Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. If I did then it would have gone something...like...THIS!


~ O ~

Minato stands at a cliff edge with the crying infant in his arms. He holds it carefully but pays its cries no attention; he can only stare at what's coming at him from out of the horizon. The Kyuubi's fearsome maw is pointed in his direction, but it's not him the beast is coming for. It's the village of helpless civilians and grossly outmatched shinobi who will soon be crushed underfoot unless the young Hokage can follow through with his wretched plan.

As the Kyuubi slinks onward, it leaves a miasmic trail of crimson in the air; the foulest of chakra. The transparent residue is whipped chaotically in all directions by the movement of the beast's nine tornado-like tails. The moon casts its light through the chakra and imbues the land in a malevolent red.

Minato holds the crying child closer and peers over the edge of the cliff. He muses how the darkness below beckons like the mouth of a hungry beast-god. He's not far off; a great beast will be satiated soon but it won't be the obvious one on the horizon.

"Minato!" shouts a woman's voice.

He turns his back to the oncoming Kyuubi and faces the one person he dreads more than it.

"Hello, Kushina," he says with a sad warmth.

Her beautiful face is curled into an expression of the deepest rage and sorrow imaginable. Standing on uneasy feet, she carries herself reasonably well for a woman who gave birth only an hour ago. She still wears a hospital gown and if he hadn't dismissed the ANBU guarding her then the garment would likely be stained with their blood right now. But he wanted her to be here and there is no sense in needlessly sacrificing more lives than what his plan needs.

She extends both hands, "Give Naruto to me, Minato. We'll leave and you'll never have to see us again."

Minato shakes his head, "I'd like that more than anything but it's not possible at this point."

She snarls at him; "How could you do it, Minato? How could you look me in the eye so many times and lie to me? I really don't know who I should hate more: you for lying or myself for being weak and stupid enough to believe you."

"I didn't do it for the fun of it, Kushina!" he says harshly and causes baby Naruto to cry louder.

Hearing her son cry sets something off inside her; from up out of her back appear dozens of bladed black chains that slither and sway though the air like eels. The chains are of an unknown alloy and the individual links have jagged accents that would cause cruel wounds if drawn across human flesh. In contrast, at the head of each chain is a thin diamond-shaped blade that looks capable of delivering a swift, clean stab.

All of them point at Minato like angry king cobras ready to strike.

"No, but you did get some fun out of it. Am I right, you son of a bitch?"

Minato doesn't answer and Naruto's cries quiet down as if it is only his father's voice that's upsetting him.

She continues her verbal assault, "You don't have to answer that; the fact that even Jiraiya turned his back on you says it all. Just clear one more thing up for me and try to be honest unless honesty is too much for the Yondaime Hokage to handle. How long have you known in advance that the Kyuubi would attack Konoha? How long ago did you first learn of the prophecy?"

He thinks carefully on what he should say; there's no way that telling the truth can diffuse this situation. Then he remembers the fact that he'll be dead soon; whether he tells the truth or not won't change anything. Even though it will all be over, he can't abide the thought of being a despicable liar up to his last breath.

"A year," he finally admits.

Kushina gasps and tears begin to well up in the corners of her violet eyes.

She knew the truth, but actually hearing him admit it still rips her world out from under her. The last few years with him had been the brightest of her life since she was a little girl. Before she had been orphaned and left alone to grow into a hardened vagabond. Then he found her and gave her something to live for beyond mere survival: Naruto. Now she knows that her son exists for no other reason than to be a sacrifice to save that damned village.

Despite the high emotions between the two adults, Naruto now coos contentedly with absolutely no notion of the fate that's in store for him.

Kushina crosses the familiar threshold and her sorrow is replaced with cold intent. The light disappears from her eyes which shift into murderous slits. Her chains sway malevolently in the air like the tails of The Kyuubi which is mere minutes away. Minato creates a shadow clone which he gently hands his son to. He draws a kunai and steps forward to meet his beloved in the most painful battle of their lives.

All the while their son sleeps as if he's right at home in the middle of all of this.

Naruto: The Darkest of Heroes

Chapter One:

Naruto snaps awake after nearly dozing off again. Looking around, he sees that the instructor's unimpressive lecture is having the same effect on many other students in the classroom. He smacks his face a couple of times and sits back in his seat wide-awake.

The class is well packed with students yet Naruto is given a wide berth with almost a whole section of the room to himself. He's a handsome boy with spiked wine-red hair, sharp facial features complemented by the three whisker-marks on each cheek and slanted blue eyes. He wears a dark-green T-shirt and tanned cargo shorts with black sandals.

