The Way of Shinobi

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Chapter 2

It had been an almost ceaseless night and Aoba Yamashiro was utterly exhausted. In spite of this, he was actually no stranger to fatigue. As an elite jōnin who had completed copious amounts of B-rank missions and above, he was very familiar with fatigue in all its varied forms. There was exhaustion of the body, where one eventually grew tired after long periods of activity without adequate rests interspersed in between, resulting in the body shutting down temporarily with the need to rest. Then there was exhaustion of the mind. It commonly occurred when one overexerted that particular organ, whether from thinking too deeply about something or attempting to memorize too many things at any one time. He was intimately familiar with those aforementioned types of exhaustion, but the exhaustion he felt now was more akin to exhaustion of both the mind and the body.

He had been awake all night, and then had gotten an early start that morning to surreptitiously investigate the talents and skills of the respective genin in the current graduating group of the academy. An irregularity had occurred this year, and there were enough genin to comprise ten or more full teams. They were all reputed to be talented, but he knew better than to base his judgement on rumours which were generally unfounded. He had been assigned by the Sandaime Hokage to take on a team, in spite of the fact that he had been operating independently for well over a decade. He was not particularly fond of the notion of being appointed the jōnin-sensei to a bunch of whey-faced brats, but the Hokage’s word was law to shinobi of the village. He was, after all, basically a plenipotentiary that had absolute power in the military jurisdiction. However, that was only part of the reason that he had reluctantly acquiesced to the aged Kage’s request. The elderly Hokage had maintained a mutually appreciated rapport with him, ever since that particular incident...

He gritted his teeth as he blotted out the memory, and he reminded himself that he had promised himself to never live in the past anymore. After the Sandaime’s thinly-veiled order, he had somewhat broken protocol and decided to observe the Academy students, although most to-be jōnin-senseis trusted the Academy instructors to construct teams that maintained a perfect equilibrium and would become assets rather than liabilities to the village. Aoba, however, was nothing like the vast majority of somewhat carefree jōnin that populated the village. He had been specifically requested by the Sandaime to assist him in fulfilling a rather ingenious idea. That idea was to subtly revive an antiquated shinobi concept, and that was to create an elite squad of tactical assailants. His generation was actually the last that had been subjected to that principle, and it had been extremely successful. Thus far, he had seen a few who had the potential to become assault specialists, although that was largely dependent on whether or not they passed the test that he had planned for them. A ghost of a smile flitted across his lips as he made his way to the Hokage Tower, ready to report for the team assignments.

Hiruzen Sarutobi exhaled a cloud of acrid smoke from his lips, reclining indolently in his leather chair as he did so. He was a man of rather short stature, standing at only 5′ 2" with medium build and a slightly stooped frame. During his youth he was tan-skinned and had dark brown, spiked hair, adding a small goatee to his look after becoming Hokage. Now, after assuming the mantle of Hokage, his hair had grayed, his face became gaunter, and he had attained the wrinkles and liver spots of old age. He initially had a single line running vertically under the outer corners of each eye, but they subsequently stretched down into his face as he aged until they reached his cheeks. When not in combat, he usually wore the official Kage uniform — the customary hat and haori with a red, full-length kimono that was tied using a white sash.

He was a firm believer in the Will of Fire, which held the principle that all the people of Konoha were a family and that the Hokage was chiefly responsible for that family’s well-being. Throughout his tenure, over 50 years of leadership, he consistently lived up to the Will of Fire by being available for Konoha’s villagers and shinobi during their time of need, making decisions to the betterment of as many people as possible, and providing his wisdom and guidance whenever he could. His delicate, thoughtful approach to not only issues within the village but also his interactions with foreign powers had given him the reputation of being soft, something the Konoha Council spent much of its time trying to rectify via a more ruthless and somewhat amorous approach to issues. Nevertheless, his kind and pacifist ways were widely valued by Konoha’s residents and even his rival Kage.

