Strength

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

Helen Keller

He could taste the fire, the biting ash and char, salty and grainy in taste and texture. His brows skewed down, furrowing together as he grimaced. He did not like the taste, he decided. His senses were on high, ever lick of the smoke seeping through his entire being from one point and exiting through another. His eyes burned and pricked with tears, his nose did not seem to work, overloaded with the disgusting stench of burning flesh and death. His mouth was firmly concealed by a black mask, courtesy of his guardian. Beside him he could not tell if it was flames licking up and into the night sky, or Sakura's cherry hair kissed by the wind. To his left he felt the shared astonishment of Sasuke, the raven haired boy staring in equal horror and disgust.

"Keep moving," Kakashi's voice was like a whisper, barely coaxed from his lips and carried through the still night. "There might be some still alive." the words of reserved hope spurred Sakura into action first, the young Kunochi bursting forward to search the ruins. It was their first time seeing such carnage, though not death. Kakashi's dark eyes seemed to close their doors, blocking out the destruction. Naruto, for the briefest of moments, respected his guardian for being able to ignore such chaos - but then he remember the hours Kakashi spent lying awake in his room, haunted by what he'd seen and not reacted to. Kakashi was strong, Naruto held no reservations to that fact, but Kakashi was also a man - and men are not invincible.

Sasuke was the next to act, moving to aid Sakura in her search for any survivors. Naruto stayed at Kakashi's side however, blue eyes taking in the blood. so much of it, spilled on once sacred ground. Bile rose in his throat and lingered there, but it's taste was nothing in comparison to the charred flesh. "Did a jutsu do this?" he muttered, glancing up to his teacher and father-figure. Kakashi merely nodded and placed a hand on the other's blonde spikes for a brief moment before moving forward. Naruto frowned and followed a step behind, an involuntary shudder running through his body as he stepped over teh fallen corpses burned beyond recognition. Women and men and children laid around him, some bodies entangled with one another, clinging to one another even in death. Naruto hated the sight. Hated that he hadn't been there to save them. Hated that they died so gruesomely.

"Kakashi" a cool voice greeted from ahead, and Naruto barely resisted throwing himself into the arms of the smoker. Asuma stood with his team, Choji and Inu both looking green in the face with the masks pulled tight over their faces and head bowed low. Shikamaru seemed indifferent to it all, but when the pony-tailed teen moved to stand by him, Naruto could feel the tension radiating off of him. "There was no trace of the culprit. The Third believes the Akatsuki are behind it, perhaps Uchiha Itachi, who was skilled in Fire-Jutsus." Asuma cast a glance towards Sasuke who had just stepped into the small group of Ninjas, the boy's gaze darkening in spite and hatred at the mention of his brother. Naruto wished he had a way to comfort the orphaned teen, but he did not speak or move to the other's side.

"Itachi moves with another from the Mist though, doesn't he? There's no evidence of his presence here." It was Shikamaru who spoke, voice tight and strained in a way Naruto had never heard before.

"The Village elder had no trace of Chakra left in his body, the only one not burned beside his few guards. None of them had any Chakra signatures. A technique used by the Mist Ninja." Kakashi answered the Nara Prodigy. Naruto chewed on his lip anxiously, fidgeting as Sakura's gaze fell on him.

"You've fought them before Naruto," she chirped, though Naruto knew it was not kindly despite the purr to her voice. "What do you think?"

"Naruto never fought them directly, Sakura." It was Shikamaru who spoke, followed by nods of agreement from both Asuma and Kakashi, who cast the young girl a withering look.

"Why would they attack here though?" Naruto inquired, cringing as he glanced around once more. "What could they gain from it?"

'Another Jinchurikki.' the voice inside his head had Naruto staggering back a step, his heart lurching and eyes growing wide. Shikamaru's arms steadied him, keeping him firmly rooted. 'You know who I am, fool. Do not act so startled lest you want the others to know as well.' Naruto tucked his head, a muttered apology spilling past his lips as he stepped out of his friend's grasp. "I felt dizzy," he muttered in answer to the unspoken questions. "I'm fine now."

'The Akatsuki are searching for us, as they have been for many years, long before your birth. Not always as the Akatsuki, but always searching.' The voice continued as the conversation went on in life as well. Naruto watched as his senseis spoke, watched as his comrades avoided looking at the corpses surrounding them. 'Kokuo resided here with his vessel. He was the five tailed.' Naruto gnawed on his lower lip thoughtfully. 'They are coming for all of us. If you want to live, you will do as you are instructed, kit. I will train you as best I can with this seal, for while I do not wish to reside within this body, I desire death far less.'

"For now we will rest. There's a small town a few miles from here. When the morning comes, we will continue back to Konoha to speak further with the Third. Let's go." Kakashi dismissed the group and they leapt into the trees, heading back to the small town they'd past not long before.

'Be strong Kit. We will speak more when you return to your village.'

Naruto's steps faulted for a moment nearly causing Shikamaru to topple over him, but the two managed to stay up right, though now further behind their companions. "Are you alright, Naruto? Should I get Kakashi?" Shikamaru's worry brought a small smile to the blonde's lips and he leaned into the other briefly. Shikamaru's frown deepened, for while Naruto had always been affectionate, he was not keen on displaying such acts publicly.

"Just tired," Naruto told his friend. "The smells were getting to me, just made me a little dizzy. I'll be fine when I get some sleep. And Ramen." He grinned at the Nara before moving forward, rushing to catch up to their group, Shikamaru hot on his heels.

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Hey guys, Rath again. So, I had panned on diving more into the basic dynamics of the group but I just couldn't. everytime I tried, I just lost all motivation to continue the story - so instead, I'm just jumping right into the main story and will cover dynamics and such as I write. It's a lot easier to write it this way, for me, so yea. This 99.9% will most likely not follow the events of the Manga or Anime - Some things will be similar, other things will be completely different! So yeah. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this chapter, and as always please Read and Review! I'd love to know what you think!

Also, my keyboard has decided to stop letting me use certain keys - sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. If you notice the letter 'L' missing from any words, this is why. Also, it doesn't want to always let me space or put a period or comma - so again, that's why! I hope to get it fixed here soon!