Chapter 4

“Aha! You just fell into my cunning trap!” Naruto proclaimed, dramaticallypicking up a captured shogi piece. “Bid your knight farewell. He serves adarker power now.”

“Um… actually, Naruto, I was rather hoping you’d do that…”

Naruto and Hinata were so engrossed in their latest game that they barelyregistered the door opening, or the doctor walking in, looking up only whenthe man gave a polite cough.

To Naruto’s horror, it was the black-bearded man from before. To Naruto’s evengreater horror, Hinata looked up, exclaimed “Uncle Saburō!”, and proceeded torun over and hug him with no regard for the very fundamental principles ofpublic decency, or the fact that Naruto had been just about to reveal hisdevastating counter-counter-trap which would shatter Hinata’s offensivestrategy to smithereens and usher in a thousand years of darkness. (Somewherein his head, this game was being recast as the Demi-Fiend’s epic rebellionagainst the corrupt angelic forces of light; look forward to the thrillingconclusion in Volume 25!).

“It’s good to see you too, Lady Hinata,” the man smiled. “I trust you arewell?”

“Yes, thank you. And you?”

“I’m managing,” the doctor replied. “Now if you don’t mind, I need to speak tothe young man in private.”

Hinata nodded and left the room.

“I see my first impression of you was correct,” the doctor told Naruto as soonas Hinata closed the door. “Already peeping on girls in the public baths atyour age? You truly are a criminal through and through.” He shook his head indisapproval.

“It was all a misunderstanding!” Naruto once again insisted. Well, it was.He’d been there on an intelligence-gathering mission, not because the sight ofnaked girls was somehow inherently worth the risk of grievous bodily harm.

“Hmm… I see,” the doctor nodded. “And the fact that Lady Hinata happened to bethere at the time was surely a complete coincidence.”

Naruto made himself nod, on shakier ground now. Despite his best efforts, hewas completely unable to read the man, and had a horrible feeling that he wasin the middle of playing a game for which he did not know the rules.

“I have been terribly remiss in my manners,” the doctor suddenly announced.“My name is Kurogane Saburō. I am a senior physician here at the hospital.Normally, I invest some effort into getting to know people I expect to befrequent patients, but things have been very busy lately.”

Naruto was about to query the “frequent patients” comment, but Kurogane wenton.

“Yes, very busy. Tell me, are you familiar with Spontaneous Chakra CombustionDisease?”

Naruto shook his head.

“Pray that you never have to be, young man. We’re going to have to remodel anentire ward.”

Naruto nodded mutely. He was trying very hard not to imagine what SpontaneousChakra Combustion Disease might be like, and not entirely succeeding.

“But that’s by the by. Since we’re getting to know each other, allow me toshare some entirely unrelated items of trivia with you.” Kurogane smiled athim in a fashion that should have been friendly but came off more like analligator watching to see if its prey would shake off its fear paralysis andtry to flee. “Did you know that, statistically speaking, a given shinobi willend up in our hospital at least three times a year, with much higher rates forGenin and certain kinds of Bloodline Limit user?”

“No, I didn’t,” Naruto responded uneasily. There had to be a pattern to thisman’s behaviour, something that would give him a clue as to his intentions andwhat to do about them, but in spite of Naruto’s best efforts his mind remainedresolutely blank.

“Just an interesting statistic,” Kurogane said. “Another curious fact ofmedicine is that doctors have notoriously bad handwriting - ironic given howessential precision is in our profession. As it happens, there is even anurban legend of a doctor who, presumably while highly stressed, accidentallywrote proscribed rather than prescribed when making notes on a certainninja’s ability to receive anaesthesia and painkillers. As a result of just asingle letter’s difference, the patient in question was forced to endure everysingle injury, disease and operation with full consciousness and sensation.”

He paused to allow this idea to sink in.

“Some versions of the story say he went insane and took his own life, whileothers merely claim he retired from the ninja profession and lived out a more-or-less fulfilling life as a waste disposal technician.”

