Disclaimer: Masashi Kishimoto is the creator of the popular Naruto manga/anime series and all its official characters. Tite Kubo is the author of the popular manga/anime series and has complete ownership of all official Bleach characters. I do not own anything that gets mentioned as cameo from other anime/manga, video games, music, and etcetera. All I own are Original Characters that come into play.
Author's Note: So I've had a busy few days what with new games released like Batman: Arkham Origins and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Then of course there's the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts. In other gaming news they're porting Assassin's Creed III: Liberation and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate to the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 as a digital-only title. I'd have updated the story with this chapter but games get in the way... :P
"Wow, it feels like I'm stepping back into the real world," comments Ichigo.
The group was standing on the Senju side of the valley. Renji noticed Naruto walking away from the others before leaping off the statue's head. The others noted this and followed after the blond captain who lands almost casually for someone who took a death drop. Naruto's feet crunched on the gravel and sand that pools around the edges of the lake fed by the roaring waterfalls.
"Here is where I died... falling off the waterfall, a hole in my chest, and sinking to its depths before I climbed out with a chain stuck to my body and no more evil voices in my head..."
Naruto gazed towards the water's surface. The scent of the water's spray filled the air, and nature's calm grace wafts through the horizon. A wind blows through.
"I was only thirteen years old. I was ranked as Genin. And I was Konoha's Jinchūriki."
Naruto shakes his head.
"Strange... visiting my unmarked grave..." He turns his back to the lake. "Alright guys. I promised Ichigo to explain what chakra is. As taught to all students of the ninja academy, chakra is the representation of two vital parts within the body: physical energy and spiritual energy. These two parts combined together form the energy called chakra. All humans have small amounts of chakra. Those with larger chakra reserves and storages are those who trained to become ninja. Chakra can be used to perform techniques considered super human in Ichigo's world; exhaling flames, generating lightning, commanding water, generating blasts of wind, using the very ground itself as a weapon. We can use chakra in order to create illusions to fool the senses, or to commit torture via complex illusions. They can be used to empower even the simplest of seals, or augment one's strength in physical combat."
"This chakra sounds like one powerful source for the humans of your world, Naruto," comments Renji.
"Just like how we use reiatsu to perform Kidō, ninjas use chakra to perform ninjutsu or genjutsu, or to power up taijutsu techniques. Right now, our location, the Shūmatsu no Tani is on the borders of Hi no Kuni (Land of Fire) and Oto no Kuni (Land of Sound). Hi no Kuni is where my ninja village exists while in Sound, it's where the ninja criminal Orochimaru is rumored to have established his shinobi village."
Naruto answers, "Someone who's one sick and twisted evil man. Think Kurotsuchi-taichō, only with no regards to human or animal life and having an obsession with obtaining immortality by the manipulation of life." The looks of shock Naruto got had Naruto hope he got them knowing just how dangerous the Snake Sannin was. "Orochimaru has rightfully obtained his rank as an S-Class Criminal. He's that dangerous. For most ninjas, they are taught that if you ever encounter a ninja who is S-Ranked, you mostly are forced to retreat, even if on a mission. Only strong ninja can fight strong ninja."
"This already sounds like one dangerous mission we're undertaking," Tōshirō informed Naruto.
"The world is a big place, Tōshirō. I never went past borders leading to Tsuchi no Kuni (Land of Earth) or Kaminari no Kuni (Land of Lightning) during my time alive."
"What do we do first, Naruto?"
Naruto runs his hand through his hair. "Well... I know of one place where we can establish a type of base. I just hope I don't scare Inari-kun by showing up at his family's doorstep. I hope the Great Naruto Bridge is still open."
Great Naruto Bridge...?
"First, we go to a nearby town or village and hope we can secure a world map of the Elemental Nations. It'll make things much easier for us."
Naruto took one last glance at the lake, where his body was likely rotted and decayed because of the liquid environment. Then he reached into his pocket and pulls out a black handkerchief, which he ties up forming a makeshift face mask to cover the lower half of his face.
"If I remember correctly, there was a local town nearby here about three miles south. I recall passing by it chasing after Sasuke. We'll go there first."