Though isolated by his classmates, he doesn't appear lonely or unhappy about it. He glances over at Sasuke who appears pleased by the attention lavished on him by his surrounding fan base. Naruto almost shivers at the thought of switching places with the attention-hungry Uchiha.

The instructor looks up at him, "Sasuke, would you come down and demonstrate how to perform a bunshin?"

The dark-haired boy comes down, faces the room, runs his hands through the appropriate set of seals and summons a perfect double right beside him. Most of the class, especially the girls, gives him applause while Naruto can only roll his eyes. The instructor sees the red-head's reaction and scowls at the disrespect.

"Naruto, come down here and perform a henge."

The redhead obliges and almost the entire class gives him their attention though of the kind opposite to what they gave Sasuke who returns to his seat. Naruto performs the right seals and a poof of white smoke replaces him with a sickly, deformed version of the Uchiha. How an ink drawing of him would look after a glass of water has been spilled all over it.

"Ughflaghmachfasser!" exclaims the Sasuke-abomination.

The Uchiha stares shocked at this mocking portrayal and his fans jeer angrily.

The instructor nearly slaps a palm to his face, "That's enough, Naruto. Go back to your seat."

The abomination dispels and Naruto returns to his seat without acknowledging the glares following him. Especially the glare of the Uchiha who looks like he's been dealt the worst insult someone of his ilk could be given. Despite the searing negative attention, Naruto finds it impossible to hold back a smile.

The academy is out and all of the students crowd out into the net of waiting parents. Whether they're the heads of clans or of a more humble class, all of the parents are happy to reunite with their children. Except for Uchiha Itachi; when Sasuke comes towards him he promptly turns and begins walking without giving his little brother any attention. As if escorting him home is a menial task that he just wants to be done with.

Oblivious to this, Sasuke eagerly pushes his way through his classmates to catch up with his beloved big brother.

A small group of rough-looking kids stand around the entrance and wait for a particular student to come out. When he doesn't come out they become agitated and fan out looking for him completely unaware of the fact he's given them the slip. Walking across a rooftop away from the academy, an average-looking brown-haired boy releases a henge to reveal he's actually Naruto.

Ever since learning the henge, he has used it to avoid the attention of the kids and their parents in the academy courtyard. Normally he doesn't care when people recognize him, it's actually better when they do because they quickly realize he's the one who they have to leave the hell alone. However, it's different when he has to wade through a crowd of glaring adults like the one waiting in front of the academy at the end of each day.

They always look down on him like an animal that might suddenly snap and start attacking the children.

A few minutes later he's eating a bowl of ramen at Ichiraku's. A man from off the street comes to sit down but stops himself when he recognizes the red-head with the whisker-marks. The tell-tale marks of the loathsome Kyuubi-brat. He chooses to keep on walking and find an establishment not tainted by the brat's presence; old-man Teuchii watches him go with a bitter glance.

Naruto looks up from his bowl, "If you want me to leave so you can do some business then just say the word and I'm gone."

It's one thing when people shun him, but it's another thing entirely when those people shun the precious few who try to associate with him.

Teuchii just shakes his head as he vigorously cleans an empty bowl, "Relax, Naruto. I've told you before: I don't serve food to undesirables. And idiots are always undesirable."

"I could always put on a henge; they won't know it's me."

"Nah, I like to know who the idiots are for...future reference."

"Jeez, how do you do any business at all if you're so damn picky about who you serve?"

The old man smiles, "I used to be a shinobi too, Naruto. I still am, in way. You could say that I do a lot of culinary shadow-work on the side."

Naruto chuckles at the thought of this humble old man waging a devastating shadow-war on the enemies of konoha with his cooking skills alone.

"Hey, freak!" a boy calls.

That puts a dampener on his mood.

Looking to his right, he sees the rough-looking boys from the academy standing a good distance away. There are four of them and they distinguish themselves from the academy population by wearing really dumb bandanas. Tribalistic little shits who can't learn anything unless it's beaten into them. Naruto quickly finishes his bowl and politely pushes it towards Teuchii.

He's not going to be driven away from the only public establishment he enjoys visiting.

"Have any soy-sauce packets?"

The old man sighs and passes some to him, "Try not to go overboard with these punks. I don't need their parents putting more boycotts on me."

