The Way of Shinobi

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Chapter 4

Asami Hashimoto was a highly intelligent girl. In fact, she possessed such a prodigious intellect that she deigned to refer to herself as a girl, instead codifying herself as a young woman based solely on her intelligence. Her intelligence was overshadowed by the fact that she was an incongruity when compared to the kunoichi aspirants of her generation, especially where it pertained to her ambitions. She simply failed to understand why they all cultivated an irrevocable obsession with unimportant matters. Who in their right mind would actually waste precious time on looking pretty of all things, when you were a kunoichi-in-the-making? That had been her sentiment when she discovered exactly how much time that the girls in her class spent on making themselves attractive to garner the attention of their crush. It was honestly appalling, especially when taking into account the fact that their feelings were not reciprocated by the subject of their infatuation, thus making their crushes nothing more than meaningless fixations.

Even so, as a kunoichi, she knew that hygiene was very important. Taking regular showers, brushing her hair, brushing her teeth and wearing clean clothing was the limit of her personal care, however. She felt that she was not an invaluable prize in pertinence to her looks, at least not with her present features. She possessed a vibrant shade of crimson hair that was as incongruous as the chimes of discordant bells in a marketplace, and she was subsequently ridiculed and overtly mocked due to this oddity. Her long, angular face, combined with her topaz blue eyes and freckles that adorned her cheeks merely made her an odd disparity that stuck out like a sore thumb in the bustling village of Konohagakure no Sato. It was an indisputable fact that red hair was an extreme rarity in Konohagakure; the only reason that she even had red hair was because she inherited it from her mother, who was, incidentally, a descendant of a foreign clan.

Her thoughts had been interrupted when one Naruto Uzumaki entered the classroom. Her heart had fluttered slightly when she saw him, even as a highly uncharacteristic emotion had stirred within her. It was odd, because she had never really deigned to be attentive in pertinence to the enigmatic boy, but his abrupt and almost inexplicable change in appearance was quite startling, but it was certainly a welcome change from his normal appearance. He was infinitely more attractive than before, for one, and the attraction that she felt towards him was certainly justifiable since that was the case.

Nonetheless, she was much more inclined to focus solely on her academic pursuits, as well as ensure that she did not lag behind in pertinence to her career as a kunoichi. That, at the very least, was clear-cut and not interspersed with shades of grey that blurred the lines between right and wrong. A small smile appeared on her face as she thought of her life at home. She was originally from a nuclear family, but it had become a single-parent one after the family patriarch had been killed on a mission away from Konoha. Since then, her mother had raised her to the best of her ability, and her gratitude to her for her resilience as well as pertinacity in the face of adversity was profound. She had independently raised her in a shinobi village, while successfully balancing her duties as the chief Iryō Ninja with her mandates as a mother. Never before had she seen a person with such an indomitable will and determination to succeed. She motivated her to excel, and she would ensure that she did, especially since her new teammates were perhaps the best in the class. With that in mind, she stood and exited the premises as she hurried towards the training ground.

Naruto approached his teammates, his stomach full after a big, hearty meal that had him feeling rejuvenated. He had gone to bed early, getting as many hours of sleep as he could before to be at optimal capability for the genin test today. He nodded to both Masaki and Asami in greeting, and the both of them mirrored his action. He sat and reclined against one of the wooden posts in the centre of the training field. He was not particularly inclined to introspective reflection as 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. Now, however, he was simply singularly incapable of remaining in his present situation without a certain level of idle reflection.

His life had been rather tumultuous thus far, and it was due largely to the influence of certain extenuating circumstances. He had been made a jinchūriki less than two hours after his birth, and had subsequently been the target of overt derision, maltreatment and a degree of condescension that was utterly ludicrous when analyzed from a rational perspective. While he was well aware of the fact that Konoha had suffered tremendous losses during the Kyūbi attack a mere twelve years prior, he found their hatred of him both irrational and despicable. The fact that they were capable of consciously juxtaposing then transferring their hatred of the bijū to him as its jinchūriki was something that he just simply couldn’t comprehend, although that was perhaps due to his firm belief in rationality and sagaciousness.