Without another word, he tells everyone to keep up and shoots off into the trees, bounding quickly from branch to branch. Everyone quickly caught up. Naruto may be a Shinigami now, but he would always stick to his core ninja training. He would often do Suì-Fēng favors by keeping her rank and division in shape by performing mock break-ins and then... well, it's like being back alive in Konoha pulling off pranks and dodging scores of so-to-come exhausted ANBU, Chūnin, and Jōnin.
Home of the fabled Naruto Bowl, which was a customized supersize bowl. It was Ayame who had the idea to honor Naruto's memory by serving the bowl size, adding it to their menu. It was a way of showcasing one's huge appetite, which Naruto mostly had over anybody else in the village. Thus far, no one was unable to beat Naruto's previous record of twenty-five bowls of ramen. Yes, twenty-five bowls! The only person who came close was Rock Lee, and only after he stopped at nineteen half-way, about to puke.
The cracked sake bottle was still on the minds of the two women as they duck under the flap, and was greeted by Teuchi.
"Lady Hokage, Sakura, what'll be today?"
"A medium bowl of miso for the both of us," Tsunade told the man.
The man smiled. "Coming right up! Ayame, two medium bowls, miso!"
"Tsunade... what do you think the crack on the bottle mean?"
The woman sighed. "I don't know, Sakura."
The thing about that particular bottle of sake was that Jiraiya when he bought it had it hand-painted with ceramic paints from a "guy he knows". On its surface was Naruto's smiling mug. It would just sit there, acting as decoration; she never opened it at all when Jiraiya handed it to her. The crack ran down the face of the artistically painted image...
They were soon served their ramen, and the two women enjoyed their meals in relative silence. Elsewhere around the village, a certain pale-eyed girl was exiting the former home of her crush Naruto. Ever since his apparent death she had retreated not a depression that lasted six months before finally growing up and deciding to keep herself strong for Naruto's memory. She started living at his residence, taking over the place. She trained hard to become a fierce ninja.
Her sensei was off-duty due to becoming pregnant with Asuma as the father, and her team mates had their own lives to attend and missions as benefit of their Chūnin Rank.
Hinata felt a strange chill descend her spine. She felt that something was going to happen in the future. Across the village, those touched by Naruto felt similar feelings of foreboding shadow their conscious.
Naruto had perched Inari on his shoulders who rode him that way, telling Naruto where to go to see his grandpa Tazuna. Unlike Yachiru getting Zaraki lost half the time, Inari was leading them the right direction. What happened earlier when they all finally arrived at Nami no Kuni (Land of Waves) after traveling using Shunpo, and after crossing the Great Naruto Bridge (that surprised everyone as the group had seen the bridge named after Uzumaki Naruto himself), was something they would question if it really did happen: Naruto breaking out into a random and impromptu song routine that got the villagers to join.
"So, Inari-kun, you're twelve years old, almost a teenager. I bet you probably got a girlfriend, right?"
"What? I'm just asking a totally honest question. I mean it's not like I'm asking if you fap off to porn."
Behind Naruto, the others just stare at him.
"Shut up niichan. I once tried stealing this orange book your sensei once was reading gramps had, but... it was too trashy."
"Yeah... Jiraiya-sensei wrote those Icha Icha books. I never got what had many men enjoy that series. It's too much porn, and not enough plot. Every good book smutty or otherwise should have a good plot."
Then Naruto looks up to Inari.
"What do you read then?"
"Naruto, why are we talking about porn?" Rukia interrupted, her cheeks a tinge red at the blasé attitude from the captain of the third division. Ichigo's face was red as Rukia's. Well, so were Tōshirō's, and Renji's. Suì-Fēng was just having a face palming moment.
"Okay, okay, I'll stop. But I'm still wondering about you dating, Inari. As your designated big brother figure, I should know."
Inari raised his left foot and then shot it back down against his shoulder. Naruto just chuckles.
"Well... I'm kind of in a relationship with this boy that I know," he finally answered.
"Yeah. I'm gay, Naruto-niichan."
Naruto was surprised, but his smile returned. "Well, I'm happy for ya, Inari. For me, love is love no matter what your gender."
Inari beams a bright smile.
