The Way of Shinobi

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Chapter 6

2 weeks later

A series of loud thuds rang throughout one of the clearings of training ground five as two of the genin assigned to the infamous team five swiftly went through the customary intense sparring that characterized their training. Naruto, armed with a pair of wooden pads, one attached to each hand via liberal application of chakra, maintained a firm battle-ready stance as he navigated through the clearing with such a high degree of speed that he seemed to be teleporting from one place to another random place to the casual observer, evading or blocking the blows cast his way by a doggedly pursuing Asami. She 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. Her irritation was beginning to show as Naruto became more difficult to pursue. She was acutely aware of the fact that the redhead was holding back by a significant margin but this was preposterous! He was obviously leagues away from her in speed, but surely it shouldn’t be this difficult to land a hit, given that her speed was not insignificant and certainly nothing to scoff at either.

Contrary to the opinions of the spectators, namely Aoba and Masaki, it was a rather difficult exercise for both participants. While it was correct that Naruto was the pacemaker since he was in possession of the wooden pads, he used the opportunity to assess and improve his reaction time, rhythm, as well as test his almost inhuman flexibility as he evaded, weaved and twisted his body at impossible angles whilst simultaneously moving at implausible gravity-defying speeds and with the agility of a Gibbon monkey to evade the girl’s blows. For Asami, she was being sorely tested as she was forced to match his ever-increasing pace as well as flawlessly execute the combinations that Aoba announced. The sparring match was pushing her speed and reflexes to the limits as her adversary would lash out with unexpected counterattacks that, more often than not, caught her unprepared as she was forced to transcend what she had initially thought were her limits.

Each time that they sparred, Aoba would have Naruto increase the pace and to make matters worse, the more her training intensified, the more resistance the resistance seals she wore exerted as they automatically increased the more her training intensified. As a result, this training was exhausting.

She gritted her teeth as Aoba announced another sequence, and she executed the blows with unerring precision. Left hook, right hook, right uppercut, left jab, right roundhouse kick. She growled in consternation when all of her blows were parried effortlessly and launched herself tirelessly at Naruto, lashing out with a ferocity that prompted her sparring partner to react swiftly lest he be pummelled. Asami threw a straight, jarring left hook that was summarily parried, but it was immediately followed up by a strong roundhouse right that sped forth with unparalleled ferocity, but the red-haired jinchūriki leaned backwards at a full ninety degree angle to allow the punch to sail harmlessly over him before he straightened himself and rapidly backpedalled.

Asami huffed in annoyance before she rushed forwards and began to assault him with even greater intensity and speed than before, but exhaustion began to get the better of her and she felt her muscles protesting indignantly. “My body is weak. I’m just so tired,” she thought.

They had been sparring for almost an hour-and-a-half now, and in the ninja world that was a terribly long time. Their strenuous bout of physical activity was not unappreciated, as Aoba and Masaki both watched with the former feeling boundless pride in the progress of his genin, while the latter was intently focused on the match as he pondered when he would be allowed to spar. They had all made remarkable progress ever since they had been formally instated as shinobi of Konoha. Aoba felt great pride well up in his chest as he observed Asami doggedly pursue Naruto, who deftly dodged her attacks with nimbleness and finesse that should not belong to a male and would be incongruous even if displayed by a kunoichi.

Naruto became acutely aware of the fact that Asami was rapidly approaching the limits of her stamina as he noticed her lagging behind him, forcing him to pause in his stride to allow her to catch up. He had to repeat this course of action several times as she faltered in her stride, but when she stumbled and almost fell before managing to regain equilibrium he stopped altogether.

“Are you alright, Asami-san?” he asked, tilting his head to the side with a slightly worried expression on his face.

The response to his question came in the form of a baleful glare as the panting and sweaty Asami regarded him with a dour expression on her face. “I’m fine,” she retorted snappily, obviously infuriated as she attempted to calm herself and regulate her erratic breathing, before she stood slowly and faced Naruto with unshakeable determination etched on her face. Performing mental calculations at impressive speeds, she extended an open palm towards her sparring partner and clenched it into a fist, calming briefly as she closed her eyes. Her eyes snapped open after a brief pause, and she lunged at Naruto at full speed, her fist cocked back and following her motion in a perfectly smooth, straight motion that made her sparring partner’s eyes widen fractionally in slight surprise before he swiftly raised one of the wooden pads and prepared himself a mere second before her fist struck the wooden pad with the force of a sledgehammer, the sheer force of the blow resulting in a thunderous, resounding crack that reverberated throughout the clearing.

