Author's Notes: Hello there! For those of you who are long-time readers of my work, I imagine you got quite the surprise when you saw a brand-new story appear on my profile. Before you all start panicking about this impacting my work on my other two ongoing fics, please allow me a moment to explain myself.
First of all, I've actually been working on this story for almost a year now. I wanted to get several chapters done before I actually started posting. I've been working on it side by side with Destiny's Call and The Pirate's Soldier, and I've achieved a comfortable balance between the three stories. Three at a time I can do, no more than that, which is why from here on out I will not post any new stories until one of the current three that I am working on is complete. Given my penchant for very long stories, I'm sure my veteran readers can guess that it'll be quite some time before I reach that point!
When I fist started writing fanfic years ago, I had this balance that I wanted to achieve. It consisted of three different types of stories; sci-fi, sci-fi/fantasy hybrid, and fantasy. My Gundam Wing/Seed crossover series fits the bill for the first category, while The Pirate's Soldier fills the second slot. That just left fantasy itself, and with this new story I can finally have all three up and running.
Another quick note before we actually begin; this story will be treating the spirit energy of souls and Soul Reapers as distinct from the chakra wielded by ninjas. Yes, I am well aware that chakra in the Naruto-verse is composed of a blend of spiritual energy and physical energy. That still remains true, it's just that in this story the spirit energy wielded by those who exist as souls will have its own characteristic as opposed to the kind that composes chakra. This will be explored later on in the fic.
One last thing before we start; although it won't be apparent right away, this version of the Soul Society will differ from the one in the canon Bleach universe substantially when it comes to its history and lore. It may not seem like a big deal at this point, but later on in the story it will play a much more impactful role. So, for those who are canon purists, this is your warning; there will be changes big and small, and I doubt they'll be to your liking.
Traditional disclaimer; I don't own Bleach or Naruto. I'm writing this for the sake of fun, nothing more.
Eyes of the Soul
Chapter One: The Other Side
150 years before Rukia Kuchiki's arrival in Karakura Town
The first thing he felt was a gentle breeze on his face and a soothing carpet of cool grass beneath him. He could hear birds chirping nearby, along with the gentle murmur of a running river. The pain that had wracked his body before was completely gone, and the young man had to pinch himself to make sure that his senses weren't playing tricks on him. He cautiously opened his eyes and was forced to raise his arm to shield himself from the glare of the morning sun.
All of this was a far cry from what he last remembered. Prior to being claimed by darkness, he could vividly recall a decimated and ruined battlefield even though he had been damn-near blind in that final and brutal confrontation. It had not been grass beneath him then, but stone rubble; the blasted remains of the Uchiha Clan hideout. There had been no pleasant breeze or clear sky, but a torrential downpour combined with the searing heat from the hellfire that was Amaterasu.
Is this truly the great beyond?, thought the young man as his gaze adjusted to the light of the blazing orb in the blue sky, I assumed my final destination would be a sea of fire and vengeful wraiths…
The fact that his vision was now perfectly clear would seem to support the fact that he had passed over to the other side; his eyesight had been all but spent by the time his fateful clash with his younger brother had come. There was also a distinct lack of the aches in his chest from the disease that had previously ravaged his body, and he didn't feel like he was about to start coughing up blood anytime soon. Patting himself down, he didn't feel any of the wounds that he had sustained in the fight either, which seemed to support his belief that he had left the mortal coil behind.
Looking around, he found himself standing in what looked like a small clearing. Just like his ears had suggested earlier, there was a river nearby. His throat suddenly felt dry, so the young man went over to it and scooped up some water.
Studying his reflection on the surface of the river, Itachi Uchiha appeared no worse for the wear. His raven hair, tied back in a low ponytail, was perfectly in order, and there were no blemishes or wounds upon his fair skin. Onyx eyes peered back at him from the surface of the water, and he could perceive them in great detail. The black and red Akatsuki jacket he had worn over the past several years was gone, as was the slashed Hidden Leaf Village shinobi headband, but the grey-blue shirt and pants that had been under the aforementioned coat looked quite clean. His sandals appeared good as new too, and to top it off he still had his chain and circlet necklace as well.