Even so, although he loved all of Konoha, Hiruzen held his students especially dear, firmly believing that they were the village’s future and, as such, must be cultivated and protected. He had favoured Orochimaru, seeing in him a prodigy similar to himself whose contributions to the village could someday be greater than his own. Even when his wayward student increasingly went astray and then finally defected from Konoha, he found that he could never abandon his attachments to the infamous member of the Sannin, instead blaming himself for not being a better teacher. He sighed as he thought of the debacle that that had resulted in. Orochimaru was now one of the world’s most wanted criminals, an S-rank murderer and traitor of Konoha. How he cursed his softness for allowing his student to have become such a monster.

Sentimentality aside, the village needed him, his political wisdom and intellectual acumen attained only through years of experience serving to make him an invaluable asset to Konoha, and, by extension, Hi no Kuni in its entirety. However, in spite of his sentimental nature and his deep-rooted altruism, he found that his position as Hokage was a mentally taxing one that, more often than not, left him feeling utterly spent and exhausted by the time that the day had concluded. He cast his gaze upwards, where the portraits of all of the Hokage were placed, arranged in chronological order. He shook his head ruefully as he pondered on the pros and cons of allowing civilians to have a contribution to make in the operation of the village.

While all of the Hokage — himself included — had envisaged a prosperous Konoha that was for one and all, none of them had ever really spent the time to ponder the potential deleterious ramifications of allowing civilians to have such political clout. One such ramification was the fact that Konoha had a rather prosperous economy and consistently maintained a high quality of life and a population that seemed to be perpetually growing. On the flip side, however, the emboldened and empowered civilians were accorded the power to meddle in affairs that did not concern them. One such matter pertained to the resident jinchūriki. The damage inflicted by the Kyūbi had been indelibly seared into the minds of all who had borne witness to the attack, and they foolishly superimposed their hatred for the bijū onto the jailer. That had consistently been a source of irritation for the aged Kage, as the persecution of the Yondaime’s legacy was an almost inevitable aspect of his day as Hokage. His only reprieve from the constant source of migraine was the fact that the Jōnin Commander and the respective heads of the council branches acted as buffers as well as advisors, sorting through the most important matters and reporting to him directly, but otherwise simply writing reports and submitting them to him.

The hierarchical structure of command in Konoha was absolute, and it was structured in a manner that enabled all the concerns and extremely important matters to be addressed. The Konoha Go-Ikenban — which literally meant Tree Leaf Honoured Opinion Watch — existed to assist the Hokage govern the village and to make sure all decisions are made with the best interest of Konoha and its inhabitants in mind. The members of the Konoha Go-Ikenban were Homura Mitokado and Koharu Utatane. Homura was the head of the shinobi council, which was a conglomeration of the representatives of the major clans of Konoha, and while they theoretically had no power, it would have been perilous to merely dismiss them as inconsequential. Koharu was the head of the civilian council, which was comprised of a large number of the most influential non-shinobi in the village, ranging from merchants to artisans and entrepreneurs. They were all individuals who wielded major political clout, due largely to the fact that the majority of them were successful businessmen with a degree of affluence that was almost ridiculous.

Additionally, although the Hokage always had the final say in the matter, the councillors were there to give their opinions and advice, thus making sure the decisions made were fair and accounted for all possibilities and viewpoints. Both had decades’ worth of experience and knowledge and held a social position similar to that of the Hokage. They exerted great influence over the governing of Konoha and had both garnered wide support from the village’s shinobi and were regarded with the same respect as that of the aged Sandaime Hokage. In fact, they were so revered that it was up to them to choose a new Hokage should any harm befall him. Even though they were close friends with Hiruzen and held the same general view of how to run the village, they were somewhat more militant. This had actually caused them to side with the Sandaime’s rival, Danzō Shimura, on several occasions. Nonetheless, they were competent and executed their duties well, else otherwise they would have gotten the boot long ago.

