World 79: Naruto – Part 2.2

I Will Not Be Hokage, Part 2: A Bridge Not Far Enough

Previously: I Will Not Be Hokage, Part 1

Themesong: The Mariner’s Revenge Song by The Decemberists

Our first mission was to protect this gormless old jackass named Tazuna who, I kid you not, described himself as “The Super Expert Bridge Builder, Tazuna” and insisted that we provided him with “Super Protection until I get back to my country and complete the bridge.” He also called Naruto “The shortest one with the super stupid-looking face.” So, you know… he wasn’t a complete tool.

So, I sense some questions from the gallery, and thus I’ll try to anticipate what they might be: A) What country?, B) What Bridge?, and C) Why would anyone want to hurt / kill a Civil Engineer? In answer, I would then reply a) The Wave Country (think The Water Country, but less important and off the coast of the Fire Nation), b) the bridge connecting The Wave Country to the mainland Fire Nation, c) because a shipping magnate named Gato was trying to seize economic control over the area by monopolizing the trade to and from the island, and d) (in answer to your new question, D) why the hell didn’t Wave or Fire ninjas protect this bridge if it was that important?) Wave has no Ninjas at all and Fire apparently doesn’t fucking care. I mean, sure, we were going, but we were essentially mercenary bodyguards in the pay of a civilian, not soldiers being sent by a government that gave a fuck about its neighbor.

I should also point out that the Land of Waves should in no way have been able to afford to build a six mile long, four-lane wide causeway bridge, whose cost must have run to the equivalent of at least fifty million dollars, which is a lot of freaking money for a supposedly impoverished nation to pull together, but hey, I’m just a dumb twelve year old, what do I know about economics, right? Though I guess that’s why they could only afford a C-Rank squad… good thing for them they got one with me on it… oh, and Kakashi I guess.

Anyway, the reason this was only a C-Rank mission was because Tazuna had convinced the Hokage that he was only worried about Gato sending bandits and thugs to rough up him and his crew, that there would be no rival foreign ninjas involved. In fact, as we walked down the road in the middle of the wilderness (why we were walking when this world has automobiles I have no idea… the coast is several hundred miles from Leaf Village) Kakashi even uttered the words “Don’t Worry, there won’t be any ninja combat in a C-Rank Mission.”

I groaned, and immediately fell into a combat stance, scanning the area for the threat. Would it come from the trees? Hah. No. Of course not! I’d read this issue, but even if I hadn’t, I’d have had to be comatose not to be able to sense the presence of powerful Ninja Chakra in the piddle next to us. If you’re wondering why, if I’d read this issue of the comic, I hadn’t already been in combat alert, the reason is simple… the comic doesn’t indicate where along the three hundred and ninety-four mile walk the attack came, and these weren’t exactly paved roads. A puddle less than a meter across wasn’t exactly an uncommon sight. But those words? Even if they hadn’t been a Tempting Fate Phrase, they were the words in the comic that immediately preceded the arrival of a pair of Chunin-class ninjas from the Mist Village who instantly ambushed Kakashi, seemingly dispatching him in an instant (haha… no. I mean, seriously, no. How they didn’t see through the illusion, I don’t know… must not have had any Sensor Ninja training. Of course, I saw through it because I knew it was an illusion… but again, I’m twelve.

Anyway, they attacked Naruto, who froze, then went after Tazuna, who I’d already moved to defend… when Sasuke interposed himself between them and me. Fucking sexist jackass. They didn’t reach him.

There were two reasons for this; A) Kakashi, not being dead, pretty much OHKO’d the duo just before their clawed gauntlets could close on Sasuke’s flesh, and B) I’d pulled an overly large (read man-sized… well, Naruto-sized) scroll out of my hip pouch (hurray for hammer-space!) and flattened the wangsty jerk from behind.

“What was that for, you crazy bi-” he began, but I put my boot in his face.

“Don’t call me crazy!” I bellowed like an emotionally unstable tween. “And if you ever try to white-knight me again, I’ll fucking stab you in the spleen with a sharpened spoon! I’m your partner, not your protectee!”

It had always bugged me that Sasuke gets credit from Naruto for being able to fight the Mist Ninjas, but that Naruto completely ignores the fact that OG-Sakura was totally able to draw a kunai and throw herself in front of the person we’d been hired to protect. Why I (who had more combat experience than… uh… all the ninjas in the world combined pretty much) also moved to defend Tazuna instead of attacking… I wasn’t really certain. Instinct I guess. I no longer had access to the diagnostic techniques I’d have used to probe my own subconsciousness. 

My point though is that Naruto almost immediately shifts from “I want Sakura” to “Sasuke is my rival!” Like… what the fuck dude? Maybe I should beat him up too. Little jerk. Though he did stab himself in the hand to get the Mist Ninja’s poison out, so at least he’s brave… right? It’s bravery not stupidity, right? Right??! Of course he came damned close to bleeding out, so I’m leaning a bit towards stupidity. Problem with being the smartest entity around, everyone’s stupid by comparison… but some people are knuckleheads even without me and some of my friends blowing the bell curve. 

Fast Forward a week and we arrived, by stealth, in the Land of Waves, a land of 20th century-style construction equipment and 17th century wooden boats. This world is weird. Almost immediately, we were attacked by Zabuza, a renegade Mist Village Jounin, and Kakashi unveiled his Sharingan, thus introducing the readers to one of the franchise’s biggest recurring themes… EYES!! OF!!! POWAAA!!!

At the most basic, the Sharingan allows one to copy and counter most ninjutsu, genjutsu, and taijutsu techniques as they’re used. It’s pretty damned handy, though draining to use. Kakashi’s eye was a transplant from a dead friend, as the Uchiha Clan are the only native possessors of the Sharingan and Kakashi was no Uchiha. And yes, in this world apparently eye transplants are as simple as sticking someone else’s eye in your eye socket. Seriously? Apparently Ninjas can use Chakra to simply reconnect severed nerve bundles and fight off rejection… and regrow ripped connective muscles. Ewww…

Anyway, the fight was… eh… I give it a 6 out of 10. Interesting technique usage, but Kakashi was hampered by his need to protect us and Zabuza was hampered because he wasn’t taking the battle particularly seriously since he was clearly suicidal. As much as I wanted to kick his ass… I’d taken the Chosen One Drawback and it kept me from killing anyone deliberately. Also, this was the fight that taught Naruto not to be a coward, so I figured I’d let it play out as it had initially unless there was a good reason for me to get involved in any capacity except for guarding Tazuna. He was a good guy, even if he was also an asshole at times, and carried about his people. Still, if Zabuza somehow got near him, I was going to have to get medieval on his ass.

I still was barely competent with my new abilities, having only had a month and a half to practice Fuinjutsu and Wood Release, and the only ferrets I’d summoned so far were of the small kind which I used to scout and map the Leaf Village. Of my Senju Bloodline abilities that weren’t Wood Release, I still had yet to explore, but it was early days… and I was still mostly focused on keeping my Chakra under control. As far as I could estimate, I had about eight times as much resting Chakra was Naruto did… whether I could match him when he tapped into his Jinchuriki Kurama the Nine-Tails was anyone’s guess… but raw power is like penis size… it doesn’t matter how much you’ve got if you can’t control it… and hoooo boy could I not control mine.

“When I was about your age, these hands were already dyed red,” Zabuza claimed through his water-clone (his real body was busy keeping Kakashi sealed in a bubble in the middle of a local pond) as he menaced Naruto and the simple tryhard angst of that statement snapped me out of my contemplation.

“Yeah?” I asked, pointing to my hair, “Well, when I was your age, my hair was already white with enough wisdom to see that you’re talking instead of fighting… when faced with three genin!” I laughed. “I mean, seriously? You’re a Jounin! If you’re going to fight, fight! But if not… stop posturing or we’re going to think you’re scared of us!”

Naruto glanced at me, then back to Zabuza and sneered, “yeaaah! What’sa matter? Chikkin?”

“Is it wise to antagonize him?” Tazuna asked.

“Well, he’s planning on killing you anyway, and would probably kill us to get at you, so it’s not really like we can make this worse. What’s he going to do, murder you twice?” I said, smirking at the young man with the half-covered face and the sword big enough to give Cloud Strife (of Final Fantasy VII) envy issues. And he was young. Only 26, though at age sixteen he’d killed more than a hundred students at the Mist Village Academy to prove himself worthy of getting that sword. Yeah. He’d murdered a hundred plus eight to twelve year olds who had ninja training while he’d had none… though that killing spree was all but sanctioned by the Mist Village, who at the time were calling themselves the Blood Mist and routinely culled half their graduating class in duels to the death.

“I’ve killed genin like you many times!” he snapped.

“Yeah?” I retorted, “I’ve heard of you. Devil Zabuza… but here’s the thing… you aren’t killing us. You killed all those students without pause or hesitation… so why are you waiting now?”

“Good question,” Water-Buza said, then attacked, body-checking Sasuke then body slamming him into the ground hard enough to send blood spraying from the boy’s mouth. Moments later he was buried under a pile of Narutos and a moment after that, Naruto and Sasuke had forced Real Zabuza to release Kakashi… whereupon the two Jounin decided it would be a good idea to each summon a watery dragon to attack the other… or rather Zabu decided and Kakashi mirrored perfectly. 

Zabu’s feat, performing forty-three hand-signs in less than twenty-five seconds wasn’t half bad. Kakashi, using the Sharingan, was able to perform the same technique, at the same time, even though he’d never seen it used before, let alone performed it. That’s pretty damned impressive.

The storm surge of the two Water Dragon Blasts hitting each other sent a four meter wall of water rushing towards where we three (Tazuna, Sasuke, and I) were standing. Sasuke was in front of where I was standing, so there wasn’t much I could do for him, but as the torrent crossed the twenty meters between the two jounin and me, I slammed my fists into the ground and forced a wall of tree roots to surge out of the hard-packed soil before me, their spearlike lengths rapidly interlacing and swelling into a wedge-shaped sluice that barely flexed as several tons of brackish water slammed into it… along with Sasuke, who rapidly climbed out of the water and perched atop the structure.

“Nice trick… isn’t Mokuton a dead art?” he asked, staring at me intently, Mokuton being the japanese term for Wood Release.

I blinked. “Is it?” I didn’t know. If that was covered in the lore, it was in something after the Timeskip… or for those who watched the Anime, in Shippuden, which I hadn’t. That said, my local memories contained no knowledge of anyone having used Wood Release since The First Hokage, Hashirama Senju, had used it to create the forest that was home to the Hidden Leaf Village.

“Uhh… yeah,” he said. “Not even the Second Hokage (also a member of the Senju clan) could use it!”

“Oh. Huh,” I said, shrugging. “Oh look, Kakashi-Sensei’s beaten the crazy man.”

Zabuza was, at that moment, leaning back against a tree, kunai sticking out of his right arm and both legs. They weren’t in that far, but they were all the way in to the bone, and trust me… that shit is not pleasant. “Can… can you see the future?” he asked Kakashi.

“I can!” I said, waving a hand from near the way and ignoring Kakashi’s quelling half-glare. “You’re fucked, Buzabase! It’s like Bouillabaisse, but made of suuuuuck!” It was a really lame taunt, and I couldn’t help adding, “You know? Instead of fish?” I blame the moment of uncoolness on Chara’s contaminating presence.

At that moment, as I’d known they would, two razor-sharp needles flew across the clearing, plunging into Zabuza’s neck and the big guy collapsed, face first, onto the soggy ground.

