouth felt like a leaden lump of clay. He mumbled something through a thick tongue, before everything turned black.
As she slowly walked into the arena, there were so many thoughts and voices in her head that Mayu was starting to feel rather sick. It was a tumultuous cacophony, a restless tornado that raged through her mind; there was no time to breathe or think, only react.
"I thought we had agreed that you were going to keep your distance from it."
"She skipped the Academy today again!"
"You don't mean you're making a cake for that thing, are you?"
"Get away from him! He'll kill you!"
"He's a monster!"
"Where are you going?"
Mayu flinched in surprise, and then stumbled clumsily. Regaining her bearings, she looked confusedly around; her surroundings had suddenly changed. She was already at the center of the sandy arena, where an Ame genin and Fū waited for her. Mayu blinked. Fū had been the one to call out to her.
"Are you ready?" The bald Suna jōnin growled, glaring around at them. Mayu's eyes darted away, not wanting to meet his eyes. "Then – begin!"
The Ame genin immediately jumped into the air, lifting his umbrella and spinning it to release a torrent of deadly poison-tipped needles. Fū hopped away, while Mayu – almost tripping again – just barely managed to get out of range.
"Hiden: Rinpungakure no Jutsu (Secret: Hiding in Scale Powder Technique)!" Fū used the same jutsu she had used on them earlier in the tunnels, exhaling a blindingly bright powder from her mouth. Reacting instinctively, Mayu screwed her eyes shut, running as fast as she could. Judging by the outraged howl of surprise from the Ame genin, he hadn't fared as well. When Mayu felt it safe enough to open her eyes again a few seconds later, sure enough, he was already slumped on the ground. She watched as Fū straightened over his body. Casually, the green-haired girl stretched her arms back behind her body, reminding her for some odd reason of an insect extending its scaly wings. Then, just as casually, Fū looked directly over at where Mayu stood.
"Here I come!" she said brightly, pointing her finger in her direction.
Mayu froze, her eyes widening. Her hands began to tremble again. Unable to move, she watched as Fū took a deliberate slow step towards her.
It was just her and the monster again.
The monster took another step towards her. And then another. And another.
Mayu couldn't move. All she could do was stand there, watching the sand below the monster's sandals billow in all directions with every step closer to her.
Another step. The pause between each step was growing shorter. Step. Step. The monster would be here soon.
Move!, she wanted to scream at herself. Move, or you'll die!
Mayu whimpered, but she couldn't move. There was a glass tunnel, long and narrow, that was trapping her there in with the monster. She couldn't move nor breathe; the only way to move was forward, where the monster was waiting. The monster was close now. The monster was raising her hands; the corners of her mouth were turning upwards, and she could see a glimpse of sharp, glinting teeth.
Mayu's lips cracked open. She wanted to cry out for help – where were her teammates? Her gaze searchingly flicked sideways to the jeering audience. But she couldn't see anyone she recognized. It was a sea of blank faces.
I'm so scared.
Tears began streaming down her face. The monster had taken out a kunai now. But she still couldn't move. All she could do was watch the kunai, so reminiscent of a fang, make its way towards her in a slow, downward arc.
I'm scared. I'm scared. Scared. Scared. Scared scared scared. Scared scared scared scared scared scared scared –
"MAYU!" a voice bellowed, cutting through the haze. As if she'd been splashed in ice cold water, Mayu jerked in surprise, and finding she could move again, just barely managed to throw herself out of the way. As soon as she hit the ground, Mayu somersaulted back onto her feet, pulling a kunai out of her pouch and holding it above her with a shaking hand. Fū looked at her with a bemused expression and in the moment of stillness, Mayu glanced back at the spectators again. She found Rai immediately; his face was stark white as he stared back at her, the thick scar on his cheek standing out prominently. Naruto and Kakashi-sensei were gone, and somehow, she knew that Naruto must have collapsed again.
The memory of finding him unconscious in his room several days ago suddenly flashed through her mind. She had been scared then, too.
"Are ya always this scared when your teammates aren't around?" the girl asked, casually tossing the kunai around in her hands. Her orange eyes flashed dangerously, and her smile grew a little more strained. "Or do you know what I am?"
To her surprise, Mayu found herself opening her mouth to speak.
"I'm always scared," she replied in an unexpectedly calm voice. She noticed that her hand had stopped shaking as well. "I'm terrified out of my mind. I've been scared of everything for years..."
Fū cocked her head.
"What kind of way to live is that?"
Mayu's grip on her kunai tightened painfully.
"It's no way to live," she said, and threw the kunai. Fū jerked back, but the kunai never even went near her. Instead, it pierced through the air with a shattering sound before landing harmlessly on the ground at the other side of the arena. "I'm scared but...I'm tired of being scared."
As she said these words, she realized that for the first time in years, her world was blissfully silent. She wiped the last remaining tears from her face.
Mayu reached up to the clips in her hair and unclipped them, letting her brown hair fall around her shoulders.
"Naruto, what's wrong?" Kakashi asked, watching in alarm as the genin's face turned an ashen gray. Naruto stumbled. Reacting instinctively, Kakashi caught him before he fell.
"Sensei, my head..." Naruto's eyes rolled back, and his body went limp in Kakashi's arms. The jōnin's free eye widened in shock.
"Naruto!" Rai was finally back. Looking worried, he raced forward to help, but stopped in his tracks at Kakashi's expression.