A loud pop snapped him out of his reverie and he glanced in the general direction of the noise, noting that a tall figure had appeared. He sighed as he massaged his temples when he noted who the figure was the moment that the residual smoke from the Shunshin technique faded. The figure was a fit and relatively tall shinobi, standing at 5′ 11" with spiky silver hair and dark grey eyes. His attire consisted of the standard jōnin attire, which was a Konoha flak jacket, dark blue pants and a long-sleeved shirt with the addition of donning shorter, fingerless gloves with metal plates on the backhand. A mask obscured the lower portion of his face from view, but the insouciant and indolent aura that the man practically exuded was unmistakable. He immediately recognized him as one Kakashi Hatake, an elite jōnin with more than a piquancy of tardiness and insouciance. Honestly, while Hiruzen appreciated and respected the man for his strength as a ninja, he was always chronically tardy and had a tendency to make others wait on him for extended periods of time, typically two to three hours, much to his annoyance.

“Sorry I’m late, Hokage-sama,” Kakashi said, his lone visible eye crinkling upwards in what the Sandaime could only classify as a smile. “You see, this black cat crossed my path and...”

Hiruzen ignored the lackadaisical excuse that the man indolently parroted, instead preferring to allow his eyes to rove over the room. There were several of Konoha’s elites assembled in front of him, and they had all been selected by him to become jōnin-senseis to the recently graduated Academy students. The foremost jōnin present — excluding Kakashi — were one Kurenai Yūhi, Asuma Sarutobi and Aoba Yamashiro.

Kurenai Yūhi was undoubtedly a very attractive woman with a bewitching appearance, with a fair-skinned complexion and slender build. She had long black untamed hair that reached her upper back, and very unique eyes that were red in colour, with an additional ring in them. She wore make-up consisting of red lipstick and purple eye shadow. Her shinobi attire consisted of a red mesh armour blouse with only the right sleeve visible. Overall, this was a very broad material which resembled bandages with a pattern on it similar to those of rose thorns. Her hands and upper thighs were also wrapped in bandages and she wore the standard Konoha hitai-ate and regular blue shinobi sandals.

She was a very skilled jōnin, so proficient in the shinobi arts that he had named her one of Konoha’s elites, despite being relatively new to the rank. Her abilities were predominantly unknown to the vast majority, but her skill with genjutsu was so vast that it was said to rival even those of Itachi Uchiha, a genjutsu master of the highest degree. Most of her techniques focused around flora; primarily using large trees to bind opponents as well as flower petals for various reasons. She was also able to simultaneously affect multiple opponents with her techniques and she could revert the effects of genjutsu to the caster. In spite of the fact that she was new to the illustrious rank of jōnin, she had a firm belief in rationality and maintained a level head in trying situations, characteristic of elite jōnin. It was for that reason that he knew that she would be the perfect choice to lead a reconnaissance team.

His eyes flickered to the jōnin beside her, one Asuma Sarutobi — his son. Asuma was a tall man, standing at 6′ 1" with a well-defined and muscular build that was attributed to the strong constitution of members of the Sarutobi clan. He had brown eyes, olive skin, short black spiky hair, and a short beard. His clothing consisted of the standard Konoha ninja uniform with the sleeves rolled up half way, a standard flak jacket, regular shinobi sandals and a hitai-ate. He also wore a sash that had the kanji 火 — which was the kanji for “fire” — marked on it around his waist, a pair of black bangles, and bandages wrapped around the arms of his sleeves.

He too was undoubtedly a very talented jōnin, possessing a wide arsenal of abilities that not many shinobi deigned to possess. He was highly proficient in both the esoteric Fūton and Katon chakra natures, his skill being so prodigious that he was renowned as a master of the elements and hailed by all as a powerful ninja in his own right. He also had a vast degree of proficiency in taijutsu, ninjutsu and even bukijutsu — particularly shurikenjutsu and kenjutsu. He was a good choice for leading a team of saboteurs, especially since he seemed to have taken an interest in a certain Nara.