A masked Ninja, wearing the mark of the Mist Village appeared, chuckling softly. “You’re right. He’s dead,” said the girlish boy whose name, I knew, was Haku. The mask marked Haku as a Hidden Mist Hunter-Ninja, one tasked with bringing down traitors to the Mist Village. Traitors like Zabuza… and Haku himself, though there was no way for Sakura to know that fact. No way for Kakashi to know it either. Revealing my foreknowledge at this point would have been foolish, and the repercussions of allowing the charade to play out were completely acceptable, so I didn’t say a word as Kakashi verified that Zabuza was dead (he wasn’t) and spoke with Haku. 

Instead, I snaked a leafy tendril out of the tree Zabubu had been leaning against and wrapped it around the handle of Zabuza’s redonkulously massive chopper, one of the seven magical swords of the setting. It was called Kubikiribocho, or the Decapitating Carving Knife… or Danto (Seversword) for short. Waiting until Naruto threw his total hissyfit about how young Haku was (about our age) and how bullshit it was that he’d killed someone as strong as Zabuza, I gave my tendril a mental command, knowing that my uncontrolled chakra would make the result dramatic. 

With a tug, it wrenched the blade away from the “corpse” and into the woods, smashing off trees and through bushes and surprising both senior ninjas, who had not seen whatever had pulled the sword away, but had certainly noticed nearly thirty kilogram sword shooting into the woods as if possessed. 

“What was that?!” Kakashi asked, then jumped back as Haku landed on Zabuza’s body from the tree he’d been standing in.

“I do not know,” the Hunter-Nin said, “But for now, I must dispose of this body, as it contains too many of my village’s secrets to be allowed to fall into other hands. As for the sword… it will be found in due course.” and with that, he vanished.

Kakashi looked at me, clearly suspicious… said, “We should get Tazuna-san home now,” and then fell facedown, sweat dripping from his face and unable to move. He’d used the Sharingan too much, and now his body wouldn’t respond.

Figuring that this was too good an opportunity to pass up, I knelt in front of him and poked him with a twig. “Sensei? Are you okay? Does this hurt? Does this hurt? Does this hurt?” I kept poking him in various places until he groaned something about revenge. I turned to look at the others. “He’s fine. I’ll carry him… you two idiots protect the old-guy.”

It would be a week I knew from my reading before either Kakashi or Zabuza would be able to move about again, as they recovered from the fight, but it only took Kakashi about a day to be able to think clearly enough to realize that Haku had almost certainly duped him. He also glowered at where I had Danto leaning against the wall of the room he was recovering in.

“Body erasing teams usually dispose of the body right there. They don’t carry it off… and why did you steal that? And since when have you been able to use Wood Release?” he said, still sounding groggy.

“Because we won the fight. No reason to hand over a magical sword to the Mist Village just because Zabu-rama used to work for them. It’s ours by right of conquest,” I replied, smirking. “And I dunno… a couple of months? I just realized that I could make flowers grow when I wanted some to make a daisy-crown. And if I could do flowers, why not wood? Is it important?”

“What do you mean, ‘we’ won the fight?” Sasuke said. “You just stood there and blocked some water.”

“We’re a team,” I replied, sticking my tongue out at him. “All victories are collective. And anyway, what if Zabuza had had a second water-clone? Or had thrown the chopchop sword at Tazuna-san? Would you have been in position to defend grandpa?”

Sasuke frowned, but didn’t say anything else. Kakashi sighed. “Well, no harm in you taking the sword I guess, though if Zabuza is still alive, he’ll want it back.”

“He’d want revenge for you defeating him anyway,” I pointed out. “Not like he’d leave us alone.”

“True… but you might want to be careful about who knows you have Wood Release… only one Ninja besides yourself is known to have that ability, and there are many who would want to experiment on you to figure out how you managed to gain it.”

“I’m the Demon Princess,” I commented. “I can do anything.”

“Yeah?!” Naruto jeered. “Prove it.”

“Okay!” I snapped, kipping to my feet. “I will!” and with that I stepped out onto the porch. Tazuna’s house was built on stilts over the water of a small inlet. “Watch this!” and I repeated the 43 hand signs of the Water Dragon Blast Jutsu. For a moment, nothing happened, but I wasn’t relying on my Senju-given ability to use pretty much any technique at lesser power. I had both the local Water Release ability and Copy-Cat Technique, and I’d witnessed both jounin performing the attack. So… for a moment, nothing. And then a dragon of water, twenty-five meters tall and five meters wide, surged out of the bay and shot into the sky. At the height of about half a kilometer, it exploded, showering the house in heavy droplets.

Turning back to Naruto, I grinned and drawled, “An-Y-Thing.” His jaw just dropped and Kakashi started laughing.

“I guess I’d better make certain you’re all trained up a bit for when Zabuza comes back, since I won’t be able to do much else for the next few days,” the copy-ninja said. “You’ve all got a lot of potential… especially you, Naruto. You’ve improved the most.”

I wasn’t certain of that, but it was possible. Sasuke had barely improved at all, since (smug little shit that he was) he had barely been practicing. I had been, but most of what I’d been practicing I hadn’t shown off… and I already had a reputation for being a problem child with far too much power and far too little control. Naruto? He was just a fuck up, but he worked his ass off to improve, so maybe he had improved the most. He had the furthest to go.

*****

The next day, bright and early, with Kakashi using crutches to get around, we gathered in the local forest to discuss Chakra. Well, for Kakashi to hand off explaining Chakra to Naruto (and the home audience) to yours truly. And so, here’s “A Beautiful Young Girl’s Lesson on Chakra.” Simply put, Chakra is the energy a shinobi needs when performing a jutsu. That energy has two parts: the physical energy that is in each of the billions of cells in our bodies and the spiritual energy gained through training, meditation, and other experiences. In Chakra, these two foces are combined, and so, by bringing out and releasing Chakra, you can use a jutsu such as Fire-Breathing or Water Dragon Blast, though the process of performing a series of hand-signs called a Seal.

“Sounds complicated,” Naruto complained. “Isn’t it something we can already do?”

“Naruto is right,” Sasuke said, “We can already use Jutsu. We don’t need training in that.”

“You guys are not using Chakra properly,” Kakashi said, ignoring Naruto’s gasp of protest. “To release Chakra is to summon up physical and spiritual energy then mix them together within your body, then temper them with one of the five elements based on what Jutsu you plan on using. None of you are using Chakra Effectively yet. Even if you are able to release a large amount of Chakra, like you two (he raked me and fish-cake face with his eye) do, unless you control it properly, the Jutsu will be weakened, or not work properly.”

“Or explode,” Sasuke added grumpily. Kiss ass.

“Or explode,” Kakashi agreed. “And worse, since you’re wasting energy, you won’t be able to fight as long or hard as you should be able to. Thus, it’s vital you all learn how to control your Chakra through very tough training.”

Said training was, it turned out, learning how to use Chakra to walk up walls or along ceilings without climbing. We were to do this by walking up one of the tall trees using nothing but the soles of our feet. Not running up the tree; walking up it. Slowly. And hanging off the bottom of a large branch with nothing but Chakra connecting the bottoms of our feet to the underside of the treelimb. “This is a challenging task for even a skilled ninja,” Kakashi assured us. “The amount of Chakra needed to climb a tree like this is very small, but must be exactly balanced… and the bottom of the foot is the most difficult area of the body to gather Chakra in.”

That said, he then tossed us Kunai with which to mark how high we could get and advised us to get a running head start, which I assumed was a bit of a red herring to see how dense Narboxo was. 

Sure. I couldn’t exactly control my chakra all that well… or like… at all… but Naruto was hopeless, falling off the tree with the first step. Sasuke’s control was better, but he only got about three meters up the tree before he fell back to earth. Me? My first step blasted a hole in the tree… as did my second step. In fact, by using what was effectively a series of shaped charges beneath my feet, I made it to the lowest branch where I sat watching the others fail dramatically.

“That’s not really what I had in mind,” Kakashi pointed out, glancing one-eyed at the seriously structurally unsound tree. “Can you try it without damaging the tree?”

I shrugs, then hopped down, then leapt back up to my previous position, all of eight meters straight up. “Like that?” I asked, being deliberately obtuse.

“Okay… you’re just showing off now,” he commented. “Push out the smallest amount of Chakra you can and see if that helps. Walk… one foot at a time, without shattering the bark, up this tree.”

“I’ll give it a try,” was my reply. Of course, even without having purchased the perk “Genius of Hardwork” I had more than a hundred centuries of training under my belt; I knew how to focus, how to get the most out of every repetition. So much of trial and error is not really learning from one’s errors… well, after a while… a lifetime or three, you begin to learn how you yourself… well… learn. Whatever problem I was having with power was clearly a more extreme version of what Naruto had had to deal with in the canon, namely that he had more chakra than was at all controllable. Turn on the tap and instead of a stream from a faucet, it literally was exploding out of my pores… which I guess would have made the faucet my nose? This metaphor doesn’t work. Curse you, Perfect Communications! How have you deserted me!?

Oh, right, everything is fucked up. I “forgot”.

Anyway, it took me a couple of hours to dial in the whole chakra control tree walking thing… and by the end of the day, I was convincing the trees to make footsteps for me and retract them as I passed. Now, technically, I was cheating on the task, but it did take more refined chakra-control than merely clinging to a surface, so I didn’t get into trouble.

Of course, for my success, I got stuck baby-sittign Tazuna and his bridge the next day as Kakashi did more work with the terrible twosome. The bridge is that weird hybrid of modern and old fashioned. Like… the materials included steel and concrete and they were using modern construction vehicles… but also using nuts and bolts instead of rivets and welding… weird. At noon, Tazuna called it quits for the day, telling the workers who were afraid of being killed by Gato’s hired thugs that they needn’t come in to work the next day. After that, I escorted him through the town, feeling odd as bodyguard for a man two feet taller than me… yes, really, Tazuna was almost seven feet tall and had clearly been powerfully back when he was younger, though time and care had rounded his shoulders somewhat.

The town too had clearly seen better years, as many of the locals had that desperate hungry look that only the toxic combination of poverty and hopelessness can truly give a person. We passed more than one fellow wearing a sandwich board promising that they do anything for the money to feed their families. They radiated that aura of profound shame that comes when someone who only thinks of themselves in terms of their duty to support others knows they have failed and now doubts if their existence has any meaning any more.

There were also a great many gaunt looking people, showing just how scarce food was here, and we, in a town of less than 8,000 people, passed literally dozens of homeless people just walking to the store… a store that turned out to have barely anything to buy. As in the entire grocery had less than 20 individual vegetables in the entire place. Six daikon, five cabbages, four pears, two carrots, and a bundle of gyochi, a local edible yucca-like leaf that tasted a lot like a hybrid of basil and artichokes with just a tiny hint of horseradish. The owner had a shotgun not particularly well hidden behind the counter.

I was just pondering what I could do to help alleviate this economic disaster when I remembered that what came next was a desperate fellow in a long coat and hat that totally didn’t match the local fashion would try to grab my bag. I turned and glared at him. “Don’t even try it,” I said to the man who was willing to rob a teenage girl on the off chance that there was any food in her satchel… why was I wearing this thing again? 

Oh well, It might be a Sakura-ism to carry around a large purse, but it did have one useful quality. I reached into it and opened a portal to my Warehouse, calling to my hand a bag of fish jerky (made in Yu-Gi-Oh but still perfectly fresh thanks to the Eternalizer I’d purchased for the Warehouse… useful thing that).

“Here,” I said, thrusting it at him. “Now get lost.”

As Tazuna and I walked back to his house, I would hand out small food items to anyone who asked and if the old man noticed that I was pulling far more than could possibly have fit in my bag out of it, he said nothing about it. Instead, he spoke of how the bridge would bring hope and prosperity back to the island, hope that had vanished as Gato worked to gain absolute control over the area by crushing the populace.

