I do not Own Naruto
Chapter 1: Brush with death
A confident and extremely happy boy marched down the street in the direction of his favorite place to eat. There was a stool with his name on it and he would be eating his fill. Crunched and crinkled in his hot little hand, a coupon could be found. One that would supply with him infinite wonder, at least in his mind.
In actuality it was just for twenty percent off his ramen order, but to him it was the best bargain he ever seen in the six years that he had been alive.
With his wallet Gama-chan bursting with Ryo, he would eat like a Daimyo and only have to pay a nobleman's price. In preparation for the meal, he had skipped breakfast and lunch so he could fit more ramen into his stomach than normal. Those were the reason for his grin and he would not let any of the normal hateful stares or looks get to him as he continued to march towards his meal.
Smiling at the success of his flyer campaign, Ichiraku Teuchi used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his brow as he continued making the ramen that he had been cooking and improving for over a decade. His dream had finally come true and he had his own restaurant. Though small, it was more than enough for him to call his dream successful and just enough to fit their budget.
He had only just recently made the move from his old noodle cart to the small restaurant. To advertise, he and his daughter had put flyers up all over the village in order to attract more business. The coupon on the flyer gave twenty percent off an order was meant for a single person to use on a single bowl of ramen and refreshment. Teuchi would break even profit-wise but hopefully attract more repeat customers through the generous incentive.
Setting a freshly filled ramen bowl down and a cup of tea to one of the patrons, Teuchi noticed a crack form on the tea cup. He eyed it warily. That was the second bad omen he had that afternoon. Though he tried to convince himself that he did not believe in such things, something told him differently. Turning back to the ramen preparation, he added more noodles to one of his pots and was about to start cutting more vegetables when he felt it.
His eyes widened as he stood stark still. Something was indeed coming. Turning slowly, he saw what the omens had been telling him. A hundred feet away and walking down the street towards his restaurant, was Uzumaki Naruto. While this normally would have been cause for him to smile as he knew the boy would eat a lot of ramen, he immediately noticed the crinkled coupon in the boy's hand.
'No...no no no noooooooooo.' thought a quivering Teuchi as he looked upon the boy flattening out the coupon and holding it up to show it to him. Even from such a distance he easily recognized it.
He had done everything he could not to let the child get his hands on one of those coupons on the flyers. 'How could he possibly have gotten one...someone must have...' and on that thought, he turned to his young daughter. She looked at him sheepishly and it was then that he knew where the betrayal had come from. Ayame was young and did not yet know the intricacies of business. She had always been kind to the boy and knew how much he liked the ramen, 'So she must have give him one of the flyers. She may have ruined me, but I can't stay mad at her. She's just too damn cute.' he thought and lamented his rotten luck. Almost all of his money had been put into that month's rent for the new shop and the ingredients that would be needed. He simply couldn't take such a hit from the boy using that coupon.
Glancing at one of the flyers that he had sitting nearby, he further realized his folly. The coupon had nothing on it that limited a customer to a single meal. Looking back to the boy, he dreaded every step that Naruto took as he approached the shop and his mind began to change how the boy looked. In reality, Naruto was just smiling to the man, but Teuchi was not seeing an innocent smile but rather a sadistic grin and hearing haunting laughter.
Doom. Doom was coming to his little ship. Doom in the form of a small boy with a bottomless stomach and an appetite, no...an addiction for his ramen. It had started innocently enough a year previously when the Hokage himself had brought the boy to his little noodle cart during lunch. After that, Naruto had started showing up at least three times a week and was his best customer. Despite that, he simply could not take such a loss from the boy's appetite which was why he made sure Naruto didn't get a flyer.
Ever closer Naruto marched and as he neared the final intersection before the shop, a particularly strong gust of wind blew. The strong wind buffeted the coupon in Naruto's outstretched hand and the piece of paper was pulled from his loose grasp. Flying through the breeze, Naruto's and Teuchi's eyes followed the coupon as it flew down the street and landed some distance away. Both turned to look at each other with their mouths hanging open.
"There is a god!" praised Teuchi as he raised his ladle up in the air triumphantly. Ayame, who had pulled herself up over the edge of the counter tried to see what had caught her father's interest. She saw Naruto and waved but didn't understand the current situation.