“I- I see,” Naruto said, endeavouring to keep his voice steady. He’d neverbefore had cause to so intensely regret the power of his imagination.

“But as I say, that’s nothing but an urban myth. No-one has ever found anymedical records matching such a description. Now, for a third piece of trivia,let me tell you a random fact about myself.” Kurogane gave a pleasant smile.

“Some years ago, I served as an assistant to the Hyūga Clan’s privatephysician, a role which caused me to spend a great deal of time at the Hyūgacompound, and to get to know its inhabitants. You could say I’ve watched LadyHinata grow up ever since she was a little girl. And embarrassing though it isto admit, the thought of her coming to any sort of harm, or being mistreatedin any way, causes me to feel very stressed indeed, to the point where myhands start to tremble in the middle of my work.”

Kurogane looked down at Naruto. “I hope you feel a stronger bond between usafter this little talk. I understand my bedside manner may be considered alittle… unconventional, but I’ve never had any complaints.”

Naruto could do nothing but nod.

“On an entirely unrelated note, I am pleased and - somewhat shocked - toinform you that you have been cleared to leave the hospital as early astomorrow. Congratulations on having the most powerful regenerative abilityI’ve ever seen outside a Bloodline Limit. Since you are inexplicably in a fitstate to resume ninja missions, your captain has, of course, already beeninformed.”

Kurogane inclined his head in farewell and walked out of the room beforeNaruto could recover the power of speech.

-o-

“Naruto, are you… OK?”

Naruto forced himself to nod. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Apparently, he was nowofficially one slip-up away from being erased by the ever-growing HinataProtection Squad, but he suspected that telling her this would be a bad move.

“Uncle Saburō didn’t have bad news, did he?” Hinata looked at him worriedly.

“No, no, not at all. Actually, he said I was free to go tomorrow.”

Hinata beamed. “Really? That’s wonderful!”

Then she frowned. “But… didn’t Sakura and Ino break most of the bones in yourbody? I saw one of the charts the nurses were carrying, with a list offractures, and they had three extra sheets attached with a paperclip. Ithought you’d be here for months.”

Naruto shrugged. “I heal fast. It’s a thing that happens sometimes with raretypes of chakra.” This was technically true. After noticing how incrediblyfast he healed, Naruto had done some research (involving sneaking into variouspublic libraries, and in one case a hospital, after closing hours). For awhile, he even thought he’d found his father - some guy named Yakushi who wason record as having incredible regenerative powers since childhood - but itturned out the dates didn’t match up. Naruto doubted he’d been fathered by aseven-year old. In the end, he’d found enough differences between his naturalhealing and how chakra-based regeneration normally worked to conclude that theNine-Brains must be habitually applying its inhuman powers of chakra controlto repair his body. This was not a fact he intended to share with Hinata oranyone else.

However, Hinata didn’t look convinced by the explanation, so Naruto quicklylooked for an excuse to change the subject. “Hey, I know! Since I’m gettingout of here tomorrow, how about I take you out for a meal tomorrow night tosay thanks for coming to visit me every day?”

Hinata froze. “Me? For a meal?”

“Yeah. I know this great ramen place, and they even give me a discount forbeing a regular. You’ll love it.”

“You mean… just the two of us? Going for dinner?” Hinata asked as if makingsure she hadn’t misheard.

“Well, yeah. I mean, we can invite some of the others along if you like, but Iwas thinking-”

“No!” Hinata interrupted with the urgency of a tranquiliser dart striking atiger in mid-pounce. “I mean… that’s OK. I’d like to… go for dinner with justyou.”

“Great. Now I believe we had a game of shogi to finish.”

Unfortunately, Hinata’s concentration was clearly flagging this late in theevening, as she visibly struggled to keep her mind on the game, and madeseveral obvious mistakes. Presumably this was also why, instead of opting fora rematch, she rushed off as soon as the game was over, pausing only to agreea time and place to meet the next day.