That night, over dinner, as the idiot boys competed to see who could make themself sicker by overeating, Tazuna and his daughter, Tsunami, spoke of his former son-in-law, a man named Kaiza who’d been a local hero and had been murdered by Gato’s Samurai bodyguards… though Gato had claimed it was an execution for terrorism.

Inside me, I felt Chara stirring, her murderous rage rising at the injustice of it all, and looking around the table I realized that everyone else had stopped speaking and now everyone was looking at me with growing alarm. Reflected in Tazuna’s eyes, I could see that my long white hair was floating in a nimbus around my head and a glance at my hands confirmed that my nails had lengthened into talons that were even now digging into the hard wood of the table top. My breathing was rough, heated, and a growl was coming from my lips.

Slowly I closed my right eye… I still had no control over the left one, which remained covered by an eyepatch at all times… and inhaled deeply, forcing down the rage-filled creature within. Gato would die soon enough, and it wasn’t as if I could have killed him myself… I wasn’t even certain I could have willingly sent one of my minions to do the task… Not that I often delegated murder. If I felt a killing was justified, I usually did it myself.

Anyway, the days passed, as they have a tendency to do, and soon enough, a week had gone by. Kakashi was healthy enough to do one finger pushups with me and Tazuna-san sitting on his back, and that meant that, assuming everything was still on-track, plotline wise, Zabuza was back in fighting fit as well.

Accordingly, I readied myself for the showdown between the Mist Village Ninjas and our little cadre on the bridge, knowing that things wouldn’t get too heated until Naruto arrived… but he didn’t. Wait… what? That’s not how the story goes! What the fuck? I’d waited until Sasuke had been trapped in the dome of Haku’s ice mirrors and thrown a Kunai to try and distract Haku just as had happened in the story… and Naruto’s flashy entrance had failed to manifest. Shiiit.

Fuck fuck fuck. Where was he? Had something gone wrong? He should have made short work of the Samurai idiots who’d gone to take Tsunami hostage. Had I changed something? Even then, the twit was the main character! He should have plot armor enough to show up at scripted key moments!

“Sensei…” I said, “I think something’s happened to Naruto…”

Kakashi, who’d told Naruto to stay in bed since he’d worn himself ragged training the day before, only grunted, never taking his eyes off of Zabuza who’d promised that if Kakashi interfered with the Sasuke-Haku fight he’d kill me and Tazuna. I wasn’t personally afraid of Zabuza, but even lacking his monster sword (it was tucked away in my Warehouse, so there was no way he was getting it back) I wasn’t at all certain I could fight the Jounin without losing control in a disastrous way… and protecting Tazuna-San was the number one task.

Wait… no it wasn’t! Fucking hell Sakura! Number One Task… personal survival. Number Two Task, keeping the Chain Going! Number Three Task… keeping your Team Alive. Tazuna’s the customer, that’s true, but no… his life is not worth Naruto’s, Kakashi’s, or even Sasuke’s. Even if the fate of the world didn’t (in some way I wasn’t really certain on, but knew it had something to do with someone named Kaguya-Hime) depend on them, even Tazuna wouldn’t put his own life before the lives of youngsters. The bridge was more important than Tazuna to even Tazuna.

What Tazuna would care about was his daughter (Tsunami) and grandson (Inari)… and if Naruto wasn’t here, that could mean they were in trouble. Good thing I’d seen Naruto using the Shadow Clone Jutsu… I tossed down a smoke bomb and, in the moment where no one could see me, spawned a couple dozen clones. Shadow Clones were instantly dispelled by any blow pretty much, and their experiences didn’t flow back into me until they were dispelled, but I needed to get someone on site to wherever Naruto was ASAP and that meant scouring the possible locations between the bridge and their house and Gato’s HQ in a minimal amount of time. Then I’d have the clone who found them self terminate, letting everyone of the remaining clones, as well as myself, know where they were and what was going on. It was a desperation move, but it was all I had at the moment. 

Then, as the smoke cleared, I turned to Tazuna and said “Sorry about this…” and stabbed him in the chest. “Now you can’t threaten the client,” I said to Zabuza, leaping forward to back up Sasuke as the old man crumpled slowly forward, gasping as a pool of blood spread from the clearly mortal wound.

“Holy shit!” Zabuza said, “Your girl is crazy!”

Kakashi could only nod. “We’re going to have to talk, she and I, about appropriate behaviour. Once we’ve dealt with you two, of course.”

****

I didn’t exist for very long. I was merely a clone of the original, but for seven glorious minutes, I was alive, unique, a form given purpose. Do not weep for me, for I was never more than a fleeting idea, a firefly burning bright as I leapt across the island, eyes wide for traces of the missing Naruto. If he was dead, too much of the story would change. If he hadn’t saved Inari from the Samurai, the kid would be dead and there’d be no one to rally the villagers to come confront Gato’s army of thugs. She that had made me couldn’t kill them, nor even defeat them knowing that the villagers would assuredly kill them in revenge once they were unconscious, and in her much reduced state, could not be certain of defeating Haku, Zabuza, and the army of Thugs will safeguarding Sasuke and Kakashi. 

The tiny ball of Chara’s Chakra that had come with me when we’d been created seethed to turn back, to question why we should die simply to protect the friends of the one who viewed us as nothing but a disposable asset, but I shushed her, having no desire to explain to the selfish child that I was not distinct from all that I was part of. I was an EssJay, one of many, but not the totality. When I expired, I’d be part of the whole again, as would she. It was as it had to be. I’d emerged from the sea of EssJay’s soul, and to it I would return. World without End.

Then I saw them. Naruto looked… bad. He was joking, of course, but limping hard, a gash in his leg barely closed by his incredible regenerative abilities. He was being supported by Tsunami as Inari fretted. Good, he’d rescued them from the Samurai, but he had clearly fared worse than in the comic or show. That… was somewhat worrying. 

I dropped down in front of him and snapped, “There’s trouble on the bridge. Zabuza and Haku are attacking and Gato’s on his way there now, with a hundred murderous thugs.”

“Sakura?” the orange-haired brat gasped. “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you, Idiot!” I snapped, then smacked him. “Hopefully, I’m doing okay keeping Haku from killing Sasuke, but that means no one is protecting Tazuna-san.”

“You’re doing okay?” Tsunami asked, shocked. “But… you’re…”

“Shadow Clone,” both Naruto and I said at the same time. 

“Yes. And I’m going now,” I replied. “The Real me needs to know what’s going on…” and with that, I poofed out of existence.

****

“Naruto’s running late,” I gasped as Sasuke and I dodged yet another flight of metal needles having been launched by Haku out of his Icy Mirror Prison. Sasuke had yet to activate his Sharingan for the first time, something that had happened in this fight, and Naruto needed this fight and the conversation with Haku to begin developing his own Ninja Way. I was fairly certain both were pivotal events, and that meant I couldn’t just swat Haku back into his mirrors no matter how much I wanted to. Also, this fight was the first where Naruto had really tapped into the nine-tailed fox’s chakra… this little setback was screwing up the story! I didn’t want to have to deal by myself with whatever world-ending threat the plotline ended on (I knew it was linked to the Fourth Great Ninja War, but the details were far sketchier, stuff I’d only read about on a wiki-walk). Lacking knowledge of the intricacies of the plotline, I had no idea how to shape a better future… or not to fuck everything else up.

Sure, I could try to seize global power… might succeed, but without so many of my vital perks, I suspected that my reign would be both short lived and disastrous. I might be more powerful than the average Shonen Protagonist, but I wasn’t nearly at my full power at the moment.

I staggered as Clone sixty-one’s experiences hit me just as I was about to dodge one of those needles, slowing me a fraction and allowing the needle to punch into my throat… ouch. Like… ouch. I crashed to the ground, gagging as my airway flooded with blood. I’d be fine in a moment or two, but I was very much missing my more advanced forms of regeneration and kinetic-reactive picocites that my body was normally impregnated with. I hadn’t figured out how to make them work with chakra at the moment, and filling a body that wasn’t fully grown with them could unfortunately cause side effects. (as I’d learned to my annoyance many centuries ago). Of course, without Treknobabbler and Maddest Science Yet, I couldn’t even make picotech work… machines that small just couldn’t exist without bending the laws of particle physics.

Things got back on track after I went down, thankfully. Sasuke defended me long enough to activate Sharingan, then “died” just as Naruto showed up to “avenge us”. That got him to confront the nice boy he’d met in the woods (I found it interesting that, at least in this version of reality, Haku was female to male transgendered and not biologically male) and discover the fundamental quandary at the heart of being a Ninja; that to be a ninja was to live to die in the service of the village.

Then, alas, Haku died saving Zabuza… who had, somehow, managed to get his sword back… I would later check with my warehouse and have it verified to be exactly where I’d ordered it be left. And then Zabuza died avenging Haku by killing Gato. All very sad, and something I’d considered trying to fix, but without knowledge of how things would play out, I couldn’t in good faith do so. Also, while Haku was an innocent, Zabuza was a murderous monster and Haku had willingly sacrificed himself for his friend. To deny him that agency of self-determination would have been most unkind of me.

“You make no sense,” Chara muttered inside me as I slowly worked the needle out of my throat as Kakashi-sensei came over to me. I ignored her.

“You’re lucky Zabuza didn’t see through your trick,” he commented, steadying old man Tazuna whose outfit was soaked with blood, but who was ‘miraculously’ alive.

“He didn’t see through the Sharingan hypnotism until Haku pointed it out to him,” I coughed out, clearing my lungs of blood. “And he wanted to believe that the world was a dark place, one where a ninja would betray a client. I just fed into that belief. Sorry about the shirt.”

Before I’d stabbed him, I’d whispered ‘Act like you’re dying.’ to the old man, then had actually stabbed him… with a collapsing Kunai (great for parties!), into a balloon full of blood pulled from my Jar of Blood… Transdimension Warehouses, a million and one uses, am I right?

And of course, they named the Bridge after Naruto… because apparently, Sasuke and Kakashi and I are just along for the ride. Then again, Naruto did proclaim himself to be the Main Character… what an idiot. Doesn’t he know that the MC is almost always the one who suffers the most? I did, however, manage to keep my twelve year-old self from asking Sasuke for a date… I am not a shotacon, thank you… though technically even the adult Kakashi is less than 1/500th my age… not that I was planning on sleeping with him either. Being a Jumper is full of all sorts of weird ethical issues. Still, the perks are definitely worth it.

Naruto, on the other hand, had less restraint. “Since you came looking for me… does that mean you care about me?” he asked hopefully.

“Sure,” I agreed offhandedly. “You’re like a puppy I worry is going to get run over chasing a cart.”

“Puppies are cute,” he confirmed, missing the point. “Want to go on a date with me when we get home?”

“Sure,” I agreed.

“Really!?” his eyes were wide in shock and happiness.

“Yeah,” I said. “Why not. Iruka-Sensei could buy me a Ramen too.”

Fishcake boy’s face fell as I reminded him that he didn’t really have the funds to take anyone on a date. He was still too young to understand that money wasn’t important in the face of romance… but to be fair, a great many beings went decades or even centuries without learning that fact.

Still, I draped an arm over his shoulder, since I am taller than he is, and said, “Look. I’m not interested in a romantic relationship with you. But I don’t mind being friends with you.” I looked over to Sasuke. “With either of you. And really, you two shouldn’t spend so much of your time fighting. We’re a team and we need to rely on each other. Compete all you want at training, but get over yourself. All three… four,” I corrected, glancing at Sensei, “of us have had traumas in our lives, hardships to overcome… and if you two knuckleheads don’t stop acting like the other has stolen his favorite shuriken, I’m gonna knock your skulls together until you’re seeing stars for a week!”

As I skipped away, Naruto muttered to Sasuke, “Demon Princess is scary.” Sasuke only grunted in agreement.