Naruto looked to the ramen stand and then back to the coupon. Teuchi's enthusiasm was soon gone as he realized he was not out of the woods yet. The coupon was still retrievable and he could not leave his stand or do anything to prevent Naruto from regaining the piece of paper. 'The coupon is only valid until 6:00 PM.' Teuchi remembered and looked to his watch which was telling him that it was still only around four.
A small smile formed on Naruto's face that filled Teuchi with dread and he took off running to the coupon.
And the chase was on.
Naruto lunged for the piece of paper, sliding over the ground a ways as the breeze took it out of his reach before he could grasp it. A nearby civilian was tripped by his dive and fell into another person, who fell into a fruitstand, sending multicolored fruit all over the ground.
Still in the chase and oblivious to the foot traffic around him, Naruto crawled forward on his hands and knees as the coupon blew in and out of peoples legs and over their feet. Cursing loudly as a leg ran into his ribcage, Naruto soldiered on while the man fell. A woman's scream could be heard as he crawled between her legs and underneath the hem of her short kimono. A plethora of different shouts and outcries ranging from, "Hey!" and "Watch it Brat!" to "What are you..." and many different grunts and groans as he crashed into legs and stepped on feet.
Nearly to the new resting place of the coupon, Naruto reached his hand out and he almost had it when a sandal stepped on his hand, crushing his finger. Naruto let out a yelp and before the man remove his foot from the hand, Naruto had reacted.
Inoichi yelled as his ankle was bitten and pulled it up, out of harms way to grab it. However, the motion cost him his balance and he stumbled backward and into his friend Choza. The tall blonde and large Akimichi both fell into an open tea restaurant. With no wall or door to stop their fall, Choza fell backwards onto the edge of a table, sending tea cups into the air and spraying hot tea on the patrons. Mostly ignored by the shouts of burned people, Inoich landed in a seat but found that someone was already sitting in it.
"Danzo-san." Inoichi said as he turned to see who he had sat on and found his fellow village council member. He laughed nervously at his sidway's position on the man's legs and blurted out, "Enjoying your tea?"
A single partially open eye looked upon Inoichi, who was only a few inches away from his face. With no facial expression showing the pain that he was in, Danzo gave a reply as hot tea dripped down his face and soaked into his bandages, "Until you showed up."
Getting up and breaking out into a run, Naruto chased the coupon as it was caught in another breeze. The number of people in the street had diminished so he was able to better see the coupon. He slowed down as the coupon slowly fell to the ground but sped back up as another gust took it farther away. Focusing entirely on the coupon, he didn't notice the person up ahead and collided with them.
"Hmm." Asuma said out loud as he glanced at the darkening sky. 'Rain clouds are coming in and the winds picking up.' he thought and decided to head to the Hokage tower before the downpour started. It had been years since he had been back in the village after joining the Twelve Guardians. It was very nostalgic to walk through the streets of Konoha again, though he knew it would be difficult to reintegrate into the ninja forces. His decision to join the Twelve Guardians had created a fissure between himself and his father. The Sandaime had been against his joining but he had done it anyway.
'And we haven't spoken since.' thought Asuma as he continued on his way. He had yet to come across anyone that he knew or at least had known, but that changed as he turned a corner and saw two kunoichi coming down the street. One he recognized by her dark hair and red eyes as Kurenai and was rather stunned at how beautiful she had become. The other he knew he had seen at the academy and in the chunin exams, though he couldn't place her name.
He had never been on a mission with Kurenai but perhaps he would get the chance to get to know her better now that he was back to the village. Trying to think of something to say as they got closer to each other, his staring was noticed by the dark haired woman and he thought he caught a glimpse of recollection on her face. 'That will certainly make things easier.' he sighed with relief as introducing himself as someone that knew her years ago, and that she may not remember, was not the kind of introduction he wanted after such a long time apart.
Both were drawn towards the other and they moved from opposite sides of the street to meet in the middle. The other girl followed Kurenai and as the three met something collided with Asuma's leg. He was completely distracted and didn't even notice the incoming child projectile. The impact pushed him forward and with one hand in his pocket, he instinctively reached out to try and brace his fall.
He managed to stop himself from falling and was in a kneeling position with one knee on the ground. 'What did I grab onto?' he thought at the sensation coming from his hand. Looking up, the cigarette fell out of his mouth and his eyes widened at where his hand was and on which person it was.