-o-

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, birds were singing, somewherein the distance an irate old man was yelling at some kids for using his gardenfence for shuriken practice, and even being intercepted by the rest of TeamSeven before he could go home and finally have a meal that wasn’t hospitalfood couldn’t dispel Naruto’s good mood.

“Hi, everyone. What are you guys doing here?”

“We’ve got good news for you, Naruto,” Kakashi-sensei announced. “After heheard you were cleared to get back to doing missions today, Sasuke managed towrangle a C-rank mission out of the Hokage to celebrate.”

“That’s not what happened!” Sasuke quickly interjected. “I was just gettingbored of D-rank missions, and I figured since Mummy Man here was getting hisbandages removed, we’d finally have the numbers to do something moreinteresting.”

“A C-rank?” Naruto’s eyes shone. “You mean something with a real challenge?And real pay?”

“Yep,” Kakashi nodded. “Drop by your house to pick up your gear, then meet usand the client at the main gate. We set off in an hour.”

“An hour?! What, don’t I get any time to recover?”

“I’m afraid not,” Kakashi told him. “This mission is time-sensitive. We do itnow, or we hand it over to another team and go back to D-rank work for awhile. But don’t worry - Kurogane-sensei said that, in his professionalopinion, your odds of mission survival are as good as the next man’s.”

Naruto fervently hoped that the next man hadn’t been one of the victims ofSpontaneous Chakra Combustion Disease. Still, he did feel pretty good,especially for someone who’d apparently done months’ worth of healing inlittle over a week. He ran home at top speed, revelling in his regainedmobility while simultaneously dispatching a shadow clone to find Hinata andinform her of the change in plans. It was no big deal, after all - they couldjust have dinner after he came back from the mission.

-o-

“So what’s the mission?” Naruto asked Kakashi, looking around the gate areabut seeing nothing except a pair of luckless Chūnin stuck on guard duty, afarmer wrestling with an apathetic donkey hitched to a cart, and a drunkenhomeless man with a ridiculous hat sitting in the shade of the gate - in otherwords, nothing that resembled a client.

“Escort and protection,” Kakashi replied. “We’re to escort the engineer Tazunaback to the Country of the Wave, and then stand guard against bandits and thelike while his team finishes building a bridge. Apparently, they’ve beenhaving a lot of trouble with banditry - I don’t even know when I last heard ofany traders coming out of Wave.”

“This’ll be your first time leaving the Fire Country,” he added, “but don’tworry. You shouldn’t expect to face anything beyond your abilities. A well-trained Genin is easily worth a dozen bandits.”

“So Naruto here must be worth at least two, then,” Sasuke commented.

“Might not matter,” Naruto struck back. “If it comes to a fight, I might endup fighting you instead of them. Bandits are all supposed to be butt-ugly,dressed in rags and stink like rotting fish, so how am I supposed to tell thedifference?”

His Wrath-of-Sakura sense suddenly tingling, he quickly looked for a way todivert her attention. “So, Kakashi-sensei, where is this Tazuna, anyway?”

The stratagem worked. “Oh, yeah,” Sakura asked, “where _is _he? Don’t tell mehe comes from the Hatake School of Punctuality.”

Kakashi pointed to the drunken homeless-looking man. “That would be him.Remember, he’s paying our fees, so treat him with respect.”

Tazuna staggered into an upright position, a gourd of saké in one hand. “What?You’re finally here? Great. So where’s your ninja team?”

Kakashi nodded his head respectfully. “This is it.” He pointed to each memberin turn. “Meet Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto. They are extremely capable ninjawith the finest combat training.”

Tazuna’s eyes widened. “Excuse me? This little bunch of runts is going to beall that stands between me and certain death? How about I cancel this missionright now and go take my business to Hidden Mist?”

In a flash, Sasuke was behind him, a kunai at his throat. “You would be wisenot to underestimate us, old man.”

Kakashi resisted the urge to facepalm. “Sasuke, don’t antagonise the client.Master Tazuna, please don’t make assumptions based on their age.”

Sasuke reluctantly withdrew the kunai and returned to the rest of the team.