*****

Of course, the next couple of months were far less exciting, though for me that just meant there was time to practice my new techniques and refine my control, something I did by taking a page from my time as the Manifest One, way back in the land of Avatar. Sure, I couldn’t remember all the details that well, but I’d spent an awful lot of time learning to modulate the energy flows within myself, and if I could do it then when my body was literally ripping itself apart, I could do it here in this world. 

One of my favorite techniques was to use Wood Release to cause a bed of tree shoots to spring up from the ground and then walk on them. No. Not trample, you absolute barbarians! Walk on them… while using my chakra to keep them from breaking… or eventually to keep them from bending either. I’d tried it with grass and dry leaves, but my control wasn’t nearly fine enough to make that even vaguely possible. The leaves simply exploded when I applied my Chakra to them and the grass? Well… apparently grass likes chakra a lot because it kept growing and growing and growing wherever I stepped using that technique. Like… what the hell? It was as if the local plantlife was a chakra-sponge. Which didn’t make any sense since the Sand Village had absolutely no foliage around it… unless the area around Konoha Village had been turned into the verdant near jungle it was by a Senju… the Senju family had helped found the village, along with their cousins the Uzumakis and Uchihas.

So… maybe.

I also had to deal with this psychopath showing up in the village trying to kill me. He was clearly a Samurai from the Land of Iron, but also completely mad. Kept raving about the end of the world and how a hundred trees would sprout from me and engulf the universe or something. Like… what? I mean, I don’t think he knew I had Senju blood. Kakashi had told only Sarutobi-Sama (The Third Hokage, head of the Village) and sworn Naruto and Sasuke to secrecy on the subject. 

Anyway, Crazy-man McSwordguy was less than sane and his sanity completely shattered after his first slash, which took me totally by surprise, cut my eye-patch free. Chara’s Chakra flowed out of me, a half formed maelstrom of crimson hatred that raved and snarled, a spider thing made of vines and flowers clutching the Danto in two of those limbs and three of her signature knives in others. 

The Samurai screamed and screamed and kept screaming long after he was dead… which was… um… creepy. I mean, sure, I hadn’t killed him… exactly. But the thing that had come from within me and it had taken far more effort than I wanted to think about to wrestle Chara back inside me. It was as if she’d grown more powerful somehow… was she feeding off the colossal amount of hatred present in this world? That was a terrifying thought. Or maybe she’d just been resting, storing up energy within me, no longer drained of her DETERMINATION simply to keep herself alive. Her LOVE was off the charts, I’ll tell you that much.

So, Months passed and (although none of the other genin in the village were aware of it, not even my companions since I had decided not to tell them) the Chunin Selection Exams were coming.

I didn’t have a firm date… but I knew the signs to look for. Specifically, the arrival of the three Sand Village Genin, the siblings Temari, Kankuro, and Gaara (Jinchuriki of the One-Tail). Until they arrived, I continued completing missions with my team, and learning to summon my ferrety friends in new and hopefully (to my enemies) annoying ways. 

I also did some research into the families of my companions. The Mezanin Clan (AJ and Francy) were a small family noted for their work training messenger birds. They had a similar, if less combat focused, role as the Inuzuka Clan, only with hawks instead of dogs. Spending time with the family was… unsettling as they tended to communicate almost entirely in bird calls and there were always birds around, staring at you with their birdy eyes. Shudder.

The Yamanaka family was a canon family, a member of the Ino-Shika-Cho tripartite alliance of senior clans (an alliance going back a whopping fifteen generations), with the Ino in the name being why the canon member of the Yamanaka family in the show was named Ino… the name for the alliance comes from a game called Hanafuda, where they are the names of three cards: Ino (Boar), Shika (Deer), and Cho (Butterfly). The fact that Cho refers to the Akamichi family (renowned for their rather impressive bulk) is somewhat amusing. The heirs of the three families were always given names that started with their respective syllables: Yamanaka Inoichi and Ino, Nara Shikaku and Shikamaru, Akamichi Choza and Choji.

Maggy, in her role as Yamanaka Ichika, was not (thankfully) Ino’s sister. Rather, she was the daughter of Inoichi’s first cousin, Yamanaka Santa, who had a very strange sense of humor that focused entirely on posing dolls in odd positions and places and then laughing when other people discovered his dolls and reacted accordingly. Ichika found her father deeply embarrassing… and as Maggy’s sire I got to hear all about it!

The Senbei family, which did, in fact, include Saku Hasu (i.e. Toph) as well as Mamoru (Alex) were simple spice farmers who did exceptionally well cultivating the local rarities… you know… by manipulating plants to provide exceptional yields and making certain that all possible pests died unpleasant deaths. Toph was somewhat chagrined to explain that Saku was her married name. Her husband, Saku Mochi, was a marshmallow of a man who treated her excellently and doted on her to a degree that Hasu found endearing and Toph found… umm… somewhat stifling but also cute. Mochi was a spice merchant and could have been defeated by a steep flight of stairs, let alone a ninja. 

Mamoru, on the other hand, haaated everything to do with farming and would only go visit his family when I badgered him to. They were clearly worry warts who wanted their little boy to stay as far away from combat as possible. It was clear that the Senbei branch of the Senju family had avoided eradication by going so deep under that they’d forgotten that they were once the mightiest of warrior families.

The Uzufumis (Zane’s new family) were nice enough, lacking the Uzumaki brashness or just old enough to keep it under wraps better. Nobuchika and Odamaru (Zenji’s mother and father respectively) were both in their late fifties, with Zenji / Zane being the youngest of their seven children. All of them were ninjas, though all seemed perfectly comfortable being chunin or specialist jounin, and thus most of them were assigned to jobs that kept them in and around the village.

The Motabi family, of which Kanna / Kendra was a member were porters, people paid to run packages and messages all over the place. Her innate speed seems to have come from her parents, both of whom could run as fast as a galloping horse despite not being ninja-trained in any way. They were also extremely talkative, and more than once I found them in conversation with my / Sakura’s gossipmonger mother… though the conversations always ground to a stop the moment they noticed my presence. Yay. always nice to be welcome. Sakura’s parents were fine, great, doting! It was the rest of the village that needed their faces… no! Down Chara! No murdering people for being ignorant prejudiced smallminded fearful tools! Hell, no murdering people!

Vita, as Nara Shinohana, was the daughter of Nara Maen, one of Shikamaru’s twin uncles (the other being Nara Daen). The twins were… well, they looked gruff and tough and no nonsense, but in actuality, outside of their jobs as village protectors, they were actually a pair of goofballs and pretty much giant teddy bears. They were even nice to me, slipping me candy when I was younger. Then again, the Naras are actually pretty laidback folks.

So those were the good family reports. Now for the… unpleasantness. Amaryllis had only paid to be a branch-family member of the Hyuga clan, rather than fork out a hundred Choice more to be a main-family member. She was also the youngest of our entire class, being only nine years old. She was Neji’s little sister, and as unlike him as it was possible to be. While Neji was full of rage and hate for the abuses the main-family heaped upon the branch-family, and for the pain Hinata’s father had put Neji’s father (his twin brother) through… Yokumo / Amy was (as expected from my youngest daughter) sweetness and light.

She was also still bound by the horrid slave-seal that forever bound every member of the branch-family to serve the head-family… on threat of agonizing torment or outright death if the seal was invoked. I’d dedicated several days study to that seal, but had yet to find a way to remove it… but I swore that any main-branch asshole who used it on my Amy would experience the feeling of my boot upside his or her head the moment… the very moment, I found out. Until then, I made certain to give her a hug and a kiss on her forehead whenever I could. She’s my best girl.

Kurushita / Darkseid, was, for reasons I couldn’t explain, a twenty-seven year old thirteen-time failure of the Academy Graduation process. He was also a Sarutobi who’d been disowned by his family for being a total fuckup. But he was absolutely dedicated to proving that he wasn’t one… a fact that made his routine failure to perform even the simplest tasks without messing something up all the more pathetic. It was as if old stoneface was incapable of admitting there was anything he couldn’t do and every failure just made him more stoney-faced, angry, and angsty. Still, one had to admire his relentless if nothing else. 

Somehow, against all odds, his group (like the other two groups containing my companions) had managed to graduate to genin this time, and (equally unlikely) Zenji / Zane and Kanna / Kendra had managed to keep his bumbling incompetence from ruining their missions, though (to be fair) they’d only had Rank D missions… though technically they’d had more missions than my group had. Team 7 (my team) had barely completed the eight missions needed to qualify for admission to the Chunin exams (normally it took considerably more than eight to be allowed to apply, but that was entirely up to the Jounin Sensei in charge of your group). Team 9 (AJ’s team) had completed more than one mission a week in the three months since graduation. Of course, our single B-rank (it had been upgraded retroactively) had taken the better part of a whole month, what with travel times and all that. Bridges aren’t actually finished in that short a time. Who knew!?

That left only the Material Girls of Squad Zero (Levi, Sterns, and Dearche) and their mysterious uncle, Danzo Shimura. A man who was all together too good at avoiding observation. At first, I thought it might simply be because my ferrety spies weren’t used to the village, but as they mapped more and more of it for me, I began to realize that there were entire sections of the village with unusually high security. Not the areas that should have had high security, but a second set of structures that didn’t seem to be part of the normal security arrangements or those belonging to the Anbu Black Ops division of the Village hierarchy. 

I didn’t know what it meant yet, but I was going to find out… especially after learning that Danzo had been part of the downfall of the Uchiha Clan… and that his organization, an ultra-covert division of Anbu, had been disbanded in the wake of that calamity. 

That piece of information I picked up personally… by invading the office of Sarutobi-Sama. Turns out that, yes, the Thick Drawback specifically only applies to Books… actually it only applied to anything highbrow or informative. I could still read trashy light novels (probably thanks to my Super Pervert drawback), as well as scrolls (which is odd because Naruto had trouble with scrolls and he was clearly the inspiration for the lame drawback), signs, comics, and (this is the important bit) files. Couldn’t read them as fast as I could have with my Princess Diaries touch-reading power (and boy did I miss that one) but I still had a near perfect memory and comprehension speed that verged on the supernatural. I could literally read pages as fast as I could turn pages… which is very fast indeed… even in the dark.

Chara, on the other hand, made focusing on reading anything extremely annoying, since she constantly complained that words were borning and stupid and we should be out beating people up. I pointed out, yet again, that being in Sarutobi-Sama’s office was against the rules and we’d probably have to fight his guards once they caught us… especially since I was wearing his Hokage hat at the time.

When the old man finally did show up to ask me exactly what I thought I was doing, I lambasted the old fart for never telling Naruto who his parents were (His father, Namikaze Minato, was the Fourth Hokage, and his parents had died the day he was born defending the village from the Nine-Tailed Fox that had been sealed inside Naruto’s mother, Uzumaki Kushina)… and that his parents had loved him very much, and that they’d sealed the Nine-Tails inside him because they knew he was strong enough and brave enough to safeguard this precious treasure even though he was only minutes old.

“You shouldn’t know such things!” the old man snapped, glowering at me. “And where do you get off lecturing your elders.”

“No one on this planet is my elder Haruzen,” I said with a laugh. “You were right to name me the Demon Princess. I have seen civilizations rise and fall, caused it more than once in fact, but I am your Demon Princess, and my loyalty is to the causes of life and justice, and I believe that Konoha is more dedicated to those causes than any other force in this violent and bloody world. And so I will help you even though you let the villagers treat the child of your friend as if he was garbage. I had my parents to love and cherish me. He had nothing, and you allowed it. For that alone, I should kick your ass all over this room… but there is danger coming, and I cannot afford to weaken your sickly old wrinkle-infested backside demonstrating to you the error of your ways.”

“Danger?” he scoffed. “What are you talking about, you mad child?”

