A Drop of Poison
Chapter One: Beginnings of a Prank
Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto. Ramen belongs to Naruto. Enough said.
Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the nod I'm giving to another great ninja story.
"Absolutely not! Why would stealing something forbidden even give you any opportunity to become a ninja? Personally, it'd be thankful the Hokage didn't arrest you like he should have!"
"And I don't see why the words of a traitor would have any impact on my decision. Actually, the fact that it came from him just proves that it shouldn't be used to help you pass."
Kazuhi was one of the academy instructors Naruto liked the least. He'd been teaching since the boy entered the academy years ago, and kept punishing him whenever anything went wrong in a class, whether or not it had anything to do with him. Luckily the man only taught shinobi history, and not important things like ninjutsu or taijutsu. Nevertheless, he'd always been a thorn in Naruto's side.
The time he'd made the teacher fall through his chair was a good memory, though.
"Even counting the fact that this jutsu of yours would pass you the ninjutsu portion of the exam, you barely passed your accuracy, failed your taijutsu, and that's not talking about your abysmal score in both the history and math examinations. Even that wouldn't bring your score to the lowest passing grade."
"No, and that's final! Whatever that traitor said is of no import. Uzumaki-san, I will see in two weeks at the beginning of the next term. Good day." The man gave him a smile Naruto could only define as pleased, and shut the door to the teacher's lounge in front of his face.
Dejected, Naruto shambled back to his apartment with slow steps. The downtime between academy years had always been the worst time for him, as he didn't even have school to do. He had no pranks planned either, so no clue how he'd survive the incoming boredom of the following weeks.
Re-entering his home, Naruto found that his clones were still present and, in some cases, still eating ramen. They didn't seem affected by the fact he'd have to retake the whole academy year for the fourth time. Then again, he realized, they probably didn't even know about it yet.
Naruto woke the few clones that were sleeping and, with all of them around him listening, he explained his situation. The reactions he got were varied: A few wanted to prank that Kazuhi hard, and some even had good suggestions about how to go about it (Though Naruto didn't think he'd be able to get his hands on that many eggs), one argued about going to the Hokage with what Mizuki told him, but Naruto had to admit that would probably go as well as the first time he did so, and he'd be back in the academy nonetheless.
The others were as depressed as him by the news, and the whole council degenerated into a large shouting match. Luckily Naruto's immediate neighbours had long vacated the place, else he'd have gotten a visit by his landlord.
All that stopped when a girl stepped through the windows. She was blond, thin and a little taller than Naruto. She was holding down two shopping bags full of ramen in one hand, and using the other to pull herself inside.
"Hey guys, you can believe what I just found out," was the first thing she said upon coming in.
"Who the hell are you?" was the general answer by the mass of copies, including the original Naruto.
She looked down at herself and, realizing something, did a single hand seal, releasing her henge and turning into another clone of Naruto.
So clones can use techniques... That meant... Naruto just had a horribly interesting way to duplicate the power of his own created technique, one which would be sure to knock even the Sandaime in the hospital.
Looking around, Naruto realized that by the faces his clones were making, the same idea had occurred to them. They all turned towards him.
"Harem no Jutsu," they all said in the exact same moment.
He nodded along with the clones. They now had another new technique, one even more powerful than his other original one.
Before he could start laughing at the face Iruka or the Hokage would do, the clone who had just returned interrupted them again.
"No, something else! You know how shopkeepers would kick us out all the time, sell us only old stuff, or overcharge us horribly?"
All the other Narutos nodded. They now knew why, but they had dealt with that for a long time.
"Well, using henge, we can bypass that. I just came from the store in front of the flower shop, you know, the one with the spitting old man."
They all nodded once more. Once that geezer had known that Naruto liked ramen, he'd taken it off the floor, removing the possibility of Naruto having any. He couldn't stop trying to spit on him, either.
"Well I went there like this..." He turned back into his former female form with a single seal. "And the man couldn't help but being friendly. He even gave me a discount!"
Naruto (and about half of the clones) hit themselves in the head at the thought. They'd known that technique for years, and never tried applying it in that particular set of circumstances. Thinking how much more ramen he could have had if he'd...
Another of the clones, though, shot up from his chair. "We can use that!"
All the clones looked at him bizarrely.
"No, I mean, at the academy. You know how some teachers use any excuse to kick us out of the class, or tie us in a corner..." All nodded. "Well, we could get one or two clones in the academy, under henge, pretending to be other students! So whenever Naruto gets kicked out, the others will still be there, and we might finally be able to ace those tests and graduate!"
Naruto agreed that it might work. Even better yet, it was like a prank! He'd be pulling a fast one in front of everyone, especially those stuffy academy teachers!