Kakashi turned back to Tazuna. “Our Genin are as strong as those of any othervillage, and more than sufficient for your needs. I assure you that you won’tget any higher ranks of ninja for the fees you’re willing to pay.”

Tazuna seemed mollified. “All right. Guess I’ll just have to make the best ofit. Let’s go, runts.”

-o-

A good start, Naruto decided, would be to pump the client for information -and get all the mission info he’d missed out on straight from the horse’smouth.

“Hey, old man. What’s up with this bridge you’re building? Why would banditscare about some piddly little bridge?”

“You bite your tongue, runt!” Tazuna glared at him. “My bridge is going to bea miracle of engineering that revitalises the Wave economy in ways you can’timagine! It’ll be the end of… the bandits’ domination of our country’s traderoutes. It’ll single-handedly put the Country of the Wave back on the map!”

“What’s so awesome about Wave, then?” Naruto innocently asked.

“Hah!” Tazuna barked. “What’s so awesome about Wave, he says. In the old days,our fish went to the table of every nobleman on the continent. Your FireCountry nobles would pay a mint for top-quality saltwater fish - I guessliving in the middle of a forest all your life will do that to you. And therest! Pearls the size of your fist! And in your case, probably your brain,too!”

Naruto scowled at this, but did not interrupt.

“Rare wood the likes of which you can’t get anywhere on the mainland! And thelandscapes! We could’ve bought your little village ten times over with theannual income from the tourist industry alone!” Tazuna boasted.

“So what happened?”

Tazuna deflated all at once. “Bandits happened. They cut off all our shippingroutes to the mainland, demanded tribute, and drained Wave dry. Just gettingout of Wave to hire you people was a nightmare.”

He took a big swig from his gourd. “But once the bridge is complete, none ofthat will matter any more. We’ll show… those scum.”

Sakura and Sasuke - also assigned to stay close to the client while Kakashiscouted ahead - were now listening as well. Sasuke had drawn one of his kunai,and was playing with it idly as they walked.

“Why won’t it matter?” Sasuke asked. “What’s to stop the bandits from justseizing the bridge once we leave?”

“Me,” Tazuna announced. “I haven’t just been hiring the world’s mostoverpriced bodyguards. I’ve been securing preliminary deals with merchants andmercenaries left, right and centre. The second that bridge is up, the cargostarts moving - everything the bandits haven’t managed to steal has been savedup for that day. And the second the first payment gets in, we’ll be able tohire enough mercenaries to tide us over until Wave can afford to train andequip its own standing army. Once that’s done, no bastard’s ever going to takeover my home again!”

“Nice plan.” Sasuke, at the front of the party, flipped the kunai in mid-air afew times, then spun it high into the air over his head and turned towards theothers, his back to the road, to catch it. As it fell, he put his hands out infront of his chest, and quickly made the hand signals for “don’t react”,“ambush ahead” and “water” before grabbing it out of the air. He turned backaround as if nothing had happened.

“Show-off. Anyone can juggle kunai like that. Check this out,” Narutocommented, getting out his own kunai and starting to imitate Sasuke, trying tolook like a carefree Genin out on his first mission and oblivious to thepossibility of danger. At the same time, he scoped out the area. Kakashi-sensei was nowhere to be seen, having gone on ahead to scout. That limited thepossibilities to three: either he’d missed it, or he’d left it for themdeliberately, as combat practice or as a test, or it had been set up afterhe’d passed. So there was a good chance that they were dealing with an enemysmart enough to ignore the Jōnin and wait for the more vulnerable targets - orworse, an enemy sneaky enough to bypass him altogether.

OK, where was _the ambush? “Water”? There _were two puddles in the middle ofthe road up ahead, which was a little odd since the rest of the area so farhad been completely dry. Thanks to the lack of windows in his hospital room,he had no idea about recent weather, but he certainly couldn’t remember anyonewearing raincoats or carrying umbrellas when visiting him. Besides, hecouldn’t see anything else out of place, and he didn’t think Sasuke could bethat much more observant than him.