"Am I truly dead?" he murmured as he looked around, "This is not quite what I imagined Hell would look like…"
Out of curiosity, his gaze returned to the river as he tried to call upon the unique ocular jutsu that was the hallmark of the Uchiha Clan; the Sharingan. However, the eyes of his reflection on the water remained onyx; there were no crimson orbs or black tomoe orbiting the pupil. He did not feel the surge of power and heightened perception that typically accompanied activating the Sharingan, either. Even with his eyesight as deteriorated as it had become over the years through extensive use of the ocular jutsu's more advanced form, the Mangekyou Sharingan, he had always felt an increase in strength and a sense of precognition each time he had activated the Kekkei Genkai. There was none of that here now, though. His sight was clear, but his Sharingan would not appear.
Looks like you don't take it with you when you die, he mused, I wonder if it might be better this way…
While the Sharingan had been the key to the great power of the Uchiha Clan, Itachi had often wondered in life whether or not that strength was a double-edged sword. When used justly, it granted the wielder the power to defend their friends, family, and village. It was an invaluable asset to those who would use it in the name of peace and justice, but far too often its great gifts had led to arrogance. Too many members of the Uchiha Clan had become wrapped up in pride in their abilities, and that wasn't even getting into the infamous Curse of Hatred that came with the ocular jutsu. Itachi had managed to stay rooted in his beliefs and his mission, thus resisting the all-too-often tragic slide into vengeance and fury that those of the Uchiha bloodline found themselves in, but he had never been blind to the possibility that he might go down that dark path. Even if he had resisted the Curse of Hatred, he knew better than to think that that absolved him of the great crimes that he had committed with the power of the Sharingan.
Far too many had died because of him. If there had been any comfort at the end of his life, it was only the knowledge that with his death his younger brother would have the chance to start anew. Sasuke Uchiha could return to the Village Hidden in the Leaves as a hero for killing the man who had murdered nearly the entire Uchiha Clan, thus saving their family name from complete disgrace. Itachi could also take solace in the fact that he had purged the curse mark of Orochimaru from Sasuke's body, thus freeing his younger brother from the sick grip that the fallen Sanin had had upon him. As a bonus, Itachi was sure that following the battle Sasuke would awaken his own Mangekyou Sharingan, and that would provide him with a powerful new means to defend himself in the future.
Even with that in mind, though, could Itachi truly rest easy? He was all too aware of the hatred that had built up in Sasuke over the years, and Itachi had done his little brother no favors in that regard. Now that Itachi had fallen, would Sasuke's thirst for vengeance truly be satisfied, or would it seek out a new target? There was the very real chance that the Curse of Hatred could consume Sasuke, and that would make everything Itachi had done up until that fateful duel at the Uchiha Clan hideout utterly meaningless.
If Sasuke succumbed to the Curse, would there be any hope of saving him?
An image of a blond boy flashed through Itachi's mind. He was Sasuke's age, and so full of fire, determination… and hope.
And he was where Itachi would place his hope.
A very small smile appeared on Itachi's face. It had been so long since he had shown anyone the slightest measure of trust, but his gut feeling was that his faith in the keeper of the Nine Tails Fox would not be misplaced.
Should the worst come to pass…
…I shall leave Sasuke's fate in your hands, Naruto.
Dusting himself off, Itachi took another look around, studying his new environment. Apart from the clearing and the river he was surrounded mostly by trees, but there appeared to be the outskirts of some kind of settlement not too far downstream.
Well, I suppose there's nowhere better for me to start. It's time to get moving.
The life that Itachi Uchiha, notorious rogue ninja and Akatsuki member but in actuality a loyal shinobi of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, had been born into had come to an end.
It was time for him to begin his afterlife.
Two weeks later…
"Thank you," said Itachi as he accepted a handful of coins from the elderly shopkeeper.
The old man smiled. "You're quite welcome. I haven't had an errand runner as efficient as you in a long time. It's nice to have some quality help around here, and you certainly earn your keep."
When he'd first stumbled into the settlement he had noticed two weeks ago, Itachi had been stunned to realized that what he had seen was just the edge of a truly gargantuan city the likes of which he had never seen before. The clearing that he had woken up in was actually just one of the small stretches of wilderness that were allowed to grow between districts of what was otherwise a monumental urban sprawl. He had wandered through the city aimlessly for two days as he'd struggled to get his bearings, having to assemble bits and pieces of knowledge from overheard gossip and a few questions to passersby.