Naruto shook his head slightly, dismissing the errant thoughts and ignoring the fact that his movements had attracted the attention of his two companions. Such morose thoughts had no place in his mental contemplation. Even though his life had been rather... turbulent and filled with a certain level of self-recrimination, there had actually been several good events to occur. His recruitment and subsequent induction into the dark annals of Root had probably been one of the surprisingly sparse number of felicitous events to have occurred in his life. The events that followed thereafter, however, were not really congruous to that particular sentiment. After all, he could hardly say that being forced to kill at the tender age of eight years was a good event. Nonetheless, he was quite grateful that he had been recruited into the clandestine organization, as he was certain that he would have fared no better had he been allowed to continue to live in the more disreputable regions of Konoha, he mused thoughtfully.

His musings were interrupted by Aoba’s arrival, as the spiky-haired jōnin arrived momentarily, tethers of smoke from a perfectly executed Shunshin no Jutsu licking at his frame.

“Good, you’re all here,” he said upon arrival. “Punctuality is a very important aspect of being a shinobi, and even a tad bit of tardiness can prove to be a fatal mistake.”

He noted that Naruto did not display a discernible reaction to his remark, remaining utterly apathetic as he seemed contented to simply watch him. Masaki and Asami both visibly blanched, obviously chagrined by the information that he had helpfully supplied. It might have seemed odd that he was willing to subtly commend his prospective genin and add a subtle admonition at the same time, but it was true. He personally knew many former shinobi who were tardy due to some sort of extenuating circumstances, and they were forced to choose a new vocation as monumental events had occurred due to their tardiness. These events ranged from the death of colleagues to permanent, crippling injuries that were incurred as a consequence, ad nauseum. He sighed slightly at the downward spiral that his thoughts had taken before he placed an alarm clock on one of the wooden posts, before he turned to face the three soon-to-be genin standing before him.

“Alright,” he began as he raised two bells. “Your objective is to retrieve one of these bells to pass. Any one of you who doesn’t get a bell will fail and be sent back to the academy, and since there are only two bells, one of you is guaranteed to fail. Do you understand?”

The trio nodded, and Aoba smiled.

“Good. Now begin!”

The three disappeared in blurs of motion, retreating into the dense foliage to conceal themselves as they regrouped and thought over how to attack to optimize their chances of getting a bell.

Naruto crouched on a tree branch as he observed Aoba. Prior to his graduation, he would frequently observe numerous jōnin giving groups of three genin the proverbial bell test. They would pit them against each other by stating their objective was to retrieve one of the bells, and that anyone who failed to retrieve a bell would be sent back to the academy. The true objective was to look underneath the underneath and co-operate in battling a superior opponent, as this was the sole principle Konoha prided itself on: teamwork. While he was confident in his innate abilities, complemented by his prodigious talent as a shinobi, he was certain that he would never be able to pass the test without the assistance of his teammates. Konohagakure was no different from other shinobi villages, at least where it pertained to the matter of aberrations and anomalies. They had no tolerance for such things, and it was therefore an extreme rarity for shinobi to be apprenticed. Either the entire team passed and matriculated to genin, or they failed as a collective unit and were enrolled in the remedial classes. The remedial classes were essentially torturous training regimes that were stringent punishments implemented in the wake of the recent spate of failures.

With that in mind, he decided he would inform his soon-to-be teammates of the true underlying meaning of their genin test, and work together with them in an attempt to retrieve the bells. If they refused to co-operate with him, then he would independently retrieve the bells and figure out a method to ensure that all three passed, as he was certain that the council would devise a method to preclude him from being apprenticed to a powerful jōnin such as Aoba, period. He quickly located his two teammates, deciding to approach Asami first.

“Asami-san,” he said softly.

The girl spun, drawing a kunai to defend herself. She relaxed when she realized it was Naruto, and lowered the kunai.

“What is it?”

Naruto raised a brow at her slightly flustered tone, but dismissed it nonetheless and quickly explained the meaning of the test. She looked surprised, but agreed to co-operate with him.