Glancing back, Sasuke observed that Sakura had also taken out her kunai, andwas attempting to spin it in her hand nonchalantly. The team was now armed andready. While Tazuna unsurprisingly had no idea what was going on, he seemed tohave got the general idea of behaving naturally while gradually moving behindSakura (who was in turn behind Naruto and Sasuke).

“I bet you can’t keep up with this, Naruto!” Sasuke announced, throwing twokunai up in the air while drawing a third. The kunai traced a high arc, beforecoming down onto the puddles, one in the middle of each.

Clang!

An armoured, clawed gauntlet suddenly shot up from each puddle, knocking thekunai away. Two ninja in sinister, ragged black outfits, with headbandsbearing a crossed-out Mist symbol, rose from the rippling surface of thewater. Their stance was low, leaning forward, ready to spring at the targetwhile exposing a minimal surface area to attack, and the strange, greyarmoured right arm of the ninja on the left was connected to the similar leftarm of the ninja on the right by a rapidly vibrating chain covered withblades. Their remaining hands each held kunai.

Naruto swallowed. It wasn’t just that the attackers were ninja rather thanmere bandits, or that the scratch marks across their headbands marked them asmissing-nin who had abandoned their villages out of disloyalty or fear ofpunishment for some terrible crime. It wasn’t even that their body languagesuggested extensive combat experience - more like Chūnin than Genin. It wasthe fact that the peculiar weapon they wielded spoke volumes about theirability. Whip and chain-type ninja tools, never mind vibrating, bladedones, were rare because they made it so easy to hurt oneself far more thanthe enemy. Only the most skilled fighters could wield them safely - andconversely, their rarity meant that there was very little training on how tocombat them.

Naruto had very little time to think. The flexible, extendable chain woulddouble for both attack and defence. It would be most effective against aflanked enemy, and conversely let them perfectly protect each other’s flanks.They would be skilled taijutsu users, so those kunai could comfortably protectthe outer sides of the formation. They’d aim for the neck, severing the headquickly and moving on to the next target while maintaining momentum - gettingthe chain stuck in the torso would leave them too vulnerable, and they’d wantto stay on the offensive because the chain made a cumbersome blocking tool iftheir enemies got a chance to counter.

His team was nowhere near equipped to fight these guys toe-to-toe. That meanthe only had one chance to get things right, and it would take flawless tacticscalculated to within a tiny fraction of a second.

Naruto charged the enemy ninja, waving his kunai wildly and screaming anincoherent battle cry.

They sprang into motion. They were as good as he’d expected - they must havebeen using some kind of chakra ability, because they were literally flyingforwards, their feet staying in the air as if they’d pushed off the groundharder than physically possible. With the chain stretched out, they leftNaruto and Sasuke with an impossible choice: take the attack head-on, likelyinstantly sealing their fates, or dive to the side, leaving a clear path toSakura and Tazuna.

Naruto took a third option: he slipped in mid-charge.

Sliding forwards, screaming helplessly, his body nearly horizontal and hisarms stretched out behind him, he watched the chain pass above him… andgrabbed onto the left ninja’s boot just as it sailed over his head.

The enemy was no fool, and as soon as he felt himself losing balance, he madea subtle movement with his armoured hand, and the chain disconnected itselffrom him so as not to pass the shift in momentum on to his partner. The otherninja immediately copied him and the now-useless chain fell away.

However, Sasuke had started moving as soon as Naruto began to fall. He ranpast the ninja on the right, taking advantage of the man’s suddenlyunprotected left flank, with a kunai in a reverse grip in his right hand. Withall the speed from both sides, a single slash was enough to open up the man’sabdomen.

Sasuke spun around as he passed his target, and smoothly thrust the bloodykunai at the neck of the other ninja as the man was about to spring up fromhis fall. He stopped it just short of piercing the skin, and the enemy frozein an acknowledgement of surrender.

However, as the right-hand ninja fell, he had the presence of mind for onelast kunai throw, going straight for Tazuna…

Only to be deflected by a kunai in Tazuna’s hand. There was a popping noise,and Tazuna vanished. Kakashi stood in his place, (probably) smiling.

