Chapter One: Prologue, Broken Birdie
The door to my office squeaks loudly open, emitting a man barely old enough to shave. I watch him like a hawk, yet keep my eyes on the paperwork in front of me.
'Brown hair, blue eyes, and a very confident walk.' I note, looking up as he clears his throat loudly, 'No less than three weapons hidden on his person, two kunai and a tanto.'
I smile at him, he bows as I stand up and offer my hand. He grasps it, returning my smile with the barest hint of nervousness hidden well behind a veil of confidence. The young man lightly touches my elbow for no less than three seconds, giving three short pumps with a firm grip.
'A subtle attempt at using the unconscious mind to build rapport.' I note, 'Whoever taught him had some skill.'
"It's an honor to meet you, sir." he greets genially, bowing his head slightly, "I've looked forward to this interview ever since I learned I would conduct it."
No attempts at flattery, no recitation of my title or my lofty achievements. The Nation's Scholars seem to have an accurate file on me.
"The honor is mine." I sign to him, noticing momentary surprise in his stance, "The Nation's Scholars have always struck me as a charitable organization. I hope you don't mind this indulgence, it brings back memories of my childhood."
He shakes his head, "Not at all, sir. Whatever helps you give an accurate recount of it will help with the interview."
I nod lightly, taking a quick sip of water from a glass resting on my desk. I let silence reign long enough to make it feel unnerving, earning nothing more than a shuffle from the young man.
"That's just the thing." I start, seeing surprise quickly suppressed again as I return to my seat, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable recounting my personal memories. Not only are they that, but much of the stuff necessary for my biography has yet to be declassified. You understand my hesitation, Chronicler?"
The Chronicler nods, "We have asked the Hokage and councils of Konoha, they've allowed you to state whatever is necessary for the sake of our interview. Not only that, but you know our policy regarding biographies, it will only be published after you pass away."
"I realize that, Chronicler. However, I was dead set to send you back to your school without a word from myself. But then I saw you, gave it some more thought, then changed my mind."
"Why is that, sir?" the Chronicler asks.
"Looking at your young face I saw excitement and eagerness." I answer, "Don't deny it, I have much experience seeing the thoughts of people. It stirred something I can't place. Perhaps its because of that I didn't throw you out like I first planned. I know its an emotion, I've long since learned how to feel them again, but I don't know which it is. Whatever it is though, I'm also glad to have some time to tell a good story after so long."
The young man nods, retrieving a pad and pencil to make a few notes. He cradles them in his lap, looking up at me and asking, "Then perhaps we should begin, sir?"
The first time I met a ninja that wasn't my Old Man was an interesting experience.
I was young, young enough that the concepts of death, danger, and pain were nothing more than fairy tales my caretaker told me as she tucked me in at night. Actually, I'm not right. I did know pain, but only the way children knew it: a few bruises, scrapped knees, and small cuts that have them wail, sob, and cry for their parents.
Just like many other kids my age I was a stupid little brat. Even in a ninja village most parents coddled, spoiled, and sheltered their children from death until they "grow old enough". Four and five if a member of a ninja clan, or nine onwards if you're a civvie hoping to become a ninja. There were those few that broke at a young age because of the stress. Going melancholic and committing suicide, loosing all emotions and becoming empty shells, or simply going insane and killing dozens before getting cut down by a special ANBU task force.
These were few and far between though. After nearly one-hundred years creating killing machines, Konoha learned a trick or two.
I didn't know any of this though, I was six, nearing seven. That city made up my entire world; all sunshine, rainbows, ice cream, unicorns, and all that other shit children seem to love. But what I loved most was sneaking out at night, exploring every darkened crack and crevice I could find before ANBU found and dragged me back home.
I even went to the all the 'bad places', the red light district with its scantily clad prostitutes, the slums with their skyrocketing crime rates and homeless, and the Council Chambers with their politicians.
Was that a joke? Yes it was.