"Thanks Naruto. Mom and grandpa were also very supportive when I told them that I was gay and dating this boy I know from school."
"As long as he loves you and isn't treating you bad, I'm glad for ya. Though, as your big brother I should have a talk with this guy."
"Naruto! You wouldn't scare him would you?"
"Ohh... it's just a harmless talk."
"You better not hurt him or I'll kick your ass, niichan."
"There. Ever since grandpa took over as Daimyō, we rebuilt the old house into a bigger one." Inari swung his legs and slid down Naruto's back. "C'mon! Grandpa and mom will be so glad to see you again!"
Naruto followed the teen, as happy as ever. The others quickly hurried up as Inari led them into the large house fit for a noble. They were witness to Naruto being treated as he was family, a kind of reunion as a woman, likely Inari's mother, gasped, squeals, and tackle-glomps Naruto with a big hug. That got an old man's attention out from a nearby room, whose face almost broke with the huge grin he now sported.
"Naruto! You lovable bastard you!"
The old man swung his arms around Naruto, a manly hug.
"Great to see you too, old man."
Naruto's friends were politely silent, watching this exchange of greetings.
"Naruto-kun! I thought you were dead," said Tsunami. "When word reached to us that our precious hero had died, all of us mourned for you."
"Yeah, niichan," Inari spoke up, "gramps constructed a statue in your honor at the town square, and everybody prayed for you."
Naruto was touched by the sentiment this country had for him.
"Well, exact news of my apparent death must have been exaggerated, then. Although, for some time I really WAS dead..."
"Like how?" questioned Tazuna.
Suì-Fēng was about to speak up, but Naruto answered the old man.
From the looks he received, Naruto sighed. The other Shinigami were silent, as Naruto immediately started to spin up a tale with ninja-like deception. It hurt Naruto to do so, but in reality, as a Shinigami, not many humans are not to know that life existed after death; though in some ways, he was also telling the truth in regards to his tale of survival.
"I almost died. I really did. Taking a Chidori (One-Thousand Birds) to the chest hurts like a bitch."
Naruto undid the zipper to the bodice-vest and spreads it open. Clearly seen under the fishnet of his shirt, was a fist-sized scar positioned almost over where his heart would have been. Tsunami gasped, horrified at the ugly scar left on his body.
"It was very traumatic for me... like I said, I almost died. But an explosion of sorts occurred, knocking Sasuke away just as I attacked him while Sasuke was heavily influenced by the Cursed Seal inflicted on him by Orochimaru. The last thing I saw was him crashing to the side before I hit the waters and went over the falls. I got carried downstream from a lake a far distance before two old men fished my body out of the water."
"How... How did you get healed, then?"
Naruto zipped back up. "Well, I guess you should know. I am... or was... a Jinchūriki."
"Jinchūriki?" Tazuna asked.
"I once had a tailed demon beast sealed inside of me at birth. Most Jinchūriki from other ninja villages are mostly treated as weapons of war. And most Jinchūriki as far as I know do not have the most hospitable childhoods or lives, because humans fear what they don't understand. The demon that once was inside me healed me of the damage, but... well... apparently it died saving my life. In the process... my memories were lost. I couldn't recall who I was or where I came from. The two men who saved me from the river before I would disappear into the ocean, they cared for me. They gave me a place to live."
"So that explains your new friends, Naruto..."
"Yes. Everyone, these are the friends I made while I was living a temporary new life on the other side of the planet. The guy with orange hair is Kurosaki Ichigo. The girl next to him is Kuchiki Rukia. That's her friend Abarai Renji. The teen with the white hair is my friend Hitsugaya Tōshirō. And the young petite woman is Suì-Fēng."
Naruto faces Tazuna's family again.
"I had amnesia so I didn't know my name. For a time I went by the name Menma. But overtime my memories started to return, until one day I woke up and it was all clear to me. I almost died, and the demon inside me gave its life to save me. So, I decided to return to the Elemental Countries. They decided to join me. Naruto or Menma, I was their friend."
"Well, that certainly is quiet a story. So, when are you going back to Konoha?"
Naruto shook his head. "I'm not. Not yet at least."