He would truly have been lost forever were it not for a lucky break. On his second night in the city, as he'd been searching for somewhere to sleep for the night he'd wound up outside a general store. There had been a commotion coming from inside it, and upon investigation Itachi had discovered a handful of thugs attempting to rob the place after roughing up the proprietor. Recognizing a golden opportunity to make an impression and gain a potential source of information regarding this strange afterlife, Itachi had attacked the would-be robbers and brought them down in a matter of seconds. In doing so he had learned several valuable lessons; his skills in taijutsu remained as sharp as ever, he was still quite capable of sneaking up on a target, and he was no longer capable of calling upon the genjutsu and ninjutsu powers that he had employed while he was alive. That didn't mean he was completely powerless, though; he could sense some form of new energy within him, similar to chakra but at the same time distinctly different, but he lacked the knowledge necessary to fully understand it.
After Itachi had sent the punks packing and seen to the proprietor's bumps and bruises, the old man had offered him a place to stay for the night. Itachi had gratefully accepted the offer, and it was a most fortuitous one as well; he had felt himself growing hungry as he had wandered the city, which had struck him as very strange since this was supposed to be the afterlife and it did not make sense for him to still require food. The proprietor had fed him while at the same time offering Itachi some valuable information regarding his new condition.
The first order of business had been to find out just where he had wound up, and the proprietor had happily provided that information; he was in the Rukon District, sometimes referred to as the Wandering Soul City. To narrow things down, Itachi learned that he was currently in Western Rukon, District 37. The Rukon District was divided into four main districts, North, South, East, and West, and each of those four districts were then broken down into 80 smaller divisions, making for 320 in total. Itachi had gotten lucky; according to the proprietor, standards of living declined the higher the District's number was, with the descent into poverty especially noticeable beyond District 50.
The former Shinobi also learned that he was actually in the minority as far as his need for food was concerned. It was true that all souls in what the proprietor told him was the known as the Soul Society could partake in meals and indeed enjoyed them, but it was only those with active spirit energy that could truly experience hunger. The revelation that Itachi had that spirit energy had been quickly followed by an alarming incident; the old man had suddenly keeled over halfway through his explanation. Itachi had moved forward to help, but the proprietor had held out a hand to keep him back. The cause of the old man's collapse had been the pressure exerted by the spirit energy leaking out of Itachi, and moving closer would only make things worse. After a moment, the proprietor had managed to right himself, and while he tried to make light of the incident Itachi still felt terrible about it and had made to leave. The old man had stopped him though, claiming that he would only need a little bit of time to adjust to what he called Itachi's spiritual pressure, although Itachi could detect a hint of doubt in the proprietor's voice. Still, the old man had insisted on letting Itachi remain at least for the night as a means of repaying him for throwing out the punks, so Itachi had politely accepted the offer with the full intention of leaving as soon as dawn broke.
As it turned out, though, the old man had risen before Itachi, and had asked him to move some goods to a customer since his usual daily labor was running late. Not having anything better to do and realizing that this would be a good chance to learn how to properly navigate the Rukon District, Itachi performed the errand as requested. He had not been expecting payment, which had made it all the more surprising when the old man had given him a handful of coins upon his return. Not only that, but the old man had offered him a job right there on the spot; apparently Itachi's delivery time had beaten those of the regular helpers by a considerable margin even though Itachi had literally just arrived in the Soul Society and was still trying to get his bearings. Figuring that it would be good to have at least a temporary source of income while he tried to acclimate to his new environment, Itachi accepted the job. He continued to live at the old man's shop while running errands for him, but he did his best to keep some measure of distance between him and his new employer in order to avoid causing the proprietor to collapse again. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done; the radius affected by Itachi's spiritual pressure seemed to fluctuate randomly, and it got even worse when he tried to sleep.
Of course, the violent nightmares he had whenever he attempted to get some shuteye probably weren't helping matters.
Over the course of his errands for the shopkeeper it was inevitable that his gaze would soon fall upon what appeared to be a fortified region that seemed to be at the very heart of this vast city. Upon inquiry, the proprietor had told him what it was; the Seireitei, or the Court of Pure Souls. It was the heart of the Soul Society, the capital city of the afterlife, home to both its rulers and its guardians, the Soul Reapers. The shopkeeper had never been inside personally, but he had a few acquaintances who were allowed entry, and from the tales they had relayed to him Itachi gained a glimpse at what he realized was a startling gap in security and comfort between the Seireitei and the Rukon District. Clearly the afterlife was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and while Itachi had further questions it soon became apparent that the proprietor would not be able to give him satisfactory answers. Itachi resolved to learn more at a later date, but for now he would focus on his current duties as an errand runner while settling in to his 'life' in the great beyond.