Hiruzen looked at the final jōnin, one Aoba Yamashiro. Aoba was a tall man with a largely muscular build that was emphasized by his lanky 6′ 2" frame. He had dark, spiky hair and was always seen wearing red-framed sunglasses which obscured his eyes. His attire consisted of the standard Konoha shinobi outfit, which consisted of dark blue pants and a long-sleeved shirt, albeit cuffed at the elbows, complete with a standard flak jacket and hitai-ate, the latter of which was worn slightly tilted to the left. Aoba was one of the village’s elites, a well-rounded shinobi of prodigious talent that was one of the exceptional few who continuously made deeper inroads into S-rank territory. He was a veteran of war, a stalwart ninja with outstanding abilities and virtually unmatched expertise in ninjutsu, taijutsu, shurikenjutsu and kayakajutsu, but his true prowess lay in his mastery of elemental manipulation. He possessed four elemental affinities, namely Katon, Fūton and Suiton, and his mastery over his affinities had earned him the moniker Konoha no Yōso Sennin. This had also earned him an entry in Iwagakure’s bingo book after he had single-handedly slaughtered four platoons of Iwa ninja, a total of one hundred shinobi, during the Third Great Ninja War. That had been one of a great many deciding victories for Konoha, and had earned the spiky-haired jōnin his entry in Iwa’s bingo book as an A-rank shinobi with a bounty of 20,000,000 ryō, as well as a flee-on-sight order that stood to this day.

The spiky-haired jōnin’s greatest talent was not his proficiency in the shinobi arts, however. His greatest asset was his intelligence. His years of experience on the battlefield honed his strategic ingenuity to an almost ridiculous degree. He could quickly devise a number of approaches and could switch approaches immediately, the moment that he noticed that a particular approach was failing. The longer he spent against a particular opponent, the less he needed backup tactics, as he could eventually predict what they would do and identify literal or psychological weaknesses to exploit. In addition to his sheer adaptability, Aoba was knowledgeable on a large variety of individuals and abilities, and thus could identify techniques when used and react with the most appropriate counter to them.

It was for that reason that Hiruzen had decided to appoint Aoba as a jōnin-sensei. He trusted that the man would have enough competence to deal with the additional responsibilities that accompanied being the leader of a squad of inexperienced children. There was also the fact that the man had never truly recovered from that particular incident, in spite of the fact that it had been several years since the incident. While he generally despised those who insisted on wallowing in the past, he understood the reasons behind the jōnin’s refusal to move on. Even so, it was rather disconcerting to note that the man still held on to his losses, and he theorized that a good way to get him out of his funk was to have him become the sensei of a group of students.

Not only that but the man had cultivated a sense of justice and, like the aged Hokage himself, was a sentimental man at heart. He knew that the spiky-haired jōnin was one of the few who did not outright despise the Kyūbi jinchūriki. At the very least, he hoped to evoke some sort of emotional response from the man after he personally witnessed the treatment to which Naruto was subjected. It was all a part of an elaborate ploy that he had formulated to garner support for the boy. He had never truly had enough time to spare to personally invest in the jinchūriki, much to his eternal shame. However, if Aoba was able to form some sort of platonic relationship with the boy then it just might work out in the end. He shook his head slightly to clear the errant thoughts and prepared himself to accomplish his task.

“Well then, it seems as though there are actually ten teams this year,” Hiruzen said, glancing briefly at the sheet of paper that had such information printed on it. “I have decided to assign you four to the most talented teams to have passed this year. The other jōnin chosen to be senseis have already been informed, but I wished to address you four specifically. The four of you have been assigned the most talented of the bunch, and they are predominantly comprised of clan heirs.”

At this point he paused in his monologue, and he noted that the jōnin were paying rapt attention to his speech. “Team five is Aoba’s, with Masaki Takeda, Asami Hashimoto and Naruto Uzumaki. Team seven is Kakashi’s, with Sakura Haruno, Sasuke Uchiha and Sai. Kurenai will have team eight, with Kiba Inuzuka, Shino Aburame and Hinata Hyūga. Asuma has team ten, with Ino Yamanaka, Chōji Akimichi and Shikamaru Nara. If there is any issue with the team assignments, then now is the time to speak.”

