It had been a noticeably longer time since he'd last seen Shika, longer even than that time before he ventured into The Village recklessly. (He never did get his skins and beads back; hopefully, they were still hidden in that alleyway. If not, he could always dry some more clay beads. He had more than enough 'rope' to spare to make more necklaces, but that wasn't important.)
What was importantwas that he kind of missed Shikamaru. He was the best playmate, always willing to play his games and show him around.
It used to be so easy, just going day by day doing nothing but living and breathing with The Forest. Now he got bored far too easily, and it didn't help that Shika had other things to do. (He'd mentioned 'missions' once or twice, yeah?)
Boredom, he found, was very dangerous. It made him do stupid things like go back to The Village despite clearly remembering what happened last time. But maybe this time it wouldn't be so bad. After all, now he knew what to expect; (not to mention he now knew of the existence of that stand selling 'ramen.')
Yeah! He'd just drop by for a quick look; he could handle it.
He'd briefly remembered of the trade he'd done to get that bowl of ramen, so his adventure had been slightly delayed by his gathering of 'wide caps,' as he liked to call them, mushrooms to The People of Ichiraku Ramen.
So now, once again, he stood before a loosely guarded section of the wooden wall.
Shika had said he'd make it so it was okay for him to be in The Village, but that didn't mean he knew what to do at the open section where people wrote or recited information he wouldn't know. He knew that was where he should normally go, but he'd seen a few People swathed in more layers than necessary be taken away by People with more chakra, wearing vests like Shika's. He didn't know where they went, but he didn't want to end up like them.
Thus, he decided he'd just go in like how he did last time.
Gently parting the bits of latent chakra still present in the wood, (he shivered at how cold and dead they were,) he once more used the energy to let him through to the other side. He was thankful that he hadn't been caught, given that the bright attire he'd donned from last time was much more conspicuous than his natural skins would ever be.
Now it was just a matter of trying not to attract attention and also finding the shrine of ramen. (Somehow he suspected the latter would be easier, regardless of him not knowing its precise location. . . ) He figured it would probably be best to recreate how he found Ichiraku last time, (minus that terrifying feeling of being chased prey.) That is, just follow the nose.
The smells were just as pungent as they were last time, but at least he knew what he was trying to pick out from the cloud of unnatural perfumes. Thankfully, the smell of good food was easy to differentiate from the vaguely flowery scents the women liked so much.
Eyes drooping half-mast, he drooled at the thought of that large bowl that was just waiting for him to eat it. Maybe he'll try a different type this time?
There were more places to sit this time, no feeling of swarming People pushing at his back. Maybe it was the time of day? Did that matter to them? Oh well, that just means fewer things to distract from his ramen.
Plopping down on the furthermost stool, he eagerly unloaded the many pockets of wide caps he'd manage to find. Surely this would be enough in place of those circles of 'ryo.'
"Ayame! I came again!" Her name was Ayame, wasn't it? He only heard it maybe once or twice, but he really hoped he didn't screw it up. (Names were very important, he'd come to learn.)
"Coming! Welcome to Ichiraku Ramen, what can I- oh, it's you!" It took her a minute to fight through her autopilot introduction and actually recognize the customer. "I wasn't sure if you would ever come back, you were gone so long!"
"Of course I came back! How can't I; the ramen is so good!"
"Well, I'm glad to hear that. We used those mushrooms you gave us to make a limited-time specialty dish, and it was a hit!" Naruto didn't think that he'd ever seen the wide caps actually hit someone, nor did he think it would be a good thing, but it must've been a good thing if Ayame was so happy about it.
"I have more here," he said, gesturing to the small mountain of mushrooms gathered on the counter. It was nearly to his chin, and Ayame wondered how on Earth she had missed that.
"Wow, so many! I hope this'll last us longer. Here, why don't I just-" She rummaged around somewhere deeper into the stand and retrieved a small piece of red cardstock paper and a pen. Slapping on some brand stickers to make it look less suspicious, she quickly wrote something and handed it to the blond.
"'Free ramen deal for The Mushroom Man...?'"
"I didn't know your name, so I went with that," she said a tad sheepishly. "If you want, you can write your name at the bottom." He thought that would be better, but he didn't actually know how to write his name.
"My name is Naruto."
". . . Naruto? Like, narutomaki?"
"I guess. . . " He wasn't sure, as he was still struggling with simple written kanji.
"Well, at least your name relates to you in some way," she hedged. "Honestly, irises aren't even my favorite flower."
"It's one of the meanings of my name. My hair's not even purple, yet mom and dad named me after that flower!" It was clear she was trying to cheer him up for whatever reason, but it seemed to work. He was also having fun learning more about the language, little sayings or double meanings that went over his head and Shikamaru mostly avoided so as to not confuse him.
It just so happened that at that moment, his stomach decided to growl quite loudly, interrupting their awkward, (though enjoyable,) conversation.
"Ah, I almost forgot about that! Why don't I just take those mushrooms and make you a bowl of the specialty ramen? You'll be the first to taste its comeback, even before I post the advertisement!" She hurriedly scooped up the pile of fungi into her apron, trying not to lose any before dumping them into a basin off to the side.
And it wasn't long before she had a hot bowl of steaming ramen placed before him, the large slices of mushroom cooked golden, adorned with fresh green onion and two perfect halves of a soft-boiled egg. With it, she gave him a small package of those small sticks of wood only mostly cut individually.
"Here ya go! Enjoy your ramen while I post the banner." And enjoy he did.
He loved that this ramen, while tasting different, was still just as heavenly. He'd rarely ever eaten the wide-caps, but they tasted so delicious when cooked in ramen! He was convinced that just about anything could taste good as long as it was ramen.