Naruto pockets the soy-sauce and grabs his school bag off the ground. Throwing it over his shoulder, he walks out into the street and stops ten feet from the bullies. Their leader, a tall kid wearing an orange bandana, steps forward with a fierce smirk on his pudgy face.

"Nice of you to come to us and save us the trouble. You actually have a brain after all. Or do you? It was really fucking stupid how you dissed the Uchiha in class. Are you jealous because he's from Konoha's strongest clan while you're a clanless loser?"

Naruto's smirks is greatly enhanced by his dark vulpine features.

"What're you, Sasuke's cheerleader? You have big dreams of being his manservant some day? Or his bitch?"

The bully flusters; he didn't expect the little runt to speak back to him like that.

Naruto continues, "Do you honestly think that if you kiss his ass enough then he'll suddenly give a shit about a pathetic suck-up like you?"

"You piece of-"

-Naruto lifts and tosses his school-bag at the bully's face. He catches it but leaves himself open to a vicious punch to the testicles. He quickly recovers his bag as the bully crumbles to the ground whimpering and cradling his tender balls.

Another bully closes in; Naruto brings out the soy-sauce packets, crushes them then throws them in his face. He staggers around trying to rub the horrible stuff from his eyes before Naruto's bag is swung into the side of his head and knocks him off his feet. The redhead faces the last two; one looks discouraged while the other thinks he might have a chance and is ready to throw down.

Naruto gestures to the first bully he dispatched, "Is he your leader?"

A nod.

"Do you honestly think you'll do any better than he did?"

The bully thinks for a moment then quietly backs down.

Naruto smiles and swings his bag over his shoulder, "Good. You actually have a brain after all."

After running across the rooftops for several blocks, Naruto sets down on his balcony and unlocks the screen door. He always comes in that way so he can avoid running into his neighbours in the hallways. He steps into his apartment which is a simple studio with a modest kitchen, meal table, bathroom, and a queen-sized mattress in the corner to his right.

He tosses his school-bag on his bed and walks to the kitchen to set up the kettle for tea. The floor is a darkly polished hardwood with a large, comfortable yet bland-looking rug covering most of it. The walls are a faint tan colour and are covered with dozens of school papers, drawings, and shabby-looking movie posters.

One of the posters is not-too-subtly titled 'I Married a Spy from Iwa!' and displays a woman being menaced by a leering, ape-like man wearing an Iwa Hitai-ate.

The poster is better than the movie which Naruto wisely didn't pay money to see.

He pours a cup of tea and is about to take the first sip when he hears a gentle knocking at the screen-door. Standing on the balcony is a tall ANBU operative with wild grey hair shooting up over a rabbit mask. Naruto gestures for him to come in; the operative politely closes the screen-door behind him.

"Hello, Naruto. I suppose you know why I'm here."

The redhead takes a seat at the table, "Hi, Rabbit. Yeah, I know why you're here. Something to do with a group of dumbasses who are surprised and angry that I didn't let them kick my ass."

Rabbit nods, "Yeah, real nice kids. You can understand why their parents are so upset."

Naruto scoffs and takes a sip of his tea, "If they really cared about their kids then they wouldn't let them think its okay to mess with me. I'm supposed to be some horrible monster after all."

Only nine years old and the boy had accepted the existence of the beast sealed inside him. Rabbit remembers the day that Naruto had been exposed to the truth; the last day of his short childhood. The veteran wishes he could bring that damned villager back to life so he could kill him again.

He looks over at a drawing Naruto made a few years ago; done on white paper and depicting a small red figure surrounded by tall, monstrous figures drawn roughly with a black crayon.

"You're right about the idiot parents and their idiot spawn, but I'm still obligated to remind you that can't just level other kids for mouthing off."

Naruto shrugs, "What was I supposed to do, wait until they started throwing punches at me? Do you ANBU allow your enemies to get the first hit in?"

Rabbit shakes his head, "No, but that's totally different in that our enemies are often jounin-level shinobi who we can't take any chances on. For you, it was a bunch of dumb punks who you could easily have ignored or intelligently dissuaded. I know you're capable of that."

"Those meat-heads? Come on, you know how guys like that are: they gotta be softened up before they can be reasoned with. Yeah, I could've avoided them, but why should I keep my head down while they get a free pass? Also, shouldn't they be in trouble as well?"

A muffled sigh, "Look, you're not in trouble. You and I are having a friendly chat while other ANBU are visiting the parents of those kids and talking to them on far less friendly terms..."

That pleases Naruto.