"Even better about that : If any of the clones pass the test while the original doesn't, we can just go to the Hokage with the fact that the clones under henge are the same person as Naruto, and use that as an argument that we should pass. I'm sure the Hokage won't say no as long as we can prove that we did pass those exams!"
Naruto looked around to see that all the clones were discussing either the possibilities of this prank, or how to make it work. Thinking about it, there wasn't any reason not to try it. "So, everyone's in agreement it seems." All nodded. "So now let's get to the planning of that prank."
"First point to decide on is number," the clone under henge started. "How many clones are we gonna insert in the academy?"
The rest nodded along. The transformed copy continued. "Personally, I'd suggest making the two as different as possible to avoid both getting caught at the same time."
"Only problem is..." The original Naruto interjected. "Keeping them from bursting. Any good hit could blow the whole thing up, and let's not talk about running out of chakra. I know I made you all yesterday, and you've lasted till now, but in a school where we'll be supposed to try techniques dozens of times, I can't say if you'll just disappear when using one."
"I might have an idea about that," replied three different clones simultaneously. They dug in the pile of scrolls behind them, and came out with a specific one. "Chakra draining technique."
"Why would that be banned?"
The clone holding the scroll opened it, and read a single passage. "For those not of the Akado bloodline, overusing this technique has been known to cause damage to the chakra coils, weakening them over time to the point of useless. Even sporadic usage of this technique will cause irreparable damage over a few months of time."
"So why should we be using it?" Naruto asked.
"You shouldn't..." The clone replied to the original. "But we clones should. With that, as long as we have a source of chakra, we would technically last forever. At worst we'd be able to drain some chakra from you to last longer."
Naruto nodded. He'd known for quite a while that he'd never have any problem with chakra in terms of amount, especially after the massive clone spree of yesterday, which didn't even leave him tired. The scroll he'd written about that particular technique said that even a single clone took enormous amount of chakra, so a hundred times that meant he'd probably never have any problem concerning too little chakra.
The scroll quickly got passed around, and Naruto realized that even training in that technique might be dangerous for him. He thought about grabbing another one for an instant, but noticed that there were already enough Narutos training in his admittedly-small apartment.
Time to test how much a henge could change things, then.
The answer to that question, Naruto found, was everything.
Naruto was used to receiving very specifics types of looks from the populace. There were looks of rage and hate, which were especially preeminent in his various neighbours. There were looks of fear, which Naruto saw less and less as time went on. Finally, there were looks of disgust, and those only increased with time.
And now, there were looks of pride.
He was currently under a henge, looking like a brown-haired and male version of a girl Naruto had gone to class with in his first year at the academy. She hadn't been anything special, hadn't passed her exams or returned the following year, but Naruto always remembered her as one of the rare girls who laughed at the various pranks he did in class. He remembered her well enough to use her as a template for his transformation.
And that transformation, as said before, changed everything.
People were waving as Naruto passed by, some looking down at him with looks of recognition towards a future Konoha shinobi. Coming inside a weapon store that was well known never to accept his presence, Naruto saw with surprise the shopkeeper smiling and beckoning him in, extolling the various specials he had. Using the purse he'd reclaimed from his clone, he even bought a full new set of kunai, the ones on sale of an obviously better quality than those he'd bought (for a premium, he now realized) in one of the rare used merchandise stores that acknowledged his presence.
Now back outside, he realized out much his clone must have been surprised to see the difference in atmosphere. The Konoha Naruto used to know, one that was at times oppressive and hateful, now seemed to welcome him with open arms.
Seeing his favorite ramen stand up ahead, he wondered how Ayame and her father saw Konoha. Being civilians, they would probably have a very different view of the village, one that Naruto had no clue about. For a second, seeing two of the people he respected the most in the city, he wondered what life would have been if he had been a simple civilian. He wondered how they managed to live their lives.
Wait a minute...
Who said he couldn't find out! If he was planning to infiltrate an academy full of apprentice shinobi with chūnin teachers, surely he could manage to do the same in a school where there were no ninjas around! It was just an extra two clones, nothing that could tire him overmuch, and there were plenty of things he could learn that civilians did! There were blacksmiths and tailors and cooks...
The many possibilities were colliding in his head when it was assaulted by a dozen memories. He suddenly remembered going shopping during the night, and finding out the effect of a simple henge one the populace, and training to draw chakra into oneself, and…
Naruto shook his head, returning to the present. Seemed like the first of his clones and finally burst. Somewhere around eighteen to twenty hours, not bad for a first try. Especially since that was the clone that used techniques during the past day.