“The Sand Village and Sound Ninjas are planning to attack Konoha during the Chunin Exam. The Sound Ninjas are secretly under the control of Orochimaru, who seeks revenge against you, and the Kazekage blames our village for the funding cuts his village has suffered because the lord of the Land of Wind is a cheapskate… so yes, this too is your fault.” I sneered at him. “Did you really think undermining the Sand Village by underbidding their costs was a good way to make friends? By the gods, you are a terrible leader… but you’re what we’ve got and you’re a powerful old fogey even if you should have retired again years ago. Tsunade wasn’t a good enough replacement for you? Or was it because she’s not a dude? Jiraiya? Well, okay, he’s a perv, and so is Kakashi, but any of them could have taken over. Kakashi freaking graduated the Academy at five! What were you waiting on? Or were you just afraid that he’d share Minato’s fate?

The old man’s eyes had grown wider and wider as I rattled off far more information than any child should have had. “Y… you… you are most impertinent… and… and how do you know these things!?”

“I have a contract with the Great Ferret Sage,” I said with a shrug, motioning around the room to where a dozen pairs of bright eyes peeked out of every hiding space. “The little ones tell me a great many things in exchange for treats.” I tossed a handful of peanut butter clusters into the air and not one of them hit the ground.

“So… since you seem to know everything,” he said, eying me with somewhat grudging respect, “What do you recommend I do about this attack?”

“I think you should use it to set an ambush. Obviously it will be risky, but for their plan to work, they have to come to you. Bringing your enemies into your net is the best way to destroy them. Among other things, Gaara… the youngest son of Kazekage Rasa, will make a far better Kazekage than his father will. And Temari and Kankuro will make excellent allies for Konoha… they’re his older siblings and will help secure his reign I imagine. Also, Orochimaru will probably murder Rasa for you if you allow this attack to proceed. It’s also the best way to bring Orochimaru here for you to deal with him… though I don’t think you’ll live through the battle if you face him alone. He’s bad news.”

“You know the future?” He asked, clearly trying to figure out if I was just guessing or had more information than I possibly should.

“Only a bit of it. The next few weeks really. I know that Tsunade will replace you if you do fall. And that Naruto will be the Seventh Hokage… but who will be Sixth I do not know… but I’m hoping for Kakashi-Sensei. He’s got the right mindset… and all three of them will be better leaders than you were,” I rubbed that last in.

He laughed. “You’ll have to try harder than that to annoy me Little Miss Ferret Sage. Every good leader dreams of being replaced by those greater than himself.” I blinked at that. Damned if he wasn’t right. “In fact, I thank you for the prophecy. It makes knowing that my time is coming to an end all the sweeter. Do me a favor?”

I tilted my head, his hat falling off to flump to the floor. “If I can,” I said after a long moment.

“Tell Naruto I’m sorry… once you tell him the truth,” he bowed low, a formal and somewhat disturbing sensation for the part of me that was Sakura and who’d looked up to the old man her entire life.

“Alas,” I said. “It’s not my story to tell. I’m certain he’ll learn it in time, but I’m not the one who can tell him. It has to come from someone who knew his father. Like Kakashi-Sensei or Juraiya-Senin.”

“You know that too?” he asked.

I hadn’t known it before I’d arrived in this world, but my research had had some interesting results. Namely that Sarutobi-Sama had been the team leader for Orochimaru, Tsunade, and Juraiya’s Team; that Juraiya-Senin had been the team leader for the team that had included Minato-Sama… and that Minato had been the team leader for the team that had included Kakashi-Sensei… and Obito Uchihara, whose Sharingan Kakashi had. Of Nohara Rin, the third member of the group I could find no record of that she’d died in combat at age fifteen. Of Arikase Shinobu and Yamagatchi Dogu, Minato’s teammates, one had retired due to crippling injuries and the other had died in the Third Shinobi war.

“My mother is the master of all gossip. If there’s a fact about someone that is known by four people in the village, she’s one of them,” I said with a sigh. “Want to know who’s sleeping with whom? Ask her. Honestly, she probably is better at gathering information than the entire Sensor Ninja division.”

“Does she know-” he began.

“That Asuma and Kurenai are knocking boots?” I asked. “Of course she does.”

“Ah well,” he sighed. “I hope they have a girl… I’d love to have a grand-daughter.”

“Hopefully she won’t be as big a headache as your grandson, eh?” I teased. “What were his parents thinking, naming him after the village? That’s like naming a kid… never mind, you wouldn’t get the reference.”

“Are you really a Demon?” he asked. 

“What is a Demon but a being that isn’t understood by those around it?” I replied. “Some might call me one, though I have never been one. I have been a great many things over the millennia… but never a Demon. So many of those things are ones you’d have no concept of, but I am not, in this time or place, here to bring ruin. There is hope for this world yet, and as long as hope endures, I shall strive to keep its flame burning bright. And no, for the record, I will not be Hokage. Not the Eighth, not the Ninth. Never.”

He chuckled. “I think you may be the only young ninja with wild hair that has ever made that claim.”

“What can I say, I’m a simple girl. All I want is a cute daughter who wears adorable glasses… and to crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentation of their shippers.”

“I have no idea what you mean by that,” he commented.

“It’s okay, my readers do.” What? You thought I was unaware of you? I can totally channel Deadpool if I want to! I even have a second voice in my head. It’s legit! 

Next: I Will Not Be Hokage, Part 3

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World 79: Naruto – Part 2.1

I WILL NOT BE HOKAGE, Part 1

Previously: If I’m not Me, are You?

Themesong: Chop Suey! by System of a Down

Okay… I was not expecting this. The moment of insertion is usually a bit fraught, new memories slotting into place with old identities, a new form to get used to, waking up in a room you’re both familiar with and yet have never seen before. This was… much worse.

For the first time, I awoke as someone I already knew, someone I thought of as another person, someone distinct from me. Or rather, someone EssJin thought of as another person. Haruno Sakura thought of herself as… well.. Haruno Sakura. Yes… for the first time ever, I was a canon character… well… kinda. I was a Sakura… just not the one normally seen in the manga or anime. For one thing, she didn’t have an eyepatch. For another… her hair was much less… manelike. And pink. Mine was white. But other than that… I/we were Sakura. If Sakura had… errr… issues.

What Issues, you ask? Well, for one thing, the canonical Sakura was not referred to behind her back as “Demon Princess Sakura”… because she didn’t have a demon inside her. My Demon was called “The Beast that Comes When You Speak Its Name” and… uh… apparently people thought that meant if they spoke my name I’d appear. So it was a lot of whispered “it’s her!” and “why do they let her stay in the village?” and “who’d win in a fight between you know who and her?” Yes… wonderful. Just… fucking wonderful. If Team 7 was formed just as it had been in canon, it was going to contain the Nine-Tailed Fox, The Demon Princess, and the boy whose family was murdered for betraying the village.

At least I didn’t have the Jinchuriki problems of Naruto. I could exert chakra no problem… No… My issue was the exact opposite. Everything I/Sakura did with Chakra was too much. Create a clone and end up with three, and they tended to explode when dispelled rather than just puff to dust. Use Chakra to boost a jump and I was liable to go much further than I anticipated. While Kurama (Naruto’s inner monster) was apparently stingy with the power, my Chara was more than happy to “help”… in the most frustrating and inept fashion possible.

That and my tendency to challenge everyone to a fight… which I’d been losing pretty steadily against anyone who had either an ounce of self-control or any serious training, hadn’t been helping my reputation around the town. Just… freaking… lovely.

Also lovely was the fact that I/Sakura was 12 years old and had one monster of a tweenage crush on Sasuke… which was a problem because I/EssJin was… either in her mid thirties or more than fifteen thousand years old and I’d found Sasuke to be an annoying dickbag since I’d been in my twenties and first read the first issue of Naruto and every issue that had followed had made me want to punch Angsty McNinjaEye in the shnooz… which meant that, day one, I lost a small amount of control at the wrong moment and did exactly that. Then I accused him of being a baka and having stupid hair and told him I hated him and then ran off crying… oh… goody, moodswings. Violent, Chara-Fueled, moodswings. This was going to be oh sooo much fun.

Thankfully, the part of us that wasn’t Sakura had spent millenia learning to meditate and even Chara and tween hormones and an insatiable lust for combat couldn’t completely fuck over my control. Still, I was really missing Vulcan calm… Yes, perks are a crutch, but I’d had my perks go missing enough before (either through drawbacks or gauntlets… or even toggling it off deliberately) that I had some measure of practice at controlling myself without them. And I still maintained the ‘Calm & Steady’ perk I’d gained when Mensarius had sent me to Firefly. It let me assume a Zen-like state of tranquility… but it wasn’t automatic. I had to actually have time (and focus) enough to get into that state… and with my speed, a lot of punches could be thrown in a a very short period of time.

Unfortunately… either due to whatever was fucking with my chakra control… and even though I hadn’t picked the ‘Out of Control’ Drawback I was fairly certain that it had been included somehow in the Nemesis Retest Package… probably to see how I reacted to Chara (among other stressors)… and even though said Drawback wasn’t supposed to hinder my other abilities (I checked with Squad Zero, who despite being twits, could still remember the phrasing of a Drawback… if separated, forced to write it out, then one compared the three samples and… and then remembered that the others would have read the Drawback even if they hadn’t taken it… yes.. Yes… I facepalmed hard. I’m clearly not doing my best.)… what was I saying? Oh yes, Unfortunately, ‘Out of Control’ seemed to be making it hard to control any of my supernatural abilities that I still had. I won’t go into the entire list… it’s mind bogglingly long… but of all the Perks and Powers that EssJay had purchased, gained, or learned over the ages, I was able to access less than 20% of my total perk-list.

We’d been a Drop-In a fair few times, which meant that I had access to most of the perks purchased by those individual incarnations of EssJay. For instance, I still could dig through the ground as if my hands were shovels or create burstone shards when I destroyed things, both abilities I’d gained as SkyJumper in Bastion… but sometimes I scooped out a kiddy shovel of dirt… and sometimes a snowshovel, and the burstone shards had a tendency to hum ominous when I held them and I couldn’t get them to combine.

I still had Sunset James (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)’s ability to project my voice without an amplifier, and Sylvia Jane Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)’s Slayer, Sorcerer, and Flight powers… but the Sorcery experienced annoying inaccuracies and the Flight was more rocket powered than I was entirely pleased with. Joyous Snake (Metal Gear Solid)’s Psychic powers were great as a hammer, but not ideal as a scalpel, which meant that if I turned on my telepathy the din could give me a migraine pretty damned fast. Silver Jade (RWBY)’s WinterTide Semblance had not only an unpredictable area of effect, but an irregularly shaped one as well. I hadn’t even bothered experimenting with Shoftiel (Dresden Files)’s Necromancy or Sojourner Violence (Demon’s Souls)’s Soul Gathering, but Sunny D Jammer (One Piece)’s Dook-Dook Fruit powers didn’t seem to be working at all, while her Conqueror’s Haki seemed to be on overdrive.

Some others seemed to work just fine. Sun Jia (Disney Princess)’s song abilities and personal trainer skill set appeared to be intact, as were the martial arts and swordsmanship perks fro Joyous Snake, and the technical insight from Senet (Firefly) and Dr Saj (Gargoyles), plus the ability to make delicious food out of practically anything and my Life Fiber Hybrid regeneration from Shu Jin (Kill-La-Kill). Also working just fine were Savant, Freerunner, and Physical Fitness from Pokemon… because those were my perks, Dog Gamn-It!