A testament to the power of the blow, Naruto was shoved backwards for a few feet before he regained equilibrium and skidded to a halt, the jinchūriki glancing at the wooden pad he had attached to his arm with an inscrutable expression, noting that it now sported a fist-shaped indentation and a series of cracks. The wooden pads were made from the bark of a tree that relied solely on chakra to grow, and was especially durable. The fact that she had managed to damage it without chakra enhancement was nothing short of astounding. That particular train of thought prompted him to glance up at Asami with an expression that clearly conveyed his bewildered incredulity, the girl sporting a matching expression. The two sparring partners were not the only ones that were startled by this new development, as Aoba and Masaki both stared at Asami in silent expressions of their amazement.

“Incredible!” Naruto thought as he again glanced briefly at the damaged wooden pad before he looked up at Asami with another expression of incredulity. “She never displayed such strength before. Her bodily rotation and transmission of energy, compounded by her timing and energy release upon impact were impeccably precise, exactly as outlined in the academy curriculum. She probably only managed to do that due to her anger and irritation, but that was impressive nonetheless.”

In spite of her extremely delicate and somewhat harmless appearance, Asami was a very capable kunoichi and had an exceptional scholastic aptitude that yielded devastating results whenever she applied it properly. This was illustrated by the great magnitude of strength that her punch had carried due solely to unerringly precise execution of movement and momentum. It also served to reveal that Asami had a propensity for dealing powerful blows to her opponents merely through proper execution of the taijutsu techniques taught in the academy. A truly frightening thought indeed.

Naruto reassumed a battle-ready posture as he smiled blithely at Asami. “Excellent. Let’s do that again now shall we?”

Asami blushed slightly at the praise before she roused herself from her slight stupor and tensed, before she rushed forwards and began another relentless assault on Naruto, displaying brute force and sheer power behind her strikes that none could have predicted.

“That girl, Asami Hashimoto, she continuously proves herself to be more and more interesting the more time progresses,” Aoba thought with a smile as he observed the spar with rapt attention, noting that the loud cracks that rang out reverberated through the clearing contrasted greatly with the sound of the resident wildlife, creating a gentle discordance that was welcomed by the spiky-haired jōnin.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Aoba commanded, halting the still-ongoing spar between Naruto and Asami.

The two disengaged quickly, with Asami breathing heavily and perspiring profusely and Naruto looking much the same as he did prior to the commencement of the spar. The red-haired girl, however, was utterly exhausted and bruised, her clothing torn in numerous places and her pride severely mangled. Never before had she faced an opponent that so thoroughly eclipsed her in terms of abilities. Nonetheless, that fact spurred her to merely work harder and improve her abilities, so that she would eventually catch up to her teammates and no longer be a hindrance, as she currently thought of herself as being.

Masaki repressed a sigh as he observed his teammates. It had only been two weeks since their bell test, and they had been training ceaselessly and tirelessly ever since. He gingerly massaged his body, which ached with phantom pains. Their jōnin-sensei had devised a rather peculiar training method for them to adhere to, and he was chagrined to note that it had worked flawlessly. Whenever they arrived, they would inevitably be ordered to perform warm-up exercises. These exercises included fifty laps around the training field and one hundred ninety-degree push-ups, after which they would have to punch a log one hundred times with each fist and execute one hundred kicks. After those activities were completed, Aoba would have him engage in a taijutsu only spar with Naruto. He released an unconscious shiver as the phantom pains returned with a vengeance, and he sighed in mild perturbation.

The taijutsu exercises were torturous and utterly exhausting. The new doctrine to assist in improving his taijutsu form entailed that he had to spar with his teammates, taijutsu only of course, and they would battle for two hours minimum, but the end result of each spar was inevitable. Naruto always beat him senseless whenever they sparred, regardless of how much he attempted to defeat him. Crude tactics and unpredictable assaults were all but useless against the redhead, as his footing was absolutely certain and his movements were remarkably fluid. The fact that he was obviously holding back rankled him and spurred him to fight harder but that only resulted in the disparity between their respective strengths becoming even more pronounced than ever. That knowledge, vexatious as it was, only spurred him on to train with more intensity as he found that he was slowly but surely making marked improvements.

He was not the only one who had made improvements, he idly mused. Naruto was obviously far superior to any genin that he had ever encountered, and his abilities shown during the bell test only attested to that sentiment. Nonetheless, he practiced all of the shinobi arts in which he was proficient with a level of diligence and studiousness that he was certain only the redhead possessed. Whether it was creating a complex fūin matrix or a simple Kibaku Fuda, it never ceased to amaze Masaki just how proficient the lanky and burly redhead was. Then again, he idly mused that he was not the only one with hidden abilities.