Faster than he would like, he devoured the bowl like a starving howler in winter. (Well, it was nearing the middle of winter, but that's not the point.)
By the time Ayame came back to serve the few customers coming in, he'd already drunk all the broth and was busy picking out the last remnants of the dish. He would've asked for more had he not noticed the sudden influx in customers, probably lured in by the smell and promised 'special' item. (After all, anything was better if it was special.)
"Ah, thanks for the ramen, Ayame! I'll come again later, believe it!" Leaving the empty bowl to Ayame, he spun out of the stool and pushed his way out of the crowd.
Looking back, he saw the true size of the mob, civilians and ninja alike flocking to the small stand. There were even People hopping off the roofs and climbing down the walls in an attempt to get at the front. A shiver ran down his spine. That was almost as terrifying as a swarm of angry hornets.
As he walked away from the chaos he had inspired, he made sure that little card of paper was safely tucked away and zipped into a pocket.
Now that he was heading away from the crowded stand, he was starting to cool off. He didn't understand why his heart would pick up speed and he'd feel suffocated surrounded by too many People, but he definitely didn't want a repeat of what happened, (especially with Shika not around.)
So, still a bit too hot around the neck, Naruto decided to cool off maybe somewhere with less dead trees, stone, and People, and more live trees.
He didn't actually know where he was, but when did he ever, really? He did know he was still inside The Village, but these trees were curious, unfamiliar.
The clearing was small and grassy, a tiny pond at the side that was probably too small to actually support any life. The land was formed unnaturally, the earth carved in some places and scorched in others. He guessed this was where people fought, (maybe this was where they fought for land rights?)
Well, whatever. He went off to lay on a small knoll cushioned by grass that had grown over the mound of earth. It was settled at the edge, slightly shaded by the reaching branches of the still-growing trees.
Settled in the cool shade, he folded his arms behind his head for more support and calmed down using Shikamaru's favorite pastime: cloud watching. The simple act of visualizing shapes or animals in the dark clouds took his mind off his surroundings, (even though it also made him remember the many times he'd done the same with Shika and they laughed together. He ignored the pang of longing that seemed to increase when he thought more of his friend.)
He wondered where Shikamaru had gone, why he hadn't warned him beforehand. There were many things about Shikamaru and his Village that he still didn't understand, and probably never would, no matter how much he's learned.
Engrossed as he was, he didn't notice a team of three ninjas enter his temporary sanctuary. At least, not until they started talking.
Unaware of his presence, they took up what was presumably their combat practice.
"Oh, come on, Hinata! How are we supposed to get better if we don't do anything different?!"
"I am inclined to agree with Kiba. Why? Because challenge breeds growth and power."
"But K-Kiba, I'm still not too good at medic techniques. What if you get hurt badly?"
"Ah?! Why are you assuming I'll get hurt, and not Shino?!"
"It's only logical. After all, you are almost as reckless as you were as a genin."
"Say that again! Akamaru and I have grown loads! Watch, I won't get a single injury besides superficial cuts and bruises."
". . . Improbable."
"I-if you want to fight that badly, let's spar together?"
"See, now you're talkin', Hinata! Let's go, Akamaru! Four Legs Technique! Beast Mimicry!"
The sounds of some battle started behind him, and Naruto wondered if it was rude to interrupt. While he wanted to keep his temporary territory to himself, he also was hesitant to disrupt any fight. After all, it wasn't like he was competing for anything like spoils.
"Oi; get your bugs offa me!"
"Please refrain from killing my bugs."
"They only lived for a couple of hours!"
"Kiba, this is j-j-just training!"
"Not you too, Hinata! You know my taijutsu isn't as good as your guys'!"
"Then I suggest you use this session to get better."
. . . But they were so noisy. It wouldn't be too bad to just tell them to go to another clearing of trees, right? Or better yet, he could just move! (Though he'd rather he didn't, because moving when he was there first just rankled him.)
"Eight Trigrams: Thirty-Two Palms."
"Wa-Hinata! KEEP YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM ME!"
"It is imperative for a good shinobi to be able to dodge effectively."
"SHUT UP, SHINO! YOU'RE NOT THE ONE BEING TAG-TEAMED!"
As he knew Shikamaru would say, this is too troublesome. At this point, he'd rather move himself and the whole mound while he was at it.
"Take this! Akamaru, Fang Passing Fang!"
As he was getting up to quietly leave, he noticed the one that was always shouting spiraling at high speeds, accompanied by a twin formation. The loud one seemed to be going after the other male, (Shino, was it?) but was dodged? Or maybe not, because he seemed to pass right through the People, little bugs being let off as they went to reform the figure.
It was an interesting technique, one he'd never seen before. Though kind of dangerous, 'cause they couldn't seem to control it very well. For example, when they were able to go through the People of bugs, one of the formations continued on their path of destruction towards-
"WAIT, KIBA! THERE'S A PERSON-"
Not the trees, not the trees! In a split-second, Naruto had willed an interlocked fence of thick wood he hoped could stop the thing that was coming closer and closer, making a curving wall protecting him and the trees behind him.
"Wha-gah!" Their fight seemed to have lost its importance in the face of a potential civilian casualty, and the two others stood and stared as the People who smelled vaguely of howler was forced to stop his rotation when his face met the sturdy wood. It seems that he'd lost consciousness upon impact. He seemed unnaturally pale and was bleeding from the nose and head, and the blond swore he could see something like a soul struggling to head skyward.
The brief moment of stunned silence was broken by twin shouts of "Kiba!" and a loud whine.
So much for being unnoticed...
I found a yummy looking mushroom ramen recipe. Wanna try?
damndelicious .n e t 2019/01/18/mushroom-ramen