Rays of early morning sunshine illuminated a sprawling urban development in dappled light. Flowers bloomed, seedlings sprouted, and new life, both flora and fauna was birthed within the bustling village. This village was Konohagakure no Sato, translated to mean “The Village Hidden in the Leaves”. It was situated in the heart of Hi no Kuni, and its development and continued existence was funded due mostly to the benevolence of the Fire Daimyō, the leader of the lush and heavily forested nation. Hi no Kuni was the first to adopt a shinobi village, one that was founded a century or so ago by a legendary figure who upheld pacifist principles, and the village held firm to those beliefs even to this day.
Consequently, the ninja and civilians alike all shared a unique and generally peaceful rapport, the Will of Fire burning brightly within the hearts and minds of all of Konoha’s residents. This peaceful disposition extended to all but one of the inhabitants of the sprawling urban development. This person was none other than a four-year-old boy, an orphaned child who was predisposed to seeking attention through outlandish pranks. He was the subject of the village’s ire due to the Kyūbi attack that had ravaged the village four years prior.
The Kyūbi was a bijū, a being of great power, a chakra monster that had the power to level mountains with an errant thrash of any of its nine tails. Its attack had been completely unexpected; it had suddenly appeared at the village’s outskirts whereupon it set about destroying the human settlement. The shinobi of the village had fought valiantly, but in blood and thunder, their way of life had come to a screeching halt as the Kyūbi tore through their ranks as though wholesale destruction was mere child’s play; which for the massive nine-tailed kitsune, it was.
The bijū was eventually defeated and killed by the Yondaime Hokage at the cost of his life, or so the younger generation was told. In truth, a chakra monster like the bijū had an infinite lifespan and was essentially immortal. The story of the Kyūbi’s demise was merely meretricious propaganda, designed solely to deceive outsiders while concealing the truth. The real, dark truth lay closer to home; essentially hidden in plain sight, as the adage goes.
In truth, the only conventional means to defeat a bijū was to seal it within an object or a person. The aforementioned four-year-old boy had been used as the Kyūbi’s prison, the bijū securely imprisoned within him; with powerful seals reinforced by the power of the shinigami serving to ensure that the bijū’s escape was borderline impossible. In spite of this, the villagers did not see the boy as the prison of the Kyūbi, rather he was viewed as the physical embodiment of the great demon. This led to them abusing and cumulatively mistreating the boy, whether it ranged from slandering him with degrading sobriquets and or barring him from their establishments, they stopped at nothing in their persecution of him. The worst part was that they justified their senseless abuse of him with the fact that they were exacting vengeance upon the unpalatable creature that had claimed the lives of their loved ones.
It never once occurred to them that they were abusing an innocent child that wanted nothing but acceptance and not hate. Their abuse of him soon warped his childhood innocence into a morbid sense of reality, where he knew that it was a dog-eat-dog mentality that ran rampant throughout the harsh and unforgiving world. The strong trampled the weak, and the weak persecuted those who were too afraid to resist. It was a cruel society where only the fittest survived, and those who did not fit that category were doomed to a life of deprivation and or subsequent death. With this new outlook on life, the innocent boy soon gave way to a silent, cold warrior that would blossom into one of the finest shinobi to ever grace the shinobi world with his presence. All it took was a little divergence.
8 years later
A masked figure knelt before a frail old man, his head bowed in subservient respect for the old man who was his apparent commander. The figure wore dark clothing beneath a hooded black cloak and a mask that was designed to resemble a kitsune, offering an intimidating visage. The old man carefully analysed the masked figure, before he tossed a scroll toward his masked subordinate, who subsequently caught the scroll in an imperceptible flicker of movement.
“Kitsune,” the old man enunciated, his voice incongruously robust given his frail appearance. “I have a high-priority S-rank mission for you. It is optional that you accept but-”
“I accept,” Kitsune responded immediately, his voice an emotionless monotone.
The old man nodded. “Very well. Tanigakure no Sato has been continuously making inroads into Hi no Kuni. Things came to a head about a week ago when they destroyed one of our outposts, killing a total of four shinobi in the process. Hiruzen has overlooked this incident, dismissing it as an accident as they compensated us for the loss of our shinobi. However, their aggressive assault will escalate into full scale war in three days as we have gathered intel which suggests that they have raised an army which amounts to one division, a total of five-hundred shinobi. We surmise that they intend to invade and wreak havoc in Hi no Kuni, thus discrediting Konoha’s reputation as the strongest hidden village and proving that we have become complacent in our peace. Should they succeed, it would not only be detrimental to Konoha but the catalyst for the Fourth Great Ninja War, something to be avoided at all costs. Their leader is Hajime Ishikawa, an A-rank nukenin that originated from Konoha. Therefore, your mission is this: find this army of theirs and eliminate them. Spare no one. Bring me Ishikawa’s head. You have two hours, time is of the essence. Dismissed,” the old man commanded, watching in grim satisfaction as Kitsune vanished, leaving no indication that he had ever been present.