In hindsight, I'm surprised the eighty muggings, three-dozen murders, and five rapes I stumbled along in my travels didn't shatter my childish view of the world. I remember thinking they were all adults playing games like children, so that may have something to do with it. I thought they were cool, unlike the boring adults I was exposed to every day. Luckily enough, I didn't try "playing" with them because I thought I would have ruined their fun butting in.
You'd think that since I did this so frequently they'd at least try to stop me from escaping again and again, and they did. Even back then I was a slippery little thing, that or someone thought it was a good idea to let me go traipsing around.
That particular day had been uneventful so far, so I eagerly awaited my chance to sneak out my window and go exploring. I wondered why my caretaker never tried stopping me, preferring to send out ninja to drag me back kicking and screaming. It wasn't until many years later I found out, after my old Master gave me the journal of a certain someone as a peace offering.
When will you stop asking me all these questions, Chronicler? All will be explained in due time.
I sneaked through the streets of a neighborhood I never visited before, the stars above winking as if to encourage my exploration. The buildings stood crumbled and decayed, every visible window either cracked or smashed. Somewhere a dog barked angrily, going silent after a loud thump and a painful yelp. A rotten stench hung in the air, emanating from scattered trash and refuse. I managed to avoid most people by sticking to the back alleyways, where the handful present were too hopped up on one thing or another to think of me as anything else than some sort of drug-induced illusion.
Even though my world was still unicorns and ice cream, I knew that area wasn't the best place to be. But the thirst for adventure and exploration kept me going, along with my caretaker's orders to stop sneaking into the 'bad places' all the time. I loved her, then, but she made me so bored like most adults. I knew by instinct that whatever she told me not to do was fun and exciting.
Anyway, as I snuck through the alleyways I caught a heavy shuffling that attracted my attention. When I turned I saw a figure in the dim monlight, hunched over and riffling through a tall metallic trash-can.
The homeless man, wearing all but rags and dirt, murmured and cursed quietly. A long beard caked with all sorts of gunk dropped off his chin, swishing this way and that as he tossed out one thing or another.
I didn't know it then and I wouldn't know it for years, but this would the first time I saw death.
He seemed to mumble something, growing angrier with every second as he pilfered the trash, "Damn it! What am I supposed to eat? There's nothing in here, nothing!"
I remember feeling the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Something about those words set me on edge. My heart beat faster and faster, the noise a spurring thrum in my ears. Scared more than enough for the night, I chose then to cut my excursion short and hightail it back to my house, ANBU or no.
A can, kicked by my foot as I turned away, clanged across the ground.
The man jerked his head towards the noise, "Hea? Who's there?"
I bolted but tripped over something before I made it to safety, knocking my breath out as I slammed into the ground.
"Ohoo!" I heard him rasp, "Look what we've got!" a set of heavy, mismatched footsteps hobbled closer as I struggled to get back up and run.
A savage kick to my side put me back on the ground and ended that thought. I remember vividly spitting out the rancid dirt that went into my mouth, making me feel sick as I gagged.
"We'll have none of that, little guy." the hoarse voice said, "I can't let my new best friend leave so soon, now can I?"
I heard his rags rustle as he leaned over me, "I know a nice, young boy like you 'gots to be a kind one. Your parents had to have raised you to give help to people that need it."
I coughed and cradled my side when it flared in pain, eyes widening, hands shaking, "M-my parents died when I w-was young, they couldn't raise m-me."
The man chuckled lightly, "So did mine, I reckon. I had no-one to tell me what to do!"
Then man's voice changed, darker, lower. I couldn't tell what it meant then, but now I recognize the sound of insanity, "The thing is, I know a boy like you would love to help me out. You see, I haven't eaten in a week. I need food to tide me over, but I need money to buy it. Do you have anything you can spare?"
An odd feeling of fear crashed into me like a wall of water, "N-no!" I stuttered, body shaking like the pathetic child I was, "I don't have any money on me!"