"...I just want you to understand that there are smarter ways to handle things. Actions such as yours have consequences, even if those actions are understandable. There's two ways of handling any situation: the easy way and the smart way. Which one of those do you think your fight today falls under?"

Naruto gives the question serious thought and frowns when he arrives at a conclusion he doesn't like; as satisfying as the fight had been, it's not what a smart person would have done.

"We ANBU always have to take the smart way, no matter how frustrating and disappointing it often is. We do terrible, sometimes irredeemable things that most people can't hope to live with. Terrible things that are sadly necessary to this village's survival."

His late master comes to mind and he can't but feel some bitterness.

"Anyway, I'm telling you all this because I know you'll go far. And going far often leads to joining the ANBU."

Naruto nods in understanding, "And an ANBU can't do things the easy way."

Kakashi smiles behind his rabbit mask, "Exactly..."

7:23AM. Naruto is eating a breakfast of bacon and eggs after a refreshing shower. He goes through his morning routine without paying any attention; his mind is still on the topic of his conversation with Rabbit. Particularly the thought of one day becoming an ANBU of Konoha.

Rabbit was right: the strongest shinobi almost always end up in ANBU. That appeals to him particularly because of the anonymity that is inherent with the position. And he was going to get stronger; it's inevitable both because of the burden he carries and because he can't afford to let himself become weak in a village of people who would be all-to-happy to see him disappear.

And therein lays the problem: if he becomes an ANBU then he'll have to do the dirtiest of the dirty work in service to those very people.

If it is not for the village, then what is he getting stronger for?

A commotion from outside draws his attention and he steps out onto the balcony. He looks over the railing and sees a steady stream of people all moving excitedly in one direction. He looks in that direction; he is startled to see almost a hundred carrion crows blotting the morning sky.

The Uchiha district is in that direction.

From the shadows of a dingy alleyway, Naruto watches the influx of frenzied civilians move through the streets. After throwing on some light clothing, he took to the roofs and dropped down into an alleyway several blocks from his apartment to eavesdrop and find out what the hell is happening. He always has to be particularly careful when tensions are high among the civilians; if they find him then they'll make whatever excuse they can to lay the blame, whatever for, on him. He puts his back to the brick wall and sidles up to the mouth of the alley but stays in the shadows. Looking up, he catches fleeting snippets of movement from the shinobi rushing to the site of the activity. The Uchiha Compound.

From the street, he hears shouts of 'Murder' and 'All Dead' rise up from the noise of the passing rabble.

Naruto backs into the shadows; his fingers draw across the coarse wall. He surprises himself by actually feeling a small shred of concern for Sasuke, a fellow classmate, but that shred is quickly crushed out by his all-consuming sense of self-preservation. The best thing he can do here is worry about his own skin and leave; the people will be all too happy to blame him for the slaughter of one of Konoha's most beloved clans.

A hand grabs onto his shirt collar, pulls back and throws the small redhead into some garbage cans. He crawls onto his knees; looking back over his shoulder, he sees the silhouette of a man wearing a chuunin vest. A second man drops down and blocks escape out the other end of the alley. Naruto gets to his feet; he looks back and forth between the ominous men.

The first one speaks with a dull voice, "The ANBU bastards who are supposed to guard you are unfortunately pre-occupied with the mess at the Uchiha district."

Naruto's wide, fearful eyes almost glow in the shade.

"It's a hell of a mess; all of those slashed and broken bodies. They'll be busy cleaning up the trash all day and won't have any time for you..."

Hands grab hold of Naruto's arms; he struggles helplessly as he is held from behind. These are not the asshole academy students he's used to dealing with; he can't rout them with a few cocky words and well-placed punches. He struggles against the arms holding him as the black form of the chuunin blankets his vision.

Then pain explodes in his chest.

He looks down; a white-knuckled hand grasps the kunai in his chest. He feels the cold, solid alloy grate against something soft inside. He feels it tremble. The blade twists with a rubbery squelch; the man pulls it free and stands aside to avoid the spray of blood. Naruto sees the blood; it looks black in contrast to the bright street he stares out onto. The civilians move from the left to the right almost in slow motion.

For once, he wishes he was among them.

Then the kunai comes in again. The next thing he remembers is being on all fours and staring down into his blood, which is coloured black by the alley shade. The kunai protrudes from his chest.

The owner of the kunai kneels down, grabs hold of his hair and roughly lifts his head up.

"Look at me."

