The Way of Shinobi

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Chapter 5

“...And that’s how it is,” Kakashi Hatake said softly, his voice its customary drawl as his lone visible eye crinkled upwards in what could only be classified as a smile.

“I see,” Hiruzen Sarutobi, the revered Shinobi no Kami murmured softly, his voice barely audible.

He allowed his eyes to rove over the room as he intently observed the miscellaneous jōnin assembled before him. The assembled jōnin had all been selected to be senseis of the recently graduated genin, either passing or failing them based on their actions during the bell test. He had convened a meeting after the midday hour had passed, yet there was still no sign of the jōnin-sensei of team five. The conspicuous absence of one Aoba Yamashiro had turned heads and resulted in general confusion and slight pandemonium until Hiruzen had been forced to silence them. Their perplexity was, at the very least comprehensible, the Sandaime Hokage idly reflected. It was well known that the spiky-haired jōnin had an almost chronic obsession with punctuality, and he had never really appreciated those that squandered the time of others indiscriminately. The fact that he was now tardy was a major surprise for everyone.

A loud pop alerted everyone to the presence of an intruder, and several of the respective jōnin tensed before they relaxed as the Shunshin no Jutsu became clear. The newcomer was revealed to be none other than Aoba Yamashiro, and he was surprisingly bedraggled and somewhat slovenly, a stark contrast with his usual pristine and salubrious appearance. His face also plainly conveyed the exasperation that seemed to permeate his very being, and an annoyed frown was plainly visible. Hiruzen ignored the gasps that rippled throughout the room as many of the assembled jōnin stared at Aoba incredulously, surprised by his unkempt appearance.

Hiruzen glanced expectantly at the spiky-haired jōnin, who subsequently took the hint and stepped forward, gathering his thoughts momentarily before he began his report.

“Team five is nothing like the academy reports described them,” Aoba began, and his voice suddenly became irritable as he glanced rather pointedly at the academy personnel assembled in the room. “First, Asami Hashimoto. Rather than being the lazy and unmotivated girl I was led to expect, she shows remarkable skill in genjutsu, as she perfectly executed a B-rank genjutsu that deceived even me for a few seconds. I have yet to determine her skill in ninjutsu and taijutsu, but I assume they are also above average. As for her intelligence, I believe that it’s safe to assume that she is highly intelligent, as genjutsu require a level of creativity and a high degree of intelligence to weave correctly. The elaborate nature of the genjutsu that she had created only hinted at her true intellectual acuity.”

He dithered momentarily, seemingly distinctly uncomfortable before he continued. “Masaki Takeda is vastly superior to any genin I have ever encountered. He shows tremendous proficiency in taijutsu, as he was able to keep pace with me, albeit I was holding back to about chūnin-level, but his speed is remarkable for a genin fresh out of the academy. I have yet to ascertain his skill with ninjutsu but I can assume it is not sub-par, given that he seemed to have some degree of knowledge in pertinence to nature transformation.”

He paused again, inhaling deeply before continuing. “Naruto Uzumaki is absolutely nothing like the academy reports. Not only has his appearance changed inexplicably, but his skills seem to have acquired an overnight boost. He demonstrated great prowess in kenjutsu, as evidenced by these cuts,” he said as he gestured to the numerous cuts that littered his arms and chest. “Also, he has proficiency in advanced nature transformations, as he used a C-rank Katon jutsu and almost skewered me with kunai coated in Raiton chakra.”

At this point he paused, gathering his thoughts before he continued. “Additionally, he somehow merged three separate elemental techniques into this one big rush of power that completely demolished the training ground. At first I thought it was a Yōton technique, but now I know it was a combination of Katon, Doton and Fūton techniques. Not only that but he possesses a high degree of intelligence, as he was the one to orchestrate an elaborate scheme to retrieve the bells, and he coerced his teammates into coordinating their attacks and working together to achieve their common goal. To be frank, Hokage-sama, those academy reports are nothing but rubbish. They only belittled my genin but they’re literally the polar opposite of how they had been described. That is all.”