I even retained some of my signature abilities, those I used all the damned time… such as Third Eye of Satori (from Touhou), Mental Palace (from Great Detective), and Copycat Technique (from Ranma ½), but not other abilities linked to the same personas such as Hakutaku’s Gift (also Touhou), The Look (also Great Detective), and Hidden Weapon Space (also Ranma). I also didn’t have other signature perks such as Civilization’s ‘No Gods or Kings’ or ‘Art of War’.

And I didn’t have access to all the Drop-Ins… mostly those post Tortall for some reason… probably due to the disappearance of the Banker and Mensarius and the beginning of this whole mess. In fact, I didn’t seem to have any perks at all from after that period except for whatever I’d picked up in Undertale… and maybe whatever I’d bought Jouya, though since I had no idea what that might have been, I really couldn’t use any of it, now could I?

Anyway, That pretty much brings us up to the end of the first week of my Naruto Experience… i.e. me mostly trying not to go crazy and hurt someone while Naruto got his dumb ass tricked into stealing the Scroll of Forbidden Jutsus from which he learned his signature “Shadow Clone no Jutsu” move… which allowed him to create hundreds of non-illusory copies of himself and which he would then combine with his signature “Sexy no Jutsu”(which turned him into a naked babe wreathed in seductive mist) to make “Harem no Jutsu” (which did both things at once). And which I promptly copied at the first opportunity because I’m a thief baby… and a Super Pervert!

Also, it really annoyed Chara, so win-win! Not that I really needed it. The full me could totally spin off homunculi and then use Shard Administrator to shift one of my Astral Layers into the Homunculi… but still, Shadow Clones were quite a bit faster and more easily replaceable… and could be made into sexy naked ladies! Or dudes. I might not have my Jusenkyo gender-shifting powers any more… but copying and modifying a technique created by Naruto? Please. He’s no genius and I am smart enough to scoff at those with mere genius level IQs. Scoff, I say! Ahem. Sorry, got a bit carried away with my own excellence.


So it was that, on the morning of the first day of the second week, all those of us who’d just recently graduated to Genin (lowest of the ninja ranks) all gathered in one auditorium at the academy. I, who’d read the comic, of course knew they were going to assign us to teams of three now… and how freaking odd is it that Sasuke (the best student in our class), myself (up until the day before the exam a fairly mediocre student, to be honest), and Naruto (who was lazy, a goof-off, and hampered by ADHD and poor chakra control) all managed to graduate at age twelve… especially since Naruto had canonically failed the Genin Exam twice! Shouldn’t he have been fourteen? But then again, technically, the youngest ever graduate was like six… so why hadn’t Sasuke graduated early? No fuckin clue, but that’s the force of Narrative Necessity for you.

Anyway, we all moved to take our seats, with me arriving about halfway through the gathering, having absolutely no intention of sitting anywhere near either the idiot or the moper… when Yamanaka Ino, Sakura’s ex-best friend and current (in her own mind) rival for the attention of Sasuke’s affections, happened to think, “Oooh… look! It’s Sasuke! I’m going to sit next to him… maybe I can even steal his first kiss!”

Now remember, she hadn’t said that outloud… and I was still struggling to get a hold of my powers at this point (a struggle that would take a good long while, let me tell you). So in the time it took the Jin part of my consciousness to tamp down the psychic-snooping, the Sakura part had confronted Naruto (currently sitting next to Sasuke) and demanded he move so that we could have that coveted spot. This of course prompted Naruto to glare at Sasuke, who did his best to ignore the other boy, despite the fact that Naruto was doing said glaring from approximately twenty centimeters in front of Sasuke’s face, while crouching like a toad (ooo foreshadowing!) on the desk in front of Sasuke.

Having read the manga and seen the entire first season of the anime, I knew damned well what was about to happen, but as I tried to stop it (not certain why I bothered, to be honest) time seemed to slow to a standstill as the nameless (I’m serious, we’d attended the school for eight fucking years and I’d never seen this kid before and I never saw him again after) genin sitting right in front of Sasuke accidentally bumped Naruto in the butt with his elbow… causing Naruto to lose his balance and fall, lips first, against Sasuke’s own lips. Sexy-Kissy time it wasn’t. Both boys were, of course, horrified because they’re almost painfully heterosexual and this was not a world high on the LGBTQ acceptance… though not nearly as bad as many other shonen titles are.

All the girls in class were also horrified, because twelve year old girls really care about who gets the hot boy’s first kiss. I can tell you right now, no. They don’t. I have been a twelve year old girl a lot of times. Including in Japan… we very much don’t care. We’re much more concerned about who we give our first kiss to. And even then, we’re pretty much aware that it doesn’t actually count as a first kiss unless it’s intentional on at least one of the two party’s part. So yes, stealing a first kiss counts… accidentally falling into liplock? Not counting!

Of course, no one had told any of the girls in the room that, and I was across the room and roundhouse kicking Naruto into the far wall before I could even think about restraining myself. Only the arrival of Iruka-Sensei, our chief teacher and the proctor of the Genin Exam (as well as Naruto’s only real friend at this point), stopped me from pounding the main-character into hamburger long enough to give myself a mental slap… oh… good god… I’m Inner Sakura!

Okay, short aside… Sakura as shown in the series has two… let’s call them personalities. The outward Sakura is somewhat shy, doubts herself quite a lot, and is far too polite most of the time, hiding what she’s really feeling behind a mask of civility. Inner Sakura on the other hand is shown to be an almost separate entity that voices what Sakura really thinks and feels, but usually only inside Sakura’s mind. Inner Sakura is shown to be extremely willful, and able to repel being possessed by Ino… whose primary ability is possessing others and who is able to take over ninja who seem far more confident that Sakura does. Anyway… apparently, I’m the Inner Sakura. Of course, I’m also the Outer Sakura… and we’re all in this one body together with Chara, queen of stabity.

So, while I-Jin was keeping Myself-Sakura from obsessing about the kiss and wallowing in doubt about how Sasuke would never be interested in a girl with such small breasts and non-existant butt and far too large a forehead… never freaking mind that we’re twelve and haven’t exactly hit our growth spurt… (Oh, lord of all that is! Save me from tweenage body-issues!!!) Iruka-Sensei began reading out the names of those in the first six groups.

Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered paying attention to this… a) because I could just check my memory later if it became important, b) because I’d be able to see the whole list when they posted it publicly, and c) because if he wasn’t saying my name, who the hell cared? oh, and d) because I was pretty damned certain that the universe was rigged so that I’d end up with these two idiots on Team 7. I say normally, because when Iruka got to Team 4, he said names that were important to EssJun… namely Nara Shinohana and the Shimura Triplets… apparently, Team 4 would consist of four genin instead of the traditional three, under Saku Hasu-Sensei (apparently they’d dropped the Senju since according to Sakura’s memories, there aren’t any living Senju… apparently only distaff members of the family still exist… or they all changed their name to avoid attention… the first two Hokage were both Senju Clan members). Maybe they hadn’t wanted to split up the triplets but hadn’t wanted to saddle a Jounin-Instructor with just those three twits? Anyway, the names were important because Hasu-Sensei was Toph, Shinohana was Vita, and the Shimura girls (Makiko, Machiko, and Mikiko) were Sterns, Levi, and Dearche respectively.

Okay, so not that important, but the names made connections that I hadn’t made before in the Sakura side of things. Turns out that our mother, Mebuki was something of a gossip hound, and kept talking about all the big deal families of the village… like the Shimuras… And the current head of the Shimura Family, the reclusive Danzo Shimura and his history of taking things too far. What things? Well, as a twelve year old, I didn’t know, but given that this is a Ninja Community we’re talking about… I’d say the odds are pretty good that we’re talking war-crimes here.

So, of course, I-Jin was mulling that over when Iruka-Sensei read off the names of the members of Team 7 (Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Naruto, and Uchiha Sasuke of course) and thus I-Jin was unable to restrain My-Sakura-Self from cheering “Hell Yeah!” when Sasuke’s name was spoken. Oy. I hope I don’t end up actually having this tool’s kid… though the art I’ve seen of Uchiha Sarada is pretty cute… okay, maybe for the kid’s sake. But Sasuke better fucking be a better man than… oh who am I kidding, I slept with Draco Malfoy… I have nooo standards. So Sasuke has eight years or so to become as bangworthy as ferret-boy… he’s not even close at the moment, no matter what the Sakura-Side has to say about it. Of course, she’s all about a kiss and maybe holding hands. Not going all the way. You know. Twelve year old.

Team 9 ended up being Uzufumi Zenji (Zane, name changed from Uzumaki as the family was in hiding apparently), Motabi Kanna (Kendra), and Kurushita (Darkseid) under the leadership of Mezanin Kaito (AJ). Likewise, Team 16 was headed by Mezanin Reo (Francine) and contained Hyuga Yakumo (Amaryllis), Yamanaka Ichika (Maggy) and Senbei Mamoru (Alex)… how anyone didn’t see through the name changes of Senju/Senbei and Uzufumi/Uzumaki, I don’t know. For those who don’t know the japanese writing system known as Kanji, allow me to explain. Uzumaki is written in Kanji using two very complex symbols (the first, Uzu, meaning Swirl, has twelve strokes, while the second, Maki, meaning roll or winding, or volume of a book, has nine strokes). The Fumi in Uzufumi also means volume or chapter… and is written with a Kanji having fifteen strokes. So far so confusing, right? Well… Kanji have multiple readings. That is, they can be pronounced multiple ways depending on if they’re being used in words or in names usually. That’s why there are often pronunciation guides over the Kanji in your favorite manga… Also because there’s a chance the readership hasn’t gotten to those lessons or needs a reminder because there are a lot of Kanji. Anyway. The symbol for Fumi has four different readings. Hen, Fuda, Fumi… and, you guessed it, maki.

Senbei was at least trying! Senju is written using two symbols meaning 1000 and hands, referring to the Senju Clan having “a thousand skills”. Senbei was written with the same first symbol, and the second symbol being the one for sleeve… as in a thousand sleeves… as in nothing up my sleeve. Why Sakahasu had been divided into two names instead of being a member of Clan Senbei I don’t know… but what all that told me was that someone clearly sentient was doing the tweaking to make certain everything fit as neatly as possible into the world building. There was someone working for Higher whose job it was to keep things running smoothly… and I doubted it was God.

But, I have this cellphone with his number on it… all the other contacts are missing, but it was on my / Sakura’s nightstand when I/we woke up, and if he didn’t want me to call, he shouldn’t have left me his number.

“Hey… got a question for you… I mean… Hello, this is EssJin, how’s your day going? Do you mind if I ask you a question? A game of Go? Sure, I’ve got some free time right now.” Long story short? I had a nice chat with God about the role of Mediators (the functionaries brought in to settle canon-jumpbuild disagreements) and in the process avoided having Naruto, disguised as Sasuke, act like a jerk while trying to woe me, then have to run off to the bathroom due to spoiled milk ingestion (idiot)… then having Sasuke act like a jerk because he is a jerk trying not to woe me. I also managed to avoid myself being an insensitive tool to Sasuke when talking about the fact that Naruto was the way he was because he didn’t have parents (Naruto being an orphan since his mother and father died sealing Kyubei the 9-Tailed Fox inside Naruto)… insensitive because Sasuke’s brother Itachi murdered their entire clan besides Sasuke back when Sasuke was eight… and Itachi was thirteen… how a thirteen year old murders an entire family of trained ninjas I do not know.

Regardless, I emerged from my game with God just in time for our meeting with Kakashi-Sensei… i.e. the junior pervert (senior pervert being Juraiya-Senin). Naruto, being Naruto, put a chalk-board eraser in the door so it would fall on Kakashi’s head as punishment for Sensei being late to the meet up. Unlike the canon, I did not lie about trying to stop him. Instead, I just smirked at the dust-covered Jounin and commented, “Apparently, juvenile traps aren’t worth avoiding?”