I heard the man sigh and, after a moment, walk away. I took that moment to turn onto my side and ended up staring at the stranger's back. His mob of dark, filthy hair bobbed up and down as he retreated. He stopped, bending down and grabbing something from the ground, then turned and walked back.
"I was afraid of that." the man said, sounding sorry. Face shrouded in darkness so I couldn't see his face, the man took one final step into the moonlight.
In that light I saw him clearly and he had a hard wrinkled face. A single, narrow scar ran down the side of his neck before vanishing underneath his ragged, patchwork clothes. His mouth had a melancholy curve to it, the expression avoiding his eyes.
Something gleamed dully in his hand.
"But then again, a man's got to eat somehow." the stranger muttered loudly, raising the rusty knife.
I gasped, kicking frantically before nearly blacking out from the flaring pain in my side. My vision swam in and out, the stranger walking closer.
Tears streaming down my face, I raised my arms in front of my face and cried, "What are you going to do?!"
I imagine that, since I couldn't see him, the man had hovered over me, lips salivating as he eagerly adjusted his grip on his knife.
"Eat well tonight." he declared.
I imagine that a shadow materialized behind him and the man fell dramatically to the ground in a limp pile.
I, arms still covering my eyes, sobbed pitifully as the shadow knelt down closer. I didn't notice it's appearance, nor did I hear the man die or fall over. Even though my savior probably didn't spare much effort into hiding themselves, I never heard so much as a whisper before she spoke to me.
She sounded kind and gentle despite having just ended a life, "It's okay little guy, you're safe now."
My sobs tapered off and I looked shyly past my arm and asked, "T-the bad man's not going to hurt me?"
After going through that the woman likely appeared much more beautiful than reality. Long, ebony hair running down her shoulders, kind, black eyes, and a simple dark purple blouse with a red skirt. She smiled at me, warm and motherly, and I quickly wiped my tears away.
The headband on her forehead, branded with Konoha's leaf insignia, gleamed conspicuously.
"Of course not," she said, "He's never going to bother you again."
I sniffed, "Thanks, miss." accepting her hand up.
"Please," the woman said, "call me Mikoto."
I smiled wetly back at her, "Naruto Uzumaki."
My caretaker was royally pissed at me when she brought me home.
A month passed. I never could find Mikoto again, especially since I didn't catch her last name. That didn't stop me from telling Koyuka how awesome she was, of course. I just took my eyes off the man for one second and bam! He fell to the ground. The fact that she grounded me for a year meant nothing to me.
Even then I somehow managed to run into trouble. One other event that stands out was when I got jumped by a couple of ninja academy wash-outs, only for them to get beat up by some random genin graduate. Calamity seemed to love following me around for laughs. Now I ask you, how or why did all these things keep happening to me? I'll answer, all in due time.
Either way, my old man came visiting one day.
Sunlight streamed through my bedroom window, stabbing feverishly at my eyes until I gave in. Yawning and stretching like I did every morning, I fell out of bed. Sluggishly taking off my pajamas I quickly replaced it with my favorite bright orange jumpsuit. How was I able to sneak out at night and around a city, going virtually undetected by every civilian and avoiding ANBU despite wearing neon orange?
Have you heard of rhetorical questions, Chronicler?
I remember the childish glee I felt, knowing that in a few short weeks I would turn seven. I lived in a friendly neighborhood near the center of Konoha with my caretaker, Koyuka. My favoritest color, the most awesomest-est in the world, was orange. I thought girls were icky, had cooties, and would suck all your blood out if you didn't keep your eye on them. I had almost all the typical qualities of the average Konohan boy, only lacking a key one.
A knock on the door came just as I pulled my jacket over my head, "Naruto, the Hokage is here to see you!"
Even though I considered the Hokage my grandfather, I never wanted to become a ninja.
I remember glancing into the mirror to see a toothy smile plastered on my face after I yanked the garment in place; my blonde hair even messier back then than today, my bright blue eyes nearly overshadowed by that mop. Not only that, but the three whisker marks I have were thinner, lighter, and less jagged than now.