His proclamation was met with shocked silence as the Hokage Office abruptly became as silent as a soundless wraith. He noted that there were multiple people staring at him, their mouths agape as their faces betrayed the shocked incredulity that they felt. The all-encompassing silence persisted for several moments, and he sighed inaudibly as the room erupted into a cacophony of chattering as the chūnin in the office began to yell in outrage, while the more mature jōnin futilely attempted to regain order. The agglomeration of noise continued for several seconds, until Hiruzen silenced the room with a burst of his dense and potent chakra. He nodded gratefully to the aged Hokage, and the nod was returned, although he was the only one who noticed the slight inclination of the Sandaime’s head.

“This is preposterous!” a sonorous, guttural voice boomed. Aoba turned to the speaker, and he immediately recognized him as a chūnin instructor at the academy, one Dai Hayashi. He massaged his temples as the man launched into a tedious expostulation that was nothing more than a rant in the spiky-haired jōnin’s opinion. Dai had originally been a strong elite chūnin of the village, that is until the Kyūbi attack. He had suffered from a near-lethal dose of chakra poisoning, but he had managed to survive due to the intervention of the medics at the Konoha hospital. While he had been saved, rather miraculously too, he had suffered horrific scars that marred his features, and he had been forced to retire from active duty due to potential ramifications that could send him to an early grave. Additionally, while he genuinely understood the man’s hatred for the bijū, his senseless and unjustified imposition of that hatred onto the Kyūbi’s jinchūriki did not in any way make the pompous chūnin any more endearing to him. His musings were interrupted when the indignant voice of the subject of his thoughts percolated his ears and registered in his mind.

“That Uzumaki brat is nothing more than an ill-bred piece of trash that doesn’t know his place! Not only is he annoyingly loud, obnoxious and immature, but all he wants is to make our lives miserable with those pranks of his! He doesn’t even take life as a ninja seriously! He thinks this is all just a game and you’re an incompetent fool if you really believe that that imbecile has any talent at all!” Dai bellowed angrily, his dark grey eyes boring into Aoba’s.

A feeling of dread suddenly permeated the air, and the temperature in the room decreased almost instantaneously. Dai broke out in a cold sweat as he fearfully edged away from the agitated jōnin, who was stiff with practically palpable fury. His senseless rage faded and was replaced by alarm when an immense, crushing pressure descended upon him. He became petrified as a sensation unlike any other assailed him, and he visualized himself slain by the spiky-haired jōnin before him thousands of times in the span of a mere second. His eyes widened in undisguised fear as noises — strangled and gurgling, choking — emerged from his throat, but they refused to exit his mouth as anything more than a high-pitched squeak of fear. His mouth fell agape in unmistakable alarm, and he idly realized that he was trembling. His body — which had previously exuded an air of arrogance and a touch of aloofness — now quivered and shook, almost as though he was staring at a weird, sinister, almost eldritch abomination that had transcended the plain of oblivion to show him what true terror really was. He willed his body to move, but found that he was petrified in the most literal sense as terror, pure and unadulterated, rose within him.

Aoba turned cold, emotionless eyes on the quivering male before him. The aloof and somewhat insouciant jōnin had disappeared, only to be replaced by a cold killer in the blink of an eye. Frankly, it never ceased to amaze him exactly how idiotic the villagers of Konohagakure no Sato were. They foolishly believed that Naruto was the physical embodiment of the godly bijū, yet they were willing to intentionally provoke him in any way they could. They stopped at nothing in their senseless persecution of the boy, and the rancorous sentiments that the general population of Konoha possessed seemed to have actually percolated the academy, which was designed to be impartial and completely unbiased.