Mitarashi Anko glanced down at the hand that was grabbing her left breast and then looked down to the person who the hand was attached to, "It seems you've returned to the village with a death wish." said Anko as snakes began coming out of her sleeves and she reached for her weapons pouch.
'I might not live through the next few moments.' thought Asume and Kurenai gave him a sympathetic look, though she would only intervene to keep Anko from seriously injuring him.
Naruto was quick to get back up from the impact and continue his chase. He ignored the screams coming from behind him as he focused on his prize. 'Its just a little dirty, its still good.' he repeated in his head as the coupon had already been stepped on a few times but he was sure it would still be accepted.
Pushing past people as he came to an intersection that slowed him down, he was losing ground as the wind sent the coupon over the top of the heads of the sparse crowds. Getting frustrated, he yelled, "I won't lose." just as he was passing a person wearing all green but he noticed little else about the person and especially not that the man was walking on his hands.
So focused was Maito Gai on completing his 300 laps around the village that the odd looks that he received from the villagers went completely unnoticed. That however was typical of Gai as he never really cared about how he was seen by others. This was made more evident by the choice of green spandex, his bowl-cut hairstyle and extremely thick eyebrows.
To him, walking around Konoha on his hands was completely normal. Doing it 300 times was just a challenge to better himself and what other people thought of him was completely ignored.
On that day, however, something that someone said did catch his attention. He heard a shout of, "I won't lose." from behind him and he was immediately passed by a small boy running down the street.
While most ignored the boy, Gai was deeply moved by the shout. His eyes narrowed in determination at the boy's statement while a smile formed on his face. "So it's a challenge." he realized and his smile widened caused a pinging sound to be heard as his white teeth sparkled so brightly.
'I'm finally being challenged by the Youth of the next generation. He knows I'm nearing my final lap and has decided to race me.' he thought and yelled, "YOSH!" before digging his fingers into the ground and taking off after his challenger.
Innocent pedestrians jumped out of the way as the green rocket raced down the street with a large cloud of dust behind him. Catching up to the boy, he matched the pace and decided to make things interesting. It wouldn't be sporting if he completely outstripped the child and he certainly didn't want to discourage the youth for having the courage to challenge him.
Naruto looked to his right as something green had appeared in his peripheral vision. Staring at the green person, who was running on his hands while upside down, Naruto forgot about the coupon as the man looked at him with a smile.
"Yosh! A competition it is, young one. I will show you my Springtime of Youth as you have shown me yours!" yelled the man with enthusiasm.
Naruto screamed. Increasing his speed as fast as he could his legs began to burn as he endeavored to get away from the crazed individual.
"A warriors cry." Gai misinterpreted and admired the boys determination. "Hooaahhhhhhh!" The green man yelled, increasing his speed even more to catch up to the boy again.
Casually walking through the village with his orange book out in plain view, Hatake Kakashi giggled slightly as he read over a passage in the book for another countless time. He had just gotten back from an ANBU mission with his team and was unwinding. Women were probably giving him looks of disdain for the book he was reading out in the open but he really didn't care. It was part of the fun and one of the many ways that he messed with people.
Coming to an intersection, he followed his normal route to head out for a quick bite to eat before heading back to his dormitory to reacquaint himself with his pillow again. His head never left his book, nor did he need to look up as he neared the next intersection. He would be taking a left and then stopping a block down at a small resteraunt.
Walking into the intersection, a peculiar noise took him away from his book. He glanced up from his page and caught sight of Uzumaki Naruto running past him. He didn't have much time to think as his sixth sense told him of imminent danger. He quickly turned but all he saw was green, followed by pain.
Coming to a stop after the green man had disappeared, Naruto frantically looked around and finally spotted the coupon. The small paper had stopped being blown down the street but was now traveling higher and higher in the air. He started looking for a staircase to climb in order to get that high and onto the roofs of nearby buildings but as the paper reached the tops of the buildings, Naruto knew that it was either lost to him or he would have to wait for it to come back down.
Standing in the middle of the street, Naruto continued to watch the coupon as it was raised and then began to fall, only to pulled back up by again the wind. 'Its just messing me.' he thought as he watched the paper seemingly hover in the air.