“Good job, Team Seven. Secure the prisoner while I go get Tazuna from thebushes I Substituted him into. I think we need to have some serious words withour client.”

The whole battle had taken perhaps five seconds.

-o-

It was evening, and Takeda’s Wayside Inn was host to the most quarrelsomeparty it had ever seen. A pink-haired girl was accusing a blond boy of“victory by epic pratfall” and calling him the worst excuse for a ninja thathad ever lived. A black-haired boy was accusing a white-haired man of puttinglives in danger with ridiculous tests. The white-haired man was largelyignoring him and accusing a drunken old man of withholding vital informationand attempting to cheat the Hidden Village of Leaf. And no-one was sure whatthe tied and gagged black-haired man was accusing them all of, but his muffledimprecations were certainly very passionate.

Eventually, things simmered down.

“I’m sorry, Tazuna,” Kakashi announced, “but if this Gatō is wealthy enough tohire the Demon Brothers to assassinate you, and you think he has the budgetfor Jōnin as well, then that pushes this into a high B-rank mission, maybeeven an A. If you can’t pay, we can’t work.”

“You’re sending me to my death. You do know that?” Tazuna responded.

“I am well aware,” Kakashi replied. “I take no pleasure in it. But if we allowour village to be cheated even once, we’re threatening the very lifeblood onwhich its survival depends. You should consider yourself fortunate that we’renot even seeking retribution for the unnecessary danger in which you put myteam with your lies.”

“Damn straight,” Naruto added. “If you’d cheat us, I bet you’d cheat all thosepeople you promised trade concessions or whatever instead of money too.”

“Hey, you keep your damn mouth- wait a second!” Tazuna’s face lit up. “That’sit! I know I can’t pay you for this mission rank, but I am permitted tooffer preferential trading terms. Once this bridge is up, Wave is going tocompletely rock the international markets. You could make this mission’s costsback a thousandfold!”

Kakashi thought about this. “I’m not authorised to make that call. But I cansend a messenger back to the Hokage and get an official judgment. Write outyour initial offer, and I suggest you make it generous since you started outby dealing in bad faith.”

“Kakashi-sensei,” Sasuke called out, “how do we know we can trust them? Theycan easily promise us the Moon now, and then just back out of it once they’vegot their bridge and their wealth.”

“Actually, they can’t,” Kakashi explained. “They’re effectively going to be anew player on the international market. No-one will know them, at least intheir new incarnation. They’ll need to build their reputation from zero as atrustworthy partner in order to succeed. One word from an established playerlike Leaf accusing them of reneging on a deal, and they’ll find themselves apariah. No-one will want to risk dealing with them, and their economy willcrumble as surely as if Gatō was still in control.”

-o-

After Tazuna finished writing out a scroll of incomprehensible business-legalese, and Kakashi dispatched a small dog (apparently a highly-trainedninja summon beast) to carry it back to Leaf along with a request for pickupof the missing-nin prisoner, Naruto took the opportunity to go to Kakashi’sroom and ask a question that had been bugging him. A question he’d beenridiculously, unspeakably stupid not to ask straight away.

“Say, Kakashi-sensei, how come the Shadow Clone Technique is a forbiddentechnique, anyway?”

Kakashi put away his book and turned to face him. “Actually, it isn’t. Onlythe Multiple Shadow Clone Technique is forbidden. As for why… hmm, this’lltake a bit of explaining.”

Naruto nodded. “Please.”

“All right. Do you know how shadow clones are different to normal clones?”

Naruto feigned intense thought. “Normal clones pop when you touch them, whileshadow clones pop only when they take a solid hit. Normal clones only do whatyou… what’s the word… pro-gram them to do when you make them, while shadowclones think for themselves. And normal clones only take the chakra you put inthem when you use the technique, while shadow clones take an equal share ofall your chakra. Is that right?”

Kakashi (probably) smiled. “Very good. But there’s one more vital difference.When a shadow clone pops, what happens to its chakra?”