"No...it couldn't be..." Kakashi murmured to himself, shaking his head. He anxiously stared down at Naruto's slack face. Over the years, as he watched the boy grow up from afar, he'd sometimes had his doubts and wondered about its possibility before. Even just today, he had felt uneasy when he heard about Naruto's recent sudden illness. After some contemplation however, he'd dismissed it all as simple paranoia. But just now, the boy had fainted as soon as he broached the subject. This wasn't some psychological issue – it went far beyond that. This was an external cause.
And it sounded very similar to the effects of something he'd once been very familiar with during the war.
"It couldn't be..." Kakashi repeated miserably. "That couldn't be what he meant."
"What're you talking about, sensei?" Rai said, sounding upset. "What's wrong with Naruto? Is he sick again?"
Kakashi straightened up, lifting up Naruto in his arms.
"I'm going to take Naruto to a medic, Rai. I want you to stay here to cheer Mayu on," said the jōnin quietly. "But when I come back, I want you to tell me everything you know about jinchūriki."
Many miles away in the Fire country, the venerable Third Hokage Hiruzen Sarutobi looked outside at the setting sun from his office, his trusty pipe smoking in his hand. He hummed, watching the last rays strike the familiar busts of the past Hokage. The days were growing longer as spring approached, and he was glad. The past winter had been a long and severe one.
His thoughts turned toward the Chūnin exams that were currently taking place in Sunagakure. Several of Konoha's promising genins were participating this year, including Gai's rookies. Hiruzen was quite looking forward to seeing how they would be performing, particularly the Hyūga genius. There hadn't been a user of the Byakugan with as much promise in so many years. It was just a pity that he was from the branch house...unless the main house changed their ways, then the boy's talents would never be used to their full extent.
Knowing Gai's way of instructing his students with the greatest care however, Hiruzen hadn't expected them to participate this year. He smiled, his temples wrinkling. It was probably because Kakashi, Gai's greatest rival, had entered his team in the exams this year. And on Kakashi's team was...
Hiruzen stilled. The smile faded, and he turned away from the window. He couldn't bear to look out and see Minato's face staring accusingly back at him. Sitting down at his desk, Hiruzen steepled his hands together.
Every day, he wondered if he had made the right choice. Granted, it had been the only choice at the time. Such was the way of fate. And yet, he wondered, was fate really such an unmovable force?
Eleven years ago – and then five years ago – ...
"Hokage-sama!" A white-haired ANBU stumbled into the Hokage's office. There were several chūnin standing in front of the Hokage, but ignoring protocol, he ripped off his animal mask to reveal his face.
"Kakashi!" Hiruzen admonished. The chūnin beside him immediately averted their eyes. Hiruzen signaled for the chūnin to leave before turning to face the upset young ninja standing before him. "What is the matter?"
"Is it true?" Kakashi demanded, once all of the chūnin had filed out of the room. "That the Nine-tails attacked? And that there were casualties?!"
"Yes," said the elder shinobi heavily.
"But – how – "
"Now is not the time," said Hiruzen, raising his hand. "It will all be explained soon. For now, know that it has been subjugated and resealed back in its host."
"And..." Kakashi's eyes narrowed. "What have you done with him...?"
"The boy was understandably distraught when he reached consciousness. For now he's been put to sleep, while the councilors and I discuss what to do with him."
"It's true then?" said Kakashi quietly. "That the council wants him dead?"
"There have been some...suggestions concerning different ways of quelling the host."
"Naruto's still just a child!" Kakashi broke out, slamming the wall with his fist. "You can't blame him for something like this!"
"And I don't," said Hiruzen gently. "You need not worry for him; he has been put under high-security guard to prevent anything from happening to him."
"More like you're putting him under guard so to make people feel more at ease..." Kakashi muttered angrily.
"Even though the Nine-tails has been resealed, he is still a danger, Kakashi," Hiruzen shook his head wearily. "Especially with the state his mind is currently in...most likely, he and the other witnesses will have to have their minds wiped of the memory."
"The boy turns six tomorrow, yes?" said Hiruzen, clasping his hands behind his back. He turned to Kakashi. "I think it is about time he has begun to be trained. He will be placed back in his apartment by tomorrow morning, with no memory of today's events. Could you bring him to my office then?"
Kakashi numbly nodded. He was still in the dark about much of what had happened, but he seemed reassured that the Hokage had not given into village pressure and dealt with Naruto much more harshly. Turning around, the ANBU left without another word.
Hiruzen sighed as the door slammed shut. As upset as Kakashi already was, he hadn't thought it prudent to fully clue him in on everything that was to be done regarding the boy. He himself would have preferred any other possible alternate method. But it had been the only way to pacify the councilors while giving him as normal a childhood as possible.
"Such a potent seal," he murmured to himself. "Minato would be furious to know his own creation would be used on his son..." He looked down at his lined hands silently – he would do the deed himself. All the blame would be his.
A/N: Please keep in mind that I don't have a beta-tester, so the possibility of plot-holes is there. I usually go back and edit my chapters if there's a particularly bad continuity error/widespread confusion, I really do welcome critical (but respectful) reviews.
Thank you for all your reviews! I reached 500 reviews (dark-potter31 had #500 – thanks)!
Edits made: A reader told me that team numbers are passed down by legacy; and thus, Kakashi's team would be known as team 7. I have accordingly made the change, as the team number was never significant in my story anyways.