Asami had also improved as well, and drastically so. The changes wrought in her taijutsu style were all too apparent to Masaki. The exaggerated and awkward taijutsu adaptations of the Academy style had been replaced entirely, and her incongruous flexibility only served to complement the grace and fluidity that she now possessed. She was even more dangerous due to the fact that she had attained a certain level of unpredictability in her attacks, attacking from unorthodox angles that only made the dark-haired boy discombobulated on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, he was secretly elated that he was still her better, and she would invariably require a long time to match him in his preferred shinobi art.

He glanced towards his jōnin-sensei, and he sighed slightly. He was forced to admit, it was quite disconcerting to note exactly how intelligent the man was. He had never before encountered someone who was as meticulous as he was, with a piquancy of prodigious intelligence that was only complemented by the time he spent to decipher things. The root of the issue never once eluded the scrutiny of the elite jōnin, and he was secretly pleased that the man was actually sagacious enough to deign to spend as much time as he did deciphering the possible causation for certain courses of action to be taken. Nonetheless, he was actually slightly annoyed when the spiky-haired jōnin had had the audacity to snidely comment that he was ordered to train a team of powerful shinobi, and not troublesome brats predisposed to talkativeness.

The gall had made him tremble with the desire to punch him in the face, but he wisely refrained from such an act as he knew exactly what the repercussions would be. Attacking a jōnin in a ninja village was considered a capital offence, one for which the stipulated punishment was death. Even so, before he could act on his more ruthless desires, Aoba had simply explained that he wished to mould them into reputable, elite warriors with the potential to one day lead Konoha to prosperity. The play on his patriotism was a bold move, but one that he could respect. After all, he was among the innumerable denizens who loved their village to the point that they were willing to lay down their lives for the continued prosperity of the bustling urban development. The Will of Fire truly burned brightly in them all, and he was certain that the aged Hokage would be proud of them.

Aoba Yamashiro sighed slightly in mild perturbation as he massaged his forehead. The disparities between the students described in the academy reports were comparable to he differences between night and day, as they just couldn’t be clearer. He really had to ponder on the sheer idiocy of the personnel at the academy if they truly believed that straightforward assessments of the shinobi and kunoichi aspirants in their charge to be accurate. The results would vary based on the type of person taking these assessments, as there were some who would excel at these of course, like the Uchiha boy. He seemed to have an insatiable thirst for the top spot, which hinted at the fact that he had something to prove. Others such as Naruto would also excel, but that was only a mere sliver of their true abilities. They tended to treat the academy like a high-priority mission, therefore revealing something to deceive everyone, but that something amounted to nothing in the long run.

And there were still others such as Asami and Masaki who barely displayed any interest in the curriculum at the academy. They intentionally allowed themselves to be given a ranking that reflected poorly on their skill, and only because they wished to remain inconspicuous. Masaki for example, was physically larger than Asami as well as stronger and faster, and he was definitely among the best taijutsu users Aoba had ever encountered, especially for one who had only recently graduated from the academy. In spite of this blatantly obvious fact, he had only been ranked as painfully average, coming in at barely above the most abysmal users in the class. The same applied to Asami, with the exception that she had been ranked as a horrible genjutsu user, yet she was exceptionally talented. He suppressed a smirk as he idly mused that they had had astronomical success in pertinence to concealing their abilities, although that was mostly due to the idiocy of the staff at the academy and their inability to look underneath the underneath.

Aoba’s eyes then flickered to Naruto, and he knitted his brows together in slight trepidation and perturbation. For want of a better word, the boy just seemed odd. Twelve-year-old children were generally rowdy and boisterous, with more than just a piquancy of emotional turbulence. They were noisy, loud and most of all refractory, yet the redhead never even once displayed any of those traits. On the contrary, he was apathetic to the point of almost being emotionless, and he had almost mistaken the blank look that the boy often sported for dumb docility had he not known that there was a vastly superior intelligence lurking behind that gaze. Nonetheless, he supposed that him being a tad emotionless was for the best.

He shivered unconsciously as he envisaged a murderous and psychotic Naruto wielding the power of the mighty Kyūbi. It was honestly a miracle that the boy had not become a barbaric murderer, and it also attested to his mental fortitude. Aoba was certain that he could never endure the treatment that the jinchūriki did without killing someone or becoming a nuke-nin. However, Naruto Uzumaki had done none of those options. He had persevered, ignoring the vitriolic remarks and acerbic responses that his mere presence evoked from the villagers. It was truly a testament to the jinchūriki’s pertinacity that he did not snap and butcher all that had abused him. That particular train of thought made him pause his idle musings.