“I get it back.” Which was weird when you thought about it, for all sorts ofreasons, but definitely the case. “Or if I have more shadow clones, it getsshared out between all of us.”

“Exactly. I see you’ve really been paying attention.”

Naruto mentally kicked himself. He urgently needed to dumb down beforeKakashi-sensei got suspicious, but at the same time he needed to get hisanswers.

“So,” Kakashi continued, “the thing about shadow clones is that it’s not justchakra that gets sent back. It’s experience too. When one pops, you get someof its pain - as you’ve learned all too well - but also everything itexperienced during its existence. Its memories become your memories.”

Naruto tried to keep a neutral expression on his face. He’d already suspectedas much, but was unable to answer the two obvious questions it would imply:why didn’t everyone learn the shadow clone technique as soon as they could?And why didn’t ninja rule the entire known world?

The hard part would be to ask Kakashi-sensei this without further inflaminghis suspicions.

“You get its memories? You mean I could’ve had a clone sit in class at theAcademy and do all my learning for me while I went outside and had fun?”

Kakashi nodded. “The Shadow Clone Technique is supposed to be way above Geninlevel, so an Academy trainee wouldn’t know it, but in theory, yes.”

“So then I could’ve had bunch of clones taking all the different classes atonce, and graduate before everyone else? While never having to go to theAcademy at all?”

Kakashi looked at him closely. “That is where things get tricky. You know howsubjects you’re familiar with are much easier to study than new ones? Say, howyou’d find it a lot easier to read a book about shuriken than a book about thehistory of the Warring Clans period?”

“Yeah, I think so. Except I probably wouldn’t read any of those books anyway.I’d much rather learn by doing!” That was it. Just a few more openings likethat, and Naruto would soon make up for lost ground.

Kakashi didn’t comment on this. “The reason is that when you learn new things,your brain needs time and energy to process them. And the more unfamiliar thenew information, the more time and energy you need.”

Naruto nodded. This made sense.

“Now… what happens when you send one of your shadow clones to read a bookabout taijutsu, and another to read a book about medicine, and a dozen othersto read other books, and then dispel them?”

“Your brain will have to work really really hard to deal with all thatknowledge at once?”

“Yes. This is less of an issue in combat, because all your clones will behaving similar experiences, both to each other and to what you already know.It can also be all right in training, if every clone is doing the same sort ofthing. But unless you’re very careful, there are plenty of circumstances wherethe information overload from dispelling a lot of clones at once can knock youout, or even put you in a coma. That’s why ninja don’t just send their shadowclones to the library and become experts in everything at once.”

“Oh. So the Multiple Shadow Clone Technique is forbidden because… um…”

“Come on, Naruto, you’re nearly there,” Kakashi said in an encouraging voice.There was something profoundly unnatural about the idea of an adult expectingNaruto to work things out - even Iruka-sensei did his best to keep hisexpectations of Naruto’s intelligence “realistic” - and Naruto wasn’t sure howto deal with it.

“… because the more clones you have, the easier it is to push your brain toofar?”

“Exactly. Never forget this. If I’d known this sort of warning wasn’t in theoriginal scroll, I’d have told you much sooner,” Kakashi stated in a seriousvoice.

Naruto shivered. He’d narrowly escaped genuine disaster there.

“Does this mean I should never teach anyone the technique I know?”

“The short answer is ‘yes’,” Kakashi replied. “The long answer is that we haveplenty of time on this trip, so I can probably go through what you know andfigure out the differences between it and my own - normal - Shadow CloneTechnique. Once I do that, I can tell you which parts you can teach and whichparts you should keep to yourself. I can also tell you the common sense rulesfor teaching it. For example, you never teach a true clone technique to peoplewith certain psychological problems.”

“What do you mean?” Naruto had a sudden sense that he was treading onforbidden territory and should back away while it was still safe. But heneeded to know.

“Unlike normal clones, which are mindless constructs run by basic artificialintelligence - what we call clone AI for short - shadow clones have mindswhich are copies of your own mind. They want what you want. What happens ifyou want to hurt yourself?”