Turning back towards his apartment, he was quickly assaulted by more thoughts from his bursting clones. By the time he had entered his kitchen he could now remember being on all sides of the discussion earlier and writing down hundreds of techniques during the night. He barely remembered the individual techniques, as those memories merged into one another seamlessly, but bits and pieces were coming back to him one by one.
His apartment was now empty of clones, so he created another dozen to continue training. He himself however turned towards his bed. He hadn't slept at all during the past night and, while he wasn't especially tired, he was expecting another late night training in the following evening.
It was a clone bursting that brought him back to wakefulness. The memories it previously had interfered and merged with the dream he was having, and that alone brought his consciousness back up. As he stretched another one of his clones vanished, and Naruto could guess the rest wouldn't last much longer.
A look at his alarm clock proved what his clones' memories told him: He had barely slept five hours. Nevertheless he felt quite rested and ready to tackle this night's training.
By the time he'd finished his triple order of ramen, he was the only Naruto left in existence in his apartment. The latest memories confirmed that his clones hadn't managed to get the technique right just yet. Some had thought they had the right way, and others believed they'd managed to succeed for a second, but none could say that they'd really managed to do it right.
Jumping out of his window, Naruto angled his descent to bounce from rooftop to rooftop, trusting his feet to lead him instinctively where he planned on training. His thoughts, however, were on other things.
What he really wondered was how many clones he could manage in a single try. He'd known that he could create more than a hundred, his battle against Mizuki being proof of that, but that was after a hard day's training without stopping to eat or rest. The only other times he'd used the technique, he'd limited himself to a few clones as the situation restricted him.
Now, though, he was well-rested and as fully fed as he could get. Since he would be in the same training spot he'd used to master the kage bunshin, he could fill the area to his heart's content and not bother anyone.
Barely a dozen minutes later, he was back where he'd first opened the scroll yesterday. The actual spot was easy to find, especially with the burnt circle of grass he'd left behind. The result of one of his most spectacular failures, he'd somehow put himself on fire trying to channel chakra. He'd now forgotten how he'd actually managed to accomplish such an event.
Well, it's not like he'd be training about being on fire anyway.
Standing in the middle of that circle, he focused his energies the needed way for the kage bushins to appear. He drew upon his chakra on and on, until he was scrapping the very bottom of reserves.
At the exact instant he'd reached the end of his forces, his hands moved together in a flash, creating the needed seal to call out the technique.
"Kage Bunshin No Jutsu!"
For a second, it was like someone had whacked the camera of reality, as the world shimmered before his eyes.
Then it turned orange.
Naruto couldn't say how many kage bunshins he'd created. Turning around, going up to the farthest he could see and probably even beyond that, there was a copy of his traditional suit moving around. Clones were hanging from trees like giants leaves, and one even emerged from a pit in the ground.
He was tired, true, but that was way beyond what he'd achieved against Mizuki. Naruto hadn't actually seen that much people in one place! Ever!
Sitting down to recover his breath, he yelled at the awaiting army. "Well, you people know what to do! There's ramen at Ichiraku for the first one who gets it right!"
A great chorus of "Ramen!" answered him, as clones split up to train. Some went to other clones, some to trees and some even caught small animals to practice on, but all spread and started on the steps to master the technique.
Naruto was poked awake some amount of time later. Judging by the sky, it was still night, so it could be between fifteen minutes to a few hours since he'd fallen asleep.
His nap was a reward for his success with the Kage Bunshin. It was either that or selecting another technique and trying to learn it, and Naruto didn't believe he could easily find a spot to train without having to displace a shadow clone.
He quickly realized his clones were still going at it, and he wondered why one had bothered to wake him. He valued his sleep and his clones knew that, so he expected not to be forced to rise for nothing.
The clone who'd poked him was standing right beside him, waiting. Naruto caught the difference between him and his other clones instantly. This copy had a dozen extra kunai hanging from the front of his jacket, and two shuriken more than half Naruto's height strapped to his back. Those shuriken were very familiar, Naruto noticed. Then he saw the dried blood on one of them.
Oh yeah! Mizuki had nailed Iruka with one of those. Looking around, he remembered it wasn't very far from here that the confrontation had occurred, and that Mizuki hadn't been in any state to gather the weapons he'd thrown.
"Remembered about those?" the clone answered. "I found them while looking around for a place to train. And that wasn't all."
Opening one of his front pocket, he withdrew two other small shuriken, some length of ninja wire, and a single explosive tag.
The tag was what surprised Naruto.
"An explosive tag? When? How did you..."