Just as he thought it was going to come back down, a fast-moving shinobi hopped from one of the rooftops to the other. The ninja moved directly into the coupon and it was gone. Naruto stared at the empty sky and realized that it must have gotten stuck or snagged on the ninja.
"This isn't fair." he whined as he ran in the direction that the ninja was headed.
Looking up at the sky, Kakashi began moving his limbs as he determined the extent of his injuries. He was on his back and there was a heavy weight on him, preventing him from getting up. Looking up he came face to face with Maito Gai, who was calmly sitting on his chest.
"My Eternal Rival." Gai said as he looked down at Kakashi with confusion as to how the man had gotten beneath him.
"Gai, get off me. Now."
Hiragana Kotetsu landed at the villages main entrance and moved to the small stand where the chunin guards sat and watched over anyone entering the village. The eighteen year old set down a bag of food next to his fellow chunin and best friend Izumo as he began pulling food out of his bag.
"You know, its against the rules for one of us to leave the gate before our shift ends?" commented Izumo as he had tried to make that clear when Kotetsu had first abandoned his post about ten minutes previously.
Looking to his friend, Kotetsu frowned and reached for the bag he had just put in front o f his friend, saying, "Then I guess you don't want the food I brought you."
"Wait! Wait! I won't say a thing to anyone." said a starving Izumo as he pulled the bag back and began removing his food.
Kotetsu shook his head at his by-the-book friend and was about to take another bite of his food when he saw something on his vest. Taking the small orange piece of paper off his chunin vest, he turned it around to look at the black ink that was on it. 'A coupon.' he noted and saw that it was for Ramen.
'Its that new place that just opened up and its hasn't expire.' he realized and was about to suggest stopping after their shift was over to get a snack but he heard something that caught his immediate attention.
"THAT'S MINE!" came a shout from his left and Kotetsu turned just in time to see a blonde boy hurtling at him. Less than a second later, the boy collided with him, completely pushing his chair over and sending both crashing into Izumo.
All three were sent to the ground as Izumo's chair broke. While the two chunin tried to get up, both were stepped on by the boy projectile as he yelled, "Stupid coupon, come back." and ran off.
"Izumo, I'm in pain." said Kotetsu as he tried to get back to his feet, using the table to help him. "Who was that?" asked Izumo as he looked over the top of the table and tried to figure out where the person who had crashed into them had gone.
"I think it was the Uzumaki kid." said Kotetsu as he shook his head and picked his chair up.
A sudden flash from the sky was soon followed by loud thunder and both chunin looked around the covered stand to the sky above. "Hey!" said Izumo to get Kotetsu's attention as it started to rain, "Which way did that kid go?"
Both chunin looked to each other and leaned over the edge of the guard post to try and look down the dirt road that led out of the village.
"COME BACK, DAMN YOU!" yelled Naruto as he continued to chased the coupon. The winds howled as they removed leaves from the trees and blew the paper along the street and away from the village. As the rain started, Naruto ignored the drops that were hitting him as he kept thinking, 'Its just a little wet. Its still good,' trying to convince himself that everything would be alright.
With the rain picking up, the coupon became drenched with water and eventually fell to the ground with many wet leaves. Naruto stopped running as he walked up to the mess of wet leaves that the coupon landed in. Kneeling down he picked up the wet piece of paper and found that the ink had started to run, completely obscuring what had been written and destroying his chances for a hefty discount on ramen.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Naruto wailed at the sky while holding the ruined coupon. "WHY! WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS!" he continued to yell up at the sky with both hands in the air and followed that the previous statement up with, "DAMN YOU KAMI!"
A flash of lightning struck near him and the sounded was deafening. Naruto found himself flat on the wet ground and removed his arms from his head, giving a cautious look around before pushing himself back up. 'Maybe I should have added that last part.' he thought and got to his feet only to stop when he heard a sound.
Even over the howling wind, he could hear a loud groaning sound which was quickly followed by cracking. Covering his eyes form the rain and wind with his hand, Naruto saw that a tree near him had been struck by the lightning and he quickly noted that that it was starting to fall over. His eyes widened as he stared dumbly at the tree for a few moments before it started to visibly move and he began running away from the falling tree.