He placed a hand on her shoulder, both of them vanishing in a Shunshin immediately thereafter. They reappeared behind Masaki, and were immediately forced to dodge a hail of kunai as the black-clad youth had thrown the barrage of tools at them the moment they appeared.

“Oh it’s you,” he said as he recognized them, not apologetic in the least for his earlier attack. “What is it?”

Naruto quickly went on to explain the meaning of the test to him as well; noting that his reaction was similar to Asami’s.

“So, I suppose you’ve got a plan,” Masaki commented as he warily observed Naruto. “What do you propose we do?”

“This is what we’ll do...” Naruto began as he elucidated his plan of action.

Aoba suppressed a sigh of boredom as he waited for any one of the concealed trio to attack. His boredom abruptly faded as he spun with preternatural speed, simultaneously whipping out a kunai as he deflected a literal hail of shuriken that were wreathed in flames. His own kunai was similarly imbued with Katon chakra, effectively negating the identical chakra that coated the shuriken. He idly pondered on the ramifications of this occurrence, as one of the genin aspirants had possess an advanced knowledge and skill in the kinaesthetic application of nature transformation. Well, doubly so since whomever it was managed to auspiciously imbue shinobi tools with chakra, a task that was surprisingly arduous for even some chūnin of the village. His musings were interrupted as Masaki burst from the bushes and sped towards him, his speed slightly surprising the spiky-haired jōnin.

He relaxed slightly as he began to parry or evade the furious punches and kicks that were sent his way by the extremely pertinacious dark-haired lad, only serving to irritate the boy. He was initially astonished by the speed that the boy displayed, but it seemed that he was only as a chūnin. His slowly manifesting indolence and ever-increasing insouciance only served to further infuriate his temporary adversary, and Masaki subsequently launched himself at Aoba, relentlessly assaulted him in a stunning display of taijutsu, lashing out with a flurry of powerful blows that became more and more vicious as time progressed.

Masaki growled in consternation as yet another of his blows was parried, and he launched himself at the spiky-haired jōnin tirelessly with even greater intensity than ever before. He lashed out with a straight, jarring thrust with a kunai that was summarily parried, but he immediately followed it up with a strong roundhouse kick that connected solidly with nothing but air as the jōnin dodged almost indolently at the last possible moment. He vanished in a burst of speed, and capitalizing on his opponent’s obvious astonishment and never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he rushed forwards at full speed, one of his arms cocked back and following his motion in a perfectly smooth, straight motion. His chakra-imbued fist struck the jōnin squarely in the face, sending him flying backwards for several dozen metres as he careened wildly through the air before he regained equilibrium and landed deftly on his feet.

Aoba gingerly wiped the blood from his nose even as he warily watched the extremely swift genin. Thus far, he had revealed two things. The first was obviously that he was ridiculously fast, and the second was that he possessed a great deal of proficiency in kenjutsu. While he was merely using a kunai to engage in battle with him, he was still exceptionally talented. His brief respite and mental contemplation came to an abrupt halt as a massive orb of roaring flame barrelled towards him from the surrounding foliage, quickly engulfing him and then detonating in a massive explosion that dissipated into a billowing mushroom cloud of smoke.

Masaki narrowed his eyes slightly before he inclined his head to the side to avoid a kick aimed for his temple. He quickly retreated amidst a flurry of rapid-fire blows that were delivered by his adversary. Aoba was suddenly forced to cease his assault and leap backwards several times in quick succession, as dozens of shuriken flew from the surrounding foliage towards him at blinding speed; forcing his immediate retreat in order to avoid being skewered. Soon, the shower of shuriken ceased and was replaced by innumerable kunai crackling with electricity. They sped towards Aoba with even greater speed than the shuriken, and the spiky-haired jōnin was forced to make a hasty exit in order to evade the extra-lethal weapons. He reappeared several metres away from his previous location, noting with trepidation that the kunai had become deeply embedded in the ground, to the point that even their handles were buried in the earth.

“That was too close for comfort,” he thought grimly, visualizing himself bifurcated by the weapons.