"Seemed the tag must have been there for a long while, since it's no longer primed to explode. At first I kept my distance and poked it with a stick, then when I got no reaction I stripped the layer of bark it was on. No reaction either. Even taking it off with my fingers didn't make it explode, so I felt safe bringing it here."
"Does it work ?"
"Go ahead and find out." The clone handed Naruto the tag.
Naruto wasted no time. Explosive tags were something he knew how to use very well. They'd been covered every year he was at the academy, and Naruto had made a point of always attending and staying awake during that lesson. The opportunity to blow something up was well worth listening to that class each time.
In less than a second, Naruto had twirled the tag around one of his kunai, primed the tag for explosion in five seconds, and thrown the weapon at a rock standing a dozen meters away.
The explosion wasn't totally unexpected, but still surprised Naruto. The implications of that were enormous.
Because of the reactions of the general populace towards him, Naruto was well used to working with substandard equipment or no equipment at all. The fact that simply looking around could get him some, even things like giant shuriken that already weren't easily accessible to anybody, made a big difference. Especially considering explosive tags, those being costly and difficult to have in large quantities by academy students.
"Good work," Naruto said to his armed doppelganger, slapping him lightly on the shoulder for good measure. "You just won yourself some Ichiraku Ramen tomorrow."
The clone bounced away, promising to continue searching, when a burst of memories took all Narutos. It wasn't, as he'd hoped, the knowledge of how to perform the technique, but was something nearly as good.
A clone had just been drained to dispersion by another one.
It took barely a few moments before said clone bounced in the clearing were Naruto had been sleeping. The smile on his face was infectious, and the various exclamations of success were quickly spreading through the forest.
The successful clone stopped directly in front of Naruto, with a dozen extra following. "Did it, Boss."
The clone did three seals in quick succession, and laid his hand on Naruto's shoulder.
Instantly, Naruto felt how the technique worked. He remembered it from the memories of his now-vanished clone, but these feelings were different. It was like a vacuum sucking sand from all over the inside of his body. It was a bizarre sensation.
Naruto pushed the clone's hand away from his shoulder, smiling all the while. Regardless of how it felt to be on the receiving end, it was evident he now had a new technique under his belt. Even if that was one only his clones could use.
"Good work you too. You're the one who gets ramen tomorrow." The clone jumped of joy.
"You know what to do, right?"
"Right." With a familiar hand seal, the clone created another clone right beside him.
"Go on," the first clone said to the second.
Taking a big swing, the second clone landed a fast punch square between his two eyes, dispersing himself.
Instantly, Naruto and all of him copies knew what the clone had, meaning the workings of the Jutsu they'd been slaving on. They also remembered the exact feeling of drawing chakra from something. It was very different from being on the receiving end, more like hundreds of small electric shocks, only feeling good.
All the clones bounced back to wherever that had been training, while Naruto cornered the armed clone again.
After a few words and a little draining of chakra, a clone of the armed copy was standing before the original.
"Okay." Naruto had something to try. He needed to pass an order to all his clones, and this was the only way he'd reach them all before the end of the night."I'm gonna use you to pass along an order, ok?" The clone nodded.
"Okay..." Naruto took a deep breath. "All clones are to go around any empty places found and try to gather anything that's been left behind. Don't take any junk, but bring back anything that might be useful. Done."
Hearing that, the clone smashed his head on a nearby rock, dispersing himself instantly.
There was a great cry of "Roger!" and the various copies hanging around started moving and looking around.
Naruto himself left them to their job, and started the trek towards his apartment. In between the drainings, his interrupted nap and the Kage Bunshins, he'd needed ramen and sleep, both in large quantities. He'd see what his clones could find tomorrow.
As Naruto stretched upon waking up, he realized he had received during the night dozens of memories from bursting clones. He wondered why that hadn't interrupted his sleep this time, but filed that question as unimportant.
More than a hundred copies of himself had perished during the night. Explosive tags were the undisputed kings of shadow clone elimination, though the various traps in training area thirty-two had taken more than forty by themselves. Some of the deaths were humorous, like the one who'd fallen prey to something akin to a giant hamster in training area fifteen, or the one which, by kicking a tree in frustration, managed to make a falling branch impale him.
Dressing up quickly, he was surprised upon entering his apartment. He knew what the fallen clones had found, and they'd found much, but that was nothing compared to what his clones had stacked inside his apartment.
Three bunshins were actually still sorting through a pile of random stuff, a pile that clones (under various henges) coming and going were adding to haphazardly. Four others were drawing on something Naruto realized was his spare bed sheet. They had already drawn what Naruto noticed being the only complete map he'd ever seen of Konoha. Two clones were actually arguing on the relative size of a training ground, only to be corrected by a clone passing by to drop what looked to be two dozen mixed shuriken and kunai.