As the tree toppled over, Naruto ran off the dirt path and through brush past a few other trees. Not looking back as he ran, he could only listen as the groaning and cracking increased as the struck tree fell over into another tree. Branches cracked and gave way as the larger tree broke the smaller one and then struck the ground. The force of the crash caused Naruto to trip and tumble in the wet grass.
Soaked and scared, Naruto got to his feet and continued to run away from the tree. Flashes overhead and accompanying thunder only spurred on his flight. In his mind, Kami was angry and sending lightning after him, as well as trees.
He had no idea how long he ran for but he eventually got tired and cold, which prompted him to slow down and start searching for somewhere to get out of the rain. It was raining hard enough that even sitting under the canopy of the trees wasn't keeping him out of the rain and the trees were not his friends at the moment.
Covering his head from the rain in order to better see, Naruto eventually found a muddy trail and decided to follow it. After a few minutes of treading along the muddy path, Naruto spotted a building through the breaks in the trees up ahead. Breaking into a run, he eventually came to a small clearing. In the middle of tall grass sat a small temple. As he neared, his relief that he had found a nice place to wait out the storm soon faded as he got a better look at the dilapidated building. Part of the roof had caved in at one end and a large section of walkway that ran around the building had collapsed. The buildings entry way was also completely tilted to one side and looked ready to come down because of a broken beam.
Deciding it was better than nothing, he ran up the steps and moved under the collapsing entryway. Entering into the only room of the building, Naruto looked around. Water was dripping through the holes in the roof and rain as well as streams of water were coming through the caved-in area, running right through where the floor had caved in and onto the ground below. Spiral designs were carved into the supports that held up what was left of the ceiling and he remembered the same design had been on the entrance.
However, what really caught his attention about the room was the wall directly across from the entryway. On the wall looked to be a stage of some sorts. There were ragged curtains that were above a raised floor surrounded by a short railing. On the wall hung many white masks and black flames had been painted beneath the mask on the wall and a large piece of carved stone hung suspended from the ceiling. From his distance away, Naruto could make out most of the designs on the masks, which all seemed to be of Oni or at least quite scary.
Slightly freaked out, Naruto decided to keep his distance from the wall of demon masks and sat on the floor, pulling his legs to his chest as he tried to keep from shivering. He was completely drenched and after a few minutes, noted that he was feeling colder. Looking around the room, he finally decided that the only thing available were the ragged curtains that framed the stage.
Getting up, he went over to the stage and ignored the masks while he looked at two large columns that were adjacent to the raised area. They were solid and covered in some kind of stucco that had broken apart in many areas, revealing a wire mesh and stone beneath. Walking up onto the stage, Naruto began looking for the best foot and handholds in order to climb one of the columns and get to the curtain which was suspended from above and out of his reach.
Holding the column firmly with both hands, Naruto placed his feet on broken areas of the covering and slowly climbed to the curtain. He managed to get up a few feet and reached out with his arm to try and grab the curtain, "Not enough." he said out loud and began grasping for more handholds to pull himself up farther.
Reaching out again, he grabbed a piece of the tattered curtain and once he had a good grip, grabbed it with his other hand. With both hands on the curtain and feet straddling the column, Naruto started pulling but found that despite being old and tattered, the curtain was still quite strong. Looking below and finding a six foot drop, Naruto made up his mind and holding the curtain as tight as he could, let go of the column.
With all of his weight on the curtain, he was rewarded with a ripping sound before he landed in a heap on the ground. Groaning over the fall, his vision was completely obscured by a large piece of curtain that had landed on top of him and he struggled to get out from under it.
Letting out a loud sneeze, Naruto sniffled and grimaced at the continuing tickle in his nose, "Stupid dusty curtain." he commented. The faded blue cloth was incredibly dusty but it was better than his wet clothes which were laid out on the floor to his left. Low rumbles of thunder could still be heard outside as frequent flashes still illuminated the darker parts of the room. It was also still raining, though not as hard as it had been.
'I really hope I don't get into trouble for this.' he thought as he held onto the curtain a little tighter. Looking around the room now that he wasn't focused on being so cold, Naruto found himself in a state of boredom. He really wasn't tired and there was nothing to do or look at.
'Well...not nothing.' Naruto corrected himself as he looked back to the wall of masks. In the darkness, the white masks stood out quite well and his curiosity was getting the better of him. Adjusting the curtain to make a robe so he could walk, Naruto got up from the floor and moved closer to the masks. He made it to the stage before stopping and cautiously examined the masks closer.