"Something on your mind, lad?" asked the shopkeeper.
Itachi shook his head. "It's nothing important. Are there any more packages that require delivery today?"
"Just one," the proprietor replied as he pointed to a sack of rice, "Do you mind hauling that over to the bar down by the river? I know it's close to sundown, but I promised the establishment's owner that we'd have this load delivered before the day was out."
"I'll handle it," said Itachi as he grabbed the bag and effortlessly hefted it over his shoulder.
The old man smiled. "Thank you, Itachi. I know I've said this before, but you're a good sort. I bet your parents were mighty proud of you back when you were still alive.
Itachi averted his gaze; family was not a matter he liked to discuss, and if the proprietor knew just what he had done in his past life he would understand that quite well. "I'd best get moving. I'll likely be back late, so don't wait up for me. I can grab something to eat on the way back, so don't worry about me when you make dinner."
The shopkeeper nodded. "All right, then. Take care of yourself, Itachi. West Rukon District 37 is a fair place, but as you know it can still get a little rough after dark. Don't do anything foolish."
Itachi nodded as he set out. "I'll be careful."
His journey to the bar was for the most part uneventful. Itachi always made an effort to put some distance between himself and other people just in case his spirit energy started flaring up again. He wished that there was a way for him to properly control it, but since he was still trying to work out the differences between it and chakra he still had a long way to go before he could prevent his spiritual pressure from posing a hazard to the people around him.
The old man mentioned before that Soul Reapers learn to control their spiritual pressure, he mused, I wonder what sort of exercises are required in order to achieve that…
He was getting close to his objective when the instincts that had been finely honed over years of experience as a shinobi told him that he was being followed. Surreptitiously looking around as he continued his journey, he caught a glimpse of a cloaked figure before they disappeared behind a building. About a block later he managed to catch another glimpse of the same figure, and a little further down the road he had his third spotting. That was far too many times to be mere coincidence; he was definitely being tailed. What's more, the third time he actually felt a faint pulse of spiritual pressure come from his pursuer.
Was it one of the punks from two weeks ago out for payback? That was the first possibility that came to mind, but after a moment Itachi discarded it. None of the thugs from the robbery attempt at the shop had exerted any kind of spiritual pressure that Itachi could perceive during their brief skirmish. A couple blocks later he felt another pulse from his pursuer. It didn't feel like a deliberate probe, and Itachi guessed that whoever was following him did not have complete control over their spiritual pressure.
So we're on even ground as far as that's concerned, he thought, I should still be cautious…
He completed his delivery a few minutes later, but rather than head back to the shop for the night he went behind the bar towards the river. Itachi had no intention of involving the proprietor with his pursuer; he would deal with whoever was following him on his own.
Putting his back to the river, his eyes narrowed as he braced himself for a confrontation. "I know you're there. What business do you have with me?"
The cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows, and Itachi heard a shockingly familiar voice reply with a chuckle. "Well, that depends…"
It cannot be, thought Itachi, stunned as the figure lowered their cloak, The odds of us meeting in an environment as vast as the Rukon District are less than a billion to one…
Probability could be damned here, though. Itachi knew that there was no mistaking who he was faced with. The tall and toned figure, waist-length spiky white hair tied in a ponytail, fair skin and red lines descending from his dark eyes were unmistakable. He was lacking the red haori from their last encounter, but he still wore the same green short shirt kimono and matching pants from before, along with a pair of wooden sandals. There was a humorous light in his eyes, but Itachi knew that it could become quite menacing should the occasion call for it, and given the circumstances under which they had last met it would not surprise him if that happened here.
Jiraiya, one of the Legendary Sannin of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, gave him a piercing glare. "On whether or not you harmed my apprentice before you died, Itachi Uchiha."
Author's Notes: And with that, the story is officially under way! I won't be doing my typical 'Preview for next time' segments with this story; I felt like changing up my formula a bit and want to keep my audience guessing a little more with this fic. Also, a quick word on Itachi's Sharingan, or lack thereof; it's not actually gone. It's only dormant, although it'll be some time before he'll be able to actually awaken it. So don't panic, he'll be showing off those awesome Uchiha eyes eventually.
Since I've actually got several chapters already done, I'll be releasing them over a spread-out period. This'll also give me more time to work on the current one that I'm trying to complete. Chapter Two will follow this one shortly, but after that I'll be spacing out releases more.
Hope you've enjoyed this taste of the adventure to come! Please review!