The true extent of the abuse that Naruto had suffered was shrouded in mystery and was by no means clearly-defined. He only knew that his genin was typically barred from entering certain establishments such as restaurants, clothing stores and weapons establishments. If he was even admitted to a store, he was sold badly overpriced goods that were often of substandard quality. Nonetheless, the villagers were quite meticulous in pertinence to the extent of their abuse of the boy, ensuring that they never attempted to physically abuse him in any way. They mostly sneered at his presence and the more callous ones bluntly ignored him, even when he directly addressed them. Aoba was no psychologist, but even he knew that neglect was just as psychologically damaging as physical and or sexual abuse. Nonetheless, he was grateful for the fact that the villagers had been careful to limit the abuse that the Uzumaki boy suffered. At the very least, they respected the Sandaime’s wishes, albeit in a twisted sort of way.

A whimsical smile appeared on his lips as he watched his students spar. Even though it would take time, he would mould them to become the best shinobi that they could be, and hopefully help the ostracized Naruto to make more friends in the process.

The members of team five, sans Aoba, walked through the village of Konohagakure at a somewhat laconic pace. Their jōnin sensei had left them to their own devices after he had departed for a private debriefing with the Sandaime Hokage. They had unanimously agreed to have lunch together and were on their way to the establishment where they almost inevitably ended up when they decided to have a meal together, Ichiraku Ramen. While on the way, the denizens of the village all displayed varying reactions to them. Masaki’s and Asami’s respective clothing and hitai-ates identified them as shinobi of the village, and most people gave them a wide berth or gave them respectful nods as they passed, which were summarily returned by the two.

As for Naruto, however, the villagers reacted to him in a very different manner. He was, as usual, on the receiving end of numerous rancorous glares and muttered profanities as the citizens ensured, with no small amount of pleasure, that he received his customary allotment of virulent and discriminatory treatment. Their expressions quickly altered to become utterly pernicious the moment they each took note of Naruto’s reaction to their conspicuously overt distaste for him. Rather than become downtrodden or even enraged, the tall redhead merely glanced at them for the most infinitesimal of moments before he looked away, evidently casually dismissing them as unimportant cretins. While the jinchūriki was silent and uncommunicative, he could adequately express his emotions through his eyes. He was apathetic towards them, their attitude towards him serving to only make him pity them even more. Their disparaging remarks and open hostility failed to even faze the redhead, and they were only wasting their time in attempting to get a reaction from him through their cold reactions to his mere presence.

That did not mean that it did not affect the other members of team five, however. Asami was initially confused as to why they were glaring at her red-haired teammate, but when she came to the realization that they were not going to cease and desist from their obvious displays of virulence towards Naruto, she became perturbed. Her previously neutral expression morphed into a scowl of bitter resentment as she returned the glares that the villagers threw Naruto’s way. Her topaz blue eyes became icy glaciers that expressed her antipathy towards the purportedly amiable citizens of the village for their extremely distasteful attitude towards her compatriot.

Masaki, however, was not so subtle. He was, not unlike Asami, initially bewildered by the hostile attitude displayed by the villagers. However, upon noting that they were being openly hostile towards his teammate, his previously somewhat cheerful demeanour changed as his jaw tightened and he felt pure, irrepressible wrath stir within him. His fists clenched at his sides and he gritted his teeth as physical manifestations of his fury, and an unprecedented killing intent erupted from his frame, prompting the villagers to avert their eyes and or hastily scurry away from the black-haired genin and his compatriots. He was seemingly oblivious to their reactions to him, as he glared down the street with his hands clenched into fists at his sides. The murderous aura he was radiating was clearly noticeable to the villagers, however, as the vast majority of them turned away from the group before they even properly registered their presence, or hurriedly rushed away with an expression of sheer terror the moment they recognized the jinchūriki and his cohorts.

Masaki was still blissfully ignorant of all these occurrences but his head snapped around when someone placed a hand on his shoulder, his face an intimidating visage that expressed his cold fury. He visibly calmed, however, when he realized that it was Naruto who had his hand on his shoulder. The redhead shook his head in the negative as Masaki took the hint and began to suppress the killing intent he had been unconsciously radiating as he took several deep breaths to calm himself. He finally nodded to Naruto and he received a slight smile of gratitude in return.

“That’s right,” Masaki thought with a sidelong glance at his teammates as his resolve hardened. “They’re my teammates, and anyone who wants to hurt them can only do so over my dead body.”

Jutsu List:

Shunshin no Jutsu (Body Flicker Technique): D-rank, Ninjutsu, Supplementary, General Skill. The Body Flicker Technique is a high-speed movement technique. By using the Body Flicker Technique, a ninja can move short to long distances at an almost untraceable speed. To an observer, it appears as if the user has teleported. It is accomplished by using chakra to temporarily vitalize the body and move at extreme speeds. The amount of chakra required depends on the overall distance and elevation between the user and the intended destination.

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