Truly they were unlike any other masks that he had seen. There were ninja in the village that wore animal masks but those had designs and colors on them. Some merchants in the village also sold different masks of animals and with designs. However, the masks before him were just white and black with no swirls or streaks of any kind. They appeared to be more detailed too, with sharp distinct features and not like the smooth masks of the village ninja.
After making sure that none of the masks were 'looking' at him or had moved in any way, Naruto walked up the four steps of the stage and moved closer to the wall to get a better look at the masks. After counting them all and coming up with a total of 27, Naruto began examining each of them in no particular order.
After a few moments, he began to see distinct similarities between the masks. Each had a set of horns, a similarly styled haircut, and the mouth was open on each showing off teeth. However, despite these features looking very similar, upon closer inspection he found that they were sill different. The horns were all of different size or oriented on the head differently. Some were near vertical while others angled and farther away from each other. The hairstyles also fell differently on the head, some of the hair was closer to the nose, farther up on the forehead, or framed the face differently, despite being the same style of haircut. The teeth were also completely different. Some where white, while a few were black, and while all the teeth were sharp canines, the configuration in the mouths and sizes were all different. Some masks only had four teeth while others had ten or more.
The more Naruto looked at the masks, the more he began to believe not none of the 27 mask on the wall were the same, each was slightly different and unique from the others. A smile formed on his face as he looked at a few masks that had funny expressions or a deep frown. A select few were even smiling. Though perhaps an hour ago he had been scared of the masks, now he found them interesting. Only a handful were truly frightening.
'And that one looks familiar.' Naruto idly thought to himself and as he went to the next mask, he stopped and looked back at the previous one. Staring at the mask that was directly at the center of the 27 on the wall, Naruto examined it more carefully than the others. The mask had a full set of black teeth and ears, which some of the other masks didn't. The horns were tall and spaced wide apart while the hair looked relatively normal on the head. The nose was large and the expression confused him. Honestly he really couldn't place the expression or determine what emotion the mask was showing. It had furrowed brows as if in anger but mouth did not support that as it was neither a happy nor menacing smirk.
'But why do I think I've seen it before?' wondered Naruto as he had a strange deja vu feeling despite not being able to remember ever seeing a mask like it before. Quickly looking over the others again, none of those masks gave him quite the same feeling.
Stepping forward, Naruto got on his tiptoes as he reached up to the center of the second row and tried to take the mask. The tips of his fingers just barely touched the bottom of the chin on the mask and Naruto strained to push it up and get the small bow at the top of the head off the peg imbedded into the wall.
"Come on." he complained out, loud stretching as far as he could until he could touch the mask. With just the simple touch, he could not however get the mask off the peg so he began trying to push the mask upward as much as he could in a single swift prod to the mask's chin. After the third prod, the mask finally twisted slightly and the ribbon came off the peg, causing it fall.
Naruto's eyes widened and grabbed the mask before it could hit the ground, "That was close." he remarked as he turned the mask over to look at the face up close.
The white material was cool to the touch and now that he could feel it with his hands and examine the texture, he realized that it wasn't porcelain or plastic like the masks he had seen for sale at certain festivals held in the village. He didn't know what the ninja masks were made from, but it didn't look the same. The mask he held did not have a smooth texture but nor was it rough.
Flipping it back over, he noticed that there were no eye holes on the mask. The eyes on the front were colored black where normal people had white and the pupil was solid white and the same color as the rest of the mask. 'Is it not meant to be worn?' he wondered at the lack of eyes for a person to see out through.
Shrugging, he smiled at the mask and decided that he might keep it. It certainly wasn't his but the temple looked to have been abandoned and whoever had owned the temple had 26 other masks. Would they really miss one? By his understanding, that meant it was fare game. The symbols on the walls did look like the ones on ninja vests and shoulders so it must have been associated with the village, though in what capacity he had no idea.
Holding it up, Naruto decided to try it on just once. He knew he wouldn't be able to see through it and since there was only a small ribbon at the top, there was no way to secure it to his face, but he still wanted to put the adult-sized mask on.
Once the cool mask was on his face, something happened and all he felt was pain.