Naruto struggles to focus on the chuunin's face, which is rendered almost featureless by the shadows covering it. He does see something appear in the chuunin's face as if some small light has landed on it. It comes into better focus; he gasps and chokes on the blood in his throat.

He sees a single Sharingan eye staring down on him.

He knows it is a Sharingan; he has seen pictures of it in a textbook about the great bloodlines of Konoha. The black pattern adorning the smooth red iris is quite elaborate but blurs when hi vision begins to wane. The man speaks; his voice is completely devoid of emotion and almost seems disembodied.

"Not that I care, but the pain will be over soon. Be thankful because you have little to look forward to in this life. I am not saying that just because you are a jinchuuriki; someday soon every man, woman, and child will beg for the merciful oblivion that I am about to send you to. Soon the living will envy the dead. They will envy you. Isn't that a comforting thought?"

The man's words manage to draw Naruto's attention away from his agony. He will be dead soon and free from the village and the pain heaped on him since he was born. Part of him wants it all to be over, but in the end, his instinct for self-preservation wins over.

He is in no position to fight back, but he is in a position to spit a mouthful of blood in the chuunin's face. Naruto grins with bloody teeth; the chuunin's Sharingan eye blazes with rage as the blood further darkens his shadowed face. Then the Sharingan glows brighter and everything slowly fades to dark until that damned eye is all that remains.

Then it too is gone.

Darkness surrounds him but there is a sky above; a red sky that flows overhead like an upside-down ocean of blood. It looks almost liquid and consists of lucid shades of red which flow slowly and ominously with the wind. Though bleak, the sky is bright yet fails to bring light to the landscape which is covered in an unnatural darkness. He looks off into the horizon; he can see the dark shapes of diabolical mountains which stand jagged and knife-like against the grim skies.

Looking down, he sees that there is a faint light illuminating the stretch of ground he stands on. The light has no source but clearly casts his shadow onto a ground made of strange white grit. He kneels down and gathers a handful of the stuff; it's porcelain-white and of the same texture as gravel but is not like any mineral known to man.

He digs deeper into the stuff and pulls out a large hunk; it's not a mineral, it's a bone! The ground he stands on is made of pulverized bones! As if the bones of millions have been slowly crushed by the currents of an ocean which is long gone.

He's startled by a roar that shakes the landscape and causes the bone-grit under his feet to tremble. He stares fearfully in the direction of the roar; all he sees are the shadowy mountains which might be made of the same morbid debris that he stands on. Then he sees one of them move.

It's shapeless at first and moves across the darkened environment with the silhouettes of the mountains obscuring it. Then a massive tail rises up, and then another and another until nine tails sway against the back-drop of the brine-like sky. The thundering footfalls shake the landscape and he can't tell if the titanic thing is coming through the darkness that engulfs everything except him.

He must be dead and the punishment handed down to him by the fair and merciful gods is to be forever trapped with the demon that made his short life a living Hell. Instead of despair, he feels the deepest rage imaginable at this sick punch line to the cosmic joke that is his life. He was born seemingly to suffer for something beyond his control and now, in death, he's destined for more because the gods aren't through with him.

He snarls and screams defiantly at all creation but is drowned out by the sound of The Kyuubi's approach.

A bright light behind him casts a long shadow; he turns around and stares into a large Sharingan eyeball. It looks like it was plucked from a giant's eye-socket and just floats over the bone-grit like some morbid balloon. The red of the iris glows brighter and out of the pupil comes a black tentacle that moves like a snake and stabs into Naruto's stomach. When he screams, the whole world responds by erupting into chaotic upheaval.

Hurricane winds blast the landscape and fill the air with dust and shards of bone-grit. In the distance The Kyuubi roars angrily as if this catastrophe were trying to upstage the great beast. Overhead, the blood-red sky churns faster as giant fragments of the landscape are tossed through the air as easily as confetti.

The tentacle buries itself deep into Naruto's stomach, the boy's hands claw desperately to dislodge it but can't. He falls to his knees as he weakens further; the destruction of the world around him increases its intensity as if some elemental force is angered by what's happening to him. The Kyuubi's roars become lost in the chaos; even it's no match for the powers at play in this place.

Naruto feels himself fading as the tentacle poisons the core of his very being. If that bastard and his Sharingan are still after him then he can't be dead and his flesh-and-blood body is still in that alley bleeding out. Mortally wounding him doesn't seem to be enough; the Sharingan is trying to snuff out his very life source. If that happens, will there be anything left of his soul for the oblivion that bastard was talking about? He knows he must resist, but he has no strength with which to stand against an enemy that wants to destroy all of him.