I ran out the door as fast as my little legs could carry me. I blew past the chuckling maid, rocketing down the hall and leaped into the arms of the man I trusted most in the world, who I always wanted to make proud. Back then most knew him as the Third Hokage, Sarutobi Hiruzen. I just called him Old-Man.
He caught me mid-air, heaving me into his arms with a playful huff.
"Naruto, you're getting so heavy!" he sighed, smiling at me from under that ridiculous hat of his, "Soon I won't be able to lift you anymore!"
I scowled at him like a brat, "You're lying! You just don't want to carry me around anymore!"
Sarutobi laughed, his tan wrinkled face grinning kindly down at me, "You're getting too old for me to carry you around!" He chuckled again, setting me back on the ground, "So, how's school going?"
"It's boring!" I groaned, making him shake his head fondly, "I have homework, there's this stupid butt-head in class, a girl keeps giving me funny looks, I got into a fight and I have homework!"
"Yes," the old man nodded, "I think you said that already. If it's so boring why do you go there?"
I scowled, though I imagine my face only scrunched up at him, "Because its the only stupid school I can go to, cause I don't want to become a ninja!"
He shook his head at me again, smiling. I didn't know then how badly he wanted me to become a ninja, so I thought he was just being his usual self. Looking at me, he commented, "I think ramen for breakfast would be the best way to start of the day, don't you agree?"
The neighbors woke up early that morning.
Months later I walked through the market district, coming home from the civilian academy. Vendors hawked their wares as I walked by, adding to the buzz of people going about their daily duties. Never before had I noticed how many ninja Konoha had, something I chalked up to meeting that awesome woman, Mikoto. I even started thinking about telling the old man that I wanted to switch schools and become a ninja, but after an eternity of thinking (five minutes) I decided against it.
In my youthful delusions I wanted to become a ramen chef. After all, the people that made it must have the best jobs in the world, making the food of the gods. Nothing short of world shattering would make me change my mind, nothing.
Luckily for me my world would shatter than afternoon.
I kicked a stone absently as I ambled down the busy market street at five o' clock. Thanks to a very (un)fortunately placed ink bomb I got an impromptu, two hour detention. I don't remember why I did it, probably because of some stupid dispute with another kid.
It didn't take me long to get home, my house just a few blocks away from the market district. I stepped through the door into the lit foyer, took off my shoes (she hated it when I wore them inside), and tried to sneak into my room unseen when a sudden thought struck me like a spitball to the back of a teacher's head.
Whenever I got home, whenever I did something "bad" or mean, Koyuka always welcomed me with a yell or some other punishment. Like some sort of sixth sense she'd hone in on me, but something felt off that night. More specifically, she hadn't grabbed onto my ear, pulling me around and demanding to know where I'd been.
It felt... eerie.
"Koyuka?" I called loudly, shaking a bit.
"Koyuka! I'm home!"
Still no answer.
I walked into the living room; the lights flipped on, a book laying on the table, my caretaker's reading glasses laying right next to it. Silence stretched out indefinitely.
Something strong, thick and smooth suddenly wrapped around my neck. I screamed, kicking and thrashing to escape, but a damp cloth covered my mouth and nose before I could bite anything.
It smelled horribly. I flailed wildly even as my screams reached higher pitches, the cloth muffling them. Slowly the strength seeped away from my limbs. My thrashing slowed, eventually stopping altogether as the stench filled my lungs.
Darkness creeped over my vision then I stopped moving, swallowed by unconsciousness.
I never knew how long I drifted between streams of unconscious thought. I floated, suspended in peaceful bliss for what seemed like years, but then my head started throbbing. Weak and subtle at first, then it grew louder, stronger, painful, persistent. It evolved into a constant pulse inside my skull, pulling me out of unconsciousness.
I blearily opened my eyes, flinching as the bright light hovering over my face nearly blinded me. I blinked, turning my head to see that the rest of the room shrouded in darkness. My head throbbed to the beat of my heart, making me move to sit up. When I twitched my arm I felt something biting into my forearm, so I looked down.