Naruto thought about this. “That’s… horrible.”

It belatedly occurred to him that the more believable response was probably“why would someone want to hurt themselves?”, but Kakashi-sensei didn’t seemto notice.

“It’s happened,” Kakashi went on. “Normally, by the time you learn the ShadowClone Technique, you’re a Jōnin, with the experience to know who can and can’tbe taught. You, Naruto, will have to show just as much discretion.”

Naruto swallowed. He’d wanted to teach it to Hinata to help her training, butnow…

“That’s enough of that for now,” Kakashi (probably) smiled. “You need to knowhow to mute the pain from damage to your shadow clones. The training has twosteps.”

“What are those?”

“Step 1: Learn a basic mental technique and practise it until you can do itreflexively.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad. Unless it’s one of those complicated techniqueswhere you have to visualise stuff,” Naruto commented. The majority of chakracontrol techniques they’d been taught in the Academy were visualisation-based,and they were generally agreed to be the hardest part of the curriculum.

“Now, for Step 2…” Kakashi paused. “Sakura, can you come in here?” he calledout loudly.

Sakura’s room was next door (with Naruto and Sasuke sharing the next one down,to their enormous displeasure), so she was quick to arrive.

“What’s up, Kakashi-sensei?”

“Sakura, I need you to help Naruto with his training.”

Sakura looked annoyed. “Do I have to? I just know he’s going to be a painabout it.”

Kakashi was unfazed. “Naruto is going to make perfect copies of himself, and Ineed you to destroy them as painfully as possible.”

“Kakashi-sensei, you’re the best teacher ever!” Sakura was suddenly almostgiddy with excitement.

“Uh, are you absolutely sure this is the only way?” Naruto quickly asked,turning from her to Kakashi, his voice about an octave above normal.

Naruto felt Sakura put her hand on his shoulder. He turned back around to seethat sweet, innocent look on her face which he’d come to dread above allothers.

“Don’t worry, Naruto… I’ll be gentle.”

-o-

When they set out the next morning, after receiving a strikingly prompt replyfrom Leaf (hand-delivered by a squad which also took away the surviving DemonBrother for interrogation), Naruto was approximately 70% more traumatised thanbefore, but on the plus side had taken to the training like a duck to wateronce he had “stop Sakura hurting me” as motivation. He was starting to wonderwhether the girl was destined for a future as an ANBU interrogator.

To take his mind off the Night From Hell, Naruto decided to continue quizzingTazuna, in particular in regard to the information he’d previously withheld.Apparently, a rich tycoon named Gatō was behind all the horrible thingshappening in Wave, and it was his mercenaries, not bandits, that had sealedthe shipping routes. Once this topic had been broached, the problem was not somuch getting information out of Tazuna, but of finding a way to interrupt thelaundry list of atrocities for which Gatō was apparently responsible.

Eventually, Naruto momentarily distracted Tazuna with a classic “hey, is thatan assassin over there?” move, and left a shadow clone to listen to his rantwhile he went off to harangue Sasuke. Tazuna wasn’t really clear on thedifferences between clones and originals, and accepted his new audiencewithout complaints.

-o-

“I swear, Naruto, if you keep going on about your manga, I’m going to takethis kunai and shove it right up-”

“Enough chatter, you two,” Kakashi snapped. “Stay alert. I don’t like thismist.”

He had a point. They were walking through a clearing next to a small lake, andwhile one minute the air had been perfectly clear, in the next a thick misthad suddenly settled over the area. Not long after Kakashi’s rebuke, it becameso thick the group could barely see each other.

It was easy to be paranoid in this sort of environment, and everyone had kunaiout within seconds.

“Get in formation,” Kakashi ordered. “These conditions are perfect for an am-”

Suddenly, there was an odd sort of choked gurgling noise from Tazuna’sdirection. Kakashi couldn’t see him, but the sound told him everything heneeded to know.

It was the sound of a thrown kunai piercing a throat.


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