The man stared at the spot his subordinate had previously occupied for a long time, before he released a somewhat melancholic sigh as he reclined in his wooden chair. The old man had a frail appearance, with tan, wrinkled skin and aged, withered appearance that bespoke his tumultuous life and advanced age. He wore a white shirt, with a black or dark grey robe over the top of it covering from his feet, to just over his right shoulder. He had a mane of shaggy brown hair, part of his beaten, weathered face obscured from view by bandages that covered the right side of his face. An x-shaped scar sat on his chin, enhancing his already grizzled appearance. His name was Danzō Shimura, a stalwart Konoha loyalist and commander-in-chief of his village’s more clandestine forces.
Danzō generally was not one inclined to introspective reflection. He found that particular pursuit frivolous and waste of invaluable time, not to mention a stark contrast with his resolute belief in rationality that placed him amongst the negligible minority in Konohagakure no Sato’s population. He normally found himself incapable of comprehending exactly how Konoha’s shinobi were all obviously afflicted with the inability to discern the logical course of action, instead allowing emotions to preclude their more rational sense of reasoning and making the most fallacious judgments, that in the end would work against them. This was one of the primary reasons for his generally aloof and apathetic mannerisms. He simply behaved in such a manner as a fallback defensive mechanism to preclude developing unnecessary attachments that would hinder him in the long run.
Despite his reputation as a militarist, Danzō ultimately sought peace for the ninja world, one he would achieve by uniting all shinobi forces under his control. As such, he sought the title of Hokage, waiting patiently for decades before an opportunity arose. His pursuit of peace followed an ends justifies the means. As such, he had no remorse taking any immoral actions as long as he believed it would benefit Konohagakure.
Additionally, the shinobi under his command were members of an elite organization codenamed Root — an organization that had been established by none other than Danzō himself. Root was somewhat of an offshoot of the village’s regular Anbu but with the exception that they were fiercely loyal to the grizzled elder alone, and they conducted Konoha’s darker missions covertly; independent of the regular forces and the Hokage himself. They flawlessly executed the under-the-table missions that would cause major political backlash and perhaps even a war if ever exposed, missions that ranged from kidnapping orphaned children to even covert assassination of a Daimyō.
They were the forces that gradually expanded Konoha’s military power and political influence by striking at the hearts of their enemies from the shadows. They were a far cry from regular Anbu, as their missions were B-rank or higher, and they took orders unquestioningly, always willing to sacrifice everything as they prioritized missions over their very lives. For them, there was no job too dirty, too demanding to refuse, and they would go to any length to ensure that Konohagakure no Sato remained as the most powerful of the shinobi villages, even if doing so demanded that they abandon their very humanity and become the true monsters that hid under the guise of “shinobi”.
To that end, he worked in the shadows to ensure that the future he envisaged came to fruition. He used Root to eliminate potential threats to Konohagakure no Sato with or without the consent of the Hokage and to further him along the path to achieving the position, as he believed he was best prepared for the “necessary” transition. Because of the nature of his actions, he could not allow the details of what he had done to become public knowledge, and thus he branded members of Root with juinjutsu seals to prevent them from revealing his secrets. He was also adamant in his viewpoint that the members of Root were nothing more than expendable pawns and showed no remorse in having them perform duties that could result in permanent injury, as it was ultimately for the benefit of Konoha.
Therefore, Root shinobi were specially conditioned to be nothing more than loyal dogs, their loyalty ensured by the special juinjutsu seal Danzo branded them all with. It was a very powerful juinjutsu that prevented them from revealing any of Root’s secrets. These shinobi were highly skilled elites, their emotionless countenance guaranteeing optimal results from their undertakings. Kitsune was an especially skilled shinobi, even by Root standards. He was recruited by Danzō at the tender age of four years, after which he received special training for four years. The boy demonstrated tremendous potential despite his young age, excelling in any and all areas to which he applied himself.
A master of genjutsu, taijutsu, ninjutsu, bukijutsu — including, but not limited to kyujutsu, kayakujutsu, kenjutsu, shurikenjutsu and bojutsu — and even the somewhat obscure art of fuuinjutsu, it was no overestimation to label Kitsune a prodigy. The boy proved his worth while on missions as well, as after 1,461 days — a total of four years — of being drafted into the field he had accomplished an astounding total of 1060 missions — 370 B-rank, 400 A-rank and 290 S-rank. This pleased Danzō tremendously, but Kitsune truly impressed with his cunning conduction of the dichotomy between his public and private lives.