Naruto sighed. "I've likely been declared dead by the ninja system so if I just show up there claiming to be Uzumaki Naruto, I'll incite chaos. And also, I'm also in the middle of an adventure. You see during my time away I've stumbled upon another type of deadly demonic entity not unlike one of tailed demons I once had sealed in my body. They're dangerous monsters that have a penchant for human souls, and we're trying to save the world by destroying the source. The ninja villages don't even know of these dangerous beasts and we hope they don't find out. They'll likely not be able to protect themselves because only special powers we have can harm these things."
Tazuna sighed, taking a seat on the nearby couch. "Damn, kid. You just have one interesting life."
"Well... you're more than welcome to stay here and rest up until you have to leave again. And don't worry; we won't inform Konoha of your passing through. I can tell this is something you really want to keep secret."
Naruto sadly nods. "Yeah... other than inciting chaos if I suddenly returned from the dead, which I obviously did, I'd likely be held down under heavy eyes before I was to be trusted again. And if I was held down, I won't be able to help my friends keep the Elemental Countries from being invaded by the black monsters."
"Stay as long as you need to, kid. And don't worry we have enough food to feed you and your company."
"Oh, I'll be good to cook for you, Naruto-kun," she tells the blond-haired teen. "I'll make sure to prepare you ramen. Your sensei once told me how you loved eating ramen."
"Shucks, Tsunami-chan... you're making me blush."
The family had a good laugh. With Naruto back, it certainly had lifted up the spirits of the three. That Ichigo and the others can clearly see just how well-loved Naruto was to the three strangers.
"Hey Tazuna, I have a question."
Tazuna looks to Naruto. "What is it, Naruto?"
"Is... is Zabuza and Haku's graves still where it was?"
That got the Shinigami's attentions.
Tazuna sighed. "Yeah. Even though Zabuza tried to kill me, when he turned against Gatō in the end being betrayed... well when we thought you died, we decided to cordon their graves off as well. Turn it into a kind of protected site. It's fenced off and only I got the keys to the gate."
The old man left to his study to grab said keys, before returning and tossing them to the teen.
"Thanks, old man. I'll return in a bit. Just want to go say hello to Zabuza and Haku..."
Tazuna nods. "Sure, Naruto. Take your time to pay your respects."
Naruto got up off the couch and left out the front door. Naruto's friends followed him. Tsunami returned to the kitchen to prepare a bigger feast for the evening.
Five minutes later of a quick trek to the location, Naruto led the others to a forest clearing, which clearly had been fenced around. Finding the gate, he undoes the locks before opening and inviting them in.
"What is it, Rukia?"
"What happens to the souls of this world when they die?"
Naruto scratched his head. "Well, I'm not really sure. Unlike back home where we use Konso on the recently deceased souls from time to time, I don't know what happens to the souls here. I'm the only soul from this world that was passed on to a different afterlife, and became a Shinigami. I know that this world has a Shinigami, but I don't know if it's the same Shinigami we are, or it's something else..."
"Well, do you know what kind of Shinigami looks like here, Naruto?" questions Renji.
"Well, only speculations and imagination. It's a subject vaguely brought up, guys, even by the humans of this world. I once read in a book that the Shinigami was a monster of a being with a tattered robe and a decorative ceremonial Oni-styled mask. And that it keeps its ceremonial dagger secured within its toothy mouth which is used to claim the souls of the dead."
Naruto leads them up a worn dirt path until they saw two tombstones. Behind one tombstone was a large sword. The sword looks like one giant butcher's knife.
"Sarutobi-ojiisan, the Third Hokage, sacrificed his life before trying to defeat Orochimaru by summoning the Shinigami to cut at Orochimaru. I asked Jiraiya-sensei about it. All he told me was that Orochimaru had his soul cut in half during the Invasion of Konoha that rendered his arms useless before the old man's soul was taken by the Shinigami as payment. Of course, when summoning the Death God, Jiraiya said that's normally the price for summoning it."
The others were visibly disturbed that the ninjas of this world could summon an entity that represented Death. This was a different world, so it WAS possible that meant the ways of life and death was different. Naruto's was very different because he got passed by a different Shinigami that allowed him to become one after passing on to Soul Society. Yes, Naruto certainly has one crazy afterlife, doesn't he?