Said shuriken and kunai were quickly collected, checked and put away in specific boxes. Some, which Naruto suspected were either too damaged, too rusted or too blunt, were neglectfully tossed into a large crate that had replaced his kitchen table.
Naruto turned towards one of the few clones that wasn't busy and was, unsurprisingly, eating ramen.
"And how many clones are still out there?"
"Don't know, somewhere over a thousand?"
Naruto was suddenly hit by the massive scale of what he summoned yesterday. He knew bunshins could now technically survive indefinitely now simply by drawing chakra out of trees, but he'd never expected to be able to do so much in some little time. Looking around, he wondered if he'd ever need any more equipment in this life, even counting he'd be three people at the academy.
"You want a summary?" the clone formerly eating ramen asked.
"There and there," he said, pointing to two piles of crates. "Are the kunai and shuriken. This one." He gestured towards a smaller pile. "Holds the senbon. On the far wall are all other weapons: katana, spears, various polearms, fūma shuriken, those two staves…" the clone continued on. Naruto was amazed at the wealth of different weapons that could be found if you looking far enough.
"Now on that wall is the rest: bits and pieces of different armors, different scrolls, and mainly the new collection we have of hitai-ate."
"Yeah, we found most of them far in the forest, probably leftovers from various spying attempts. Some of them were still on a ninja's head, but we got used to that."
"I said only stuff left behind!"
"I meant on a dead ninja's head. We buried the leaf ninjas we found, and brought back whatever information we could about them, but normal paper doesn't survive the passing of time very well, you realize."
Naruto nodded as he took a closer look at this so called collection. It was simply various headbands pinned using shuriken to the back of a large wooden board that Naruto formerly used as target practice.
He had to agree that they almost had them all. Leaf, Cloud, Sand, Rock, Mist, all the main ones were there, including most of them in missing-nin version. Only Missing Sand was left to get among those.
There was also a good amount of the ones from lesser villages. From those Naruto recognized Grass and Waterfall, though they were the only ones he could name. There was one with a crescent moon Naruto was sure to have seen before, but couldn't for the life of him remember where.
As two clones entered from the window, Naruto decided he had enough equipment for now.
"'kay people listen up." All of the copies stopped what they were doing and turned towards him. "I think we have enough stuff for now. Those working on the map and those cleaning up the pile can finish up what they're doing, but everyone coming back with stuff doesn't go back for more."
"What're we gonna be doing?" noted one of the recently returned clones.
"We're gonna be going through this," the original countered pointing at the pile of scrolls they copied from the forbidden one.
"We're gonna need to classify those. Four classifications: Learnable, those needing we know specific techniques beforehand, those we won't be ever be able to do, like those that need specific bloodline or such stuff, and those we've got no use learning, like suicidal techniques or stuff that would kill us."
He took a deep breath. "Let's get to it people!"
Umino Iruka was glad to finally be out of the hospital. A general antitoxin had easily flushed out the poison from his system, but the medic had kept him for an extra day just to make sure he'd "purged out everything that Kyūbi brat did", as they said it.
The chūnin knew that Naruto had nothing to do with him being poisoned or any of his other wounds, so guessed that Naruto must have been the one to carry his unconscious body to the hospital. Unsurprising, since the other possible survivor of that battle, Mizuki, would probably have given him a quick death instead of a trip to a healer.
Concerning the specifics of that battle, his own memory was pretty fuzzy. He remembered Naruto coming out of hiding to protect him, a few words here and there of banter between the two ninja, and nothing conclusive after that. He thought he'd seen Naruto use a cloning technique to fill the forest with clones, but wasn't really sure if that was a hallucination or a genuine memory.
It wasn't that he doubted the talent of one of his favourite students, no, it was simply that someone like Naruto, whose lack of skill with the bunshins was legendary, could manage such a feat? He'd have to see it with his own eyes.
And that was what he was doing, visiting Naruto. He'd already gone to Ichiraku and ordered a dozen or so bowls to go. He'd owed Naruto that much for the save, and he'd wanted to talk to the boy.
As a teacher, Iruka had access to the addresses of any of his students. He'd never been to Naruto's place, though one look at the building and his neighbourhood and the teacher understood why Naruto had never invited him there. Frankly, the place was a dump.
However, it was visible Naruto was home, judging by the sounds coming from his open window. Iruka made his way to the top floor, noting the many voices coming from his student's apartment. Judging that Naruto probably had someone over, he politely knocked on the door.
"Hello Naruto, it's Iruka. Can I come in?"