Ropes bound my arms, legs, and waist to a table. I screamed, it coming out muffled and confused- then I felt the gag in my mouth.
"Ah... finally awake?"
I screamed again, terrified as I pulled at my restraints.
The voice, deep and cool, laughed, "I can see that you're positively trembling in excitement, don't worry, the fun will begin soon enough."
I recognized a chair squeaking as someone stood up, then heard slow, predatory footsteps approach me. Tears streamed out of my eyes just as a man's face became visible.
Today I realize how deliberate all his actions were; the light shined into my face, the darkened room, waiting for me to awake and announcing himself before I could orient myself. All textbook torture and interrogation, so textbook in fact that I realize a competent ninja would be little affected by it. It didn't matter though, a bratty little kid with no training to speak of could have his mind torn to shreds by a few well placed words.
The man had hard features, a slight build and an oily air around him. A small mustache and beard adorned his face, locks of greasy black hair framing a set of venomous, green eyes. The man wore modest, dark clothes, a black shirt and a pair of gray pants.
He smiled at me, showing a mouth full of bone-white teeth, "I don't believe we've been introduced, my name is Shingi, and you're Naruto Uzumaki."
His face dimmed a little, "I'm really sorry you weren't strong enough to escape me, truly I am," his face grew even darker, "but if there's one thing I can't stand, it's weakness..." he hissed.
Shingi took a single step forward, leaning over and whispering right into my ear, "Don't worry, my little friend; if you survive this you'll grow much stronger."
A cheshire grin gleamed off his teeth as he laughed, making my skin crawl, "The screams of little boys are my favorite. I wonder how yours will sound?" he asked almost absently, a knife flicking into his hand.
The blade lightly touched my skin as it went up my throat then, with a quick snap of his wrist, the gag fell out of my mouth. Immediately I screamed for help, but with another chuckle Shingi smacked me into silence.
"Scream as much as you want, boy, no one can hear you down here. Do you understand?"
I said nothing, petrified.
"I asked you a question, kid." the blade went to my throat, "Do you understand? Answer me."
I nodded as slowly as I could.
"With words, boy. Do you understand?"
"Yes." I whispered.
"Louder." Shingi commanded.
Tears streaked down my swelling face as the man walked away, "Now answer another question. What is the worst pain you have ever felt?"
I gulped down my tears as he walked back with a large box, "Just now; wh-when you hit me."
He snorted and slammed the box on the table next to me, "Really, child?" he asked, waving a finger, "That was a love tap."
Without any fanfare he pulled several tools out of the box, lifting each of them up so I could see them. Every item came with a name and some other comment.
"A cordless drill," he explained, "a classic tool, if a little overused. It'll serve well for your lesson."
"This serum will make it feel as if your blood is boiling. No long-term physical damage will be caused."
"Thumbscrews, another classic."
"Nails and a hammer. Good for home repair or teaching a lesson."
It seemed to go on and on. I recognized a few, like the hammer or drill. What I realized years later was that it was a torture kit, used to inflict any amount of pain the user wanted.
"And now we begin." Shingi announced, picking the drill back up and pulling the trigger. It spun for a moment, that unsettling smile never leaving his face, then in one fluid motion he put it to the back of my hand.
"What are you doing!?" I screamed.
He looked at me, smile never faltering as he pulled the trigger, "Just having a little bit of practice."
Then it began and continued on for four days.
By the first day he reduced me to a sobbing, incoherent mess.
By the second I begged for death.
By the third I fell eerily quiet.
By the fourth my mind shattered like glass.
By the fifth day a team of ANBU knocked on the door before dawn. That day, when the whole neighborhood shook violently as a fiery explosion engulfed the house, people screamed as debris and limbs fell from the sky. That day, when fire covered my entire body, scorching my bones as it seared my throat and lungs; was the day it all began.
The day I lost my voice.
Chapter edited: January 20th, 2014.
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