That realization had prompted him to immediately reassess his faith in the competence of the staff at the academy. It was absolutely clear to him that while Naruto may have been an extremely problematic pupil during his tenure at the academy, the vast majority of the reports on his personality and behavioural conundrums had been suppositious and heavily influenced by the misplaced hatred of the boy due to his status as the Kyūbi’s jinchūriki. With that in mind, he slowly approached the cowering chūnin and stopped only when he was a mere foot away from him. His eyes narrowed as he noted that the fear that the man felt was actually palpable; he could almost taste it.

“You are aware of the fact that this incompetent fool is acting on behalf of the Hokage, correct? In doubting my decision, you’re essentially doubting the Hokage himself, and that’s tantamount to treason. Perhaps it’s best if I show you exactly why I’m feared universally as the Konoha no Yōso Sennin hmm?” Aoba remarked, his voice completely emotionless, although he secretly relished in the fact that the man became paler with each word that he spoke. He scoffed as he looked down on the significantly shorter man. “You’re not worth my time, and you don’t even deserve to be in the presence of the Hokage with that attitude. You’re the incompetent fool, and I’m very disappointed that this is the type of person you are, Dai.”

With his piece said, he turned away from the man, his nose wrinkling as the rancid smell of puke filled the air. That was quite pathetic. He found it surprising that Dai had actually puked when exposed to the weak killing intent that he had been exuding. Perhaps he had honestly forgotten the vast disparity between a jōnin of his calibre and a mere elite chūnin like Dai. He was snapped out of his reverie when the other assembled jōnin in the room addressed him. He smiled slightly and for a fleeting moment when he realized that they all ignored the obvious Kyūbi hater rushing to flee from the room.

“Are you serious, Aoba-san?” Asuma was the first to speak, a note of incredulity in his voice.

Aoba frowned as he attempted to decipher the meaning behind his words, before his eyes narrowed behind his glasses and he turned to face the bearded jōnin.

“Do you doubt my assessment of my genin, Asuma-san?” he asked, his voice frigid.

“No offence meant, Aoba-san,” Kurenai interjected, her melodious voice surprisingly dubious. “But I seriously doubt that the two most average students are as good as you say they are.”

“I’m with Kurenai-san on this one,” Kakashi said. “I find it hard to believe that the class dobe and two of the most average students of this year are that skilled.”

Aoba’s frown deepened, and he opened his mouth to bite out an acerbic retort when he suddenly smirked, an ingenious idea coming to mind. His fellow elite jōnin were unwilling to accept the truth, and obstinately insisted on categorizing the members of team five as barely average. While he couldn’t fault their reasoning as he had initially fallen into the same pitfall in pertinence to the academy reports, but he was an elite jōnin just like them, and he had more than a piquant of prodigious intelligence. He had observed these idiosyncrasies of theirs after conducting a through assessment, yet they remained doubtful. He would teach them to doubt an elite jōnin, especially since the chūnin exams were looming.

“Well then, how about we make a wager, hmm? I bet twenty-thousand ryō that my team will sweep the next chūnin exams. That is, if your genin are up for it,” he challenged, his voice incongruously innocent given the superior smirk on his face.

Kurenai’s face hardened, while Asuma and Kakashi both contemplated the offer in silent thoughtfulness. Finally, after a long moment the lanky silver-haired jōnin smiled.

“Okay, I bet twenty-thousand ryō on my team too,” he said, his eye crinkling into a smile.

“Me too,” Kurenai and Asuma said simultaneously, glancing at each other briefly before the former gave Aoba a challenging look.

“Alright,” Aoba said with a smile. “Looks like I have sixty-thousand ryō to collect in nine months’ time.”

“Don’t be too sure of that,” Kakashi challenged. “My team is not to be underestimated.”

“Neither is mine,” Kurenai added her two-cents.

“Well, we’ll see in nine months,” Aoba retorted, mentally concocting a plan, even as the Hokage watched the proceedings with a twinkle in his aged eyes.

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