He called us annoying. That’s fair. Then he demanded we introduce ourselves, our likes, dislikes, dreams for the future and things like that. When Naruto asked for an introduction from Kakashi first, I couldn’t help myself but follow the script and point out that Kakashi does come across as pretty damned suspicious looking, what with his headband over one eye and most of his face covered by a nose-and-mouth mask. One eye, one ear, and half an eyebrow is not much to go on, visa vi the whole trust issue. Of course, I could have used Third-Eye… but in this world, that would require actually opening my third eye and would be as subtle as a box of hammers flung into a glass fan. I’d do it later.

As for his introduction, Sensei said, “Oh? Me? Well, my name is Kakashi Hatake and I have no desire to tell you my likes or dislikes. As for dreams for the future… hmmm… And I have lots of hobbies…” Which, you know… wasn’t any information at all besides his name. Which we already had. “Now, it’s your turn. Let’s start on the right.”

Right being the idiot, Naruto gave his name and then said, “What I like is cup ramen, and what I like even more is when Iruka-Sensei pays for my ramen. What I dislike is waiting three minutes for the ramen to cook, and my dream is to Be Hokage and have the people of this village acknowledge my existence.”

I interjected. “Better that they don’t acknowledge you at all than they acknowledge you only with fear and hatred.” Yeah, I/We weren’t bitter at all.

Naruto opened his mouth to call me something rude, then remembered that he was infatuated with me and turned back to Kakashi and said that his hobbies were pulling pranks.

Then it was Sasuke’s turn and he was all angsty and depressing. “There are lots of things I dislike and I don’t really like anything. I don’t really have a dream… but I have an ambition; the resurrection of my clan and to kill the man who destroyed it.”

That was slightly more information than he’d given in canon, where he’d just said “Kill a certain man.” but I guess this wasn’t the author keeping us readers in the dark about why Sasuke was a moody little shit.

I found myself blushing about how cool Sasuke was and mentally slapped myself, then glared at Sensei as he said, “OK… and lastly, the girl.”

“I don’t know if you’re being a sexist dickbag intentionally,” I said, “just to push my buttons or if you really do have your head so far up your ass as to use that tone, but you know my damned name. You visited Naruto’s apartment with Sarutobi-Sama right before this meet up and you were picked specifically to be Sasuke’s instructor because you’ve got a Sharingan eye. I’m not ‘The Girl’. I’m Haruno Sakura, the Deamon Princess of the Hidden Leaf Village, even if my family isn’t one of the important ones, and you don’t get to dismiss me as the third wheel just hanging out in the shadow of these two. I’m not less important just because I pee sitting down.” I pushed down Chara’s attempt to summon a knife and adjusted my eyepatch. Three eyes and I could use one of them… great.

“Oookay,” Kakashi drawled. “I stand corrected. Want to tell us anything else besides that you’re a strong woman who don’t need no man to define her?”

“It would be extremely rude of me to try to smash your face in on our first meeting, and your use of stale feminist rhetoric implies that you’re just trying to get on my nerves, so I’ll play along… and smash your face in tomorrow,” I said, smirking. “The things I like are ferrets and fighting people, and the things I dislike are people who think they know me without having ever actually bothered to find out anything about me… especially Naruto here.” that last slipped out before I could stop it, but I continued as he facefaulted… eh, worth it. “My dream for the future? To kick the asses of every other ninja and prove myself the undisputed Queen of the Ninja World.”

Sasuke snorted… I punched him in the foot. He glared. I glared back.

“Hobbies?” he asked.

“Reading porn,” I responded. “Especially books by Juraiya-Senin.” When you no longer have fiat-backed lying skills… take refuge in audacity. Also, watching Naruto’s jaw hit the floor was deeply amusing.

“Well… good introductions,” Kakashi said. “Tomorrow we’ll start our duties as shinobi.” When Naruto asked what duties, the response was “Survival Training… with me as your opponent… oh… and I should tell you… of the forty-nine graduates, only sixteen will be chosen to become genin. The rest will be sent back to the academy… this is your real final exam, and there’s a failure rate of more than sixty-six percent.”

“Sixteen… that means the Shimura triplets are already guaranteed a pass,” Sasuke said. Apparently he could do basic math. Good.

“Oh… I forgot about them,” Kakashi said, lying his ass off. “Might just be seventeen then.”

Interesting, I thought. The original/canon graduating class had only had twenty-seven students get this far and only nine were supposed to pass. Of course, it was a lie. The complete membership of four of the nine canon teams had passed, resulting in the creation of the Konaha 11 (so called because Sasuke defected for a time). Tenten, Rock Lee, and Hyuuga Neji on Team Two (always referred to as Team Guy); Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru, and Akimichi Choji on Team Ten (aka Team Asuma); Inuzuka Kiba, Aburame Shino, and Hyuuga Hinata on Team Eight (aka Team Kurenai); and the three of us on Team Seven. Clearly, the Mediator had added more teams… and don’t ask me why there was a Team Ten with only nine teams, there is no Team One, I assume to keep anyone from claiming to be the best?… so that there could still be enough slots with three entire new teams almost guaranteed to pass. Of course, that took the total from twelve in nine slots to twenty-two in sixteen or seventeen… but it was still a lie.

“Is that a guaranteed number?” I asked, “Or are you just saying that the odds are one in three? Because the second way seems like a waste if you’re just going to pick the nine best. What if only Neji and myself are any good. I mean, Motabi and Tenten are pretty incredible, and Ino-Shika-Cho are pretty much guaranteed slots because they’re leading families and every generation has at least one trio from them… but I’m guessing they don’t get a bye unless nepotism is more important than actual talent.”

“You talk too much,” Kakashi said and Naruto laughed at that.

“It’s my Ninja way,” I snarked. “That and punching people in the face, but — as I already established — it’s rude to do that to someone you just met unless they’re the enemy… or a tool. So are you just trying to scare us or is the number actually fixed.”

“Mostly just scare you. Bring your A game tomorrow or you’re all going back to school.” And with that he rolled over the railing behind himself and disappeared… only to pop back up a moment later. “Almost forgot: Bring all the shinobi tools you have and skip breakfast. You might throw up.” He tossed a stack of papers at us and said “The details are there. Don’t be late.”

Of course, it was Kakashi who was late the next morning… and he showed up to see me eating riceballs. Quirking his visible eyebrow, he said, “I thought I told you to skip breakfast.”

“You phrased it as a suggestion, and said that we might throw up. Might throw up is not a reason to go into battle unfueled. Rice is good for medium range energy. The plum jam in here is good for the longer term, and the bean paste for endurance.” I took a looong pull of my drink. “And this is decarbonated cola, good for immediate energy. Want one?” I offered the bento that had two more in it. “You said bring all shinobi tools… a proper diet is the foundation of all shinobi tools… and since Choji is on one team, I’m assuming he didn’t leave food behind.” Choji, an Akimichi, gained power from being… well… extremely fat.

Kakashi’s actual expression was impossible to read, but he looked somewhat annoyed… then amused. Then he took one of the rice balls and tucked into it while I ate the last. Naruto looked aghast that he’d skipped breakfast… and annoyed that I hadn’t given him the last one. Idiot. “Well then. I guess two of you have more motivation to succeed than she does,” he said, pulling out an alarm clock showing the time as 10:10 in the morning (in arabic numerals no less). “This is set for noon,” he said, holding up a pair of cat-bells on strings. “Your task is to take these from me before the time’s up. “Those who don’t have a bell by noon get no lunch. I’ll not only time one of you to those stumps, but I’ll also…” he paused, blinking when he realized that he was only holding one bell. Well, I assume he blinked. He closed his one visible eye.

“I don’t know how you did that,” he said to me. “But please give it back. The exam hasn’t begun yet.” I tossed it back. “There are only two bells, so the person who doesn’t take a bell fails. And that means at least one of you will be sent back to the academy.”

“Liar,” I coughed. He frowned at me.

“You have an attitude problem,” he told me flat out.

“So they tell me,” I shot back. “So they tell me. But please, continue trying to motivate us when Sasuke is going to go all out no matter what because he’s driven to avenge his family and Naruto wants to prove he’s worthy to be Hokage. Clearly fear of being held back is what motivates us.”

“It’s easy to use words to make claims. Harder to back them up,” the Jounin said. “But if you don’t come at me intending to kill, you won’t succeed.”

“And there we go, more hyperbole,” I sneered, limbering up. “Killing you isn’t the mission. Getting the bell is.” I was deliberately goading him. The entire point of this exercise was about teamwork, not any of the nonsense either of us were spouting.

“Not like this will be hard,” Naruto scoffed. “You’re so slow you couldn’t even dodge a blackboard eraser.”

“In the real world, those with no talent often bark loudest. Ignore mr. Deadlast and start when I say…”

Naruto didn’t even wait for him to finish, so enraged was he by the name calling. He drew a Kunai, a ninja throwing knife, and was drawing back his hand to throw it when Kakashi moved faster than the human eye could follow (not mine, but it was faster than I could have moved back in the Pokemon Days.) and grabbed Naruto by the back of the head and the wrist.

“Calm down. I haven’t said start yet,” he said. The Sakura part of me was impressed… she hadn’t really realized how much we’d changed in the last nine days. Sasuke just looked smug… as always… jerk.

Anyway, Kakashi gave the word and we sprang away from him. Sasuke hid in a bush, I concealed myself in a tree… not expertly, but good enough for a twelve year old… I probably could have done better, but I’ve not exactly focused on Stealth on the Ninja level. I was, without most of my powers, about as good at stealth as Solid Snake if he’d had a few centuries of practice.

Naruto, on the other hand, stood in the middle of the exam area (a semi-open patch of wilderness with nothing to recommend it besides three wooden posts arranged in a line and an old memorial to Konoha ninjas fallen in the line of service) and challenged Kakashi straight up. Kakashi pulled out Come Come Paradise (one of Juriya’s books) and began reading it while largely mocking the boy’s attacks (even going so far as to use Kancho… a weird double hand ass poke thing that the Japanese and Koreans like doing… though the Koreans call it ddong chim… on him.)

Give Naruto credit, he did go all out, but eventually ended up hanging by his ankle from a tree. Probably some kind of tarot significance there, though he’s clearly the Fool, not the Hanged Man. It’s not that he’s inept. That kind of thing reflects more on his teachers than him, I fear. The education system in this village is honestly pathetic… but the same can be said for the entire world and I, for one, have little desire to improve it. Creating a system that turns out more effective killing machines isn’t my idea of fun, and I doubt anyone would listen to me if I tried to reform the education system to prioritize teamwork and mental health. I doubt they’d have listened to a saint, but certainly not to the Demon Princess.

Once Naruto was more or less out of the running, Sasuke thought he saw an opening and rushed forward to attack. He did better, actually forcing Kakashi-Sensei to take him semi-seriously and pulling off a firebreath jutsu, but in the end, he was no match for superior training, tactics, and experience. Which was, of course, the point.

While the Kakashi-Sasuke match was going on, I considered following the script and falling for the genjutsu trap Kakashi had set up to snare me, the one that featured an illusion of Sasuke, riddled with kunai and shuriken, bleeding, begging me for help… but I mean, come on. That scene had pissed me off no end reading the manga for the first time. No way was I going to be the guuuurl who passes out and doesn’t even fucking get a fight scene. Not a chance in hell.

Instead, I dropped out the tree at roughly the appointed time and confronted the illusion, saying “Oh. nooo… Sasuke, what happened…” in the loudest, most sarcastic tone I could manage. “Did you get a paper cut from Sensei’s unsigned copy of Come Come Paradise? The one that’s not even the limited edition with the author interview at the back? I wonder if Kakashi knows that Akane has been seeing Yume behind Satsuma’s back?”