His eyes narrowed behind his sunglasses as he spun to the left, barely dodging a horizontal slash aimed to decapitate him. He quickly drew a kunai and engaged in a heated battle with his newest adversary, who turned out to be none other than Naruto. He parried several swift slashes, but quickly found that the redhead was not postulating when he had spoken of his proficiency in kenjutsu; the numerous cuts he now sported attesting to the blonde’s skill. He blocked a slash aimed for his jugular, and lashed out with a kick that his opponent sidestepped. He seized the golden opportunity and retreated immediately.

Naruto assumed an odd battle-ready stance, eliciting intense scrutiny from the dark-haired jōnin before the battle recommenced with a vengeance. The two battling shinobi were little more than indistinct blurs of motion as they met in a thunderous clang of arms, then disengaged, and engaged once more. It went on in such a manner for quite some time, with neither seeming to gain an advantage. Aoba inclined his head to the side to allow one of his opponent’s shuriken to sail harmlessly past his head, even as he simultaneously deflected three others that tried to impale him. He sped forth, raising his arm as he launched a straight, jarring jab at his adversary’s face. The red-haired jinchūriki dodged it by stepping to the side in a display of incongruous speed, before his clenched fist lashed out with a vicious left hook that was summarily blocked by the jōnin’s open palm.

Naruto gritted his teeth as he quickly disengaged the taller male and leaped backwards, attempting to create some distance between himself and his opponent. He warily assessed the jōnin for any abrupt movements, and carefully analyzed the information that he had gleaned from the battle thus far. The spiky-haired jōnin had proven himself to be worthy of his A-rank status, as he was simply far too fast and strong to be defeated by such incredibly straightforward tactical concepts. Although he was holding back by a significant margin, intentionally restricting himself to only the equivalent of jōnin-level speed, the fact that their prospective sensei was easily matching pace with him only testified to his proficiency in taijutsu. However, that was only one of the shinobi fields in which he intended to test their prospective sensei. The next aspect was ninjutsu, and he smirked slightly as a devious idea sprung to his mind.

Aoba Yamashiro was then badly shocked when a heavy and oppressive pressure descended upon the training field. He was suddenly aware that Naruto was the source of the feeling, but it was not murderous killing intent that the redhead radiated. Rather, he had spiked his enormous chakra, its oppressive nature causing what seemed to be a tenfold increase in gravity. The red-haired boy drew himself up, kneading three separate elements within his body and quickly combined them into a single burst of unfathomable power. He exhaled from his mouth a sea of molten rock propelled by a shrieking gale that hungrily consumed everything in its path. The lethal elemental amalgamation rapidly surged forth toward the spellbound jōnin, tongues of flame licking at everything that it could devour.

Aoba snapped out of his stupor just in time to use a hasty Shunshin to evade the destructive technique. He reappeared several dozen metres away, safely out of the range of the technique, noting with awe that the once pristine training ground had been reduced to nothing but a veritable sea of molten rock that had scorching heat he felt even from his safe distance away. He refocused on the to-be-genin he was facing and was again badly shocked when they suddenly disappeared. His surroundings suddenly and inexplicably warped into an endless hell-fire dimension. He looked around wildly in panic before he felt an immense surge of heat bearing down on him. He looked up and was chagrined to see a massive fireball rapidly approaching.

“Genjutsu,” he thought, placing his hands in the ram seal and fluctuating his chakra.

The fireball dispersed immediately thereafter and he found himself once again in the training field, and turned when he heard a low tintinnabulation. He was unsurprised when he saw Naruto holding the pair of bells, with Asami and Masaki standing on either side of him.

“Do we pass?” Naruto asked gruffly.

Aoba nodded mutely, discomfitted to know that three genin, no, three academy graduates had formulated a plan of action that had not only challenged him, but had actually allowed them to retrieve the bells. He eased his conscience by reminding himself that he had been assigned a team that consisted of shinobi that were clearly far above genin level.

“Now you three are officially part of team five,” Aoba said with a small smile. “Report here tomorrow for your first mission, until then, ja ne.” He glanced at the destroyed training ground before he then disappeared in a Shunshin.

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