“Why can’t I have the Uzumaki boy?” Kakashi asked, his voice holding a note of melancholy. “He’s sensei’s legacy and—”

“Actually, I think that the team placements are fine,” Aoba interjected, his unprecedented interruption momentarily surprising everyone save for the Hokage. “I think it best that my team not be over-specialized. With Naruto on the team, it’ll make the team balanced and should they fall into some sort of unprecedented ambush, it would actually do well to have someone with the ability to think on the fly and get them from a potentially hazardous situation relatively unscathed.”

He noted that he received incredulous glances from all of his fellow jōnin, and he ruthlessly repressed a sigh. “I spent several days analyzing the respective genin hopefuls of this year’s bunch, and I got a good enough analysis of their personalities and all their quirks. Besides that, it’s best that Naruto remains on my team. His teammates seem to be somewhat ambivalent towards him, with Masaki seeming to be neutral and Asami undecided as of yet, but that’s still much better than the denigration that he is generally on the receiving end of from the other students. Like I said, it would be best that he remain on my team.”

The Hokage smiled, his expression alighting with slight elation as he nodded his assent to his declaration. Aoba nodded in gratitude to the decision. It was the expected result after all.

Shikamaru Nara sighed to himself amidst a cacophony of chattering as he casually allowed his lackadaisical gaze to sweep over the room. He was a fair-complected lad of average height and build, standing at only 4′ 11" with a slender build. His attire was rather plain, consisting of a green lined mesh T-shirt under a short sleeved grey jacket with green edges — which was adorned on both the sleeves and the back with a circle with a line through it. His attire was completed by a simple pair of brown pants, and standard issue blue shinobi sandals. Additionally, his Konohagakure hitai-ate was wrapped snugly around his left arm, indicative of his allegiance to Konohagakure no Sato.

He was generally dismissed by the vast majority who knew him as an indolent boy who was unconcerned with anything and regarded any and everything that required any form of exertion as “troublesome”. While these sentiments were accurate, beneath his lazy countenance he concealed a vast intellect and keen analytical ability that far surpassed most adults and was unique even among his clan that was well known for their superior intelligence. The air of dumb docility that he projected was nothing more than a guise, one that the vast majority were deceived by all too well. Shikamaru allowed his eyes to rove lazily over the room, and he casually dismissed most of the class as nothing more than battle fodder, likely to die on their first C-rank mission. He focused on the clan heirs, who were all part of the top ten in the graduating class.

First was a male. He was of average height, standing at only 4′ 11" with a slender build. He had a mane of wild, yet somewhat curly brown hair and sharp black eyes with vertical slit-like pupils. His attire consisted of a hooded grey jacket with fur lining the collar and sleeve-ends, as well as dark grey pants that reached his shins and blue shinobi sandals. The red triangular fang marks that sat proudly on his cheeks served to identify him as none other than Kiba Inuzuka. He was unabashedly loud, brash and refractory, all defining traits of his clan that he had in spades, exacerbated by his almost interminable braggadocio. Shikamaru knew that the boy’s emotional development was erratic and adhered to no coherent progression. He was, in addition to the aforementioned personality quirks, temperamental and impetuous, prone to rushing impulsively into a potentially dangerous situation without thinking things through clearly. This tendency was liable to catapult his teammates into a hazardous situation that could culminate in their deaths, although those aforementioned quirks could be attributed to his canine traits.

“Even so, he’s far too brash and headstrong, even for a wild Inuzuka,” Shikamaru analysed. “He’s also quite a pervert, though that may end up being the cause of his death at the hands of enemy kunoichi.”

Next his eyes drifted to a girl who was obviously attempting to ignore the boy’s advances. She stood at 4′ 7" and had dark blue hair, fair skin, and gentle facial features. She styled her hair in a short, levelled hime-cut style just above her forehead, with chin-length strands framing her face. She wore a cream-coloured, hooded jacket with a fire symbol on the upper right and left sleeves and fur around the cuffs and hem, with navy blue pants. Additionally, she wore her Konoha hitai-ate around her neck like a choker. Her name was Hinata Hyūga, and she was the heiress of the Hyūga clan of Konohagakure no Sato.