How wrong he is.

A bladed black chain shoots up from the ground, stabs through the tentacle, wraps around it, and pulls it out of Naruto's stomach. The boy falls back and inspects his stomach; there's no trace of any damage. He looks up to see the black chain wrestling with the tentacle; he feels some small relief that something here is on his side. The apocalyptic windstorm dies down and allows the debris to return to the landscape. The glow of the Sharingan flares angrily and more tentacles shoot out of its tunnel-like pupil.

More chains erupt from the ground and intercept the tentacles. As they are torn and severed, they bleed a putrid substance from rotten-looking innards. The battle is turned against the Sharingan; the dozens of chains sprouting from the bone-grit quickly overwhelm the tentacles then join together to spear themselves into the centre of that damned eye. Naruto gets to his feet and grins ferociously as he watches the chains rip the Sharingan apart and spill its disgusting vitreous mucus upon the dried bone-grit. His joy is cut short when a massive foot sets down nearby and shakes the ground so hard that he nearly topples over.

He turns around and looks up; the black shape of The Kyuubi leans over him and blocks out the sky.

The last thing Kenichi remembers is stepping out of the changing room of the chuunin lounge and bumping into someone. He can't remember the man's face, only his eye: a Sharingan. Now he's sprawled on his ass with his hands instinctively covering his right eye which feels like it's been stabbed out. The pain is so great that both his eyes are scrunched shut, he hears the sound of nearby voices and is about to call for help when another sound stops him.

The sound of flesh tearing.

In the background he hears the steady noise of people passing by but it doesn't drown out the grotesque sounds that he can't see. The sounds of agonized whimpering and of flesh and bone being displaced. He begins to panic; what is happening and how did he get here?

He takes his hands away; he can only see out of his left eye. Though his vision is blurry, he can see that blood coats the hand he covered his right eye with. What he can see is dark and distorted; he shakes his head to bring what's happening only a few feet away into focus.

He speaks with genuine fear and confusion, "What's happening? Please tell me how I got-"

-His vision straightens and he sees what's happening with more clarity than he would ever want.

In the air, silhouetted against the bright street outside the far end of the alley, is a chuunin impaled on a massive chain and held up high. He's still alive; he groans pathetically and his arms feebly try to ward off the chain that's skewered through him. The head of the chain brandishes a diamond-shaped blade; it stabs the chuunin somewhere in the chest and quietly ends his suffering.

Kenichi's eye follows the chain down to its source; the shadowed form of a young boy who crouches on the ground like a predator ready to pounce. His malevolently curved eyes glow with the colour of simmering embers, the same with the three whisker-marks on each cheek. He knows immediately who and what the boy is but is no closer to knowing why he's suddenly in an alley with the Kyuubi-brat.

Meanwhile, Somewhere in Kusagakure...

In the depths of the Hozukijo disciplinary wing sleeps Uzumaki Kushina. Or rather, she's kept in a comatose state by a powerful sleep seal that works together with the Blood Prison's signature katon-tenro jutsu. If she rouses even the slightest from her enforced rest then she'll be burned to cinders in her bleak cell. She might as well be dead if merely waking-up is big enough a risk to warrant all these countermeasures.

The guards on patrol pass her cell without looking in; they take for granted that there's no change in her condition. After all; she's been here longer than most of them and has always been as animated as the prison stonework. Nobody keeps a close eye on her and therefore nobody notices the sudden ripples on a surface that's been calm for nine years.

In the dark she lies with thick leather straps binding her to a utilitarian bed. She wears what looks like a hospital gown that's partially open at the front to reveal the seal array of the katon-tenro that is always active and ready to disintegrate her if the sleep seal on her forehead ceases to function. For the first time in the nine years she's been in Hozukijo, she begins to squirm and strain herself against the binds holding her down. Her eyes remain closed and she looks like she's merely having a bad dream but the sudden angry glow of the sleep seal says otherwise.

The 'sleep' kanji on the strip of paper glows an urgent shade of red as if its designated function is being pushed to its breaking point.

~ O ~

End of Chapter

Author's Note: For those who don't know, this is a rewrite of my story 'Demon of Honour' which was painfully slow-paced and made worse by the 3-4 months it took me to upload new chapters. I'll do my best to avoid those pitfalls in this new and hopefully improved version.

Thanks for reading and please review.