While in private, he was Kitsune, a merciless prodigy who was the perfect embodiment of a shinobi. In public, he was Naruto Uzumaki, a jovial Hokage aspirant who was talented, yet generally despised by civilians and shinobi alike due to his status as the Kyūbi jinchūriki. Naruto was an innocent child who attended the academy, where he was bullied and mocked, whilst Kitsune was a powerful shinobi who accomplished missions unflinchingly, never hesitating even when he had to slaughter hundreds for the sake of his village. The only similarity between the two was the fact that they both had undying loyalty to Konoha.
Admittedly, if he were to be completely honest with himself, he was somewhat ambivalent towards the jinchūriki. On the one hand, the boy was the Kyūbi jinchūriki, the only one that Konohagakure possessed at the present moment. His incontestable militaristic attitude all but mandated that he treat the boy as what he was, a weapon to be utilized for Konoha’s benefit. The fact that the Kyūbi was incontestably the most powerful of the bijū and quite possibly the most powerful force in the Elemental Nations was another reason in favour of the boy’s conditioning to be a weapon. An almost insidious glint appeared in his eye as he pondered the possibilities of the boy becoming Konoha’s ultimate weapon upon mastering the power of the bijū sealed within him. The Kyūbi had displayed a multitude of abilities during its attack on Konoha, ranging from breathing flames of an incomprehensible heat to unleashing the wrath of a dense ball of chakra called a Bijūdama.
That notion alone was enough justification for the boy to be conditioned as a weapon. In the end, however, he was a firm believer in sagaciousness. As a result, he had abandoned that particular notion as he knew that any inexplicable changes in the jinchūriki’s mannerisms would merely alert Hiruzen to the fact that the jinchūriki had been trained by him. Even so, while Danzō had never really subjected Naruto to the emotional conditioning that was akin to a rite of passage for one to be considered a true Root ninja, he still exemplified the typical behaviour, or lack thereof, of a typical Root ninja. Emotional conditioning for the jinchūriki was simply unnecessary and would attract suspicion. Not conditioning him to be like a mindless drone was the correct, the logical course of action.
The emotionless monotone voice of his subordinate snapped him out of his reverie, his focus situated solely on the boy kneeling before him. He glanced at the wall clock, noting with some trepidation that it had been one-hundred and nineteen minutes since Kitsune had departed.
“One-hundred and nineteen minutes,” Danzō stated, his voice oddly tinged with disquiet.
“Hai,” Kitsune responded immediately, a moment before he flicked a scroll toward Danzō. “His head is sealed within that scroll. I expect the bounty to be transferred to my account.”
“Yes, of course. At ease, Kitsune, and remove your mask,” Danzō commanded, his voice steely.
Kitsune complied immediately, and now shorn of his mask, the elderly war hawk took in the features of his strongest subordinate. Kitsune, no, Naruto was tall for his age, standing at 5′ 5" with a well-defined and muscular build that showed even while wearing the cloak. He had a somewhat mature appearance, his years of gruelling training having eliminated all traces of baby fat that usually accompanied one of such youthful age. He had a somewhat long, angular face, with tan skin, suspiciously rosy lips and a thin nose. His face was framed by two bangs that extended to his chin, a series of smaller bangs partly obscuring his brilliant cerulean blue eyes. His long crimson hair flowed down to his waist in a slightly curly mess and his overall appearance made him seem extremely androgynous, as he was often mistaken for a female due to his feminine and aristocratic features.
Danzō sighed before he sat up straight in his chair and regarded Naruto with a somewhat regretful look.
“Naruto, as you know, in two weeks’ time you will be graduating from the academy. It has been eight years since your recruitment and you have served faithfully over that period. Since you will be made an official Konoha shinobi soon, you will be unable to conduct your operations as a Root agent any longer. As such, Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze, you are hereby honourably discharged from the Root organizations, and your years of selfless dedication are noted, and appreciated,” Danzō said, a ghost of a smile on his weathered face.
Naruto bowed low at the waist, silently expressing his own gratitude to Danzō for having nurtured his growth as a shinobi. Naruto raised his head, giving Danzō a small smile before he vanished. The elderly commander looked at the spot that his subordinate had previously occupied before the smile faded to be replaced by his customary grim look.
“Good luck, Naruto. Your journey has only just begun.”