The Hyūga Clan was comprised of a prestigious family of dōjutsu wielders, and their unique Jūken ability enabled them to effectively combat any and all who engaged them in taijutsu. For the most part, they were haughty and condescending towards anyone who was not a member of their clan, and they firmly believed in their superiority over the common dregs that populated the village. Hinata was a firm exception in the clan of pompous dōjutsu users, and her deficiencies were also extremely glaring. While he knew that she was not culpable in pertinence to her shortcomings, her life was essentially an almost endless legacy of failures. Not only that, but she was one of, if not the most erratic and emotional genin to have graduated this year.

“Hinata, too shy and timid, she doesn’t have the heart to hurt a fly and hardly has any backbone. She might end up being killed just because she doesn’t have the resolve to do anything about it,” Shikamaru thought callously, shaking his head before he looked away.

“Shino Aburame,” Shikamaru thought as his eyes settled on an apparently introverted boy who was seated by himself in a corner. The boy was rather tall for his age, standing at 5′ 2" with dark, bushy brown hair and a fair-skinned complexion. His attire consisted of a light grey jacket with a high, upturned collar and a pair of dark brown pants. Blue shinobi sandals completed his attire. His name was Shino Aburame of the Aburame clan, and of all the genin to have graduated, the spiky-haired Nara was certain that he was the most prudent and pragmatic, save himself. The boy was solitary and completely stoic, rarely ever displaying emotion and meticulously assessing his chances of success if he took a certain choice of action. In the spiky-haired Nara’s opinion, the boy was the embodiment of a true shinobi, yet his mysterious persona and the fact that he housed insects within his body made him a bit of an outcast, as people generally thought of the members of the Aburame clan as being “creepy” due to the aforementioned trait, and subsequently gave them a wide berth. It was odd, Shikamaru noted, as Konoha’s foremost entomological experts and prominent shinobi were often the subjects of scorn and derision due to the fact that they shared a symbiotic relationship with their kikaichū.

“A highly analytical ninja, skilled and stoic, maintaining a level head in all situations. He’ll make a good addition to Konoha’s ranks,” Shikamaru thought approvingly, pleased that there was at the very least a competent enough shinobi to be added to the ranks of his village.

His attention was then drawn toward two bickering girls, one with obscenely an odd shade of hair and the other with platinum blonde. The odd-haired girl was a scrawny female who stood at 4′ 7" with an obscene shade of bright pink hair, with a slightly rounded face with large green eyes, and fair skin. Her attire consisted of a red qipao dress with white circular designs, with short sleeves and a zipper, with long, thigh-high cutouts at the sides to allow for greater mobility. Beneath the dress she wore tight dark green leggings, with standard ninja sandals and a hitai-ate which she used to accentuate her face as well as complete her attire. Her name was Sakura Haruno, and she was chattering excitedly in an obnoxiously loud voice to the male beside her, while simultaneously chastising the blonde girl beside her.

The blonde girl was none other than Ino Yamanaka. Ino was a fair-skinned girl of average height with green eyes, and a slender build. Her most noticeable trait in her appearance was her long, pale blonde hair, which was styled in a high-ponytail with bangs covering the right side of her face. She wore a short purple vest like blouse with a raised collar, a purple apron skirt that was cut off on the sides as well as bandages on her stomach and legs. She also wore purple and white elbow warmers with this, and her hitai-ate sat around her waist as a belt.

“Sakura Haruno and Ino Yamanaka, respectively,” Shikamaru thought with a mental roll of his eyes. “Those two are nothing but rabid fangirls who shouldn’t have ever graduated. All they do is argue about who deserves ‘Sasuke-kun’ and whatever the hell else they think about. Not even worth noticing, those two.”

He then focused on a stoic boy who was obviously trying to ignore the two loudmouthed girls bickering; this task was especially difficult given that they each occupied the seats beside him. The aforementioned male stood at 4′ 11" and had light skin, with dark hair that had a tint of blue in it. He styled his hair in a centre-parted fringe and allowed two bangs to frame the sides of his face and, quite oddly, his hair spiked upwards in the back, reminiscent of a certain animal’s posterior, Shikamaru thought in mild amusement. His attire consisted of a short-sleeved, high-collared blue shirt with white shorts and bandages covering his legs, tapered off at the ankles. His outfit was completed by blue shinobi sandals. The paper fan that was the Uchiha clan crest that sat proudly emblazoned on the back of his shirt served to identify him as none other than Sasuke Uchiha.