From the other side of the trees that were now blocking my sight of the ‘battle’, I heard Kakashi-Sensei yell, “Hey! No Spoilers!” and Sasuke snap, “REALLY!?” I just chuckled and waited until it was my turn.

Once Sasuke had been buried up to his neck in the ground thanks to Kakashi’s Inner Decapitation Earth Release Technique, and Naruto had been captured by Kakashi for trying to steal the lunches, I emerged from the treeline and sat on Sasuke’s head. “Having a hard time there, killer?” I teased.

“Get off me! There’s not much time left until lunch! I’m going again!” he snapped as he wormed his way out of the ground.

“This is pointless, you know,” I commented.

“No, it’s not,” he growled, “I already touched the bell once; next time I’ll definitely get one.”

“Wow… you really are incredible Sasuke-Kun,” I said, mirroring the canon, but using a far less flattering tone. He just glared at me, I smirked back, but waved him off towards where Kakashi was tying Naruto to one of the three posts.

“I told you,” Sasuke snarled, “I cannot… will not be sent back to the Academy. I have to be the one to kill him. Only I… the crying…” his back stiffened as he relived the trauma that no one in this fucking village had bothered to get him therapy for over the last four years.

“I know,” I said sympathetically, “But this is the wrong way-”

“It’s my WAY!” he roared, then flinched as the alarm rang. His shoulders clenched and he balled his fists and groaned, “Damn! Wasted too much time.”

Kakashi had us gather around the posts to say his piece. “There’s no need for you guys to go back to the Academy,” he began.

“We passed?!” Naruto crowed, “Yaaay! We paaaasssed!”

Kakashi just looked at the blond twit for several long moments before saying, “No. You should all quit as Shinobi.”

“Before you go into all the reasons why you think that,” I said, pushing myself away from the post I’d been leaning against, “I think you should give me a go.”

“Why should I?” Sensei asked. “You didn’t even bother to come after the bells at all while the test was going on.”

“Of course I didn’t,” I replied coolly. “You’re Kakashi of the Sharingan Eye. You’re a master of anticipating attacks and countering them. You graduated the academy at age five, were elevated to chunin at age six, and have twenty years of experience on everyone in our class. You’re on the shortlist to be Hokage someday. The only way we’re getting a bell is if you let us.”

“So you’re too much a fangirl to even try?” he said, shaking his head. “That’s not an admirable trait in a-”

“Oh shut up,” I snapped. “I knew from the start what your goal was. I also know you’ve never passed a student before.”

“You do, do you?” He sounded intrigued. That last wasn’t common knowledge. “Okay, what was my goal, if you’re so smart?”

“Not smart, though I am the smartest person in this village. Informed. There’s a difference between knowing and understanding,” I cracked my neck and my knuckles. “I’ll tell you what your goal was… and then you can share that information with these two chuckleheads, but I felt it was important for you to understand something about me.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I’ll tell you after you make a serious attempt to keep the bells away from me.”

What followed was an honest to goodness fight. I didn’t go all out, but merely pushed my new form to its current physical limits. Say what you want about perks and the knowledge of ages, we were still in a twelve year old’s body, albeit a twelve year old at peak human stats, and my knowledge of ninjutsu techniques was effectively limited to Anything Goes Martial Arts and CQC. Now, that’s nothing to scoff at, and Ranma would have washed the floor with Kakashi’s stupid hairdo, but he’d have been banged up in the process. With a sword, I could probably have taken Kakashi myself, and I did deliver a couple of telling blows to the older (biologically speaking) ninja before jumping back and holding up three fingers of my left hand, the two bells between them, as I wiped the trickle of blood from my cheek with my right.

“I left a note with your goal in your pocket,” I said, “and the thing I wanted to tell you…” I tossed the bells at the boys. “I am not the third wheel. This is my god-damned story as much as it is theirs.” And with that, I dropped, lotus style, to the ground next to Naruto.

Kakashi seemed taken aback, as well he should have. A raw genin should not have been able to get the better of him, but in the heat of battle, I’d forced him to treat me as an actual threat for a second, and that tiny window had been enough for him to forget that the bells were the real prize. He reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out an origami frog. On its back was written “Teamwork”. It’s important to know that that word doesn’t actually exist in japanese. Oh there are close cognates. Solidarity, unity, cooperation, collaboration… but there’s no actual japanese term for teamwork in classical japanese. Their word for the concept is Chimuwaku… a loanword from english. There’s a reason why these Ninjas have a problem with solidarity, and it boils down to the same problem that plagued Japan during the feudal era. Even the most loyal of cause-followers still was, ultimately, looking out for their own personal interests.

He chuckled. “I guess you did understand… and I’m impressed. So you pass, but the other two? They’re just punks who don’t deserve to be ninjas.”

Sasuke growled and charged Kakashi at that, screaming a wordless battle cry of frustration and rage, but the older man flattened him instantly, pinning him to the ground, one foot on the back of Sasuke’s head, the hand with which the boy had been attacking wrenched painfully behind his back.

“You really are underestimating me,” he sighed. “Why is it that the only one of you with the sense to understand why you were divided into teams to further your training is the one with the biggest problem working with others? Why is the Demon Princess the only one who understands the answer?”

“Answer?” Naruto asked. “What answer? What was the question?”

“The answer that helps you pass this test,” Sensei replied, “And no fair looking at miss smarty-pants for a hint.”

“Ah! Damn it! What’s the Answer Already!?” Naruto bellowed.

“It’s Teamwork,” was the reply. “Working together, the three… well, the two of you might have gotten the bells.”

Since someone had to say it, Naruto stole my line (not that I was going to be the audience proxy this time.) “But there are only two bells! Why should the three of us cooperate if one of us will fail?”

“Why indeed?,” Kakashi said. “This test is deliberately designed to make you fight amongst yourselves… so at least you didn’t do that. I’ll give you credit for not actually coming to blows. The purpose is to see whether you can set aside your own personal interest and successfully work together. Sakura, you were more concerned with showing off… though you did that quite well, than actually teaming up. Naruto, you were just running around by yourself. And Sasuke!! You simply assumed the others would get in your way and tried to do everything yourself. Superior individual ability is important in our line of work… but it doesn’t matter a hill of nato if you’ve got all the talent in the world if you can’t work with others to achieve a greater goal. Individuals who can’t set aside their own ambitions put everyone else in danger; your comrades, your family, our village. Being a ninja is all about risking your life in the pursuit of a greater goal; it’s important to be able to trust those you work with to have your back.”

He rose then, unaware that only Naruto was really listening to his words, that they were bouncing off Sasuke’s impenetrable wall of loathing for everyone and everything… including himself. Survivor’s guilt is a hell of a thing, especially when combined with murderous rage and abandonment issues. “Look at the names carved upon this stone,” Kakashi said, patting the memorial. “These are ninjas recognized as heroes of the village.”

Naruto, missing the point completely, immediately proclaimed that his name would be on that stone someday.

“Idiot,” I said quietly. “They’re not the kind of heroes you want to join.” My voice carried far more weight of memory, much of it bad, than any twelve year old could possibly encompass, but Naruto was oblivious and Kakashi too caught in his own memories to notice.

“What?” He said, looking back and forth between me and Kakashi. “What kind are they then?”

“They’re the ones who died in the line of duty,” Kakashi said softly, no heat and loads of regret in his tone. “This is a memorial… my best friend’s name is carved here… I’ll give you one more chance… after lunch. But this time, I’ll make it even tougher to get the bells.” He held them up from where he’d managed to retrieve them from the duo without either of them noticing. “Sasuke, if you want to give it a go, you can eat your lunch now… but don’t give any to Naruto.”

“Eh?” the idiot said.

“It’s punishment for trying to steal the food. Anyone who gives him any food fails immediately. Even you Sakura,” Kakashi instructed. “I’m the law here. Got it?” and with that he vanished without even a puff of smoke to hide his passage. Dude is fast, I’ll give him that.

“Heh! Shows him!” Naruto chuckled. “I don’t need any food! I’m fine!” his stomach rumbled loudly at that moment. Excellent timing.”

Sasuke tucked into his box, and I did likewise, waiting for angst boy to do the right thing. I’d give him this moment, since I’d already been showing off, and to be honest, I was wondering what exactly I was achieving if I proved that Sakura wasn’t useless while using my own abilities, gained over the ages that she would never have seen in the normal course of events. What will I have proven, since I gave her/myself a build that was unreal, more frontloaded with paths to success than even the most broken of shounen protagonists?

“Here,” Sasuke said, handing his half-eaten bento to the boy still tied to a post and unable to eat it.

At that moment, I realized… it doesn’t matter what I prove. This isn’t a fixfic, nor is it a feminist reconstruction of Naruto. I’m me, and I’m the one who’s here now, in this place and at this time. No matter what I’d said to Kakashi, this was my story, EssJay’s story. Not Naruto’s. Not Sasuke’s. Not even the original Sakura’s, and the only person I really had to prove anything to was myself. Well, and Higher. But while I had no idea what Higher was looking for, what I had to prove was that, as diminished as I was, crippled by the loss of so much of what I’d come to think of as parts of myself, that I still had what it took to be a Jumper.

With a chuckle, I cut the ropes holding Naruto to the post with the talons I’d suddenly grown, then handed him the rest of my bento as well, the talons already having retracted. Dook-Dook Fruit for the win? Yes. inanimate hemp rope… such an adversary.

Of course, Kakashi-Sensei chose that moment to bamf back into the area, grinning behind his mask. “You guys all Pass!”

“Pass?” Naruto asked. “But why?”

“You guys are the first. Everyone else just did whatever I told them.”

I snorted, “Morons.”

Kakashi gave me a look that spoke volumes. “Those who break the rules and codes of the ninja world are garbage,” he began.

“But those who don’t take care of their friends and comrades are worse than that,” I finished for him. “They’re a sickness. One that’s slowly killing the world.”

“Whoa, don’t get too dark on me,” Kakashi said. “That’s Sasuke’s job!” The boy in question snorted in derision at the snide aside. “Anyway, this ends today’s training. All of you pass. Starting tomorrow, Team Seven begins its official duties.”

Of course, our first mission was recovering the missing cat of the wife of the Lord of the Fire Nation… no, not the Avatar Fire Nation. The Naruto Fire Nation… that would be a weird crossover. Our second mission was babysitting an elder’s grandson, running some errands, and helping out with the potato harvest… or would have been but Naruto threw a hissy fit about the lameness of those D-Rank tasks, so we were given a C-Rank one… though only I knew that, technically, it should have been B-Rank… but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Next: I Will Not Be Hokage, Part 2

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Author’s Note: My deepest apologies for the rather prolonged delay between parts of this log… and indeed for the near total silence from me over these last few months. As with most of the rest of the world, I’ve been dealing in my own way with the current COVID Crisis and the societal meltdown that has been 2020. I was stranded out of the country for nearly three months and not in a good place (either physically or mentally) to write anything. Even once I got back home, the demands of real life and the stress of everything made it exceptionally hard to focus on my writing, even though I love it and love giving you stories to read. It was also complicated by the fact that I’d fallen out of practice and so getting back in the groove was a challenge. I was hoping to get more written, but I thought I’d give you a taste… and it’s a decent sized one, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Don’t worry, I have no intention of making the Naruto Log as long as Honorverse or Undertale Isekai are becoming, and I haven’t forgotten about them.

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’d especially like to thank Parzival, bearblue, and Ryune, but all of you who read my work and comment are wonderful.

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in very slow progress here. Please check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have two separate bonus stories here called EssJay’s Omake Theatre #1 (Big Box Isekai) and #2 (Zed’s Chain). And if you’re on Questionable Questing (No link provided) I have an adult story you might want to check out… if you’re of legal age. If you need the link, hunt me down in one of the forums.