"Although, I doubt all ninja know how to summon the Shinigami, you guys. It seems to be a secret from everyone. As far as I know, only the Fourth Hokage and the Third Hokage of Konoha know how to use the Kuchiyose: Shiki Fūin (Summoning: Death Seal)."
Naruto looks to his friends before facing the stones likely chiseled from marble on Tazuna's command. The burials have since overgrown with grass and some wild flowers, and the tombstones themselves show the time of age on them. The sword however looked normal. It still remained the same unblemished highly-polished blade as four years ago.
"Zabuza, Haku... it's been four years but I'm back. Thought I'd say hi while I was in town," Naruto spoke to the tombstones. "I was nothing more than a hyperactive child who thought being a ninja meant saving people and having fun. You... you really taught me something that day when you attacked me and my team trying to kill Tazuna. You taught me how harsh and cruel the world truly was. You opened my eyes that day. But, you also inspired me to never give up on my beliefs. To never surrender to the oppression and to protect my precious ones dear to my soul..."
Naruto got to one knee, and was kneeling before the graves, his arms crossed over his right knee.
"I took those unseen lessons to heart. You'd be surprised just how strong I am now, Zabuza, Haku. You'd likely also be amazed at how different I've become since my own death. I'm likely the only soul who's a warrior in another world." He chuckles here. "Another world... if only you could see it. It's different from the world we live in dominated by the shinobi lifestyle. Maybe you're living again, a different life... one of peace. Hopefully, you two are still together even in death."
He tilts his head down, and closed his eyes.
This was Naruto's moment. The others kept their short distance, respecting Naruto's silent prayer as he stayed kneeled at one knee before the two graves for a full three minutes. Finally, Naruto looks up, and wipes away his tears.
"Zabuza... I hope you don't mind if I take your Kubikiribōchō (Decapitating Carving Knife). I'm surprised that it remained here this long and not got looted by Missing-nins..."
As if by an answer from Zabuza's spirit, the wind picked up briskly and blew at the leaves themselves. The wind ruffled at their clothes. A few flower petals got loose and were swept away in the wind itself. Naruto almost heard a soft whisper, telling him, "Take it." Standing up to full attention, Naruto walks around the tombstone belonging to Zabuza, before firmly grasping the handle of the large blade. Then with an easy tug he draws the weapon out of the ground and with a wide sweep, seemingly sheathed it onto his back with a fluid motion.
Naruto placed a hand on the top of the tombstone.
"Zabuza... thank you... maybe one day we'll meet again."
He almost choked up.
Naruto walks away from the graves of Zabuza and Haku, walking past Suì-Fēng, Tōshirō, Rukia, Renji, and Ichigo whom all watched this scene. Naruto didn't look at any of them as he passed them, taking the sword with him. They silently followed the captain away from the graves. The spirits of Zabuza and Haku watch Naruto leave with the strangers. Zabuza and Haku shared a smile before they faded away. His weapon was in trusted hands. And Naruto was one person Zabuza would entrust his weapon to...
"Naruto, why are you taking that sword?" asked Renji.
"Because Zabuza would have wanted someone he trusted to take the weapon, and not some asshole looking for fame or a tool to use against the innocent. It may put a target on me if I'm seen yielding this about, but better with me than lost to the world."
The rest of the trek back to Tazuna's was in silence. People did look at Naruto, seeing their hero with the weapon used by the famed Monster of the Bloody Mist. When Tazuna saw Naruto return with Zabuza's weapon, the old man did not comment, only nod as he accepted the gate keys from the blond. Dinner was served.
Yes, Naruto has Zabuza's weapon. It was not stolen or taken by Suigetsu since he has yet to have any plot in this story as of yet. Same goes for Karin and Jūgo. Was it a bit sad at that part with Naruto's silent gesture of remembrance? His pose almost mimics Bruce's pose from Arkham City where in Crime Alley he would kneel before the chalk outlines of his mother and father in silent remembrance. So not only does Naruto have Kurohime, his Zanpakutō, but now he's toting around Zabuza's sword. Naruto though doesn't know what the weapon can really do and neither do the Shinigami. But he'll learn it's secrets as this plot unfolds.