“Sasuke Uchiha,” Shikamaru thought as he observed the stoic, yet clearly severely irritated Uchiha clan survivor. “Sole survivor of the massacre 5 years ago. A strong ninja indeed, but it’s an overstatement to call him a prodigy. Sure, he’s skilled but there are others out there who work just as hard, if not harder than him to get where they are now. They are the real unsung prodigies.”

Shikamaru sighed as he then observed his best friend, one Chōji Akimichi. Chōji had spiky, brown hair, swirl marks on his cheeks, and like the rest of his clan, he sported a more robust physique in comparison to the slim genin that had graduated with him. His attire consisted of black shorts, a long white scarf, a short-sleeved, green haori, over a light-green shirt with his clan’s obligatory kanji for “food” on it, small, hoop earrings, and his legs and forearms were wrapped in bandages. His hitai-ate was styled in a manner that allowed two tufts of hair to poke out at each side. Chōji was a very kind, polite, and caring person. These characteristics could be said to be his greatest strength, while his greatest weakness was his lack of self-confidence. He could never muster enough courage to

“Chōji, you’re my best friend but you’ve gotta toughen up a bit if you want to survive in this cruel world,” Shikamaru thought, his eyes then drifting to the final person that caught his interest. The boy in question was none other than Naruto Uzumaki, an enigma that frustrated him to no end.

Naruto had enrolled in the academy at the age of eight years, where he displayed a level of talent that prompted the Hokage to have him placed amongst the third year students. There, he had also excelled, easily displaying a level of skill that surpassed everyone in the class. This talent, however, was superceded by his comedic actions and goofy demeanour that made him seem to be absolutely useless as a shinobi.

The academy teachers constantly belittled him, and Naruto took it in stride, always smiling even when he was insulted. Worse yet, the girl he had a crush on, the Haruno, despised him and made her derision for the red-haired boy clear on a constant basis; serving only to have the classmates bully and attempt to intimidate him due to his idiocy. Today, however, had been a different case. Naruto had entered the class and created a stir due to his new appearance. The diminutive prepubescent imbecile had been replaced by a tall, burly adolescent who had set tongues wagging amongst the female population when he entered. None had believed the class dobe had changed so much, and several of the prospective shinobi had attempted to intimidate the red-haired boy, only to be easily dispatched courtesy of several precise strikes to their pressure points that incapacitated them temporarily. Afterwards, everyone had avoided the clearly superior shinobi.

Shikamaru was snapped out of his reverie when their instructor, one Iruka Umino, entered the room. Iruka was a man of average height, standing at 5′ 7" with a lithe and wiry build. He had black eyes and brown hair that he kept in a ponytail, and his most defining trait was a long, horizontal scar that ran across the bridge of his nose. His attire consisted of the standard shinobi attire, which was a Konoha flak jacket, dark blue pants and a long-sleeved shirt complete with blue shinobi sandals and a Konoha hitai-ate.

Iruka was both big-hearted, and soft-hearted. This was most often illustrated through his teaching methods, often giving a watchful eye over his students as they progressed. This however, did not mean that he was a pushover, as he could be stern when the situation warranted it as seen when he shouted at his students in order to get them to obey him. Despite the tragedy of losing his parents at a young age, Iruka remained a determined and strong-willed individual with a kind disposition. He also had a great sense of duty, honour and selflessness, all traits that were characteristic of a stalwart loyalist such as himself. The man cleared his throat and addressed them on the proper code of conduct for shinobi of Konoha, then announced the team placements, informing them that their jōnin-senseis would pick them up soon thereafter. True to Iruka’s word, several jōnin-senseis arrived within the next hour for their teams, leaving only team seven awaiting their sensei’s arrival.

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